EROTICA: Rules of engagement when asking readers to review your draft

Africa is not a continent of prudes, and consequently, African writers sometimes write erotica. Hey, that’s great. As long as these “after dark” stories are about adults having safe and consensual naked time – write on. In fact, Brittle Paper is looking for erotica, should you be interested.

However, there is some basic etiquette involved when asking another writer to look at your erotic draft. Going about it the wrong way verges on – or IS! – sexual harassment.

1: Do not send your piece to another person without asking first.

Ask the potential reader if they have time to read your work before sending it. Always. Even if your story isn’t erotica. Even if you sent them work before. You ask.

(Yes, there are exceptions, but they are rare. As in – I know about two people who I have a relationship with that would be okay with my just attaching the story and sending it along. Two.)

There is a person in my life who does this perfectly. I was once her mentor. That is over. But occasionally she asks if I can read a piece. Her emails tend to read in the following format:

I hope you are well.

I am trying to write a piece for the (insert publication). My piece is (insert word count), is (insert fiction / non-fiction / poetry), and is about (insert two line summary).

Kind regards,

Do this.

2. If somebody agrees to read your piece do not ask them if they like or enjoy certain sexual activities.

That is none of your business, unless that person is actually your lover.

2b. Do not ask the reader if they think the sexual scenes are realistic.

You are asking for feedback on your story. The person reading it will give you their thoughts on their terms. To do otherwise risks wandering into sexual harassment territory.

2c: Your reader is not your research.

If you are writing characters outside your personal experience, it is your job to research. Read, use the internet, read some more. But it is not your reader’s job to be your personal source of information.

Examples of inappropriate questions:

  • A writer asking a disabled person if they can have sex and how.
  • A writer asking a woman reader if it is realistic for a woman to demand cunnilingus.
  • A writer asking a gay man if it is normal to “switch” (the one who is penetrated vs the one penetrating).

To clarify:
It is fine to ask a writer with a disability to read your story involving a disabled character who has fab sex / bad sex / wants sex. But it is the reader’s choice what they feel comfortable commenting on. It is the reader’s choice if they want to share personal stories or their own research. You, dear writer, don’t get to ask.

3. When writing erotica with violence, consider the following:

A: Tell the reader before they read your story, so they can decide for themselves if this is something they feel comfortable reading.

B: Do your research, not write your Hollywood inspired fantasy.

C: Have a rethink as to why the hell you want to write that, since it is a topic that is so easy to get wrong.

3b: Erotica is not rape. Also, men, this is not your chance to go all MRA

Yes, men can be raped. Yes, men can suffer domestic violence. But the backlash against #Metoo and #Timesup does not change the reality that most rape, domestic violence, and sexual harassment is done by men to women. It is not a 50/50 discussion. Do not contact a woman to read a mansplaining story about how men can be victims, women are just as bad, or the worst – trying to show women how to they really should be processing their feelings after experiencing sexual violence.

Writers, you have no idea what your reader has been through. Women do not need to have their horror mansplained back to them, nor do they desire to see it framed as “entertainment”.


Women are rising in the publishing world. We are tired of being harassed, manipulated, and put down. Behave. If men writers want women’s help, do so with manners and empathy. Now go out, write on, and be empathetic human beings.


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.

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.


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:


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

Dear Trump Voters

Dear Trump Voters,

The election is over and I keep hearing you say, ‘I’m not racist.’ You tell me, ‘I didn’t vote for him because he was a bigot or sexist or homophobic.’ You say, ‘I voted him because of policy. Because of the working class. Because of the economy.’

Yet as the cabinet is being appointed, as potential Supreme Court nominees are being discussed, the world is not seeing a man interested in the working class, determined to make America great. No. They are seeing a fascist who is surrounding himself with people who are determined to destroy people’s rights. The white hoods are marching, the swastika is being spray painted on walls while the legality of Japanese Concentration Camps is being defended.

The majority of voters did not vote for this. Therefore, it should not be their job to defend the rights they already tried to save with their vote.

You did, dear Trump voter. You voted for a fascist. You started this mess, now stop it before real lives are broken and lost. Start writing to Trump and tell him why you really voted for him. That civil liberties will not be violated in your name. That the nation is stronger when ALL its citizens have equal freedom.

You start the petitions. You start calling and writing to your governors, your congress, your senators and tell them that the freedom of United States Citizens must be upheld. You start making it clear that you did NOT vote for this man so he could surround himself with people known for being anti-Semitic, sexist, homophobic and fear diversity of religions. It is your job to make it known to the man you voted for that it was about economic policy – or whatever he said that motivated you to tick his box that did not involve being motivated by racism, sexism, homophobia and bigotry.

People have died trying to preserve democracy. Do not go the graves of Veterans and weep when you put the freedom of US citizens under threat. Do not say you ‘support the troops’ until you make it clear that liberty and justice for all is truly something you value for the people of this nation. Do not sing the national anthem with the words ‘home of the free’ unless you are committed to ensuring the nation will be exactly that. Do not tell people who are scared and frightened that the system will save them. Stand up and make sure it does.

Because we, the voters for Hilary Clinton, remember the McCarthy hearings. We remember the civil rights movement. We remember the Japanese Concentration Camps. We remember there was a time when women did not have the right to vote. We remember the Florida bombing of a gay nightclub. Which is why we made sure we didn’t vote for the fascist.

Voters of Trump, do not sit back and pray for everything to work out for the best. Take responsibility for your vote. Otherwise, as those white hoods march, they are doing it in your name.

To find your congressperson:

To find your senator:

To contact the president-elect:

Exposing the Exoskeleton

In less than two weeks I’ll be wearing this:


and this:


and this:


in public.

It all began with a popping collarbone, which is an odd start to a tale, but at least it is true. At first the subluxation didn’t hurt, only sounded disgusting. Nor did it happen often. But as time wore on, abdominal exercises became routinely accompanied by a macabre percussion, courtesy of my bones. Soreness set in, then pain. Pop! Physio frowned; husband flinched. We taped it. We modified exercises and stretches, then modified some more. But it wasn’t working. Eventually the act of taking off a bra or a jacket created a POP. Worse, the bid to fix the problem was creating another. ‘I’m losing abdominal toning,’ I told the physio. She felt around, eyebrows drawing together and nodded.

This was bad. Nobody should be out of shape. But core strength is vital for people with Hypermobility Syndrome / Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. It is essentially how we have any hope of staying put together. Continue reading

Phone Calls

I was seven years old the first time the call came. It was my friend from over the back fence. She was eight. Her older sister babysat my sister, brother and I from time to time. My friend was crying. I couldn’t understand what she was saying. Down the line came the sounds of her sister screaming as her father pounded her teenage flesh.

I didn’t know what to do. Continue reading

Dear Children

On the 3rd of September, 2015 I, along with three other writers, was invited to speak at an SPCA fund raiser. Yes, four introverts were slated to be the entertainment. Yes, I was to speak about a time that I’ve now left to history. During the run up to the event, my mind was blank. I couldn’t think of anything I hadn’t already said, to say. Then one morning, in the shower (where all good ideas emerge), I began to think of all the things I wanted my children to someday know about This Day.* So that’s what I did, letter by letter.

3 September 2015

Dear Children,
Today I was asked to give a little talk on why I wrote a book. Instead I’m reading letters I’ve written for you, to read someday, but not today. I’m not ready for you to hear these words, even if I’m speaking them to others. Because I’m not sure you’re ready to understand. Or maybe you are and it’s me that isn’t ready. Either way, you can wait.

Continue reading

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… Continue reading