The Book Club Blog

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I wrote a poem

…and it may not be the best poem in the world, but it is still my poem.

There was inspiration, there was flowing words, there was ink and paper, and a song in the lines…

If it wasn’t for The Author Awakening Adventure, the 8-week writing course I signed up for last year through Joanne Fedler, I would probably still be ignoring my desire to write.

I have now committed to writing my very own novel. With an aim to have my first tragic draft written by the end of this year. I have organised leave from work to enable space for the words to thrive, and I am hoping that by the time I return most of my ideas will have turned into a semblance of a story. In fact, I am certain it will.

If you have any sort of desire to write, but you don’t want ‘just a writing course’, this is the one to join. It starts on the 19th February and continues for 8 weeks. The support you receive is incredible and I highly recommend it. Take a look here, if it resonates with you, jump in and be brave.

In the meantime here is my poem:

My memories were assailed by forgotten reminders of the past.
I saw glimpses of my 20year old self-
remembered who I used to be.
Where I came from.
And for a moment, went back to that place to see.

But the changes have been wrought,
the blessings of a life well lived,
the soul of a little person residing within
all would not be possible,
if it weren’t for me.

For I recognise the path,
the differences between
and though I may forget, or rather, not remember,
I have come a long way since then.
My past has not defined me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Committed.

Last year I turned 40.

Last year I signed up for a year-long writing course, 365 days. Of writing. When I had not written anything vaguely ‘creative’ in over 20 years. Yes, I had written blog posts, and posts on Pilates and updates on FB, but dig into imagination territory and write? Nope, nothing, nada. Until Last year.

I joined the 7 Day Writing Challenge through the author Joanne Fedler last May. I was drawn to her because I had read her memoir, When Hungry, Eat,(loved it) and the idea of getting taught by an author, a published author, made me feel special (also a little starstruck, and when she answered a comment of mine on FB, well, swoon…for me, authors are like movie stars…) Long story short, ended up committing 2018 to the Year of My Book, and it was suggested to me that I should document the journey for other aspiring authors. (I can’t wait to look back at these posts when I have a book published… It will be very surreal.)

My 365 days started the 1st January, today is day 15 and this is what I have learned so far.

  • You have to believe you can pull it off
  • Writing is as hard and as easy as sitting down to write. If you know your letters, you can write.
  • Having someone who believes you can do it, no matter the doubts in your head makes a BIG difference.
  • You WILL have doubts, but it is what you do with them that count. Do they terrify you so much that you don’t get the words down, or do you politely acknowledge them and then tell them they are not welcome… I do the latter.
  • You have to make the time to write. Even when you don’t feel like it.
  • Somedays the words flow and sometimes they definitely do not. When they don’t,  write down the noise in your head. Make space for new words.
  • Your writing can surprise you
  • You do have gems amidst the ramble
  • You have to write EVERY DAY, preferably with a word count so you are accountable to yourself.
  • Having a group of writing buddies is extremely supportive of the process. To have them to chat to, to compare notes of where you are at in the process, to talk to people who are in the SAME situation, is very beneficial and I am very grateful for my Podlings. ( You know who you are)
  • You have to TRUST THE PROCESS. Even when it feels like nothing is happening, trust that there is. Under the surface where you cannot see it.
  • You have to have faith in yourself and your ability(even when you don’t)
  • You have to commit, even on the dark days, the silent days, the days the words won’t budge.

I am positive that this process is going to get both easier and much harder as the year goes on. But I have set myself along this path and I shall follow through. Committed.believe

And you, are you planning a similar journey, or have you embarked on your own story, your own book? I would love to hear from you. What gems have you gleaned from the process?

 

Next update coming in February. Until then…

 

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Do you write?

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I didn’t. I used to, many many moons ago when I still believed in the power of my words. Because one random incident stopped me writing. What was it? I reread some of my journaling and thought, what on earth are you on about? I was a confused young adult, with no real direction and after reading this particular piece (for the life of me I couldn’t tell you what it is now), I cringed and stopped putting words down on paper.

Until my daughter was born, and I realised I needed to write, that I could not keep my words bottled up inside me anymore, and Imsonotablogger was born. I delved into the land of blogging and it served its purpose for many years until life got crazy and busy and I no longer found the time to write…

Skip to 9 years later, when I started looking for a writing course to do. I was turning the big 40, the call for writing a book too loud to ignore and halfway through being 40, I discovered the 7 Day Writing Challenge with the author Joanne Fedler. After seeing the advert on Facebook for a couple of days, I clicked the link.

(It took me a few days because I am always wary of advertising on FB, how they manage to target their market so efficiently freaks me out a little) But when I did and realised that it really was what it said it was, I signed up for the 7 Day Writing Challenge. It was free, and time wise quite doable in my rather crazy schedule. I knew I could fit writing into my life, without it causing too much extra mayhem.

The beauty of the 7 Day Challenge is that my words were woken up. The delicious Joanne Fedler, who teaches with compassion and a no-nonsense approach to being accountable for your thoughts and actions. She teaches the balance of craft and consciousness, so you are not “just writing” but feeling your way into your writing. Which for many of us, that may be the scariest thing. But Joanne manages the transition with care and compassion so you are gently dipping your toes into the waves of words, feelings, and memories of what is alive inside us.

Why am I telling you this?

For three reasons:

  • Firstly, this free 7 Day challenge affected me so much, I signed up for a year-long course to Write My First Draft. Yes, I have always wanted to write a book and Now I am. Becuase writing really is as simple as putting one word in front of the other and letting your fingers do the typing.
  • Secondly, I don’t share things I don’t believe in. I believe in this.
  • Thirdly, if you sign up for the free 7 Day Challenge, at the end of it you have the option to enter a competition to win a scholarship for the Author Awakening Adventure. Which is an 8-week course and really fires up the imagination(that is where the idea for my book originated).

So, even if you think you CAN’T write but want to, this is the perfect starter portion to see where it leads you. It runs from the 18th – 24th January 2018.  And if at the end of it, you really don’t want to explore the landscape of words within you, then don’t. This is the start of a brand new year, release your creativity, for 7 days, and see what gets born from it.

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