From Arundhati Roy to Jennifer Egan, some of the biggest names in literature have fallen by the wayside in the race for this year’s Women’s prize for fiction. Instead the judges have plumped for titles they felt “spoke most directly and truthfully” to them.
Three fiction debuts made the six-strong lineup for the £30,000 award: British authors Imogen Hermes Gowar, chosen for her historical novel The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, which imagines the capture of a mermaid in Georgian London, and Jessie Greengrass for Sight, about the journey to motherhood; and American Elif Batuman for The Idiot, set at Harvard university during the 1990s.
“You can feel the full force of these new female voices … These aren’t the grand old names,” said chair of judges Sarah Sands, editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. In what will be viewed as controversial, she added: “Maybe there was a kind of verve and freshness because people weren’t on the awards circuit – they’d just come and written a book because they had something to say. It wasn’t that there was an expectation.”
The best-known name in the running for this year’s award is British-Pakistani author Kamila Shamsie, chosen for her modern-day reimagining of Sophocles’ Antigone, Home Fire. Overlooked big hitters were Nicola Barker’s Goldsmiths-winning H(a)ppy, Gail Honeyman’s Costa-winning Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and Fiona Mozley’s Booker-shortlisted Elmet.
“We lost some big names, with regret, but narrowed down the list to the books which spoke most directly and truthfully to the judges,” said Sands. “The shortlist was chosen without fear or favour … Some of the authors are young, half by Brits and all are blazingly good and brave writers.”
When you read to your children, you invest in their future. Image: Rico
Many stories for children have been adapted over time from stories that were originally created for adults. In fact, translators have often been responsible for crafting and reshaping stories across time and space to suit their different audiences.
Think of Aesop’s fables. Aesop was a slave and storyteller in Ancient Greece in the 5th Century BCE. For centuries his stories moved across continents and were told and heard in many languages. They first appeared in print in 1484 – as stories for children, and in English! Even today new versions of these stories continue to be created.
Many famous fairy tales have different versions around the world. For example, across Africa and Europe, in Russia, Appalachia, India and Japan, versions of the Grimm’s fairy tale, ‘Hansel and Gretel’, are told and read. So, the history of children’s literature is a history of translation. Through translation, stories from Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, Italian and Asian languages have found their way into English. In South Africa, ‘Pinocchio’, originally written in Italian, has become ‘Pinokiyo’ in isiXhosa and is now appreciated by children who do not necessarily know that the story came from Italy.
‘Pinnocchio’ can now be enjoyed in isiXhosa, as ‘Pinokiyo’. Image: Rico.
Stories that originated in Africa have been retold in many languages too. All over the world people read the popular trickster tales featuring Hare, Tortoise or Spider. These stories use animals with human qualities to entertain and teach, and to share wisdom and understanding about human nature and human behaviour.
At the moment there are not enough children’s storybooks in African languages, either as original writing or as translations. But the numbers will grow as people get to know, choose, read and talk about storybooks with their children, and request storybooks in their languages of choice.
As citizens of the world, we are curious about each other and learn about each other as we tell and retell our stories.
Nal’ibali is growing a collection of stories in a range of South African languages. You can find them on the Nal’ibali website or mobisite.
Get your Nal’ibali supplement
• Sunday Times Express (Western Cape) – English and isiXhosa – Sunday 29 April
• Sunday World (North West Province) – English and Setswana – Sunday 29 April
• Sunday World (KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng) – English and isiZulu – Sunday 29 April
• Sunday World (Free State) – English and Sesotho – Sunday 29 April
• Sunday World (Limpopo) – English and Sepedi– Sunday 29 April
• English and Xitsonga supplements will be available at selected SA Post Offices and reading clubs in Limpopo
• The Herald (Thursday 3 May) and Daily Dispatch (Tuesday 1 May) (Eastern Cape) – English and isiXhosa.
In little over three weeks (18 – 20 May) the quaint Western Cape town of Franschhoek will be accommodating South Africa’s literary greats and bibliophiles alike.
This annual literary festival’s 2018 line-up includes discussions ranging from the André P Brink memorial wherein Elinor Sisulu will focus on the life and times of Ahmed Kathrada, with an introduction by Karina Szczurek (The Fifth Mrs Brink); a panel discussion on what feminism looks like in 2018, featuring discussants Mohale Mashigo (The Yearning), Jen Thorpe (Feminism Is), Helen Moffett (Feminism Is) and social commentator and public speaker Tshegofatso Senne; and Jacques Pauw (The President’s Keepers) and Jan-Jan Joubert (Who Will Rule in 2019?) deliberating whether there’s a ‘recipe’ for an ideal South African president with international relations scholar Oscar van Heerden.
On Saturday, 14th April, 40+ volunteer professionals gathered at the Sunflower Learning Centre at Zonnebloem Primary School to create eight beautiful, new African storybooks in just 12 hours, to address the lack of access to culturally relevant books for young children in Africa.
Supported by Book Dash facilitators, editors, and lots of food and coffee, these incredible volunteers manage to complete a process that would usually take months. The best part? Everything created on the day is their gift to the world, and all the books produced can be read at bookdash.org. All the stories can also be downloaded, adapted, printed and shared in any way. Just remember to credit the creators, and link back to this site. Book Dash also commits to translating and printing these books, that are then given away for free to children who need them.
This event was particularly special for us, because we reached the 100 books milestone – we believe every child should own a hundred books by the age of five.
Openbare domein, Daniel Hugo se vyftiende digbundel, bestaan uit toeganklike gedigte vir gewone lesers en letterkundiges.
Hugo is een van Afrikaans se voorste en gewildste digters. Hy is ook een van die bekendste radiostemme in die land.
Hugo het al meer as vyftig werke uit Nederlands in Afrikaans vertaal; dit sluit in romans, digbundels, asook kinder- en jeugboeke. Hy is in 2014 en 2017 deur die Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns bekroon vir sy vertaling van onderskeidelik Tom Lanoye se Sprakeloos en Stefan Hertmans se Oorlog en Terpentyn.
Hugo het in 1987 sy doktorsgraad in die letterkunde aan die Universiteit van die Vrystaat ontvang vir sy ondersoek na die vernufsvers in Afrikaans. Na ’n tydperk as lektor in Bloemfontein was hy twintig jaar lank radio-omroeper by RSG en daarna uitgewersredakteur by Protea Boekhuis. Deesdae is hy voltyds ’n vertaler en vryskut-taalpraktisyn.
Die jong Johannesburgse musikant, Almero Welgemoed, het onlangs sy aanhangers verras met ’n kortverhaal- en digbundel wat roerende temas bevat. Hy skryf oor onderwerpe waaroor mense moeilik in die openbaar praat, maar wat tog soms baie gesinne agter toe deure raak, soos onder andere huishoudelike geweld.
“Ek het gevoel dis belangrik om te skryf oor die lelike dinge in die lewe en ek hoop mense sal besef hulle is nie alleen nie,” sê hy.
Die bundel, Donderweer Gedagtes, bestaan uit ’n reeks briewe (gerig aan onder andere God en ook aan homself), gedigte, aanhalings uit gesprekke wat ’n bepaalde indruk op hom gemaak het en ook kortverhale, wat alles saam ’n geheelbeeld vorm. Die karakters in die boek worstel met verskeie vrae en innerlike konflik. Elke karakter hanteer dit op ’n unieke manier, wat dan natuurlik weer ’n invloed op ander karakters het en sodoende ’n (somtyds onbewustelike) rimpel-effek veroorsaak.
Kwessies soos depressie, selfskending, selfmoord, sosiale aanvaarding en geloof word aangespreek in die boek. Welgemoed sê hy hoop om veral tieners en studente wat soms in die geheim met hierdie probleme sukkel, te bemoedig en aan te moedig om hulp te kry.
Welgemoed was ook die mede-samesteller van die populêre digbundel Liefde Wen saam met kunstenaar Bouwer Bosch. Donderweer Gedagtes word uitgegee deur Naledi en is beskikbaar by www.naledi.online.
After his Booker-nominated Harvest (2013), Jim Crace was never going to write another novel – until three things happened. The first was at a literary festival in India, in a luxury hotel where high walls and security kept the world out, except at night when animals and humans fed loudly from the bins next door.
The second was a year later, in Malta, when Crace stayed on a promenade built for sun seekers in the 1800s. But now the buildings cast it into shade, except where an early Victorian house, badly in need of repair, had survived. Just one storey high, the sun got through and locals gathered in that little moving square of sunshine. This conflict between the built and natural world lives in all Crace’s work.
So Crace collapsed India into Malta and Malta into the Mediterranean as The Melody started to form in his head.
The third thing happened years ago while writing a short story for The Devil’s Larder (2001). In story No 60, a character named Tambar appears in just one sentence. Crace liked that the musician’s name sounded like “tambourine”, but later came to dislike it. So before the American edition came out he renamed him Alfred Busi.
And so Busi is The Melody’s lead; a famous singer coming to terms with retirement and his wife’s death. One night a lonely Busi is attacked by what could either be a wild animal or a feral child stealing food from his pantry. The attack spins the town folk into panic and Busi’s nephew, a developer, uses the crisis to further his own agenda as they wage war on whatever or whoever is living in the forest. The novel explores loss, ageing, greed and gentrification, as well as the refugee crisis and xenophobia.
Crace is the master of allegorical novels, set in no particular time or place. What The Melody lacks in fast-paced plot it makes up for with Crace’s superb lyrical style. And though the reader may not be able to pinpoint when this brilliant book is set, that doesn’t make it less of a novel for our times. @paigen
Published in the Sunday World, Daily Dispatch, and Herald
By Carla Lever
You turned a career in the performing arts – particularly in theatrical storytelling for children – into one as an education activist. What sparked this change?
In 2013 my mother sent me my sister’s not so good school report card. I was so worried about her future that I had to do something. As you know, in South Africa it is hard to make a decent living if you do not have a matric, especially for young people coming from low-income homes. My husband and I started the programme informally in 2014 after I struggled to find a tutoring organisation closer to Site B that could accommodate my sister.
Do you see similarities between the two careers in terms of crafting content that’s engaging and stimulating for young people?
Yes, I do! In fact, we make sure to take the learners to the theatre once a term to stimulate critical thinking through discussions and reflection essays. We also make the lessons into games. We once invited poets to come and teach English grammar – the students never forgot their parts of speech after that! So you can see I never did completely change careers. As part of academic support, we invite young black professionals to come and share their stories of success. It’s powerful when students see and hear someone with a similar background to them end their story with: “in the end, despite my circumstances I made it.” These stories make them see success is possible for them too.
Tell us a little about your operations.
We hold classes in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. We have two branches: one is in Site B at the local library. The second one is in Site C at Intlanganiso Secondary School. We’re currently supporting 100 learners between grades 8 – 12. The students self-select to be in the programme. We always put a call for applications towards the end of the year.
Do you find learners struggle to have appropriate resources in the form of textbooks and other kinds of books at libraries?
Having access to books in one’s mother-tongue and English can enable children to be powerful learners, but at too many schools learners have the wrong textbooks, or are not allowed to take their textbook home and have to share with their classmates. To assist the learners with extra resources we give the learners hand-outs and we photocopy past question papers for the grade 12 learners to practice at home.
We’re pretty interested in programme that get children reading – it seems to be the key to every kind of subject success. How are you able to encourage reading and writing support with the learners?
In the English sessions that we run with the learners we are always making them write reflection essays – these are often linked to theatre outings. We refer to these outings as the Culture Club. We’re planning to launch a Book Club soon where they will share books and write their own stories.
Education changes lives. What kind of growth and results have you seen?
Witnessing learners work hard towards their school work so that they can be bread-winners at home is an emotional journey. When we started the programme we met a learner who had failed grade 8 three times – his mother said we were his last resort. His English level was at a grade 4 level. To help him to improve we put him in touch with some of our friends that run a Teaching English for Foreign Learners school. He went there most days after school. That experience gave him so much confidence and helped him improve his results. He managed to pass grade 8 and 9 with improvements of up to 30% in Mathematics and English.
How have you managed to get this incredibly important project the ground? What would help you to do more?
The project is personal to me. I grew up in Khayelitsha and understand the dynamics of the environment – how it can be toxic and suffocating to people who want to succeed. We currently have a deficit in our outings budget and would really like donations towards it. We see these excursions as just as important as the academic support because some of the learners have never been outside of Khayelitsha. They live in a beautiful city which they don’t get to experience. How can you imagine more than your sum total of life experience? In the near future we would love to branch out to the Eastern Cape. To do this we will need partnerships. We would welcome anyone that is keen to see young people succeed in South Africa to get in touch.
From Sunday April 15, Nal’ibali will be publishing its supplements in two new languages. An English-Setswana edition will be published in the Sunday World in the North West, and an English-Xitsonga edition will be donated to reading clubs in Limpopo. Clubs in both provinces will collect their copies from select post offices. The post offices (10 in each province) will also have 50 additional editions each to give away to member of the public.
The wine witch is not someone that people want in their lives. As Clare Pooley writes in her memoir: “The single most telling sign that you are no longer in control of alcohol, but it is in control of you, is when you instinctively understand the concept of the ‘wine witch’. Some people refer to her as the ‘inner addict’ or the ‘monkey on my back’ … But, for many of us women in the sober online world, ‘wine witch’ describes her perfectly.”
The Sober Diaries is the account of the year Pooley decided to quit the booze: her drink of note – more than a bottle of wine a day. The bottles of vino piled into her life: first partying like only a student can (obscene binge drinking) at Cambridge and then as managing partner of the world’s biggest advertising agencies in London where “drinking was part of the work culture as well as the play culture. In fact … we had a bar in the office.”
Then she quit the rat race when she had her third child to be the Perfect Mom. Wine became her “oasis of sanity, a release from the stress of toddler tantrums and the boredom of nappy changing”. Fast forward six years and Pooley realises: “The wine witch is not Mary Poppins”. Deciding that she couldn’t go to Alcoholics Anonymous for a variety of reasons, Pooley googled how to stop drinking and became aware that women were blogging about alcohol addiction. She decided to write as well, and called her blog Mommy was a Secret Drinker. Pooley had no idea that her honesty would strike such a chord.
The Sober Diaries is not just a sober read. Pooley is hilarious and shows that being sober is not depressing. Fact is, alcohol is a depressant and when the brain is exposed to the drink, Pooley writes, “its natural systems of craving and reward are screwed up”. When we drink, our brain’s reward system is artificially activated and it produces dopamine – a feel-good chemical. The brain thinks it is producing far too much, so it compensates by decreasing the chemical. “Gradually drinkers feel more and more depressed, and start to believe that only alcohol will make us feel better.” This vicious cycle is then created.
Beating the addiction is not the only problem that Pooley has to grapple with. Several months into her year of sobriety she is diagnosed with breast cancer. Fact is, alcohol is linked to cancer. Alcohol is a carcinogen and causes at least seven types of cancer.
Pooley decides not to drink when she gets the news. She writes a list of reasons to be positive. No 3 is: “One of the best ways to ensure that you don’t get breast cancer (or in my case) don’t get it again, is to not drink alcohol. And I’ve ticked that one off already.”
At the end of the year she is cancer-free and booze-free. This has driven Pooley to help people: writing this book, and giving the inspiring TEDx talk: Making Sober Less Shameful. Now she has partnered with Janet Gourand – who founded the World Without Wine workshops in Cape Town and Joburg – to run a workshop in London. World Without Wine (worldwithoutwine.com) offers workshops, coaching and support to help those trying to cut down on or quit alcohol. It’s also an online support.
Pooley’s story is one of many about dealing with alcohol addiction but it is relatable, funny and honest. As the blurb says: “This is Bridget Jones Dries Out”. @Jenniferdplatt
What would you get if you were to combine Adrian Mole and almost any Marian Keyes novel? Justin Myers’s brilliant debut novel and its lead, James. James is at a crossroads. He’s 34, gay, has broken up with his toxic boyfriend, and isn’t loving his job making up celebrity gossip for a hot London rag mag. He starts online dating and blogging about his encounters using the nom de plume of “Romeo”. The idea is simple; James dates and then blogs anonymously about the encounters. If a date is rude to him, it’s open season. But if he meets someone who turns out to be The One, he’ll give up the blog. James meets a series of weird/gross/hot men and the results are hilarious, sad and mostly true to life. Then he meets a closeted Olympian and his drunken blog post about the encounter sends Romeo’s social media profile through the roof, and all hell breaks loose. The Last Romeo is sharp, witty and combines a good laugh with touching sincerity. Russell Clarke @russrussy
Maire McCartney, a moderate Belfast Catholic, was persuaded by her extremist boyfriend to be part of a honey-trap, the seduction of a British policeman who would be blackmailed into betraying British operatives. Except the policeman was murdered, and Maire forced to flee, assume a new identity, and move to England where she becomes a human-rights lawyer, and eventually Minister of State for Security. What of her past though? Berthon presents an enthralling and believable tale of love, loyalty, and death. Aubrey Paton
It is 1944. Annabel is left alone to look after her son, Daniel, while her husband is away at war. The connection between the pair is fragile, due to Annabel having never fully recovered from her postpartum depression. They do, however, share a love of fairy tales. Like sweet magic, a German PoW enters their lives; yet well-read readers know that the original fairy stories are dark and harrowing. Artfully, Mayer has woven the shadows of the Snow Queen into the narrative, creating a story that will haunt long after the final pages are read. Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie