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Incredible Journey Teaser: Q&A with Stephen Symons

STEPHEN SYOMONS - pic

 

Stephen Symons is one of the 20 contributors to this year’s Short.Sharp.Stories anthology, Incredible Journey, with his story ‘Red Dust’. He is a lecturer, graphic designer and poet. His poetry and writing have been published in journals, magazines and various anthologies. He holds a masters in Creative Writing from UCT and is currently working on a PhD in African Studies that focuses of the experiences of ex-SADF conscripts.

 

You decided to set your story in the future in a dystopian society – why? How did the story evolve?
Red Dust is set some years in the future, in a South Africa that is slipping into irreversible oblivion. The slippage is the product of issues relating to land, ineffectual governance and avarice.

 

Red Dust grew from a short story that I’d written in a Creative Writing seminar at UCT. The initial story sparked a spirited response from colleagues so I thought the plot was worthy of further development. Although I remained faithful to the original structure, subsequent incarnations included the introduction of characters such as Billabong and Johan’s wife, Hestia. They formed sub-texts that I hoped would pique the reader’s interest and deepen the intrigue of the story.

 

In your bio you mentioned that the people of South Africa are bound to a “precarious future” – what did you mean by that?
South African history, both current and past, remains intimately connected to issues of land ownership. I think the very nature of those tenuous connections inevitably binds us to a variety of “precarious futures”.

 

Dystopian novels seem to be all the rage these days – why do you think that is?
I’m not actually a fan of dystopian novels, despite the imaginative and even visceral appeal of the scenarios they present. I think our fascination with these daunting futures is really an attempt to examine how human beings would respond and adapt to those scenarios. That is the lure in my work, at least. I think dystopian novels are in some instances vaguely prophetic – perhaps an attempt by writers at tempting fate? Two examples that spring to mind are Jean Raspail’s The Camp of the Saints (1973) and even aspects of Orwell’s 1984 (1949).

 

What does this year’s topic, the ‘incredible journey’, mean to you?
We’re told that the journey is more important than the destination, yet what I find fascinating is how individuals react to the process of the journey. In that respect, ‘Red Dust’ actually focuses on incredible individual reactions to a series of forced journeys.

 

Describe your fiction writing process. Is it disciplined and 9-5pm or do you need to be in the mood?
I think the urge to write doesn’t keep business hours, so you need to write when you feel the “creative juices are flowing”. I have a full-time job and a family, so I often have to seek out those precious moments of peace; early morning or late at night, generally when the rest of the house is asleep. I would say that’s when I’m most productive.

 

You’re a poet and you write short stories – what’s the main difference in the writing process?
I believe that poetry and short stories, even prose in general, ultimately serve the same pleasure centres in our brains. Short stories and specifically poetry rely on condensed meaning despite obvious formal differences, yet more recently I’ve been blurring those boundaries via narrative prose poems. There are of course other overlapping categories relying on extreme brevity, such as flash fiction, but I guess flash fiction is stripped of the lyricism of prose poetry. The Pulitzer Prize winning collection 3 Sections by Vijay Seshadri exemplifies that blurring and even shifting of the boundaries between the two disciplines of poetry and the short story. It’s certainly worthy of further investigation.

What short story writing tip can you share?
I spent two years writing short stories during the course of my MA, and despite the advice and numerous tips of visiting authors I subsequently realised that the best path for any writer is to persevere and simply continue to write, and of course read widely.

Do you believe you have a role in promoting South Africans’ interest in reading?
We live in a society of tweets and truncated communication, but it’s encouraging when a reader comments on something I have written, particularly if it’s poetry. I believe the real challenge lies in cultivating a nation of active readers. I would add that producing engaging and challenging writing is the writer’s primary role in promoting South Africans’ interest in reading. Naturally, education is a skeleton key of sorts, so it’s always gratifying to be part of a venture that educates, promotes and presents new voices to the South African reading public.

 

What can we expect from you next?

Presently, my primary focus is on my doctoral thesis in African Studies and writing poetry. I’m hoping to find a local publisher for a poetry manuscript. Sadly, local custodianship for male English speaking poets remains rather limited. I’m also looking at publishing a collection of poetry in the US, where my collection Spioenkop was nominated as a semi-finalist for the Hudson Prize for Poetry.

 

Interview by Liz Sarant

 

 
incredible journey cover copy

Book details:

Incredible Journey: Stories that move you edited by Joanne Hichens
Book homepage
EAN: 9781928230182
Find this book with BOOK Finder!

Incredible Journey Teaser: Q&A with Anirood Singh

ANIROOD SINGH - picAnirood Singh is one of the 20 contributors to this year’s Short.Sharp.Stories anthology, Incredible Journey with his story ‘Karma’s Map’. Singh is an advocate of the High Court, a nonexecutive director of companies and an advisor to the public sector. He is also an avid writer, with a master’s degree in creative writing from Rhodes University. As well as a number of non-fiction articles and conference papers, he has written two novels, a play, two screenplays that have been made into films, and a number of short stories.

 

As a repeat author how did writing this year’s story, ‘Karma’s Map’, differ from writing ‘Demon In The DNA’ for Bloody Satisfied?

‘Demon In The DNA’ was entirely a work of fiction in the crime genre. ‘Karma’s Map’ depicts the protagonist in my (as yet) unpublished novel, Karma on Trial. To this I added some of my personal experiences. So it is part fiction and part fact.

 

 

 

What inspired the theme of your story?

If it can be called inspiration, it was discovering that I suffered from prostatitis and I had to undergo a surgical procedure to survive. Prostate complications, added to diabetes and hypertension, can adversely affect one’s physical and mental state. However, one learns to cope with life’s slings and arrows. So I decided to write about prostate problems and their aftermath.

 

Your story starts by going through the traditional Indian nuptials. Can you comment on some of the traditions?

I am a non-practising Hindu and as such do not know much of Hinduism. As far as I know there are three types of Hindu weddings – Aryan, Sanathan and Vedic. These are still practised today, accompanied by great pomp and ceremony as well as high cost. In my opinion these nuptials are more of a showpiece than a simple marriage ceremony that could be undertaken at little or no cost at a temple. I believe some of the cultures, traditions and rituals practised by Hindus were based on or influenced by mythology. Hence, some of us South Africans of Indian descent do not understand the significance of many of these and simply follow family traditions.

 

You are quoted as saying “life begins with a death sentence” in your biography. Could you expand on that?

The belief by Hindus in karma, or fate, could mean that one’s life is mapped out beforehand and could be read in the stars by a seer or priest, in the stars. Such a person could reveal one’s future based on the person’s date and time of birth and other factors. It has been said that Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life where one lives according to nature as one of God’s creatures. In this system humans are but caretakers of earth for future generations and our deaths commence at birth – one is born to die, or death is inevitable.

 

Why do you think it is important to write about the afflictions that are inevitably a part of growing older?

When some older folk talk to each other, often a part of the conversation is a catalogue of ailments discussed in order to elicit some sympathy or solace. It would be boring to write about them, especially in the absence of story. On the other hand, it may be educational, and entertaining, for others to learn of certain ailments which they themselves may encounter. However, I believe the writer must include some wit and humour – laughing in the face of impending or inevitable death.

 

What does this year’s topic, the ‘incredible journey’, mean to you?

A journey can take many forms, such as a voyage of discovery. However, I decided to write about something more mundane than adventurous, hence the prostate-based tale. I used real life to fashion a largely fictional story.

 

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

I am semi-retired so have more time than the average working writer. I do not follow a strict writing regime but write (and read) whenever I can. This includes non-fiction and professional articles and papers, including legal opinions. I do not need to be in the mood because I don’t know what that is. I make notes as something comes to mind and later incorporate them into stories. I write at any time of the day.

 

What short story writing tip can you share?

Originally I believed in spontaneous writing, that is, free-writing based on a story idea and incorporating whatever comes to mind. I have since learned the value of writing to a plan, that is, using an outline. This is a road map, which should not be seen as a straitjacket but one that incorporates sufficient flexibility to enable the writer to take deviations through sub-plots, etc. However, one must remember that characters are the drivers.

 

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

Yes. I am executive producer of a low-budget movie production company. I wish to turn some of my short stories into short feature films and perhaps hint at the importance of story and characterization. I also hope to publish some in serial form on Amazon.

 

Interview by Liz Sarant

 
incredible journey cover copy

Book details:

Incredible Journey: Stories that move you edited by Joanne Hichens
Book homepage
EAN: 9781928230182
Find this book with BOOK Finder!

Incredible Journey Teaser: Q&A with Tebello Mzamo

TEBELLO MZAMO - picTebello Mzamo is one of the 20 contributors to this year’s Short.Sharp.Stories anthology, Incredible Journey, with her story ‘My Room’. She is studying towards an honours degree in English at the University of the Western Cape. The writing bug has bit, she tells us.

 

Your story focuses on a homosexual teen. What inspired the theme of your story? How did the story evolve?

The theme of the story was inspired by my cousin and from seeing the problem of homophobia that our society is still faced with, and also I just wanted to write in a way so that the reader listens carefully or tries to imagine what it can be like to be unaccepted for being him or herself. Originally, the story evolved from the character taking his life, but then I discovered, through the writing, that Katiso is someone who loves life.

 

Does the title ‘My Room’ have any significance?

I decided to title the story ‘My Room’ because my cousin used to talk about how he would sneak his partners into his room and tell his parents that they were just friends sleeping over. I found this both sad and intriguing at the same time.

 

What are your thoughts on the level of homophobia in South Africa today?

I think the level of homophobia in South Africa today is slowly progressing away from viewing homosexuals in a taboo light, though there is still discomfort and intolerance towards gays and lesbians.

 

Katiso, your main character, manages to own his sexuality in certain scenarios but not in others. Why is that?

When he’s at home, for example, his parents and uncle make it impossible for him to be who he is, simply because they just cannot tolerate or accept him as he is. They represent a level of authority that he can’t completely ignore. Bearing in mind that he, Katiso, as a man, has to prove his “manhood” to them, along with the generational gap that exists, it is not that easy to own his sexuality around them.

 

A theme throughout the story is Katiso’s relationship with his family – can you comment on how you developed that relationship?

These relationships came about by thinking about what it means to be a boy child. Boys have to prove themselves to their fathers but also to their uncles who can act as surrogate fathers. This becomes a whole lot harder and complicated when you are gay. Also, the relationship Katiso has with his family back in Lesotho is much more stifling. The relationship he has with his uncle, in Cape Town, is tense but ultimately more liberating. While he is chased out of the house he is given a sort of “free” space where he can exhale, though not completely.

 

Did you find it difficult writing from the perspective of a male?

No, not really. It was more of a challenge to write about a gay man facing the issues of circumcision because it involves nuances that may not be that complicated if it were about a straight man, for example. But the important thing was having to keep in mind that I had to write the character with honesty and integrity.

 

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

My fiction writing process is definitely not disciplined. It’s more like I will write on any random day when I feel that I have to write something that keeps nagging me. I feel joyous feeling after that, especially when the writing goes well and everything falls into place.

 

What short story writing tip can you share?

I think one must be disciplined enough to stick to a theme when writing a short story. The story is short and one must be careful to avoid deviating from the point one is trying to make in the story. But also, don’t think too much about writing the perfect story – just connect with your story and have fun. Lastly, always believe that your story is worth telling and read as many books as possible!

 

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

Yes, I believe I do because not only do I write, but I often like to imagine how having a book store, either Exclusive Books or another bookstore at, say, Gugulethu Mall. This would impact the reading trend in South Africa. Surely, more people would be reading if they had better access to books? Getting easier access to books is the battle, particularly in our less advances township libraries. I have ambitions of playing a direct role in getting people to read. I want to do something worthwhile in promoting interest in reading. Thus, I volunteer at an Non-Profit Organisation, Let Us Be Brilliant, where we teach primary school learners to read and spell.

 

What can we expect from you next?

I’m looking forward to entering the competition again and I’m working towards my first novel.

 

Interview by Liz Sarant

 

If you wish to know more about the Let Us Be Brilliant Non-Profit Organisation please visit their Facebook page here.

 

incredible journey cover copy

Book details:

Incredible Journey: Stories that move you edited by Joanne Hichens
Book homepage
EAN: 9781928230182
Find this book with BOOK Finder!

Incredible Journey Teaser: Q&A with Sally-Ann

SALLY-ANN MURRAY - picSally-Ann Murray’s story ‘How to Carry On’ is one of the 20 of this year’s Short.Sharp.Stories in the Incredible Journey anthology. She is a professor of English at Stellenbosch University, having relocated to the Western Cape in 2014 after a long career at the University of KawZulu-Natal. She is the highly acclaimed award-winning author of Small Moving Parts.

Your story revolves around the relationship between a mother and her transgender child. What inspired the theme of your story? How did it develop?

In our wider family, we have been t/asked to find ways to live with the fact of a young girl’s gender fluidity (and who really knows what that ‘means’). The story has its origins in the stigma and anxiety attached to this incongruence, but also in the tender quirkiness which such difference releases.

All of this contributes to the story’s exploration of uncertainty, of how to carry on being in ways that acknowledge but also intimately ‘hold’ the child’s challenges. The story explores aspects of the girl’s difference by narrating the child and mother in relation to several Stellenbosch sites. The story moves from  a  suburban neighbourhood to the local Animal Welfare and the municipal dump. The shelter and the dump are marginal places of disregard, abandonment, transgression and danger but they also captivate with an insistent, if fragile, vitality.

 

What are your thoughts on the current standing transgender rights here in South Africa?

I think that because we have an entrenched history of discrimination in this country, even in a democracy South Africans still often struggle to acknowledge and express a whole range of differences in ways other than through violence. Gender, race, supposed foreignness. Too often anyone who seems ‘other’, the immediate response is violent. The Constitution guarantees rights, yes, and no discrimination. This is excellent. But there’s a significant gap between the letter of the law and the workings of everyday practice.

Our laws in this country are in some respects progressive – gender reassignment from F to M in your ID document, for example, requires no actual surgery. But many people’s attitudes towards transgender people still seem very prejudiced. (Thank goodness for the exceptions, and also for those transgender people who, overcoming major obstacles, show us that they have ordinary human lives, like anyone else.)

 

What does this year’s topic, the incredible journey, mean to you?

I’d like to travel more, for sure, so the topic was imaginatively alluring on that count. Yet the story that was bubbling under in my mind was one about a different child, dirt, female rage, neglect and love. So I gradually came to think that such disparate subject matter could be routed together, and that this was also right for the anthology. Of course I didn’t want to fall into the trite metaphor of the ‘life journey’, but the story I eventually arrived at doesn’t deny the long haul of life, its paths and byways.

 

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

I am disciplined, but over the last few years the creative impulse has had to be deflected from actual writing to living. Wrapping up a life in one city, and starting over. While I hate to pigeonhole myself, my academic career has necessarily taken precedence, though I’ve cut the pie-chart of time so as to keep chunks for family, because that’s short-lived, isn’t it, in the long run?

I once thought that if I were ever going to ‘make it’ as a fiction writer I should just lock the study door and tell everyone else to bugger off. I tried. But the alienating rhythms were impossible for me to live with. There were things far more important. I am learning to be more forgiving of myself, more accepting of life’s inevitable currents. It’s had to be enough that I have been able to make slivers of time for writing, usually in response to calls for stories and poems. I’m grateful when I can meet those deadlines, and I relinquish the impulse to punish myself when I can’t.

 

What short story writing tip can you share?

Allow your stories to take surprising shapes. Don’t even imagine, when you set out, that this will be A Short Story. The whole conventional inverted pyramid shape. Rather follow the dynamic logic that the piece itself suggests. Such a dynamic might derive energy from conventional character and voice, choosing to flat line, or wiggle a ways before exploding, or filter off into the mist. But it might also work more explicitly with borrowed form. A story can be a list, for example, if this feels right, or a series of tweets. Snippets reworked from a newspaper, or the flat speech of bureaucracy and advertorial, imaginatively recalibrated into a life. Oh yes, and another thing: try not to overwork. I still struggle with this, to know when something’s done. (Thank you, here, to students and other readers who have test-driven early versions of a story, saving me from myself.)

 

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

As a teacher of literature (and yes, that category has necessarily shape-shifted over the years), I do aim to hook my students on books and reading, of all kinds. I love working with students, whether they’re the keen readers or the reluctant passengers. When I’m giving a class, little beats the thrill of performing ideas for students in a way that suddenly persuades them a text is worth reading, that it has something to offer them, here and now. Who would have thought it?

 

What can we expect from you next?

Great expectations have a knack of withering. But I have been publishing quite a few short stories, and have enough for a collection. Plus, there’s the draft manuscript of a second novel which I must one day dust off and re-view and finally accept as done, before I’m done for myself.

 

Interview by Liz Sarant

 

incredible journey cover copy

Book details:

Incredible Journey: Stories that move you edited by Joanne Hichens
Book homepage
EAN: 9781928230182
Find this book with BOOK Finder!

Incredible Journey Teaser: Q&A with Merle Grace

MERLE GRACE - pic

 

 

Merle Grace is one of the 20 contributors to this year’s Short.Sharp.Stories anthology. Her story is titled ‘Disappeared’. She’s always loved books and started writing stories in her late twenties. She studied education at the University of Stellenbosch, spent a year at Rhodes doing creative writing, and received an hounours degree from the then University of Port Elizabeth.

 

 

 

 

Your story focuses on the myth that people with albinism do not die, but disappear. What inspired this theme?

 

I am rather obsessed with myth and mythology, and why we fear things. When I learnt about the myth that people with albinism ‘just disappear’ after death, I read everything I could find on the topic. I wanted to explore why this ‘difference’ is feared so much.

 

There are a lot of truly horrific crimes committed against people with albinism, but I wanted to stick to exploring the myth of ‘disappearance’. I wanted my main character, Bongani, to become a father to a little boy when he needed it most. I wanted the boy to see that the myth hurts, segregates and alienates people for no reason. I wanted the boy to discover the truth.

 

It’s not uncommon that this myth is still believed. Why do you think that is?

 

Myths are used to explain the unexplainable. Myths are passed on from previous generations. We learn about myths in childhood. They’re told to us through stories, partly as a way of dealing with fear, and of anything that seems different. Another myth goes that the mother who bears a child with albinism has slept with a white man, even though a black father could be the carrier of the gene, which ensures partial or complete absence of melanin in the skin. Interestingly, the mother also has to carry the recessive gene for the child to have albinism. It’s interesting to explore the reality.

 

What does this year’s topic, ‘incredible journey’, mean to you?

 

One can do so much with it. I thought of railway stories, and mothers with small babies who can only journey through books, and teenage journeys through to adulthood. I love travelling and thought of meeting strangers, meeting my own prejudice, meeting fear. I thought of my grandfather who undertook a journey as a little boy to flee persecution. I thought of my Palestinian baker who took a journey away from Gaza to start a new life in South Africa, initially without his two small daughters. There are so many stories to be written!

 

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

 

I write at any table I can find. I keep notebooks in handbags, library bags and sport bags. Sometimes I create stories in my head, while driving, or at restaurants while eating. I love to write with loud music playing, but never between 9 and 5. I keep odd writing hours and sometimes fly out of bed in the middle of the night to write at the dining room table.

 

What short story writing tip can you share?

 

Re-write! I used to hate re-writing, and thought that my initial pen on paper was perfect. I then discovered the beauty of it. Re-writing opened so many new creative pathways for me. It’s satisfying to see a story develops on many different levels. The best writing happens in the re-write, and it’s a thrill to see how a story grows, and takes shape – as if you get a second, third and fourth chance at molding words.

 

How do you feel reading and writing go hand in hand?

 

I think writers have to be out there, and create a brand like anyone else in business. I wish books, for readers, were as popular as junk food, like McDonald burgers.

 

What can we expect from you next?

 

I have a collection of short stories at the ready and I’m looking for a publisher. I also want to enter as many competitions as I can, and try to get my stories out there. It would be wonderful to get back to Rhodes University to do a master’s in creative writing. I can see myself sitting in the Rat & Parrot with a beer and a notebook in hand.

 

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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Incredible Journey Teaser: Q&A with Jumani Clarke

jumani

Jumani Clarke is one of the 20 writers chosen to be a part of this year’s Short.Sharp.Stories anthology, Incredible Journey, for his story ‘Lift Club’. Jumani is a lecturer in the Numeracy Centre at the University of Cape Town. Born in Lusaka, Zambia, he has lived in South Africa since 2000. His early writing has been guided by a belief in form; in particular, how it constantly changes.

 

 

Why did you decide to write about a lift club between students rather than co-workers?

What I like about students is that they actively mould their future selves, even though they are not quite free to do so, they just think they are. I mean that they have already become someone, they already have a perspective, and so they are not starting from a blank slate. They meet people from different social backgrounds and this makes them revaluate themselves. Well, some of them do anyway.

 

Tell us a little about the characters that find themselves in the lift club and what is it they each desire?

The lift club consists of Porridge, Rachel and Deswin. Porridge has inherited his mother’s old car. Porridge gives Deswin and Rachel a lift to campus every morning and they contribute towards his fuel costs. One day, in the worst traffic ever, they help a guy on the N1, Kobus. On the face of it, what these characters desire is straightforward. Porridge wants to be on campus on time, Deswin likes the sound of his own voice, Rachel likes to sleep, and Kobus wants to get his bakkie back. However, by the end of it, each of them gets a little more than this.

 

Why did you choose to tell the story from Porridge’s perspective?

Porridge is the most privileged of the students. He has the car, after all. I wanted to have the story told from the perspective of someone privileged. Literature has always been the mode of expression of the powerful and it still is. Some of the oldest surviving written documents turn out to be nothing more than the inventories of the king’s stocks of wine, cloth, harvest and so on. Today, I expect that most readers of the anthology will be those who remember what it was like to be a student with a bottom of the range car and stress about the cost of petrol. Also, like a writer, Porridge is slow to act. Instead of living, he tends to spend most of his time thinking things through.

 

The story eventually turns to magical realism. Can you tell us a little about this aspect?

Well, like Dante at the beginning of the Inferno, they have each lost the direct way. They each realize in one way or another that they cannot carry on the way they were going to begin with. Porridge is literally taken off the direct route to campus to pick up Rachel, and Rachel realizes that with her under –the-radar-existence she will not be able to make an impression on her tutor on whom she has a crush.

 

And then, of course, there are the cars they find in the motor vehicle underworld that tell of what happened to those other people who never found the direct way. But unlike Dante, who needed an intervention in heaven to send the ghost of Virgil to put him straight, here are three friends, mere mortals, who find Kobus, the super being, and put him straight. He too has lost his way, of course, because his bakkie has been taken away from him. The students are all on an adventure to fulfill their true potential and by crossing each other’s paths they change their own path.

 

What does this year’s topic, ‘incredible journey’, mean to you?

Of course, everyone’s life is a journey but for some people, just getting to work or to campus is an incredible journey. That is the truth about South African roads and public transport. But it is also the truth about the difference between whom society expects you to be and how you’ve been influenced at home.

 

To talk again of Dante, the topic also makes me think of a hero who travels to far away places, where he encounters the supernatural and the bizarre, and then returns home as a more complete human being. Dante for example, when he loses his way, is lead to the core of hell and then into the heavens, putting all human experience, literature and knowledge into a Christian perspective, and then returns home saved. I tried to fit all this into a story. It was incredibly difficult.

 

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

I aim for discipline. I try to do it for an hour every weekday before I start getting ready for work. I also try get in a whole chunk over the weekend. But life, family and reading get in the way, always.

 

What short story writing tip can you share?

Write regularly to a timetable. It is a ritual. It is like praying. And read, always.

 

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

Yes, I do. I must read and I must write. Of course, that is not much. What I think South Africa really needs is patient, passionate and meticulous editors.

 

What can we expect from you next?

Expect more short fiction. However, I can’t say where. I am always working on something but there seems to be an expectation from the available literary outlets that writing can be quick, short and specific to a theme. I find this particularly difficult to achieve.

 

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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BLUE COW SKY: A BIG HIT IN THE VALLEY

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One good thing about publishing a novella: you get feedback fast. A day after the elegant launch of Peter Church’s Blue Cow Sky at the Constantia Glen wine farm in Cape Town, the comments were coming in on social media.

 

 

 

Blue Cow Sky is Peter Church’s third book, “a comic novella of sexual proportions”. The mix of wine tasting and comic fiction proved a big hit and enticed a large attendance of glamorous attendees.

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Constantia Glen’s Gus Allen spoke about the estate’s fine wines and gave a history of the Constantia Valley before Church spoke.

 

“Ben Williams has said the state of fiction in South Africa is ‘cadavorous’, so I’m very glad you could come – you all look healthy to me,” he said, before telling us about his new character Leo, a struggling writer.

 

Was he talking as Leo or himself when he said the following? “It’s acceptable for a wine maker to hold up his bottle and say, I love this wine, this wine is made from the best grapes in the country, this wine will tickle your palate. It’s not acceptable for me to say, I love this book, it is written with the finest sentences in the country, it will tickle you in the pants.”

 

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On the subject of book launches he quoted Leo: “There’d been an amazing turn-out of strange people. The owner Herman said it was due to the crudity of my style. I’d been drinking rum all day. No-one understood what I had to say and neither did I. I met a woman called Helen. She said her husband had taken to wine. She told him to choose between her and the wine and the wine won. They were both now unhappy, him probably less so.”

 

On more dissimilarity between wine and fiction he had this to say: “When you tell your neighbour you drank a nice wine, he doesn’t ask to borrow it.”

He then read a chapter from Blue Cow Sky to a rapt audience.

Wine, glamour, laughter, fiction… a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an afternoon in the valley – and a whole new outlook on book launches.

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Book details:

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Blue Cow Sky by Peter Church

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EAN: 9781928230243

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Incredible Journey Teaser: Q&A with Andrew Prior

ANDREW PRIOR - picAndrew Prior is one of the 20 contributors to this year’s Short.Sharp.Stories anthology, Incredible Journey. He was born and brought up in a small gold mining town on the east of Johannesburg, and currently works as an investment banker. He has written and published academic works but finds he has now developed a habit of writing stories and novels.

 

What inspired the theme of your story? How did the story evolve?

I heard the song Terraplane Blues sung by Eric Clapton on one of those esoteric programmes on Fine Music Radio, which reminded me of an incident in an East Rand mining town many years ago. The episode concerned enthusiastic young men keen to enjoy life, brandy and coke, an iconic Hudson Terraplane car, police brutality, miners, the racial divisions of the time, and the flowing sub-current of violence which always threatened to surface, burst its banks, and devastate people’s lives.

 

Why did you specifically choose the Terraplane to star in your story?

Well, you don’t have to be much of a psychologist to know that certain vehicles, including Harleys and MGs, are a substitute for and a metaphor of sex. The six cylinder 60s Hudson Terraplane had all the ingredients to get a psychologist slavering with intellectual excitement: sleek lines, smoothed and rounded fenders, upward thrusting windscreens and, to cap it all, the nickel-plated beauty on the bonnet thrusting her naked breasts into the oncoming wind. In the sexually repressive mining societies of the East Rand of the time a Terraplane provided a valid alternative to public sex.

 

You have rather odd-ball characters manning your story; how did you develop them?

They were an ordinary bunch of young men of the time and I suppose any time; yes, pretty ordinary, mostly friendly, cheerful, one a lover of beautiful cars, another an artistic soul, one a close relative of Jesus Christ, and then the psychopath who just needed the right events to allow his condition to flower.

 

What does this year’s topic, the ‘incredible journey’, mean to you?

I’m not sure what incredible means but I suppose it’s something out of the ordinary or never to be forgotten. Some journeys in life are like that.

 

It’s mentioned in your biography that journeys sometimes reveal a world you would prefer not to see; what did you mean by that?

Who wants to go to a place where you will see police violence, damage and death? And experience racism. Maybe a voyeur of life, which I suppose is what many writers are. But then scratch below the surface of any society, even the most polite ones, and you’re likely to find all of these.

 

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

I run a financial business for my living and that’s full time so writing is when I get the time and urge.

 

What short story writing tip can you share?

I read a lot, preferably what makes me laugh. I think a lot, and I do my best to understand what is going on around me. Maybe others do the same. I do keep my iPhone at hand to record anything interesting I see.

 

What can we expect from you next?

I sometimes wonder what it’s like being a chicken or a mossie and seeing the world through their eyes, and maybe I’ll write about that. I also wonder why, if a dog can snarl, that it cannot smile. Or, perhaps, I’ll write about the solving of the Personal Identity conundrum, which has given philosophers centuries of sleepless nights. Ah, to have a life where sleepless nights are caused by agonizing about ‘why it is that you are who you are and not a cabbage leaf!’

 

So, we have to ask, what do you agonise over?

Wondering who I am, I suppose.

 

Interview by Liz Sarant

 

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Book details:

Incredible Journey: Stories that move you edited by Joanne Hichens
Book homepage
EAN: 9781928230182
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Incredible Journey Teaser: Q&A with Dan Maré

 DAN MARE - pic

Dan Maré is a 2015 Short.Sharp.Stories Highly Commended contributor for his story Watermeid. Maré grew up in Durban and currently live in Johannesburg, where he works as a freelance editor.

 

As someone who is normally doing the editing how does it feel to be on the writer’s side of the table? What are some of the major differences?

You’re writing not editing.

 

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

I don’t have a fiction-writing process – I’ve only written a couple of short stories. I had a few beers to make finishing this one more enjoyable.

 

Your Story, Watermeid, incorporates mermaids – what inspired you to incorporate these mysterious mythical sea creatures into your story? Did you start with mermaids or did Eporia work her way into the story as you wrote?

I heard a story about a mermaid in the Meiringspoort pool.

 

You mentioned a strong connection between fear and fable in your bio; do you believe people are drawn to the unknown and horror? How did this influence your writing?

I don’t actually have any reference for that; I just thought it sounded smart.

 

Abortion seems to be the center of the complicated relationship between the two main characters, why did you choose this particular topic for your story?

Analysing what I’ve written after I’ve written it kills one of the small pleasures I get from writing. I will say I cribbed part of the story from a chapter in David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King, published in The New Yorker as a short story entitled Good People.

 

What does this year’s topic, the incredible journey, mean to you?

No reply.

 

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

God no.

 

What can we expect from you next?

Nada, padda.

 

Interview by Liz Sarant

 

Note from INCREDIBLE JOURNEY editor, Joanne Hichens: It takes all kinds of stories and writers to make an interesting anthology. With these interviews, we hope to give readers and writers insight into the themes tackled. Not all writers, however, are willing to share details of their process or inspiration. So be it.

 

On another note, I want to thank Liz Sarant for going out of her way to create interesting interviews for INCREDIBLE JOURNEY and for BooksLIVE. Part of the writing game is to create a bit of buzz, and both Liz and BooksLIVE have helped us to do just that.

 

 

Incredible Journey Teaser: Q&A with Chantelle Gray van Heerden

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 9.28.57 AMChantelle Gray van Heerden is one of the 20 contributors to this year’s Short.Sharp.Stories anthology, Incredible Journey, with her story ‘Voodoo Karma’. She is a literary critic, Deleuze scholar and part-time writer. She also translates poetry from time to time. Her story ‘The Most Tender Place’ appeared in last year’s Short.Sharp.Stories anthology, Adult Only.

 

Welcome back to the Short.Sharp.Stories anthology. How did writing this year’s story differ from writing your story for Adults Only?

Thank you. Last year my story was far more hard-hitting. Definitely more political. This year the narrative was playful and ventured into magical realism. I would say that last year’s story demanded more of me, but at the same time I wanted to push my writing style into something less serious than my usual approach (my other stories are all pretty hard-hitting!) this time around and that was actually also demanding, albeit in a different way. So I guess this year’s story was different from last year’s in that it was more of an experiment.

 

Do you gravitate towards writing hard-hitting stories? Is sexuality, or sensuality, often a theme?

I tend to seek out intensity in life and that, I suppose, informs my writing which does often actualise as refrains of sexuality. I’ve had a complicated relationship with my own body, gender and sexuality (as is the case for so many people – if not most – especially those who don’t conform to heteronormativity) so their changing and interchanging assemblages intrigue me. What is possible? I wonder. What can it look like, become, transform as?

 

This year’s story focuses on two strippers and their bouncer/driver. How did the story evolve?

The story is partly factual. I was asked by two strippers to be their bouncer/driver for an evening and I said yes. I had a great time, but also got to see what goes on behind closed doors, so the evening’s events sparked the idea for the plot. Strippers are often cast in a certain light in mainstream media and part of what I wanted to do with the story was offer an alternative view; to show that strippers are ordinary people who have to deal with the same things in life other people have to deal with. They don’t all use drugs. They’re not all the heartless, hardened, hard-up hustlers they’re often portrayed to be. But I’ve also been a long-time admirer of Angela Carter and I was thinking about her novel Nights at the Circus, which inspired me to read up about other famous courtesans and brothel madams, such as Miss Lulu White. The narrative evolved from there.

 

Your story took a supernatural twist – did you have that in mind when you started writing or did it come to you as you were writing?

At first I was going to write about the journey/s of strippers in a very factual way, but one of the reasons I steered away from that was that I was scared of falling into all the same stereotyping traps that mainstream media does. It was quite challenging for me to write more playfully, but I think forcing myself to think differently about my writing style helped me to deal with the representational aspects too.

 

What does this year’s topic, the ‘incredible journey’, mean to you?

While I am interested in how people make meaning of the world around them, I have very little interest in what things mean per se. I’m far more interested in what things do. I’m a true Deleuzian scholar in that sense. So what do journeys do? To people, to the natural environment, to dreams? What happens when journeys go awry, when they clash with other flows and processes? What emerges? What gets lost? This is what is fascinating for me about this year’s topic, and also where I think the magic lies.

 

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

It’s a bit of both, really. I have a ridiculous work schedule (probably like most people!), so I try to write for about an hour or so first thing every morning and then also on Saturdays and Sundays. If I’m very busy with other work, I write a bit less; if I’m less busy a bit more. But I guess I’m lucky in that I’m always pretty much writing: short stories, poetry, letters, academic essays, book reviews, etc.

 

What short story writing tip can you share?

Don’t have too many foci; think about what you want to write or say and then concentrate on that. Figure out how to say what you want to say most effectively.

 

What can we expect from you next?

I’ve had quite a number of short stories published and am working on a few more. I’d like to look at putting a collection together in the next year or so.

 

Interview by Liz Sarant

 
incredible journey cover copy

Book details:

Incredible Journey: Stories that move you edited by Joanne Hichens
Book homepage
EAN: 9781928230182
Find this book with BOOK Finder!