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Archive for the ‘Awards’ Category

A whodunnit with a thousand suspects – Sue de Groot reviews Camilla Lackberg’s latest contribution to the Nordic noir sphere

Published in the Sunday Times

The Girl in the Woods *****
Camilla Lackberg, HarperCollins, R285

Camilla Lackberg has amassed millions of devoted followers with her series of crime novels set in the Swedish fishing village of Fjällbacka – which actually exists in the real world.

It has fewer than 1,000 permanent residents and is deathly quiet in winter, but in summer turns into a playground for Scandinavian tourists.

The Girl in the Woods, Lackberg’s 10th novel featuring author Erica Falck and her police detective husband, Patrik Hedstrom, is set in summer, when the influx of holiday-makers creates a wider pool of suspects.

A four-year-old girl has been murdered, her body found in the same place as that of a similar victim 30 years previously.

The two teenage girls who were accused of the earlier crime are now adults and conveniently present.

One is a Hollywood film star who has returned to her home town for the first time since the incident. The other is married to a sociopathic UN soldier who is on home leave.

Then there are the Syrian refugees, whose safe asylum in Sweden does not come with a warm welcome from all its citizens.

And there are the local high-school kids with too much time on their hands and the usual adolescent problems.

And then – because Lackberg loves to weave ancient history into modern mystery – there is a woman who lived in these parts in the 17th century, when literal witch hunts were all the rage.

Lackberg cleverly connects multiple tales of violence and ostracism in a narrative that climbs to a terrifying crescendo, but there is much light relief in the lives of her extended family of regular characters.

Even police chief Bertil Mellberg displays flashes of charm between being his usual bumbling and graceless self.

He is also the recipient of the best put-down in the book: when he enquires whether refugee children eat cinnamon buns, detective Paula Morales replies tartly: “Of course they do. They’re from Syria, not outer space.” @deGrootS1

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Poets! Submit your original manuscript to uHlanga Press in February 2019

uHlanga Press has announced their second open submissions period!

Original manuscripts (containing 20 to 40 poems) by South African poets, or poets living in South Africa can be submitted from 1 February 2019 to 28 February 2019. (Please note that no early or late submissions will be accepted.)

And yes, local truly is lekker – manuscripts written in English, Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans (or a combo of the four!) are encouraged.

Click here for more.


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#AFROYOUNGADULT: a talent-search for Young Adult fiction from Africa!

Are you an aspiring YA-author? The Goethe-Institut wants YOU to submit a short story (between 3000 – 5000 words) for the young adult market (13 – 19 years) in Kiswahili, English or French.

Entries close on November 30, 2018.

Click here for more!

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What keeps you awake at night? “A fear of losing our freedom” – a Q&A with Khusta Jack

Published in the Sunday Times

What book changed your life?

The Struggle is My Life by Nelson Mandela. I read it when I was at school before I became politically involved in the struggle.

Who is your favourite fictional hero?

I loved the animals in the African traditional stories, especially uMvundla, the Hare.

What phrase do you most overuse?

“That’s life.” I think what I am saying is accept your situation and work from there.

You’re hosting a literary dinner with three writers. Who’s invited?

Zakes Mda, the late Chris van Wyk and Peter Mtuze.

What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?

Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

What novel would you give children to introduce them to literature?

My kids enjoyed Holes by Louis Sachar when they were young teens.

What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?

Xhosa Poets and Poetry by Jeff Opland, a collection of Xhosa literature. My children gave it to me as a Christmas present last year.

What is the last thing that you read that made you laugh out loud?

Parts of the book Shirley, Goodness and Mercy by Chris van Wyk – his life and how he portrayed it was poignant and funny.

What keeps you awake at night?

A fear of losing our freedom, and my children having to fight for emancipation all over again.

What books are on your bedside table?

The Broken River Tent by Mphuthumi Ntabeni and Still Grazing by Hugh Masekela.

If you could tell your younger self anything, what would it be?

There is no substitute for hard work. Being humble is always safe. It is cheaper to keep yourself out of trouble than to get out of trouble.

To Survive and Succeed: From Farm Boy to Businessman by Khusta Jack is published by Kwela, R280

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Book Bites: 4 November

Published in the Sunday Times

The Wife’s Tale ****
Aida Edemariam, HarperCollins, R285

Aida Edemariam retells the story of her grandmother’s life in Ethiopia in a gentle portrait that starts off in a feudal monarchy and ends in a Marxist dictatorship. We learn that her gran, Yetemegnu, was married before she was 10 years old. Surrounded by priests and soldiers, Yetemegnu’s life was filled with challenges that many could not even begin to fathom. Her fight for justice after her husband’s arrest and her inherent ability to help people in desperate need gives Yetemegnu a voice that is stronger than the change her country faces. Edemariam does a magnificent job of translating her grandmother’s strength and legacy. Jessica Levitt @jesslevitt

Circus ****
Irma Venter Human & Rousseau, R280

Adriana van der Hoon is a teenager growing up in ’80s Johannesburg. Unbeknown to her, her father, the Dutchman, has been bringing donor money into the country for the ANC. He’s shot dead in a fake robbery and she’s forced by a security police handler to take over her father’s “job” at the Education Trust, and track down where the money was coming from. The headstrong 18-year-old goes to Berlin on her first covert mission, where she works at a club as a knife-thrower. She starts a relationship with the club owner who supplies the money she is to take back to SA. But Adriana soon finds out he is a pimp, a money launderer and a murderer. Clean and simply written, this is a refreshing and thrilling read. Gabriella Bekes @gabrikwa

Things Even Gonzalez Can’t Fix ****
Christy Chilimigras, MF Books Joburg, R225

In this fast-paced, debut memoir about growing up in Joburg’s northern suburbs as the child of two addicts, Christy Chilimigras has crafted a book that explores the impact on her life of a flawed family. If you think that sounds depressing, it’s not, particularly as the writer and her sister emerge from the chaos of their childhood as powerful young women who take a stand. The book is full of humour and vivid descriptions, and would appeal to both older teens, young adults and older folk. I look forward to her second book. Samantha Enslin

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2018 City Press Tafelberg Nonfiction Award shortlist announced

The shortlist for the 2018 City Press Tafelberg Nonfiction Award has been announced!

Congratulations are in order for the five authors who made the cut amid the 120+ submissions received by Tafelberg and City Press: Lesedi Molefi, Harry Kalmer, Tyrone August, Nandipha Gantsho and Sara Black have topped the list of this prestigious prize, awarded every two years.

The winning entry will receive a contract with Tafelberg Publishers and an additional R120 000 to fund their project.

On account of the award’s emphasis on non-fiction works which are relevant to South Africa’s sociopolitical framework it comes as no surprise that two of the shortlisted monographs are biographies of anti-apartheid activists, two are about race and education in South Africa, and one on destigmatising mental illness.

Click here for more information on the shortlisted titles, as reported by City Press’s Avantika Seeth.

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“I always feared that if I were to write a book, it would not come up to the standards I demand of the books I read” – Vanessa Raphaely on writing Plus One

Published in the Sunday Times

From the “Unfinished Book Club” to a fun and compelling debut novel – Vanessa Raphaely’s Plus One is a hit! Photo: supplied.

Plus One
Vanessa Raphaely, Pan Macmillan, R265

I still can’t believe I have written a complete novel. Or that a publisher as reputable as Pan MacMillan chose to publish it. I’ve never been overly confident in my ability as a writer, let alone a fiction writer. For years my friend Suzy and I were the only members of our own, exclusive “Unfinished Book Club”. We would meet over sushi and Chenin Blanc and brainstorm … and then later commiserate as we launched ourselves, filled with enthusiasm and ideas, only to run out of steam and confidence soon afterwards.

For working women it’s hard not to meander off target, waylaid by the urgency of raising families, earning incomes or just by the fact that completing a novel is really very difficult.

Before I finally wrote “The End” of the 16th draft of Plus One, I had at least five unfinished books languishing in various draft stages, including one boasting the unforgiveably kitsch ’80s working title of “Fire and Ice” that was set in the world of competitive ice skating. It involved a terrible and bloody accident and an illegally sharpened pair of female ice-skating blades. I suspect it was a blessing, both for me and the reading public, that that one never did get past Chapter 5.

It was really touch and go that Plus One got started, let alone finished. I always feared that if I were to write a book, it would not come up to the standards I demand of the books I read. Getting over yourself, your fears, your dignity … and just writing is an essential tip for anyone who dreams of having a book published.

One of the first people I sent the first draft to for an opinion was a magazine editor – the woman who taught me to write when I was just a lowly assistant features editor on Cosmopolitan in the UK way back when. She read the manuscript quickly, and e-mailed me: “Vanessa, this book is just so incredibly bad I could not get past the first chapters. I didn’t care to spend any time at all in the company of your characters, I just couldn’t bring myself to give a toss what happened to them. It reads like a breathless column dashed off over your lunch hour for illiterate, coke-addled imbeciles.”

That, I’ve got to admit, was briefly crushing. But writers, I have discovered, have thick skins and no pride. And I am definitely a writer.

At that point I had sold my shares in my business and no new business or employment opportunity had presented itself, so I took a deep breath and kept writing. And rewriting. And rewriting. It took encouragement, cheerleading and honest advice from friends, my agent Nadine Rubin Nathan, my publisher Andrea Nattrass and the wonderful, professional, surgical interventions of my editor Alison Lowry to get it over the line.

My mother, when she was finally allowed to read it, e-mailed me: “Darling, you can stop worrying. I am on page 70 and it’s very good.” But unfortunately, in this case, mums’ opinions don’t count for much. Objective readers say it’s fun, thought-provoking, a bit dark (but written with a light touch), compelling, a page turner, unputdownable and that they just did not see the ending coming.

And I’m proud of it. As Andrea said: “Why would I publish anything I wouldn’t be proud of?” She’s the real deal.

So it turned out OK. I never hoped for more. And it’s a fabulous feeling ticking “write a novel” off your bucket list..

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Anna Burns awarded Man Booker Prize for Milkman

Anna Burns has been announced as the winner of the 2018 Man Booker Prize for her fourth novel, Milkman!

Booker chair of judges, Kwame Anthony Appiah, described Burns’ winning title as “incredibly original”, lauding the author’s ability to “challenge conventional thinking and form”.

Burns told the BBC that she was “stunned” to be awarded this coveted prize, presented to her at London’s Guildhall on 16 October.

Burns is the first author from Northern Ireland to win the Booker.

About the book

In this unnamed city, to be interesting is dangerous.

Middle sister, our protagonist, is busy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her maybe-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with Milkman.

But when first brother-in-law sniffs out her struggle, and rumours start to swell, middle sister becomes ‘interesting’. The last thing she ever wanted to be. To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous…

Milkman is a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. It is the story of inaction with enormous consequences.

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“If I had known what I was getting myself into, I would probably never have begun.” Simone Haysom on writing The Last Words of Rowan du Preez

Published in the Sunday Times

The Last Words of Rowan du Preez: Murder and Conspiracy on the Cape Flats
Simone Haysom, Jonathan Ball Publishers

Towards the end of 2013 a friend came to me and said: “I’ve just returned from Cape Town and the craziest things have been happening to a friend of mine.” I had recently moved back to SA after several years studying and working abroad and I was looking for a story, something that could help me understand the baffling, violent country I loved.

This turned out to be it.

The woman he was talking about was Angy Peter, and she was accused of necklacing a young man, Rowan du Preez, who she had been trying to rehabilitate from a life of crime. Angy, a criminal justice activist involved in a campaign to fix the dire state of policing in Khayelitsha, claimed she was innocent. She had been set up, she said, by a policeman she had accused of corruption, and a police force that considered her an enemy had gone along with it.

But the state had, on the face of things, a strong case: eyewitnesses to the assault, and a declaration supposedly made by Rowan himself – to three policemen – as he lay dying.

I spent the next five years researching and writing the story: attending the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry, Angy Peter’s trial, and asking questions in Mfuleni, where the murder took place, poring over transcripts and chasing leads that often didn’t work out.

The story turned out to be as much about the toll that impunity – at high levels and low – has taken on our society, as it was about these specific events.

Sometimes the degree to which the truth refused to be pinned down was so extreme it became absurd. At one point in the trial, during a cross-examination of a witness who was being infuriatingly evasive, the defence advocate asked him: “What do you think the motive for the murder was?”

So intent on dodging questions was he, he replied: “Which murder?”

“This one!” bellowed the advocate, and I thought for a second he might be about to commit another.

If I had known what I was getting myself into, I would probably never have begun. In a story like this, your head can get done in, both by what you don’t find out and what you do.

Working through hundreds of pages of eyewitness and medical testimony on a necklacing begins to take a toll. You tell yourself it’ll be worth it when you find the truth, but that’s elusive. Though I was able to find out far more than the official story, my limitations to getting to the heart of what happened caused me angst.

You can’t get all the access you need: the story is shaped by the gaps you get through. @simonehaysom

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Nal’ibali has come third in a spectacular award from the AU Innovation in Education Expo!

Via the AU Innovation in Education

[Dakar, Senegal] This Saturday 6 October, South Africa’s reading-for-enjoyment campaign, Nal’ibali, took third place at the African Union’s Innovation in Education Prize, rising ahead of six other emerging innovators from across the continent.

The announcement came during the AU Commission’s Innovating Education in Africa Exhibition in Dakar, supported by the Senegalese Government and African partner institutions.

The campaign received this recognition in large part for its bilingual reading-for-enjoyment supplement. The supplement is produced by PRAESA (Project for the Research of Alternative Education in South Africa), printed biweekly in Tiso Blackstar newspapers, The Daily Dispatch, Herald and The Sunday World.

Budding bibliophiles enjoying a supplement story with Nal’ibali literacy mentor, Thabisa Nomkhonwana.

It is donated and delivered directly to reading clubs, schools, libraries, and community organisations in the Nal’ibali network across South Africa, with the support of its publisher and the South African Post Office. Since 2012, 37.3 million supplements have been distributed to those who need them the most.

“We’re really honoured to receive this continent-wide recognition,” says Katie Huston, Head of Research and Innovation at Nal’ibali.

“We often assume innovation has to mean new technology, but the supplement shows that something really ‘low-tech’ can have a huge impact when it is built on sound research; when it catalyses ground-breaking partnerships between the private sector, civil society and government; and when it meets people where they are.

“We want to thank the AU for recognising the importance of innovative solutions to our continent’s education challenges. Together we can give all our children the opportunity and support they need to become lifelong readers.”

Nal’ibali’s award-winning supplement may be the answer to one of South Africa’s biggest challenges: How do we get quality, affordable reading material into our children’s hands? Reading has been shown to be the single biggest contributor to a child’s future school success, yet only 17% of South African schools have a library stocked with books, and very few homes have more than ten titles on their shelves.

“In South Africa, books are expensive and very few are printed in indigenous languages,” adds Jade Jacobsohn, Managing Director of Nal’ibali. “When schools do manage to get books, they often keep them for teachers to read in the classroom only. They’re simply too precious to risk getting damaged by children.”

Thabisa handing out Nal’ibali supplements to young story lovers.

Each 16-page edition of Nal’ibali’s newspaper supplement has a range of exciting and accessible literacy resources designed to get children to fall in love with reading.

This includes two to three new cut-out-and-keep story books which encourage children to feel part of the process, and provide a sense of ownership of printed reading materials. There are also ‘story active’ tips that help caregivers and educators extend the story sharing experience, as well as fun literacy related games and activities.

The supplements currently come in eight of South Africa’s 11 national languages, meaning inclusivity is central to its design. And, with the supplements printed every second week during school term time, teachers who receive the supplement report that children cannot wait for ‘story week’.

Huston explains some of the winning features that impressed the AU judges. “Not only are the supplements cost effective – they cost just R1.55 (11 US cents) per copy to develop and print – but they’re meeting children where they’re at, with quality, fun reading material in their home languages. This is important, because having a strong foundation in their first language better equips children to learn additional languages, including English, and to succeed in school.”

These innovative efforts have now been recognised by the AU, as part of a drive to meet both the Continental Education Strategy for Africa goals, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals too.

For more information about accessing Nal’ibali’s supplements, or the power of reading and storytelling, visit: and

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