Monday, April 25, 2016

Bessie Head Heritage Trust Announces Its Programme for Writers for 2016

Thanks to a generous donation from Diamond Educational Publishers, the Bessie Head Heritage Trust (BHHT) has expanded its programme for writers this year. The plan is for the events to culminate in a prize giving ceremony celebrating stories on the theme “independence” (in the very widest of meanings) to celebrate Botswana 50th anniversary of independence late in the year.
The programme begins with a short story workshop that any writer wanting to improve their craft should not miss! To get a place in the workshop you will need to submit your best piece of flash fiction (of 500 words or less, word counts will be strictly adhered to— a story of 501 words will be disqualified! This was not followed last year and I know this because I was the one who collected the submissions.). Stories and contact information for all applicants must be submitted by email to by 1 May 2016.  The story should be attached to the email as a Word document, double-spaced, 12 pt Times New Roman font.  All successful applicants will be contacted before 7 May 2016.  Complete details are available on the website
The workshop will be run by University of Botswana lecturer, past Bessie Head winner, published writer, and all around humorous fellow, Wazha Lopang, and one of my favourite locally based writers, Cheryl Ntumy, also a past winner and author of the scrumptious Conyza Bennet series of novels set in Gaborone- if you haven’t read them you’re missing out. Any participant able to win a place in this workshop will certainly go home more skilled than they arrived.
According to the press release, the workshop will cover the basics of short story writing, including understanding what “show, don’t tell” really means, writing credible dialogue, techniques for building dramatic tension, the importance of reading in any writer’s life, understanding and using point of view, and the guidelines for the Bessie Head Short Story Competition.
Adding the workshop to the literary competition seems to have been a step in the right direction for the Trust. Trustee Mary Lederer commented that, “The judges were impressed with the quality of last year’s stories, and we believe that this results from having first held the workshop to help writers understand what they need to do to compete.” 
The short story competition is scheduled for later in the year, the deadline for submissions will be 8 July 2016.  Detailed submission guidelines will be announced after the workshop at the end of May and will be posted on the Bessie Head website. Again an international panel of judges has been secured to adjudicate the stories, they are: Brazil based, award-winning writer Karen Jennings, Kenyan based— but truly Pan African in nature and structure—writer and literary activist, Zukiswa Wanner, and Joburg writer Fiona Snyckers, author of the creepy social media based thriller, Now Following You.
The Trust is also hopefully planning a “How To Get Published” workshop later in the year that will be open to the public. Considering the nearly daily messages and emails (and even phone calls- please no phone calls!) I receive from folks wanting to know how to get their work published, I suspect this will draw huge crowds—at least it should! Keep your ears open for the dates and I will certainly tell you about it here as I’ll be one of the presenters.
So writers, if you’re serious, get writing and send in your flash fiction to grab your space at the workshop. Good luck!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Two Fabulous Essays

I often think about the way the world likes to define narratives and create artificial dichotomies of good and bad. Often I think those human constructions blind us. We can't even imagine other choices because the lines of the status quo narrative are so entrenched. I think of this often with economic systems. The narrative says capitalism linked with democracy and continued growth indicates a "good" country. Anything else is "bad". The thinking has rubbed out nearly everything else to our and the environment's detriment. There are many ways to run an economy or a country or an individual life. Unlimited ways. We just need to peek over the edge of the box they've thrown us in.

This essay by Melissa Broder made me think about that. It's a touchingly written account about how she and her husband deal with his chronic unidentified illness. That dealing with also includes having an open relationship. It seems a crazy option to most of us, a dangerous emotional game. A society no-no. After reading, and considering my current circumstances, I've been thinking a lot about how society and its pre-defined narratives, its boxes, impose themselves on our most personal aspects of our lives- our love, our relationships.

I always think of myself as someone who lives by my own rules, a life decided by me only. What a shock it is to realise that the most important part of my life is actually  well defined by society, not me, and I seem to have accepted it without a thought, so unlike the person I thought I was.

A marriage is a monogamous relationship between two people.  Anything outside of that is wrong, society says. But when you read Melissa Broder's essay you realise how loving it is to allow the person you've dedicated your life to the chance to be happy. To assist them to find their own path to happiness. A long term relationship of any kind must at its basic foundation be a safe, loving, and forgiving place that allows each person to go out into the world and be all that they can be and still know that coming home they will find love and kindness. No matter what. How that safe haven is organised must be allowed to be as unique as the two (or even more) individuals require. The choices of how it is created therefore must be endless.

But that's not the marriage box that we're given by society. The one we're given is about rules. About control. There is only one way that safety and love can exist- in a monogamous relationship between one man and one woman. Breaking those rules means the marriage is a sham.

The problem with the rigid walls those boxes are made of is that us humans, we're malleable and soft, with curves not edges. This beautiful essay helped me see that even more. Like all exceptional writing it has helped me see the world differently.

The other essay that I read only last night that I must share is this one by Liberian writer Hawa Jande Golakai. Hawa is known as a crime writer, writing under the name HJ Golakai. Her book The Lasarus Effect was very well received, and her latest The Score is getting much praise as well.

This essay is one of the most touching and honest I've read in a long time. It is about her life in Liberia and out, as a refugee from war (she once lived in Botswana during that time) and her recent emotional war with ebola. Beautiful writing by one of the continent's very talented young writers.

" Guilt bites a chunk out of me. I kick it in the teeth. It goes away. Well, retreats. Into a dark corner, where it squats, eyeing me, gnawing on something I didn’t give it permission to eat. I don’t lock it up or put it on a leash. I want it to come back and harass me. We have a weird relationship."

Do yourself a big favour, go and read it. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The New Cambridge Reading Adventures Series!

Just now I received my author copies of the five books I wrote for the new Cambridge Reading Adventures reading series for beginning readers published by Cambridge University Press (UK). It is a banded reading series. My name is even mentioned in their press release even though there are ninety books in the series (YAY!).

 I think that they're lovely! What do you think?

Animal Homes is for the earliest readers, Pink Band

Stars is also for the beginning readers, it is in the Yellow Band.

This is an inside page from Stars!

For Today, For Tomorrow is for readers with a bit more experience, the Orange Band

An inside page from For Today, For Tomorrow

Oh Bella! is about a little bear who only wants to help.

An inside page from Oh Bella! it is in the Yellow Band

Tefo and the Lucky Football Boots is in the Gold Band

Some inside pages of Tefo and the Lucky Football Boots showing the beautiful illustrations by Moni Perez!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

My story The Goat at Kalahari Review

I wrote this story about two years ago, I thought of it as a cautionary tale at the time; my fears of where my country might be heading. It's odd that now, two years later it is published, and it appears less like a futuristic work.

A few weeks ago journalist Sonny Serite and civil servant Abueng Sebola were arrested for leaking a document about alleged corruption in the Office of the President. (See story here. ) Now suddenly my story, published yesterday at The Kalahari Review seems nearly prophetic, unfortunately. I hope not. I hope we're at the tipping point and things will begin to come right.

An excerpt from The Goat

"The internet was curtailed, no more social networks. According to those in power they were “against Setswana culture”. This made it even harder to know what was happening. Made the isolation more pronounced. Phones were tapped for national security. Most anything was considered an insult to the president, grounds for imprisonment. If you complained that the blackouts were getting longer and longer, you were an enemy of the state. If you went to political meetings that were not for the ruling party, you were violating new rules governing congregation. The rules and barriers were everywhere, it was impossible to stay on the straight and narrow because the straight and narrow was thinner with each passing day."

Read the rest of the story HERE

Friday, April 1, 2016

Metshameko Ya Setso-A Review

Because of the lack of a trade market for books in Botswana and the fact that we have no dedicated publishers willing to take the risk on publishing books exclusively for a trade market and trying to create a market where one really doesn’t exist, many important books are going unpublished. The most important among these unpublished books, the ones that will have a long term impact on us, are books on our culture, history, and unique aspects of our society. If these books, primarily nonfiction books, are not published a lot of what needs to be documented will be lost forever. This is why I think Metshameko Ya Setso is so important.

Since many of the games that are covered by the book are still routinely played by children in the country, we can think that perhaps that will always be the case, but a quick interview with Batswana children attending posh private schools in the capital might give you pause. As other cultures flood into the country a lax attitude will ensure that Setswana culture will be lost, but recording these intangible aspects of culture in books will ensure that will not happen. The authors Kenneth Tebogo Middleton, Ronald Basimolodi and Kgafela Milan Williams have done an important thing here.

But Metshameko Ya Setso is not a book meant to sit in a library or museum, though I suppose that will happen too. It is instead a book meant to be used by children and their parents and teachers. It is meant to get dog-eared and grubby. It is a guide, a handbook on how the games are played—and then the children are meant to get out there and play the games! The parents too!

It is a gorgeous little book, well laid out with lively photos of children playing the games as well as colourful illustrations. The layout is sensible and easy to follow. Each game is rated on the amount of skill and energy that will be required to play it so that adults can get a good idea if the game chosen is well suited to the children they have in their care. At the back there are even score cards to be filled in while playing the games and then rubbed off and made ready for the next time. Games included in the book include: chama, batho safe, maroundas, Suna Baby, boloi ya ditini, mhele, donkey donkey, koi, skonti ball, diketo, morabaraba, and black mampatile.

Metshameko Ya Setso is a delightful book I would recommend for parents and teachers alike, and would make a lovely gift for any child. Even any adult, I know I am a big fan of playing mhele, and I look forward to learning many of the other games included in the book. My hope is that it will be made widely available. The other problem with our books in Botswana— they can’t be bought because they can’t be found. I hope that will not be the case with this book. 

(This column first appeared in It's All Write in Mmegi newspaper on 25 March 2016)