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Announcing the Inaugural André Brink Memorial Lecture, to be delivered at this year's @FranLitFest

Book Bites: 1 March 2015

Vanessa and her SisterVanessa and her Sister
Priya Parmar (Bloomsbury)
Book fling
In 1905 the Stephen sisters, Vanessa and Virginia, moved into a fashionable London suburb and opened their doors to a throng of artistic friends. The circle became known as the Bloomsbury Group. Vanessa and her Sister reimagines the events that followed Vanessa’s marriage to Clive Bell, which put an end to a glittering time of freedom. The novel is written in Vanessa’s honest, anguished voice, and shines a startlingly bright light on this early period in Virginia Woolf’s life.
- Sally Partridge @sapartridge

Their Lips Talk of MischiefTheir Lips Talk of Mischief
Alan Warner (Faber & Faber)
Book buff
Life is hard for two aspiring literary geniuses living together in a flat on the fifth floor of a decaying, London council block in the mid-1980s. Christmas fare is half a dry loaf and a jar of Marmite, and the only publishing house able to recognise their talents has them writing captions for the 1986 Cats Calendar. In the confined space of the flat, tensions grow. Warner’s book is boisterous, sharp and bitter.
- David Lea

Land of the BlindLand of the Blind
Barbara Nadel (Headline)
Book thrill
Nadel’s novels, featuring Inspector Cetin Ikmen, cleverly evoke the layered history and current upheavals that swirl around the ancient city of Istanbul. Here Ikmen and his libidinous sidekick, Mehmet Suleyman, are dealing with two corpses: one ancient but with possibly contentious historical significance and one fresh, and having freshly given birth. Goodness knows how Ikmen has survived his vast intake of nicotine through 17 books, but long may he continue.
- Margaret von Klemperer

Away from the DeadAway from the Dead
Karen Jennings (Holland Park Press)
Book buff
Jennings does not disappoint in this collection of short stories. True to the title, its theme is death – where “the dead” becomes a state within which the characters reveal their secrets, survive and try to heal. There’s Isaac, in “Away from the Dead”, who realises he can’t outrun those he wanted to leave behind. Emily’s life, in “Narrative of Emily Louw”, is reduced to routine in search of her missing husband. Throughout, Jennings sensitively lifts the veil shrouding the concept of death.
- Kholofelo Maenetsha @KMaenetsha

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BBC Podcast Series: "Writing a New South Africa", with Ivan Vladislavic, Niq Mhlongo, Lauren Beukes, Nadia Davids and Others

Joburg street poet Thabiso Mohare, aka Afurakan, recently spoke to Ivan Vladislavić, Niq Mhlongo, Lebo Mashile, Nadia Davids, Lauren Beukes and SJ Naudé about the issues and challenges facing South African literature today, 20 years after democracy, for a BBC Radio 4 series entitled, “Writing a New South Africa”.

The FollyWay Back HomeDog Eat DogIn a Ribbon of Rhythm
An Imperfect BlessingBroken MonstersThe Alphabet of BirdsChokers en survivorsGrond/Santekraam

In the first episode, entitled “Johannesburg, City of Recent Arrivals”, Mashile says: “There’s something really unique about this context, as dysfunctional as it is, as exhausting as it is, it’s also transformative and it allows for conversations that are not possible anywhere else.”

Mashile speaks about the influence that her book, In a Ribbon of Rhythm, had on young people: “The emergence of black female writers is one of the most important creative movements and shifts to have happened in the last 20 years.”

Mohare and Vladislavić walk through the neighbourhood of Braamfontein, and chat about the growing work in local literature that grapples with space. “Johannesburg is a city of recent arrivals,” Vladislavić says.

Vladislavić, whose writing embodies Johannesburg like almost no other, speaks about a writer’s interaction with the city, and about walking on street level where cities happen: “I find it harder, I find that Johannesburg has become more insular.”

While overlooking Hillbrow and Yeoville from Constitution Hill, where he spent a lot of time in his youth, Vladislavić talks about how he finds a strong flavour of Johannesburg in Mhlongo’s books, especially Dog Eat Dog.

In the second episode, “Page and Stage”, Mohare investigates how a new generation of young poets and writers see South Africa and the value of the spoken word.

Mhlongo says that even though he is a writer, he still has a day job and emphasises that South Africans needs to put reading and writing on the national agenda.

The third episode, entitled “Cape Town: Place and Contested Space”, will be aired soon. Mohare will speak to Beukes, Davids and Naudé about the history of the city and how it affects the work of writers, poets and playwrights. He also explores the deeply political work of Nathan Trantraal and Ronelda Kamfer.

Book details

Melissa de Villiers flew in from Singapore to launch The Chameleon House

Melissa de Villiers was in South Africa for a week to launch her debut collection of short stories, The Chameleon House. Her book was launched at the NELM Eastern Star Museum on Friday 20th February in conversation with Anthea Garman of the Rhodes Journalism Department.
Melissa de Villiers

The Book Lounge launch was on Tuesday evening, 24th February 2015, where Melissa was in conversation with Liesl Jobson. Those who attended the launches would have been struck by Melissa’s grounded, thoughtful discussion of and engagement with her stories. She told us that one of her stories went through more than seventy drafts.


Nyana Kakoma who is on a six week internship with Modjaji Books wrote this about Tuesday’s launch at the Book Lounge.

Looking for and finding home: A conversation With Melissa de Villiers

Nothing starts off an evening of book loving better than a glass of wine and sumptuous bites. Except a surprise email from the author’s father and sister right before the author conversation.A priceless look of surprise on Melissa de Villiers face when the Louann from the Book Lounge read an email to Melissa from “Dad and Suzie” wishing her the very best at her book launch, and we were off to a great start of the launch of her collection of short stories, The Chameleon House.

Liesl Jobson (writer and musician), who sat down in conversation with Melissa kicked the evening off with a reading of “A Letter to Bianca” from The Chameleon House. She described the characters from the stories as resilient, emerging through the chaos and recognisable by everyone.

Although she started writing seriously much later, as a shy child who felt she could not express a lot of things, Melissa turned to writing as an escape. “When I had my first child I gave myself permission to write. I wanted my child to know these stories before the memories started to fade,” she explained. While some writers start their stories with a theme or character, it is images that endlessly bothered her that we have to thank for this collection. In trying to understand why they bothered her so much, she wrote a collection that has been described as, “a tough, sharp collection of stories offering unexpected glimpses of a changing country” by fellow writer, Romesh Gunesekera.

The question of looking for and finding home is a running theme in the stories that had to be discussed. Melissa, who is South African, has lived in London and now lives in Singapore, sometimes wonders what it would feel like if she had not left South Africa. “So this collection is almost like a love letter to this place that I left.” It made sense then, that when an audience member asked Melissa whether she tried getting published elsewhere, Melissa said, “I came first and only to Modjaji. It was important to me that my book gets published here.”

On the editing process, Melissa thanked her editor Andie Miller who at times had to cut the umbilical cord when Melissa could not let go of a story even after writing 70 drafts of it.

Before the question and answer session, Liesl pointed out that Melissa has perfected the art of ending stories. She compared it to an Eskom power cut while you are running on the treadmill and end up being flung forward. You would have to read Melissa’s collection to see what she means.

The Chameleon House

For more photos of the launches in Grahamstown and Cape Town click here

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The Chameleon House

Winners of the South African HorrorFest Bloody Parchment Short Story Competition Announced

Bloody ParchmentBloody Parchment: The Root CellarAlert! Books LIVE has the privilege of announcing the winners of this year’s Bloody Parchment short story competition.

HorrorFest South Africa is an annual celebration of all that is spine-chilling and scary. The literary component of the festival, Bloody Parchment, runs an annual short story competition, aiming to develop new genre talent and grow South Africa’s horror offering.

As always, the top stories contain all that is best in the “horror, dark fantasy and weird genres”.

On behalf of the panel of judges (who are all movers and shakers in the publishing industry), the anthology’s editor Nerine Dorman is pleased to reveal this year’s top stories.

“This year the judges’ decision resulted in something a little different for the South African HorrorFest Bloody Parchment short story competition,” Dorman says. “We have joint winners for first place, so a huge and hearty congratulations to Bernice Mills (South Africa) and Benjamin Knox (UK).

“Our runners-up this year are Austin Malone and Belinda Lewis, with our finalists (in alphabetical order) being Toby Bennett, Dave-Brendon de Burgh, John Paul Davies, Elaine Dodge, EL Garcia, Abigail Godsell, Icy Sedgwick, Jason Mykl Snyman, and Nic Zav.

“Well done to everyone. The South African HorrorFest Bloody continues to strive towards developing dark, speculative fiction, not just within the borders of the Rainbow Nation, but globally as well, by offering finalists prizes not of money, but editing and mentorship – valuable resources that is often outside of the financial reach of many aspiring authors.”


Book details

Sterling Line-up Announced for the 2015 Time of the Writer Festival

The lineup for the 18th Time of the Writer Festival has been announced, including the who’s who of South African literature.

Presented by the Centre for Creative Arts (University of KwaZulu-Natal) and made possible by support from the Department of Arts and Culture, the City of Durban, the French Institute (IFAS) and the Goethe Institute, the 18th edition of the festival will take place in Durban between 16 and 21 March.

The lineup for the 2015 Time of the Writer:

NoViolet Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Carol Campbell, South Africa

Imraan Coovadia, South Africa

ZP Dala, South Africa

Ousmane Diarra, Mali

Dilman Dila, Uganda

Jacob Dlamini, South Africa

Ekow Duker, South Africa

Craig Higginson, South Africa

Mandla Langa, South Africa

Thando Mgqolozana, South Africa

Kirsten Miller, South Africa

MJ Mngadi, South Africa

Nthikeng Mohlele, South Africa

Given Mukwevho, South Africa

Futhi Ntshingila, South Africa

Sue Nyathi, Zimbabwe

Charlotte Otter, South Africa

Margaret Von Klemperer, South Africa

Mzilikazi wa Afrika, South Africa

The theme for this year’s festival, Writing For Our Lives, calls attention to the urgent continuing struggle of all writers in speaking truth and bearing witness to the times through their words. Globally writers are combatting censorship when the truth is too hard to swallow, challenging the reader’s perspective and sparking a passion for literature in our youth.

During this activity-rich week, audiences can expect to engage with a multitude of award-winning writers, from a wide range of political and social contexts, on the creative and technical processes and perspectives which shape their writing.

Evening readings and discussions will take place at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre (Howard College Campus) while wide reaching free day programmes are spread across Durban and the surrounding areas as part of the festival’s ongoing efforts to promote and nurture a culture of creative expression through reading and writing. This includes school visits, a publishing forum and a range of seminars and workshops.

Ticket information

Ticket cost R25 for the evening sessions and R10 for students on presentation of a student card. Workshops, seminars and book launches are free of charge. Book through Computicket Tel: 0861 915 8000 or 011 340 8000 or online at or at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre from 6 PM.

For more information contact the Centre for Creative Arts, University of KwaZulu-Natal by phone on +27 31 260 2506/1816 or email

We Need New NamesEsther's House’n Huis vir EsterTales of the Metric SystemnullA Killing in the Sun
AskariWhite WahalaThe Texture of ShadowsUnimportanceSister MoonKusemhlabeni Lapha
Rusty BellThe Violent Gestures of LifeDo Not Go GentleThe PolygamistBalthasar's GiftJust a Dead ManNothing Left to Steal

Book details

The SA Writers' College 2015 Annual Short Story Award Theme and Prizes Announced


SA Writers’ College has announced the details for this year’s Short Story Competition, an annual award that acknowledges excellent writing by emerging talent in South Africa.

The theme for this year is “Anniversary”, because this year is the 10th anniversary of the SA Writers’ College. To celebrate this landmark, prizes are larger than ever before: a total of R17 000 will be awarded to the writers of the top three stories. The grand prize is R10 000.

The competition is open to all South African residents, who have been published fewer than four times in any genre, in any publication. Entries must be submitted by midnight on 31 March, 2015, should be previously unpublished, and no more than 2 000 words in length.

Read more about the competition:

2015 Annual Short Story Award

For Emerging Writers in South Africa

This competition is to acknowledge excellence in creative writing in the Short Story genre. The contest is open to any emerging writer residing in South Africa who has had fewer than four stories/articles published in any format (print or digital).

To celebrate our anniversary of ten successful years at SA Writers’ College, we are offering bumper prizes in 2015.Anniversary-badge


First Prize: R 10 000
Second Prize: R 5 000
Third Prize: R 2 000

The top five entries will be published on our college site and the top five winners will receive editorial comments on their submitted works.