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Die Laughing Teaser: Q&A with Diane Awerbuck

b_w_face_credit_justin_youensDiane Awerbuck wrote Gardening at Night, awarded the Commonwealth Best First Book Award (Africa and the Caribbean). Her prizewinning short stories are collected in Cabin Fever, and her work is translated into French, Mandarin, German, Russian and Swedish. Her latest highbrow-horror novel is Home Remedies. She is currently co-writing a frontier-fiction series with Alex Latimer, under the pen name Frank Owen. South is out now, and North is coming in 2017.

 

See Diane next at Cavendish Exclusive Books, along with a host of other horror writers, for a pre-Halloween party on Friday 28th October at 4pm.

 

 

 

What’s your take on humour SA-style?

Humour is not a luxury: it’s a survival tactic, necessary now more than ever in South Africa. Light-heartedness does not mean flippancy. Gallows humour has a very real purpose: it defuses and archives our traumas; it binds us together through shared experiences and cultural references; and it lives on when individuals themselves die. It’s a kind of love.

 

A little bird told us (you, in fact) that you and Alex Latimer are rewriting sections of your new novel, South, (written under the pseudonym Frank Owen), because the publisher considered the humour too distracting from the main plotline. Does writing and developing humour come naturally to you?

I like to have fun when I write. What else is there? Not money, that’s for sure. It may as well be delight.

 

Your DIE LAUGHING story, ‘The Viewing Room’, is set in a funeral parlour, and seems to encapsulate completely the theme DIE LAUGHING. How would you describe the essence of your story?

It’s not a sarcastic or bitter sort of humour – not even mockery, I think. But gentle humour and irony, especially, are there to make us reconsider the things we think we know. A lot of growing up is about discovering just how true truisms are. The Viewing Room sprang from two true things: my own teenage obsession with Marilyn Monroe, who was special to me but not by any means unique. And then another writer told me a horrifying but funny story about how long one of her relatives had been kept in the morgue, because the family was too stiff-necked to downscale his funeral. But the story is also about the disjunction of our dream lives and our real lives (and how they sometimes, miraculously, intersect); the kindness of strangers; and how every interaction between us – dead or alive – counts.

 

What came first? Characters or setting? And how did the story unfold?

For this particular story, character. I thought about what is left to you as an older, unattractive, fairly camp, gay man – one without any remaining family or a faithful partner to ease and curate the ordinary ceremonial processes that mark our lives. He’s lonely, on one hand, because he’s without the meaningful interaction he’s craved for so long – but then his preoccupation with the silver screen ends up being his redemption. And I’m not afraid to use that word: REDEMPTION.

 

The detail really shows us the mastery of your craft. You’ve managed to create the mortuary — in which Hester works — through Hester’s eyes, as a non-threatening environment. Either you researched the setting meticulously or perhaps your secret life is spent at Doves or Avbob.

If you want to see angels in real life, hang out in a rehab or a mental hospital or a mortuary. Obviously, these professions attract their fair share of abusive personalities, as any job does, but for the most part, those nurses are special people, like sangomas – except they don’t get that respect because they’re lower on the ladder than the doctors. They are guides, managing what are otherwise terrifying or overwhelming experiences for the grief-stricken and disconnected people who are sent to them.

 

Hester’s charm is that she seems so at home in the mortuary, and deals with this particular client she’s working on, with care and a degree of good-natured humour. She talks to him, and she recreates the critic as a character. Does your protagonist, Hester, relish having this important critic all to herself?

She’s based on a relative of mine, who is the truly kindest person I know. Hester’s been in the business for long enough to know that ego is silly. She’s just doing her job – but part of that job is to help the critic exit his unwieldy existence with the dignity he struggled to maintain in life. That’s her talent, and she’s happy to use it: it’s actually a superpower.

 

Oblique allusions are made as to who the client might be. (It’s not difficult to guess who it might be!) Why not rather keep the client completely anonymous?

Writing is funny. When you do base characters on real people, they don’t recognise themselves. When you pull them out of thin air, people get testy and start talking loudly about lawyering up.

 

As Hester applies the necessary finishing touches to hair and makeup, she watches a Marilyn Monroe movie. Why this movie in particular?

It’s actually real footage – that famous clip where Monroe, clearly out of it, serenades JFK for his birthday. Ag, I just love her: she’s such a dork. But this reel in particular shows that disjuncture between the Hollywood fantasy woman and the real, flawed but not frail, person. The beautiful doom of her – and of him, of course, mired in the ugliness and filth of American governance.

 

As a seasoned short story writer, what advice would you give to short story writers? What are the most important aspects to consider when writing?

  1. Know your genre. Writers must be readers first. You are probably not going to invent anything new – and that’s okay – but don’t insult your own readers.
  2. Stylistically, know the rules before you break them. This is where having another language (especially the mother tongue) is a bonus, because you have to think about how words work together.
  3. Use a beta reader whose professional opinion you trust. Your mom is fine, but only if she’s an editor in real life.

 

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 Stephen Buabeng-Baidoo

Stephen Buabeng-BaidooStephen Buabeng-Baidoo was born in Ghana but raised in South Africa where he has lived for most of his life. The fourth child of five, he lives with his family. A student at the University of Pretoria, he is currently in his fourth year of a Law degree. His dreams of becoming a footballer came to nought after he was forced by a teacher to read in front of the class. That particular experience somehow sparked a love of words, and story-telling, that has to this day remains strong.

 

 

 

 

 

How did you approach SA-style humour when you first started writing?

The beauty of being, and not being, South African, of experiencing what it means to be ‘South African’ while being other, is that it results, often, in humour. South African humour spares no one. Even in this deeply divided society, there is equality in our laughter.

 

Darrel Bristow-Bovey describes your DIE LAUGHING story ‘The Cracks’, as ‘a warm and deeply affectionate ride in a South African taxi’. It’s a rollicking morning ride, with all sorts of below the surface currents exposed by the narrator. Is this what you intended?

Yes, and no simultaneously. The story merely depicts a taxi ride, with a narrative. It doesn’t attempt to be more than that. The socio-political nuances infused therein were not deliberate but they were inevitable. In my opinion, these socio-political nuances are as natural to South Africa as breath is to man. Somehow, for me, a South African story without these nuances cannot really claim to be a South African story.

 

It’s almost as if the riders, the bit-players, are representative of the macrocosm of that which makes up South Africa. The fun lies in the juxtaposition of cultures, and language, and personalities. Do you agree with this?

Few experiences are as uniquely South African as enjoying a taxi ride. Many issues, be they humorous or serious in nature, occur at some time or are represented in some way. An anthropological study of the contemporary act of being South African could almost certainly fill its pages with descriptions of a single taxi ride. This story explores that ride.

 

How did you develop your protagonist as the perfect foil to the more hardened, street-wise characters? The young man’s internal thoughts about his family life and his recognition of his own vulnerabilities gives the story the ‘warmth’ Bristow-Bovey refers to.

The protagonist is young, rather naïve male on his way to High school —certainly his ‘lack of experience’ with the ladies sets him apart. He is a keen observer of human nature, a trait which I think many young people develop, especially young immigrants or generally any young person who feels slightly out of place in a crowded or new environment. The protagonist was developed using my personal everyday experiences while in high school.

 

The dialogue is fun, with a couple of jokes thrown in, about complimentary romps and other things. Did you have fun writing this?

Haha, yes, I really did! Most of my days are filled with laughter so I wanted the story to reflect that. Laughter does more than healing — it prevents a lot of negative things from taking hold within your soul. Hopefully, the story does that for someone who reads it.

 

Your narrator has a keen eye for detail. As a writer, do you carry a notebook? Are you aware of searching for detail?

I have a blackberry torch that’s literally on its last legs, about to take its dying breath, is two steps from kicking the bucket. I make notes on it from time to time whenever my mind comes up with an interesting thought.

 

How was the editing process for you? Did the story change during that time?

Yes, the story became more personal over time. I wrote it originally in the third person, then over time I decided to make it more personal. It felt more authentic afterwards.

 

What did you learn through the editing process?

I learnt that I have a lot to learn. I have not mastered the short story form and as yet I am limited in what I can say. I do not have a creative writing background so there are some technicalities that I still need to master.

 

Are you now hooked on writing the short story?

I am! It enables one to explore multiple stories at once. It is not as taxing as attempting a novel so a person can take their time and transform every thought into a story.

 

How do you manage to fit in the writing while studying for your law degree?

Whenever I have an idea for a story, I think about it all the time, I obsess over it and write notes where I can about what it is that I want to say. Somehow by the time I am free to sit down to write the story, it has already partly been completed, so that process helps a lot.

 

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 Glen Thompson

Glen V. ThompsonGlen Thompson is an IT Consultant based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Other than writing, Glen’s passions include reading, cooking, and playing his musical instruments when time allows. Glen has previously been selected as a finalist in several short story competitions and has posted numerous articles online, seeking to hone his writing skills. His preferred genres include crime, thriller, horror, Sci-Fi and comedy. He is current completing his first full-length novel, which is book one of his crime-thriller trilogy.

 

In general, what is your take on humour SA-style?

As far as South African humour goes, we’re spoilt for choice, really. South Africa is a funny place, filled with paradoxical politics and irritating ironies. Add to this our complex cultural landscape with all our colloquialisms and colonialist wit, one can’t help but find humour in everyday life. It’s all around us.

 

What drew you to the competition? Do you consider yourself a comic writer?

A friend of mine who’s entered these competitions previously brought to my attention this year’s theme and he urged me to give it a go since he feels that humour is a natural style for me. I’m glad I followed his advice. Most of my other writing is not comedic at all, so no, I wouldn’t say I’m a comic writer. But I do enjoy the genre when I feel there’s a funny enough story to tell.

 

What was the initial spark for your DIE LAUGHING story, ‘Go Big Or Die Trying’?

The story is a combination of various ideas. I wasn’t sure how it would all come together but the blanks fell into place well enough. In the end, I wanted to take the reader on a day-in-the-life-of journey with our socially-retarded protagonist who’s unwittingly en route to self-inflicted oblivion.

 

What is the comic appeal about showing up such characters, in particular the real ‘tool’ Barney ‘Bartholimoo’, the star of your story? As we asked Pravasan Pillay and Anton Krueger, is the gullible or socially inept character a comic archetype? 

Well since you put it that way, in general he probably is. If Barney was the hotshot business man he believes himself to be, then his businesses would have been successful. For him to be the dismal failure he truly is, he had to be that other guy; the one who never gets it right but still believes he’s on the brink of global domination and worldwide fame. That for me makes his character funny.

 

Potty gags have long been a staple for humorists. Where you building on this tradition when you created Barney’s business company ‘Totally Innovative Toilets’? (The acronym, TITS, certainly fails to impress financial manager Claudi Koekemoer! “Wat se kak is die?” she asks…)

I wasn’t necessarily going for the easy way out with potty humour, but I had several previous ideas that I found could be linked quite easily into this one story and used this opportunity to do just that. I didn’t want to waste my previous scribblings and so with this year’s theme, DIE LAUGHING, it seemed that the time was right to string this one together.

 

Do you have concerns that your story might be deemed politically incorrect? Was this a consideration at all when writing? And how did you develop your characters? 

Haha! My main character, Barney, is incorrect politically and in every other way. He’s not trying to be malicious or obnoxious, he’s just going through life, out of touch with himself and general human etiquette and completely oblivious to the impact he has on the world around him. For me, that’s what makes him funny. I’m a visual person and so, as with all of my writing, I picture myself sitting back with a bowl of popcorn, watching the exploits of my characters.

Barney for me is probably a collection of characters I’ve encountered after years in the corporate world. At face value he presents himself as competent and all together, but then you open the book and realise there’s very little substance to the person and you were quite right to ‘judge the book by its cover’. It doesn’t take long for Barney’s thread to unravel and for seasoned businessman, Dlamini, to spot the bumbling buffoon in the room.

 

Did you have fun writing the story? Certainly CEO Dlamini, with whom Barney tries to make a deal, seems to completely enjoy the unfolding action…

I had a lot of fun with my story. Barney is such a card and although he’s the central figure, he’s not a ‘hero’ by any stretch of the imagination. Perhaps I was a bit of a puppet-master bully in that I could do what I wanted with the poor guy. As for Dlamini, the sight of his colleague, Grace, losing it in the bathroom would have been funny for any onlooker and he couldn’t help himself. I got the giggles myself imagining that scene.

 

From your bio, it seems like you’re a multi-talented guy. How do you fit in the writing? 

Good question.  I do have a very time-consuming job as an IT professional. That along with balancing family life does make it challenging. I guess it’s the same for all writers — the more inspired we are about telling our stories, the ‘easier’ it is to find the time to get it done.

 

You’ve been short-listed for various short story competitions in the past. What have you learned along the way about writing short stories?

That’s correct. I made the finalists cut in two consecutive years for the NOVA SFSA short story awards for Sci-Fi stories — quite different from humour I admit. Short stories are fun and challenging at the same time. One has to have an actual story unfold in fewer words without coming across as rushing the process. Creating engaging characters and settings are key, all while sticking to the prescribed word count.
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 Anton Krueger & Pravasan Pillay

Anton KruegerAnton Krueger’s numerous award-winning plays have been performed in eight countries. His most notable work, Living in Strange Lands was runner up for the 2006 Olive Schreiner award, while his Afrikaans radio drama Altyd, was shortlisted for the RSG Sanlam award of 2013. Anton has also published a novella, Sunnyside Sal, a collection of poetry, Everyday Anomalies, and a volume of comedic short stories, Shaggy, co-written with Pravasan Pillay. His work of critical non-fiction, Experiments in Freedom, won the 2010 Vice-Chancellor’s Book Award at Rhodes University, where Anton is an Associate Professor in the Department of Drama.

PravasanPillayPravasan Pillay has published two chapbooks of poetry, Glumlazi, and 30 Poems, as well as a collection of comedic short stories, Shaggy, co-written with Anton Krueger. Pillay’s short story collection, Crooks, is due out in 2017. He is the editor of the micro press Tearoom Books.

 

As a writing duo, both Pravasan and Anton share their insight about their story and writing process.

 

In general what’s your take on humour SA- style?

Pravasan: South African humour tends towards the literal. If your work is wry, dry or ironic you’ll have a niche audience at best. On the other end of the spectrum one finds ‘dark humour’, which is what you call humour without any actual jokes. There are lots of South African humour writers and comedians that I admire.

Anton: I’ve enjoyed reading the anthology so far because it’s put me in touch with a bunch of new prose comedy writers. Maybe the foremost South African comedy form at the moment is stand up, which has its own style – fast paced, hard hitting, outrageous. Much depends on the performance, so this doesn’t always work on the page. There are also great comedy writers for the stage, like the ever versatile Mike van Graan, Jemma Kahn’s kamishibai series and the late Fiona Coyne.

But to be honest, there doesn’t seem to be that much prose comedy around that isn’t overtly political, satirical or polemical. Politically driven humour is fine, it has its place, but it dates very quickly, and it’s inevitably to make a point, or to make fun of somebody else or their policies or behaviour in order to show that you know better than them, or that they’re wrong and you’re right, and so on. The real bench mark for me remains what Barney Simon called “the humour of recognition rather than the humour of derision”. Derision is easy to do, to stew up arrogance, anger, hatred, scorn, spleen, pointing out people’s failings; but recognition is more difficult to achieve, to show one’s own vulnerabilities and create characters that reveal common human frailties. I’m not by any means saying that I (or we) have necessarily achieved this. Still, it’s what I aspire to.

 

Tell us more about the inspiration for your DIE LAUGHING story ‘Jim Goes To Durban’, a riff on the common trope of a country bumpkin going to the big city.

Pravasan: The title is inspired by the 1949 film, Jim Comes to Jo’burg. With regards to the narrative, Anton and I wanted to write a story with more sympathetic characters. We have written a couple dozen stories together and they’re all peopled by mean, conniving, quite despicable characters. ‘Jim Goes To Durban’ was our attempt at writing about an innocent, a rube – well, a couple of rubes. But the overall framework still remains small-town silliness and pretension, which is the inspiration behind much of our joint work.

Anton: This idea came from Prava. My inspiration for it was an email from him saying “Hey man, would you like to work on this story and enter it for this thing,” or words to that effect.

 

Your story is described by Darrel Bristow-Bovey as ‘deceptively smart and skilful, with sly things happening beneath its knockabout exterior’. What sort of ‘sly things’ are happening?

Pravasan: First, I must admit that I was really pleased when I read what Darrel Bristow-Bovey wrote as I have always admired his writing – ever since I read his book I Moved Your Cheese. I think that it’s best left for the reader to uncover these ‘sly things’, but I will say that the idea of ‘slyness’ is quite central to our approach to humour – this might our mutual love of Herman Charles Bosman.

Anton: Hmmm, I hadn’t actually ever thought of what we do as “deceptively smart”. Can’t it just be smart? Are we being deceptive? But yeah, there are definitely elements of irony that we go for, that Bosman naïve narrator type character.

 

The gullible or socially inept character, in this case Jim, crops up in other stories in the collection DIE LAUGHING. What do you feel is the comical appeal about showing up this sort of intellectually limited character? Is this a comic archetype?

Pravasan: We generally like writing about idiots giving other idiots advice, or one idiot talking down to another idiot – which goes back to Laurel and Hardy. This trope was a running thread through the stories in our book, Shaggy: 14 Rather Amusing Rambles. The obvious – unconscious – appeal of this archetype is that it allows one to feel superior. But I also think that, a lot of the time, underlying the laughter is a great deal of affection for these gullible or idiotic characters. We recognise that their souls are pure.

Anton: I suppose it also comes down to the attraction of the anti-hero: the shmuck, the nerd, the neb. I’d love to one day write a novel based on one of these holy fool type figures like Ignatius J. Reilly, or the Good Soldier Schweik.

 

Do you think that part of the fun for the reader is that there’s so much of the familiar – the South African – in this story? Such as the emails promising the world when it comes to premier ‘academic courses’?

Pravasan: Yes, I think recognition is definitely an important part of much of the humour in the story.   

Anton: Absolutely. During the recent National Arts Festival I had a conversation with a photographer who was telling me how much she loved Marc Lottering’s show because of all the local references – things like Ricoffy in little plastic sachets and Woolworths, and whatever. I guess because so much of our entertainment comes from America and is replete with US references to place, culture, vocabulary, whathaveyou, it does give one a bit of a warm feeling to be able to associate with other people around the naming of things. It makes you feel part of a community.

 

What does this small- town setting offer you as writers?

Pravasan: The story is set in Hibberdene, which is a tiny town on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast. I’m from Durban, but I’m very familiar with the South Coast region. The majority of our co-written stories are set there, especially the town of Margate. I can’t remember why we picked Margate in particular, but it has served us well. At the heart of the small town comedy that we write is the disjuncture between how self-important the characters are and how extremely low the stakes are.

Anton: I remember at the start of the Shaggy stories we were trying to decide between Germiston or Margate for the small town in which the stories would take place. I remember Margate from holidays as a kid, and I guess it has a kind of paradoxical appeal in being both a jolling venue and a typical middle class family-vacation type place. On the one hand lots of post-matric festivities happen there, and the Loeries and whathaveyou. I also remember from my days with Radio Tuks, that Margate was the big jol of the year. But on the other hand, it also has associations of being a very Vaalie holiday resort town. Well, this is how it seems to me, but, truth be told, I haven’t been there for 22 years. When it comes to where I’m from, I’m not really from anywhere. Well, okay, I was born in Phalaborwa, but after that it gets hazy…

 

When it comes to writing humour, what do you keep in mind when you start off?

Pravasan: For me, you have to have a strong central conceit and be clear about the narrative beats that you want to hit along the way to the story’s conclusion – a solid structure in other words. Once that has been established you have the freedom to riff as much as you like. I think that setting restrictions or boundaries before you start writing leads to better comedy.

Anton: I guess here we have slightly different approaches. For our Shaggy stories we typically had two ways of working. For some of them, Prava would have a complete “seed idea,” i.e. a completely configured plotline, as explained above. My own approach would be much looser. The stories that I originated would generally just begin with some kind of zany sentence or paragraph, and we would then build on that without quite knowing where it was going to go. Those stories would have more of an itinerant, picaresque storyline that takes its own detours and tangents, with twists and discoveries that surprise us as they appear. The very first story we ever did together was for the volume The Edge of Things, edited by Arja Salafranca and published by Gary Cummiskey’s Dye Hard Press. (It was called ‘Sinners and Sinkholes’ and we used the pseudonym Perd Booysen.) This was an epistolary kind of slightly unsettling small town mystery story which developed in this vein. Anyhow, I think the writing relationship is strengthened by us having these different approaches.

 

Do you have fun writing humour?

Pravasan: Only in the first draft, when it’s just us trying to make each other laugh. When it gets down to the editing stage it becomes a bit more technical, more like we’re mechanics, breaking down jokes and lines that don’t work and reassembling them – again and again.

Anton: Yeah, the first draft is a lot of fun. But there are definitely stages in the rewrites where there’ll still be laughs out loud at a new adjective one of us put in or a slight exaggeration of a metaphor that gets tweaked just that tiny bit. I suppose this is the same for any kind of writing: there’s a point where you just want to be done with it and move on. At that stage there’s the danger of over-editing, or getting too anxious about it. The danger of over-editing jokes is that most jokes are only funny the first time around and if you’ve seen them too many times they stop being funny and then you doubt your initial impulse.

 

As a writing duo, how do you balance the writing and what are your individual strengths?

Pravasan: I would say that my strengths are structure and coming up with conceits. We share the writing equally. I’ll write a couple of paragraphs and send it to Anton who writes a couple and sends it back to me. And so on. We write the first draft very quickly – a couple of days at most.

Anton: My strengths are probably a willingness to be flexible and stay open to making radical changes at any stage of the game. I guess this can also make me frustrating to work with at times, in being open to imagining changes or corrections quite late in the day, always wanting to chip away at it. As mentioned before, there’s a danger in losing the freshness if one re-edits jokes too much. You have to also be able to let them flow and let them go…

 

What writing tip would you offer for collaborative writing?

Pravasan: In terms of humour you should first of all find similar things funny. As far as the writing goes it helps if each writer brings in a different strength – for instance, one being a plotter and the other being spontaneous. This way you balance each other out, or at least this has been my experience.

Anton:  When we did our first story together (for The Edge of Things anthology mentioned earlier), it was so much fun, I thought I’d love to do this with more people. Being a writer can be lonely work, and to be in a team and be able to bounce ideas back and forth and come up with something together is really inspiring and keeps you motivated. I enjoyed the experience so much, I immediately started a bunch of other collaborations with various people. But most of those ran aground pretty quickly, so I realized it’s not really something you can do with just anybody. You do need to enjoy each other’s company and have a willingness to play and be prepared to support each other and also know how to give and take and be able to resolve disagreements. You need to contribute but also not get too stuck on your own ideas, to sometimes be able to soften and allow somebody else’s gag to take precedent. The one rule that we’ve always had is that if we don’t both agree with something then it’s out, so there also has to be some compromise. Still, the greatest joy is in the creation stage, when the ideas are bubbling…that’s a whole lot of fun, when you can’t wait to get onto the machine to see what new paragraph or sentences have been added on, that’s just wonderful.

 

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 Mia Arderne

Mia ArderneMia Arderne is a fiction writer, freelance columnist and editor from Cape Town. Her columns have been published by City Press, GQ South Africa, GQ Japan, Cape Town Lately and Matador Network. She’s also had a cartoon published by Bakwa Magazine, on radical protest. Themes in her work include marginalisation, racial hegemony, sexuality, and sub-cultures.

She has her Masters in Creative Writing with minors in Narrative Journalism and Travel Writing from the University of Cape Town. Her debut novel, Last Gangster of the Old School, was short-listed for the 2015 Dinaane Debut Fiction Award. She has had three short stories published in the following anthologies: AfroSF edited and compiled by Ivor Hartmann, The Ghost-Eater and Other Stories, and Ravensmoot.

 

What does humour SA-style mean to you?

For me, humour writing in South Africa means satire, laughing at white tears and probably pissing some people off. Surreal, irreverent humour seems most suited to this.

 

Do you think you might ‘piss’ some readers off with your DIE LAUGHING story, ‘The Mother (F***ing) City’? Is it sometimes difficult to stay true to your vision?

I don’t care. Regarding vision, yes: writing, editing and publishing is a collaborative and gruelling process, which often requires compromise, negotiation and learning.

 

The use of satire is a brave choice. Is it necessary as South Africans to poke fun at our stories, to highlight absurdity through satire? 

Yes it is. But in this country, the choice of what to satirize is an important one. Using satire to expose power and privilege is what’s particularly important in South Africa, in my opinion. As a subject in the arts and in literature, the protection of privilege in Cape Town (or anywhere) cannot be limited to conventional comedy, because it absolutely has to be challenged. For me, satire was the perfect genre for this.

 

What inspired this hard-hitting politically motivated story in which your protagonist, Jerome, finds himself pulled along, or engulfed, by various situations which seem almost out of his control?

‘The Mother (F***ing) City’ was inspired by the divisiveness of Cape Town, the fallacy of the Rainbow Nation and familiar places such as Spur and Woolworths. The story was inspired by the fractured city I grew up in. To describe my experience of the city would be a book in itself. I can’t reduce my 27 years to a line or two. My experiences and encounters have been layered and robust. I continue to explore them — and the Mother City — in my art and writing.

 

The white vagina, central to your story, becomes a surreal landscape, and the ‘intruding’ shaft later is another important element moving the narrative (and Jerome!) along. Can you comment on these risqué choices?

The vagina, as a setting, seamlessly moulded itself to my narrative. There are many folds, changes in texture, hills and valleys, ebbs and flows. It was a natural place for my protagonist to get sucked in, to look for comfort, to look for his answer, to drown, to find warmth and relief in, to forget himself in. The vagina does all that. The shaft, as something blatant and imposing, worked as the perfect contrast to mirror his fast changing reality and served to charmlessly break his illusion.

 

What are the underlying currents — and political comment — which the reader might not be aware of?

The political motivation is to expose liberal middle class kumbaya politics and complacency. Jerome is a struggle veteran in search of the Rainbow Nation he’s been promised as an end to his struggle. Like many South Africans, he’s fixated on this mirage. But the Rainbow Nation only exists within the confines of whiteness, in this particular white vagina.

 

Does this story expose or attack white politics and the DA specifically? Or is the interpretation more subtle or complex?

It does indeed deliver a critique (I smile at the choice of the word “attack”) of white politics, which, in this country, of course invokes the DA. But it is larger than that. The story also looks at two distinct Cape Towns, as experienced differently by those of colour and those of the gentry. It reveals which group white politics protects.

 

The story begins and ends with the Spur, almost as bookends. Why the Spur?

The Spur is a familiar setting with an often overlooked, problematic history. The Spur has seen us at our worst and at our marginally better. It’s both common and iconic.

 

Even though these interview questions take on a serious note, parts of your story are absurdly…outrageous. Certainly at a reading at the recent Open Book Festival, your story was very well received. Did the raucous laughter have as much to do with the delivery of the story as with the writing itself?

I think the positive reaction to my reading at Open Book Fest had to do with both the writing/subject matter and the delivery. I was surprised at how well it was received — it could have gone one of two ways. A while back, I was doubtful that this story would ever be published as it is rather subversive, so to witness such a loud and enthusiastic reaction was very validating.

 

Tell us more about your writing style and where your writing is headed.  

I never intended to write politics. But I live where I live. It seeps in. It’s more the inability to shut up than an interest. My writing, however, I’ve recently realised, is going the direction of magical realism — with strong political overtones. But I can never really tell.

 

As for the SA short story, is this a genre that you’ll tackle again?

Possibly.

 

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 Fred Khumalo

Fred KhumaloFred Khumalo, a 2012 Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, is the author of five books, including the satirical #ZuptasMustFall and Other Rants, the award-winning novel Bitches Brew and its sequel Seven Steps to Heaven. A seasoned journalist, he is also a communications consultant and strategist. His journalism has been widely published in South Africa, the UK and Canada. Bitches Brew was joint winner of the European Union Literary Award 2006, while his autobiography, Touch My Blood, was shortlisted for the 2007 Alan Paton Prize for Non-Fiction. His short story Legs Of Thunder was shortlisted for the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, while his short story Water No Get Enemy received an honourable mention in the 2015 Short Story Day Africa contest. He holds an MA in Creative Writing from The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He is a fellow of the Academy of the Arts of the World, in Cologne, Germany.

Congratulations on your award winning story, ‘Learning A New Language’. You were a judge for BLOODY SATISFIED, the first of the Short.Sharp.Stories anthologies back in 2014. Why, for this edition, did you choose to contribute? 

I simply chose to contribute as I wanted to test my “chops”, as jazz musicians would say. To see if I could still write a short story. It had been a while since I tried my hand at the form. I find that writing to a theme, and a deadline gets the juices flowing (and yes, there is the issue of the monetary incentive – who am I kidding?)

 

What is your take on humour SA- style?

We’ve always been a conservative, uptight society – blame it on a combination of Calvinism, African traditional beliefs, remnants of Elizabethan hang-ups and everything else inbetween. So, making ethnic, religious, sexual jokes has always been frowned upon. But over the past ten years or so, there’s been a sea change. There’s been a flowering of stand-up comedians – David Kau, Anele Mdoda, John Vlismas, and of course Trevor Noah – who slaughter all cows in the kraal, be they racial, ethnic, religious etc. Pieter-Dirk Uys started the ball rolling during those dark years. Writers have also taken up the challenge. We see such online comedic communities as Hayibo.com etc. So, humour writing is developing in own right. Thankfully, this not only in English, but also in other languages such as isiZulu, SeTswana etc.

 

For your story ‘Learning A New Language’ you were inspired by a friend who “with his serpent’s tongue, had sundered many marriages and proceeded to leave behind many broken hearts” before he at last fell in love. To be a little controversial, does your story reflect, perhaps, a misogynistic attitude towards women that might be widely held in South Africa? 

Thanks to our patriarchal upbringing – and I am talking across all cultures – men still believe in ‘owning’ women. In white culture we speak of trophy wives etc. in the black culture we are going wild about Blessers and Blessees. A woman who is a blessee must play ball according to the blesser’s rules. Now, the blesser can have a vast collection of blessees in his back pocket – but a woman (a blessee) cannot sommer put herself at the disposal of many blessers. She will either be called a whore, or will simply be beaten up. A man who is a serial blesser is considered The Man. Famous blessers that we know of, and whose names are forever in the newspapers would be Kenny Kunene, Mabheleni Ntuli etc. I suppose in the white community Steve Hofmeyr would fit the bill. So, what am I saying? I am saying misogyny is part of the male DNA in this country – many seem to think that’s the way things should be. When I was growing up, if you had only one girlfriend, the chaps would scoff: “You have only one girlfriend like a pidgeon?”

 

Vusi is a man out of his comfort zone. How true to life are the cultural differences in SA vs USA when it comes to wooing women? Are you consciously reflecting a certain reality?

Vusi finds himself in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is one the most progressive corners of the world. It attracts liberated people from across the universe – so his misogyny, which he’s been brought up to believe is his strength, is not going to fly in Massachusetts. Whether the woman he encounters is black or white is immaterial: they are not the women he’s used to. They are not the women we, in Zulu community would call ‘yebo, baba’ (yes, daddy) – because everything a man says is accepted without being questioned. So, he definitely is in for a rough ride – I deliberately use his kind of character to tease out the cultural differences between us South Africans, and some parts of the world (especially cosmopolitan Massachusetts). I am raising our consciousness to the reality that some of the things that we consider ‘normal’, are actually not only ‘abnormal’ but extremely offensive to contemporary sensibilities in a world that is trying to shake off the cobwebs of sexism from its consciousness.

 

Do you imagine your story might be criticized for Vusi’s rather outrageous tactics to bed women?

Sometimes the writer has to go overboard simply to put the message across.

 

How did your Harvard experience influence your writing of this story, and your life in general?

Being at Harvard – and witnessing how people interacted across gender lines – gave me courage to think about how the average township Casanova would be received in such an environment. The distance from home brought these realities to me ‘in full colour’. I did witness some guys making approaches to women on the train (and these were American guys, by the way – but the put-downs they got from the women were so delectable. We must remember that Boston and the environs has the highest concentration of universities in the world. As a result, many of the women on the subway, at the bus stop would not necessarily be local ladies; they could be from anywhere in the world – liberated, articulate without being rude. And I say it all – and in a way, it got me thinking about ‘my own boys back home’ and how they would have fared in Boston.

 

The inclusion of Zulu phrases adds richness to the prose. What is your opinion on adding the richness of our 11 different languages to prose?

I think sprinkling indigenous language words in an English text achieves a number of things: not only does it allude to the identity of the characters, but it also adds flavour and authenticity to the narrative. Apart from that, the English that we are using as South Africans is rooted in our experience; we’ve appropriated it; we’ve done some wonderful (some would say horrific) things to it; we’ve tamed it so that it can better articulate our thoughts, experiences – so that it can do our bidding. It’s amazing that such new words as tjatjarag (not very new in the township) have become part of the ‘mainstream’ lexicology, and this is all thanks to writers who have been sprinkling their English prose with these indigenous gems.

 

When it comes to SA fiction, you recently you retweeted Eusebius McKaiser who wrote: ‘We have a perverse tendency of thinking literature isn’t fine if it’s readable.’ Could you comment on this?

I believe we write to communicate. To communicate effectively, I believe, one has to strive for clarity, accuracy and concision. Those three words are the cornerstone of good, readable writing. There are writers and academics who think the more obscure, bombastic, verbose a piece of writing is, the more it belongs to upper echelons of good literary writing.

 

Could you comment in general on the place of fiction, and short stories in particular, in SA?

Journalism and history give us facts, dates and statistics. Fiction infuses blood, life, human faces into these facts and stats. Fiction asks questions, stimulates ideas and thoughts – as it’s not concerned about being accused of subjectivity/or taking sides.

Short stories are more difficult to write than novels, I’ve always said. So I write short stories to challenge myself, to experiment with different voices and approaches to fiction. Because one can write a short story in one sitting, one can learn so much within such a short period of time. Writing short stories is, for me, clearing my proverbial throat, warming up my muscles for the long slog – the novel, a form I am more comfortable with. When I grow up, I want to be a short story writer.

 

Lastly, how’s it going with #ZuptasMustFall and other rants? Was it based at all on the wonderful EFF song, which was hilarious and catchy?

Yes, the title for my book is from the EFF song. Julius owes me so much for all the ugly names he and his people have called me over the years. I might as well take liberties with some of the gems that they come up with. Where I come from, we don’t allow swine to play with pearls. The book has generally been well received. I’ve been on Gareth Cliff’s show, been on Khanyi Mbau and Phat Joe’s show (yes, the Khanyi), I’ve been on the Jeremy Maggs show…. Whether this will translate to sales still remains to be seen.

 

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 Werner Pretorius

It’s OPEN BOOK this week! Don’t miss the DIE LAUGHING event, where the Short Story will be the star, at 8pm on Thursday 08 September, at the Homecoming Centre Workshop at the Fugard Theatre. Read more here.

Werner PretoriusWerner Pretorius holds degrees in Publishing and English from the University of Pretoria and a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town. His stories and short fiction have appeared in Something Wicked MagazineJungle Jim, PrufrockMagazine and A Look Away (now defunct). He also contributed to the collection The Ghost-Eater and Other Stories, published as an e-publication. He lives and works in Cape Town.

As a book seller how would you encourage people to read more, attend more book festival sessions? Are we shifting more towards becoming a reading culture?

We read all the time. Whether it be road signs, on social media and the Internet in general, the newspaper; we’re constantly busy reading. The challenge is getting people to read books. For some that’s a very natural thing, especially if you grew up with books and had a parent, sibling or friend instil a love of reading in you. To up the book-buying and book-consuming numbers among the public involves presenting as varied a range of topics and as many means of access as possible. It also involves a constant striving for upping the standard of literature produced, and although that’s a long term process that must continually be driven. I think that we’re doing well on our current trajectory of producing better and better material. As for the Open Book Festival, there is a great team of dedicated individuals and wonderful sponsors working hard behind the scenes to make it the best experience possible. There are systems in place to get free tickets to students, there are outreach programmes undertaken with various libraries where the love for reading already exists and can thus be more readily encouraged, there’s an excellent youth programme that runs all year but is ramped up around the time of the festival.

We do what we can with limited resources, but when seen as a whole I think the festival is varied and attempts to touch all the bases. Exciting stuff, really. And I’m fortunate to be involved behind the scenes and as an author this year.

Firstly, when it comes to DIE LAUGHING, how do you view humour SA-style?

I grew up with a specific kind of Afrikaans humour which was often rude and concerned itself mainly with vulgarities, but at its best the structure of how it got to the punch line was often intelligent.

Your story, ‘James Bond Is From Pretoria West’, is dry and bleak, but it rolls along like the sort of fluent commentary from our darkest comedians. What were your influences?

The shock comedians were big in the nineties. Bill Hicks was really the torch-bearer for that kind of comedy and I do have a tip of the hat to him in my story. But within this strain of comedy Bill Maher was always my favourite. His comedy might be crass, but it is always intelligent. A good friend of mine, Stuart Cairns, is a comedian and we often talk about the process of coming up with material, so it helps to have some insight into what happens before a performer takes their stuff to the stage.

Is this the kind of humour you relate to personally, or did the story dictate the humour?

This is one kind of humour I relate to, but one has to be careful as times are more sensitive than they were, say twenty years ago, in the shock comedians’ heyday. It started with me wanting to write one of these shock comedian rants, since I found this self-assured, cynical kind of voice had something to offer. So, the starting point was the scene on the plane. In the nineties jokes about airlines, airports and flying was very much a staple. Jerry Seinfeld and every other comedian who went within shouting distance of a stage had at least one solid bit about it. So, this dictated the direction of the comedy to a certain degree, but as a story the piece really comes alive once we start to get glimpses of the man behind the rant.

The story is seamless as the action unfolds and all ties in even though – as one steps back and thinks about it – it’s rather fantastical. Is this your style of writing, or did you hone this style for the particular story?

What was important about the story for me was the rhythm of the delivery. I was fortunate in that Joanne Hichens (the editor) picked up on the rhythm and allowed the piece to retain its integrity. It is somewhat fantastical, yes. But, you know, I sat with maps of London and had to work out how the character would achieve what he sets out to achieve. I had to come up with this itinerary and be mindful of the timeframe of the story. It had to be something that could actually be done; for the purpose of verisimilitude. It has to feel believable while you read it, because that’s where I think the horror aspects of the story come in. If the reader walks away thinking ‘wow, one could actually do that. Are there people out there in the real world doing this kind of abominable thing?’ then it starts being scary.

Tell us more about the title ‘James Bond is from Pretoria West’. (Your protagonist is definitely the sort of man Oprah warned the world about! Rather than the suave original…)

Yeah. He’s ruthless, that’s for sure. The character of the war veteran is a bit of a stereotype, so it was important to imbue him with nuance, so he could come alive somewhat. There is this thing about prisoners who have been incarcerated for a long time finding it hard to adapt to life outside the prison system, and to some extent that’s true about military vets as well. So, for this character I think the idea was that he was really good at killing, and what if he was given the opportunity of that life co-existing with a civilian life. And it just felt right that the character would be from a middle-lower class area and have certain zef or redneck characteristics.

When it comes to process, we know that your character ‘lay around in a drawer’ for a couple of years. Did he nag you? Did he want to come out?

Very much so. I enjoyed writing in that voice and it troubled me that it was going to waste because I couldn’t come up with a plot for him. I’d written several versions of this story. Initially he was a failed comedian on a comeback tour. But it was really once the more gruesome aspects occurred to me after reading the brief for the Short Sharp Stories competition that it all fell in place.

The aspect of soldier turned mercenary harkens to the past, yet the story has an entirely contemporary feel to it. Do we still need to reference the past? Is it relevant to do so?

I think history is very important. It hides within it clues to our future, that old thing of not repeating the same mistakes. We can be egotistical and shortsighted sometimes in thinking we’ve come up with a brand new idea and way forward, when history might point out to us what happened last time the brand new idea was tried. Without at least occasionally looking to our history, our present loses depth as well.

The idea of decolonising literature – do you have thoughts on that?

Yeah, look, it’s important to acknowledge and be mindful of what’s going on around us. But I’m no expert in this field. I see my role, at least in my writing, more as an entertainer. Hopefully it is entertainment with some depth or at least the kind of thing that makes readers think, but really to take on weighty issues like this should be an academic pursuit.

Finally, is there a place for the short story in SA? Does the short story begin to develop a particular SA quality in diversity?

The short story is the best place to go to meet new authors. It can be intimidating sitting down with a novel or a large work by someone you’ve never read or heard of. The short story collection gives one a feel for a writer’s work and whether they write the kind of thing you like. In the shorter form writers are also more adventurous in what kind of topics they take on. The great thing about a collection like DIE LAUGHING is that you get to read up-and-coming writers you’ve never heard of before and you see them alongside established names. It is exciting that these kind of competitions and initiatives exist. And as long as we keep the standard high and allow as many different voices as possible to speak we’re on the right track.

 

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 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!

 

 

Die Laughing Teaser: Q&A with Ofentse Ribane

Ofentse RibaneOfentse Ribane, born in Diepkloof, Soweto, started writing at the age of eight, allowing his vivid imagination to run riot. His first published fantasy novella, The Boohahas, was included as part of the SA school curriculum of 2005. He has published fourteen fantasy stories, two of them translated into Afrikaans: ‘Die Voëlskriker’ and ‘Die Towerfiets’.

He runs Ribane Communications, a media company, and teaches script development in Maboneng.

What appealed to you about the theme, DIE LAUGHING?

I liked the title. If there is a ‘best’ way to die, won’t to ‘die laughing’ be the form of death we most prefer? Although, my story has nothing at all to do with death.

What is your take on humour SA-style?

I think the focus of our humour is more on politics than any aspect of our lives. I’m not complaining simply stating it. I tend to steer clear from writing about politics, unless the storyline demands it. I’m conscious of it, because I think we give politicians too much credit.

Do you tend to use humour in your writing?

I never say I want to write something funny. But humour as in hilarity, yes I write that. I hope that makes sense. I like to make the reader laugh.

Your story, ‘The Derby’, has a rollicking, infectious excitement to it as the rivalry grows between two soccer fans. Does this story grow from your personal experience as a soccer fan?

I am not an avid soccer fan. Being an African male I guess that is scandalous. I do however, support Kaizer Chiefs. I’m not religious about it. I won’t cry if I miss a match. I tend to only watch soccer at the stadium when Pirates is playing, because my brother is a Pirates fan. And I do love to see the reaction on his face when he enjoys himself.

Netball on the other hand, I believe all men should watch netball. I do not watch it for the ‘skirts’, but with the keen eye of understanding female interaction. And all females should watch football. Lots of eye-candy. And also for social research.

 

(Sounds as if your next story might be set on a netball court!) How then did you manage to create the energy and authenticity that keeps up the momentum of a page-turner?

Netball! Haha. That sounds like an idea! Yes, we should support all sports. To answer your question: I love fast paced stories, and soccer fits well in that mould. I like what I’ve dubbed ‘Street-real Stories’.

Did you have a good time creating your characters, Ma-Matlala and Ma-Dlamini? Have you met such women or are these characters purely imagined?

I loved creating them. They stem from an abandoned manuscript I wrote in 1999 called Fear of the Black Planet. I borrowed or stole that title from the N.W. A. album. The cover art of the album depicts a dark planet the equal size of earth, on a collision course. That N.W.A. album inspired the Ma-Matlala and Ma-Dlamini characters. I imagined these women as super-extreme soccer fans who cast spells on each other, and one day their rivalry goes too far. Ma-Dlamini goes too far and conjures up a massive soccer ball to hit the house of Ma-Matlala. Only that soccer ball turns into a black planet journeying through space, possibly to eliminate the entire earth.

What was it like writing from the perspective of a woman, or two women in this case? 

I am at home writing from the perspective of women, and children. The most vulnerable of our society. I showcase their strength where their strength is not expected. Take for instance Ma-Dlamini and Ma-Matlala — despite their wacky antics they are both enterprising women. They are in stiff competition with each other to gain fans. What does the accumulation of fans mean? It means lots of revenue for their clubs. Fans spend millions on memorabilia and branded products of their favourite teams. We don’t know how much of the slice they get from those millions, but we’re certain that they get something.

As a writer who works in many different arenas – you write for TV and have had a Youth novel published — in which way do you express yourself best?

I express myself better when I write a fictional story. I’m working on a novel which will one day see the light.

When writing a short story what do you bear in mind? Any tips for those writing short stories?

Say it in a way that people can see it. Keep it short.

What are your future writing plans?

I am busy writing a sequel of the youth novel The Boohahas and then I’m moving on to write an historical novel about the warrior queen of the Batlokwa tribe.

Everyone is asking – what is the future of the South African short story?

I hope it is a very good one. It’s very necessary. South Africa has good writers — the best way to know these writers is to have them published through projects such as Short.Sharp.Stories.

 

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 Gail Schimmel

Gail SchimmelGail Schimmel, even as a child, wanted to be a writer. But her father told her how much work editing would be, so she took the easy route and became a lawyer instead. Despite this professional detour, she has had a children’s book published, Claude and Millie, writing as Gail van Onselen. She has had two novels published, Marriage Vows and Whatever Happened To the Cowley Twins?, as well as an advertising law text book. While writing is her passion, she also needs to eat – so she runs her own advertising law consultancy. She is married with two children, and lives in Johannesburg. Gail’s next novel will be published in 2017.

Congratulations on being an award winner for your story ‘This Is Not A Joke, Maureen’ published in this year’s Short.Sharp.Stories anthology DIE LAUGHING.

Although you’re a seasoned writer, this is your first published short story. What does this mean for you?

It’s really gratifying to know that I can manage different writing forms.

Short stories are fun, and this competition has given me the courage to write more of them. It’s also immensely encouraging to know that my work stood out in a blind-judged competition.

In general, what is your take on humour SA-style?

I think that in South Africa we have two streams of humour – we see humour in the same places that the rest of the world find it, but we also have a deep mine of things that are uniquely funny about our country and our people.

You talk about ‘a deep mine of things that are uniquely funny’ about SA. How would you describe what is ‘uniquely’ ours?

Our people, with their huge cultural diversity, give us such a lot about ourselves that we can laugh at. Our extraordinary history — while tragic — also gives us such wonderful self-knowledge and the ability to look at things and say, “That was basically insane.” Maybe it’s a case of, “If we don’t laugh, we’ll cry.” And our politicians! They just write the comedy without any help from us, don’t they? Although America is also doing pretty well on that measure. . .

The literal interpretation of the phrase ‘die laughing’ is taken to the extreme in your wry and poignant story ‘This Is Not A Joke, Maureen’. What first inspired your story?

The phrase sparked the initial idea — what a ludicrous phrase when you unpack it! Like one of my pet hates, the phrase ‘spoilt rotten’ being a good thing! So I started wondering what a child would think, one who didn’t know what ‘die laughing’ meant. But as I wrote, I got interested in other ways we reference humour. As Maureen changes boyfriends, she also changes her language, and particularly her language about humour — despite not being a humorous woman at all. My mother was a funny woman, but never understood jokes. She used to say, “That is so witty,” when she had no idea why people were laughing. I had that in my head a bit when I wrote Maureen.

Also, when I read the competition brief, I’d been thinking about the sad state of my feet. So I immediately had this image of a child contemplating her mother’s cracked heels and hearing the phrase ‘die laughing’. The story grew from that. When I write a novel, I know the skeleton of the story and structure when I start. But with this story, I really didn’t. I got as big a fright when Orange George abused Gwennie as she did.

Despite the dark subject matter — child abuse — your story is really funny. How did you manage to cultivate the humour?

My writing is always a little bit funny. Critics might say that whenever I get too near a dark subject, I back away with humour. In this story though, I set out to be funny and the dark stuff crept in. I think that it’s pretty much how I deal with life — I will always temper hard times by finding the humour. For me, that’s the only way to stay sane!

The sharp observation by Gwennie of her humourless mother, Maureen, is spot on. Gwennie is very convincing. Which character came to you first?

The mother’s character came first. To me, she’s a typical middle class white woman from the 70s — a bit left behind by women’s lib, a bit confused, a bit frustrated, and totally unable to believe how things go wrong. I think Gwennie’s voice is more my own inner child — I’m a child of the 70s. Although this is in no way my story, and Gwennie is older than I would have been in those years.

Were your own children an influence when writing the close relationship between siblings Gwennie and Randolph? And how did you manage writing from the perspective of a child?

The sibling relationship is the opposite of my own kids, who fight ALL the time. I think I was playing with the idea that children can fight with their siblings when they feel really safe, but siblings who feel less safe might be much closer and much kinder to each other. I’m an only child, so sibling relationships are a constant mystery and source of confusion to me. Writing from the child’s perspective came very naturally — like I said, I think Gwennie taps my inner child.

How do you balance your full-time law career, and family, with your passion for writing?

With difficulty! I think this is what every creative, working parent struggles with — and at the risk of offending fathers — mothers particularly. On a practical note, I work in the morning and as part of my workday I aim to write 500 words. Then I ‘mom’ in the afternoons. Obviously, writing is the least lucrative most selfish aspect of my portfolio, so when time is tight writing takes a back seat. But I have also noticed that I feel happier and more like I have achieved something on the days that I do write.

What did you learn, through writing this story, about the craft of short story writing?

For me, the short stories I love most are like little novels, or else intense character studies. I like stories that have an arc, so with this one, it was going back to that initial idea of ‘die laughing’ and the phrase being misunderstood. I think what I learnt most is that short story writing is more of a seat-of-the-pants business than novel writing, which makes it less serious, and in some ways, much more free.

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!