<![CDATA[Bridget Pitt - writing & stuff - Posts]]>Tue, 24 Nov 2015 11:20:10 +0200Weebly<![CDATA[Bless this book and all who sail in her]]>Tue, 27 Oct 2015 14:28:06 GMThttp://www.thelesserspottedauthor.com/posts/bless-this-book-and-all-who-sail-in-her
'So the book is launched,' I said to Kennedy.
   ‘What book?’ he asked, barely glancing up from getting messages on his iBone.
   I’m thinking of getting a new publicist. Kennedy has launched his own Instagram account, and has over 7000 followers, which has rather gone to his head. He is even sporting a new hairstyle to make him look like a large predatory feline, which frankly, for a Chihuahua, is nothing short of grandiose.
     Anyway, back to more important matters. No one cracked a bottle of bubbly on its hull, but Notes from the Lost Property Department was blessed with libations at two book launches.
    In Cape Town, the book was launched at the Book Lounge, with a conversation with the esteemed book critic Jennifer Crocker.  And in Johannesburg, it set sail with the help of the charming and elegant editor and writer Aspasia Karras, at Lovebooks. I was rather apprehensive that they would be attended only by long suffering family members. But both had a reasonably robust turn out, perhaps induced by the provision of excellent snacks.
The best thing about the events was that people came who knew me from all the chapters of my life. The Jo’burg launch was a bit disconcerting, as it was attended old school mates who had known me when I was five years old and once wore pyjama pants to school instead of the regulation grey bloomers, (shamefully revealed when I hung upside down on the jungle gym).
Spot the difference....
No one cracked a bottle of bubbly on its hull...
The launch at LoveBooks, Johannesburg
Others who were there were with me in high school, and as I attempted to project an airy erudition I suddenly recalled giving English Orals to a room full of underwhelmed and derisive teenagers. Fortunately, they are all now lovely and gracious women who were kind enough to come and listen without heckling.
   My high school English teacher was there, who knew me as an unformulated fourteen year old who spent her lessons surreptitiously eating Fritos and writing poetry on very small scrolls which I kept in a world sharpener in my pencil case. Also my Gym teacher, now in her eighties, who spent 12 years patiently trying to remedy my total failure on the sports field.
    In Cape Town, there were people who’d marched with me when I was a social activist sporting a Free Mandela button with stern opinions on What is to be Done; others who’d got to know me over the heads of our squalling infants in pushchairs; and more recent connections forged in the trenches defending a local wetland from developers.

The cape Town Book launch at The Book Lounge - thanks to Liesl Jobson for the pics.
__ I was very touched that all these people should feel moved to come to support my book launch, and it also felt quite fitting. After all, it is these myriad connections which have enabled my stories to grow. For while one tries to avoid stealing people’s lives too blatantly, there can be now doubt that the raw material of a writer is forged in these relationships.
I recall little of what was actually said at these events, but fortunately Liesl Jobson was at the Cape Town launch, and has written a great account on the BooksLive website, as well as supplying these fabulous pics. The extracts which I read aloud can be downloaded here.
So thanks to all who made this possible, especially to Ryno Posthumus and Fourie Botha of PenguinRandom House, Kate Rogan at LoveBooks and Mervyn Sloman and The Book Lounge team, and all those who came and smiled at me kindly and bought books. The novel is launched, and all that remains to be said is bless this book and all who sail in her.

<![CDATA[Incredible journeys]]>Thu, 06 Aug 2015 15:51:30 GMThttp://www.thelesserspottedauthor.com/posts/incredible-journeys
At the launch with my fellow runner up, and author of a fabulous story in the collection, Lidudumalingani.
I recently had the pleasure and privilege of being selected as a runner up in the Short Sharp Stories annual short fiction competition. The theme was The Incredible Journey, and selected entries have been compiled into a wonderful anthology that takes the reader on a range of journeys through the South African physical and metaphorical landscape.
Reproduced below is an interview with me which was posted on the BooksLive website.  Also reproduced is the photo of me which was used with the interview, holding a small brown dog. The more observant amongst you will notice that this is not Kennedy, my publicist. This is Jakes, my Life Coach.
The original interview may be read here.
Incredible Journey Teaser: Q&A with one of this year’s runners-up, Bridget Pitt

Posted By twodogs On July 28, 2015 @ 8:59 am In South Africa | Comments Disabled

Bridget Pitt is a 2015 Short.Sharp.Stories Judges’ Choice Runner-Up for her story “The Infant Odysseus”. Pitt is a Zimbabwe-born South African writer. Her first published writing appeared in the anti-apartheid newspaper Grassroots, and she has since written educational material for NGOs, school textbooks, poetry and fiction.

As your first time being a part of the Short.Sharp.Stories project how does it feel to be a prizewinner?

It’s firstly wonderful to be part of the Incredible Journey collection, and to feel part of this community of writers. And, of course, it is very gratifying to get the recognition of being a prize winner, although (as I remind myself on the many occasions I don’t win) the real satisfaction lies in writing as well as I can, and in touching others.

What does this year’s topic, ‘incredible journey’, mean to you?

It’s a very evocative topic, which resonated with me as soon as I’d read it. I think what is so powerful about it is that it captures a sense of process, that as living beings we are in a constant state of change – which can be disturbing, as we like to hold onto things, but is also liberating.

Speaking of constant state of change, is that why you chose a baby as the focus for your incredible journey story?

I felt that the baby’s journey, and the internal journeys that it sparked in the other characters who engaged with it, held a lot of powerful metaphors about us as individuals and as a society. Meeting a baby can be an invitation to relate to another human in a very authentic way – babies don’t judge us; we are not afraid to engage with them in case they take advantage, or think we’re stupid, or misunderstand our motives. They connect us with a time before we were formed – or damaged – by life. But they also connect us with our vulnerability as children, and as adults, which can be quite threatening. This baby also interested me because it was at once both vulnerable and resilient, like feelings of tenderness, or love, or hope.

Your story has a very distinct moment in it when your main character is appalled by her husband’s reaction so drastically different from her own. Have you had a moment like that, living in South Africa, when you’ve realised someone close to you has a completely different opinion?

I have often experienced this, and it is always disconcerting, especially when these responses are from someone I hold dear, or whom I’d assumed shared my views. The South African reality is highly contested, and can feel very personal if someone feels threatened or overwhelmed by the violence and injustice of it, so I suppose it is not surprising that we respond to it very differently.

In addition to the husband and wife having different reactions to the baby both women have a powerful yet different response to the baby – can you comment on this?

The women both have enormously complex relationships with the baby. The mother’s tenderness for the baby is evident, but equally evident are the burdens she carries of poverty and forced migration which make it almost impossible for her to care for her child. For Georgia, the baby is a portal both to her suppressed grief about her own lost child, and to a disturbingly intimate insight into the hardships faced by millions of mothers across the world. At some level, their respective reactions are quite primitive: a meeting between a mother and a barren woman longing for a child. The starkness of this encounter momentarily illuminates the strands of personal and social history that weave their relationship to the child and each other, simultaneously bringing them together and ripping them apart.

As someone who has written many different formats, from textbooks to poetry, which one do you find the most rewarding to write?

My first love is novels, but I like any writing. A successful poem is a wonderful thing, and not quite as arduous as a novel. Textbooks are very much on other people’s terms, but I enjoy finding ways to be creative within those strict parameters.

Describe your fiction writing process. Is it disciplined and 9-5pm or do you need to be in the mood?

I try to spend at least four hours on writing something every day, or at least working on writing-related stuff such as research or making submissions. Once I am fully into a novel, story or poem, I get a bit obsessive and have to drag myself away from it. Then I can go for twelve hours a day.

It sounds like you truly love what you do. Do you have any short story writing tip you can share?

This is hard, because when I read the great short story writers I feel like a total amateur. I think the challenge is to encapsulate something quite monumental and complex into a small moment, but I can’t really say how you do that. I can say “make every word count”, but of course that should as equally apply to a 400 page novel!

Do you believe you have a role in promoting South Africans’ interest in reading?

Hopefully all writers promote reading by writing stuff that is attractive to read. I do think we need to cultivate a reading culture, though, which is why I enjoy working on school-based material and material for children. I like finding texts and activities to make kids feel that reading can bring some inspiration and relevant narrative to their lives.

What can we expect from you next?

I have a novel [Notes From The Lost Property Department] coming out in September this year, which explores brain injury, mountains, secrecy, and the thorny challenge of forgiving your parents. I am also working on another novel, which delves into the issue of rhino hunting/poaching in the past, present and future, which I hope to finish by the end of next year.

Interview by Liz Sarant

Incredible Journey
AUTHORS: Edited by Joanne Hichens
RRP: R190
ISBN/EAN: 9781928230182
EXTENT: 256pp

ABOUT THE BOOK:Incredible Journey is the third of the annual SHORT.SHARP.STORIES anthologies. Following the crime-thrillers of Bloody Satisfied (2013) and erotic tales of Adults Only (2014), the focus in 2015 is on a journey, be it political, personal or emotional.
  The incredible journeys of this year’s title vary from road trips to mind trips, and are by turns inspirational, intriguing and entertaining. Those that have made this year’s shortlist have two things in common: 1) as in previous collections, they capture uniquely South African voices, and 2) they move the reader.
  The judges of this year’s competition are Henrietta Rose-Innes, Ken Barris and Makhosazana Xaba, with a foreword to the collection by Sindiwe Magona. To read more or to order the book go to http://www.burnetmedia.co.za.

<![CDATA[A kaleidoscope of extraordinary tales]]>Tue, 14 Jul 2015 15:40:55 GMThttp://www.thelesserspottedauthor.com/posts/july-14th-2015Picture
Recently I had the great pleasure of reading Let’s tell this story Properly, an anthology of stories entered into the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. This collection provides a chorus of voices from throughout the Commonwealth, and I feel extremely privileged that my own story, Next Full Moon we will Release Juno, represents one of these.

The story that gives the anthology its title is by Ugandan writer Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, a sharply observed narrative on the death of a man with a secret from his wife. The protagonist’s ruthless honesty about herself and her relationship with her recently deceased husband  provides a wonderful insight into the community of the Ugandan diaspora, as well as a commentary on marriage, fidelity, and widowhood that is universal to all societies.

The other stories feature a humming bird, a smoking grandmother, a devil on a church outing, a mother lost to America, a Haitian cowboy, a woman married to a ghost, a mummified cat, an elusive giant squid, and (my own) a stuffed Kudu. They take us from Singapore in the 1920’s to pre-war Germany and modern day Jamaica. The narratives are satirical, tragic, compassionate and humorous, but all are wonderfully expressed and compelling to read.   Taken together, they form a remarkable portrait of the world we live in, with all its pathos, absurdity and delight.

The stories were selected from over ten thousand entries to the Commonwealth Prize over the past three years. In the words of Australian novelist Micelle de Kretser, “The range of these stories – spirited, tender, meditative, illuminating – testifies to the extraordinary talent of emerging writers across the world.” I read them aloud to my publicist, Kennedy, who heartily agrees - he is even to willing to overlook one major flaw of the book: not a single story features a Chihuahua.

The book can be purchased on Amazon in print or on Kindle.

Below is an extract from my story.
Not a single story features a Chihuahua...

Next Full Moon We’ll Release Juno
by Bridget Pitt

Long before we released Clarence on the Plains of Camdeboo, it was well known in Oupoort that Jonah was soft in the head.
       It was also well known that anyone who had a problem with that could sort it out with me. Jonah sometimes made me want to run up the koppie behind the Ouport and scream so loud that all the boulders would roll down the hill and bury the whole damn town. But he was my cousin and I had to keep him safe. 
        Jonah was always different. Ouma Saartjie said it was because he was born just as the blood-red midsummer Karoo moon was rising on one side of Oupoort, while the angry orange sun dipped below the ragged-toothed mountains on the other side.
        Auntie Jenna said we shouldn’t question God’s creations.
        If he hadn’t been different, I might have been jealous of him. Not only did he snatch my place as the youngest cousin, but, as our relatives never tired of remarking, he also ‘looked like an angel’. Oh, how those aunties would babble on about his green eyes, his curly hair bronzed with gold, his ‘tawny’ skin... Any kid who ‘looked white’ was admired (and also despised) in our neighbourhood, although Jonah didn’t look white so much as like a whole new breed of human, whereas I was just your standard issue Karoo laaitie.
        But when the aunties tried to cuddle him, Jonah would go rigid and silent, as if listening for instructions from a distant planet on how to manage a life-threatening situation. And they would put him down, puzzled and a little afraid. When I saw that, I understood that Jonah needed someone to stand between him and the world. It seemed that he’d rather be squeezed by a python than hugged by an auntie, and I soon learnt to put myself in the path of relatives bearing down on him.
        Keeping him safe at school was a trickier business. On Jonah’s first day, Willie Kleinhans knocked him down in the playground and sat on top of him, pummelling him into the red earth like a secretary bird stomping on a snake. Jonah just lay there staring out at some dark star, and when I dived in and persuaded Willie to beat me up instead, he picked himself up and wandered off as if the whole thing had nothing to do with him. Every other day I had to punch someone for calling him spastic chicken brain or fish puke (which some genius coined after a Sunday school lesson about Jonah and the whale). Jonah never seemed to care about the insults, and never thanked me for defending him, but he was family. What else could I do? ...

<![CDATA[And the word was God...]]>Sat, 10 Jan 2015 21:16:06 GMThttp://www.thelesserspottedauthor.com/posts/january-10th-2015
So there is this place where I walk my dogs. I call it the Bosky Dell, but its official name is the Kirstenbosch Arboretum. It’s a sad place because once there were families living there whose homes were demolished under the Group Areas Act’. Now it has beautiful, lush growth as if the sorrow of its past has fertilised the ground. In spring it is carpeted with snowdrops and Arum lilies. In summer the grass grows high and hums with cicadas, and my dogs bound through it in a shower of golden grass seeds. 
    A river runs through it, clear water fresh from the mountain rushing over pale stones. At one point this stream forms a deeper pool, in a shaded, quiet moment beneath contemplative trees. The pool is fed by a small waterfall; gnarled and woody roots garland the water, fish and tadpoles flicker through the still depths, beneath the dart of dragon flies.
    Visiting this was once the highlight of my walk. It felt like a portal into wild, untouched spaces in distant forests, a reverent place that could bring me back into connection with myself and the earth. A place where I could feel the humility and serenity that comes from knowing you are just one small part of a very big dance.
    Until the day I came to find a word spray painted in dayglo orange on one of the trees. And the word was “God”.
    Any word would have been a destructive act of vandalism, but I think I would have preferred “Chantal loves Wayne”, or “DOG”, which was what Kennedy thought it was, as he read it from the bottom of the tree. (How thoughtful, he said. A tree especially for dogs, and he proceeded to honour it, as dogs do.) Because far from bringing God into the place, it just crushed its inherent spirituality and shoved God right out.
    I don’t pretend to know about God. I don’t subscribe to any formal religion. I’m with the Buddhists in thinking that a God conceived by humans is inevitably diminished by the limits of our imagination. Far from humans being created in God’s image, it seems to me that humans have cast God in their image, and all too often come up with a small-minded vengeful God, a mean jealous God with a fragile ego. A God who is offended by homosexuality, for instance. Seriously? You think that a being who created a universe of which the world is one miniscule particle in an unbounded vortex of stars and galaxies, who spawned billions of life forms, who has watched humans evolve to find ever new ways of destroying the life, is going to be offended by two men wanting to love each other?
    I think God would be a lot more annoyed by someone defacing a tree. A lot of work went into that tree. Millions of years of evolution, to get it from a single celled amoeba into a multicellular brachiate and intricately functioning organism.
    The Dayglo GOD got me thinking about the phrase “taking God’s name in vain”. There’s a lot of that going on these days. And I don’t mean yelling “Jesus Christ” when you stub your toe. I mean perpetrating acts of cruelty, or abuse, or greed and claiming that you are acting for God. Like kidnapping school girls, gunning down cartoonists*, launching air strikes, or attacking women who choose to abort a pregnancy; Like denying children knowledge of evolution, or robbing people of their homeland and their birthright. Pretty much an endless list, going back way into the dark ages - as long as there has been a formal religion there have been those bandying God’s name about to justify any old thing, from burning women accused of witchcraft to systematically stealing from peasants.
    There are enlightened pro-religious thinkers who decry this abuse of God’s name, who claim that it is an aberration, the exception rather than the rule. But when the abuse is so widespread, you have to question whether it is not intrinsic to organised religion. In particular to those religions whose doctrine dictates that God loves only those who subscribe to a particular belief. There is no theistic religion in which believers have not used God’s name to justify atrocities – Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus all have blood on their hands.  This calls to mind the quote by Deepak Chopra: “God gave humans the truth, and the devil came and he said, 'Let's give it a name and call it religion’”.
    It is nice to imagine old Beezlebub skipping through the Bosky Dell with a can of orange dayglo paint and defacing the tree, but I have no doubt that the devil was invented by priests to rule their subjects with fear, and to absolve themselves of responsibility. As in “The devil made me do it.” It wasn’t the devil but humans who distorted the truth with religion, and infused it with all their self-serving barbarous narratives of righteous warfare and chosen races.
    So, speaking as one balanced on that rickety fence between vague agnosticism and stern atheism, I’d like to appeal to all the theists out there to start treating God’s name with a lot more respect. Don’t wave it around to endow acts of barbarism with glory. Don’t shine it in people’s eyes to blind them to atrocities, or to turn lost young men into killing and raping machines. Don’t use it to perpetuate fear and ignorance. And please don’t use it to deface any more trees.

* NOTE: While I condemn the attacks on the French Cartoonists, I am wary of the simplification of this issue and the glorification of Charlie Hebdo. The following articles provide nuanced commentary on this:

The false debate between freedom of expression and religious extremism
By Monia Mazigh
Unmournable Bodies By Teju Cole

Charlie Hebdo Is Heroic and Racist We should embrace and condemn it. By Jordan Weissmann
<![CDATA[give me an x to build a dream on]]>Wed, 21 May 2014 22:07:54 GMThttp://www.thelesserspottedauthor.com/posts/give-me-an-x-to-build-a-dream-onPicture
Twenty years ago, flushed with the euphoria of our first democratic election, I wrote a glowing letter to friends abroad describing the event. I tried to find this letter on election day this year. I found a lot of other things: dense pages of drivel written by candlelight on the portable typewriter my father bought for my eighteenth birthday (I later abandoned it after using it to type illegal pamphlets on roneo stencils during the States of Emergency in the 80’s); a list of items confiscated from me by the security police and signed by Warrant Officer Illegible; a comic strip about the ‘dwarf liberation movement,’ a secret society for short people from which I was expelled when I married a man who is 6’4”. Etcetera.
But the letter I was seeking remained elusive. Much like that dream of the egalitarian and democratic society that we so cherished twenty years ago. Back in the eighties, it seemed improbable that we would ever attain this dream, but we thought this would be because PW Botha and the ugly black hat brigade would rule this land to the end of time. We did not for a moment countenance the possibility that the heroes of our beloved liberation movement would be selling out our tender hopes for tender hopes of a different kind.

PictureManifesto for the DLM

So. Disappointing, that. I would have loved to be able to put my cross next to the ANC on May 7 with the same passionate enthusiasm with which I made my mark next to Madiba’s cheery face. Alas, I would now have put my X almost anywhere in the world but next to Zuma’s self-serving leer.
     Because however much the current ANC has dashed our hopes for equality, liberty etc., it is sometimes good to remind ourselves of how truly nasty this country was before 1994. It really was, and those two small reminders – my confiscated items list and my lost typewriter – brought back to me how pervasive state repression was, how commonplace it was for people to be harassed, beaten or killed. Being searched and having documents confiscated was of course very minor harassment in the context of those times, but if it happened to anyone today it would be met with righteous and justified outrage. It was a horrid, horrid place for anyone not classified as white, and a horrid place for anyone with any moral values, whatever the colour of your skin.
     So yes, I would still vote for the ANC over PW Botha any day of the week. But that’s not saying much. The bar for democracy was set so low by our previous government it was basically invisible, but that doesn’t mean we should not aspire to do a lot better.
     And so far we are doing better. Not nearly as well as we should be, but better than a lot of our current leadership would like, I suspect. We can still write rude things about them in the newspapers without someone in a trench coat and a moustache banging on the door at midnight. Thuli Madonsela can still rip into the Nkandla scandal and make sure we all know about it. We still have one day every five years where everyone, from the President lounging in his firepool to the homeless jokes-for-change seller, has exactly the same political power to choose the next government. Before the first democratic election, there was panic buying of baked beans and toilet paper – there seemed to be a belief that the moment a darker hued backside was lowered in the presidential chair, the entire infrastructure of the country would fling up its skirts in alarm and expire on the spot. But while too many of us lack toilets in which to deploy it, toilet paper has remained in steady supply.
    So despite our dire predictions (and don’t we South African’s love dire predictions?) about our slide into corruption and dictatorships, democracy is still alive, our country functions (mostly), we haven’t all murdered each other yet. BUT, the report card still echoes almost every teacher who ever commented on my academic progress: Could do better. We could, and we should, and we need to daily remind ourselves of that elusive dream. But maybe we should stop throwing up our hands because our heroes have turned to straw and failed to deliver us Utopia, and focus instead on delivering it ourselves.    
    I used to believe in grand solutions. When I was twenty years old, I might have sported a red beret and championed Julius Malema’s cockeyed ‘economic freedom’ policies, had he been around to spout them. Now my ambitions are much humbler. Now I recognise that humans are fallible, that power does indeed corrupt, that the global economy is predicated on exploitation and inequality and South Africa does not operate in a vacuum. But I still believe that most people have an impulse towards kindness and fairness, and I believe in the accumulative power of small actions… that old butterfly tsunami thing. So this is my pledge for the next 20 years of democracy (if senility does not take me before they are up): to keep tinkering away at our faulty democracy, and fix whatever bits come to my attention – write a letter, sign a petition, wave a placard, pat an anxious dog, whatever it takes to foster a kinder, more connected, and happier home country. And tidier… where did I put that dratted letter…?

<![CDATA[The unseen leopard and home grown tomatoes]]>Mon, 15 Apr 2013 21:55:03 GMThttp://www.thelesserspottedauthor.com/posts/the-unseen-leopard-and-home-grown-tomatoesPictureHome-grown tomatoes… a dying breed
“Why are you photographing those?” asked Kennedy, my publicist, the other day, when he found me snapping my home-grown tomatoes. “I make a much more pleasing subject.”
     “These vegetables are on the verge of extinction,” I explained, gazing at them with the misty pride of a mother hen with a clutch of eggs.
     “Tomatoes are on the verge of extinction?”
    “Home-grown tomatoes. Grown from saved seed. In this instance from squished tomatoes thrown out with the compost. If the biotech companies have their way, anyone who grows a tomato, or broccoli or cucumber from saved seed will be prosecuted for infringing patents.”
    Kennedy stared at them sceptically. “Will this help you sell books,” he asked with that look he gets when he is being my publicist and not my four-legged friend.
    “This is serious, Kennedy. Once they can patent life forms like tomatoes, they can patent anything. Even Chihuahuas. If you were patented, they could sue you for having puppies.”
     “Well there’s no danger of that, is there.” (He said this rather bitterly. The loss of his manhood remains a sensitive issue.) “Anyway, again, will this help you sell books?”
     “Don’t be venal. That kind of obsession with profit is what has turned the big corporations into psychopaths.”
    But Kennedy had wandered off to investigate a chewy thing. His pursuit of profit cannot match the lure of a really good chew or a roll in the grass. Sadly, the owners of the biotech giants are not so easily deterred: the risk of imploding global food security, wide spread famine, mass suicide amongst peasant farmers, the extinction of bees, the collapse of ecosystems… nope, none of that is any match for a really pleasing incline on their profit graphs.

PictureYou’ll soon be hard-pressed to find a non-GMO soybean
    A seed is a wonderful thing. Do you remember getting dried beans from your mother and wrapping them in damp cotton wool? Watching the skin of the bean turn wrinkly and soft, until one day a tender pink root suddenly appeared from one side, and a pale green leaf started unfurling from the other? Better not let your kiddies do that now – you might get Mr Monsanto a-banging on the door with a court order suing you for infringing a patent. “That there soybean is our property”, Monsanto man will say, as he hauls your kid’s skinny six-year old ass off to jail.
     Far fetched? Not as far as you would like it to be. In the past ten years, Monsanto has won more than $23 million from hundreds of small farmers accused of replanting seeds from the company’s genetically engineered crops. These have included farmers like Percy Schmeiser, whose canola crop was cross-fertilised by neighbouring GMO fields; and 75 year old Indianna farmer Vernon Bowman, who planted left over soybeans from a communal silo as he’d done all his life. He didn’t know they were descendents of Monsanto soybeans (they’ve not yet engineered them to carry their logo – no doubt they’ll find a way soon). But he is being sued none the less.
     Monsanto has won the cases by pleading that all the millions they poured into researching and developing these seeds must be recovered – they can’t have people planting their descendents with no regard to the god of commercial gain (after all, they only netted a $1.48 billion profit on the last quarter of the last financial year)[i]. For years, agri-tech companies have been getting fabulously rich on selling only the first generation of seeds to farmers, who buy the seeds again the following year because the first generation is a better quality. But that’s not enough for Monsanto. They want to own mommy, daddy, and all their kiddies and grandchildren into perpetuity.
     The GMO process involves engineering a whole new species by ramming in genes from other species, a fact which has been used to justify bringing out a patent on the species that covers every generation of plant that grows, ten, twenty thirty years down the line. They sell the seeds at considerable expense, getting the farmer to sign an agreement that they will buy new seeds and not replant. Then they can sue anyone who plants the seeds of these crops, wittingly or not.

    Now the European Patent Office seems set to grant patents on several conventionally bred crops (not GMO’s), including tomatoes[ii]. This would open the door wide for patents on any living thing – for example, a pharmaceutical company could “discover” a medicinal plant in the Amazon, patent the entire species, and sue local tribes for growing a plant they have been cultivating for millennia. Such scenarios seem to be the stuff of dystopian nightmares, but in a world dominated by corporate arrogance and avarice of staggering proportions, it was only a matter of time before someone claimed ownership of living beings.
    My last novel deals with the issues of GMO’s and a big bad bio-tech company. The title, The Unseen Leopard, is a metaphor for both the priceless value of wild nature that is not perceived by the likes of Monsanto; and for the dangers that lie hidden, creeping up on us until it is too late to escape them. What I discovered about the industry in my research was alarming – even more alarming was how blind people seemed to be to its hazards.
     What I read now is a hundred times more alarming – every dire prediction and worse is unfolding. People are waking up, and there is a groundswell of resistance against GMO’s. But in the intervening years, bio-tech companies have been eroding the world’s food security by stealth, creeping in under the guise of “progress” and “scientific advancement” and “the answer to world hunger”[iii], tightening their monopoly in a stranglehold that will be difficult to reverse
    One of the ironies of modern capitalism, with its joyous jingle of “unlimited choices”, is that these choices are becoming more and more meaningless. I recall a walk down a supermarket aisle in Florida that offered me 500 varieties of sweetened cereals but nothing that was free of sugar or colouring. The bio-tech companies are similarly reluctant to offer us too much choice. In the words of Ann Foster, spokesperson for Monsanto in Britain, “People will have Roundup Ready soya whether they like it or not”.[iv] Or Don Westfall, biotech industry consultant and vice-president of Promar International: “The hope of the industry is that over time the market is so flooded [with GMOs] that there’s nothing you can do about it. You just sort of surrender.” [v] Which means that soon you’ll be hard pressed to find a non-GMO soybean that your kid can legally grow without paying the company that created it.
     Their strategy is simple: Buy up all the seed companies. Ensure that only GMO seed is available. Mix up the grains. Make the organic farmers pay for expensive tests to have their crops certified, then lose their certificates when traces of GMO genes are found in the crops. Sue them if you find your crops growing on their land and put them out of business. Make it almost impossible for consumers to choose non-GMO food. Challenge labelling laws, because, weirdly, if they have the choice people are reluctant to eat crops that contain a genetically engineered insecticide, or that have been doused in herbicide. Harmful effects? As long as they don’t come with litigation, who cares? And who can say that this cancer or that allergy is a consequence of the GMO food, the herbicide sprayed on it, household cleaners, left over PCB’s[vi] or just the stress of living in the thrall of psychopathic corporates? Besides, a bill nicknamed the ‘Monsanto protection act’ was (staggeringly) signed into law earlier this month, which ensures that the US government cannot stop biotech companies from selling and growing crops that have proved to be damaging to human health and to the environment.[vii]
     Even when efforts are supposedly made to contain the seeds, they fail. In 2006 30% of the entire US long-grain rice supply was contaminated by experimental GM rice varieties unapproved for human consumption – a public safety disaster that cost the rice industry over $1 billion. The source of contamination was ‘controlled’ field trials[viii] (exactly the scenario I postulated in The Unseen Leopard).
     GMO’s are spreading like a cancer across earth. Or like the giant herbicide resistant weeds that have emerged after ten years of dousing crops with Roundup[ix]. An article in the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics concludes that “The cultivation of genetically modified maize [in Spain] has caused a drastic reduction in organic cultivations of this grain and is making their coexistence practically impossible.” [x] Dr. E. Ann Clark, professor of plant agriculture, University of Guelph, says that “It’s doubtful whether there’s a farm anywhere in western Canada that does not have Monsanto Roundup Ready canola seed in its soil.”  [xi] Roundup and ready canola is growing like a weed. Even in the cemeteries (eerily apt), according to Percy Schmeiser. It’s hard to kill, because it has been genetically engineered to resist herbicide.
     Does it matter? What are the consequences of a world governed by biotech corporations? Apart from the health risks, which are largely unknown although studies have shown organ damage to rats from long-term consumption[xii], the environmental consequences are drastic and well-documented. Of particular concern is the loss of genetic biodiversity: the biotech companies want to reduce our food crops to a handful of engineered varieties. Hybrid monocultures are already more vulnerable to disease, pests and climate disasters, which are all set to increase with climate change. The engineered seeds are even more limited genetically, and already show a sharp decline in yields. Peasant farmers (who feed about 70% of the world) rely on seed saving and small overheads – the input costs of GMO crops has driven many into bankruptcy, sparking a string of suicides amongst Indian farmers.
     Luckily, humans are not that gullible. Some things won’t be swallowed. And there is something about those Roundup Ready  soybeans that just won’t go down. Recently, AVAAZ mounted a petition to oppose the granting of patents on conventionally bred crops. In 36 hours, they got 1 million signatures.
    I guess most people don’t want to have to go knocking on Monsanto’s door, life savings in hand, every time they feel like wrapping up a soybean in cotton wool and growing some new ones.
     In the meantime I shall save those seeds and cultivate my tomatoes. And if anyone from Monsanto comes to sue me, I’ll blame it on the dog.

  •  Check out http://www.gmeducation.org for a thorough and well referenced overview of the claims made by the GMO producers and the reality.

[i]  Monsanto Announces $1.48 Billion Profit Amid ‘Monsanto Protection Act Controversy HuffPost/AP  | Posted: 04/03/2013 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/03/monsanto-profit_n_3006157.html

[ii]  President of the European Patent Office gives green light for patents on plants and animals

[iii] See statement signed by 24 delegates from 18 African countries to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, 1998: We strongly object that the image of the poor and hungry from our countries is being used by giant multinational corporations to push a technology that is neither safe, environmentally friendly nor economically beneficial to us. We do not believe that such companies or gene technologies will help our farmers to produce the food that is needed in the 21st century. On the contrary, we think it will destroy the diversity, the local knowledge and the sustainable agricultural systems that our farmers have developed for millennia, and that it will thus undermine our capacity to feed ourselves.” – cited in http://earthopensource.org/index.php/7-feeding-the-world/7-1-myth-gm-crops-are-needed-to-feed-the-world-s-growing-population

[iv] Ann Foster, as quoted in The Nation magazine from article The Politics of Food by Maria Margaronis December 27, 1999 issue.

[v] quoted in Starlink fallout could cost billions Toronto Star, 9 January 2001

[vi] PCB’s are also a Monsanto product, whose toxic properties were known to the company since 1938, but they declined to speak out about them and only stopped production in 1977. See Monsanto knew about pcb toxicity for decades – report based on internal Monsanto documents

[vii] March 28, 2013 Critics slam Obama for “protecting” Monsanto


[viii] Contamination of Crops, Gmeducation.org http://www.gmeducation.org/environment/p149075-contamination%20of%20crops%20.html

[ix] Agent Orange chemical in GM war on resistant weeds  By Matt McGrath Science reporter, BBC World Service BBC news 19 September 2012 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-19585341

[x] Conclusion of research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental EthicsAn impossible coexistence: transgenic and organic agriculture, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, 30 June 2008 http://www.uab.es/servlet/Satellite?c=Page&cid=1096476786473&pagename=UAB%2FPage%2FTemplatePlanaDivsNoticiesdetall&noticiaid=1214462302153

[xi] Canadian professor speaks out on Percy Schmeiser decision, Crop Choice,
March 30 2001  http://www.cropchoice.com/leadstry57b3.html?recid=276

[xii] For example, Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Gilles-Eric Séralini, Emilie Clair, Robin Mesnage, Steeve Gress, Nicolas Defarge, Manuela Malatesta, Didier Hennequin, Joël Spiroux de Vendômois

<![CDATA[looking into the mirror of the rapists]]>Mon, 28 Jan 2013 22:32:14 GMThttp://www.thelesserspottedauthor.com/posts/looking-into-the-mirror-of-the-rapistsPicture1 Billion Rising event in Khayelitsha. Thanks to Andrea Dondolo Rising @ FalseBay College, Khayelistha.
What a feast the media has had lately. Pistorius and the beautiful, doomed Reeva Steenkamp. Young Anene Booysen, gang raped, mutilated and murdered. So many words thrown out into the chatter clouds. So much indignation. So much condemnation.
     So little change.
     Once you start listing brutality, it is hard to stop. If you laid all the abused women end to end, would they reach the moon? Mars? Venus? What about some names: Malala Yousufzai, the fifteen year old Pakistani girl who was shot for wanting girls to go to school; Jyoti Singh, the Indian woman who was gang raped on a bus and so brutally assaulted that 90% of her intestines were removed; Kozaphi Elizabeth Kubeka, 92 years old, raped and strangled by her 38 year old grandson…the list never ends. If you laid out the names end to end would they weave a rope long enough to bandage the wounds? To tie up the rapists? To shroud the dead?
     After Anene Booysen was raped and disembowelled, our politicians fell over themselves to decry the offence. They called for the perpetrators to rot in jail, to feel the full might of the law. The same politicians whose corruption and greed perpetuates the cycles of poverty in which abuse festers, who shelter the teachers who impregnate students, and the councillors accused of sexual harassment. A few weeks after Anene’s murder, a 49 year old woman laid charges against a police officer who allegedly raped her in the “trauma-room” of the Herbertsdale Police Station, one of many accusations of police rape. No politician has bothered to comment on this. Ten years ago, Baby Tshepang was raped in Louisville, a crime born of poverty that rocked the nation. Her rapist was jailed, but nothing has changed in the town.
     Of course I was sickened by what happened to Anene Booysen, and tempted to join the public lynch mob that wanted to hang her rapists high. But there is that uncomfortable truth, that nagging feeling that Anene was paying a price for a system that benefits me and all others born into privilege; that the rapists, along with Anene and millions like them, have been rotting in jail since they were born: the jail of poverty, alcoholism, and social deprivation; Anene was forced to leave school in Grade Seven; her rapists no doubt had similarly grim prospects. They all suffered the daily assault of a bleak, impoverished life with no chance of escaping it. Most children growing up in abusive situations see the world as divided into only the abusers or the abused – their only prospect of improving their situation is make sure they are the former.
    Few would deny that people are brutalised by poverty and deprivation. What is seldom acknowledged, though, is how much we are brutalised by wealth and power. Society decries the rapists, but condones the brutality of governments and warmongers who conscript youth and turn them into raping and killing machines then send them to war for the sake of profit and power; The brutality of a pornographic industry that dehumanises both they watchers and the watched; the brutality of a world that throws half its food away every day while millions go to bed hungry; the brutality of an entertainment industry that fosters our thirst for violence with no regard for what this might do to the minds of children; the brutality of the oil and energy barons who will sacrifice the peace and security of the world to ensure that our dependency on oil is never diminished…
     Lynching Anene’s rapists will do nothing to stop this . And it seems to me that the practice of isolating and condemning instances of barbarity often serves to obscure the barbarity that underpins the fabric of our society. It fosters the illusion that our social political, religious and economic systems are fundamentally decent.  But until these systems are truly governed by the principles of kindness, morality, dignity, equality of opportunity and freedom of expression, we should not be surprised when the barbarians feast on the weak. It happens all the time, in opulent boardrooms where rainforests are condemned, in courts where justice is for sale, in Asian sweatshops where children sew sports shoes for American athletes, in dark alleys where young girls die in agony.
     But the dark forces who prowl these precincts are not the only movers in the world. The One Billion Rising campaign is one of many impulses towards a more enlightened society. Every human right, every instance of social justice in this world has been won through struggle by the underdogs, or those who defend them. Not one has been handed out willingly by the oppressors. It is up to all of us to make sure that the underdogs never stop barking; to make sure that in pursuing the scapegoats we never forget who the real perpetrators of brutality are. The brutality meted out to Anene Booysen, Jyoti Singh and the millions of forgotten victims is a mirror of our ugly, cracked society. Let us never be afraid to look at its truth, and do what must be done to change it.

Below is a poem I wrote some time ago to express the despair I sometimes feel as a mother of daughters – my own and everyone else’s:

 The women’s Lament
Oh we women
Who dwell among thorns
Our brains a tangled skein of fears
That we knit, unravel, and knit again

Our clicking needles strive in vain
To weave a coverlet for our children
To shield their tender limbs
From the chill winds of fate

How we lament
The porousness of our membranes
The  permeability of our defences
The hollowness of our vessels
That are so easily stuffed with hate

<![CDATA[How to unwrite a novel]]>Wed, 23 Jan 2013 22:21:12 GMThttp://www.thelesserspottedauthor.com/posts/how-to-unwrite-a-novelPictureNo wonder the only thing in your in-tray is the cat…
‘What the hell have you been doing’ my publicist Kennedy demanded. ‘NO blog posts for over three months! How do you think you’ll keep your fans?’
     ‘Fans? What fans? The only fan I have is the lacy one my dad gave me with I love Madrid on it. No, wait, I lost that at the last Spanish themed party I went to.’
     ‘Well, no wonder the only thing in your in-tray is the cat. I think I’ll have to find a less lesser spotted author to publicise.
     ‘I’ve been busy,’ I whined
     ‘Doing what?’
     ‘Unwriting my third novel.’
     ‘Oh, please,’ he snapped. ‘You’re supposed to write novels, not unwrite them. Even you should know that.’
     So I wrote the following, to explain myself. Kennedy remains unconvinced….

How to unwrite a novel

When I was young, I assumed my life was a novel. Like that man in ‘Stranger than fiction’, I could always hear some authorial voice narrating my story, commenting with admiration or disgust on my exploits, finding meaty metaphors for my state of mind, rewriting unsatisfactory dialogues. Over time I became annoyed with the Author of Me for being such a poor planner – the plot was meandering, with tedious passages about going to the dentist or learning for geography tests. The characters were improbable, and the main protagonist had markedly few moments of heroic distinction.
     As I grew older my rational mind told me that I couldn’t be a character in someone’s novel, (although  part of me still wonders). But this long-standing delusion made me realise that I’d be forced to write a novel. If only to show that hopeless Author of Me a thing or two about how to do the job properly.
     So I sat down after lunch one day and dashed off a novel, more or less, and when I’d finished I said smugly to the Author of Me, ‘There, that wasn’t so difficult’. This novel found a publisher promptly, garnered a few favourable reviews, and was a modest success although the proceeds would keep me alive for a few months only if I didn’t mind living in a bus shelter and eating dog food.
PictureThe second novel is an altogether different animal
    First novels often fall quite spontaneously out of their authors, which is why they are seldom published, although there have been some notable first novel wunderkinds. When I failed to win the Booker prize with mine I consoled myself with examples of people whose first book is such a success that they never manage to pull off another one, and sat down to write Novel #2.A Second Novel is an altogether different animal. The pressure surrounding a second novel is enough to drive any creative thought right out of your brain.
     It began  with the intention to write an ‘ecological thriller’.  But I soon  realised that the force that would  drive the novel was something far less tangible: something about grief, forgiveness, and regret, and the healing power of landscapes, and the odd tapestries that these forces weave in human relationships.

PictureThe idea was elusive
This idea was  elusive but  insistent. And the long and often painful process of tracking it down taught me an important lesson: the idea that breathes life into a novel is not necessarily the most brilliant, or fashionable, or commercially viable, but it is the most tenacious. It may be a story, or a gesture of a passing stranger, or something that catches your eye on a train or an odd thought that occurs to you when watching the bathwater run out of the plug hole. Or, if you are Franz Kafka, when watching a cockroach squirming on its back.
     It doesn’t really matter what idea starts the story, what matters is it’s tenacity. Like an oyster producing a pearl, some bit of grit has to get under your skin and bug you until you turn it into something lustrous and nuanced with no ragged edges. (At least, you hope that with luck and hard work, your effort creates a pearl and not a lump of  organic grunge).
     Novel #3 has benefitted hugely from this lesson. But I didn’t know it when I wrote The Unseen Leopard. I failed to pin down the idea, and thus lost sight of it.  I did masses of research around genetic engineering, and  wanted to cram it all into the book. The setting clamoured for attention instead of hovering subtly in the background. Minor characters seduced me into rambling engagements with their dramas. Back stories demanded to be heralded as main events.

PictureAs I wandered hopelessly through its tangled thickets I heard the Author of Me snickering in the dark.
    I was like the sorcerer’s apprentice. I had wielded the wand of authorship with little sense of responsibility, and  had no idea of how to rein it in. My story  self-seeded into an impenetrable forest which engulfed the Idea, and as I wandered hopelessly through its tangled thickets I heard the Author of Me snickering somewhere in the dark.
     My publishers were kind but firm.
   ‘Cut.’ They said, when I staggered into their office with a 700 page manuscript.
     I picked myself up, dusted down my bruised ego, came to terms with the fact that not every growth I had sprouted was a precious flower to be preserved at all costs, chopped out a few hundred thousand words and one or two family sagas and took it back.
     ‘Cut,’ they said again. But where? I wailed. And this was the problem. The  editors were in dispute. Some loved this character, others hated her. Some thought one aspect of the story was the most compelling, others thought that was a side-show and something else should be shoved to the fore.
     Finally, as I lay awake one night  deranged by contradictory advice, the light broke through. The story I had to focus on was the one that I felt most compelled to tell, and the voice I needed to narrate it had to offer the prism that offered me the most compelling view of that story.
     It did not matter that this editor liked it and that one didn’t. What mattered was my own passion for it – not because I know better than everyone else, but because if I lacked the conviction and passion, the story would be dead before I’d written a word.
     And so, I went into the forest to unearth the story I wanted to tell, and to identify the characters I wanted to tell it. The story was pretty much the original idea; but the one narrator was a surprise. In my early versions, I tell Melissa’s story through a diary. The breakthrough came when I realised that her story needed to be narrated through her self-confessed killer, James.
     What a lot of unwriting I had to do! And rewriting. And unwriting again. This was when I discovered how important unwriting is to a novel – both in the sense of knowing what to delete, and of knowing what not to write in the first place. And this means recognising the soul of your story early in the process, and keeping it always within your sights.

PictureHonour your stories in whatever humble form they arrive
So the best advice I can offer aspiring authors is to recognise the stories that are given to you, and to honour them in whatever humble form they arrive. If a goblin comes knocking at your door demanding to have his story told, don’t try to dress him up as a vampire just because vampires are all the rage these days. It won’t work – you’ll just end up with some sad wannabe vampire that’s lost all his authentic goblinness.
     Writing a novel is a very long, very lonely endeavour. Your only friend in this process may be that goblin who wants his story told, so you had better learn to love him, warts and all. He needs to be so real that you converse with him constantly in you head, and expect to bump into him in the street. If he isn’t, you can be sure that your readers will toss him aside after page one with no compunction whatsoever. At the same time, however lonely you are and however much you love your goblin, don’t let him invite his extended family, unless they are critical part of his story. And if they do come, don’t let them steal his thunder – the more you write, the more you’ll have to unwrite.

Honour your stories in whatever humble form they arrive     I sometimes get annoyed with the stories that blow my way because they lack murders or mayhem or flashy contemporary chic. But I have learnt to treat them with tremendous respect. And yes, I’m also a lot less cocky nowadays with the Author of Me. Because that Author, poor thing, does not have luxury of the delete key, and has to faithfully record every numbing detail of my life – no wonder he/she/it/ has come up with such a clumsy effort…Now, if only we could unwrite some of that novel!

<![CDATA[a night out in lagos]]>Tue, 11 Sep 2012 20:55:09 GMThttp://www.thelesserspottedauthor.com/posts/a-night-out-in-lagosSo, how were the awards?” Kennedy my publicist asked, as I staggered in from Lagos, my ears still ringing from the combined assault of continuously blaring hooters and “shake your bum-bum” being played full volume on the car radio of our affable driver and guide, Azubike.

“Fantastic,” I said. “Except for the bit when I stood on the stage before a room full of Lagos crème de la crème, in my funny pink party dress, while they read an outdated bio about me that did not even reflect my few modest achievements.”

“Did they mention me?” he asked, casually toying with his rubber crab.

“Well… actually…”

“Typical,” he muttered, with a bitterness quite unbecoming in a small dog. “If you’d bothered to take me you’d definitely have won. And then you could have bought me a lot of rubber crabs”

“I don’t think they like dogs in Lagos,” I said. “I didn’t see any. Although one guy at the award dinner was wearing them on his robes.”

“If they’d had a chance to meet me, they might have changed their minds,” he snarled (a falsetto snarl, being a Chihuahua).
PictureThe only dogs I saw in Lagos…
Anyway, the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa Award Ceremony, to give it its full title, was an astonishing event, during which I could pretend for several hours to be someone else, as a surprisingly large array of people thrust cameras in my face. (I assume they did think I was someone else, someone worth photographing. They’ll probably be quite despondent when they print out their pics and discover that I’m just a lesser spotted author, and not a rare bird of paradise.) In between the flashing cameras, and attempting (unsuccessfully) to consume my goat soup, I was roundly entertained by speeches, music and dancing from the Crown Troupe and the masked saxophonist, Lagbaja: all in all a pageant with true African flair

As for not winning, I’ve been practicing that for most of my life so I’m pretty good at it (I think my last prize was in Grade One for Good Progress, but sadly they don’t seem to give those out to grown ups). The organizers kindly told me that The Unseen Leopard put up a convincing fight for first place, beating over 400 books before losing to a worthy opponent. Sifso Mzobe’s Young Blood is a fascinating read, which scooped both the Sunday Times and the Mnet awards on its release. And I was consoled by their gratifying comments on The Unseen Leopard, reproduced below.

Besides, the Nigerians are a wonderfully embracing lot, and they all made a good show of being just as eager to be photographed with me after I proved to be not-the-winner.

What really struck me about the event was how much literature is celebrated in Nigeria. This was clearly a party that people wanted to attend, with an impressive line up of dignitaries including the ex president of Ghana; John Kufuor, Babatunde Fashola and Senator Ibikunle Amosun, Governors of Lagos and Ogun states respectively; Professor Wole Soyinka to mention just a few. The sponsors not only paid for my and Sifiso’s flights and accommodation, but also the $20 000 prize – impressive by our standards but dwarfed by Nigeria’s literature prize of $100 000. Nigeria clearly loves both books and authors, and consequently has produced a stable of very fine writers over the years.  Definitely something South Africa can learn from – our local press and bookshops still seem a lot more willing to promote overseas titles. Local novels seldom make it onto Exclusive’s New Books stand, for instance – they usually scuttle straight for the “African Fiction” shelves.

I met some hugely inspiring people, including Sifiso Mzobe, and Promise and Azubike Ogoduchukwu. Promise is an author and poet, who has done remarkable work to promote literature and reading in Africa through the Lumina Foundation  as well as running an orphanage on the side.

With Promise Ogoduchukwu
With Sifiso Mzobe
 I sadly did not  meet Professor Soyinka, but I heard him speak, and was delighted to discover that he is every bit as irreverent, articulate and acerbic as his writing suggests. He spoke about the threat to the libraries of Timbuktu by what he called “these throw-backs”, and decried the “anti-human” activity going on in our continent in the name of religion.

He challenged the Nigerian government, which has been criticized for over-accommodating the Islamic fundamentalist Boko Haram, to decide whether it was on the side of the “philistines or our common humanity”.

He also condemned the trend of sharia law to relegate women to second class citizens, “stoning women for giving their bodies to whomever they please, as if anyone has the right over someone else’s body.”

Altogether a fascinating evening. And having the opportunity to experience the Lagos was something else, but more on that in another blog

The Judges:

Eid Shabbir: Professor of literature and chair of African Studies, International University of Africa, Khartoum, Sudan

Prof. Olu Obafemi: Professor of English and Dramatic Literature, UniLag

Liesle Louw: award winning journalist, South Africa

Dr Awo Asiedu: Acting Director of the School of performing Arts, University of Ghana

Jonathan Moshal: Professor of Comparative Literature, Cote D’Ivoire.

Remarks made by the judges on The Unseen Leopard

The novel is a fascinating read, gripping and the themes are universal. They are so maturely handled that one gets drawn in. The language is graceful, apt and the dialogue is brilliant. It’s a wonderfully elegant piece that works its spell on the reader. It’s really witty with a savage humour that makes the book timeless and terrific.

It is difficult to find a novel with such a rhetorical strategy that weaves nature—animals, plants, fauna, hideous caves and vast waters to portray a subject of the quest for the cause, motive, and the culprit of the death of a triangularly loved deceased. It engages the subject of capitalism and national patriotism. The language exudes lyrical beauty with a rare economy of words.

It is captivating and mature. Pitt demonstrates in this novel a competent command of language, with a text spiced with flashes of humour.

<![CDATA[the wole soyinka prize for literature in africa]]>Mon, 03 Sep 2012 20:36:20 GMThttp://www.thelesserspottedauthor.com/posts/the-wole-soyinka-prize-for-literature-in-africaPicture
Wole Soyinka. There’s a name for you. One of those magnificent minds of our time, a man to restore your faith in humans and remind you why you love writing, reading, and being an African.

So I was deeply honoured when heard recently that The Unseen Leopard was one of three books shortlisted for the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. Although such news can a bit alarming for a lesser spotted author – I might have imagined for a moment that I could become more spotted, as it were.

However, this illusion was soon dispelled when I went into my local branch of Exclusives to purchase the two other books on the shortlist: Sifiso Mzobe’s Young Blood, and Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo’s Roses and Bullets. I fought my way past towering heaps of Fifty shades of Tripe and all its tawdry little sequels, plus a newcomer to the stable – (Fifty shades of yellow) – which seems to be about having a sadomasochistic and pornographic relationship with a cello. I didn’t expect bunting and champagne, but I thought that the shop might at least stock the shortlisted books. No. There was one copy of Young Blood (although the slip of paper inside suggested it had been ordered for someone who didn’t pitch up) but none of Unseen Leopard, or Roses and Bullets. There wasn’t even anything by Wole Soyinka.

Anyway, I haven’t let that dampen my enthusiasm. I am completely delighted to have my name associated with Soyinka’s in any capacity, even more delighted that he will be at the award ceremony to hand out the prize. Not that I am expecting to be on the other end of the prize that he is handing out, but, since the Lumina Foundation is generous enough to pay my way, I will at least be in the audience.

I first met Soyinka’s work over 30 years ago, when I was a young and eager anti-apartheid activist, and English teacher. A big part of our activism as teachers was to redefine Africa for our pupils, to free them from the stultifying and racist garbage that they encountered in their official textbooks. An important weapon in our armoury was the Heinemann African Writer’s Series, which featured works by a range of notable African authors such as Soyinka, Achebe, Ousmane Wathionga’o to mention just a few. How refreshing these books were, with their assured African voices; their revelations of the profundity and wealth of African culture; their merciless exposé of the brutality, arrogance, and hypocrisy of the colonial forces.

I used passages and poems from these in my lessons, and kept copies in my classroom for interested pupils to borrow, until the authorities became sufficiently annoyed by such subversiveness to fire me.  I then handed them out to other young activists, until they were all finally re-distributed. So I no longer have any of my original Soyinkas, although I managed to purchase his childhood memoir, Ake, which I have been rereading and absolutely relishing for its intelligent, wry and razor sharp observations.

John Updike had this to say of him:

“He is remembered in Nigeria with awe, both for a political boldness that landed him in prison and for a commanding intellect that is manifest in every genre he tackles” Hugging the Shore (New York: Knopf, 1983) pp. 683-4”

Soyinka’s intellect is indeed commanding (he presented himself to the schoolroom when he was not yet three years old, with an armful of his father’s books), and he has produced a prodigious number of plays, poems, novels and essays which led to him being the first African to win the Nobel prize for Literature in 1986. This is just one of a string of awards and honours, including the Golden Plate Award (2009) and several honorary doctorates from various institutions, including Harvard and Princetown. He has also been visiting professor at the universities of Cambridge, Sheffield, and Yale.

Apart from his prodigious talent as a writer, Soyinka has always been a vociferous commentator on injustice. His outspoken criticism of the Nigerian government landed him in jail in 1967, where he was kept for 22 months. In the book he wrote to describe this, he said, “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny” (The Man Died (New York: Harper & Row, 1972) p. 13).

He remains a fiercely independent thinker, highly critical of dictatorships and corrupt governance in Africa, while never losing his deep love for and appreciation of African culture and philosophy. His depth of thinking and intimate knowledge has enabled him to weave a richly nuanced tapestry of contemporary African thought. As William McPheron (Standford University) said, ‘Soyinka’s discordant mixing of genres, his wilful ambiguities of meaning, his unresolved clashes of contradictions cease to be the aesthetic flaws Western critics often label them and become instead our path into an African reality fiercely itself and utterly other.’ (Stanford  Presidential Lectures in the Humanities and Arts)

So come Friday, I’ll be on a plane to Lagos, courtesy of the Lumina  Foundation and kindly arranged by the wonderful Promise Ogochukwu. Kennedy is withholding judgement until he knows Soyinka’s views on Chiahuahuas, but I imagine they will be as reasoned, open-minded and intelligent as all his others….

Below is another quote, written nearly forty years ago, and yet so pertinent to our contemporary imperilled world, which those in power persist in treating as if it were dispensable…

“There is only one home to the life of a river-mussel; there is only one home to the life of a tortoise; there is only one shell to the soul of man: there is only one world to the spirit of our race. If that world leaves its course and smashes on boulders of the great void, whose world will give us shelter?”  Death and the King’s Horseman (1975); cited from Six Plays (London: Methuen, 1984) p. 189.

For more on the award, go to The Lumina Foundation.