Dear Fortune by Tiah Marie Beautement

The great folks at FunDza has published my short story “Dear Fortune.”

Landisa has been given a diary and has named it Fortune. But Landisa’s ‘fortune’ isn’t great these days. In fact some girls are being mean, and she can’t figure out why, or how to stop it.

CHAPTER 1:

9 October

Dear Fortune,

That’s what I’ve decided to call you, by the way. “Dear Diary” is so 80s, and while some 80s fashions are in – oooh, I look fiiiiiiiine, in leggings – some things are best left in the past. Besides, I’m an original, and you should be, too.

Fortune (noun):

  1. destiny, luck, something that happens by chance to a person
  2. MEGA rich

So now to tell you about me. My name is Landisa and I’m eleven and a half years old. I’m in Grade 5. I have a mama, daddy and one brother. My brother’s name is Mvuyisi and let me tell you, he does NOT bring me joy. He is eight years old, in Grade 2, and everyone thinks he is soooooo cute, yet he lies, lies, lies, getting me in trouble ALL the time. And nobody believes me. They just look at his big brown eyes, and he bats his thick lashes (why do boys get the BEST lashes?) and then they believe everything he says, and not me.

That’s actually why I’m writing to you right now, because I’m in trouble. Mama handed me you, in all your purple-cover glory, and said, “Why don’t you take a time out and think about what you did?”

I did NOTHING. There I was, trying to do my homework, when he kicked me. So I growled at him. GROWLED – which doesn’t hurt. And then he cried and cried and cried, like a baby, and said that I hit him.

LIAR!

Ugh. If I had one wish for today, it would be that I was born an only child. But since that’s not happening, I guess I’d wish for my parents to see how my little brother really is.

Click HERE to read Chapter 2

Advertisements

The Maid’s Room by Fiona Mitchell

35527110.jpg~This where she sleeps. A cupboard. A bedroom. A windowless box.~

~Ma’am Amber penned a red bubbled around [her clinic visit] with a huge exclamation mark as if it was something to look forward to. But Dolly will have to take a test there like she always does every six months. And when the employment agency finds out she’s pregnant they’ll deport her, just like all the others.~

~There are more than 200,000 foreign domestic workers in Singapore. The majority of them are from the Philippines and Indonesia.~

~And when Ma’am tells you it’s a tin of chicken luncheon meat for your dinner again tonight, all while little Dixie [the dog] is sat in her lap, ears back, eyes closed, Ma’am’s nail-varnished hand endlessly stroking his fur, you’ll start to wish you had four legs too, and enjoyed sniffing other dogs’ undercarriages.~

~I read an article in a magazine about a charity called Sanctuary House whose volunteers fostered babies. I rang the charity and volunteered.

A couple of weeks later I was given a six-week-old baby boy to look after for just one week. Surprisingly, no one from the charity came to have a look around our apartment and we weren’t interviewed.~ from the author’s note

https://fionamomitchell.wordpress.com

Shadow Man by Margaret Kirk

35478806.jpg~Sweating gently in his dark suit, Mahler tries to ignore the twist of pain circling the base of his neck. And wonders why Dante had imagined there were only nine circles of Hell.~

~She’s come home to be homesick. In which alternative universe does that make any kind of sense?~

~Unbelievable. Of all the possible venues in the city, they’ve chosen the actual crime scene for their maudlin grief-fest. How twisted would you have to be to dream that one up?~

~No colour anywhere, just endless shades of black and white – they might be arty, but they’re the most depressing set of photos he’s ever seen. And that includes the ones from his first wedding.~

~Maybe there are no monsters, he thinks, only people like him, people who’d been forced to act to save their own lives.~

~You do know there are alternatives to builders’ magnolia, right?~

https://margaretmortonkirk.wordpress.com/

Keep You Safe by Melissa Hill

36096848.jpg˜Though both in our late-thirties, my late husband and I had been one of the burgeoning number of Irish families who, despite both being gainfully employed, still couldn’t quite afford that first step on the housing ladder…˜

˜’This is why we should be thinking again about homeschooling them. Because of this palaver. I’ve told you, Maddie, it’s seriously worth looking into–’
‘Not now,’ she said, cutting her husband off, irritated that he seemed to have forgotten the fact that, like him, she had a job, so where on earth would she get the time?˜

˜Since day one, I had been struggling not to think about the official stats on childhood measles and its complications:
One out of twenty kinds comes down with pneumonia.
One out of every thousand will develop encephalitis.
Encephalitis can leave a child deaf or with an intellectual disability.
For every one thousand children who get measles, one or two will die.˜

˜You had choice yourself, Tom – you were the very one who pointed out that we couldn’t have known. She’s your daughter too and you could have just as easily made the decision to keep her home.˜

http://www.melissahill.ie

On Facing Failure

‘Tiah, what are you going to do next?’

It was mid-August 2016. I was standing outside a café, chatting on the phone with a writer I respect and admire. She’d called after my resignation from Short Story Day Africa was announced. SSDA is an organisation that I love and believe in (you can donate HERE), so much so that I’d given my life to it for nearly five years. But on that day, I didn’t know what I was going to do. All I knew was that I needed to work less and write more, and leaving SSDA was the only way to achieve that. My bank account, however, was less than impressed with the decision.

SSDA was always a labour of love, but for the last few years I’d been compensated sufficiently to cover yearly school fees for one child. Yes, I still had my gig at the Sunday Times. It is wonderful work and I love it, but there is only so much they need. The rest of my freelance work brings in tiny amounts. So I had to do more. But what?

‘Have you thought of writing for FunDza?’ the writer asked.

Impossible, I thought. But my mouth asked for further information.

FunDza is a brilliant NPO that produces free online stories, primarily aimed at teen readers. But I knew nothing about writing YA. I’d always viewed it as its own separate art form (it is) and one that was beyond my scope.

Chicken, an inner voice sneered.

Realistic,
I replied.

Where the inner voice trotted out everything I tell under-eighteens during creative writing workshops, including:

  • Everyone’s first draft stinks, but if you don’t write something down, you’ll never have anything to work with.
  • If you don’t try, you’ll never grow.
  • Some of the best lessons and opportunities arise from failure.

Perhaps it is fitting that ‘Dislocated,’ my first successful submission to FunDza, started with failure. The story began life as part of a novel. It was an ambitious project, told from three different viewpoints, which I’d written over a span of two sleep-deprived years while raising toddlers. Nobody wanted it. It was a blow. Big time. But there I was, years later, pulling out my failed manuscript, because amongst those 75,000ish words there was a section written from a teenager’s perspective. I reread it and realised with editing, it could stand alone. And so it did.

Writing for FunDza in 2017 was far from easy. I learned on the job, where any visitor to the site can witness my floundering. FunDza readers know exactly what they like and what they don’t, and they are blunt. Chapter by chapter, right on the website for the world to see, are the readers’ comments. Humbling, to say the least. Yet that feedback is valuable and pushed me to new areas I’d never have tried otherwise.

2017 brought other challenges. I found myself accepting the position of managing editor of a new journal. I agreed to try a co-writing project. I faced my fears and started submitting two novel length manuscripts, both of which were risks. The first was an experiment with literary speculative fiction, the second, an effort at fantasy. The speculative fiction novel was the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to write, and appears to have flopped. The latter was also outside my comfort zone, yet it resulted in the most fun I’ve ever had while writing. Yet, despite some interest in that project, it is entirely possible that it, too, will fail.

Which hurts. The demons started telling me I’d wasted my time. Again. But without those two novels, I probably would not have mustered the courage to explore the paying world of short speculative fiction. Which is how I found myself trying to write a futuristic short story filled with newfangled gadgets and technology. I knew nothing about writing futuristic stories. But I read them. And I was willing to fail.

It sold.

2017 was full of failure, rejection, and false starts. Yet it was also the first time in my life I’ve met my financial goals by writing. None of that work – from writing for the Sunday Times, to writing YA, to writing speculative fiction – is in my comfort zone. Yet these are the writing gigs that have allowed me to pay for my son’s first year of high school.

None of this, of course, made rejection less painful. Nor did the year teach me how to accept disappointment with grace. Nothing about 2017 has silenced that voice that sneers, ‘That last story was a fluke; you’ll never be able to pull it off again.’

Even worse, that nagging demon is telling me, right now as I type, that for 2018 I’m going to come woefully short of paying next year’s school fees.

So I don’t have words of wisdom on how to embrace failing. But I can quote young Isabella Jernigan*. At age eight, in honour of Thanksgiving 2014, she proclaimed: ‘I’m thankful for all the dead people because at least they tried.’

As hilarious and macabre Jernigan’s words might be, they are true. What is a life, other than years of try, try again?

 

*In the original news article, her name was misspelt as Isabella Jerhigan, which is the name that went viral at the time.

 

Heartbreaker: Christiaan Barnard and the first heart transplant by James-Brent Styan

36963385.jpg˜Christiaan was only 34 years old when he [was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
‘It was an affliction that attacked my most precious asset – my hands.’
This situation taught the young Christiaan a valuable lesson – the importance of giving patients some hope.˜

˜[During the Mondale hearings of 1968 the chairperson asked Barnard] since taxpayers pay for the operation, surely they have a say in [heart transplants, how they get done and which donors should be used].
Christ said no and asked the chairperson who was paying for the Vietnam War. Wasn’t it the American taxpayer? The chairman agreed.
‘Then I said, since the taxpayers were paying for the war, surely they have a right to tell the generals when to attack and which weapons to use?’˜

˜Sadly, [Barnard] is hardly remembered for the incredible work he did with children at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. Yet, in his later life, he said that it was this work that he considered his true legacy, even more so than the heart transplant.˜

˜In Denmark, they ask why we allow black and coloured women to look after our children and care for them in our homes but we won’t allow them to care for our patients in our hospitals.˜

˜In South Africa, the number of heart operations offered to under-privileged is diminishing. In 1992, the national budget for heart operations allowed for approximately 142 operations per million people. By 2001, this had diminished to 66 per million while the identified need at that time stood at 356 per million. . . The World Health Organisation (WHO) warns that by 2020, heart disease will be the number-one killer of people in developing countries.˜

˜In South Africa, heart disease is the leading cause of death among children under the age of 5. The WHO says that heart disease has become the leading cause of death across the globe today.˜

@jamesstyan

Interview with Rehana Rossouw

NEW-TIMES-COVIn late 2017, I had the opportunity to chat to Rehana about her latest book, New Times. The thought provoking novel was one of my top reads of the year, and interviewing her was a pure joy.

Highlights from the piece published in the Sunday Times on the 7th of January:

On Mental health and violence:

Mental health, violence, and PTSD thread through the narrative, from the newsroom, to Ali’s mother, to Ali herself. “I do believe our nation is scarred by violence,” Rossouw says. But while New Times may be set in the past, it is also a caution to the new generation. Rossouw explains, “The book was started in a fit of anger with the #FeesMustFall activists who blithely believed that their violence was justified because they had to ensure we all understood that Mandela was a sell-out. I wanted to warn them that violence is not a toy and could cause lasting damage.”

On her work as an activist:
“I am fighting all over again as a novelist.”

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

36362385.jpg˜Each time Anna moved from her father’s world to her mother and Lydia’s, she felt as if she’d shaken free of one life for a deeper one…Back and forth she went, deeper – deeper still – until it seemed there was no place further down she could go. But somehow there always was. She had never reached the bottom.˜

˜Sometimes it’s harder to ask God for your own.˜

˜He’d tethered himself to Saint Maggie’s to fend off any possibility of being roped into Episcopal worship with his in-laws. All those Puritans, God help him. If you had to spend an hour in church, let it be gory, incense-drenched Catholicism.˜

˜She felt the knot’s weakness, like the faint, incipient bruise on an apple, and dug her fingers in.˜

˜No one talked more than men on ships, but the point of the stories they told was to hide the ones they could never divulge to anyone.˜

http://jenniferegan.com/

2017 Reads

I read a lot. Books are both my pleasure and my occupation. I enjoyed many,  many, many books this year. I shy away from “best of” lists. However, there are books that linger beyond others. Here are those titles (fiction, unless stated otherwise) that stood out, in reverse order of when they were read in 2017:

books

A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa (essays / non-fiction) by Alexis Okeowo

The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman

Missing (poetry) by Beverly Rycroft

New Times by Rehana Rossouw

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Koolaids by Rabih Alameddine

Kwezi (biography / true crime) by Redi Tlhabi

A Jihad for Love (poetry / memoir) by Mohamed El Bachiri

Reflecting Rogue (essays) by Pumla Dineo Gqola

Becoming Nicole (biography) by Amy Ellis Nutt

A Thousand Paper Birds by Tor Udall

The Fifth Mrs Brink  (memoir) by Karina Magdalena Szczurek

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons

Prunings (poetry) by Helen Moffett

The Fact of a Body (memoir / true crime) Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

Marlena by Julie Buntin

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

American War by Omar El Akkad

Mischling by Affinity Konar

Autobiography of a Face (memoir) by Lucy Grealy

Headscarves and Hymens (non-fiction) by Mona Eltahaway

Truth and Beauty (memoir) by Ann Patchett

Lab Girl (memoir) by Hope Jahren

A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa by Alexis Okeowo

34219844.jpg˜If I wanted readers to understand that the people I interviewed were not that different from them, I needed to practice empathy when writing. ˜

˜I felt so bad. But they told me if I didn’t [chop the woman’s hand off with a machete], they would kill me…So I found the strength to do it because I didn’t want to die.˜

˜Islam does not allow women to play sports, the man on the other end [of the line] said, nor to wear shirts and pants. It was immodest and indecent. His voice was harsh and threatening. He told her that he was going to kill her if she didn’t stop playing basketball.˜

˜When I told her how sorry I was to hear of her brother’s death, she slightly bowed her head and lifted her shoulders. “This is the life,” she said. “No one stays alive forever.”˜

˜”Nobody rescued them,” a Chibok government official said of the girls who made it back. “I want you to stress this point. Nobody rescued them. They escaped on their own accord.”˜

˜There was something about a group of girls, urgently devoted to scoring a goal, or making a basket, through any means necessary, scuffling, pushing, and pulling, that with both strength and agency. The sight of a girl who could fight and defend and force herself into where she needed to be was frightening. It meant that she had a mind of her own that no man could touch, or hope to control.˜

https://alexisokeowo.wordpress.com/