Tuesday, March 31, 2009

This, that, and one other thing

I've been searching online for flights and accommodation for going to Cape Town Book Fair this year. It's got me all excited. I can't wait to get everything finalized and know for sure I'm going. I loved it last time I was there. So many talks and panel discussions. So many authors (I am an author stalker-beware!). And of course -BOOKS!!!

The other important thing is I have decided to stop my website. The main reason is that it is very difficult to change anything there and the one who is supposed to keep it up to date never does. This blog is so much easier and FREE. I think it serves the purpose that I wanted the website to serve. So for the time being I will be web site-less.

The other thing is a sadness that has caught me by surprise today. There was a young man I met quite a few years ago, maybe 7 or 8 years ago now. He was physically disabled but far abler than many people I know. He was trained as an auto electrician but on the side he'd learned carpentry and building. He was from Zimbabwe. While I knew him, his mother died and as the eldest in the family he now needed to work hard in Botswana to send money to his younger siblings back home.

He did a lot of work in my house. The ceramic tiles my chair sits on were laid by him. The beautiful wooden kitchen cupboards in my kitchen were made by him too, at a time when our house had no electricity, he built them from board with only manual tools; a craftsman of immense skill.

The last time I saw him he had run into some problems. He was arrested for awhile and had all sorts of immigration problems as Zimbabweans do in Botswana. His bike had been stolen and since I had an almost brand new one in my garage he asked if he could borrow it, he'd pay me when he got his next job. And that was it, I never saw him again. Today someone told me he died in Zimbabwe, another victim of this vile, horrendous, heart breakingly unfair disease AIDS. He had such a short difficult life, it seems so terribly unfair. How I hope that there really is a rest for him and that it is one only filled with peace.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Living on the Donkey Cart Highway

A man on a brown horse races by, off to nowhere, enjoying the speed for its sake only. A group of seven children tied together with a thin rope, run up and down the dirt road laughing. A young, very pregnant woman in a fluorescent orange T-shirt pulled taught across her big stomach passes too near the fence and the barely walking toddler accompanying her gets a big fright from my dogs which he doesn’t realise are shorter than him though have a bark as big as an elephant. The woman doesn’t comfort the baby. He screams all the way down the road in protest. A single sparrow, after all these days, sits at my bird bath, then looks at me with a face that says-where’s the water? Two donkey carts, wooden and unpainted, each pulled by four unmotivated donkeys, are piled high with watermelons, sticks of sweet reed hanging out the back. They rattle along headed toward the village; an old man is in the driver’s seat (is there a driver’s seat?) of one but a young girl holds the reins. The white corolla with a flapping rear fender tilted precariously to one side goes back to where it came from filled to overflowing with passengers. A black and white crow sits on the pillar complaining in his crow voice but only his friends can understand. A baakie coloured a blue that screams 1970, moves gently over the bumps in the road. The khaki dog, his left leg he’d been limping on now healed, walks slowly along the front of the wall driving the dogs insane with jealousy. He flaunts his freedom like a woman in new shoes.

The donkey cart returns empty.

This is the view out my window today.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Rise of the Short Story

According to Taylor Antrim at The Daily Beast , "The short story seems to be having, in its typically quiet way, a bit of a moment." It appears the recent success of collections from Jhumpha Lahiri, Mary Gaitskill, Antonya Nelson and others is running against commonly held publishing wisdom that the short story collection is unable to hold its own up against the mightly novel. Could this be the beginning of a short story revolution? I'm not sure why publishers must be forever comparing the two, novels and short story collections. It's like comparing beef with pork- both are nice and each provide different needs.

Crossing fingers this is the beginning of something exciting!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Let it Go

(The Search Engine Fiction prompt this week is Let it Go. Here is my story)

After the Parting

When they met, started falling in love, there was a thing he did that decided it all for her. When they were parting, he would hold her hand for as long as possible. She would move away and he would hold her hand as their arms stretched out between them. It was as if he couldn’t quite bear to separate from her and needed to hold on those few seconds longer. She would move farther away and their hands would slip apart and only the ends of his long fingers would touch the ends of hers until they finally fell apart too and she walked away. He loved her so much he couldn’t easily let go. His wanting to hold on to her until the very end, that was what told her he was the one.

Years had passed and somewhere along the way he stopped doing it. In the blur of pregnancies, babies, houses to clean and parties to give, she hadn’t noticed, she’d forgotten about it.

She’d dropped the children at school that morning. It was a warm May day, sun shown through the odd spaces between the towering oaks making a puzzle of light and dark on the sidewalk. She’d parked the car at the far side of the square. Now with all of the kids in school, her days were completely her own and she liked to sometimes drive out of her way in the morning and take a leisurely walk.

On the square, people rushed in and out of the capitol building. Young mothers sat with their babies in strollers enjoying the cool shade. Retirees fed the squirrels. A group of children followed in a long, single-file line behind their teacher, like ducks following their mother, heading for a tour of the capitol. They’d like it, she thought. She did. Sometimes she would cut though the rotunda, with its library smell. She liked running her hand over the cool, smooth marble of the columns and the solid, grain of the cherry wood banisters.

That morning though, she only wanted the warm, lilac scented air in her lungs, so she didn’t take a short cut, but walked the complete square. She was searching for herself, the calm bit where she preferred to stay. Connor shook her from there the night before- yet again. He came home late, annoyed by something at work. Shouted at the kids. Drank three whiskeys and then when the kids were asleep, started with her. Nothing she did was right. Why couldn’t she see that?
She never fought back; she didn’t see the need for it. She knew she hadn’t changed, he had. Now he wanted her to be who she wasn’t. She couldn’t refuse straight out, but she knew she’d never do it. She didn’t expect him to be who he was not. It seemed dishonest, a violation of a pact they’d made to ask her to stop being herself. She knew she’d not be able to take much more of it. She was so weary.

She sat down on one of the stone benches to watch a mourning dove perform his ritual dance for a nearby female. He bobbed his head, puffed out his chest while she continued pecking at things from the ground, at one point turning away completely. As she watched, her eyes were caught by a couple standing on the steps of the Esquire Hotel across the street. At first she wasn’t exactly aware why they’d caught her eye, but then the memory rushed in, flooding her with images that burned and crashed and brought back feelings she was unused to.

The man on the steps of the hotel wouldn’t let go of his lover’s hand. The woman needed to go. She wore a suit and high heels, maybe she worked at the capitol in an office where messages waited to be answered and people waited to be attended to but none of that mattered to the man. All of those everyday things meant nothing in the face of his love.

She watched the hand stretch out between the couple and felt the painful fraction of a second when both knew that separation was the only option. And then the hands fell away from each other and the woman hurried away looking back only once to be sure the man waited, watching her, longing to run after her and take her back in his arms. It stamped in her heart that he loved her, that he ached for her when they were apart. One look to confirm what she was sure she knew, and then she was gone around the corner.

She continued watching the man through eyes blurred with tears. As soon as his beloved turned the corner; he looked at his watch and walked off quickly in the opposite direction; unaffected by his loss; it already forgotten. She thought she heard him whistling.

She walked back to her car, weak from the emotion, but ready to see things a bit clearer.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Setswana Culture: The Handy Club for Submission

If you find yourself in Botswana, in the middle of a debate that is impossible for your to win you’re lucky, because here, even if you have the most ludicrous position that leaves you standing on what you wish was shaky ground but in fact is air, you can pull out the always handy culture card and everything will magically go silent in your favour. Saying “it’s our culture” in Botswana is equivalent to saying “shut up- I win” because culture is this big, solid block that cannot be altered nor disrespected because then you are “influenced by foreign cultures” or a “neo-colonialist”.

I read last night’s Mmegi Monitor and I am positive steam was coming out my ears. The article was covering a workshop being run by a group called True Men being held for councillors and traditional leaders. The topic was on gender violence. This is all good. I like discussions about gender violence and I love that men are taking the lead. Good. Good. Good.

So where does it go wrong? Well one hotspot, the customary court president for Tati Town, Margaret Ludo Mosojane decided she had to put her two cents in (Yes -I did say SHE). Ms Mosojane stood up to educate the gathering about marital rape. According to her, it does not exist. If you signed on the dotted line you agreed that your body belongs to your husband. According to the Monitor, this champion of women’s rights told the group, “If he touches me, and I just tell him I do not want to do it, I am breaching the contract. You have to give it to him whenever he wants to have sex with you because you agreed that is what you will do.” Sound ludicrous? Don’t argue it’s the culture. (shut up- she wins) Nice to know she's up north there acting as presiding officer over domestic disputes- comforting.

Another infuriating topic of debate is the Children’s Act. Botswana can’t sign on since Batswana say putting the father’s name on the birth certificate is against culture. (shut up- they win). This crazed line of thinking starts with the always repeated factoid that there are more women than men in Botswana. How sad it would be if some women would be left out of all of the fun, so Batswana men, married or not, must take up their patriotic duty and spread their seed. So babies are born to all and sundry with complicated personal histories often involving a blame-less train that ran over an inordinate number of fathers. (No wonder there are less men than women- for godsake get off the tracks!)

So now these crazy, foreign influenced people want to do the unthinkable and write the father’s name on the birth certificate. Can’t happen, not in Botswana, it goes against Setswana culture. (shut up- they win)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sylvia Plath's Son Kills Himself

According to the Guardian, Sylvia Plath's son, Nicholas Hughes, 47, hung himself at his Alaskan home after years of dealing with depression. His mother the famous poet and novelist, Sylvia Plath committed suicide when her son was a baby. Plath is the author of The Bell Jar, a novel that is loosely based on her own life during the time that she was an intern at Mademoiselle, a fashion magazine in New York City. It was first published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. The book depicts the magazine internship, the nervous breakdown and eventual hospitalisation of the main character, Esther.

Coming from a genetic background of mental illness myself, one wonders how much we pass on to our children and what was passed on to us. I can't say I haven't kept a keen eye open for the beast waiting for me around the corner, it's yet to appear in its full armor, thankfully. I feel inappropriately sad for Nicholas Hughes. I, of course, didn't know him, but somehow I feel an attachment, a sadness, as if a friend has died. I'm suddenly fearful too. Unexplainable really.

I pulled out my copy of The Bell Jar. Like most writers, Plath had glorious times of praise and awards and heart-wrenchingly, sad times when uncertainty ruled made worse by her unsteady mind. In 1970, Syliva Plath's mother, Aurelia Plath, wrote of her daughter's ideas behind The Bell Jar. She remembered her saying, " What I've done is to throw together events from my own life, fictionalising to add colour- it's a pot boiler really, but I think it will show how isolated a person feels when he is suffering a breakdown.... I've tried to picture my world and the people in it as seen though the distorting lens of a bell jar". Later she said, "To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Are you an oldy looking to write sci-fi?

Over 50? Thinking of moving into writing science fiction? How would you like a grant for $750 US? The Speculative Literature Foundation is offering $750 grants to get people over 50 writing sci-fi. How great is that? Click here for the application. Picked this up from Boing Boing.

Also I have a new post up at Blood Red Pencil about interesting ways to show passage of time in your writing. Check it out here!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Defining Beauty

(This week's Search Engine Fiction prompt was 'Beauty' and here is my story)

Afterward, it was decided, wrongly, the whole thing had gone the way it had because of the choice of judges. In the past, judges were the least of the long list of worries for the Miss Botswana League of Auxiliary Hostesses Beauty Pageant Committee or Miss Blah, as it was commonly called. They had to get invitations out to the most important people in the village which caused lengthy meetings because of the many disagreements among committee members as to what constituted an important person and what didn’t. They had to pry toasters, blankets, and other miscellaneous household items from the reluctant hands of local business owners so that they could be used as prizes. That took a lot of time, too. But picking judges had never been a problem. You could pick anyone, it could be done at the last moment; it had never been an issue of any consequence in the past, so that’s why they had delegated the task to Rosalind Moagi.

Rosalind was once Miss Blah herself- Miss Blah 1951- the sash she kept displayed in her sitting room proclaimed. Since then, she’d been a stalwart member of the committee, but of late that had become problematic for the other members. Rosalind, now 79, had slowed quite a bit which most agreed was not the biggest problem. The biggest problem lay in her inability to prioritise efficiently. She couldn’t quite distinguish from the important and the unimportant details. The year before, she had a battalion of younger committee members searching up and down the Mahalapye River for sand the exact colour of the Crayolla crayon called burnt sienna, they were each given a small bit of crayon for comparison. She wanted to use sand in the bottom of the vases for centrepieces on the tables. It was an hour before show time and the bulk of the workforce was traipsing through the river still looking for the right colour sand. It nearly ruined the whole event.

So this year, to ensure a similar disaster didn’t take place, Mma Kgopana, the chairperson of the committee, put Rosalind in charge of judges. She was sure no damage would be done as it was always obvious that one girl on the crowded stage was outstanding. It was just the way it went every year without fail. So judges just needed to follow the crowd and everything turned out fine.

But Rosalind got it in her head that it was inappropriate to have judges with dirty fingernails. Why this became an issue no one could say but it caused the disqualification of many fine people and in the end left three judges with suspect credentials, though, decidedly dirt-free nails. There was Mma Moeng, who washed the towels and sheets at Itumeleng Hotel, Mr. Kago, owner of Nama Butchery, and Beauty Refilwe, the local swimming star. It was an odd group, but the committee accepted it as they knew it made little difference to the success of the event anyway.

But at the same time, other things were taking place, things that had nothing at all to do with clean-nailed judges. For reasons not quite established, Mosetsanagape John decided that this year she would enter Miss Blah. She was quite short and had the shape of an apple. Her mother was of the opinion that hair straighteners were the invention of Satan after a particularly bad trip to the salon, so Mosetsanagape had natural hair in abundance, pushing out from her round face to almost half a metre in any direction. She didn’t like flashy clothes or high heels; she didn’t even put on a swimsuit for that part of the competition, but instead donned the traditional letaise. But what Mosetsanagape did have was an enticing smile. It was a pulling-in smile, one that excluded no one, making everyone feel like they had a friend in her. At the same time, the smile, strangely, stayed unnoticed. People just felt attracted to Mosetsanagape for reasons they couldn’t quite identify and they decided it must be because she was beautiful.

In the end, all the tall, willowy girls with straightened hair, tottering high on thin spiky heels went home with blankets watching jealous-eyed as Mosetsanagape draped the sash across her barrel chest and squeezed the crown on top of her magnificent afro. She smiled back at her competitors and the greenish tint in their eyes disappeared because who could begrudge a friend her day in the spotlight?

The next year the willowy girls stayed home and only the apples crowded the stage since it appeared that was what was beautiful now. Beauty is an odd, flighty thing, decided today by a curved thigh, tomorrow by extra white teeth, and the day after that by eyes shaped like almonds, or, in some cases, a certain unnoticed smile that turns everyone it meets into friends and confuses people about what beauty truly is. Nevertheless, the next year Rosalind Moagi got put on the catering committee and spent days cutting cabbage leaves into perfect little diamond shapes, and Mma Kgopana kept the task of choosing the judges for herself.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

That Light at the End of the Tunnel is Gaining Strength

This from Boing Boing-Yeah!! Let the artists run things- the time has come!

Artists buying cheap houses in Detroit
Posted: 17 Mar 2009 11:41 PM PDT

A small colony of artists is cropping up in Detroit, taking advantage of the bottomed-out property prices, buying houses for as little as $100:
So what did $1,900 buy? The run-down bungalow had already been stripped of its appliances and wiring by the city’s voracious scrappers. But for Mitch that only added to its appeal, because he now had the opportunity to renovate it with solar heating, solar electricity and low-cost, high-efficiency appliances.

Buying that first house had a snowball effect. Almost immediately, Mitch and Gina bought two adjacent lots for even less and, with the help of friends and local youngsters, dug in a garden. Then they bought the house next door for $500, reselling it to a pair of local artists for a $50 profit. When they heard about the $100 place down the street, they called their friends Jon and Sarah.

Admittedly, the $100 home needed some work, a hole patched, some windows replaced. But Mitch plans to connect their home to his mini-green grid and a neighborhood is slowly coming together.

Now, three homes and a garden may not sound like much, but others have been quick to see the potential. A group of architects and city planners in Amsterdam started a project called the “Detroit Unreal Estate Agency” and, with Mitch’s help, found a property around the corner. The director of a Dutch museum, Van Abbemuseum, has called it “a new way of shaping the urban environment.” He’s particularly intrigued by the luxury of artists having little to no housing costs. Like the unemployed Chinese factory workers flowing en masse back to their villages, artists in today’s economy need somewhere to flee.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

First Place in Baobab Prize!!

I woke up this morning to a wonderful surprise- I’d won first place in the inaugural Baobab Prize, a new contest for African writers of children’s stories. There are two categories for adult writers- junior (age 8-11) and senior (age 12-15). I won first place in the junior category for my story ‘Lorato and her Wire Car’, about a little girl with a little too much pride in her wire car. I also made the shortlist in the senior category with ‘Birthday Wishes’, a story about friendship during the xenophobia in South Africa.

On the website about the prize it says, "The inaugural Baobab Prize has been funded by a grant provided by Bryn Mawr College and by the personal contributions of members of the Baobab Prize administrative team. "

I was also happy to see my friend and honorary Motswana, award-winning children’s writer Jenny Robson, being short-listed in both categories. Congratulations to all of the winners and to the organisers for take time out to care about African writing.
See the complete list below:

The Baobab Prize for a work of fiction aimed at readers aged 8-11 years : Lauri Kubuitsile, Botswana. Story: Lorato and her Wire Car

Shortlist for Stories for readers aged 8-11 years:
- Good in the World by Marion Drew, South Africa
- The Story of my Life by Fiona Moolla, South Africa
- Abena and the Corn Seed by Vivian Amanor, Ghana
- Live and Let Live by Jenny Robson, South Africa

The Baobab Prize for a work of fiction aimed at readers aged 12-15 years: Ivor Hartman, Zimbabwe. Story: Mr. Goop.

Shortlist for Stories for readers aged 12-15 years:
- Birthday Wishes by Lauri Kubuitsile, Botswana
- This Ubuntu Thing by Jayne Bauling, South Africa
- Courage like a Lion by Jenny Robson, South Africa
- Whips, Tears and Blood by Mercy Adhiambo, Kenya

The Baobab Prize for a rising writer aged 18 years or younger: Aisha Kibwana, Kenya. Story: Strange Visitors that took her life away.

Shortlist for Rising writer Prize:
- Tortoise and the Thief by Michael Anim, Ghana.

Monday, March 16, 2009

One funeral, a party and a problematic doctor’s visit

My weekend was busy with worrisome things. Saturday morning we were up before sunrise to attend the funeral for the mother to one of my husband’s friends. For people not from Botswana, perhaps I can take this opportunity to explain a bit about funerals in Botswana.

It is very important to attend funerals in Botswana, even of people you don’t know. I didn’t know this woman, though of course I know the son. The big issue is that if you don’t attend funerals, no one will attend yours. This is problematic as there is a lot of work involved in burying someone here. Cooking starts immediately as people will be camped at the house for some time, at least a week before usually. Also digging the grave and burying are done by people at the funeral. Singing and praying which is done every evening the week before, all night the night before, and then at the funeral is done by the people in attendance. If the family was left alone to do it all, they’d never manage. You also need people to speak at the funeral and to act as the MC.

At the funeral we attended, they spoke of the deceased’s short temper and how she was big on advising people the correct way to do most things- even shopping. Apparently people in the know only purchase food and clothes from Woolworth’s. I didn’t know that.

Later the same day we went to a party at my husband’s old school. It was a farewell party for him, the former headmaster. Because of strange politics at the school, the party only had a certain group of teachers who, to put it in a politically correct way, were ‘common visitors to the headmaster’s office’. That made things a bit awkward for the headmaster and his wife, though after a few drinks he said sagely, “Alcohol makes boring parties better”. And so it did.

In between the funeral and the party, we stopped by the doctor’s office to have my husband’s mouth looked at. While there, I decided to ask the doctor about my ‘trumpet arm’. Since I’ve been practicing trumpet more, my whole left arm has gone funny. It's painful and weak and sometimes numb. He assured me it had nothing to do with the trumpet and was connected to my neck and spine. He went on to explain about a patient who had to spend an extraordinary amount of money (enough to buy two quite nice houses) to get his neck sorted out “or else he would have been paralyzed”. That was not very comforting. It was so much better thinking it was caused by my trumpet. I wish I would have never asked.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Instilling Self Discipline- Is Africa Failing Her Children?

I’m currently reading Sefi Atta’s excellent book Everything Good Will Come and there is a conversation between two characters in the book where one of them says nothing will come right in Nigeria because Nigerians lack discipline. On the drive home yesterday from Gaborone, my husband and I were talking about discipline and punishment and an incident we had last month with my daughter at the boarding school where she attends and this idea of discipline came to the fore. What is discipline and how do we instill it in our children? And perhaps more important, is there something wrong in African countries that leads to our children growing to be adults who are unable to discipline themselves?

The incident with my daughter involved her refusing to be punished by the head of the school for a crime she was innocent of. I had to go to the school, as refusing punishment is considered a very serious crime leading to widespread indiscipline. In Botswana, like in most African countries, corporal punishment is allowed in schools. In Botswana in our traditional courts, dikgotla, adults are also often given lashings as punishment for crimes committed.

In the case with my daughter I believed her; not because she cannot do wrong, but because there were many pieces of evidence that showed she didn’t have enough time to commit the offense in question. During our conversations with the head teacher, she also agree that it was likely my daughter was innocent, but since other, likely innocent, girls were punished; she would need to take the punishment too. That seemed ludicrous to me and, in fact, a sure fire way to escalate the school’s discipline problems. In the end, my daughter did not get punished though we both received a stern warning from the head teacher who was not pleased with my line of thinking.

In our conversation yesterday I came to the conclusion that perhaps Sefi Atta’s characters have a point. In African culture children are raised to respect all adults as parents. I can be in a new town and I can call the nearest child and tell him to show me the way to the community hall. He should drop what he’s doing and accompany me the whole distance without complaint. I’m his parent and he must obey me.

This is good in a perfect world which we of course don’t live in. The problems that can ensue given this situation don’t need to be elaborated on. Sad cases abound of the abuse of our children who were just innocently following the rules of Setswana culture.

We set our children up as pawns with no will or thought of their own. Then we use strict, often harsh, sometimes unjust discipline to keep them in line. In the case of my daughter, her friend, who also was not guilty of the crime, accepted the punishment without a word as a well behaved Motswana girl should. My daughter, caught between her Setswana and Western upbringing, could not quite do that.

A well behaved Motswana child has no need to trouble themselves with self discipline; they can rely on the adults around them to rein them in when they go astray. They accept their position without power, as that position also comes without responsibility and in some ways that’s a good thing. Yes, occasionally you might have to accept an unjust punishment, but that’s part of the deal.

Then suddenly they’re adults. Their freedom given to them on a silver platter. In the past, strong community bonds and social pressures would keep their behaviour in check, but Westernisation of the culture has eliminated most of that. Now people watch others do wrong and the common Setswana attitude is- “He’ll see what he’s going to do” and then everyone remains quiet and watches to see what mess the person in question will get himself into. They no longer feel any responsibility for that person’s actions.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Big Publisher or Small Publisher?

I have a post up at Blood Red Pencil on the advantages and disadvantages of small publishers and large publishers. Take a look and drop a line about your own experiences.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Maybe Tomorrow

(Tomorrow I'm off to Westwood International School in Gaborone to speak to the students there about my writing. That and this week's Search Engine Fiction prompt- Maybe Tomorrow- brought me to this little poem)

Maybe Tomorrow

I’m off to town.
I’ll speak my part
But will they hear?
Or simply cheer
And look away
To later say-
Who was that clown?

I want to make
Them see my way.
That books are good
And writing should
If done just right
Become the light
To help with any ache.


I’ll lend a hand
To show the way
To open dreams
For a certain one
Who maybe tomorrow
Will take my place.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

My Terrible Addiction to Email

I was reading Hilary Mantel’s interesting essay in the Guardian (UK) about the writer’s need for procrastination and I’ve realised I spend a vast amount of time checking my email and I do believe it is going to get worse. Mainly it all boils down to optimism. I keep thinking there is something wonderful there. A contest win, an acceptance from a literary magazine, a yes from an agent or publisher. How could I let that email sit and deny myself those extra moments of happiness? I’ll soon be getting ADSL and it will become much worse I fear. I once tried to limit myself to only checking my email in the morning, after lunch, and when I knock off- it worked for a day or two and then I was back to my normal obsessive level.

Before I forget- I keep forgetting to send my dear readers off to this very hilarious post – the 911 line for writers and their readers. Very funny! Take the time.

I must not procrastinate at all today (although of course I already am) because I am minutes from finishing book two of my three science textbooks due to my publisher. Minutes I tell you.

But I must admit this grey, rainy, cold weather is getting me down and distracting me. Have I been transported to Britain or what? At least if I’m having to endure grey, cold rain I should get a chance to ride on one of those jolly, double-decker red buses. Not a single one can I see. Just rain, rain, rain, and grey, grey, grey, and coldness.

Can a person see coldness? I think they can, or maybe it is one of my uncovered superpowers, seeing coldness. I wonder how that would assist humanity. “Watch out! You’re walking into a terrible patch of coldness!”

…..okay yeah…. I’ve gone off on a tangent of procrastination……oops.

Monday, March 9, 2009

President Ian Khama and the Checked Suit Jacket

There is a curious thing in Botswana. When Festus Mogae was our president he enjoyed wearing what my husband claims is the ‘official suit’. It was navy pinstripe. During President Mogae’s reign, wherever you went navy pinstriped suits seemed to be everywhere. Every serious Motswana man had one. With the ascendancy of Ian Khama to the post of tautona (big lion literally, president otherwise) we have entered the era of the checked suit jacket.

I’ve realised while trawling through the internet that the Big Lion’s checked suit jacket is apparently not allowed to leave the borders of Botswana. Photos on the internet show him in tame, plain navies or blacks with no checks in sight. Perhaps he fears it will get lost. But within the country the checked suit jacket gets a lot of work. It features prominently on BTV newscasts.

The new ‘official suit’ is brown checked on a background of light tan, but variations have sprung up around the country. Background colour, size of checks- this a man can play around with to find his own individual style- but owning a suit with little squares on it is a patriotic must.

For the almost 20 years I’ve been with my husband, I don’t think he has bought a suit without me, and yet in those 20 years of suit shopping, I’ve yet to see a checked suit jacket being sold. They are not in the shops that we go to and we go to many suit shops since my husband is thin but wide shouldered, with basketball player length arms so suit shopping is an excruciating, all day experience. So now the question is- where are Batswana men buying all of these checked suit jackets?

When the President visited Mahalapye last month the kgotla was inundated with checked suit jackets. I knew this was my opportunity to find out where these things come from since many of those checked suit jacket wearers were people I personally knew. As we were leaving, I snatched the nearest, a primary school teacher who lives down the road from us. He was wearing an exact replica of the official Tautona checked suit jacket so I was sure he would have the scoop on where they are bought.

“Nice suit jacket, where did you get it?” I asked innocently.

His eyes narrowed and his head quickly flipped right then left. I thought I heard his heart pounding, his breath definitely quickened. A nervous laugh slipped out and then, “Nice to see you Mma Kubuitsile.” And he was gone at a quick walk, bordering on a sprint.

Well I think it’s clear now. The checked suit jacket store is a secret only privy to a select few and, though opposition troublemaker Robert Molefabangwe seems to be in the clique, sadly, I’m, obviously, not.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Yesterday I spent the morning cleaning my house from top to bottom. At 3 pm, finally finished, I lay down on the sofa in my bedroom to spend the rest of the day reading. I had found a book in my daughter’s room with a curious cover. I thought I’d give it a look through as it appears I am slowly falling into writing young adult books and like to see what other writers are up to. I opened the cover at 3 pm and, save for a stop to water the garden and watch Kid Nation (scary show, BTW) , didn’t close the book until page 186, the last page, at about 9:30pm.

I think now, with all of this crap negative energy being poured on us, we should all sit down and read Stargirl, excellent medicine for a sad mind. It's also a great book to celebrate Women's Day with. We all went through high school in one form or another and we know conformity was the way to get through. If you believed in it or you didn’t was not an issue. You conformed so that people left you alone.

Stargirl doesn’t understand the whole concept. She is herself. She gives personal concerts on her ukulele for people celebrating their birthdays. She leaves flowers at strangers' houses who she reads in the newspaper are in the hospital. She cheers for both sides during the basketball games because everyone is happy when a point is scored- right? Well not exactly, she soon realises. Leo loves Stargirl exactly as she is, or so he thinks. But he knows if she would conform it would make life so much easier for both of them.

Jerry Spinelli writes so unobtrusively; it is like the words just fell on the page in the exact way that the story needs to be read. I think every teenager should get to read this book, every adult too.

At the end of this copy of the book, there is an interview with the writer. It was portentous given the recent conversation we had here on this blog about writing for love or money, that at the very end of the interview Mr Spinelli is asked, “What advice do you have for young writers?” (I would think his answer could apply to us old writers too.) He said,” For me, there are many little rules, all superseded by one Golden Rule: Write what you care about.”


Friday, March 6, 2009

Do you write for love or money?

A post at Helen Ginger’s blog has got my brain going. Author and professional speaker Diane Wolfe seems to approach book writing in a manner that is so opposite to what I do she could be describing how to build pianos. She says marketing your book starts when you put the first word on the page.

“We must consider the marketability of our work before pouring heart and soul into a project. Why work long hours on a project that will be impossible to sell?”

Why indeed? I am a fairly practical person and try to accept the realities of various situations, but it is crushingly disappointing to spend months on a novel and have it sell enough in a year for you to buy three bags of groceries. This is why I find it difficult to put time into a novel. It seems so wasteful. I am truly not in this to make money, but I also want to make a living so that I can remain in this. I want to make a living by writing. I would love to write novels full time. I love being in the middle of a novel. I love living vicariously through my characters’ lives. I love deciding their fate. I love to see where they lead me. But I can’t do it full time and survive, at least the way I’ve been doing it.

The problem, if I take Ms Wolfe’s advice to heart, is that I’ve been approaching the whole business wrong. I’ve been writing what inspires me without any thought to the marketability. Somehow I felt that considering market first would taint my work.

According to Ms Wolfe, “Before putting pen to paper, we need to be sure our book will fill a real need…..If writing fiction, will our story’s hook be powerful enough to make our work stand out from all the other authors in the genre?.... If our work fills a real need, do we know how to reach that audience?”

Need is such a difficult thing. What need does fiction fill? But she is right. A walk into any book store shows a writer what they’re up against. Can I write a book that will get a reader to choose mine instead of Alexander McCall Smith or John Grisham? It is very practical advice. If you want to make any money in this game, you must write a marketable book- it’s as simple as that.

Ms Wolfe ends with, “The promotion process begins with the writing phase. If we fail to prepare during this time, we’ll find it difficult (if not impossible) to properly market our book.”

I don’t know what I think. I suppose the artist in me is bulking. Being guided by market forces seems evil somehow. This week I’ve done a lot of thinking about the battle between staying true and fighting the establishment to bend your way, and compromising to be successful. I find it difficult to follow rules in general, but at the same time I am a pragmatist at heart.

Is it as simple as art or money? Or is there a place in the middle? What is wrong with getting an idea for a book and then considering how it might be marketed BEFORE you begin writing? Is it so wrong?

I would love to hear your perspective on this. I’m obviously lost.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Take Me With You

(This week's Search Engine Fiction prompt was Take Me With You. Here is my short story)

He whispered as he grabbed my coat sleeve, “Take me with you”. The loudest whisper of my life. It still pounds and bounces against the inside of my head. It only becomes quiet when I have enough cash to chase it away. Weed and beer are my preferred medicine. Enough of either and the image of his small, round face wet with tears and the sound of his pleas for me not to leave him behind disappear, and I am free of the weighty guilt.

It was not like it was my responsibility; I tell myself that when I’m sober and he’s shouting in my head. In that house it was strictly Darwinian- survival of the fittest. Even if I had taken him, would being in my life be any better than the one I left him to? I’ve had my days of empty stomachs. At least there he got food most days. Sometimes it came down to that.

I can see a guy at the end of the bar looking this way. Doesn’t look like a john but he might pop out for a beer, so I give him a smile and he comes closer.

“Hi, how ya doin’?”

“Not bad.” I smile, careful not to show my teeth. I lost one a year and half ago when a guy decided he’d be taking what I thought I was selling.

“Can I buy you another one?”

“Sure, Sweetie.” I know how to work them. This one is married, so he’s going to want a lot of attention to show him he’s Mr Big Man after his wife showed him the unwanted truth of the situation.

I was nine when he was born. Mama was drunk as usual and suddenly started shouting she was in labour. But it was night and, though I knocked on the whole hallway of doors, no one came out. I wouldn’t have either, it wasn’t safe, and so I don’t blame them.

He just slipped out of her without any fuss. That’s the kind of baby he was. Never a fuss. I used to skip school to stay and take care of him, even though Mama claimed she could, I knew she wouldn’t. I can’t count the number of times I came home to find the baby soaked and red from hours of crying. Mama always cried and apologised, said she’d do better. I knew she couldn’t so I was never disappointed when she failed.

“So you from around here?”

“Yeah, I got a place around the corner.”

“Do ya now?” He arches his eyebrow. He’s sweet really. I should be honest with him. Either it’s going to be an upfront transaction or I’m going to take his wallet and then threaten him with a call to his wife if he gives me any trouble. I wouldn’t want it to go that way.

That morning he knew I was going. He cried and begged, but I couldn’t do it. I needed to leave everything behind. I was going to make a new life. A better life. I could only do that if I cut off all ties.

I called once and the number was disconnected. I called Miss Emma from the apartment across the hall. Miss Emma said, “The cops took your mama and social workers done take that boy; skinny as a rail he was.”

“How ‘bout we take a walk over to your place?” He rubs his hand along my thigh.

“It’s gonna cost ya.” He shows me his wallet stuffed with cash. He’s new at this game. Once I see the cash, I feel bad knowing I’m going to have to take it all.

I pull my coat tight when we enter the cool night air. “Skinny as a rail.” He would have done better with me after all. I smile once I fit all the pieces together in my mind, how I’m going to make it all right again.

“What you thinkin’ about?” he asks.

“Just dreamin’.”

We climb the stairs to my studio apartment as I pack my suitcase in my mind and think about my trip north to collect him. In my thoughts, I’m getting on that bus with that stack of money in my pocket, getting on the bus going to him, and we’ll be together again. His whispers will stop, and he’ll forgive me for my mistake.

In my thoughts I’ve made that trip a thousand times.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Negative Energy gives you Negative Energy

Literary agent Nathan Bransford has set this week up for positive book talk. Just in time as I was about to stop following his blog with all his negative talk. The publishing world is haemorrhaging, Kindle is killing the book, too many writers are sending out bad queries…. everyday it was another bit of negative energy. If comments on his blog are anything to go by, hundreds of writers were being slathered in the stuff.

Meanwhile, we have Black Monday at stock exchanges around the world and unemployment rising and mines closing. Then apparently yesterday we dodged a meteorite that scientists didn’t even know was there. Eish! I feel like the atmosphere got heavier. It really is starting to become too much.

I think, as Mr Bransford has proven, if you try hard enough you can put a negative spin on anything.

Writer: “Hey my latest book just came out.”
Mr. Negative Man: “Just think how many trees had to die for that.”

Writer: “I finally got an agent.”
Mr. Negative Man: “Just another slug to suck at the little blood you get as a writer.”

Writer: “I won that big literary prize”
Mr. Negative Man: “I heard the competition wasn’t too tough this year.”

In the same vein, everything can have a positive spin.

Writer: “That publisher rejected my novel.”
Ms Positive Lady: “That’s great, one less rejection to get.”

Writer: “My short story didn’t win anything in that contest.”
Ms Positive Lady: “Great, now you can send it out to literary magazines.”

Writer: “My royalty cheque doesn’t reach three digits.”
Ms Positive Lady: “Great- let’s blow it on ice cream.”

Time to bring out that rainbow coloured top and spin, spin, spin- because this world really needs some colour today.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Adults are NOT made of Rubber

I may have mentioned before about my husband’s science. Apparently he last took a science course some time in the 1970’s and at the time deemed it a bunch of nonsense. Since then he has set out to create his own explanations for things. They are a source of much amusement for myself ( a former science teacher) and the giant teenagers, both doing pure science at senior secondary school.

One of my husband’s theories is that babies and small children are made of rubber. His theory is based on careful observation as all scientific theories are. Toddlers can fall, as long as no one is watching, over and over again with no ill effects; children too. On the other hand, if an adult human being falls, even a small trip with no blood or bruises, the aches will last for days, sometimes weeks, it might even involve a trip to the hospital. The obvious reason for this, according to my husband, is that babies are born rubbery. As time passes, the rubber slowly begins to solidify until at adulthood we are covered in a type of material that lacks flexibility while at the same time is easily damaged by even the lightest scrape; a lose-lose kind of situation. At least it could have morphed into steel. I like the idea of being made of steel, preferably stainless.

This morning I think I’m being pulled to my husband’s point of view. I was out with the dogs on our morning walk/run (the dangers of which just keep mounting) and I was nearing my turn around tree. I decided to speed up and sprint the last bit. (Please interpret that sprint in the context of a 45 year old woman who spent her 30’s eating donuts and sitting on her increasingly expanding bum.) And just as I reached maximum speed, my toe hit a stone stuck in the ground.

As I began to fall everything went slo-mo. It was weird. I had tons of time to think things through. I thought- I do not want to fall on that hard, gravely ground. I thought- I should just try to run a bit faster and gain my balance. So I did that funny cartoon thing when they find that they have run a bit too far and are now past the end of the cliff and hanging, against all of the laws of physics, in mid air. I started flailing my arms and legs as I was propelling myself ahead. It was sad no one was around because I’m sure it would have been very amusing to watch.

What all of my flailing did was to prolong the inevitable and give me that little bit more momentum so that when I finally hit the ground I managed to slide along it for quite a substantial distance leaving behind large amounts of skin cells in my wake. I stood up slowly, picked the sand and gravel out of my teeth, and hobbled home.

For all of the magic in the world of science, at the very least by the year 2009 they should have been able to stop this de-rubberisation effect. How I long for those rubbery days.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Gem Squash Tokoloshe by Rachel Zadok

I’d been wanting to read this book for some time after reading quite a few reviews. Either I would be in Gaborone but not have money to buy it, or I’d finally have money and the book couldn’t be found. Finally I got a copy and a chance to read it and how happy I am about that.

The book is about Faith. The first part of the book is about her time on a farm in South Africa during the time that her parents are divorcing. It is laced with fairies, both good and evil, conjured up by her mentally unstable mother. Among the scary monsters that go bump in the night on the farm is the mythical tokoloshe. Tokoloshe are apparently everywhere in Southern Africa, perhaps beyond I don’t know. They are troublesome often violent spirits. In Botswana they tend to partake in sexual misdeeds (if The Voice newspaper is anything to go by), but according to this book, in South Africa they are just bad, even to the extent of killing people.

So Faith grows up haunted by her mother’s fairies as well as her mother. A tragedy at the end of the first part of the book leaves Faith essentially parent-less and she is raised by her mother’s friend. I liked the first part of the book, but as a parent I was becoming increasingly infuriated by Faith’s mother who becomes so helpless and at the same time fills the poor girl’s head with more demons than a young girl should rightly have to carry around.

I think the second part of the book shows Rachel Zadok’s metal as a writer. Faith is an adult now and her mother, who has been in a mental hospital, has died. Her death and a chance meeting with a diviner lead Faith back to the farm and to the truth she’d been unable to face but is the very thing that will let her free.

I like this book save for two criticisms. First, is the characterisation of Nomsa. Nomsa is a young, black woman who comes to the farm to help with the care of Faith while her mother is having a nervous breakdown. We just get the edge of who Nomsa is but we need more to wholly believe the ending. She’s not pulled out quite enough.

My other problem is nothing more than a niggling. Thokoloshe is spelled differently in different places in the novel. It is a word spelled in every Southern African language that uses it in a different way. If as it appears, Zadok is using Southern Sotho then let her stick to that and not change along the way. Perhaps it was just an editor’s error as I only saw the change one.

I loved reading a novel from South Africa without politics, or at least only incidentally. How refreshing!

An excellent book, I highly recommend it.