Tag Archives: Fiction

The Bed Book of Short Stories

A collection of short stories by new and established Southern African women writers on the theme of Bed to be published this year.

Contributors:-

1. Pamela Newham, “A natural combination”
2. Joanne Fedler, “Bedrock”
3. Lauri Kubuitsile, “In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata” (BOTSWANA)
4. Melissa Gardner – “In sickness”
5. Rumbi Katedza, “The Corpse” (ZIMBABWE)
6. Anne Woodborne, “The quilt of wife-beating crimes”
7. Sarah Lotz, “Heaven or something like it”
8. Jayne Bauling. “Stains like a map”
9. Gothataone Moeng, “Lie Still Heart” (BOTSWANA)
10. Joanne Hichens – title still to be decided
11. Jeanne Hromnik – title still to be decided
12. Arja Salafranca, “Desire without borders”
13. Sylvia Schlettwein, “To own a bed” (NAMIBIA)
14. Liesl Jobson, “On a broomstick”
15. Karabo Moleke, “Nompumelelo’s Sinxoto’s Bed”
16. Margot Saffer, “Imagining Monsters”
17. Megan Ross, “Finding a mother”
18. Ellen Banda-Aaku, “Made of Mukwa” (ZAMBIA)
19. Isabella Morris, “The Outsider”
20. Novuyo Tshuma, “Ikej” (ZIMBABWE)
21. Romaine Hill, “Every Picture Tells”
22. Marina Chichava, “Sleeping Through Heartbreak” (MOZAMBIQUE)
23. Erika Coetzee, “How to Improvise”
24. Bronwyn McLennan, “Portrait of a woman in bed”
25. Claudie Muchindu, “Wings on Indi’s Pillow” (ZAMBIA)
26. Nia Magoulianiti McGregor, “Hunters and lovers”
27. Tinashe Chidyausika, “Fools Gold” (ZIMBABWE)
28. Rose Richards, “Mary Mary”
29. Luso Katali Mnthali, “A requiem for Daniel” (MALAWI)
30. Helen Walne, “Crazy”
31. Rosemund Handler, “Lena My Lovely”

Published by Modjaji Books.
Compiled by Lauri Kubuitsile; edited by Joanne Hichens.

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Paying It Forward

2010 is a year that’s filled with writing projects and publications for me, and I’m really grateful to have such a full calendar. Writers cannot possibly take on every single project that comes their way, and the reasons may vary from time constraints, to not being particularly inspired by a project.

In 2008 I was approached by someone who wanted me to write their story; the subject herself is a complex character and while her story might be compelling, I didn’t feel psychologically trained to deal with all the issues that would have been concomitant with the project. It was a situation that demanded sensitivity, so I decided to ponder on it before saying I was unable or unwilling to take it on.

An evening or two later, I was browsing in the local EB and came across a South African book about a family, and when I read the writer’s bio I realised that I had found the writer for the project I didn’t feel capable of writing. I emailed the subject and explained that I didn’t feel I was the best writer to tell her story, but asked her permission to pass her on to the other writer who had the right credentials to write her story. She agreed. I emailed the writer and the result is that she is now writing this girl’s story.

Almost a year later, I received an email from the same writer to say that she had been approached to write a biography but was unable to do so because of her geographical location. She had remembered that I’d passed on the book I didn’t want to write, and was now returning the favour.

I met with the publisher and signed a contract shortly thereafter to write a well-know South African entrepeneur’s biography.

Not all writers share projects that they can’t manage, some are downright selfish. I remember sharing my travel contact list with a fellow travel writer, but when it came to him sharing with me, he suddenly grew vague and then changed the topic of conversation. I was annoyed, and think I had every right to be, considering that we had agreed to share industry contacts.

There are also mean-spirited editors who won’t accept a travel story from freelancers because the publication didn’t get the original sponsored travel offer. I suppose it comes down to finding which writers and editors are into sharing and working with them only. My new year’s resolution is to work with writers and editors with healthy egos – I don’t have the energy to deal with fragile, jealous, unsupportive colleagues anymore – being petty and picky is unprofessional and I’m not prepared to engage on that level anymore.

Two weeks ago a publisher phoned me and asked me if I could help her source some Cape-based writers and a London-based writer, for a huge project. It’s worth a lot of money to a lot of writers, and considering the profiles they’ll be writing, it will elevate their writer status. I sent out emails to writers that I felt were capable of writing to the brief, and as and when the replies came in I passed them on to the publisher.

It felt really good to be able to pass on work to fellow writers, and the responses from some of the writers who have now been commissioned by the publishers was well worth the effort. I believe in paying it forward – try it, you never know when it’s going to come back and reward you.

The Stories We Tell and Those We Don’t

I remember standing in a bank queue with my two youngest children when they were about six and seven years old. The queue was long and there was an elderly man standing in front of us; I can still smell the grease in his hair and see the dandruff embedded on the neck of his brown jersey; he turned to me and we had a conversation about his war experiences. In no time at all, it seemed, we’d reached the front of the queue; the electronic board above the teller station beeped and the man proceeded to Teller 5. My son tugged my sleeve and I looked down at his earnest blue eyes. “Do you know that man, mommy?” He asked; I had to admit that I didn’t. My children were perplexed that a stranger would share his story with me and as explanation I told them that my mother had said I would always hear the life-stories of people because I had a face that strangers trust. I now know that if I don’t want to hear every stranger’s life-story, I follow my husband’s advice and avoid eye contact.

Seeds of story are scattered everywhere and often I scribble down a word or a phrase or impressions in my notebook that I overhear or observe. Goldie stood sobbing in her bare feet, wrapped in a pink gown at a phone booth in a hospital waiting area. Natalia confided how her sister wouldn’t eat broken food – crumbs of crisps or biscuits. Michelle told me she was heartbroken when her next door neighbour stopped playing with her; Michelle’s mother tried to cheer her up by saying, “You’ll be friends again once she’s stopped being Jesus’ new best friend.” Carrington told me how he spent a summer in Harare converting the school playground into a golf-course and how thirty boys played golf with one broken golf club. Each of these incidents are seeds that I have been able to use as starters for my short stories.

Other stories are delivered to me – sometimes with the written permission from people to tell them. An immigrant wants me to expose corruption at a world-renowned medical training institution. It is an alleged tale of academic corruption, mining-bosses, xenophobia and American spies. A lady once phoned to say that she had the solution for South Africa’s political problems – God had given it to her – and she wanted to relay the solution to Thabo Mbeki who was the South African president at the time. There are of course legitimate people who contact me from time to time, and after deciding not to take on their stories, I have, with their permission, passed them on to colleagues who were more inclined to their stories, or who had the necessary expertise to write them.

There are stories that I know would be delightful to use as the foundation for my own short stories, but I have chosen not tell them and the reasons vary. These stories are usually very intimate and while they would offer great scenes for my fiction, my friends would recognise themselves in an instant.

It would appear then that I sometimes feel conflicted about what I do and what I don’t write. I guess I don’t want to be a peddlar of someone else’s pain. I can write about painful issues, but I can’t insert the real stories of friends and family because then it would cause pain for them. That said, I do admit to having included personal impressions in some stories or articles that have hurt some of the people I love and I’ve had to apologise for that. Choosing what to write then is quite a delicate balancing act. Yes, writers should be able to write uncensored, but then they must be prepared to pay the price of that choice.

At present I’m writing an inspirational biography. I was genuinely surprised that I was awarded the contract because I had researched and written a paper on biography during my masters degree, and I had been quite turned off the genre because it is such a contested genre and there are too many agendas to be served – at least the writer’s and the subject’s. The only reason I agreed to write the biography was because it is not intended to be sensational – I don’t want to dish up dirt on anyone. I’m writing the biography because the intention is to serve as an inspiration to youth who badly need role models and hope for a future that they might not be that hopeful about. That said, it will not be a sanitised piece. The hardships and the experiences of the subject will be discussed, but not in the Hollywood-Tell-All exposé way.

One of the major issues for writers is that of making choices. We all have to do it, and we all make different choices and these choices result in a wonderful diversity for readers.

(Image: The Storyteller 2 – produced here with permission by the artist Jamie Winter)

Survival Kit for Romance Writers

lichtenstein-roy-the-kiss-iv-99414091Every romance writer needs a survival kit to help them out when they find themselves in a romantic writing drought.

1. A great memory of a first kiss.

I kissed Michael over the handlebars of his Chopper bike. He smelled of chlorine and he tasted of oranges. The memory of a first kiss brings back the tingly sensations that you have to relate in your love story every time your characters kiss.

2. A vine of jasmine outside their writing room.

The surprising hint of a delicious scent titillates the senses and awakens your response to sensational writing. Make sure your readers are as sensually aroused as you are by including sensational details.

3. A bottle of their favourite male fragrance.

Does he smell of pine or moss, does he exude a woody scent or a mature scent that reminds you of pine cones crackling in the hearth? Make his scent attractive and alluring; make it so your reader also wants to rip his clothes off.

4. Chandeliers and long white curtains that billow in their writing room.

Crystals catch and deflect the light and creates a sense of luxury. Long white billowing curtains adds to that full sensuality.

5. A day alone with love songs playing loud.

Play your love songs from morning til night on full volume, choosing the sad ones for the “we’re destined to never be together again” moment.

6. The handkerchief you kept from your first breakup.

That handkerchief you kept has got salt crystals on it from all the tears you shed. Cry all over again and tell your readers where it hurts.

7. Calendar of male pin-ups.

You know you’ve got a favourite part of the male anatomy – share it with your readers. Is it that delicious line that runs down his tummy separating his abs, or is it the hollow in his throat above his massive pecs?

8. Catalogue of dates.

Make a list of great places to spend a date and then keep them on file so that you’ve got a brilliant candlelit dinner in a nature reserve or an evening star-gazing when you need it.

9. A best friend.

Best friends always offer a shoulder to cry on or great advice. Turn to her or him when you’re not sure what your characters should do.

10. A great relationship.

You can’t write about one if you haven’t had one. Use the highest and lowest parts of your most sizzling relationship in your stories to create a believable romance that your readers will enjoy.

Ready, steady… win!

win1Contests are a fabulous way to announce your presence on the local writing scene. If you are placed in a contest, it helps you to establish a writing cv or bio that many publications require and it also boosts your confidence. Not having a publishing record can be intimidating for beginner writers, but don’t allow yourself to be disheartened. A story well told will be enjoyed by an editor or contest reader.

WHICH ONE IS RIGHT FOR YOU?

It is important to be selective about which contests you enter. Without diligent research you could end up sending entries that don’t comply with the rules. If a publication says they only want fiction entries, then that is all they want. They will summarily reject poetry and non-fiction entries, no matter how brilliant they might be. A recent local contest received hundreds of entries, but about a hundred of them were rejected because the entrants did not comply with the rules. If a rule states that you have to be a citizen of Burramunga to enter, then that’s the rule, don’t waste your time or the contest organisers’ time by submitting anything to them.

RESOURCES

If you’re serious about entering contests then you need to establish which ones are suitable for the genre that you write in. Good resources can be found in comprehensive listings in publications like The Writer’s Yearbook and Writer’s Market UK available at good bookstores, and obviously, the internet. Many writing sites have a listing of writing contests.

PLAN

The best way to ensure that you enter the competitions that you are able to comply with, is to have a Contest Plan. In November/December every year, I spend about a week researching contests online and in the Writer’s Yearbook and Writer’s Market. I make a list of those I want to enter by listing them according to the earliest closing date. I cut and paste the submission rules of each into a Word document entitled Contests 2009. At the beginning of every month I see what’s coming up, trying to read three months in advance. If I feel that there is a contest I want to enter then I print that contest’s details and put it into the plastic folder. Date order is essential because at a glance I am able to see what’s coming up. Being forewarned, so to speak, gives me time to consider what story I would like to write, it also gives me a chance to check through unpublished work for a suitable story. This list is invaluable and can be added to throughout the year if new contests appear. It also provides a template for the following year.

KEEP A SEPARATE FOLDER

I have a plastic see through box where I keep all research material, contest rules and drafts of competition entries, this cuts out the confusion of having to remember where I have filed an article or an idea.

JOT DOWN IDEAS

In the plastic folder I keep a notebook for ideas that I want to jot down. An idea don’t remember itself, if you don’t write it down, consider that idea a cigarette that you enjoyed, but once it’s gone up in smoke, you can’t reclaim it. If all your ideas and rules and research are centrally located you won’t waste time.

TRACKER

If you’re going to be a serious contest entrant then you need to keep track of which submissions you’ve made to which publications. Many contests do not accept simultaneous submissions, i.e. it’s not protocol to send the same entry to several competitions at the same time. Knowing where your stories are is essential. A good idea is to download manuscript management software. The best tracker that I’ve found is SAMM which is completely free and downloadable at this link. It’s fabulous because you can customise it according to your needs and it’s unobtrusive. You can enter all your manuscripts, you can enter markets and market types. It’s a no-fuss application that will alert you with follow-ups if you so require.

CHECKLIST

Before you send your entry, make a checklist from the rules sheet. Have you double-spaced your entry? Must you include your name on the manuscript or mustn’t you? Have you included your contact details? It is so easy to avoid silly mistakes by using a checklist, but remember to be flexible because different contests have different criteria, some want three copies of an entry and others require only a single copy. Some contests allow email entries, others do not. Make it your business to establish the rules for your checklist.

Good luck.

Resolving to Write

j0439412New years are notorious for setting up people for failure, and writers are no different. A new year is a blank canvas waiting for you to fill in the colours of your aspirations, but it is easy to get carried away. With eagerness you allow the colours to swirl into each other so that instead of having a clear picture of what you’re hoping for, you end up with a chaotic picture full of muddy colours that have bled out your pure intentions.
There are a myriad of resources to consult in order to design a writing plan and books such as Maisel’s Coaching the Artist Within and Jurgen Wolff’s Your Writing Coach can also get you upright at your desk with ideas about how to best approach this business of writing. But there are some basics that you don’t need a book to tell you about. Trust me, this I know after years and years of making plans, or should I say, setting up the traps of self-sabotage.
Firstly, spend some time thinking about what you want to achieve as a writer. Do you want to be a novelist or a environmental journalist? You need to have your mind firmly set as to what it is you want to achieve. To establish a career as a writer, you can’t be a jack-of-all-trades. Case in point: I decided to go to the Richmond Book Fair. I approached a local newspaper to do an article on the fair, but the books editor didn’t want a general piece on the fair, she wanted a review on one of the books being launched at the fair. Interviewing the writer and going to the launch took all my energy away from the fair itself, and it took another two to three weeks of reading the book and writing the review. I am not a review writer, I don’t want to be one, I shouldn’t have agreed to do it! The review was okay, even if the editor didn’t like it, and yet it was a colossal waste of time and energy. Time and energy that would have been put to much better use at the writing projects that I’m committed to and passionate about.
Secondly, take some time to plan out blocks of time to devote to the writing projects that you’ve chosen to do. If you are aware of deadline dates for short story competitions or for novel chapters, then you’ve got an idea of the amount of time you need to allocate to achieving each one of the projects.
Thirdly, don’t set yourself up for failure. If you’re writing erotic science-fiction short stories, don’t send them to You magazine for consideration. Don’t send a non-fiction book proposal to a poetry publisher. You must identify your markets so that your writing has the best chance of succeeding. Also, don’t over-extend yourself. If you’re a part-time writer, then your output is going to be considerably less than a full-time writer, so try not to be over-ambitious. Be realistic – the amount of time you have will usually determine how much you can achieve.
Fourthly, write. I am amazed at how many people consider themselves to be writers, but don’t actually write. They either read about writing or they have ideas in their heads! Neither will get you published. To be a writer you have to write – I believe every day, but you may disagree. However, if you’re not putting words on a page you cannot be a writer. Writers write, it’s that simple. And the more you write, the easier it gets.
Finally, if you don’t have the luxury of being able to share your writing with anyone, invest in Peter Elbow’s book, Writing without Teachers.

Writing Inside Out

A Discussion of From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butleryoga

Writing from the unconscious and from an emotional base is not a new concept. In his 1930-something book on the craft of writing entitled Storyweaving, Francis Vivian posits that a writer should have all the knowledge of the story in his unconscious before the actual act of writing begins. That’s the theory – the practice however can be a slippery process altogether.

What Butler suggests is that if you’re writing a short story you should know the beginning the middle and the end and then you must sit down and meditate the entire story. You allow your mind to write the story before the fingers do.

If I don’t write down an idea when it springs to mind, it slips through the mesh of saggy brain tissue and I ‘m not limber enough to retrieve it. I didn’t have confidence in my retentive memory**, so I jotted down my idea about the character, what she did for a living and what item was going to connect her and the story together. Then, a firm believer in back-up – I put new batteries in my voice recorder, lay back in a recliner and meditated myself into a blissful haze and finally drifted into the story ‘world’. As ideas came, I whispered them into the recorder balancing on my chest and in about half an hour I’d spoken the story from start to finish.

I was so inspired I dashed to the keyboard and typed out the short story in one session – without referring once to the recording. I think there may be things that I didn’t include that I’d verbalised, and things that I included that hadn’t featured during the meditation. But that’s not the point really; the big bonus for me was that I succeeded in surrendering control – oh boy that’s a biggie for me, didn’t ever think it was, but looking back at all my previous short stories and articles it clearly is. It seemed like I wrote like a first-time mom who took each toddling idea and yanked it up by the arm onto the stable path and forced it down the road whether there was anything there that was good for it or not; ouch, I won’t be doing that again.

By relinquishing control the benefits were as follows: I achieved a story with better flow; the calm meditative state suggested a natural trajectory and found the natural fit for the kernel of the story, thus the story doesn’t feel at all contrived. Images, because they were felt – sensationalised – were pure and powerful and rendered a richer story.

As a writer with ten years experience, I was afraid that my stories were starting to get stale, so it’s fabulous to feel energised and excited again about a craft in which I’ve invested so much of my life.

**This retentive memory should not be confused with Robert Olen Butler’s opinions on literal memory. He proposes that literal memory is no place from where to draw ideas; he believes that it gets in the way of creativity.

What useful techniques have you discovered or read about? Please feel free to share them here – crazy, pedantic, etc., we want to hear about them and try them out.

Diary of a Romance Writer 2

It’s been almost a month since I went on the romance-writing course and I have to say that I am having fun. I’m halfway through the novel, just over 20 000 words and I am astounded by the positive effect it is having on all the other writing that I do.

I do the romance writing during the morning session of writing, and I am able to just sit down and carry on from where I left off the day before. I have found that writing the first few sentences of a new chapter helps to kickstart the session’s writing and I’m always rather sorry when I finish my quota for the day.

Unfortunately I have had to divide my day into writing projects so that they all get the attention they deserve – unfortunate in that I can’t just write until I’ve had enough or until the book is finished. But I think that the break from it also prevents me from just rambling on.

The most amazing benefit of writing a light romance has been the effect it has had on my other writing projects. I have been able to make a committed effort to shaping my completed novel into its final form to send to a publisher; it would seem that the light writing segues into the heavier novel, having exercised the writing muscles, making them ready for the serious writing that the completed novel deserves.

I have a smile on my face while I write the romance novel. My fingers fly across the keyboard as I capture the raunchy love scenes and the fabulous settings; it is fabulous to have fun when you write. The completed novel demanded so much research and reading and getting the facts absolutely right, whereas the romance novel just lets my imagination run wild and I think therein lies the magic for me: my imagination has been fired up again, dampened as it was under two years of research and writing the completed novel.

Oh, and I’m in love, with the escapism of the genre! Who would have thought that the Mills & Boons novels that I hid between the covers of my Afrikaans text book as Sister Margaret Mary pounded out our weekly woordeskat, would re-emerge in my life twenty years later.

Diary of a Romance Writer 1

Saturday, 6th September 2008

My new writing project began on Saturday with my attendance at a romance-writing course. My recent writing projects felt flat and uninspired and I knew that if I didn’t do something to inject a bit of fun into my writing day that I was going to have to seriously reconsider by decade long focus on the craft.

I arrived at the course knowing nothing more than that I wanted to dumb down the literary falutedness that had crept into my work as a writer. I was eager to break away from the precious aura of the writing MA that I’d been awarded in 2007. In plain English – I wanted to enjoy writing again.

The course facilitator, welcomed all the participants with a beaming smile and a relaxed attitude that ensured that everyone felt at home. The course participants were mostly women of different ages and were really responsive and that helped to create a worthwhile day of learning.

The course is interactive, which is how all courses should be structured – a little bit of learning and a little bit of practical application. What I didn’t expect was a whole lot of fun.

It’s true, it’s true, romance writing is formulaic. The hero is always TD&H, the heroine is always his inferior – not as rich, not as successful. (Sorry feminists, I didn’t make the rules!) The man always gets the girl and a whole lot of other stick-to-rules in between that absolutely have to be adhered to if you wish to have your romance novel published.

My initial idea of setting the novel in South Africa waned when Anthony suggested that failure to adhere to the preferred locales of the publishers would see your query returned; I decided to have fun but to strictly adhere to the rules to improve my chances of publication. I fell asleep with my mind churning with alpha males and male-esses and exotically wealthy lifestyles…

Lit Mag Responsibilities

Having work accepted in a literary magazine is a big deal for a writer, it means that something you’ve been working on has found a home and won’t be relegated to the homeless drawer. It is frustrating then that once work has been accepted, some literary magazines don’t ever make contact again.

I submitted a poem to Botsotso and it was accepted and the editor asked for more. I sent more. I waited a year – no publication and no contact. I accept that funding is a problem, but then the editor needs to be upfront about this situation and say, “Your poems might only be published in a year’s time.” This knowledge will give me the option to decide whether or not the poem has the lifespan to wait or whether I want to submit to another magazine.

I was informed that SA Dept of Arts & Culture were sponsoring a new SA literary journal to be edited by Prof. Oliphant of UNISA. I submitted a poem and a literary essay and both were accepted, March being given as the publishing date. I emailed the editor to provide details of publication and where the publication could be purchased, but to date I have had no response.

I provided another new publication with a literary essay and it was accepted. Then I was told that it wouldn’t appear in the print issue but rather as a parallel article online. I accepted the change in publication and agreed to write some reviews for the same publication. To date the literary essay has not been published online, despite the editor’s reassurance that it is on the website!

I think it’s time that South African writers stood their ground and were more demanding of these editors, if they hold themselves out to be a market for writers then they must deliver. If they insist that they are looking for new writers and new writing then they must woo the new writers instead of publishing names that they feel will lend their publication stability.  Without new writers the literary magazines will not last.

New writing is about taking risks and new publications should take this into account. South African writing is characterised by writers who have never been afraid to give voice to the unpopular. By serving up safe writing by middle of the road writers local editors are failing to contribute to the tradition of excellent SA writing.