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Submit your manuscript for publication by Modjaji Books


 
Modjaji Books is a singular publishing house which only publishes work by women and people who identify as women, and only those who live in southern Africa, or who are originally from southern Africa, or whose work reflects a major relevance to southern Africa.

This independent feminist press is currently seeking manuscripts for publication.

If you are a southern African woman, or identify as a woman, and have recently written a novel, collection of short stories or poems, or a work of creative non-fiction, you are eligible to submit your manuscript for possible publication by Modjaji Books.

Interested? Click here for more.

Submissions for entries close on April 30.

Atul & Ajay Borgia? Sarah Dunant's In the Name of the Family redresses the historical reputations of the infamous Borgia family

Published in the Sunday Times

Bron Sibree on Sarah Dunant’s latest historical novel which asks ‘who was this family, the Borgias, that everybody loved to hate?’

In the Name of the Family
****
Sarah Dunant
(Little, Brown, R255)

SARAH Dunant is famous for bringing the Renaissance to life in her bestselling historical novels. Page-turning stories so richly anchored in historical fact that they’ve received accolades from scholars and literary critics alike, and have been translated into 30 languages.

“The same energy that gave you the wonder of the Renaissance also gave you the horror,” she says on the eve of the launch of her 11th novel In the Name of the Family. The second in a duology about that infamous family, the Borgias, she sums it up as: “Hanging Catholic history out to dry. We wouldn’t have the Sistine Chapel, for instance, without church corruption — you couldn’t fit a credit card between the corruption and the creativity.”

British-born Dunant was an established thriller writer when she moved to Florence in 2000 during a moment of crisis. “I no longer wanted to write thrillers, and it was out of being really lost in Florence, in all senses of the word, that I began to ask what happened there 500 years ago.”

And in so doing, she gave voice to the story of a 15-year-old girl in The Birth of Venus. It became a surprise bestseller, inspired two more novels about the forgotten histories of women, and was credited with making the ideas of the Renaissance dangerous all over again.

But it is the new perspective she brings to the dangerous ideas of that other notorious Renaissance figure, Niccolo Machiavelli, in In the Name of the Family that is garnering her some of the most lavish praise of her career.

“One of the wonderful gifts of working on this book,” says Dunant, “was the discovery of Machiavelli as an impoverished young man; that this man who wrote arguably the most famous treatise on statecraft, The Prince, didn’t come out fully formed. He learned some of those ideas by being a not very well paid, not very important diplomat.

“His job was to be the eyes and ears of the Florentine state during a period of terrible insecurity when Florence might be picked off by Cesare Borgia’s army. So he was writing batches of letters back and forth, and I was able to find his voice through those letters.”

In the Name of the Family also goes a long way towards redressing the historical reputation of Lucrezia Borgia, the impulse that seeded Durant’s desire to write her 2014 novel Blood and Beauty. It was only when she began to contemplate writing about Lucrezia as part of her series about Renaissance women, says Dunant, “that I began to realise that some really big conspiracy had taken place in history to slander her”.

“So I started to think, ‘Who was this family, the Borgias, that everybody loved to hate?’ And how far back, as always happens when the victors write history, do you have to go to find out what really happened?

“And what I discovered is exactly what I’m describing in In the Name of the Family which is yes, they’re brutal, yes, they’re corrupt, yes, they don’t behave well, but nobody else around them is behaving well either, and that’s the bit we forget. And that’s the bit that was so fascinating.”

Dunant is intrigued by the historical facts of Lucrezia’s story — unlike the gossip about her as vamp and poisoner which has reverberated through the ages. “She emerged, just as Machiavelli said of her, as the last Borgia standing.”

Yet it was the corruption of Lucrezia’s father, Pope Alexander VI, who juggled mistresses, political intrigue and bloody wars with unholy zest, that compelled her to write of the Borgias as a family. “I wanted to look at the phenomenon of this historical moment, because it is that level of papal corruption that triggers the 1517 Reformation. So this is a very important moment in church and Italian history.”

She is now embarking upon a BBC radio series about the discipline of history, how rich it is, how much it is changing. “I couldn’t have written these books 25 years ago, because so much of this history has emerged since then,” she says.

Dunant is as keen to acknowledge her debt to academia as she is to highlight the perils of our current age, which she views as one of half-truths and gossip.

“We need to understand how history is made more than ever now when the present is as dangerous as it is.” @BronSibree

Book details

Book Bites: 16 April 2017

Published in the Sunday Times

History of Wolves
Emily Fridlund (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
***
Fourteen-year-old Linda lives in an isolated ex-commune with her parents. Ostracised by her peers and suffering from a healthy bout of impending teen angst, she’s intrigued by the family that moves into a nearby cabin, ultimately forming a bond with their young son, Paul, who – spoiler alert! – dies. Fridlund’s decision to include foreshadowing falls flat as the climax of the novel is both disappointing and uninspired. What could have been a thought-provoking read on the relationship between science and religion is reduced to a mildly interesting story about a young girl trying to make sense of humanity and the mysteries of the physical world. There is some excellent trivia on wolves, though. – Mila de Villiers @mila_se_kind

A Dark So Deadly
Stuart MacBride (HarperCollins)
****
Stuart MacBride is best known for his police procedurals featuring Detective-Sergeant Logan McRae of Aberdeen – but A Dark So Deadly is one of his few standalone thrillers. And what a thriller it is! At over 600 pages this book is no lightweight: one senses both the writer – and his editor – are covering unknown territory and it might take a while for the reader to get caught up in the story. Detective-Constable Callum MacGregor takes the blame when his pregnant girlfriend screws up, and is assigned to the misfit mob. When a mummy is discovered in a rubbish tip which turns out to be of recent provenance, the game is on. Callum perseveres in the investigation through personal disaster and series of twists and turns that will leave the reader gasping for more. Excellent! – Aubrey Paton

Delilah Now Trending
Pamela Power (Penguin)
****
Pamela Power is back with this laugh-out-loud offering. Lilah, single mother to 12-year-old Daisy, is f-bombing her way through life with success. But things go sideways when her daughter is accused of intentionally injuring a classmate. Readers will snort and cheer as Lilah battles through this rough period: armed with champagne, espresso, and many merry friends, so loyal they’ll even help you wax in a pinch. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love
Per J Andersson (OneWorld)
****
The cover is deceptive. This is not just a feel-good book filled with love and sitars. It has quite an edge, giving an extensive history of a village in India and how awful life was there for those from the “untouchable” caste. It’s also the true story of how a man from this village named PK fell in love with Lotta, a Swedish tourist. Unfortunately she has to go back to Sweden, so PK, determined to be with her again, gets on his bike and makes sure he gets to Sweden. Heartwarming and filled with unexpected detail. – Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

Book details

Book launch: Sibanda and the Black Sparrowhawk by C.M. Elliott

C.M. Elliott will be in conversation with Jenny Crwys-Williams on the continued adventures of Detective Inspector Jabulani Sibanda.

Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 20 April 2017
  • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
  • Venue: Love Books, The Bamboo Lifestyle Centre, 53 Rustenburg Road, Melville, Johannesburg | Map
  • Guest Speaker: Jenny Crwys-Williams
  • RSVP: Savannah Lucas, rsvp@jacana.co.za, 011 628 3200

Book Details

Fiction Friday: read an extract from Kobus Moolman's The Swimming Lesson and Other Stories

Award-winning author Kobus Moolman’s latest short story collection, The Swimming Lesson and Other Stories, has received praise for its unconventional perspectives. Moolman’s anthology consists of 10 short stories. Read an extract from the first story, Shelter here:

There are two bus shelters just around the corner from where he lives in Greyling Street – from the house he has always lived in. One bus shelter he likes and uses most of the time; mainly to wait for the Saturday morning bus to take him to town, to the children’s library in the centre of town, or to the OK Bazaars to buy himself a Lucky Packet (in the shape of a small, brightly-coloured cardboard suitcase) with money he received for his birthday, or to King’s Sports to look at their bats or to get another tennis ball after his was confiscated by the woman next door for damaging her flowers during a cricket match between his brother and himself.

The other bus shelter – the one he does not like – is probably closer, but he does not use it. He is not able to walk long distances, so it would make sense to use this one. But he does not. He cannot even remember ever having used it, although he knows that he must have at some point (or driven past it with his parents), for how else would he have known that he did not like it?

Sometimes he thinks it is because his favourite shelter is situated along the exact road he walks to school every week from Monday to Friday (excepting school holidays). If this is true – and already he knows enough about himself to suspect so – then he feels just a little afraid, for it would mean that he is a creature of habit; that he is, in fact, already laying down on a daily basis a pattern of living he might come to regret at some point in his
future.

But the future is too far away for him to be concerned. He is nine years old and he cannot see any reason why he should not remain nine for the rest of his life. His favourite bus shelter is made of tin. It is closed on three sides and has a roof that sticks out like the peak of a cap. The seat is not solid but consists of two polished wooden strips. When he
sits he can swing his legs vigorously and his feet do not scrape the pavement. There is a pole painted yellow just in front of the shelter – in fact, it stands between the shelter and the edge of the road.

There is a small sign on the top of the pole with a number on it, but he does not remember ever taking notice of it. He waits always for the bus with ‘City/Stad’ displayed in black capitalletters onthe front. When he returns from town, from his solitary shopping expedition, he looks for the bus marked ‘Clarendon’. He does not live in this fancy suburb on the hill – his father is a storeman in a chocolate factory – but the bus that goes there has to drive through a section of the lower end of town where he lives.

He is not yet conscious of any difference in his life as a result of living in a street where people have names like Koekie and Poppie and the Eyetie, and where they fix their cars in the front garden or in the road because they don’t have a garden at all. However, he is aware that there is something different about him because of the way people look at him when he climbs onto the bus or walks into a shop, and then he understands why his mother fusses over him so much and why he is not part of any of the gangs at school. He is not sure but he suspects that another reason he likes this small tin bus shelter is because he cannot be seen once he is inside and has drawn up his legs onto the seat beside him like a pair of crutches.

This desire to hide himself away is perhaps yet another pattern he realises that he is building for himself, from which he will not be able to escape. But he does not know what else a small boy can do who is not able to run or jump or play team sports like other children. The other children do not want him on their team. He is too slow. He falls over when they pass the ball to him. He wets himself from anxiety.

He was included once, though. In a football match between the boys and the girls. When he played goalie for the girls. He saved a goal on that occasion, and all the girls jumped up and down and screamed and put their arms around him, and one girl even kissed him on the cheek, twice – a small girl with freckles on her face and a pale skin and sad mouth that was always turned
down. They still lost 7–0 though.

On another occasion, an occasion of which he is extraordinarily proud, he won the Dressing-Up Race at school. This was the first and the only race he has ever won in his short life. In the race the boys had to run to a large heap of clothing piled up in the middle of the field which they had brought from the wardrobe of their big sister or their mother. (This part of the race he naturally lost.) Dresses, shoes, hats and handbags were all jumbled together and the boys had to scrabble and scratch around first to find all of their mother’s or older sister’s items. Then they had to get dressed as quickly as they could – dropping the awkward frocks over their small shoulders – and, hitching up their trailing skirts, run slideshuffling in oversize shoes to the finish line at the end of the field.

He won this part of the race hands down. His favourite game at home is to dress up in his older sister’s outfits and parade around the house talking to himself as if he were some high-society lady. He knows how to do up buttons and zips; how to slide-shuffle in his mother’s shoes that fit snugly over his small, black orthopaedic
boots. ‘Stop that!’ his mother would always shout at him. ‘You’re stretching my shoes.’ But she never took her shoes away.

His prize for winning the race that day was an inflatable figure of a clown that stood upright once its bottom had been weighted with water. It was virtually impossible then to knock the smiling plastic man over. No matter how hard he punched or kicked it the clown would simply bounce straight back up again. Down and up, down and up the little figure would go all day long, no matter how hard he hit it. Down and straight back up again. Down and straight back up again. He thinks that this is a very good description of how he walks, too. He tells himself that at least he knows how to fall without hurting himself.

There are two ways he can walk to get to the small tin shelter to catch the ‘City/Stad’ bus. When he comes out of his green front gate he can either walk all the way down Greyling Street until he comes to Oxford Street, turn right at the house with the knobbly walls, walk straight up this street with its crooked and uneven paving blocks, turn left at the bottom into Boom Street, past the little café on the corner, and on to the bus shelter a hundred metres or so below. This is the one way. What he calls the Long Way. Though by normal standards it is not long at all.

Or he can take the short route. In actuality, it is probably not much shorter (if at all), and really only involves cutting out the greater part of Boom Street by taking a tiny lane (Stead Lane) that sneaks behind the unkempt backyards of the same houses that front onto the Long Way. It is, however, the more interesting route. At least for a boy who enjoys tales of the weird and the wonderful. For, apart from the overgrown backyards with their rusty corrugated iron fences and scraggly fruit trees, the Short Way has the attraction of two strange creatures. Again, not strange by normal standards. But strange enough for someone who has spent their entire life in one street in the lower end of the city.

The first creature is a white goose. It makes him think of ‘The Snow Goose’. But this bird from Stead Lane is definitely not the same ideal of unwavering affection that the Snow Goose is in the story he likes to listen to on his sister’s record. It hisses like a snake and twists its long neck about just like a snake when he walks
down the lane. Because he knows that it cannot get through the wire fence (its wings have also been clipped, his father assures him) he sometimes stands for a long time enjoying the terrifying thrill of danger while the large bird with wings outstretched sways and jabs at the air between them.

But two houses down from the goose is an almost opposite creature. And one of which he is more genuinely afraid since it seems never to notice him, has never made a sound as far as he can remember, and is content simply to stand staring fixedly at him like a mythic beast from one of the books on legends that he always takes out of the library. It is a tall, elegant bird. A blue crane. Rescued perhaps from the side of some rural road where it lay flapping its broken mauve wing helplessly. He does not know for sure. Whatever its origin, he has never seen it move, but knows it is alive only because it is never in the same place in the garden. He does not look at it for long, afraid that, like the Medusa, it will turn its victims to stone.

There is one problem, however, with this short cut which, despite the dangerous and exotic attraction of the birds, causes him more often than not to avoid it. For the end of Stead Lane, where it leads back in to the top part of Boom Street, is a dirt track overgrown on the sides with wild banana trees and bushes that never flower but give off a putrefying smell from their leaves.

The track is often also covered in rubbish. It is a path that he always regrets having to go down, making him wish he had never chosen to walk down the lane to look at the two birds, that he had suffered instead the narrow pavement of Boom Street where the uneven blocks threaten at every step to pitch him into the deep gutters. He tells no one of his fears and his secret thrills. He closes himself off from admitting the truth to anyone, as if he himself were a book that he could simply shut and forget. (But how many stories are there which he does, in fact, forget?) It is a strategy he cannot ever remember learning, but seems to have been born with. As he was born with stupid feet and a hole at the base of his spine. As he was born with soft brown eyes.

Once again he has an intimation that some dark pattern of behaviour is being worn into his being that, once established, he will find it difficult to free himself from. But he does not know how else to survive. It is not a choice. It is simply what he has to do in order to win other dressing-up races. In order not to wet himself
with anxiety when a playmate passes the ball to him, shouting, ‘Score! Score! It’s wide open!’
And he falls.

* * *.

The Swimming Lesson and Other Stories

Book details

Kobus Moolman's The Swimming Lesson and Other Stories stands out for its unusual perspectives

This story collection by multiple award-winning poet, author and playwright Kobus Moolman is a volume of unconventional potency.

Written in a range of styles, voices and genres, each of the ten stories offers original insights into the difficulties of staying afloat. Whether the challenge is being differently abled (with all the outsider isolation this brings); lower-income family life under unbending patriarchal rule; or being born a female child in an abusive, gendered culture, the narratives are convincing (often humorous) in their portrayal of trapped lives striving for transcendence.

The darkly funny ‘Kiss and the Brigadier’ invokes the stultifying boredom of small-town life and the captured mentalities of its understimulated citizens; ‘Extracts from a Dispensable Life’ offers a creative and sensitive reading of the gender violence theme; while the irreverent but never disrespectful ‘Angel Heart’ ventures into the risky waters of religious send-up.

The Swimming Lesson and Other Stories is a collection that stands out for its unusual perspectives; its frank, often uncomfortable treatment of taboo topics; its creative risk-taking; and its skilful and observant recreation of worlds gone by, which still leave their aftershocks.
 
 

Kobus Moolman is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Western Cape. He has won numerous awards for his writing, including the 2015 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry, and has presented his work at literary festivals in South Africa, Ireland and Canada.

Book details