Thursday 31 March 2011

What's hard for you as a writer? Pt 2

Lauri Kubuitsile is one helluva prolific writer, with 13(!) published books to her name, and lots of short stories, which have been published on four continents. And what’s more, she’s has other works brewing steadily yet fervently in her cauldron. Lauri inspires me no end. When I asked her what is hard for her as a writer, she replies, “The hardest part of writing for me is getting my rough draft down in time, before the tension pushing it dissipates."

Lauri lives in Botswana and has won numerous awards for her creative writing. And, should I say: lucky her, because she’s the pluck to pursue a full-time writing career. Her third romance novella, Mr Not-Quite-Right is due for publication in August 2011. “I always need to write very quickly at rough draft stage, sometimes as much as 8000 words per day,” she goes on. “I shouldn't be interrupted or I can lose the story completely. Sometimes I write so fast and type so quickly, at the end of the day my fingertips are painful.”

“I think the issue at the moment is that of identity and target readership,” says Julius Masimba Musodza, a Zimbabwean author living in Middlesbrough, Yorkshire, England. “I feel like that country bumpkin who wandered in to a shopping mall in the city. He saw a fat white middle-aged man enter a cubicle with sliding doors. When the doors opened, to his surprise he saw a young black man step out. Utterly amazed, the country bumpkin entered this cubicle. When the doors opened, he found that the outside scenery had changed but he was still the same.

The Zimbabwean authorities have effectively erased me from the literary landscape back home by declaring that only Zimbabwean passport holders are eligible for the prestigious NAMA Awards, so now I have little option except to step out of that strange cubicle contraption on to a new scene yet still look and feel the same.”

Julius is author of the Dread Eye Detective Agency novels, a screenwriter and film maker to boot. He goes on, “Telling Zimbabwean stories to non-Zimbabweans is a challenge that circumstances have imposed on me. The first difficulty is that most people out there seem to have fixed views about how Zimbabwean stories ought to be told. A good rant about how evil Mugabe is, that every other Zimbabwean is dying of AIDS, that we like to rape little girls and sell women like cattle etc, that we all struggle with 'tradition' and westernisation, these appear to be widely regarded as the natural story of my country. This attitude is not confined to Zimbabwe, acclaimed authors like Chimamanda Adichie have had to remind their readers that there "is no single African story". Likewise, there is no single Zimbabwean story.

Then there is the footnote. One wants to tell a story, not a dictionary of Zimbabweanisms. But if you are writing for a British audience, you still need to explain why a woman addresses as her husband's sister as "the man of this house".

To get around these, I keep in mind that at the end of the day, the essence of a story can transcend boundaries and geography. In a book about Stephen King, the author starts with a plot summary that sounds like it belongs to the horror master's "The Mist". It does, but it could as easily belong to that English/Norse epic, Beowulf. It is this essence at the heart of a story that makes it as appealing to a Zimbabwean as it would to a Japanese or Ugandan or Chilean!”

Next week will feature Myne Whitman, Ivor Hartmann, and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

What's hard for you as a writer?

Writing is hard, and for some writers it is harder – for me, at least. I sometimes wish it could be easier, the process, but the strain can be quite immense, physical and psychological, emotional and mental as well, and I’m tempted to delete the little I’d scrawled down on the computer screen. But more often than not, I am forced to self-motivate myself, like a Stoic, get through the strain until I’m likely to find some shadow of a shape, a certain trace of meaning, no matter how slight, how inchoate.

To console myself that I'm not alone, I mean, suffering all alone, I have decided to seek solace in the revelations of some fellow writers, whom I shall be chronicling here, as the week rolls. Hope you find some consolation also.

Isabella Morris holds MA in Writing (Wits) and was shortlisted for the Penguin Prize for African Writing 2010. She lives in Johannesburg and writes short stories, novels and biography.

"I find it frustrating that as a South African I am expected to write SA stories," says Isabella, who is an ardent traveller with a special interest in North African literature. "My short story collection set in Egypt, was not picked up by local publishers because they felt its appeal would be limited. An Egyptian publisher agreed to publish it. I write about foreign settings and issues because I don't feel I have the critical distance needed to write SA stories. I find it difficult to break through the expectations local publishers have of Southern African writers, i.e. Write local."

Eghosa Imasuen, a medical doctor who lives in Warri, Delta State of Nigeria, is more popularly known as the author of To Saint Patrick, an alternative history fiction.

"I find writing sex scenes very difficult. Odd, eh, for something so commonplace, so beautiful, so dangerous," Eghosa says, whose second novel tentatively titled, Big Boys, is a coming-of-age story set in the turbulent years of campus fraternity is scheduled for release by Farafina Books in September 2011. "Where does one find the balance between its beauty and its sometimes awkward mechanics? And my original profession of medical doctor means that it is somewhat demystified for me; my sensibilities are somewhat cold, and I have to drag myself back from oddly mechanical tangents when I am writing/editing sex scenes in my prose; I am always aware of the difficulty of catching the beauty of making love in my stories."

Lauri Kubuitsile's and Julius Masimba Musodza’s will be sharing their own disclosures next week, so hope you drop by.

Saturday 5 March 2011

A Rambling Thought on Some Funerals I'd Attended

I sat in the fifth row of the pew of an Anglican church. In front of me was a man who looked squat in a cranky way, with a face I didn’t really like, but he was nicely-dressed in a crispy paper lace. On his oblong head a black cap with sequinned twigs sat awry, as if he’d thought of taking it off during the monotonous service, but decided to let it sit there awhile.

Sincerely speaking, his face reminded me of a rumpled hand-bill – advertising an explosive crusade against witches and wizards – I had ducked into a bin as I made my way to the interment service.

The oblong head had been murmuring in low tones without a break; murmuring because the air was too hot, or probably because his nostrils were finding it hard to breathe through the dank mix of odours drifting around. Although the ceiling fans were whirring so hard to keep us from toasting in the humid February morning, I felt sweaty and kept dabbing my brow with a hanky.

The church was one terrific dam, overflowing with mankind, with rainbows of attires! But I didn’t think I would like to be seen walking this part of the country at sundown for the church not only looked antiquated but also sequestered in a forested, pothole-riddled village that evoked the terrors of Otokoto days. Those were dreadful days young men craved instant wealth and people were highly conscious of their private parts.

People came from everywhere to attend the interment service. Cars and buses crouched on either side of the road; the churchyard was indeed crammed full. Senator Igirigi’s passing was well-publicised. He was a founding member of Africa’s most popular party. He once declared: ‘So much money in this country, so nobody should complain because a legislator is receiving N35 million as quarterly allocations. We’re thinking for the people, the entire nation. We can’t afford to think on lean stomach. Besides, this is Nigeria; we are not starving like Sudan or Somalia!’

The press had lambasted him outright, accusing him of stimulating and celebrating the looting of our treasury, growing a cabalistic millionaires’ club in our national assembly while millions of woebegone Nigerians were already groaning from hunger. Amid the hubbub, he’d suffered a fatal heart attack.

So here we were in a church he affluently refurbished. We came to pay our last respects to a man whose fleet of automobiles comprised: Toyota, Honda, Benz, Jaguar, Chrysler, Lexus, Hummer and Lincoln Navigator. His chains of houses across the country remain unrivalled. And his name still echoes in the vaults of numerous banks.

The rumpled-faced man murmured again. ‘Dis father think we dey for Sunday Mass, abi he think dis na crusade. Abeg, make somebody go remind am say na burial we dey.’

I glanced over my shoulder, almost thinking of telling him to shut up when he showed me a gap-toothed grin.

‘Dis father go dey here dey preach till all the food go cold and nobody go chop am sef!’ he added.

Although his face put me off, I laughed quietly, because someone had once uttered something similar when I attended a burial two months ago in Mbano. In fact, some young men had harassed a girl, who strutted past with a tray of eba and onugbu soup, apparently ignoring their own canopy. Just last week Friday, at another burial, an elderly woman had lumbered out from a canopy. With her wizened face turning strangely raw, she threatened to slap a lady for first serving another canopy before theirs. ‘Don’t you know we are in-laws who came all the way from Afikpo?’ the hag had barked.

Right there, I quickly remembered another burial I had attended with a friend. His friend had died in Boston and was flown back to his hometown in Obowo. Nearly the whole community thronged out to mourn the Harvard-trained medical doctor. He was just twenty-eight. His people had apportioned some plots of land on which he was to build a hospital. And he’d died.

I felt stabbed with grief in the heart, just like every other person who heard about the demise of the young man. I didn’t know the young achiever, but his untimely death reminded me of another’s friend’s cousin, who passed away in Germany after years of training as a nuclear scientist. He too was brilliant, promising, less than thirty years old. In both burials, most people gnashed their teeth, and wailed, as if they would never be consoled. So I thought.

After the committal however, food appeared – although people looked distant as though they had decided to go on fasting to prove how miserable they really were. But there was a sudden scramble shortly after, for it seemed the refreshment might not go round, someone had whispered. The man seated next to me was glaring at the malt drink in his hand. I was shocked to hear him say, ‘Which kain drink be dis? Dem no fit serve Malta Guinness, dis one dey run belly.’

That was not the end, someone else grumbled about the size of the beef. When the food came to my row, I was still feeling downcast and disoriented. I didn’t want to believe that death could snatch a man so young, so full of promises. Ginika, my friend, noticed my hesitation. He elbowed me, pointing to the tray. My hand hovered over it still, before I finally picked up a plate of jollof rice with sizable beef.

‘What is wrong with you?’ Ginika asked, looking puzzled.

‘I don’t see any reason why his parents should even serve us food and drinks. The guy was barely –’ I started to say, but he cut me off.

‘No be you kill am, come on, chop the food.’

I stared, speechless, at Ginika. Then I stared at the people who were busy wolfing down food into their mouths and, conscious of an ashy taste in my own mouth, I dropped my plate on the ground and slowly shook my head.