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Incredible Journey Teaser: Q&A with Bongani Kona


2016 Caine Prize Nominee!

Bongani Kona’s story ‘At Your Requiem’ is Highly Commended in this year’s Short.Sharp.Stories collection, Incredible Journey. Kona is a freelance journalist whose writing has appeared in Rolling Stone (South Africa), The Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times, Cape Times, City Press, and elsewhere. He is currently studying towards a master’s in creative writing at UCT.


As the title tells us, your story begins at a funeral – what led you to begin at the end? How did your story evolve?

I need to explain something first about the origins of the story and the title. I love secondhand book shops and a few years ago I bought an old copy of New Contrast for about R10 or R20. I don’t have the copy with me anymore – I gave it to a friend – but there was poem in there called ‘At Your Requiem’. I don’t remember who wrote the poem but I loved the feel of it even though it was quite sad. So that was the inspiration for the story, and like the poem it begins at a requiem.


Not only does the story begin at a funeral, but this is a commemoration of a suicide victim who had a history of drug abuse. Is there any particular reason you decided to bring those specific elements together in your story?

If you live in Cape Town drug abuse never seems to be that far away. Some years ago I had a housemate who had photographs stuck on the fridge of friends she had lost in connection to heroin. Despite not having known these people personally or knowing much about drug abuse in general I wanted to explore the kind of trauma that comes with it.


As you mentioned in your biography you didn’t want to create a ‘literal’ journey – what does this year’s topic, the incredible journey, mean to you?

It’s a great theme but journeys don’t always have to be literal, as in going from A to B. Like I said, I wanted to explore the kind of inward journey that people undergo when they’ve survived trauma. Working through personal loss is perhaps one of the most important journeys we can undertake.


Regret seems to be an overall theme of your story. How do you believe regret can impact a person’s journey through life?

I think anyone who has ever experienced a heavy sense of regret – I know I have plenty of times – plays events over and over; that sequence is in your head; you obsess about it. You try to imagine different outcomes, and you think about all the different ways things could have changed if you had done A instead B. Ultimately, some things are irrevocable and that’s part of life.


Do you ever have any regrets with pieces you’ve written?

To be honest, perfectionism is something I struggle with and it’s a killer. It’s a real killer. When I entertain that desire to be perfect it stops me from growing as a human being and it’s not fun.


Describe your fiction writing process. Is it disciplined and 9-5pm or do you need to be in the mood?

I’m a freelance writer so most the time I’m working on something I’ve been commissioned to write. I’m also doing my MA in creative writing at UCT and I do quite a bit of writing for that and keep a strict schedule for those pieces.


As a highly commended writer, what short story writing tip can you share?

I would say, first, read as much as you can. And second, perfectionism is a killer. Stay away from it. Just write. Even if you don’t get published, it doesn’t mean you’re wasting your time.


How do you cope with your perfectionism?

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever encountered, not only about writing but about life, is by Hannah Nordhaus. She wrote a short essay called ‘Forgive Yourself’ which means quite a lot to me. I have to have space to forgive myself because like every other person out there, I mess up in my life and in my work. Sometimes, badly. So forgiving oneself is very important. Perfectionism is, simple put, never wanting to make a mistake, and it’s impossible to live like that. How else would we learn?


Do you believe you have a role in promoting South Africans’ interest in reading?

I think we all have – as parents, as uncles, as siblings, as friends. It’s too great a responsibility for the shoulders of one person.


What can we expect from you next?

I’m working on a non-fiction project but I can’t say much about it, not at the moment.


Is this because, as a writer, you like to hold things close to your chest?

I try not to jinx things.


Interview by Liz Sarant



incredible journey cover copy Book details:

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