Tag Archives: South Africa

Writing yourself

I am assuming it is true for all authors, but know that this is true for me: a lot of me has gone into every piece of writing I’ve done. I am not sure how it could be otherwise.

I tried once, as an exercise, to see if I could write something in a genre and style unlike my own – just to see if I could do it. I could, with difficulty, but the result was highly unsatisfactory and when the laptop courteously enquired as to whether I wanted to save it I said no.

Both The Butterfly Heart and The Sleeping Baobab Tree tread on ground familiar to me as a child growing up in Zambia. Writing them has freshened up warm and rich memories and brought them back into the forefront of my mind. I am grateful for that. The other pieces of writing I have been working on are a novella set on Death Row in South Africa prior to the abolition of the death penalty and a full length novel set in South Africa again in the late eighties. Both of these delve into more recent memories of mine and writing them enabled me address the memories and find a place for them.

With the as yet unpublished  full length novel,  called Turn Left at the Camel Thorn Tree, the story allowed me to look at the question of belonging (it’s alternate name being Who Here Belongs) and a sense of place. Having lived in many places and never truly been of those places, it is a question that intrigues me.   And I use the word intrigue advisedly, as it does not distress me – just interests me. I feel privileged to have lived in all of the places, including here in Ireland.

With the novella, called No Shoelaces,  the issue is simpler. The novella attempts to take readers into the belly of a place manned by people whose only function is to keep people alive until it is time to kill them. Scheduled date and time. Luckily the place in question now houses a Death Row museum in South Africa. But not so in many other parts of the world. America springs to mind. As does Pakistan which recently ended a five year moratorium and announced plans to execute the 400 prisoners who the government says are under sentence of death. Other groups put the number as high as 8,000. A popular move in Pakistan, something no doubt that Nawaz Sharif is well aware of, but in my view a huge step backwards for the country.

In talking about ‘writing yourself’ I am not for a moment talking autobiography – it is just that the adage ‘write what you know’ holds true for me. It is quite simply just easier. And more real. I for one am going to stick to it.

To be the best you can be

Nelson Mandela has, in the course of his extraordinary life, said many wise things. This morning I was thinking about one in particular:

‘There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living’ Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

Given that this blog is (mostly!) about stories, writing and books I was thinking about this in relation to writing. Writing, whether creatively in fiction or non-fiction, is self directed. You have to find the time and the space to do it, no one else can do that for you. It is from you, you yourself have to extract it from your head and put it down. If you are writing, whether for a living or for pleasure, you owe it to yourself to be the very best you can, to ignore your own excuses as to why you haven’t finished or why it is not as good as you would like it to be. It is in your hands.

I have been lucky in that I am in a position where I have the time and space to do this – it is an absolute privilege and I treasure it. But I know I could do more.  Time passes quickly and as a writer you need to be able to ask yourself at the end of each day, ‘what have I written? and is it good?’  If the answer is ‘nothing’ then you are failing yourself. There are days when my answer is ‘nothing’ and it should not be so.

There is more though to what he said – because to be the best we can means being the best we can not only for ourselves but for others. He has lived that to the full. He has, at every turn, done the right thing for others. He continues to do that. South Africa and the world have been made richer by his life  and it is why he remains beloved by so many. He is a one off. Just one look at that smile will tell you that!

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela