Aerodrome has shared Ken Barris’ short story from the second SHORT.SHARP.STORIES anthology, Adults Only: Stories of love, lust, sex and sexuality edited by Joanne Hichens.
In “Louka in Autumn” Mark Berger runs into a woman from his past, Louka. Seeing her again stirs up memories of their time together as he deals with his recent divorce. Looking back twenty years Mark recalls that “Love with Louka is ecstatic pain, knowledge withheld, territory unknown – the mystery of Louka remains extreme, is never resolved.”
Read Barris’ story:
I go for long walks along the Cape avenues, the oak trees shattering form, exploring every branching possibility, the leaves splattering colour, their own flesh lignified, crumbling, becoming dust with such beauty, their maroon and ochre fires drifting along the gutters.
I think of Louka from time to time. I think of her in the present tense. She has maroon lips. She takes her lower lip between her teeth when she reflects on grave matters. Her hair is completely white, always was, trimmed short enough to leave her neck naked. Her thighs are slender and curve in slightly, she has the proportions and long muscles of a dancer. She reminds me of a waterdrop falling, something shaped by gravity and surface tension and air resistance only, fluid becoming itself at all times and then finally splattering to destruction against the logical obstacle. Yet there is quicksilver in the way she comes together again, resuming selfhood without a trace of embarrassment or care at the leave she has taken.
Published in the Sunday Times
The Twenty in 20 project is a 20 Years of Freedom initiative, run by Books LIVE in collaboration with Short Story Day Africa and the Department of Arts and Culture, which set out to find the 20 best South African short stories published in English during the first two decades of democracy.
The top 20, judged by Mandla Langa, Karabo Kgoleng, Mtutuzeli Matshoba and Fiona Snyckers, was announced on 22 July.
To give you a taste of this mixed salad, here’s the first line from each tale.
Phosphorescence by Diane Awerbuck (2011):
“It gets the blood going, my dear.”
The Year of Sleeping Badly by Gabeba Baderoon (2006):
2:30. After two hours, she wakes completely, alert, as though sleep is already distant.
The Visit by Nadia Davids (2009):
I told my family I was going to America when we were eating supper.
Do You Know What a Leader Is? by Luke Fiske (2013):
In the confines of my overnight holding cell, the images burn and keep burning, though it is not my wife, but Lucia, whom I call to cool them.
A Mouse Amongst Men by Ivor W Hartmann (2011):
I came to South Africa to survive, fleeing from the stone-cold house my country Zimbabwe had become.
Pigeon Fancier by Sarah Lotz (2011):
My cell phone started beeping the second I stepped into the shower.
Push-push! by Sindiwe Magona (1996):
Like a veld fire, the fever swept through Blouvlei; putting a jaunty spring to the gait of old men.
The Suit Continued by Siphiwo Mahala (2011):
It is annoying when people keep telling the story of a woman who was tormented by her husband because I left my suit in his house.
The Bath by Wamuwi Mbao (2013):
I run a bath for myself and for your memory in my head, two weeks after.
The Mistress’s Dog by David Medalie (2006):
The night wind tugged at the house and slammed against the windows.
Goliwood Drama by Niq Mhlongo (2006):
Soweto Township. The time was 16H00 according to the big watch at the Mangalani BP Garage.
Brooding Clouds by Phaswane Mpe (2007):
It is the beginning of autumn, the season in which the people of Tiragalong, a tiny village not far from Pietersburg, tend to look younger because of the nourishment they get from their abundant harvest.
Space by Masande Ntshanga (2013):
I guess you won’t believe him, either, but this is what CK tells us, this morning.
Homing by Henrietta Rose-Innes (2010):
Before, it had always been a good road.
A Visit to Dr Mamba by Andrew Salomon (2009):
Ernest Sibanda got off at the third stop after the bus had turned into Avenida Julius Nyerere.
Relatives by Chris van Wyk (1995):
When I was twenty-one I went down to the Cape to write a book.
The Loss Library by Ivan Vladislavic (2011):
She’s pretty, this librarian, the young man thinks, sunbrowned and outdoorsy, with none of the papery pallor he associates with the profession.
The Dress That Fed the Suit by Zukiswa Wanner (2012):
Dear Phil, By the time you read this letter, I will be dead.
Jungfrau by Mary Watson (2004):
It was the virgin Jessica who taught me about wickedness.
Running by Makhosazana Xaba (2013):
I’m a runner. That’s the role I’ve given myself.
- Bloody Satisfied by Nechama Brodie, Peter Church, Anthony Ehlers, Luke Fiske, Megan Furniss, Dawn Garisch, Amy Heydenrych, Beth Hunt, Liam Kruger, Greg Lazarus, Siphiwo Mahala, Sandile Memela, Peter Merrington, T.O. Molefe, Jill Morsbach, Chris Nicholson, Yewande Omotoso, Andrew Salomon, Melissa Siebert, Anirood Singh, Roger Smith, Jo Stielau, Mncedise Thambe, Colin Ward, edited by Joanne Hichens
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Joanne Hichens – editor of the Adults Only, the second annual Short.Sharp.Stories Awards anthology – interviews Nick Mulgrew, who won the competition’s Best Story award. Nick was born in Durban in 1990. He is associate editor of literary magazine Prufrock, and writes a column about beer for the Sunday Times. He lives in Cape Town. Find him on twitter @nichmulgrew or at www.nickmulgrew.co.za
Congratulations, Nick Mulgrew, on winning the Short.Sharp.Stories 2014 top accolade – Best Story – for “Turning”, and with that R20 000! Firstly, what prompted you to enter this competition?
Frankly, I needed practice. Although they’re far from ideal and far from objective, competitions are a great way for new (or newish) writers to gauge how well their work is coming along. They also provide possibilities for wide publication, which are rare in SA. Also, I thought I had a good idea for a story that would fit – and I suppose my hunch was right.
Indeed! How did you feel when you learned you’d won?
It felt very surreal to see my name as the winner. Still is. I figured that no one actually wins these things, so it was a massive surprise.
What does winning the money mean to you?
This kind of money is a massive boost for anyone, especially a writer trying to get a career started. The money is going to allow me to start a new, small magazine of poetry from KZN called uHlanga, which I hope to launch later this year. Trying to pay the generosity forward, and all that.
…which you do already working as associate editor for Prufrock. Is it difficult to write your own stuff while at the same time nurturing or promoting other writers?
I don’t find it difficult at all, which I suppose is fortunate. Prufrock is a magazine that gets a lot of very good writing sent into it, and being able to work with authors who are generally working with similar concerns is usually very encouraging. I believe in a spirit of collaboration, and I learn a lot about my own writing from working with other people and their texts.
To get to your story, “Turning”, the turmoil of young love will have resonance for any reader who’s had a university fling. What inspired your story?
The setting inspired the story. Grahamstown is a small city, and Rhodes is a small university – relationships and politics are complicated there. People are juggling with issues, finding out where they fit, finding out new things about themselves and the world. It seemed like a fruitful theme to explore.
I spent three long years at Rhodes, and have been back many times since. A lot of the formative experiences of my life took place in the Eastern Cape – in Port Elizabeth, where my father works every now and then, and in Grahamstown. For me the landscape holds a lot of weight and a lot of memory and a lot of history – and I think a lot of other people would agree with that.
Judges as well as readers enjoyed the clever use of language that elevates the piece in literary terms. Can you comment on that?
The protagonist (and narrator) of “Turning” is a young student who is immersed in his studies in Linguistics at Rhodes in a way that only enthusiastic undergraduates can be – he’s beginning to see the world in new terms, in terms of the things he’s being exposed to at university, but he’s not able to articulate himself very well. His emotional intelligence doesn’t match up to his academic prowess. He can memorise the IPA vowel chart, but can’t deal with rejection. He understands feminism, but still buys FHM every month. Playing with language is a way for me to flesh out these conflicting parts of his character and, by extension, the story.
Refering to sex and sensuality, is this an important topic to explore through fiction?
Sex – in addition to being a source of love and union and enjoyment – is also something that is leveraged for power and for domination. It’s both a horrible and joyful thing – and that’s without even getting into the dynamics of orientation, or gender identity, or sexual health.
Sex encompasses a massive range of human experience – and we see that in our daily lives in South Africa, although most of the dominant cultures in our country are hesitative to speak about it. Our unwillingness to speak frankly about homophobia and sexual violence and misogyny probably makes it even more important to touch on sex in our fiction.
More generally, what themes or topics would you like to explore through your writing?
The thing that I’m most concerned with in my fiction is memory: how it distorts experience and opinions, how it entrenches attitudes; the life narratives that we piece together from our and other people’s memories. That, and narratives of prejudice. I’m tired of reading prose that skirts around prejudice or distances itself from prejudice or relies on stereotypical depictions of prejudice. People are horrible to each other in subtle ways, and I think it’s important to be honest about it.
In my journalism I mostly write about beer, which is something entirely different. I really, really like beer – and more than just its taste, which I suppose is the main reason I got into writing about it. But it turns out that beer has a rich and underexplored politics in South Africa, too – at times, the history is terrifying. Beer’s role in apartheid and beer marketing’s entrenching of masculine tropes in society is still felt today, I think, although it’s something that is seldom articulated. It’s something I’m trying to bring more to light.
And what’s next for you?
I’m the prototypical freelancer: I do a little bit of everything. At the moment I’m preparing to start an MA in English at UCT next year.
Wishing you all the best, Nick, for a great career ahead!
Adults Only is available in stores for R190.
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Adults Only, edited by Joanne Hichens, is the second annual Short.Sharp.Stories Awards anthology. Helena S. Paige, the author of best-selling ‘choose-your-own-erotic-destiny’ A Girl Walks Into A Bar and its successful follow-ons, wrote a foreword for this book. Here it is.
It’s been six years since the publication of Open: An Erotic Anthology By South African Women Writers, edited by Karin Schimke, and the local book scene is ripe for another collection of erotic short stories. The stories published in Open, however, were commissioned, and the authors were all women. In the case of Adults Only, there was an open submissions policy, with the best stories selected by a panel of judges. This approach has given us an anthology that’s an excellent mix of established voices and fresh talent, with an equal number of male and female contributors.
In the few years between Open and Adults Only, the world of erotic writing, both globally and locally, has changed dramatically: one reason why this collection is so timely.
The Fifty Shades phenomenon brought writing about sex and sexuality out of the closet – or out from between brown paper covers. Writing and reading about sex has become mainstream, rather than private or even furtive. Words on the page that describe the vast gamut of human sexual experience have at last escaped the ambit of porn – they’re no longer associated with grubby old men in raincoats, or exploited women and children. Writing about sex has become sexy again, like it was back in the days of Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin.
But writing sex is still exceptionally hard to do – as erotic authors ourselves, we know this only too well. Few things can go as horribly wrong as trying to be original when describing the mechanics of lust, as the Bad Sex in Fiction Award reminds us each year. Yet even with a copy of the Kama Sutra to hand, there are only so many ways to describe rumpy-pumpy. Erotic authors also quickly run up against the limitations of vocabulary – as we scratched our heads over what to call the ruder body parts, we yearned for a sex thesaurus: there’s a limit to how often you can use words like ‘thrust’ and ‘gasp’. But the contributors in this collection had no such difficulties, either writing about sex with direct bluntness, or approaching it slant.
Then there are the feelings that go along with sex: how do writers grapple with these?
Read this anthology, and count the ways. Its most notable feature is variety. The brief was to write stories of sex, sensuality, love and lust, and while you’ll find traditional tales of lost lovers, grand passions and doomed affairs, almost every type of narrative and genre is represented (although no vampires – phew). Horror is represented by a terrifying twist on a classic ghost story and a deadly tale of S&M. A hilarious account of a threesome neatly skewersthe sexual anxieties of white middle-class men of a certain age. Two tales, one of a prostitute whose clients turn into animals (literally), another of an art-fuelled orgy in a kitchen cupboard, add a sparkle of magic realism. A campus Bildungsroman weaves linguistics into sex; there is a quest in which a young man’s search for love and his missing father are equally doomed; and there’s a glorious piece of slapstick about a voyeur’s very unusual form of courtship.
Whatever you’re looking for – filth, fantasy, tenderness, suspense or a grand belly laugh – you’ll find it here. A round of applause to Joanne Hichens and the team at Burnet Media for another excellent short story collection. To all readers: enjoy! Helena S. Paige June 2014
Look out for interviews with the authors featured in Adults Only; they will follow shortly. First up is Nick Mulgrew, winner of the Best Story prize.
Adults Only is available in stores for R190.
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Diepsee is ’n keur uit al die kortverhaalbundels van E. Kotze wat sedert 1982 verskyn het. Dié uitsonderlike vertellings handel oor die harde lewe aan die dorre Weskus van Suid-Afrika, en soos die eerste bundel se flapteks dit gestel het: “Dit is tydlose verhale waarin die wesenlike aard van die mens met skerp insig en met deernis blootgelê word.”
Oor die outeur
E Kotze is gebore op 17 Oktober 1933 op die plaas Langrietvlei in die distrik Hopefield. Sy het opgegroei op Doornbaai, ’n vissersdorpie aan die Weskus waar haar pa, Coenraad Walters, verbonde was aan die kreeffbriek van North Bay Canning Company.
Sy het laerskoolonderrig ontvang in die eemanskooltjie daar en matrikuleer aan die Hoërskool Vredendal in 1950. Daarna volg sy ’n sekretariële kursus en werk by Sanlam totdat sy in 1954 trou met die skipper, Willie Kotze van Lambertsbaai. Vier kinders is uit hul huwelik gebore: ’n dogter, Marlene, en drie seuns, Petru, Hannes en Oostenwald.
Gedurende die tydperk van 1954 tot 1972 het hulle op verskeie dorpe aan die Weskus gewoon, nl. Lambertsbaai, Walvisbaai en Houtbaai. Swak gesondheid het ’n einde aan Willie se loopbaan ter see gemaak, en hul vestig hul op die plasie Sunnybrook bo-op die Piketberge waar hul byna twintig jaar lank ’n vrugteboerdery bedryf.
Na haar man se dood in April 1989 gaan woon sy op Vredenburg, geboorteplek van beide haar ouers. Na ses jaar verhuis ek Velddrif toe — ’n skilderagtige dorpie aan die Bergrivier, een van die min plekke aan die Weskus wat nog iets van die karakter van ’n vervloë tyd behou het.
Haar skryfloopbaan het waarskynlik sy ontstaan te danke aan die lang tye dat haar man op see was — en die relase wat daaruit voortgevloei het. Hy was ’n onderhoudende en ’n natuurlike verteller, nie net van sy see-ervarings nie, maar ook sy gebeurtenisvolle kinderlewe aan die soutpan naby Lambertsbaai.
Hierdie vertellings het aanleiding gegee tot haar eerste kortverhaalbundel wat in 1982 by Tafelberg-Uitgewers verskyn het, Halfkrone vir die Nagmaal. (Dit ontvang die Eugène Marais-prys in 1983.) Die meeste van hierdie verhale het met die verloop van 18 jaar in tydskrifte verskyn voordat dit uiteindelik in boekvorm uitgegee is.
In 1986 het Silt van die aarde verskyn en in 1992 Halwe hemel. Tussen die twee bundels het ’n kinderboek, Boetie-Jan se skilpadnes, die lig gesien. Waterwyfie en ander woestynverhale, is in 1997 uitgegee. In 2009 verskyn Toring se baai, by Kwela.
The New Yorker recently opened up its archive online, making back issues from 2007 to 2014 available for free until sometime in “the fall”, and will be curating those articles into collections. The first is entitled “Love Stories: Tales of romance and regret.”
The collection consists of 11 short stories, including “The Love of My Life”, by TC Boyle, Colm Tóibín’s “Summer of ’38″, “Jon” by George Saunders, Junot Díaz’s “The Cheater’s Guide to Love”, Roberto Bolaño’s “Clara,” and “What Is Remembered” by Alice Munro.
In her introduction, Deborah Treisman, The New Yorker fiction editor, says putting the anthology together got her and her colleagues thinking about what exactly makes a love story, and she quotes Louis Menand, who said in a 1997 issue of the magazine: “The repertoire of dénouements is fairly limited: marriage, splitsville, murder, and mutual annihilation.”
But although there is a formula, Treisman says, “it’s a formula that the best writers deviate from, refresh, or subvert”.
Browse the archive:
Read “Clara” by Roberto Bolaño:
She had big breasts, slim legs, and blue eyes. That’s how I like to remember her. I don’t know why I fell madly in love with her, but I did, and at the start, I mean for the first days, the first hours, it all went fine; then Clara returned to the city where she lived, in the south of Spain (she’d been on vacation in Barcelona), and everything began to fall apart.
One night I dreamed of an angel: I walked into a huge, empty bar and saw him sitting in a corner with his elbows on the table and a cup of milky coffee in front of him. She’s the love of your life, he said, looking up at me, and the force of his gaze, the fire in his eyes, threw me right across the room. I started shouting, Waiter, waiter, then opened my eyes and escaped from that miserable dream. Other nights I didn’t dream of anyone, but I woke up in tears. Meanwhile, Clara and I were writing to each other. Her letters were brief. Hi, how are you, it’s raining, I love you, bye. At first, those letters scared me. It’s all over, I thought. Nevertheless, after inspecting them more carefully, I reached the conclusion that her epistolary concision was motivated by a desire to avoid grammatical errors. Clara was proud. She couldn’t write well, and she didn’t want to let it show, even if it meant hurting me by seeming cold.
She was eighteen at the time. She had quit high school and was studying music at a private academy, and drawing with a retired landscape painter, but she wasn’t all that interested in music, and it was pretty much the same with painting: she liked it, but couldn’t get passionate about it. One day, I received a letter informing me, in her usual terse fashion, that she was going to take part in a beauty contest. My response, which filled three double-sided pages, was an extravagant paean to her calm beauty, the sweetness of her eyes, the perfection of her figure, etc. The letter was a triumph of bad taste, and when I had finished it I wondered whether or not I should send it, but in the end I did.
A few weeks went by before I heard from her. I could have called, but I didn’t want to intrude, and also at the time I was broke. Clara came in second in the contest and was depressed for a week. Surprisingly, she sent me a telegram, which read, “SECOND PLACE. STOP. GOT YOUR LETTER. STOP. COME AND SEE ME.”
A week later, I took a train bound for the city where she lived, the first one leaving that day. Before that, of course—I mean after the telegram—we had spoken on the phone, and I had heard the story of the beauty contest a number of times. It had had a big impact on Clara, apparently. So I packed my bags and, as soon as I could, got on a train, and very early the next morning there I was, in that unfamiliar city. I arrived at Clara’s apartment at nine-thirty, after having a coffee at the station and smoking a few cigarettes to kill some time. A fat woman with messy hair opened the door, and when I said I had come to see Clara she looked at me as if I were a lamb on its way to slaughter. For a few minutes (they seemed extraordinarily long at the time, and, thinking the whole thing over, later on, I realized that in fact they were), I sat and waited for Clara in the living room, a living room that seemed welcoming, for no special reason, overly cluttered but welcoming and full of light. When Clara made her entrance, it was like the apparition of a goddess. I know it was a stupid thing to think—and it’s a stupid thing to say—but that’s how it was.