Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Angie Motshegka launches largest publication project for indigenous fiction at SABF

Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshekga launched the largest publication project for indigenous language fiction in South Africa’s history at this year’s SA book Fair on September 8.

The project is the brain child of publisher Via Afrika and is called WritePublishRead. It will give unpublished local writers of indigenous language fiction the chance to be published in their home language. By promoting writing in indigenous languages, the project aims to encourage South Africans to read more and invigorate the local publishing industry.

Less than 1% of books in South African libraries are in indigenous languages despite the fact that these are the home languages of 76% of the population. This lack of relevant reading materials contributes to an astounding 60% of South Africans living in a home without a single book. According to the South African Book Development Council, only 14% of South Africans read regularly so giving South Africans access to books digitally, via any mobile device, in the language of their choice, will have a massive impact on the country’s reading and literacy rates.

Similarly copyright industries contribute 4% to South Africa’s GDP. Meeting the under-serviced reading needs of 76% of the population will have a significant impact on the publishing industry. By giving black authors the tools to meet the needs of their own communities, WritePublishRead will transform the current publishing landscape and create opportunities for empowerment at an individual level.

» read article

Dark mirrors: readers are lapping up stories about our bleak times

Published by Jennifer Platt for the Sunday Times

Dystopian fiction has knocked the glistening vampire off the young adult shelf. It is hardly a new genre – think Lord of the Flies, 1984 – but there has been a steady uptake of these novels for young adult readers. Maybe it is because these novels are mirrors of our world, which is a terrifying place.

Dystopian fiction recognises the crisis we are in today and through an alternative prism allows the reader to play out worst-case scenarios. The protagonist is often a young person trying to overcome odds like love triangles and fighting the controlled social structure of the new broken world.

It gives the younger reader a chance to relate; a way to view society and possibly solve problems.

But it’s not only younger readers who are immersing themselves in these bleak realms. Many people enjoy a good yarn and most of the stories are just that. These lesser-known novels will hopefully appeal to most dystopian fans.

AsylumAsylum, Marcus Low
Set in the Great Karoo, Low’s story plays out in a not-too-distant future in which a lethal, incurable illness kills off most of the population. Barry James is one of the sick – imprisoned and quarantined in an asylum where he is expected to die.
The PowerThe Power, Naomi Alderman
The Baileys Prize-winning novel imagines a world where women have the ability to electrocute men at will. It’s a work of contemporary feminism that confronts today’s patriarchal system.
Station ElevenStation Eleven, Emily St John Mandel
A travelling theatre troupe, a deadly strain of swine flu and destructive relationships are the basis for this award-winning novel set in the Great Lakes region of the US and Canada.
Apocalypse Now NowApocalypse Now Now, Charlie Human
Baxter’s life as the 16-year-old drug kingpin of his school changes when his girlfriend Esme is kidnapped. To save her, he goes into the dark, supernatural underground of Cape Town. Trippy.
Who Fears DeathWho Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor
Okorafor tweeted that her novel has been optioned by HBO to develop as a TV series with Game of Thrones author George RR Martin as executive producer. Dealing with race, ethnicity and female sexual empowerment, it focuses on 16-year-old Onyesonwu who must learn to navigate life in post-apocalyptic Sudan.
The RaftThe Raft, Fred Strydom
Humanity has lost its memory. Civilisation collapses. Kayle Jenner has vague visions of his son and as he sets out to find him, he discovers the truth about the world’s memory loss. Set partly in the Tsitsikamma forest and Kroonstad, The Raft explores existential and philosophical questions.
The Knife of Never Letting GoThe Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness
The first of a series called Chaos Walking. Todd is the last boy in Prentisstown, where everyone can hear each other’s thoughts through something called the Noise. About information overload, it’s relevant as we are swamped by the noise of social media.
Dark Windows, Louis Greenberg
The Gaia Peace Party has been in power in South Africa for 10 years, promising a cure for crime. A contractor for the party is given the job of blackening the windows of several Joburg buildings. The dark windows project shows the cracks in the ruling party. A too-close-to-home political thriller.
Book details

» read article

Fraught relations: Tiah Beautement speaks to Zinzi Clemmons about her book What We Lose

Published in the Sunday Times

What We LoseWhat We Lose
Zinzi Clemmons (Fourth Estate)

This is a debut work of great beauty and depth, a poignant fictional memoir that began as a series of journal entries Clemmons wrote while caring for her mother. Like the main character Thandi, Clemmons is an American-South African who loses her mother to cancer. It was this experience that brought home to Clemmons the disparities in US healthcare. She explains: “Oppression in the US tends to operate under the surface, usually through policies that ensure that minorities, and blacks especially, do not have access to the same opportunities as whites… by the time a black person is diagnosed, their conditions are more advanced, and they aren’t able to access proper treatment.”

Clemmons’s story masterfully illustrates grieving. It is raw and brutal, devoid of platitudes. Thandi reflects, “I realised that this would be life; to figure out how to live without her hand on my back; her soft, accented English telling me Everything will be all right, Thandi. This was the paradox: How would I ever heal from losing the person who healed me? The question was so enormous that I could see only my entire life, everything I know, filling it.”

The writing style of What We Lose – a series of vignettes, peppered with charts and e-mails – contributes to the portrait of grief. “My only thought during the entire [writing] process was to tell the story in the way that felt right to me, and it was only later in the process that I realised that this style mirrored the way that grief fragments memory and thought,” Clemmons says.

What We Lose has been described as a coming-of-age story. Clemmons believes this to be a fair description as “losing parents is an event that forces us to grow up, that accelerates adulthood”. But the story’s greatest strength is in its unromanticised depictions of motherhood and its complex portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship.

“I think [my mother and I] both compounded that conflict when we saw ourselves not living up to some idealised version of how our relationship should be… These expectations we as women place on ourselves – in many aspects of our lives – ultimately cause nothing but harm.”

Thandi’s story, however, is not Clemmons’s. Thandi’s grief-stricken journey contains her own mistakes. She is an intelligent and sympathetic character, honest and open about her sexual needs. “It was absolutely a conscious decision to present Thandi as a sexually powerful person,” Clemmons says. “I think that authenticity – that unwillingness to bend to the male gaze – is unfortunately rare, but it’s necessary.”

The story is set in both the US and South Africa. Thandi, raised in a well-to-do US suburb, is hypersensitive to the contrast between her home and Johannesburg. This American lens means that Thandi’s observations on Oscar Pistorius, for example, will undoubtedly be controversial for some South African readers. By contrast, many South Africans will empathise with Thandi’s observations on identity and race, because she is not only stretched between two countries and cultures, but her very skin leaves her dislocated from her peers – either too light or too dark. As Thandi says: “I’ve often thought that being a light-skinned black woman is like being a well-dressed person who is also homeless.”

Follow Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

Book details

» read article

Book Bites: 27 August 2017

Published in the Sunday Times

The Age of GeniusThe Age of Genius: The Seventeenth Century and the Birth of the Modern Mind
AC Grayling, Bloomsbury
Book buff
The book of the year for history buffs and closet philosophers. The question at the centre is: how did the events of the 17th century radically alter the way people thought about the world and their place in it? Grayling offers a detailed yet riveting account of the history of ideas; how ideologies transformed despite – or because of – the tumultuous events of the 1600s. The 17th century is known for its battles between Catholics and Protestants, and Catholicism and science. But it was also a triumphant time that gave rise to, among many other things, the postal service. – Anna Stroud @annawriter_

A Fast Ride out of HereA Fast Ride out of Here: Confessions Of Rock’s Most Dangerous Man
Pete Way
, Constable
Book real

Pete Way is a colourful character who played bass for ’70s rockers UFO and a number of other bands. In his day he was capable of – as detailed throughout this book’s 250 or so pages – ingesting enough drugs and alcohol to make even Keith Richards arch a concerned eyebrow. It’s a direct, old-fashioned sex and drugs and rock ’n roll tell-all. It entertains and frustrates in equal measure – Way’s lackadaisical “that’s just how I was” attitude to his excesses and the pain he caused often comes across as selfishness rather than as a request for the leeway sometimes required by an artistic nature. – Bruce Dennill @BroosDennill

Book details

» read article

Nal’ibali gets the nation storytelling this September

This September, and in commemoration of Literacy Month, Nal’ibali – the national reading-for-enjoyment campaign, is encouraging a wave of storytelling across the country with its third annual multilingual storytelling contest, Story Bosso.

Placing a special focus on folktales in a bid to preserve this national treasure, the campaign will be hosting storytelling performances and events across the country for the month and is inviting members of the public, young and old, to join them by telling the traditional stories they remember being told, or to have fun making up new ones.

“Storytelling is a forerunner for children’s literacy learning in all languages and forms part of our national heritage. Many of our traditional stories, historically told by grandparents around fires, feature characters such as the jackal and the hare, wise old men and greedy giants. Starting with different phrases: Once upon a time, kwathi ke kaloku ngantsomi, kwasuka sukela; these stories have been passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth and are in danger of being lost,” says Jade Jacobsohn, Nal’ibali Managing Director.

To help children and adults remember these special stories, Nal’ibali has created a set of storytelling playing cards featuring common folktale characters, settings and objects. Together with over 8 000 children’s story books by local authors featuring folktales and other family-friendly stories, these story cards will be distributed and given away at community events to help increase the number of leisure books and story materials available to children and caregivers. They are also freely available for download from Nal’ibali’s web- and mobisites for the month.

“Our stories are an important part of our heritage and collective culture. By encouraging South Africans to tell and share our stories in all our languages, we’re hoping to not only support adults in becoming pivotal players in their children’s literacy development through this simple yet effective method, but ensure this beautiful craft which has the power to connect us all remains alive,” continues Jacobsohn.

Opening the month of storytelling, South Africa’s best-loved storyteller, Gcina Mhlophe, will be telling one of her favourite folktales to children in Soweto before inviting them to enter the contest and stand a chance of being crowned this year’s ‘Story Bosso’. Mhlophe will be joined by comedian, Marc Lottering, who will be infusing an element of fun by demonstrating how to use the cards for improvised storytelling and Soweto-based master storyteller, Bongani Godide, will add local flavour to the event.

Regional storytelling events in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the Western Cape will be supported by storytellers Sindiwe Magona, Hluma Zakaza, Hlobisile Mkhize, Mpumy Ndlovu and Nolubabalo Rani who will be enchanting children and adults alongside Nal’ibali storytellers, Sanelisiwe Ntuli, Madoda Ndlakuse and Thanduxolo Mkoyi. Further, Nal’ibali Literacy Mentors will be hosting community events in these provinces and more, all helping the campaign to collect its goal of 5 000 stories – a first step towards preserving this unique part of SA heritage. To add to the excitement, Nal’ibali’s will be conducting FUNda Leader reading for enjoyment trainings in each of the above regions as precursors to the Story Bosso events.

And, with prizes in the form of cash, airtime, books and caps up for grabs, there is added incentive to get storytelling. A main prize of R5 000 cash, R1 000 book voucher, R500 airtime and a Story Bosso cap will be awarded to one overall Story Bosso winner. There will also be eight provincial winners, each receiving R1 000 cash, R5 000 book voucher, R250 air time and a Story Bosso cap. Spot prizes of book vouchers, airtime and caps which will be given away to those who enter online throughout the month.

All South Africans are invited to submit their entries between 01 and 30 September as audio or video clips online on the campaign’s website (, mobisite (, Facebook page (NalibaliSA), to or via Nal’ibali’s WhatsApp line: 076 920 6413. A full list of community storytelling and entry events will be available from 1 September on the Nal’ibali website along with the contest rules and guidelines.

For more information about the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment campaign, and to sign up for the FUNda Leader training and the ‘Story Bosso’ contest, visit, or find them on Facebook and Twitter: nalibaliSA.

» read article

Call for applications for ANFASA Grant Scheme now open

ANFASA, the Academic and Non-Fiction Authors’ Association of South Africa, announces the next round of the grant scheme to benefit authors of academic and general non-fiction works

What is a “general non-fiction work”? Just as an example, it could be a biography or an autobiography; a history of a town or a region or a religion; a book about music or sport or theatre; a political or social analysis; an account of everyday life in a township; a book about nursing, or cooking, or fashion, or fishes, or traditional medicines, or cars – those are just a few of the many topics supported by the ANFASA grant scheme in the past.

If you are currently working on a scholarly or a general non-fiction work, you are eligible to apply. However, although we accept applications from authors whether or not they are ANFASA members, only ANFASA members may actually receive an award. The grants are intended to provide a sum of around R20 000 to R25 000 to be used for an author to “buy time” – to take leave, for instance, and devote herself or himself to writing; or to travel in order to conduct research. The grants are for research and writing and do not cover the cost of publishing the manuscript.

An independent committee will assess the applications and select the most deserving. The selection committee aims to offer awards to a wide-ranging group of authors and subjects, and the selection process will respect the need to treat new and experienced authors equally; to bear in mind authors writing in rural as well as urban locations; and to consider authors at all levels of education from the untutored to the degreed. The ANFASA grant scheme especially encourages writing by new authors. Applications for books written in all the official languages will be equally considered.

Visit their webiste to apply online or send an e-mail to The closing date for applications is 30 September, and the successful applications will be announced in December.

» read article

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.

Book details

Also available as an eBook.

» read article

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.

Book details

» read article

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

Book details

» read article

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

Book details

» read article