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.
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