Thursday, September 27, 2012

Why Author Advances Scare Me

In my writing world, where most of my books are published in Southern Africa, I mostly do not get advances. Instead, I write a book, submit it to a publisher (without an agent), the publisher likes it, publishes it and I wait for the book to sell so that I can earn royalties. I'm happy with this set up, I'm doing okay. The pressure of an advance for writing a book not yet on the page might very well ensure that the words just never come. But that may be just me.

Now I see how advances could ruin you, both your finances and your reputation. According to this article at Smoking Gun some big name authors are being sued for their advances by their publisher (now it is revealed the publisher is Penguin) for not producing the books they were contractually hired to produce. And not only do they want the advance, Penguin want interest. (kind of shocking since publishers keep royalties accrued throughout the year, sometimes paid annually, sometimes twice a year and never pay interest to writers)

Literary agent Robert Gottlieb has reacted to Penguin's lawsuit. He explains that books are rejected by publishers for many reasons. It may not be that these authors shrugged their responsibilities. It could be the other reasons beyond the author's control. He appears to think this does not bode well for authors without very strong representation.

What do you think? 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Has Spring Finally Come to Mahalapye?

A few photos from around my garden on this lovely spring day. ENJOY!!!

Happy Spring!!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Back from Nairobi

I'm back from the Storymoja Hay Festival. It was fabulous! As is usually the case, I mostly forgot to take photos. I'm not a natural photographer, the taking of photos distracts me from my experience. I don't like taking photos or having them taken of me. But I did take a few when I remembered and here they are. 

This is from a session with Nigerian Lola Shoneyin, the author of The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives. If you haven't read this hilarious book you must. What I loved about this session was that the women interviewing Lola were from a book club in Nairobi, a book club that reads only African writers (they buy ebooks on their Kindles since it is even hard in Nairobi to get copies of African writers' books, just like it is here in Botswana). And Lola, who is a former drama teacher, is very entertaining. It was one of my favourite events of the Festival.

One of the most interesting sessions I attended was an interview of Miguna Miguna the author of Peeling Back the Mask: A Quest for Justice in Kenya (photo above)  Miguna was a senior advisor to the prime minister of Kenya, Raila Odinga. Miguna joined Odinga’s team enthusiastically thinking that the Prime Minister was a new leaf for the country, the man to lead them to a more equitable and honest Kenya. But quite quickly he began to see the chinks in Odinga’s surface and though he attempted to advise the Prime Minister, his advice fell on deaf ears. He left his job (first suspended and then asked to come back, an offer he refused). The book is a memoir of his life and his time in this administration. It has met with a strong backlash in the Kenyan community. At at least one event for the book, stones were thrown at the author. In the event I attended, the auditorium was pulsing with emotion. It is indeed a book that has Kenyans polarised. Miguna makes the point that if the country is to go forward, it must do so with knowledge. Though many Kenyans believe that Odinga is the best they have, Miguna feels that Kenyans should not compromise, that they should demand what they deserve and that the book is a way to further transparency and democracy. I’ve yet to read the book but I was very impressed with the robust debate.
Above is a photo of a few of the children who attended my writing workshop. I taught them about point of view: first and third. I read a few passages from some of my books so they could hear what each of the points of view sounded like. We discussed why writers choose each one. Then I had a photo and I asked them to write a short story about the photo. They first wrote a story in first person and then in third. It was quite fun to hear them read their stories, I really enjoyed the workshop.

The photo above is from a session I was involved in where I read my picture book published by Vivlia Publishers, Lorato and Her Wire Car. After I read the story, Storymoja's fantastic storyteller, Wangari Grace told the kids a story.

I realise I don't have any photos of myself doing anything. But just to prove I actually did go to Nairobi here is a photo of Lola and I speaking to a group of school children.

Nairobi is wonderful. I was so impressed with the vibrancy of their literary community, jealous actually. I wish we had it in Botswana. The event was held at the newly renovated national museum, a beautiful venue.  I loved meeting many of the writers I'd only heard about before like Lola and Muthoni Garland (who I stayed with in her beautiful home), and Billy Kahora. I had so many great conversations with all sorts of people. I'm now thinking of new ways of seeing things and doing things. I think that really should be the purpose of such events, for both the people who attend and the people who are part of it, to open our minds and let knew winds blow through. In that way it was a success, my brain is very windy at the moment.

Friday, September 7, 2012

I'm Off To Kenya! See you At Storymoja Hay Festival

Yep! Wednesday I'm off to Nairobi Kenya for the 2012 Storymoja Hay Festival. I'll be involved in various events.

Thursday the 13th:
I'll be with children's writer and the author of The Secret Lives of Babi Segi's Wives, Lola Shoneyin, for a meet the author session with 10-14 year olds.

Friday the 14th:
I'll be part of a panel discussion talking about e-publishing and other innovations.

Saturday the 15th:
I'll be on a panel with NoViolet Bulawayo, Jewkwu Anyaegbuna, Claudette Oduor speaking with Kwani! manging director, Billy Kahora, around the topic "The writer and the reader: who are contemporary African writers writing for".

And a bit later in the day (3pm) I'll be running a writing workshop for teen writers in the kids' area.

Sunday the 16th

I'll be reading my book, Lorato and Her Wire Car, in the kids' area.

I'm looking forward to this. Maybe I'll meet some of you there....!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Human Nature of Birds

Outside of my office window is a birdbath and a bird feeder. I spend a lot of time looking out at the birds, trying to think of what to write, to work out plot problems, try to get to know my characters in my head a bit better. It's a useful little set-up.

The bird feeder is relatively new. I used to just feed the birds on an old broken cement bird bath further down my garden, but I saw this bird feeder during a trip to Gaborone and thought it would be a nice addition to my little bird sanctuary.

We filled it with food, put it up, and waited. A month passed, and though the birdbath was nearby and many birds would sit on the branch that the bird feeder hung from, not a single one took the chance to check it out. Another month passed and still the bird feeder was full. We tried various things, setting it on the ground, removing the red wire that it hung from, but nothing worked.

Then during the third month, one brave bird tried his luck. Before the end of the day birds were flocking there, the feeder empties now in two days.

Why did it take so long? And what was different about that single bird that took the risk that allowed all of the others to see that there was no fear to step into the unknown?

Sometimes three or four birds will be at the feeder eating without troubling each other. Eating, minding their own business. But other times, a certain bird will not allow any other bird to eat while it is there. The type of bird varies, but every once in a while a greedy bird arrives who, sadly, is also a bully.

This happens occasionally at the birdbath too, but not with such vehemence. The small space of the bird feeder combined with a quite valuable resource, the bird seed, seems to bring out the more vicious side of particular birds' natures.

I can't help but think about us, about humans, when I watch the behaviour of these birds. Among us are the timid ones, the greedy ones, the brave ones and the bullies. Not such a bad set-up for a writer, like I said.