I find out a lot about myself by sleeping. Dreams, they are who I am when I'm too tired to be me.
—Jarod Kintz, This Book is Not for Sale
- Thank you, Lady Luck, you rotten slut. It was probably time now to pack a bag and buy a ticket, but hell, there was the kids and everything. -
- The pig snuffles, lets off a few syllables: aka sembon itwa. It's tongues, that's what it is. A blasted Pentecostal pig. -
- Climbing the stairs, Dolly had the old question come back. Bad mother, or no mother at all? Christalmighty, she should know the answer to that one by now. -
- The house sighs in the night but no one lets themselves listen. Except Fish. -
This post originally appeared on BooksLive on 16 June.
An interview conducted by elves
In honour of Youth Day the elves caught SSDA’s YA/ kids coordinator Tiah Beautement in between workshops, packing, Father’s Day and other SSDA madness to ask her 21 questions.
1. How did you end up working for Short Story Day Africa?
I am the wrong person to ask. Rachel Zadok and Colleen Higgs sent me an email. I told them they didn’t want a person like me. (Long story.) Anyway, they refused to listen to my excuses and insisted I was hired. The pay is zilch, the hours are long (during May-July) but they let me set my own pace to suit my health needs and things get done. That’s all they care about – that I get the job done. I love it.
2. We’ve heard you have a learning disability that is related to dyslexia?
Yep. It doesn’t impact my ability to read – thank goodness! – because I’m a total bookworm. But it does make spelling tricky, grasping new languages hard, I constantly mispronounce words and my grammatical skills are a joke. The good news is that it has made me a champion of editing. It has also been a huge help in the workshops I run for youth. I’ve had information presented to me in so many different ways that if a kid isn’t ‘getting it’ rather than repeatedly bash the poor soul over the head, I simply switch it up until the light bulb goes off.
3. Any advice to parents or guardians on working with their kid’s writing?
I read a parenting book way back when that said you should never ask your toddler, ‘What is it?’ when presented with a drawing or piece of artwork. First – Find something to compliment. A common response around here was, ‘Good use of colour!’ Second – Ask the child to explain their piece to you. ‘So tell me about this drawing.’
This year I had a number of children tell me, ‘I showed this to my parents and they told me my story didn’t make sense.’
Avoid doing that.
In my experience, the story always makes sense in the kid’s head, there are simply puzzle pieces missing in the writing. They have crazy wild imaginations – heck, I’ve got a retelling of Noah’s Ark on my desk where Noah is now ‘Roxy the scientist’ and she isn’t human, but a fox – as in the animal, not the adult innuendo. However, with all that imagination binging in different directions, the story can take a few left turns. The key is to walk the kid through it and ask the questions any writer should be asking themselves while writing, which basically amount to: Where?, Why? and What if?
The young writer will start babbling away. That’s when you pick up the pen, jot down notes. Then show the young person how rearranging the puzzle pieces of the story (and adding a line here or there) will help make their vision clearer to the reader.
4. And you really teach kids how to edit & rewrite?
Yes. Read this.
5. We’ve been asking other writers if they agree with Hemingway’s saying, ‘Write drunk, edit sober.’
I have enough trouble with typos while writing sober, thanks. Coffee for work; wine when the day is done.
6. Zadie Smith was recently quoted as saying ‘Motherhood is not a threat to creativity.’ Thoughts?
Why are fathers never asked these questions?
Fine, I’ll play. With the older youth – those on the cusp of being the next big thing in a few years – I get badgered about ‘How do I become a writer?’ I toss them some information, but sum it up with the phrase, ‘Writers write about life. If you want to write, get a life.’
There is a lot of living to be done as a parent.
7. Do you think Short Story Day Africa has enemies?
No. People seem to love SSDA. Well, with the exception of Telkom. They appear bound determined to keep things interesting.
8. Are you for e-books or against?
I like variety.
9. But don’t you find that the internet and technology are killing creativity?
Hey, without the internet I wouldn’t have a job. Short Story Day Africa would be dependent on the post and…well, while I won’t say everything is bigger and better overseas, the post is – how do I put this? – they seem to have held up Telkom as a role model.
10. We heard Charles Bukowski is one of SSDA’s sponsors. Doesn’t it bother you that he’s dead?
Real life usually is stranger than fiction. Embrace it.
11. Why aren’t you talking about your own writing?
Well, you haven’t really asked.
12. Does that bother you?
13. What about tomorrow, then?
No, probably won’t bother me tomorrow. I’m fairly busy at the moment.
14. But you do read short stories, right?
15. Any particular ones?
Loads. Welcome to find me on goodreads if you really want to know.
16. Do you only read African fiction?
No. Again, I like variety. I read literary, romance novels, YA, horror – you name it, I’ve probably tried the genre at least once. But I won’t lie, I do have personal tastes that favour certain types of books. Also, African fiction is taking off. Very exciting to be here while it rockets.
17. You don’t have romance novels on your goodreads list.
Nope. I tend to reach for them when I want an escape. Listing them on goodreads is a bit too much like work.
18. You’ve mentioned to a few people that Roger Ebert’s essay ‘Nil by Mouth’ played a small roll inspiring this year’s adult competition theme: Feast, Famine & Potluck.
I do love that piece. I live in a small town. While my fellow townies are generally great, not many around here want to have deep conversations about books, writing and politics. The internet world has become my ‘table.’
19. You grew up in a very small town, right?
Yes. My hometown has 3,000 people and 25 miles of forest on three sides. Fourth side is the sea. That’s part of the reason SSDA is so passionate about the youth. Living in such a small town, your own world can seem rather small while the rest of planet earth feels like this unfathomable mammoth. Rural and small town kids often get the bar set pretty low for them. Goodness knows, my childhood friends and I had to fight to get our school to offer classes that in most US schools were a given. The idea that some of us had dreams that might extend further than Oregon was often dismissed. Obviously, there were some souls that thought different. Thank God! Although I confess, while I’ve always been a dreamer, I didn’t see South Africa coming. Life truly is more interesting with the unexpected twists.
20. So are you anti-small town?
Heck, no! I love small towns and rural areas. They’ve got character. And character makes good fodder for stories. But even as a young child I realised there is a huge difference between choosing to live in a small town and being trapped in one.
21. Last question – What are you doing on Short Story Day?
Wishing I wasn’t where I’ll be. But the cranky times will lead to good times. So there we are, the cliché is true: No pain, no gain.
Reserve your copy of the anthologies SSDA is putting together by this year by donating to their Indiegogo Campaign.
Short Story Day Africa has gone global and getting noticed.
Now in its third year, Short Story Day Africa sets aside the shortest day (or night) of the year – this year it’s June 21 – to celebrate African short story writing: the wider initiative brings writers and readers (established and not so), booksellers, publishers, teachers, and school children together, creating a range of platforms for the many voices that might tell these stories, to encourage and get them out into the world.
Short Story Day Africa are clear about their aim to widen access to a love of stories and the craft of their telling. Their Kids and Youth competitions 2013 are supported by a range of smart and thoughtfully compiled Workshop ‘packs’ (which include my personal favourite, ‘writer’s-block-busting-story-cards’), downloadable materials for any teachers or parents, or anyone wanting to run a Short Story workshop, available from the YA & KIDS dropdown on their site.
The amazing work Short Story Day Africa is doing for African short fiction. We at CACE are inspired and encouraged by SSDA's work. More wood to their fire.
Books LIVE is sponsoring the first prize of R2000 in the “Feast, Famine & Potluck”-themed writing competition, which calls for original unpublished stories, in any genre, inspired by this theme. Entries should be between 3000 – 5000 words and the deadline for submissions is 30 June. This competition will be judged by Petina Gappah (An Elegy for Easterly), Isabella Morris (Black Like You), Consuelo Roland (Lady Limbo) and Novuyo Rosa Tshuma (Shadows).
What are you doing on 21 June 2013, to celebrate Short Story Day Africa?If I'm lucky I'll finish the short story I'm currently working on which is driving me crazy!
What are you doing on 21 June 2013, to celebrate Short Story Day Africa?
I will be receiving and reading the first lot of submissions for Belly of Fire II to be published early next year after a successful first volume.
What are you doing on 21 June 2013, to celebrate Short Story Day Africa?
According to my whiteboard, I’ll be editing a new collection of short stories curated by Diane Awerbuck, which will be perfectly appropriate to the day.
- What are you doing on 21 June 2013, to celebrate Short Story Day Africa?Working my butt off uploading stories, giveaways and other Short Story Day Africa things while drinking champaign. Then I’ll probably crawl into bed with all the stories writers shared for SSDA and just enjoy reading them.
This morning, in addition to a dead beat poet, Short Story Day Africa added The Kitschies and Fox & Raven Publishing to our list of sponsors. Global support for our project is growing, bringing us ever closer to achieving our goal. So thanks, Worldreader, Paperight, BooksLive, NB Publishers, SL Grey, Helena S Paige, Louis Greenberg, Sarah Lotz, Helen Moffett, Henrietta Rose-Innes, Writivism, The Caine Prize for African Fiction, Heart & Soul Photography, Fox and Raven, Helen Brain, Modjaji Books, Botsotso, Femrite and everybody else who is behind us. Together, we’ll place African fiction on the world stage.
Black stories are best told by black writers — this needs to be said. Whites already dominate nearly every aspect of South African cultural life, so for them to be putting words into the mouths of black characters seems like an act of arrogance.
As Zukiswa Wanner, one of South Africa’s most prominent young black writers, has said, “No-one should tell a writer when to write, what to write, how to write, where to write or indeed, who to write. It only ever becomes a problem if your character does not sound genuine to people of his/her demography, which is just a mark of bad cultural research or writing on the writer’s part and can’t be attributed to race.”
- Fiona Snyckers, White writers writing black characters
Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money.
― Virginia Woolf
This post originally appeared on BooksLive on 11 June 2013
I watch people’s eyes widen with disbelief, ‘You’re going to teach the kids what?’
Editing. Rewriting. Doing it all over again.
‘Even the seven year olds?’
Especially the seven year olds.
I wasn’t introduced to the true concept of rewriting until I was in high school. Even then, it was presented more as a method to catch spelling and grammatical mistakes. To this day, I do not understand why this skill isn’t given greater emphasis. In maths one of the first things I was taught, after the basic ability to count, was to check my sums. Why, if this is essential in mathematics, would we not emphasise such a concept in writing papers? Our day to day lives are built on communication – emails, sms, reports, presentations…it goes on and on. It isn’t only writers that write.
Editing. Rewriting. We expect so much of our children these days – hours of homework and continuous assessments of children as young as six. Why is it so hard to believe that people, who only recently gained the ability to hop on one foot, can not comprehend the notion of try, try again? We expect so much, and yet not enough.
1. Write your first draft out before you edit.
This is crucial with young children. If they spend too much time checking spelling or fretting about nice even lines, they forget the story they were trying to tell. Make them finish the first draft before they are allowed to worry about the mess. All first drafts are ugly. But we all have to start with something before we can get anywhere.
2. Take a break!
I tell kids that Stephen King is adamant that writers shouldn’t touch their manuscripts for six weeks between drafts. However, young people and short story writers often don’t have six weeks to meet a deadline, nevermind having six weeks to spare for a piece to mellow. So I encourage the children to, at the very least, sleep on it.
‘So our minds can think again,’ one said.
3. Ready to edit? Read the entire story ALOUD!
Yes, we all look ridiculous while doing it, but it works. It slows the mind down, and allows the ear to hear the difference between prose that flow and those that jangle.
This is especially true with dialogue.
‘Me go now,’ said a teacher.
I looked at the kids. ‘Your two year old baby sister talks like that, but whose ma’am would ever speak like this?’
They giggled. ‘No-one’s!’
We discussed an info dump. I launched into a long description of a house, echoing a first draft given to me the year before.
‘This is boring!’ an eight year old said.
We talked about filtering the information in as the story progresses.
‘So is it okay if I write everything about that on a separate piece of paper so as I write my story I can put the details in?’ inquired an eleven year old.
4. Get thee a thesaurus!
If I have to hear the word ‘big’ or ‘pretty’ ever again, it may be too soon. Children adore those words. But to be fair, most people while knocking out their first draft latch on to particular words and use them ad nauseam. The key when starting your second draft is to recall my motto: Variety is the spice of life.
5. Nothing is written in stone! (Unless you really did chisel it into stone.)
I encouraged the children to view their drafts as pieces to a puzzle that could be moved at will. That some of these pieces, even really beautiful pieces, might have to be tossed out. Not because they are not wonderful, but because they don’t suit the story.
‘Well,’ said a seven year old girl, ‘all you do is put that bit on a piece of paper and then just use it in another story later.’
Seven. Years. Old. Hanging upside down in her chair with her head under the table. Didn’t think she was listening to a word I said and she nailed the concept in a blink.
6. Fresh eyes!
After so many drafts your eyes begin to lie to you. Get another person to read your work. New eyes see new things.
7. A writer’s work is never done.
There is always room for improvement. Only a deadline should stop you from revising. Rewrite! Rewrite! Rewrite!
‘That’s rather exhausting,’ said a girl of eight. ‘I’m going to do three.’
At eight, three is brilliant. We’ll take it.
(Now if only I could follow my own advice and get an editor for this blog. Do as I say, not as I do. . .)
The truth is, I write for more self-serving reasons - that is, I write for myself. I write because I enjoy stories and make-believe. I write because if I didn't, I'd probably go crazy. Thus I write about questions that disturb me, images that mystify me, or memories that cause me anguish and pain. I write about secrets, lies, and contradictions, because within them are many kinds of truth. In other words, I write stories about life as I have misunderstood it.
- Amy Tan, The Opposite of Fate
By speaking our languages we are doing more than stringing words together; we also learn about the underlying culture and influences. Honorific speech systems that exist in many Bantu languages are reflective of social structure, traditions and respect accorded to elders. These are intrinsic and complementary elements of culture and language. Furthermore, each language carries with it the history of the people who speak it and the areas it is spoken in.
- Bwalya Chileya, How Language Connects Us