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Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

“For a long time I’d wanted to write a story about an itinerant tramp and his trade” – a Q&A with Trade Secrets contributor Pravasan Pillay

Pravasan Pillay has published two chapbooks of poetry, Glumlazi (2009) and 30 Poems (2015), as well as a collection of co-written comedic short stories, Shaggy (2013). Pillay’s short story collection, Crooks, is forthcoming. He is the editor of the micro press Tearoom Books. Pravasan recently chatted to Joanne Hichens, curator of the Short.Sharp.Stories Award, about his interest in pulp fiction, trickster folklore and why Chatsworth is the only place he’s interested in writing about.

Pravasan Pillay


You mentioned that your story, ‘The Tramp’, is ‘pulp’ fiction. What appeals to you about writing pulp fiction?

Since my teens, I have always had a big interest in the pulpier side of comic books, novels, and movies – which is another way to say that I gravitated towards what some may classify as ‘lowbrow’ culture. Pulp, for me, is genre fiction that doesn’t take itself too seriously; it’s a kind of cheap, formulaic, disposable form, whether the content is horror, mystery, romance, crime or supernatural. It’s meant to be fun and entertaining.

In your story, two young boys, Farhim and Vinesh, meet a titular ‘tramp’ who initially attracts the boys’ attention by offering to sell them slingshots, but it soon becomes clear that he has something far more shocking for sale. Was it difficult for you to place these boys in harm’s way? Or are they a device to move the story along?

No, it wasn’t difficult at all to put the boys in harm’s way. If anything it was kind of enjoyable. And I think it was enjoyable precisely because I see them as – in your words – devices to move the story along. It’s a stranger comes to town plot, and the boys are merely pieces I’m moving about in service of that plot.

Are your characters straight from the imagination, or are they composites of various personalities?

I don’t usually write with the intention of referencing people I know in real life – if it does happen it’s unconscious. The characters in this particular story are sort of archetypes – there’s the cocky one, the level-headed one, and the mysterious one. But as a writer you try to soften the bluntness of archetypes by giving the characters their own personalities. There are also a couple of surprise characters who show up midway through the story. The boys are just regular kids – it’s the tramp who is the strange one.

Considering this element of fantasy which creeps in, was it fun to write?

It was really fun to write. I had already worked out the beats of the story so it was just a matter of putting it down on paper. I hammered it out one morning in a couple of hours. It’s always a good feeling when the writing flows like that.

Did the inspiration also come easy?

I’m not sure whether I can pinpoint the exact inspiration for the story. I know that, for a long time, I’d wanted to write a story about an itinerant tramp and his trade. I ended up connecting that idea with the conceit of writing the story in the form of pulp fiction – and also throwing in passing references to certain fairy tales and trickster folklore.

What is your interest in fairy tales and folklore?

The majority of published fiction I have written has been a type of social realism and I have also written a lot of humour. I think the references to fairy tales are very slight. It’s not something I am particularly into. I do appreciate folklore though, which probably stems from my interest in folk music, stuff like the Child Ballads.

Tell us a little more about the Durban setting. Are you originally from the area?

The story is set in Chatsworth, which is a populous working-class Indian township in Durban. I grew up and have lived the majority of my life in Chatsworth. I don’t currently live there but it is still the only place I am interested in writing about. I suppose that’s because it’s the place I know best.

What writing Trade Secret would you like to share?

I don’t have anything new to say here, but I will reiterate what many other writers have said: Write your first draft very quickly and then put it aside for a couple of months. You need that period away from the story to view it with more neutral, detached editorial eyes.

Trade Secrets

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Programme for the ninth Jozi Book Fair announced!

In partnership with the City of Johannesburg, the ninth Jozi Book Fair takes place from 31 August – 3 September 2017 at Mary Fitzgerald Square, Newtown, Johannesburg.

The Jozi Book Fair (JBF) is an educational and cultural festival for schools, children, book clubs, women, men, academics, communities and the public. This year JBF’s jam-packed programme has more than 150 events for people of all ages, varied topics and interests, and all art forms, and 60% of events are hosted by the public. If schools want to participate, they need to register before 25 August. Entrance is FREE! See the full programme on the fair’s website:

Celebrating the theme, ‘Women and Literature’, the fair brings together two literary powerhouses, Kopano Matlwa the author of the critically acclaimed novels Coconut, Spilt Milk and Period Pain, and Shailja Patel, an internationally acclaimed Kenyan poet, playwrighter, theatre artist, political activist and author of the bestseller Migritude.

The theme ‘Women and Literature’ informs the fair’s content, historicising depictions of women by both women and men, in literature and the arts globally.

Some authors at the fair: Mohale Mashigo, Marah Louw, Malebo Sephodi, Reneiloe Malatjie, Jayne Bauling, Dumisani Sibiya, Ashwin Desai, Pregs Govender, Christa Kulijan.

Legends and JBF Patrons: Zakes Mda, James Mathews, Keorapetse ‘Bra Willie’ Kgositsile, Diana Ferrus.

The highlights of this year’s fair include:

Guests & Participants
The award-winning guests of the fair, Kopano Matlwa and Shailja Patel will be in conversation about their work and on several panels.

Internationally Acclaimed Authors
Shailja Patel (Kenya)
Lindsey Collen (Mauritius)
Malin Persson Giolito (Sweden)

Conversations with authors
Media personality Penny Lebyane will be in conversation with Marah Louw on her book It’s me, Marah, Mohale Mashigo will be ‘misbehaving’ with Malebo Sephodi, author of Miss Behave, Reneilwe Malatji explores how relationships change as women gain independence with her book Love Interrupted and journalist Thandeka Gqubule will give insight into her book No Longer Whispering To Power: The Story of Thuli Madonsela.

The fair boasts over 20 skills workshops which include writing (short stories, poetry), photography, social media, philosophy for teens, meditation for youth and dance meditation.

Book launches include the second edition of Batjha Kaofela, an anthology of ten short stories by teens from schools in townships and three books on #Feesmustfall by Leigh Ann Naidoo, Oliver Metho and Crispen Chungo, self-publishers and small publishers.

Roundtable discussions include: Women and Literature (Lindsey, Kopano, Shailja), White Monopoly Capital: What FUTURE for SA?: (Chris Malikane, D. Gqubule) and Crisis of Feminism with Nomboniso Gasa.

Panel discussions include discussions on the Mining Charter with Oxfam

Exciting exhibitions: Market Photo Workshop (women photographers), sculptor exhibition – Imbali Yo Mfazi/The Legend Of Woman by Mazwi Mdima at Workers Museum.

Music: School bands and Moses Molekwa Foundation

Theatre: Inner City Youth will be performing three iconic plays (Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, The Island and For Coloured Girls) and Botoo by Ronnie Govender.

The JBF is proud to also bring to the public the screening of the film, Whale Caller directed by Zola Maseko. The film is adapted from the book The Whale Caller by Zakes Mda.


Book details


Spilt Milk


Period Pain



It's Me, Marah

Miss Behave


Love Interrupted

No Longer Whispering to Power


The Whale Caller

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Book Bites: 13 August 2017

Published in the Sunday Times

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

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

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

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Trade Secrets contributor Sally Partridge on magic, being a kitchen witch, and carbomancy

Sally Partridge is a novelist and short story writer from Cape Town, South Africa. She is a three-time winner of the M.E.R Prize for Youth Fiction and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writer’s Short Story Prize in 2013. She is passionate about youth literature, and bringing words to life. Her popular first novel was adapted into a school play titled Gif. For her contribution to the creative arts, Sally was named one of Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans in 2011. Her fourth novel for young people will be published in February 2018. Joanne Hichens, curator of the Short.Sharp.Stories.Award, recently sat down with Sally and the two discussed her short story ‘Kitchen Witch’, magic, and the art of carbomancy.

Sally Partridge


Your story ‘Kitchen Witch’ tells the tale of a tender relationship between an elderly ‘baker’ and her protégé. What was your initial inspiration?

The story happened by accident. A typo over Whatsapp resulted in an exchange over what the arcane art of carbomancy would involve. From this “what if” scenario, it evolved into a story about the past and present, how fast time moves and how quickly the modern world can change if you stop paying attention. In a sense it’s my way of exploring a changing world. While I’m focused on the past, the present seems to have skipped ahead, and sometimes I look around and think to myself, “When did Snapchat happen?” and then, “Oh, it’s already gone.” I enjoy spending time offline, but there’s a cost attached to that – you stop keeping up with what’s happening. I wanted to create a character that’s so out of place in the modern world that she feels like she doesn’t belong anymore, and explore how she comes to terms with that.

Mrs Bailey has a charming sense of humour. Is it her age and experience which adds to this?

It was a defining characteristic. I wasn’t intending to write a caricature of an elderly woman, but rather a real character that the reader could engage and identify with.

For the uninitiated, what is ‘carbomancy’?

Carbomancy is the practice of predicting the future through baking and the reading of crumbs.

Do you personally like to bake?

Yes. Like Mrs Bailey, I’m a complete kitchen witch. For me, cooking and experimenting in the kitchen is all about how the results are going to be experienced. I’ll make pumpkin fritters because they’re a friend’s favourite, chicken soup for someone who is feeling low, a cake to make someone feel special on their birthday. I love how food is able to lift the spirits, and there’s magic in that. It’s transformative.

What is it that fascinates you about magic?

There’s an awe and wonder to magic, and a complete absence of rules and reason. I’m in love with the idea of using your imagination and creativity to make sense of things you don’t understand. I love looking at old ivy-covered buildings and imagining ghosts inside and leaves circling in the wind as some sort of impish mischievousness. It’s liberating to be able to see the world as this wild, powerful thing and not just an endless dredge of making ends meet.

Is magic a common theme in your other work?

I think so. Which is maybe why I love the young adult genre so much. Teenagers haven’t been jaded by the economic hamster wheel yet. The world is huge and full of possibilities. I like to think books can keep them believing that for a little longer.

Not only is the sense of magic enchanting, but in ‘Kitchen Witch’ the sea-side village of Muizenberg takes on an ethereal quality. Was this setting deliberate choice?

While I was writing the story I imagined that it could have taken place anywhere, but the more I built this world and added detail the clearer is became that Mrs Bailey lived in a ramshackle cottage in the old Muizenberg village. It seemed perfect somehow. Muizenberg is a place that changes slowly. Landmarks like the colourful changing booths and the water slides have stayed exactly the same for years, but change is happening. New additions like the Bluebird Market and the trendy restaurants at Surfer’s Corner show signs of a subtle gentrification, which was perfect for the theme that was developing.

What is your writing Trade Secret?

This pertains to magic again. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that magic exists and wanted to explore how and why it reveals itself to a select few.

Follow Sally on Twitter @Sapartridge

Trade Secrets

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Theme for next year’s Short.Sharp.Stories Awards announced

Instant Exposure – stories inspired by photographs

We live in an age in which increasingly we all take or view photographs. Visual language is growing and developing every day as we record our world and our experiences in visual terms. One could go as far as to say that every one of us has, by default, become a photographer as billions of images are uploaded online at any given moment.

We invite you to find a provocative photograph which inspires a powerful story. The image can be a spontaneously captured selfie, a bold news pic, a childhood snap in an old album; perhaps a framed tribute that brings back memories of joy, or a hidden print that haunts your past. Whether the photo is a portrait of a loved one, or an evocative landscape, whether colour or black and white, as long as the photograph has meaning to you, we encourage you to ‘find your story’ – the humour, the pathos, the drama – in the image.

As ever, we’re looking for stories with strong narrative drive, and characters and settings which reflect our South African experience and diversity.

Deadline 30 November 2017

This process is in three parts:
1) Choose the photographic image that inspires you…
2) Write a caption for that image…
3) Use the caption as a springboard to create your story of between 3000 to 5000 words.

We require the photograph, the caption, as well as the story to be submitted.

Please see full rules at

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The judges of the 2017 Short.Sharp.Stories Award discuss the winning entries of Trade Secrets

Liesl Jobson is a writer, photographer and musician. Her collection of prose poems and flash fiction, 100 Papers, won the 2006 Ernst van Heerden Award and was translated into Italian as Cento strappi. She is the author of a poetry collection, View from an Escalator, a short story collection, Ride the Tortoise, and three children’s books. At dawn she is a single sculler. By day she is a communications officer for enterprise development specialists, Fetola, and at night she plays the contrabassoon for the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra but only when the planets are aligned.

Judging is always a privilege and a challenge. The encounter with the creativity and endeavour of writers at work is humbling. The sincerity, intelligence and courage it takes to commit to the page gives one hope in the vibrancy, immediacy and relevance of the narratives. The offerings in this collection come from a wide range of external geographies and internal experiences, opening seams of contemporary experience from the most personal places of loss, violation, recovery and aspiration. Readers of this collection will find a variety of genres too: crime and pulp, chick lit and dick lit, as well as the experimental and literary. There are writers publishing their first stories, as well as experienced authors who have previously been nominated for international awards; there are experienced journalists and established poets crossing from their familiar zone into different forms. Particularly refreshing are the new voices who articulate stories that historically have not been well represented.

Phakama Mbonambi is a deputy editor at Sawubona magazine. A strong believer in the power of literature to help create bridges, he founded and edited Wordsetc, a literary journal on contemporary South African writing. While the journal may be in hibernation at the moment due to the shortage of funds and time, he hopes to revive it someday in one form or another.

I was looking for an original voice that tackled the theme of ‘trade secrets’ – directly or obliquely. I was looking for stories that are enjoyable, enlightening and entertaining – my primary reason for delving into literature. South Africa is blessed with a diverse population, ensuring that writers come from different backgrounds with their unique voices and singular world views. The richness of the writers’ imagination and the vastness of the topics tackled are something to behold. I hope readers of this anthology will be delighted and enlightened. The Short.Sharp.Stories competition is, without doubt, a powerful platform to discover new writing talent and to showcase excellence.

Tim Richman is a publisher, author and editor. He has worked closely with Joanne Hichens on all the Short.Sharp.Stories anthologies to date. In his twelve years in the South African book industry, he has authored and/or edited more than sixty titles. His next book, to be published internationally in 2017, is 50 People Who Stuffed Up The World, co-authored with Alexander Parker and with illustrations by Zapiro.

As a publisher, I hope to create books that are accessible, eye-opening and memorable, and this description applies perfectly to the ideal short story. There is sometimes the temptation to do too much, when the format’s limited length provides the opportunity for its great strength: to focus on a limited cast and setting to leave a lasting impact on the reader. As a judge, it was important to measure entries against the brief: stories shouldn’t be shoehorned to fit a brief. Some stronger stories fell down in that area, whereas the winners, in particular Wedding Henna, were often sublime in the way they incorporated a trade secret into their tale. And it’s important to reflect a genuine – though not necessarily mainstream or expected – South African-ness in a South African collection of writing; all those on my long-list hit the mark there. There is also the matter of our politics and demographics: a collection like this simply has to be inclusive and reflect the writers who have entered, as well as who we are as a country. Finally, as a reader, I value a story which keeps me turning the pages and leaves me with a sense of satisfaction at the end of it all.

Best Story
Wedding Henna
by Mishka Hoosen

“A powerful exploration of the erotic taboo behind the hijab. Tender and sensual writing that weaves a haunting tale as the narrator decorates her ex-lover’s hands before her wedding. At its core it’s about a broken heart and the longing that comes of it, but also hints at greater themes of personal ​identity and the questions of higher power. Beautifully bittersweet” – 2017 Short.Sharp.Stories Judges’ Choice


The Line of Beauty
by Mapule Mohulatsi

“This is different — courageous, intriguing, thought-provoking, undeniably South African. Mohulatsi will prove to be a strong voice on the SA short story writing scene. A literary storytelling journey of note, about a storyteller and where stories come from” – Tim Richman

Eye Teeth
by Megan Ross

“This is a lyrical psalm of recovery written from the worst type ofbetrayal. The reader is treated to a masterful rewriting of traumanarrative by a storyteller who reclaims the geography of her body to effect a re-imaging and re-imagining” – Liesl Jobson

Handle With Care
by Amy Heydenrych

“Most South Africans have horror stories about the postal service. This tale of redemption is successful at an allegorical level; it touches on fixing that which is broken in the country. The story is enlivened with a dose of magical realism and underscored by a heart-warming empathy and romantic optimism” – Phakama Mbonambi


My Cuban
by Stephen Symons

“A gripping tale, a page-turning rumination on war and its victims, with excellent craft and structure, that left me wishing this was the first chapter of a 20-chapter novel. Lovely to see a poet retain the condensed power of the short form in an expanded line” – Liesl Jobson

Home Cooked
by Ntsika Gogwana

“The unhappiness in the marriage between Sizwe and Nomafa is firmly established. A powerful read which sustains interest as it focuses on male abuse and the rage of women against that abuse. The story contains compelling descriptions of shack life” – Phakama Mbonambi

Foul Hook at the Witsand Botel
by Bobby Jordan

“Rollicking, amusing storytelling that delightfully weaves the best type of magical realism into a convincing and uniquely South African setting” – Tim Richman
by Bobby Jordan

Trade Secrets is now available at book stores.

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A quest wrapped in mystery: Michele Magwood talks to SJ Naudé about his debut novel The Third Reel

Published in the Sunday Times

© Joanne Olivier
The Third ReelThe Third Reel
SJ Naudé (Umuzi)

In London in 1986 a young man awakes in a church bell tower. He has escaped conscription in South Africa and a bullying, homophobic father, and will be granted asylum in Thatcher’s Britain. After a night of sex with the bellringer he is elated, reborn. “His body is a radar, his skin a new country, his heart a shiny machine.”

So begins The Third Reel, the debut novel from SJ Naudé. Naudé seems to have sprung, fully formed, into the South African literary world. After decades as a corporate lawyer in London and New York – he holds masters degrees from Cambridge and Columbia – he hung up his suits and returned to South Africa to study a creative writing masters degree with Marlene van Niekerk in Stellenbosch.

The result was a collection of short stories, The Alphabet of Birds/Alfabet van die Voëls, which was roundly applauded and which won several prizes, including the UJ Debut Prize and a South African Literary Award.

“The stories were written after many years of me suppressing the urge to write fiction while being a lawyer,” he says. “They flowed remarkably freely – wrote themselves, almost.”

The Third Reel, he says, was a far more laborious process. “In my experience the creative process feels like hacking at a thick layer of ice, until suddenly, when you least expect it, you break through. A few precious moments of fluency then follow, of epiphany or swooning, entailing something like the dissolution of the self, a loss of personality, almost, a hiatus in which the pen starts making its own patterns on the page.”

Naudé is a slight, poised man, tightly composed, with the long fingers of a pianist. His bearing speaks of cool asceticism but his writing burns like dry ice.

Etienne, the South African refugee, is at first a spectral presence, virtually penniless, moving from squat to squat, leaving little mark on the world. He only begins to take shape when he falls in love with a German artist, Axel. Axel, who has a huge tattoo of an oak tree on his back, moonlights as a paediatric nurse.

Etienne is awarded a scholarship to study at the London Film School. When he comes upon the first of three reels of a German film made by a small group of Jewish filmmakers in the 1930s, it ignites an obsession in him to find the remaining two.

The story becomes a quest wrapped in a mystery, especially when Axel disappears in Berlin and Etienne follows him.

Naudé layers the story with film, architecture, music and art, but there is nothing genteel about this: it is Brutalist architecture (one of Etienne’s lovers gets aroused by concrete buildings), depressing wartime black and white films, shattering post-punk industrial music. And Axel’s art kicks hard at the boundaries of decency: his installations include a flask of fresh semen that he tops up every day, photographs of dead Victorian children, and figurines woven from the hair of dying babies, harvested from those on his wards.

Just as Axel roars at convention, so Etienne tries to obliterate himself, eradicate his past; he ignores the desperate letters from his mother in South Africa, screws up his studies, refuses to join the band of conscientious objectors working for the struggle.

Scenes are often erotic, sometimes depraved, both carnal and tender. The atmosphere is at times drenched in ennui, at others poundingly tense.

The writing is acutely sensory – Axel smells of “sweat and cordite” – and the themes of illness, madness, loss and alienation that Naudé explored in his short stories are unwound again, clinging fast to the narrative.

The Third Reel is a difficult, discomfiting book. But towards the end, when the quest is over, a state of grace finally descends.

Available in Afrikaans as Die Derde Spoel.

Follow Michele Magwood @michelemagwood

Naudé’s Best Books

This is a somewhat random selection of contemporary books that were exactly the right read at the right time for me, and hence made maximum impact (rather than necessarily a ‘best novel’ list):

The Book Of HappenstanceThe Book of Happenstance, Ingrid Winterbach: Invoking a cosmic scale to measure human losses provides unexpected consolation.
Mothers and SonsMothers and Sons, Colm Toíbín: Sober explorations of mother-son relationships in deceptively simple stories.
ExtinctionExtinction, Thomas Bernhard: How the rhythms of seething anger can make for unexpected beauty!
VossVoss, Patrick White: Extraordinary visions in the Australian Outback, a journey into the void.
AgaatAgaat, Marlene van Niekerk: Proof of how a novel can overwhelm and forever change a reader.
In A Strange RoomIn a Strange Room, Damon Galgut: Sparely written and deeply affecting book about travelling, memory and the inescapable self.
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Fiction Friday: read Efemia Chela’s short story “Perigee”

Adults Only

Efemia Chela was born in Zambia but grew up in England, Ghana, Botswana and South Africa, graduating with a BA in French, Politics and Classical Civilisations from Rhodes University.

Efemia’s first published story story, “Chicken”, won third place in the 2013 Short Story Day Africa Prize, themed “Feast, Famine and Potluck”. She has since been shortlisted for the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing, and is one of the editors of Short Story Day Africa’s 2017 anthology Migrations.

“Perigee” was first published in the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) award-winning 2014 Short.Sharp.Stories Anthology, Adults Only. The story is about youth, sex and losing.

Its title refers to the stage in the moon’s orbit when it is nearest to the earth.


As soon as my phone brought news of where she was, I tore up my room looking for perfume and the cleanest of the clothes on the floor. I thought anything would be fine as long as I could cover it with this fine brocade coat that was hiding somewhere. In hindsight I don’t know why I bothered. I had known her for so long then that she knew how the crevices of my body drew in all fabrics, no matter how loosely draped. And how I smelt a little like alliums and sour milk when I attended early morning lectures without showering.

I slammed the door and jumped two at a time down the stairs. Behind me, my next-door neighbour shouted threats of filing a complaint. I wondered why loud noises bothered her in a way that my dealing never did. I ran, wind rushing in my ears, ricocheting off the clips in my hair. So fast, I didn’t even notice the girth of the moon. Only later I would realise how full, how round, how milky it was. And so close. It was at its perigee waiting to be plucked from that vast black cloth by someone brave. I avoided its pupil-less gaze, afraid of what I would see in its surface.

I got there quickly, my heavy breath arrived a step ahead of me. The bar was full of locals who didn’t bother look up when I walked in. They could smell I was harmless. I caught a glimpse of myself in the cracked mirror just before the pool tables. I looked uncharacteristically beautiful. Maybe it was the moonlight. My looks flickered on and off like a faulty lamp and I never knew when things were in my favour aesthetically. I took a second look in the mirror and saw a kind of mournful beauty like an old silent movie star, losing to the talkies. Losing. Losing. Losing.

I searched for her. Now that she had cut her hair it took double the time. Still that wasn’t very long. I had memorised her silhouette like a redemptive prayer. “Meryl. Meryl,”my heart murmured. I knew almost certainly she’d be in the outdoor bunker, under the fairy lights where you could smoke a joint with the owner’s blessing. I pushed the slow stickied door with an open palm and regretted it instantly. Should have used my sleeve. I put my clean hand on her sloping left shoulder. She looked up and smiled all the way to the curve of her eyelashes. That smile had the same effect on me every time. It stirred the pot and thickened the evening’s plot. My lips queasily formed the word, “Hi.”

“You look really bleak with life, friend,” Meryl said as I sat down opposite her in the bottle green booth. “I’m so glad you came. I was really worried about you.”

She reached over to clasp my hand. I felt the jab of one her pointy rings.

“Yeah. Well… unrequited love isn’t easy. It’s a fucking nightmare. It’s a lot like being a monk but there are no orange robes,” I said.

“Bummer. You look good in orange,” she joked. “But I don’t get it, monks? How? No sex?”

“You’re believing in something. Something… which most people don’t believe in. And honestly which can’t, with real incontrovertible proof, be said to truly exist.”

“Or a person. A person who doesn’t exist,” she said. “He can’t exist the way you want him to. You know that. He’s a bastard! I get it. I know what you see in him. You see everything that’s bad for you and that makes you want it more.”

“My moth tendencies…,” I offered weakly.

“He’s going to fuck you up!”

I ignored her. The pot calling the kettle harmful and all that.

Betty swaggered up to Meryl, the intrusion stopping wherever our conversation was going. All bound breasts and big lies she placed her hand firmly where mine had just been. It seemed to fit there better. It might as well have been a hot brand. Fuck, I hated her and her greasy confidence. She could make you feel like you were enough. “You were all and that was it,” her exes all testified. Betty had the pushiness of someone much older spiked with the hard-headedness of someone much younger. I’d never seen her sit down. Her grasping nature wouldn’t permit it. That and I’m sure one of her exes had a hit out on her. She used her ruthlessness to beat her way in the world and beat people out of it. She didn’t meet people so much as manhandle them. Sometimes I thought I could see the very cogs whirring behind her sharp temples.

This was who Meryl had chosen to be hurt by. But people can live off hurt. They can’t live off nothing. So they kept on.

Continue reading here.


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Short Sharp Stories 2017 winners announced

The winners of the 2017 Short Sharp Stories Award have been announced.

The “Short Sharp Stories Award” for South African short-story fiction is made each year by the National Arts Festival. An anthology of selected stories is published annually and the theme set for writers differs from year to year.

The winning stories, selected from the stories to be published, by a panel of independent judges, are announced at an annual launch event at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

It is the aim of this award to encourage, support, and showcase established and emerging South African writing talent.

The Award is curated by Joanne Hichens.

Best Story

Wedding Henna
by Mishka Hoosen

“A powerful exploration of the erotic taboo behind the hijab. Tender and sensual writing that weaves a haunting tale as the narrator decorates her ex-lover’s hands before her wedding. At its core it’s about a broken heart and the longing that comes of it, but also hints at greater themes of personal
identity and the questions of higher power. Beautifully bittersweet” – 2017 Short.Sharp.Stories Judges’ Choice


The Line of Beauty
by Mapule Mohulatsi

“This is different — courageous, intriguing, thought-provoking, undeniably South African. Mohulatsi will prove to be a strong voice on the SA short story writing scene. A literary storytelling journey of note, about a storyteller and where stories come from” – Tim Richman

Eye Teeth
by Megan Ross

“This is a lyrical psalm of recovery written from the worst type of betrayal. The reader is treated to a masterful rewriting of trauma narrative by a storyteller who reclaims the geography of her body to effect a re-imaging and re-imagining” – Liesl Jobson

Handle With Care
by Amy Heydenrych

“Most South Africans have horror stories about the postal service. This tale of redemption is successful at an allegorical level; it touches on fixing that which is broken in the country. The story is enlivened with a dose of magical realism and underscored by a heart-warming empathy and romantic optimism” – Phakama Mbonambi

Click here to view the full list of winners.

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Short story writing course with Niq Mhlongo

Niq Mhlongo is leading a new short-story workshop aimed at both new and experienced writers. The workshop runs over four weeks, held on consecutive Saturday afternoons. Based on his own success with his short story collection Affluenza, and his three novels, Niq guides writers in developing their creativity.

Your writing skills will grow through in-depth, professional feedback on how to develop elements of your story including characters, dialogue, plot and setting.

You will also read and discuss the work of other writers in the group. Held on Saturday afternoons, the course is designed for anyone seeking to improve their writing.

To help writers expand their range of reading, participants in the course received a 15% discount on any books bought at Bridge Books during the month of the workshop.

Workshop details

Sessions will be held 3-5pm at Bridge Books on the following Saturdays:

22 July

29 July

5 August

12 August




Writers will be expected to have completed a story by the end of the course.

About Niq Mhlongo

“My advice to wannabe writers is to write, and do not try to sound like any writer except yourself. The world is waiting for your unique story that is still trapped in your head. Get it out before it drives you insane. How did I get there myself? There was a story that was troubling me and giving me sleepless night. After getting it out, I felt healthier again. Reading a lot of literature will only help boost your confidence and give you an idea of how to write. But you must still write. I write stories that get published because I believe in my stories. I don’t tell the story like other writers. I use my original voice.” (Interview in Panorama Magazine)

Niq Mhlongo was born in 1973 in Soweto. In addition to Affluenza, Niq has written three novels – Dog Eat Dog, After Tears and Way Back Home.


Book details

Dog Eat Dog


After Tears


Way Back Home

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