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Judge, 25th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards

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Books are evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “needs improvement” and 5 meaning “outstanding”

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 4

Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 4

Production Quality and Cover Design: 5

 Plot and Story Appeal: 4

Character Appeal and Development: 4

 Voice and Writing Style: 4

 

Judge’s Commentary*:

 I enjoyed the insight you gave into the different cultures in South Africa. I also thought your use of different ‘voices’ in your stories captured the flavor of the characters you created. I found some of the stories, such as Akere powerful, while the stories Walking School and Belinda left me a bit baffled. They seemed to end abruptly, leaving me wanting more, or at least wanting to understand the theme of the each story. I thought some of the stories could have been rounded out more, such as Stolen and Shadow Kids. Because of your obvious knowledge of South Africa and what has gone on there, your stories have the potential to illustrate and call attention to situations those of us who don’t live there know nothing about, hence the rounding out and expanding on the themes in some of the stories, such as the ones mentioned above. However, having said that, I found your writing evoked powerful images of everyday people, trying their best to find their way in life, dealing with the relationships they are given or seek out.

Winners will be announced soon.

Mother’s rights

 

A story I wrote in Lydia Yuknavitch’s ontologies workshop in May 2017

The hamster runs on the treadmill in her cage, faster and faster. Her body leans into it. She wills the treadmill to take her to a real place, but it doesn’t.

It started innocently enough; she thought they had a good relationship until she read in Megan’s diary that they didn’t get along. Now she was trying to warn her against a boy.

“You don’t tell me what to do. Devon said that you will want to influence me against him. He said that all mother-in-laws are alike.”

“But… he’s bad for you.”

“How would you know? You married a man just like him.”

Megan flounced out, leaving devil mother claustrophobic, clutching at her chest, the yellow feather in her cap wilting. She yearned for Megan’s respect but had the cold knowledge that she had not achieved it.

She was in limbo – permanent blue skies, white clouds and duwweltjies underfoot (round, multi-pronged South African thorns); had arrived there by her desire to please a man who was hostile to all who stretched out a hand towards her.

He went to work, came back, ate, and watched television. Any interference with this routine was the spur for aggressive questioning which had her scurrying to lies to protect herself.

In Megan’s eyes nothing withered a grown-up’s value faster than crying at  a hiding.

“Please don’t do that.” Mother’d been taught to placate a man from a young age, making micro-decisions about the best responses to avoid more punishment.

“Bitch!”

A young girl of 22 killed and burnt by her 27-year-old ex-boyfriend because he loved her. A model killed in a toilet. A woman shot in the back of her head by her police-man husband because she left him. Constant fear for her survival and for Megan’s.

Papa society had tied Mother’s arms to her body. Or had it? Hadn’t she participated in building her cage? She couldn’t reach Megan. All she had learned in 40 years of marriage could not be forwarded for Megan’s benefit. It choked her, this need to tell, to warn. Stay alive!

“And he does work,” Megan shot back, hugging the door. “He has his own business and he’s doing fine.”

If she was alive devil mother would hug her patience. Every morning husband Eric walked Megan’s bag to the taxi, handed it over and headed home to sleep.

The clown rides his bicycle. Up the side of the drum, fast, to gain momentum then upside-down. The crowd says aaaahhh. He reaches where he started, a perfect circle. Over and over he performs his trick. It never gets out-dated.

Megan’s great aunt took over motherly duties. She saw Eric with an old school friend. She aimed to tell Megan but…

“It’s our time now. You had your time so don’t interfere.”

“But-”

“We know what we’re doing. Don’t worry about us, worry about yourself, old, decrepit and still working to support a man.”

Megan’s aunt sighed, the deep sigh of one beaten. Every twenty years or so, a new generation of young ducks pecked at the same seed, their eye on love and romance. The will to believe so strong it overrides reason.

The hamster runs on the treadmill in her cage, faster and faster. Her body leans into it. She wills the treadmill to take her to a real place, but it doesn’t.

The hopeful writer’s grey hair snaked down her back. She wanted to speak to young women. A conference to influence the next generation of mothers. She talked and talked, they clapped and clapped. It was imperative that they absorb her wisdom, she thought.

*

I enjoyed this workshop so much. The best!

 

#MeToo…

Scary statistics

Escaping Elegance

Tarana Burke, wearing a ‘me too’ T-shirt, addresses the March to End Rape Culture in Philadelphia in 2014.

I haven’t posted to social media with a personal #MeToo message before now because I didn’t really see the point. I mean, c’mon! Is it still not obvious to everyone that women everywhere are routinely harassed and assaulted?

No? Really? Okay, let’s simplify things and not even talk about women… let’s just talk about girls.

Here are a few things I experienced before I even reached puberty:

  • A classmate jammed his hand under my skirt, past my panties and into my vagina.
  • I was scared to answer the phone because I received obscene calls a few times a week from an unknown male, who knew my name and what I had worn to school that day.
  • A stranger flashed me and offered me money if I would touch his penis.
  • I was…

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Novel Transcript Reading: Courage the Mouse, by Cornelia Fick

Novel Writing Festival

 

Performed by Laura Kyswaty

 Get to know the writer:

What is your story story about?

Thank you for the opportunity to talk about myself J. This is actually a story about following your destiny.

What genres would you say this story is in?

It’s a children’s story for ages 7-11

How would you describe this story in two words?

Adventure. Playfulness

What movie have you seen the most in your life?

Gone with the wind.

What is your favorite song? (Or, what song have you listened to the most times in your life?)

The greatest love by Whitney Houston

Do you have an all-time favorite novel?

Mice and Men, John Steinberg. Recently The almanac of the dead by Leslie Silko

What motivated you to write this story?

I wrote it for my son and added pictures in water colour. The pictures were not very good because I have…

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Mary Oliver: The Artist’s Task

Wonderful essay on creativity

Vox Populi

It is a silver morning like any other. I am at my desk. Then the phone rings, or someone raps at the door. I am deep in the machinery of my wits. Reluctantly I rise, I answer the phone or I open the door. And the thought which I had in hand, or almost in hand, is gone. Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart — to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.

But just as often, if not more often, the interruption comes not from another but from the self itself, or some other self within the self, that whistles and pounds upon the door panels and tosses…

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Reviewed by Christian Sia for Readers’ Favorite

5star-flat-hr

Eye of a Needle: And Other Stories by Cornelia Fick is a gorgeous
collection of short and long stories, each suffused with unique
literary elements to entertain readers. The author captures the
reality of South Africa in vivid detail, in a voice that is clear and
absorbing. In “The Beggar,” the reader meets the “homeless writer”
and the circumstances that led him to miss his big dreams and set
up a home under the bridge. “Opposites Attract” features great
storytelling skills. There are stories of varying lengths, each looking
at a fragment of life through the narrator’s eyes, and at times the
reader can feel the indictment of the powers that be for the poverty
and injustice, or a celebration of love.
This collection features an exciting and delightful blend of flash
fiction and longer stories. The shorter ones are tightly written, and
the reader feels teased and wanting more once they complete
reading each story. The writing itself has many elements of
seduction woven into its fabric. The longer stories feature
compelling characters, great plots, and well-developed themes.
Some of the themes — love, social issues, poverty — are recurrent
in several stories. The characters that animate the plot lines are
well-imagined, most of them are plucked from ordinary life, and are
well-sculpted. What was most fascinating for me was the beautiful
and elegant writing. It is clean and polished, laden with vivid and
beautiful descriptions. Eye of a Needle: And Other Stories is a
gorgeous treat for fans of flash fiction and the short story, and
Cornelia Fick comes across as a mistress of the genre.

Being lost

I’m reading Rebecca Solnit’s book, A field guide to getting lost*, and I’m reminded of the recurring dreams I used to have not so long ago. That of being lost in a strange country or place, threatened by unknown ghosts, and out of my mind with panic and fear.

When I look back, at the time, there was a bloody conflict and somehow I’d found my place in the family hierarchy gone or mislaid. Relationships with other relatives had disappeared or become strained.

Due to my anger at being in this space, my primary relationship faltered. The dream appeared like tragic music to accompany my life. After or during the dream I would wake up in a cold sweat, my heart pounding. A mysterious chest pain appeared. I was experiencing being lost and I did not know how to be lost.

Solnit says in the first chapter ‘Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself come from, and where you will go.’

She suggests that children find it easier to be lost, citing the incident of a deaf boy who blew his whistle and when nobody came and night fell, he sensibly found a sheltered place to sleep.

When I was a teenager we regularly went to Johannesburg to visit my aunt. The distance from the bus stop in Bree Street to Bezvalley was intimidating for a thirteen-year-old, yet I never seemed to feel it. And making a wrong turn wasn’t disastrous because as long as you walked in the right direction you were fine. I wasn’t afraid.

Obviously I’d been better at getting lost then, assured of finding my way;  so what had changed? Why had I become fearful of the world and lost trust in myself and my ability to find my way in it? What was there in my life that had stripped away my confidence? These and other questions plagued me.

I sank into a depression. I have a picture with childhood friends at Gold Reef City, dressed in the clothes worn by women during the gold rush, to celebrate a birthday. My eyes are lifeless. I’m there but I’m not there. I had disappeared into a wall of misery from which I managed to function perfunctorily to enact the duties expected from me.

It was during this time that a writer friend suggested a course in creative writing. She had just completed it and couldn’t praise it enough.

I applied, was accepted and slowly wrote my way out of the dead-end my life had become.

I’m in Cape Town to do research for a historical novel and I have never been better. Yesterday I went to Bloubergstrand 45 kilometres away to interview a man who had traced 400 years of his ancestors, unusual in South Africa. Normally I would panic. But I was calm and made a wonderful friend.

When I started reading Solnit’s book I had one of those ‘a-ha’ moments people talk about. I don’t yet know how to be lost without fear overwhelming me but, inspired by this book, I’m working on it.

*A field guide to being lost, Viking, Penguin Group (USA) INC 375 Hudson Street, New York, 2005.

On personal essays

 

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I’m a fiction writer. I prefer to clothe my deepest thoughts and concerns by inventing a character and giving him/her my views and problems. Cowardly I know, but I cringe at people who can write about their innermost being, even if it makes them look bad. I cringe on their behalf, but also on my own. I would never wash my thoughts in public, I think, while admiring their honesty and foolhardiness.

But then I start thinking, what would it take for me to do that?  Rinse my thoughts in public, that is.

I’m a private person, schooled on the idea ‘we don’t talk about that.’ I remember when I was about fifteen asking my grandmother about the sound in her hip when she walks. Every step would be accompanied by a loud click. In my young mind I had visions of her removing her underwear to show me the affected hip. Did it have a dent, what on earth caused that noise? It never affected her walk though, just accompanied it like drum sticks conjured up by her body. Click-clack-click.

Needless to say she told my mother and I got a hiding. I learned you don’t talk about grandmother’s click. I also acquired the reputation for being too curious, a bad thing. A child like that could stumble on family secrets.

I need the protection of anonymity. Then you’ll get the most honest feelings and deepest insights I can muster. But talk to me one on one, ask me to speak in front of a crowd, and I go dumb. That is why we are writers, I suppose. We can put on a coat of many colours and try to wow with our words.

But there’s always the possibility of growth: growing side-ways because of too many puddings, and growing intellectually and emotionally. I tried both. I joined this workshop on ‘what is a mind’. For the first time in my existence my brain actually grew painful with thinking.

People don’t tell you that, that thinking can be painful. That is why all those clever people start becoming weird. Their brains ache and they have to do something wack to find relief. (I’m trying to think if I know any clever people who are weird and I don’t. Eish. A personal essay is supposed to have facts so scratch that.)

While flirting with the idea of writing a ‘personal essay’ (just the name gives me the shivers) I stumbled on the quote: ‘At some point, all writers should attempt this form. It is at once a challenge of your talent but also a bearing of soul that is much more difficult to get right than novels or scripts or poems. I would challenge any writer to try it at least once.’ (http://litreactor.com/columns/up-close-and-personal-a-personality-expose-of-the-personal-essay)

Uh-huh. Now who can resist such a challenge? This woman, Taylor Houston – oh dear it may very well be a man – this man or woman, issues a direct challenge and I’m stepping up to the plate, or is it stepping off, because I’m out of my depth here.

People (this is me on my soap box) generally interpret themselves. Their honesty may therefore display who they think they are. And isn’t that fiction too? Everyone has a face that they present to the world. I haven’t discovered mine yet, so as soon as I know I’ll jump in and write my inner ear.