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Tiah Beautement

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

11 steps to make a book

How do you write a book?

A question I encounter frequently, and am rubbish at answering. My eloquent reply is often a variation of: ‘Ah, well ya know. Um. One word after another, I guess.’

The truth is vastly more complicated. Starting with the fact that This Day only came to be due to a team of people, some of whom are rather like fairy godmothers. The rest are very nice souls.

1. Have a writer BFF. Kind of like a fairy godmother.

This person found me over the internet when I was a sleep deprived mother of a six month old and she was a sleep deprived mother of a three month old.

This is the person who will read anything you write no matter how terrible. The person who keeps you going even when you have doctors saying: “If your physio can’t find a way to stop your wrist separating from your arm I will have to bolt it. I don’t want to do that.” (Which makes two of us.)

This is also the person who tells you, ‘Put the matches down!’ after you read a book that you decide is exactly like your ms; so, of course, you must quit. The writing BFF will ask you about the book, listen sympathetically and not tease. But eventually she will say, ‘Okay, so I see the similarities…this book has people in it and your book has people in it. Even so, I think your people are different enough from her people that you can carry on.’


2. Get a physio who refuses to listen to doom and gloom.

The woman never gives up.

Rather hard to lose all hope when you’ve got somebody willing to endlessly research with the battle cry, ‘There must be a better way, so you can live your life.’

3. Have a supportive partner. Or in my case, Husband.

This person might not read much of your work. This person might also be rather British about affection and have the, perhaps, misplaced confidence in you that even if both your arms were to fall off you’d somehow figure out a way around that. Nonetheless, when your physio declares your current office set up a health hazard, the man builds you an office according to her instructions. He will also buy new office equipment after your physio declares your mouse and laptop to be health hazards.* This is despite the fact that your income from what you do in the office with the expensive equipment will never actually equal the cost of building said office or buying said equipment.

4. Have wonderful person give you a job, even if it sometimes costs you money. (Like a fairy godmother with a really big whistle and even bigger to-do list.)

You write a book by believing you can get from the beginning to the end. Sometimes that means having somebody prove to you that you are still useful. In my case, it was Rachel Zadok. She, who kept insisting that I really was the person to help her co-run Short Story Day Africa despite the fact that I was not in a good place emotionally or physically. I told her no. Told her exactly why this was for her own good. She refused to listen. The woman is fearless.

Turns out she is right. I am perfectly capable of getting the job done so long as I’m given the freedom of doing so in my own way. (Rachel has a high tolerance for quirky.)

5. Have a supportive employee, even if she earns more than you’ll ever make in royalties.

We met at Wimpy, where all good relationships begin. Why she continues to work for me, is her business. But her loyalty is not something I take lightly. Because this body cannot run an entire household, write and do SSDA. The whole ‘having it all’ is a lie. Partners can, of course, do their share. But rather hard for partner to do his share, work insane hours and do your share. Outsourcing. A privilege, yes. Grateful for the privilege, all the same.

6. Have a lovey person refuse to look at your work.

I wrote to a rather well known editor. Tried to hire her (money!) to edit the ms. My goal was to self publish a few copies. My reasons being, so that when my children were older and I was a useless mess (the projected prognoses for me wasn’t very pretty at that point) I could give it to them and say, ‘This is what your mother accomplished before things truly went to pot.’

The person will tell you that this is completely unnecessary. That what you need is a reader. That a reader will tell you if your story is for private-family-consumption or is something that should be prepared for submission. All of this will cost less than hiring an editor to do the same.

7. Find a reader.

Which might be difficult, since many readers in the South African writing community don’t want to read the work of people they know. This is because not everyone receives constructive criticism gracefully. This sort of reaction can put a strain on a beautiful friendship. Thanks to SSDA, I know a lot of people. Eventually, in desperation, I verbally twisted Rachel Zadok’s arm. She agreed to read it and submit a reader report.

8. Find a reader part II.

Make sure your reader believes in her own opinion and judgement, wholeheartedly.

Rachel produced a very well balanced report – which both praised while giving very valuable and honest constructive criticism. However, even after I had taken her advice and fixed the problems she’d outlined, I still wasn’t going to submit the manuscript.

Yes, as embarrassing as it is to admit, This Day is only getting published because Rachel told publishers about it. I was thinking. There is a distinct possibility that if Rachel hadn’t got fed up with me, I might still be thinking.

I was going through a rather rough time. Don’t judge.

9. Find a publisher.

If you are a bit neurotic, might be good to find one that tolerates all your quirks. ‘It’ll be fine,’ Colleen says to me, over and over again.

10. Find an editor.

That will work with you. That doesn’t flinch when told of your learning glitch. That doesn’t care that you must have your stuff edited NOW because you can’t deal with this and SSDA at the same time because your body is a jalopy.

11. Find more fairy godmothers, or at least a few supportive souls (or many).

I’d love to tell you how to do that. Except I don’t know. Sometimes the universe gives you a break. Luck. But I’m grateful to them all. (Might want to let them know that, too. So you don’t look like an ungrateful snob.)

ThisDayCoverSmThat’s all I’ve got. I’m celebrating This Day with friends and family at Open Book with Zukiswa Wanner: 18th of September, 16:00-17:00, Venue:Fugard Annexe 2 Genre::Launch Duration::60 minutes Price::R40. I’d be honored if any of you out there could join.


* Yes folks, when Thando wrote in Unimportance, ‘I could not have foreseen that the advent of the laptop would present such serious threats to my health,’ he wasn’t merely be humorous. Laptops are terrible for your posture. Although, admittedly, useful when on the go.


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