Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category
Carol-Ann Davids and I both did the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Cape Town at about the same time, but while I skipped into the future with my dissertation/novel, Moxyland, to explore a neo-apartheid, she went back, in The Blacks of Cape Town, with its provocative title, to excavate the uncomfortable forbidden past and it’s knock-on effects on who we are now.
As she describes it: Historian, Zara Black, is in an unfamiliar room in a country far from home, when she is awoken by music that evokes memories she has been trying to forget. It is this call from her father, seemingly from beyond the grave, that pushes Zara to start unraveling the mystery of her family and the act her father may have committed against the anti-apartheid movement decades earlier.
Here’s how a little distance helped her zoom-in on the subject matter she cared about most.
The Spark: The Blacks of Cape Town by CA Davids
Cape Town is the sort of place that falls between the cracks of neat definitions. Lodged as it is between the mountain and the ocean, it cannot be described in easy sentences or with a common consensus.
Or maybe that’s not quite correct: most will agree on the beauty of that flat mountain that holds the city in a collective gasp, or wonder at the oceans – the Atlantic to one side and the Indian to the other. Its beauty notwithstanding, the city is a hive of contradictions. Because beyond the tourist friendly vistas breathes another city, at once darker and more real. Circling the City Centre are the suburbs with its cropped hedges, and beyond that, government issued houses patch-worked with countless DIY extensions, and still beyond those, homes of iron and zinc running along the highway, un-writing brochures as tourists gape their way past.
Having been born in the city’s heart close to town, but raised in its ass in a peripheral suburb, I had always been aware of the myriad contradictions: extreme privilege and poverty, agitation and indifference, pretty and ugly, all staring the other down. The city that I knew, the one that I grew up in, rarely makes the headlines these days other than for what troubles it: gang land killings or other acts of unspeakable violence. What of the mundane? The boring details of life? The way ordinary people get on with it? And what about the ideas, creativity, music and political resistance that had formed me, in my bit of Cape Town?
I suppose then, it was never really a spark for me, but a slow burn for as long as I could remember. To write yes. More than that, to do what the arts and literature do best: to make real by filling in the blanks, to give spirit and shape and heft to a place; to reach beyond the city’s beauty, glamourized gang violence and expected personalities to its undercurrents and nuances and fix that onto a page.
But things change. I moved to the USA, thirty minutes from New York, and my novel took a turn. I was far from home, equally mesmerized and overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the place I was in, the range of cereals to choose from in a supermarket, the curiosity about my race and accent, my own interest in the places around me … so the basis for the novel became a split narrative structure able to cross into both worlds. Conversations on trains, the nightly news, a questionnaire – everything flickered with possibility and fed the thing.
I lived in the States for two years and just as I was about to leave, people started speculating that a handsome young congressman might run for the presidency. That he was black was hardly a small detail. By the time Barack Obama was elected I was living in China, watching the often frenzied news coverage. It was impossible not to include this. My novel was very obviously about race too. Right in the beginning, in the dream stages of writing the book, I had imagined, fantasized really, of not mentioning race at all – to have postmodern characters devoid of such things, for whom race was entirely incidental. Perhaps this was so because I wanted to escape the obsessive race-based culture I had grown up in. But ultimately I knew that for me to approach a contemporary novel in this way was a cop-out, and frankly, dishonest.
Slowly, bit by bit the novel shaped around things I wanted and did not want to write about and when it came time to pick a title, The Blacks of Cape Town, sounded about right.
Get the book from Modjadji
Follow Carol-Ann on Twitter: @ca_davids
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Fiona Snyckers writes punchy, smart chic-lit (although she hates it when I drop the k) and nuanced, provocative commentary on South Africa on her blog.
Her Trinity series has done terrifically. The eponymous heroine is smart, funny, awkward and engaging. The novels are written with a light touch and a sharp social conscience – and they’re entertaining as hell.
Maybe inspired by the awesome YA Sisterz serial Fiona wrote for the yoza.mobi cell phone stories project (which you can read in full here), the third installment in the trilogy takes Trinity Luhabe back to high school.
The Spark is an ongoing guest blog series to highlight new African fiction. If you want to be part of it, go here to read the guidelines.
The Spark: Team Trinity by Fiona Snyckers
When I was thinking of writing the next book in the Trinity series, I decided to make it a young adult story. The series has always attracted young readers so it made sense to write a book set when Trinity was the same age as her biggest fans.
I have been interested for a long time in the genesis of abusive and controlling relationships. We are all familiar with the paradigm of cyclical abuse. We know of people who grew up in abusive homes, only to turn into abusers or abuse victims as adults.
But what about those women who grow up in loving, nurturing homes with no history of abuse? How do they end up as abuse victims? What does it take for a man to break a happy, confident woman down to the point where she accepts herself at his valuation?
Many of us find it hard to understand why women stay in abusive relationships when there is no economic reason for them to do so and no children are involved. We wonder why they don’t just leave.
I wanted to explore the process whereby a young girl could be isolated and have her confidence broken down to such an extent that she is not even aware of how her sense of self has been eroded.
As so often when I have unanswered questions, I turned to Twitter for help. The responses I got were immediate and overwhelming. I felt especially honoured to be trusted with people’s personal experiences. What interested me most was how often women said that their abusive relationship started off on an incredible high. They had felt fortunate, blessed and almost ridiculously happy in the beginning. Then when the criticisms and undermining started, they became focused on doing whatever it took to get the relationship back to that happy place. Like addicts, they were continually chasing that original high.
I am probably making Team Trinity sound like a far more serious book than it actually is. It is light, funny and an entertaining read. It deals with issues that range across wide territory. But I can’t deny that the original spark for it was this preoccupation of mine with how abusive relationships get started. Essentially, the book is my heads-up to teenage girls everywhere on how to recognise the signs that your power is being taken away from you.
Follow @FionaSnyckers on Twitter
Read her blog
Visit her website
Buy the book from your favourite indie or on Kalahari or Loot or get the electronic version available on Kindle.
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The Spark is a series of guest blogs highlighting new African fiction with authors writing about what lit up this book in their heads.
Nnedi Okorafor is a Nigerian-American writer of Igbo-descent and a professor at Chicago State University. Her work ranges from whimsical, smart YA, to a Disney fairy novel, to the hard-hitting and provocative magical realism novel, Who Fears Death.
She’s racked up a host of prizes, including the World Fantasy prize for best novel, the Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa, the CBS Parallax Award and the Wole Soyinka Prize, not including all the short-lists she’s made.
She’s also incredibly nice and brimming with wonderfully insane ideas for stories, as I found out when I interviewed her in Chicago for a BBC World Service radio documentary on Science Fiction in Africa.
Here’s Nnedi on what set off her new collection of short stories:
The Spark for Kabu Kabu:
In Nigeria, unregistered, illegal Nigerian taxis are called kabu kabu. My most memorable kabu kabu ride was years ago when I was with my siblings and cousins in Abuja, Nigeria. My cousins were showing my siblings and me around and we’d walked very far. We didn’t want to walk back, so my cousins decided to hail a kabu kabu.
We were outside an open-air market and it didn’t take long for a kabu kabu to stop. It was a rickety ancient-looking silver thing, no yellow paint or taxi logo on the outside. My sisters and I hesitated, skeptical of the car that seemed to hold itself together by using sheer will. However, when our cousins got inside, we piled in behind them. Before either of my cousins could tell the driver where we wanted to go, six more guys squeezed in with us. Three pushed in from one side and three from the other.
I remember trying to kick the guys out and my cousins shouting at them in a mixture of English, Pidgin English and Igbo. The guys were young and laughing. Eventually, they got the hell out and we quickly drove off. The ride back to my cousins’ house took about five minutes. For the entire journey, I stared down at the road because I could see it right through a huge hole where the car’s floor should have been. We all coughed and coughed (including the driver) from the exhaust that plumed through the floor hole.
When Prime Books publisher and editor Sean Wallace asked me if I wanted to do a book of short stories, that questionable yet functional vehicle immediately popped into my mind. That was the spark that grew into a fire. Kabu Kabu is a collection of stories that do not need a license to drive on the literary highway. They take you where they feel you need to go.
Included in the collection is a novella I co-write with author Alan Dean Foster also titled “Kabu Kabu”. We wrote it back in 2007. We’d tried getting it published in the Science Fiction and Fantasy market but the rejections kept citing that it was too “literary”. Nevertheless, I loved the story and I knew that if I ever did a collection of short stories, this story would be in it. For me, the novella is about the first generation Nigerian-American experience, Nigerian immigrant adaptation and cultural connection. Technology and magic also get along in this story in a very African way, a theme I love exploring in my stories.
The Kabu Kabu collection is possibly the most thorough sampling of my “storyview”. You have mystical dreadlocks, masquerades, Biafra, Nigeria in the future, my idea of an alien invasion and first contact, good, bad and neutral juju, monsters, flying people (NOT from Zahrah the Windseeker), baboons, mythology grown from disability/deformity, nonfiction turned science fiction, spiders, girls who go to war. It’s a book where (because of the short story collection medium) I get to do something that I have never done within one book: Shape shift as much as I want.
One story whose “spark” I’d like to explain is “The Black Stain”. This is a story that is from my novel Who Fears Death. I wrote “The Black Stain” last year after a conversation with Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu, who was attached to the Who Fears Death film option as the director. The questions she asked forced me to dig deeper into the mythology of the novel’s world. The title and the inspiration for “The Black Stain” came from a few lines in Who Fears Death when Onyesonwu says, “I was trouble from the moment I was conceived. I was a black stain. A poison.” That line had always stuck with me because it made me sad.
“The Black Stain” is a brutal story; it is relentless. When I wrote it, I had to ignore the terrified and disturbed voice in my head that was telling me, “Ugh, don’t write that; It’s too horrific. Who would enjoy reading that?” It’s a story about how incidents in history become stories and the resulting stories are often laced with magic that can bend time, space, memory and the future…sometimes in horrible ways.
There are two notable consistencies in Kabu Kabu: Africa and female protagonists. These were not themes I forced on my writing. I wrote these stories at different times of my life. Between the years of 1993 and 2012. However, it’s clear where my heart resides and the gaps I believe need filling. Aside from these two themes, I’m all over the place. Most of the stories are adult, but one or two are young adult. Some are stories that happen within novels and some are standalones. There is fantasy, magical realism, science fiction, horror. There is a novella and there is a story that is closer to flash fiction. Stories are set in the past, the future, the present and elsewhere.
The one thing I wish I could have included in the collection was the nonfiction. One of the nonfiction stories was about an incident in the 80s where my sisters and I outran a group of racist high school students when we were 8, 9 and 10 years old (I’m the youngest). The other was about how I fought a group of boys in grade school while I imagined I was Zula from Conan the Destroyer. Maybe I’ll slip those in next time.
Twitter Handle: @Nnedi
Twitter Link: https://twitter.com/Nnedi
Kabu Kabu on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Kabu-ebook/dp/B00FJDMMOA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1383105476&sr=8-1&keywords=kabu+kabu
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I got an early look in at Apocalypse Now Now as Charlie Human’s supervisor in his MA in Creative Writing. I don’t normally take on students, but I was so impressed with Charlie’s short story that he entered for the Moxyland shorts competition that I commissioned him to write a guest chapter for Zoo City (one of three in the extra materials chapters, including the prison diaries by Sam Wilson and the Credo interview by Evan Milton) – and he used the opportunity to undermine my entire universe with an abstract from a psychology paper that posited that being animalled and the horror of the Undertow was all in my characters’ heads.
He’s a subversive bastard and he’s turned into a fine writer. Apocalypse Now Now is demented and wonderful and unlike any other South African fiction you’ve read. I’ll let Charlie tell you about where it came from himself.
The Spark: Apocalypse Now Now by Charlie Human
Tabloids made me do it. No, not smoke tik and call up demons, or capture a tokoloshe, eat dog flesh, or any other normal tabloid-sanctioned activity. Tabloids made me write a novel. Screw you tabloids.
It was the headlines that did, really. Walking to work I’d see them plastered to lampposts and realised that they were the best writing flashcards ever. They gleefully keep up a surreal running commentary on the supernatural underbelly of Cape Town that doesn’t exist. Or does it? I thought it’d be a fun question to ask and answer with Apocalypse Now Now.
Baby-snatching tokoloshes, fire demons, snake men of the Cape Flats, zombie strippers; that’s the kind of bizarre urban folklore that someone, a Chosen One blessed with years of B-grade movie watching experience and unencumbered by refined literary sensibilities, could really have fun with. *Pulls sword from stone*
Of course a novel needs a protagonist and who better than a Machiavellian porn-dealing teenager with a magical Boer heritage and some serious unresolved psychological issues. Write what you know and all that.
Baxter Zevcenko is a manipulative, cocky little schoolyard Rasputin who thinks emotions are for stupid people. Well, until his girlfriend is kidnapped and he’s forced to recognise the tree-hugging, crystal-wearing part of himself that’s just a junkie for love. The heart wants what the heart wants and Baxter’s heart wants to rescue Esmé and then rip out the heart of whoever took her.
Unfortunately there are supernatural forces at work so Baxter is forced to consult with Cape Town’s first and only Supernatural Bounty Hunter Jackson ‘Jackie’ Ronin. Ronin is an alcoholic Border War veteran with a shotgun, a mojo bag, and a degree in Dwarven style kung-fu ass kicking.
Together they set off into Cape Town’s eldritch underworld and discover a little bit about themselves, the nature of friendship, and the piloting of giant inter-dimensional mecha prisons of elder gods in the process. I’m waiting for Disney to buy the film rights. Any day now.
Baxter also originated in newspaper headlines. He came from a series of moral panic headlines about the teenagers of Cape Town being hostages to the terrible societal forces of drugs, pornography and the increasingly connected society we live in.
The thing is I was a teenager once and I distinctly remember bad things not just happening randomly by themselves. Someone has to do them. Someone chooses to distribute drugs or sell porn or bully some poor kid because he plays the tuba. I wanted Baxter to be that someone.
“Oh, a flawed antihero with a dark past?” I hear you say. “Those are so hawt right now.” Well yes, but I wanted that for a specific reason. No, really. Adolescence, that hormonally-charged liminal space, is all about those horrific, stupid, ridiculous choices and I wanted Baxter’s choices, good and bad, to come from him.
Sure, he’s an egotistical asshole but he’s trying really hard to be slightly less of an egotistical asshole. Which is a struggle I think most of us can relate to. Universal appeal!
Apocalypse Now Now is not a very deep book. WARNING: THERE ARE NO GRAND METAPHORS ABOUT SOUTH AFRICA HERE. It’s dipped in hyperactivity, deep-fried in pop culture, laced with B- grade movie bravado, and all rolled up in a satisfactorily ridiculous premise. So, you know, if you like that sort of thing…
Follow @charliehuman on Twitter
Buy Apocalypse Now Now on Amazon or from your local indie bookstore
Amazon UK Paperback
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The Spark is a series of guest blogs to highlight new African fiction – this week it’s Cape Town writer, Jason Staggie, who was focusing on screenplays when an encounter on a plane sparked off an idea for a novel about an ultimate dare game that spirals out of control, that would fit right in with the kind of transgressive works he loves from Tarantino to Chuck Palahniuk.
(Writers, if you want to write a guest blog for The Spark, please check out the guidelines here).
Jason Staggie: Risk
People should smile more.
I find that this simple act coupled with long lingering eye contact has a very good effect on air hostesses whether they are Namibian, Chinese or any other nationality for that matter. Their job requires them to smile for the length of the flight so why not give some of that back to them? I know they probably come across guys like me all the time. Flirtatious little bastards who irritate them to no end with subtle pick-up lines for the duration of the flight. Truth to be told I’m not flattering them because I want to join the overrated club that is the Mile High. All I want is for my glass to be filled promptly with minimal effort on my part to wear the mask of sobriety.
I’m sitting in the aisle seat. Johannesburg to Hong Kong: 13 hours. I’ve been in my majestic home town of Cape Town for a month. I’m hungover and now on the long trek back to Korea. I’m so hungover that I puked twice before I got onto the plane and I fear I’m going to have to go again soon. I feel a familiar uneasiness in my stomach which is my cue for my first toilet run of the flight.
I return to my seat with the temporary glow of one who has just ejected poison from his body. An elderly, greying white man is sitting in the window seat. I curse my luck for a few seconds but I know that once we’re in the air I’ll probably be able to get one of the air hostesses to move me.
I sit down and we take off. The trolley comes around and we both get a J and B. I’m not into the Fight Club notion of the single serving friend. I may have a lot of friends but I’m always willing to pick at another mind. We may not become close, but there is generally something to learn from every little conversation.
- You’re from Cape Town, right?
- Yeah. Where you from?
Turns out the guy is from the Free State but is now living in New Zealand. His reason for being on the flight is that he returned to South Africa to sell two of his houses. He starts by complimenting me on hailing from the best city in South Africa. “The one that has fewer of “Them”. “Them” that are running the country into the ground at the moment. He goes on listing more nonsensical things that “They” do.
For a few seconds I cannot believe what I’m hearing. Is this guy telling me all this because I’m lighter and because my hair is less curly? Is he telling me this because I come from Cape Town where half the population is mixed race and thus was given the rather absurd moniker of Coloured by the even more absurd Apartheid regime? So, because I’m apparently “half and half” I will automatically side with him?
I realize that he sees me as somewhat of an ally and I feel re-invigorated from my hungover induced lethargy.
I press the button on my armrest to summon Yin. (I am now on first names basis with the 2 air hostess covering the section.) I ask politely for 2 more J and B’s and a couple of Heinekens which she retrieves for us dutifully and with a bit of pep in her step.
If there’s one thing that my travels or perhaps just the years have taught me is that although my spontaneous nature can be ever so attractive and exciting, it can also be a hindrance. In this case I’m willing to sit it out and listen to this guy’s point of view.
He goes on to tell me his family moved to South Africa from Kenya in the 60’s, after “They” took power in Kenya. He starts listing all the ills that have befallen Kenya since the colonialists were sent on their merry way.
- Do you know what you are? I ask, after his rant relents.
My eyes flare up but not in anger. Rather because I am passionately going to tell it like it is. Truth needs a bit of a spectacle because more often than not it gets overshadowed by lies.
- A coward if ever there was one, is the one sitting next to me. You are a coward. You’re probably forty years older than me yet I don’t run from things. You are a coward and you are scared. You don’t fear the crime or the AIDS as much as you fear our country..oops..my country, actually progressing. That would hurt more than anything else in the world wouldn’t it? You make me sick.
The seatbelt sign is not on so I make my way to the toilet. I literally get sick but not because of the conversation. Rather because the hangover still lingers. I’m keen for more banter. I want to talk about the potential of my people, of my Africa. I want this ignorant old man to arrive in New Zealand and question his beliefs.
I’m excited as I walk back to my seat. I have the better part of 12 hours to attempt to destroy 60 odd years of ignorance. When I return he’s gone. At least I now have all the seats to myself. I settle in for a long flight, a very long flight.
I started writing RISK two days later.
I felt like I had the transgressive tales, but meeting this guy simply made me use all his assumptions and utilise it in an extreme way in the novel.
What if instead of talking to people like this, there was a game that forced one to act and do something about the situation? A game that is so seductive and so crazy that it forces players to ask fundamental questions about their role as the youth in Africa. I called this game RISK.
The old man’s continued usage of the words “they” or “them” also planted a seed. His absolute misunderstanding of black people in South Africa propelled me to write from a black person’s perspective and create the character of Nelson.
In Nelson, I wanted to give readers an insight into a new breed of black youth: rich, bored and with no recollection of ever living in a township, yet seemingly struggling with the same issues that his poorer countrymen are facing.
RISK deals with serious issues and is a risqué novel, but at its heart it knows exactly what its saying, and although extreme, it gives a very good indication of what the youth in South Africa is feeling.
Follow Jason on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jasonstaggie
Watch the book trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZE1P0o4Xa0
Buy the e-book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Risk-Jason-Staggie-ebook/dp/B00D3KQ0GM
Buy the paper book from Exclusive Books: http://tinyurl.com/ll3vgsc
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The Spark is a series of guest blogs to highlight new African fiction, with writers talking about their books in their own words. (Writers, if you want to be a part of it, please check out the guidelines here.)
Sally Patridge (Or SA as she’s known on book jackets) is a hugely dedicated, hard-working and talented young writer who write provocative, timely and thoughtful YA with, well, sharp edges. She’s won the MER Prize for Best Youth Novel twice, first for her debut, The Goblet Club, about bullied teens, and for Dark Poppy’s Demise about the perils of online relationships. She’s also been short-listed for the Percy Fitzpatrick Prize and Fuse was an IBBY Honour Book.
This is what lit up the story of Sharp Edges in her head:
The Spark for Sharp Edges
Inspiration can come in many forms. Sometimes an idea will come to me in a dream, and then when morning comes I have a couple of minutes to capture it before it drifts off to wherever dreams go during the day. Or I could see someone walking down the street and think to myself, “I wonder what his deal is?”
That spark of inspiration is like nothing else in the world. It’s bright and clear and all encompassing. It’s a lightning bolt from the heavens landing squarely in the writer’s brain. Once it hits nothing else matters but the story.
For Sharp Edges, the spark was a picture of a girl on the Internet.
It was one of those work-avoidance sites like Pinterest or Weheartit.com. I don’t even remember what I was browsing for, although I suspect it was something geeky like Adventure Time cosplay or steampunk-inspired fashion. I wasn’t expecting a girl with the saddest eyes in the word to appear in the feed. But she did. And it was one of those shadowy, haunting pictures that always get stuck in my mind.
Her story seemed obvious. A girl without a dad, out of her mind with grief, but with no one to talk to. Her suffering ran deep. She remembered her friend’s father who used to take them to the park and she screamed with exhilaration because he made the merry-go-round spin too fast.
The spark planted the seed and I couldn’t think of anything else.
Her name was V. So many things start with V. She was always a loner. The guys wanted her, but she was never really interested. Her friends loved her, but they didn’t really know her at all.
I should have saved the picture, but I didn’t. I haven’t been able to find it again either. But it doesn’t matter. The story was germinating.
The seed sprouted leaves – the other characters. I created six friends that went to a music festival in the Cederberg, but only five returned. The girl that died haunted them all, leaving those already fragile creatures broken, full of sharp edges.
The stem became the plot. The death became a murder. One of the remaining five was responsible, but which one? Each character remembered something different. Their suspicions broke them down further; destroying their relationships and friendships.
From there the story grew further. Roots in the form of back-stories extended into the earth.
I wrote each chapter from the point of view of a different teenager, each with a unique perception of what happened. Each character was real and full of life, but like leaves slowly started to crisp around the edges before falling to the ground one by one.
Sharp Edges was never going to be a happy story. There were no bright blossoms to lighten the atmosphere.
But V. There will always be something special about V – the rose among the thorns, my dark girl from the Internet. She went to find the man that used to push her on the swings.
“I pick the petals from a white rose and think about turning around and going home. I haven’t spoken to Ashley since that weekend. Why would she care if I need someone to talk to? She has her own life, her own problems. She’ll probably think I’m pathetic, showing up on her doorstep, wet and miserable.
I’m about to go when the front door opens and Adam comes out, carrying a box of tools. He does a little double take when he sees me. I’m sure the sudden appearance of a drenched and bedraggled teenager in the front yard would give anyone a fright.
“Can I help you?”
For a second I’m not sure what to say. I stare at the crushed petals in my hand and slowly let them fall to the ground.”
That’s only part of the story though. One stem. Maybe one day I’ll tell the rest of it…
Watch the book trailer for Sharp Edges here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKDRy86QIfQ
Follow Sally on Twitter: @sapartridge
Visit her website: www.sapartridge.co.za
Kindle edition coming soon. In the meantime buy Sharp Edges here or from your local indie bookstore.
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Inspired by John Scalzi’s awesome The Big Idea, and with his blessing, I want to create a regular feature on this blog to highlight South African(ish) talent by letting local writers talk about what sparked this particular novel for them.
Want to write one? More details right at the end.
First up is Alex Latimer, who I first got to know through his awesome and slightly demented kids picture books featuring ninjas and devious rabbits and sunburned crocodiles and also a time-traveling pencil-throwing monkey.
His debut novel has the same wit and twisted charm – and a glorious flipbook animation illustration on the edge of the page – but with a whole lot of skop, skiet en donner action too. I’ll let you tell him about it. (Translation for non SA-readers: kick, shoot and beat-up – only much more punchy in original Afrikaans)
The Spark of The Space Race – Alex Latimer
Ideas for books come where and when you least expect them, like a dinosaur in your cupboard next Thursday. Here is the dinosaur that appeared in my cupboard:
Afrikaners are a fiercely pioneering people + they also built amazing technology like the Rooivalk helicopter and six and a half nuclear bombs = what if they used those nuclear bombs to build a spaceship in order to colonise a distant planet?
I thought it was a fun idea – and the more I looked into it, the more weird facts there were to bolster the theory. The Vela Incident was a nuclear double-flash just off the South Africa-owned Prince Edward Islands in 1979. Vastrap was South Africa’s nuclear testing site in the middle of the Northern Cape desert where nuclear weapons were stored and were due to be tested in two secret underground shafts. And nuclear space travel though dangerous, is also the only viable way of getting really far into deep space.
But when it came to writing a novel about it, I had a problem – travelling through space is really, really boring.
Pages 1 to 6 could have read: “Wow, looking out at the star-speckled blackness of space is amazing, it simultaneously gives my lowly life more and less meaning.”
Then pages 7 – 250: “I’m tired of weeing in a bag and I wish that arsehole Francois never got on board.”
Equally, writing about life on other planets is hard – guys like Philip Pullman managed to create some entrancing worlds based on our own, but as soon as he tried something entirely new and made animals co-dependent on tree-nuts that they used as wheels, I was like… sorry Phil, I draw the line at tree-nut wheels.
So my solution was to set the whole book on earth. Nothing in my novel takes place in space. It’s all about how the original four Afrinauts that were meant to be on board this secret ship, never got on board – and how four random strangers managed to hijack the thing. (I couldn’t resist the idea of the very first South African space ship being hijacked.)
So here’s the set up:
Charlotte is a little over-protective of her sister, especially so when a stranger asks her out on a date. So she follows the poor guy out of town, all the way into the scrublands on the Kalahari desert and stumbles on to the supposedly ‘abandoned’ airbase of Vastrap. What she discovers will have her on the run with a total stranger in a hazmat suit, pursued by a crazy Angolan war veteran with a lot of motivation (millions worth) to make sure certain secrets stay that way.
The book has enough charm, action, serious insights and momentum to get a reader to the end without looking up at the page numbers for solace. But what I found strange about the finished book is that when I sent it to my publishers, they thought it was hilarious. The Space Race is weird and quirky and sometimes quite dark – and all that stuff can be hilarious if that’s your thing.
What was even stranger though is that in subsequent one-line write-ups someone decided to describe The Space Race as “a funny book”. For me it’s a funny book just like you might say, “What’s that funny smell in here.” or “I have a funny mole on my arm.”
The Space Race is my first novel, but my ninth published book – the previous eight have been kids picture books (The Boy Who Cried Ninja, Penguin’s Hidden Talent and Lion vs Rabbit) as well as a collection of illustrated works and two volumes of cartoons. So a novel is a strange new direction and I think I certainly brought some of the fun and quirkiness of my other books along.
My great fear though (besides being helicoptered and dropped in the middle of the ocean at night) is that some loving mom will pick up The Space Race and think that it’s “a funny book” for kids – and an eight-year old girl will read it and lie awake at night, confused and traumatised.
And that she will grow up to be a helicopter pilot.
Alex Latimer’s Web Site
Buy The Space Race on Amazon or support your friendly local book store.
Want to write a guest blog for The Spark?
Please read the following guidelines VERY CAREFULLY. Or your query will end up in my spam folder.
Please query me first, do NOT send me a completed essay.
You should be a South African or African writer, in the broadest and most inclusive sense of that. I’m looking to highlight all kinds of writers across all kinds of fiction.
You should have a new novel or short story collection out (allowing for a three month window. eg. if your book came out in the last three months, it’s eligible.) If it’s coming out later this year, query me now with the release date.
I’m not doing non-fiction at this time.
The book has to be published by an established third party publisher (ie. no vanity press, Smashwords, Amazon Digital Services etc, no self-published ebooks). Please don’t try to convince me otherwise. It’s my blog, my rules.
What I’m looking for:
You should be able to write a personal guest blog 400-1000 words that will give readers insight into what sparked off this book for you, what it’s about, what you put into it, how you built that spark into a blaze. It can be funny, moving, sad, gut-wrenching, silly, enraging as long as it’s personal. The idea is you get to talk about your work and pitch it to a potential new audience.
To query me, email me via my contact form with the words THE SPARK QUERY in the subject line.
In this pitch, please include your name, a sentence about you, the title of the book, a sentence or two on what your spark was and what you’re going to write about and the book’s publication info (release date, publisher)
If I say yes, awesome, then I’ll slot you in and give you a deadline for your essay.
I’m not going to edit it for you, so please make sure you’re happy with it. And don’t miss your deadline!
Please write it in Word or Notes. Please include all formatting (ie. italicizing the title of your book, so I don’t have to)
Your essay should be accompanied by:
A low-res author photograph (for web, size should be around 200k is fine, 2MB is not)
A low-res cover image (seriously, please don’t send me high-res, it’s for web)
A link to your website and Twitter handle
A link to where to buy the book, ideally on Amazon, if possible, for international audiences.
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When Moxyland launched in South Africa in 2008, we did a range of Moxy toys based on Michelle Son‘s handmade critter (conceptualised by Joey Hi-Fi) featured on the cover.
The toys were made by a women’s empowerment collective Sarah Lotz and her mom, Carol Walters, set up specifically for the job.
We raised R12 000 for them and the Montagu Sew & Sews have since gone on to other projects, including making toys for kids books.
With the launch of Zoo City, I wanted to do something similar and design collective Am I Collective came to the rescue by donating five of their signature blank vinyl toy Bares.
The Bares were assigned to six hot local designers, with only a month to decorate their Bares any way they liked as long as it was somehow inspired by the novel.
The results were cooler than I could have imagined, from a streetwise thuglife old man Bare to a monstrous muti murder creature, to an African mask-inspired barn owl, an ornamental teal bare of innards and songbirds and a girl with a dark side and a light and a sloth on her back and demonlings in her shadow.
I also found the perfect charity. Zoo City is set in Hillbrow and deals with refugee life as one of its themes.
All proceeds from the sale of The Bares will go to The Suitcase Project which helps refugee children from war-torn African countries that have arrived in Johannesburg without parents, friends or family. The Suitcase Project tries to help them deal with the trauma of their flight and arriving in a strange, sometimes hostile adoptive country.
Even better, it got its start as a creative counseling project, helping traumatised kids tell their stories by decorating a suitcase. (Buy the book: The Suitcase Stories here) So decorating Bares to help raise money for them seemed like the perfect fit!
UPDATE: The auction is now live! Visit Bid Or Buy and search “zoo city bares”.
The Bares are currently being exhibited in three cities:
Joburg: Muti Monster and Borne are at Rhinestone Cowboy
Cape Town: Nonnetjie and Pretty Wise are at Exclusive Books, Kloof Street
London: Bi-Polar Bare is on display at the Forbidden Planet Megastore
Here’s more on the designers involved and detailed pics:
1 PRETTY WISE – Clement de Bruin
Clem’s Bare is an old man living on the street with his spirit animal owl. Clem takes his inspiration from the streets of his city, reading books and observing his surroundings. He works at Am I Collective.
2 NONNETJIE – Elise Wessels
Elise’s Bare is a female voodoo spirit of the Barn Owl, also known by its Afrikaans name as Nonnetjies Uil. Finding inspiration in the ethnic art of Africa, her work is filled with a dark magic, drawing on the rich visual heritage of this continent. Both designers currently work at am i collective.
3 BORNE – Carine Nguz and Bia van Deventer
Originally from the DRC, Carine Nguz is an award-winning graphic designer. Now based in Cape Town, she works on creative projects for a range of clients.
Bia van Deventer thrives on diversity, working in as many mediums and styles as possible to keep her interested and challenged.
4 BI-POLAR BARE – Willeen le Roux
Willeen le Roux, a graphic designer and illustrator, loves words, whimsy and wonder. She has a range of high- profile clients but is best known for her quirky homeware range Die Spens.
5 MUTI MONSTER BARE – Joey Hi-Fi
Joey Hi-Fi is the alter ego of illustrator and designer, D Halvorsen. Operating from his secret underground lair in Cape Town, he enjoys working on a variety of projects from book covers (including Zoo City), logos, comics and T-shirts for the likes of New Statesman, Bizarre Magazine, Hilfiger Denim and Wired Magazine UK.
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Just heard that Z News (the scathing puppet satire show I worked on together with Ben Trovato, Tumiso Tsukudu and Zapiro himself) has been selected for screening at INPUT 2009, the world’s biggest public broadcaster conference. (more…)
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