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Short Sharp Stories

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Die Laughing Teaser: Q&A with Kobus Moolman

Koobus MoolmanKobus Moolman is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of the Western Cape. He has published seven collections of poetry and two collections of plays and has edited an anthology of poetry, prose and art by South African writers living with disabilities. He has won numerous awards, including the 2015 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry, the 2013 European Union Sol Plaatje Award for Poetry, the PANSA award (Performing Arts Network of South Africa) for scriptwriting and the Ingrid Jonker award.

In 2013 he was the Mellon Writer in Residence for three months at Rhodes University. He has presented his work at literary festivals in South Africa, Ireland and Canada. He is currently working on his first collection of short stories, which will include Angel Heart.

Congratulations on your Short.Sharp.Stories Award for your story ‘Angel Heart’. In your opinion how do the Short.Sharp.Stories Awards benefit SA fiction?

We need a constant injection of new perceptions, different opinions and views on our society and ourselves. We need to be encouraged again and again to look and listen to ourselves; to really hear what we ourselves are feeling inside us and what our fellow citizens are feeling too. We only slenderly know each other. And a competition and collection like Short.Sharp.Stories helps in doing this.

What is your take on humour SA- style?

Humour is, for me, difficult to write. I personally have a very odd and unconventional sense of humour. I find Dostoyevsky and Beckett very funny. And I often laugh out loud when I realise I’m going to be doing something terrible to a character.

Laughing at death, at misfortune, laughing at the absurd, seems a common reaction. Is humour, in your opinion, often expressed at the expense of others?

I think laughing at death and misfortune is healthy – provided it is our own. Laughing at our own failures and weaknesses is I think something to be admired.  But laughter at the expense of others is for me small and immature and basically not cool. One of the first things I tell any class of writing students is that we are allowed to laugh with but not at each other.  It’s just one of those things I have strong feelings about.

And how is your off-beat sense of humour reflected in ‘Angel Heart’?

In the odd juxtapositioning of characters and situations; in the putting together of the macabre and the really mundane – the girl Bunty who wants to be eaten (consumed totally by the man), and Jesus who is eating candy-floss in his imitation Nike trainers.

You’ve certainly created memorable characters.  Your narrator, as he reflects on his past — and has conversations with Jesus about it — truly has remorse for an episode between himself and the young character, Bunty. Did you intend to write a bizarre love story?

No, not at all. I actually intended to write something that in some way was a meditation or exploration of religious ideas, or my view on spirituality. And it turned out like this: with Jesus taking a selfie of himself next to a cheap imitation of Brueghel’s “Fall of Icarus”.

The imagining of Jesus is truly unconventional. Did this happen through the writing?

Yes, as I wrote above, this totally surprised me. I didn’t even plan to write something funny. I wanted to write this spiritual piece about Jesus, and the next thing I knew he was eating candy floss and wearing a baseball cap on backwards, and was actually a reluctant voyeur! But what is interesting about this is two things: it was a test of my faith in the words themselves, and a proof that the words themselves (what you call the writing) always know better; that ultimately the writing is what writes the story, not me. And part of my testing or challenge is to be sensitive enough to hear where the writing wants to go, is going, and then to follow.

The conversations between Jesus and the narrator are so comfortable… Was it difficult, or daunting at all, as a writer to write from Jesus’s perspective? Did you feel any guilt about using Jesus in this way?

An interesting question. Sure, certainly, as someone brought up in the NG Kerk I did feel the vestiges of all kinds of codes, expectations. But I don’t think I disrespected the character of Jesus. He comes across instead as rather sad. Someone who can’t help the fact that he sees and knows all things and actually doesn’t know what to do with this knowledge. And doesn’t want it even. But can’t not see. Can’t not know. I found that idea interesting. And for me it made him more human.  His sadness.

Does one sense a certain nostalgia for place and setting, as a story set in the past? Can you comment on your choices here?

I’m not sure about nostalgia. I know what you mean, but I think I partly wanted to upset or disturb or at least show another side to that provincial lower-class white upbringing and setting. But at the same time of course, setting and time are for me hugely important in any piece of writing. They give a story its concreteness – however bizarre the tale itself might be – and concreteness is what helps a reader connect, what helps them see and hear a world outside their own.

As the newly appointed Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of the Western Cape, what are you hoping to achieve?

To serve the students’ stories quite simply. To help the students hear and understand what they are wanting to say, and to help them develop how to say it. And importantly to help them grow in the self-confidence and courage (and humility) to say what they want to say, about what they want to talk about, in a way and style too that is unique to them. And to do this all with excellence. To give of their absolute utmost to their work.

Do you feel established writers have a responsibility to nurture or mentor new writers?

In one word, yes. How they do this is entirely up to them. And there are a myriad of ways. Teaching at a university is only one way.

How do you hold on to your own creative energy as you mentor others?

This is difficult, and particularly when starting a new teaching position. But in the end I do believe in the value of teaching, of learning – and the value of this for both learner and educator. It works and gives off energy and benefit both ways ultimately. Ideally.


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!




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