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Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

“I decided to give my stories a bigger meaning than just LOLs and likes” – Melusi Tshabalala on writing Melusi’s Everyday Zulu

Nal’ibali column 21: term 3 (2018)

By Carla Lever

Melusi Tshabalala, author of Melusi’s Everyday Zulu. Photo provided.


What inspired you to write Melusi’s Everyday Zulu?

I’ve worked in advertising for the past 20 years and it broke my heart how the industry treats indigenous, (South) African languages with disrespect. I wanted to showcase the beauty and, because I am um’Zulu, I did it with isiZulu.

You have a background in advertising. How are different languages used in this industry? What do you think needs to change?

You can’t talk about how advertising uses languages without bringing marketing into it. African languages and the people who speak them are not given much respect. This is starkly evident in radio advertising, where the quality of African-language radio ads is often not the same as the English and Afrikaans because they are not given the same quality control. We need more marketers and advertising professionals who actually care to deliver a quality product to this majority audience.

Your book concept started with a Facebook page! Tell us about discovering the power of social media as a tool for activism.

A little while ago, I realised that people on Facebook enjoy my writing, so I decided to give my stories a bigger meaning than just LOLs and likes. We all have the responsibility to help build the country, using whatever skills we have. Mine is writing.

How did the momentum shift your idea from a social media platform to regular media, like your book deal and a radio slot?

I was approached by publishers and radio producers – I honestly didn’t see that coming. I now have features on Kaya FM and East Coast Radio, as well as a column in Finweek.

What was the public feedback to your Facebook posts?

The feedback has been very positive even though we’ve had some very tough conversations. The people on the page don’t always agree with me or each other, but we learn from each other. Well, most of us!

Has there been a learning curve in writing for such a huge public audience?

Yes, I’ve had to adjust to writing for a broader audience, with people from different walks of life. I’ve also learnt not to react to everything people say to me. I sometimes still react, though.

You literally tackle one of SA’s big problems one word at a time. Do you think we can chip away at our ingrained prejudices?

I’ve realised that we can! We just need to talk to each other. We exist in silos and make assumptions about “the other”. That said, some people really are just terrible.

I love your catchphrase – “There’s Um’Zulu in all of us!” What do you think SA would be like if we all made an effort to learn and use each others’ languages?

I believe we all have little bits of each other in us. We need to tap into them and become an unstoppable force in the world. That’s our nation’s uniqueness.

Children’s brains are incredibly good at picking up language – they learn through play and aren’t afraid to get words wrong. How can we keep this sense of play and fun in learning language as adults?

We need to interact with each other, make friends who are different from us. We need to laugh together and at ourselves, while always being aware of our colonial and apartheid history.


Melusi’s Everyday Zulu is published by Jonathan Ball and their giving away THREE copies! To enter, simply tell us what Melusi’s catchphrase is. Email your answer to Tiso Blackstar’s education consultant, Patti McDonald: before Monday, 27 August.

Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift to them. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success! For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign, or to access children’s stories in a range of South African languages, visit:

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“The MeToo movement has allowed people to speak in a heightened, sharpened way that they couldn’t do before.” Meg Wolitzer on her new novel, feminism, and meaning-making

Published in the Sunday Times

Meg Wolitzer, author of The Female Persuasion. Illustration by Kate Gavino.

The Female Persuasion
Meg Wolitzer, Chatto & Windus, R290

Meg Wolitzer is finally getting the recognition she deserves as a powerful author who has big things to say. It’s her moment. She has two major things happening. The film The Wife will hit the screens this month and it’s based on Wolitzer’s 2003 novel of the same name. Starring Glenn Close, everyone is pitching it as an important film that will at last net the star her Oscar.

Close plays the angry wife of a famous author who is going to receive the Nobel literature prize. In the film, her character tells her husband, “everyone needs approval”. This is also the theme that runs through Wolitzer’s new book The Female Persuasion, the other major thing to happen to Wolitzer this year.

The Female Persuasion, her 12th book, is receiving rave reviews for its keen perception of being a woman in today’s MeToo world. It centres on two women: Faith Frank, an older second-wave feminist who encourages Greer Kadetsky, a younger fourth-wave feminist. It is about female empowerment, women mentoring women and the dangers of placing our mentors on pedestals.

In a phone interview from New York, Wolitzer explains why she chose to write about this.

“I’m somebody who has been helped and encouraged by older women and that feeling of being heard, being respected, perhaps for the first time, is very powerful. It’s important to be seen. To believe in yourself and an outside person giving you this permission. I have a friend who calls these people permissionaries.”

Her character, Faith, is a permissionary. In the early ’70s, Faith was one of the founders of Bloomer magazine – filled with acerbic columns and sharp articles about women’s rights. Faith is described as “a couple of steps down from Gloria Steinem in fame”.

Faith gives Greer permission to own her own story. Greer is innocent and green when she goes to college with no guidance from her stoner, uninterested parents. On her first night at Ryland she goes to a frat party where Darren Tinzler sexually assaults her. Greer wants to see him punished. Other young women too, as “other Ryland students had their own Darren Tinzler moments”. Unfortunately, the story follows a familiar narrative – he apologises for his inability to read signals from the opposite sex and gets off with a stint of therapy. It is 2006.

Greer’s need for justice grows. She and her friend Zee buy cheap T-shirts and print Darren’s face on it with the word Unwanted beneath it. They are wearing them the night they meet Faith, who comes to the college for a talk. Greer uses what she calls her “outside voice” to ask Faith a question. Faith is impressed. Greer finishes college and starts to work for Faith and her female-empowerment organisation called Loci. We see a clash of different types of feminism.

Wolitzer says the only way we can navigate this difference is for women to talk and listen and understand where we all come from.

“Women of second-wave and third-wave feminism grew up in a different world and their experiences of when they were young were different and this shaped how they have come to perceive being a feminist in the world. All we can do is inhabit our own lives, know about the past, learn about our mothers and their lives.

“There’s been valid criticism about inclusiveness as an important need for feminism. There are angry voices. I think we are in a moment right now; so much has happened, so much has been set into release. The MeToo movement has allowed people to speak in a heightened, sharpened way that they couldn’t do before. The idea of being believed and heard; these are fairly new things. We are in the middle of a change. I don’t know how it will shake down, nobody knows.”

Even though the book delves into all these issues it’s not a feminist manifesto, rather it’s telling a bigger story with many different layers. This is where Wolitzer excels – her novels are big in scope – in themes as well as in the time frame. The Female Persuasion is epic; Greer and Faith’s entire lives are on display.

Wolitzer explains: “I don’t think I can say for definite that this is only a bildungsroman. Without a doubt it’s a coming-of-age story but it’s not only about that. It’s also about how we make meaning and find our way and that’s not only about young people. For instance, Faith has to decide what legacy she wants to leave the world. I do want to say something about how we live and how we do good in our lives. I think in this way it is a big story.”

She didn’t try to write the quintessential MeToo novel.

“When I wrote this book (except for the last chapter), I assumed that we would have our first woman president. Assumed that it would be meaningful and lead to other things. Then my notion of feminism shifted. The notion that maybe sometimes in feminism things are a little bit worse or a little bit better and you keep on working. It got pulled away like a tablecloth in the magic trick. I then added the next chapter of the ‘big terribleness’ – after the Trump election. Now the need for the fight is stronger than ever.” @jenniferdplatt

Wolitzer’s Best Books

Mrs Bridge by Evan S. Connell
This is a 1959 American novel about a Kansas City housewife’s life right before WW2, and it’s brilliant, hilarious, tragic. A perfect, compact masterpiece.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
What a shattering exploration of voice, among all its other gifts.

What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
This recent collection of stories by a gifted writer moves from vivid depictions of Nigerian life into the fabulisitic.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
As a writer and reader, I return to this book again and again for its language.
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
This slender, devastating book about a long-ago wedding night is economical and deeply emotional.

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“I was thrilled to get a chance to finally write something in isiZulu – my love for storytelling came from the language.” A Q&A with novelist Zandile Khumalo

Nal’ibali Column 19 Term 3, 2018

By Carla Lever

Zandile Khumalo

Congratulations on your upcoming novel, published by Kwasukela Books! What does it mean to you to be published in isiZulu?

I was thrilled to get a chance to finally write something in isiZulu – my love for storytelling came from the language.

What has the reaction to your upcoming novel been from your family and friends?

I honestly don’t think it came as a shock to them to realize that I’ve published something, even though writing is not really something I talk much about. My family and my few friends already know me as a bookworm – they’ve become very supportive!

Can you tell us a little about what your upcoming novel is about? What does the title mean?

uNtsika Ezweni Lesethembiso is about the story of two siblings who find their way back to each other after they’ve fallen victim to an unfortunate incident that threatens wipe out their whole family, which the whole story is centered around. The title basically means ‘Ntsika In The Promised Land’.

uNtsika eZweni leseThembiso is a young adult novel, but it’s also historical fiction – set in 1500-1600 South Africa. Did you do any historical research to write the story?

I’m currently using every opportunity I have to research more and more, so I’ve come across some interesting facts. One thing always leads to the other as far as information gathering goes and that’s what making this process more fun for me. It’s research in progress!

You actually adapted this story from a short story that you published in the 2017 isiZulu anthology Izinkanyezi Ezintsha. Was it hard to adapt the plot from the original short story?

No, it was more natural because I always felt the story was meant to be longer. I’m enjoying writing it in more detail.

What kinds of books did you grow up with? How did you fall in love with reading?

There were some isiZulu titles that I used to borrow from our small community library back home in Mariannhill, which I enjoyed thoroughly. I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Oliver Twist when my grasp of the English language was still shaky but I really had fun doing it. It was my teenage years that led me to the Harry Potter books after a toxic relationship with the Sweet Valley series.

How did you discover you could also be a writer, not just a reader?

As a teenager I kept a journal for personal thoughts – I also kept a different one for cheesy poems and song lyrics! There were times when I would read my journal to myself when I was bored and find my views entertaining. With doing all that writing I slowly began to feel comfortable expressing myself and, with practice, better.

Was it hard finding the time to write?

No, time to write is never much of a problem because it’s something we love as writers. I feel like perhaps the most frustrating thing is having time to write but no inspiration. Feeling stuck is the worst, but luckily I don’t find it lasts long.

How can we get more isiZulu literature published, read and appreciated?

Now is not a good time to be social media shy! It’s time we made use of those platforms in order for isiZulu literature to be more accessible, just like we are not shy to show off the latest movies that we like. Let’s create viral isiZulu #hashtags! Also, if packaging makes a product stand out from the rest, why not have exciting and creative book designs like the beautiful Izinkanyezi Ezintsha cover?

What advice would you give to people who want to find more published stories in African languages?

They should ask for it! The law of demand and supply will apply to everything we consume so why are books different? We can start by creating book clubs so we can have a stronger voice as a collective when trying to get the attention of distributors and bookshops about what we would like to read.

Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift to them. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success! For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign, or to access children’s stories in a range of South African languages, visit:

» read article

“This book comes out of [my feelings about the fallist movement] but also out of the desire to escape from it.” Imraan Coovadia on his new novel, A Spy in Time

Published in the Sunday Times

For Imraan Coovadia, the science-fiction genre provides an opportunity to think about race differently. Picture: Alon Skuy.

A Spy in Time
Imraan Coovadia, Umuzi, R260

Over the last four years since the publication of his previous novel, Tales of the Metric System, Imraan Coovadia has been watching, with scepticism and dismay, the events playing out on the campus of the University of Cape Town, where he heads the creative writing programme.

In Johannesburg last week he admitted that perhaps the disruptions and racial anger that spilt from the Rhodes Must Fall protests into the Fees Must Fall protests provided the impetus for his new novel, a time-travelling, spy-thriller science fiction tale with an Afrofuturist infusion.

He says the book – a departure for a novelist whose previous work employed a more social realist approach to issues of history, race and identity over the course of South Africa’s journey from the indignities of apartheid to the tensions of the democratic era – “comes out of [my feelings about the fallist movement] but also out of the desire to escape from it. Most things South Africans do are simultaneously super-South African and also part of a desire to escape from South Africa and its narrow problems completely.”

In Coovadia’s version of the future the world has been destroyed by a supernova, leaving only Johannesburg, with its deep mining tunnels as the sole surviving city where an agency run by robots sends members of the predominantly black surviving human race back in time to ensure that the end of the world will never be repeated.

The hero is novice agent Enver Eleven, whose journey takes him backwards and forwards in time from Marrakesh in 1955 to Brazil in 1967 and the surface of Jupiter many thousands of years in the future. In this world white people, while not part of the present, are firmly part of the past and so agents such as Enver must learn how to interact with and protect himself in a world once predominantly controlled by whites.

Coovadia sees the science-fiction genre as a useful means to “maybe think about race differently or take other more imaginative angles towards it”.

Enver’s journey provides him with an opportunity to explore the idea that, as Coovadia puts it, “beneath race we’re controlled by quite elemental qualities of who’s familiar, who’s strange to us, who’s a friend, who’s an enemy, who’s superior, who’s subordinate. I think part of this [book] is an attempt to look at those feelings and say irrespective of where you stand in the system, how do those feelings work on you and how do they propel you to do certain things?”

Unlike many time-travelling tales which focus on how small changes to the past can have drastic consequences for the future, here even the smallest of changes to the narrative of the past are frowned upon because, as Coovadia says, “the agency in this book hates the idea that there could be multiple universes because that would create extra human suffering … and so their entire philosophy and culture is devoted to suppressing butterfly effects”.

Acknowledging the influence of the classic adventure stories of Robert Louis Stevenson, Coovadia sees this book, ironically in the light of its time-travel narrative, as his best attempt at telling a “story that unfolded naturally without being overladen with sense impressions and the things I’m usually interested in. It’s a book written almost entirely without flashbacks, in which the story goes from A to B to C to D.”

Enver Eleven’s adventure is a solid, well-told science-fiction story that, like the best examples of the genre, offers imaginative and intelligent contemplation of where we might end up, while also providing a space for the contemplation of where we are now and how we got here. It’s perhaps best understood as Coovadia’s response to the idea of eternal recurrence posited by Friedrich Nietzsche, which asks if you could imagine reliving your life, would you do so in exactly the same way.

For Coovadia: “That’s one thing when you say it for an individual person but what about for history and for African history, which is full of disasters and catastrophes?”

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“Storytelling is a powerful communication tool for social cohesion, recording history and development” – a Q&A with Zimbabwean protest poet and playwright, Bhekumusa Moyo

By Carla Lever

Bhekumusa Moyo, Zimbabwean protest poet and playwright


What role do you think storytelling – in communities, families or even individually – can have in creating social change?

Storytelling is a powerful communication tool for social cohesion, recording history and development. It can inspire change or incite a people to act on a social issue. Our personal stories are also a source of energy. Each story told has the potential for inspiring the next person. The experiences we go through can be used as a learning tool by those who haven’t experienced those things. I derive my own personal mojo from stories of key pioneers of pan-Africanism.

Tell us a little about your own experience with writing and performing in Zimbabwe.

Writing and performing in Zimbabwe is a life-changing experience. It certainly has its ugly phases – the darkest corners being draconian laws inherited from colonial Rhodesia. The laws that make the lives of critical and protest artists like me hell are the Public Order Security Act and the censorship board. These have curtailed any work which challenges those in power. Minus these challenges of arrest, persecution and banning, though, Zimbabwean audiences are supportive of art that speaks truth to power.

Which of your works are you most proud of having written?

I am proud of 1983-The Dark Years. This is a politically charged play on the Gukurahundi genocide which swept Matabeleland from 1980 through to 1987, leaving a trail of sorrow and deaths numbering around 20 000. The play was banned in 2010 but, with support from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, we managed to stage it in various places. This year, after Mugabe, the play had a week of full houses at Theatre in the Park in Harare. I’m also proud of one of my poems called They Shall All Fall. This poem speaks of how people will dethrone dictators no matter how strong they are. Here’s an extract – “All that flies lands sometime / one by one in no particular order / they shall all fall.”

What language(s) do you use to write and perform in? Do you think choice of language is a political act for artists?

I write in Ndebele and English. Ndebele is my mother language. I will not stray far from it, as it carries rich idioms, proverbs and expressions of my people. Even when I perform, I juggle English and Ndebele. Language is a political act. My English must have deep roots to the imagery of my community so that I don’t struggle. Language, like culture, carries the essence of the peoples’ struggles. Language is the heartbeat of a community and yes, it’s a political tool too for engagement or disengagement.

There are many ways of protesting. Using literature – both written and oral – has a long and powerful tradition in Africa. Who are some of the protest writers who have inspired you?

I am greatly inspired by Athol Fugard, Professor Chinua Achebe, Christopher Mlalazi and the general struggles of my people, especially the women and mothers of my village who always show resilience even in the face of travesty.

Have you ever found it difficult to be a politically active writer in Zimbabwe?

Yes, Zimbabwe has very draconian laws, as I alluded to earlier. The censorship board is the biggest culprit – a club of old men who make it difficult to be politically active as a writer.

Of course, the elections are coming up very soon in Zimbabwe. What role do you think writers – whether they are poets, singers or journalists – play in this important time?

Chinua Achebe says that ‘writers give headaches.’ I feel it is important for artists at this time to inspire debate on the elections and comment strongly on institutions and individuals who can make or break the election. Artists must motivate citizens to vote, inspire peace as well as play the watchdog role and whistleblowers in cases of human rights abuses.

What kinds of opportunities would you like to see for African writers and storytellers in the future?

I am hoping that universities will embrace storytelling as a medium of passing on information. This can be done in formal learning spaces or creating festivals within academic years for African writers to bring their wisdom. I’d also love to see more writing residencies and literature festivals for different language activists. Storytellers must be brought to the table as much as other professionals to educate and speak openly on issues of social change.

Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift to them. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success! For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign, or to access children’s stories in a range of South African languages, visit:



» read article

Authentic characters and arresting imagery make Rhiannon Navin’s Only Child a must-read that doesn’t moralise about gun control, writes Anna Stroud

Published in the Sunday Times

Only Child
Rhiannon Navin, Mantle, R285

Five years ago Rhiannon Navin dropped her six-year-old son at school on the same day that a 20-year-old gunman marched into an elementary school in Connecticut and killed 20 children and six adults. Since that day she has worried about her children’s safety.

Three years later she found her younger son hiding from the “bad guy” under the dining-room table. He and his twin brother had just entered kindergarten when they had their first lockdown drill.

“I began writing Only Child because I needed an outlet for the fear I felt for my children. It is the first story I ever wrote and I didn’t expect anyone would read it, let alone that it would be published,” Navin says of her debut novel.

The book’s release in the US coincided with the March for Our Lives demonstration in Washington DC on March 24 2018. The Washington Post reported that over two million people protested against America’s gun policy in response to the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, where 17 people were killed by a former student.

“It breaks my heart that my children grow up experiencing such acute fear in their lives. But on the issue of gun violence, I feel a glimmer of hope for the first time,” Navin says.

She took her eldest son to attend the protest and says she’s in awe of the young leaders.

“They are fed up with feeling unsafe at school and on the streets and they are going to fight like hell for change.”

Only Child tells the story of six-year-old narrator Zach who hides in a school closet during a shooting. The story unfolds as he tries to piece his world back together in the aftermath of devastating events. His family comes undone, and he retreats into a world of books and art to cope with the trauma. One of the ways he learns to deal with his emotions is by painting his feelings onto different pages to try to make sense of them.

“Once Zach discovers that he can separate his feelings instead of having them all mixed up they seem more manageable, easier to tackle one by one. He is able to do something adults cannot: understand that every feeling is important and valid,” Navin explains.

Zach also reads the Magic Tree House books in which two characters go on adventures in search of the secrets of happiness. Zach tries to use these secrets to mend his family, but their grief keeps them from hearing what he has to say.

“If we listen to our children and let them guide us for a change, I think there might be a chance for a safer, more just world,” Navin says.

Authentic characters and arresting imagery make Only Child a must-read that doesn’t moralise about gun control.

“I strongly believe people are best convinced by reasons they discover themselves. My hope for my book is that it will find the people it is meant to find.” Anna Stroud @annawriter_

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“Here they have a chance to tell people their story” – a Q&A with two hosts of Red Cross Children’s Hospital’s child reporter-driven radio station, RX Radio

Nal’ibali Column 17: term 3

By Carla Lever

At the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, children are empowered to tell their own stories through RX Radio: a child reporter-driven radio station. Amirah and Hakeem talk to us about why no-one’s too young to author their own story.

Amirah (16) presents her own show and helps train new reporters.


Hakeem (17) is both a reporter and an apprentice.

Thanks for doing this interview. What’s it like to be asked the questions instead of asking them?

Hakeem: It’s quite weird as all my questions are prepared way before the interview. Now that I’m being interviewed, I understand now the pressure the interviewees must be feeling on my shows!

What does your job at RX radio involve? Is it fun?

Amirah: It’s so much fun working here at RX Radio. I present and script my show but I also help with training the new reporters.
Hakeem: It’s definitely super fun. As a reporter, I come up with content for my shows and collect Vox Pops because it’s nice to know how other people feel about things. I’m also an apprentice, which means editing different shows, training new recruits and covering different events.

Why do you think telling stories and sharing experiences is helpful for kids when they’re at Red Cross?

Amirah: It could help them become more confident and comfortable in telling their stories and come to grips with their health condition. Other kids with the same condition might also understand more.
Hakeem: Here they have a chance to tell people their story – even if it’s traumatizing or painful – and get it off their chest. They are constantly surrounded by children with different, and sometimes similar, illnesses and feel almost immediately at home and at ease at RX Radio.

How many patients and children work at RX?

Amirah: RX Radio has trained 67 child reporters.

Do you have to be a loud, outgoing person to be on radio?

Amirah: No, you don’t. In the beginning I was very quiet, but after a few weeks, months I came out of my shell and now I’m confident.
Hakeem: Not everyone is able to be like that and we don’t want anyone to be left out. So we’d usually allow all the children to take part in many different roles, such as reading the news or sports or participating in Vox Pops.

Often, doctors don’t see people unless they are sick. Why do you think it’s important and exciting for kids to be able to interview doctors who are helping them?

Hakeem: This way they feel more comfortable with their health care workers and build up a good relationship with them. In most interviews, they’ll disclose personal experiences which allows the child to think of as a friend.

Do the kids at RX get to choose what kinds of stories and features they make?

Amirah: Yes, they do. You get to choose what show and features you want.
Hakeem: Most definitely. The staff at RX Radio aim to be as little involved as possible. I’ll support, but the material comes mainly from the children themselves.

What are the most important skills kids would need to work at RX?

Amirah: Well they should be able to be social and confident enough to talk to someone face to face and be able to share their stories.
Hakeem: Also using a field recorder, which is important for someone on radio.

Amirah, I love your Hot Playlist – I listened a little while I was at work. And Hakeem, I can’t wait to hear some top tips on the outdoors from your show. What does it feel like to have a whole hour to tell people across the world stories about things you’re passionate about?

Amirah: It’s always nice to have time to share your favourite things, even if you’re not confident enough to share it with people closer to you. I’ve also met and interviewed so many new people during that one hour. And have listened to lots of amazing stories from Nal’ibali.

I know there are libraries and book clubs available at Red Cross. Can you tell me a little about the “Books and Breakfast” with Yusrah?

Amirah: In Yusrah’s show she talks about books she has read, interviews authors and talks about new books that have come out.
Hakeem: Yusrah’s sister Naseerah features in her show as well. She tells riddles and sometimes discusses books too.

There are people from so many different backgrounds at Red Cross. Do you use different languages at RX, or is it all in English?

Amirah: We mainly use English.
Hakeem: … but children are allowed to do things in their own language.

What advice would you give to kids who feel they have a story to tell the world?

Amirah: Well, they could always contact us and we will help them tell their stories.
Hakeem: Speak to your parents and tell them how you feel and I’m sure they will make sure you have a chance to tell your story. Also RX Radio will always be willing to hear your story and play it on air.

How can people tune in to listen?

Amirah: Children in the hospital can just switch to RX Radio but for outside listeners, they can stream us on
Hakeem: They can also search RX Radio on Twitter or Facebook. We even have an app in the Play Store for download!

Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift to them. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success! For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign, or to access children’s stories in a range of South African languages, visit:

» read article

Author interview: Peter Swanson

Published in the Sunday Times

Peter Swanson, author of All The Beautiful Lies. (Author photo: unknown.)

What’s the one book our world leaders should read?

I’d have them read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It’s the bleakest vision I’ve read about a post-apocalyptic world. Maybe it would do its part in preventing one of our leaders from reaching for the nuclear button. If not, it’s still riveting fiction.

Which book changed your life?

The first Agatha Christie novel I read was Sleeping Murder. It’s not her best, but I fell in love with mystery novels because of her, and I’ve never turned back.

What music helps you write?

I listen exclusively to movie soundtracks when I write. They create a mood but they also fade into the background. Lately, I’ve been listening to Jonny Greenwood’s score for Phantom Thread and James Newton Howard’s score for Red Sparrow.

The strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

I’m always looking up information on Google about how to murder someone, questions such as “How long do you need to hold someone under water for them to drown?”.

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

Stephen King, Kate Atkinson and David Mitchell. If I was allowed to invite dead writers it would be Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett and Kingsley Amis.

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

On the occasion of the UK publication of my second novel, The Kind Worth Killing, my wife bought me a first edition of Darker than Amber, my favourite Travis McGee novel by John D MacDonald. I love the book, but I also love the memory of that night.

What books are on your bedside table?

I’m reading The Darkness by Ragnar Jónasson. The next book I’m hoping to read is James Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss and then next on the pile is Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, because I never like to be too far from my favourite novel.

What would you tell your younger writing self?

Stop trying to be the next Hemingway and start writing thrillers. Another way of phrasing this would be to tell myself to write the books that I’d want to read.

What did you edit out of this book?

I write extensive histories for all of my main characters. Sometimes those histories make it into my books and sometimes they don’t.

How do you select the names of your characters?

I have used multiple ways to select names, including baby name books, genealogy sites, plus just scanning my own bookcase. Lately, I’ve found a couple of good surnames by taking walks through cemeteries and reading the headstones.

All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson is published by Faber & Faber, R275

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And our sunshine noir author for July is … Karin Brynard!

A new month calls for a new sunshine noir author sending shivers down the spines of local thriller fans…

This month, the co-author of the popular Detective Kubu series, Michael Sears, had the opportunity to interview Karin Brynard for The Big Thrill – the magazine for international thriller writers.

Karin Brynard, author of Our Fathers. ©Penguin Random House.

Here’s what the two thriller aficionados chatted about:

Karin Brynard grew up in the Northern Cape and many of her books are set in that dramatic, semi-arid landscape. She was a journalist and editor for several of South Africa’s major newspapers before she became freelance to concentrate on her writing.

Her novels – originally written in Afrikaans – have been translated into several languages, and she has won a variety of literary and crime fiction prizes. Her next book, Tuisland (the Afrikaans version of Homeland), shot up to number one on the South African best seller list when it was released in 2016.

We chatted about Our Fathers, her latest book available outside South Africa.

Our Fathers is a book that tackles big themes in South Africa – the decay of family units, alienation by place as well as race, and different views from different groups as to the relationship between races in the country. Did you set out to address these, or are they the issues that will almost inevitably arise in contemporary South African crime fiction?

If you try and shadow one ordinary cop in the South African Police Service for a day, you will most likely stumble across every one of the “big themes” of this country.

Cops stand at the coal face of all the realities of life here, ranging from racism to the rape of babies and beyond. And that’s where my stories happen too, so addressing the “issues” becomes sort of inevitable.

The question everybody keeps asking is why. Why do we see so much violence, so much brutality accompanying crime? We realize that this is a deeply complex society and that we’re continuously grappling with major challenges, ranging from poverty to greed, massive urbanization and the accompanying disintegration of cultures and belief systems. It is a society constantly under pressure, exposing all the cracks.

It would be almost impossible to ignore these issues. But: in the midst of all this, there is always redemption: relief in the beauty of the place and of the unexpected warmth of the diverse people who live here, their creativity and vibrant cultures.

What better background for storytelling, especially crime? The bad, the ugly, and the good all in one go.

You ask about “alienation by place as well as race.” Placing Sergeant Johannes Ghaap, a man of Griqua origin, in a predominantly black city like Soweto gave me the opportunity to showcase some of the diversity of our society and how challenging it can be on the personal level. It was such a rewarding exercise doing so, and allowed for wonderful suspense through Ghaap’s stumbling about.

The idea for Our Fathers arose from an interview I did with a man whose son had been accused of murder – bludgeoning his gorgeous girlfriend to death with a hammer.

She was a promising student at the University of Stellenbosch and he a handsome postgraduate with an open, youthful face. It became a sensational case and the family of both the victim and the accused refused to talk to the press.

I tried very hard to get an interview. And then got lucky.

The father of the young man agreed cautiously to talk. We met on a cold winter night and talked for hours. I will never forget the man’s despairing tears as he told me how he was torn from his bed in the middle of the night with the terrible news, and of his feelings of powerlessness as the investigation became a nightmare, his growing frustration with not being able to protect his son from this horror.

After the interview, driving back through the dark, wet streets of this beautiful student town, I thought how lucky this young boy was to have a father such as this.

Which set me to thinking about the role of fathers in the life of a family – and for that matter in the bigger family of a society. In psychological terms, the father is the constant guard at the gate, often sacrificing himself to protect his family and to provide for them. He keeps things stable, provides reason, reflection, order and wisdom, according to the myths of old.

What happens in a household where the fathers are absent? Research shows that more than half of SA children grow up without fathers. It also shows the detrimental effects on the psychological health of those kids, how it impacts on male violence, on suicide, promiscuity, even academic performance.

As the writing of this story progressed, this theme in particular, grew in importance.

Continue reading their conversation here.

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Tiah Beautement interviews Rahla Xenopoulous on her new novel

Published in the Sunday Times

Season of Glass is Rahla Xenopoulus’s third book. Picture: Joanne Olivier.

The Season of Glass *****
Rahla Xenopoulos (Umuzi, R250)

It is difficult to believe that we have Chanel lipstick and the TV series American Horror Story to thank for the epic novel, The Season of Glass, but life works in mysterious ways. Xenopoulos first refused to watch the series, but her best friend bribed her to do so – with lipsticks.

As Xenopoulos white-knuckled her way through, she was fascinated by the way the series recycles settings, themes, and unfinished business, which returns until properly resolved. This re-emergence left her pondering reincarnation. She explains: “The first rule of physics is that nothing can completely disappear. Everything becomes something else, so then what happens to a person, who lives and loves and learns and walks this earth interacting with other souls?”

What emerged from the television experience is Xenopoulos’s finest novel yet. Two souls are sent to Earth in the form of Jewish twins with the potential to change the world. The boy and girl appear in the cruellest of times, and it is humanity’s actions that dictate whether they will succeed. While the twins are drastically different people in each new life, their souls remain the same: the boy a grounded protector, the girl possessing every story ever told in the past, present and future.

Declared a “modern Scheherazade’s tale”, the story spans the ages from ancient Ethiopia to the Spanish Inquisition, to the brink of Austria on the eve of World War II, to times we have yet to live. There are pirates, warrior princesses, rabbis, artists, and monstrous giant mantises. Each section is a new story.

Every section displays humanity at its worst, while still filled with hope. “Perhaps the greatest goal a writer can have is that their work brings hope and love,” Xenopoulos says.

She explains: “All ages are cruel. What’s different about this age is that things are happening exponentially faster, and there are no filters, it’s all thrown in our faces. That’s why I think faith and spirituality are so important, and why we have to take breaks from the screens to smell the roses, listen to music, read a book, hold someone’s hand. We need to detach ourselves from the chaos and take stock. What’s important is kindness, and laughter, and how we treat our neighbour.”

Unsurprisingly, The Season of Glass required an enormous amount of research to write. What some may not realise, however, is that this was necessary even for the section that is set in the future. “Science fiction can seem so outlandish,” Xenopoulos says, “the reality is that these things have and are coming to pass.”

Throughout the story, love and physical human connections are shown to be vital to our humanity. Not an easy balance to achieve at the same time as existing on social media, Xenopoulos admits, as she herself used Facebook to help guide her through the research. But she is adamant we must continue to seek out the good in each other and in ourselves, and that cannot be accomplished if we don’t step away from screens. This theme is what ties the story together, at the end.

She explains: “If we’d been alive during the 14th century the headline of every newspaper, if they had had newspapers, would have been about war and a tyrant. But the important thing happening was in a small town in Germany where a man called Johannes Gutenberg was developing the printing press. People create war, we use religion the way we use money and other resources as an excuse to fight, but that isn’t all we are doing. There are crazy, exciting and beautiful things going on out there.”

Winter can be hard on many. The Season of Glass is a wonderful way to return warmth to your soul. @ms_tiahmarie

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