The Short Story Day Africa interview
Short Story Day Africa is coming on 21 June. It celebrates the continent’s shorter fiction on the shortest day of the year. It has a special focus on encouraging youngsters to enjoy and create short stories and will culminate in the publication of two anthologies: the best submitted short stories by adults and by schoolchildren.
You can help fund the editing of the anthologies at SSDA’s Indiegogo campaign and pre-book your own copies.
This year, I’m proud to be sponsoring the book voucher prizes for the under-9 and 10-13 writing competitions. I love that the Short Story Day Africa campaign encourages schoolchildren to expand their conception of writing: that it is a communal affair, made to be shared; that it can have an effect on others. I’m happy to support talented young writers to think about turning their private expressions into professional, public practice.
The organisers apparently crowdsourced some questions they’d like writers to answer, so in support of Short Story Day Africa, I bare myself here:
1. Do you actually enjoy writing, or do you write because you like the finished product?
Most days, I do prefer having written to writing, but the reward of reaching a target or finishing something so perfectly challenging is immense. When it’s flowing well, it’s addictive. I don’t think I “have to write”; I could one day go cold turkey, but I’ll write as long as it’s feasible. So that, I suppose, means I do enjoy it.
2. What are you reading right now? And are you enjoying it? (No cheating and saying something that makes you sound like the intelligensia).
I am proofreading a guide to labour law. I actually am enjoying it. The neat rationality and logic of the law appeals to me when I need a break from all the subjectivity and mushy inconclusiveness of fiction. And it’s comforting to know that we have clearly formulated and fair laws that apply to everyone in the country.
3. Have you ever killed off a character and regretted it?
No. They deserved it.
4. If you could have any of your characters over for dinner, which would it be and why?
I’d like to have Shane and Renée, the two artists from The Beggars’ Signwriters around, and see what they’re up to now and how they’re doing. Also Akhenaten, the mummy who I wrote into contemporary Paris in a new story. That would make an interesting group.
5. Which one of your characters would you never invite into your home and why?
Most of the “people” from the Downside would make awkward company. My children might get frightened or abducted by them.
6. Ernest Hemingway said: write drunk, edit sober. For or against?
Definitely against. When I was younger I would go out drinking quite often, but it was only when I stopped having hangovers during my free time that I could start taking my writing seriously.
7. If against, are you for any other mind altering drug?
No. I’ve never enjoyed stoner fiction, which I find self-indulgent, and prefer to communicate in a way sober people will understand. For one thing, there are more of them out there.
8. Our adult competition theme is Feast, Famine and Potluck. Have you ever put food in your fiction? If so, what part did it play in the story?
Quite often, but I am aware of the pitfalls of using food scenes as mundane decoration rather than something that expands characterisation or develops the plot. In The Beggars’ Signwriters, hearty food was a symptom of a content family life. In The Mall, we wrote a fun scene set in a McColon’s restaurant, which wasn’t quite as comforting.
9. What’s the most annoying question anyone’s ever asked you in an interview?
I haven’t been annoyed by a question yet, but have been taken aback when the interviewer admits he hasn’t read the book. The best interviews have always been about themes beyond the blurb.
10. If you could be any author other than yourself, who would you be?
Haruki Murakami. I’ve read most of his work and really liked much of it. He seems to have the total freedom to write what he likes and do as much or as little publicity as he wants.
11. If you could go back in time and erase one thing you had written from your writing history, what would it be and why?
Only embarrassing love poems and letters from long ago. Related note to self: burn journals.
12. What’s the most blatant lie you’ve ever told?
I never lie.
13. If someone reviews you badly, do you write them into your next book/story and kill them?
No. I don’t feel that strongly about reviewers. They’re as entitled as I am to enjoy or not enjoy a book. If the review is a personal grudge or attack, it’s worth even less of my response (though I do, of course, vent to my friends). But there is one particular “painter” in Paris who’s going into a choice scene one of these days. She’ll know who she is when she reads it.
14. What’s your favourite bad reviewer revenge fantasy?
That they eventually publish their own novel and realise just how bad it feels to be ad hominemed.
15. What’s the most frustrating thing about being a writer in Africa?
What’s *wonderful* about being a writer in Africa is that you can submit directly to publishers and most of them act in warm good faith and genuinely like their writers. There are various supportive communities and very little back-biting from other writers. The frustration is that writers who restrict themselves to Africa can only ever be hobbyists.
16. Have you ever written naked?
17. Does writing sex scenes make you blush?
No. I won’t say why.
18. Who would play you in the film of your life?
It would probably be a cartoon.
19. If you won the Caine Prize for African Fiction, what would you do with the money?
I’m not sure how much the prize money is, but I’d put it towards paying the bills while I write for a month or two instead of taking on a full schedule of paying work.
20. What do you consider your best piece of work to date?
I was going to say my children, but that would come across as pious, so I won’t. But they are.
21. What are you doing on 21 June 2013, to celebrate Short Story Day Africa?
According to my whiteboard, I’ll be editing a new collection of short stories curated by Diane Awerbuck, which will be perfectly appropriate to the day.