Saturday, 20 October 2018

Witchfield


Katie Peridot quite likes being ordinary. Unfortunately, some very out-of-the-ordinary things have been happening. On top of that her best friend, Mayuri, isn’t her best friend anymore, a sinister sponsorship programme is taking over her school, her mother is acting more crazy than usual and the only person who really seems to understand her is a peculiar cleaning lady. Then she teams up with Themba, the cleverest (and most unpopular) boy at school, and together their investigation takes them deep into the town’s abandoned mine.
What they find there is more terrible than they could have imagined. Can they save Witchfield before it’s too late?


The title definitely formed first: a town that seemed ordinary and boring, but was not. Then the characters came, rushing, filling that space. A sensible girl who liked rationality and just wanted to fit in. A mother who stood out. The ups and downs of their relationship. The friends around the girl. A lonely boy with big glasses who had his sights set high above the limitations of the everyday. A mysterious mountain. Unwanted magic. A villain with a nefarious plot (of course). And a cat (there had to be a cat).

And so the ideas swirled around me, finally settling into a coherent plot that I could then work on. Which I did. A lot. Deleting and cutting and rewriting. And giving-up and starting again. And giving-up and... Let's just summarise and say it took a long time.

I've always been fascinated by unconventional parent-child relationships and Katie and her mother gave me the opportunity to play around with this idea through their delightful, frustrating, bohemian ways. What I also really longed for in the story were the familiar contours of the South African landscape; a setting that reaffirmed that South African children's lives existed in books too. Having said that though, this was not the point of the story. It was never created to fill a literary gap. I  wrote it because these characters arrived insistently in my mind and had to be brave and go on an adventure. That's what drove the writing process, and if South African children smile because they recognise a little bit of themselves and their lives in Katie and Themba and Mayuri,  I certainly will be delighted too.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

I wrote a book


I wrote a book.

(I may or may not have also written a whole heap of other things regardless of the fact that nothing is ever published. In this regard, writing is like a bad, slightly embarrassing habit that I can't seem to stop. I write quietly, perhaps a little secretively, in the extreme margins of my days. There's not much space, not much time, but somehow, it's been enough.)

But this book.

I knew there was something special about it when I started writing it ten years ago. The name. The characters that rushed at me so eagerly that I felt swamped. I haven't actually been writing it for ten whole years; for much of that time it was pushed aside, abandoned, banished, forgotten, rejected, hidden. Life happened. But it wouldn't go away; eventually, I pulled it out and faced it again. And again. And again.

So, here it is.

My book in my hands. It's been a long, long journey and the feel of its pages beneath my fingers is a kind of homecoming for me.

That seems all I'm capable of for now. I shall write something more useful soon, like what it's about, how I did it, what happens next and what I plan to do with it.

xx

(And by the way, if anyone is wondering whose magic created this beautiful cover, I was very lucky to find the amazing, extraordinary Cristy Zinn. Find more of her work here.)

Friday, 21 July 2017

Can we talk about Enid Blyton?


A picnic with my two lovely girls at the Botanical Gardens got me thinking about Enid Blyton. We packed some snacks, a blanket and some books, one of them an Enid Blyton classic, The Secret Seven. The kid (who is now seven) has become enchanted by the Faraway Tree and The Secret Seven. If I read her a chapter, she will soldier on determinedly on her own, eating up the story word by word, a finger marking the steady progress. I never thought that watching a fledgling reader could make me feel so happy, but it does.

Which brings me to Enid Blyton.

The Wishing Chair, The Faraway Tree, The Famous Five, The Secret Seven and all those page-turning adventure stories made up my reading childhood. I discovered the heady addiction of stories, the desperate need to find out what happens next even after lights out, through these books. I was eight when I started to read in English, having just moved to South Africa with my parents. Enid Blyton books quickly became part of my reading diet and continued to be favourites for years. Reading them felt a bit like making friends in a new place. A lot of it didn't make sense to me or reflect my new life in South Africa. I still have no idea what sort of meal "tea" is. Green meadows and lanes, and the cold, misty, rainy weather all took on mythical qualities in my mind. The humidity and heat, the lush, out-of-control coastal vegetation with its troupes of vervet monkeys, the street vendors at the intersections, the rickshaw drivers at the beachfront, the intoxicating multiculturalism were all absent in the stories I picked up. But it didn't matter. I loved reading them anyway.

Much criticism has been leveled at Blyton for her culturally insensitive, gender-stereotypical stories, but for all that she did wrong, she certainly did something right. Children, pretty much everywhere, love her stories. And this raises a very important question, one I often engage with, namely, who determines what "good" children's literature is? Good according to whom? Who decides? Children or adults? Are adult critics even qualified to do this?

The lack of working mothers, touches of racism and xenophobia, the obvious classism are sometimes hard to overlook as an adult now rereading some of my childhood favourites, but then I watch my fledgling reader's growing hunger for them and suddenly I don't feel so qualified to tell her what she can and can't read.

I think Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Ted Talk The danger of the single story is particularly relevant to children's literature. Perhaps the solution to the Enid Blyton problem is not to eliminate her from children's reading diets, because she certainly has earned her place there, but rather to feed them a rich variety of stories from different places and backgrounds. In other words, offer them a balanced diet with a healthy sprinkling of magic.

So, what are your views on Enid Blyton?






Monday, 13 March 2017

Writing in snippets


So sometimes I get a bit sad because I never seem to have time to write my blog these days. Gaping ravines appear between posts that remind me of how quickly time seems to wash away. Before I know it, the next month is already here and there is a long list of things I haven't managed to get to. Between working and life and two little ones, I guess I must make peace with that.

But in the interim, the defiant part of me decided to set up an instagram account for this blog, sort of as a way of tiding me over in little snippets until I have time to write something more substantial here. So for now, this is where I can be found: here.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Hello new year


Well, here it is. 2017. 

I always become pensive in the space between the end of a year and the beginning of a new one. I feel the build-up of days and years more acutely then. I suppose in a way it's a natural place for a pause, to take a moment to wonder: have I done enough? What have I made with this length of time called a year? What will I make of the next?

I look at my two girls and at the growing that has taken place, the many things learned and done. The kid: beautiful, wispy and suddenly so big, but still fragile, standing bravely at the precipice of formal schooling, the preschool chapter closed and left behind in the last year. My baby, with her halo of curls, bursting into toddlerhood with a fierce determination and yet still so soft and small when her outstretched arms reach for me.


I look at these two girls and think about that year that trails away behind me, how my path has determined theirs, what the marks and prints are that I've left behind on them. How I shape them.


And sometimes it overwhelms me because a childhood is a very precious thing to hold in your hand.





Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Christmas in summer


It's noticing the sweaty discomfort of Father Christmas in his woolly suit suffering through the humidity, the fake snow spray-painted on windows and the foreign irrelevance of sleighs and reindeer and holly, that makes me think just how Christmas in South Africa is a season of contradictions and incongruity. The holiday doesn't seem to fit right, like some hand-me-down item of clothing. The cracks show easily: in the heat that makes all the cosy Christmas cheer a bit unpleasant to carry out in real life, in the pictures of snowmen hastily coloured-in before children have another splash in the pool, in the wild greenness of a Durban summer paling the evergreen of the Christmas tree.

But I also kind of love that no one cares about the details, that the incongruity doesn't matter. I love the enthusiasm in a Hindu colleague's talk about how she is so excited to celebrate Christmas with her new little son. I love the chaos and colour and contradiction of hybrid-Christmas narratives springing up around me. The point being that it doesn't have to make sense.

While I did spend most of my formative years enjoying a cold Christmas, where the hot food and candles and Gl├╝hwein and Christmas decor made sense, I've come to love what a subtropical holiday season feels like too, but it's largely underrepresented in all things Christmas. So in the interests of celebrating the holiday season in a local way, here's my list of things I like about this time of year:

  • heat-soaked, lazy days after a busy year of work
  • the merciful whir of air-conditioners
  • the chaotic green everywhere and the carpet of Frangiapani blossoms on the patio
  • mangoes and paw-paws and litchis 
  • outside dinners when the day starts to cool down slightly
  • the feel of cold water on hot skin
  • being barefoot 
  • the clink of ice-cubes in white wine shared with friends
  • having an excuse to bake something delicious despite the heat and having a cold shower afterwards
  • (literally) cool desserts 
  • cutting off a bunch of bananas from my little cluster of banana trees in the garden
  • the ingenuity of beaded wire Christmas decorations made by industrious street vendors
  • finding local substitutes for ridiculously priced nuts and berries
  • and like everywhere: time with my people ☺


Sunday, 4 December 2016

Words


Sometimes words leave you. They disappear somewhere and remain obstinately out of reach. I've been feeling a bit like that recently. Sitting there, self-consciously, waiting for them to come home. Maybe it's the effects of a busy and well-worn year coming to an end. It's difficult to not feel completely depleted. 

At least I've been doing a lot of reading, absorbing a whole range of words, enjoying the pleasure of them and appreciating the effects of unusual arrangements. I found this list of strange and beautiful words (some English, some borrowed) via Buzzfeed . These are some of my favourites! 








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