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South African romance author nominated for prestigious international award

Not a Fairy TaleJohannesburg-based romance writer Romy Sommer has become the first ever African author to be nominated for the prestigious international RWA Rita Award.

Sommer, author of four contemporary romance novels published by HarperCollins as well as four self-published historical novellas, has been nominated for a 2016 RWA Rita Award in the Mid-Length Contemporary Category for her latest novel, Not a Fairy Tale.

Run by Romance Writers of America (RWA) for over 30 years, this contest is the highest award of distinction in romance fiction internationally. Past winners include bestselling authors Nora Roberts, Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Barbara Freethy.

Up to 2,000 novels are entered annually into 12 categories. This year’s winners will be announced at a black-tie awards ceremony on July 16 at the RWA’s Annual Conference in San Diego, California.

Sommer is a film production manager by day and a romance writer by night. She is also a single mom and the Chairperson of ROSA (Romance writers Organisation of South Africa).

Not a Fairy Tale is a Hollywood romance, featuring a brawny stuntman hero and the career-driven actress who hires him to train her for the role of a lifetime. Building on Sommer’s experience in the film industry, this lighthearted novel has been described as “enchanting sizzling, adult fairy tale”.

Waking Up in VegasThe Trouble with MojitosTo Catch a Star


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Andile M-Afrika recalls life in Ginsberg and Steve Biko's pervasive presence in Touched by Biko

Touched by BikoComing soon from Unisa Press – Touched by Biko by Andile M-Afrika:

Touched by Biko is a political memoir of life in rural King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape, specifically Ginsberg Township, which was home to Steve Bantu Biko. Author Andile M-Afrika lived just across the street from Biko, and takes us on a highly personal journey.

Biko played a pivotal role in South Africa’s struggle for freedom, and in Touched by Biko M-Afrika weaves a creative narrative around that history. He delves into Biko’s personal encounters with people, political events and day-to-day life. The pervasive echoes of Biko’s presence on those who shared life in this historic village speak volumes.

The book is filled with direct references to buildings and events specific to the area and the time. M-Afrika’s insider’s account of the everyday turmoil of life in the village of a struggle icon leaves readers with a vibrant, accurately drawn impression.

This highly engaging narrative will be enjoyed by high school students and adults with an interest in the South African struggle history.

About the author

Andile M-Afrika was born and raised in Ginsberg, a small township in the Eastern Cape across the Buffalo River from central King William’s Town, which was also home to Steve Bantu Biko. In Touched by Biko, his second book, he writes about his memories of the township. In 2011 M-Afrika published The Eyes That Lit Our Lives: A Tribute to Steve Biko. He is currently studying towards a PhD at Rhodes University and working on another book on Biko.

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Truth and tears, but not the boring sort - Diane Awerbuck reviews Stations by Nick Mulgrew

By Diane Awerbuck for the Sunday Times

Nick Mulgrew (David Philips Publishers)

“Life: lived forwards; understood backwards.” So wrote Søren Kierkegaard in the 1800s, and not much has changed. He wouldn’t have couched it in these terms, but Kierkegaard’s approach – like Nick Mulgrew’s – is peculiarly African. The philosopher was against the segregation of “the world of the spirit”: he argued for subjectivity and participation as the way to fathom any truth worth knowing about existence.

The stories in Mulgrew’s prose debut, Stations, deal with this kind of subjectivity in the flawed interactions between people. To understand the characters, Mulgrew says, the reader must realise that we do not have to be intentionally bad to do bad things. “A lot of my characters would probably think they’re perfectly good people, but they’re otherwise complacent or ignorant. The stories share themes, settings, even characters: they all intersect, although sometimes I will be the only one who sees where and how.”

The title, he explains, is a 14-story suite with each story loosely corresponding to one of the Catholic Stations of the Cross, the 14 places of contemplation that mark the progressive agony of Jesus on the way to his death at Golgotha – his dying intentionally stripped of its power because it happens alongside two notorious thieves.

Stations are traditionally places of connection and transition – consider train stations, or resting places for weary travellers, or simply received ideas about our place in the social hierarchy. Many of the conflicts that play out in Mulgrew’s fiction are the result of characters getting ideas above their station, as the terrifying story “Gala Day” reveals.

Mulgrew’s own station is a colourful and wildly decorated place, a composite of his childhood and maturity in uMhlanga, Auckland and Cape Town: never boring, “but not great for your sense of self”. For a man in his mid-20s, his ticket’s been punched into confetti: writer, poet, journalist, print designer, typesetter, beer and restaurant critic, magazine editor and publisher, Masters student and NGO deputy chair. The “origami construction” of a character in the award-winning story “Turning ” might as well apply to himself.

Mulgrew says he is “cautious of gimmicks and glibness”, and his style is mercifully free of self-consciousness and ornamentation. The stories are so affecting because they are high-concept, but their prose also delivers various bangs for your buck. Take this sex scene: “How can one deserve the way everything was constructed, from dirt and ash and rock, all to place this person here with me? How worlds and universes and stardust were broken up and subsided here, in the midst of brick and sheet-roofing and oak; how two bodies of water and carbon and phosphorous and bone fight here with all their will to inhabit the same points of space and time as the other. I hadn’t prayed in all my life until the night you fell asleep, afterwards, next to me.”

It ends in tears, of course. Ne estas kialo, proclaims the girlfriend’s tattoo. There is no why. But that’s no reason to stop prospecting. Mulgrew’s next novel is set between the KwaZulu-Natal coast and the North Island of New Zealand. “That one is about white flight, and, if I do it right, should make a lot of people very sad.”

Ever the journeyman, he ends his last story so: “This place had a geography that had to be relearned.” That’s a truth worth knowing.

Diane Awerbuck is the author of Home Remedies

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South African writer Faraaz Mahomed wins 2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize: Africa Region

2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize
2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize


Alert! The five regional winners of the 2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize have been announced.

South African writer Faraaz Mahomed has been named the Africa Regional Winner for his short story “The Pigeon”.

Mahomed is a clinical psychologist and human rights researcher based in Johannesburg. “I am an unseasoned writer, who continues to struggle with the insecurities and anxieties of inexperience,” he says. “Winning the Commonwealth Prize for the African region is more than an accolade, it’s a prompting to continue down this path.”

2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize judge Helon Habila says: “The Africa region included stories on almost every conceivable theme, accentuating the endless complexity and beauty of the continent; a testament to the inexhaustible talent that abounds there. ‘The Pigeon’ is a carefully and patiently woven tale about love, lust, guilt, and escape. It illustrates just how, as humans, we will always come short of our ideals, and we must learn to live with that.”

Other South African writers on the shortlist were Andrew Salomon, Cat Hellisen and Mark Winkler. From Nigeria, Lausdeus Chiegboka, Enyeribe Ibegwam and Oyinkan Braithwaite were also shortlisted.

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize aims to “brings stories from new and emerging voices, often from countries with little or no publishing infrastructure, to the attention of an international audience”. 26 stories by writers from 11 countries made up the shortlist. Five winners from the five different Commonwealth regions are selected, winning £2,500 (about R53,000) each. The overall winner will be announced at the Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica on 5 June, and will be awarded £5,000 (about R106,000).

2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize regional winners

  • Pacific Regional Winner: “Black Milk” by Tina Makereti (New Zealand)
  • Asia Regional Winner: “Cow and Company” by Parashar Kulkarni (India)
  • Africa Regional Winner: “The Pigeon” by Faraaz Mahomed (South Africa)
  • Canada and Europe Regional Winner: “Eel” by Stefanie Seddon (UK)
  • Caribbean Regional Winner: “Ethelbert and the Free Cheese” by Lance Dowrich (Trinidad and Tobago)

Chair of judges, South African novelist and playwright Gillian Slovo, said of the regional winners: “From Faraaz Mahomed’s ‘The Pigeon’ with its playful tone and unreliable narrator, Parashar Kulkarni’s ‘Cow and Company’, a witty satire that engagingly immerses the reader in its world, and ‘Eel’, a simply told and moving story of childhood by Stefanie Seddon to Lance Dowrich’s comedic ‘Ethelbert and the Free Cheese’ and Tina Makereti’s ‘Black Milk’, which impressed with a lyricism that takes the reader into another world while keeping us always on earth, these were all worthy winners and show how well the short story is flourishing in the Commonwealth.”

Commonwealth Writers has partnered with Granta, and on winning story will be published online on that platform every Wednesday until 1 June. At the same time, a conversation between the regional judge and the regional winner will be available as a podcast.

In the meantime, read a short excerpt from “The Pigeon”:

Each morning, for about four months now, I am woken by the same foul, fat pigeon. I am certain that he’s the same one, even though I have no means to prove it. In truth, I have no way to be sure he is a he either. It used to occur to me that maybe he had left something at the window, or inside and was hoping that being here to retrieve it would allow him some release. On most Saturdays, I leave the window open. It makes me feel kind, because I am easing his spirit into the next phase or something of that nature.

Excerpts from all 26 stories are available to read on the Commonwealth Writers website.

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'It is the nature of tradition to evolve' - Jennifer Malec reviews Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

First published in the Sunday Times

Chinelo OkparantaUnder the Udala TreesUnder the Udala Trees
Chinelo Okparanta

A month after Chinelo Okparanta completed Under the Udala Trees, a novel that deals delicately but boldly with lesbian love, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan criminalised same-sex relationships, making them punishable by up to 14 years in prison or, in the northern states, death by stoning.

Okparanta addresses the subject in an author’s note, to contextualise the story for readers who may not be familiar with the country. “With or without the bill, Nigeria is a very homophobic country,” she says. “With or without the bill, I had already written the novel. Under the Udala Trees is ultimately a story about people struggling to live out their lives the best way possible, even in the face of societal pressures, discrimination and abuse.”

Okparanta moved to the US with her family when she was 10, but her debut novel does not betray her physical distance from her home country. It is animated with Nigerian Pidgin and Igbo dialogue, as well as enigmatic folktales and proverbs understated in their insight: “If God dishes you rice in a basket, do not wish for soup.”

“I’m lucky to have a family that upholds traditions, but also one that allows room for change,” she says. “Sometimes I don’t feel that I ever left Nigeria, and sometimes I do. We continued to speak Igbo at home, we continued to eat fufu and soup, beans and yam, we continued to sing and dance to Nigerian music. I also go home as often as I can.”

Under the Udala Trees begins in 1968, a year into the Biafran War, when 11-year-old Ijeoma’s father is killed during a bombing raid. After his death, Ijeoma’s mother, Adaora, begins to suffer terrible nightmares. She stops eating, and alternates between blank silence and rage. The child begins to sense that she is a burden, something to be rid of, “Like an animal casting off old hair or skin”. Adaora concocts a story about the need to send Ijeoma away while she scouts out the safety of her parents’ old house in another town, and the betrayal is keenly felt.

In the midst of this, Okparanta startles us with a glimpse of the old Adaora, the caring mother who used to rouse her daughter from a sulk by taking her hands and joking, “Dance your sadness away.” In the context of a growing dislike of an unkind, neglectful parent, the vignette is almost unbearably touching.

This depth of character is Okparanta’s great strength, and she says: “It seems to me that the best books are often those in which the dignity of the characters are upheld. Also, those in which the characters are nuanced. I tried to keep this in mind while writing the novel.”

Ijeoma is sent away to work as a house-girl. One day she is followed home by Amina, another displaced girl. A childhood romance begins, which develops into a tender physical relationship. In the years that follow, Ijeoma attempts to reconcile her sexuality with her religious beliefs. But societal pressures intensify and when a childhood friend – now a handsome and successful man – proposes, she accepts, both out of loyalty to her mother’s wishes and out of longing for a life lived without fear of being “found out”. Sensing something unsound in his marriage, Chibundu is by turns caring and cruel, suffering as much from the disjunct between society’s expectations and his own actions as Ijeoma does.

“Chibundu is as much to be pitied as he is to be rebuked,” says Okparanta. “We would have a hard time completely condemning him. How does one balance out hope with unrequited love? Chibundu certainly tries.”

After a series of disturbing dreams, Ijeoma realises she has to leave Chibundu, describing the revelation as like hearing a murmur of sound in the distance, unnoticeable at first, but getting stronger, “and finally you look up and see a skein, a flock of geese, a perfect V up above in the sky”.

Ijeoma does not reject her heritage. Rather she proves that it is possible to discard some aspects of tradition without threatening the whole. “Tradition has its place,” Okparanta says. “But it is also the nature of tradition to evolve.”

Follow Jennifer Malec on Twitter @projectjennifer

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Finish your manuscript with the ‘250 Words a Day' challenge and enter the 2017 Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature

Sanlam Prize
OnderwêreldDo Not Go GentleTaking ChancesDeath By CarbsThis Book Betrays my BrotherSister-Sister
To Quote MyselfBroken MonstersThe Big StickI am Incomplete Without You


Alert! The 2017 Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature is open for entries, and budding writers are invited to join the “250 Words a Day” challenge to complete their novel by the closing date.

Paige Nick, author, Sunday Times columnist and advertising copywriter, says: “Writing a whole book can feel daunting, but anyone can write just 250 words a day, right?”

Nick is part of the team of published authors acting as mentors for the “250 Words a Day” campaign. Others include Futhi Ntshingila, Fanie Viljoen, Sicelo Kula, Kagiso Lesego Molope and Rachel Zadok.

Published authors have also been sharing valuable writing advice and glimpses into their working life on the page, including Lauren Beukes, Richard de Nooy, Khaya Dlanga and Iain Thomas.

The Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature is presented in six categories: Afrikaans, English, Nguni languages, Sotho languages, Tshivenda and Xitsonga, with two prizes in each category, Gold (R12,000) and Silver (R6,000).

Submitted work should be suitable for young readers (between 12 and 18 years) and at least 25,000 words.

The closing date for entries is 7 October, 2016 – so get writing!

Press release:

2017 Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature launched alongside “250 Words a Day” campaign

Entries for the 2017 Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature are now open!

However, writing a whole book can be daunting …

Elena Meyer, senior sponsorships manager at Sanlam, says: “As Wealthsmiths, we have a deep understanding and respect for what it takes to turn 26 alphabetic letters into something that can make you cry, scared or make you love. A process that talks to commitment and determination, yet achievable for any person that has a love for the word.

“It is from this understanding that our campaign of ’250 Words a Day’ was born. We want this competition to be accessible not only to established authors, but also to young and upcoming writers.”

By joining the “250 Words a Day” campaign on Facebook, entrants will have access to a panel of renowned and established authors who will act as writing mentors. Would-be authors are encouraged to write 250 words every day. If they commit to this, they should have a manuscript ready to submit by the closing date. Not only will advice, inspiration and helpful writing tips be offered, but mentors will also read segments of manuscripts and respond to writers with useful feedback. Mentors include among others Paige Nick, Cat Hellisen, Fanie Viljoen, Redi Tlhabi and Kagiso Lesego.

According to Michelle Cooper, publisher of children and young adult fiction at Tafelberg, the Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature is vital in finding and developing new talent and to create literature of high quality for readers between 12 and 18 years of age: “We are excited about the 250 Words a Day campaign and are looking forward to discovering talented new writing voices!”

The Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature was launched in 1980 and is awarded every second year. It is open to entries in all 11 official languages. Gold and silver prizes are awarded in the categories for African languages (Tshivenda, Xitsonga and Nguni & Sotho languages), Afrikaans and English.

A panel of readers will compile a shortlist of 18 manuscripts which will then be 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 with established authors.

Over the years around 78 novels that were awarded the Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature have been prescribed as setwork books in schools, while some have even been made into films — Lien se lankstaanskoene by Derick van der Walt and Die ongelooflike avonture van Hanna Hoekom written by Marita van der Vyver.

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 prize-winning books will be available in bookshops and in ebook format. The closing date for entries is 7 October, 2016.

To join the “250 Words a Day” campaign, visit

Download the entry form at


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  • I am Incomplete Without You: An Interactive Poetry Journal from the Author of I Wrote This for You by Iain Sinclair Thomas
    EAN: 9781612435329
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