I do like to be beside the sea-side…

I’ve just got back from a few days away in a friend’s house in a seaside town. No phone. No internet (slight case of delerium tremens). No Wonder Dog. No feral birds to keep away from the beseiged cockatiel. My friend and her husband have a lovely house in the little town, from which they base all their nautical forays. They have a boat (he drives it so it stayed in the shed), so they do a lot of fishing out in the ocean. She says they usually eat fresh fish, crabs and squid when they stay there. She also likes to beach-comb for shells, dead sponges and such, which she puts in her garden or on canvas as art. Although there’s no sea view, they only have to ‘pop’ around the corner to see it. What a shame I don’t ‘just pop around’ anywhere. No Rex, so no getting up in the night to take him to the loo; that was the plan. Turns out he’s trained me! I woke up anyway; twice every night. Dagnab it! The Old Boy says that while I was away, he couldn’t be bothered getting up for the dog during the night and decided to take his chances. Not one accident. Not one! I’m glad the mutt has finally conquered the night but somehow I can’t help feeling a tad annoyed. Now I have to retrain myself! We dined twice at the local hostelry: beautiful food; gorgeous view of the bay. Only, the first time was at night so we couldn’t see anything and the next morning my friend found that the local cormorants were nesting in the pine tree above her car. It seems the birds have very poor sphincter control. Errrggg. The next time, we dined during the day when the birds were out at sea. The other nights we cooked at home. When it was my turn I did roast veggies with a chicken cordon bleu. It was more fun eating it than it was cooking. I’d brought a big pot of pumpkin soup with me, so that was lunch sorted. The last day, having had a large meal at the hotel for lunch, in the evening we just had a vanilla slice and a glass of white. Heaven! I took my little notebook/lap-top machine with the intention of doing lots of writing while my friend painted and potted around her veggie patch. (Yes, they have a veggie patch at their seaside “shack”. Begs the question, just how often do they go there?) Turns out she thinks two hours a day is plenty for that sort of thing. When the two hours were up, the hands were clapped, time was called and I was taken out beach-combing. I found a couple of pretty fan shells for the grandchildren, spooked a pelican and spent most of the time thinking about the book. However, it was good to breath in the sea air, to stare out at sky and sea instead of words on a screen and generally not do much at all. Back home to 129 emails, more work lining up, someone else to send my teen fantasy to, my new book to continue, manuscripts to edit, father-in-law’s 87th birthday to attend, and another round of blood tests and jab in the gut. It won’t take too long at all for 4 sea-side town days away to fade into a pleasant, distant memory, but I’m grateful for the hiatus it provided. What is more, the dog can sort himself out from now on. He can’t fool me any longer. (And if there’s a puddle in the am, the Old Boy can clean it up.)...

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Writing in Botswana

My guest today is Lauri Kubuitsile, a full-time writer living in Botswana. She writes for children and adults and has had numerous books published as well as many short stories  included in a variety of anthologies. She was the 2007 winner of the BTA/Anglo Platinum Short Story Contest. In 2009 and 2010 she won the Pan-African Children’s Writing Competition, The Golden Baobab. In 2011 she was shortlisted for the Caine Prize. Best of all, she’s my friend. Please make her welcome. Imagine if you will, a country with no trade publishers. A country the size of France with only three or four (if you stretch the definition) proper bookstores in the entire country, all located in the capital. A country with a population of 1.8 million where buying books is not a priority and when you ask, “Do you own a Kindle?” the most likely response would be silence and a face that defines the word confusion. And now imagine being a full time writer in that country. And in that scary, harsh place in the dark corner of your imagination you will find me, a full time writer in Botswana. (I hope now you feel deep despair for me. If so, please scroll to the bottom and buy my books.) You’re likely wondering, how does she survive? First, I’ve been lucky to have some of my books prescribed in schools. We do have educational publishers. Second, I write a lot, across many genres, and I write fast. I started writing eight years ago and have 17 published works of fiction, some for kids, some for teens and some for adults. (This is, of course, not mentioning the books I’ve written that have never been published; there are quite a few of those too, sadly.) All of my books are published in Botswana or South Africa, which is slightly less harsh for writers, but there are loads of excellent writers there so the competition is fierce. The biggest problem for books published in Southern Africa is distribution. Our trade markets are small and we can’t get our books overseas.  It is just too expensive to get paper books from here to there. This is why I feel that the current chaos in the international publishing industry is a good thing, at least for us. E-books will make the biggest of our problems fall away. I’ve now entered the e-book revolution. Some of my traditional publishers have put out a few of my books as e-books and I’ve also now self published three e-books from my Kate Gomolemo Mystery series. Luckily, I paid attention to where things were heading and kept my e-book rights for the books in the series that have been published traditionally (all except one: my first ever published book The Fatal Payout. I was still dazzled by book contracts then and would have signed my life away to see my name in print.) Being a writer in Botswana is not impossible. You need to be willing to adapt to the environment, work hard, and pay attention to the direction the wind is blowing. Lauri blogs at Thoughts from Botswana(http://thoughtsfrombotswana.blogspot.com) And her most recent books are: Murder for Profit ( link:   http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0084FH61O ) Anything for Money (Link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0084FH4RU) Claws of a Killer ( Link:...

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Sh! Artist at work

An interesting gentleman joined Jeff and I for dinner last night. (My definition: Dinner is when you sit at a table and you have more than one course. Tea is the usual main evening meal when you eat it sitting in front of the television in your comfy chair.) As we wanted the chap to think we have as much couth as he does, we had dinner. Over the course of the meal the conversation ranged over a number of topics: literature, philosophy, getting older, childhood memories, dogs, the problem with noise and the lack of silence in today’s world, the stress of modern living and where you can get good coffee. The Old Boy first met this gentleman in his second office: the cafe across the street from his first office. Actually, if we go by the amount of time spent in each location, the cafe is his first office. The gentleman, let’s call him Joe, was a regular there up until a short time ago. The Old Boy, being the shy bunny that he is and having already made himself known to all the staff and other regulars, sat himself down uninvited one day and made conversation with him. Turns out the fellow is a very, very smart man and the Old boy found his brain was stretched in new and interesting ways. Go, Joe! Joe is retired and spends his time writing both academic texts and fiction. He’s unmarried and lives on his own. He brings his laptop with him to the cafe and spends a good part of every day there: working, drinking coffee, having lunch and observing the world. (It’s a nasty little habit that most of us writers have picked up.) Lately he’s been trying a different cafe. He says the other 0ne is just too noisy. He complained a few times to the staff and asked them to turn the music down etc, but they’ve not acceded to his demands. Now, I understand where he’s coming from. I, too, can’t bear too much noise. I don’t even have the radio on during the day and especially when I’m working. Because of my father’s deafness, I grew up in a quiet house. I find too much noise very stressful. I loathe being at parties where the music is so loud you have to scream to have a conversation. It’s exhausting. Barking dogs drive me to distraction. In shopping centres I hear mothers shrieking at their children and I marvel at the children’s ability to tune their parent out, while at the same time I fight to subdue the overwhelming urge to shove a dummy in the mother’s mouth and tell her to shut up. We talked at length about the noise levels in today’s society and the fact that many people can no longer handle quietness. They have to fill in all the silent gaps with more noise: music, radio, television or their own voice. We shared our common yearning for the freedom to be quiet, peaceful, tranquil… So, I understand his need for quiet. What I don’t understand is why he chooses to work in such an environment. He said he’s been looking around for another cafe that has the required “peace” level yet which also produces good coffee. I think: Why go to all that trouble? Why don’t you work at home? Is it just me that thinks it’s odd that people who want peace and quiet (for the creative muse to spark) choose to work in a cafe or coffee shop? I mean, those places are full of people! They often have tiled floors, crying babies, music playing, machines shushing and clanging, people talking, feet clomping, chairs scraping and the drone of traffic outside. I would have thought you would choose to work in such a place because you crave noise and contact, not the opposite: quiet and solitude. I know several writer friends who like to take their laptop/i-pad to a cafe to work. Why do you do it? Is it the “peace” or the “bustle” that attracts you? Is it the companionship or the pseudo-companionship that entices you? Is it that you can’t make a good cup of coffee? As for me, I prefer to work in the room the furthest from the front door, around the corner in my little cul-de-sac; the radio and television off; the dog sleeping and a large mug of home-made coffee on my desk. Now if I could just get Cheeky the cockatiel to shut up I’d be in heaven. Hope you all have a peaceful day, whatever that means to...

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Smile a while and give your face a rest

Had some little happy moments this past week. They were simple things, insignificant instances which brought a smile to my face. They weren’t headline grabbing, fame-generating, hold-the-news type things. They meant very little in the great scheme of life, the universe and everything but somehow, for me, they added a little je ne sais quoi to my week. On Tuesday I drove to the local hospital for my monthly blood test. I always get a park in the bay closest to the door I have to go in. Each time I’ve gone, there has always been a spot left just for me. Not this time. I circled, circled, went to the next parking area, circled, circled… Eventually I had to park in the street, quite a way down from the hospital (sorry, ‘health centre’). As I propelled myself up the street, with the aid of my lolly-pink walking stick, I heard someone call my name. A young lady ran down the embankment and greeted me with a big hug. She walked up to the hospital/centre with me. How are you? I said. She didn’t conform to convention; she actually told me how she was. We had a long chat – well, she chatted and I mostly listened – and she filled me in on the things that were getting her down. At the end I gave her another big hug and told her not to be too hard on herself. The fact that she’s out of bed and dressed, and seeing someone about her situation is a major achievement. Why did this make me smile? I was feeling put-out with the powers that be for not providing me my usual parking spot, but if I’d parked there I’d have missed seeing this girl. Her mother died recently and I’m honoured to be a motherly listening ear for her. Powers that be: 1; me: 0. I toddled in to have my blood syphoned and the regular lady wasn’t there. Instead I was greeted by a charming fellow, who was all bounce and smiles like Tigger. He strapped on the tourniquet and then said, And now for the alcohol. When he swabbed my arm I said, Darn! I was hoping for a glass! That broke the ice and we had a lovely chat. Just a little moment, but I walked out smiling. Went to the oncologist at the end of the week for the monthly check, chat and jab. Sat in the chemo room waiting my turn and checked out the others. Only one of them looked like an actual cancer patient: turban perched on a bald head, unhealthy pallor on her cheeks. The others were like me: they looked normal. I’d recently begun to feel a bit of a fraud; I look too well to have cancer. I watched the women, with the drip stuck in their hands, chatting to their partners about garden furniture, the kids, doing the shopping on the way home…just normal homely things and I felt proud to be a member of this strong, heroic sorority. On facebook and elsewhere I see and hear lots of whining, complaining, sooking going on about piddly little things, and here are these women facing life and death stuff and handling it with joy, courage and the sheer ordinariness of daily life. Yes! I thought. Why give this stupid disease the time of day! So I had my jab in the stomach and talked recipes with the nurses while it was going on. The Old Boy took me for lunch afterwards. I had crumbed snapper and enjoyed every bit of it. On the way home my stomach complained but I told it to suck it up and be grateful for the experience. As I said, these weren’t moments to be seared on my memory forever, but they made me smile. I’m glad to be alive. What’s more, I got some excellent material that I can use in my writing. Life’s good....

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Let’s get together, yeah, yeah, yeah

I’m in a rush this morning. I have a group of writers (I think the collective noun is a “worship of writers”. How cool is that?) … Where was I? Oh yeah, some of my writer buddies are meeting in my house in about half an hour’s time. Now, I love chatting with fellow writers, drinking coffee, eating the goodies the better cooks among us bring along, laughing, sparking ideas etc. However, this is the first time we’ve met in my place and I have to say, I’ll never take someone else’s hospitality for granted again! You have to move furniture around to fit people in. You have to clean stuff. (arrrgghh!) Then there’s things to remember: teaspoons, plates, cups, clean bench tops, toilet paper…MILK! I’m much better at the writing and editing, than I am the hosting lark. I’d suggest we meet in a cafe somewhere but then I’d have to do some research and find one that’s handy for most and if there’s a room big enough and hire fees and … Too much like hard work. Nope, there’s only one thing to do: make sure someone else volunteers for next time. Organisation and being a hostess are not listed in my resume as personal strengths. Most of the time I’m very happy to hide away in my writing corner, in the furthest room from the front door. I like to be left alone to think. When I’m caught up in the river of creativity – the words pouring forth like a verbal river – you could bring a horde of tap-dancing ferrets into the room and not only would I not care, I’d not even notice. When I’m editing, I need to focus. I can’t bear to miss anything. I like to do my very best for my clients, so it’s head down, bum down and thinking cap on. This writing business can be a focussed, quiet, solitary thing. But when you get a group (a worship) of us together, we’re like a flock of budgerigars: chatter, chatter, giggle, snort, derisive groan, cheers, chatter… I suppose all that solitude and thinking, thinking, thinking finally explodes into a joyous cacophany when we gather together with those of like minds. We share our projects; we encourage each other not to be discouraged by recalcitrant agents/publishers/editors; we cheer for those who’ve had recent successes; we discuss issues pertinent to literature, the writing craft, our families, our health…our lives. And we talk…talk…talk. The Old Boy has cleared out for the day. I had hoped he’d man the coffee machine, but he heard the grand-daughter had a voucher for the hamburger joint and he’s grabbed the opportunity to scarper. (Coward!) Rex the Wonder Dog will be in his element greeting everyone with a plastic bottle in his mouth, or a daggy piece of chewed rawhide. He will be delirious: which feet to sprawl across next; which lap to leap on just as the person is lifting a hot coffee cup to their mouth? I’ve already taken some painkillers (all that furniture moving and unexpected cleaning has taken its toll) and I’m already fighting the sleep fairy…and they’re not here yet! Thank the good Lord for coffee. There’s something wonderful about meeting with those of like mind. There’s an energy generated by good fellowship and camaraderie. There should be more of it…just not in my house.  ...

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