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Incredible Journey Teaser: Q&A with one of this year’s runners-up, Lidudumalingani


2016 Caine Prize Nominee!

Lidudumalingani is a 2015 Short.Sharp.Stories Judges’ Choice Runner-Up for his story “Memories We Lost”. He is a writer, filmmaker and photographer from the village of Zikhovane in the Transkei. He grew up hearding cattle and moulding goats from clay, he tells us, and later grew fond of words and images. His story ‘The Streetwalkers’ appearded in the 2014 Short.Sharp.Stories anthology Adults Only under the name Dudumalingani Mqombothi.


Firstly, can I ask about your name? Why change the Mqombothi in favour of Lidudumalingani on its own? What is the significance?

The decision to drop the second name, Mqombothi, was made with not much debate at all. Though Mqombothi, the surname is meaningful, Lidudumalingani is more aesthetically pleasing. Secondly, far more important than the aesthetic, it is a clan name that functions as a form of protest against an identity that has been imposed on me following family feuds. The new name reclaims an identity that is truly my own.


What did the theme ‘incredible journey’ mean to you? Why did you choose this journey?

The appeal was in two ways for me. One was that journeys unfold over time, in that period, altering, blurring, testing human strength, and this is what is at the centre of human existence and there is nothing more fascinating. The second appeal was that it suggested walking. ‘Memories We Lost’ is set in the villages and walking there, unlike in the city, is not inhibited. One can, if that is one’s wish, walk as far as one wants, admire the mountains and landscapes, listen to rivers mumble their untranslatable poetry; one can walk until the horizon is reached. Both the pleasure of walking and the strife of life made for contrasting themes in the narrative.


Your story, at face value, maps the journey of sibling daughters, one who looks after the other who is afflicted with a psychological disorder. The reader, however, wonders at times whether the siblings are indeed one and the same person. Can you comment on this observation?

My interest, and the subsequent narrative that ended up on the page, started as an obsession with the sibling relationship between the two sisters. The observation that it is the same person is welcomed. Reading the story now, I can see why that would appear to be the case. All the same, this is the beauty of reading – a story means different things to different people. Edmund Wilson, the American writer, literary and social critic, once said, “No two persons ever read the same book.” Nothing about writing could ever be more true than that.


Is mental illness an affliction that you’ve witnessed first hand?

When I was growing up, two relatives and another village man had, at overlapping times, been diagnosed with mental illness. None of them had gone to the doctor. The community had simply, from pure observation and hearing their ramblings, decided that they had gone mad. All these men, with their episodes of madness, were thoughtful, emotional and complicated.


You yourself come from a small village. Can you tell us a little about your experience there and how that shaped you as a writer?

More than being shaped by growing up in a small village, moving around different spaces, seeing other perspectives is what really helped my comprehension of space, people and writing. This is not to say that there is nothing distinct about growing up in the villages that guides me every day and every time I sit down to write. There is a lot of it – my experience is intrinsic to who I am – and mostly cannot be translated to words. I do, however, think that there is a sense of community in the villages and my writing stems from this sensitivity of the human spirit.


The landscape is very strong in your story, as it was in the story published in Adults Only, titled ‘Street Walkers’. Here, however, the landscape is rural whereas ‘Street Walkers’ was set in a very urban Cape Town. Do you feel more affinity to one sort of landscape over the other?

I do not prefer one over the other. They both offer different complexities. I find the villages though far more sexy and poetic than the city landscape. The city is a lot more political, sexist, racist, hostile, and beautiful. I am comfortable writing about both and during the writing I make no deliberate effort to switch mindsets. Both these exist within me, separately and together.


As a writer, how do you feel exposure in the Short.Sharp.Stories collections has helped you? 

I came to the launch of the first anthology, Bloody Satisfied, at a time when I was undecided about writing fiction. I had only considered the idea of writing fiction and had not yet written anything. Being at that launch, I felt encouraged to write fiction. I cannot be more grateful to the anthology for publishing my story in Adults Only. If it were not for that, I would probably have given up on writing fiction and told it to fuck off.


With so many aspiring writers out there, what helpful tip could you offer on writing the short story?

I have nothing original to tell them except repeat some advices that I have read somewhere. One of them and one I will offer here is; a writer should do three things, read, observe and write and these should be done over and over again, through one’s entire life even when one has been published widely.


What’s next on your writerly agenda?

I have just finished writing a feature film titled Correcting God, a film about corrective rape, and am now trying to raise funds to make it and will continue to rework it until it feels finished. I am working on a non-fiction book, a story set in the Free State about a racist killing that happened in 2001, and I am also about to begin work on my first novel. I reveal all of this so that I am reminded of this promise every time people ask how the writing is going.


Interview by Joanne Hichens


incredible journey cover copy Book details:

Incredible Journey: Stories that move you edited by Joanne Hichens
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EAN: 9781928230182
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