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Tiah Beautement

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Black dog arriving

On paper my life has been through a bit, in the last three months. 2014 ended with an accident. 2015 began with a death. Another member of the family is gravely ill. Tucked around the loss and worry have been the more everyday life-hitches: Eskom load shedding, Telkom incompetence, a burst water pipe (again, and again, and again), an employee breaking a leg, a minor operation (me), a stomach bug (child)… The physio keeps strapping me up and sending me back out there, like a coach during a game. So it goes, Kurt Vonnegut would say.

The morning after the death, husband and I sat side-by-side, bleary eyed and stunned while a waitress brought our drinks. We were at a rest stop outside Swellendam, facing their picturesque mountains. In an adjoining field, our dog, Orwell, joyfully ran, delighted to be travelling with his family. His bliss was so great you could practically hear Born Free playing as he romped. Smiles crept across our weary faces. I said to Husband, ‘Really glad we brought the dog.’

Then we returned from the wake and Orwell fell into his post-holiday-with-other-dogs-slump. So it goes…

Between the accident and the wake a friend dropped by. After saying what is said in these times, the conversation wandered into the more everyday. He mentioned he had started volunteering at the SPCA. He regaled us with his humorous encounters with dogs that would never suit our family. Then he paused. ‘I probably shouldn’t tell you this…’ But he did. A blind Labrador puppy. ‘The thing is,’ he said, ‘You’d never know at first that she’s blind.’

And my ears perked up. Labrador is the right size to be a friend to Orwell. Blind dog might not try to usurp our un-Alpha-but-still-like-being-in-charge dog. And he really needs a friend because every time we return from holiday that involves other dogs, he goes into a slump. Plus a blind dog would probably be less likely to catch a chicken while we train her not-to-chase-the-hens. But this was not the time to get a second dog. We were still travelling back and forth on a moment’s notice, hoping death would be held at bay. She’ll be adopted by the time life has calmed.

She was still there.    

I could tell you all the reasons people told me not to get another dog. The list is long and their objections are sound. I could tell you all the reasons people say you should never adopt a blind dog, too, as many were eager to share their thoughts. But there are times when decisions don’t make sense on paper. I wanted a dog. I can take care of a dog. As I told my father during a recent telephone conversation, ‘Everyone keeps telling me not to over do it, until they want something, like dinner and laundry to be done. If life is going to be this busy and this chaotic, I’d like for some of this crazy to be for good reasons.’

Because the truth of the matter is, when your health limits your physical capabilities the greater world can forget about your need to participate in fun. Unintentionally, these caring souls try to make my life even smaller than it needs to be. You could just watch. Be careful! Are you sure you should? Oh, please take the kids to school and activities. You want to what? You might get hurt! Is dinner ready? Have you seen my shirt?

Hey, if I’m going to hurt, it would be nice to be hurting because I love dogs, and not because of the damn dishes. And let me be the first to say, my most debilitating injuries I’ve suffered in the last four years were all acquired while doing not-fun-things! Like saving a child from poor traffic choices. Necessary, but not fun.

Almost two weeks ago I went to the SPCA and asked to see their kennels. I told them I was cautiously interested in a second dog. I did not, however, inquire about a specific one. I stood there and examined them all, and there was one dog – more than any other – that tracked me as I walked around. This puppy was alert, energetic and showed promise of intelligence and was sweet as any dog lover could want. So then I brought Orwell to see what he thought. Then the kids. And then a few days after that, the black dog arrived.


Her name is Ziva. She’d like you to know she gets around fine, all on her own, thank you very much. That how a dog copes with a disability depends on the dog. Her presence has yanked Orwell out of his mope-slump and is keeping me from losing perspective in this current circus called 2015. Playing with my dogs is the ultimate stress relief.


And every day since I brought her home I’ve thought of Ella, from This Day. How throwing your energy into devoted, loyal companions keeps the beast at bay.  If our characters have future lives, may Ella be blessed with a dog – or two.

On Music & Writing

‘If your story had a soundtrack, what would it be?’

I commonly ask fellow writers this question. Writing – good writing – moves to a rhythm and flows in the same manner as music. This staging of words is most easily witnessed in movies, where the pacing of the tale is echoed by both the lens and musical score. Thus action lovers steer clear of flicks full of scenes filmed in soft focus and set to Pachelbel Canon in D.

I write best to silence. But before I begin laying down the words, I must listen to what my characters have to say. These imaginary souls begin whispering while cooking dinner, exercising and taking a shower. As their stories unfold and shift, their actions begin attaching to music. The songs are played while the research gathers.

We hear how we feel. Empathy is strung along the notes. This is what I hope to achieve in words: the tone, the tempo, of the writing portraying the mood of the character and the emotion of the storyline. But my mornings begin with the clutter of the everyday: feeding a dog, taking kids to school and working through my physio routine. When I do reach my desk, I am greeted by a plethora of cyber duties. By the time the e-noise has been damped, my brain is far from the awaiting manuscript. It often requires another cup of coffee (or three) and music in order to sink back into the words. When my head is in the right space, the music is turned off and I begin to type.

The songs I played during the course of creating This Day shifted with the hours of the tale. The music put in me in Ella’s head. It helped me connect with Bart – he, who, by the time the reader meets him, is closed off to the world, even to his wife. It would be cumbersome to mention every song I used over the three years between idea and publication. But if I were to pluck a chunk of the music and try to arrange them along the storyline they’d go something like this: Tracy Chapman’s At This Point In My Life, P!nk’s Try, Florence and The Machine’s Shake it Out, Pentatonix’s Say Something, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, Billie Myers’ Kiss the Rain, Bastille’s Overjoyed (Acapella).

The song list tells the narrative well enough, in its own abstract way. But there is one song that sums up the heart of the tale better than the rest. Oddly enough, I didn’t come across Bastille’s Flaws (Acoustic) until well after the first draft was written. It altered how I viewed my work. When I began working on This Day I thought I was writing to the mantra: pick yourself up and try, try again. Which Ella does, in her own way – try. And yes, the story is, very much, about that. But after listening to Bastille’s pleading ode, I realised there is an underlying theme to all the music I’d been gravitating towards. The song made see that underneath the words was a simple portrait of two deeply damaged souls – Ella and Bart – who, despite their privilege, have suffered through a tragedy. An experience that left them both deeply changed. Flawed. The days of covering up their faults or putting a positive spin on their failings, are over. Yet, these two characters are still reaching out to each other, in their own dysfunctional way. I didn’t set out to write a love story. But, upon reflection, I may have accidentally done exactly that.

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This Day is available in book stores around South Africa. For those without access to a local book store, you can find it online: Loot, Kalahari, Exclus!ves, African Book Collective and Amazon (both paper and Kindle).

Winners of the 2014 Short Story Day Africa YA & Kids Comp

The results are in! Short Story Day Africa is pleased to announce the YA & Kids competition winners for 2014.

Winners of the YA Category*:

  • 1st  Place – Kaya Oosthuizen, Pheonix
  • 2nd Place – Carla Lott, Megeni Kutua
  • 3rd Place – Lesego Pulamoeng, Patiko and Pajoko

Thank you to all the YA writers for your patience.

Winners of 10-13 Category:
  • Léanna B, The Magic Gorah
  • Bianca M, The Sparkly Dragon of Drakensberg
  • Kiera H, No Ordinary Rock
Winners of the 9&Under:
  • Kyra Z, Our Time Traveling Parents are Gone!
  • Samuel H, Sir Alfred and the Golden Arrow
  • Tara DP, The Pig that had no Ears

Well done to all the writers who entered this year. Reminder: If you entered and didn’t meet your writing goal, don’t despair. You write by reading and writing and reading and writing…over and over again. Writers are people who don’t give up.

Huge thanks our judges for all their hard work:

Lauri Kubuitsile, Dorothy Dyer, Beatrice Lamwaka, Elizabeth Wood, Sean Fraser, Kathryn Torres, Lauren Beukes, Bwesigye Mwesigire & Yewande Omotoso.

Many thanks to all our sponsors, especially:

Rorys-Story-Cubes-e1398359278415-100x100 vts-logo1-100x100 HelenMoffetHR-e1398359297258-100x100 FredrickJCarlton1-100x100 -3

*Winners of the YA categories will be contacted individually.

2014 Short Story Day Africa 10-13 and 9&under winners

Short Story Day Africa is pleased to announce the winners of our 10-13 category and the 9&unders. The many talented submissions kept our judges scratching their heads - so difficult to choose! – so difficult, in fact, that the YA writers are going to have to hang on for wee bit longer. Yes, waiting is hard. Take it is a compliment; you are all so good!
Winners of 10-13 Category:
  • Léanna B, The Magic Gorah
  • Bianca M, The Sparkly Dragon of Drakensberg
  • Kiera H, No Ordinary Rock
Winners of the 9&Under:
  • Kyra Z, Our Time Traveling Parents are Gone!
  • Samuel H, Sir Alfred and the Golden Arrow
  • Tara DP, The Pig that had no Ears
Reminder: Our YA shortlisted stories:
  • When Hearts Remain True
  • Mgeni Kutua
  • Patiko and Pajoko
  • Phoenix
  • Smell of a Fire Lily
  • An Unexpected Tale from Tanzania

Well done to all our winners and shortlisted writers!

The 2014 YA / Kid anthology writers (ie you are being published!):

Dominique F, Léanna B, Pako R, Jordan M, Amabedi B, Katie H, Tanya E, Kyra Z, Kutso S, Telisa L, Emily H, Morgan L, Aobakwe M, Bianca M, Ruan K, Ivan N, William B, Tyla L, Jané Z, Keisha Chelsea D, Lesego P, Samuel H, Kaya O, Nina S, Tara DP, Kiera H, Carla L

If you entered and didn’t meet your writing goal, don’t despair. You write by reading and writing and reading and writing…over and over again. Writers are simply people who don’t give up.

Huge thanks our judges for all their hard work:

Lauri Kubuitsile, Dorothy Dyer, Beatrice Lamwaka, Elizabeth Wood, Sean Fraser, Kathryn Torres, Lauren Beukes, Bwesigye Mwesigire & Yewande Omotoso.

Many thanks to all our sponsors, especially:

 -3 FredrickJCarlton1-100x100 HelenMoffetHR-e1398359297258-100x100 vts-logo1-100x100 Rorys-Story-Cubes-e1398359278415-100x100

All entrants are being contacted via email.

I Feel Writing Comp for RSA High Schoolers

The I Feel Writing Competition has opened. The contest is for South African high school writers. The categories are Poetry and Essay and may be submitted in English or Afrikaans. The project is being run by Jeanne Fourie-Hattingh in collaboration with George Library and EdenExpress. I will be judging the category: English Essay 8-9. The other judges are: Johan Murray, Michael Lindt, Moira Richards, Marga Jonker, Andiah Myburgh and James Fouché.

Categories are as follows:

  • Afrikaans Poetry 8-9
  • Afrikaans Poetry 10-12
  • English Poetry 8-9
  • English Poetry 10-12
  • Afrikaans Essay 8-9
  • Afrikaans Essay 10-12
  • English Essay 8-9
  • English Essay 10- 12

Students may enter up to 2 entries per category. Deadline: 31 October. Full details and entry forms can be found on the website:

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.

Short Story Day Africa 2014 YA Shortlist

Short Story Day Africa‘s 2014 children’s entries have been incredibly strong. What a privilege it will be to take these stories and create an anthology. While our entrants eagerly wait to hear the names of the winners and those being published, we give you our 2014 YA shortlist. The six stories are, in no particular order:

  • When Hearts Remain True
  • Mgeni Kutua
  • Patiko and Pajoko
  • Phoenix
  • Smell of a Fire Lily
  • An Unexpected Tale from Tanzania

Congratulations to all our shortlisted authors. To the rest of our entrants, please hang on for a few more weeks for the full list of winners and to-be-published writers.

Lost Language

My maternal great-grandmother could speak five languages. I struggle with the one. Was raised in the 80s when being American meant being proud of knowing less vocabulary, a sentiment that baffles me to this day. I pay the price for the then educational system’s misplaced patriotism. Here I am, struggling in my thirties, with a narrow minded brain that refuses to expand in order to accommodate a few more of the eleven official languages of my children’s country. So much knowledge lost. And while the expanse of generations may sound wide between myself and great-grandmother, the reality is on that side the branches are rather snugly placed along the trunk. There was plenty of opportunity to pass the traditions down to my mother so that she could pass down to the future great-grandchildren. It simply wasn’t done – blend in.

But it is more than language. I had only just turned twenty-one when I met the man I would later call Husband. Off we went to the UK and then RSA. I assumed, because American culture has such global prominence, that it would naturally graft itself to my children’s eclectic roots. It wasn’t until a few years after I gave birth to my son that the reality of the situation became apparent. Some things simply don’t have the same ring, even if you try to replicate: Thanksgivings, Halloween – sad imitations that pale against the real thing.

That isn’t to say the choices Husband and I made -  and continue to make – are wrong. This way works for us – The Family. But there is a loss for me, not him. Chunks of my childhood, identity, that I often believed would be part of raising offspring – trivial things like knowing what ‘look two go one’ and ‘post up’ mean – are not present, even from the stands. Then there are the harder choices resulting from realising the Catholicism I was raised with is dramatically different outside the States. Had we stayed in Chicago I am sure my children would have celebrated their First Communion. But so it goes.

Even the little digs, the jokes, can bruise from time to time. Nobody understanding what ‘caddycorner’ means, and worse, refusing to when it is explained. ‘We don’t use that word here.’ When your children start correcting you for saying ‘boo-E’ rather than ‘boy’ for buoy. That ‘h’ my mother struggled for years to get me to quit saying in ‘herb’ has now left my children in laughter -  /h/ /h/ /h/ erb – they say.

Yet my situation is a far cry from watching your culture, your language, your everything disappear. It has happened, still happens. I live in a country where writers, regardless of their heritage, must write in English to gain any prominence.

It isn’t right.

All of which feeds into why, despite the fact that my children don’t like taking a second language – a language that is on the wane – I am adamant that they must. Which is why I’ve become a mosquito in their school’s ears when lessons in the language become lax. Languages broaden us. I’ve heard stories about different types of ice, snow, rain, and how eyes easily see nuances in colours, our tastes change – all brought forth on our vocabulary. Language isn’t simply how we communicate – it is how we think, smell, touch. I was once fairly proficient at sign language. How many times have I sat and witnessed something and yearned that the crowd and I would use the wave of hands rather than a clap for applause? It is the same. Yet not at all. That difference – slight, yet not small – would have more accurately represented  my emotional response to the performance.

Once upon a time I read that a baby is capable of making an array of sounds found in all languages, but by the time the child is five much ability has already been lost. I’ve thought of this, often, as I struggle over and over again to gain a few more words in other tongues. All the while thinking, ‘What would my great-grandmother say?’

I don’t know. But even if she replied, would she say it in a language I could speak?

From that tangled thought emerged a short story:  A Lost Language to Her English Lover, published by AERODROME, by Tiah Marie Beautement


SSDA Guest Post by Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire On Writivism

Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire On Writivism: Promoting Literature by Africans to Africans on the Continent

BwesigyeSmallerMost of the instant responses to the mention of Writivism have been to ask if it is about the use of writing for activism. It is not an easy feat to distance the word ‘Writivism’ a coinage of writing and activism-from the subjection of writing to ‘activism’. But on the 16th of May 2014, at the Franschhoek Literary Festival in South Africa, a mentor on the program, Yewande Omotoso explained most eloquently: Writivism is advocacy for African writing.

Writivism is an African continent-wide program run by the Kampala-based Centre for African Cultural Excellence, involving over 100 African writers. When we started in 2012, our focus was, and still is the writer and reader based in Africa. We run workshops in various cities with the help of individual writer-partners (this year in February the workshops were run in Kampala, Abuja, Cape Town, Nairobi and Harare), from which we recruit emerging writers for our online mentoring program. We pair them with established African writers (about 20 mentors for a cohort of over 60 emerging writers for 2014), who then work with them to develop flash fiction, that is published in various African newspapers and literary platforms. In 2014, the flash fiction is so far published by The Observer (Uganda), The Sunday Trust (Nigeria), BooksLive (South Africa), Deyu African, Muwado, and Mon pi Mon (Uganda) among others.

We also run a short story prize open to all emerging writers based on the continent; where “emerging” means those who are yet to have a book a published. We received over 200 entries from over 17 countries for this year’s prize, and a long-list of 14 stories was released on the 14th of May 2014 by the five member panel of judges comprising Ellen Banda-Aaku (Chair), Zukiswa Wanner, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Glaydah Namukasa and Emmanuel Sigauke. On the 1st of June 2014, the same panel will announce a short-list of five stories, whose writers will then travel to Kampala for public readings and the Writivism Festival (18-22 June), where The 2014 Writivism Anthology, comprising all the long-listed stories, edited by Sumayya Lee, will be launched.  At the Festival, the winners of the short story prize shall be announced and in the days following the festival, shall tour various schools in Kampala to promote their work.

The Festival will be a celebration of African arts and culture beyond just literature and writing even though the latter remain the centre. We shall host prominent African contemporary writers like NoViolet Bulawayo, Zukiswa Wanner, Ayikwei Nii Parkes (who also sit on the Writivism Board of Trustees) among others, who shall facilitate master-classes, attend book-signing events among other literature promotion activities. What we are doing is exactly what Yewande said, we are making a case for the production and consumption of African Literature by Africans, without the need for Western mediation.

But we understand the skepticism of those who mistake Writivism, the portmanteau title of our program, for a trendy way to brand protest literature. Those who make faces when Writivism is mentioned. Activist writing, especially in the context of African Literature has been heavily criticised in recent times. We can safely trace this criticism to Dambudzo Marechera’s ‘If you write for a certain nation or race, then F*ck You’ missile which became a chorus of sorts in the 2000s for writers keen on avoiding ‘political’ issues in their work. Helon Habila, in an introduction to The Granta Book of the African Short Story calls this generation of writers the post post-colonial generation.

They write about a cosmopolitan African life, largely off the continent and almost unanimously rubbish any work that may seem concerned with ‘political’ issues. Some of them have called this type of literature poverty pornography, an attempt to denigrate protest literature and deny it, its artistic value. Some almost insinuate that there are racist undertones in the preference of protest literature by Western literary establishments.

The assumption that the target of African Literature is the West is one we challenge at Writivism. We engage African writers through and through and promote their work to African audiences because we believe that it is not true that all African writers write for the Western audience. We encourage writing for the African audience. We also are uncomfortable with the belief that there is a certain version of an African writer that all must fit in. We encourage the diversity of interests of African writers.

We do not give writers themes largely because it is up to them to choose whatever themes they want to address in their work. It is up to them to indulge in protest literature, or to write the African happy story. That is their freedom. It has no impact on whether they win the prize or not. It should not have. Our focus is on the promotion of this writing to the African audience. We want to see more African literature being read in Africa. Whether it is protest Literature or happy Literature, does not matter for us. If it is African Literature, we promote it.

Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire is a co-founder of the Center for African Cultural Excellence ( that runs the Writivism program (  He is also a judge for the 2014 Short Story Day Africa competition.

SSDA interviews Louis Greenberg

Louis Greenberg has been a supporter of Short Story Day Africa since the beginning. So when Tiah Beautement heard he had a novel of his own she had to read it. After she read it, she had to interview him. Thankfully, he agreed.

Q&A with Louis Greenberg

TB: Welcome, Louis!-1

So my first question . . . We all need to eat. But you are foodie of a sort. When did the more nuanced appreciation of food’s potential begin?

LG: My mother’s expression of her Greek heritage was the closest thing I had to a definitive culture growing up. Despite the pressures of five children and a non-domestic husband, she enjoyed cooking creatively on a tight budget in the way Greek working mothers would – this resulted in honest, hearty food, which was always one of my deepest comforts as a child. She took a cordon bleu cooking class in London, and I remember paging through the cordon bleu cookery partworks, stored in stylish wood-and-vinyl volumes, that she kept.

For the last several years, while I’ve had small children, I’ve lived quite a constrained lifestyle, so whenever I get the chance to eat out at snazzy restaurants, I make the most of it, which often involves choosing the longest tasting menu, and makes me look very greedy to my writing colleagues who only see me on the rare occasions that I’m out.

At home, one of the easier ways to escape from the drudgery of suburban life is cooking and presenting food attractively and buying the odd special ingredient or drink.

TB: Does food get work itself into your writing? Or do you try to keep your pleasures separate from work?

LG: In my first novel, The Beggars’ Signwriters, food plays quite a central role in one or two of the storylines, calling up that childhood comfort of simple food being prepared and symbolising love and spiritual richness. But I soon realised that food preparation scenes are often just filler and now I will only include them if they advance plot or character in some way. There’s a scene in The Mall set in a restaurant called McColon’s, which we hope is more than just filling.

TB: I read your first SL Grey book The Mall on a plane. Can’t say I was all that thrilled when they served my meal. Not that plane food has a good rep. Still! Ew. Has your own work ever put you off food?

LG: I can’t think why The Mall would put you off your food.

TB: I’m going to ignore that bait. Ahem.

But since we’ve been talking about food…If your recent novel Dark Windows was a full on meal – aperitif, appetisers, main, dessert, wine, after dinner drink, etc… – what would it be?


 organic quinoa and kale salad ‘paltrow’ served on a black mirror
(wheat-grass shot)

double espresso and protein shake intermission

oysters with hemp-infused blood orange jus
(chocolate stout)

snoek pate on patchouli crackers
(west-coast blanc de noir)

braai three ways: bloody steak, grease-dripping wors and burnt chicken
(castle lager)

hacked goat bredie
(joburg sorghum beer or black label quart)

cold pea soup with lavender amuse bouche

vegetarian abyssinian injera
(telea and coffee)

‘wellness centre’ jelly and custard with trio of smoothie ice cream
(triple-taxed hard tack from under the sink)

more coffee


TB: *applause*

I’m impressed. Having read the book, your meal is a rather accurate glimpse into all the themes in play. But I’m changing subjects. I’ve seen you posts pics here and there of urban art. What about it grabs you?

LG: I don’t pretend to be some savvy connoisseur of ‘street art’, what we called graffiti not so long ago. But I like the way it changes dull walls into a public, democratic and free art display for anyone to enjoy. The better art is creative and attractive or challenging, while lazy scrawls and tags are just another layer of depressing blight. Because Johannesburg is so composed of expanses of uninteresting wall, good public defacement is uplifting. It’s another way to temporarily escape the suburban morass.

TB: The urban setting also features strongly in your written work. Does this fascination with the urban go beyond being a born and raised city man?

LG: I’m uncovering a theme here. I’ve lived here all my life and while, by force of will, you can find our suburban roads interesting, after several years walking along the same one, the will finally weakens and it gets boring, oppressive and dulling. In Dark Windows, I tried to imagine a different, somewhat refreshing Johannesburg, but creatively, I may be running low on ways to render Johannesburg personally interesting.

I’m still drawn by cities, though, where – in theory – you can see a thousand stimulating new things in a twenty-minute walk. So I’m turning to other cities in my current work, where the very detail of the suburban streets is different enough to be inspiring again.

TB: I recently ran a writing workshop with fifteen 9 & unders. They were a bit curious about adult writers –  what we do, what we talk about. One mentioned how boring studying and school can be. So I tossed out there that I’d actually met somebody with a PhD and he’d studied vampires in fiction. They were in awe. You now have fifteen new fans. But I have wondered, of all the weird and wonderful creatures out there, why the vamp?

LG: I was similarly stifled and bored after high school. My interest in the vampire started in a third-year course on the Victorian Gothic – it was all about sex and deviance and subversion, a total shock for this shy, sheltered boy, and I carried those themes through my honours and into my Master’s where I looked at sex and alternative family in modern American vampire novels. The vampire figure was urbane, well travelled, philosophical, subversive and sexy. Better than any other fictional monster. What’s not to like? I could go on and on, but you’re very welcome to read my dissertation linked from my website. After the MA, though, I was a bit tired of vampires. They also became boring and normative in pop culture, giving away all their subversive potential, so I haven’t really concentrated on them for several years.

TB: Fair enough. Even without the vamps, your stories are far from boring. But your work has a huge breadth – both writing on your own and with Sarah Lotz as SL Grey. Are there any no-go areas? 

LG: No, not really. I’m always writing about things that interest me personally – usually art, sex, gender, death, religion, psychology, heritage and place. There’s a whole world off that list I haven’t wanted to write about, but anything may just catch my imagination and find its way into a new book or story. I almost wrote a novel about cricket umpires.

TB: Cricket. My husband likes cricket. I’m, err, working on my appreciation. But in addition to themes, is there any creature – mythical or otherwise – you won’t touch? As in dinosaurs, The Kikiyaon, Big Foot. . .

LG: I tend to write about people more than actual monsters. But to the extent that fairy tales and myths are all psycho-sexual founding stories, they interest me, and they may some day come into my writing. But these themes are quite common already and I’m not sure if I’d be able to find an interesting angle on them. I don’t think if there’s any I would avoid out of an innate aversion.

TB: Fair enough.

New topic. You have been a driving force to keeping the short story alive. From putting together and editing Home & Away and collections like The Ghost Eaters & Other Stories to being a key supporter of Short Story Day Africa with both funds and advice. Why?

LG: Short stories are both an excellent gateway drug for readers and writers and a perfect form for honing craft. (I am aware that the idea of a short story as a stepping stone betray my bias, but I am a novelist after all.) In a different way from novels, which are often guzzled, short stories offer an enclosed, satisfying unit of narrative that you can savour slowly and thoughtfully in one reading. Or you can just guzzle a whole collection in one sitting.

TB: So true.
Lastly, what’s the question you wished I’d asked? Please feel free to answer it.

LG: ‘Are you interested in having my French château, which I’m not using and which is just taking up space?’

TB: Ha! Short Story Day Africa may have lovely sponsors, but a French château has yet to be dropped into our laps. But if one does, we now know who to call. But in all seriousness, thank you for chatting with me.

-2Dark Windows is available at a plethora of bookshops and internet sellers. For a complete list of his work, please click here. You can find his website here. You can follow him on twitter – @louisgreenberg and follow SL Grey – @slgreyauthor. For those interested, we read Dark Windows earlier this year and pulled some quotes. Enjoy!