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Congratulations to Alex Smith (@africa_alex), whose Devilskein & Dearlove has been nominated for a Carnegie Medal!

“South African Speculative Fiction Needs More Genre-Bending”

The Guardian's WyrdInkarnanullnull

Nerine Dorman, author and editor of the Bloody Parchment anthologies, chatted to Books LIVE about horror and fantasy writing in South Africa.

The good news for aspiring writers is the deadline for this year’s Bloody Parchment – which accepts submissions in the “horror, dark fantasy and weird genres” – has been extended to 15 November, 2014.

To enter, email your short story (saved as a .doc file and not exceeding 3 500 words) to Remember to put “BLOODY PARCHMENT 2014” in the subject line and include your real name, pen name, nationality and word count in the body of the email.


There’s a boom in Spec Fic writing in South Africa at the moment. What kind of role do you think small publishers play in its success?

Small publishers are definitely at the forefront in the success. While the big successes, with the obvious names making waves overseas, are definitely giving many local writers something to strive for, it’s the small presses that are in the trenches, so to speak. Small publishers have the flexibility to bring us fresh voices, often with stories that the bigger publishers might pass over. While we all do hope to see some return on our investment, we’re also in it to produce original, quality literature that doesn’t just rehash tried-and-tested tropes.

Have you noticed any differences in the quality of submissions for Bloody Parchment this year?

I’m seeing a lot more South Africans this year, which is heartening, but after years of doing this, I can also predict that half the entries will fall by the wayside after the first reading period. Some things never change. This is a competition aimed at finding raw, fresh talent, which necessarily means that we’re seeing entries from numerous writers for whom this is one of the first competitions they’re entering. Sometimes there will be a new voice that just screams talent, or a regular entrant I know will offer a good story, and it’s those I’m looking for. But for every one of those there’re a handful who need to spend a little more time polishing their craft before they are ready.

Who’s on your panel of judges for 2014?

I’m yet to finalise this year’s panel, but for 2013 we had Tracie McBride, an Australian author and editor; Barry Gill, my intern and beta reader; Louis Greenberg, a South African author and editor; Cat Hellisen, a South African author; and Dave-Brendon de Burgh, a South African author and bookseller.

I have a few folks in mind for this year whom I’ve spoken to, but until entries are in and graded, I’ll hold on pestering them.

What are the current trends you’re seeing in local horror or fantasy writing?

It’s varied. Dystopias seem to be big locally, but I’m of the opinion that this trend is already way past its sell-by date and I urge authors to look for something different. That being said, post-apocalyptic settings are still popular, and it says something about what’s rattling around at the back of our collective unconscious. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a few more stories in that vein. And I suspect zombies might not be quite finished yet, thanks to the popularity of TV shows like The Walking Dead. Vampires are mercifully hibernating, though with Anne Rice revitalising her darling Lestat, who knows whether this will stir the grave dust a bit.

My feeling is that we’re on the cusp of something since we’re in an awkward lull between things. As for what it will be, I’d probably be a millionaire best-selling author by now if I could predict it. Personally, I’d like to see more genre-bending happening, with authors taking well-worn tropes and moving them into unexpected places.

How do you think local fantasy, horror and genre fiction matches up to the rest of the world?

South Africa has always a little behind the rest, possibly due to our relative geographic and cultural isolation. We need to build up to the point where our local authors are actively writing for and submitting for the foreign market, and where we have local publishers who offer the same benefits. With the internet offering so many resources, we no longer have any excuse not to offer quality literature. There really wasn’t much happening a scant five, 10 years ago, but I’m seeing many more writers active now.

Those who are serious about working hard to improve their writing are shining, and I’m watching a few special people with great interest to see where they go with their careers.

Raymond E Feist said recently that he was surprised how fantasy in South Africa was still “a bit of a ghetto”. Do you think it will ever go mainstream here?

Personally, I don’t think fantasy will ever be mainstream. But I do believe that we can create a vibe and eventually have our own conventions and bigger events. When I visit the library or go to a bookshop, I see large sections dedicated to fantasy, SF and horror, so I know there is a reading public out there. It’s a case now of connecting readers with authors, and creating environments in which the two can interact.

This year has been big for us. Not only have our authors such as Lauren Beukes and Sarah Lotz been making waves overseas, but we’ve had a fantasy event at Open Book 2014 that saw Raymond E Feist and Mike Carey in the spotlight with our very own Dave-Brendon de Burgh.

We’ve had continued support from SA HorrorFest with this year’s Bloody Parchment, which all who attended agreed was the best yet. But not only that, we now boast dynamic publishers such as Umuzi, Fox & Raven, Crystal Lake Publishing and WordSmack, who are taking African SFF/H fiction forward. All we need now is for South Africans to support these publishers by buying their books.

Which up-and-coming genre authors should we be reading?

Cat Hellisen, Joan De La Haye, Toby Bennett, Dave-Brendon de Burgh, David Horscroft – these are but a few of the local names who have novels available. But also urge folks to support our short fiction market by buying anthologies, as this is a great way to find new voices. Go look at the popular AfroSF anthology, and buy back issues of Something Wicked magazine, as well as its two anthologies. (And of course our existing Bloody Parchment anthologies.) Short stories are often the way upcoming authors cut their teeth, so by buying shorter-form fiction, you help motivate the publishers to keep bringing out anthologies.

When will we see Bloody Parchment 2013 on the shelves, or rather in the cloud?

I’m unfortunately a bit of a one-woman show for production and editing, and have had some time constraints and unexpected setbacks to deal with this year that totally borked my schedule, but I’m hoping to be done with the edits this year and see the 2013 anthology release early 2015. There are some developments afoot that I can’t let slip just yet, but I am confident Bloody Parchment will only keep getting bigger and better.

Betrayal's ShadowBroken MonstersThe ThreeDark WindowsWhen the Sea is Rising RedShadows

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The Generosity, the Lessons, the Issues: Mervyn Sloman Reflects on the 2014 Open Book Festival

Mervyn Sloman, owner of The Book Lounge and director of the Open Book Festival, has had some time to gather his thoughts after this year’s event, and reflects on the highs and lows of Open Book 2014.

The Other Side of SilenceThe Chicken ThiefJeff in Venice, Death in VaranasiTransformationsMemoirs of a Born Free

Magician's EndUnimportanceGood Morning, Mr MandelaLondon – Cape Town – JoburgAn Unnecessary Woman

There were plenty of highlights this year, including the generosity shown by international authors Geoff Dyer and Raymond E Feist to their less famous counterparts – as well as local luminaries Fiona Leonard and Zukiswa Wanner, who stepped in to cover the absent Taiye Selasi – and surprise package Rabih Alameddine, who became the darling of the festival, and was longlisted for the USA’s National Book Award while he was in Cape Town (it has since been shortlisted, and Books LIVE wishes Alameddine the best of luck).

However, Sloman is at pains to flag a couple of issues that cropped up as well.

The first was raised in a session entitled Writer’s Rage, featuring Wanner and Thando Mgqolozana, which you can listen to in full as a podcast here. In that session, Mgqolozana said he believed writers should be paid, or at least compensated for their time, when appearing at literary festivals, and stated that he was not prepared to appear in future without some form of payment.

Sloman responds by saying “Open Book is not a rich festival”, and that he believes the event provides writers with the opportunity to interact with their readers and promote their work, but adding that he respects Mgqolozana’s opinion.

I would dearly love to pay writers to participate in Open Book, but at this point in our development it’s just not feasible. And while I respect Thando’s point, I believe that Open Book is a good thing for South African writers, despite our inability to offer payment for their participation. The festival provides opportunities for South African writers to engage with potential readers, to promote their books and to meet and engage with their writing peers both from South Africa and elsewhere. In a country such as ours, in which such a low proportion of the population devote significant leisure time to reading books, I believe festivals such as Open Book can play a crucial role in building a culture of reading. Incidentally this is a responsibility we take seriously throughout the year, not just for the five days of the festival itself. It is of course each writer’s choice as to whether they choose to participate in Open Book given the lack of payment and if Thando decides not to accept invitations from us until such time as we can afford to pay him, then I will certainly respect that decision.

Sloman also touches on Wanner’s concerns about the festival not spreading wide enough, into Khayelitsha, for example, saying that although the festival gives away a large number of tickets for free, “our efforts in this regard are insufficient”.

He also addresses the Malaika wa Azania incident. Wa Azania, author of Memoirs of a Born Free: Reflections on the Rainbow Nation, was reportedly disguisted when she learnt that people were paying R40 for a ticket, and subsequently did not materialise for her second event, and did not answer her cellphone.

Open Book Facebook gallery


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Winners of 2013 Sanlam Awards for Youth Literature Announced

Winners of the 2014 Sanlam Youth Literature Awards

Alert! Tafelberg and Sanlam announced the winners of the 2013 Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature at an event held at the Inner City Ideas Cartel in Cape Town last night.

Hosted by Katlego Maboe, the charismatic Expresso Show presenter, the evening was a true celebration of reading and the importance of books. In her address, NB publishing manager Marga Stoffer stressed this point, quoting from Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey: “It is only a novel … or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language”.

Sanlam’s sponsorship manager Frank Louw unfolded the company’s vision of social investment, sharing why they deem it important to invest in reading and education. “This competition is special in many ways,” he said, “but I think the one thing that stands out is that entries are received in all 11 of our official languages. Africa is the most linguistically diverse continent in the world.”

Louw added that despite the facet that most of those languages have less than 10 000 speakers, this literature competition “celebrates and honours our own 11 languages, so we are doing our bit here in South Africa in acknowledging the importance of linguistic abundance”.

Louw went on to explain why Sanlam, a global financial services company, chose to invest in youth literature: “Our association with a sponsorship such as this is not by chance. Ever since our inception as a company we’ve had a purpose of building a better world and enabling people to live their best possible lives.” He expressed Sanlam’s sincere appreciation of the authors and Tafelberg for joining them in encouraging young people to read.

The competition attracted 75 entries in all official languages. Two winners were chose in each category: English, Afrikaans and African Languages. These authors were notified in February that they would be published in October, but were not told whether they won silver or gold. After the announcement of the respective winners the audience was treated to short trailers of the books, impassioned acceptance speeches and a video of a teenage reader reviewing the book in question.

This prestigious competition, which produces the most esteemed prize for youth literature in South Africa, happens every second year. A call for entries for the 2014/15 prize will be made soon, with the award to be handed over in 2015.

The 2014 winners were:

Category for English:

Alive AgainChain Reaction


Category for African languages:

Vhusiku VhutswuNdizigwaze ngowam!


Category for Afrikaans:

Chuck Norris kan deel deur nulMoord per suurlemoen


Tsireledzo Mushoma, gold winner in the African language category, said in her acceptance speech: “It gives me motivation to write stories for children in Venda who otherwise might not hear the kind of stories we need to tell them.” Jelleke Wierenga, silver winner in the Afrikaans category, thanked Sanlam and NB for having enough trust in the reading desires of young people to continue with this project (which has been going for over 30 years). She called on those present to encourage a “leeslusrevolusie” and to nurture knowledge hungry teens.

The evening ended on a high note, with some of the authors joining the teens invited to the event in a jolly dance, celebrating these new publications.

Press release

“Sanlam is in the business of planning for tomorrow. Through this sponsorship we honour the wordsmiths for their deep commitment to taking their talent and turn that into award winning literature that will be enjoyed by millions of South African young people as part of our investment in their futures,” says Elena Meyer (Senior Sponsorships Manager at Sanlam).

The total prize money amounts to R54 000: R12 000 for the winner (gold) and R6 000 for the runner-up (silver) in each category.

The Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature is awarded every second year, and was launched in 1980. A panel of readers compiled a shortlist of 18 manuscripts which were then judged by representatives from the educational and trade book sector, librarians and academics. Manuscripts are judged anonymously so that debut writers are able to compete against established authors. Past winners of this prize include Darrel Bristow-Bovey, Barrie Hough, Kabelo Duncan Kgatea, EDM Sibiya, Chris Karsten and Marita van der Vyver.

According to Michelle Cooper (publisher of children and young adult fiction at Tafelberg) the Sanlam Prize is vital in finding and developing new talent and to create literature of high quality for readers aged 12 – 18. “Especially in the minority languages a lot has been contributed since entries in all 11 official languages are invited. Over the years around 78 novels that were awarded the Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature have been prescribed as setworks in schools.”

The prize-winning books will be available in bookshops and in e-book format from 1 November.


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Burnet Media at the Frankfurt Book Fair

Well, that was something.

Anyone who’s been to the world’s biggest book fair, the Frankfurter Buchmesse in Frankfurt, Germany, will know that it’s not exactly a walk in the park. On the contrary, it’s a power march across acres of hall space and past hundreds of publishers’ stands, from one meeting to the next, to a David Nicholls interview half a kilometre away, then perhaps up a couple of floors to see German design books and artwork and then back to the English-language hall to check out more publishers displays via the antiquarian section (interesting!) and then yet another meeting…

I had been sent to Frankfurt by Struik in the past, so I at least knew what to expect, but this was my first time as the publishing director of my own company, Burnet Media. Having started life in 2010, Burnet Media focused initially on South African-specific material; there hadn’t been the need to seriously consider making the trip to Frankfurt. These days we’ve got broader horizons and some titles with genuine global potential. It was time to go international, and thanks to the generosity of Lit Prom’s Invitational Programme, we got the opportunity this year.

Lit Prom is a German organisation that describes itself as a “society for the promotion of African, Asian and Latin American Literature”. Through its Invitational Programme, every year it takes 20-25 independent publishers from the developing world to Frankfurt to show them ropes. It’s a wonderful philanthropic process and a truly impressive organisational feat, and this year I was lucky to be a part of it.

Before (the night before).

Before (the night before).

After (12 hours later).

After (12 hours later).


The Burnet Media stand at Frankfurt 2014.

The Burnet Media stand at Frankfurt 2014.

We arrived five days before the official start of the fair; publishers from Guinea Bissau, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Algeria, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Uruguay, Venezuela, Georgia, Montenegro and Ukraine. And me, from South Africa.

Needless to say, such a gathering tends to open the mind and put the world in perspective. While I worry about the depressed state of trade publishing in South Africa, our bookstore chains’ that hold unhealthy amounts of power over publishers and unapologetic printers that make cover mistakes and miss delivery dates, my fellow independent publishers from around the world had more… varied concerns.

Bryony van der Merwe from our Namibia plies her trade in a country of two million people, the smallest fraction of whom are regular book readers. There are a mere handful of bookstores around the country.

On the other end of the scale, Richard Ali from Nigeria has a potential market of more than 170 million people, yet he must work as a lawyer in his spare time to keep putting out books. “The state does not even care enough to ban books any more,” he laments – a rather different take on censorship to a South African, perhaps, but one that makes sense in a land currently suffering insurrection, terrorism and general dysfunction.

For outright civil war, there are stories from Volodymyr Samoylenko from Ukraine and Marwan Adwan from Syria. Earlier this year Volodmyr’s business partner in Donetsk was kidnapped and ransomed for $5,000. “If it was me, I would not have $5,000 to pay,” he explains with a laugh.

Meanwhile, Marwan doesn’t even live in Syria any more, having escaped to Dubai about a year ago due to safety concerns. Despite an ongoing war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, he aims to keep publishing in Syria while keeping as much of the process as possible in-country – not always easy when printers, warehouses and your general reading population are being shelled. “They are struggling and fighting each other,” he says. “I am publishing books.”

Despite our vast cultural and circumstantial differences, the attendees of the Invitational Programme are of course bound together by their common cause: a love of books and a desire to create them. At times the cross-cultural assemblage was almost comical – a Puerto Rican, a Nigerian and a South African walk into a room…– but when the Puerto Rican, Nigerian and South African end up finding common cause in the difficulty of dealing with book returns, finding the magic number on a POD print run, or handling egotistical authors who think their book is the only one you’re working on at the moment – well, then it all makes sense.

After five days of seminars, workshops, boat trips on the Main and general acclimatisation, the Book Fair itself kicked off. Suffice it to say, it was as frenetic and entertaining as ever, both soul-uplifting and sole-destroying. Miles were walked, meetings were taken, doors were opened.

A personal highlight was my opportunity to see where “the real deals get done” before the fair even begins, when I met a German publisher at the swanky Frankfurterhof Hotel in the centre of town. I arrived shortly before the president of Finland (with a 12-motorbike escort; Finland was this year’s guest of honour), and my 25-minute meeting took place standing up and jammed in the corner of a plush lounge area with dozens of similar meetings going on about us.

The good news? South African crime-thriller writers are the flavour of the month in Germany. And the bad? It will be a couple of months before we discover if anything comes of this meeting and the various others I had.

But after my time with the courageous souls of the Invitational Programme, I’m rather optimistic.

My sincere thanks for an intense, wonderful and exhausting experience to all my fellow attendees on Invitational Programme, and of course to the Lit Prom organisers and facilitators, particularly Corry, Doris, Bernadette and Torsten. Any independent South African publisher looking for the best possible introduction to the Frankfurt Book Fair would do well to look up Corry von Mayenburg, the driving force behind the Invitational Programme. Contact us for details.

Invitational Programme members having a bit of fun amid 10 days of mayhem.

Invitational Programme members having a bit of fun amid 10 days of mayhem.

Interesting book cover presented by Invitational Programme attendee Ronny Agustinus of Indonesia's Marjin Kiri publishers. The cover of the book, about the destruction of books, is laser cut to appear as if it has been burnt.

Interesting book cover presented by Invitational Programme attendee Ronny Agustinus of Indonesia’s Marjin Kiri publishers. The cover of the book, about the destruction of books, is laser cut to appear as if it has been burnt.

The Frankfurterhof Hotel in downtown Frankfurt, where the "real deals" get done.

The Frankfurterhof Hotel in downtown Frankfurt, where the “real deals” get done.

The Sunday Times Bestseller List for October 2014

The Sunday Times South African bestseller list for October 2014 looks vastly different to last month’s.

Historical fiction and suspense novels make out the top five best-selling fiction books of October with international authors Lee Child, Gillian Flynn and Ken Follett joining South African stars Deon Meyer and Wilbur Smith in the top spots. Cobra is the only book to still on the top shelf when compared to last month’s data.

On the non-fiction side The Real Meal Revolution has been booted out of the top spot, with two books on the Oscar Pistorius saga (Behind the Door and Oscar: An Accident Waiting to Happen) jumping onto the bestsellers list. The only international author in this month’s top five is Oprah Winfrey, joining Mzilikazi wa Afrika and Jonny Steinberg.

The information for this list comes from SAPnet/Nielsen, bookseller data and publisher data.

View the list:

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Desert God


Edge of Eternity


Gone Girl

Behind the Door

What I Know For Sure

Oscar: An Accident Waiting to Happen

Nothing Left to Steal

A Man of Good Hope

Two Days Left to Apply for a 2015 Writivism Creative Writing Workshop


There are just two days left to submit an application for the 2015 Writivism Creative Writing Workshops.

Applications – which take the form of a piece of flash fiction – close on 31 October at midnight.

The workshops are intended to identify new writing talent, and will take place in January next year in various cities around Africa, with Lagos, Gaborone, Kampala, Dar es Salaam and Johannesburg being the planned locations.

The Lagos workshop will be facilitated by Dami Ajayi, Kampala by Dilman Dila, Johannesburg by Yewande Omotoso, Gaborone by Donald Molosi and Dar es Salaam by Zukiswa Wanner and Ayeta Anne Wangusa, among others.

London – Cape Town – JoburgA Killing in the SunFeast, Famine and PotluckBom Boy

The workshops will include daily two-hour master classes on fiction writing, group sessions of critiquing of draft stories and private time for participants to re-write their stories. Participants who produce high quality work in the workshops and show commitment to their writing shall be assigned mentors at the end of the workshop. They shall work on two flash fiction stories to be published in newspapers and online and a short story for submission to the Writivism African Short Story Prize under the guidance of the mentors. They shall also be required to review assigned work by the mentors and also apply to various writing opportunities on recommendation by the mentor.

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