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Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

Enter the 2018 Caine Prize for African Writing

Entries for the 2018 Caine Prize for African Writing are now open!

A cash prize of £10,000 is up for grabs for the winning author and a travel award for each of the short-listed candidates (up to five in all). The shortlisted candidates will also receive a Prize of £500. The winner is also invited to go to three literature festivals in Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria.

Published authors who wish to add ‘Caine Prize contributor’ to their CVs have until 31 January 2018 to submit their entry via their publishers.

Take note – unpublished work, as well as children’s books, factual writing, plays, biographies and works shorter than 3000 words will not be considered.

The Caine Prize for African Writing aims to bring African stories and writers to a global audience via the art of short story writing.

Click here for the complete guideline.

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“Obviously no one but a fool writes fiction for money” – a Q&A with Trade Secrets contributor, Darrel Bristow-Bovey

Darrel Bristow-Bovey is a screenwriter and columnist who lives in Sea Point. He was won the Percy Fitzpatrick Prize and a Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature, as well several South African Film and Television Awards, and was a finalist for the Caine Prize for African Writing. His most recent book is One Midlife Crisis and a Speedo, a memoir about growing up and falling in love and trying to swim from one continent to another.

Joanne Hichens, curator of the Short.Sharp.Stories Award, recently interviewed Darrel who’s currently in southern Spain. In between sips of rioja, Darrel shared his disdain for authors having to explain their stories, why melancholy and poignancy are naturally funny things, and a short, sharp (sorry…) writing trade secret.

Darrel Bristow-Bowey, author of the Trade Secrets story ‘An Act of God’

In your story, ‘An Act Of God’, journalist Andrew misses a working lunch with the lead of a touring Irish dance troupe; he loses his job and begins to write obituaries. Is this tongue in cheek? Has he been diminished by writing the lives of ordinary dead people, in contrast to exploring the lives of celebrities?

No, not tongue-in-cheek at all. I also don’t think he’s diminished, although it might appear that way to the world, and even at first to him. I think he finds far greater dignity and creative purpose and fulfillment in writing the stories of ordinary people. Ordinary lives are rich and full and fascinating, and contain far more than the thinly presented lives of celebrities. The most interesting things don’t happen in public – they happen unseen in the lives of those going about their days around us. I also think he found his real material, and his real voice, writing about ordinary people and giving them the dignity and consideration that we all deserve, no matter who we are and what we have or have not done.

Your protagonist, Sarah, meets Andrew who happens also to be disabled, at an Italian class and so begins their affair… until Bella Lennon appears, a movie star of note! Andrew’s career again picks up, and he miraculously begins to walk again. Is there deeper meaning here?

No, I don’t think so.

Short and sweet! Let’s skip to the last line of the story, which ends with the words ‘…this is what it looks like and this is what it feels like…’ Is this a means to reinforce the ‘flow’ of life? To show an acceptance of what ‘is’?

I don’t know that I specifically wanted to show anything. I just wanted to tell a story about two people and a portion of their lives.

I often advocate, to newer writers, that a short story should stick to a time-frame, but yours transgresses this boundary as Sarah and Andrew, as time goes by, are married and divorced… the story spans time and place. What are your thoughts on this?

A time-frame is just the length of time something takes, isn’t it? Are you saying that time should pass at the same rate from the beginning of the story to the end? I can see no compelling reason why that should be the case. I think whatever a story needs in order to be told is precisely what it should have.

The story is coloured by a certain poignancy, melancholy even, a self-deprecating humour. Is writing humour a natural instinct for you?

I think poignancy and melancholy are naturally funny things, and vice versa. I think writing that is without humour, and without a degree of self-awareness, tends to be pompous and dull and life-denying. I am painfully aware that these answers fall into that category.

“Ordinary lives are rich and full and fascinating.” Bristow-Bovey on the significance of obituaries.


Surely some readers are interested in the writer behind the story? Why would you think the answers dull and life-denying?

By that, I mean that I am aware that I am not answering with any great verve or sense of humour, and I think the upshot of that is that the answers feel dull to me, and I find dullness to be a little life-denying. Why am I answering without any verve or sense of humour? I’m not sure – partially because I am writing this from southern Spain, in between other commitments, especially a commitment to a fine bottle of rioja in the small bar opposite the bullring in Ronda. Partially because I have a horror of sounding self-important or self-indulgent, and so as a counter-measure I am perhaps tending towards the non-committal.

Is it your opinion that stories be left to speak for themselves? (That bottle of rioja, by the way, sounds delightful!)

Look, obviously the purpose of these interviews is to publicise the book, so I totally get the point of them, and as far as that goes I think they’re a good thing. I also think the questions you’ve posed to people have been good and thoughtful. I am all in favour of the questions; it’s the answers I think we can all live without. I don’t think any story was ever improved by having its author explain it. In these our times, I see authors (or aspiring authors, more precisely) endlessly talking about their writing or themselves writing or their relationship to the writing life on social media, and I think it’s a little pitiful and doesn’t do their work or them any favours.

As a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, what does fiction offer you that non-fiction might not?

I write non-fiction for money. (Well, to be honest, I don’t actually write non-fiction, I write opinion pieces and personal columns, which isn’t fiction, but it also isn’t quite the medium implied by ‘non-fiction’.) Obviously no one but a fool writes fiction for money, and the act and process of doing something not for money, not because you have to, is freeing. It frees you from calculation and from the demands and constraints of professional work. When you’re writing fiction you can write whatever you want, and take as long as you like, and end it however you want, and there is no pressure from anyone else or yourself to do otherwise, or to account for it or justify it. Fiction gives me freedom, which is sometimes joyful and sometimes obviously not, but is something that I need.

Please share a writing Trade Secret…

Do some every day.

Follow Darrel on twitter at @dbbovey

Trade Secrets

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“I am always amazed by the way in which women artists articulate pain” – a Q&A with Trade Secrets contributor, Megan Ross

Megan Ross is a writer, journalist and poet from the Eastern Cape. Her work has appeared in New Coin, New Contrast, Prufrock, Aerodrome, Itch and in several award-winning collections and anthologies. She is the winner of the Brittle Paper Literary Award for Fiction, and also the second runner up of the 2016 Short Story Day Africa Prize, for her short story, ‘Farang’. She is a Miles Morland Writing Scholarship shortlistee. In 2016 she travelled to Reykjavik as the first-ever winner of the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award. Megan is most herself when she is in the Indian Ocean. Her debut poetry collection, Milk Fever, is forthcoming from uHlanga. Joanne Hichens, curator of the Short.Sharp.Stories Awards, and Megan recently discussed ‘Eye Teeth’, the body as memory, and subverting the patriarchy.


‘Megan Ross’s ‘Eye Teeth’ is a lyrical psalm of recovery written from the worst type of betrayal. This story reminds one that abuse all too frequently takes place in the home, by those we know and love. At a deeper level, this story is a rewriting of a trauma narrative by a narrator who reclaims the geography of her body, effecting both a re-imaging and a re-imagining of her past.’

You planted a question (or several questions) at the heart of your commended story ‘Eye Teeth’: how to speak the unspeakable? Did clarity come with the writing? Or did you have an idea of how you’d proceed?

I think because my process in life and in writing is rushing straight to the heart of things, which I think I do unapologetically, because it’s so personal, and so urgent a task for me, that clarity did arrive, eventually, mostly because it had to. Something cannot be spoken if it is unspeakable, but perhaps it can be shown, in another way, find life in new forms. I think this was where the tattoos came in. They are not just images: she specifically used motifs and scenes from her past that came to symbolize the horror she couldn’t verbalise, a private language she wrote across her body, with care and love. No matter how difficult it is to confront, my protagonist finds release, and nourishment, in realizing what has really happened to her, what her father has been doing, all these years, which has been blanketed by the gauze of denial, and of course, a life of being gaslit. I wrote the germ of this story years ago, and returned to it just last year, when the series of vignettes became known to me.

The story, about abuse so very much in the news, is also a reflection on memory. Can you tell us a little more about your understanding of memory, and concepts of time, ways in which memory is recreated as words, or images, and how memory is central to this story?

The idea of dipping into and out of the past came naturally to me because I find that time is most days, more circular than linear. The past is always very much disrupting and interacting with the present, which impacts on the future. I wanted to explore the idea of memory being its own entity, a ghost almost, but more living than that, something embodied, in the way that we carry our memories with us, our pasts are always present, in our bodies, in our minds, we take our emotional and psychic baggage along with us into every relationship, into every exchange with people. We also know that childhood trauma impacts the memory quite significantly, and anyone with PTSD will understand how a traumatic event is not returned to us as a flashback, as it is explained, but that the traumatic event is very much relived.

So there is this idea, for me at least, that until something is properly dealt with, which I am not sure is actually possible, by the way, that it will return, again and again, not as a reminder, but as itself. I myself have given birth only once, but I have relived its scariest moments many times: in the bank, in bed, in restaurants, in moments when I’d rather be doing anything but having a PTSD flashback. And during those moments it is not a flashback, perhaps that would be a comfort for people who experience them. No, it’s very much the moment, the hour, the day itself being reborn. So, for my protagonist at least, there is this sense of legitimizing her own passages of time, as circuitous as they are, with signposts and symbols personal to her, that form part of her own mental and emotional constellations.

You talk of the body’s memory too, ‘memory lives in the bloodstream’. Do you believe that memory is stored in the cells?

I think that if one has experienced a traumatic event, and has or has had PTSD, then we can really agree that memory is a very physical thing, at times. Certainly an experience can be lived countless times over a lifetime, simply because the body refuses to forget something that perhaps someone would rather not confront. But that’s the nature of abuse, and of being abused: there is sadly no escape. At some point, no matter how deeply trauma is buried, it will arrive, and demand to be felt and acknowledged. I was speaking to a friend who is a neuroscientist, and he was explaining how every single thing someone does, feels, thinks, believes, can be brought back to neuroscience, to the brain.

We know that events that occur at certain points in a baby or child’s life can impact their psychological health later on, perhaps precipitating a predisposition to being on the schizophrenic or mood disorder or autism spectrums. So in terms of memory being stored in the cells – there is definitely evidence to prove how memories both positive and negative will affect the chemistry, and makeup of some of the body’s most important cells, which is difficult for some people to understand because we still view so much of emotional and mental health as being these ethereal concepts quite detached from the body. Which they really aren’t. Serotonin and dopamine are physical, depression is physical: these are all events that take place within the body.

You talk of the body as an archive, of writing experience, over the experience already stored in the body’s memory. What do you mean by that?

The body already has its scars: its pains. It doesn’t lie. For instance, if you’re around someone who you don’t trust, you might tell yourself you’re being silly but you may experience a really visceral reaction to them – an aversion to their touch, a need to cross one’s arms over one’s body when they move closer. So, there is this intimate, instinctual knowledge that our bodies possess, an intuition that we should heed more often than not, and so writing the body is really narrating what is already playing out in the form of physical sensations; acknowledging that yes, this person gives me the grils, here I am, writing to that, and yes, this person hurt me, here lies my hurt, in the belly ache I get when I know I’m going to see them, in the inexplicable headaches I have before this meeting. Here I am, honouring that, by giving it verbal and written expression, by articulating it. I think great relief and catharsis comes from finally listening to one’s body.

My own experience with self-harm has taught me that sometimes inflicting physical pain on one’s self, and leaving a scar, creating a physical site for emotional trauma, is powerful, and addictive, because it feels healing somehow. In the same way that a tombstone can be a site for mourning, a place to locate and cement one’s grief, probably because, as I said in a prior answer, we still view so much of our emotional lives as being nebulous and untethered from the body. I don’t want to link tattoos to self-harm in any way, but I think what is interesting about creating a permanent web of images on one’s body, is that they are a private and wholly personal superstructure that command one’s body, that change its appearance and perhaps create for someone a stronger tie to their body, to their experience of it. Perhaps externalizing values and beliefs and memories that might not otherwise be known to anybody else, were they not plainly visible.

“I use writing to make sense of my life, and my past. The body is an archive, of writing experience, over the experience already stored in the body’s memory.”


The protagonist remaps her body with tattoos in order to tell her story and to reimagine her past. The reader is treated to a masterful insight into the artistry inherent in the process of creating tattoos. Do you have tattoos? Did the experience of having tattoos etched under skin influence the writing of this story?

Funnily enough, I don’t have a single tattoo, but my boyfriend is a tattoo model, and so I’ve watched as his body has become this incredible expression of his life over the last decade. He is also the father of my child and so the experience of his body is intrinsic to how I have experienced my own body; perhaps this is why tattoos interest me so much. Maybe if I had my own I wouldn’t be as fascinated by them, but being a voyeur in this instance, of his and my sister’s tattoos, and what they have meant to both these very significant people in my life, who have shaped me so much, influenced the way I wrote the story, and how I knew I might create these homing beacons for my character, who feels lost in her own histories, and needs some kind of lighthouse to guide her back to her sanity, to her sense of self. Which is not to define tattoos in this single light, far from it; but rather, I thought it an interesting way, and perhaps a method of creating understanding, and initiating healing, that I could get on board with, being a visual person who also very much admires the artistry of tattooing and the beauty of permanently altering one’s appearance.

In what way is this a process of reclamation? Is it possible to reclaim the body from trauma?

Tattoos, for my protagonist, are a way of making her body her own, and changing how it looks, as well, transforming it from the naked naiveté of its childhood incarnations to this vessel that is more in line with her spirit, using images from her past that are so vivid, and immediate to her, that they become this comforting armour when she wraps them around her body. Talismanic, in a way. Certainly I think she feels that she has taken steps to reclaiming her body from her father, whose distortion of her childhood, and body, and sexuality cannot be erased, but, perhaps, can be set apart from her. She steals her body back from his gaze: I think she manages to view her body away from his terrible, powerful gaze, and begin working against its distortions. The tattoos are another skin, a new body, as if she shed the old one to which so much happened, growing into this new, albeit scarred body, in terms of its history, that gives her confidence.

I think one of the most terrible things about being abused or hurt is that one loses one’s sense of self; it’s either distorted or simply lost, and a lot of people spend years trying to figure out who they are, why they have been hurt, if they are deserving of love, how to treat people with kindness when you have not always received it yourself, and it means that knowing what you want, what you like, your ambitions, your dreams, your goals, your talent, it all takes a back seat, because you’re just trying to survive. Knowing that you can choose, that you can have likes and dislikes and interests, that you can create a life very different to the one thrust upon you, takes a long time to understand, and accept.

Can you comment about feminism in your work in general, and the way women articulate pain?

My feminism and my writing cannot be separated. I believe that in writing – in bringing my subjective experience into the world – I am subverting the patriarchy. Writing is resisting silencing, and writing about the things that I want to: girlhood, womanhood, motherhood, the body, themes that are considered to be ‘domestic’ when written by women, are my own particular stake in the fight against the male gaze, in fighting for my right to express myself and to articulate freedoms and beauty and pain and wonder that are particular to me, to young girls, to women, to mothers. I feel fortunate to write and have my work recognised without having to use a male pseudonym, and in that way I am always amazed by the way in which women artists articulate pain: there is always such inventiveness, and creativity, and almost cruel incisiveness. Women have largely not had the luxury of articulating pain without being pathologised for it. And I still feel that now, very much. But I think that things are changing, and looking at the crop of young writers and visual artists that are rising to the fore on this continent, there is certainly not only a wealth of talent amongst women and non-binary artists, but an ambition, and single-mindedness, and sense of community that is making it possible for many, many more people to create.

What writing Trade Secret would you like to share?

I’m just going to drop one of the old clichés which has served me well the last two years, which is: persist. Through every heartbreak, through every shitty story, shitty rejection, shitty everything, persist. Keep writing. Never stop. If you want this, then you’re going to get your heart broken a couple times and it does every writer good to grow as thick a skin as humanly possible and keep focused on the end goal. Which is personal to every writer. Persist through trying times with your notebook in hand, and write all the junk out of your system, keep writing and writing and don’t feel like you have to publish everything you write because some of it is just the starter and you have to get to the main course, to the dessert, because that’s where the goodness lies, that’s where story is.

So, if you end up with an entire book, be it a novel or short story collection or collection of poetry, and you don’t like it, it’s not the end of you. You’ve just been writing out all the gunk, cleaning house. Write to the end of yourself and you will see that you too are round and the world doesn’t end at the horizon: you can keep sailing and writing and you will eventually, always, reach new land, discover new stories, articulate new truth, find a new way to describe something. It is the most exciting part of writing, this pushing-through, and part of it is being okay with failure, because it’s only by getting through each let down and rejection that we can get to the heart of what it is we’re trying to say, and improve and evolve as artists.

Trade Secrets

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2017 South African Literary Awards winners announced!

This year’s winners of the South African Literary Awards (SALAs) were announced on Tuesday night, 07 November 2017 at UNISA, Pretoria Campus.

Authors, poets, writers other and literary practitioners whose works are continuously contributing to the enrichment of South Africa’s literary landscape were celebrated in an auspicious ceremony.

The SALA Awards have honoured over a hundred individuals in the past 12 years.

The 2017 South African Literary Awards (SALAs) winners are:

Category: First-time Published Author Award

Moses Shimo Seletisha, Tšhutšhumakgala (Sepedi)

Category: k.Sello Duiker Memorial Literary Award

Nthikeng Mohlele, Pleasure (English)

Category: Poetry Award

Helen Moffett, Prunings (English)

Simphiwe Ali Nolutshungu, Iingcango Zentliziyo (isiXhosa)

Category: Creative Non-Fiction Award

Dikgang Moseneke, My Own Liberator (English)

Category: Literary Journalism Award

Don Makatile, Body of work (English)

Phakama Mbonambi, Body of work (English)

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)

Category: Nadine Gordimer Short Story Award

Roela Hattingh, Kamee (Afrikaans)

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 (English)

Aletta Matshedisð Motimele, Body of work (Sepedi)

Etienne Van Heerden, Body of work (Afrikaans)

Category: Chairperson’s Award

Themba Christian Msimang, Body of work (isiZulu)

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A Q&A with Trade Secrets contributor, Olufemi Agunbiade

Olufemi Agunbiade is a Nigerian living in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape. He is married, and has two children, a pigeon pair. He is the author of the short story, ‘The Miracle Maker,’ in which a city-dwelling youngster travels back to his grandmother’s village in order to expose a shady clergy. Joanne Hichens, curator of the Short.Sharp.Stories Awards, and Olufemi recently discussed his Trade Secrets entry, crazy things congregants do to ensure being in the good graces of the Lord, and the influence of his Nigerian roots on his story.

‘The Miracle Maker’, an entertaining whodunit, highlights ‘corruption’ in the Pentecostal clergy. Is it as rife as the story makes it out to be?

Yes, if not more. Being that our societies are naturally religious and superstitious, grounds for instant miracles are easily established. Traditional beliefs and fears are heightened. People are encouraged to have more hopes in heaven than on earth. The smart clergies claim they have the knowledge to the paths and keys to the glorious home up there. For fees (tithe, Sunday offerings, first fruits offering), they can lead/show the way. To really drive in the message and convince seekers, instant, incredible miracles will do. The interested congregant will not mind forking over many amounts, all in a bid to be reassured of the heavenly home. It is not, therefore, surprising to find Pentecostal clergies now owning mansions, limousines, jets, financial corporations, all acquired by donations from mostly poor donors. It is a huge business.

Outlandish methods are used to siphon money from congregants. What crazy things will congregants do to ensure being in the good graces of the Lord?

The inspiration for my story came from observing Pentecostal clergies in Nigeria who are always out-doing others in performing miracles (curing HIV/AIDS, curing cancer, making septuagenarians become pregnant, raising the dead etc). It’s no less the case here too in South Africa where smart-alec clergymen are asking congregants to eat grass, gobble down rats, be sprayed with insecticide; the pastors talk to God on the phone — the more a pastor feigns closeness to God, the more gullible are the congregants. It’s all a ploy to show extraterrestrial powers, which will then attract huge fame and money. So, I connected situations in the two climes and decided to write about it.

Ah, so many ways – TRADE SECRETS – of how powerful men of the cloth convincingly part congregants and their pretty pennies.

A penny for your penance…


In your story, Sipho, the protagonist, pays a visit to his Makhulu to find out why her savings are ‘disappearing’. Sipho is, in fact, an ‘amateur detective’. Tell us more about his methods and motivation.

I love detective books, especially the ones with explosive twists at the end. I always fancied writing my own stories, but really, I considered myself more of a ‘reader’ than a ‘writer.’ Writing, of course, is a whole lot more than just reading. Then, Short.Sharp.Stories came along and I told myself, Why not? So, I created Sipho, who left the city to visit his grandmother, who had been enthusing about her ‘Prophet.’

Sipho is just an everyday, normal guy who is painstaking in finding out the truth. He is a rough round the edges amateur who is out to expose the truth, no matter the stress and time and mistakes involved. He is learning, like me. I hope to write more about Sipho and his exploits.

Do you perhaps see yourself as a mystery/ thriller writer in the making?

Oh, no. I am still the same ‘reader.’ Reading voraciously and learning the craft of writing along the way. Being published by Short.Sharp.Stories is a massive encouragement which I, indeed, cherish a lot. It is my first attempt and I struck ‘gold.’ Right now, I am trying my hand at writing more and honing the craft.

Makhulu, who lives in a rural village, is feisty and takes no nonsense. She gives Sipho a hard time! Although the story is a classic whodunit, does it also reflect a certain reality? Not only religious corruption, but a disconnect between the older and younger generations?

I patterned Makhulu after my mum! Though younger and feistier, she fits in perfectly well. I only need to tap into my memory bank and she’s there in words, actions and expressions.

I see the older generations as being set in their ways, watching in amusement as the younger, malleable youths grope about with their technological/developmental processes. This does cause friction in many ways, as it does in the Makhulu and Sipho scenes, but I see it as a form of learning, though healthy and educative — the two represent a blend of the old and new, past and present. Interactions between these two ends will always bring out something that can be interesting, out of which we can learn something.

I always ponder on how old folks get to be who they are in their old age. The adventures they have had, their joys and pains, the paths they have trodden on and the knowledge they harbor.

The setting of Port Elizabeth is evocatively described, yet the village in your story is imagined. Why go this route?

I have always lived in cities, from Lagos to here but, really, I love the outdoors where beautiful nature – thriving flora and fauna – is painted in living colors. South Africa is a beautiful country and all around me, I see nature still pristine and protected. Here, in my suburb in Port Elizabeth, seeing heavy morning mists, rugged green mountains, wild guinea fowl and rabbits right on my doorsteps nibbling at tidbits always evokes pictures of a natural village setting. So, I created one. I wanted the story settings to be a mix of the city and the village, a blend of old and new.

As a novice writer, how did you hear about Short.Sharp.Stories? And are you inspired to keep writing?

I saw Short.Sharp.Stories on Facebook and being interested in writing, I decided to try my hand. I passionately love reading, when I can leave the terrestrial earth and soar! I love short stories with a twist. I have been writing more since my Short.Sharp.Stories entry and I have many short stories in stock now.

In what way do your Nigerian roots influence your writing?

My writing is a blend of the two great countries, coated with past and current happenings around me. I must say it is a great advantage for me as I can switch between the two climes to achieve my aim.

What writing Trade Secret have you gleaned along the way?

For a new hand like me, it is a beautiful experience that I want to take up more seriously. Really, during the writing and editing stages, I felt like a surgeon at the operating table, snipping away, suturing up loose ends and packaging a body of story through tedious edits to make it convincing and readable.

Trade Secrets

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Fiksie Vrydag: Jacques de Viljee se kortverhaal, My laaste aand (in Kaapstad)

Foto’s: Jacques de Viljee, Instagram

Jacques de Viljee is ’n skrywer van Kaapstad. Sy werk is al in New Contrast en op LitNet en gepubliseer.

My laaste aand (in Kaapstad)
Jacques de Viljee

“Dis tog vanselfsprekend: Kill your darlings, my kind.”

“Maar wat bly oor?”


[11:41, 8/28/2018] +27 73 693 2733: En die verlange na die ruik, proe, hoor, voel?

[11:49, 8/28/2018] +27 73 693 2733: Jy kan deurkom.

[11:49, 8/28/2018] +27 73 693 2733: Dis net ek.

[11:49, 8/28/2018] +27 73 693 2733: Naak en eerlik.

[12:11, 8/28/2018] Christine van Vreden: Ek wil omhels. Ek wil vergeet. Ek wil glo.

Daar het net nou te veel twyfel opgeduik. Ek kry dit net nie weggebêre nie.

Ek wil, ek wil

Dus vertrou ek dat ’n tydjie alleen my net weer sal laat besef dat my idees/ persepsie nie altyd so konkreet hoef te wees nie. Dat mens bly mens.

Maak dit sin?


Net die skoon word vermoor
Net die sag kry seer
Net die jonk glo
Soos wat net die jonk van hart kan glo

“O Jirre ek moet gaan -” Stamp ’n stoel om, mense wat oor mekaar praat, harde musiek wat krapperig oor die luidsprekers speel, sigaretrook en wierook, vuil kussings en oorvol glase.

“Hierso: Why some aspects of punk spoke to Afrikaans-speaking musicians and not to Anglophone musicians is a theme that further research should investigate more carefully.

What do you think, P?” “Ja, youth culture specialist.” “What do I think? Dude, to be honest I think it’s that brattiness that’s so inherent to punk rock -” “Brattiness?” “What do you call it, a vloermoer? That conscious dissociation with the order, the system, whatever. To break down everything around you, even if you let the walls fall in on yourself. I think that’s why the Afrikaners -” “Afrikaans speakers.” “Vink, fokkit.” “Whatever, man, why they chose punk rock as a medium, rather than something more sophisticated like jazz, which they probably saw as another form of Anglo-imperialism, cultural snobbery or something, you know.”

“Ja, seker.”

“And then youth culture. Like counterculture it just needs confusion and alienation to erupt.” “Maar is hulle nie confused nie? I’m on my way to thirty and I’m confused as fuck!” “Maar jy moet onthou, Ludwig, keep in mind that they’re growing up in this time, they’re used to this continuous and constant change.” “But it’s … exponential …” “They’re okay with that. Only what happens in the moment matters. What happens to the moment doesn’t.” “Expendable present.”

“The best, babez! We dyed our hair purple and watched the first Harry Potter movie!” “That. Is incredible!” “I know, right!” “We’re just fucked, man. Confused. And that’s why the alternative scene or whatever you wanna call it, realness, is being shaped by these geniuses in their late twenniez and thirdiez.” “That’s fuckin’ us!” “That is fuckin’ us, dude! Why do you think I enjoy my job so much? These are the people I work with every day!” “It’s a bless!” “Such a bless, bro.”

Hulle lag. Vat slukke wyn. Ludwig haal sy tabaksakkie uit sy baadjie en sit dit voor hom op die tafel neer.

“Exactly! So I’m making this note in Kitcheners about writing a poem or something about Amelie and Janine meeting at an exhibition in Maboneng, because, I mean, it starts with Janine going up to Amelie and being, like, ‘Stan Smiths are the most comfortable shoes on Earth, am I right, babe? -” “Ja, and we spoke about a psychoman! We both had one! She had this guy they camped with in the Tankwa Karoo and afterwards he called her a desert slut!”

“Haha, what the fuck!”

“And I was chatting to this guy on Tinder and I told him I like cello music.” “Yeh.” “And he stops talking to me. Calls me a cello slut.” “What the fuuuucccckkkkk!!!” “And so, as I write the note this guy comes over to us, and he asks for a lighter. And next moment he has two lighters and a match lighting up his cigarette, shakes his head and smiles this gigantic smile. And the ice is broken. Such a …” “Try streaming happiness, you know what I mean?” “Highly Recommended dude, ons moet dit dan doen. Ons het ’n vyf jaar voorsprong.”

Die deurklokkie lui. Iemand se foon lui, dronk huiweroomblik, dan: “Ek sal dit kry.” “Ruann, dude! Lekker. Ons is by Ryno en Amelie se flat, luister musiek, drink joints en rook wyn. Ja … Um, ja, Ludwig, Phumlani, Jacques, Janine, Vink, Sibusiso … Okay cool, nee, geniet Siblings, dude, laat maar weet as jou planne verander.”

“Wie’s dit, Ami?” “Dis Jesus by die interkom.” “Al weer.” “Patrick Stickles, mahn!” “I feel like that about Kendrick Lamar.” “I know, right! Master historian.” “I only talk for myself. Fuck your association.” “Doesn’t tweet. Like Camus.” “Vink!” “King Kunta.” “Ja, die heeltyd. Daar’s hierdie nuwe ding wat hulle uitgedink het, wel jy het seker al daarvan gehoor, waar jy al jou mediese data in ’n masjien kan upload, en hulle basies ’n kloon van jou kan maak wat nooit sal siek raak nie, so nooit kan doodgaan nie. En jou consciousness …” “Jammer dat ek jou in die rede val. Dis weird. Ek was altyd vreesbevange vir die dood, aande wakkergelê. Nou’s dit die idee van onsterflikheid wat my nie kan uitlos nie.” “Ek voel dieselfde, man.” “Ons het vergeet dat doodgaan deel van lewendig wees is.” “Ja ja ja,”

Ludwig staan verwilderd op, klim op sy stoel, wat onder hom wankel. “Almal almal almal! ’n Heildronk. A toast. Here’s …” Lig sy glas. “To dying!”

Almal saam, “To dying!”

“Fok ja, kom hier, Ludwig.” Ryno sluk die laaste van sy wyn af. “Daar’s nog bottels in die kombuis.” “Feminism’s failure to acknowledge that beauty is a value in itself, that even if a woman manages to achieve it for a particular moment, she has contributed something to the culture.” “Presies! Jacques, ek –” “Dude, daar’s nog kots op jou baadjie.” “Thanks. Fok.” “Ja, wanneer die wêreld in 2029 in rook en vlamme opgaan.” “Social media, right, we’re all sitting in the same room trying to talk over each other.” “What I wanna know is: Are we cool enough for you, Phumlani? I mean …” “Maar dis wat dit is: Kanye en Drake. Hulle tap in hierdie self-obsessie, want dis so tekenend van ons tyd.” “Volgens my: Tame Impala wat op daai selfde obsessie intap, die gevoel van vervreemding daarteenoor.” “En Maandagaand Stellenbosch!” “Yes! Dit gaan lóóp!” “Dit gaan hárd loop!”

“Fok Buzzfeed! Popkultuur popkultuur popkultuur popkultuur! Ek kan nie.” Die girts van ’n lighter maak ’n vlam. “Aaah! Smoking joints like cigarettes al weer!” “Dude, sit Swanesang op. Die grafsteen van ons jeug, noudat ons op die onderwerp is.” “Nee, Lugsteuring, iets harder!” “Jy’t nie My Chemical Romance op vinyl nie?” “Bra. Jy’t ’n moerse wanpersepsie van my musieksmaak.”

“Krisjan het. Moet ek dit gaan haal?” “As jy nugter genoeg is om die naald te lig.” “Kom, sit.” “Ek sit bietjie op my voete.”

“Ja. Ek en Christine is besig om op te breek.”

“Nee, Jacques.”

“Daar’s net hierdie magteloosheid. Dis eintlik erger, jy weet. Al wat oorbly is woorde om te herstel. En ek weet nie of ek woorde diep genoeg het nie.” Hy trek aan sy sigaret.

“As daar iemand is wat het dan is dit jy, my lief.”

“God. Ek kan net hoop en bid.”

“Weird vraag. Onregverdige vraag. Help dit jou nie? Is sy nie die persoon wat die storie van jou pyn aandryf nie?”

“Vink. Dink jy nie dit is waar die raaisel net joune is nie? Dis soos om te vra waaraan dink jy as jy masturbeer? Dis jou weergalmende heelal, jou orgasme op papier.”

“Vreemd. Ja. Wanneer laas? Ek dink … in ’n treinkompartement op pad Bloemfontein toe. Myne ook…”

“En die boek?”

“Goed. Die einde is in sig. Ek oefen vir onderhoude as ek hoog en alleen is.”

“Goed so…”

“And how is the current political sphere any different to imperialistic missionaries?” “It’s the new entertainment industry.” “Western capitalism in sheep’s clothing.” “And memes are just cultural inside jokes.” “Thanks, Vink.” “It’s true, though.”

“Okay. Ons moet gaan. Come, Sibz.” “Cool, cheers, man. Is julle Uber hier?” “Ons stap sommer. Dis tien minute.”

“Veilig wees.”

“Bye, Vinklief. Bye, Sibz.”
“En hoe voel dit om nie meer ’n werk te hê nie?”

“So bevrydend, joh.”

“En môre vlieg jy?”

“Môre vlieg ek.”

“Vriend, ek gaan jou mis.”

“Ek ook, alles; almal; elke aand.”

“Desnieteenstaande. Feite bly feite.”

“Yoh, P, did you see the newest Jean Kleynhans?” “No?” “A white guy and a black girl sitting in bed, Do liberal black girls enjoy social justice more than sex? at the top, the girl busy on her phone, starting a tweet with tfw, and the guy is busy masturbating, moaning JA! JA!, about to come.” “Jesus.” “Going all political and shit, huh?”

“Politics is porn.”


“Ryno, is jy reg om ʼn pa te wees?”

“Waarvan de fok praat jy, bra?!”

“Net ’n vraag.”

“Ek groei weer my baard, so seker ja, ek weet nie. Dis ’n vreemde vraag, vriend.”

“Ek moet ook gaan, dude, baie dankie.” “So nou is dit net ons en die volksverraaier.” “Julle weet dat ek kan Afrikaans verstaan.” “I’m referring to Ludwig, Phumlani.”

“Ag fokof, man!”
Die plaat het ophou speel. Phumlani is huis toe en Amelie het gaan slaap.

“Al weer net ek en jy, Ludwig.”

“Janee.” Dowwe geklop, gedagtes wat leeg weergalm.

“So jou laaste aand in Kaapstad, nè?”

“My laaste aand in Kaapstad.”

“Die aand voor die groot verkiesing…”

“En ek gaan nie eers fokken stem nie.”

“No Allegiance to the Queen.”

“No allegiance to the queen.”

“Dis Ruann wat gebel het, nè? Waar het hy gesê is hy?”

“In Siblings saam met Darius-hulle.”

“Ah, okay, die skate crew.”

“Yes. Die Enlightened Youths.”


[12:15, 8/28/2017] +27 73 693 2733: Ja.

[12:15, 8/28/2017] +27 73 693 2733: Maar ek gaan myself nooit kan vergewe nie

[12:15, 8/28/2017] +27 73 693 2733: die seer wat ek gemaak het

[12:21, 8/28/2017] +27 73 693 2733: dat my dade jou verhoed om by my te wees

[12:21, 8/28/2017] +27 73 693 2733: my verstand kan homself nie begryp nie

[12:23, 8/28/2017] +27 73 693 2733: is hierdie apartwees nie genoeg nie?

[12:23, 8/28/2017] +27 73 693 2733: hoe lank moet ons onsself gysel?


(Hey Ludwig, nou net by die flat gekom. Te moeg om uit te gaan. )

(Dink nou net. Wil net weer sê. Gaan vind wat jy soek. Gaan geniet wat jy vind. My goed kan enige dag verander. Moenie daaran vasklou nie. Ek gaan die fisiese jy mis. Ek het jou oneindig lief. Maar ek gun jou als. Daar is so baie wat wag!)

(Hoop julle klomp kuier lekker! Ek sien jou moreoggend. Liefde e)


’n Maand by die see. Grys druppels teen die vensters. Die reuk van groen heuwels en ’n dynserigheid oor die see. Afgeskilferde rotse, soutsmaak branders. My kinderdae, het jy geweet? Rooi oë en geel vingers. Die stilte van die see, druisende geraas oor die sand. God en liefde en verlange en dood en skuld en pyn en vrees en afsondering. Altyd musiek wat my weer na die mens toe terugtrek.


Ma en Pa

Vanaand is my laaste aand in Kaapstad. Môre vlieg ek Suid-Korea toe. Ek het deur Wikus (Wynand se vriend) daar werk gekry om Engels te gee.

Daar is seker twee goed wat ek behoort te verduidelik.

Eerstens, hoekom ek gaan: Ek dink, basies, voel ek net al vir lank asof ek nie meer hier is nie. Ek word surround deur mense met probleme en drome soveel anders as myne. Alles wat ek doen is op die internet. Al my werk, ek lees net op die internet. Dit is waar ek flieks kyk en musiek luister. En ja, ons het al hieroor gepraat, en ja, dis seker hoekom ek boeke begin koop het en al my vinyls. Om te voel asof ek hier is. Maar die mense hier … Niemand voel tuis nie en ek kort ’n tuiste.

En dit beantwoord seker tweedens hoekom ek nie vir julle gesê het ek gaan nie. Hoe sê ek dit met ’n straight face? Julle was nog altyd hier en ek was altyd die een wat gesê het Nee, ons moet vir ewig bly.

As hierdie seermaak hoop ek julle kan soortvan verstaan. Ek gaan vir minstens twee jaar nie terugkom nie, maar julle is welkom om enige tyd te kom kuier. En ek sal e-mail en ons kan Skype en ek is nog steeds op ons Whatsapp group.

Ek sal safe wees. Ek sal laat weet hoe dit gaan.

Groete Liefde


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Ek bel. Dit lui. En lui. En lui.


Die liriekaanhaling in die tweede gedeelte van die kortverhaal kom uit “Oop vir misinterpretasie” deur Fokofpolisiekar.

Die kortverhaal bevat ’n uittreksel vanuit die volgende bron:

Maria Suriano & Clara Lewis (2015) Afrikaners is Plesierig! Voëlvry Music, Anti-apartheid Identities and Rockey Street Nightclubs in Yeoville (Johannesburg), 1980s–90s, African Studies, 74:3, 404-428, DOI: 10.1080/00020184.2015.1004850, asook ’n aanhaling van Camille Paglia.

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A Q&A with Trade Secrets contributor, Andrew Salomon

Andrew Salomon has received the PEN Literary Award for African Fiction and the Short.Sharp.Stories Award. His debut novel, now titled Tokoloshe Song was shortlisted for the Terry Pratchett First Novel Award and his short fiction has been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. He is the author of the Young Adult thriller The Chrysalis and his latest publications are the dark fantasy thriller The Equilibrist and the short story collection Dark Shenanigans. He lives in Cape Town with his wife, two young sons and a pair of rescue dogs of baffling provenance. Joanne Hichens, curator of the Short.Sharp.Stories Award, recently chatted with him:

What was the inspiration for your story, ‘The Entomologist’s Dream’, a quirky, yet deadly serious tale which brings into focus the atrocities of genocide?

This story was primarily shaped by three disparate things: the memory of intense pain while hiking through the jungle in the Khao Sok National Park in southern Thailand, after being bitten by an acid-injecting ant; reading about the Rwandan genocide; and angrily catching myself out trying to guess what kind of stories publishers might be looking for. I then made a conscious decision to write only what I want, even a story with a ridiculous-sounding title like ‘The Entomologist’s Dream’. Of course, as I wrote, the title became more serious and nuanced as the story took on its own shape.

Indeed, as this all too real account of grotesque suffering is gradually unpacked, the reader is taken on an unimaginable journey into the history of Rwanda. What was it in reading about this particular genocide that fuelled the fire?

I had read a travel piece about Rwanda and about what a beautiful country it is and how hospitable the people are. But the writer then described driving out of Kigali and seeing all these posters with photos of people still being sought for atrocities committed two decades earlier. It got me thinking about the desire for retribution and how sometimes a major driving force for continued existence after extreme trauma can be the planning for revenge.

As Liesl Jobson commented, you took ‘the merciless form of the police report to imbue it with a shimmering, and entirely unpredictable transformation’. How did you decide on the format of the story? – in essence, one half of an interview script. What were the considerations while writing?

I borrowed the format from a Neil Gaiman short story. I think it’s in his latest collection. The format intrigued me and I wanted to see if I could pull it off. It was challenging since you have to write a story that hopefully makes sense while also being pretty much all dialogue, but with half of that dialogue omitted. So there have to be hints and nudges in the interviewee’s transcript that allows the reader to reconstruct for themselves what the interviewer is saying.

Would you consider this point-form story experimental?

I wouldn’t go so far as to call it experimental, but it could be seen as inventive, and it’s a fun way of constructing a story since you have to be at least as concerned with what’s not written (the interviewer’s questions and comments) as you are with what is.

The statement is made from the point of view of Rwandan Yasmin Ingabire, a refugee in South Africa. How did you marry these different facets to create this complex character?

It’s always more interesting to write from the point of view of an outsider, and Yasmin, being a foreign refugee, isolated by her trauma and her desire for retribution, along with the Xenophobia that was rife in KwaZulu-Natal at the time of the story, made her an über-outsider. In the course of writing the story I really came to like and empathise with Yasmin, although I doubt she would welcome any sympathy.

‘The Entomologist’s Dream’ is a quirky, yet deadly serious tale which brings into focus the atrocities of genocide


As Yasmin vacillates between revenge and forgiveness… why choose revenge?

Yasmin tried forgiveness first and found that it granted her no respite from her pain. So, being logical and meticulous, she decided to dedicate herself to accomplishing revenge – if one approach proves unsuccessful, try another; she is willing to try all avenues to find any kind of peace.

How can she be so cool and collected as she reports on what has transpired?

Being an entomologist and experienced in applying the scientific method makes her a methodical type of person. So while she found the revenge act satisfying, she found greater solace and a kind of transient serenity in the process of planning and preparations for her revenge. It is the reprieve from her pain that this process gifted her that allows her to be so composed in the police interview.

And as an entomologist of course Yasmin knows about ants…

Years ago I went on the hike previously mentioned, in Khao Sok National Park in southern Thailand, to try and locate the world’s biggest flower. An hour into the hike I got bitten by a rainforest ant that injects you with acid as it bites you. It’s a brutally sharp pain; like being jabbed in the ankle with white-hot knitting needles. Thankfully we cannot remember the sensation of pain, but unchecked screaming in the rainforest is something that’s hard to forget. The ants made such an impression on me they were bound to end up in a story.

The telling is sparse, yet the senses are powerfully exploited to heighten the reader’s awareness. Consider Yamin’s descriptions related to boxing, for example: …the ‘flat smack’ sound of a gloved fist hitting someone’s ribs… when a hook lands cleanly there’s a doof sound… Do you do this consciously, as a writer?

Years ago, when I was writing my first novel, I came across the advice that the more senses you employ in your writing, the more immersive you can make a scene for the reader. I subscribe to this, although I think I do it less consciously now since it’s become part of my writing style, but I do consciously edit the writing to be sparse since I think that works better than loading too many descriptions into a short paragraph.

What writing Trade Secret would you like to share?

You don’t need to write a story – and this counts for novels and short stories – in sequence from beginning to end. Write what’s vivid in your mind on that day and trust that you’ll find the bridges to link these temporarily disparate scenes as you go along.

Visit Andrew’s website here.

Trade Secrets

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The savant of the biltong – Diane Awerbuck reviews Nick Mulgrew’s The First Law of Sadness

Published in the Sunday Times

Nick Mulgrew’s short stories explore the varieties of human experience in all their horror and comedy, writes Diane Awerbuck.

The First Law of Sadness
Nick Mulgrew, David Philip Publishers, R120

You don’t have to hate The Talented Mister Mulgrew: prize-winning poet, publisher and wannabe publican. But you can learn from him. And there’s a lot to take away from his new collection of short stories, The First Law of Sadness.

One takeaway is that Nick Mulgrew is easily the best thing we have. Another takeaway is that absolutely everything can be written about, regardless of how squeamish it makes us. This collection allows us to see how an accomplished writer handles both the horror and banality of experience.

Most of us have a comfort zone. Mulgrew has only discomfort zones, and he is determined to share them with us. A little dog eviscerated by an eagle; the terrible truth behind the sale of a boy’s Momo mags; a man who finds he quite likes being filmed for a gay porn site: they’re all nestled here between the pages, preserved for our perusal.

And there is something more than usually voyeuristic about the stories in The First Law of Sadness. It’s hard to say what it is – Mulgrew’s ability to negate his own persona completely in the pursuit of characterisation, perhaps, fused with an intimate knowledge of the (many, varied) settings he chooses.

We get the sense that real life had its way with some of the stories: a couple of them seem to be the processing of grief. In “Ever Elizabeth”, the protagonist decides that “…[t]here is the universe, I have come to know, and it is full of pain. This pain can neither be created nor destroyed: only transferred. For every pain healed in someone, a new one felt in another. The amount of pain in the universe is thus constant. This is the first law of sadness.”

That projection is philosophically risky, but it works. And, like the man in the giant practical joke that is the story “Jumper”, Mulgrew often emerges as the end of the tale with some useful, practical truth.

But the interesting thing with Mulgrew is that he’s also here for the lols. “Bootlegger”, for example, is a pretty hilarious and definitely dire depiction of res life, ingenuity and the immigrant experience of South African culture. How does he get the diction right? Don’t ask me. But the story reads like William Blake in a room with Roald Dahl, and it slips into some technical detail about biltong-making too.

Spare a thought for Yerodin Fermin, who finds himself a victim of his own drug-induced culinary success: “The residence-mates, they are too enthusiastic. They tell more of the others. I’m woke that evening at 11pm by an alcoholic acquaintance of Bubbles, asking for biltong… [T]he man says he will pay one hundred rand for one Ziploc of biltong. He sways like the palm trees…He says I’m a savant of the biltong.”

Funny-peculiar; funny-ha-ha. Maybe that’s the takeaway, more than Mulgrew’s startlingly apt imagery, or the pathos of the other characters’ mourning processes. He understands that life is various, and we must all make the rules we want to live by. Now there’s a manifesto that ought to be signed into law. Mulgrew for president.

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A Q&A with Mishka Hoosen, winner of the 2017 Short.Sharp.Stories Award’s ‘Best Story’

Mishka Hoosen was born in Johannesburg. She graduated from Interlochen Arts Academy and later from Rhodes University with an MA in Creative Writing. Her debut novel, Call it a difficult night, was published by Deep South Books in 2016.

Mishka Hoosen‘s ‘Wedding Henna’, which won the R20 000 prize for BEST STORY, is a powerful exploration of the erotic taboo behind the hijab. Hoosen’s tender and sensual writing explores the delicate process of painting lacy floral patterns, in henna, on the bride’s hands on the morning of her wedding. Behind this technical artistry, the author weaves another, more haunting tale, as she explores the past relationship between her protagonist, Aisha, and the bride to be. Mishka and Joanne Hichens, curator of the Short.Sharp.Stories Award, recently discussed her winning entry:

Congratulations on winning this year’s Short.Sharp.Stories Award for BEST STORY. What does this ‘win’ mean to you?

It’s incredibly difficult to explain really, and deeply, deeply moving and humbling. It’s difficult, when it’s a story that is, for me at least, centered in so much pain, so much internal and external struggle, and so many unresolved things. This contest means so much in terms of setting the tone of the literary landscape in this country, the conversations we’re having, the stories we’re bringing to light. I’m utterly humbled and awed to be counted among the writers included in this anthology, who are producing such startling, necessary, brilliant work. I’m just deeply grateful, to everyone who enjoyed the story, to the judges, the organizers who have done such exemplary work, and to my husband, who is my biggest supporter and helped give me the space and love to tell this story.

I think one of the biggest and most powerful things about this whole experience is the passion and attention of the Short.Sharp.Stories team who by doing this, are making space for voices and stories that are so often erased, vilified, ignored, to be heard. In recent years, I’ve been trying with all my heart to follow Toni Morrison’s advice, to write the stories I want to read, and more than that, to write the stories I need to hear, the stories younger me needed like air, but didn’t get to hear. If there’s solace that comes from this story, for one person, if there’s a hand reaching in the dark, or a little more empathy and kindness kindled in the world because of it, that’s everything, that’s enough.

“…love demands truth from us, the fullness of truth, and the fullness of acknowledgement, of honoring it.”

‘Wedding Henna’ reads in one sense like a coming of age story, as Aisha reconnects with her school friend and the memories are ignited, of being school children together, as Zahra takes this next step into marriage. Would you agree with this?

Yes, I definitely think so. It’s meant as a kind of laying to rest, a necessary addressing and honoring of something before the next stage of life can begin.

The story has such an authentic right to it, one wonders about the inspiration and how close is the story to your own experience?

My story is inspired by some of the people, places, and things I have loved, and what love does. I’m not sure how else to put it. There are aspects of people I’ve known and loved in here, and things that belong entirely to the story. Above all it’s the experience of love I wanted to capture, love that is beset on all sides, love that sears, and is forced to transcend so much in order to remain whole. There’s a great deal of my feelings about love and the sacred in here. About how love lifts us out of ourselves, brings us closer to the sacred, the transcendent. And when you’re dealing with such ignorance and harm and prejudice, the only solace, often, is in the sacred. I wanted to capture that feeling I’ve experienced, and I think many others have. I think art comes from compulsion, and our experiences are what compel us.

Love is not always easy… your protagonist, Aisha, has to subjugate her love for her schoolfriend Zahra… it seems as if instinctively she knows she must do this, yet she tells her aunt. The aunt in turn is revolted by the disclosure: ‘I told her, Auntie Sohair, I love somebody. I’m in love with somebody. With a girl….’ Wasn’t this a big risk for Aisha to take? Why did she do it?

It was a terrifying, horrible risk, yes. But I find, for better or worse, that love demands truth from us, the fullness of truth, and the fullness of acknowledgement, of honoring it. And also, what we love, and who we love, is so often a part of ourselves, a part of what makes us ourselves, and we want to share ourselves with the people we love, with our family and friends, especially. I think that if we have to keep that part of ourselves in the dark, out of sight, then we’re not wholly ourselves with the people we have to keep that from.

I think Aisha would feel that her love of her aunt demands that she be wholly herself with her, around her, and so she can’t deny or hide her love of Zahra. She wants to celebrate it, and share it, because what feeling human being wouldn’t want to do that? If she had been in love with a boy she could have confided in her aunt, she could have sought her advice, it could have been something that brought them together, and if one day she wanted to get married to him, it would have been a source of joy, of closeness, between them. It is inhumane to deny her that, and I think on some level she knows that.

Aisha is one of the most sincere characters I’ve ever written, honestly, and she’s sincere to the point of naivety, in a way. But she’s a Muslim, and we’re taught to speak truth no matter what, even unto our own parents, not to be underhanded, to be sincere in our intentions and our actions, and so if she believes in that, then she will be truthful and forthright. She will speak the truth even if it harms her. She will honor the goodness she finds in her life sincerely and in the open, if she can. It’s perplexing to me why we say one thing and do another, particularly in religion. I wanted Aisha to be a stand against that, this virulent hypocrisy that so many people enact, and most especially when they use religion to justify their own hate, their own dismissal and arrogance and lack of empathy.

Not only are questions of love and sexual identity placed in the spot light, but very gently, and subtly, questions of God are raised too, as Aisha comments: ‘What we were brought up with was so finite… God confined to black and white lines…’ Can you comment on this?

There’s almost too much I have to say about this, and I don’t think I can do my feelings justice. I think I poured a lot of my feelings about it into the story, to be completely honest, and so that will have to say the bulk of how I feel, and even that doesn’t do it very well, in my opinion. I have a reverence and love of the sacred, of God, of faith, that goes beyond anything I could say. It is my driving force and my deepest love and the impetus behind everything I attempt. I have also had the most sacred and sincere and noble parts of myself attacked, and harmed, horrifically, by people who claim the same, and who use religion as their justification for a kind of unkindness, a lack of empathy, of mercy, of love, a virulent and cruel hatred, a cruel dismissiveness and mockery, towards people based on their gender or sexual identity. I find it completely antithetical to what I believe God is – which is all-encompassing, all-understanding, most merciful, most gracious and beneficent and kind. I still struggle with that, with what to do with that.

The themes I address in the story are definitely shaped by and influenced by my own Muslim background, people I’ve known, things I’ve witnessed, and so on.

And so the story unfolds as Aisha tenderly executes the wedding patterns on Zahra’s hands. Apart from being an excellent fictional device to carry the story along, what is the particular significance of the ritual?

It’s generally a celebratory kind of act, and often that’s when a lot of laughter and secrets and advice will be shared. There’s a big aspect of womanhood and camaraderie to it, at least in my experience attending Mehndi nights and doing Mehndi patterns for brides and so on. But there’s also a profound and gentle intimacy to it that is very poignant when there’s erotic love between the two people involved.

In this story, I was actually inspired by a painting called The meeting on the turret stairs by Frederic William Burton, which captures this utterly poignant moment between two lovers whose relationship is forbidden. It’s a perfect depiction of so much of the medieval ideas surrounding courtly love – silence and restraint, sincerity and reverence and longing. The woman turns away while her lover is only able to kiss her sleeve in passing. It’s so charged with erotic tension but executed with such restraint that the moment is held taut, and it’s that aspect, the restraint of ritual and etiquette, the longing and erotic charge of touch, of the hand brushed in passing, that inspired me.

How did you research the ‘trade’ of painting Mehndi?

I’m actually a practitioner myself. I’ve done henna and Mehndi painting since I was twelve.

To get to the style, the writing has a lyrical quality which makes for fluid reading. Are you aware of ‘rhythm’ as you write? Or is the writing style determined by the character?

I’m not sure, I think it depends. I think often, when you get into the kind of ‘flow’ of writing, when you’re receptive and open and things are moving and happening, it kind of happens organically, and when you tap into a character’s voice, it takes on a life of its own.

What writing Trade Secret would you like to share?

There’s not much of a secret except to remember that it’s work. And as Khalil Gibran said, and my dearest mentors always reminded me, ‘Work is love made visible’. You must honor the work. Keep showing up. Keep paying attention. Keep your love as sincere as you can.

Click here to visit Mishka’s author’s page.

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“Without humour we would be doomed” – Trade Secrets contributor, Bobby Jordan

Bobby Jordan’s unfortunate childhood obsession with Tintin comics led to a career in journalism from which he has yet to escape. Hypergraphia (obsessive diary keeping) and an ill-timed rebellion against the family shoe business were also to blame. As a result he now spends most of his life stranded in traffic and news conferences, and turned to short stories as a way to stay sane. Although his journalism has largely passed unnoticed, his short stories are a major hit with his daughters who are still young enough to understand that entertaining fiction is the cornerstone of reality. His work has appeared in a variety of newspapers, magazines and anthologies, and his short fiction was short-listed three times for the PEN/Studzinski Literary Award. This is the third time he’s made the Short.Sharp.Stories cut; his ghostly tale of lust and revenge, ‘The Uniondale Road’, was published in Adults Only, and his road trip odyssey ‘Shortcut’, in Incredible Journey, won the Short.Sharp.Publisher’s Choice Prize in 2015.

In your story, ‘Foul Hook at the Witsand Botel’, things get out of hand in the botel bar when gesuipte Giepie Steyn, a regular, and a visiting ‘tribesman’, square-off at the bar, dueling about whether a particular ‘fish’ will ever be caught. Did you have fun writing this rollicking tale?

Absolutely. Bars are the amphitheatre of the age and therefore a natural setting for all sorts of stories, real and imagined.

Does your botel actually exist as a setting? Will readers be flocking to Witsand to find the botel?

It is now called the Witsand River Lodge (I think), a refuge for both people and boats, hence the term ‘botel’, and is a gentrified version of its former self – its former, sleazier, more fantastic self in my opinion.

Apparently you have a thing in general about hotels. Can you tell us more?

Yes I suppose I do, and it all stems from the Witsand Botel with its mind-blowing setting (staring out the mouth of the Breede River). From there it was a natural progression to the Hangklip Hotel, the Fairie Knowe, Greyton Grand… In the beginning they were places of eternal holiday and fairy lights. Then later came adventure, love, loss, etc, etc. No wonder I’m still hung up on them. I’m in process.

What about your protagonist, Giepie Steyn – was he inspired by some such ‘wise’ person you know in real life? Will readers flock to the botel to ask Giepie’s advice?

Nobody in particular, although I did borrow quite heavily from somebody long since departed. I advise all readers to rather flock to their nearest hotel – the real thing, not the franchise imposter – to see if they can recognise Giepie Steyn. He gets around.

.. a tall tale about a big fish…

The ‘trade secret’ might have to do with fishing but it seems that the drunken duel is an underlying comment on society at large. Would you agree?

Yes, I would say so. My protagonist has checked out of the normal world with its annoying web of authority, rules, and rationality. But ironically he becomes something of an authority himself while slowly drinking himself to death.

Can you provide an idea of how Giepie’s ‘sense of authority’ carries the story, of how the story crescendos, as with the weather, to a thrilling climax?

In the topsy-turvy world of the Witsand Botel, Giepie is an anti-hero whose flawed character ultimately triumphs in a showdown with the powerful outsider. I think what I’ve tried to do here is offer a glimpse of a place where authority is conferred according to a different set of rules, not conventional notions of power and status. The more one is absorbed into the ‘pecuilar-ocracy’ of the Witsand Botel, the more one identifies with Giepie and begins to understand (possibly) why it is that people are cheering for him. I think the magic and the weather and the tribesman all serve to underscore the point that there are some things, like identity, that just can’t be broke, or at least not without a moerse drama.

Is humour an important facet of your writing? It certainly is in this exuberant story!

I think without humour we would be doomed. The question of how it operates is probably beyond my salary bracket, but most important for me is how it can hook people and drag them along with the story. There is a shared sense of humour to be utilised. Again, I don’t know how universal it is, but in my experience humour often lies at the heart of a good story. I think too much humour can also be disastrous, so it does concern me a little that I may be laughing things off rather than grappling with them. On the other hand comics would say laughing things off can be a way of dealing with them. Really, I don’t know.

You’ve been published thrice in Short.Sharp.Stories collections. Congratulations! Fantasy (along with humour) seems to be a common thread. Once the reader gets into the rhythm of the telling, the characters and stories transform from the ordinary to being somewhat magical. Do you write with this aim in mind?

No, I don’t. But when it happens I am always grateful, because it suggests I haven’t lost touch with that aspect of life – the ordinary transformed into somewhat transcendental.

What is it about the short story form that appeals to you?

I like to travel. Shorter stories, shorter visits to more worlds. Maybe I’m just scared to commit.

What writing Trade Secret would you like to share?

Reality is a plaything at the Witsand Botel, as it is in the hands of the writer. To me that is the trade secret at the heart of this story and our profession.

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