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It’s a Female Plot: Interviews with Sunday Times Literary Awards Winners Redi Tlhabi and Karen Jayes

Endings and BeginningsFor the Mercy of WaterBy Jackie May for The Times

At a gala evening in Johannesburg on Saturday Redi Tlhabi was named winner of the 2013 Sunday Times Alan Paton Award. She won the R75000 prize for Endings and Beginnings.

The award is given for a work of non-fiction that promotes “the illumination of truthfulness, especially those forms of it that are new, delicate, unfashionable and fly in the face of power; for compassion and elegance of writing.”

Tlhabi beat entries by Hermann Giliomee, Jacques Pauw, Xolela Mangcu and Julian Rademeyer.

Karen Jayes won the 2013 edition of the Fiction Prize, which is given for a work of rare imagination and style.

Comedian Nik Rabinowitz was the MC and throughout the evening he teased Nadine Gordimer, who was awarded the inaugural Sunday Times Lifetime Achievement Award.


Everybody expected you to win the Alan Paton Award.

I didn’t realise that “everybody” expected me to win. I certainly didn’t. It was a huge but very pleasant shock.

What did you enjoy most about the awards gala evening on Saturday?

I loved Edwin Cameron’s speech. What a gracious gentleman and incisive speaker. And, of course, being in a room full of brilliant writers and commentators. What could be better?

Has there been a bad review of your book?

I’m not aware of that and, if there were, it really wouldn’t be an issue. Diverse views are healthy and necessary.

You’re expecting a baby, are a well-known radio host, have won a prestigious literary award, are happily married . Is there anything you are lacking?

No, I don’t look at life through that prism. What I’m privileged to have has more gravity than what I may perceive myself to be lacking.

What are you going to do with the money you’ve won?

Some of the proceeds from the book, including the prize money, will contribute towards an eye operation for a blind young woman who deserves a break in life.

What do you consider your biggest failing?

I am really not wired that way. I don’t remember the things that don’t work out. Or perhaps I forget their impact.

What’s your favourite food?

I’m boring when it comes to food. I love cheese and wine.

  • Endings and Beginnings is published by Jacana Media


Were you surprised to win the Sunday Times Fiction Award?

I knew I was a favourite to win because people told me they loved [my book].

What are you going to do with the R75000 prize-money?

Save it hopefully. It will provide a nice cushion while I dedicate myself to writing.

What was the hardest part about writing your book?

I had to go to some very dark parts of myself. And structurally it is complex but it had to feel easy for the reader.

Why do you write?

I write so that I can breathe. And also because I am trying to look for the truth of existence and for the meaning in our humanity.

What are you working on now?

I am editing some of my short stories.

Have you read the other shortlisted fiction books?

No, I haven’t because I didn’t want to go in knowing the strength of the other writers.

Have you lost a day’s work?

Yes I have. But when I rewrote it, it was actually better.

What’s your favourite drink?

For now, camomile tea.

Are you doing what you wanted to do when you’re grown up?

Yes, absolutely. I always wanted to write. I had a teacher, Mike Biccard, who when I was 11 said I should write. I’ve never forgotten him.

  • For the Mercy of Water is published by Penguin Books

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Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    July 2nd, 2013 @17:47 #

    Congratulations to Redi and Karen! Given how I felt about the gender balance of the shortlists, I have been grinning ever since the prizewinners' announcement. Great interviews too, Redi sounds SO sane, and I love Karen's "I write so I can breathe."


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