Thursday, April 28, 2011

Giving those Characters Depth

I love starting a new book and that's what I'm doing just now. I'm starting a new romance provisionally titled That Kiss in Egypt. But don't get the wrong idea about the goings on during my writers residency in Egypt last year- there was no kissing- the entire story is one that originated in my mind. But I am using my time there and my recent trip to London to assist with my setting. My main characters meet in El Gouna but live in London, I even have my main lady, Kendra, working at The Royal Opera House which was just opposite my hotel in London.

When I start a book I always start with character bibles and my plot map. I want to get my characters solidly in my mind before I start writing or it will lead to lengthy rewrites when they decide to become vegetarians half way through the book or they suddenly pull out their 10 year old son. I want to know these people before we spend the next months together.

Sometimes writing down who they are is not enough. This morning before I started writing I was thinking about my characters. I realised I knew my man, Asra, but Kendra was not clear. I couldn't see her. If she passed me on the street I might not even know her.

This is when I need to go searching. I look in magazines, sometimes on line to try and find Kendra. Sometimes she can't be found in one whole. Sometimes you need to see her bits and pieces in a few photos. And that's what happened to me this morning. So this is what I got, here is my Kendra. Now we can get on with things.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Don't Fight Piracy, Sort out Your Distribution

I read an interesting article about why spending money to stop ebook piracy is useless and a waste of resources. According to the article people who download books, movies or music illegally usually wouldn't do it if the supplier made the getting of such things easier.

"Common reasons are: convenience (in a file format of your choice to use on a device of your choice), speed (why wait for it to become available here if you can already get it elsewhere? It feels unfair, and more important: the consumer doesn’t want to wait) or availability (see the Harry Potter example, as mentioned on FutureBook two weeks ago)."

The author of the article,Timo Boezeman, makes the case that many of the real pirates out there were never going to buy the product legally anyway, so why waste your time on them.

So the answer to the bulk of piracy problems may be better service. Apparently at the London Book Fair some publisher tried to make a case that royalties on ebooks could not go up because publishers need to spend extra money to stop piracy.

What do you think about this?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter Everyone!!

Enjoy your holiday, use the time wisely (interpreted NO WORK) -I may be reminding myself. This is the Easter cake I made for the Giant Teenagers, a bit wonky Easter Bunny-Man but he'll do the job!
Happy Easter Everyone! Keep safe.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Botswana's Civil Servants' Strike

Since Monday the civil service in Botswana, numbering over 90,000 employees, have been on strike. Despite raging inflation in the country, for three years civil servants have had no wage adjustment. Enough was enough. The unions asked for a 16% increase and our President, in a misguided move in a country founded on consultation, chose not to meet with them. He went on to criticise the government employees for asking for a wage increase during hard economic times. One wonders why during those same hard economic times he chose to refurbish the statehouse at extravagant expense and establish his pet project, the spy unit, DIS. Priorities I suppose is the only answer. Paying civil servants a respectable salary just is not on our President's list of priorities. The unions had no option but to call for a 10 day strike, from April 18-29.

So this week there has been little to no teaching, hospitals and clinics are operating on a skeletal staff, and even Botswana Television had to go without the nightly weather report because the meteorology folks had downed tools.

We're lucky to have a thriving private press for people who can still afford to buy the newspapers, because if you were left with the government media you would be under the impression that all was rosy in our country, that the strike was having no effect at all. Botswana Television (BTV) ran "news" stories that revealed yet again that the television station is nothing more than a propaganda arm of the ruling party. In the BTV world, the strike was barely happening. It was almost laughable if it wasn't for the fact that tax money is used to run the station.

The cost of living in Botswana is escalating on a daily basis. I feel for the civil servants who see that their pay check can buy less and less. At the same time the government is raising fees on such things as passports and introducing levies on things such as alcohol and tobacco, levies that economists have cautioned are money that can be misused by government, primarily the executive, as it is not controlled by Parliament.

A cautious, foreboding wind blows across Botswana. We look across our border at a sitting president who cares nothing about the suffering of his people, who will not listen to reason, who has destroyed his country's economy because of his arrogance, who controls state media with an iron fist and we Batswana feel sad for the poor Zimbabweans. We should look carefully at the state of our neighbour's house for it may describe the future of our own.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Read-a-thon Non-Sponsors: Botswana's Safari Companies

As the vice chair of the Writers Association of Botswana (WABO) I've been sitting on the Reading Association of Botswana (RAB)'s organising committee for the upcoming 7th Pan-African Reading Conference to take place from the 11-14th July this year at the University of Botswana. One task I was given was to organise a Read-a-Thon for students in Botswana to get them involved in the conference and to get them reading.

At the Cape Town Book Fair I listened to a woman speak about a reading contest in Ghana where the final prize was a trip to Disney World. Imagine! So I thought at the very least I could get the safari operators and tour businesses up north in the Okavango Delta to sponsor a trip for our winners.

If you don't know, Botswana has a low capacity tourism policy, this means that exclusive, high priced resorts are built so that fewer people can visit the Okavango Delta. What this means for citizens is the vast majority of them will never be able to afford to see the premier tourist attraction in their own country. A sad but true reality. So a trip like this for the most prolific readers would have been incredible.

At the end of last year I sent out emails to about 25 tourism companies including the biggest- Wilderness Safaris. I did follow-up calls and follow-up emails and not a single one offered anything. Not a room, not a flight in, not a tour. Just goes to show what they think about the country from which they earn their very hefty livelihood and the residents that live here. Was I angry about this? Damn right. Am I still? Same answer.

I was so discouraged by this, in fact, it took me quite some time to get my head back in the game afterwards. I decided fine; I would stick to the people I know, the people I understand.

I approached booksellers and newspapers. Businesses barely holding onto their ever dwindling profit margin but yet they stepped right up to the plate without hesitation.

The Voice Newspaper offered the advertising space to put the entry form for four insertions. Modjaji Books (South Africa), Pentagon Publishers and Botswana Book Project donated books. And there are still other publishers I'm sure are going to donate as well. Five Stars and a standing ovation for these companies that really care about the future of our kids!!

Instead of a trip to the Delta, the kids will get books and cash and a trip to Gaborone to receive their prizes at the Conference where 700 international delegates will be there to witness.

700 delegates that might have wanted to visit the Okavango Delta with a tour company that cared about reading, books, and the education of the children of this country. What a missed opportunity!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

To be a Genius....

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."
Albert Einstein

Thought we might need this one today. I know I do. :)

Monday, April 11, 2011

D.I.Y. Publishing

My South African writing friend Judy Croome is doing it for herself! She is self publishing her book Dancing in the Shadows as an ebook and she made her own book trailer. This is her first attempt at making a video and I for one think it is fabulous!It really gives me inspiration to try and do an ebook of my own, one of my New Year's resolutions that seems to be slipping from my grasp.

Take a look at it here.

Good luck with the book Judy! If this haunting trailer is anything to go by it is going to be great!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Writing Contest Rules

Anyone who has followed my career knows I love writing contests. I love them because they get my name out there. Wins in a world of rejection validates a writer, lets you know that you are doing something right. I've won prizes in all sorts of contests. I've won cash, the biggest prize so far has been R25,000 for one story. I once won a laptop, I even won a diamond necklace, all for my writing. So contests have been good to me and very important to my career. I'm grateful for each and every one.

What's the point of running writing contests for the organisers? They want to set standards by evaluating the writing and saying - "this is the best". What is good writing changes. A short story that might have won a writing contest 50 years ago wouldn't fare so well in a contest today because tastes of readers and writers change. Contests mark out the boundaries of those changes by choosing winners and saying this is the standard we are working for now.

This is why I find certain rules for contests odd. Just now I read on the website for the Golden Baobab Prize, a contest I have won twice, that past winners can no longer enter. This is also the case for our local Bessie Head Literature Award. If you've won in a certain category you cannot enter for five years. In a small country like Botswana with a handful of writers it seems a ludicrous rule that flies in the face of the purpose of a writing contest if indeed it is to award writing excellence.

The Golden Baobab Prize states as its vision: "to identify the African literary giants of the next generation and produce classic African stories that will be appreciated for years to come". Okay, that's a lofty, commendable objective but how do you do that when with each passing year you skim off the cream and throw it in the dustbin? The pool of writers becomes smaller and of poorer quality with each passing year. Your giants shrink.

The first year of this prize I won the junior category and was shortlisted for the senior category, the second year (last year) I won the senior category and was shortlisted in the junior category. It means now with the change in rules, I can no longer enter.

People can think I'm selfish and want to monopolise the prize, but that would be the wrong take on my position. In actual fact, I feel the opposite. If indeed we want the best African children's literature to originate from the Golden Baobab Prize, then everyone must be allowed to enter. I want to be beaten, then we know that the winners are truly the giants.

I was once told that a certain writer was "beyond the Caine Prize". If the Caine Prize is the measure for the best African short story writers, then if all short story writers cannot be considered then it is not a true measure, we are now lowering expectations, calling something excellent but only within a qualified ring.

I have no problem with prizes meant to develop writers. I do not try to enter contests meant for unpublished writers, for example. If the Golden Baobab Prize wants to be a prize to develop up and coming African children's writers, then let it be said, that too is a lofty vision. But if it wants to set the standard for excellence in children's writing on the continent, then I believe the organisers are doing the Prize a disservice.

Monday, April 4, 2011

So What's Up with Me?

Thought I'd do a quick round-up of what's been happening with me.

1. Aunt Lulu is quickly making her way to publication. I've had the edits from the editor and have seen the cover. Getting quite excited since it is my first time working with Tafelberg quite a large, well established South African publisher. I really like Aunt Lulu, I hadn't read it for awhile until I went over the edits. It is for teens and I think (hope) they'll find it quite funny. It's about a girl, Amogelang, who dreams of becoming a world famous journalist one day, who gets roped in by the editor of her school newspaper to write the agony aunt column, Aunt Lulu. Here's an excerpt:

“So,” Lorato continued, ignoring me completely, “I really need a responsible person doing the column, someone who knows the importance of discretion. Someone I can trust. Someone who can keep secrets. Someone who can empathise with these people and help them find solutions to their problems. And, of course, I thought of my most trusted reporter – you.”

All I heard was “most trusted reporter”. I couldn’t believe it! It matters a lot when someone you respect says something like that.

I’ll admit, looking back, I was then at her mercy. My head swelled up and that could have caused some sort of brain misfiring. That’s what I think, anyway. Even though I could smell danger in the air and thought running the Aunt Lulu column was really a demotion compared to the hard-hitting articles I had been doing, I could do nothing but say yes. My mouth, all by itself said, “I’d love to do the Aunt Lulu column, Lorato.”

And that was it. Looking back, that “yes” when I really meant “no” was where everything took a wrong turn. It was when my life began to unravel and it is what brought me to the place I am now – contemplating an early exit from school and a trip to Kurdistan. Years from now, when I have a shaved head and live on a barren, wind-pummelled mountain, eating dirt and stones to sustain myself and spending the bulk of my day sitting cross-legged humming OMMMMMM, I will look back at the manipulative way Lorato pulled me from a firm “NO” to a wishy-washy, slippery-sliding “yes”, and blame it all on that one wrong decision.

2. Mr Not Quite Good Enough, my third romance with Sapphire Press, is also getting itself ready to go out into the world. The date for publication is this August. I've had the edits and seen the beautiful cover. I got the idea for the book from the South African talk show host Noleen. She had some famous South African singletons on her show talking about dating and relationships. One of the men ask one of the famous actresses if she would date a petrol attendant. She tried her best to convince him that she would but no one believed her. I decided to write a book about a successful woman making that jump for love and dating the petrol attendant she has a connection with instead of the long line of rich, successful men she doesn't really care about.

3. Sapphire is getting a lot of buzz in the media. I was interviewed recently for this article.

4. Fellow writer, Uche Umez, has asked writers what the hardest part of the job is for them. Here is my answer. What's yours? What's the most difficult part of writing for you?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Excellent Customer Service from Transworld Publishers

I love owning books and I love Kate Atkinson. So imagine my disappointment when I finally purchase (in London) the two Kate Atkinson novels I've not read and when I get back to Botswana one of them falls apart.

So I dash off an email to Transworld Publishers, with photos, to show that their book has fallen apart. In a day I got an email back apologising for the problem. I was told I would get a replacement and could also pick an additional book. I chose Kate Atkinson's collection of short stories, Not the End of the World.

And in a few weeks look what has arrived!

Transworld Publishers gets five stars in my book for excellent customer service!!!