Jy blaai in die argief vir 2011 September.

#80 The right time to write – James Fouche

September 29, 2011 in Sonder kategorie

Another brilliant day for writing. The clouds are full and hanging low. There is something electric in the air. The intoxicating smell of coffee drifts across my laptop screen. Patrons are coming and going, stopping and walking, carrying on. This is fantastic, because people, everyday people, being as mundane as they can be, supply an author with ample characteristics and mannerisms and body language.

This is what it’s all about. I take a deep breath and time myself, initiating what most would describe as the writing process. I’ve been waiting to finish this scene for weeks. It’s vital to be in the right mood to write, especially when you are a 55-year-old farm worker waking up in a pool of blood, looking at a panga lying next to your head without a single clue as to what had happened or who had attacked you. I envision myself lying on the ground, opening my eyes and seeing what my character is seeing, feeling what he is feeling, doing what he would be doing. I’m ready.

Then, at the peak of my concentration, my phone suddenly starts to vibrate. I take the call and sigh as I listen to the voice at the other end. One of my clients has had a heart attack and I need to file the paperwork at the office. I finish the call and sit for a few seconds looking at the empty screen in despair. The blinking marker is begging me to start typing, but I can’t. There goes another brilliant opportunity.

Since my first novel was published I’ve been doing this unbearable balancing act between careers – flipping between the one I have to do and the one I want to do. Unfortunately there is no middle ground or one correct option for now. Sales of the first novel has not yet justified the shift in careers. I have to follow up with another novel or else I’ll be stuck in quicksand for the next five years.

An average day might see me going to my office and making appointments, doing paperwork, mailing publishers or reviewers or other authors, eating lunch while completing an interview for a fellow author’s blog, seeing clients, doing more paperwork, taking the dogs for a walk, and preparing for the next day. When I sit down at the laptop it’s almost eleven o’ clock and my eyes are falling shut.

As an author you want the world to know that you are an inspired voice with something useful to say, something of value to those who care to listen or read. Keeping that in mind, there is only one effective way of promoting yourself: constantly. This is difficult when all you really want to do is write. I have four books in my mind and no time to pen them down. So many things keep getting in the way.

Here are the three most prominent hazards for a new author attempting to complete his second novel, while still trying to promote his first one.

First, location: We relocated to George, where very little occurs from a literary point of view. I’m out of touch with the writing community.

Secondly, vocation: Generally first-time authors don’t step into the position of full-time author overnight. Chances are you have to work elsewhere, or manage a number of jobs at the same time, in order to keep food on the table. Sadly, this eats into your writing time, not to mention the loads of research time that precede the actual writing.

Lastly, inspiration: Here lies the snag, the ever-present thorn in the side, the ultimate counter-weight that always tips the way you don’t want it to tip. Inspiration drives the creativity of what we do. As long as there is no drive there will be an empty Word document on the screen.

If writing is not all you do, then the world quickly gets in the way and steals away your time and your inspiration. Luckily I have a very supportive and understanding wife, because let’s face it, authors are no day at the beach. At times we can be our own worst enemy.

So how to overcome these terrible pitfalls that face an aspiring writer every day? How can a first-time author complete that next novel and get his or her book into the world.

There are only three possible solutions, and here they are: determination, determination, determination.

#79 Short, Sharp & Snappy – Robin Malan

September 21, 2011 in Sonder kategorie

 “If I see another modern adaptation of a fairy tale, I’ll scream!”

Teachers who have to do with school theatre have been having it tough lately.


Well, no one wants to inflict on school students the “hoary old chestnuts”, those dreadful one-act plays like The Monkey’s Paw and The Bishop’s Candlesticks that seem to have been around for centuries. Nor, it seems from the heartfelt cry of one teacher, endless sub-Thurberesque “hip” updates of old fairy tales.

The trouble is: no one in the professional theatre is writing plays that short anymore. The idea of three short plays making up a “triple bill” of one-acters for an evening’s entertainment is completely passé now. Every bit as much as the “well-made play” of three acts and two intervals. Nowadays very few plays have an interval at all, and plays generally last about 70 to 90 minutes at one stretch and then they’re done!

So what do teachers do when they have to suggest short 20-minute plays suitable for their students to do for events like the inter-house play competition or inter-school play festival or just a short class reading? Where do they go to find them?

I still have a strong interest in school theatre and I go and see schools’ play festivals. And I’m struck (sometimes struck dumb) at the banality of the texts they have to work with. So I decided Something Had to Be Done. And Junkets Publisher would do it.

Of course, Junkets Publisher is me. A one-man operation (with an admin assistant coming in twice a week).

I put out a call in 2010 for short plays suitable for performance or rehearsed reading in high schools. The brief was wide open. I specified that the play had to be no shorter than 1 500 words and no longer than 4 500 words. The writer needed to be “a South African or a member of a SADC country or a person living or working in Southern Africa”. I said nothing at all about what the play should be about; all I said was that the plays should be “suitable for reading or performance by high school students, ie teenagers between the ages of 13 and 19”.

Astoundingly, 57 plays were submitted. Of these, a few disqualified themselves by being over the word limit or inappropriate for the specified age group.

I enlisted the help of a long-standing friend and colleague, Colleen Moroukian. (When I say “long-standing”, together we directed Iphigenia in Taurus, the first Greek play to be staged on the Jameson Hall steps at the University of Cape Town, in 1960, when we were both students.) Colleen agreed to become my co-compiler of the Short, Sharp & Snappy collection, and we started working our way through the plays submitted.

The standard was so high that we decided that there was material easily good enough for two volumes. Junkets Publisher will now publish the two volumes in The Collected Series, as Short, Sharp & Snappy 1 and Short, Sharp & Snappy 2 at the same time, with publication date 1 December 2011.

So who are these 24 playwrights whose plays were selected for publication?

They range from experienced writers for the stage (such as Ashraf Johaardien, Omphile Molusi and Peter Krummeck) to those for whom this is their first play. In age they range from 16 to 77. Margaret Clough, an ex-physical science teacher, is the oldest, enjoying her retirement both by walking her dogs on the beach and by writing – she has just had her first collection of poems, At Least the Duck Survived, published by Modjaji Books. The youngest are three 16-year-old students from King David High School Victory Park – Dean Salant, Gav Rubin and David Wein – who, together with their drama teacher, Renos Nicos Spanoudes, wrote Child’s Play. Just one year older than they are is Caitlin Spring, author of The Search, which she directed last year at Fish Hoek High School.

The authors come from a wide spread of places in Southern Africa, from Kwekwe (Jonathan Khumbulani Nkala) and Harare (SM Norman) to Simon’s Town (Caitlin Spring) and Bonteheuwel (Barry Morgan); and from Olievenhoutbosch (M Andries Phukuntsi) to Schoenmakerskop (André Lemmer); and many other places besides, like Itsoseng (Omphile Molusi) and McGregor (Suenel Holloway) and Voëlklip (Renée Muller).

These are definitely plays that young players can get their teeth into. The plays deal with a wide variety of themes and issues, including:

  • bullying in schools (Omphile Molusi’s For the Right Reasons and David Stein’s The Goliath Project)
  • life in a small South African town (David and Bruce by Martin Hatchuel)
  • an abandoned baby left in a window (Rob K Baum’s The Opening)
  • slave stories (Samson, the Storyteller by M Cassiem D’arcy) and a traditional African folk tale (André Lemmer’s Thabo and the Tar Man)
  • dysfunctional families (Gisele Turner’s Woof Woof and Renée Muller’s HOP-House Dance)
  • blossoming love despite difficult situations (Jonathan Khumbulani Nkala’s Faith in Love, M Andries Phukuntsi’s Love Secondary and André Lemmer’s Playing in the Park)
  • sexual harassment in the workplace (Tariro on Top by SM Norman)
  • drug abuse (the four-author Child’s Play)
  • HIV teaching in schools (Monti Jola’s The New Struggle, workshopped with The Lost Voices group of students from New Crossroads and Phillipi)
  • caring for children with disabilities (Cassandra Puren’s To Care for You Always and Kirsten Miller’s Remember Joe) or infected by HIV (Ashraf Johaardien’s Miracle)
  • the hazards of having a bicycle (Jonathan Khumbulani Nkala’s The Bicycle Thief)
  • … and even ghosts (Margaret Clough’s Ghosts in the Supermarket).

The plays are often raw, gritty, even uncomfortable. Whether worked through in fierce realism, or played out in jaunty comedy, or handled through images more abstract and symbolic, these are plays for young actors to tackle, and – above all else – find the reality, the truthfulness, of these scattered shards of life lived at this time in this place.

Clearly, these two volumes will prove valuable to everyone involved in drama, theatre arts and performing arts in all high schools and teacher training institutions. School libraries, university libraries and public libraries will be very interested in acquiring them.

I hope we will be able to send these two volumes out into the waiting world with a launch on 1 December 2011, World Aids Day, with The Lost Voices student drama group performing an extract from their play about HIV in the classroom, The New Struggle by Monti Jola.

It will be interesting to see if all teachers react as one teacher in Cape Town did, just on hearing about the Short, Sharp & Snappy volumes: “This is a brilliant idea and something needed by us at school.”

To order, and for further information, please contact Junkets Publisher at [email protected] or on 076 169 2789.

Words are our first way of getting some kind of grip on the world we arrive in. Crafting them into poetry is the best way I know of freeing us from it too.