Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Author Talks

Yesterday I spoke to primary school students at Westwood International School in Gaborone all about writing. It's my third year in a row. The class I'm speaking to in this picture were the younger of the two I had this year, but they were very enthusiastic asking lots of questions and then afterward asking me to sign little slips of paper for them. It was very sweet.

I always feel a bit sad that this school, primarily filled with children of privilege, have this opportunity while kids in government schools do not. I don't know why I'm not asked to read or speak at government schools. I wish I was. I now have books prescribed in upper primary and in junior secondary schools here in Botswana so I hope I'll get a few invitations. I think meeting writers and seeing that we're just normal people lets children see that even they can be a writer one day if that's their dream. Also getting the opportunity to ask questions about writing and books is a great way for kids to cultivate a love for books and reading, one of the most important parts of education in my opinion.

I thought you'd also like to see a nice photo of an example of Gaborone's varied fauna. This photo was taking in town. I wonder what those World Cup visitors (if any spill over our border) will think of our modern African city.

Monday, March 29, 2010

How Emotional Do You Get?

If you are reading this, know I am not around. I am not here. I am off to Gaborone to Author's Day at Westwood International School. This is my third year of attendance and actually I'm looking forward to it. The librarian, Joy, who organises the event is such a -well- joy, and I look forward to seeing her and reading to the kids. My only regret, as always, is that more schools do not do this. This year though I intend to write about the day in my new column and hopefully other schools can get an idea and more such wonderful events will sprout up.

But that is not what this post is about though. That will be for another day.

I'm currently working on a novel, the project I decided to complete in Egypt. It is about a couple who go through quite a terrible ordeal (do you see how cagey I am being?) after the wife has an affair. As I'm writing, I feel so attached to my protagonist. I feel like what is happening to her, is actually happening to me. I wrote a chapter yesterday about the first phone conversation she has with her daughter after her husband chases her from their home. Through the whole chapter, I was weeping, my shirt was wet with tears. I felt like it was me, that I was banned from my home and my children for a stupid mistake that unfortunately creates a chain reaction of terrible consequences.

Are you ever swept away with your story, lost in such a way that what you're writing becomes more real than what is actually around you? I'd be interested to know.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Pre-Dawn Engagement with Mr. Genet

About four this morning I heard the dogs going mad outside. It was still dark and because of the storm in the night the electricity was still out so I couldn't see what they had up the tree, but whatever it was was something causing much excitement. My husband woke up and the sun edged its way towards day and it looked as if Chelsea and her dog, The African Sausage Dog, had treed Sgt. Catman and Senor Ramon. What was going on? We don't have dog-cat wars in our house- harmony is the rule of the day. Had the social balance changed during the night?

My husband went out to the tree and called the cats. They, uncharacteristically, climbed down from the tree and came running to us. But still the dogs were going mad.

The sun climbed a bit higher and suddenly at the tip top of the tree we saw a long, thick, furry striped tail. I got the binoculars and was surprised to see a little foxy face clothed in a beautiful spotted coat. We had a genet in our garden! The dogs had not been chasing the cats, they were a tag team against the genet!

We locked the dogs in the garage and the cats in the house and waited. And waited some more but still Mr. Genet refused to go home while the coast was clear. Three hours later and the dogs were manic to get out and the cats locked in the missing Giant Teenager's bedroom were just about to crack the puzzle of the door handle and Mr. Genet had fallen asleep in his tree.

Now the plan was to shake the tree so Mr. Genet would be uncomfortable enough up there to come down here. My husband got the pole for the pool vacuum and shook the tree and Mr. Genet came down from the tree in a flash and promptly made his home in the back shed we call the Duck House. And as I write this that is where he is.

Here is more about our new guest. I hope tonight he'll have the chance to slip away to safety. Cross fingers- I'll keep you posted.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Botswana Democratic Party Splits

One thing you can say about news in Botswana since President Ian Khama took power- it is always exciting. Hardly a day goes by without a new breaking story that leaves us frantically texting and calling and Facebooking each other. Last week it became official that BDP Member of Parliament Botsalo Ntuane and BDP stalwarts Sidney Pilane, Kabo Morwaeng, and Ndaba Gaolathe were issued letters suspending them from the party for questioning the path it is taking under Khama's leadership.

On the weekend the suspended group (dubbed Barata-Phathi) held a meeting deemed illegal by Khama's faction of the party. At that meeting, they decided they would form a new party of their own. In an attempt to stop the splitting of the ruling party, President Khama sent a delegation to the meeting asking Barata Phathi to list their grievances. The list produced was long and a bit pie-in-the-sky including such things as a review of the Constitution and the powers it awards the president of the country, the rejection of the recent recommendations from the task force on moral regeneration, and a demand that the law on declaration of assets for MPs be passed and implemented before the end of the year.

The split of the BDP, if it goes down the middle, could be a good thing for the country. It's important to have a strong, healthy opposition to maintain a strong, healthy democracy. If instead, as I suspect, it takes only the voices of sense in the party, and the bulk of the membership remains firmly behind President Khama, it will do nothing more but confuse the members of the electorate who see things in the country veering in the wrong direction. Who should they vote for- Botswana Congress Party (BCP), the only sensible opposition party, or the new Barata Phathi Party? It will do little more than divide an already divided opposition vote and leave the BDP even more firmly in control.

Why couldn't Ntuane and friends find a home at the BCP? That way the opposition would be strengthened. I think it may be more about positions and power than patriotism. I'm not optimistic that this new move will change anything but it certainly sells newspapers so that's a good thing.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Buzzing in my Head

For some reason the world around me seems to be buzzing lately, but it is a nerve wracking buzz with an edge of uncertainty. I feel like I am at a cross roads of some sort and I can't quite see clearly through all of the smoke and the noise that clouds my mind. Being a compulsive planner of note such a situation does not sit well with me.

In a little more than a month I'll be gone to Egypt. The preparations around this seem to fill my mind. I've sent my passport for the visa and have bought the ticket. The book I want to write there has been troubling me, so in a move to get a handle on the situation I have started the rough draft. I'm writing like a fiend, 5000-8000 words per day on the rough draft. The story is forcing its way out. It is rough and will need work, but I feel better getting out. This is helping to ease the mind noise a bit, but anticipation of the trip and what I'll find there is creating a loud noise so this small alleviation is hardly noticed.

I've been paid the first of my two big royalty cheques. It was for two short story collections prescribed for primary schools in Botswana. I co-wrote the books with two other Batswana writers. I hesitate to write the amount of the cheque, but as a service to writers who live here and are curious about such things I will do it- it was P84,000 and some change, this is in the middle of the credit crunch mind you. We had negotiated a non-royalty deducted advance paid out upon delivery of the manuscripts. I recently read a news article in The Daily News from a Setswana writer who had a book prescribed (poetry) who complained about the small amount of money he received from his book as compared to the publisher. I think his complaints were disingenuous and smack of inexperience and naivete in the publishing industry. I was more than happy with that cheque and the deal we made with the publisher.

Some of the noise in my mind is caused by the hype developing around the television series I co-wrote for PSI called Morwalela. It will soon be shown on Botswana Television (BTV) and I'm anxious to see how it will go. Combined with this is my column that will be starting the first week of April. And then there is the first romance which will be coming on in a few weeks.

Buzz, buzz, buzz- how can a writer work with all of this noise?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Support Words Etc.

Words Etc is a fantastic (!!) South African literary journal. It includes interesting articles about the craft and the status of writing and writers in South Africa (and occasionally Southern Africa and the rest of the continent). It has short stories and creative nonfiction. Occasionally some travel articles and always loads of book reviews.

This quarter's issue is all about crime fiction- one of my favourite genres. The cover sports the successful crime writer Margie Orford author of the Dr. Clare Hart series which includes the books Blood Rose, Like Clockwork and Daddy's Girl. Inside the pages you'll find an extensive article and an interview that gives insight into Orford's reasons as to why she needs to write crime fiction living in such a crime ridden country. Very interesting.

There is an insightful article by Sarah Lotz about writing legal thrillers in a South Africa with its inconsistent legal past and present. A travel article by Bronwyn Mclennan about her recent trip to Russia and an analysis of prostitution in South African crime novels by Nora Kruger. There are reviews of Nairobi Heat by Mukoma wa Ngugi, Jassy Mackenzie's My Brother's Keeper, Begging to be Black by Antjie Krog, and The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers (definitely want to get this one!) as well as many other wonderful books. There is even a short story by Helen Moffett giving yet another handy way to deal with the unsightly problem of infidelity. It is indeed a literary banquet fit for a queen or king, whichever the case may be.

In this paper-hating time we live in, I fear for Words Etc. It is such a wonderful magazine done with such passion and finesse, and so very important for this part of the world where books and writers often fall to the back of a queue of more pressing issues. Perhaps it is just selfishness on my part, but I so want Words Etc to continue for a very long time. It's a magazine that people from all over the world can treasure. So please susbscribe! Click HERE to get the information about subscription.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Bed Book of Short Stories

Modjaji Books is an independent publisher in South Africa who publishes writing from women in Southern Africa. They have been very successful despite their small size. They have won awards for their poetry books, and their novel, Whiplash, was shortlisted for last year's Sunday Times Fiction award.

I was honoured to be asked to help compile a collection of short stories around the theme of bed -and now the book is ready for pre-orders! It has a fantastic collection of writers including flash fiction star Liesl Jobson; author of the hilarious book Exhibit A, Sarah Lotz; and our new up and coming short story writer Gothataone Moeng, among many other fabulous, talented writers. See the list here.

Modjaji Books is one of the publishers attending this year's London Book Fair which is having a South African focus. In celebration of this upcoming event, they are having a sale on their new titles, including the Bed Book.
Support a very special publisher.

Yeah for Modjaji!!

Monday, March 15, 2010

My New Column!!

I get a lot of writers, especially from Botswana, calling and sending emails asking about publishing and how to go about it. After over six years of being in this writing business, I have had some successes, made my share of mistakes, and learned a lot along the way. Last year I got the idea that maybe I could convince one of the national newspapers to carry a column about publishing, writing and books; a practical column that helps Batswana writers and shines a bit of light on their accomplishments.

I put together a proposal and sent it out to Mmegi, Midweek Sun and Guardian and waited. And waited. Yes, they were interested but "these things take time". And waited yet again. In the meanwhile thanks to Facebook I met Beata Kasale, one of the owners of The Voice newspaper. I first met her in cyberspace and then in real life. I found her so interesting and we hit it off straight away. Though at first I didn't think The Voice was the right paper for such a column, I liked Beata so much and she was so enthusiastic about my idea ,I changed my mind. Now after a meeting last week and more thought I think The Voice is going to be a perfect home. It is the most read paper in the country and the whole point of the column is to get the information out there. The plan is to talk about publishing and how to go about it, but also to include snippets of publishing and book news. The column will start the first week of April.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Celebrate Read an eBook Week by Buying 100 Stories for Haiti

I know many of you are skeptical about ebooks, but there is one thing we must accept- they WILL be part of our future. This week is Read an eBook Week and what better way to jump on this new horse than with a lovely book like 100 Stories for Haiti which is now waiting anxiously to be bought by many, many people.
The book includes short stories from writers living all over our planet. They donated stories after a call was sent out by UK writer Greg McQueen. Any money made goes to the Red Cross to help the Haitian people put their lives back together after the devastating earthquake.
The stories are short (under 1000 word), uplifting, and just the right size to read during tea break or while waiting in the queue at the bank or while your rice is cooking.
Then eat a chocolate as a present to yourself because you have done a very good thing. Thank You!!!! :)
Remember- you do not need an ebook reader to read ebooks. There are formats which you can read on your computer, PDA, smart phone, or laptop such as PDF and RTF. Have no fear jump in- the water's great and there are no sharks- promise!

Monday, March 8, 2010

International Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day everybody!

I remember being a little girl and thinking how I'd hate to be a boy because everything was so limiting. Girls could wear dresses and trousers, while boys were trapped in trousers forever. Girls could cry but also fight. I was lucky because I was born when it was no longer acceptable to stop a girl from being anything she wanted to be. In the chaotic world of my childhood, growing up and getting married just didn't seem like a sensible plan for a life. Far too fragile and prone to wild emotions, so I was never the little girl dreaming of a white wedding and an even whiter picket fence. I wanted something a bit sturdier and in a more sensible colour.

I know my freedom of choice was won from the wars fought by the women who went before me, and I am forever thankful for that.

In Botswana, women are in a fairly good position as long as they have an income. Poor women here, like poor women everywhere, are vulnerable. They get in relationships with men and become trapped because of economics. Once trapped they are vulnerable to violence and other forms of domestic abuse. They are also unable to negotiate things such as condom use making them more likely to contract HIV/AIDS.

In Botswana, abortion is illegal. Women are forced to go to unhygienic and untrained abortionists and, if they are found out, they are taken to prison. The prisons are full of women who had no choice. Again this burden falls on poor women. Women with money can go over the border to South Africa where abortion is legal and can be done in a clinic or hospital.

It is shocking how the issue is rarely discussed in the country. The missionaries were highly successful in Botswana and Christianity is rampant and nearly mandatorily assumed. As a long time member of Emang Basadi (a women's' rights NGO), I've been in discussions with some of the leading women's rights activists in this country and when abortion is brought up even they are vehemently against it. This saddens me.

Today as we think about the progress women have made, we should know too that the work continues. Until all women have unlimited choices, free of constraint of any kind, the struggle must continue.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My Lovely New Tea Set!!! (Yes- it needs 3 exclamation points)

My husband is the best gift buyer in the world. In the past he has bought me a puppy for Valentine's Day (my dear Chelsea), an iMac (where my writing career began) for our 10th wedding anniversary, and the well known and coveted Accumulator for this year's birthday.

This last weekend we went over the border to South Africa with a sick friend and when we came back he bought me this lovely tea set. I make a pot of tea every morning for breakfast and I am very fussy about the pot I use. Size, shape and colour all play a large role. This teapot has now become my favourite by a very wide margin. It is so jolly and green; what else does one need? I'm already a big fan of enamelware of all kinds, so this is like enamelware with whipped cream, chocolate sprinkles, and a cherry on top.

My favourite bits are the little girls and their ever changing dresses and hair styles. The girls on the tray, the sugar bowl, the milk jug, and the teapot are all different. It makes me think of Giant Teenager No.1 who is now free from school hairstyle dictates, and is changing her hair almost daily. Yesterday when we came home from South Africa, she had changed to a wild crop of short maphondo on the top of her head with the bottom shaved nearly bare with three stripes on each side and all dyed maroon.

My second favourite thing about the tea set are the giraffes. I'm a currently considering starting a petition to remove the buffalo (ugly) from the Big Five and have the elegant and beautiful giraffe take its place. I'm still working on the wording for the petition because I'd also like to see how the under-rated warthog might find a place in that illustrious grouping. Big Six perhaps? Big Six is so much tidier with its symmetry of three-letter-word butted up against three-letter-word. Anyway, like I said, I'm still considering the wording, but the point is I like giraffes and I very much like the giraffes I will be having my morning tea with for now on.

Though I didn't know it at the time, this tea set is made by a very lovely South African group called Lumela Afrika. According to their website they do all sorts of wonderful things.


And here, having nothing at all to do with tea sets or gifts, except that I found this photo in my camera when I was downloading the tea set pics, are the cats busy at their day job.

Monday, March 1, 2010

It's a Blogsplash with Thaw!!

Ruth's diary is the new novel by Fiona Robyn, called Thaw. She has decided to blog the novel in its entirety over the next few months, so you can read it for free.

Ruth's first entry is below, and you can continue reading tomorrow here.


These hands are ninety-three years old. They belong to Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. She was so frail that her grand-daughter had to carry her onto the set to take this photo. It’s a close-up. Her emaciated arms emerge from the top corners of the photo and the background is black, maybe velvet, as if we’re being protected from seeing the strings. One wrist rests on the other, and her fingers hang loose, close together, a pair of folded wings. And you can see her insides.

The bones of her knuckles bulge out of the skin, which sags like plastic that has melted in the sun and is dripping off her, wrinkling and folding. Her veins look as though they’re stuck to the outside of her hands. They’re a colour that’s difficult to describe: blue, but also silver, green; her blood runs through them, close to the surface. The book says she died shortly after they took this picture. Did she even get to see it? Maybe it was the last beautiful thing she left in the world.

I’m trying to decide whether or not I want to carry on living. I’m giving myself three months of this journal to decide. You might think that sounds melodramatic, but I don’t think I’m alone in wondering whether it’s all worth it. I’ve seen the look in people’s eyes. Stiff suits travelling to work, morning after morning, on the cramped and humid tube. Tarted-up girls and gangs of boys reeking of aftershave, reeling on the pavements on a Friday night, trying to mop up the dreariness of their week with one desperate, fake-happy night. I’ve heard the weary grief in my dad’s voice.

So where do I start with all this? What do you want to know about me? I’m Ruth White, thirty-two years old, going on a hundred. I live alone with no boyfriend and no cat in a tiny flat in central London. In fact, I had a non-relationship with a man at work, Dan, for seven years. I’m sitting in my bedroom-cum-living room right now, looking up every so often at the thin rain slanting across a flat grey sky. I work in a city hospital lab as a microbiologist. My dad is an accountant and lives with his sensible second wife Julie, in a sensible second home. Mother finished dying when I was fourteen, three years after her first diagnosis. What else? What else is there?

Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. I looked at her hands for twelve minutes. It was odd describing what I was seeing in words. Usually the picture just sits inside my head and I swish it around like tasting wine. I have huge books all over my flat; books you have to take in both hands to lift. I’ve had the photo habit for years. Mother bought me my first book, black and white landscapes by Ansel Adams. When she got really ill, I used to take it to bed with me and look at it for hours, concentrating on the huge trees, the still water, the never-ending skies. I suppose it helped me think about something other than what was happening. I learned to focus on one photo at a time rather than flicking from scene to scene in search of something to hold me. If I concentrate, then everything stands still. Although I use them to escape the world, I also think they bring me closer to it. I’ve still got that book. When I take it out, I handle the pages as though they might flake into dust.

Mother used to write a journal. When I was small, I sat by her bed in the early mornings on a hard chair and looked at her face as her pen spat out sentences in short bursts. I imagined what she might have been writing about; princesses dressed in star-patterned silk, talking horses, adventures with pirates. More likely she was writing about what she was going to cook for dinner and how irritating Dad’s snoring was.

I’ve always wanted to write my own journal, and this is my chance. Maybe my last chance. The idea is that every night for three months, I’ll take one of these heavy sheets of pure white paper, rough under my fingertips, and fill it up on both sides. If my suicide note is nearly a hundred pages long, then no-one can accuse me of not thinking it through. No-one can say; ‘It makes no sense; she was a polite, cheerful girl, had everything to live for’, before adding that I did keep myself to myself. It’ll all be here. I’m using a silver fountain pen with purple ink. A bit flamboyant for me, I know. I need these idiosyncratic rituals; they hold things in place. Like the way I make tea, squeezing the tea-bag three times, the exact amount of milk, seven stirs. My writing is small and neat; I’m striping the paper. I’m near the bottom of the page now. Only ninety-one more days to go before I’m allowed to make my decision. That’s it for today. It’s begun.

Continue reading tomorrow here...