The idea of Book Dash start barely 10 months ago, but as at the time of this publication, some 22 childrens books have been published and more than R64 000 has been raised via the Thundafund Campaign – which has been extended to Christmas Eve – to ensure that these books get into the hands of the children who most need them.
Talking at the final fundraising bash held earlier this month at The Book Lounge, Arthur Attwell said, “When we started working on this project we believed that South African literacy organisations needed to be able to give more books away that were created locally, in local languages and at much lower prices.” He was joined in a fascinating discussion with editor, Glynis Lloyd, literacy advocate, Kathryn Torres, artist, Alice Toich and publishing professional Nicola Rijsdijk.
Attwell explained that his background in the publishing industry had given him insight into how the expenses of administration, overheads and infrastructure push up the prices of books.
Driving this project with him is Tarryn-Anne Anderson and Michelle Matthews. “We figured there were enough creative types in Cape Town, also the World Design Capital, to produce beautiful children’s books on volunteer time. We gathered volunteers together, first in a very small way,” he said.
The first (unofficial) Book Dash took place at their office with two teams, including the well known children’s author Helen Brain. Within just six hours, two teams had experimented with the model to investigate its viability. This was tremendous fun and offered the team useful insights into how to run a big event. In June, some 40 industry professionals gathered at the City of Cape Town Central Library to share their expertise as writers, illustrators, designers and editors.
“By the end of the day, there were 10 new books in the world that hadn’t been in existence before,” Attwell said. “An initial sponsorship enabled us to print and donate 750 copies of the first three books on Mandela Day to the Jireh early education centre. “It was the moment when we started handing those books to small children, some as young as two years old, the circle of production is closed. You realise just how incredible it is to be part of a movement of people volunteering their time to give books away.”
At that precise moment, his two-year-old son arrived waving a book. He climbed onto dad’s lap, anticipating a story. It is no coincidence that the logo on the back of each book is that of a father reading to a child. Inherent in the vision of the project is the deeply cherished hope that the battered institution of fatherhood might benefit from this inspired image.
Attwell continued: “Aidan’s a big reason that Book Dash exists. Watching him learn to read was the first time I saw the power books have to open children’s minds, to bring the world in close.”
After the success of the Jireh Centre giveaway more sponsorship arrived via Rock Girl. The second major Book Dash went ahead with the vision of creating biographies of inspiring African women, offering strong female role models to young boys and girls.
The tales of the lives of Basetsana Kumalo, Graça Machel, Zanele Situ, Phyllis Spira, Miriam Makeba, Wangari Maathai, Sindiwe Magona, Helen Martins, Dr James Barry and Albertina Sisulu Soon another 10 books telling South African women’s stories in an accessible and age-appropriate way had been created.
“Once we’d created all these beautiful books, we didn’t want them to live as PDFs on our website. They needed to be turned into books and given to children. We had to print a lot of books and the quickest way to print thousands of books was – again – to ask the community. We needed individuals to get behind a project that was close to their hearts,” Attwell said. This brought the project to the Thundafund crowd-funding campaign.
Nicola Rijsdijk spoke about volunteering. “As a professional in publishing, you’re often working alone. You believe in fiction, in the power of words, and you believe in empathy that a reader derives from a text, but often you’re alone. Sitting in a group of people collaborating together, the creative energy is fantastic.” Alice Toich echoed her sensibilities and said, “It didn’t take long for Tarryn to persuade me. When I thought back to my childhood and the books that I’d loved, I realised what a tragedy it would have been to grow up without them. It’s great to imagine you can influence a child’s experience of reading.”
Kathryn Torres is part of closing the circle of creation via The Shine Centre. “We’re going to ensure that even the youngest of children are going to own their own book,” she said. “It’s relatively easy to get hold of second-hand books, but for a child to hold a brand new book in their hands is much harder.” She said it was tremendously important that children had books in their home, that reading wasn’t merely something one did at school.
Glynis Lloyd said Book Dash made it easy to do service. “It’s a defined amount of time, 12 hours, and the results are fantastic. You feel like you’re producing a book. It’s challenging professionally, because it’s a very different way of looking at and exploring book production. It raises a lot of questions about how we make books in the industry.” This is a completely different kind of process possessing both advantages and disadvantages.
She highlighted how all aspects of a children’s book are important, the written text, the visuals and design. She said, “Those three things need to work together. In conventional publishing, because of the chronological way in which books are done, we often don’t get the opportunity to really consider how those things work together. Book Dash forces you to consider how the text works with the illustrations and with the design in a positive way.”
Attwell suggested that it was hardest on the day for the illustrator, who had to produce at least 12 images in 12 hours. Each book has 12 double page spreads to tell the story. Toich spoke about the “crazy” time constraints and how they shaped her sensibilities. “A major thing to remember during the 12 hours was to avoid getting stuck on minor details. Working in watercolour, I wanted it perfect. There are these whimsical mistakes that creep in. I try to remind myself that ‘progression is better than perfection’. Let’s get to the next point. Let’s keep this rolling. That’s the energy I tried to keep going.”
Rijsdijk recalled working with Karen Lilje on Kom Terug, Kat! who had a hard time finishing the illustrations on the day. “The text could only say so much but little in-jokes arrived via the illustrations. The fact that the cat had muddied the laundry was not what I had written,” she said. “I had been able to work ahead of time, writing the story, but it was such a privilege to work with the illustrator in the moment.”
Attwell said a real anxiety had been whether the process could truly produce books of quality. He put Torres on the spot and praised the standardised size of the books that would help young readers identify them as Book Dash books. She loved the visual humour of Kom Terug, Kat! and the precise amount of text on the page, suitable for a small child. She predicted that after the parents read these books to their children, they become books that children can read to themselves and then to one another. “Often children’s first readers are dry and droll. In all these books, the local flavour, the personalities – Miriam Makeba – the gentle language is balanced with humorous illustrations,” she said.
Lloyd articulated the challenges of the second Book Dash, where she guided teams writing the biographies, saying, “The writers needed to do their research, to be sure about their facts. The responsibility as editors was to make that due respect was paid to whomever was being written about.” Rijsdijk added her considerations: “Most of the volunteers have worked in this kind of intellectual medium where you have had to confront the ethics of putting something down on paper that will affect people, and change their perspectives. This influenced the quality of the work that was produced.”
Sloman expressed his excitement on how Book Dash aims to get children’s books into children’s hands, saying, “This project is incredibly important. Hearing participants talk about their experience and how fantastic that has been is testament to the brilliance of the project, as well as the people involved. The harder part is to see this thing grow ridiculously. I want to be sitting here in six or nine months times, hearing how you have distributed 50 000 books.”
Sloman asked, “How is that possible? You have many of the elements nailed down, in terms of the creative process and cutting out superfluous costs in the production line. Is this the next step trying to get big corporate involvement? Or will that screw it up? How do we make this explode?”
Attwell lies awake at night, pondering these questions. He recently registered Book Dash as a non-profit organisation which is already unlocking possibilities for fundraising. “We’re now working with Jill Ritchie of Papillon Press, who doesn’t usually take on small new organisations,” he said.
“Folk tend to step it up a notch when they’re volunteering,” he said. “Watching people work, there was a kind of determination in everyone’s eyes to get this right.”
For those who care about this country, this is something wonderful to celebrate. There are a whole lot of things going right here. Any and all support in the last few days of the Thundafund campaign will surely make a difference.
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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted live from the event using the hashtag #livebooks:
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Books by authors involved in Book Dash include:
Joanne Hichens – editor of the Adults Only, the second annual Short.Sharp.Stories Awards anthology – interviews Eugene Yiga. His story “Peaked” was selected for inclusion in the anthology.
After studying financial accounting and classical piano, Eugene Yiga worked in branding, communications and market research. Writing was, however, always his calling, which is why he quit his job, freelanced until he was broke, and eventually became a lifestyle and entertainment journalist for various online and print publications. Follow Eugene at www.eugeneyiga.com and on Twitter @eugeneyiga.
Your story, “Peaked”, a conversation between two gay men, is witty and sharp. What sparked the story?
I’d just come out of what looked set to be a promising relationship and was feeling quite low. One of my best friends suggested I write about what I was going through. We’d often spoken about our relationship experiences and he was always amused by some of the stories I told, which he was convinced would make for hilarious reading. It seems that he was right!
How much of it is true?
A lot of what I wrote about in “Peaked” is based on experiences I’ve had as well as things I’ve heard from other people. In some cases, I’ve had to change details for the sake of respecting other people’s privacy, but there are still a few references that are obvious enough for readers to pick up.
Mostly, though, I don’t think the issue of ‘truth’ matters. What matters more is whether or not the story is believable. It’s something I realised while reading a fascinating book called Turning Life into Fiction: “If it could have happened, if it has some relevance to what it means to be alive, that’s all that matters… One can be honest without being truthful. One can be believable without being factual.”
Was it important for you to explore gay culture through the writing?
My goal was always for “Peaked” to be more than just light entertainment; I wanted it to be something that would get people thinking. So many aspects of gay culture – casual sex, open relationships, and other oxymorons – are things we simply accept as a given. But why? I wanted “Peaked” to take a closer look at these and other practices so that we could start challenging what might not be healthy for us in the long-term.
But the story extends beyond ‘gay’ culture, doesn’t it?
Sure. After a while I realised that this wasn’t just a gay story. Instead, “Peaked” became a story about people and the messed up choices we make in our relationships, our careers, and our lives. In that sense, I wanted it to be something that would get us all – gay and straight – to take a closer look at ourselves and, in doing so, perhaps change our beliefs and behaviour for the best.
And this is your first piece of published fiction writing…
Ever since I was a child, I had a passion for the written word. When I realized that I could inspire and entertain others through writing, just like I was inspired and entertained by the books I read every night, I reckon I found my calling.
And yes, “Peaked” is in fact my first piece of fiction! (Not considering works like “The Hungry Chef” and “The Spooky Pound”, a short story and poem I wrote when I was about seven and didn’t know how to use semi-colons correctly). The story started out as the first chapter of what was meant to be a novel. But when I saw the theme for this year’s Short Sharp Awards, I knew that it would be ideal as an entry and one of the few times I could get away with swearing in print!
One could say you’ve got away with other transgressions – the language of the story is quite blunt and might even offend some readers. Did you consider that while you were writing?
It was great to know that the story, which I knew would ruffle a few feathers, still had enough merit to see it through to the collection. Because many aspects of “Peaked” are somewhat explicit, I didn’t expect everyone to be fond of the language. More specifically, I didn’t expect everyone to agree with some of the things Karl says. He attacks a lot of people: black, white, young, old, gay, straight, and in-between. I suppose you could say that at least he’s unbiased in his discrimination!
My only hope now is that any readers who get angry because they find the dialogue a little too blunt take a minute to stop and think about why. If the story is hitting a nerve, it might be a good idea to examine what’s causing the conflict. Finding resistance usually means you need to take a closer look inside. That’s far better than lashing out. So yes; I expect that Peaked could piss off a lot of people. If it causes at least one person to think, do, or be better, I’d consider it a success. I’m taking a stand that I think is long overdue.
To get back to your desire to write a novel, would you still consider recreating “Peaked” as a larger work?
There are a lot of ways to take it forward. I don’t think I need to go as far as a full-on novel to communicate the message. Instead, I’m most excited about the idea of turning it into a play, especially because I’ve seen over and over again how powerful something on stage can be. Beyond that, I’ve also thought about turning “Peaked” into a movie or even a musical. Perhaps Stephen Sondheim is out of my league, but can’t a guy dream?
You bet! In fact, The National Arts Festival is very keen that some of these stories are recreated as plays, so that sounds like a great idea. Thanks, Eugene, we’ll be looking for your name in lights!
Die groot sand en ander stories deur Doc Immelman is nou by Protea Boekhuis beskikbaar:
In Die groot sand en ander stories kry die leser die geleentheid om verhale te lees wat onder meer in Ster, Die Brandwag, Republikein en Huisgenoot verskyn het. Die titelverhaal, Die groot sand, speel af in die genadelose Namibwoestyn waar twee diamantsmokkelaars hul buit gaan haal. Ná ’n moordende staptog kry hulle die diamante, maar ’n sandstorm steek op. Onder die gekerm en geloei van die wind besef een van die smokkelaars dat daar net genoeg water oor is vir een man… Trek die koffiekan nader en lees ook oor ’n olifantjag in Angola, oor die vul wat treine gejaag het en die fabel oor die leeumannetjie wat Oukat moes opvolg.
Oor die outeur
Meer as 40 boeke het uit die meesterverteller Doc Immelman (1928–2013) se pen verskyn. Sy liefde vir Namibië en sy kennis van en liefde vir jag vind in byna al sy verhale neerslag – en sorg vir ’n tydlose soort ontspanningsliteratuur wat by gevestigde aanhangers van sy boeke sowel as nuwe lesers sal aanklank vind.
Joanne Hichens – editor of the Adults Only, the second annual Short.Sharp.Stories Awards anthology – interviews Bobby Jordan. His story “The Uniondale Road” was selected for inclusion in the anthology.
Bobby Jordan is a Cape Town-based journalist and occasional short story writer. His work has appeared in a variety of newspapers, magazines and anthologies. Career highlights include a travel assignment to find Dracula’s castle in Transylvania, a week-long profile of the guy who paints the Eiffel Tower (in a harness), and tea with landscape painter Pieter van der Westhuizen. His short fiction was thrice short-listed for the Pen/Studzinski Literary Award. His story ‘Claremont Park’ received an Honourable Mention in 2011. Since then he has mainly been writing bedtime stories for his expanding family.
Your story “The Uniondale Road”, a take on what has to be South Africa’s most well-known highway ghost, is intriguing and hard-hitting. What inspired you to write this story (apart from the ghost? Maybe you saw her??)
As far as I know I’ve never seen a ghost, but the longer I live the more I want to believe in them. The Uniondale ghost story was always one of my favourites, because I know that area well. Several times I have driven past the place where the ghost – allegedly a beautiful young woman – appears, and every time I have wondered what I would do if she did. Would I pick her up? What would we chat about? What if I fell in love with her? (apparently she is dazzlingly beautiful).
Once I even went so far as to plan an overnight trip to Uniondale at the beginning of April, which is when the ghost likes to appear – but only to select men. Would she pick me?
The trip never happened but I have never stopped imagining it, each time with a different ending.
You were concerned that mentioning the ‘ghost story’ might be a spoiler (dreaded word), but surely every South African au fait with the actual ‘Uniondale Road’ myth will know, from the title, that something super-natural will pop up?
In fact I am surprised at how few people know about this ghost story. Or if they have heard about it they aren’t quite sure how it ends, if it ends at all. In the end I was satisfied that even if some people knew the story, there would still be enough mystery to keep them guessing all the way to the ‘snot-klap’ at the end.
It must have felt like quite a ride to write. As one of the more graphically sexual stories of the collection, did you find it disturbing, or exciting to write?
Good question! I’m more of a moonlight and 60s music kind of guy, so for me the sexual violence is quite upsetting. I am nevertheless interested in the relationship between violence and sex. It is curious how for many people something so exciting can turn out to be so horrific, and vice versa. I’m not sure if that is intrinsic or extrinsic. And I’m still not sure what it means.
Is there possibly an underlying theme you were wanting to explore? Particularly around abuse?
As so often happens with stories, this one took on a life of its own. What started as an innocent drive through the countryside turned into something far more sinister. Sometimes it seemed I was barely holding onto the steering wheel. I agree with those who say that any story is primarily a subliminal process. For me the Uniondale Road explores the cruelly intertwined light and dark aspects of human nature.
To me, the story also has a sweet after-taste of revenge.
Remind me to stay on your right side! When it comes to your broader interests as a writer, are there any particular themes you’re drawn to?
Like most writers I am interested in just about anything. ‘Nothing’, too, is very interesting – although difficult to write about! One of my first writing ‘exercises’ was a monthly ‘story swap’ with a close friend: we would take turns to come up with the most mundane title imaginable – just to see if we could make it interesting. I can’t speak for myself, but my friend passed the test every time.
Personally I love writing about the foibles of human nature; our battle to tell the difference between reality and imagination. Is there any difference?
Can I throw that question right back at you? Do the boundaries between reality and imagination sometimes feel blurred for you?
I suspect so, but don’t ask me how or – even worse – why. Certainly our everyday reality is a complex and magnificent abstraction. But that’s not all it is. Sorry, that’s about the best I can do. I’m a newspaper reporter, after all – what do I know about reality?
What does writing fiction provide you with that reporting doesn’t?
A lot. Reporting is the fieldwork for writing – or at least that’s the plan. Sadly the writing doesn’t always follow. I once got crapped on for writing a column that said the news basically tells us what we already know; I suspect good fiction is that which shows us something new.
And the state of the SA short story? Your view on that?
More people read the TV guide than short stories. Doesn’t mean we have to stop writing them though.
Indeed not. That last line could not be truer, thanks, Bobby. We hope at some stage to see the collected Bobby Jordan stories in print.
SJ Naudé and Ivan Vladislavić recently exchanged letters in a piece for Granta, discussing translation, writing, and the looming presence of setting in South African writing.
Naudé published his debut collection of short stories, Alfabet van die voëls, in 2011, winning the University of Johannesburg Debut Prize and the Jan Rabie Rapport Prize. The English version, The Alphabet of Birds, which Naudé translated himself, was recently launched at the The Book Lounge, with Michiel Heyns calling it “wonderful”.
The latest issue of Granta includes work by Naudé for the first time – an excerpt from the title story of The Alphabet of Birds – and in her introduction to the issue, Granta owner Sigrid Rausing compares Naudé to JM Coetzee, “in his language, and in the vision of the fate of South Africa, hanging in the balance”.
In his opening letter to Naudé, Vladislavić ponders on how The Alphabet of Birds was tailored for the UK and South African markets, a concept he calls “quite new”: “When I began to work as an editor thirty years ago, we sometimes debated whether a book needed a glossary or not, but the idea of rewriting a text to make it more accessible to a foreign readership never arose.”
Vladislavić mentions a piece written by Leon de Kock a few months ago, “The SA Lit issue won’t go away”, which was in turn inspired by an article written by Fiona Snyckers entitled “Should local writers always set their books in South Africa?”
De Kock mentions the glut of South African authors who have “gone global” and wonders “what might be lost in this veritable rush for the emergency exit”. He also surmises that the question of “where to set one’s stories” must come across for Afrikaans writers as “strange”.
For many scholars, the explosion of the category now rather quaintly remembered as SA Lit is a genuinely liberating development, a deliverance from Ashraf Jamal’s sense (borrowed from Samuel Beckett) of local English letters being like a “dog chained to its own vomit”.
For Jamal, the transnational success of writers such as Sarah Lotz and Lauren Beukes, not to mention Deon Meyer, is cause for celebration. And indeed it is, isn’t it? We’re out of the province, at last! Boykie Sidley can set his stories in Ohio or California and sell his books in Jo’burg, Durban and Cape Town. Who would begrudge any “local” writer this kind of range?
At the time of Snyckers’ article, Books LIVE spoke to Lauren Beukes, Steven Boykey Sidley and Penny Busetto, who have all set work overseas. The consensus seemed to be that a South African setting was too constrictive.
In his conversation with Naudé, Vladislavić wonders whether “the question of locality is more interesting to my generation than yours”.
A few months ago, Leon de Kock published a piece in the Mail & Guardian about the tension between the local and the global in South African fiction. More and more writers are ‘going global’, he says, and setting their books in other places. They are also using a more generic English, I think, which doesn’t smack too strongly of one culture and won’t offend a sensitive palate. According to De Kock, these decisions threaten to dissolve the category of ‘SA Lit’ entirely. Interestingly, he views Afrikaans writers as a special case: ‘Consider, for a moment, how strange the question of where to set one’s stories comes across to most Afrikaans writers.’ The implication is that most Afrikaans writers, whose readership is largely confined to South Africa, don’t even think about setting their stories elsewhere.
Someone reading your Granta extract might assume you are one of those writers. The setting and language are pungently local. In fact, your book presents a strikingly wide range of settings, moving with ease from Berlin to Tokyo to Milan to Cape Town.
In his reply, Naudé clarifies that the changes made for each edition of his book were “quite superficial”, and introduced purely to avoid confusion.
He also disagrees with De Kock on the subject of setting quite strongly:
Leon de Kock, in the article you mention, sets up a dichotomy between serious South African literature and genre-literature – the former having a local focus, while the latter is now often set in exotic locales in the pursuit of ‘royalties’ and ‘big glam fame’. I would argue for a different kind of serious South African writing, which is neither necessarily predominantly concerned with South Africa, nor primarily set (t)here, but still driven by the urgency and deep necessity that fuel good writing. And which is not ‘everywhere and nowhere’ either. The notion that Afrikaans authors are somehow uniquely and inseparably tied to South African locales is a relic from a different era. I certainly don’t find the question of where to set my stories strange. For me, the strangest setting, the one that requires the greatest imaginative effort, is in fact South Africa.
The judging panel for the 2015 Man Booker Prize for Fiction has been announced.
This year’s prize will be judged by an all-new panel of Michael Wood (Chair), Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature at Princeton; Ellah Allfrey, journalist and Deputy Chair of the Council of the Caine Prize; John Burnside, award-winning poet; Sam Leith, author and literary editor at The Spectator and Frances Osborne, author and biographer.
Zimbabwe-born Allfrey edited the recently published Africa39: New Writing from Africa South of the Sahara. She is the former deputy editor of Granta magazine, and sits on the boards of English PEN and the Writers’ Centre Norwich, and as well as serving on the Council of the Caine Prize she is a patron of the Etisalat Prize for Literature.
Chair of judges Wood says: “Talking about novels is almost as much fun as reading them and we’re all greatly looking forward to this double pleasure.
“It’s a privilege to be a member of this very distinguished panel and to be part of the deliberations for the award of the Man Booker Prize, surely the most exciting and the most closely followed literary event in the English-speaking world. I believe some of the books are already waiting for us.”
Following last year’s alteration to the rules, the prize is now open to writers of any nationality, published in the UK and originally written in English.
The “Man Booker Dozen” of 12 or 13 books will be announced in August next year, the shortlist of six books in early September and the winner on 13 October.
Richard Flanagan won the 2014 Man Booker Prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North, which then, according to the Booker, went on to record sales that “eclipse[d] the sum total of all Flanagan’s other book sales in the past decade”.
Image credit: Andy Paradise