Thursday, January 30, 2014

January Finished? Already?

Is January gone? Really?

I've been busy with cats, perhaps that's why it flew by. My new kitty, Bunny, is trying her best to find a friend with my old one, Senor Ramon, with some success. So that's been good.

I turned 50 on the 15th and that was sort of nice. I think I like 50, it's quite freeing in a way. I've never been one to care about age but 50 feels quite lovely.

I got an invite to The 17th Time of the Writer at the University of Kwazulu-Natal in Durban. It's from the 17-22 March and I'm really looking forward to it. I need a good dose of book and writer talk.

I got word from my publisher that my book The Second Worst Thing is selling well in South Africa, so that's good. You can buy the ebook here.

I'm still looking for an agent for If Not For This and a publisher for Revelations. The publishing date for The Vanishings has been pushed back, but it should be out in March published by Black Crake Books

I'm busy working on a new book, which is always nice, getting lost in a new place. Sent out a few short stories this week, wrote my column.

Yep, just the life of a writer, I guess. Not so bad, not so bad at all.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Binyavanga Wainaina- My Hero

I don't know why so often on the African continent the crap rises to the surface. We hear about all of the crap and the lovely, beautiful cream of this fascinating dynamic continent is covered over. We hear about the wars and the sickness and the famine. But we don't hear about the fantastic innovation, the "I'll make a plan" mentality, we don't hear about the beauty and the kindness and the happy everyday lives most of us live here. The hate screams and love seems to cower away in the corner waiting for space to pass.

Lately the hate is spewing. The new horrible, hateful law in Nigeria against gay people is getting plenty of air play. Everywhere I look there is someone pulling out a Bible or a Koran and using it for their launch against love. It is so soul-crushing. I fear for people in Nigeria. I fear for the lives that will undoubtedly be lost and destroyed because the state has decided to renege on its bargain to protect the most vulnerable.

But out of all of this, the most wonderful rainbow has emerged. The fantastic writer and philosopher (in my book anyway) Binyavanga Wainaina has stepped forward and said- "I can no longer be silent".

On the 19th of January, his 43rd birthday, he published at various sites around the internet the so-called  missing chapter from his incredible memoir, One Day I Will Write About This PlaceI am a homosexual, Mum appeared at Africa is a Country as well as Kwani? and Chimurenga Chronic. It is a beautiful piece of writing, but in the current context of what is going on, it is a brave piece as well.

After this, he published at YouTube a series of powerful videos called We Must Free Our Imagination which talk a bit about his decision to come out in a public way, but more about the basic problems of the continent that lead to such Draconian laws in the first place. He speaks about the fear of imagination instilled in the middle class of the continent and how that is stopping all indigenous progress as we bend and break trying to follow the West.

It may seem all doom and gloom, but that's because you don't know this man. If Africa ever needed a PR man, Binyavanga Wainaina is the perfect guy for the job.  In a review I wrote of his memoir, I said his book read like a beautiful, messy love letter to the continent. He adores every dirty, grimy corner of this place. And this is why he is willing to fight for it.This is why he is willing to put his self in the firing line.

It is so inspiring and empowering to me to see Binyavanga step forward. So often we feel these problems are insurmountable walls that only presidents and other people in leadership positions can solve. But they are failing. Will we wait for ever? Will we wait until everything is lost?

Heroes don't wait. They act. Can a single person really make a difference? I think Binyavanga's brave steps have already shown that yes, yes they can.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Dirty Mahalapye

About a year or so ago, I was out walking the dogs west of Mahalapye on the dirt road along the electricity pylons. I found a man driving a front end loader. In the bucket was all sorts of rubbish and he was dumping it in the bush. At the time I'd been concerned because people were dumping rubbish at that spot all of a sudden and it was making the entire area terribly dirty.

I asked the man why he was dumping rubbish in a place that was not a dumping site. He said he worked for the Chinese Contractors building our new police station. He claimed they would dump at this spot and then cover it when they left. I told him still it wasn't okay. No one knows what he's dumping. Things we think are innocuous are actually very harmful to the soil and the water. He didn't like me interfering and became angry.

When I got home I called the Mahalapye Sub-District Council and made a complaint with the environmental officer who picked up the phone. Stupidly I didn't get her name. I thought over time something would happen, but it never did. The Chinese finished and left and the mess remained.

To make matters worse,  people from the village come now and dump rubbish there becasue it looks like a dump. The rubbish blows to the nearby houses and out to the beautiful bush nearby which is now cluttered with plastic bags and other litter.

On Tuesday, again out with the dogs, I found a man dumping rubbish. I told him it was illegal to dump there. He had a vehicle (a white SRX Hilux with a canopy) and could have easily driven to the legal dump not a 5-10 minute drive away. But he was too lazy.

Again I called the council when I got home. I spoke to a woman who made it out that I had made a mistake for not getting the man's plate number. According to her, I should have got his number and then taken it to the police so they could find him and charge him. I asked her why they hadn't gone after the contractors of the police station since they were the ones who started the entire problem. She told me that they were gone now, which of course they are, but they were not when I reported them. I suggested at the least they could put signs to tell people that it is an illegal dump. She said she'd tell her boss.

 There is sadly a very lackadaisical attitude toward waste in the country. I fear these illegal dumping sites will become environmental nightmares in the future. So many things nowadays are about short term gain with no care for the long term effects. I'm scared where this will lead us.

This photo shows the location of the illegal dump behind the police station. That communications tower  is at the new police station

There are many of these loads of building rubble around the site, obviously brought by the front end loader.

These piles of rubbish are everywhere. They look to be household rubbish though some seem to be  from bars since there are many bottles.

The bush west of the site scattered with rubbish blown form the illegal dump.

This is the rubbish that the man I saw on Tuesday left at the illegal dump site

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Botswana's Wildflowers

Typically Botswana is not known for its wildflowers. Wildflowers in Botswana are ephemeral. They are not flashy, they're often very small, hidden close to the ground. And perhaps for these reasons they are so beautiful to me, their humble, non-pushy way touches my heart.

We've had good rains recently and this morning while out walking the dogs I took a few photos of the wonderful array of wildflowers around my neighbourhood.

Friday, January 10, 2014

What to Write About?

Staring at a blank page can be daunting. You need to come up with a short story for a contest and you’ve got nothing.  Where can you get some inspiration? There are a few tricks to get your creative juices going.

1. Free writing
Take a blank sheet of paper, one with no lines. Give yourself ten minutes. In that ten minutes just write without stopping. Just write any and everything that pops into your mind. It doesn’t need to make sense. Just allow your brain complete freedom. When you do, something magical happens. Somewhere in all of that gobblely- gook you will see a kernel of something true and interesting. Now start from there with your story.

2. Steal
I am a huge thief. Never speak to me because the chances something you say will turn up in a story of mine is pretty likely. I’ve written stories from bits of conversation and gossip. I’ve written an entire novel based on a rumour everyone was spreading through Radio Mall.

3. Start with the first line
There is a fantastic literary magazine called First Line. They give you a first line which you must use exactly as is. I like to practice writing by using their first lines. Or find a first line from a newspaper headline or an article title and work from there.

4. Listen or read short stories
I love the New Yorker Podcasts. You can listen to a famous writer reading one of the short stories published in the New Yorker. When my inspiration tank is empty, I listen to a story. It puts me back in the right zone, the short story zone.

5. Use a Photo
When I was in school, my favourite writing assignment in English was to write a story about a photo the teacher showed the class. I loved building an entire world around a single moment captured in time. Photos are all over the internet, in magazines- pick one and let your imagination go.

6. Start with the ending
I often start with the ending when a story appears in my mind. It’s fun to work back with your character to find out how she got to that place. There are so many paths, which will you choose?

7. Listen to other people’s conversations
If you’re on the bus, in the queue at the post office, or waiting at the doctor’s office listen in on people’s conversations. You can steal them straight (see number 2) or continue your story where the real conversation stopped.

8. Write what you wish could have been
I’m often socially useless. After I leave a party, I’ll think of all of the witty, urbane things I might have said. There is a starting point for a story, how the party might have gone.  Or how about how you’d like the world to be. I have a children’s story I wrote where suddenly you can reach into the TV and grab anything you want. My characters grab some KFC and eventually a diamond that lands them in a bit of trouble, but I think you get the idea. Maybe you had a relationship that failed, live it again in your short story making yourself the hero.

9. Using writing prompts
A quick google search for “writing prompts” brings up a plethora of sites where you can get a jumping off point for your story. Examples might be: A babysitter is snooping around her employer's house and finds a disturbing photograph or use these three things in a story- a broken wristwatch, peppermints, and a hug that goes too far. From there, all sorts of ideas will spring forth. 

(This first appeared 1 November 2013 in my column, It's All Write in The Voice Newspaper) 

Monday, January 6, 2014

My 2014 Ahead

A new year is always so motivating for me. I feel as if I get a new life. This year is special to me as it's my fiftieth, I think that's a milestone in itself as my people are not the long living type.

So what do I hope for this year?

I'm crossing fingers I find an agent for If Not For This. I'd love to see the book get a wide audience. The publishing date for The Vanishings has been pushed back. It will likely come out in March now. I'm hoping that book will be widely read as well.

I'm really trying to be happy for how far I've come this year, that's my theme for the year anyway. To be grateful for where I am, not my usual self of looking for the next challenge and feeling frustrated I haven't accomplished it yet.

One thing I'm quite excited about is that I'm going to be one of the mentors for a new PanAfrican writing project Writivism.  I looking forward to that. I can't wait to see who I'll be mentoring.

I've started a new young adult book I'm quite excited about. It deals with mental illness and the unfortunate abuse of the mentally ill by the pharmaceutical industry.

In Botswana, it's an election year. We've started the year with good rains and tractors are busy all around my office. There is a hopeful scent in the air.

And your 2014? Are you looking forward to this year as much as I am?
My hope is that you are.