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Tiah Beautement

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

My Next Small Thing

There is a virus hitting the writing blogs called The Next Big Thing and Rachel Zadock sneezed on me. Yes, that Rachel – she of Short Story Day Africa. That lady does like to get me into trouble. She also has a real  Next Big Thing:

Exploring the themes of superstition and taboo, Sister-Sister is the story of twins, Thulisile and Sindisiwe Nxumalo. In childhood, the gregarious bright Thuli and her stuttering introverted twin, Sindi, are inseparable, but the arrival of an uncle they never knew they had sets into motion a course of events that will destroy their relationship and, eventually, their lives.

Sister-Sister will be published by Kwela next year in April.

Read more about Rachel’s Next Big Thing- HERE


Now you’re stuck with me. Ahem.

What is the working title of your book?

I call my current projects my ms (manuscript) rather than WIP (work-in-progress). When I see WIP my brain (which adds and subtracts letters to its fancy) starts chanting, ‘And whip it, whip it good’ and an 80s dance party breaks out in my head. That can lead to actual dancing. All of which is fun, but hardly makes for a productive writing session.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Almost two years ago an incident occurred in Mossel Bay. It all became rather intense. There were even some hectic facebook wars over it all. I began to see how easily an innocent bystander could have been sucked into this big ball of insanity. This led to me creating one heck of a backstory for the innocent bystander. And …Well, to make a long story short, I wrote the first three paragraphs of the MS (the paragraphs are still there) and realised – I don’t need this. In fact, it would be a distraction to the actual story that emerged while creating my main character. But it was a sound idea, and I’m keeping it in my back pocket to use for something else.

What genre does your book fall under?

I suppose literary. Husband calls my writing, ‘Readable literary.’ Take that however you will.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?


What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

I present you with a cliché: ‘Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try, try again.’

And now I shall totally ignore the rest of the questions and simply say this:

In about September 2011 I had to face some hard truths – that I would have to start writing differently. Physically, my body could not operate at the speed my brain kicks out ideas. I set aside all current work, including a project that I had invested an incredible amount of time on.

The goal of 2012 would be to learn to write slower. I would begin afresh. The project would be a novel. The rules: while working on the novel I would not work on any other project.  If I did anything else – like SSDA or a short story -  it would be done during ‘editing breaks.’

The problem with writing slower is that I often panic. There is this fear of ‘loosing the inspiration’ as stories take off.  I begin working at manic speeds (I am capable of typing well over 90wpm) for long periods of time. All of which is physically damaging. I had to change.

For advice, I turned to the queen of composure: Elizabeth George. Her book Write Away was a gift from a friend. George writes in a manner totally foreign to me. Very un-Stephen King (I adore On Writing). She knows everything before she begins her stories: photographs of the settings and places, maps and roads laid out (that do exist!), pages upon pages of character analysis – nothing is left unwritten before she writes.

I could never BE George, but there was no reason I couldn’t be better prepared. So I reread Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris, a book by Michael Cunningham and one by Virginia Woolf. I also read some non-fiction – one by Barabara Ehrenreich the other was On Photography by Susan Sontag, whose essay, ‘In Plato’s Cave’ I have long adored. Lastly, I picked up information from the internet and other non-fiction books. As I researched, I began to construct the framework for the book. I made up a character list with a brief note of who was who. The first few scenes were plotted out. Random dialogue that filtered through my head was jotted down, along with other bits and bobs coming into being. All of this was done over a span of three months. Then I did something I’ve never done before – I wrote the beginning and the ending scenes. Usually I have no idea how my stories will conclude.

Then I looked at myself, my situation and the fact I was altering my writing methods and said, ‘Face it, this project will be crap.’ Not a tragedy, given this wouldn’t be the first time I wrote a pile of crap. But I was determined that this would be a learning experience pile of crap. And since it was going to be crap, there wasn’t any reason not to be selfish. I would write what I wanted and stop caring how ‘publishable’ this idea was or how utterly unmarketable.

It took 9 months of actual writing before I felt I had a solid draft. Nor did I manage to write one short story in 2012. Still, I did it. There is a novel. It isn’t quite the steamy pile of cow poo I assumed it would be. So as much as I hope – as any writer hopes – that the ms finds a publisher someday, that wasn’t the point of this book. It was about me trying to morph from a hare into a tortoise.

Now I’ve got Kermit the Frog’s song running through my head: It’s not easy being green. . .


Next week (9th of Jan) you can read about Jenna Mervis and Shafinaaz Hassim’s Next Big Thing.

Jenna Mervis:

Poet and short story writer Jenna Mervis has a short story in the oven which she hopes will rise sufficiently to resemble a well-baked novel. With her track record and Libran tendencies she predicts this could take quite a long time, but the result will be worth the wait.

Read more next week HERE.

Shafinaaz Hassim will be discussing SoPhia: a novel, is set between Johannesburg and Mauritius. It is the story of Zarreen Kader and her husband Majid Akram Noorani, or Mak. And within the bounds of an abusive marriage, Zarreen vows never to let her parents know about the abuse. Her parents are happy when she’s happy. Mostly, she denies that it has any effect on her three children. Until the cracks begin to show and her life begins to fall apart. Will they as a family be able to cope when the underlying stories reveal themselves? Zarreen travels to the island of Mauritius where her Sufi grandfather once lived, searching for answers. Akram must face the dark reality of his past or be engulfed by it.

As these stories occur side by side, we see how pain and compassion are necessary companions.

SoPhia is not just a romance, but it is a love story, a story of self-realisation and engaged humanity

Read more next week HERE.


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