My journey

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I’d been submitting to traditional publishers for a long time. Some would respond with encouraging letters to soften the rejection, other along the lines of ‘it doesn’t fit into our prestigious list’.

My writing life was in stasis. I filled it with freelance jobs in nursing, medical research, a stint as an editor for a primary health care magazine. Writing scripts for television, writing for children. But what I really wanted to do was write literary fiction.

That seemed so presumptuous that I never confided this dream to anyone. For years I followed advice that I should earn a living with my writing. This wind blew my here and there but brought no recognition, and no satisfaction. Only exploitation, I was a never-ending source of story ideas.

At a mature age, with work drying up and in a deep depression, a friend told me about the MA in Creative Writing at Rhodes University. I did my usual thing with excuses of why I couldn’t do it. However, three days before the deadline, I applied and was accepted.  At last I was following my dream.

That was the best decision I had made in thirty years. Caught on the treadmill of putting others’ interest before my own — which I had done automatically, without thinking, because thinking brought me in contact with myself —I embarked on this course with trepidation. Was my brain cells too atrophied for such a work-out? How would I fare competing with younger students? My fears kept me awake.

But soon I realised that I was a natural. I had accumulated a lifetime of writing advice and blossomed.

I submitted the collection of short stories I had worked on, with a recommendation and high hopes, to a local publisher. Still the same response: of the ‘fitting into our beautiful list’, variety.

Then calamity struck. I had a severe reaction to an antibiotic and went into anaphylaxis. My tongue swelled up, I couldn’t breathe. After almost dying I decided to self-publish.

My lecturers and some of my fellow writers were uneasy but I felt good about this choice. It was right for ME. It pulled me back to life.

#PoweredByIndie

 

Excerpt Eye of a needle

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Below the first story in my collection:

The beggar

Hi. I’m a homeless writer. I stand at the corner of William Nicol Drive and Sloane Street in Bryanston, South Africa. How did I get here? Well, that’s a long story. I had big dreams while growing up; I wanted to be an architect, maybe even a doctor. But that’s kinda difficult without money, or parents.

I wear a girl’s tartan coat, frayed at the edges. If you see me I’m always bare feet. My big feet hang from my spindly legs in khaki shorts. They have hard calluses for outdoor walking.

My home is under a bridge. I can’t tell you where, because you will want to call the police to report it, and then they will come and tear it down.

Don’t feel sorry for me. On a good day I make close to R200, which I spend on food, cold-drink and provisions for our survival. Provisions, that’s a big word, a word you wouldn’t expect me to use when you drive by in your fancy car. But there is a lot about me you don’t know.

I don’t speak when I beg. I just bring my hand to my mouth in a repetitive motion to show I need food. Some things can be said without words. I hide my accent (I went to a Model C school), but also once you speak you leave yourself open to a reply.

I carry a plastic bag for drivers to place their rubbish in; a walking dustbin.

My stories are about what I have seen. I detest people who write themselves into a story all the time as if they are the most important thing in the world. You aren’t, you know?

I make up stories about the people I meet every day. You’d be surprised at what you can observe standing at a robot. People-watching is my favourite pastime. How many people do what they love each day?

I only work during peak hours; in the morning when people go to work and in the evening when they come home. That is my busy period. Every other time is a waste of energy; irritable housewives shouting at fidgety children, cheating husbands with their secretaries, surly teenagers. Besides, there is something in the frank stare of a child that makes me uncomfortable, even ashamed, to stand here: a man who doesn’t work.

I became tired of looking for work. Trying and being disappointed. There are a lot of young people like me on the streets. Some turned to crime; I turned to begging. That happens when you don’t finish school, but also when you do.

You see people with degrees here. They are the sad-looking ones, trying to advertise their learning on a cardboard poster. Initially they brag about their education – this course at that university, distinctions – then after a while their placard just says ‘Looking for work, any work’. Then they progress to silent begging, like me. It’s hilarious.

Friends are hard to come by. I saw it written on the back window of a minibus taxi: ‘When days are dark, friends are few’. My only friend is a rat that comes to the dustbin on the corner to root through the trash. He doesn’t know he is my friend, dumb thing. Sometimes I call to him and he scurries away.

“Hello, Irvin.”

Who’s that? Don’t look. Don’t look. Obviously, it’s someone who knows me.

“Irvin? You remember me?”

No, I don’t remember anything about my past life, and less about my future life. It’s too—

“We were together at varsity.”

Oh shit, I have to get out of here.

“You did so well at school. What happened to you? Why are you here?”

Damn. She’s going to cry. That’s all I need, false people blubbering.

“Your parents are looking for you. Hey, where are you running to? Irvin!”

Who does she think she is, giving herself the right to speak to me? My parents… I’m not interested. And don’t you dare think that I’ll tell you everything about me. I’ve learned not to trust.

You see the underbelly of society when you beg for a living. Some people are just angry for no reason. Some are polite, while others are plain dodgy. They invite you into their cars and you think that they’re gonna be nice…

They think I’m odd. Usually I steal their pens and paper. Once, I copied something from the encyclopaedia. But mostly my head is my notebook. The writing beggar, that’s what they call me.

Here’s a challenge for you. They say people tell their lives through their stories. See if you can find mine. Heh-heh-heh. After that, you can help me find my parents, and my dreadlocks. Someone stole them.

I once had a friend for twenty-four hours, a young woman who was sitting next to the road. She was afraid, hiding from someone. I took her in, looked after her. The next morning she left without saying goodbye. That’s people for you: rude, grasping.

At the end of the day, around nine in the evening, you’ll find me sitting under a floodlight on the bridge, reading the newspaper. Next to me will be my housemate, with his blanket around him. Usually he is swaying, a flower in a breeze, or one of those L-shaped robots with arms stretched across the road, shaking in the wind. The survival provisions are for him; a plastic bottle and glue. He sucks on it, a baby who can’t get enough. Without this milk he doesn’t know how to be in the world.

I can’t face the world alone.

He isn’t really my friend, sometimes he steals from me. But no relationship is perfect.

 

Model C school – multiracial school with better facilities.

Review Eye of a Needle

Fick’s Eye of a Needle is a delightful assemblage of passionate, probing layers. It’s a compelling re-imagination of our lived experiences … fear, desire, weakness, happiness, grief, strength, love, abuse, poverty.  And more.

It eschews in places the normal, disrupting convention, hard-at-work to extract melody from the unsuspecting coatings of words; boldly gripping the reader through the witty and tantalising opening lines of the at times very, very short stories.

This here is an exhibition of artistry, an unforced arrangement of words to effect music; there is thought-provocation, and there is fun, altogether marvellously interlaced to transmute, to stir, to shake. Riveting, Eye of a Needle is as garden-fresh as it is daring. Snatch it to meet your neighbour, your colleague, and (perhaps) yourself.

Eye of a Needle is a mouth-watering, winning pleasure!

 

Maruping Phepheng was born in Christiana, North West Province. He wrote and published three novels – What Happens In Hankaroo…Of Anger and Revenge, and Tlhokaina. He also wrote and published an anthology of short stories called Nightfall. His other work appears in leading literary platforms like Carapace, Ons Klyntji, New Coin and Tyhini. He holds an MA in Creative Writing from Rhodes University.

Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Award

Recently I made the longlist of the Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award. ‘The longlisted poems are in a range of South Africa’s official languages, and will all appear in volume six of the Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology,’ according to the press release.

My poem was among those ‘highly commended’. I was thrilled. Although I have been writing poetry for a number of years, I always have this nagging doubt about its quality. This will go a long way towards dispelling that doubt.

A shortlist of three poems will be selected by the famous poet, Professor Mongane Wally Serote, and announced on 24 September, National Heritage Day. The winner will be revealed at the Mail & Guardian Literary Festival in Johannesburg on 9 October.

I don’t have much hope of winning. I’m just happy to run with the big gnus 🙂

Eye of a Needle Release date: 30 September

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Influenced by Lydia Davis, Maxine Chernoff and Flannery O’Connor, this debut collection of short stories is an interesting blend of flash fiction and longer narratives. ‘Running a stop street’ and ‘Thoughts of a soldier’ experiment with punctuation, ‘Opposites attract’ uses the same sentence structure to demonstrate opposing concepts, while ‘Love at first bite’ takes a cheeky look at love through the lens of a Mills & Boon novel.

The gritty reality of ‘Shadow kids’ coexists with the imaginary world created in ‘Akere’. The fable ‘Courage the mouse’ is light and playful while ‘To die for’ describes an abusive relationship.

Told in the first, second and third person the stories in the collection are designed to take the reader on a journey into the writer’s world with passion, insight and humour.

“A worthy collection.” Eben Venter

 

 

 

 

Short Story: Thoughts of a Soldier by Cornelia Fick

Novel Writing Festival

Watch the August 2016 Winning Short Story Reading. 

Reading Performed by actor Julian Ford

Thoughts of a Soldier  by Cornelia Fick

Get to know the winning writer:

1. What is your 1pg Short Story about?

‘Thoughts of a soldier’ is about a fictitious war during the struggle to overthrow apartheid.

2. What genres would you say this short story is in?
This is a literary story, experimenting with punctuation.

3. How would you describe this story in two words?

Poignant, intriguing

4. What movie have you seen the most in your life?

I’ve seen ‘Gone with the wind’ a number of times.

5. How long have you been working on this story?

I wrote this story long ago and kept returning to it to refine it. Finally, I worked on it during my MA Creative Writing degree at Rhodes University and perfected it (I hope).

6. Do you have an all-time favorite novel?

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Which books would I take to a desert island?

 

I don’t k20160606_090301now if I would take any books to a desert island. Where would I store them? They would get awfully dirty, rained on and maybe eaten if I was excessively hungry. Being of a practical nature I would think of survival first.

But if I were to choose five books, it would be Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, In Corner B by Eskia Mphahlela, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck and Wuthering heights by Emily Bronte.

Jane Austen’s elegant prose would feed my soul. Her finely crafted characters and ironic wit would be great company. The story of Elizabeth Bennet making snap judgements with little evidence, and Mr Darcy overcoming his pride to fall in love with her, is a story worthy of being read again and again.

On a desert island I would have the time to reread Toni Morrison’s Beloved, a book I found disturbing when I read it the first time. That slavery could make a mother want to kill her children rather than having them recaptured is shocking, especially as the novel is based on a true story of a mother killing her two-year-old daughter because she was trying to protect her. Warped yes, but surely the greatest story of a mother’s love?

John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is a slim book but such a great story. It’s a book that I reread every couple of years. The friendship between two opposites, a big man and a small man, a normal and mentally disabled man, which results in the normal one killing the other, fascinates me. It says a lot about how mentally disabled people are perceived. The parallel stories of Candy’s dog being shot as well as Lennie being killed, places a question mark over their friendship. Was it the friendship a man has with his dog? And is it the only relationship possible between normal people and those who are not?  It’s the kind of book I would like to write, saying so much with a few words.

In Corner B is a delightful book. It would make me laugh, especially the story about the coffins used to carry illegal alcohol. Eskia’s description of an illiterate grandmother’s understanding of the government as a single person living in Pretoria is brilliant. He is a fearless writer who observes the warts in his own people as well as others.

Being a romantic, I like a good love story. Wuthering heights by Bronte would feed my imagination of a great love and its capacity for destruction. I have this theory that a man loves more if he is thwarted (as in The Great Gatsby) and less if he is successful in attaining the object of his desire.

More about Eye of a Needle


 Set in contemporary South Africa, Eye of a needle is a collection of stories that investigates the complex relationships between men and women, and amongst women. A man moves in with a woman but discovers a nasty surprise (‘Moving in’), and the relationship between a younger and an older woman is the topic of ‘The old suitcase’, as well as the short piece ‘The right to live’.

Influenced by Lydia Davis, Maxine Chernoff and Flannery O’Connor, the short stories are a combination of flash fiction and longer narratives. ‘The right to live’ is under 1000 words, as well as ‘Getting along’, ‘Begoogled’, etc.

Experimental forms of storytelling are next to more traditional fiction. ‘Running a stop street’ and ‘Thoughts of a soldier’ experiment with punctuation, ‘Opposites attract’ uses the same sentence structure to demonstrate oppositional concepts, while ‘Love at first bite’ takes a cheeky look at love through the lens of a Mills & Boon novel.

The content is a mixture of realism and fantasy. The gritty reality of ‘Shadow kids’ coexists with the imaginary world created in ‘Akere’. The fable ‘Courage the mouse’ is light and playful while ‘To die for’ describes an abusive relationship.

Recurring themes are the battles of women, their abuse, the experience of being the outsider, and the difficulties of growing old.

Told in the first, second and third person the stories in the collection are designed to take the reader on a journey into the writer’s world with passion, insight and humour.

 

Cover reveal

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‘The collection of stories Eye of a needle offers an intriguing, humane, and often poignant insight into the lives and moments of a variety of characters in a range of situations. The thirty-nine stories vary in length and type quite widely, from experimental one-line stories to more personal narratives. They often focus on women in abusive relationships, or women who are caught in circumstances which are inevitably disadvantageous or harmful to them, owing to their societal status (as women). Class, race and gender intersect to compound the characters’ sense of subjugation. Some of the stories are approached subtly or tangentially, with the use of fantasy or experimental devices: meta fiction, stream of consciousness, punctuation etc.; but mostly the explication of the theme is through a realist frame.’

‘The collection is robust,  interesting and written with a compassionate eye; this latter point being its greatest strength.’

(Comments from my examiners)

The eBook Eye of a needle will be published on 30 September 2016. Pre-order: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/650021

Please share with your friends.

9 literary journals that want your poems – now!

Business in Rhyme

One of the things I like to do in my leisure time is to brows some very interesting online literary magazines as it helps in my inspiration but I also like to be informed about the newest trends in literature and writing styles.

As a result of my research I managed to compile a list of 9 magazines that pretty much on regular basis accept submissions for new poems and prose, and of course you might find some of them interesting in your publication process.

So here it is:

1.Hootreview. This is maybe one of my favorite. They focus on a micropoetry and microfiction, giving a real chance to aspiring writers.

2.32poems. They accept unsolicited poetry year round and also simultaneous submissions. As a rule, preference is given to shorter poems that fit on a single page (about 32 lines). For more visit their guidelines page.

3.Aleola journal of…

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