Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Is Gaborone Faceless?

I was having quite an interesting debate about our poor capital city, Gaborone, on Facebook. All was sparked by this article written by Gothataone Moeng. Here's an excerpt:

"But despite these developments, or perhaps because of them, it is difficult to pin down what it is that Gaborone now stands for as a city. Along with its stature as one of the world’s fashion capitals (alongside Milan, New York and London), Paris is also widely regarded as the “city of love” while London, New York, Johannesburg and Lagos are cultural cities. “Are we a financial city, an industrial city, a cultural city?” asks Mokwete about Gaborone. Mokwete, who also writes for architectural and property magazine Boidus Focus, says the image and character of a city can either be consciously cultivated, especially in the case of a ‘virgin’ city such as Gaborone was at its inception, or it can be allowed to grow organically."

On a recent trip to Gaborone, I commented how beautiful it looks lately. It is fairly quiet for a capital city, that's true , and culturally it's only on a lucky weekend you'll find things to do, but I for one like it that way. In any case, it is quite a young city so it's a bit unfair to compare it to London or Paris or New York, even Joburg for that matter.

What do you think? Does Gaborone have a face?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Signed, Hopelessly in Love Up for an Award in South Africa

My book for teens, Signed, Hopelessly in Love, has been shortlisted for the M.E.R. Prize for Best Youth Novel in South Africa. The awards ceremony will be in Cape Town on the 8th of June. Here's a link to the short lists for the awards.

Wish us (me and the book) luck!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

My Mini Break in Gaborone

On Thursday last week I set off for Gaborone for a short break.

The mission was to attend a concert my daughter was in which was part of the Maitisong Festival. That's her up there, second from the right. The concert was for Lee, my daughter was singing backup for him. Other singers featuring in the programme was Kennedy Thal, well known from BTV's programme My Star. He performed an original song accompanying himself on the piano. It was lovely. Also on the programme was the very talented Samantha Mogwe. Anyone out there who is involved in the music industry really needs to wake up and get to know this young woman. Here is a video of her singing at Ladies No. 1 Opera House. She was amazing on Thursday night.

Then on Friday night we attempted to attend the Setswana version of the Italian opera Cavalleria Rusticana. Thanks to an exam that ran overtime and us getting lost trying to find The Ladies No. 1 Opera House, we only managed to see the last 20 minutes or so, but it was lovely. We have world class singers in Botswana including the lead female in this production, Tshenolo Batshogile. Fantastic. Here is an article that explains more about the show.

And Saturday we headed back to Mahalapye.On the way we got some traditional roadside takeaway, roasted mealies. YUM!! And then home sweet home.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Vanessa Gebbie: On Dreams and Goals and Work and Talent

Vanessa Gebbie has been doing an extensive blog book to celebrate the paperback debut of her wonderful book, The Coward's Tale, in the United States. I was honoured to be asked to host her at this blog. I'm the last in the queue and as we say in Botswana- moja morago ke kgosi!!! (the last to eat is the chief)- ;))

Before we get on to a few questions for the lovely author, I'd like to take a moment to speak about my thoughts on the book.

The Coward's Tale is set in a Welsh mining town that is trying to make peace with a coal mining tragedy, the Kindle Light Tragedy, that killed many townspeople and continues to show its effects in the survivors' lives. The story, told through linked narratives about the eclectic characters that make up this tiny town, is given to the reader by the self appointed storyteller of the place, the beggar Ianto Passchendaele Jenkins. He's prompted to tell the tales when Laddy Merridew, a young boy, comes to live in the town to stay with his grandmother while his parents sort out difficulties at home.

Each chapter brings us a new character to unravel in all of his or her complexity with strings leading back or all caught up in the mine disaster. And as people do, their stories intersect and clash with other people's stories and through this slow, lyrical unravelling, the story of the disaster that defines the town unfolds.

As a writer, what I found so scrumptious about this novel was its method of telling the story as almost an aside, by understating the main stories so that they become like a whisper heard louder than the most ear breaking roar; such a subtle incidental way of writing a novel. There is a talent in doing that that few writers have. There is also a poetic rhythm to the telling, maybe this is a Welsh thing, maybe its the voice of Ianto, this I don't know, but it was hypnotising.

I loved the book, and not just because I adore the author. It is a book that readers will love, but it is for me, a book that writers will appreciate even more for its meticulous craft whose hard work that inspired it is completely invisible.


Vanessa Gebbie is the author of two collections of stories (Words from a Glass Bubble and Storm Warning both published by Salt) and and contributing editor of a creative writing text book (Short Circuit -A Guide to the Art of the Short Story also published by Salt). She has won numerous awards – including prizes at Bridport, Fish and the Willesden Herald (the latter judged by Zadie Smith) – for her short fiction.

The Coward’s Tale, published by Bloomsbury in November 2011 and in paperback March 2012, is a powerfully imagined, poetic and haunting novel, spiked with humour. An extract from The Coward’s Tale won the Daily Telegraph ‘Novel in a Year’ Competition. Vanessa Gebbie is Welsh and lives in Sussex.

I met Vanessa first when we both were part of the One World project and I've been so happy to see her meteoric rising star. I'm so pleased to have her stop by Thoughts from Botswana and talk a bit about goals, dreams, talent and hard work.

So Vanessa, do you remember your dreams from when you first started writing? What were they?

Vanessa: Hmm. It depends what sort of dreams you mean. If you mean dreams about what might happen, I suppose I was focussed usually on the next step. I wanted to know about writing short stories. I wanted to know about writing them well enough that they’d get published - but the publication itself wasn’t a dream - it was just the knowledge that it was some indicator that I’d be writing well.

Publication alone still isn't the dream, although people reading one’s work is lovely beyond words. It’s hard work! It's not the end of something, but the beginning of a lot of hard work, and it takes you away from what you do best--- dreaming, on paper.

So was your writing path more of a
happy meandering?

Vanessa:It was a happy meandering at first, but then it became goal-orientated. Remember, I was a bit older than a lot of people, when they start this thing, and I couldn’t wander about aimlessly for too long if I was serious. Which I was, and am. Then I started planning, and had targets of places to be published, competitions to be placed in. That lasted for a few years, and then things seemed to take a path of their own - with the Salt publications, writing the novel, then Bloomsbury. I’ve been very lucky - but it’s also been hard work, and still is. Who knows what’s next? the next novel, certainly... let’s hope it doesn't take as long as the last!

But there is a down side to being goal-orientated. The writing becomes more loaded with expectation - both yours and that of others. It’s less free and easy - and more hard work to get back to a writing-state that I enjoy.

How much do you think talent plays in the success of a writer?

Vanessa:I reckon talent plays a big role - but it might not be just talent to write, necessarily. It might be talent to network, to publicise, to sell, to persuade...tenacity too -

How big a role does fortitude play?

A big one. There are so many knock-backs in this game - rejections aplenty. We need to have what it takes to get up and dust ourselves off after a big disappointment, and the courage and self-belief to carry on.

Do you think a non-writer can be taught to be a writer?

Vanessa: Sure. Whether they’d be a good writer, or a successful one (if those are the same things) is another question, though. I believe craft is teachable - making a competent piece of writing is not beyond the abilities of most people, whether it is fiction or non-fiction. What you can’t teach is originality. That indefinable something that makes someone see the ordinary in an extraordinary way. But even then, you can open people up, give them permission to explore in ways they may not have done before.

Children use their imaginations all the time - then we forget to use them, and the imagination-muscle atrophies. I think we can get back to the same imaginative state we used to enjoy as children - with practice and a few tricks and games.

I've learned to use my subconscious to solve writing dead-ends, do you ever use your dreams to get through a piece of writing?

Vanessa: Not sleeping dreams, no. But if I reach a sticking point in my writing, especially when I’m away in Ireland, I will first go for a long walk, then curl up and almost go to sleep, when I get back. I need to keep a notebook and pen alongside - because it’s often when I’m in that state that the answers come, or new thoughts that I mustn’t let escape.

I try to be in a bit of a half-asleep state when I’m writing too. I type as fast as I can, often covering the screen of the laptop with something - a tee shirt, or a towel - so I can't see what I’ve written. I like that.
Vanessa, thanks for stopping by, it was a pleasure to talk to you. And best of luck with your fabulous new book. If you have any questions or comments for Vanessa feel free to leave them in the comments , I'm sure she'll be hanging about to answer them.

People wishing to buy The Coward's Tale can find it HERE at Amazon or HERE at Book Depository. Link

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Grapes of Wrath- A Book for These Times

"The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it, but they can't control it."

That is a passage taken from The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I think most of us read it when we were kids at some point. Recently, though to be honest my conscious self was not completely aware of why I was feeling the need, I wanted to read it again. I see now I needed to read it to try and understand better what is happening all over the world right now.

The world over the working people feel disheartened. The future seems uncertain. Jobs are disappearing. The environment is degraded to such an extent that many have accepted that it may never recover. Governments, meant to protect us, are shrinking, on the verge of collapse. Democracy, true democracy - a government of the people- is disappearing. Growing food is no longer a way to make a living and yet people starve. No matter where you look- Greece, The United States, France, Nigeria, Botswana, India- the people suffer. Why is this so? Can anything fix it?

In The Grapes of Wrath, the Joad family are forced from their farm in Oklahoma. They can no longer pay the loans they were forced into because the environment is degraded and the fields can no longer produce enough. The bank takes their land to be given to the big farmers to make better profits and the Joads must head to California with next to nothing where they've been told there is a better life waiting for them.

Throughout the book, Steinbeck tries to show how if only the people, people from all over the country in the same situation as the Joads, could join together to fight the banks and the corporations and their commitment to profits over everything else- over people, over the environment- then the people could win. But the people are fearful. They been told such talk is "red" talk. Such troublemakers will come to no good. The debate defined by the ones in power, the ones who want to keep things exactly as they are.

Every aspect of this book resonates with what is happening in the world today in 2012,and yet the book was published in 1939. Often people ask- what is the use of literature up against the problems of humankind, especially in a developing country like Botswana? What is the use?

I think The Grapes of Wrath shows the use. This book illustrates the problems caused by the rampant greed of corporations in a way that a true story could not. It allows the reader to understand the problem in a more intimate way through the struggles of the Joads. And in this case, it allows the author to speak, 73 years later, to give us clues to the answers for what ails our planet. Answers brought to me, crystal clear ,through the words written on a page by a single, lonely, frustrated writer so long ago. Can there be anything more important than that?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Love in the Shadows is Out!

My newest book with Sapphire Press is now out- Love in the Shadows. For the first time I'm trying my hand at a thriller/romance. Here's the blurb:

Songbird Kedi Taukobong is living her dream. Enormously successful as an Afro-pop musician, she travels the continent performing to adoring crowds. However, fame comes at a price – a sinister stalker is watching her, intent on making her his. Kedi’s management team is determined to hire the best private investigator in the business, her ex, Sefhemo Phaladi.

Face to face for the first time since they split, Kedi and Sefhemo can’t deny the attraction still sizzling between them. But the stalker is getting too close. He has to be in Kedi’s inner circle. Can she really trust Sefhemo, especially after he betrayed her nine years ago?

This is the fourth book I've written for Sapphire Press, a fantastic South African romance imprint, part of Kwela Books. On a search to see where it can be found I saw it on Amazon Canada here. Or at here. I'm sure it will soon be available as an ebook too. I'll add the link when it is up. Also Sapphire titles can be found at CNA bookstores. If this one is not there, please ask.