Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My 2011- A Very Good Year Indeed!!

Though most people get excited about Christmas, my favourite thing about this time of the year is New Year's. It gives me a chance to look back over the year and assess how it went and to look forward to what the new year has for me.

Link1. I had three fantastic trips this year. The first was to London in February to speak at the London School of Economics during their Space for Thought Literary Festival. See photos of the trip here. On that trip I had the opportunity to meet the fantastic writing trio of: Sue Guiney, Tania Hershman and Vanessa Gebbie. What a treat that was! A podcast of my talk can be listened to here. The trip was sponsored by Botswana's Department of Arts and Culture.

2. The second and third trips were actually combined. I set off for Lagos Nigeria in June then passed back through London on my way home to Botswana. In Lagos, I was privileged to attend the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop run by Chimamanda Adichie and included other fabulous teachers such as Binyavanga Wainaina, Tash Aw and Faith Adiele. So grateful for that opportunity and I learned a lot!

3. The last trip to London was a result of me being shortlisted for The Caine Prize. I was honoured even if I was not the winner.You can read my thoughts at the time here. Fabulous things have happened to me as a direct result of that shortlisting. One of the most important is I met the owner of HopeRoad the publisher of my short story collection ebook, In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata and Other Stories. We spoke, I liked her, I sent her my manuscript and now we're working together. I also met the folks from The New Internationalist and will be writing a column for them starting in March 2012. I really need to thank Colleen Higgs the boss at Modjaji Books for submitting McPhineas for the Caine. At the time I thought she was crazy, I was sure it had no chance. Just goes to show what I know about these things and how wise Ms Higgs is.

4. I was lucky this year to have three books published. The first was a romance published by Sapphire titled Mr Not Quite Good Enough which came out in July. The second book, which is doing very well in South Africa, is the young adult, humorous book, Signed Hopelessly in Love , published by Tafelberg that came out in August. The book has since gone on to receive fantastic reviews including being mentioned in Oprah Magazine's "44 Brilliant Reads". The last is my ebook short story collection already mentioned above, In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata and Other Stories (all stories set in Botswana), which came out last week.

5. Personally, it's also been a great year. Both of my children are now at university with my son starting his first year of a Bsc degree. My daughter is in her second year of architecture. My husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary and were lucky enough to do that in the UK, thanks to the Caine nomination. The 11th of July, our anniversary, was also the awards dinner in Oxford. A magical day on all counts. (the photo at the top is of Mr K and I at Oxford before the dinner, taken by NoViolet Bulwayo who went on to win the prize, a worthy winner and a good photographer too!!)

6. The only downside for 2011 is that one of my goals for the year was to have my first, full length adult novel published. This I didn't achieve. I have two out there; one with an agent, one with a publisher, so perhaps that dream is meant to come true in 2012. I'll have to wait and see.

I hope your 2011 was as great as mine and I wish you a magical, prosperous and healthy 2012. PULA!!!!!!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Two Favourite Books For 2011

I read a lot and I've loved most of the books I've read this year, but two stand out above the others.

The first is Aminatta Forna's The Memory of Love. It was such a touching gentle way to tell the brutal story of the war in Sierra Leone.

I loved the way the author wove together the four story lines. It is sad but somehow not hopeless. Such an excellent read, it still lives actively in my mind though I read it months ago.

The other book that had a profound effect on me this year was Binyavanga Wainaina's One Day I Will Write About This Place. It is the coming of age story of a middle class boy in Kenya, a special boy who reads with an insatiable hunger and will one day go on to win the Caine Prize.

I read very little non-fiction but I can recommend this book unreservedly to everyone. The writing cracks with electricity. It is hilarious and touching. The chapter about his mother's death, written like an obituary, had me weeping so hard I had to change my shirt. You'll not have met a book like this before, I can assure you. Buy this book, come back and thank me later after you've read it.

I read everything, books from everywhere, and I'm quite pleased to find that my two favourites, the ones that stand out from all of the others, are both African stories by African writers. That makes me very happy.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Help Make a Film About the South African Border Wars

My friend, South African Janet Van Eeden Harrison, is in the process of making a movie about her brother. Janet is an established scriptwriter and has written among others the award winning movie White Tiger. Her brother was a carefree rock musician until he was conscripted into the South African Defense Force (SADF) to fight a border war in Namibia under the Apartheid regime. Many young men's lives were ruined by being forced to fight and kill people. The story of Janet's brother is just one of millions of stories from all sides of the war.

Her brother came back changed. He had a complete breakdown and eventually had to be admitted into a mental hospital. He was released and sadly committed suicide.

Janet has already written the book and the script for the movie. Now she needs our help. She needs donations of any amount. She's also looking for actors.

Go to her website to learn more. This is an important project, let's http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifmake sure it is a success.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Our Sunday Walk

After the first good rains a few weeks ago, Mr K and I took the dogs for a long walk one Sunday. We visited two ponds near our house and I was happy to find tadpoles, one of nature's magic tricks. We also saw the most magnificent flower. Sadly I forgot my camera. Neither of us had ever seen that kind of flower before coming from a very nondescript plant.

Today we went out again. The tadpoles are now at that awkward teenage stage of being a tiny frog at the front and still a tadpole at the back. They were hopping and swimming and not quite knowing what they were meant to do.

We also found the flower again, but now it had dried up but it was still wonderful. I brought one home. I decided it would make a nice Christmas decoration. I got out the silver and gold spray paint.

When it dried I hung it up above our front door, a new take on a Christmas wreath. What do you think of it? I'm quite pleased!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata and Other Stories- the Book is Out Now!!!

I just got word from my publisher, HopeRoad Publishing, that my ebook short story collection, In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata and Other Stories is now out. The collection includes some of my stories set in Botswana. A few, like the title story, have been shortlisted or won prizes including Pulane's Eyes, Jacob's New Bike and The Lies We Can't Hide (which was titled The Christmas Wedding and won two prizes in the 2007 AngloPlatinum Short Story Contest).

The collection is a wonderful example of all of the residual effects of being shortlisted for the Caine Prize. I met the owner of HopeRoad at one of our readings at the British Museum. I liked her straight away. We spoke and when I got home I sent her the manuscript. She liked it and here we are.

The cover photo is from the very talented Graham of One Stone Crow.

You can BUY your copy HERE....please! You can also buy it on Amazon for your Kindle - HERE. Let me know what you think about it.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Submitting a Non-Fiction Book

One thing good about searching for an agent or a publisher for a non fiction book is that, unlike a novel, the book need not be written already. Most publishers and agents will want the following things:
• An overview of the book .
• The author’s bio/CV and marketing plan.
• A table of contents, chapter summaries and sample chapters.

As always check the website for the individual publisher or agent you’re sending to as they may want particular things and not others. Let’s look closer at each of these.

Overview of the book
Think of this as an advert for the book. It tells what your book is about. It should pull out all of the exciting things in your book. It should tell the publisher why your book is the very best on this topic and why you are the best person to write it. What will your unique take on the subject be to add to the discussion? The book overview should be about 1-2 pages long.

Author’s Bio and Marketing Plan
Your bio should talk about everything relevant, with the most important bits at the beginning. If you’re writing a book on the history of the Bakgatla royal family, you should not start your bio with where you went to primary school.
Perhaps you’ve worked in the Bakgatla kgotla your entire life or you write the historical column in their monthly newsletter. These should be at the top of your bio. Your bio needs to shout why you are THE expert on the topic that you’re writing about.
You should also include if you are a regular speaker on the topic. Mention the places where you have spoken or appeared on panels. This is what we call the writer’s platform. Other parts of your platform include your presence on the internet.

Do you have a Twitter account? Do you have a professional website or blog? How many visitors do these get per month? As for marketing, for a non-fiction book the publisher will assume that you already have a platform. Perhaps your book is about overcoming rape.
You might have groups you work with that have already mentioned that they would buy the book when it comes out, tell the publisher this. In this section, talk about what you have done or are currently doing to build up fans and potential book Know your competition. Maybe your non-fiction book is on life counselling.
There are hundreds of such books on the market. Talk about those books and what they are lacking that yours has. Talk about who you expect to buy your book. Is your book a how-to guide to setting up a business in Botswana? Is it for foreigners wanting to come to Botswana and start businesses or for Batswana entrepreneurs? Show the publisher you know who you’re writing for.

Table of Contents, Chapter Overviews and Sample Chapters
Most agents and publishers will require a detailed table of contents (with appendices) so that they know what topics will be covered in the book. Also you’ll need to write chapter overviews for each chapter.
These should be written in the style you intend to use for the book. Will your book be casual and friendly or academic? As for the sample chapter that you send, it should be written exactly as you want it to be in the final book. It needn’t be the first chapter; you rather choose the most exciting chapter in the book.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Things to Look Out for In Contracts

In Botswana, as it is in most of Africa, as writers we operate without agents.
What this means is that you have no one in your corner who is familiar with contracts. You are on your own unless you have money to hire a lawyer but even then it can be problematic because I doubt most lawyers in Botswana are that familiar with the publishing business and publishing contracts and their implications.

To compound that problem, by the time a writer gets a publishing contract they have spent years writing a book and have had piles of rejections and are so thankful that finally a publisher likes their book they will sign just about anything out of sheer gratitude. But take my advice, once you get the contract, turn on your business mind or you will be regretting it for a very long time.

I’m not saying publishers are out to get you, they’re not. Publishers want what you want- to sell many copies of your book. But in the end they are businesses, they want to maximise their profit margin. Your publisher has likely said many lovely things but if it is not written down in the contract it is not legally binding. There will be no, “…but you said…” after you’ve signed on the dotted line.

So let’s look at a few things regarding contracts that you should pay attention to.

1. A contract is a suggestion
When the publisher gives you that contract they are showing you what they want. It is the beginning of negotiations. Negotiations don’t mean that you are fighting. You often hear publishers saying they don’t like working with difficult writers. Negotiating the terms of your contract is not being difficult. You need to make sure what you sign is what you want to be signing. Ask for everything you want. The publisher will then say yes or no. If there are things that you must have and the publisher is unwilling to budge on them, you need to keep in mind that it is better to walk away from a bad contract than to sign one.

2. Know what area of the world will be covered
When signing a contract for a book, you are handing over the copyright for that book to the publisher. If that publisher only has the capacity to sell books in Southern Africa, then why would you give them the copyright to sell the book in the entire world? Publishers want world rights, they’re optimistic that something might happen to allow them to sell books everywhere. You don’t need to wait for that. As a writer you can insist that they take only the rights for the area where they are able to sell now. In this way, you can sell the copyright to another publisher for the same book who can sell the book in the other places the first publisher can’t. If the publisher is only able to sell books in Botswana, you cross out “world rights” on the contract and write “Botswana rights only”.

3. Watch Out for Ebooks
The world of publishing is in flux. Things are changing on a daily basis. In Africa, ebooks are not so big, but they are exploding overseas. Many of our contracts include electronic books under the same contract as print books. Check if this is the case with your contract. This is not the best scenario unless the ebooks are in their own clause that stipulates the royalty rate separately. The standard royalty rate right now for ebooks is 25%. I’ve found most contracts in Southern Africa at least, want to give authors the same rate as print books, normally 10-15%. The reason ebooks get a hire rate is because they are usually produced after the print book, so all cover design and editing costs should have been taken up by the print book and also they are usually sold at a lower rate.

4. Check the Definition of Out of Print
For print books after a certain time the publisher will no longer print nor distribute your book. When this happens, the copyright should revert back to the author. Now with print on demand (POD) a publisher trying to be funny, can say the book is still available for sale when in fact it really isn’t so that they can retain the copyright, just in case. Make sure this clause is crystal clear.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Story for AIDS Day

Only to Believe

Matlapeng blames himself for her death. Things might have been different if only he had done the right thing from the beginning. She came to him that icy day in a controlled panic. “I’ve got the results,” she said.” I’m positive.” It meant he was likely positive too. They’d been lovers for more than five years, but she was the one who was sick. “I’ve thought about it. Mosadi knows of a church. It’s up north near the border.”

“Tebby, you know it’s not like that.” He took her small pretty face in his hands. He loved her with desperation at that moment, like a favourite toy that he’d soon have to give away. “It’s a virus. Didn’t they speak about ARV’s at the clinic?”

She stood up and began pacing, annoyed that he couldn’t see it her way. “Yes, they told me all about that, but Mosadi knows better. She’s been HIV positive for three years. She says those medicines are poison. We need to go to her church, the African Church of Hope. There’s a minister there, he has magic. Mosadi’s healthy now; she’s cured!” She was so hopeful and he was too sad and lost, so he gave in.

A week later, they were in the car pulling up to the church, a white painted cinderblock building in the middle of the mophane bush. The parking lot was packed with cars - from shiny Land Rovers to rusted out Hiluxes - people from all over had come to Pastor Nkgonne. They were searching for the answer they wanted; the truth of it had no relevancy.

“They say there’s no cure, but God has a cure!” he preached from the front.

“Amen!” the crowd shouted.

“I am here to tell you that God is almighty. There is nothing that he won’t fix if only you believe completely.”

“Hallelujah!” People rushed up to the front throwing money into the overflowing basket. Their payment for salvation.

Mosadi led Tebogo to the front of the excited crowd. Pastor Nkgonne placed his huge hands on Tebogo’s head, nearly covering it. He lowered his face and spoke quickly in a mumble that couldn’t be heard from where Matlapeng sat. Then he pushed her away, and she fell back into Mosadi’s arms. “She’s cured!” the Pastor declared. “She’s a believer, my sisters and brothers. For believers, there is nothing like illness.” The church erupted into ululations.

He ran to Mosadi and they carried Tebogo to the car. She slept until they arrived home at their flat in Gaborone. She looked radiant when she woke. For a few hours, Matlapeng was sure that Pastor Nkgonne had cured her that they would be okay, that she wouldn’t die.


“Let’s pray,” she said as the TB wracked her body and he would kneel on the floor next to her bed taking her skeletal hand in his. While praying, his mind drifted to how he needed to get her to the clinic, how he needed to get her to take the medicines that he was convinced would save her. “Amen,” she said weakly.

She opened her eyes and looked down at him next to her bed. “Please, Matlapeng, you need to have faith. I know what you want me to do, but Pastor Nkgonne says that I’ll be insulting God, not believing in His powers if I take the medicine. He’ll cure me. It’s only that my faith is not strong enough. Will you help me? Have faith Matlapeng and we’ll be cured.”


On a lovely September morning when the blue sky echoed with birdsong and Matlapeng was sure all would be well, Tebogo died.

Four months gone and the guilt still weighs heavy on his heart. It eats at him. He’s losing weight and coughing non-stop. He knows what he must do. He needs to take the action that he should have; the action that would have saved Tebogo’s life. This time, he’ll do the right thing. He parks the car. He has complete faith in his choice. This time a life would be saved.

Opening the heavy door, he walks towards the front of the church where Pastor Nkgonne waits.
For another tribute to this day, stop by NoViolet Bulawayo's blog. Link