Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Short Sharp Stories

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Interview with 2016 Caine Prize Nominee: Bongani Kona

 

BONGANI KONA - picSHORT.SHARP.STORIES AWARDS catches up with Bongani Kona, whose story ‘At Your Requiem’ was shortlisted for the 2016 Caine Prize for African Writing.

Bongani Kona is a freelance writer and contributing editor at Chimurenga Chronic, a pan-African quarterly gazette. His work has appeared in a number of publications and websites and most recently in Safe House: Explorations in Creative Nonfiction (Dundurn/Cassava republic). He was shortlisted for the 2016 Caine Prize and he is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Cape Town.

 

Firstly, go back to that moment you got the call to say your INCREDIBLE JOURNEY story, ‘At Your Requiem’, was one of five shortlisted for the Caine Prize. What did that feel like?

It was an amazing experience. It was a Friday afternoon and I’d had pretty a rough day when I received the email. It was a complete surprise because I had no idea the story had been entered for the prize but it was an amazing feeling.

 

Have you come down from the high of being in London?

It took a couple of weeks to adjust but yeah, I’ve definitely come down from the high. Life and work fall back into place.

 

Sticking with the actual experience of being in London, what were the highlights for you?

The highlights were many. To begin with, I had never been to London and I got to go on the trip with Lidudumalingani, a close friend who has supported me in my writing journey in all sorts of ways. And of course getting to meet the other writers on the shortlist was also really special and another highlight was connecting with readers at all the events we attended. Overall, it was really great time.

 

What did you learn? In broad brushstrokes or specifically.

As a beginner fiction writer, I tend to torment myself with unrealistic expectations. So I guess the whole experience taught me to be a lot kinder with myself. If it was up to me for instance, I wouldn’t have picked ‘At your Requiem’ to make the shortlist but that’s how harsh I can be with myself. I see only faults, never strengths. And it was very encouraging to meet readers who were moved by the story, and that allowed me to let go of some of those judgements about myself. It was very humbling.

 

I know Lidudumalingani has attracted a great deal of attention. Is the experience similar for other writers who were shortlisted?

In the lead up to the prize the media interest is intense for everyone on the shortlist but afterwards, if you’re not the winner, you’re kind of allowed to go back to your own life. Which in some respects is a relief.

 

Has being shortlisted for the Caine Prize been a life-changer in any way?

Yes but not in very obvious ways. I transitioned into fiction writing from being a critic and a journalist and I’m still finding my feet. So for me the great thing about the shortlist is that it gave me courage to just keep trying and to keep failing.

 

Getting to your story, ‘At Your Requiem’ unravels a complicated relationship between cousins Christopher and Abraham, and the ‘mother’ they live with. This is an emotionally intense story. Was it difficult to write?

The story that revolves around sexual abuse, drug addiction and suicide and it was incredibly difficult to write, but then writing is not something that comes easily to me. Emotionally though, this was very challenging. The hardest part was writing some of the troubling scenes with the mother-figure, Aunt Julia, and I nearly gave up at that point and I’m glad I persisted.

 

Whereas Lidudumalingani’s story ‘Memories We Lost’ is about a rural experience, yours is a contemporary. Is there any particular focus for writers from Africa?

Even if you were to start with the stories of the shortlist, from Lesley Nneka Arimah’s ‘What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky’ to Abdul Adan’s ‘The Lifebloom Gift’; they are all very different stories. This is not to say that there aren’t any stereotypes about ‘African fiction,’ a uniformity of themes and approach, but as a reader and a writer, I certainly don’t see it that way. Anyone who says otherwise is not reading widely enough. There are publishers like Cassava Republic who are doing incredible work and there are also a number of literary journals which have sprung up over the last few years and are doing amazing work. In short, there’s a lot to be excited about.

 

‘At your Requiem’ is your first published fiction story. Do you have plans to write more fiction?

Yes, I’ll keep sending my work out, and hopefully not collect too many rejection slips! as is the way with writers actively seeking publication.

 
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!

Interview with 2016 Caine Prize Winner: Lidudumalingani

Screen Shot 2016-11-23 at 10.02.07 AM

 

SHORT.SHARP.STORIES AWARDS catches up with Lidudumalingani, writer, filmmaker and photographer. He is the 2016 winner of the Caine Prize for African writing.

 

 

 

 

 

Firstly, go back to that moment you got the call letting you know that your INCREDIBLE JOURNEY story, ‘Memories We Lost’, was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing. What was your reaction?

It felt surreal. My writing has always been and still remains a labour of love that eventually is shared with the public. Though the feedback and conversations that it sparks are always fascinating, my interest is to write what torments me. The shortlisting was unexpected and a huge encouragement and it will take a lifetime to sink in.

 

Fast forward to the announcement at the Awards dinner: ‘The Winner is…’ Have you come down from that high?

I do not think one ever does. Of course one does not go through every day patting oneself on the back for it, but one is aware that winning the Caine Prize is an incredible honour to be bestowed on a writer.

 

As for your London experience, what were the highlights for you?

Certainly being in the city was a highlight. My interest in cities is the intersection of the people and physical space, and this is far more interesting to observe in dense and diverse cities, such as London. A restaurant selling food for five pounds is not far from a place at which people queue to make a reservation two years ahead of the planned date. We, Bongani Kona and myself, arrived at a difficult time. It was three days after the Brexit referendum and the city was in mourning.

My other interest is the physical presence of the city and a lot of the buildings in London are under renovation and so the city appeared as if had it had been hit by some disaster and was in the process of mending its wounds, all bandaged up with plastic and being fixed.

I’m also a photographer and found it incredibly conducive to photography in ways that perhaps Cape Town and Johannesburg are not. When it comes to photography, Londoners struck me as nonchalant to my camera’s presence, unlike here. However discreet I am, the  presence of a camera is an annoyance.

 

How did your time in London influence your thinking about ‘home’?

I thought a lot about Cape Town. From its architecture to its people, the city flirts with identities that are perhaps not authentic. Its architecture is European. In its corner it is hugged by American shops. Its galleries exhibit artists that are not from here. On the street one finds clothes made of American and UK flags. This is why I think Cape Town is popular with tourists, not so much because it offers them anything new, but it is the familiar that appeals to people and the city maximises that familiarity. This of course is the picture Cape Town presents to the world. There is the other Cape Town that is hidden because it does not meet the European standards and familiarity that Cape Town wants to uphold.

Cities are to a great degree similar. I do wish for a better transport system here – public transport in London is far more efficient!

 

What did you learn regarding writing? In broad brushstrokes or specifically.

I learnt what an agent does, and more about the stages a book takes to move from the author’s head to the book shop. I only had a vague idea of these practical issues. The other things I learnt are far more difficult to put in words, conversations with the other nominees, panel discussions, and I met so many people, in London, Brixton, Soho, Chinatown, Oxford.

 

Post announcement, you have done a number of interviews, specifically around your story…

I’ve lost count of the number by now. But it has been amazing to be in conversation with so many people and to hear what concerns them and what they are interested in. Nothing beats that.

 

‘Memories We Lost’, is a compelling and fraught journey of two sisters through a rural landscape. Do you think the international fascination is that a ‘traditional’ Africa is reflected?

I hope it is more than that. The setting of the story was convenient for me. It seemed like the right setting. The issues the story deals with, such as mental illness and sibling loyalty, are by no means an only rural/ traditional African problem and if one can look beyond the obsession with urban spaces — and the obsession that inhabitants of urban spaces are far more civilized — then it is easy to see that.

 

It seems that everyone wants to republish ‘Memories We Lost’. How did you decide which publishers to grant rights to? Are you interested in reaching a particular audience?

Whoever was paying me more money, hahaha. Who reads the story is very important to me and so the decision had to pass the test of who is publishing, and who is the intended reader.

That said, I do not write with a reader in my mind, at least I’m not preoccupied with ideas of what a specific reader would like to read. The reader that I’m interested in perhaps is the one that is going to read my work for what it is and not be lazy to engage with the writing on its own merits. I want my writing to challenge the way the reader thinks of the world, to challenge ideas on writing and what constitutes a novel. In a nutshell, the ideal reader of my work, is the reader that comes to it unburdened by what they know and hold dear.

 

How bright is the future of writing coming from Africa?

Black publishers and writers are carving their own paths and telling stories that matter to them and that is powerful beyond words.

 

Is your current focus on any particular project?

Fiction for me has been, so far, an attempt at emptying my heart and head of stories that have long tormented me and once that is done I move on to the next text. I am making an attempt at a novel, which has always been my intention. I’m also continuing to make images, and I’m finishing a movie script as well. I am launching a ‘thing’ in early 2017 and that’s exciting.

 

 
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!

Die Laughing Teaser: Q&A with Raphael d’Abdon

 

Raphael d'AbdonRaphael d’Abdon was born in Udine (Friuli, Italy), and moved to South Africa in 2008. He holds an MA in Arts from the University of Uppsala, Sweden, and a PhD in Linguistics and Literary Studies from the University of Udine, Italy. He is currently a lecturer in the Department of English Studies at the University of South Africa. In 2007 he compiled and translated into Italian Peo tsa rona – I nostri semi. Poeti sudafricani del post-apartheid, an anthology of South African spoken word poetry. In 2011 he translated into Italian (with Lorenzo Mari) Bless Me Father, the autobiography of Cape Town poet Mario d’Offizi, and in 2013 he compiled and edited the collection Marikana. A Moment in Time. He is the author of two poetry collections, sunnyside nightwalk, and salt water, and has performed in South Africa, Italy, Nigeria and the US. He lives in Pretoria, is a huge fan of Prince, and the wolf and spider are his spirit animals.

 

Your DIE LAUGHING story, ‘Don’t Give Up, Will!’ is a spirited exchange between slam poet Gabriel Dampton, aka Will the Anti-Capitalist Komrade, and editor Paul Kersey, Chief Editor of literary magazine The Capitalist.

 

Would you describe your story as satire?

I think of satire as an act that is essentially ironic and ‘light’, delivered in a colloquial and humorous tone. However, satire is also filled with political statements and counter-cultural arguments. The humour lies in its subtlety, in the interplay between the comical and the severe. In order to be effective, satire must be sharp, provocative, and piercing and must make its target feel uncomfortable, challenged, and exposed. If my story contains these elements, then we can say it is a satirical story. But this must be established by the reader.

 

The focus is less on the narrative, but rather on the exposé of mediocrity. How do you feel your piece fits in with this collection of humour?

I wanted to write a story in which the mediocrity of one character was confronted with the pomposity of the other. Both protagonists are, obviously, caricaturized, but I had no choice: for the story to work, I had to create two polarized individuals, who deep inside despise each other, but cannot say it openly. A gentle and polite correspondence between these two guys would have been the most boring story ever, and it wouldn’t have impressed the judges.

 

Will, the Anti-Capitalist Komrade, has a number of really funny lines: ‘You should see the girls snapping fingers and ululating after my punchlines. Damn, it feels good to be a poet, dear editor.’ Although Will’s poetry is full of fire (literally), does this poet in fact want the stamp of approval of the establishment? And what does that signify? 

Those lines  are ‘wack’ (as Will would say) J. Jokes aside: Will wants – of course – the approval of the establishment, an approval that, given his (lack of) talent, is unlikely to be granted any time soon. Will is one of those poets ‘on fire’ – I have met some – who, because they are popular in certain arenas, think they are ‘the shit’, and have the world of literature under their feet. Will genuinely thinks he is a poet of note, and that being published in Paul’s magazine will cement his legacy in the literary community. But Paul doesn’t give a damn about his (presumed) poetic achievements, and keeps telling him that he is not inspired by his poetry. Will’s ego is wounded, he wants to fix things by getting Paul’s final endorsement, but he doesn’t understand that the more he engages with this snobbish and sadistic editor, the more his ego will be smashed.

Will is a complex character: he is arrogant, tenacious and stubborn, but also shows ingenuity, and respect for his interlocutor. Paul’s attitude, on the other hand, is straightforward: he is just messing with Will, and has no intention whatsoever of validating his work. I think the tension in the story comes from the fact that Will is fighting a “quixotic” battle for recognition, while Paul observes him with a glacial gaze, and plays cat-and-mouse with him.

 

As we read more of Will’s lines:

Fuck the government

Fuck the system

Freedom Africa freedom!

…your piece takes on particular relevance at this time, with the current call for de-colonising universities. Can you comment on this?

Students’ protests are the most important cultural and political phenomenon of our time, and must be taken very seriously. There is nothing funny in militarized campuses and cops abusing and shooting innocent young people. Will is not just a fictional character: as I said before, he is also a caricature. I wrote this story before the Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall movements gained momentum, but I have attended poetry sessions for 10 years, and these are the things young poets are have been talking about in these sessions, long before the protests escalated. Will is the parody of a bad poet, and therefore he expresses his political ideas superficially, and with scarce literary imagination. But the students’ movements are not superficial, far from it. If I had to portray a student in a story, he/she would be Will’s nemesis.

 

As for Editor Kersey, he suggests, scathingly, that identification with Will, the Anti-Capitalist Komrade’s poetry, will indeed signify ‘the death of poetry’. Is this a colonialist or Western view of what poetry should aspire to?

Will and Paul’s personalities are well-defined (I hope), but their identities are not. I did not offer specific indications on their age, ethnicity and background: I left their identities ‘open’, in order to give the readers the freedom to make them up by themselves. So, in my view Paul does not incarnate ‘Western views of poetry’ (whatever that means), in the same way that Will does not incarnate ‘African views on poetry’ (whatever that means). Paul is just tired of receiving Will’s bad poems, and tries desperately to get rid of him once and for all, with a definitive statement (the ‘death of poetry’ you refer to). Is he going to succeed? Who knows? After all, Will is determined to win’s Paul heart one day, and nothing seems to be able to stop him from doing so… Or maybe did he get the message and will finally ‘give up’? I think the ending leaves room for the reader’s imagination, and this is always a good element in a short story (in any story, for the matter).

 

Are you indeed sending up both the wannabe-poet as was well as the stuffy editor?

Oh, yes, I abhor both characters. But the job of the writer is not to identify with his characters or to sympathize with them. His job is to invent characters that will stimulate a positive or negative reaction in the reader. If you create a character that leaves the reader indifferent, you have failed.

Will and Paul are the type of people I try to stay away from within the poetry community: on one side, the egomaniac with a superiority complex, who believes that because he stood out in a slam and has 10 likes for his poetry performance on youtube, he has made it; on the other side, the pretentious ‘poetry expert’ with a tweed jacket and a tobacco pipe, who also has a superiority complex, but for reasons that are the opposite of Will’s. People like these do exist, but fortunately for me and for South African poetry, they are a tiny minority.

 

How did your experience as a lecturer of English and as an editor influence the writing of your story?

As an editor, researcher and teacher, I am often exposed to poor poems written and/or recited by ‘poets’ who hold very high opinions of themselves. As a poet, generally I am not inspired by the South African ‘slam poetry’, which is the one embraced by Will. In this sense, this story is a bit autobiographical (like all stories). That said, the poems performed in slam events are usually better than Will’s, and the relationship between poets and editors is not as confrontational as the one between him and Paul. In this story I wanted to push the interaction between a fed-up editor and a self-important poet to the extreme. When I sat down to write it, I had the two characters in mind, but not the plot. The story unfolded, in epistolary form, out of an imaginary conversation between them.

 

As an Italian-South African, as a permanent resident, though not a citizen, how would you describe your identity? And how does this affect your positioning in the literary world? 

I was raised in Udine, a small town in the North Eastern province of Friuli (Italy), and now I live in Tshwane. I consider myself both an Italian and a South African, but even before that, I consider myself a Friulian and, first and foremost, an Udinese. I pledge allegiance only to my native land, my sense of belonging lies there. With regards to the Italian and South African literary communities, my position is that of an ‘external observer’, even if I am active in both. Writers are – in the first instance – observers, and living simultaneously in-between and inside these two ‘worlds’ allows me to scrutinise them from a certain distance, with disenchanted eyes. Being a migrant is a difficult position when you have to apply for a visa, or find a job, but is a privileged position for a writer.

 

In your opinion, as ‘external observer’,  what do we need to focus on to in order to strengthen our literary future? 

I have only one piece of advice for South African writers: let’s read more, and particularly, let’s read more each other’s works. We must read the classics of South African and African literature, but also the new stuff. When a South African writer publishes something new (a novel, a short story, a poem, etc.), I feel it my duty to read what he/she has written: it keeps me in touch with what is happening in my community, I know who is writing what, and where our literature is headed for. There are so many talented writers in this corner of the earth, in each literary genre, and I don’t think we are doing enough to support each other. We need more interactions: physical interactions in festivals, round tables, writers’ associations, and so on; but also ‘virtual’ interactions, in literary projects like this one, and through the books we write. We must buy each other’s books, write reviews, interviews, responses, articles, essays… in other words: engage critically with each other, and grow together. If we will do that, our literary future is going to be bright, I have no doubt about it.

 

As writing teacher, any tips on writing the short story?

I am kind of… new to short stories writing, at least in English (I have published some short stories in Italian). This was the first short story I wrote in English, and I was very surprised to see my name shortlisted for the prize, and published in the anthology alongside literary giants such as Fred Khumalo, Kobus Moolman, etc.

Like a poem and a novel, a short story places its attention on one or more characters in specific times and places. However, it differs from a poem because it gives the writer a certain freedom to indulge in details, and its language doesn’t necessarily have to be stripped to the bone; and it also differs from a novel, because it cannot indulge extensively on these details, and has to give authenticity and profundity to the characters in a few pages. If you want to excel at something, you have to know the history of it. In other words, you have to study the works of the masters.

I am inspired by many short story writers: Mark Twain, Bukowski, Mahfouz, Poe, Borges, Pearl Buck, Moravia… the list is endless… but my all-time favourite are two Russians, Chekov and Gogol: they are the champions of the genre, in my humble opinion. I also learned a lot from South African writers such as Can Themba, Herman Charles Bosman, Alex La Guma, Eskia Mphahlele, and – more recently – Makhosazana Xaba, Zukiswa Wanner, Siphiwo Mahala, Kagiso Molope, and Aryan Kaganof, among others.

From the two Russians I learned that for a short story to stimulate the reader’s imagination, it has to leave room for further scenarios. When I think about my story, I ask myself: “What was the tone of Paul’s previous letter to Will? Was it as nasty as this one, or was it more accommodating? What pushes Will to submit again and again to The Capitalist? What will he do after the umpteenth negative response? Will he stay strong against adversities and try again? Or will he give up on his dream?… If the reader asks him/herself these and other questions, then I have done a good job as a short story writer.

 

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 9.00.45 AMBook Details:
Editor Joanne Hichens
Foreword Evita Bezuidenhout
ISBN / EAN 9780994680518
Publication date July 2016
Buy the book here!

 

 

Die Laughing Teaser: Q&A with Kristien Potgieter

Kristien PorgieterKristien Potgieter was born and raised in Johannesburg. She is currently writing an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, where she is also the 2015-16 UEA Booker Scholar. She studied English and French Literature at the University of Pretoria and Wits University. She has worked as an English teacher in France and as a ballet teacher in Johannesburg, and has experience as a freelance editor and translator. Kristien won the 2014 Deon Hofmeyr Prize for Creative Writing, and her fiction has been published in Itch and on NewWriting.net.

 

What is your take on humour SA-style?

Some of the most truthful writing comes from our ability as South Africans to make fun of our own prejudices and idiosyncrasies. Humour is a way of seeing yourself anew, and you have to be able to make fun of yourself. A lot of the humour in my writing comes from my awkwardness and my tendency to get into embarrassing situations. They’re not nice to live through, but they make for good fiction.

 

Your DIE LAUGHING story, ‘Be Happy! Be Bright! Be You!’ has a double-edged title. One expects a light read, but it’s darkly bizarre. Why did you choose this title? 

For precisely that reason: it sounds cheerful but it hides something a lot darker under the surface. Also, I find most inspirational quotes, like the title, exceptionally irritating. They are trite and overused, and it is exactly the sort of thing a character like Willemien would pretend is terribly poignant but is ultimately meaningless.

 

The story unfolds from the point of view of nasty character Kobus. Hungover, and angry with his girlfriend, Nicole, he heads off from a shared flat to attend his classes at  Uni. Here he ‘sees’ right into his fellow students’ heads, their brains. What was the spark for your story?

I liked the idea of having someone wake up one morning and just suddenly being able to see these odd things that no one else can, yet he is so self-centred that he barely even takes notice. Sometimes a story is sparked by a single vivid image — I believe originally I had the idea of someone walking around with a fish bowl inside their brain. 

Also, I’m rather addicted to Instagram, where you constantly see all these sincere proclamations of unique identities, and yet if we’re honest with ourselves, our profiles all look awfully similar (I include my own in this!). We all have very ‘spontaneous’ pictures of sunsets and dogs and coffee and flowers and books. I think there’s something absurd in the way we try to express our individuality today, what with social media and how filtered and curated it is.

 

Were you purposefully trying to expose the ‘façade’ attached to the way people project themselves in social media?

We only post what we want others to see, after all, and it feels like we often go through experiences without enjoying them for what they are, just constantly thinking, ‘Would this make a good Instagram post?’, and then crafting the situation so that it’s more photogenic. So perhaps nowadays a lot of us think in pictures, because we’re always assessing a situation’s potential to be captured in an online post. A lot of our lives are experienced through a lens — the lens of cameras and filters — and so the story has a lot of references to seeing and watching: through windows, glasses, lenses, etc.

 

So, specifically with your ‘addiction’ to Instagram in mind, were you writing in ‘pictures’ so to speak?

I was writing in ‘pictures’ in the sense that this is a very visual story — I had a lot of fun picturing all these surreal things that Kobus sees.

 

Apart from being fun, was it also a challenge to get into the ‘head’ of this character, with his misogynist views and conservative outlook?

There is some irony in Kobus’s ‘visions’ or whatever they are, because he literally sees into other people’s heads and yet he is completely blind to any perspective but his own. Although fiction can often inspire empathy and understanding (and the most powerful fiction usually does), I wanted to explore the mind of someone who has no desire to see anything from anyone else’s perspective. Especially in South Africa, where a lot of our history is still unresolved and still has a massive effect on people’s everyday realities, I think this is a trap all of us fall into sometimes.

Unfortunately we have, to an extent, been conditioned to be unsympathetic towards anyone who is different from us. Kobus’ character takes this to the extreme, but I think there will be times when everyone fails at empathy because we don’t want to confront our own prejudices and it’s easier to rely on stereotypes.  Getting into Kobus’s head was an uncomfortable but interesting exercise. I definitely wouldn’t want to spend any more time with him beyond this one story.

 

How would you describe the humour of this story? Do you consider satire closely related to ‘humour’?

The things Kobus sees provides some absurd humour, I think, because it’s an intrusion of the bizarre into the everyday, and there is something intrinsically humorous about that. But I’m also very interested in writing satire, because I think it’s probably the most self-reflective form of humour. It’s supposed to make you uncomfortable and it can definitely be dark — I don’t think you’re supposed to come to the end of this story with a smile on your face.

 

On a personal note, why did you choose to study Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia? 

As a writer, I think it’s important and necessary to explore places outside of your comfort zone, and studying abroad has been such an enriching experience. I came to UEA because it has one of the best Creative Writing courses in the world. It’s allowed me to become part of an enormously supportive writing community that’s also extremely diverse. I wanted to see what the literary world beyond South Africa offered.

 

Do you feel ‘different’ there? Do you draw on your South African roots as far as story-telling goes?

I do feel different, but in a way that’s been really interesting, because it’s made me aware of things about myself I’ve perhaps always taken for granted. And my experience at UEA has been one of incredible support; my classmates and I all write about different settings and in totally different styles, but we try and learn from each other.

That said, I don’t think I could write about a setting other than South Africa. It’s my home and it’s where I draw all my inspiration from. Living in the UK hasn’t diminished this; in fact, I’ve found that being away from South Africa has actually given me a really fresh perspective on the country, and has invigorated my writing in a lot of exciting and unexpected ways. There’s no way I could extricate myself from my South African identity, and I certainly don’t want to.

 

As a student of Creative Writing, what can you share about what you have learned?

There really are no rules in writing fiction — every ‘rule’ has been broken by a dozen brilliant writers. But the only way to improve is to keep writing, no matter how crappy you think your writing is, and to put yourself out there. The first time I entered a creative writing workshop was terrifying, but letting others read my work has ultimately been the most liberating thing for my writing.

I’ve also learned to be wary of people who talk about writing more than they do any actual writing — it’s a dangerous habit, and an easy one to pick up.

 

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 9.00.45 AMBook Details:
Editor Joanne Hichens
Foreword Evita Bezuidenhout
ISBN / EAN 9780994680518
Publication date July 2016
Buy the book here!

 

 

Die Laughing Teaser: Q&A with Janine Milne

Screen Shot 2016-10-19 at 11.36.42 PMJanine Milne holds a Bachelors degree in Theory of Literature, with majors in English and Creative Writing, from the University of South Africa. Like most aspiring poets she occupies the illustrious post of drink mixer in the service industry, while supplementing her income with freelance copywriting and writing gigs. Janine has a penchant for horror stories and is lucky to have her two dogs, Emma and Django, to keep her company at night when she writes her scary stuff, and to watch out for ghosts and fleas with equal vigilance. Janine lives in Slaapstad with her long suffering mom/editor and her equally long-suffering fiancé, Daniel. She has had poetry published in the Sol Plaaitjie Poetry Award Anthology and another dark tale highly commended in the annual SA Writers’ College short story contest. Janine is currently working on her first horror novel.

 

What is your take on humour SA-style?

The greatest asset in our crazy/beautiful country is the ability to laugh at ourselves. I mean we’re just microbes on a piece of rock hurtling in an ever-expanding universe that in itself makes our self importance hilarious!

 

Horror? Humour? Are they closely connected?

Horace Walpole said it best, before Woody Allen stole it, that “comedy is for those that think, and tragedy for those who feel.” I think we are striving for that essence of irony, that juxtaposition of incongruities, that ‘Ah ha moment’ that shifts someone’s mindset for a moment. Comedy, to me kinda fiddles while we burn. I like to cast a spotlight in that place we don’t want to look. Our own mortality. The inevitability of the grim reaper.

 

Your DIE LAUGHING story, ‘Prank’ was sparked by a nasty rumour — about a medical cadaver — making the rounds at UCT when you were a student. What was it about this rumour that really freaked you out?

I have always had an eerie respect for the dead. It chills me when people flippantly disregard the kind of residue that I believe we as living souls leave behind. No it’s not supernatural, it quantum physics, wave and particle. We all leave a thumbprint in this phantasmagoria we call our world, nothing disappears, we all change shape. Just because it is beyond our linear comprehension does not allow the possibility of countless parallel worlds, it cannot deprive a soul of their reality. We can only deprive ourselves of the experience.

 

Your story is indeed a horror fantasy of note. Your character Chad has fallen from the face of the earth. The urgency to locate him is heightened with every email sent from Baz to Chad. This is every mother’s worst nightmare — a missing child. How did you go about building up the angst?

Chad kind of ran away with the story. It happens in first person point of view, you kind of get hijacked by your protagonist. Chad was such a strong, opinionated character that he amped the angst on his own. I just kind of curbed him in every now and then.  Sometimes, if you are lucky, writing can be like a séance. Chad was on a rampage. I just tried to keep him in plot.

 

This practical joke which goes horribly wrong highlights the paradox that a ‘prank’ can often be malicious and hurtful. Can you comment on this, and the title?

As the youngest sibling growing under the tyranny of two older brothers, I think I have a PHD in the distinction between prank and clown faced, ball juggling bullying. Many people guise their motives behind humour. I think that I had a happy moment, for the kid in me, when that very posturing resulted in disaster. That and what I said previously, I believe our indoctrinated and manipulated perceptions of this world have deprived us of our innate connection with our dead, and our earth. It’s not a hippy thing. All quantum theories and ancient wisdoms support this.

 

Did you deliciously scare yourself writing this story?

As my friends will attest, I am a bit of a ghoul when it comes to scary stuff. Scared? No. Involved in the reality of it? Very much. In fact I had a nightmare or two while writing this.

 

Would you recommend that writers explore the ‘horror’genre?

Oh God, I would urge them to stay away! Genre fiction, even if you are a genius, will give you money but leave you doubting yourself as writer, always. Literary fiction will give you a name and tenure in a posh varsity, kudos and imitators. But you have to write what you love. One day the critics will crawl out of their own parasitic arseholes and start recognising that within this genre, high literary fiction thrives! Not that I’m saying mine does. Just saying.

 

You are also a poet. How do you extend that talent to the longer form — of novel, and short story?

Hell, it’s like a ten kg breech birth from a virgin. Blood and tears. To take the soul of feeling and stretch it into plot, objectives, conflict, characterisation. Ouch. It’s a murder of passion turned to premeditation. Years of struggle. I’m innately a literary strangler. I had to teach myself to utilise people, situations, and weapons.

 

(Haha!) As this is your first published short story (squeezed from between your thighs) what can you share about the Short.Sharp.Stories experience?

Ouch you make me sound like I crawled out from under a rock with a lottery ticket! I have been serious about my writing since forever. However, the fact that I submitted to such a broad minded anthology makes all the difference. Short Sharp is the open eye on the future of writing, I’m proud for them to have been my first. Forward thinking, genre busting mavericks  will eventually transform this platform and give readers a taste of what’s new, not just what sells. Mwah.

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 9.00.45 AMBook Details:
Editor Joanne Hichens
Foreword Evita Bezuidenhout
ISBN / EAN 9780994680518
Publication date July 2016
Buy the book here!

 

 

Die Laughing Teaser: Q&A with Lester Walbrugh

Screen Shot 2016-10-17 at 9.10.38 AMLester Walbrugh is from the town of Grabouw in the Western Cape, where he was raised and schooled. He has inherited his father’s zeal for karaoke but none of his talent; he is a wannabe cook who has all his mother’s recipes but little of her innate sense; he is a brother who keeps reminding his two siblings that no matter what, he is still the eldest and will always know better. An aimless wanderer who has worn more discordant hats than is proper, he has recently, after a couple of false starts, taken to writing again. He hopes that ‘Homeful’ is the first of many published stories.

Apart from teaching English, and writing short stories to keep sane, he is also plotting a move back home. He lives in Tokyo.

 

What is your take on humour SA-style?

SA humour stems from probably the best place comedy could – from the often hopeless and dire circumstances all of us, at any one time, have found ourselves in. We’re at our best when we can poke fun and laugh at each other, and at ourselves. And, I’m not sure if this is a South African sensibility – I’m pretty sure it’s universal – but there’s nothing like the feeling of delight you get after being taken down a long, dark tunnel and finding the familiar, in a witty turn of phrase, waiting at the other end.

 

Your DIE LAUGHING story, ‘Homeful’ is a madcap adventure of three homeless people. The ‘Three Musketeers’ — Lappies, Shirley and Charles — agree to do a favour for a German businessman and end up having an experience which changes them all.

 

Were you a street person (asked in jest!) before you left for Japan where you now have a home?

Isn’t there some kind of advice given to writers just starting out: ‘Write what you know’? In this case, I didn’t heed it. I lean more to the other camp. Write what you have no clue about — that way you might learn something.

I’ve lived in Japan for eight years. It’s home as much as South Africa is. Quite nice, that.

 

This is a delightful story with a serious thread. The unlikely trio move in to a luxury mansion in the absence of the owner and have a ball using the facilities. But this world of wealth, of the elite, does not provide comfort… How did you go about creating this set up?

I thought it would be interesting to place the characters in this house and see what comes out of it. Their story was never meant to create a comment on our social make-up. I cared about the dignity of the characters. That was foremost in my mind when writing this story.

It was important to me that the characters kept this, their humanity, and not deteriorate to become cardboard cut-outs. Sometimes dignity is the only thing they have left. They entered the house thinking, like all of us, that the grass is greener on the other side, but like all of us, they learnt better.

 

The narrative also reveals the ‘race’ issue, as Lappies accuses Charles of being a ‘white’ bergie, and thus not the real deal. That said, the characters regard one another with genuine affection. Why did you tackle this loaded issue?

I wanted to address the racism and the consequential frustration that exists within the coloured community. “You can’t jazz, so you can’t be coloured.” And “You don’t know the best place to get a Gatsby, are you sure you’re a coloured?” There is a lot of pressure out there to conform. At school I would have a lily-white girl with straight hair and blue eyes sitting on my left, and a dark-as-the-night boy on my right. They’d both be ‘coloured’ under Apartheid. We’d call them names at which you would now cringe but at the end the affection grew from the culture and similar lifestyle. Same with Lappies and Charles.

 

The playful language, the banter, is hilarious. References to, for example, die sedooskak gedagtesdie Hereen die naai pepper the prose. Would you agree that Afrikaans enables a certain kind of straight-forward expression?

A friend once mentioned how eavesdropping on the drunken banter of the bergies on the town plain on Saturday afternoons got her hooked on language and its possibilities. She described how these homeless would bend and stretch the Afrikaans language to its limits so it would fit their torrid lives, often with hilarious results. I wanted to bring some of that inventiveness and vitality to this story.

Afrikaans does allow you to be direct. It’s the culture. Our language is connected to that. The Japanese people would frown upon the bluntness. It’s considered crude. After an hour long conversation you could still be in the dark as to what your partner’s views actually are, but there are hints if you know what to look for. Again, their language is reflected in their culture. It serves it. I’m Afrikaans. I usually say it like it is. Or like I think it is, anyway.

 

Why did you decide on ‘Homeful’ as a title?  Does ‘Homeful’ imply the opposite of homeless?

The abovementioned friend is brilliant. She suggested it and held me hostage until I caved. But, no, seriously, there was no other title, really. It’s short. It’s sharp. (No, I didn’t just do that!)

 

The Short.Sharp.Stories are drawing entries from an international pool of South Africans. How did you hear about the competition?

I live on the internet so I have known about the competition for some time. I’ve not read the first two editions. However, when I visited SA last year I bought the previous anthology, INCREDIBLE JOURNEY, and took it with me. I enjoyed it and decided to try my luck.

 

Does this competition offer something appealing? 

The money, of course. That would’ve been nice. But after being long-listed, then short-listed followed by the editing process, I didn’t care about the money anymore. The experience itself is worth so much more. Then there’s the exposure. This is a great initiative for anyone who writes and wants to get a foot in the door.

 

On a personal note, your twitter account is @ KreefKerrie. On Facebook you interact as Lester Hashimoto. How does living in Tokyo affect that identity? Where does the Walbrugh fit in?

I’ve always been guarded about the extent to which my online profiles match my real identity. Tokyo heightened that sense. People there rarely, if ever, use their real names online. Facebook changed that a little but the general wariness to share any personal details still persists. Then there’s that ever-present fear of failure. If I bomb then I can say, cowardly, “It wasn’t me.” I’ve used my real name for this story, of course!

 

As a kid from Grabouw, a small South African town, how did you spread your wings? And how did you become interested in writing fiction? 

I’ve been a reader from a young age. I got it from my mother, who reads everything. She’s also given me the freedom to do whatever I wanted. I’ve been very fortunate. After school there was university, which opened up a whole new world, then a love for travel and new challenges followed.

I started writing because my stories weren’t being told. A few write about the coloured experience from a female perspective, an area which seems well represented. I did a search for coloured writers, specifically male, who had written fictional pieces about the coloured experience in South Africa, and came up with these names, titans, but all dead: Adam Small; Richard Rive; Alex La Guma; Chris van Wyk. I’ve only recently become aware of poets like Athol Williams.

It needs to change. I might not be the one to do it, it is quite a lofty ideal, but I can try. There are kids in SA who need their own stories, stories they can relate to. Then there is the slim possibility of money, of course. I hope to make a lot of it.

 

What is next for you in the writing arena? 

I hope to get a few books published. Then write again, until the day I die. (Laughing)
Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 9.00.45 AMBook Details:
Editor Joanne Hichens
Foreword Evita Bezuidenhout
ISBN / EAN 9780994680518
Publication date July 2016
Buy the book here!

 

 

Die Laughing Teaser: Q&A with Barbara Erasmus

Barbara ErasnusBarbara Erasmus is freelance hooker who has written a miscellany of features for anyone who will pay her. These have been published in both national and community papers, as well as in magazines such as Men’s Health, Country Life, Fair Lady, Equinox, Diversions and Private Edition. She is a listed writer on the UK website Travel Intelligence and won the annual Woman&Home short story competition in 2008. Her novels include Kaleidoscope, Even With Insects and Below Luck Level. Her crime-fiction novel Chameleon was first published online in installments on BooksLive Crime Beat blog, which she edited for three years. She is currently on the beat, attempting to solicit both a publisher for her fifth novel, Four Letter Words, and a director for her screenplay of Kaleidoscope.

 

 

 

What is your take on humour SA- style? 

I aim for a wry, understated humour. I don’t enjoy slap-stick, over-the top comedy, either to read, watch or write but I follow a number of local columnists who highlight the absurdities of local politics and have the stamina to be funny on a daily basis.

 

Your DIE LAUGHING story, ‘The Pushmi-Pullyu Equation’, features a grandmother who visits Los Angeles to be with her ‘American’ family. The tongue-in-cheek action plays out as tension arises between the granny and her daughter-in-law risibly named the Paragon. Is this mother-in-law/ daughter-in-law relationship typically exploited for humour? 

In-laws have long provided writers with material for humour because they introduce an element of otherness into the nuclear family. Anything qualifies. Comparisons are made about everything from cooking skills to gardening and university degrees.  There’s no bad guy in most of these scenarios — each is full of good intentions, certain that their way will deliver optimum results — and optimum grandchildren.

 

The Paragon – supremely confident – is affectionately described as an Olivia Pope clone, a Fixer, who may, in Granny’s eyes, ideally like to ‘fix’ her mother-in-law. How does your story reflect their personality clashes?

I wanted to write a story about how a sense of otherness can arise, not because the new daughter-in-law is black but because she is American. Dairy Milk rather than Bourneville — a continental rather than a racial mismatch. Many factors complicate communication between family members, and the global village means your son is less likely to marry the girl-next-door. That said, many other ‘differences’ add to the comedy, and the grandmother is in the perfect position to experience first-hand the difficulties of adjusting to life in the USA: driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, cooking ‘oxtail stew’ which seems anathema to this small American family, getting used to a new accent — even the ‘hooting’ is done in an American accent!

 

The grandmother is ambivalent about her option to emigrate to join her family. How did you develop the humour, but also the pathos?

Changing continents is a huge decision, especially if you are planning to follow your children. Mobility is the name of the game for the young. Long term careers with the same company are no longer common so there is every likelihood that the kids you want to join in Manhattan — and you give up your entire life to this — will relocate to Beijing once you get there. The lure of children and grandchildren may be tempting but it’s not easy to leave Africa behind. I really wanted to communicate a sense of this in my story — the opposing forces of the Pushmi-Pullyu equation at play, really to play with that image, the unicorn with a head on either side of its body, both heads wanting to go in different directions.

 

Does your story have personal resonance for you, as you have children and grandchildren living overseas?

A problem with being white and solvent is that one’s circumstances are very different from the vast majority of South Africans so my story can only resonate with a small segment of the population. This includes people like me who are unemployed and getting older by the day, leaving them with time to play bridge a couple of times a week. Often, these games don’t materialize because someone has flown off to visit children who have signed on for jobs with prospects in London, Sydney or Tel Aviv! Global mobility splits up families all over the world but political and economic uncertainty has aggravated this scenario in South Africa. Eight years of Zuma is enough to make anyone anxious about the future.

We’ll always love and miss our Canadian connections but have become dexterous on WhatsApp and Facebook — and have recently acquired a delightful daughter-in-law and grandchild who live locally.

 

Going back to The Story of Doctor Doolittle from where you’ve referenced the Pushmi-Pullyu, do children still read these classic stories?   

The Far Away Tree is as riveting as Harry Potter and The Diary of a Wimpy Kid. My grandchildren read the same books I read to their parents, albeit in updated technicolor editions. Who wouldn’t find Dr Seuss entertaining? And if they don’t, we can ignore them and settle down to re-read them ourselves…

  

When it comes to writing, you describe yourself as ‘a freelance hooker who has written a miscellany of features for anyone who will pay her’. (Haha!) Is this indicative of the problems in committing to a writing career in SA? 

My freelancing career has proved even less lucrative than teaching, with the added disadvantage that pay cheques are intermittent. Safrea advises writers not to accept less than the minimum rate but I have a tendency to pounce on anything I’m offered. As circulation for newspapers and magazines falls, it makes sense for editors to use in-house staff rather than freelancers — and for your name to be Deon Meyer when you submit a manuscript to a publisher!

I came across a wonderful website called Literary Rejections which contains alphabetical lists of literary agents from around the world. I have currently been rejected by UK agents up to G …

 

As a novelist, short-story writer and journalist, do you have a preference for any particular form?

Humour is my forte but I veer towards tragedy once I get started. Small scale domestic tragedy. Not a gun nor a gang in sight. Maybe he stops loving you. Maybe your mom dies and you really miss her. Or you don’t miss her at all and that makes you feel guilty. Although I have no medical background, I am interested in the ripple effect of medical conditions on the families who live with those afflicted. I enjoy researching conditions such as autism, Alzheimer’s and Turner Syndrome as well current affairs such as white-collar crime. It continues to amaze me how willing busy professionals are to talk to mid-profile writers like myself who are interested in finding out more about their specialities.

 

Do you often use real life as a starting point for your fiction?

I never write about myself or the people close to me. I kill off a lot of mothers in my books but I adored my own who died gently when she got old. I don’t need a visa to visit my daughter-in-law who lives down the road in Meadowridge. But I am a good listener. And a proficient eavesdropper. I latch onto nuggets of conversation, a newspaper headline, or a line of poetry and use these as starting points for researching a book. I remember emotions I have felt and apply them to fictional circumstances.

 

What advice would you give to the short story writer? 

My advice to anyone who wants to write is just to start. It always felt impossible that my first few pages would grow to 80 000 words but I’ve somehow written five novels. And hey, short stories are so much shorter !

 
Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 9.00.45 AMBook Details:
Editor Joanne Hichens
Foreword Evita Bezuidenhout
ISBN / EAN 9780994680518
Publication date July 2016
Buy the book here!

 

 

Die Laughing Teaser: Q&A with Christopher McMichael

 

Screen Shot 2016-10-10 at 10.01.35 AMChristopher McMichael has a PhD in Politics and recently completed a research fellowship at Wits University. He is currently an editor for BubblegumClub magazine. This is his first published short story. Along with other short work, he is writing a novel about celebrity, power and the Johannesburg criminal underworld.

 

What is your take on humour SA- style? 

I think really good South African humour hovers around tragedy. The funniest humour for me is about the absurdity and extremes of life, something which this country has a surplus of!

 

 

Your DIE LAUGHING story, ‘Number One With A Bullet’, is a collision of forces, as ‘artists’ Savage D and Thugmatic both vie for prominence in the ‘rap’ world. Are you a DJ in your spare time? (If not, how did you immerse yourself in this world?) 

It’s not something I’ve done personally, but more from observation and rumours I’ve heard from others. There is a thing in South Africa of SA celebrities trying to copy their US counterparts, with often hilariously low rent results. There is a story doing the rounds at the moment about the rapper AKA trying to retrieve an expensive chain after he threw it into the audience at a live show to show how rich he is. That kind of posing influenced my story.

 

Do you listen to contemporary rap? Do you enjoy it? Or is it a vehicle to express the absurdity of the ‘rap’ lifestyle you talk of?

I’ve been a big rap fan since I was kid. I definitely feel its influence on me today. Artists like Wu Tang-Clan and Outkast had as much as an impact on me as Dostoyevsky or Kafka or whoever. I tend to like the heavier end of the genre, so this story was inspired more by really insipid musicians who will do anything for fame. That’s not unique to rap of course. I have a general fixation on the tacky and sleazy aspects of celebrity culture!

 

Your comedy of errors — the battle for prominence between your DJs — is largely orchestrated by Savage D’s so-called manager. How did you develop this voice, as the story unfolds from his first-person perspective?

I’m fascinated by how greed, ambition and desperation can lead people astray and make them embark on really ill conceived schemes. From the outside these are obviously doomed to fail, so I was interested in the subjective process of how someone’s life goes off the rails. So the whole story is basically them trying to justify their wayward venture

 

Your first line, ‘It all started a year ago in a mansion overlooking Sandton. It was the type of neighborhood where you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a Lamborghini…’ How did living in Joburg influence the narrative?

Joburg is a city of excess with a rich criminal history. It can be a stressful, even brutal place to live but the swirl of transgression, baroque lifestyles and power make it an incredible place to write about. When I lived there I collected a lot of strange stories and rumours which have inspired my fiction. I also ended up living close to the home of Czech expat ganglord Radovan Krejcir, totally by chance. So I had the surreal experience of living next to a raging gang war with contract killings, car bombs and police raids happening on a regular basis. That really provided a lot of material to work with!

 

Although there’s an edge of violence, your story is very much tongue in cheek. I imagine you had a good giggle while writing…

If I stop to think about the story it is quite dark, but the tone is really light! I tried to make the story as ludicrous as the characters it describes!

 

Of course we are a celebrity-obsessed and power-obsessed society. With A PhD in politics, do you see this criminal underworld as a microcosm of the greater corruption in SA?

I would go further and say that there are intimate ties between politics, capital and the underworld. Take the many cases of hit men who are affiliated with taxi associations being used to ‘resolve’ political or business disputes for example… But while I feel SA is in a really cynical era it’s a mistake to think that it’s just us. It’s something that happens in the corridors of power and money throughout the world. It’s just that the more powerful you are, the less likely your dirty dealings will be described as crime!

Corruption and abuse of power are intrinsic to capitalism itself probably…  I’ve been very influenced by authors like Thomas Pynchon, James Ellroy and Marlon James (who won the Booker Prize last year), who explore this shadowy terrain.

 

This is your first published story. Are you inspired to write more?

Big time! I was having a small bit of success in academic writing but it felt creatively stifling. But without being too graphic, I had a real crisis last year through some brutal personal and professional rejection and that inspired me to make a serious effort at writing fiction. Having this story published has made me want to get even more serious. So I’m currently planning two novels.

The first is about washed up celebrities and Hollywood cults in contemporary Johannesburg. I want to cross fertilize the spirit of American Noir with the blazing Highveld sun! The second project started as a biographical study of Radovan Krejcir’s rise and fall. But I’ve shifted the focus so that it will be more a big, political epic about the drug trade, private militaries and other parts of the underworld RSA. It will be mostly set in Joburg as well, with some detours to Mexico, Somalia and Afghanistan. I really want to bring the scope and energy of dramas Like The Wire or Breaking Bad into local fiction. It’s probably too ambitious a goal, but at the very least I may write some ambitious failures. I think my heart in the right place!

 

On a personal note, you are now living in Japan. What motivated the change?

The job market for humanities PhDs is not great back home (or anywhere else for the matter). So I decided to try something different and ended up working in Japan. I’ve long been interested in Japanese film and aesthetics so it was a welcome turn of events. Now to get serious about writing those books…

 

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 9.00.45 AMBook Details:
Editor Joanne Hichens
Foreword Evita Bezuidenhout
ISBN / EAN 9780994680518
Publication date July 2016
Buy the book here!

 

 

Die Laughing Teaser: Q&A with Andile Cele

Andile CeleAndile Cele is the eldest of four children. She was born and raised in KwaZulu-Natal on Karibu Farm where her mother was a domestic worker. Andile’s mother would bring newspapers and books home from work for Andile to read, and this enticed her to pursue a career in writing.

She has a journalism degree from the Tshwane University of Technology and is currently enrolled, part-time, for a BA in Creative Writing with the University of South Africa. She works as a Web Content Editor and Social Media curator. She currently lives in Pretoria, where she enjoys attending poetry events and recites her work for her peers.

 

 

 

 

 

Your DIE LAUGHING story is a hard-hitting piece which comments on politics, particularly on the non-delivery of promises.  What inspired your story?

Thank you. So the story was inspired by a series of events; one event includes me, one day walking with my friend’s five-year-old son down Church Street just after the Fees Must Fall protests. He had so much to say about it, without having been asked to even comment on the issue. I had to correct him, in places where I felt he was wrong, but he was quite adamant that he was right. He showed me the stones that had barricaded the street and asked me, “Is this right Andy!?” I tried to explain what the protests were about but my explanations were futile.

I realised that even kids are awake to current affairs/issues and I figured it would be great to weave different generations in a story that poked fun at our political landscape. I’ve also seen how excited people get when there’s a debate in parliament, everyone has something to say.

 

Mkhulu and Gogo sit in their lounge area watching TV, and commenting on a parliamentary speech made by ‘The Chief’. How did these characters come to you? The zol-smoking Gogo and Mkhulu who is losing his mind?

I seriously don’t know how these two came to life, I started writing and Gogo picked up a joint and Mkhulu was sitting there thinking he was the smartest person to ever grace South Africa. And from there, the story took form and shape.

 

Your narrator, Sisi, keeps a cool head as she listens to their crazy conversation. As for the little sister Ziyanda, she’s not afraid to express her opinion! Are the youth of SA more politically tolerant than in the past?

Mediums such as social media platforms have created easier access for young people to engage in politics on a daily basis. We have a parliamentary member nicknamed ‘the people’s bae’ as he is under thirty-five-years-old. So there is this interest in politics by young people, and it is considered cool to know about the latest Bill. Or to sit and listen to a parliamentary debate, so that you can have something to say on social media like everybody else.

 

Your story covers serious stuff.  Are families suffering poverty more and more immune to the difficulties of life?

I don’t think you can ever be immune to difficulties, but I think you can learn to live and be strong within those difficulties.

 

It is revealed too, that a family member is in jail for rape, which is brought into the conversation in a matter-of-fact way. Why did you bring this into the story?

I honestly tried not to tap into the morbidity of things but this family was way too real to not include the social epidemic that is rape. And that in some way we are all affected by it, and ‘normal’ families such as these are burdened by it.     

 

Sisi sees the frustration of her grandparents and understands that they fantasized about having a different life. Does this story reflect your own politics?

Oh yes, it is in some way allegorical. It is something I saw growing up; I’ve always heard my mom talk about how she wanted to be a teacher but her family was quite impoverished, or how she wanted to get married or live in a big house, you know. None of those things happened for her; I grew up seeing the anxiety in her. We also grew up at the backyard of someone’s house; we never had a house of our own until probably a few years ago.

So in terms of the grandparents’ mental state, of wanting a house of their own, I am imprinted in that story. Also of Sisi, there is a bit of myself in her; because I also engage in debates with my uncles about politics and even patriarchy.  So I really wanted to take into account our realities, our fears, our hopes and our dreams.

 

What in general to you think about South African humour?

A year ago I read a short story titled ‘A Joburg Story,’ by South African writer Darrel Bristow-Bovey, it was the funniest thing I had read in a while; it was authentically Mzansi.

 

Do we need to step back and laugh at ourselves a bit more?

Absolutely! I think it is one of the best ways to look at things and situations more honestly.

 

As a student of creative writing, do you enjoy writing short stories?

When I first enrolled for the degree, I wanted to improve my poetry writing but I found myself loving short stories. I loved the way Can Themba narrated and described his characters; I loved the honesty in E’skia Mphahlele’s narratives. I enjoy short stories now, I love the intense ease to them and that they leave you wanting more. It is fascinating.

 

Do you find it helpful to be doing a course and would you recommend writing courses to aspiring writers?

It is extremely helpful; you get to engage with different types of texts that help expand your creativity. Sure, you can easily go to a library and do it on your own. But I believe the continuous feedback from lecturers, writing and rewriting essays, engaging in different themes for poetry, narrative and drama helps you become a better reader, a better writer and a better critic. I would recommend it.

 

Tell us a little bit about your blog and the subjects you cover.

My blog is simple (with room for improvement of course); sometimes I post poems, quotes and any subjects that inspire me. Soon I’ll be profiling some historical places in Pretoria.

 

Read Andile’s blog here or follow Andile on twitter here .

 

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 9.00.45 AMBook Details:
Editor Joanne Hichens
Foreword Evita Bezuidenhout
ISBN / EAN 9780994680518
Publication date July 2016
Buy the book here!

 

 

Die Laughing Teaser: Q&A with Charles Kusner

Charles KusnerCharles Kusner was born on a Sunday in glamorous Randfontein. After reading Applied Psychology and English at Wits, he taught in a number of Johannesburg high schools. Following a brief foray in the restaurant industry, he relocated to Durban to complete his Masters degree in education at The University of KwaZulu-Natal and now teaches at The Kenmont School on the Bluff. He has written a collection of cheesy pick-up poems and a derivative autobiographical novel (both self-published) as well as a radio play Mr O. Goes Down. His passion is the theatre, and after completing his current project, The Turmeric Diet: The Yellow Moon Wellness Cycle, he intends to devote his creative impulses to scripting thespian projects. Besides Sondheim and Cole Porter, he loves Chopin, Pet Shop Boys, Chagall, Pongracz, Las Vegas, all shades of blue, biltong, yellow cling peaches, and coffee. His personality is borderline shy-wild. His favourite writer is Tom Robbins, and he aspires towards a similarly anarchic comedy style with an added South African braai smell. He is also an ardent Hellenophile and soapmaker.

 

 

 

What is your take on humour SA- style?

There’s something intangible about SA humour.  It’s somehow summed up in this exchange, which could be between just about any two randomly selected citizens, irrespective of blah blah:

X (wistfully): Oh, I see petrol’s gone up.

Y: Yes, they’re extending at Nkandla. (Both smile)

It’s about stuff that only we would know about, which is true of any country, but we have all that added racial seasoning. Trevor Noah has this joke: the white guy arrives at the petrol station in his Toyota and asks the attendant to fill it up. The black guy arrives in his BMW and wants petrol for R50.

 

Your DIE LAUGHING story, ‘Hey! Dick Dehydrates Jane!’, starts with protagonist, Pieter Pogenpoel, in a toestand once again. He is trying to pick up a chick in a bar at Sun City. Why the (inspired) setting of Sun City?

Having our own version of Las Vegas hidden in the bush in an ex-homeland (Did we really once have Lucas Mangope International Airport?) holds enormous creative possibilities. Imagine Oceans 13, in which intrepid criminals rob the resort and use their stolen millions to open a Spaza Shop in Hartebeespoort!

In my story, the setting derives from a strange joke I shared with my varsity buddy David Gough in which a big butch woman brings her enormous Chevrolet to a screeching halt on the side of the road in (then) Bophutatswana and, removing her sunglasses, demands in a loud Afrikaans bark of the nearest timid mielie-seller: “Where’s Sun City?”

Indeed, the character Moeky is derived from the same Chev driver and (seeing as she has a chilli biltong farm in North-West and Poepy lives in Rustenburg), Sun City seemed like an exotic locale for them to hook up.

In my original draft, Moeky and Poepy paraglided at the Sun City Lake. This was based on an uncharacteristically brave afternoon of my own soaring over the water during four days I spent in a complimentary room at the Cabanas in exchange for instructing one daily lunchtime Aqua Aerobics class at the poolside. This alone is bizarre enough to merit a story on its own, added to the event that my time there coincided with a Sun International strike, and while no-one was really interesting in prancing around in the pool to lose tummy fat, I found myself volunteering to help clear the dishes after breakfast.

In any event, my friend Michelle Viljoen, the only person to proofread my story before I submitted it, felt that paragliding was perhaps too effete an activity to satisfy Moeky, and suggested that Quad Biking would appeal to her more. I Googled to check that Sun City offers this sport that both Moeky and Poepy enjoyed in the story but that I myself would rather avoid at all costs.

 

Pieter, nick-named Poepy by his mother on account of his delayed mastery of potty training, is a stiff-upper-lip rooinek. His love interest, Mougardia Van Tonder — a composite of Moulien and Gertruida (such is the South African way) — is a rough and tumble Afrikaner.  Which was more satisfying for you… creating the over the top characters? Or playing with language?

Both were fun, but I think that, in the end, I derived more satisfaction from the word play, mainly the pun at the end. I also had fun creating Mougardia’s name, which was partly inspired by buildings I saw in Pretoria years ago — with these strange names that were trying to sound French or Italian but sounded quite funny when spoken in a ‘posh’ Afrikaans voice: “Op u linkerkant is die beeldskone Mougardia gebou.”

 

Indeed, the prose is peppered with allusions to classic as well as contemporary novels and songs. The underlying thread –  as Poepy’s cranium in overdrive thinks often of language (as a means of overcoming anxiety) – deals with a general dumbing down in language. Do you agree? Tell us more about the ‘versatile’ word ‘hey’?

Our language is dumbing down. I don’t want to blame it on “Hey”, which has been around long before social media. As a writing instructor I suggest watching movies from the 1930s and 40s to stimulate grace, wit and style when writing a screenplay, elements missing in contemporary works. Here is a cause for which we must fight, and this is what gives me meaning in my daily work as an English teacher.

I am currently researching for a cabaret based on the work of Noël Coward, (the working title is the intriguing Noëlulu.) I am inspired by him to help us rediscover that crisp, sophisticated, articulate wit that we seem to have allowed to become hidden at the bottom of the socks drawer, hey.

 

Poepy (or is it you?) is clearly a fan of the Limerick. One of his limericks is shared here:

Da Vinci, by nature a loner,

took delight in sketching old Mona.

His pen took a tour

of her eyes so azure.

And her smile gave old Leo a boner!

 

Is this a form you, the writer, practise?

The limericks were the Genesis of my story.

I love limericks and write them frequently, usually SMSing them to my best friend Laurien, which is what I’d done with these four limericks about artists. I toyed with the idea of writing more to produce an Art History of the World in Limericks, but then I thought they’d produce a good backbone in a story intended to elicit laughter.

I am distressed that the teenagers I know are completely unaware of limericks. I hereby pledge myself to their preservation and commit myself to sharing my own limericks on social media instead of only with my best friend.

 

Going back to Poepy and Moeky. Are they alter-egos of sorts?

I guess Poepy is left brain, and Moeky is right.

Poepy is yin, and Moeky is yang.

Poepy is Apollo, and Moeky is Dionysos.

Poepy is Prospero, and Moeky is Caliban.

Poepy is Superego, and Moeky is Id.

 

And how did the title, ‘Hey! Dick Dehydrates Jane!’ arise?

My working title was ‘Sweaty Poepy’s Trip to Sun City’ and I couldn’t find anything better until just before submission.

Michelle suggested that I include the pun from the last line of the story, but I wanted to keep that as a surprise. She suggested including the all-important “Hey”.

Then I remembered the (1977!) movie Fun with Dick and Jane (reminiscent of reading with “Janet and John”) and played with this to sum up the death of Poepy’s Inner Jane Austen. This is catalyzed by either Poepy’s mother’s passing (the Spotted Dick pudding) or by Poepy’s finally losing his virginity.

 

Your story certainly has dramatic flair! Does your theatre work influence your writing? 

The term ‘dramatic flair’ is a great compliment. I myself have trod the boards a little, but my words have not yet done so. Watch this space.

In just about everything I write, though, I think in three-act structure which, in my head, is all mixed up with Sonata Form: Exposition, Development and Recapitulation. What is the Big Finish in each act?

The short story, though, is more like a one act play, another dying form that we should try to get back in vogue.

 

Why choose the short story as genre?

The short story is the amuse-bouche of literature. Both writers and chefs enjoy the challenge of creating something delicate and dainty, something that stimulates the senses in a wonderful explosion, like live theatre or popping candy. It leaves a memorable after-taste and then is gone forever, as transient as life itself.

 

What writing (or story-telling tips) advice would you offer your students?

Focus on your sincere story. Don’t sermonize. Try not to wobble.

 

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 9.00.45 AMBook Details:
Editor Joanne Hichens
Foreword Evita Bezuidenhout
ISBN / EAN 9780994680518
Publication date July 2016
Buy the book here!