The Book Club Blog

Books for any occasion and other life stuff

New Book Alert! {Seriously, if you’re a reader, you don’t want to miss this one}

With thanks to the author for a review copy of this book. It was the perfect antidote to the lockdown blues.

I am always a little nervous when asked to review a book. Not for any other reason than I might not enjoy it. This was definitely not the case with A Healthy Learning Environment by WJ Smit.

This book is one of the best books I have read this year, on par with A Poor Season for Whales by Michiel Heyns which I read during Level 5 Lockdown.

Self published Debut Novel, A Healthy Learning Environment is set in the drought-stricken South Africa of 2016, where an elite Model C school struggles to regain balance after the loss of a great leader.

While battling to come to terms with their grief, teachers and learners alike find themselves finally facing their demons as they wait for rain and salvation.

Reviewing is always such a fine balance of just the right amount of information. This book deserves to be read, not only reviewed, so I hope I can mange to entice you to do so without giving too much away.

A dry, witty voice, the author has a superb way with words that engage the reader from the very first line. The first chapter manages to show the characters to their full potential allowing us a glimpse into their mindsets, and also their world (which if you are South African, your world).  But, not only do we have an engaging cast of characters – portrayed so very well you can’t help but nod along in understanding, there is a diverse range of them too. From the Perfect Principle to the Gay White Couple raising an Adopted Black Daughter.

I really enjoyed how each person battled with their grief, and coming to terms with their loss of their leader. The revelations they have as they traverse this landscape were so heartfelt you could  feel it seeping through the pages. I especially loved how the beginning and the end of the novel are intertwined.

The setting was a great description of an elite Model C school in the 2000’s highlighting how it is a hub of hope for some of the teachers, yet a minefield for some of the learners. Spotlighting mental health, societal norms, and fear while loving your country of origin. While the book is a work of fiction, reference is made to several real events, both national and global, that took place in the year 2016.

This book was such an accurate description of South Africa today that it had me both giggling out loud and tearing up. If you are looking for a {homegrown} diverse book to read, this hits all the right notes. (Saying that, it is such a well written book that anyone not native to our country would automatically get a sense of the contradictions of living here.)

This book is diverse, interesting, homegrown, and extremely enjoyable. I highly recommend it.

Orders can be placed on the authors website, either a physical copy or an E-Book. Uppercase Bookstore in Menlyn are also selling physical copies.

If you’re keen for more information, please click on the following links:

Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/wjsmit.thewriter/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wjsmit.thewriter/

For general enquiries: info@wjsmit.com
No Comments »

{Homegrown} Sally Partridge

Welcome to our 6th {Homegrown} Author Interview with the ever delightful Sally Partridge. Her name may sound familiar to you because her book Sea Star Summer has been hitting the Bookstagram feeds lately and for good reason. I recently had the good fortune to read said book – with great thanks to NBPublishers and you can read my review here. I enjoyed it so much, I wanted to get a better sense of the person behind the book aka Inside Author Information (forever now known as IAI).

So without any more delay, Thank you Sally for joining the {Homegrown} Q&A.

Sally and Hannibal

 

Do you have a specific routine that you follow when you sit down to write, or are you able to sit and write at any time?

Ideally, I’d like to be “in the mood” to write. I guess you could say that’s when the muse strikes, but in reality, I usually write in snatches of stolen moments and on weekends. A girl has to pay her bills! But I’ve also found – which was the case with my initial idea for Sea Star Summer – that if my heart really isn’t in the story, I’ll do everything but write. (My house is never so clean and shiny.) When I scrapped my original idea (an out-of-towner who falls for a local surfer) the story swept over the pages in waves.

What book/s are you currently reading?

 I just finished My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell, which is a total mindbender. I still don’t know how I feel about that book. Right now, I’m going through a bit of a comic book phase and am digging into my Harley Quinn collection. My next reads are going to be Permanent Record by Mary H.K. Choi and Wilder Girls by Rory Power.

Which SA authors have inspired you in your own writing?

 Mary Watson, who is a living legend in my eyes. Her writing is so lyrical and beautiful. She recently released two YA novels with Bloomsbury – The Wren Hunt and The Wickerlight. Both are excellent. Coconut by Kopano Matlwa will always be my forever favourite. Another local writer whose work is pure perfection is Henrietta Rose-Innes.

Did you always have a passion to write a book or did it / they stealthily creep up on you?

 I have stories swimming around in my head all the time. Generally, when I finish one project I immediately start another.

 Which has been your favourite book to write so far?

 The one I’m writing right now

What were your favourite books as a child?

 The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, Peter Pan. Also anything by Christopher Pike and R.L Stine.

To date, what is the worst book you have ever read, and why?

 I don’t want to name names, but it was an international historical fiction novel I was asked to review. The book focused on a teenage monarch and I just found it totally inappropriate, especially since it was for an adult audience. (Don’t worry, it’s not Hilary Mantel. She is perfection incarnate.)

Do you think SA women writers and authors are treated differently to their male counterparts in the publishing world?

In my experience, I work with an all-women team at NB Publishers who are lovely. In general, local female authors like Lauren Beukes, Finuala Dowling, Sally Andrew etc are highly acclaimed and respected, so from that point of view, I would say no.

If there was one piece of advice you could give to aspiring SA authors, what would it be?

 Just go for it. There are so many opportunities here to have your book published – The Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature, short story competitions, open submission periods. Persistence helps

BONUS LOCKDOWN (ADVANCED LEVEL 3) QUESTIONS:

 If we weren’t in lockdown and you could have any authors around your table for dinner, who would they be and why?

 Local writer friends Karina Szczurek and Mary Watson, but any local female writer really. There is such a wonderful sense of community among women writers here. It’s a warm, cheering community of like-minded wonderful women who are so supportive and inspiring. The conversation and laughter would come naturally at any dinner table.

 What is one item you have either made/ tried/ learned while being in lockdown, and was it successful?

I unlocked the ability to bake, especially cookies. I have been baking endless cookies.

While the lockdown was fairly sudden, and our ‘new normal’ sprang up quickly, what has been a silver lining to you during this time?

 My father passed away last year, and it was a devastating and traumatic time for me. Life never slowed down till it was forced to because of lockdown, and I was finally able to stop and reflect and to grieve. I’m so grateful for the time to just be still.

 While we have more freedom than in Level 5, we have all had time to realise that we miss certain things or places that may or may not be available to us, what is/are yours?

 Sushi dates. The beach. Road trips.

I am so sorry to hear about your father, Sally but I am glad that the lockdown gave you time to grieve, and to be still.  Thank you so much for sharing with us today, I always find it so interesting how different everyone one is with regards to their writing and inspiration, also your cat is very handsome. PS Thanks for recommending a new to me SA YA author, Mary Watson. *Goes off to google*

If you’re looking to purchase Sea Star Summer you can order from your local bookstore – If you’re in Cape Town I can highly recommend The Book Lounge, or anywhere that sells books. (Did you know Exclusive Books deliver books via Uber Eats, so that is an option too if you really don’t want to waste a minute longer).

No Comments »

{Homegrown} The SA Author Campaign IV

Raashida Khan is a self published author.
Her books include:
 Mirror Cracked– this won the Minara Aziz Hassim Literary Award two years ago (is also LBQT so its perfect for Pride Month AND breaks down barriers with writing about mental health in the Muslim community),
Happy Birthday, Raashi (a poetry anthology) and her latest
Your Voice, My Strength. None of which I have yet read but after reading the synopsis of Mirror Cracked it is now officially on my TBR list.
Raashida contacted me after having read and enjoyed the {HOMEGROWN} author interview series with the hopes of contributing her own Q & A. As we all know I am a huge fan of promoting and sharing SA writers, I agreed to showcase a new to me author.
Diversity is key in reading, where would be the fun in just reading the same old same old. Climb out of those comfort zones, and try something new, there are also some recommendations in the ‘authors that inspire me’ question. (I also adore the cover of her latest book!}
So without further ado, please enjoy the latest in our {homegrown} SA author Q & A.
– Do you have a specific routine that you follow when you sit down to write, or are you able to sit and write at any time?
 
It depends on what I am writing. If it’s a novel, there is a loose routine, but as long as I set a target for a day, then that helps. If it’s poetry or a blog, there is no real routine as it when i’m moved/inspired enough to write something.
 
– What book/s are you currently reading?
 
‘Made in Chatsworth’ by Kiru Naidoo and ‘Time and Time Again’ by Ben Elton. My reading is a bit slower as it Ramadaan this month, so I have less time.
 
– Which SA authors have inspired you in your own writing?
 
Always a tough one to answer as we have such a wealth of local talent. Rayda Jacobs, Alan Paton, Achmat Dangor, Zakes Mda, Fred Khumalo, and many others. I love SA writers and try and support them where I can.
 
– Did you always have a passion to write a book or did it / they stealthily creep up on you?
 
Yes, I have been saying I would write since I was a child but only started seriously about five years ago.
 
– Which has been your favourite book to write so far?
 
My first novel, ‘Mirror Cracked’. Writing this book made me recognise my passion – I put my heart and soul into it. The book really helped me to identify and engage with themes that are close to my heart. The characters were real to me and I loved them all. It also taught me so much about writing and myself and cemented my love for writing.
 
– What were your favourite books as a child?
 
I enjoyed the mystery books of Enid Blyton and school-based stories.
 
– To date, what is the worst book you have ever read, and why?
 
In all honesty, I’ve not hated any book. Every book has some merit and teaches its readers something. Generally, if a book does not grab me in the first 50-100 pages, I move on. There are too many books to read and too little time to persevere with a book that is not working for me. This is rare though, especially now that I write too. I understand and appreciate what goes into writing a book so don’t give up on them very quickly.
 
If there is any book that disappointed me, it was ‘The Ministry of Happiness’ by Arudhati Roy. She is one of my favourite authors and her first book, ‘The God of Small Things’ was one of the books that made me want to write.  I’ve also enjoyed her socio-political writings and admire her as an activist. Unfortunately, for me, this book was all over the place. There is much to be said about simplicity in writing. I felt this novel was trying to do too much – it had an interesting plot and characters but the social commentary detracted from it rather than enhancing it.
 
– Do you think SA women writers and authors are treated differently to their male counterparts in the publishing world?
 
I’m not sure about that. I would like to think that we are treated equally. If you are referring to traditional publishing, I can’t comment. As a self-published author, I think an author gets as much recognition/airtime as he/she works for. It’s all up to the individual.
 
– If there was one piece of advice you could give to aspiring SA authors, what would it be?
 
If writing is your passion, write in spite of the challenges. Stay positive. Read widely, participate in local author/reading groups (on social media and in person), attend book festivals and support other local authors wherever you can.
 
BONUS QUARANTINE QUESTIONS:
 
– If we weren’t in lockdown and you could have any authors around your table for dinner, who would they be and why?
 
Zukiswa Wanner – she has an amazing energy and is committed to supporting local and African.
Keletso Mopai – she has an incredible way with words. She weaves universal themes into her proudly local stories with artful finesse, yet her writing is so accessible.
Kopano Matlwa – her stories and style of writing are unique yet believable. I’ve seen her at a book festival, where I was stuck by her beauty, grace and humility.
 
I think I could learn much from any of these inspiring authors.
 
– What is one item you have either made/ tried/ learn’t while being in lockdown, and was it successful?
 
I cut my husband’s hair. Twice! Yes, I think it turned out well otherwise I wouldn’t have been allowed near him with a scissors a second time.
 
– While the lockdown was fairly sudden, and our new normal sprang up quickly, what has been a silver lining to you during this time?
 
I try to be grateful and appreciate what I have been given as I know I am blessed. The lockdown really helped me to take nothing for granted and to remember to pay more than lip service to giving thanks. So many others have suffered incredible hardships and have had to make sacrifices in this trying time.
 
We have all had time to realise that we miss certain things or places during this time, what is yours?
I miss my walks in the parks – I love being out in nature, the freedom to just go out when I want and visiting/meeting friends and family, especially. The connections we have with each other still continue digitally, but it’s not the same as being in the same room with someone and hugging him or her.
 
– What is one pet hate in your current situation with who you live with? Be it a partner, child or animal?
 
Honestly, no one. I’m quite lucky, I guess. We are a family of 6 (no pets) and mostly get along. It helps that the house is fairly big and we each have our own space as well as a garden, so it’s easier for us.
 
I love how often Enid Blyton shows up on this Q&A, I think most of us have a soft spot for these children’s books. Thank you so much Raashida for getting in touch, its been great to read your answers, and I look forward to reading your books.
1 Comment »

Sea Star Summer by Sally Partridge (and a trip down memory lane)

Sally Partridge is a new to me SA author who writes YA fiction. I discovered her via nbpublishers advertising her {online} book launch, which I subsequently joined.  This was at the start of Lockdown and her book has now been published as an ebook. Sally approached me to participate in her Insta Book Blog Tour of her latest book Sea Star  Summer which I jumped at the chance to do, celebrating and sharing SA authors is my ‘thing’ right?

I received a copy of her book which I read in a couple of days. It is an easy read, one I thoroughly enjoyed (now, I want to read all her books), what I wasn’t expecting was a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

Sea Star Summer

The Blurb:

All sixteen-year-old Naomi wants to do over December is read books and avoid other people. Jeffreys Bay promises the perfect drama-free holiday. But when she encounters the strange and imaginative Elize on the beach, everything changes. Elize, however, isn’t the first to notice the awkward, red-haired newcomer and soon Naomi finds herself caught between a blue-eyed local surfer and Elize’s dark and mysterious brother. But what if Naomi is drawn to someone altogether different . . . 

Not only does this book tackle the  idea of ‘normal’,  it also tackles sexuality, feminism and our idea of societies expectations. If you are participating in Pride month – June, this is a perfect book to read. Set in Jeffrey’s Bay, our main character is a geeky red haired loner who discovers she prefers the company of her new friend Eliza, to the completely different male counterparts who find her particularly enticing Marius and Daniel.

One section in the novel shows a particularly dark side of one of the young boys who is rather keen on Naomi, and sadly that is a very real factor in our society. I can only thank the author for not going down that path.

I love how Naomi is portrayed and how this holiday gives her the opportunity to explore her sexuality even when she wasn’t expecting to, when all she thought she wanted was to hide away and read.  This book was a tender look at love, acceptance, imagination, home, family and Sally managed to bring all those elements together with ease.  This apt coming of age novel is set in Jeffery’s Bay, South Africa and a book set in my home country, with our own particular slang is always a pleasure to read.

Sea Star Summer was particularly reminiscent of myself at her age.  Young, geeky, nose constantly in a book, and then life happened. The stirrings of young love, tender kisses, coming out – or not- silent to those who care the most but expect a normal of their own making. Oh, it was a nostalgic wander down my past as I read this book. First kisses, the delight, the fear, the angst, the wondering what comes next. The indecision, the am I, aren’t I , the labels. The exploration of sexuality. While the ending of Naomi’s story is only her beginning, I love that the author didn’t label her, allowing the character to be who she imagined herself to be.

It’s not often a book provokes nostalgia in me, but this had me digging through old photographs, old diaries remembering my 20year old self, remembering past girlfriends, those first kisses. Remembering how young and inexperienced and naive I was. How our life paths ramble along in ways we don’t expect, friendships that make us, that change us. How fear of being different can limit our lives in ways we least expect and how hitting our forties gives an insight we really don’t have in our twenties.

I would recommend you read this book. It may not ignite any sort of nostalgia within you but it is a book that shows that normal can mean many things, and for any young person wondering if girls liking girls, or boys liking boys, or any which way you look at it is ok, this confirms that it is.

Thank you Sally for a delightful read, a wander down my memory lane, and to NBpublishers for the review e-book copy. Go, get yourself a copy at your local bookstore and give it a read. Then, like me, go in search of more of Sally’s books. ( I think we need Sally to do join our {Homegrown} Q&A series don’t you?)

No Comments »

{HOMEGROWN} The SA Author Campaign IIII

Have you ever discovered an author whose writing just melted in your mouth as you savoured their sentences?

This happened to myself and my daughter recently when we discovered Witchfield by local author Nicole Rimensberger. We were both delighted with this middle grade book aimed at age 8 – 12 year olds so keep your eyes peeled for our reviews soon.

In the meantime, please enjoy a Q&A with Nicole in our Homegrown series, highlighting the best of local talent in South African authors.

 

Do you have a specific routine that you follow when you sit down to write, or are you able write at any time?

I would love to be able to say I have a routine when it comes to writing, but the truth is I don’t. As someone who works fulltime and has kids, it goes without saying that life is busy. I end up writing in whatever cracks of time that are available to me – I can’t be fussy, otherwise there would never be any sentences on the page. So, basically, writing is punctuated by endless interruptions and happens in messy bits and pieces.

– What book/s are you currently reading?

I’m usually always reading something, but I have found the lockdown has affected my ability to sit down and be still enough to absorb a novel. This has made me quite sad. Recently I did read Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling and I’ve just finished Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. I’m really hoping that I’m slowly crawling my way out of this reading slump!

– Which SA authors have inspired you in your own writing?

Lauren Beukes, Marlene Van Niekerk, Clare Robertson, Fred Khumalo. There are, sadly, not many South African middle grade authors out there (if you are one – please say hi, I would love to meet you!)

My current favourite children’s authors are Lemony Snicket, Sophie Anderson, Sharon Creech, Kate DiCamillo, Chris Riddell, Neil Gaiman… how much space am I allowed?

– Did you always have a passion to write a book or did it / they stealthily creep up on you?

It’s always been there, like a bad habit I couldn’t shake. 

 – Which book has been your favourite to write so far?

What? That’s like asking which is my favourite child.

– What were your favourite books as a child?

I have to admit, I was a big Enid Blyton fan – those improbable, page-turning adventure stories and the endless possibilities offered by the magical elements like the Faraway Tree. They got me hooked.

– To date, what is the worst book you have ever read, and why?

That’s a difficult question! I don’t actually have one I would describe as worst. There are books that I’ve read that have not spoken to me, but that’s something that happens between the reader and the text. For example, I admire Zakes Mda’s work and his skill as a writer, but for some reason I don’t fully understand, I just don’t connect to his work – and I’ve tried a number of times with different titles. 

– Do you think SA women writers and authors are treated differently to their male counterparts in the publishing world?

I honestly can’t answer this question because, having gone an independent/alternative route, I’ve not had much experience with publishers!

– If there was one piece of advice you could give to aspiring SA authors, what would it be?

To write. Regardless. 

 

BONUS LOCKDOWN QUESTIONS:

– If we weren’t in lockdown and you could have any authors around your table for dinner, who would they be and why?

J.K. Rowling of course! I really admire what she did for children’s books and reading in general – I want to pick her brain about all sorts of things.

– What is one item you have either made/ tried/ learn’t while being in lockdown, and was it successful?

I have had a very un-Pinterest friendly lockdown and can sadly report no crafting, meditating, baking or acquiring of new skills (other than remote working). It’s just been survival – I’ve done things like feed my children (usually food they make faces at), clean the toilet, do laundry, do Zoom. The kind of stuff no one really wants to know about.

– While the lockdown was fairly sudden, and our new normal sprang up quickly, what has been a silver lining to you during this time?

Being together as a family and not having to do the mad morning rush to school and work.

I’ve also discovered that there is a kind of magic that is trapped under the canopy of trees that one only sees when lying under them.

– We have all had time to realise that we miss certain things or places during this time, what is yours?

A glass of wine with friends! Book shops! The wide-open spaces of the Drakensberg.

– What is something that you struggle with in your current situation with who you live with?

It’s been intense – being stuck at home means being “on” all the time when it comes to parenting, regardless of how much stuff you have to get done, but I wouldn’t say I’ve struggled with being home with my partner and our girls. If anything, I’m very grateful I wasn’t alone through lockdown!

 

Thank you so much for joining us, Nicole,  for the {HOMEGROWN} series. Now that bookstores are open, (we are thankfully no longer in Level 5 Lockdown, and in fact, will soon be heading into Level 3) you can head to your local bookstore or buy Witchfield online via Amazon. Find Nicole on Instagram @hellotypewriter. Head on over to our Instagram or Facebook page to enter our Giveaway to win yourself a copy of Witchfield. 

Stay safe as we continue to brave our new world.

No Comments »

Sex, Lies DECLASSIFIED

Remember Fifty Shades of Grey? The book classified as ‘mommy porn’, well, Sex, Lies DECLASSIFIED was definitely reminiscent of the latter.

Thankfully, this one had more redeeming qualities such as an intriguing story line, set in our very own city of Cape Town and based in Stellenbosch.  The book follows the lives of the Winelands Elite, in particular Jen, wife of renowned wine farmer and businessman John Pearce and continues where the first one finished. Both books are written as fiction to protect the innocent but shows the underbelly of the prominent Stellenbosch community, and boy does it show you. It’s fascinating, and to think its based on truth…

If you haven’t already, you’ll want to read Sex, Lies &  Stellenbosch first, as the story follows on in Declassified. I was highly disappointed when the second ended on a cliffhanger, I was NOT expecting that. So, now I wait, because I REALLY need to know what happens next. Both of these books were enjoyable but be warned because this is definitely an ‘adults only’ book as the sex scenes are a plenty. I did find it a little over the top, and honestly questioned if these people really have as much sex as was portrayed on every few pages…. or if the author just really wanted to write in as many sex scenes as she could. Not that it matters either way, but there is a reason why ‘Sex’ is the first word in both titles of these books…;-)

Eva Mazza’s writing is direct, and to the point.  She tells it like she sees it. It is a writing style that is not for everyone but if you are looking for a sexy, fast paced and scandalous novel about a jet setting community with no holds barred, this is the one for you. Be warned though, there are a couple of scenes in SLD, that are a little harrowing. The vividity of the scene does make it a little horrifying to read, but this just shows us again, that Mazza is a strong voice, and not afraid to use it. No tiptoeing around a subject in this one.

Thank you to Nb Publishers for a review copy of this e-book. I read it about mid way through quarantine. It helped to get my reading mojo back after the initial distraction of lockdown and the new normal that our lives have had to adjust to. It is enjoyable, entertaining, with the right amount of intrigue, and a touch of incredulity… Go on, I dare you.

Sex, Lies Declassified will be available at all good bookstores and online from 18 May 2020. Most bookstores offer delivery options now too, so if you’re itching to get your paws on a copy, you are advised to call ahead, or place your orders now in preparation. And once you have read it, let us know what you thought of it.

 

 

 

 

No Comments »

Home Grown : The SA Author Campaign III

I hope you are all enjoying these Q & A’s as much as I am! Authors are one of my favourite kinds of people and I always find it so fascinating getting to know the person behind the pages.

Introducing our next { homegrown } writer, Jen Thorpe, author of The Peculiars – (I read this in 2 days straight back in 2016 and thoroughly enjoyed it), Living While Feminist,  and her latest,  Feminism Is,  which is a collection of 31 essays by South African Women Feminists. I have yet to read this book but it is on my TBR (I know one of the contributors – shout out to Aimee-Claire – can’t wait to read your essay.

With thanks to NB Publishers for the collaboration, especially during this time where most of us are spending more time at home. So, without further ado, I welcome Jen, and her interview. Go forth and read it, then check out her books.

– Do you have a specific routine that you follow when you sit down to write, or are you able to sit and write at any time?

If I sit down, I write. It’s the sitting down that’s the difficult part. 

When I’m writing fiction, I do like to make sure that my desk is tidy, that I have a blank piece of paper nearby to write down ideas or things I should look up later or try to work out, and a big piece of cardboard where I can write the character names down as I go.

I normally write non-fiction or opinion pieces when something has provoked an emotional response in me. I generally sit down and try to get all my thoughts on paper, and then I clean it up afterwards.

– What book/s are you currently reading?

Fiction: I’ve just finished Naomi Alderman – the Lessons. I’m about to start Anna Burns – Milkman.

Non-fiction: I’ve just finished David Sedaris – Theft by Finding. It was AMAZING. I’m currently reading How Fiction Works by James Wood; In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood; and Rage Becomes Her by Soraya Chemaly.

– Which SA authors have inspired you in your own writing?

So many! Lauren Beukes, Sarah Lotz, Pumla Gqola, Hedley Twidle, Dominique Botha, Kerry Hammerton, Koleka Putuma, Tlaleng Mofokeng, Maire Fischer and Rahla Xenopoulos in their workshops … I could go on all day. 

I should also say that I find the book festivals in SA very inspiring in terms of coming up with ideas and hearing from other authors. Open Book festival is my absolute favourite.

– Did you always have a passion to write a book or did it / they stealthily creep up on you?

I think a more appropriate description is that I go through periods of giving myself permission to write, and periods of pretending that other things are more important. When I give myself permission then the writing comes, but when I send my attention elsewhere, it doesn’t.

– Which has been your favourite book to write so far?

I really enjoyed writing my forthcoming book, The Fall. I enjoyed plotting the characters and the creativity that comes when you decide that the rules of the real world need not apply in your story. 

– What were your favourite books as a child?

To be honest I just loved reading and would read pretty much anything I could get my hands on. I loved the Famous Five and Secret Seven books, loved Roald Dahl and anything where the grown-ups were getting into trouble. I really enjoyed choose your own adventure books too. I enjoyed horror and scary books but also stories that followed the same characters for several books – so you might find me reading Goosebumps or Stephen King one week and Sweet Valley High the next.

– To date, what is the worst book you have ever read, and why?

In our book club we try to read quite widely, and we went a bit too wide once with an old book called – Iphegenia: The Diary of a Young Lady Who Wrote Because She Was Bored. By the end of it I was bored too, and I hated the main character.

– Do you think SA women writers and authors are treated differently to their male counterparts in the publishing world?

Next year I’ll be studying again and focusing on that topic exactly! So I’ll let you know more once I find out.

My experience in the publishing world has had its good and bad times, but I must say that the all-female publishing team that I get to work with at Kwela are phenomenal and I trust them with my work wholeheartedly.

I think categories like ‘women’s fiction’ are problematic, in that they suggest that there is something a bit odd or different about the way that women write stories, so I’m glad that South African publishers don’t really emphasise that category. 

– If there was one piece of advice you could give to aspiring SA authors, what would it be?

Write, write honestly, write bravely, and write as much as you can. 

BONUS QUARANTINE QUESTIONS:

– If we weren’t in lockdown and you could have any authors around your table for dinner, who would they be and why?

David Sedaris (for the humour), Scarlett Thomas (to pick her brain about writing), Malcom Gladwell (because he is interested in everything and I’m sure the conversation would go wild places), Zadie Smith (because I’m a huge fan!), Pettina Gappah (because her writing is just fantastic)… wait, how big is my dinner table?

– What is one item you have either made/ tried/ learn’t while being in lockdown, and was it successful?

I’ve gotten really into drawing during the lockdown and I’m enjoying it. I’ve always been quite into yoga, so I’m glad to have reconnected to that practice.

– While the lockdown was fairly sudden, and our new normal sprang up quickly, what has been a silver lining to you during this time?

I have a few:

  • It gave me some ideas for a new book, and I’ve started writing it. 
  • Our Living While Feminist author party via Zoom.
  • Zoom calls with friends and family to keep you feeling a bit normal. 
  • Yoga! Yoga! Yoga!
  • Spending time with my husband.
  • More open conversations online about the way we work and the new, kinder and better ways we could be doing it.
  • Fiction podcasts.

– We have all had time to realise that we miss certain things or places during this time, what is yours?

I miss the forest and walking on the mountain, the smell of fynbos and earth, the sound of the different birds and how the gravel crunches under my feet. 

I miss hugging my family and friends.

I miss bookshops and art shops.

– What is one pet hate in your current situation with who you live with? Be it a partner, child or animal?

Honestly, I don’t have one.

Thanks so much Jen for chatting to us, it was great to see a snippet of you.  We readers are so blessed with such an abundance of talent in our own country. 

Here’s to week 5, our final in Level 5  Quarantine (we hope). May you all stay safe and well.

No Comments »

Home Grown : The SA Author Campaign II

I am very pleased to share with you our next author in our author campaign,  Finuala Dowling. I discovered Finuala with her book Homemaking for the Down-At-Heart which I loved. It will forever be one of those books that stay with me because it was set in Kalk Bay, the place I called my home during my teenage years (and one of my favourite places in the world).

A big thanks to NB Publishers for collaborating with me on showcasing a few of our SA women authors, especially during this time of lockdown. This is an easy to read Q&A which I hope you will all enjoy.

Without further ado, I introduce to you,  Finuala Dowling author of Okay Okay Okay.

– Do you have a specific routine that you follow when you sit down to write, or are you able to sit and write at any time?

I like to start writing in the morning,  to be sure of several uninterrupted hours ahead.

 

– What book/s are you currently reading?

I’ve just finished Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Between the Woods and Water, and have moved on to Mavis Gallant’s Selected Stories.

 

– Which SA authors have inspired you in your own writing?

I’ve been inspired by the strong, uncompromising voices of Olive Schreiner, Bessie Head, Antjie Krog and Ingrid de Kok.

 

– Did you always have a passion to write a book or did it / they stealthily creep up on you?

When I was younger I wanted to write a book, now I find that there’s a book that wants me to write it.

 

– Which has been your favourite book to write so far?

My first (published) novel was probably the most fun to write. I only had two months to do it in, and I just let rip.

 

– What were your favourite books as a child?

A Japanese story called ‘Three Strong Women’, and folk and fairy tales generally. I started on Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice when I was twelve or thirteen, and never looked back.

 

– To date, what is the worst book you have ever read, and why?

There are several contenders, but the one I remember left me irritated, confused and infuriated was The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde. It’s the third in a series, and I hadn’t read the other two, which might explain my reaction, but it seemed like the book was just an opportunity for the author to show off. I think writers should disappear behind the story, not stand in front of it waving a flag.

 

– Do you think SA women writers and authors are treated differently to their male counterparts in the publishing world?

I think sometimes male SA writers are seen as more worthy of literary critical study.

 

– If there was one piece of advice you could give to aspiring SA authors, what would it be?

Use your first novel to explore a theme or a problem that passionately interests you.

 

BONUS QUARANTINE QUESTIONS:

 

– If we weren’t in lockdown and you could have any authors around your table for dinner, who would they be and why?

Lyndall Gordon, Ann Tyler, Elizabeth Strout, Michiel Heyns and Damon Galgut – compassionate, empathetic writers with irony.

 

– What is one item you have either made/ tried/ learn’t while being in lockdown, and was it successful?

I confess that lockdown has forced me to get over my antipathy to Skype.  It isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

 

– While the lockdown was fairly sudden, and our new normal sprang up quickly, what has been a silver lining to you during this time?

The silence that has descended, the uninterrupted hours for writing that have arrived. I no longer wake up feeling threatened about what people will expect from me today. They expect nothing.

 

– We have all had time to realise that we miss certain things or places during this time, what is yours?

I miss the beach, and bottle stores.

 

– What is one pet hate in your current situation with who you live with? Be it a partner, child or animal?

I live with my sister and she’s stopped drinking whiskey because she knows how much I love it.

 

Thank you Finuala for keeping us entertained by answering these questions, it was great to get to see the author behind the books. I look forward to reading your new book.

Heres to Week 4 of Quarantine Lockdown, Day 26 in Cape Town. May you all stay safe and well.

No Comments »

Homegrown : The SA Author Campaign

I am an avid reader, and particularly love to read South African authors. We have some of the best writers in the world, and with them comes a unique vantage point of relatability. For that reason I do believe we need to support and show them off to the rest of the world.  In March it was International Women’s month which sparked the idea to kick off a campaign representing our female authors – I had seen a run of great books being published so I contacted NB Publishers with regards to showcasing a selection of authors with their latest books, and with that a collaboration was born.

Please welcome Kirsten Miller, author of All that is Left, to our  SA author Q & A Campaign.

 

– Do you have a specific routine that you follow when you sit down to write, or are you able to sit and write at any time?

I don’t have any writing routine. I can write at any time, in any place, in longhand or at a computer. What I love to do is go down to the river in the nature reserve that is just below the house where I live, and sit on the rocks and free-write. I do my best writing when I’m alone, but solitude is a luxury I don’t often have anymore. So I do try to get away by myself when I can – even to a coffee shop or to the beach. I can edit my own work, though, when other people are around, if I have to. It’s the initial writing phase that’s more difficult for me, if I have the distraction of other people’s presence.

– What book/s are you currently reading?

I’ve just finished Michael Ondaartje’s Running in the Family and I’m re-reading Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus. I’ve also just started Orhan Pamuk’s Snow. I try to keep a book of fiction and one of non-fiction going at the same time.

– Which SA authors have inspired you in your own writing?

Sello Duiker is probably the South African author whose writing I most admire. I think his body of work over time would have been phenomenal, if it hadn’t been too painful for him to continue. One of the most memorable short stories I’ve ever read was Lidudumalingani Mqombothi’s Memories We Lost, for which he won the Caine Prize. That kind of writing inspires me and keeps me reaching for beautiful, quality literature.

– Did you always have a passion to write a book or did it / they stealthily creep up on you?

I always have a book I want to write, but they do all creep up on me. I first tried to write a book when I was seven. When I was fourteen completed a full-length manuscript of a novel. I don’t have it anymore and no doubt it was terrible. But writing books is something that I’ve always felt  motivated or driven to do. I like the process as much as the end goal. For me, writing is not unlike dreaming.

– Which has been your favourite book to write so far?

My previous novel, The Hum of the Sun, published in 2018 by Kwela, has been my favourite book so far. I like the main characters, Ash and Zuko, very much. I spent a focused year on that novel, during which I visited my parents for a couple of weeks. My mother cooked for me and I could just write and didn’t have to do anything else, so I had a small window of uninterrupted time. That was a great gift.

– What were your favourite books as a child?

I only realized as an adult how privileged I was that, after food, my mother prioritized books over everything else. I had access to libraries from before I went to school. Some of our best writers in South Africa only stepped into a library for the first time when they were students, or adults, because of the apartheid system. That is such a terrible thing to do to people. I went through various reading stages, depending on my age. When I was very young it was The World of Pooh, The Wind in the Willows and some of the Oz books. Later I had a wonderful book of folk tales called The Potato King that I read repeatedly, and I still have it. I have a Roald Dahl collection, and Danny the Champion of the World was my favourite for a long time. The relationship between Danny and his father captivated me, and a part of me still wants to live in a caravan. There was also a book in our house called Things to Make and Do. I loved paging through it, wishing I could make everything in it. I read JM Coetzee’s The Life and Times of Michael K when I was about thirteen or fourteen, and this book fundamentally opened up my awareness of what was going on in my country.

– To date, what is the worst book you have ever read, and why?

I don’t have a worst book. If a book isn’t doing it for me on either a narrative, character or language level, I get bored and move on. As a consequence I’ve read so many books but none I consider bad! Life is too short, and there are too many great books to read.

– Do you think SA women writers and authors are treated differently to their male counterparts in the publishing world?

Yes. Not by those in the book publishing industry, but certainly by readers and by the media. The act of reading itself is still so gendered. For so many hundreds of years the presumed reader was always male, and women writers would adopt a male pseudonym. And it persists that women today read books by authors who are men and authors who are women, whereas men primarily read books by other men. I have been called a woman writer a few times by readers in panel discussions and each time it’s a jolt, because I have never heard of anyone being addressed as a ‘man writer’. I understand that previously marginalised groups such as black writers and women writers need increased representation because of previous and current power imbalances, but I think that’s the wrong way to go about it. I would completely support the term ‘feminist writer,’ for instance, as feminism is an ideology that is chosen and assumed in the sense of being taken on deliberately. Being a woman is out of my control. It’s unchosen. I don’t think it’s fair to separate women from other writers because of it. It only entrenches difference and stereotyping. If we’re reading and engaging with texts, we know who the writers are. One can’t assume that I have a particular agenda or narrative content because I’m a woman. I’m a writer. A novel writer or a fiction writer. That’s it. That’s the kind of world I hope we can get to.

– If there was one piece of advice you could give to aspiring SA authors, what would it be?

If you are lucky enough to get comments and feedback when you submit your work, don’t be too proud to consider these carefully and keep crafting what you’ve written. Work for improving quality. Don’t underestimate the value of a good story, and the beauty of language. Not only will this improve your own writing, but it will continue to raise the standard of South African literature.

BONUS QUARANTINE QUESTIONS:

– If we weren’t in lockdown and you could have any authors around your table for dinner, who would they be and why?

Emanuel Dongala (Johnny Mad Dog) and Mandla Langa (The Texture of Shadows), because I have had conversations with these authors in the past and they have lived through political histories that people forget too easily. I would love to hear more of their stories and their experiences. Maya Angelou (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings), if she were alive, because of her incredible depth of understanding about being human and to talk about the influence of blues music on her work, and Haruki Murakami (Kafka On The Shore), because I would like to tell him in person how much I enjoy his books.

– What is one item you have either made/ tried/ learnt while being in lockdown, and was it successful?

Launching All That is Left (Kwela) online was interesting – I actually enjoyed it very much! It felt more intimate than a real-life launch, and it made it possible for my mother to be there. Also, at the last minute the Time of the Writer Festival had to teleport to an on-line platform so, as one of the participants, it was interesting and challenging to do a 3-way live twitter interview for the first time. I’ve certainly learnt a few skills, having had to engage more with technology during the lockdown.

– While the lockdown was fairly sudden, and our new normal sprang up quickly, what has been a silver lining to you during this time?

It’s given me time to clean the house properly. This has been a relief and incredibly satisfying. Not having a daily commute has also given me an hour and twenty extra minutes to my weekdays. That’s six hours and forty minutes every week. Time is my most valuable resource. It is one thing we can never get back.

– We have all had time to realise that we miss certain things or places during this time, what is yours?

I miss the smiles of and interactions with colleagues, I miss being able to have coffee or a drink with a friend, I miss laughter, I miss my morning sea swims and my afternoon walks.

– What is one pet hate in your current situation with who you live with? Be it a partner, child or animal?

Just the inability to be alone sometimes. I think I absorb the presence of other people too easily. This impacts my writing, and slows it down..

Thank you Kirsten for sharing your thoughts and time with us, it was lovely getting to know the person behind the book. If anyone would like a sneak peak into All That Is Left you can read an extract here.

And here’s to week three of Quarantine Lockdown, day 19 in Cape Town. May you all stay safe and well.

2 Comments »