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Fiction Friday: First Lines from the 50 Stories on the Twenty in 20 Longlist

20yrs Logo_vek

Call me Ishmael. It was a dark and stormy night. This is the saddest story I have ever heard. First lines are important! And here are the best first lines in recent South African (English) short fiction.

The Twenty in 20 project, a 20 Years of Freedom initiative run by Books LIVE in collaboration with Short Story Day Africa and the Department of Arts and Culture, aims to find the best South African short stories published in English during the first two decades of democracy.

Books LIVE recently unveiled the longlist of 50 stories, whittled down from over 200 submitted entries. Below, for your perusal, are the first lines from each of those stories. If a line was three words or fewer, the second was included as well.

The final top 20 short stories will be announced on Books LIVE later this month, and will celebrated with the DAC during National Book Week.

Cabin FeverThe Ghost-Eater and Other StoriesTouch

Short Story Day Africa: Feast, Famine African PensQueer AfricaAfrican Pens 2011Bloody Satisfied

The list, in alphabetical order by author surname:

1. Phosphorescence by Diane Awerbuck

“It gets the blood going, my dear.”

2. The Year of Sleeping Badly by Gabeba Baderoon

2:30. After two hours, she wakes completely, alert, as though sleep is already distant.

3. Porcupine by Jane Bennet

“I hate this stuff,” said the woman with the oddly soft hair, whose slip­periness caught me, always, off guard.

4. File Under: Touch (Avoidance of, Writers); Love (Avoidance of, Writers). (1000 Words) by Imraan Coovadia

1. I number my paragraphs because I don’t want them to touch each other.

5. The Devil by Achmat Dangor

Sharman was a devil.

6. The Visit by Nadia Davids

I told my family I was going to America when we were eating supper.

7. Stowaway by Richard de Nooy

Brother Niftistow was lost in the dead of night on the icy hairpin pass between Liberec and Rokytnice nad Jizerou in the high north of the Czech Republic.

8. Venus Crossing by Gail Dendy

On the 8th of June 2004 a celestial event of immense scientific importance occurred when the silhouette of the planet Venus crossed the face of the Sun as seen from the Earth.

9. The Silk Scarf by Ahmed Essop

The chauffeur-driven Mercedes Benz, followed by another Mercedes Benz in which there were two escorts, entered the gates of the Oriental Plaza in Fordsburg and came to a stop in the car park.

10. Do You Know What a Leader Is? by Luke Fiske

In the confines of my overnight holding cell, the images burn and keep burning, though it is not my wife, but Lucia, whom I call to cool them.

11. The Crossing by Damon Galgut

The morning after the argument, she woke early and knew she wouldn’t sleep again.

12. The Road to Shanghai by Dawn Garisch

When I met you I was grateful for the map of the future you offered me.

13. Loot by Nadine Gordimer

Once upon our time, there was an earthquake: but this one is the most powerful ever recorded since the invention of the Richter scale made possible for us to measure apocalyptic warnings.

14. We’ll Always Be Here by SL Grey

Pluto’s skin is sallow, almost grey, when she stands in the darkness, something she does often.

15. A Mouse Amongst Men by Ivor W Hartmann

I came to South Africa to survive, fleeing from the stone-cold house my country Zimbabwe had become.

16. Looking for trouble by Colleen Higgs

To tell the truth, when Patrick hit me that time, in my face, I wasn’t surprised.

17. Where he will Leave his Shoes by Karen Jayes

“My husband likes the sheets tucked in, so that when he gets into bed, it’s like slipping into an envelope, tight.”

18. Hell by Nozizwe Cynthia Jele

Mary Whitaker is walking her Labrador again.

19. You Pay for the View: Twenty Tips for Super Pics by Liesl Jobson

Beneath the Christmas tree that tilted in the empty fireplace lay four identically sized presents, one for each of us.

20. Claremont Park by Bobby Jordan

Claremont Park: now that is one helluva place to smoke dagga.

21. Mapping the Interior by Greg Lazarus

de Kaap
14th January 1793

Dear Baltasar,

You were a fool not to join me.

22. New Swell by Byron Loker

There’s no swell today in J-Bay.

23. Pigeon Fancier by Sarah Lotz

My cell phone started beeping the second I stepped into the shower.

24. Comrade, Heal Yourself! by Sindiwe Magona

From the baby-soft feel of the touch of his hand, the velvety sheen of the skin of his face, to the perfect match of what he wore, luxurious silks and soft, lush wools – each garment quietly announcing DESIGNER – the young man oozed the self-contained confidence of those who know there’s no question of their ever going without, people to whom meals are a take-for-granted matter of fact, as air to birds.

25. Push-Push by Sindiwe Magona

Like a veld fire, the fever swept through Blouvlei; putting a jaunty spring to the gait of old men.

26. The Suit Continued by Siphiwo Mahala

It is annoying when people keep telling the story of a woman who was tormented by her husband because I left my suit in his house.

27. Salt by Susan Mann

Forgive me. I did not call.

28. The Bath by Wamuwi Mbao

I run a bath for myself and for your memory in my head, two weeks after.

29. The Mistress’s Dog by David Medalie

The night wind tugged at the house and slammed against the windows.

30. Goliwood Drama by Niq Mhlongo

Soweto Township. The time was 16H00 according to the big watch at the Mangalani BP Garage.

31. Icebergs by Alistair Morgan

Toward the end of last summer, when I was combating a bout of loneliness after the death of my wife, a new neighbour moved in next door.

32. Brooding Clouds by Phaswane Mpe

It is the beginning of autumn, the season in which the people of Tiragalong, a tiny village not far from Pietersburg, tend to look younger because of the nourishment they get from their abundant harvest.

33. Ponta do Ouro by Nick Mulgrew

“Let’s hope being a bastard skips a generation.”

34. Hunter Emmanuel by Constance Myburgh

Hunter Emmanuel shouldered his chainsaw and looked up at the trees.

35. Space by Masande Ntshanga

I guess you won’t believe him, either, but this is what CK tells us, this morning.

36. Fragments of a Dream by Zachariah Rapola

Cyprian was a sickly boy.

37. Homing by Henrietta Rose-Innes

Before, it had always been a good road.

38. Poison by Henrietta Rose-Innes

Lynn had almost made it to the petrol station when her old Toyota ran dry on the highway.

39. A man sits in a Johannesburg park by Arja Salafranca

A man sits in a Johannesburg park on a late summer’s afternoon.

40. A Visit to Dr Mamba by Andrew Salomon

Ernest Sibanda got off at the third stop after the bus had turned into Avenida Julius Nyerere.

41. Threesome by Emma van der Vliet

From the moment they touched, she was hooked …

42. Relatives by Chris van Wyk

When I was twenty-one I went down to the Cape to write a book.

43. The WHITES ONLY Bench by Ivan Vladislavić

Yesterday our visitors’ book, which Portia has covered in zebra-skin wrapping-paper and shiny plastic, recorded the name of another important person: Coretta King.

44. The Loss Library by Ivan Vladislavić

She’s pretty, this librarian, the young man thinks, sunbrowned and outdoorsy, with none of the papery pallor he associates with the profession.

45. The Dress That Fed the Suit by Zukiswa Wanner

Dear Phil,
By the time you read this letter, I will be dead.

46. Buiten Street by Stephen Watson

It is always, as they say, by chance.

47. Jungfrau by Mary Watson

It was the virgin Jessica who taught me about wickedness.

48. Disgrace by Zoe Wicomb

So Grace, what’s your secret? asks Fiona, leaning against the doorframe.

49. The Suit Continued – The Other Side by Makhosazana Xaba

It’s time. All these years I’ve watched quietly, listened silently, to one side of the story.

50. Running by Makhosazana Xaba

I’m a runner. That’s the role I’ve given myself.

Project Partners

Department of Arts and CultureBooks LIVESSDALogo


The Department of Arts and Culture was established to support, develop and protect the arts, culture and heritage of South Africa. It is a key driver of the South Africa government’s Twenty Years of Freedom programme of activities.

Books LIVE was founded in 2006 and has grown into South Africa’s top web portal for local book and publishing news. It is part of the Times Media LIVE group of websites, which comprise a division of Times Media (Pty) Ltd.

Short Story Day Africa is a non-profit organisation dedicated to bringing together writers, readers, booksellers, publishers, teachers and school children to write, read, workshop and discuss stories – and foster the love of reading and writing African fiction. Its debut publication of short stories, Feast, Famine or Potluck saw two stories shortlisted for the prestigious Caine Prize for African Literature.

Book details

  • Bloody Satisfied by Nechama Brodie, Peter Church, Anthony Ehlers, Luke Fiske, Megan Furniss, Dawn Garisch, Amy Heydenrych, Beth Hunt, Liam Kruger, Greg Lazarus, Siphiwo Mahala, Sandile Memela, Peter Merrington, T.O. Molefe, Jill Morsbach, Chris Nicholson, Yewande Omotoso, Andrew Salomon, Melissa Siebert, Anirood Singh, Roger Smith, Jo Stielau, Mncedise Thambe, Colin Ward, edited by Joanne Hichens
    Book homepage
    EAN: 9780987043733
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