Tuesday, June 24, 2014

My Formative Reading Experience-Short Story Day Africa

June is the month to celebrate short stories in Africa, Short Story day Africa is 21 June, the shortest day of the year.  Short Story Day Africa is asking writers to blog about our early memories of reading and what it meant to us. Here is my contribution.

What is your earliest memory of books and reading?

Like many people I grew up in a chaotic home where getting adults (busy with their own drama) to read to me was rare. But from a very young age I was interested in books. I remember sitting and looking at the pictures and the black squiggly marks at the bottom of the page, and thinking about how once I could decipher what those marks were all about I would have the keys to the universe.

 It ended up being nearly the case. 


As a small child, what book/s were your favourite?

 I remember going to first grade and being so excited because finally I was going to learn to read. My life would change after that, I was sure of it.

The teacher brought out the reading books and we started learning- "Look. See Dick run. Run Dick run". It may have been one of the most soul crushing experiences of my life. This is what I'd been waiting for? This was the magical wisdom locked in those squiggly black marks? I was devastated.

But then we had our library day and I stumbled upon The Cat in the Hat. If ever there was a book absolutely suited to me this was it. A naughty cat leading kids astray when the parents were gone and in such fun, playful language. It was fantastic. And then I got it. The classroom was for the boring stuff- but the library was where they hid the exciting books. I've been hooked ever since.

Where did you grow up? Do you have a particular memory of a library, bookshop or other place of books in your hometown?
 I grew up in Wisconsin in the United States in the country on a farm. My favourite time was when I'd be dropped in town at the public library. It was a great library with a very big kids' section.  I remember you could only check out two books at a time. I would spend forever trying to find the exact two right books to checkout. It was a wonderful torture. 

  As an adult, in the role of parent or caregiver, what has been your experience of reading with children?

I remember when our kids were very young, both of them adored books with babies in which I found so interesting. We had two; one with photos and one beautiful book with illustrations of babies. I read those books over and over to them and they loved to sit and look at the pictures any chance they could get. I remember the photo book was so loved I had to cover the pages with transparent plastic to extend its life.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Perfectionism, the Enemy

I hate reading my writing after it’s been published. Nearly every time I find things I want to change. If I’m forced to read from something of mine that’s been published, nearly always I’ll have been at it with a red pen before I read, and what I read will be slightly different from what was published. 

I have a writing friend who is a far better writer than me, and yet she’s had nothing (at least fiction-wise) published. Her stories are never finished and she can’t allow herself to submit them until they are. The problem is she’s looking for perfection and she’s never going to find it. We have to accept our stories will never be perfect, never be finished. 

I once read about a writer who wrote a sentence until it was perfect and then went on to the next one. This was how he wrote his books. Then when he was finished with his first draft, it was also his final. No editing needed. I read that but didn’t believe a word of it, or if it was true, I accepted that person never finished a single story. 

I’m reading Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing by Anne Lamott at the moment. It’s a book about writing and being a writer- more clearly it is about surviving being a writer. She says, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.” She’s a big fan of writing a shitty first draft. I am too. Your first draft of any writing should be free and crazy, you should let your mind wander everywhere because in those corners of your mind are little gems, forgotten memories that can often end up being the central core of your story. Only on your edits, the many rounds of edits, do you cut away and find the real story under all of the shitty first draft. But you must have the shitty first draft, and trying to be perfect stops you from achieving that. If you’re trying to be perfect then you’re stopping yourself from making mistakes, you’re stopping yourself from being free. 

Besides perfectionism curtailing your ability to reach into your subconscious and let everything flow onto the page, either good or bad, and perfectionism stopping you from finishing, perfectionism can also keep you from writing at all. 

Most writers come to writing after being fanatic readers. They love stories and books and they want to be a more integral part of them. But sometimes good writing can scare you. In your mind there is always this voice that says- “You could never write like her. You could never write that well.” 

I once had an obsession with Jeffrey Eugenides. I wanted to write just like him. I wished one day I could write a book exactly like Middlesex, the book that brought on my Jeffrey Eugenides obsession. I tried a few things and I failed and I thought – I’m crap and should find something else to do because I can never be a writer like Jeffrey Eugenides. But then a writer friend said to me- “Yes, you cannot write like Jeffrey Eugenides, you can only write like Lauri Kubuitsile.” That was so profound for me, it turned my mind completely. I’d never be a perfect Jeffrey Eugenides, in fact I’d never be a perfect Lauri Kubuitsile either, but I have an obligation to write my Lauri Kubuitsile stories because I’m the only one who can. I need to ignore the Perfectionism Devil whispering in my ear and get on with it. 

I’m not saying we shouldn’t try our best; we shouldn’t work hard at our writing and improve every day- we should. What I’m saying is nobody’s perfect. Perfect is one of the many things offered up by our screwed up society that sets us up for failure, it stops us from making all the beautiful mistakes that make us eventually find success, that lead us to the life we were meant to live. We’re told there is the perfect face, the perfect marriage, the perfect job, the perfect house, the perfect body. It’s all a lie, a terrible lie that brings so much sadness to our already sad world. 

I have a quote in my office which says-“You’re only willing to succeed to the same degree you’re willing to fail” (Wendell Mayes). I believe this because that’s the only way to reach for those stars so high up in the heavens, the only way to achieve our most daring dreams. We really shouldn’t be striving for perfection; we should instead be forever pushing ourselves to the furthest limits where failure and success live side by side and where either one is okay because at least we know we’re growing and trying and daring. 

(This was one of my columns at It's All Write, my weekly column in The Voice newspaper)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Lorato and her Wire Car- The Play!

 Lorato and her Wire Car is a story of mine that won a prize in the junior category of The Golden Baobab Prize, the only Pan-African prize for children's writing. The story was published as a picture book by Vivlia Publishers in South Africa. I've now adapted it into a play for the very wonderful Australian School Magazine. Below are images of the pages and the cover of the magazine which features the play with fabulous illustrations by Peter Sheehan. I think it is beautiful!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Not Him- a story about rape

This week I have my story about rape up at FunDza Literacy Trust's Mobi website. It's called Not Him. The thing that's great about FunDza is that you get immediate feedback so you can tell if the readers are engaging with the story. I think this is quite important with this story in particular. It's about a young woman who out of the blue get a date with the golden boy of their township, Bonolo, but things go wrong on the date and her life is very nearly destroyed.

Chapters go out each day and at the end of each chapter the writer asks a question. I purposefully asked questions to find out how the readers feel about some of the issues around rape. The FunDza readers do not hide what they feel- at all as you can see if you check their comments. I was happy to find that despite the fact that the media gives the impression that,  for example, people believe that women wearing miniskirts provoke men to rape them, it appears the readers at FunDza don't buy that line at all.The story goes for seven chapters and I'm curious to see how the readers will respond at the end.

I think, too, FunDza stories show that you needn't be moralistic in your tone when writing fiction, to get kids to engage and come to decisions about what they feel on a controversial topic.