Short Story Day Africa are celebrating, with 21 questions for writers. Here's my attempt and I hope to tag a few writers like Jude Dibia, Hamilton Wende, Susan Abulhawa, Reneilwe Malatji, Elana Bregin and Zukiswa Wanner.
1.Do you actually enjoy writing, or do you write because you like the finished product?
I love writing. Full stop. There can never be a finished product. The story evolves, even when I'm doing a reading at a launch, I often find myself trying something new in the text, in a way that doesn't change the story, but challenges my presentation for the moment.
2. What are you reading right now? And are you enjoying it? (No cheating and saying something that makes you sound like the intelligensia).
I'm reading Rachel Zadok's 'Sister Sister' and 'Trespass' by Dawn Garisch. I've just picked up a whole load of SA literature between festivals and thoroughly enjoying what's on offer. Recently read Damon Galgut and a few others.
3. Have you ever killed off a character and regretted it?
Not yet. I tried writing krimmie but haven't been convinced by my aptitude in that genre as yet! I guess I'm not a good killer (yet?)
4. If you could have any of your characters over for dinner, which would it be and why?
Some of the scenes in SoPhia are written around the dinner or lunch table, family discussions at mealtime form an important part of our home and so it's easy to see any of the characters at dinner, between us figuring out what happens next in the story! I'm writing a new novel about a travel journalist with whom I could definitely have long chats over dinner!
5. Which one of your characters would you never invite into your home and why?
A character named Waheeda clucks venomously at a social event, over my protagonists moment of ill fate in SoPhia, and she represents a host of women and men who thrive on others' misery.
6. Ernest Hemingway said: write drunk, edit sober. For or against?
I'm not a literalist, and since I don't have a clue the effects of alcohol, I will assume, write as though obsessed with your subject matter. I think I go for long bouts of not being able to write, experiencing great restlessness, and then all at one, the flood gates burst open. That's the drunken state of writing for me. I care for little else. And indeed, a whole new persona is revealed during the re-write and edit phases.
7. If against, are you for any other mind altering drug?
Haha! I have a low threshold for household drugs anyway, so if 500g of paracetamol knocks me out, I'm afraid I won't be much use on anything stronger.
8. Our adult competition theme is Feast, Famine and Potluck. Have you ever put food in your fiction? If so, what part did it play in the story?
In my novel SoPhia, the Kader family often sits around the dinner table having a discussion, family issues addressed, etc. Rabia Kader is renowned for her culinary skills and loves feeding her family. Zarreen, her daughter and the protagonist, often brings in mealtime and food as a way to diffuse an fight with her abusive husband, even though he slaps a pot of curry out of her hands. I always note the colour and smells, the accompanying side dishes, the detail of food as sensory treasure.
9. What’s the most annoying question anyone’s ever asked you in an interview?
The recurring inspiration of writing question has become tedious only because my primary reason for having begun writing was as a social scientist. The use of fiction as a genre came later, and has been a huge shift from technical writing, but the intent has remained: writing generates debate and extends readership in order to have a far wider reach for this debate and conjecture on various social ills and issues.
10. If you could be any author other than yourself, who would you be?
I admire a great many authors the world over, but I can't think of being anyone in particular ... I think it's also beause I don't just see myself as an author, just as are most writers and creatives a sum of parts, wearing various caps I ways that make sense to their particular circumstance.
11. If you could go back in time and erase one thing you had written from your writing history, what would it be and why?
None whatsoever. Any errors are my own, and I stand by my writings and expressions, taking responsibility for creative outputs, not necessarily for audience interpretations. There is a point when writing, the final work stops belonging only to the writer in the way that it is engaged with readers. This is part of the creative process and not always easy to predict, measure or map out.
12. What’s the most blatant lie you’ve ever told?
A legacy lie I tell my nieces and nephew: if you make funny faces, your face will stay like that! Ha!
13. If someone reviews you badly, do you write them into your next book/story and kill them?
My very first book, Daughters are Diamonds, in 2007 received a very badly misrepresented review in a KZN paper by a reviewer who had not bothered to read the work, and commenting on content the review subsequently received letters to the editor from readers who felt slighted by the commentary. I was just about to launch the book at the Cape Town Book Fair when I heard about the wave of negative publicity. The newspaper then allowed me an op ed in response and the overall media engagement boosted a massive wave of book sales that continue to this day. This first book continues on booksellers re-order lists, sells most on e-readers and even at new book launches six years later. No complaints.
In future I'd probably analyze a bad review to shreds!
14. What’s your favourite bad reviewer revenge fantasy?
Well. Tar and feathers comes to mind.
15. What’s the most frustrating thing about being a writer in Africa?
I think that publishing in Africa is expensive because smaller readership means relatively smaller print runs. Another major gripe is the sale of books by booksellers who don't actually read the books they sell (or at the very least read the reviews)
16. Have you ever written naked?
Isn't writing an act of nakedness? In many ways it is, like peeling off layers of skin.
17. Does writing sex scenes make you blush?
I haven't actually written a sex scene. It's difficult. It feels like too much of an intrusion on perhaps someone else's life. I wrote moments of intimacy, I wrote encounters of lovers in an abusive marriage, and I wrote a scene of marital rape in SoPhia. And from the draft through to editing various points, the realization hits that data might be authentic but the fictional sculpting of an emotive scene will always be prone to scrutiny. What is real anyway? No it doesn't make me blush!
18. Who would play you in the film of your life?
Julia Roberts? Rani Mukerjee? Haha! Helen Hunt? Who knows what odd fantasy this delves into! I have no idea, really, even at the stretch of the writers imagination.
19. If you won the Caine Prize for African Fiction, what would you do with the money?
I brainstormed the Belly of Fire Anthologies for Social Change in 2011, with a second volume due out in 2014, bringing together the work of activists around the world, dealing with a wide range of social issues in the form of short stories. With more funds, I would extend the platform for publishing these stories and the (local and global) conversations generated from these publications at a faster rate.
20. What do you consider your best piece of work to date?
Inadvertently, SoPhia seems to be most widely and well received already in its first six months. I'm pleased and grateful about this.
21. What are you doing on 21 June 2013, to celebrate Short Story Day Africa?
I will be receiving and reading the first lot of submissions for Belly of Fire II to be published early next year after a successful first volume.
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