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Archive for the ‘Awards’ Category

Adults Only teaser: Q&A with Nick Mulgrew

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Joanne Hichens – editor of the Adults Only, the second annual Short.Sharp.Stories Awards anthology – interviews Nick Mulgrew, who won the competition’s Best Story award. Nick was born in Durban in 1990. He is associate editor of literary magazine Prufrock, and writes a column about beer for the Sunday Times. He lives in Cape Town. Find him on twitter @nichmulgrew or at


Congratulations, Nick Mulgrew, on winning the Short.Sharp.Stories 2014 top accolade – Best  Story – for “Turning”, and with that R20 000! Firstly, what prompted you to enter this competition?

Frankly, I needed practice. Although they’re far from ideal and far from objective, competitions are a great way for new (or newish) writers to gauge how well their work is coming along. They also provide possibilities for wide publication, which are rare in SA. Also, I thought I had a good idea for a story that would fit – and I suppose my hunch was right.

Indeed! How did you feel when you learned you’d won?

It felt very surreal to see my name as the winner. Still is. I figured that no one actually wins these things, so it was a massive surprise.

What does winning the money mean to you?

This kind of money is a massive boost for anyone, especially a writer trying to get a career started. The money is going to allow me to start a new, small magazine of poetry from KZN called uHlanga, which I hope to launch later this year. Trying to pay the generosity forward, and all that.

…which you do already working as associate editor for Prufrock. Is it difficult to write your own stuff while at the same time nurturing or promoting other writers?

I don’t find it difficult at all, which I suppose is fortunate. Prufrock is a magazine that gets a lot of very good writing sent into it, and being able to work with authors who are generally working with similar concerns is usually very encouraging. I believe in a spirit of collaboration, and I learn a lot about my own writing from working with other people and their texts.

To get to your story, “Turning”, the turmoil of young love will have resonance for any reader who’s had a university fling. What inspired your story?

The setting inspired the story. Grahamstown is a small city, and Rhodes is a small university – relationships and politics are complicated there. People are juggling with issues, finding out where they fit, finding out new things about themselves and the world. It seemed like a fruitful theme to explore.

I spent three long years at Rhodes, and have been back many times since. A lot of the formative experiences of my life took place in the Eastern Cape – in Port Elizabeth, where my father works every now and then, and in Grahamstown. For me the landscape holds a lot of weight and a lot of memory and a lot of history – and I think a lot of other people would agree with that.

Judges as well as readers enjoyed the clever use of language that elevates the piece in literary terms. Can you comment on that?

The protagonist (and narrator) of “Turning” is a young student who is immersed in his studies in Linguistics at Rhodes in a way that only enthusiastic undergraduates can be – he’s beginning to see the world in new terms, in terms of the things he’s being exposed to at university, but he’s not able to articulate himself very well. His emotional intelligence doesn’t match up to his academic prowess. He can memorise the IPA vowel chart, but can’t deal with rejection. He understands feminism, but still buys FHM every month. Playing with language is a way for me to flesh out these conflicting parts of his character and, by extension, the story.

Refering to sex and sensuality, is this an important topic to explore through fiction?

Sex – in addition to being a source of love and union and enjoyment – is also something that is leveraged for power and for domination. It’s both a horrible and joyful thing – and that’s without even getting into the dynamics of orientation, or gender identity, or sexual health.

Sex encompasses a massive range of human experience – and we see that in our daily lives in South Africa, although most of the dominant cultures in our country are hesitative to speak about it. Our unwillingness to speak frankly about homophobia and sexual violence and misogyny probably makes it even more important to touch on sex in our fiction.

More generally, what themes or topics would you like to explore through your writing?

The thing that I’m most concerned with in my fiction is memory: how it distorts experience and opinions, how it entrenches attitudes; the life narratives that we piece together from our and other people’s memories. That, and narratives of prejudice. I’m tired of reading prose that skirts around prejudice or distances itself from prejudice or relies on stereotypical depictions of prejudice. People are horrible to each other in subtle ways, and I think it’s important to be honest about it.

In my journalism I mostly write about beer, which is something entirely different. I really, really like beer – and more than just its taste, which I suppose is the main reason I got into writing about it. But it turns out that beer has a rich and underexplored politics in South Africa, too – at times, the history is terrifying. Beer’s role in apartheid and beer marketing’s entrenching of masculine tropes in society is still felt today, I think, although it’s something that is seldom articulated. It’s something I’m trying to bring more to light.

And what’s next for you?

I’m the prototypical freelancer: I do a little bit of everything. At the moment I’m preparing to start an MA in English at UCT next year.

Wishing you all the best, Nick, for a great career ahead!

Adults Only

Adults Only

Adults Only is available in stores for R190.

Find this book with BOOK Finder!

The Short.Sharp.Stories Awards is sponsored by the National Arts Festival.


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Adults Only teaser – Helena S Paige

red lips isolated in white

Adults Only, edited by Joanne Hichens, is the second annual Short.Sharp.Stories Awards anthology. Helena S. Paige, the author of best-selling ‘choose-your-own-erotic-destiny’ A Girl Walks Into A Bar and its successful follow-ons, wrote a foreword for this book. Here it is.

It’s been six years since the publication of Open: An Erotic Anthology By South African Women Writers, edited by Karin Schimke, and the local book scene is ripe for another collection of erotic short stories. The stories published in Open, however, were commissioned, and the authors were all women. In the case of Adults Only, there was an open submissions policy, with the best stories selected by a panel of judges. This approach has given us an anthology that’s an excellent mix of established voices and fresh talent, with an equal number of male and female contributors.

In the few years between Open and Adults Only, the world of erotic writing, both globally and locally, has changed dramatically: one reason why this collection is so timely.

The Fifty Shades phenomenon brought writing about sex and sexuality out of the closet – or out from between brown paper covers. Writing and reading about sex has become mainstream, rather than private or even furtive. Words on the page that describe the vast gamut of human sexual experience have at last escaped the ambit of porn – they’re no longer associated with grubby old men in raincoats, or exploited women and children. Writing about sex has become sexy again, like it was back in the days of Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin.

But writing sex is still exceptionally hard to do – as erotic authors ourselves, we know this only too well. Few things can go as horribly wrong as trying to be original when describing the mechanics of lust, as the Bad Sex in Fiction Award reminds us each year. Yet even with a copy of the Kama Sutra to hand, there are only so many ways to describe rumpy-pumpy. Erotic authors also quickly run up against the limitations of vocabulary – as we scratched our heads over what to call the ruder body parts, we yearned for a sex thesaurus: there’s a limit to how often you can use words like ‘thrust’ and ‘gasp’. But the contributors in this collection had no such difficulties, either writing about sex with direct bluntness, or approaching it slant.

Then there are the feelings that go along with sex: how do writers grapple with these?

Read this anthology, and count the ways. Its most notable feature is variety. The brief was to write stories of sex, sensuality, love and lust, and while you’ll find traditional tales of lost lovers, grand passions and doomed affairs, almost every type of narrative and genre is represented (although no vampires – phew). Horror is represented by a terrifying twist on a classic ghost story and a deadly tale of S&M. A hilarious account of a threesome neatly skewersthe sexual anxieties of white middle-class men of a certain age. Two tales, one of a prostitute whose clients turn into animals (literally), another of an art-fuelled orgy in a kitchen cupboard, add a sparkle of magic realism. A campus Bildungsroman weaves linguistics into sex; there is a quest in which a young man’s search for love and his missing father are equally doomed; and there’s a glorious piece of slapstick about a voyeur’s very unusual form of courtship.

Whatever you’re looking for – filth, fantasy, tenderness, suspense or a grand belly laugh – you’ll find it here. A round of applause to Joanne Hichens and the team at Burnet Media for another excellent short story collection. To all readers: enjoy! Helena S. Paige June 2014

Look out for interviews with the authors featured in Adults Only; they will follow shortly. First up is Nick Mulgrew, winner of the Best Story prize.

Adults Only

Adults Only

Adults Only is available in stores for R190.

Find this book with BOOK Finder!

The Short.Sharp.Stories Awards is sponsored by the National Arts Festival.

» read article

Congratulations to the Short.Sharp.Stories. Adults Only winners

Nick Mulgrew with Adults Only

Nick Mulgrew holding Adults Only

It’s official!


Congratulations to the Short.Sharp.Stories. Awards winners:

Nick Mulgrew is the Judges’ Choice Winner for Best Story for Turning, “a story of youthful love that was handled with a deft touch, elevated by its clever linguistic insertions and a lovely sense of place.”

Sean Mayne receives the second Judges’ Choice Award for his comedic story Bring On The Clowns, “a feel good read which offers the luxury of laughing out loud.”

Tiffany Kagure Mugo receives the Publisher’s Choice Award, for Best New Voice, for her story Coming Into Self-Awareness, “an exuberant, enthusiastic tale which hit the brief perfectly, overflowing with sex and sensuality.”

Donvé Lee is the recipient of the Editor’s Choice Award, for her story The Mirror. “So human and tender, bringing the eternal questions of body-image to the fore.”

Nick Mulgrew has won R20 000 while Sean Mayne, Tiffany Kagure Mugo and Donvé Lee each received R5 000.


From Sarah Kingon, of Cue:

 Adults Only was officially launched on 9 July at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown at a discussion panel which featured Rhodes journalism lecturer and contributor Gillian Rennie; Alexander Matthews, editor of online publication Aerodrome; and Nick Mulgrew, Associate Editor of Prufrock literary magazine, whose story Turning wins this year’s R20 000 prize sponsored by the National Arts Festival. “As a writer,” said Mulgrew, “I never feel completely self-assured so this is a form of writing vindication.” His unique contribution to the anthology tells the story of a linguistics student at Rhodes, whose girlfriend realises she is lesbian. The beauty of the story lies in the way that linguistics weaves through this narrative about sex and homophobia.

Adults Only is the second Short.Sharp.Stories collection to be released and the topic of sex and sensuality was chosen this year because of its popularity in contemporary literature. “The collection explores the experiences of real human beings clashing around relationships,” said Hichens.

The 22 stories, selected from more than 150 entries, range in theme and style as well as the writing experience of the authors. Contributors include accomplished writers such as Christine Coates, Carla Lever and Bobby Jordan, as well as a number of new, young writers including Tiffany Kagure Mugo. Tales range from those of the bored housewife to gay marriage and on-off student relationships, while one of the more hard-hitting stories features a sado-masochistic ‘partnership’.

The discussion was not only about the book, but the purpose of such a book in a South African Context. Hichens believes that Adults Only, alongside last year’s anthology Bloody Satisfied (a crime thriller collection), offers a unique South African voice to the reader. The project gives South African writers a platform to be published, and the opportunity to be read.

“And short stories are great for those of us with ADD,” laughed contributor Alexander Matthews. “With new technology, the way we read has changed. We now read in short sharp bursts.”

Festival CEO Tony Lankester said he was proud to continue to fund this literary venture. “Festival is about good stories, and part of that is good quality writing.”

Next year’s title was announced as Incredible Journey – a broad theme, “so stories can range from science fiction to road trips or even journeys of the mind,” said Hichens. The call for entries will be made on





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Adults Only winners

Mercury Books and Short.Sharp.Stories, in conjunction with the National Arts Festival, are proud to announce the prize winners and commended stories from this year’s Short.Sharp.Story anthology, Adults Only.

The authors of the highly commended stories are (in alphabetical order):

Ken Barris

Christine Coates

Dudumalingani Mqombothi

Alex Smith


The authors of the top four stories are (in alphabetical order):

Donvé Lee

Sean Mayne

Tiffany Kagure Mugo

Nick Mulgrew


The overall winner will be announced at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown at the book’s launch – the 9th July, at 15:00 in the Rhodes Nuns Chapel. The winning author will receive R20 000 in prize money, and the other three authors will receive R5 000 each. The book will be available countrywide in July.

See here for more on Adults Only:

Adults Only

Adults Only

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Adults Only authors announced

Mercury Books is proud to announce the final author list for Adults Only:


Ken Barris

Efemia Chela

Christine Coates

Anthony Ehlers

Chantelle Gray van Heerden

Bobby Jordan

Aryan Kaganof

Donvé Lee

Carla Lever

Justine Loots

Alexander Matthews

Sean Mayne

Wamuwi Mbao

Dudumalingani Mqombothi

Tiffany Kagure Mugo

Nick Mulgrew

Gillian Rennie

Arja Salafranca

Alex Smith

Jo Stielau

Alan Walters

Eugene Yiga


Adults Only is the second of the SHORT.SHARP.STORIES annual anthologies, produced in conjunction with the National Arts Festival. Following 2013’s successful Bloody Satisfied, an eclectic mix of crime-thriller stories, this year’s anthology covers the fashionable theme of sex and sensuality.

Offering a sense of real characters caught in tangled webs of love and lust, the stories included run the gamut from raw and dangerous to sensitive and reserved. Whether risqué, titillating, questioning, provocative, poignant or even perverse, sex and sensuality are guaranteed throughout the collection. Edited by Joanne Hichens, and with a foreword by Helena S Paige, introduction by Makhosazana Xaba and number of stories by prize-winning authors, Adults Only is sure to please.

The aim of the SHORT.SHARP.STORIES awards is to showcase South African fiction-writing talent. The prize money offered, totalling R35,000, is sponsored by the National Arts Festival and ensures entries of an excellent standard. There were approximately 150 entries this year, and the best 22 stories were selected for this anthology. The main prize worth R20,000, and three secondary prizes of R5,000 each will be awarded at the National Arts Festival.


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