Wednesday, October 31, 2018

A toe in the water

I have been writing fiction for five years now.

But before fiction, I wrote other things. I wrote about the places I had visited, the people I had met, the events I had witnessed.

These pieces were for my family. They were for my friends. They were, in many ways, for myself.

This week I had my first article published in the Irish Times. I have written such pieces before, but always on behalf of other people. Putting my name to this one felt both freeing, and terrifying. 

It was an article that grew out of a month I spent in Greece, speaking to volunteers involved in sea rescue efforts. These are people doing courageous, unpaid and essential work, saving extremely vulnerable people and families from drowning. And they are being blocked at every turn.

When saving lives become a crime, The Irish Times, 27 Oct 2018

The duty to assist vessels in distress is one of the most important rules of international maritime law. But in the Mediterranean, such assistance is increasingly being compromised by political pressure.

In June, the NGO rescue ship Astral was told by the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome to stand back and let the Libyan coast guard respond to a distress call from a refugee boat, only to hear afterwards that the approximately 100 people aboard had drowned. “The bodies of three children under the age of five have been retrieved,” said the IOM’s Christine Petre in a heart-breaking statement. “How many missing or dead total, we don't know for now.”

Volunteer Jutta Nagel, who was aboard the NGO rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3 in April, described receiving a similar order when responding to a distress call.

“We arrived and began handing out life-vests, making sure people were safe,” she said. One man held out a 12-day-old baby, pleading with Nagel to take it.

At that moment, the Libyan coast guard arrived on scene. Nagel and her colleagues had to retreat, because – as directed by the coordination centre – the coast guard had priority over the rescue.

When the people aboard heard they were to be returned to Libya, a country with an active slave trade and where widespread violence and even torture has been recorded against refugees, many of them jumped into the sea. For one heart-stopping moment, Nagel saw the man consider throwing the baby in the water too.

Read the rest of the article on the website of the Irish Times.

3-year-old Mourhaf and his family land
on Lesbos island, Greece. (Credit: Andrew McConnell/ UNHCR)
[postscript: It's been extremely heartening to hear from people who have read the article and want to do something as a result. Here are three simple things you can do today:

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Free and footloose reads: part the third

It's always a delight to be back in Ireland, and it's particularly exciting to attend some literary events while here. From the launches of Lisa McInerney's second book and Lisa Harding's debut, to my first STACCATO spoken-word evening and the latest gorse readings, this last week has been a writer's paradise.

I'd forgotten, however, just how dangerous Dublin bookshops are. This was my haul after Day One in the old country:

This collection has since doubled in size, incorporating Dave Rudden's fabulous Forever Court, Mia Gallagher's Beautiful Pictures of the Lost Homeland and a raft of local journals and classics.

But physical books aside, there is a simply disarming wealth of good writing available online. As a follow-up to part one and two, I present another compilation of recommendations - some recent, some not so recent, all excellent and free for your reading pleasure.

Short Stories
  • Orange horses, by Maeve Kelly. Extraordinary, awful, beautiful work, given a new lease on life by Tramp Press. 
  • Pied Piper, by Carys Davies. Bloody (brilliant) (harrowing) (buried) work, as always from this writer. 
  • Treaty 1941, Zoe Meager. "A song for a man alone, dragging his malaria down the road." An astounding, astounding work; the spins and trips of language, newly drunk.
  • What you pawn I will redeem, by Sherman Alexie. Pathos, kinship, beauty, brokenness, triumph. An absolute must-read.
  • And Then There Were (N-One), by Sarah Pinkser. For the effortless and airtight plotting. For the unclassifiable mix sci-fi turned Christie-mystery turned novel-of-ideas. For the texture of need and loss. 
  • Every Little Thing, by Celeste Ng. Memory without loss; memory as loss. A masterfully constructed short story, tender as a birthed heart.
  • Even on Our Longest Days, by Billy O'Callaghan. Read every quiet, beautiful piece by this man. 
  • Drift, by Becky Renner. "They passed cars raptured empty from the evacuation." An ominous, thrilling story of consummate craft.
  • Butcher's Perfume, by Sarah Hall. Rawbone, idiosyncratic life, in all its dark and crooked corners. 
  • Some Days I Wish I Could Be Frank, by Siobhan Welch. Not a spare word struck, each perfectly - perfectly - aimed.
  • Family, Family, by Jeannine Ouellette. "You see, at Rolling Meadow, we frowned on labels." A delicate, wryly subversive story about yarn and bloodthirsty darlings.
  • Healthy Start, by Etgar Keret. A Beckett-esque flight of sparking connections, enthralling from the first.
  • Lucky, by Julianne Pachico. A deceptively tense, closely-observed short story, from a new Faber collection.
  • 75, by Abiola Oni. A story that lures one in, sweetly, cheerfully, before turning upon you. with teeth.
  • My Sam and I, by Nick Fuller Googins. This is magic, and slow sadness, and a call to life.
  • Settling, by Jan Carson. Beautifully-observed, bittersweet and quite, quite strange. (Also Egg, by the same author: tender, with delicately-measured moments of levity and rue.)
  • Destination Unknown, by Joanna Campbell. "Everything and everyone has to be somewhere: his spare glasses in the sock; his cat who may never find her way home." Oh, this story.
  • Zolaria, by Caitlin Horrocks. The basilisks and maps of childhood, the rising mud and guilt.
  • Being Born, by Oisin Fagan. A breathless, must-read extract - claustrophobic, savage, peopled with violent and intersecting desires. 
  • Funeral by the Arcade, by Leland Cheuk. A deft and accomplished piece, weaving together congee, familial estrangement and former gaming legends.
  • Babyland, by Steve Edwards. A smart, strangely aching piece, hard to shake.
  • Nothing to declare, by John Boyne. A deliciously humorous look at success, public defecation and litter envy. Also works for humans.
  • Cyprus Avenue, by Lucy Caldwell. Deftly nails the many, competing emotions of exiles on the return.
  • In the Act of Falling, by Danielle McLaughlin. The savage, claustrophobic connections that both bind us and break us.
  • When the World Was Soft, by Paul Duffy. "We came upon Witenoom one day, the village they had scrubbed off the maps." Fiercely good story, from a new writer to watch.
  • Bonus readings: the excellent winners of The Short Story competition; the finalists for the Manchester short story competition, and the shortlist for the short story of the year. Also an out-of-the-park-good set of recommendations for International Women's Day.
  • Plus a mention for some excellent Weekend Reads on For Books' Sake: Salting Home by Rebecca F John, Starver by Daisy Johnson, The Missionary Kid and the Moongirl by Zillah Bethell and Theft by Karen E Bender, sadly no longer available online.
Flash Fiction
  • Terra Incognita, by Sharon Telfer. "Beyond this line, nothing; the map waits." Exquisitely captured, a small world complete, and a deserved winner of the Bath Flash Fiction Award. 
  • A Fine Line, by  Leah Jane Esau. How can less than nine hundred words leave your heart in pieces? 
  • My X, by Molly Giles. Sharp, sternum-pricking, such finely-tuned infuriation and familiarity.
  • Shit Cassandra Saw That She Didn’t Tell the Trojans Because at that Point Fuck Them Anyway,
    by Gwen E. Kirby
    . A wild, triumphant wail of a piece. 
  • Happy Endings, by Margaret Atwood. This classic remains as fresh and subversive as it must have in 1983.
  • One Warren Ward, by Fiona J Mackintosh."They are birthing their own endings, these women, in this shabby, beige room." So much more, somehow, than the sum of its broken parts.
  • How to Date a Surfer, by Lori Brody. A wry, bittersweet taste on the tongue.
  • Summer Baby, by Anne Elizabeth Weisgerber. For the exquisite use of language alone, rendering everything new.
  • Pigalle, by Victoria Briggs. Knife-tongued, laced with shock and awe, a spunky jab for any reader. 
  • The Golden Age, by Mark Doten. A crazed, fabulous piece of frighteningly non-fictional fiction.
  • Bonus: almost anything published in Smokelong Quarterly.
  • Song, by Brigit Pegeen Kelly. "Listen: there was a goat's head hanging by ropes in a tree. ...But listen." Every turn of this powerful, gut-punching work is unexpected, even on a second read.
  • Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver. A high, clear slice of beauty and consolation.
  • How to Live in an American Town, by Jennifer Chang. So run with him/ Please./Take the kitchen fire./ Run heart run.
  • Chick, by Mark Belair. Every. single. thing. about this ragged, gum-snapping, show-stopper of a poem.
  • My Blue Hen, by Ann Gray. A tender and wild little thing, this song of eggs and feathers.
  • Prayer, by Carol Ann Duffy. Read this over, and over. Pause, as - each time - something inside lifts to meet it.
  • The Fourth State of Matter, by Jo Ann Beard. I still do not know what to feel about this piece. Gutted. Empty. Full. Just read it. Read it. Read it.
  • Confessions, by Mike Nagel. "I ate their secrets. Swallowed them whole. I've had a stomach ache for eight years." Short, whip-tongued smart, and wholly unsentimental. 
  • To Obama With Love, and Hate, and Desperation, by Jeanne Marie Laskasjan. These voices: lost, fearful, touched with grace. These stories. All these aching stories. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Fail better

Sometimes, learning to write feels largely about learning to deal with rejection.

Over the last three years, I've made some 70-odd submissions of my work. I've had some lucky,
shining moments as a result of those submissions. And I've had 60-odd rejections.

If you've never failed 60-odd times at something, let me tell you this: it is far from pleasant.

What also this: you do get a little less afraid of failure. You may even actively begin to court it.

Which is perhaps why I found myself submitting on four separate occasions to one particular journal. It helped that I had met the editor, Brendan Barrington of Penguin Ireland, and that he happens to be possibly the nicest man on the planet. (One agent I spoke with called him the "great gentleman of Irish publishing", and I can't think of a better turn of phrase). He also writes the most encouraging rejection letters.

Still, four times is borderline masochism, I think you'll agree. Which is why I couldn't be more thrilled that this arrived in the post today:

Available in the best Irish bookshops, and online at
[And no, I have no idea what I'm doing sharing a cover with Colm Tóibín]

If you'd like to try it for yourself, Brendan is accepting submissions for upcoming issues now. Pick up this latest volume or any of the back issues for a sample of the fiction and non-fiction he looks for - I guarantee you a spanking good read.

And if your submission doesn't work out the first time, well - Beckett said it best:
"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Free and Footloose reads: part two

As a follow-up to part one, and in the pause before part three, gorge thyself on more fabulous, freely available works of fiction and non-fiction (and the occasional sly poem):

Short Stories
  • Do You Hear What I'm Saying? by Kori Waring. Blown sideways by this burning, beautiful, unbearable story. 
  • The Half-Skinned Steer, by Ann Proulx. chilled and awed all over again.
  • Idioglossia, by Eimear Ryan. Read this. Read it now. Then immediately re-read it, for all the unshown, unsaid, only shadowed.
  • A Small Fortune, by Roberta George. The filament of fear, the switchback, hilt-deep turns.
  • The Boy Who Was Born under a Comet, by Benjamin Myers. A piercing story, both unexpected and inevitable, shadowed by all that might have been.
  • All That Glisters, by Anne Donovan. Closely-held but frank; a gently balanced, glittering work.
  • Dido's Lament, by Tessa Hadley. Such an achingly honest dissection of old wounds, the selves we hold up for others.
  • Painted Black, by Joanna Cannon. Heart-struck by this stripped back, darkly flowered piece.
  • The Weak Spot, by Sophie Mackintosh. Clever, cutting capsize of our expectations, featuring murderous teens and teeth.
  • The Names of Things, C. G. Menon. A tender-rough delight of language and discomfort.
  • Ministry of the Interior, by Louise Kennedy. So finely worked, each piece arranged to quiet, restrained effect. 
  • Fascicle 41, by Anna McGrail. The striking, deserved winner of The London Magazine competition.
  • The Phosphorescence, by Nicholas Ruddock. A tense, breathless, headlong read.
  • Cow and Company, by Parashar Kulkarni. Whip-smart satirical office politics as never before imagined.
  • Help Me Follow My Sister into the Land of the Dead, by Ursula Ruiz. An engaging new twist on the bones of a story.
  • The King’s Teacup at Rest, by Michael Andreasen. Surreal, strangely affecting story on abandoned fairgrounds, loneliness and fealty.
  • The Swimmer, by John Cheever. Prepare to be left chilled, bereft, in exile from yourself.
  • Say You, by Sara Collins. "The story of any island is the story of men, arriving." An immersive, rung-true tale, anchored by surprising turns of language. 
  • Children’s Stories Made Horrific: Curious George, by Mallory Ortberg. For everything The Toast is and was. And for peeling back the skin of childhoods, for what wriggles beneath.
  • Bartleby, the Scrivener, by Herman Melville. The classic's classic, ever worth rereading.
  • Open Water, by Abigail Rose. "For his fourteenth birthday, Jago’s father gave him the ocean." A tenacious, salt-rimed tale.
  • Bonus: listen to the shortlisted stories for the Caine Prize and the Francis MacManus competition.
Flash Fiction
Non fiction
  • A Demonstration by Jessica Traynor. "For what are women really but children themselves, living and dying without reason?" An urgent, beautiful piece.
  • Two Deaths, by Claire Askew. A fierce, piercing, physically affecting piece.
  • Good bones, by Maggie Smith. Over and over, I return to this.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Wild and fierce: new short story collections

Two collections recently read. One bought, one gifted. Both utterly, viscerally beyond extraordinary.

I had already come upon the title story of Donal Ryan's A Slanting of the Sun when it won the short story of the year, and loved it at first read. But even that did not prepare me for the effect of sitting with this sustained, tone-perfect sequence of stories. Ryan's characters are locked in the hinterlands of my home country, in places forgotten by others: midlands bungalows, windswept parking lots, nursing homes marked by boiled milk and small violences. The effect is something like poetry: total, elegant immersion, a giving up of one's self to the sweep and pull.

A proof copy of Daisy Johnson's FEN was handed to me by her agent, Jack Ramm, when I met him one freezing day in London. I opened it at Gatwick Airport, expecting to get no more than a few pages in - I cannot, typically, consume anything of substance while around airflight. After swallowing the first two stories whole while standing in line I had to come up for air. I had read the collection cover to cover before we were halfway to Dubai.

There is something deeply unsettling about the stories, all featuring (unusually) female protagonists.
This is tight, slow-buried writing at it's best. I can't find a better description for the experience than Cynan Jones' blurb on the back of my proof copy:
"Reading the stories brought the sense of being trapped in a room slowly, but very surely, filling up with water. You think: this can't be happening. Meanwhile, hold your breath against the certainty it surely is."

On the strength of that experience, Jack is now my agent too.

[Two not-so-new collections that have gotten under my skin in the last year are Alice Munro's Runaway, and Primo Levi's A Tranquil Star. You can read the stand-out story of Munro's collection, the eponymous 'Runaway', here.]

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Snapshots: Winter in Johannesburg

Winter in Johannesburg, and the first power cut. An iced afternoon in the dwindling light. Laptops, television, wifi, telephones, stove, fridge, heaters, lamps, kettle: all mute. No writing possible. No dinner. No hot water for tea. We huddle beneath a blanket and wait, mourning the loss of our many conveniences. We strategise about cafes that may be open, warm places we could sit for a while, cinemas in which we could pass the hours. Of course, we have all this at our disposal: money, transport, options. Thousands, thousands upon thousands, right here in this city, a brisk walk from where we sit, do not. This, our city: kerosene stoves and smartphones; high fashion and candlesticks. This place of constant collision of worlds.

Friday, June 10, 2016

An interview with Aesthetica Magazine

Photo via Aesthetica Magazine

Last December, I was beyond thrilled to be named a finalist for the 2015 Aesthetica Creative Writing Award. Their anthology is eagerly awaited by agents, writers and reviewers, so it was an honor to be included in its pages.

Due to the vagaries of the South African postal service, I only finally got to handle a copy when I returned to Ireland for a short break in May. To celebrate, I did a short interview with Alexandra from Aesthetica Magazine, on gaining representation (more on that soon), the influence traveling and working abroad has had on my writing, and the novel I am currently working on.

Here I am, being my usual articulate self:
When short stories do work, they are extremely rewarding: an entire, polished thing, which has sometimes been achieved quite quickly. But I have no idea how to write one; it’s still a mystery. 
You can read the rest of the interview here.

Or read an excerpt from my short story, 'Stafford Street', which landed me a place as a finalist for the 2015 Aesthetica Creative Writing Award. Find out how to enter the 2016 Award here

Friday, April 1, 2016

Free and footloose reads

For evenings curled fireside, or mornings abed - I recommend you reach for one of these. All freely available, all exquisitely special. [Installment two and three now also available]

Winter reading toesies. (c) Ríona Judge McCormack

Short Stories
  • Foster, by Claire Keegan. If you have not read, read. If you have read, re-read. I cannot say this more urgently. Exquisite, sharp, timeless.
  • A Small, Good Thing, by Raymond Carver. Read Carver, they said. So I didn't. See me now, unprepared. Reeling.
  • Feeding the Lions, by Sara Brody. “Don’t worry about monsters,” Calvin said. “They won’t bother you if you don’t bother them.” “That’s a lie,” Lucy said. “Don’t lie to me.” Shocking, tender, masterful in the execution. 
  • Rest Day, by John Boyne. War, choices, and how we warm to our own captive horrors.
  • Farm's Yield, by Molia Dumbleton. Enters the heart and takes it - two-handed, gently, but takes it nonetheless.
  • The Things We Lose, The Things We Leave Behind, by Billy O'Callaghan. Just unbearably beautifully wrought.
  • I Can See Right Through You, by Kelly Link. A story to read, then re-read anew, seeing more each time. Wry, sweet, thoroughly chilling.
  • Runaway, by Alice Munro. That needle in the chest, cold and sure. 
  • Chicxulub, by T C Boyle. Furious, rousing, like a bloody great punch to the heart.
  • The Human Phonograph, by Jonathan Tel. Stirring as a clear voice ringing, like washed-clean glass.
  • A Different Country, by Danielle McLaughlin. Unsentimental, blistering look at the strangers we are to each other.
  • Black Ice, by Cate Kennedy. Of tree-skins and small, sharpened teeth in a clean-mouthed cold.
  • Other People’s Daughters, by Melissa Howard. " if kittens have clawed out of their insides." Rough-skinned, tough-talking, velvet in the innards.
  • The Clothes They Stood Up In, by Alan Bennett. A classic (long) short story on losing, regaining, and quiet domestic rebellions.
  • The Ways, by Colin Barrett. The angerings and the keenly-knifed grief. The sheer, breathless, filthy poetry of it.
  • The School of English, by Hilary Mantel. For days, this story will not leave. Shake and shake it, but still it clings. Clammy-close, claws in deep.
  • The Bone Child, by Anne Corlett. Chilled raw, clay-damp, all a-bump with gooseflesh.
  • Safe, Somewhere, by Baird Harper. Yellow ash rain, scrub suits; the cutthroat, creeping nasty.
  • Ten Pint Ted, by Ian Wild. Bitter but bighearted; unlit miles of abandoned tunnels lying beneath ordinary lives. 
  • All The Boys, by Thomas Morris. Rough, compelling, dirtily human, and a little bruising.
  • Who Are You With? by Nick Fuller Googins. Emptied chalkboards, waste-flowers, family: what is left, after. Dazzling, winded stuff. 
  • Echo Lake, by Timur Jonathan Karaca. Intense, shocking, just about perfect.
  • Their Cruel Routines, by Barry Lee Thompson. "‘Let me tell you about memory,’ she said." Bitter, vicious, claustrophobically good.
  • Ballerinas Across the Andes, by Owen Booth. Meticulously ridiculous, the best of the absurd.
  • Ger Sheen and the Satanists, by David McGrath. Furiously alive, wildly farcical - glorious Irish whimsy at its height.
  • Rapport, by Dan Micklethwaite. "there. There they go. So close. So warm. Those— hands, reaching."
  • The Johns, by Josie Sigler. "It broke you both at once in different ways but only briefly."
  • The White Road, by Tania Hershman. Still and beautiful, still and haunting.
  • Spoiled, by Jaki McCarrick. Quietly done, unshowy, but each note - precisely - in place.

Flash fiction
  • Vincent in the Yellow House, by Nuala Ní Chonchúir. The voice, the low-key anguish, the colours. Faultless flash fiction. 
  • Pretty Dead Girl Takes a Break, by Helen McClory. Whet-sharp, sardonic, slyly absurd.
  • Scrawlbabies, by Rob Grim. Follows you, knocking on your door, long after you read it.
  • Parting, by Elizabeth Morton. "My mother cut towelling lengthwise, sawed the dining table on a diagonal." Sharp-toothed and wrenching. 
  • Ice House, by Jane Roberts. A tickling chill, feathery geese tripping lightly over your grave. 
  • Danny Came Home, by Alisha Karabinus. "... raw with days of standing stagnant in water that stank of war." Gutting, alliterative work.
  • The Moon is a Wasteland, by Daniel DiFranco. Playfully, lightly done - and yet more than a little devastating.
  • Nothing But Bone, by Olga Wojtas. "How exactly could someone by eaten by mice?" Indeed. Eerie, perfect. 
  • Bait, by Amy Sayre Baptista. Oh, the placing of the steps, the chill in the chest, the beats between.
Non Fiction
  • Listening to Grasshoppers, by Arundhati Roy. Every good armament in fiction is brought to bear here, to hollowing, harrowing effect.
  • The dark side of Dubai, by Johann Hari. Feature journalism at its best - a portrait of a city like no other.
  • The Detainee's Tale, by Ali Smith. This is why we write. This, the lacerating power of pen, eye. This. This. This. 
  • Dear Orderly, by Mary-Louise Parker. "Give me the baby/ Give me the baby it will be down the hall/ With other given babies." Devastatingly good memoir.
  • Voices from Chernobyl, by Svetlana Alexievich. Voices at your throat, eyes: wry, damaged, heroic on their own terms.

Friday, March 4, 2016

On procrastination, unexpected windfalls and where stories come from

Writers write, right? And usually about other (albeit fictional) people, not ourselves.

However, when it's the truly lovely Eloise Millar at Galley Beggar Press who does the asking, who can refuse? Especially when it's to celebrate the strange and wonderful news that, somehow, my story Backburn was named the winner of the inaugural GBP Short Story Prize.

Elly asked me a range of thoughtful questions: from how a typical writing day unfolds, to where, exactly, the idea for Backburn had first originated.

So although this kind of thing makes me squirm a little, here it is:
It took years to feel ready to write about it. When I did, when the pieces turning over in my head started to slot together, Jacob and Moses came to me almost fully-formed. As sometimes happens, it felt less like I was creating than I was discovering a story that already existed – I was just drawing it down onto the page.
Read the rest of the interview here.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The women, the magic

One of the small privileges of living in my corner of Johannesburg is being close to that most lovely (and rare) of things: an independent bookshop.

And not just any independent bookshop. At Love Books, there are literary quotes engraved into the flagstone step. There are hand-made cross-stitch samplers dividing the genres. There are high-back armchairs upholstered in Madiba-shweshwe and 1950s telephone tables. There is an adjoining cafe that smells of good coffee and expensive chocolates.

Love Books is, in short, less a shop than a welcoming hearth for heartsore readers.

All photos (c) Ríona Judge McCormack

Delightfully, it also plays host to a range of book-launches at erratic times throughout the year. In the last twelve months I've sat enthralled listening to Barbara Kingsolver, Helen MacDonald, Lauren Beukes and John Boyne - and host of new South African authors - speak about life, creativity, loss and the unexpected. (I missed Teju Cole's evening, but thankfully heard him speak instead at the Troyeville Hotel)

This week, it was the turn of Zakes Mda to launch Little Suns.

Photo credit and copyright Victor Dlamini

Zakes freaking Mda, people! How on earth do you begin to interview such a literary legend?

It turns out to be simple: you get Mbali Vilakazi to do it. (This is where I invite you to watch her phenomenal TEDtalk on poetry and process. I'll even wait right here while you do it.)

Over the course of an hour, Mbali took us through a beautifully thoughtful discussion with Professor Mda on fierce women, outsiders, forgotten stories, and the intersection of personal and political histories. Here are just a few fragments from that conversation:

On the array of interesting and bold women that populate Little Suns:
Why do I create strong female characters in my books? I think maybe because I don't know how to create any other kind.
On including the story of King Mamani, the first (and last) woman to be king, who took a wife and had a surrogate child with her:
Mamani she was ruthless in fact. Her cousin wanted to take [the throne] from her, but she was not having any of that. So she had him and all his supporters killed. I am in fact her descendant. But she is written out of my history, out of the history of the amaMpondomise.
On the magic in his stories:
It is from the tradition of stories we tell here, around the fire. My grandmother's stories taught me that the supernatural or the strange and unusual existed on the same plain as the real, that it is a natural part of that world... When I met Gabriel García Márquez he said to me, 'Do you know where I get my magic?' I said no. He said, 'From my grandmother. And do you know where she got it?' And I said no. He said, 'She got it from the African slaves.'
On writing under Apartheid:
During apartheid you could take a realistic slice of life, transfer it to the page and presto! Theatre of the absurd! [from @sa_poptart]

Buy the book - both in design and content, it is a thing of exquisiteness.

Thank you Jozi, for allowing me to bear witness to moments such as these.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Good things; small packages

Those good people at Galley Beggar Press (you know, the same ones who took a chance on A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing) have been doing their level best of late to bring back the golden era of the short story. I'm a member of their Singles Club, which sends a toasty new story to your inbox every month in return for pennies. What's not to love?

Now, they're releasing each of the eleven longlisted stories for their Short Story Prize as an exquisite little e-book. I was honoured to win this prize, and just look at how beautifully it has been done:

(Yours for just £1, or less than a cup of tea)

Here is the opening page:
Jacob Henry wakes before first light on the morning of the burn. In the darkened hallway his father is shuffling blindly, knocking against the carved hatstand and its many cruel, waiting legs. Jacob has been dreaming of water, or a dry lake, and something swift – a sharpened line of birds, a sudden arrowing – passing over. It slips from him even as he reaches for it.
In the hallway there is the trembling of glassware, the soft thock of a limb against hardwood. ‘What for?’ Liesl says beside him in a clear voice. The thinning braid of his wife’s hair slides across the pillow and then is still.
Water, Jacob decides. The dream had been of water, stretching glassy and thin to the horizon. In this part of the Cape there is no such sight.
He pulls the counterpane from the bed and hangs it about his shoulders, the cotton soft from use. Liesl had worked it during a long winter pregnancy in the first years of their marriage – on Benjamin, he thinks, but cannot be sure. The winters had been harder then. But also easier.
In the doorway, Jacob pauses. His father is quarrelling with the hatstand. Jacob can hear the words now – fokkenfokkenfokken – quiet and venomous. They are not coming from the man but from somewhere else.
‘Pa,’ Jacob says, standing chilled in his underclothes. He pulls the counterpane closer.
‘Carrying on! All hours… dare they!’
‘Pa,’ Jacob tries again. ‘Harold.’
His father turns, a thread of saliva hanging from his chin. ‘I won’t be forced out! They’ll never – keep it tight!’
‘Yes, pa.’
‘Outrage! Stinking creeping!’
‘Yes, pa.’ 
His father blinks, unsure. He takes a step toward Jacob. ‘It’s out, Danny? You’re sure?’
Danny is not here, in this house. He has not been for thirty years, but Jacob says only, ‘All out.’ He puts a hand to the small of his father’s back and feels Harold tense against him, then relax. A faint trembling comes through his palm. ‘Come, pa. Come on back.’
‘Boss Jacob?’ says a soft voice in the dark. Fortunate, the housemaid, has entered unheard.
‘We’re fine,’ Jacob says. ‘Aren’t we, pa?’
His father turns sly then, one hand reaching for Jacob. ‘Fine, fine.’ Fortunate turns heavily on her broken-down ankles, back into the dark. Only then does Harold let himself be led to his room, where the rank stench of urine waits, heavy and acrid. Jacob seats him in the yellowwood nursing chair that had formed part of his mother’s dowry and begins to strip the sheets, saying over and over, in a low voice, not to worry, now, not to worry.

I am making my way through all eleven stories, over coffee and chocolate in bed - delicious. You can browse below for some tasty morning reading: