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Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

“I was a child during the state of emergency so in this specific passage, the story became personal” – a Q & A with Trade Secrets contributor, Linda Daniels

Linda Daniels has worked for many years as a print and radio journalist in the commercial media field. In 2014 she entered the not for profit space as a trainer.

She works with young people who use media as a platform for expression and dialogue in the communities in which they live.

Joanne Hichens, curator of the Short.Sharp.Stories Award and Linda recently discussed Linda’s story, South Africa’s violent past, humanising apartheid perpetrators, and the wobbly process of writing fiction:

Your story, ‘Mr X’, uses atrocities of the past as a point of reference. The reclusive and mysterious Mr X has many secrets, which are revealed over time. What was the inspiration for creating this character?

The story and the creation of Mr X was an attempt to identify the people who had quietly slipped through time… from – in his case – supporting Apartheid as an assassin into democracy; the ordinariness of getting on in years, faithfully tending a garden and being someone’s neighbor, etc. I was struck by that privileged continuum of life which followed anonymously, and without atonement or justice for his victims.

The reader is led to imagine that perhaps Mr X is simply a warped pervert, but he is more ‘evil’ than that. Is his neighbour, the young woman whom he watches, ever aware that something is amiss? Do people have a sixth sense about evil?

The neighbor has a sense of duty that she has imposed on herself to be polite not only to him but in her general interactions with people. She’s young and working things out. But she is also uncomfortable around him. She has no evidence for this feeling, but you know she is also distracted by her own life to give it too much thought. He is a bit abstract to her.

Did you have Mr X work in his garden as a way to humanise him?

I really struggled with this because I wanted everything about him to be bad! But as I began writing, he turned out to be a keen gardener. And a really attentive and focused gardener. For me, his fixation on keeping his garden alive and thriving and beautiful represented the conflict between his now and then. It is in his garden that he suffers his most vivid flashbacks to his inhumane past.

“…his fixation on keeping his garden alive and thriving and beautiful represented the conflict between his now and then.”


The flashbacks to apartheid violence are very real. Are these scenes from the imagination? Or based on reports?

I was a child during the state of emergency so in this specific passage, the story became personal. I remember feeling scared and confused. Aspects of the scenes described are real.

Were they difficult to write? How did you put yourself in the shoes of Mr X and bring back his memories?

I had done a bit of research on the topic and this had helped to write Mr X’s memories. It felt uncomfortable writing from his perspective. I felt compelled to write it nonetheless so stuck it out and kept writing… I can’t say I slept well! I was so relieved, when I finished writing this story! He was such a difficult character, a character I didn’t like.

After an act of violence, a poignant line reads: ‘Then, a woman – always a woman – releases a plangent wail, an unyielding siren.’ Is it routinely (now and then) the women who are witness to violence?

The description was really about the ways people had to, and still do, organise amongst themselves in communities to survive. In the scene described it was the women who had organised themselves to mark the deaths of the young men and they did it in a way that was pretty powerful. These young men were the children of the community – not just the children of particular mothers – and the cry was signaling that.

Is Mr X, in the final equation, a victim himself?

I’ll leave that up to the reader. Though I resisted this outcome when I set out to write the story.

This is your first published short story. Are you inspired to write more?

For sure. I have to write. I have always entertained the idea of writing fiction but never pursued it until recently when I began sending my work out. It’s still a wobbly process, as I write in between raising a young family and a full time job. Writing represents a space of freedom and I can’t help but do it.

As a new voice what writing Trade Secret would you like to share?

Try not to hold on too tightly to an outcome of a story idea, sometimes the writing process itself can take you down a path you might not have considered. Be open to the possibilities of where your characters may lead you.

Trade Secrets

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Trade Secrets contributor Stephen Symons on human conflict, reconciliation, and avoiding literary cleverness

Stephen Symons is a graphic designer and poet. Currently, he is a PhD candidate at the Centre for African Studies (UCT). Stephen’s PhD research focuses on how former South African Defence Force (SADF) conscripts (1980-1990) navigate memories of induction into the SADF and whiteness in post post-apartheid society. He holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town. His poetry, essays and short-fiction have been published in journals, magazines and various anthologies, locally and internationally, including Prufrock, Carapace, Stanzas, New Contrast, New Coin, Type/ Cast, uHlanga, Aerodrome, Poetry Potion, The Kalahari Review, LitNet, Badilisha Poetry, Wavescape, Patricia Schonstein’s Africa anthology series and the Short.Sharp.Stories anthologies. Stephen’s debut collection of poetry, Questions for the Sea was published in 2016 by uHlanga Poetry Press. He lives in Oranjezicht with his wife and two children.

Stephen and Joanne Hichens, curator of the Short.Sharp.Stories Award, recently discussed his Trade Secrets entry, the inevitability of politics slipping into your work, and avoiding literary cleverness.

‘My Cuban’ is a thrilling story by poet, Stephen Symons, which shows this talented writer trying out a new form. By the end of the story, I wished it was the first chapter of a 20-chapter novel. I hope this poet, now turned short story writer, might yet have a novel for the world. His craft and structure are excellent. It is a reader’s delight to encounter a writer who balances the condense power of poetry in the expanded line of fiction’ – Liesl Jobson

You have written that your commended story, ‘My Cuban’, ‘…oscillates between the lingering memory of an aerial encounter over Angola during the Border War and the difficulties of wrestling with an ambiguous present’. What do you mean when you talk of an ‘ambiguous present’?

Contemporary ‘South Africa’ often seems like a surreal cyclic space where the histories and narratives of the past are open to a multitude of interpretations; where the cultural and historical replies and conversations of a few have suffused to many. I think this allows for an ‘ambiguous present’, which is both exciting and equivocal. Uncertainty also presents obvious challenges to artists, irrespective of their creative language, but I’d like to think it acts as fuel for increased creative scope and inspiration. I’d also like to mention there’s an element of intertextuality in that the title ‘My Cuban’ refers to Etienne van Heerden’s 1983 short story ‘My Kubaan’, written at the height of the Border War.

Although reconciliation is at the heart of your story, is it common for ex-combatants to meet their former enemies?

Indeed, there are many stories of soldiers spending the remainder of their lifetimes seeking out their former enemies, and I think those who have never experienced combat like to rationalise the quests of these men with words like reconciliation, closure and catharsis. I believe it’s a lot more complex and inherently more human than that. This is especially true for fighter pilots; as their ‘killing’ is done at a distance. Aerial combat is traditionally focused on skill, technology and the machine — not the man, reason enough to for ex-combatants to meet their former enemies in an attempt to ‘humanise’ their experiences of war.

Faced with the indescribable horrors of war, how challenging was it to humanize both parties — the South African and the Cuban?

Human conflict has always relied on binary views of an objectified enemy, which as we know have ‘oiled the gears of war’ for millennia. The problem is that the aftershocks of combat are felt long after battle, and the need for former combatants to seek out each other is born out of a shared need to ‘humanise the experience’. In some respects it has less to do with reconciliation, and more to do with simply connecting with another human who has experienced similar horrors. There is of course an element of curiosity, another distinctly human trait. Have a look at the following article that appeared in ‘Die Burger’ on the 20th of September 2017.

“Human conflict has always relied on binary views of an objectified enemy”


The dogfighting scenes in your story have such authenticity one wonders were you ever a fighter pilot?

I flew light aircraft many years ago, but no, I was never a fighter pilot in the SADF. I’ve spoken with many ex-fighter pilots, from the Second World War, Korea and Angolan war. I did a fair amount of technical research for ‘My Cuban’ and managed to track down a Mirage F1 operating manual and consulted a number of pilot accounts of aerial combat over Angola during the Border War, which allowed for a certain degree of authenticity. The description of the dogfight in ‘My Cuban’ is a collage of various aerial encounters, although my story focuses on a dogfight that took place on the 6th of November 1981. Two Mirage F1-CZs flown by Major JJ Rankin and Lt J du Plessis were scrambled from Ondangwa to intercept two MiG-21 MFs. A dogfight ensued and Rankin could not lock his missile, so he switched to guns and opened fire. His Cuban opponent, Lt Danacio Valdez’s MiG broke in two and then exploded. Although Valdez was seen to eject, he sadly did not survive the encounter.

Please tell us more about your recent exhibition (mixed media, including installation art, sculpture and illustration) held at the Cape Town Castle. Is the story perhaps an extension of/ or part of that work?

No, I didn’t see my story as an extension of the exhibition, but the Border War lasted almost two decades and certainly remains a largely silenced era of South African history that I’m drawn to. In June I had an exhibition titled ‘’NUTRIA’ – Imprints of Conscription into the South African Defence Force (SADF)’. The exhibition aimed to interrogate the manner in which memories of the conscription of white males into the former South African Defence Force enter a contested present. These largely silenced ‘militarised journeys’ began in childhood and have entered the present imbued with a sense of nostalgia and romanticism. I hoped that those memories could be navigated, acknowledged and disrupted effectively by means of a series of creative engagements, perhaps prompting further conversations relating to the hidden and oft silenced histories of all South Africans. (Visit the NUTRIA exhibition website here.)

Your story, ‘Red Dust’, in Short.Sharp.Stories anthology Incredible Journey, focused on an ambiguous ‘future’. Is South African political tension inherent to most of your writing?

Despite my general disdain for politicians, there’s no way as a South African, and a writer, I can ignore politics – it simply attaches itself to your story like a remora fish. If you’re writing about South Africa, the landscape has a way of writing itself into your story, with its politics, history and inevitable tensions. Even a ‘de-people’ landscape (to use J.M. Coetzee’s term), remains a contested space in itself. As much I want to run away from it, politics has a habit of catching up with me in my writing.

With reference to Liesl Jobson’s quote, how do you as a poet ‘retain the power of the short form in an expanded line’?

I was once told that I should treat my poems as short stories and then perhaps a novel. I’m not so sure about that, but I try to avoid ‘literary cleverness’ and unnecessary embellishments that have a tendency to deplete the energy of the narrative, and shift focus from establishing a sense of rapport with the reader. I believe in accessibility, not code, but do believe that readers like to be challenged. Poetry forces one to choose carefully and avoid obvious solutions or easy exit routes, so I inevitably attempt, and mostly fail, to follow a similar approach to the expanded line.

What writing Trade Secret would you like to share?

I think Thoreau was onto something when he said: ‘Write while the heat is in you. … The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with.’

Visit to read Stephen’s poetry.

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Trade Secrets

Questions for the Sea

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Shortlist for 2017 South African Literary Awards announced

2017 marks the highest milestone of South African Literary Awards (SALA), as the shortlist includes, for the first time, the !Xam and !Kun languages.

Listed under the Posthumous Literary Awards, five legendary contributors are drawn from Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd collection of !Xam and !Kun narratives, verses, songs, chants, drawings and other materials consisting of over 150 notebooks running in some 13 000 pages which is considered a unique cultural and literary collection which has been recognised by United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Council (UNESCO) and entered into the memory of the World Register.

The materials deal with the land, the rain, the history of the first people, the origin of the moon and stars, animals, cosmology, beliefs, ceremonies, art and information of the
individual lives of the informants who had come to Cape Town as prisoners of the British Crown and were released into Bleek’s custody at his residence in Mowbray for linguistic and cultural research.

Also interesting is the shortlist list under the Translators Literary award consisting of William Wellington Gqoba: Isizwe Esinembali, Xhosa Histories And Poetry (1873 – 1888), DLP.Yali-Manisi: Iimbali Zamanyange, Historical Poems and The Thirstland Trek: 1874 – 1881. While the Creative Non- Fiction Award has The Keeper Of The Kumm: Ancestral Longing And Belonging Of A Boesmankind, by Sylvia Vollenhoven, My Own Liberator by Judge Dikgang Moseneke and Emily Hobhouse – Geliefde Verraaier by Elsabé Brits.

The shortlist goes on to list under the Lifetime Achievement Literary Award, South Africa’s legendary Credo Vusamazulu Mutwa, who is largely respected for his predictions of world events, including the destruction of New York’s World Trade Centre in 2001, the 1976 June 16 Uprising, HIV, Chris Hani’s assassination, load shedding and the ousting of President Thabo Mbeki. Mutwa shares the category with other literary stalwarts, Aletta Matshedisð Motimele, who is revered for her Sepedi works and Etienne van Heerden, an academic and prolific Afrikaans author.

“Indeed, as its main aim, SALA continues to strive to become the most prestigious and respected literary accolades in South African literature,” says Ms Sindiswa Seakhoa, director at wRite associates, founders of SALA, in partnership with the department of Arts and Culture in 2005.

Since its inception in 2005, to date, SALA has honoured 160 authors in 11 categories in all official South African languages. SALA also boasts legacy programmes including:
- The National Poet Laureate Programme and the Keorapetse Kgositsile Lecture, in honour of the Poet Laureate, Prof Keorapetse Kgositsile.
- The Miriam Tlali Reading and Book Club, in honour of the late Miriam Tlali.
- Band of Troubadours, a publication comprising the work of the SALA recipients
- Africa Century International African Writers Conference and International African
Writers Day Lecture, established in 2012.

The conference is set to become a Mecca of who is who of the African literati, the Diaspora and the entire globe where the celebration of African letters occupies centre stage.

This historical gathering of literary intellectuals and authors from across the world, is, as the then-OAU’s Conference of African Ministers of Education and Culture (meeting in Coutonou, Benin, in 1991) resolved, “… to afford the African people a moment of pause within which to reflect on the contribution of African Writers to the development of the Continent”.

Both the 2017 South African Literary Awards ceremony and Conference will take place on the 7th November at Kgorong Building, UNISA. This is partnership by the wRite associates, the department of Arts and Culture and the Department of Afrikaans and Theory of Literature, UNISA.

The theme for the conference is “The Writer as a Drum Major of Conscience, Restoration & Transformation”, with the sub-theme being “The Establishment of the South African Writers Organization”.

Prof Zodwa Motsa, a Fulbright Scholar, a Researcher, Writer and Social Engineer, who has served as Head of the Department: English Studies (UNISA) from 2006 -2011 and currently serving as the Country Director at UNISA’s Ethiopia Centre for Graduate Studies in Addis Ababa, since 2012, will deliver the sixth International African Writers Day Lecture and Prof Nhlanhla Maake, an academician, novelist, dramatist, literary critic, and language activist will deliver the response. Prof Andries Oliphant, author, poet, literary scholar and cultural policy advisor, will lead the seminar on the establishment of South Africa’s writers’ organization.

Category: First-time Published Author Award

Amy Jephta, Kristalvlakte
Moses Shimo Seletisha, Tšhutšhumakgala
Mohale Mashigo, The Yearning

Category: k.Sello Duiker Memorial Literary Award

Kopano Matlwa, Period Pain
Nthikeng Mohlele, Pleasure

Category: Poetry Award

Helen Moffett, Prunings
Ronelda S Kamfer, Hammie
Simphiwe Ali Nolutshungu, Iingcango Zentliziyo

Category: Creative Non- Fiction Award

Dikgang Moseneke, My Own Liberator
Elsabé Brits, Emily Hobhouse – Geliefde Verraaier
Sylvia Vollenhoven, The Keeper Of The Kumm

Category: Literary Journalism Award

Don Makatile: His oeuvre
Phakama Mbonambi: His oeuvre

Category: Literary Translators Award

Bridget Theron-Bushell The Thirstland Trek: 1874 – 1881 (Afrikaans to English)
Jeff Opland, Wandile Kuse and Pamela Maseko William Wellington Gqoba: Isizwe Esinembali Xhosa Histories And Poetry (1873 – 1888) (isiXhosa to English)
Jeff Opland and Pamela Maseko DLP.Yali-Manisi: Iimbali Zamanyange, Historical Poems (isiXhosa to English)

Nadine Gordimer Short Story Award

Nick Mulgrew, Stations
Roela Hattingh, Kamee

Category: Posthumous Literary Award

|A!kunta: Body of work (!Xam and !Kun)
!Kabbo: Body of work (!Xam and !Kun)
≠Kasin: Body of work (!Xam and !Kun)
Dia!kwain: Body of work (!Xam and !Kun)
|Han≠kass’o: Body of work (!Xam and !Kun)

Category: Lifetime Achievement Literary Award

Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa: Body of work
Aletta Matshedisð Motimele: Body of work
Etienne Van Heerden: Body of work

Category: Chairperson’s Award

The recipient will be announced at the award ceremony

Book details



The Yearning


Period Pain







My Own Liberator


Emily Hobhouse


Keeper of the Kumm


The Thirstland Trek


William Wellington Gqoba: Isizwe esinembali


DLP Yali-Manisi: Iimbali Zamanyange





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Andrew Salomon’s new short story collection available as free eBook until 17 October!

A PSA from Andrew Salomon!

Hello story lovers,

I’d like to let you know that my short story collection Dark Shenanigans: A collection of eleven stories is now available as a free eBook download on Amazon, until 17 October.

Here’s a blurb:
When a foreigner accused of stealing honey is brought to the police station on the Greek island of Kythnos, Sergeant Laziridis’s uneventful night is about to take a very unexpected turn. A man regains consciousness and finds himself the only diner in a strange restaurant with some remarkable staff and a dinner literally prepared to be the meal of his life. Things fall badly apart on a newly-terraformed Mars. And then there’s the pair of midwives from a secret society you never want to cross…

These tales and much more await in this weirdly wonderful speculative fiction short story collection. Dark Shenanigans includes the PEN Literary Award-winning story A Visit To Dr Mamba and the 2015 Short.Sharp.Story best story Train 124.

You can download the collection here.

So go and grab it while it’s hot off the virtual press, and until 17 October for free!

I hope you enjoy the stories, and if you do, please rate and review the collection on Amazon.

Happy reading,

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A Q&A with Trade Secrets runner-up prize winner, Amy Heydenrych

Amy is a writer and book blogger based in Johannesburg. She has been twice shortlisted for the Miles Morland African Writing Scholarship and her short stories have featured in anthologies across the continent including CACE Writivism, Jalada Africa, The Kalahari Review and the first Short.Sharp.Stories anthology, Bloody Satisfied. She is represented by The Bent Agency in New York and London, who are currently pitching her debut novel internationally. When she is not writing her own fiction, she ghost writes books and columns for South Africa’s business leaders, giving her some trade secrets of her own. Amy is a Trade Secrets Runner-Up prize winner for her story ‘Handle With Care’.

Your story, ‘Handle With Care’, features postal worker, Gloria, who ‘makes good’. The focus is on unfinished business, loss, unrequited relationships, after which the reader is left whole and hopeful. Is this something we need in SA right now? To feel better about ourselves? About who we are?

Most certainly! Over the past few years South Africans have been worn down by a vicious, inflamed public dialogue. So much of our public discourse appears to be focused on separateness. I really wanted to emphasise our shared humanity and capacity for good. In the story, many lives are changed through the positive, loving actions of one person who challenges the status quo. This was intended to inspire and illustrate how we often have more control over our environment than we realise.

What was the initial inspiration for your story?

Two years ago, my best friend Emma exhibited far too much faith in the postal system and sent a beautiful necklace from London to South Africa in the hopes that I would get it in time for my wedding day. The package never arrived… and so ‘Handle with Care’ was born.

Gloria’s love story is inspired by my own handwritten letter that I sent to my now-husband. I sent him a heartfelt letter, along with a book that held deep meaning for me. This was a pivotal point in our relationship and one of the main reasons we are together today. The letter is still treasured in our home.

Letters taught Amy the true meaning of ‘Handle with Care’…

Gloria, your protagonist, gets a job at a post office and begins to ask questions. How did you develop Gloria’s character?

Gloria was one of those wonderful characters that came to me all at once. I was walking a lap around the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens, fuming over my lost parcel, and suddenly she came to me as a fully formed person, down to her beret. In essence, she was inspired by some of the conscientious older women I see who, despite not receiving the opportunities they deserved, live their lives with grace and pride.

Readers have commented on the transcendent nature of the story. Did you write the story as a ‘healing exercise’?

Civil spaces such as the South African Post Office are great levelers. No matter who you are, you have to wait in the queue alongside everyone else. I felt moved by this shared vulnerability. Of course, this sense of helplessness can bring out a darker side in people and the story was a way for me to resolve my own anger at a specific type of privileged person who is abusive to civil servants. All in all, the story expresses a deep desire for reconciliation and compassion towards others.

Is the post office in itself a symbol of hope? – of anticipation, of surprise packages…

Definitely – there is nothing more exciting than receiving a package you have been waiting for! In writing the story, I was intrigued by the power a letter or a parcel can hold. It symbolises effort and care on behalf of the giver. In a world of quickfire communication, there is nothing more romantic.

At what point were you inspired to write magical realism?

I hadn’t written magical realism before, and didn’t expect this story to take the magical turn it did. I wrote the first draft of this story in a day, and just let the mood carry me. I usually focus on gritty thriller stories or sad, hyper-real literary pieces, so it felt freeing to escape the terms of the real world and imagine a happier ending.

As a ghost writer… can you share any juicy business Trade Secret?

The press statements, books and opinion pieces you read by business leaders and public figures are more often than not written by a young hack like me, mainlining coffee in her pink dressing gown at three in the afternoon. For example, one of my early jobs consisted of ghost writing a weekly column on “how to run a business” for a Nigerian newspaper. I was 26 at the time and could barely afford airtime!

What writing Trade Secret would you like to share?

The true skill of writing lies in the editing. Don’t be too proud to put your work through several rounds of edits and then have it edited by someone else all over again. This is the only way to get to the essence of the story.

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“Hanover Park has a certain resonance among Capetonians” – Trade Secrets contributor, Jumani Clarke

Jumani Clarke lives in Cape Town and he is a lecturer at the University of Cape Town in the Numeracy Centre. He has published in Prufrock, and in 2015 the Short.Sharp.Stories anthology Incredible Journey with the story ‘Lift Club’ for which he was hailed as a ‘brilliant’ new voice by writer and reviewer Diane Awerbuck. Joanne Hichens, the curator of the Short.Sharp.Stories Award and Jumani recently discussed his 2017 entry for Trade Secrets, Hanover Park, and writing the bizarre:
In your story, ‘True Worth’, an audacious clothing store manager, a fashion designer, Cape Flats gangsters and more, clash in a bizarre set of circumstances… What sparked your story?

I was driving down Jan Smuts drive one day when I noticed a shopping centre under construction on the borderlands of Hanover Park, and that got me thinking, “Who would go shopping there, a place so close to the ganglands?” But the answer was clear as day, the people of Hanover Park. Certainly, the shop assistants would be from there, anyway. And then it occurred to me that for South Africans, there is no better vision of progress than a shopping centre. In a shopping centre there is order, and there is peace and there is justice. But no one expects to find these things in Hanover Park, which is infamous for being the very opposite: Gangs vying for power with guns, innocent people shot in the cross-fire, the police unable to respond. This was puzzling, but also good grounds for a story.

Certainly Hanover Park as a setting offers a world of extremes. Did you spend time in the suburb in order to ‘fashion’ your story?

I have been to Hanover Park a couple of times, but only ever to drop someone off who needed a lift. It is a strange place, another world in comparison to my own southern suburbia and yet only a few minutes’ drive separates the two outside rush-hour. On a Sunday evening in Hanover Park, children play outside, in numbers, until well after dark, even with the risks. Of course, on my short errands, I was a little concerned for myself, but no one seemed to take much notice of me.

How did you go about creating your characters, Caleisha, Penny and the cast, so that the reader could suspend disbelief and see them as ‘real people’?

I guess it is useful to have the characters encounter problems that the reader can relate to. Penelope walks in and finds that her shop has been burgled, we know what that is like in this country. Even tourists on a three day visit know what that is like. And many people know what it is like to walk into a shop and jump with fright at the prices. The fear of violent crime or working with someone who comes in late and does little work, are all very South African experiences.

“Real life and the facts that go with it get in the way of fiction,” says Jumani Clarke of researching gang culture.

As for gang culture, how did you do your research?

It was enough for me to read a few issues of the local tabloid The Voice and maybe the odd anthropology study. Certainly, there are some excellent books about, like Johnny Steinberg’s The Number. But of course, I put all that aside when it came to writing ‘True Worth’. Real life and the facts that go with it get in the way of fiction.

In your story, fashion becomes a means to establish peace – but it all backfires… Are you attempting to make a comment on society? And as an extension of that on South African violence?

Well, to be honest, I am a little surprised by your reading of the story – that is backfires. My reading of it is quite the contrary. Sure, Penelope’s project with the luxury store True Worth faces quite a setback towards the end, but she does achieve her goal. And furthermore, Hanover Park does find peace. What’s more, Caleisha gets to keep her staff discount on high end fashion items! What more could be asked for?

But I am only a little surprised by your reading, since Hanover Park has a certain resonance among Capetonians today. To utter its name conjures up fears about gangsterism, drug abuse and endemic crime. But there was a time when the name Hanover Street of the old District Six had a different resonance, one which had something to do with trade, colour, style, fanfare, and hope, but also street hustlers. But still, I would like to make a comment here in this interview about the story. Although, it all backfires as you suggest, this is how change is achieved in the story, which is very South African. Through violence, this violent country has changed for the better, time and time again. But it is not the job of the short story to make such comments. A story is a mouth, it is not the speaker.

Your story, ‘Lift Club’, published in Incredible Journey, had a similar sense of the bizarre. Do you agree that you take risks with your writing?

I am aware that people find what I have written strange. Sometimes I like to imagine that the situation would be different if more people read it or if I wrote more. But I do set out to create something new, or at least amusingly different in an interesting way. It should never be completely real or familiar, since that would be boring, but it shouldn’t strike the reader as bizarre either. In a way, I aim for something recognizably unfamiliar but also comic and heartfelt.

What writing Trade Secret would you like to share?

Productive imitation. When you read something you like, take it, just take it, take what you like most and do with it what you will. Read anything interesting, fiction or non-fiction, anything that moves you, changes your perspective of everything. And in this way, even the most mundane things become interesting to think about and that is a wonderful experience.

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“I found myself wondering if anyone has ever written a private message on a diamond” – Trade Secrets contributor, Frieda-Marié de Jager

Frieda-Marié de Jager is a jewellery designer by day, a children’s book illustrator by night and, since 2013, a writer whenever she can find a minute. After finishing her BTech degree in jewellery design in 2008, Frieda has worked within the upper crust of Cape Town’s diamond and jewellery trade as a goldsmith, diamond broker and designer. ‘The Unicorn’ is her first published short story with the rest of her writing repertoire consisting of contributions to local magazines, children’s poetry, blogs, the odd bit of advertising, and some truly heartfelt greeting cards. Short.Sharp.Stories Award curator, Joanne Hichens, recently sat down with Frieda-Marié to discuss her entry, diamond theft, and allowing characters to do their own thing:

Your story, ‘The Unicorn’, of a diamond heist gone wrong, features a diamond grader, Megan, who gets caught up in a dark ride of terror. Would agree this is crime drama?

Definitely. I love any story with sinister side or a secret hidden in plain sight, so I try to incorporate this in my writing whenever I can.

How did your ‘day job’ influence this story?

I have worked with diamonds for nearly a decade, learning about their unique characteristics and untold mysteries. The Unicorn itself is a fictional stone, but inspired by the 69-carat pear cut diamond Richard Burton gave to Elizabeth Taylor after a bidding war against Cartier, despite her proclamation that she could survive on the diamonds she already had. I find diamonds have a very specific romance to them. For all but a few, a stone like the Unicorn is something they would never see in real life, let alone hold in their hand.

Around the time the Trade Secrets theme was announced, I had to read the certification code off a diamond. This is a hard job, even with strong magnification. I found myself wondering if anyone has ever written a private message on a diamond. If I had the tools at my disposal, I would do that on the first day. I guess that moment was the seed from which ‘The Unicorn’ sprouted.

How closely does the story echo diamond theft in real life?

The certification process is actually a lot more rigorous than I made it seem. A thief in possession of a stolen gem of this caliber would have a hard time getting it recertified and back on the market, but criminals have their ways and means. There have been quite a few armed robberies in jewellery stores around Cape Town, so we always urge clients to be discerning in where they buy diamonds. You could be getting a bargain, but to the detriment of hard working people in the industry, not to mention you can get in trouble.

To get back to Megan, her job as diamond grader seems a lot less glamorous than one would imagine work in the jewellery trade to be…

Because jewellers and diamond dealers come in contact with such high value on a regular basis, there is a bit of assumed glamour to the job.

It can be stressful to handle diamonds. They’re so small and expensive that I’m constantly worried about losing one. I enjoy the design side of jewellery though. Seeing an idea develop into a finished product that will become someone’s treasured heirloom is rewarding.

The truth is, like Megan’s, my job is often mundane. I mostly answer emails.

I found myself wondering if anyone has ever written a private message on a diamond. If I had the tools at my disposal, I would do that on the first day.


The story also tells, in flashback, about the close relationship between Megan and Joanna, a fellow grader. This adds a very human dimension to the story…

I never intended for Megan to be in love with Joanna, her mostly one-sided relationship happened by itself and I ran with it. I think their connection is mostly a means to fill voids left by shaky families at either end.

In your bio you talk of writing greeting cards. What is it like going from one extreme to another? From writing a few short words to 3000 or more?

Who says my greeting cards are any shorter? I enjoy writing short stories and will hopefully have more published in my lifetime so I won’t have to brag about writing greeting cards in an author’s bio!

What writing Trade Secret would you like to share?

Allocated time. I use my commute to work as special, uninterrupted writing time. The train has become my creative space.

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Trade Secrets contributor, Michael Yee, on Auschwitz angoras, writing violence, and second chances

Michael Yee was born in Pretoria. His story ‘Mouth Full Teeth’ appeared in Short.Sharp.Stories Incredible Journey and he’s thrilled to be included again. He’s had the privilege of working in Joburg, Prague, Frankfurt, London, and most recently as a freelance creative director for an ad agency in the Ivory Coast. He looks forward to living in a world where things are more equal. Joanne Hichens, curator of the Short.Sharp.Stories Award, recently conducted an interview with Michael during which they discussed the cruel history behind his entry, having to stay detached while writing scenes of violence, and why short stories shouldn’t be age-restricted.

What was the initial spark for your short story, ‘Satins and Giants’?

I received a horrific video about the angora fur trade from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) that I wanted to write about for this year’s competition.

Your story is a hard-hitting exposé of your protagonist, Achim, who gets caught up in a cruel family system as well as the taint of the worst of European history… How did you marry these ideas?

I would love to take credit for that, but really, once the protagonist appeared it was just a case of staying out of his way. He showed up after some digging revealed that Himmler kept secret angora farms in Auschwitz, using the fur to line the jackets of SS officers. In fact, the photo at the beginning of ‘Satins and Giants’ are of rabbits raised there.

The story, influenced as it is by Nazi war crimes, highlights this evil in a visceral way. Was it difficult to write?

Having to stay detached while rewriting those scenes of violence was really tough, many nights I went to bed seeing double.

Your protagonist, Achim, perpetrates a kind of unspeakable cruelty to animals. It has been suggested that your story should come with a ‘trigger warning’. Do you agree with this? (Or are we too molly-coddled as readers?)

I guess movies and music albums use warnings, but that’s a legal requirement to protect minors, which is not the case for short stories, so I would tend to disagree. I hope nobody is ambushed by the cruelty though, as I tried to avoid that with a pretty dark tone from the start. (Having said this: I’m even more thankful now that the story was included in the collection, given the subject matter.)

“Some digging revealed that Himmler kept secret angora farms in Auschwitz, using the fur to line the jackets of SS officers. In fact, the photo at the beginning of ‘Satins and Giants’ are of rabbits raised there.”


Did you feel you were taking a risk with this subject matter, a risk which might exclude you from publication?

Definitely, I was nervous when the time came to submit and with so many excellent writers with great stories to tell, the risk of not making it always looms large. But a year on, I’m very grateful to have a story included that I cared about in the collection.

Back to Achim. He does find some kind of redemption. Was this important to you as writer?

Yes, I’d like to live in a place where people get second chances, no matter how badly they messed up. Plus, after everything Achim had been through, he deserved a break. He had earned it!

Is the setting an echo of the concept that ‘wealth corrupts’? Yours is a fascinating scene …

Very much so. After realising what this story was about, it guided many decisions: the setting of structural rot, mansions overlooking other decaying mansions in ‘Sol Kerzner’ country in Johannesburg, and props, dialogue, Achim’s relationships, his motivations. The order that this brought was comforting because the protagonist was so chaotic!

What writing Trade Secret would you like to share?

Be kind and patient with whatever arrives on the page.

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“History is neither coherent nor linear; especially when voiced by individuals” – a Q&A with Mapule Mohulatsi

Mapule Mohulatsi is a South African reader and writer. Her work appears in the Kalahari Review, Itch Magazine, This is Africa, Black Letter Media’s The Short Story is Dead, Long Live the Short Story, and the Enkare Review. Joanne Hichens, the curator of the Short.Sharp.Stories award and Mapule recently sat down to discuss Mapule’s winning entry, the rebirth of the oral storytelling tradition, and decolonization:

What is the provenance of the title of your story, ‘The Line of Beauty’?

The line, as noun, is a long narrow mark or band. The line, as verb, is to stand or be positioned at intervals in a linear fashion. A line can also be an indication of demarcation, or a verse of poetry. The line of beauty, the story, was inspired by untold stories that are nemesis to symmetry.
The story has many themes or threads running through it, which pertain to ‘the line’. Can you tell us more about this?

The notion of the thread in the story is associated with memory and meaning made as active and present in the process of storytelling – the line is not always coherent, neither are our memories and the meanings we make of the things we can remember. In this sense then, history is neither coherent nor linear; especially when voiced by individuals. This story is against all notions of the historical timeline, and in its own way, against form and structure.

“The notion of the thread in the story is associated with memory and meaning made as active and present in the process of storytelling – the line is not always coherent”

The writing is lyrical, almost mesmeric. In some cases it reads as uncensored free writing. Is this the way the story came to you? Almost as if it was actually being ‘told’ rather than written?

Yes. If anything, I might just be a worthier poet than I am a storyteller; but yes, the story came as a tale told, rather than one written. I do pay attention to how the writing sounds, which is not always an advantage. Each story has its own sound, and this one in particular was very adamant of where it was going, musically, that is.

Is storytelling, particularly oral storytelling, as passed down through the generations, becoming a lost art?

I don’t think so. To me, something as simple as a rumour that spreads through word of mouth is oral storytelling. In fact, I think the oral tradition is experiencing a sort of rebirth. I mean, look at the efforts Afro-futuristic work does, particularly visual artists like Wangechi Mutu who use oral narratives to convey artistic aspirations, as well as tales and fables that have passed down through generations. My protagonist is one such example, she is a drunkard more than she is a storyteller, but for the pleasure of her company, she rambles. These ramblings, rumours, songs, sculptures, etc. maintain the oral tradition.

And of course your unnamed protagonist tells the story of ‘Mama’ herself a powerful figure as storyteller. Mama sits under the peach tree, drawing the girls of the village to her feet to listen to her fantastic tales, many of which are also peppered with sexual allusion. How did you create her as a character?

She reminds me very much of my own grandmother who sat on the bark of a dead tree and spent most of her old age telling herself, and anyone around her, stories. Stories that did not make sense, not that they had to. The characters in her stories were all real. My grandmother’s animated way of telling them even more so. I never had any experience of the villages. I was ‘born and bred’ in the township. But growing up, I realize that even though my grandmother had no fireside, and a circle of grandchildren around her, it was the story of her life, from her side. That matters to me. I did not create a character. I remembered one, and added my own poetics/politics to her. My grandmother had no baritone, no bulging figure; those are merely the instruments of my memory remaking her. She was funny, and beautiful. Those aspects of her I kept.

The story goes back to the beginning (of sorts)… Is it a story of colonization?

Yes. And no. Both. Haha. It is a story (retold) of colonization, which makes it, in its own way, a story of decolonization. Decolonization to me is the shifting of the lens of seeing, of telling, of understanding. It is a story of colonization because it tries to make sense of the sexual tensions and liberties of a time, and it is a story of decolonization because of who tells it, and how. Colonization and miscegenation in particular are usually the stories of men – men who conquered, and men who were conquered. This story is of a different beginning.

What writing Trade Secret would you like to share?

Ensure clarity and simplicity, then writing will come across as being of outstanding artistry and skill.

Follow Mapule at
Mapule Mohulatsi @3rdbombadil

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A palatable aftertaste: Anna Stroud reviews Ken Barris’s The Life of Worm and Other Misconceptions

Published in the Sunday Times

The Life of Worm The Life of Worm and Other Misconceptions
Ken Barris, Kwela

The worlds depicted in The Life of Worm and Other Misconceptions are ordinary, mundane, bizarre and surreal, but always rooted in the beauty of language. Ken Barris is a craftsman – chiselling away at each sentence until it gleams with understated elegance. Three stand-out stories are the titular “The Life of Worm”, “The Olive Schreiner Stall” and “Poor William”. The raw emotion in each is familiar and discomfiting. In the first, we see a man imprisoned in his own paranoia. His house is a fortress and his dog is a beast; yet he still feels unsafe and simmers with rage at something as innocuous as a tree.

In the second, a victim of necklacing tries to reach out to the living from beyond the grave. He fails, in life and in death, to make connections. In “Poor William”, a man comes across a talking ape in his kitchen. This is a complex story, signalling how chance encounters can alter our perceptions forever.

The opening story, “To See the Mountain”, about a writers’ retreat in Cameroon, introduces writing as a major theme. The narrator and his friend wish to see a nearby mountain up close, and embark on a pilgrimage to get near it. Very little writing gets done, as in “The Grand Parade” when a writer sets up a makeshift office in a busy marketplace in Cape Town and witnesses the cruelty and desperation of humans, himself included.

The idea of writing as something that happens under pressure, and perhaps under siege, crescendos in “Really into Timeshare”, where readers can no longer afford to buy whole books and must settle for a few pages at a time.

The mood of the stories is at times gentle and melancholic, like a simple yet exquisite meal that lingers on your palate hours after the plates have been cleared. The collection imparts invaluable knowledge on writing, writers, history, culture, nature, relationships, and the human condition. – Anna Stroud @annawriter_

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