Friday, September 28, 2007

[Interview] Sandra Lester

Sandra Lester’s first poetry collection, Candy Cotton Kid and the Faustian Wolf (Q.Q. Press, 2001) was nominated for the Callum MacDonald Memorial Award for poetry in 2002.

Four more poetry collections followed: Tlazolteotl Poems and Illustrations (Q.Q. Press; 2004); Helkappe Poems (Q.Q. Press, 2005) and The Panjandrum of Quondam: The Epic Grenade (Samzidat Press, 2005). In addition to this, she recorded some of her poems and released them as Selected Poems CD (Samzidat Recordings, 2006).

She has also written and published, The Ripper Unmasked: Confessions from Sutcliffe to a Hypnotist (Samzidat Press, 2006), which presents an account of her relationship with Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper.

In a recent interview, Sandra Lester spoke about her writing and the direction it is taking.

Your most recent book, The Ripper Unmasked: Confessions from Sutcliffe to a Hypnotist has been described as a true-crime, historical document. How did the book come about?

I became involved in very intense correspondence with the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe in 1993. At the time, I had no idea that the relationship would develop into something deeply personal and emotionally all-consuming.

Naturally, the book includes Sutcliffe’s letters, poems and sketches to me. The more intimate, confessional side of Sutcliffe’s nature and his emotional responses to my hypnosis tapes definitely make the memoir quite different from anything published about Sutcliffe in the past. I also give a voice to his victims and discuss the death penalty.

My book is the uncut truth about the experiences I had daily, for over a year with Sutcliffe, Broadmoor hospital, the authorities and the press. It is also about how these experiences have shaped my life. I was about to become a nun before I wrote to Sutcliffe. My life took a very different turn thereafter.

How long did it take you to write The Ripper Unmasked?

I started physically writing the book Christmas 2005. I was writing over the Christmas period and over New Year, everyday, sixteen to eighteen hours a day, until I completed it in April 2006. I published it in May 2006 and launched it in June of that year. I have been marketing it ever since.

Initially, when I started writing the book, it was more about my integrity and the need to set the record straight and dispel the myths which surround me and also to give an insight into the British justice system and how it deals with the most dangerous criminals it incarcerates in special hospitals and prisons in the U.K.

I published the book on my Samizdat Press in late May 2006. Self-publishing did not harm Walt Whitman or William Blake and I am certain that it will be good for me. I like to be in control of my work in terms of publication.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find the most difficult?

The most difficult aspect of writing The Ripper Unmasked was re-living the experiences of the relationship I had with Sutcliffe and confronting how it affected me. The relationship derailed my existence. The negative, longer-term personal and professional consequences forced me to write about the experience in detail.

Writing the book was like a painful therapy session that lasted for three months. I found it cathartic. I had to shift certain areas of experience from my consciousness and my sub-conscious by sharing them in this memoir.

Were there any aspects of the work that you put into the book which you found particularly satisfying?

The most enjoyable part of writing The Ripper Unmasked was that it gave me a deeper understanding of my own experiences. It was also satisfying to know that I had seen it through to completion and that my story, in my own words, was ready to go to print. I had shifted a big burden and the truth had set me free.

It made me understood my own vulnerabilities and considerable strengths as a therapist, a writer, a poet and a woman. I enjoyed the fact that I felt I had written something of remarkable value and had made the lessons I had learned, available for the public to read and be able to draw their own conclusions. I leave the book very open-ended for that reason.

What sets The Ripper Unmasked apart from the other things you have written?

Although the book includes some of both Sutcliffe’s and my poetry, it is not a poetry collection. It is a true crime title. It is my first complete memoir on this particular period of my life.

My work is naturally complex, diverse and controversial. I guess another thing that sets The Ripper Unmasked apart from everything else is that it is three hundred pages strong and is accessible to all kinds of readers.

It is similar to the other things I have written in that it is confessional, radical, uncompromising. I see The Ripper Unmasked as personally empowering and unique. More importantly, it is as revealing as my poetry.

What will your next book be about?

My next book is my third major poetry collection. The collection is already written and ready for publication. It contains revolutionary and confessional work spanning from May 2005 to December 2006.

I have also written a poem "Job Description:The Confessional Poet". This is currently available to listen to on my blog, Lester Poetry and on my Selected Poems CD, along with "Hammer"; "The Pocket-Sized Wreath" and "The Frayed Piece of Guipure."

I change this selection every couple of months or so.

What compelled you to release these poems as recordings?

"Job Description" gives a deeper understanding of the plight of the confessional poet.

The Selected Poems CD was professionally recorded, with subtle sound effects, to enhance the general atmosphere for listeners. This CD is my first recording and I am hoping to do many more. I thoroughly enjoyed being in the studio and the CD is gaining strong critical acclaim at present.

I write and record my poetry in the hope that there will be poets in the future who will be motivated enough, by what I call my 'revolutionary chain', to keep that motivation alive for more generations to come. This is the greatest accomplishment for any poet because being a poet is tough.

All poets need inspiration and a strong will to survive the pitfalls and trappings of their vocation, which, on occasions, leads them through doors of greater perception, into a dark labyrinth of poetic madness. This goes with the territory. My pen is my bayonet or scythe. I use it to chop down the over-grown nettles of the past, in order to make way for and plant the new seeds for the future.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

[Interview] Carol Windley

Award-winning author Carol Windley has worked as a radio station copy writer, a librarian and as a creative writing instructor at Malaspina University College in Nanaimo, where she now lives. Her fiction has appeared in literary journals, in The Journey Prize Anthology and, on several occasions, in Best Canadian Stories. Her books include the award-winning collection of short stories, Visible Light, the acclaimed novel Breathing Underwater, and Home Schooling, which has been shortlisted in this year's Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Carol Windley spoke about her latest collection of short stories and the challenges short story writers face.

The short stories in your most recent collection, Home Schooling, are set against the rural landscape of Vancouver Island and the cities of the Pacific Northwest. Why is this so? Is there a particular reason for this?

I've always felt incredibly lucky to have grown up on Vancouver Island. The landscape is in one way quite gentle and benign, but it's also complicated and dense and mysterious - an ideal setting, I think, for fiction.

Some of the stories in Home Schooling are set in Washington State because it's an area with strong geographic and historical connections to [British Columbia] B. C. The international border adds a note of interest and complexity - another demarcation, like the edge of the sea.

In these stories, what would you say is your main concern?

I wanted to look at how family is the place where we first learn about relationships and community. Parents hope to give their children a sense of family history as well as certain attitudes and values, and while children are very receptive, very willing to learn, they're also very critical and skeptical.

In a child's imagination, received wisdom can undergo startling changes. And in a family, everything is fluid and mutable, anyway, as a result of personality and temperament and circumstance, so trying to give off a sense of this in the fictional families in Home Schooling became my main concern.

What motivates you to write?

What motivates me, I think, is a desire to capture something of human experience in language. Fiction works like a mirror that reflects our moral and emotional truths and it's one of the few ways available to us to get a glimpse into someone else's interior life.

How long did it take you to come up with the stories that make up Home Schooling?

It took a long enough time that I often felt impatient with myself. I knew I wanted to grow as a writer; I had some clear objectives in mind. I wanted to get more of a sense of movement and activity in my writing - and plot was always a weakness for me.

I think I managed to learn something about plot. At the same time, I wanted the characters in the stories to connect with each other in a way that was energetic and authentic and touching.

Which would you say was the most difficult story to write? Why is this so?

"Sand and Frost" was difficult because it involved two separate stories, that of the narrator, Lydia, and that of the grandmother, Pauline, and the way in which Pauline's story entered Lydia's mind.

I was intrigued by what a horrific event like the one in the grandmother's past would do to subsequent generations, how it would cast a dark shadow. Lydia is young and yearns to be in a loving relationship, but her attempts to connect with people are undermined by what she knows of her disturbing and violent inheritance. She can see from her grandmother's example that survival is possible, but she has to find her own way to transcend her family history.

Which did you enjoy most?

I enjoyed writing "The Reading Elvis," partly because it's the only story in this collection with a male narrator and getting the voice right was a challenge.

In the story the central character, Graham, is always somewhat off-balance, trying to find his footing but not being very successful, and it was a little like a game to keep this going. The story is also about rebirth, in a way, and I liked seeing in how many different ways this image could be examined in the story as part of Graham's life.

How different is Home Schooling to the other books you have written?

The stories in Home Schooling are darker, I think. I hope they're richer and more complex.

In what way is it similar?

All three of my books share a west coast setting and all three are concerned with ordinary people and the way in which dreams and the imagination rework reality. Many of the stories are told from the point-of-view of a young woman and this is true of the novel, as well.

When you look at the history of the short story, you notice that the number of magazines that publish short stories has declined. Why is this?

It's been said people are too busy to invest time in a story that will end after 20 or 30 pages, just as the reader gets to know the characters and setting. Fortunately there are still magazines that publish and encourage short story writers and there are fabulous writers like Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore, Charles D'Ambrosio and many others who are reaching a wide audience.

How can the writer of short stories make a living from them?

Only a very few writers can make any kind of a living from writing short stories. In fact, most fiction writers have to subsidize their writing at least some of the time with other work or with grants or with the generosity of their partners and families.

From your own experience, how easy or difficult is it to write short stories compared to longer works of fiction like novellas or novels?

I think it's completely possible the same amount of toil and angst goes into each of these forms, although for some reason I have the idea a novella would be the most difficult to write.

Related books:

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Monday, September 24, 2007

[Interview] Melissa Wathington

Melissa Wathington lives in Tampa, Florida where she works as a writer and runs a children's charity. She has self published a number of books.

Writing under the name, Elissa Kyle, she has also published In My Dreams (Lavender Isis Press, 2007); Surrender Your Heart (Lavender Isis Press, 2007) and Love Of A Lifetime (Lavender Isis Press, (Lavender Isis Press, 2007).

Her latest story, Double The Blessings (Lavender Isis Press), was published in April of this year.

In a recent interview, she spoke about her writing.

*What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?

Time management, control of my creativity, and dialogue most definitely!

Like most writers, I have a daytime job (two in fact) and they both eat up much of my day. Then I also work for Lavender Isis Publishing, run a children’s organization (Homebound Hugs) and an inspirational writer’s community (PRAIZES! Inspirational Voices). Juggling all of them has been a task, let me tell you! Learning how to say no to extra responsibilities has been difficult but necessary. There’s no way to do it all so I pace myself, setting up a list of “to-do’s” and handling one thing at a time.

As far as creativity surges, there are periods where I just don’t have the creative spirit moving in me to sit down and work on my stories. I have to press through those and continue writing, even if it stinks! I let my imagination run wild and do a free write of ideas that run across me. It can be any kind of scenario, as crazy and far out as I want, and I fill two or three pages. Once I loosen up, working with ongoing projects is easier.

I also tend to be one who likes narrative, descriptive passages and have not been liberal with dialogue in the past. Although I’ve always been one who loves to talk, applying those skills to characters has been more of a challenge. Dialogue helps add life to fiction, communicating the feelings of your characters and invoking a response from your readers. Good dialogue transitions scenes smoothly and can add aspects such as humor and intimacy if written correctly. Due to a good piece of advice, I’ve been working on an exercise where I write out all the dialogue of a certain scene before I add the narrative. It has really helped in expanding the voices of my characters and sharpening my skills in communicating realistic, scene shaping dialogue.

*Which would you say are your main concerns as a writer?

Wow, good question. I think right now finding time to dedicate to writing everyday and developing the discipline to work on my craft consistently are my greatest concerns. Dealing with health issues, it makes it harder for me to follow a routine when one day I’m full of energy and the next I can barely get out of bed. In order to make progress on both of these issues, I have taken on a critique partner who is reaching for the same goals. We flush out ideas together, brainstorm and hold each other accountable for writing goals. I also have designated at least an hour everyday where I close myself off to everything else and write.

*When did you start writing?

I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was in high school. I learned to read at an early age and reading was (is) my favorite pastime. I grew up with many physical problems and jumping into another world through books helped me deal with the endless doctor visits, hospital stays, and convalescent periods.

It was in eighth grade, while working on a creative writing assignment, when I realized I had a talent for creating my own stories. I’ve also been very social and writing, to me, was an extension of that. By the time I graduated high school, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the written word.

*When did decide you wanted to be a published writer?

I’d have to say becoming a published author wasn’t at the forefront of my mind when I started college. I actually studied journalism and wanted to be a newspaper reporter first. I wrote for college papers (junior and 4 year) and handled layout and advice columns as well as writing articles. I even served as Entertainment Editor for a year. Although, my time there was well spent, I felt stifled and uninspired.

In Techniques Of The Selling Writer, Dwight Swain says, “To be a writer, a creative person, you must retain your ability to react uniquely.” There were stories inside of me I longed to share and newspaper writing made me feel hemmed in. So, I branched out and found magazine work, where I worked as editor in chief of two national magazines (STREET and Ultimat Black Hair). They were a different challenge but a huge growth period for me. In doing this, I found confidence I had been sorely lacking in before and I decided to try self publishing.

*How did you chose a publisher for your books?

As far as my other stories, I chose iUniverse to self publish in the beginning because it was an affordable way to get my stories out in print for my family and friends. Due to my disabilities, it worked out well as I could control the promotion. When I started working at Lavender Isis, I decided to expand my work and give them a face lift of sorts.

*What advantages and/or disadvantages has this presented?

The only disadvantage I can think of is iUniverse is now charging prices on a level hard to obtain for those who are not making much money or are living on a fixed income.

*How are you dealing with these?

I’m now looking for representation, hoping to move to the next level of my writing career.

*How would you describe the writing that you are doing?

Most of my writing falls in the category of women’s fiction, inspirational and romance. I love stories about relationships and human interactions. I’m a romantic at heart and I’m in love with love. As the saying goes, “Write what you know”. I write what I know and love.

My target audience is everyone from the ages of 15 to 100. They will have a heart for romance, enjoy emotionally charged fiction and connect with my characters. I believe men can enjoy my stories just as much as women.

*What motivated you to start writing in this genre?

Two books in particular come to mind when I consider how I was drawn to the romantic fiction genre. Tender Is The Storm by Johanna Lindsay and Heart Of The Falcon by Francis Ray have vibrant, passionate characters who battle internally and forge unbreakable relationships with their significant others. The authors were able to build a bridge to the readers, creating an emotional investment in the future of the characters. That is the kind of feeling that moved me to want to pursue romance and hopefully have the ability to invoke the same in my readers.

In my writing career, I would have to say my biggest influences have been Beverly Jenkins and Francis Ray. I have had the honor and privilege of meeting both authors (at Books For Thought in Tampa, Florida) and each took time from their events to talk with me. Their writing styles are unique, one writing mainly historicals while the other deals with contemporary issues but share the characteristics that make for bestselling books -- intriguing story lines, treasured characters, and plots with intensity and emotion. They have both encouraged me in my writing pursuits, sending supportive emails and imparting many words of wisdom in dealing with the business. I consider them mentors and they serve as constant inspirations to me as I go along this writing journey.

In my personal life, my parents and sister have had the biggest influence. They have stood by me through thick and thin and taught me the true meaning of love, loyalty and faith. They have conquered many obstacles (together and separately) and they are a wonderful example of determination, integrity and generosity.

*How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I believe my personal experiences have enriched the passion that is poured into each of my stories. While I don’t use real life experiences in my writing, I have let the pen be an outlet to the range of emotions I have dealt with in my lifetime. Despair, sorrow, frustration, love, commitment, respect and fear have all played a part in my development and that can’t help but be reflected in my stories, through either the plot or characters. When you grow up with a physical ailment, it’s almost like living in a fish bowl. You always have others looking at you, studying you. It’s difficult to maintain personal boundaries when you have to share your vulnerabilities with the world. Having lived my entire life that way could not help but influence not only the direction of my writing but the heart and soul of it.

*Do you write everyday?

I’d like to but it doesn’t always happen. Most of the time, it winds up being more like three or four times a week.

[When I do write] I like to sit with my laptop in a comfortable place (with the door closed) and my iPod playing. I consider it my time to play in my creative playground and I don’t stop until I have at least two pages of new material -- full chapters are the objective, however.

*What is your latest book about?

My latest book is Breaking Point (working title) about Leslie, the woman readers did not like at all from In My Dreams. I wanted to redeem her and give her a love and family of her own so this book was to be about her salvation but after working through some plot points with my critique partner, I’m not so sure Leslie’s ready to be redeemed quite yet. (Laughs out Loud.) We just have to wait and see what happens.

I’ve been working on it for over two months now.

*Which aspects of the work are you finding most difficult?

Finding the time for uninterrupted writing was the hardest thing for me. I just wish I could expand the day with 12 more hours!

My schedule has changed since moving closer to my sister (I help take care of my nieces) so I ended up doing a few all-nighters to get the books finished.

*Which are you enjoying most?

Getting to know my characters and entering their world is my favorite part of penning a new story. From learning their family tree to peeking into their deepest dreams and motivations, I relish the introductory phase where the story begins to come together in my mind.

*What sets the book apart from the other things you have written?

Both this book and Surrender Your Heart are written in first person, giving the reader more of a bird's eye view.

My stories all deal with affairs of the heart and people overcoming obstacles and working through hardships to be together. I believe in building and maintaining strong friendships and family bonds. No man is an island and it’s only with others who care about us, giving us support and comfort, that we live truly rich lives.

*What will your next book be about?

My next two books are in the Covington Chronicles, a series that began with In My Dreams. Both titles are in the working phase but deal with characters you met in the first book. Then I have A Precious Faith, my medical memoirs, that I’m targeting towards young adults. There are also several novella length stories I’d like to expand into full novels.

*What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

To gather the courage to self publish my first book. Taking control of my own destiny and determining that I was ready for my writing to face the world was a thrilling achievement for me. I spent many years letting the fear of the unknown keep me from pursing the path I’d always wanted to take and when I finally took that first step, the feeling was something I’ll never forget! Like Mastercard says, [it's] priceless!

*How did you get there?

Through a lot of hard work, tears and plenty of prayer. God is my strength and He was my guiding force through all of it.

*How many books have you published so far?

I’ve written three books, all e-book format -- a romance and two short story duets, all under the pen name, Elissa Kyle. There was also a shorter duet, Double The Blessings, under my given name released in April. Published first through iUniverse in print, I added additional scenes, expanded some characters and re-released the stories through Lavender Isis Press, between March and July of this year.

In My Dreams, is a full length contemporary multicultural about star crossed lovers who face their destiny.

My novella length duets, Surrender Your Heart and Love Of A Lifetime are sensual short stories about sexy heroes and the women that tame them. Double The Blessings is inspirational fiction.

This article was first published by OhmyNews International.

Friday, September 21, 2007

[Interview] Rory Kilalea

Rory Kilalea has worked in the Middle East and throughout Africa, directing documentaries as well as in various production, script-writing and management positions. Films he has been involved with include Jit (1990); A Dry White Season (1987) and Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1986).

He has also taught broadcasting, writing and performance at the University of Zimbabwe as well as improvisational drama at the British Council in Athens, London, Johannesburg, and in the Middle East.

Writing under the pen-name, Murungu, his poetry and short stories have been published in magazines and anthologies in countries that range from Ireland; Malaysia; South Africa; the United Kingdom; the United States and Zimbabwe.

His writing includes the collection of short stories, The Arabian Princess & Other Stories (Zodiac Publishing, 2002); “Whine of a Dog” which was shortlisted for the Caine Prize 2000; “Zimbabwe Boy” which appears in Asylum 1928 and Other Stories (Fish Publishing, 2001) and was shortlisted for the Caine Prize 2002; and “Unfinished Business” which appears in Writing Now: More Stories from Zimbabwe (Weaver Press, 2005).

In 2005, one of his plays, “Zimbabwe Boy,” was adopted for the Africa Festival at the London Eye and has been performed at the National Theatre in London. Other plays he has written include “Ashes”; “Diary of David and Ruth” and “Colours.”

In a recent interview, Rory Kilalea spoke about his concerns as a writer.

When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer? And who would you say has influenced you the most?

I have always written. I suppose I knew that I would write when I was 11 years of age when a class was captivated by a story I wrote. I still have a copy of it. It was a transformational story about a young girl who becomes part of a vision that she saw.

Doris Lessing, Katherine Mansfield and [Joseph] Conrad were formative short story influences. What I found appealing about them was the fact that they were able to create in a short format, an indelible image which never left my imagination. I still think of “The Secret Sharer” or the “The Lumber Room” and imagine what these writers did with spare use of words to create a world of the ‘now’. It was then that I realised the short story is more than a simple ‘story’ -- it is a moment which can have great impact. Alice Munro does the same -- and even though I sometimes feel, when I am reading her, that I do not want to go further into the (often) dark areas of her characters, I am compelled to. Her skill is the teasing away of layers until you get to a core. These writers are masters.

Then I began to read local Zimbabwean writers -- [Charles] Mungoshi captivated me. He dared to write about and think things which I had not seen written by a black Zimbabwean and in his writing, he was able to show the same struggles, the same hopes as all Zimbabweans -- and of course his writing was of such quality that it had a universal appeal. [Shimmer] Chinodya is also another example of daring to say what others feel (or may feel) it is not correct, or politically correct, to record or explore. That is our function as writers -- to tell it as we see it. And these writers do.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

The role of an outsider looking in.

In what way are you an outsider? And, when you look in, what do you see?

Hmm … now here is a tough question.

Psychoanalysts would say that growing up as a poor white person in a black country may have been part of the reason that I was not part of the normal (whatever that means) white community; that I went to a non-racial school in Bulawayo; that my parents were very Catholic to the extent of praying that I would become their salvation by being a priest. But I tell you when it first occurred to me, I was standing against a mesh gate of our small house in Paddonhurst in Bulawayo and watching a machine tarring the road, splattering pieces of liquid tar into the air, smelling poisonous, but nicely intoxicating. And I refocused and saw a black boy on the other side of the road doing exactly the same as me -- I knew (just as I knew in the Zimbabwean writers I read later) that we were on a similar path. We saw similar things -- dreamt similar things -- but there was fence between me and the boy.

I am looking into a struggle of achieving and understanding our role as Zimbabweans and all of the strange contradictory nature of that.

I have left behind the intellectual romantic hopes of togetherness, and now watch with a detachment. As a result, without the anchor of my family’s faith, I have extracted a terrible price for being adrift. Feeling is different from observing and I have been left with the heart of a romantic and the mind of a cynic.

And there is another thing -- I do not fulfil the ethic of a Rhodie Rugger bugger. For example, I appreciate male beauty -- which of course is anathema to the president in his current situation. As much as I know that most of this rhetoric is politics, it does not ever make the ‘otherness’ go away. Perhaps I have always lived as the secret sharer and want to share that place with my readers.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

Very much. My life has been a disparate one and thus -- either through film making, the anti-apartheid periods, the war in Zimbabwe, living in the Middle East -- has always provided material.

Emotional values are of interest to me when you use different life experiences. For example, as a Zimbabwean making a film about an Arab wedding, observations become my palette I suppose.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face and how do you deal with them?

Finance. The work ethic to keep on doing the writing when I know that I am short of money and then have to go away on another venture to make films or do radio or whatever.

I try to be disciplined. This is much harder than anyone can imagine. The hurdle after a hiatus brings with it the terror of wondering whether what you write has any relevance or meaning or quality at all.

How many genres do you work in?

I think I have written about forty short stories. Five theatre plays. Zillions of film scripts and adverts. Many radio plays for SABC, Zimbabwe Radio and the BBC.

I have many published short stories all over the world; a collection of poetry; one children's book on Arabian fables; a book which is to-ing and fro-ing about Islam and life in the modern Middle East; three half completed novels and one that is complete and in the final stage of edit -- which is terrible.

Princess of Arabia, the book of folktales, was published by Zodiac Press. My short stories have also appeared in the Caine Prize anthologies and in Irene Staunton’s various anthologies. I have also been published in anthologies by Silverfish books in Malaysia, as well as in Ireland for the West Cork Literary Festival.

The other novel, as yet unfinished, is untitled and based on the corruption of life with rigid rules in Arabia.

Plays I have written include, “Friends” which is based on the life of John Bradburne, the man who lived with the lepers during the bush war and “Colours“ which was adapted for radio by the BBC.

Are there any links or connections between your writing and the work you are doing on film and radio?

The main connection is that it is communication.

I am currently writing another play for the BBC -- so the writing can join the disciplines together sometimes. The bad thing about it is that it does tire you creatively and then it is doubly difficult to get from a news-reading desk to the computer for a script.

Do you write everyday?

Yes, every day but not always on the same thing though. The hardest pieces are the ones I try to put on the back burner which is the worst thing any writer could do. For example, “The Reluctant Mombe” was really tough. I had the experience of meeting a woman in the situation of being forgotten as a person of age. To try and retain truth and be honest at the same time took some soul-searching as well as being ruthless.

The story began when I was employed by the BBC to interview old people who had been forgotten by their families and who where living in penury. To divorce oneself from the horrible reality of seeing old people who had grown up with hope and now felt discarded was very hard. Mortality and the finiteness of human loyalties and love were the issues I had to contend with and in fact divorce myself from when I wrote the piece.

The other hard piece is section of my novel which deals with Zimbabwe -- again the same problem -- divorcing myself from the realities of a hard-felt life.

What is the novel about?

The Disappointed Diplomat is about the role of a young man trying to forget his home in Zimbabwe and finding that home is not only a place but a state of mind. . He walks away from the woman he has fallen in love with and asks the question, "Perhaps the bus driver will know the way home…”

The man is trying to forget the heartache of a broken love affair -- both with his country and with his black girlfriend ( he is white). He has to deal with the expectations of the English establishment and, much like the people who search out spies for their own cause, he feels he is being courted for reasons beyond his comprehension.

He never does have the full answers. Perhaps the novel is more of a journey to a stage where he can at least ask the salient question knowing that there will be another journey ahead.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

The middle section of the novel which is about Zimbabwe -- the passion I have for my home and the plethora of ideas were too much for the shape and structure -- the old "more is less" dictum was very hard to follow.

I love Zimbabwe like no other place and can so fully understand the need to justify ones existence by having a piece of land -- which was why the war was fought -- or partly anyway. And perhaps that too is part of the problem -- that our unflinching loyalty to the land has caused a blinkered attitude to the realities of what and how we are governed. You see, like most of us in the Diaspora, the ‘Zimbabwe’ we think of is romanticised into a nirvana which in fact is not a reality.

I am working in the Middle East now as I could not afford to continue teaching at the University of Zimbabwe. and this poverty affects me. How does it affect people in the bush? I know how it affects them. But do I see the starving bellies and the hopeless eyes of the street kids? Ah no... just like the chefs I pass by in my car and wonder if the old man they are leading to beg alms for is really blind. Of course I know he is not but I also see the kids are hungry. I see people rolling up their windows as if they are trying to press a nosegay to their face to avoid a bad smell. Ah yes, I can see -- but I do not really look -- and that is a crime.

The mirror is an unkind place. Yet we all sit back and wait for the old man to die and wish for a better future. It was the same with Ian Smith and with Welensky etc .... a blinkered reaction to the reality.

I will never leave Zimbabwe for ever -- it is inconceivable -- I have lived in many places in the world picking up stories and experiences. But home is Zimbabwe. I do not think it will get better soon. Rankness in Denmark is not as easily assuaged as it was in the final act of Hamlet. From cheating sanctions during Smiths days to doing black market in Mugabe's days is the same behaviour and we have grown up to think only in those terms. To conceive of a straight society where you change money in a bank for real is ridiculous. We have never done it. That is how deep the level of damage has been.

What sets The Disappointed Diplomat apart from the other things you have written?

It is a novel. My metier is poetry and short stories.

I had too much to say. The long form was also a challenge and I had to push myself further

In what way is it similar?

Good question -- from the short form to the long form was the mission -- and finally I had to employ the same writing technique -- spare writing. I was not inclined to do that in the beginning and the first number of drafts were pedestrian and unprofessional.

It was a learning curve to be able to spill out as much as possible for the story -- then realise that the same techniques of short story could be used as well to convey meaning and narrative. I started by putting too much into the story -- overwriting and making basic errors. Re-reading ensured that I had to edit and make it more professional.

What will your next book be about?

An action and cruel novella about the undercurrents of life and the questionable morality of living in Dubai. Drug importation, pimping … the list goes on and on … despite the maxim of the prophet. A man would be married and have two boyfriends for sex. The more rules you impose on a people, the more they seem to want to break them. I would come home to my house and find blocks of pure resin being sliced up for sale in the market as unadulterated coke and dagga. Wrong?

Who can say? But it does beg many questions -- and perhaps I saw the similarity of the corruption of soul in our country to what the Arabs are doing in this plastic Dubai where western society has taken over their sleepy life and left them feeling disassociated.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

[Interview] Kay Green

Kay Green's stories have been appearing in literary magazines and journals and for nearly two decades. Fifteen of the short stories appear in Jung's People (2004), her first collection of short stories, while others have been featured in anthologies that include The Elastic Book of Numbers (2005).

Her poetry has been published in literary journals such as acumen, Iota, Envoi and Orbis.

In addition to writing, Green has edited anthologies that include Digitally Organic: An Earlyworks Press Poetry Anthology (2007); Porkies: Pigtales of the Unexpected (2006); Survival Guides: An Earlyworks Press Fiction Anthology (2006); Routemasters and Mushrooms: An Earlyworks Press Poetry Anthology (2006); and The Sleepless Sands: Earlyworks Press High Fantasy Challenge (2006).

In a recent interview, Kay Green spoke about her writing.

Your first collection of short stories, Jung’s People, was published by Elastic Press in 2004. How did this happen?

Fantasy and mythology are my favourite areas of operation. When Jung’s People was proposed, I had published several pieces for Trevor Denyer’s Legend -- a magazine of Arthurian and traditional fantasy. Andrew Hook had the splendid idea of looking for writers who were beginning to make a name for themselves in a particular area in small press writing and giving them a first chance at assembling a book of their own. It was a great opportunity for me.

Since then, as well as the launch of my own book, I’ve attended three other Elastic Press launches -- two of anthologies I had work in and one for Nick Jackson’s Visits to the Flea Circus. (I would have attended more but for some reason the train service always do engineering works when I decide to go to London.) I love them because they are full of small press people -- the individualists, the ones with the ideas you won’t see in the top 100 fastsellers.

For me, one of the stars of the Elastic Press stable is Gary Couzens who first attracted my attention with his story "Eggshells" which he calmly writes from the point of view of a pregnant woman -- and it works. A rare skill in a man, that. I think his anthology, Second Contact is still available at Elastic Press.

Two of your stories have also been runners-up for the David Gemmell Cup. Which two stories were these? Did you write them specifically for the competition?

They were written in the early ‘80s. One, "Time to Learn" was republished in Jung’s People -- the other was called "Coming Home", I think. It’s never been published so it’s only a memory now. It was (I now find) a good prediction: it proposed that we never would go for all-out nuclear holocaust but rather exhaust the civilised world with an ever-increasing patchwork of ‘small wars’. It came second in the David Gemmell Cup competition in 1990, and I won £30.

Getting money for writing was a new and exciting idea for me at that time. I didn’t write the stories especially for the competition but entered them because I liked David Gemmell’s work so rather cheekily thought, ‘well then he’ll probably like mine!’

What would you say are your main concerns as a writer?

You. Me. The individual. We are monkeys who learned to tell lies -- I mean stories. It's where imagination came from and I believe a good story can do more than a million statesmen could to improve our situation.)

How is this so? How can a story change a situation?

I think that although we’ve developed a great tradition of being logical and intellectual, when you look at what we (as a species) actually do, we react to our feelings, our stories, our music, and this is at least as important as our science and our ‘thinking’. We only think about what we should do. What we actually do comes from the heart. Our actions are influenced by our stories and our religion in the same way that they are influenced by our schooling and our news reports. We don’t really distinguish that much. It’s not the outright lies on the news that annoy me -- they are easy to spot -- but the pernicious, flawed story-telling is terrible.

I detest stories that treat war and cruelty as simple entertainment and I celebrate those that do the opposite -- the realist stories that show humans as thinking, seeking beings, the fantasies that value the creative and the magical over the destructive.

My generation grew up with Genesis story-songs (the band, not the bible) and J.R.R. Tolkien. We thought we were good, peaceful folk who’d inherited a tired and flawed world. Many of us are having great difficulty coming to terms with the fact that war, racism, sexism and all the rest of it didn’t end when we grew up. Now, we are beginning to realise that the stories we read weren’t really perfect. The race problems are endemic in Tolkien for example. We’re still working on it. That’s how people use story. David Gemmell was a progression from the Tolkien stance in that his female characters thought and acted in the world and had sex-drives. I’d like to see more fantasy-lovers moving up another step and trying Ursula le Guin.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face? And, how do you deal with them?

Cruelty, violence, poverty, bureaucracy, the end of the world (and the things I don't understand about my PC).

A couple of years ago there was a murder in the park opposite where I live. The police advised women not to go out alone until the case was solved. It was never solved. They never rescinded the advice, and I was living alone. If I’d done as they asked I’d still be trembling behind the sofa. I dealt with the fear as we all usually do, by swallowing hard and ignoring it.

On a larger scale, let me extend the ‘my generation’ theme. We knew that the foolish old people had built up a nuclear arsenal that could kill us all at any moment. We grew up over-shadowed by the Cold War and all the fear that went with it. Have you seen those old American newsreels of kids practising protecting themselves from nuclear detonations by covering their heads with their school jackets? I remember hearing about government leaflets going round in the U.K. explaining how to make yourself a last-minute nuclear shelter from a couple of doors. I don’t know if it was true but we all believed it and the television dramas of the time were all about the few who survived the nuclear holocaust we were waiting for.

We thought we had the answers though, and if the world was still there when we grew up it’d all be solved. Now we’re trying to tell ourselves the escalation of torture, internment and war around the world is all the fault of politicians whose names begin with ‘B’. The trouble is, it’s our fault now and we need to read, write, think about it, and when we’ve worked it out, we need to DO something.

I think the folks who grew up with Tolkein (and who are now consuming Harry Potter) have a head start on the ones who grew up on the spy-stories of the post war era -- but we still need to solve a lot of problems so we’re still looking for better stories.

By the way, I know story-weaving is only a small part of what needs to be done but it’s my part so I’m allowed to go on about it and ignore re-negotiating third world debt, outlawing detention without trial and all the other things that need doing.

What will your next book be about?

I've got a bad case of multi-tasking at the moment. I'm just finishing an exam course guide for teachers, editing an anthology of literary fiction for my own press -- Earlyworks Press -- but as for my own work, when I manage to get back to it I'm working on a novel set in 'the Dark Ages', concerning some of the people who recorded the stories for us at that time.

It’s been bubbling around everything I’ve done for two or three years. It carries aspects of our culture and history into an arena where modern minds can relate to them. People need an on-going mythology to define themselves or measure themselves by. That’s what culture is; and I feel that the speed and power of commercial ‘myth-making’ these days is allowing the few who control the mass media to steal our culture from us. I’m trying to fight back.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

Deciding what to do about names and place in Welsh and old English with variable spellings and pronunciations, most of them quite mystifiying to modern readers' eyes. What would you think of a character called Goleuddydd?

The most difficult points nearly always contain the most enjoyable. Consider 'Yspaddaden' It sounds something like 'Yuspadathen' and is the name of the hawthorn giant. I love it.

Are you going to retain the Welsh and Old English names or are you going to 'modernize' them?

I don’t know about modernize, but I want to make sure the result is comfortable and readable. You know, Shakespeare was vulgar, popular entertainment in his day. He’d be astonished at the effort people have to make to understand his jokes these days. If the world and the language change, you have to change texts to keep them ‘the same’ in effect.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Finding out about me! Sometimes I look back at things I've written ten years before and think 'oh, so that's what that was about!'

Writing, reading, thinking -- they’re all the things I do in between ‘doing’ that help me to process and understand the world and my part in it -- see the monkeys comment above -- I think most people’s minds are usually at least 5 years behind on understanding why they do what they do. The ‘conscious’ intellectual part of the human brain is a recent addition tacked on to the front end. The huge, ancient organism behind it is in the driving seat far more often than we realise. Its language is what we experience in our dreams. I believe that failing to understand its workings is the root of the violence and destruction around us. This was C. G. Jung’s message to the world, and the stories collected in Jung’s People are my contribution to carrying his work onward into my generation. And for me personally, writing is an incredibly useful way of focusing and checking up on what’s really going on at the back of my mind.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

[Interview] Jalena Burke

Jalena Burke writes short erotic romance fiction.

Her stories are all available as e-books. They include Me, My Next Door Neighbor and Bob (Forbidden Publications, 2006); One Sinful Night (The Wild Rose Press, 2006); S’mores (Phaze, 2006); The Red Apron (Forbidden Publications, 2007); Going Up (Forbidden Publications, 2007) and Make Him Beg (Phaze, 2007).

In a recent interview, Jalena Burke spoke about her writing.

How would you describe the genre in which you do most of your writing?

I write short erotica stories, what I call quickies, similar to the stories you might find in Naughtier Bed Time Stories by Joan Elizabeth Lloyd. They are perfect to read in one sitting. It's a hot genre, but also a challenge and I enjoy short stories.

Actually, I didn’t think I’d ever write in this genre, but when I read about how popular it was and signed up for some online groups, I thought I’d give it a try. I initially envisaged writing contemporary romance with little sex involved, but came up with my first erotica story one day while bathing, of all things. I grabbed a notebook, and just started writing. It was actually a lot easier than I expected. I do write non-erotica romance under a different name that I keep separate for personal reasons.

Who would you say has influenced you the most?

Friends I’ve met online. Fellow authors.

There are many writers’ forums online that I have found and from that, I have found critique partners and friends who I keep in touch with and who help motivate me.

Who is your target audience?

Lovers of erotica, and those who want something quick to read.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always wanted to write.

One summer while visiting my aunt, who writes poetry, my sister and I both wrote our own versions to one of our favorite movies, Girls Just Want to Have Fun. Ever since then, I’ve been interested in writing but didn’t get serious about it until about a year ago, when I joined a writer’s forum online.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

To get my name out there because writing is the easy part but if readers don’t know about you, you can’t build a fan base and nobody will even try to read your books. It’s difficult to reach readers when everything is built online and it takes a lot of time management to schedule chats and such. Also, I have worked on building my own website, which is tough because I don’t know much html. So it’s a challenge, a good challenge because it has taught me a lot, but still a challenge.

It all takes a lot of time and a lot of self-discipline, but you have to know your strengths, your weaknesses, and your goals.

What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses?

My strengths are that I am constantly reading and learning and I love to write. I believe that reading the genre is important to know how others do it, and I could never have too much to read.

My weaknesses are my inexperience, my modesty, and my getting in too much of a hurry because I want it now, when sometimes it’s important to wait.

I can’t beat myself up over things I’ve done wrong or things I didn’t do that I should, and that is a challenge in itself.

What are some of these things that you don't beat yourself up over?

If I don’t write this particular day, I can’t beat myself up over it, or if I sent something in and then realized it wasn’t good enough. And, honestly? Sometimes I try to beat myself up over the fact that I may have bitten off more than I can chew by taking up writing erotica, but my husband, who is always supportive of me, tells me it strengthens my writing to write in different genres. And I love it, or I wouldn’t do it, but it’s hard when I do so much of it myself, including the website maintenance yet continue to work full-time.

Do you write everyday?

Though I try to write something everyday, even if it’s just in my journal, I do tend to miss days.

I miss days because I work full-time and sometimes it’s hard to start writing after a long day in the office. I’ve been keeping a journal off and on for years and sometimes I’ll write what’s on my mind or how I’m feeling about something, sometimes I’ll write about a writing assignment I might have seen somewhere, and some days I just babble to myself about what happened that day or things I need to do. I have a journaling book I use, too. But I’m never consistent in my journaling.

When I begin a writing session, I usually sit down, open my file, and read over what I wrote the day before. Then, I just start writing, or go over any notes I may have made in a notebook throughout the day. I don’t need much. I don’t need music or quiet, just a decent chair and enough light.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

Hmm… I can always take details of my own personal experiences or those of my friends and family to add characteristics, emotions or plots to my stories, but mostly it’s just fiction.

Is it possible to write something that's purely fictious?

Yes, I believe that you can write something that is purely fiction... either a figment of your imagination, or a “what would happen if” scenario. Of course you use certain experiences from your own life, but I can get into my character's head so much that I feel I’m experiencing what she’s experiencing, even if I never have before. It really is all a figment of my imagination.

Do you think there will come a time when the e-book will be as popular as 'the book'?

I think the popularity of e-books will continue to grow. Previously, I did not read e-books and now I do because of the convenience, the fact that I can have them now, and the fact that I don’t have a lot of books cluttering my shelf.

Also, it’s a techno world. Kids can text message faster than I can type, and most people have a PDA, cell phone, MP3 player or all of the above. If you ride the train or bus to work or are waiting for an appointment, it’s a lot easier to take out your e-book reader or PDA and read than it is to lug a heavy book around. It’s a lot more private, too.

I think as publishers grow and readers get online, e-book popularity will continue to grow, but I don’t think it will ever replace the book. We will always have books as well, just like we have CDs for music. It’s just a different way to enjoy something. I know many writers who love to publish for the e-book genre.

How long did it take you to write Make Him Beg?

Most of my books take a couple of weeks to write, then a few more to edit.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

The sex scenes. Because it’s hard sometimes to come up with something new and different than the average missionary position. It’s also difficult when you wonder who is going to read this, if Mom’s going to see it, what everyone will think of you.

How did you deal with this conflict?

I have to let that go, just write, and put myself in my characters place. Forget about the people “watching”.

Which did you enjoy most?

The sex scenes. (Laughs out loud.) Getting past the sex scenes is a huge accomplishment for me, mostly because of those reasons listed above. If I can write a scene that really turns me on, then I know it’s good.

What sets the book apart from the others you have written?

Make Him Beg is by far the spiciest, with touches of male/male and female/female sex which is something I’ve never done, literally (laughs out loud) and something I’ve never written... I had an idea and I went with it. Any story I write, if I think it’s a good premise, is motivation enough to at least write.

[Writing the sex scenes for Make Him Beg] was difficult because I have been married a long time and have absolutely no experience in that aspect, I have honestly never even read m/m or f/f, but I liked the idea, and so did the publisher.

In what way is Make Him Beg similar to other things you have written?

It’s a short read, like all of my stories.

What will your next book be about?

I’d rather not say right now.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Most of the reviews, if not all, have been good, but I mostly enjoy receiving email from readers. When a reader tells me how much they enjoyed my work, that is the biggest achievement I can seek.

How did you get there?

A lot of hard work and self-sacrifice... It has meant giving up things, hobbies, free time that I could be doing something else. You have to sacrifice those things, give up going out with friends or vegging out at home and watching a movie, when writing is to be done.

This interview was first published by OhmyNews International.

Friday, September 14, 2007

[Interview] Michael T. Dolan

Freelance writer Michael T. Dolan lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He attended Villanova University where he majored in English and Sociology.

One of his stories, “The Angel That Couldn't Fly” was featured in The Simple Touch of Fate (iUniverse, 2003), a collection of over fifty compelling and captivating stories which raise questions about fate, coincidence and divine intervention.

His first novel, Walden has been described as a "satirical, tragic and poignant ... coming-of-age story". The novel was published in 2006 by Conversari House.

In a recent interview Michael T. Dolan spoke about his writing.

What is your latest book about?

Walden is a novel about individualism, revolution and freedom. It's Catcher in the Rye with a 21st century university setting. Young Walden is struggling to find his identity, and the resulting day detailed in the novel depicts this struggle.

How long did it take you to write it?

The novel was written off and on over the course of about two years.

It was published in September 2006 by Conversari House (West Chester, Pennsylvania, USA).

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

Nothing jumps to mind. The story germinated in my mind for a long time, and when I finally put pen to paper, it flowed pretty quickly.

Above everything, I enjoyed the journey of discovery. When I sat down to write Walden, I knew what the first page and the last page would be -- the rest was all a blank slate. And so I just wrote. And as I wrote, each chapter wrote itself, creating the plot, stories and characters that it needed. When I would get to the end of a chapter, I'd look back and say to myself, "Where the hell did that come from? That's exactly what I wanted!"

The subconscious creator is a powerful thing, but it requires trust to forge ahead when the path is unknown.

What will your next book be about?

I am currently at work on a book that takes on what it means to be a "man" in today's society. Set in a nice suburban development, it will satire the plight of the suburban man in poignant and humorous ways.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

Literally, as long as I can remember. I have a copy of a third grade biography project I did as a young child -- you know, one of those "all about me" reports. Favourite colour. Favourite food. Pet's name. Next to the "what I want to be when I grow up" line is my seven-year-old chicken scratch: "A WRITER."

Who would you say has influenced you the most?

At an age when I was probably too young to be reading them, I digested Steven King books in quick succession. That was when I recommitted myself to my third-grade answer - "I can do this. . . I want to do this . . . I will do this."

King led to Ray Bradbury, and then high school opened me up to the likes of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. William Faulkner and James Joyce were soon to follow. Truth be told, I suppose anything I've read has influenced me to one degree or another.

How have your own personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

Personal experiences influence every writer's work. They are the source of the vignettes that dot the landscape of a manuscript. They are the source of emotions carried through the work. Not to say that all writing is autobiographical, but one's life experience acts as the starting point from which to leap into fiction.

Do you write everyday?

I try to write every day, but that doesn't mean it's always at great length. Balancing a full-time job and the typical life responsibilities tends to quickly devour a day's hours, but that can never to put forward as an excuse.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?

The biggest challenges I face are finding time to write, which is usually after midnight, and the energy to write at this witching hour. As I am also a publisher of my first novel, much time gets consumed with the business end of things, including marketing. This alone eats into valuable writing time.

Related books:

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Interview [1] _ John Eppel

In addition to writing short stories, John Eppel is also an award-winning poet and novelist.

His list of achievements is impressive. His first novel, D.G.G. Berry’s The Great North Road (1992), won the M-Net Prize in South Africa. His second novel, Hatchings (1993), was short-listed for the M-Net Prize and his third novel, The Giraffe Man (1994), has been translated into French.

His first poetry collection, Spoils of War (1989), won the Ingrid Jonker Prize. Other poems have been featured in anthologies that include The Heart in Exile South African Poetry in English 1990-1995 (1996) while his short stories have appeared in anthologies that include Writing Now: More Stories from Zimbabwe (2005).

In a recent email interview, John Eppel spoke about his writing.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

About age 12. Around that time I stopped believing in God, I became consciously aware of my mortality, I began to feel uneasy about my privileged status as a white boy, and I fell in love with a girl who barely noticed me. So even at that age, it was a sense of loss combined with a flair for rhyme, which made me want to become a writer. Perhaps because I’m left-handed, I think metaphorically, which is the way lyric poets apprehend the world.

Who would you say has influenced you the most?

British writers and, marginally, North American and European writers. In my formative years I had no access to literature in English which was coming out of Africa and other colonised parts of the world. Our teachers in primary school were expats from England, Wales and Scotland, and they were very patriotic about the homes they had abandoned. Our little heads were stuffed with characters like Robin Hood, King Arthur, and the Billy Goats Gruff.

Two writers who have had quite a strong influence on me are Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy (the poet, not the novelist); Dickens for his humour, his characterisation and his concern for the marginalised people of his world; Hardy for his exquisite sense of loss, not just personal loss but the loss that is felt by an entire people in times of dramatic socio-political change. I’ve also been influenced by the great satirist poets, in particular Chaucer and Pope.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concern in my poetry is to find a voice, which merges British form (prosody) with African content (mostly nature) so that, if not in my life, in my art, I can find an identity which is not binary, not black/white, African/European colonizer/colonized. My main concern in my prose is to ridicule greed, cruelty, self-righteousness and related vices like racism, sexism, jingoism, and homophobia. Of course I am under no illusion that my satires will make the slightest bit of difference, but nobody, not even those who are ashamed of nothing, likes to be laughed at. I am also acutely aware that satirists are themselves prone to self-righteousness and I keep before me the words of Jesus: Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

As a younger person, in the 70s and 80s I was quite preoccupied with guilt and self-loathing, a crisis of identity -- all the baggage of apartheid. But now, after a quarter of a century in independent Zimbabwe, things have balanced out a bit. In the last seven years especially, the now tiny settler community (the few filthy rich wheeler-dealers notwithstanding) seems to have paid (and continues to pay) its dues. The government controlled media, aping the ZANU PF hierarchy spews out virulent anti-white propaganda reminiscent of Rwanda just before the genocide. We are called scum, insects, Blair’s kith and kin. The once neutral Ndebele word for a white person, Makiwa, now has pejorative connotations equivalent to mabhunu (boer) or even kaffir.

I am beginning to see bad behaviour more in terms of class than race. Blacks with political connections, who have been catapulted into shocking wealth, the so-called middle class (in a country where 80% of the people live in abject poverty) behave just as badly as their white counterparts behave. They are Rhodies too; their desire for ostentation, parading their Pajeros (the women at 40 km per hour!) and their Mercedes Benzes, acquiring not one suburban home but a dozen; not one farm but a dozen; not one overseas trip per year but a dozen, makes me sick at heart.

Something else which deeply concerns me is the place, the “soil”, the people where I grew up and where I still live: Matabeleland. But here a dark cloud hovers above me. I grew up speaking, not Ndebele but fanakalo, a kind of 'lingua franca', which originated in the gold mines of South Africa where migrant workers speaking many different languages were employed. It is a language of oppression which I have not been able to unlearn and which interferes with my attempts to speak proper Ndebele. I am always afraid of accidentally saying something offensive; consequently I keep quiet or speak in English. Most Africans, even those with little formal education, speak several languages.

The spirit of Matabeleland is to be experienced most potently in the Matobo hills, which were inhabited thousands of years ago by the aboriginal people of this region. They left a legacy of awesome rock paintings. It is also the location of a sacred shrine (at Njelele) revered by Ndebele and Shona alike; it is a retreat for Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus and poets. It is epiphanic!

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

A lot, of course. I was four years old when my parents emigrated to Rhodesia from South Africa. My father was a miner; my mother was a housewife. They never owned one square inch of this land. When my parents left Zimbabwe shortly after Independence they took with them an old Volvo station-wagon stuffed with their worldly goods, and a meagre pension. So when I get lumped by the new colonisers, the NGOs (shortly to be replaced by the Chinese), with tobacco barons, safari operators, and mining magnates, it is a personal experience I resent, and it nourishes the satirist in me.

The experience of fatherhood, on the other hand, and being a school teacher, and, yes, a lover, have enriched me beyond words. That’s the bitter logic of lyric poetry: expressing the inexpressible.

When I was in my early twenties, the girl I was hoping to marry, was killed in a car accident. In my late twenties I spent two years in the Rhodesian army. I lived for several years in England working variously as a steam cleaner, picker, packer, furniture remover, nightwatchman, assistant on a cargo ship. As a Rhodesian I was labelled a fascist; as a Zimbabwean I was labelled (at least in the early years of Independence) as a Marxist-Leninist. These are all personal experiences, which have influenced my direction as a writer. Of course there are many others, not least being the ageing process, and the prospect of having to work until I drop dead.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?

The same challenges that most Zimbabweans face, linked to the economic collapse of the country: how to pay the bills, how to put food on the table; how to stay alive as long as possible because it’s too expensive to get sick and die. There is no social welfare left in this country, the extended family system has collapsed; pension funds and other savings have been looted by people with huge bellies and wallets of flesh on the backs of their necks. And then there is AIDS.

Zimbabwe is, de facto, a police state. It is routine now for people to be beaten up in prison, whether or not they have been charged. People live in fear as well as hunger and illness. People are depressed. Those who can’t get out, turn their faces to the wall. There is no culture of maintenance, there is no accountability, there will always be someone else to blame. Like the Jews in history, the whites, and to a lesser extent, the Indians, have become scapegoats. When these marginalized groups have gone, it will be the turn of the Ndebeles. Then, God help this country. You ask me why all this is happening. It’s simple. It’s because of a megalomaniac who refuses to relinquish power.

How do you deal with these challenges?

I write, I work hard, I cherish the company of my children and my few friends; I drink more than I should; I fall in love! In between I read and listen to the BBC World Service. I used to watch videos but my machine broke down and I can’t afford to have it repaired. The same goes for my washing machine, my music centre, my electric frying pan, my jaffle machine and my toaster. You see, I was once quite rich for a schoolteacher.

Maybe I should get more politically involved, but it’s difficult if you are white. You tend to become a liability to the party if it’s in opposition to this government.

How many books have you written so far?

About eleven. My first book of poems, Spoils of War, was published in 1989 by a small press in Cape Town called Carrefour (now defunct). It took me twelve years to get it published. Baobab Books in Harare rejected it. It won the Ingrid Jonker prize.

My first novel, D. G. G. Berry’s The Great North Road took me fifteen years to find a publisher. No Zimbabwean publisher, including Baobab Books, was interested in it. It won the M-Net prize. Only five hundred copies were printed. My second novel, Hatchings, was shortlisted for the M-net prize. In the same year I wrote a third novel, The Giraffe Man. Both were published in South Africa.

When my second book of poems, Sonata for Matabeleland, came out in in 1995, Baobab Books, for the first time, reluctantly put their logo on its cover. It was published by Snailpress in Cape Town, and Baobab’s commitment was to undertake to sell 100 of the 1000 copies printed. As it turned out I sold seventy of those at my launch in Bulawayo. Most of the remaining 30 were sold through the Bulawayo Art Gallery.

My next two novels, The Curse of the Ripe Tomato and The Holy Innocents, were provisionally accepted by Baobab Books, on the recommendation of Anthony Chennells. Nothing was done about them for several years and then Baobab Books collapsed. Then I and some friends created ‘amaBooks publishers for the initial purpose of getting those two novels into print. We got started thanks to a generous donation by an ex-pupil of mine called Ilan Elkaim. International donors like HIVOS and SIDA and the British Council will not support white Zimbabwean writers, no matter how poor they may be. These novels were published in 2001 and 20002. In 2004 ‘amaBooks brought out The Caruso of Colleen Bawn and other Short Writings and they may, finances permitting, bring out my most recent book, White Man Crawling and other Short Writings, next year.

Incidentally, I submitted the last named book to Kwela Books in South Africa. It was rejected on the basis of this reader’s report -- I quote the final paragraph: “While the author has a pleasant conversational writing style and some stories are fairly well written, it is doubtful whether this collection is publishable as it stands. Even if the African setting of some stories might have suited Kwela’s publishing philosophy, this is not a truly original African voice, let alone an original South African voice.”

In 2001 Childline published my Selected Poems 1965-1995, and in 2005, Weaver Press published eighty of my poems in a collection called Songs My Country Taught Me. Last year Hatchings, with an introduction by Dr K. M. Mangwanda was re-published by ‘amaBooks.

How much time do you spend on your writing?

Very little. Like most serious writers I earn almost nothing from my books. I teach full time at Christian Brothers College. In between I give private lessons, and I also teach Creative Writing modules (which I wrote) for UNISA. I am also a single parent so I have untold household chores to perform. I reserve school holidays to catch up on my reading and writing. That is why I now find very short stories an appropriate form.

Photo credit: Ben Williams, Books LIVE

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Monday, September 10, 2007

[Interview] Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Canadian author Cheryl Kaye Tardif was born in Vancouver, Britsh Columbia and has worked as a journalist, a motivational speaker and a consultant in telemarketing, sales and promotion.

Her books include Divine Intervention (Trafford Publishing, 2004) and The River (Trafford Publishing, 2005). Her latest novel, Whale Song (Kunati Books, 2007), has been described as a compelling story of love, tragedy and transformation.

In a recent interview, Cheryl Kaye Tardif spoke about her writing.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I wanted to be a writer at a very young age. I used to “write” under every line of my Dr. Seuss books and would tell my mother that I was writing the story. At 14, I became a published journalist, but fiction was always my passion.

How would you describe the writing that you are doing?

I write mainly novels with suspense, mystery or horror elements. I don’t stay within a specific genre; often my novels have a mix, including some romance or sci-fi. Although Whale Song, my most recent novel, is not a hardcore mystery or suspense, it does have a light mystery element.

I also like to write novels that make people think or ask questions.

For Whale Song, my target audience is women between the ages of 30 and 65. I am happy to see that it also has a large YA (young adult) following, with boys and girls from seven to16. My other published novels are geared for an adult audience, but then again, most 14 year olds and older are reading adult fiction.

What motivated you to start writing in these genres?

I have always been fascinated by mysteries. As a girl I read Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and then latched on to Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I enjoy leaving ‘red herrings’ and clues in my writing. I thrive on creating twists and turns that keep the reader guessing. I just love a good mystery!

Stephen King has probably influenced me the most. From a reader’s perspective, I have seen his work evolve from pure horror to realistic suspense. He has persevered in tough times, and has always followed his dreams. From a writer’s perspective, he has achieved a measure of success that I would like to achieve. I have also enjoyed his book, On Writing.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

I draw upon my own experiences when necessary and often there is a bit of ‘me’ in my novels.

Whale Song is perhaps the one novel that reflects my life as a child, although it is fiction. I have also drawn upon tragedies in my life. How can you truly write about grief, death, murder and supreme fear if you’ve never experienced it?

What are your main concerns as a writer?

The biggest concern for me is finding a publisher that is as motivated as I am. I believe I have found that with my new publisher -- Kunati Books. I am a creative promoter and I need freedom to be creative, as well as have support from my publisher. Of course, there are no guarantees they will take my next novel Children of the Fog, so I must always remain vigilant for other opportunities.

I don’t like to “put all my eggs in one basket”, so to speak. Finding a publisher for the next novel will always be a concern, I think.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?

Balancing all the aspects of being a writer, mom, wife and friend is tough. I still struggle with this. It is very easy to get caught up in “promotion mode” and sometimes it never seems to turn off. I work nearly every day and long hours.

How do you deal with these challenges?

My goal for September is to start scheduling my time more efficiently so that I have time to write my next novel, write marketing material, promote online and in bookstores, and enjoy time with my friends and family. I am happiest when I feel I have accomplished all of that in a week.

Do you write everyday?

I write something every day -- but not always my current novel. I write a lot of ad copy and marketing or promotional material, such as articles, blog posts or website updates. I have two full days that I work on my novel.

I find I work better when I can commit to a day of eight to 10 hours of writing twice a week, as opposed to a few hours a day like many authors do. It just works well for me. I get very drawn into my own plots and characters and it’s difficult for me to stop writing once I ‘get on a roll’. These days are my most favorite, a bit of Heaven! Come September, I will be increasing it to three full days.

I will spend up to two hours wading through emails, then updating blogs and sites. Then I will write. I usually edit the previous page or two and then continue writing. And I only stop for short breaks and lunch. I often don’t finish writing until 6:00 pm, and it’s not unusual, depending on my family’s schedule, to write in the evening. In the last four years, I have probably pulled six all-nighters, working two full days, if I am really inspired. Ok, yes…I admit…I am a workaholic. But hey, when you love what you do…

How long did it take you to write your latest book?

My latest book is Whale Song. It took about four months in total to write it, three and a half for the first edition and another two weeks to expand and revise the text. It was published in April 2005 with Kunati Books.

How did you choose a publisher for the book? What advantages and/or disadvantages has this presented?

I approached them after hearing about Kunati and investigating them online. At that time they were a brand new publisher with an energetic approach to marketing -- and that’s why I wanted them.

The advantage with Kunati is that they are mega marketers like myself. Kunati doesn’t sit and wait; they go after the market. I was also very proud that Whale Song officially launched their UNA trade paperback imprint. I like being first. The only disadvantage I ever really saw was that because they were new they had to prove themselves -- very much like I did. And prove themselves they did! Kunati Books now has U.S. and Canadian offices, with books printed in both countries, and they are one of the first companies to lower Canadian book prices resulting from a stronger Canadian dollar. I am quite proud to be a Kunati author.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult? And which did you enjoy most?

Doing the research for Whale Song was probably the most difficult part of writing the novel. I needed specific information on killer whales, the setting (Vancouver Island) and the era (late 70’s). I also needed to research native legends and find a disease or condition that would give specific symptoms and have certain results.

Strangely enough, the legends and the condition -- primary pulmonary hypertension -- were very easy to find and I still marvel over how perfectly suited they all were.

I actually really enjoy researching for my novels. I like ‘keeping it real’.

I really enjoyed reflecting on my childhood, even the not-so-good parts. I found it very therapeutic to look back and maybe even understand why certain things happened. And some of these situations found themselves in my novel. I think this is why when young people read Whale Song they can truly identify with the main protagonist. They are there, in those teenage years when life is not all roses. And adult women reading Whale Song are drawn back to a time when they were young, a time of innocence, emotional struggles and sweet first love. I have received numerous emails from fans who say: “Whale Song made me remember what it was like to be young.”

What sets the book apart from the other things you have written?

Whale Song is more of a family drama, with a hint of mystery. It is far more emotional than any of my other novels. And it is my “heart book”. A percentage of my royalties from every sale goes to three nonprofit organizations that help combat poverty, homelessness and addictions. I am proud of that.

In what way is it similar?

Like my other two novels, Whale Song features a strong female protagonist, one who has weaknesses and flaws, yet overcomes great tragedy. And like all of my novels so far, it asks, “What if?”

What will your next book be about?

My next novel is Children of the Fog. It is already completed and waiting a ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ from Kunati Books. It is a terrifying thriller, the story of Sadie O’Connell -- wife, friend, mother (and alcoholic) -- who is forced to let an abductor take her son. Not only does it ask ,“What if?”, it also asks, “How far would you go for your child?”

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

So far, being ‘picked up’ by a traditional publisher is my most significant accomplishment. That one feat puts me up a level, onto the next rung of my success ladder. With less than two percent of novel submissions even getting picked up, this measure of success is no small thing. Especially for an author who has enough rejection letters to wallpaper her office.

How did you get there?

Two words: belief and perseverance.

This article was first published by OhmyNews International.