Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Where are they now? - some winners of the Intwasa Short Story Competition

Reproduced, with permission, from the Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo Newsletter July 2013


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Novuyo Tshuma's Flirtations with Nairobi

from www.panorama.co.zw

It's a sepia tinted afternoon as we speed from Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta Airport, headed for the Fairview Hotel, situated near the city-centre. There seems to be a lot of activity here; construction everywhere, the skeletons of buildings in progress. Nairobi has the writhing vibrancy of Harare; the hum of traffic, the post-colonial ambitions of glossy architecture and inhabitants who throng the streets with urgent purpose.
The coming week is any writer's treat; five days of literary events organised by The British Council, Kwani, the innovative East African literary initiative, and GRANTA, UK's leading literary magazine.

I am grateful to British Council for sponsoring my trip, and my stay at the sparkling Fairview Hotel; I have flown in from South Africa and am to meet, among others, fellow Zimbabweans Jane Morris and Brian Jones of amaBooks. Jane and Brian are part of the Programmers' Workshop, which runs concurrently with our Writers' Workshop. This literary feast includes the launch of the latest GRANTA Issue 'Best of Young British Novelists 2013', a three-day fiction writing workshop, a lecture by visiting writers Nadifa Mohamed and Adam Foulds as well as a 2013 elections symposium put together by Kwani Trust.

There is a tingling feeling of having been here before, an intimate sense of having experienced this space and its people before; was it in Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina's evocative memoir 'One Day I Will Write About This Place'?

The fiction workshop begins on the morning of the 19th, with Ellah Allfrey, Deputy Editor of GRANTA, chairing the proceedings. With her is Billy Kahora, Managing Editor of Kwani, and the two guest writers, UK based Nadifa Mohamed and Adam Foulds, both of whom are on GRANTA's 2013 Best of Young British Novelists list.

There are 19 workshop participants; 15 Kenyan writers and four visiting writers from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Nigeria and Uganda, myself included. The interaction with high profile editors and experienced writers is like a chipping away from a young writer of the crusty parts, a refining that sharpens writing focus. The workshop hones the craft of building a story, much in the same way one builds a house, building upon the foundation of plot a slab of setting, sturdy walls of language, cemented by effective research and airy windows for that clear-eyed characterisation. The gabbled roof is decorated by a writer's distinct style.

The symposium on Kenya's 2013 elections reminds me of Zimbabwe's own upcoming Presidential elections. Kenya and Zimbabwe seem to follow intersecting trajectories in the history of their elections; in 2008, when Zimbabwe spent an inordinate time without a President, it was dubbed “another Kenya”, seeing as Kenya had had a similar experience.

What is a space for a writer without a taste of its culture? Lunch at Campia, an Ethiopian restaurant - the tongue introduced to new tastes; injera (bitter pan-cake dough, which is eaten like sadza), tibtib (spicy meat dish) and zilzil (roasted meat dish). An evening at a dinner hosted by Kwani spent as a Maasai Woman, in a Kanga and a beaded bracelet which I am told Maasai women never take off; it is a marriage gift, much like a wedding ring. And a bag plump with books; intersections with the cultures of the world, any writer's delight.

What does one take away from the experience? Invaluable teachings, fresh ways of telling stories, new friendships, animating interactions with space... All of these beaded in memory, to one day embroider a fictitious truth.
The musky air, farting traffic and yellow lights as we drive to the airport on the evening of the 24th, remind me of a place called home. Strange, this, as I'm no longer sure where that is. - By Novuyo Rosa Tshuma.

*Novuyo Rosa Tshuma (pictured) is the author of Shadows. Her stories have won the Yvonne Vera Award and been published in various collections, including Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe.  She has been a participant in both the Caine Prize and Farafina Trust Writing Workshops. 

She holds a BComm in Economics and Finance from the University of Witwatersrand, and is a Maytag Fellow for MFA Creative Writing at the University of Iowa.

NoViolet Bulawayo makes Booker long list

from www.parthianbooks.com

Congratulations to all of this year's Booker longlisted authors. We're excited to see NoViolet Bulawayo, a Zimbabwean author whose work previously appeared in Parthian's anthology of Zimbabwean short stories Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe, recognised for her first novel We Need New Names.

Her longlisted novel, We Need New Names (Chatto and Windus) follows Darling and her friends, living in a shanty called Paradise, which of course is no such thing. They dream of the paradises of America, Dubai, Europe, where Madonna and Barack Obama and David Beckham live. For Darling, that dream will come true. But, like the thousands of people all over the world trying to forge new lives far from home, Darling finds this new paradise brings its own set of challenges - for her and also for those she's left behind.

NoViolet was born in Tsholotsho, a year after Zimbabwe's independence from British colonial rule. When she was eighteen, she moved to Kalamazoo, Michi­gan. She earned her MFA at Cornell University, where she was also awarded a Truman Capote Fellowship, and she is currently a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University in California. In We Need New Names she writes 'To play the country-game, we have to choose a country. Everybody wants to be the USA and Britain and Canada and Australia and Switzerland and them. Nobody wants to be rags of countries like Congo, like Somalia, like Iraq, like Sudan, like Haiti and not even this one we live in - who wants to be a terrible place of hunger and things falling apart?'

A previous winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing (the 'African Booker') and also shortlisted for the South Africa PEN Studzinsi Award, judged by JM Coetzee, NioViolet's work has appeared in magazines and in anthologies in Zimbabwe, South Africa and the UK.

Seven different countries are represented on the Booker longlist, and while there is a strong hand of established authors selected (Tash Aw, Jim Crace, Jhumpa Lahiri, Colum McCann, Charlotte Mendelson and Colm Tóibín) there is also a good representation for first timers.

NoViolet's story 'Snapshots' appeared in Parthian's anthology of Zimbabwean writing Where to Now?, alongside work by Bryony Rheam and John Eppel. Complied by Zimbabwean publishing house 'amaBooks, Where to Now? was printed in the UK by Parthian in 2011.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Wild Thistle reviews This September Sun

This September Sun by Bryony Rheam


Ellie, a shy girl growing up in modern Zimbabwe, has a close attachment to her grandmother Evelyn. However, when Ellie is an adult living in England, she receives the news her beloved grandmother has been brutally murdered, apparently without reason. Ellie returned to Zimbabwe where she finds some old letters and diaries chronicling the life of her grandmother as she arrives in Rhodesia as a young war widow and has a longstanding affair with a married man.
This September Sun is the heartwarming story of Ellie, a white girl born in Zimbabwe, the former British colony of Rhodesia, which is now an independent and a predominantly black society. Ellie is a child in the first part of the book so we learn about her family and the changes taking place in society through her eyes, and since she is too young to understand what is really going on, the author lays the groundwork for a lot of the mystery concerning the life of Ellie’s grandmother, Evelyn. Ellie’s family used to live under the same roof but an explosive argument between her grandparents lead to Evelyn moving into her own flat where Ellie visits her once a week.
While visiting her grandmother, Ellie meets Miles, a friend of Evelyn’s, who makes her feel uneasy although she’s not sure why but we can see that Miles is Evelyn’s lover and it is the first hint we have that Evelyn is a passionate woman with secrets. No one else in the family is aware of Miles’s existence and Ellie begins to realise she is slowly being drawn into her grandmother’s web of lies. As Ellie grows up, she continues to be close to her grandmother but doesn’t really understand some of the decisions Evelyn begins to make and she is increasingly confused by it.
While Ellie is growing up, the familial events are mirrored by what is going on in Bulawayo with the changing political climate in Zimbabwe. Although there are no specific events described, the sense of unease is very prevalent as Ellie reveals many of her classmates are leaving the country to begin new lives in South Africa, England or Australia. The sense of displacement is very evident in Ellie as she struggles to find her own identity and yearns to go to England, believing Zimbabwe is no longer where she belongs.
When Ellie is studying in England, she continues to correspond with her grandmother and she is devastated when she receives a call in the middle of the night telling her Evelyn has been murdered. Ellie returns to Bulawayo where she finds Evelyn’s diaries chronicling her life in Zimbabwe and this is when the book really came alive for me. The impact of Evelyn’s murder on the family is interspersed with extracts in her diary which slowly reveal the answers to the mysteries raised in the first part of the book, including her grandmother’s lifelong affair with a married man. The diary extracts aren’t revealed in chronological order but jump back and forth through the decades as the story unravels but it is done in a fairly logical way so there is no confusion. When the events of Ellie’s life described in the first few chapters begin to appear, we gain a different perspective on what happened which enriches our understanding.
Reading about her grandmother’s life as a young woman is also a learning experience for Ellie as she begins to question the choices she’s made and realises she’s been deceiving herself. Once Evelyn’s story is concluded, it dawns on Ellie that she has been settling for second best and her heart really does yearn to return to Africa which has always been her home.

Friday, July 12, 2013

African Violet: The Caine Prize for African Writing 2012 to be discussed at the Harare Book Cafe

The Book Club @ Book Café in Harare will next meet on Tuesday 16 July at 6 pm to discuss African Violet. 

Please come along, even if you haven't read the book, and even if you haven't come to the book club before.

For information please call 0864 406 6015

Venue: Book Cafe 139 Samora Machel Ave, corner 6th Street, Harare

What is this book club about ?
Books are better appreciated when we're able to share our experience of the writing through discussion and exploration of the text. We get ideas through learning from how others see the same story. At the book club we will read an agreed book in advance and then meet at a set time to talk about it. Our aim is to enjoy the book and discussion. This is not meant to be a study group or an academic exercise.

African Violet features the shortlisted stories from the 2012 Caine Prize for African Writing, as well as stories from those attending the Caine Prize workshop.

Copies of the book are available at the Book Café bookshop, as well as the National Gallery shop, Blackstone Books and Avondale Books in Harare. In Bulawayo, copies can be found at the National Gallery shop, Induna Arts, Tendele Crafts, Best Books and Z&N bookshop.

African Violet is published in Zimbabwe by 'amaBooks. The 2013 collection, A Memory This Size, will be published by 'amaBooks in the near future.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Dear Lovely Author (truths about marketing you need to know)

by Helen Moffett

This piece was commissioned by Colleen Higgs for Modadji’s Small Publishers’ Catalogue 2013 for southern Africa. It’s a must-have resource: you can buy it online, or direct from Colleen at cdhiggs at gmail.com.

Dear Lovely Author,

I’ve been wanting to reply properly to the letter you sent me for such a long time. You wrote so angrily, about how you had poured all this work into your book, got it published with a reputable publisher – only to see it apparently falling into a black hole. We both know it’s a very good book: I edited it. The (only) two reviews – by careful, creditable people – were full of praise. You blame the publisher, of course; there is a long catalogue of the things you think they should have done, and which they didn’t do.
As I read your mail, I was compiling a list in my head of all the things authors should do if they want to keep their books afloat in the great sea of indifference that greets most South African and indeed African literary fiction. Or afloat at least long enough to sell enough copies to cover the publishers’ outlay.
When it comes to marketing, many authors, drunk on the smell of fresh ink, assume that the publisher will do it – or at least, take the lead. The most they will have to do is show up for panels at fun conferences wearing a jacket nicely pitched between boho and tweedy, and bearing a trendily archaic fountain-pen for signings. Oh dear oh dear.
No one ever really tells authors the truth: that in the tiny sphere that is the Southern African fiction world, marketing is something they are going to have to do themselves. The support from your publisher will vary wildly; sometimes tiny publishers are excellent about what I think of bake-sale marketing strategies (hand-selling small quantities of books at lowered prices at poetry readings, lectures, even parties, for instance). Sometimes the bigger publishers have budgets (!), and will actually throw launches, host events, print posters, pay for campaigns like Homebru and more. Sometimes it will look as if they are doing absolutely nothing (this is almost never the case, though; there is a lot of underwater paddling that the author doesn’t see – the publisher is far more anxious to capture their outlay than you are). But whatever the publishers do or don’t do will come across as erratic to you, especially if it’s your first book.
It’s a basic truth that you have to take the lead in marketing your book. See your publisher as a partner who will back you up, but understand that you’ll be the one steering the process. The old days of doing a J. D. Salinger, of retreating to a garret or a cabin in the woods while expecting your book to create if not a storm, at least a ripple – they’re gone, along with the purity of the notion that any work of art should stand or fall on its own merits.
For your book to sell, you need to be an odd mix: selfish, strategic and sincere. And let’s add another ‘s’ into the mix – for social media.
First of all, you need to be selfish in pushing your book out into the world, and persistent (without being pushy or a prima donna) in pursuing all the avenues available. Will there be an electronic version of your book, and can you get it onto e-selling platforms? Are there any literary festivals coming up? Any conferences or special interest gatherings (gay, environmental, political, sporting, hobby-related?) that you could hitch your book to? Does it qualify for any literary competitions? (Never assume that your publisher will automatically enter you for these. You might even have to pay for international postage to help things along.)
Being selfish doesn’t mean being impolite. Ask your publisher to get you onto a panel at a literary festival, or how you can help them to organise a launch. They can open doors that are closed to you. But you’ll soon learn that there are certain routes you need to take yourself; you may have a contact at a library or university department that will give you a chance to talk about your book. Always keep your publisher posted about what you manage to set up – you may need them to sell the book for you, if your friendly indie bookstore won’t (and that’s something else to cultivate – your relationship with your local bookseller, of which more later).
I believe launches are essential, but your publisher may disagree. Do remember though, that these are seldom occasions at which vast quantities of books are sold.
It goes without saying that if you are a misanthrope or someone who freezes on stage, you need to get over it pdq. These days, authors need to be friendly, professional, articulate and witty, and if you aren’t, start learning how. I’ve attended agonising launches where authors have had their monosyllabic answers dragged from them almost with pliers. And once I had to fill in at a book fair after an author threw a hissy fit, walking off a panel because the distributor hadn’t delivered his books. Agreed, it’s infuriating when this sort of thing happens (and it will), but just ONE tantrum, and you will never be invited to a literary festival again, and your publisher will think twice before looking at your next manuscript.
You need to be strategic about where and how you’re going to apply your energies – assuming that like most writers, you have a day job. So you need to plan around that. If you’re deskbound, then social media is your friend. Set up something – a website, a blog – that means that anyone who googles your name can instantly click on a link to buy your book. This is vital – you must make it easy for folk to buy online. No-one with an internet connection should ever have to ask “How do I get hold of your book?”
My personal take (others will disagree) is that it’s no use creating a Facebook page or Twitter account for your book – rather chat about it on your personal social media platform. But don’t spam your friends and followers – it gets annoying.
If your day job is unrelated to writing, this isn’t a bad thing. If your clients and colleagues are, say, computer programmers or party planners, that creates an entirely new potential market for your book. Obviously you shouldn’t push, but make them feel included in your publishing project. This goes for all your circles – I once had members of my flamenco class show up at one of my book launches.
And while we’re talking strategy, get creative. I’ve tried many tricks, including leaving a copy of my debut collection of poems (which deals with, among other things, infertility) in my gynaecologist’s waiting-room. By local poetry standards, it’s a bestseller (i.e., it’s actually been reprinted).
Some strategies are obvious. If you’re local, and you don’t have a Books Live microblog, I have no sympathy for your tales of marketing woe. But even here, you need to do two things: post blogs that are NOT always about your book (tell folk what you’re reading, take part in debates about local fiction) – and read and comment on the blogs of others. You may think no-one notices these, but you’d be amazed at who comes browsing by.
This leads to perhaps the most NB advice of all: one of the most underestimated and valuable marketing resources is other writers. I’ve never forgotten a conversation we had where you implied, rather aggressively, that you saw other writers simply as competition. Right then, I had a hunch that your book might not sell.
In most cases, if your book is to succeed, you need other authors. This is where the sincere bit comes in. To gain traction on the local book scene, you have to take part in it – actively and enthusiastically. I think it was Justin Fox who said that the day South African writers stopped buying each other’s books, the local market would collapse, and he has a point. Literary fiction in particular sells to a tiny niche audience in this country, and that audience largely consists of writers and intellectuals.
You need these people to come to your readings and events. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve gone to a launch, sternly telling myself I can’t afford to buy any more books – only to be won over by hearing the author read.
Writers who hear you read and like it will recommend your book to their friends. Who also have friends who read books. And their friends go to book clubs, or write book columns for newspapers, or have book blogs, or belong to social media bookchat groups, or post on Goodreads.
But how do you get the attention of this small but influential bunch? You need to get the ball rolling by going to their book launches in the first place. It’s almost a hanging offence not to go to events featuring your publisher’s other authors. Buy their books, ask them to sign them, read them, and then – this is critical – if you like them, say so. Not just to their faces, but on public platforms.
Plus, your presence at launches and your purchases will not go unnoticed by your local indie bookshop, where most such events are held. Get to know their staff. Tell them about your book, but as part of the local writing scene – who your influences are, and what audience is most likely to buy it. It’s no good saying “I’ve written this amazing book about a boy who can communicate with rhinos”. Say “I’ve written a book set in Nairobi and Joburg that has shades of magic realism, sort of like Lauren Beukes’s Zoo City, but with the same environmental concerns you see in Zakes Mda’s Heart of Redness.” Then they’ll know exactly who to sell your book to.
Not only that, you never know when they might organise a festival or an event or even a protest (against rhino poaching) and say, “Hey, why don’t we get that chap who wrote X on a panel with Lauren and Zakes…”
Local writers are your colleagues and potential allies in the great swim-or-sink publishing adventure. Volunteer to read their drafts; congratulate them on their achievements; offer to write prefaces or blurbs for their books. Sign up for every short story or other anthology going, and make it known that you will jump at commissions.
Don’t stop there. Go to book fairs and festivals, attend poetry readings, take part in initiatives like Short Story Day Africa, organise local events for World Book Day, Library Week, NaNoWriMo – the list is endless.
All this bread on the waters will come back to you with jam on it. Through the relationships you build, you’ll be asked to interview other writers or sit on panels with them. Every time this happens, your books go on sale, too.
The connections should run deeper than that, though. It’s other writers who will read your manuscripts and make invaluable suggestions. They’ll put you in touch with excellent cover designers or brilliant development editors. You never know when one with an agent or international publisher might be able to hook you up too. You can weep on their shoulders about bad reviews, even worse royalty statements, and the dread letter putting your beloved book out of print. (Every writer has horror stories along these lines, no matter how successful they may seem.) But all this is based on relationships of sincere reciprocity. No writer is an island, especially not on the African continent.
But, but, you say. You live in the middle of nowhere – no hobnobbing at book events for you. Or you’re too busy (you have a life, a family, a day job). So do almost all the writers I know, including the successful ones. If you have electricity or a generator, a modem or a smartphone, then there is no excuse.
One of the best-connected local writers I know is Lauri Kubuitsile. She has a popular blog, a newspaper column, and is active on Facebook and Twitter. She writes textbooks, romances, YA, short stories and mysteries – and is capable of very fine literary fiction as well. She’s worked with multiple local publishers. She’s been shortlisted for the Caine Prize and won coveted writing residencies. By any accounts, she’s a successful writer. She has an incredibly effective network, mostly via the world-wide web, across Southern Africa. And yet she lives in a village in the Botswana bush.
So: to sell your book, build a network, and then work at maintaining it. Frankly, it’s often the best part of the lonely business of writing. I wish you luck – but remember, we have to make our own luck.

PS: If you found this useful, there’s lots more need-to-know stuff in the Small Publishers’ Catalogue — essential resource for all local writers.