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Archive for the ‘News’ Category

11 quick questions with DJ Sbu

Published in the Sunday Times

Billionaires Under ConstructionBillionaires Under Construction: The Mindset of an Entrepreneur by DJ Sbu (Tracey MacDonald Publishers)

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
MoFaya. *chuckles*

If you could require our world leaders to read one book, what would it be?
Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success.

Which book changed your life?
Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch.

What music helps you write?
It depends on the kind of writing I want to share. If it is about my life journey, then most of the time it is kwaito influenced.

Do you keep a diary?
No, my modern-day diary is made up of my daily social media posts.

Who is your favourite fictional hero?

What book are you embarrassed not to have read yet?
Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man by Steve Harvey.

What’s more important to you: the way a book is written, or what the book is about?
Both, because it depends on what is written being written about.

Has a book ever changed your mind about something?
Yes, Robert Kiyosaki’s book Rich Dad’s Cashflow Quadrant, which simplifies the concept of wealth creation.

You’re hosting a literary dinner with three writers. Who’s invited?
Zakes Mda, Credo Mutwa and Sheryl Sandberg.

What novel would you give a child to introduce them to literature?
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling.

Do you finish every book you start? If you don’t, how do you decide when to stop reading?
No, I don’t finish every book I start. Most times it’s not that I decide to stop reading, but that I just get carried away by other books and things that come my way.

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The pull of Everest: Diane Awerbuck reviews Sarah Lotz’s The White Road

Published in the Sunday Times

Sarah Lotz’s new book pulls you into a death zone inhabited by ghosts and spirits, writes Diane Awerbuck

The White RoadThe White Road
Sarah Lotz, Hodder & Stoughton

Why are mountains female? Because they’re a bitch to climb. Sarah Lotz gives the annoying Robbie character that punchline, but it’s as good a place as any to talk about the real issues of her new novel, The White Road: personal challenge, suffering, and how exactly you know when you’re going mad.

The journeys of discovery in the novel are parallel trips: underground, in the terrifying world of “the death caves” of Cwm Pot in Wales, and up Everest itself.

Lotz knows what she’s talking about. She did her research on climbing first-hand, and it shows in the detail of the claustrophobic cave sequences and the near-death experiences in the snow: “Food tastes so different up here. I feel like I need to add salt to everything, and find myself craving curry and sugar.”

Not only the characters’ appetites are sharpened: Everest exerts a terrible, compulsive pull on its climbers, even when they understand they are behaving in ways that will probably get them killed. The “death zone” is littered with bodies of climbers – like Green Boots, who died in 1996 in “the highest graveyard in the world”. Because the corpses are frozen they have to be chipped out: some teams charge $30 000 to retrieve a body, and the Sherpas “don’t like to touch them”.

How to reconcile lofty emotional ideals with physical frailties is a thread that runs through The White Road. Juliet Michaels, “the Angel of the Alps” finds herself dubbed “the Angel of Death” after her climbing partner dies. Her mission at the beginning of the book is to set a new record for a female climber, find sponsorship, and remove her son Marcus from his up-itself boarding school.

But she also wants to achieve her climbing goals “by fair means” – without supplementary oxygen, and not “on the backs of Sherpas”. Lotz also gets in her critical commentary about the mistreatment of Nepal by China, so we’ll not expect a Mandarin translation of The White Road any time soon.

What Juliet shares with the other main character, Simon, is the conviction that they are haunted by a version of TS Eliot’s “Third Man”, a ghostly figure who “walks always beside you”. The phenomenon was documented by polar explorer Ernest Shackleton and, while other historical climbers describe the apparition as a companion, the constant presence for Juliet and Simon is punishing and vindictive: the worst voices of their conscience. Simon especially finds himself appalled at the shallowness of his old life, and determines to do the right thing for once.

Their progressive mental deterioration is documented in her notebooks and Simon’s posts for his sensationalist site, Journey to the Dark Side. Laying the ghosts to rest has become the mission for both climbers, though they belong to different generations, and we track their descent narratives with dread and fascination.

Stylistically, the publishers have given Lotz a freer rein. While The Three and Day Four are cult hits and great reads, they are occasionally frustrating because there’s a sense the writer has been told to hold back. The scenes in the Japanese suicide forest in The Three, for example, are the bits that make Lotz special, and The White Road is good because it’s this kind of writing. She never loses her grip on authentic, character-driven action, but it is that signature style – an apparently casual but really searing ability to strike the right image – that is impressive and indelible. Haunting, you might say, and spiritual, and cathartic.

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Fine, feminine forces: Tiah Beautement interviews Colleen Higgs and Ambre Nicolson about A to Z of Amazing South African Women

Published in the Sunday Times

A to Z of Amazing South African WomenA to Z of Amazing South African Women
Ambre Nicolson and Jaxon Hsu (Modjaji)

It is not often you hear of a South African book selling 1000 copies before it hits the bookstores. A to Z of Amazing South African Women has accomplished just that. This inspiring book, featuring 26 women, was the brainchild of Ambre Nicolson. She, along with Jaxon Hsu, who illustrated the book, and Colleen Higgs, publisher of Modjaji, crowdfunded the project to great success, right on time for Women’s Month.

: As Modjaji, it totally fitted in with what we stand for, as a feminist press – and I love that this is a celebratory, feel-good book.

It took endless discussion over many cups of coffee (and wine). We wanted to ensure the book was demographically representative and have a mix of contemporary and historical figures. It was also essential to show a wide range of human endeavour – from artists to activists, athletes to scientists. We had one added criteria: is she a badass? By this we meant, does she have agency, does she take initiative? We wanted women who were not victims of their circumstances, however dire, but rather powerful protagonists.

Caster Semenya. In fact I twisted Ambre’s arm because we have her surname as the letter – ie S is for Semenya – when all the other women have their first name, eg Z is for Zanele. But we couldn’t leave Caster out.

I hope the book provokes the question: if women and girls in South Africa were less subject to the vast structural inequalities of this country, how many more Ruth Firsts or Lillian Ngoyis or Caster Semenyas would we have?

Follow Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

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Festering divisions in the American South: Bron Sibree talks to Karin Slaughter about her latest novel The Good Daughter

Published in the Sunday Times

The Good DaughterThe Good Daughter
Karin Slaughter (HarperCollins)

Karin Slaughter has been in a class of her own since her debut crime novel Blindsighted, which became a surprise bestseller in 2001. It revealed a willingness to write about violence with unflinching honesty and an unparalleled ability to create strong, believable female characters.

She rocketed to international stardom, and sales of her books now exceed 35 million copies in 36 languages. From the outset, says Slaughter, “I wanted to write tough stories from a woman’s perspective because I think that women look at the world differently.”

Her latest novel The Good Daughter takes her interest in character and in social issues to a new level. A standalone work that is her 17th novel to date, The Good Daughter doesn’t so much slip the moorings of the crime genre, but realigns its ties to them in refreshing ways. It cleverly links the stories of two sisters, Charlie and Sam, and their experience of two violent, murderous events – one in the present, one in the past – in a cannily layered thriller.

Yet it is almost Victorian in its social scope and depth of characterisation. Even its size, a whopping 527 pages, is more akin to the literary traditions of a bygone era. “This is my longest book,” says Slaughter. “I always say a story needs to be as long as it needs to be.”

Already being hailed as a tour de force, it reveals Slaughter at the top of her game, and was seeded in part by the death of a former English teacher who was her mentor for many years. “I wanted to talk about the fact that even if someone dies your relationship with them doesn’t end, it continues after they’re gone. So it started with thinking about the relationship between Charlie and Sam and their mother, and how, with their mother gone, she has such influence on them.”

All her novels are anchored in the landscapes and sensibilities of the American South, but The Good Daughter probes the festering, and very real divisions between the middle class and those left behind in Pikeville, Georgia, where much of the novel is set. “That was very important to me,” says Slaughter, whose own father grew up in “the Holler”, the poorest area in Pikeville.

“He was one of nine kids and his father was always being chased and beaten up by either the clan because he wasn’t taking care of his family, or by the government because he was making moonshine. They would squat in shacks with no running water and live on squirrels. So I know how people who are trapped in that kind of poverty work their asses off and never, ever get ahead.”

Steeped in the history, lore and literature of the region, the 46-year-old author has been on mission to “honour the South” from the outset, as well as to highlight the chilling facts of violence against women. Part of the reason she feels so at home in the crime genre “is because I want to talk about social issues, and I think crime fiction’s job has always been to hold up a mirror to society. I grew up reading Flannery O ’Connor, and she used shock and violence as this fulcrum to prise the scab off the human condition, and I absolutely think when I write, that that’s my job.”

Follow @BronSibree

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Book Bites: 13 August 2017

Published in the Sunday Times

The CallerThe Caller
Chris Carter (Simon & Schuster)
Book thrill
Author Chris Carter is a Brazil-born criminal psychologist turned crime writer who is making a name for himself among the krimi giants. After a two-year hiatus, The Caller is his eighth page-twister in a series that follows LA detective Robert Hunter as he tracks down the baddest of the bad. This time around, the bad guy is exceptionally diabolical – a serial killer who knows his way around social media and likes to play gruesome games with his victims. This thriller is gratuitously gory in parts, but crime fans will delight in the chase. – Sally Partridge @sapartridge

The Nowhere ManThe Nowhere Man
Gregg Hurwitz (Michael Joseph)
Book thrill
Orphan Evan Smoak was raised as an assassin in a secret government project but now, rich and contrite, he uses his training to help anyone in need. Evan has just bust a child sex-slave ring and is on his way to rescue the final victim when he is kidnapped and held captive in a luxurious mansion where his every desire is met – except freedom. The Nowhere Man is the second in the series and is as fast-paced and slickly written as the first, Orphan X. This is a wonderful old-fashioned escapist adventure. – Aubrey Paton

Temporary PeopleTemporary People
Deepak Unnikrishnan (Simon & Schuster)
Book buff
The United Arab Emirates is filled with riches most can only dream of: skyscrapers and designer shops line the streets. And yet the people who built the city, who paved the roads, who dedicated their lives to making it oh so glamorous are not citizens. Temporary People is a collection of short stories about migrant workers in the UAE. – Jessica Levitt @jesslevitt

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Jacket Notes: Daryl Ilbury on his book Tim Noakes: The Quiet Maverick

Published in the Sunday Times

Tim Noakes: The Quiet MaverickTim Noakes: The Quiet Maverick
Daryl Ilbury (Penguin Random House)

He may be on the front cover, and his name in the title, but The Quiet Maverick is not just about Tim Noakes. Writing a book about South Africa’s most famous scientist would have been easy. He’s been a hot topic and a friend of the media for more than 40 years.

But I wanted this book to be as much about the readers as the man on the cover. I wanted it to be about their relationship with science, an increasingly disrupted media, and the food shaping their lives.

Noakes may have had the leading role, but this was a play with a cast of thousands, each one equally important. There was a bigger story to share than that of a tweet about weaning a baby.

However, merely delivering a sequence of points about science wouldn’t work. When you simply tell someone something, one of four things happens: they accept it, reject it, ignore it, or consider it. Three of those were no good to me. I wanted the reader to think about what they read. That was the challenge of this book: getting the reader to think about science.

The secret, I believed, lay in the narrative. If I could lay down the plot as the threads of a bigger story, and then encourage the reader to pick up those threads and weave them together, they should arrive at the same conclusion as I did, but because they were part of the crafting, that conclusion should hold firm in their mind.

But science isn’t a destination for most choosers of books, so how could I place my book at the front of a store? That was the other motivation to write about Noakes: the story of forces conspiring to ruin the career of the country’s leading researcher earned its place alongside the crime and politics normally reserved for the current affairs section of leading bookstores.

It is the story of society’s historical distrust of science, the fractious relationship between science and mainstream media, the intricacies of human nutrition, and the brutal fallout when a soft-spoken scientist with a taste for social media and a flair for challenging convention voiced his maverick opinion. Compelling enough? Read it.

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Accessing the doors to our dreams: Dave Mann reviews Douglas Reid Skinner’s Liminal

The first thing that comes to mind when reading Douglas Reid Skinner’s new collection is that writing can be a pretty tough gig. But it’s only as tough as living.

Liminal, the latest release from the South African poet, is a collection of 39 poems, broken up into four parts, and spread across 72 pages. Now depending on how you read your poetry, this could be something you enjoy over a single day, or maybe even a week. Me? I read it through the evenings and then, over the course of a few quiet days, I read it again.

Skinner is a name that’s not foreign to the South African literary scene. Liminal is his seventh collection of works and, to date, he’s had work appear in numerous local literary journals as well as in British, American, French and Italian publications. Taking his long and steady writing career into account makes it easier to understand what’s taking place on these pages.

Liminal is a pensive collection, full of small thoughts on boundless topics, crafted down to bite-sized poems. Skinner, in equal parts severity and humour, is engaging in much thinking, dreaming, and agonising on the process of writing itself. Moreover, he delves into the many pains, progressions, and pure moments of chance that serve as prerequisites to the act of sitting down and putting pen to paper and how, often, those moments can seem so dreadfully distant.

Here’s a taster:

“If I could only recall exactly what they were,”
He whispered to himself, “those words that I saw,

“Now that I’m ready with a pen and a blank page.”
But there are no doors into our dreams.
Each mutely drifts along on its own sea.

Beyond the act of writing, there are many stories and themes in Liminal, and each time you read it through, you’ll uncover more. Of the ones I’ve discovered so far, there are outings with good friends, wistful takes on travel, lonely musings over morning headlines, and reflexive takes on nostalgia (‘those relatively rich acres of time, days, turn out to be ephemeral, small spaces that keep on falling straight out the backs of our heads’).

Some read like short stories while others appear on the page as they might’ve looked when they were first typed out or scribbled down. Like all good narratives, they’re familiar in one way or another.

There’s a rigour to Skinner’s work that’s evident throughout. This is no doubt due to his long journey with writing, but it’s also evident in the quiet, pensive tributes to those who have come before him – whether they’re writers, family members or independent pieces of literature. Ultimately, form and motif are brought together through the collection’s segments – each one unpacking a particular set of narratives.

All of these elements considered, Liminal is an easy and eloquent read and it’s a collection that’s perhaps best read in motion. Take a poem or two with your morning coffee before work, or on the bus or train home. Read it when you’re longing for a hillside, but you find yourself stuck in the city. Then again, if you do happen to be on a hillside with nothing specific to do, Liminal would go down just as well. – Dave Mann, @david_mann92

Liminal is out this August. Visit uHlanga for more details.

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Book Bites: 6 August

The Fact Of A Body
Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (Macmillan)
Book real

“Trigger Warning” could be the alternative title for this captivating, raw and brutal book, blending memoir with true crime. The Fact Of A Body is a tale about sexual abuse, law, truth, family, poverty, loss, secrets and memory. It is the gruesome story of Ricky Langley – a convicted child molester and murderer. It’s the case that leads the author Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich to abandon her law career. As she looks at Langley’s past, she finds that his story is extremely unsettling – so unsettling that it causes her to unearth long-buried secrets in her own family. This genre-defying book is a critical examination of storytelling: of the self, each other, and what we call truth. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

Chloé Esposito (Penguin Books)
Book fling

The first book in a thrilling three-part series that is likely to be in the same league as the famed Fifty Shades trilogy. Alvina Knightly is going nowhere. She’s lost her job, been kicked out of her house and has zero friends. Her twin invites her to Sicily to her lavish villa. Soon there are dead bodies, wild sex and the mafia are involved. Something has ignited in Alvina and, well, it’s all rather mad. It may take a few chapters to get into, but once the juicy bits start to emerge, you’ll pull an all-nighter to find out what happens next. Part two is entitled Bad, and if Mad is anything to go by, readers are in for one helluva ride. – Jessica Levitt @jesslevitt

Felicia Yap (Wildfire)
Book fiend

Born in Kuala Lumpur, Felicia Yap has worked as everything from cell biologist to war historian to university lecturer and catwalk model. This, her first novel, is about how people use memory to distinguish between those who are more or less worthy. This is an Earth where the majority, after the age of 18, can retain only one day’s memory. An elite can remember two days. Everyone keeps a diary: without this journal, they have no way of recalling their past. A brilliantly conceived sci-fi novel. – Aubrey Paton

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A local publisher recently attended a symposium on adding audio to eBooks. Here’s what she learned.

By Andri Johnston, Digital Sales Coordinator: Jonathan Ball Publishers

On Friday 4 August the digital publishing industry got together to attend the first CSIR ePub Symposium at their International Convention Centre, which really does live up to its international name standards. The aim of the symposium was to demonstrate the new eBook Augmentation System developed by researchers at the CSIR to the industry and gain feedback.

If eBook Augmentation System sounds like something from some techie movie, don’t fear. It is really a big name given to the process of adding audio to eBooks, in other words getting your eBook to read the text for you. Some may say that adding audio to a book completely defeats the purpose of the book – that of reading it. However, as we heard throughout the day at the symposium, this technology holds great advantages to a number of readers who have been excluded from the pleasure of reading for a long time.

The technology itself allows eBooks to be read right down to word level through highlighting the individual words and, meaning a less robotic sounding read-back voice for better comprehension. Books to audio is not new technology as we are well aware of audiobooks in both online form and CDs, even tapes in the past, as well as similar technology from the DAISY Consortium, the developers of the media overlay which can be placed in an eBook. What makes the CSIR’s technology unique however is that once completed, it will be accessible for publishers to add audio without the previous (highly specialised) technical skills needed to add a media overlay. As long as a publisher has their eBook in a ePub3 (the latest eBook format) version, the CSIR technology can add the audio and text highlighting option with one simple process. The feature of being able to add audio in Afrikaans and other African languages, and not just English, as is currently the case, makes the technology unique for the South African publishing landscape.

This might seem like just another eBook gimmick, however the CSIR made sure the audience understood that this technology is aimed to help more than just the general reading public. Speakers at the symposium included representatives from the DAISY Consortium, Tape Aids for the Blind and Pioneer Printers. All organisations working toward making books accessible to people with visual impairments. Working in publishing we sometimes forget that there are people who want to experience the texts we publish, but they cannot actually read them and these organisations shifted the attention back to the continued accessibility of books to all readers. In the education sector, we also heard from representatives from Langerug School for children with reading disabilities. The headmistress and IT teacher’s advocacy for a technology such as this from the CSIR which can allow students with reading disabilities to do self-study, as the text can be read for them, and to finally start to read with comprehension because they are seeing and hearing, was eye opening.

From the trade, there will always be the matter of viability. Will the extra cost that needs to be incurred to add this audio, recording the audio is still a huge expense for publishers, ever be justified by higher eBook sales and what are the implications for the audiobook market, which is starting to establish itself in South Africa now as well. Copyright was another issue under discussion and whether the signing of the Marrakesh treaty ( can help resolve such issues.

Overall the symposium left everyone with a lot to think about concerning new developments in the ePub format, thinking content first and then format and how audio in eBooks can specifically help advance education and academic publishing. The technology is not yet perfect, but the CSIR is making a step in the right direction to help create digital book products that are more inclusive. Ultimately it was a good day for digital publishing and for those working in the field to get together and discuss ideas and frustrations of working in digital which many others in the industry do not understand.

Thank you to the CSIR for the day and I for one am looking forward to the future developments of your eBook technologies.

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Lack of NRF Chairs in teaching reading in African languages a huge disgrace in SA: a Q&A with education specialist Dr Nic Spaull

Nal’ibali’s fourth column of their third term was recently published in The Daily Dispatch and Herald and features an interview with Dr Nic Spaull, senior researcher and education specialist at Research on Socio-Economic Policy (RESEP). Here Dr Spaull discusses the accessibility of African texts to teach reading, developing stories written by home-language speakers, and the necessity of government funding to publish books in African languages:

Dr Nic Spaull

You’ve talked before about reading being South Africa’s biggest solvable problem. But the recent pre-Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) survey puts the number of Grade Four children who cannot read for meaning in any language at 58%. Where to begin turning this around?

I think there are a number of basics that we need to get in place. We need to ensure that all teachers know how to teach reading systematically and that they have the time to do so – studies have shown that teachers are only using about half of the year’s instructional time. Given that 70% of children in South Africa initially learn to read in an African language, we need to ensure that there are enough quality texts available to actually teach reading. Most series have 15 very short books per year from grades 1-3. This is simply unacceptable.

You have written how at Grade 4 level you see children being expected to transition between the phases of ‘learn to read’ and ‘read to learn’ – essentially being able to read for meaning. Yet it’s also the age when schools tend to switch children from mother-tongue education to English-language instruction. That sounds like a recipe for disaster?

It’s worth noting that a number of other African countries also transition to English in Grade 4 and have much better reading outcomes than we do. It’s hard to pinpoint South Africa’s problems, though – the best research comes from the work of Carol MacDonald in the Threshold Project, which was done in 1989! We desperately need more research to ensure that learners are not only bilingual but also biliterate.

What are some of the most interesting projects you’ve come across to encourage production of books in indigenous languages?

I think the move to develop graded readers in the African languages from scratch is a great example of progress – the Vula Bula books by Molteno, for example. Up until recently most of these for African languages were just translations from English, which doesn’t work well for grading because words and themes that may be ‘easy’ in English are actually very difficult in some African languages. I think the work of Nal’ibali is also really important – developing stories written by home-language speakers and easily accessible to children.

It’s not just hard to find published literature in indigenous languages, there’s a dearth of linguistic research too – there are no oral reading fluency benchmarks for African languages, for example. Where would you particularly like to see significant change?

This drives me crazy. Why on earth are there no National Research Foundation (NRF) Chairs in teaching reading in African languages? Why is early grade reading research not a national research priority with priority funding? This is such a huge disgrace in South Africa. While it’s great to see individual publishers and authors pushing forward and publishing books and stories in African languages, ultimately we need the funding and commitment from government that this is a national priority.

You’ve talked about making the achieving of mother tongue reading competency by grade three a prioritized national goal. What – and how long – might it take to achieve this?

To be completely honest this will take time. It takes time to train teachers, get high quality resources in every classroom and every home: I think a ten-year time-horizon is probably realistic, but even that is really ambitious.

Reading and telling stories with children in their home languages provides them with a strong foundation for language learning and increases their chances of future academic success. For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign, for to access children’s stories in a range of SA languages, visit:

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