Saturday, April 14, 2018

Gaborone Book Night- be There!!!

I will be speaking about my novel The Scattering and about writing historical fiction in general. Other authors on the programme are: Modirwa Kekwaletswe, Kagiso Madibana, and Thabo Katlholo.

Some of my books will be on sale and I will be available to sign them for you, so I hope to see you there!

What? World Book Night
When? Monday 23 April 2018
Time? 5 pm
Where? UB Library Auditorium

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Book Review: Accident by Dawn Garisch

Dawn Garisch is a South African writer, poet and memoirist who has six published novels, a poetry collection, a memoir and a nonfiction book. She’s also written a play, a short film, television scripts and numerous short stories. Her novel, Trespass, was shortlisted for the 2010 Commonwealth Prize in Africa and her poem “Miracle” was awarded the 2011 EU Sol Plaatje Poetry Award. And if that was not enough, she’s a practicing medical doctor in Cape Town.  Accident is her sixth novel.
            Accident   (Modjaji Books, 2017) is the story of mother, Carol, and her grown son, Max. Carol is a single parent. She met Max’s father during a trip to France where they had a brief affair. She went home to South Africa pregnant, never finding Max’s father again.  Carol is a general practitioner in Cape Town and juggling her career and motherhood is difficult. Like most women in that position, she does her best though it never seems to be enough and this creates a lot of guilt and self-recrimination.
            When Max is a teenager, he and a friend have an accident, a passing man saves Max. Carol has the man, Jack, over for a meal to thank him for saving her son’s life. Soon Jack and Max become close and eventually Carol and Jack begin an intimate affair. But Jack is a loner, an adventurer. His priorities clash with Carol’s and their relationship falls apart and one day he disappears. Max loves Jack, almost as a stand-in father, and he blames Carol for Jack’s leaving. Their relationship becomes fraught from then on.
            Max is grown at the beginning of the book. He’s a performance artist who is trying to explore the line between life and death. He set himself on fire and is in the hospital with burns. As a doctor, and as a mother, Carol cannot understand this recklessness. Max’s friends believe that he’s a genius and the art world seems to agree. But Carol thinks he’s reckless and adding undue pain, violence and trauma to the world, in particular her world. She knows when his burns heal, he will try yet another stunt (which he does including a crucifixion and a car accident) and she becomes obsessed by that, sure that her son will die during one of his artistic performances. She doesn’t understand what he’s attempting to do or why. For her, art is not a worthy thing to die for.
            The book has many themes of interest. What can a parent do when an adult child takes a path that they cannot accept? What is a worthy thing to live for —as well as die for? Can art be an arrogant crutch for a person wanting their own way? Or must artists always push themselves to the very edge so as to feel the truth of what they are doing, at all costs?
            At one point, Max’s girlfriend, Tamsyn, finds that she’s pregnant. Max warned her that his art doesn’t allow him to be a father, even to have a relationship since he keeps pushing Tamsyn away and insists they have nothing serious. Carol attempts to get Max to see how selfish he’s being.
            She says: “You’re a narcissistic child, Max, people like you shouldn’t be allowed to have sex, bringing more misery into the world.” She knew she was going too far, but she couldn’t stop the bile from spilling out. 
            “You think Picasso wasn’t narcissistic? Or Lucian Freud? They put painting first, before the people closest to them, but they weren’t only living for their own selfish pleasures. That’s what you don’t get because you’ve never had one artistic bone in your body.”
Carol answers: “…I don’t care if you’re the most famous artist in the whole bloody world, if that makes you unkind and inconsiderate, it means nothing!”
Accident raises many interesting questions but makes no prescriptions on any fronts, it’s up to the reader to sort out the issues for themselves. The shocking ending will stay with you for a very long time, when mother and son find a heart-breaking and unexpected way to find peace with each other’s choices. I highly recommend this novel written by one of South Africa’s most underrated writers who I feel needs a far bigger audience. 

(This first appeared in my column, It's All Write, in Mmegi newspaper on 23 Feb, 2018)

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Cover-to-Cover Books

In 2011 teachers Dorothy Dyer and Ros Haden along with their friends Palesa Morudu and Mignon Hardie decided to establish Cover2Cover Books after Dorothy, who was teaching in Langa Township in Cape Town, realised no books reflected the lives of her students. Ros Haden explained to me in a recent interview that the students in Langa kids struggled to find books that interested them.
“There were very few books in the library that reflected their lives and excited them except for one series, The Blueford Series, set in the projects in the United States that was fast paced, about African American teens, that was about growing up in disadvantaged communities, where gangsterism was rife. Readers in her class liked these books and could relate to the issues the teens faced but still, it wasn’t a context they knew, the language wasn’t the colloquial language they were familiar with. The rest of the books were novels from the UK and very hard to relate to about teens growing up in very different circumstances.”
That was how Cover2Cover’s first title was born.  “Dorothy asked the class if they would like a ‘Blueford’ series but set in a SA township, they said this would be exciting. That’s when Dorothy asked me if I could write a short teen novel, along the lines of the Blueford novels and that’s how the Harmony High series was born.  I wrote Broken Promises chapter by chapter. The sheets were circulated in her class as I wrote them, and went viral in the school. I think that’s when we knew we were on to something that could hook these teens on reading and keep them reading,” Ros said.
They now had the Harmony High series, but just like in Botswana, getting books to teens is difficult. Books need bookstores and the kids need money to buy the books which they don’t have. Ros explained how Cover2Cover gave birth to FunDza to solve that problem.
“And so we formed The FunDza Literacy Trust, a non-profit, whose goal was reading for pleasure amongst black teens in SA.”  Stories are put up each week on the mobi site and can be accessed with a cellphone or computer.  The stories can be read for free online. Now FunDza has a big collection of short stories and books available to anyone who logs on. Ros continued, “They were a huge hit, with the Rattray Foundation, who work with rural schools in KZN, saying the teens couldn’t get enough of them and that FunDza had started a Reading Revolution.”
FunDza’s success is evident. “The mobi site: grew exponentially from when we started in 2011. We now reach 500 000 - 600 000 readers a month across South Africa and beyond with a regular readership of 60 000 readers who come on to the site every day to read the latest FunDza stories, blogs, articles, poetry and novels, and their own stories,” Ros said.
Cover2Cover has eleven titles in their Harmony High series now and has published a selection of FunDza stories in their Big Ups anthologies, Jayne Bauling’s Soccer Season series and Bontle Senne’s Shadow Chasers series too among other books for the trade market.
On the FunDza mobi site they also have places for fans to learn about writing. “We began a ‘Developing Young Writers’ programme  where teens and young adults can send in their writing, get it edited, get feedback and see their work published on and read and enjoyed by their peers. We also mentor a number of young writers into commissioned writers for our weekly stories,” Ros said.
Cover2Cover and FunDza have won quite a few awards both locally and internationally for their work around literacy and getting young people to get excited about reading again. I asked Ros, which prize as of late has had the biggest impact for them.
“FunDza was delighted to win the Confucius Literacy Prize from UNESCO for our work in improving literacy levels in South Africa - one of five global literacy award given by UNESCO in 2017. It was a huge honour and a great reward and international acknowledgement for the work we do in spreading the joy of reading with all its lifelong benefits of developing empathy, creative and critical thinking, creativity, a shift in attitudes, and confidence and ability in writing and reading,” she said.  
I’ve been writing for FunDza for quite a few years now and it is one of the things I am personally most proud of. We need more initiatives like this run by people with a commitment to reading and who are as excited about stories as these women are. Big congrats to these women and their initiatives!
(This originally appeared in my column It's All Write (Mmegi newspaper)  in the 9th March 2018 issue)