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Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Interview With A Huddle Of Hippos Author, Julia Richman

huddle-of-hippos-cover          Julia Richman

Julia Richman talks to us about the ups and downs of writing the educational children’s book, A Huddle of Hippos, and her plans for future adventures.

Tell us briefly about your book. 

A Huddle of Hippos is a picture book about a young boy named Sam who goes on an African safari with his parents. I’ve used rhyming text to introduce a variety of cool collective nouns for animals in the bush. Geared for children aged 4 to 8 years, it includes beautiful, colour illustrations by Celeste Beckerling.


Why did you want to write this book? 

I wanted to write a lively story for children using rhythm and rhyme that could also teach them something fun and different. I love collective nouns! I remember them being one of the best things I learnt at school – I love how creative and clever they are. I have a whole compendium of wonderful collective nouns that has become one of my favourite reads.


Describe your creative writing process

When I come up with an idea I spend a long time planning. You have to ask yourself, how am I going to best entice the audience that I’m targeting, and how can I set my book apart from the tens of thousands of books already out there? I think about all the essential creative writing tools, like plot, characterization and writing style, so that I have a very good idea of what my story is about. And then I write it all down, and it looks like an absolute mess, so I edit till I’m blue in the face. Cut, cut, cut, till it’s pencil sharp. The rhyming adds another whole dimension and it’s not as easy as it may seem. It’s important to get the rhythm right.


What was your most challenging hurdle in publishing this book? 

I always wanted to have a book published through my husband’s publishing company, Burnet Media, and it was actually just such a rewarding experience, from start to finish, working with him, the publisher, plus illustrator and art director, all in an interactive, fun and hands-on way. I loved the process. Perhaps the challenging bit is that once you’ve finished your book, you realise that there is a lot more to do! It’s not just getting your book into bookstores and sitting back. It’s about finding your audience and doing events, storytimes, markets, school visits…


Who is your author hero? 

When it comes to children’s books specifically, Roald Dahl for his genius wit. I especially love Fantastic Mr Fox. And A.A. Milne (of Winnie-the-Pooh) for the beautifully sensitive nature of his stories and the invaluable life lessons that shine through on every page. More recently, Julia Donaldson, for her brilliant imagination and storytelling ability.


What are you currently reading?

Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things and What’s Your Moonshot by John Sanei.


Who inspires you?

My husband, Tim, and my son, Nicholas. And kind, creative souls.


What’s your next book? 

A Huddle of Hippos is the first of The Sam Series, and I’m aiming to put out at least one of those books a year, teaching other fun figures of speech, such as similes, metaphors and onomatopoeia. I’m also researching for a story that can help children develop self-confidence.


What drew you to write children’s books? 

I wrote articles for magazines for years, and then began feeling like I wanted to be more expressive with my words and play around more. I completed the Get Smarter creative writing course through UCT and Penguin Random House in 2014 and really loved it. I used everything I learnt from that to put together my first book, an Early Reader for 7- to 10-year-olds called Katya’s Hairy-Tales: The Bacon Chase, which was published by Penguin Random House in November 2015.

Wanting to start a family also definitely played a role.

What was your favourite childhood book?

The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton.

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Interview with A Little Horse Called Pancakes author, Candice Noakes-Dobson

Pancakes cover           Candice 2017


Candice Noakes-Dobson, author of the heartwarming children’s book, A Little Horse Called Pancakes, talks to us about the inspiration for her journey with Pancakes and what she plans to do next.


Tell us briefly about your book. 

The first book in the series, A Little horse called Pancakes, introduces us to this little miniature horse who nobody valued as he was too short and too fat. This is until he strikes up a friendship with a little girl called Anna B. The two of them, with the help of all the animals on the farm, work hard towards a performance at a vaulting show and earn the respect of those who once were very mean.

The second tale, A little Horse called Pancakes and the Big Mountain Fire, is based on real events that took place during the devastating wildfires in Cape Town in 2015.


Why did you want to write this book?

The first book was to have a little memoir of what happens at the farm and to raise funds for South African Riding for the Disabled Association (SARDA). I had no idea that it would have such a strong following.

The second book was strongly driven by the passing of my friend’s husband, Darrell Rea, an extraordinary helicopter pilot and firefighter. He was involved in fighting the fires of 2015 and was a wealth of information during this very traumatic time. He would fly over the farm and give us updates on whether we needed to evacuate, wind conditions and the spreading of the fire. A month after the fire Darrell passed away in a helicopter crash, fighting a fire in Bainskloof. He had a 7 month old son. Part of the reason for sharing this story was for his son, so that he could see what an absolute hero his father is.


Describe your creative writing process?

I am completely technically challenged! Thus, I carry a notebook around with me. I continuously jot down conversations, thoughts, occurrences and observations daily, and then the story unfolds.

Don’t laugh, I then type it on my phone, and email it to Catriona Ross who is an extremely efficient editor. As our daughters go to the same school, the next day we usually stand in the parking lot discussing changes. I then go home make the changes and then repeat for a few days.

After that I send the story to Wendy. She then sketches it out and we meet weekly to go over the illustrations. She is so in tune with the story we never really have any corrections or redraws.


What was your most challenging hurdle in publishing this book?

Is it obnoxious to say nothing? Wendy Patterson, the very talented illustrator for the Pancakes series is very experienced in the business. She guided me through the process and then hooking up with Burnet Media has been a dream.


Who is your author hero?

Firstly my dad, Professor Tim Noakes. From the day I was born I don’t think I have ever not seen him reading or writing, not that I can pretend to understand all the scientific content of his work. He just continues to produce outstanding work year after year. He has written me such beautiful letters over the years that I will forever treasure.

Being a drama teacher, I also have a fascination with Tennessee Williams, Athol Fugard, Bernard Shaw, Anton Chekhov, Sam Shepard and most definitely Shakespeare.

Not to forget a fellow graduate from UCT, Nadia Davids, who has a gift with imagery and words.


What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading Alan Root’s Ivory, Apes & Peacocks. Lined up after that is Maggie Smith, and a biography by Michael Covenly. And Annabel’s bedtime reading presently is Valegro, Champion Horse by Carl Hester.


Who inspires you?

My husband, John Dobson, who is a wonderful father, talented coach and fantastic sounding board as well as author.

My parents. My mother is a guiding light and my father is the kindest most generous person, dedicating his life to the quest for the health of the human race.

My 5 year old daughter, Annabel, who lives life in curiosity and wonder. Her love for nature, the outdoors, her animals and epic adventures in the forest.


What’s your next book?

I am currently finishing writing the third installment of the A Little Horse Called Pancakes series. We ended the last book with the devastation and heroism that a wildfire caused. This time Pancakes and Anna B will have an adventure that includes the miraculous regeneration of nature, a brief look at natural horsemanship, and the meeting of a very talented little horse rider called Ella, which leads to an aquatic adventure.


What drew you to write children’s books?

Pancakes the miniature pony, who is the hero of the books, actually exists and lives with us on Sweet Valley farm as well as all the characters in the book. Pancakes is such a personality. When Annabel came along and this deep love for Pancakes developed, these little tales came about. It was a way of capturing and freezing the experiences on the farm.

I also wanted to do a project that could do good. My grandmother, aunt and I have all been involved at SARDA. It is an organization that transforms the lives of the children who ride these special ponies as well as the volunteers who so generously give of their time. When you see a child confined to a wheelchair on top of a powerful pony, they are free. They are like any able-bodied person and they can be tall and move freely. The confidence, smiles and the actual benefit of being on top of a pony as it moves is real poetry in motion. Small miracles happen daily at SARDA. There is a magic that occurs between these children and ponies.

A huge credit must go to Wendy Patterson as it is her illustrations and professionalism that made these books come alive. Without her guidance these stories would be locked in my head.

Also Catriona Ross an incredible author who so kindly guides and edits alongside me.


What was your favourite childhood book?

 Nungu and the Hippopotamus by Babette Cole. My godfather sent it to me as a gift when I was a child and I still use it as a teaching aid today. A very clever story of a hippopotamus who swallows all the water from the villages dam and how a young boy, Nungu, goes in search of this huge hippopotamus and how he manages to get the water back. The illustrations are so detailed and humorous.



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Adults Only teaser: Q&A with Eugene Yiga

5. Eugene YigaJoanne Hichens – editor of Adults Only, the second annual Short.Sharp.Stories Awards anthology – interviews Eugene Yiga. His story “Peaked” was selected for inclusion in the anthology.

After studying financial accounting and classical piano, Eugene Yiga worked in branding, communications and market research. Writing was, however, always his calling, which is why he quit his job, freelanced until he was broke, and eventually became a lifestyle and entertainment journalist for various online and print publications. Follow Eugene at and on Twitter @eugeneyiga.

Your story, “Peaked”, a conversation between two gay men, is witty and sharp.  What sparked the story?

I’d just come out of what looked set to be a promising relationship and was feeling quite low. One of my best friends suggested I write about what I was going through. We’d often spoken about our relationship experiences and he was always amused by some of the stories I told, which he was convinced would make for hilarious reading. It seems that he was right!

How much of it is true?

A lot of what I wrote about in “Peaked” is based on experiences I’ve had as well as things I’ve heard from other people. In some cases, I’ve had to change details for the sake of respecting other people’s privacy, but there are still a few references that are obvious enough for readers to pick up.

Mostly, though, I don’t think the issue of ‘truth’ matters. What matters more is whether or not the story is believable. It’s something I realised while reading a fascinating book called Turning Life into Fiction: “If it could have happened, if it has some relevance to what it means to be alive, that’s all that matters… One can be honest without being truthful. One can be believable without being factual.”

Was it important for you to explore gay culture through the writing?

My goal was always for “Peaked” to be more than just light entertainment; I wanted it to be something that would get people thinking. So many aspects of gay culture – casual sex, open relationships, and other oxymorons – are things we simply accept as a given. But why? I wanted “Peaked” to take a closer look at these and other practices so that we could start challenging what might not be healthy for us in the long-term.

But the story extends beyond ‘gay’ culture, doesn’t it?

Sure. After a while I realised that this wasn’t just a gay story. Instead, “Peaked” became a story about people and the messed up choices we make in our relationships, our careers, and our lives. In that sense, I wanted it to be something that would get us all – gay and straight – to take a closer look at ourselves and, in doing so, perhaps change our beliefs and behaviour for the best.

And this is your first piece of published fiction writing…

Ever since I was a child, I had a passion for the written word. When I realized that I could inspire and entertain others through writing, just like I was inspired and entertained by the books I read every night, I reckon I found my calling.

And yes, “Peaked” is in fact my first piece of fiction! (Not considering  works like “The Hungry Chef” and “The Spooky Pound”, a short story and poem I wrote when I was about seven and didn’t know how to use semi-colons correctly). The story started out as the first chapter of what was meant to be a novel. But when I saw the theme for this year’s Short Sharp Awards, I knew that it would be ideal as an entry and one of the few times I could get away with swearing in print!

One could say you’ve got away with other transgressions – the language of the story is quite blunt and might even offend some readers. Did you consider that while you were writing?

It was great to know that the story, which I knew would ruffle a few feathers, still had enough merit to see it through to the collection. Because many aspects of “Peaked” are somewhat explicit, I didn’t expect everyone to be fond of the language. More specifically, I didn’t expect everyone to agree with some of the things Karl says. He attacks a lot of people: black, white, young, old, gay, straight, and in-between. I suppose you could say that at least he’s unbiased in his discrimination!

My only hope now is that any readers who get angry because they find the dialogue a little too blunt take a minute to stop and think about why. If the story is hitting a nerve, it might be a good idea to examine what’s causing the conflict. Finding resistance usually means you need to take a closer look inside. That’s far better than lashing out. So yes; I expect that Peaked could piss off a lot of people. If it causes at least one person to think, do, or be better, I’d consider it a success. I’m taking a stand that I think is long overdue.

To get back to your desire to write a novel, would you still consider recreating “Peaked” as a larger work?

There are a lot of ways to take it forward. I don’t think I need to go as far as a full-on novel to communicate the message. Instead, I’m most excited about the idea of turning it into a play, especially because I’ve seen over and over again how powerful something on stage can be. Beyond that, I’ve also thought about turning “Peaked” into a movie or even a musical. Perhaps Stephen Sondheim is out of my league, but can’t a guy dream?

You bet! In fact, The National Arts Festival is very keen that some of these stories are recreated as plays, so that sounds like a great idea. Thanks, Eugene, we’ll be looking for your name in lights!

Adults Only

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Adults Only teaser: Q&A with Bobby Jordan

19. Bobby JordanJoanne Hichens – editor of the Adults Only, the second annual Short.Sharp.Stories Awards anthology – interviews Bobby Jordan. His story “The Uniondale Road” was selected for inclusion in the anthology.

Bobby Jordan is a Cape Town-based journalist and occasional short story writer. His work has appeared in a variety of newspapers, magazines and anthologies. Career highlights include a travel assignment to find Dracula’s castle in Transylvania, a week-long profile of the guy who paints the Eiffel Tower (in a harness), and tea with landscape painter Pieter van der Westhuizen. His short fiction was thrice short-listed for the Pen/Studzinski Literary Award. His story ‘Claremont Park’ received an Honourable Mention in 2011. Since then he has mainly been writing bedtime stories for his expanding family.

Your story “The Uniondale Road”, a take on what has to be South Africa’s most well-known highway ghost, is intriguing and hard-hitting. What inspired you to write this story (apart from the ghost? Maybe you saw her??)

As far as I know I’ve never seen a ghost, but the longer I live the more I want to believe in them. The Uniondale ghost story was always one of my favourites, because I know that area well. Several times I have driven past the place where the ghost – allegedly a beautiful young woman – appears, and every time I have wondered what I would do if she did. Would I pick her up? What would we chat about? What if I fell in love with her? (apparently she is dazzlingly beautiful).

Once I even went so far as to plan an overnight trip to Uniondale at the beginning of April, which is when the ghost likes to appear – but only to select men. Would she pick me?

The trip never happened but I have never stopped imagining it, each time with a different ending.

You were concerned that mentioning the ‘ghost story’ might be a spoiler (dreaded word), but surely every South African au fait with the actual ‘Uniondale Road’ myth will know, from the title, that something super-natural will pop up?

In fact I am surprised at how few people know about this ghost story. Or if they have heard about it they aren’t quite sure how it ends, if it ends at all. In the end I was satisfied that even if some people knew the story, there would still be enough mystery to keep them guessing all the way to the ‘snot-klap’ at the end.

It must have felt like quite a ride to write. As one of the more graphically sexual stories of the collection, did you find it disturbing, or exciting to write?

Good question! I’m more of a moonlight and 60s music kind of guy, so for me the sexual violence is quite upsetting. I am nevertheless interested in the relationship between violence and sex. It is curious how for many people something so exciting can turn out to be so horrific, and vice versa. I’m not sure if that is intrinsic or extrinsic. And I’m still not sure what it means.

Is there possibly an underlying theme you were wanting to explore? Particularly around abuse?

As so often happens with stories, this one took on a life of its own. What started as an innocent drive through the countryside turned into something far more sinister. Sometimes it seemed I was barely holding onto the steering wheel. I agree with those who say that any story is primarily a subliminal process. For me the Uniondale Road explores the cruelly intertwined light and dark aspects of human nature.

To me, the story also has a sweet after-taste of revenge.

Remind me to stay on your right side! When it comes to your broader interests as a writer, are there any particular themes you’re drawn to?

Like most writers I am interested in just about anything. ‘Nothing’, too, is very interesting – although difficult to write about! One of my first writing ‘exercises’ was a monthly ‘story swap’ with a close friend: we would take turns to come up with the most mundane title imaginable – just to see if we could make it interesting. I can’t speak for myself, but my friend passed the test every time.

Personally I love writing about the foibles of human nature; our battle to tell the difference between reality and imagination. Is there any difference?

Can I throw that question right back at you? Do the boundaries between reality and imagination sometimes feel blurred for you?

I suspect so, but don’t ask me how or – even worse – why. Certainly our everyday reality is a complex and magnificent abstraction. But that’s not all it is. Sorry, that’s about the best I can do. I’m a newspaper reporter, after all – what do I know about reality?

What does writing fiction provide you with that reporting doesn’t?

A lot. Reporting is the fieldwork for writing – or at least that’s the plan. Sadly the writing doesn’t always follow. I once got crapped on for writing a column that said the news basically tells us what we already know; I suspect good fiction is that which shows us something new.

And the state of the SA short story? Your view on that?

More people read the TV guide than short stories. Doesn’t mean we have to stop writing them though.

Indeed not. That last line could not be truer, thanks, Bobby. We hope at some stage to see the collected Bobby Jordan stories in print.

Adults Only

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Adults Only teaser: Q&A with Justine Loots

18. Justine LootsJoanne Hichens – editor of the Adults Only, the second annual Short.Sharp.Stories Awards anthology – interviews Justine Loots. Her story “Uncaged” was selected for inclusion in the anthology.

Justine Loots works as an independent writer and filmmaker. She wrote the script, in the form of dub poetry, for Surfing Soweto (Best Documentary Feature, SAFTAS 2012; and Best Local Film, Tri Continental Film Festival 2010). She wrote for the television series High Rollers (nominated for 8 SAFTAs awards 2014, including best writing team) and for two seasons of Erfsondes (both won Best Scripts, ATKV). She wrote series two of When We Were Black (currently in production) and has written for numerous television dramas and comedies. She has worked as a script consultant/editor on various films.

Earlier work includes directing, writing and producing for Carte Blanche and Carte Blanche Africa. Her work includes investigative stories, inspiring stories and profiles. Through this, she spent time with war-zone surgeons, con artists, ex child-soldiers, flying doctors, Rabbis, Imams, Swamis, Priests, Traditional Healers, Buddhist monks, SA struggle heroes and even members of the extreme right wing.

Do you enjoy reading erotica?

I read some Anaïs Nin in my early twenties, and D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers where it all ended rather abruptly… call me old school but the mother-son thing killed it for me. (Naturally, though, I’ll read Adults Only from cover to cover.) Jelaluddin Rumi, T.S. Elliot: now that does it for me. They’re stirring in a soul sense.

So you want your soul to be stirred… as opposed to other parts of your body?

Woman cannot live by bread alone! I’m not dissing the genre though. I’m in no position to do that after paying off a portion of my bond writing soap opera!

What inspired your story “Uncaged”?

Two things: walking in the Drakensberg, which always brings to mind the Khoisan people. In some sites there is an ancient, ancestral presence (this isn’t a John Edwards experience or anything!) Extraordinary as this is, it leaves a residue of sadness… you wonder if this presence has a place in the contemporary world. I suppose I wanted to do something with that sadness, to create a place for this forgotten wisdom.

I was also inspired by a sculpture by the Chinese artist, Liu Xue. The work is a faun of sorts, except the creature has a pig’s body with all four hooves on the ground. The human part of it is an obese man, his tummy merging with the pig’s. It’s a powerful work. In it lies all the greed and shame of humanity… It haunted me for months.

What a powerful image. Which brings us to the aspect of magical realism. It’s a strong element in “Uncaged” and comes as a surprise and a challenge to the reader.

For me it’s only possible to venture into dark terrains with a sturdy set of wings. It might sound contrary, but I find magic realism a very truthful way of writing. You can include those dimensions we’re taught to shut out, growing up; you can return to where the boundaries between the seen and unseen were fluid. I sometimes feel cheated when stories don’t give me that, which is absurd really since not all stories set out to do that.

And the terrain you’ve ventured into is prostitution. Why did you decide to explore this sort of ‘dark terrain’?

On the one hand, prostitution is said to be the oldest profession. On the other, the increase in phenomena like child prostitution and transactional sex – or sex in exchange for material things – suggests that prostitution, in its various forms, is more prevalent and also more socially acceptable, despite the high statistics around rape and physical assault experienced by sex workers.

My sense is that we, as humans, are becoming increasingly disconnected from ourselves and so we make fewer choices that serve our highest wellbeing. Coco, the protagonist in my story, engages in sex every day – an intimate act – yet she is emotionally disconnected. She has to be, perhaps, to survive but there is something out of kilter with this, which is what the story explores.

You teach a Masters’ Course in screenwriting at the National Film and Video Foundation which involves mentoring writers and editors, and taking film scripts through a rigorous development process from inception to script. Is screen-writing your first love?

I suppose screenwriting is a love-hate affair. If passion and talent transport the story from the page to the screen, it’s all love. But there have been times when I’ve watched stories I’ve written on the screen, almost curled up in the foetal position on my lounge floor in sheer horror.

Why now begin to write for the page in particular, although in fact it all starts there?

I’m drawn to the page by a lifelong love for words, and because the idea of painting picture in minds (and not solely on the screen) is appealing to me. I also spent so much of my childhood living in books. Some of my greatest memories never happened! So perhaps there is a desire to return there.

So I see myself as a screenwriter who’s developing my ability to write for the page. I’m working on a novel (also with magical realist elements), which led me to write short stories: I felt out of my depth not writing for the screen and decided I needed some practise. This story, “Uncaged”, was born of that. I’m deeply encouraged and motivated that it’s been published.

What else are you busy with?

I’m currently plotting to steal R20 million, meaning I’ve been commissioned to write a comic heist film. I’m also writing for a local detective TV series.

Thanks, Justine, wouldn’t I just love a share of that R20 mill. That’s what fiction gives us – the chance to dream!

Adults Only

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Adults Only teaser: Q&A with Aryan Kaganof

17. Aryan Kaganof

Joanne Hichens – editor of the Adults Only, the second annual Short.Sharp.Stories Awards anthology – spoke to Aryan Kaganof about his story “Time Out With My Destiny”.

Aryan Kaganof is a writer and filmmaker, who blogs at Aryan preferred not to answer questions about his story – “I’d rather not rupture the magic fourth wall,” he explained. Instead, he sent us his thoughts on the writing process.”

The problem with a universe where everything is possible, simultaneously, is how to ascribe value to these possibilities. I think that a taxonomy based on an order of truths might be the only way. (But then again, there may well be other ways, and so one can’t really get started…). It’s this suggested crisis of language, the breakdown that occurs when we consider all the possibilities, the lack of forward momentum, that stopped me from really becoming a writer. The books I wrote, I think, all suffer from the problem of incredulity, not so much that the readers could not believe them, but that I could not believe them. This is a poor position for an author to start out from.

Eventually I realized that my writing was all a possible position and not THE position and this defeated me, so I stopped. This is the reason I love music so much. Being in the music allows for the simultaneity of all positions, there is no linguistic demand for the either/or-ness of meaning, something that words must have a priori if reading/communicating is going to have any value. To put it in short, I wanted to use words musically but did not want to tie them down to their meanings. The words took this as a betrayal of their function and so the Muse left me.

The song “Holocaust” is a kind of end point. It doesn’t get much grimmer in the possibility of depicting what heroin does to a body. And yet it is immensely beautiful. This is the turn that is possible in music. The highest poetry aspires to this immensely paradoxical fulfillment of contradiction that is Truth.

Adults Only

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Adults Only teaser: Q&A with Jo Stielau

15. Jo StielauJoanne Hichens – editor of the Adults Only, the second annual Short.Sharp.Stories Awards anthology – interviews Jo Stielau. Her story “Meat in the Crosshairs” was selected for inclusion in the anthology.

Jo Stielau is an English teacher at a well-known, independent boys’ school in Cape Town. She supplements her teaching income through non-fiction writing – textbook writing and corporate reports – and notes that she has yet to earn a cent from writing fiction. But “like an itch that must be scratched”, she continues to write fiction, and she is one of only two authors to appear in both the inaugural Short.Sharp.Stories collection and this one; her story A Dog Before Nine was featured in Bloody Satisfied in 2013. She lives with her son and other animals in suburbia.

Your story “The Meat in the Crosshairs” is cutting, acerbic. The humour can’t be denied. Can one consider this a Jo Steilau feature?

My stories are always autobiographical embellishments or else they are stories borrowed and stolen from friends. In life, whether with friends or strangers, I like to shock people – the more scandalous the story the better. I like to appear a model of respectability and tell shocking stories, especially if they are hilarious too. I don’t know why I do this. It feels harmless but I have noticed that it certainly has limited my invitations to dinners over the years! No-one has asked me to be a god-parent lately either (just saying). Truth be told, I don’t have much truck with “respectable” or “serious”. I like to kick them on the shins a bit.

And you find satisfaction doing this through the vehicle of the short story?

Short stories are fantastic vehicles to do the kicking – Short.Sharp. and shocking! I think it was Neil Gaiman who said “The short story is still like the novel’s wayward younger brother, we know that it’s not respectable – but I think that can also add to the glory of it.” I know he probably meant “not respectable” in terms of literary achievement but there is definitely shin-kicking implied in there somewhere!

“The Meat in the Crosshairs” is really a story of the aural tradition. Your protagonist “tells” her tale to a captive audience. Can you comment on this?

I took a two year course on Group Analytic Studies where I encountered group therapy for the first time. It was a course which changed my life and, having had no experience in any sort of therapy before, I suddenly realised the power of the “confessional” and the importance of self-reflection. It made me a better listener. It made me a better storyteller.

Of course, in such a group, one is privy to confessions and anecdotes which make the most glorious stories because, given the apparently confidential nature of the confession, the stories are raw. Raw in both ways: painful and, also, unadorned with respectability. The aural tradition plays a strong part here because, of course, they are just told and later revisited and retold but nothing is recorded in hard copy. This means they are flexible and like elastic can stretch to suit the context, the teller’s developing confidence and insights. The aural tradition allows for adaptation and evolution and sharing forward in ways more static storytelling cannot.

And in a sense story ‘telling’ allows us all to be voyeurs, isn’t that so?

I don’t know why it has become such a taboo thing. We are animals who watch and observe for social cues all the time. We are curious about each other. Surely it is not surprising, then, that we are drawn to do this and that there is pleasure in it – particularly when the subject matter is forbidden or dramatic. I think here of the public fascination with the private lives of others or even the rubber-necking that happens at the scenes of car accidents or the success of these dramatic police/ ER/ confessional reality television shows.

I am eternally grateful to the internet which allows us to be voyeurs in private and at leisure. We have all gone to places on our computers which we would not be proud to own in public, haven’t we? Who dares cast the first stone? If we read to know we are not alone, it is probably true to suggest that we also seek internet sites that speak to our private thoughts, fears and other peccadilloes. I like to notice how many hits there are to sites which I visited! I am not alone.

Indeed not! Yet sex writing is hotly debated, with some writers feeling that sex should remain ‘off the page’.

Sex is still such a taboo subject despite the fact that it is displayed so prominently in the media. In the public domain, sex is apparently the privilege of the attractive, the thin, the young, the socially mobile. I think fiction, through whatever medium, should start embracing sex and sensuality in broader ways. Ironically, the broader ways include the neglected, ‘ordinary’ ways. In private, beyond this limited media view, as if ashamed, visual porn sites and erotic writings have embraced other niches and even the ordinary-sounding ‘Amateur’ as a porn genre speaks to this. I would love to be a voyeur in a retirement centre! I bet that’s where some really interesting stuff goes down.

So what’s next? 

I don’t think I have it in me to sustain interest while writing down the lengthier plot of a novel. Can you imagine rereading all those edits over many pages! Perhaps because I am a raconteur and a gossip, I like to get to the point, to the punch line of the joke, to the juicy details. I am an impatient reader and an impatient listener.

I can only say this: I write what I hear and what I have experienced. I like non-fiction. The lives and experiences of others are so amazing to me that I see little point in ‘making up stuff’ to tell. The truth is wild enough. It is the oddest thing really, that writing about real people and real events has come to occupy a negative semantic space and we call it NON-fiction.

Thanks, Jo, we look forward to your next sharp and edgy tale, and hope in the meantime, that you don’t get sued for libel.

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Adults Only teaser: Q&A with Sean Mayne

13. Sean Mayne web picJoanne Hichens – editor of the Adults Only, the second annual Short.Sharp.Stories Awards anthology – interviews Sean Mayne. His story “Bring On The Clowns” won the Judges Choice Award for Loudest Laugh.

Sean Mayne started his writing career as a travelling salesman, meaning he can fib straight-faced with the best of them. This, together with an inclination for daydreaming, means he is perfectly suited to the world of fiction. He currently writes newsletters persuading people to purchase things they don’t really need. The few times he was actively employed he disappeared into the internet, only to pop up in disguise as a friendly troll on his boss’s dime. (In fact, if you need someone to run your company at a loss for tax purposes, he’s your man.)

Your story “Bring on the Clowns” was described by the judges as a “belly-laugh, a feel good read that offers the luxury of laughing out loud…” Did you purposefully go the route of humour?

Regarding the erotica theme, I chose the humorous route to avoid frightening my wife, Kim, with the reality of what goes through the average male mind.

And now that you are not only a published, but a prize-winning writer of ‘erotica’ – your story came in second to Nick Mulgrew’s “Turning” – how does Kim feel about that?

Unfortunately, she won’t let me run for head of the Porn Writers Guild of South Africa, which is a shame. She didn’t even know I had entered the competition until you told me I was a finalist, Joanne, so I have been getting the skeef eye since, like What else are you going to spring on me, dude?

I still have difficulty explaining to friends (and family) that I am not a porn writer per se. I just write according to whatever the theme is. Yeah sure.

Has Kim turned you into a sex toy now that she knows what you’re obsessed with?

Well, she has always liked candles, so hot wax was the logical next step. I’m going to be in trouble for saying that. I mean I hope I am going to be in trouble for saying that. Just last night I was whipped for making eye contact while I was doing the ironing, so I’m interested to see why she has ordered me to bring jumper-lead cables home tonight.

Heh heh. And for you, was it a surprise of sorts? To be a prize-winner?

It was a complete surprise as this was my first story ever. I must admit it took me a long time to write, over 6 weeks. I am also a slow reader because I like to go over bits that I enjoy. I suppose that certain stories will not appeal to everyone and that there is a bit of luck involved regards the judges’ tastes. Winning a prize has made me focus on finding more time to write, but I think I need to take some lessons. Professor Google gives useful tips, but I’m such a bloody beginner.

But you did it, you wrote and sent in a story!

My five cents for anyone hoping to get published in Short.Sharp.Stories is to at least buy the book. It helps to examine what the finalists have produced and it also gives an insight to how the judges may see things.

What inspired you to write “Bring on the Clowns”? How did the story evolve?

My starting point was a block of flats. For some reason I associate people living in close proximity with voyeurism, probably because even though they are neighbours they are still mostly strangers. I battle to walk past an apartment window without sneaking a peek. What are people up to? Why is number seven’s door open? Who’s that in the shower? Hey, don’t call the police, it’s only me from number three!

Many years ago a friend told me how his builder did some ‘accidental’ building work. I love stories like that because they immediately make you picture an outcome – in this case the neighbours face as he arrives home to see the changes. I shelved that incident in the back of my mind and when I contemplated the theme of Adults Only it came in use. I focused on voyeurism because it’s so prevalent over the internet these days, so I’ve heard. And I like absurdity in a story, where the reader is not quite sure whether they are supposed to take the yarn seriously or not.

Were you purposefully wanting to ‘send up’ erotica?

I created a really seedy character who fancies himself as honourable, but in reality is a scaly little weasel. His attempt to get closer to the woman next door takes a turn after an ‘unfortunate’ incident. Or was it all an accident?

I kept things subtle, and because I’m not a Lindsay Clarke or Barbara Kingsolver, I wrote within my means, which is a bit of absurdity spiked with odd-ball humour: perfect for a send up of erotica. I had no idea how the yarn would end, so I played around with a couple of scenarios until one fit.

So what’s next for you?

My next step is to write more short stories. Short story writers I look up to include Darrel Bristow-Bovey, Garrison Keillor and Ellen Gilchrist. I can read all of their work again and again and that is my measure for a good story. My go-to guy for inspiration is David Sedaris, but unfortunately he makes it look so easy.

I also have a rough draft complete of a novella set in Pietersburg (the pre-Polokwane town that liked to call itself a city) around 1989. I was a sloppy chef in the Far North army intelligence base there and I feel I witnessed (and caused) enough buffoonery to write about it. Besides, ‘army intelligence’ is an oxymoron that needs some dismantling.

As long as you keep us laughing, Sean…

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Adults Only teaser: Q&A with Tiffany Kagure Mugo

11. Tiffany Kagure MugoJoanne Hichens – editor of the Adults Only, the second annual Short.Sharp.Stories Awards anthology – interviews Tiffany Kagure Mugo. Her story “Coming Into Self-Awareness” won the Publisher’s Choice Award for Best New Voice.

Tiffany Kagure Mugo is co-founder of HOLAAfrica and Director of social media consultancy Kagure Konceptions. As a pseudo-academic, she also has had a paper on how sexuality plays out on social media published in Agenda Journal. This is the first story she has written since she stopped writing her mother stories in crayon, and she blogs on the various sites that will agree to host her crazy and sometimes contentious thoughts, such as Mail and Guardian at Thought Leader and Women.

Your story “Coming Into Self-Awareness” is an exuberant discovery of personally gratifying sexuality. What sparked the story?

The story was sparked after many conversations with friends and just random women about the whole idea of “self-love” and after hearing too many “I had my first orgasm in 2013” (after like 7 years of sex) and “he doesn’t really know what he is doing” stories. Much wine and many conversations later, I began to realize that the delay was probably a case of not knowing what you want. So the story was essentially sparked by a series of chardonnay infused ‘ah-hah’ moments during conversations with women about sex.

I enjoyed the subtle references to Africa as ‘Woman’ who needs to discover for herself what she likes and wants. Can you comment on this?

I am a little obsessed with the idea of a powerful re-born Africa, so it is an idea that I try to sneak into everything I do. It is sad to see how we sometimes stumble around on the international stage shouting about “African identity” and “African ways”, but then in the same breath do some very strange self-destructive things. What better to explore this idea than in the safe confines of a story of a woman’s search to climax. It really was just a marrying of the two things that seems to work.

I picked up a wonderful tweet from you: “After telling my mom about the @ShortSharpAward and that the story was erotica she asked what (at 25) I know about sex.” I laughed when I read this. Does your mom still think you don’t know a thing about sex? Has your mom read the story?

My mother has the view that once one is 30 years old or married, suddenly the vaults of sexual knowledge are open to you. Before then, what business do you have knowing about the birds and the bees and the ins and the outs? According to her, the idea that people are having sex at young ages is something as unbelievably ridiculous as unicorns taking pixies for rides in the park. She was not about to engage with the notion that I knew enough about sex to write a story. Needless to say she has not read the story.

You have also written for a site called “Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women…”, which I take your Mom doesn’t know about!

Adventures is an AMAZING site started in 2009 by Nana Darkoa and her friend, Malaka. It publishes stories about sex and sexuality from women around the continent and encourages women to submit their stories. I have contributed to it a number of times (I told Nana it was training for this).

There is some extremely steamy stuff on there but also some really thought provoking pieces. Pieces about masturbation, giving head, coming out, enjoying sex, everything. It’s a really good peek into the sex lives of African women. Not always safe to read at work, but I love it!

What did it mean to you to be named “Publisher’s Choice” for your story?

I. Was. Ecstatic. I could not even deal with my own existence at that moment in time when I found out. The story took some time to write, because of the general cringe factor of having to re-read the stuff you write about sex. But to win the Publisher’s Choice gave the rubber stamp that what I had written was not absolute insanity that should be confined to the pages of some low-grade porn magazine. This was a great feeling.

Is there an overarching theme to your work? What are your interests as a writer?

The overarching theme is usually sexuality in some way, shape or form. It’s a key idea within most of the writing I do. That and politics, and when the two mix all the better. They usually form the focus of my written work (a.k.a insane ramblings). They are helpful topics when it comes to the style of writing I like, which consists of picking holes in the way things work, mostly out of necessity, but sometimes for fun and to upset people.

Can you comment on sex and sexuality in South Africa? I know it’s a broad question, but does it bring up anything in particular for you?

The idea of sex and sexuality in South Africa is such an intense idea, in a good and a bad way. There is a ‘wildness’ to it, because it seems people love and hate the idea at the same time. There is clearly a sexual nature and undertone to the social interactions (just play some music and watch people move). And then at the same time having an ounce of sexuality on display can be damning, because it can get you raped in a public space or jeered at for being a slut or any number of things. Again the dichotomy exists in the fact that on the one hand the country is supposedly the ‘Gay Capital Of Africa’ but on the other is the place where the idea of ‘corrective rape’ was born. It is such an oxymoron; you can get a headache just thinking about it.

So what next? More stories on the boil?

Having just stumbled into this crazy world called writing, I do not actually have any other work as this is ‘baby’s first (print) story’.

But certainly not ‘baby’s’ last! Thanks, Tiffany, for such a brave, erotic, and enthusiastic story.

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Adults Only teaser: Q&A with Alan Walters

10. Alan WaltersJoanne Hichens – editor of the Adults Only, the second annual Short.Sharp.Stories Awards anthology – interviews Alan Walters. His story “A Threesome In The New South Africa” was selected for inclusion in the anthology.

So, tell us about yourself.

I was born in the West Midlands area of the UK, and worked in the city of Wolverhampton as a General Practitioner for 20 years. I then moved into hospital medicine and became a colonoscopist. Anyone who has lived and worked in Wolverhampton will realise why it is preferable to push tubes into people’s bottoms rather than work in the city. Our daughter, the talented Sarah Lotz, married a South African and moved to Port Shepstone South Africa.

In the year 2000 we followed, having had a holiday home built near Howick. Carol, my wife, and I left the UK for good when a company we were working for decided that they had overpaid us for many years and wanted some cash back. We disagreed, but forgot to give them our forwarding address.

Two years later, with Sarah single again, we all moved to Noordhoek. Wow, paradise found! For the past ten years I have worked part of the time in Germany as a Doctor for the British Army. And now I work for a paramedic/ambulance company responding to emergencies and dragging people out of car wrecks.

And what do you enjoy reading, as escape?

I read and collect all kinds of authors. Favourites are Stephen King, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Michael Dibdin, Jo Nesbo, Gerald Seymour, Jonathan Kellerman, Haruki Murakami, Lionel Shriver, Anthony Horowitz and, of course, Sarah Lotz. All easy-reading kind of stuff. I have collected books all my life, all genres and all authors. I was sad to have had to give most of my collection away when I moved here. My favourite author at the moment, who else but Sarah Lotz, but then I would say that wouldn’t I?

So what did Sarah think of your story “A Threesome in the New South Africa”?

I can only tell you as it is, and I hope it doesn’t offend anyone! She thought it was well-written and hilarious but said, several months back, that it would not win anything as it “wasn’t up its own arse enough.”

Oooh I love your turn of phrase, Alan! Or is it Sarah’s?

She has entered 12 such competitions in her life, she said, always got published but never won a thing. She also said my story would not win the most hilarious story as she knew that the type of humour would not appeal to certain judges and that there was political incorrectness, despite that being the whole point of the story.

And your wife? Does she have an opinion on your contribution?

My wife Carol is mildly amused.

Did you worry about offending readers?

I would be very upset if I did not offend a few people. I would look on it as a failure.

It was fun to write. I enjoyed it. I deliberately set out to make it as outrageous and raunchy as possible, hoping to shock as well as amuse. Never had a threesome, but I am always open to offers. Don’t knock it until you have tried it is my mantra. But please – women only.

So what’s next for you?

I have started three or four novels but found my life too busy and gave them up. I have more time now and have thought about trying again.

Thanks, Alan, we hope you will, and that whatever you write, you maintain the raucous irreverence that caught our eye in the first place!

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