I have to admit, it took me a while to really sit down and read this book. I think mostly because of the subject of the book; mental wellness or if you like mental health. It shouldn’t be surprising that so many of us suffer with some form of mental terror; depression, anxiety and sometimes we deal with feelings, thoughts and situations that can’t be described. When I started readingLetting In The Light; I felt a sense of coming home, a feeling of being welcomed into someone’s heart with open arms.
The foreword by Pick Me Up Poetryfounder, Webster Chagonda encompasses this feeling so well;
“Remember, darkness will always make way for the day, and wherever your mind may lead you, I hope these poems become your place of refuge.”
It’s difficult for me to tell which one of the poems are my favourite; there are pieces of each poem that speak directly to me.
They are all relatable and also somewhat confrontational but quite necessary,
“A fleeting moment of peace
as you cease to wonder when the next red drought will dry out this puddle
And if you won’t have drowned in the depth of your head until then”
When I read through the poems, I realised that so many people understand the feelings and circumstances around one topic. I felt safe reading it and saying to myself, “It’s okay to feel this way”
It truly is a stunning body of work with a beautiful use of words, descriptive methods and metaphors. It is almost as if what you’re reading is being carved on your skin. That is how deep the words go.
“Everywhere you walk, you will be a constellation of footsteps”
The anthology sheds light on all the parts of your life that is affected by depression; your mind, body, soul, family, friends and your career an daily life.
“I am ready to recite myself into existence. I am ready to tell anxiety a prophecy even though I sometimes don’t believe”
I want to encourage you to get this book. The words will speak to us all differently and once you get into it, you’ll realise its not just a book you can read once off. You can always go back and remind yourself that you are not alone in your darkness when you feel overwhelmed.
“I was bound by the plight of life and could not get away. I was blinded by the pain of this fight and could not see my way but I heard Hope’s gentle whistle and Joy’s hearty squeal, gently fanning the embers of my heart”
Well done to all the poets who contributed their words, feelings and experiences to this book. Thank you for being brave and baring it all on the pages.
Congratulations to the publishers, Chasing Dreams Publishing and everyone who worked to put this amazing body of work together.
Tears cocoon fear in the eyes of our girls who were raised to conform to the double standards set who stalk the streets we walk while chanting prayers to reach home safely It is time to undress the targets from our bodies we are not wounds begging for attention we are women who demand the luxury that safety has become seeking justice for our sisters who turned into statistics The revolution we require will not arise from complacency it is time to raise our voices and end the silence it is time to stop gender-based violence
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
The warrior bleeds in every woman who fought and cried and died beneath an armour of battle scars after begging for the basic human rights she was denied Carrying strength like a weapon she faced oppression injustice and men without a moral compass until her sword became the honour they could not steal Why are we quiet when our warriors are bleeding enough is enough there must be a peak in our silence SCREAM SCREAM I stand together with the women who fought and the women who cried the women who begged and the women who died
ABOUT THE POET – EKTA SOMERA
Ekta Somera is the author of Made in Poetry, a collection of poetry and prose. She is a part-time criminology major and a full-time visionary leader. From writing and reviewing books to hosting a radio show and making a difference, she fulfils her passion to inspire young people through various youth initiatives and community service.
Ekta lives by the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” Hardcopies of Made in Poetry are available in South Africa, WhatsApp 067 909 1057 to order a copy at R280 with delivery.
Every single day we hear or read about someone dying. They become a number in the statistics and leave a hole in the hearts of people who loved them. Every single day when we hear of someone losing their lives; whether to Covid-19 or something else, our hearts break a little more. You don’t need to know the person who has died. You simply need to have a sense of humanity and compassion to know that somewhere in the world, someone is left reeling from the death of a loved one.
The entire world is sad. We feel it all around us and see it on the news, we hear it from strangers. We see it in the tear-filled eyes of our friends. Some of us live it daily. It doesn’t seem to end.
As I write this, I’m sitting in my kids’ bedroom, on the floor and the picture of my late mother is right in front of me. I moved it to their bedroom a couple of nights ago because my 6-year-old daughter wascrying in her bed. After all, she was missing her Ouma. She too, is sad, having lost her grandmother just over a year ago.
The sadness seeps into our lives, our work, creativity, our ability or lack thereof to be in social settings. It’s in our bodies and minds as we lay on the couch, watching yet another episode of a Netflix series that ends up adding to the melancholy. You might think this post is so depressing but, the truth is, we are all living in a perpetual state of sadness. Denying that will do no good to anyone. It’s okay to be sad, don’t dismiss anyone’s feelings simply because it doesn’t fit into the narrative of the day.
But just because we are sad doesn’t mean we can’t have hope.
Earlier today: It’s Saturday afternoon, the house is quiet, the wind is howling outside, keeping the sun company. It seems like a good time to reflect on the last year.
I’m braiding my hair and thinking about this time of year. Last year (2020) we lost our mother. It was a Friday and she died in a car on her way to the clinic, my then boyfriend (now husband) right next to her. A shift happened then and a shift is happening now. My husband, sick with Covid-19 and myself, also sick but I haven’t tested for Covid-19 at the time of this post but we’re treating the situation as if I am sick with Covid too. Though I feel strong enough to clean the house and make sure we have something to eat, I still don’t really feel like myself.
All these health issues have done a very good job of distracting me from what day it is. The day my mother died. I’m not feeling incredibly sad or melancholic when I think about it; I feel a sense of peace, maybe even gratitude, that we as a family have been able to make it through the last 12 months in one piece and then some. We had an addition to the family with my niece, we had a wedding and we had the birth of our company. Those are quite huge life milestones. It just goes to show that life really does go on after the death of a loved one, at least if you let it.
Still in the quiet of the house, I wonder to myself, why is it that these shifts or life-changing events seemed to have happened around the same time for the past 2 years and I can’t help but wonder will something else happen next year around this time? I also don’t really want to question why these things are happening and happening in the way they are and around the time they are. I understand that no one truly knows the inner workings of time so I simply want to breath and say, “Thank you Lord” .
Something that has really stood out for me during this time of isolation over the past several days, is the kindness of people; everyone we care about checking in on us and bringing us food. That especially has reminded me of the week when my mother died; everyone brought us food and groceries so that we didn’t still have to worry about that. I’m really grateful to all the people who have come through for us during this time.
With that said, I’d like to share 12 things I’ve learned in the last 12 months since my mother died.
It’s okay not to feel in control.
You can cry whenever and wherever you need to.
Change will always come, don’t fight it.
Nothing ever goes the way we expect or plan, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be prepared.
It’s okay to feel the ‘bad’ feelings; fear, sadness, anger, frustration ect.
You won’t always succeed at everything you take on and that’s okay.
You are allowed to want to be alone.
Grief throws you into an unending spiral of self-confrontation.
Cooking or baking is therapeutic.
Love is all there is. It will get you through your darkest nights and brightest days.
Don’t waste the time you have. You won’t get a refund.
Tall and strong my soul Is firmly planted in the soil On which you stand. Green and lush my leaves Dance to Mother Nature’s lullaby As I feed the meagre creature that Scurries on the surface of the earth, While you produce pulp and paper for Your fiction. Speak to me! I live! As I give you the very breath of life You breathe. Lavender and lilies and olives and willows Placed here by Him who reigns Higher than my majestic reach. And even when the winds blow and the Seas are rampant I know that my soul in the soil Is evergreen. Evergreen. Evergreen.
Little one, From the womb whence you came, Only to be discarded on the side of the road. Oh, baby! Wrapped in plastic, Near the stench of a filthy rubbish bin. Accompanied not by warm hands and inviting smiles, Instead, you’re surrounded by Rotten food and hungry wolves.
Oh, baby! Your cries drown out the screams As she forces you out, Two months premature. She doesn’t want to remember the day that you were created in a night of heated passion. Your sweet face and soft skin Make her skin crawl.
Oh, baby! She blames you for the loss of his love And punishes you, Gets rid of you, Like yesterday’s trash. A one night stand, Mistaken for a love of a lifetime, Resulting in 9 months of responsibility. A lifetime responsibility.
Oh, baby! Your little body; hands and feet, Blue in the cold night, Unaware of the love that awaits you From a barren mother who craves you Who wishes for you, Prays for you. Your sweet scent, Your ten fingers and Ten toes. Oh, sweetheart Covered in blood, The only tie to your previous life, Is the cord that binds itself around your tiny Neck.
Oh, baby! Please hold on! Someone is coming. Oh, baby! You are wanted and needed. You are a source of joy and laughter. Your precious life is a gift from the heavens. Oh, baby! Please hold on! That yellowed grass patch might be your beginning But It is certainly not your end.
There comes a moment in a woman’s life, it comes quietly and without even knowing it is the time or her time she will remember her voice. She will reclaim her voice and she will banish all societal, cultural, and perhaps even self-inflicted shackles, which bound and gag her into living a life half lived and burying her truth, to make the world around her more comfortable with the woman she is.
My moment, my time, it came. it took more than a decade, but it came. The truth and pain and the absolute undoing of who and what I was, bided its time in the deepest parts of me, seemingly gone, seemingly forgotten, it even had me fooled and lulled into believing I was living my most authentic self. That I had erased that young girl, everything her body and soul and brain endured. I convinced myself it was a thing of the past. Plus, I reasoned, what would be the point! It’s over and done. I am okay and alive and thriving. I am living as I have never lived before. I lived so large that I dwarfed the girl and the victim that resided within me into virtual nothingness. Or so I thought.
But you see trauma, both physical and emotional is something that can never be forgotten or erased. It is ingrained in the very pores of your skin; every fibre of your being. In your every cell, the memory of trauma not just lingers, it festers, it rots, it poisons, and it kills. And you won’t even know it. Those feelings of helplessness, of utter and complete hopelessness, the tears that ebb and flow with the slightest provocation, the physical pain that you feel in your chest, the waking up to face a new day with such rage inside your heart, then dissolving into a dark abyss that beckons for you to come to lay there and never leave. The voice that cajoles inside your head, that to stop breathing, to stop living would be the ultimate high, the only way to end this inexplicable thing that you are feeling.
And it was inexplicable to me for a long time. I had a great job. As one of a few Indian female television news reporters on a national television station at the time between 2005 and 2012, (ETVnow ENCA) my face was a recognisable one, my name a respected one (at least that’s the feedback I got) I drove a beautiful car, I lived a good life, I had my pick of intelligent, successful, beautiful men. I partied hard, I worked even harder. Man, my life was good. Better than good. I made sure I was seen and heard. I made sure I was felt. I made sure I was in control.
I knew just how to vanquish and remain willfully vulnerable to keep men and women around me comfortable in my presence. Knowing how to dominate and yet remain docile enough to ensure men and women around me would never know who and what I was, was something I did well. So clever and so in control; so why would someone like me feel I was constantly being held in a stranglehold by emotions and feelings of complete and utter worthlessness and desolateness?
LIVING WITH TRAUMA AND PAIN
Trauma travels. Pain sits patiently. These things cannot and should not ever be denied. Not to oneself and not to others and certainly not to the person or people who have inflicted it. Trauma waits. Pain travels. Through time, through all the spaces and roles you live and fulfill, these things cannot and will not be denied or doused. Because anything suppressed must and will erupt. It is in nature as it is inside our bodies.
My name is Vanessa, I am forty-four years old. I am a mother of three and an author; I am a journalist (even though I quit mainstream journalism in 2012 anyone in this profession knows you can leave journalism, but it never leaves you). I am so many things to so many people and have been so many things to so many people. And for the greater part of my little more than four decades on this earth, I have been nothing to myself. A fake and a fraud, living and lying to keep the façade of the woman I convinced myself, the world would rather see and know. And I excelled. Man, I was damn good. So, I thought.
But the cracks were showing and soon it would rip open, and it would be both a profoundly powerful release and the most debilitating thing, that would compel me to finally acknowledge and see myself in all my nakedness, every fading scar both on my skin and the ones that remained stubbornly in my brain. It was December 1999, I was 22 years old when one word; YES, would come to kill that young, naïve, and dare I say wonderfully wild-spirited girl I was.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
I was a rookie radio news reporter at the SABC based in Durban. I was damn lucky to have gotten into one of the biggest broadcasting companies in the country, fresh out of Technikon, a diploma to my name and big dreams in my head. That is where I met my boyfriend. He was a DJ on Lotus FM (a radio station owned by the SABC that catered to a predominantly Indian audience). He would become my first intimate partner. He would become my first boyfriend. He would become my worst nightmare. It was barely a month into our relationship when he first struck me. I was sitting in the front seat of his car, he was ranting and shouting like a madman, saliva flying out of his mouth. This was new to me. I had no reason to feel that I was in any danger when his arm with a fist formed at the end reached out and punched me in the chest.
I am not sure if that hurt or whether it was the fact that he had just punched me that hurt more. Time is clever that way, it can make you forget the physical pain, but it will never let you forget every minute painful detail. Of course, I couldn’t believe what had just happened to me. Perhaps more shocking was that this person who portrayed himself as such a charming, affable, affluent man, this DJ who never missed an opportunity to talk about his fame or the women that would throw themselves at him, had just done something that surely menof this caliber and stature didn’t do!
He cried, he apologised. He even said that he wouldn’t blame me if I left him. So, I did what every good girl is subversively conditioned to do; I apologised, comforted him, and promised that I would not leave him, because you see shortly after delivering that punch, he also declared that he loved me. Two big, monumental firsts within minutes of each other. My first punch from my boyfriend and the first I love you from the same man. By accepting both, I had made a pact with a human being so profoundly evil that it would become impossible to leave, to walk away. For a little more than five years, this became symptomatic of our turbulent and deeply troubled relationship.
Don’t get me wrong for one second, there were good times and great times during our years together. We drank. We partied. We laughed. We talked. There would always be extravagant gifts, soft-spoken beguiling words gently handed over after the manic, violent barrage of slaps, punches, kicks, and vile insults. He was always sorry. You see he loved me so much that when he felt he couldn’t get through to me, it would drive him to these violent displays of his love and passion.
Deep inside me, the anger and hatred grew. Insidiously snaking its way, poisoning me, suffocating me…… killing me. Slowly I began to shift and continuously shape myself, making myself smaller, lowering my voice, quietening my thoughts and opinions, stifling my spirit. Together we worked to all but destroy me. Him with his violence. Me with my desire to please and keep the peace.
I am starting to feel sad now, angry again, remembering this. Every time I do this I purge myself a little more. But where I once tried to suppress pain and emotions, where I once convinced myself silence and forgetting is the bitter salve to soothe the shredded soul, I now know, this myth that women are force-fed is not to serve them, not to help them, but to protect not just their abusers but the toxic system that enables men to perpetuate their evil with carefree abandon and their gatekeepers (some of whom are women).
You see even after releasing my memoir Beaten but Not Broken, I thought there would be some miraculous healing. Like all the bad emotions and the tears and the feelings of wanting to end my life would be over. Boy was I wrong. Remembering and writing not only resurrected every horrible thing that was done to me during my violent love affair with the radio jock, but it also forced me to face myself. To finally embrace all the trauma and pain and to mourn and grieve. And it was a catastrophic revelation and cataclysmic release.
The body and brain demand of us not to deny and deprive but to hold space for ourselves. Healing is not meant to be a seamless and clean process. It is messy, it is crippling, and it is monumentally debilitating. But in all of that you remember you, you remember yourself, who you were before someone tried to break and bind you, kill and quell you. From ashes, beautiful things can be built and beautiful things can emerge. A little spent, a little bent, but hey what can be more powerful and more breath-taking than being able to live with absolute truth and honesty. To not be held hostage or blackmailed by fear and trauma.
But I omitted to tell you one minor detail in all of this. For all my bravado. For all the courage I was praised for having to write this book and speak my truth. I was still being dishonest. And dishonesty my friend does not have to be a blatant lie. Dishonesty is also the withholding of information. I wrote about losing my virginity in the back seat of his car (bearing in mind I come from a very conservative community where sex before marriage is seen as a disgrace for young women) I shared intimate details of everything. But one thing. And without even knowing this withholding that one thing still kept me enslaved to my fears to the system that demanded I shut up. That I go quietly.
And when eventually I would say the name of my abuser during an online web discussion, that was when I had finally been able to stand up and say I have spoken my truth. It was only then I felt this sudden and overwhelming release. I could breathe again; I could taste the air and inside a quiet stillness settled. I had taken back my power. I had finally remembered who and what I was.
Oh, saying his name did come with some drama. He threatened to sue. He issued a statement claiming I had a vendetta and was obsessed with him. Hell, he even got his wife to speak on his behalf to a local newspaper in which she claimed she did not know me, and I was making a public spectacle of myself. A woman who proclaimed to be an advocate for women’s rights and against gender violence, publically condemning another woman for daring to break the silence. I was not quite sure if I should find it funny or fundamentally tragic.
You see I did the very same thing for him back when we were together. When my own family would ask about the bruises and scars that often adorned my face and body. I lied. When I was confronted with questions if he was abusing me, I lied. I said he couldn’t do that. That he would never do that. So, I feel for this woman. I was once her. I want to judge her and be angry with her. But I am looking at her through the eyes of the woman I have become and not the girl I used to be. And that is not a fair thing to do. She has not done anything I didn’t once do for this man.
But there are far too many people claiming to be gender activists or againstGBVbut when faced with assertions of the crime against men they may know, who are family, friends, or even current partners are quick to shun survivors. If we are to accept rape and gender violence exists and it does because the mangled bodies, some burnt, some strung from trees, some tossed in rubbish heaps like garbage, some that are never even found, tell us it exists, our own experiences prove it exists, then we must also accept that men we know are guilty of this. Yes, we know it’s not all men but seeing as we don’t know which men, we will assume all men for the sake of our safety. Women are not raping and killing themselves. Women are not beating themselves up.
NO MORE SILENCE!
When my abuser’s lawyers’ letter did come some months later asking for an apology and retraction, I told my lawyer he could “f-off and die” of course she found a more eloquent way of putting it in our responding letter. We also urged my abuser to pursue the legal action he threatened both on social media and in the newspapers, as it would allow all the facts and my assertions to be aired and vented in a court of law. We also requested an address to which we could serve an application of our own.
That letter was sent in late last year. It’s now nearly June 2021 and we have yet to receive a response. You see abusers never stop. Just look at how many so-called influential men have been outed. Social media had provided a powerful platform for survivors to break the silence.
No, we are not looking for attention! We just no longer want to keep the secrets of our abusers and rapists. It’s not our job to protect these miscreants. NO, it is not a trend for women to speak out! We just get courage every time one of us breaks the silence, we realise justice cannot always be found in a court of law and that the system is not designed to help women get justice but rather to make it intrinsically difficult for them.
NO, we don’t want to destroy our abusers and rapists or their happy families. We believe they did that themselves the moment they decided to physically or sexually hurt us. And the moment they raped, abused, or killed; they lost every single right to carry on their lives as if nothing happened while women are forced to carry the cross of trauma every single second they breathe.
No, we are not looking for pity! We have shed our tears, sometimes some of us have even tried to permanently forget by trying to end our lives. We don’t need pity. We need the good guys, the good people, those around us to act!
My abuser despite also having had charges brought against him by another woman and for revenge porn and assault and which was later dropped, despite the written indictment of my experience, was still employed by a local community radio station. NO, we don’t need the bullshit rhetoric that’s spewed out during every 16 days of activism or women’s month. Yes, the radio station called on women to break the silence yet chose to ignore women when they spoke out against their newly acquired DJ.
Some may say what is the point then of breaking the silence. Some may say move on. Some may say get over it. Some may say tone it down. Some may say mind your language. Some may say forget about it. Some may even try to gaslight you “you have a good life now. You have everything now. Why bring up the past.” I am here to give you some well-earned advice; Screw them!
STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GREAT WOMEN
Anyone who has your interest would never try to silence you. It serves no one, least of all you, to remain silent. I may never see it in my lifetime. A world where women can walk safely, can go out at night without fear of being raped, wear what she wants without being blamed for any violence meted out against her. A world where even our babies won’t be violated. A world where men who rape and beat up women, who sexually harass, and harangue women are shamed and shunned and become an extinct species.
I will not see that world before I die. But I am going to do all I can to make it easier for even just one other woman to reclaim her power, remember her voice and break the barricades they have been building around us for centuries to keep us suppressed and subjugated.
I will always be in fear of my abuser. Men like that never change. I am no martyr, but I am a mother. And I am obligated because of that to speak and never stop because I am you, young lady reading this. The shame is not yours. It never was. The fear, yes totally understandable and very necessary. Because without fear we cannot act to save ourselves and those around us. That which you have feared, who you have feared, must now live in fear of you. The truth does indeed set you free. I no longer live with the threat of someone outing me. I did that myself. And it’s the most damn powerful thing I have done.
There comes a time in a woman’s life when she must and will abandon propriety for ownership of herself and her life. The voices of survivors are shifting this world on its very axis…. but it requires more and more, and we know there are so many more out there, fighting back tears, keeping up the façade of their lives disintegrating because that’s just not what GOOD GIRLS DO! Don’t be a good girl. Be a damn GREAT WOMAN …. And speak, take your time, breathe, remember, mourn, grieve, speak…. We are all here waiting to take your hand and hold you. Heal yourself and save another. It is not weakness to weep, it is to show yourself the ultimate self-respect.
So, speak. Others have gone before you, they are your shields. We have taken the barrage of criticism, of denials, of threats, of disbelief, we have dodged the venom of judgment and we are still standing. They are afraid of the voice of your truth of what you have survived of what you embody. Our very existence is a damning indictment of the ordeals we have endured and the people who have inflicted them on us.
Do you know whilst you tremble in fear, it is you who are being feared? Slay the monster, defeat the devil, use your words, use your voice, it is far more powerful than any fist raised against you. Your tears are never in vain, they will stain more than the blood drawn from you. They can violate your body, desecrate your soul but you always hold the power, because you are a walking living testimony to the genocide you have survived. The genocide on women of this country and world. Nothing can erase that truth. Nothing can diminish that power. And therein lies the salvation of every single survivor.
Please support local writers and their attempts to publish our local stories.”
That’s the tweet.
I must have typed and retyped it ten times, saved it in my drafts all ten times and then thought “screw it” before I tweeted it with hopes of engagement, no drama and plenty of retweets to keep the conversation going. By the time my carefully constructed tweet flew into the blue bird app’s ether it was 8.36am on 28 January 2021, and I had been awake for a good four hours already.
I’d woken up at 4.30am. For the past five weeks deep, uninterrupted sleep had been as elusive as a fiction bestseller in South Africa. Instead my sleep had been punctured with Covid-19-induced anxiety, loss, sadness, one too many memorial services and funerals online … more loss, double the anxiety of loved ones testing positive for the dreaded virus and what lies in wait for them as they recover at home or, heaven forbid, have to do so at a hospital, probably one not of their choosing. All this while trying to muster some courage to start the new year with verve and optimism to publish new authors and their books. This second wave of this bastard pandemic had us firmly in its grips, and I was suffering mentally and emotionally.
After a three-week break in December, I was back at my job, at my home desk in my little cottage in Greenside. My to-do list looked endless, but my focus was on my main priority which was to complete the final proofreading checks of the next novel that we will be publishing at Jacana Media. I am a publisher there and have been tasked to take care of a handful of authors, unearth new writers, and search for ground-breaking new content to publish and help increase revenue and profit.
My first author to publish in 2021 is the award-winning novelist Ashraf Kagee, who had penned his second novel titled By the Fading Light. The novel came to us via our submissions portal and was then included in Pitch to Publication, where authors are given an opportunity to pitch their book idea live to a panel of judges, which would usually consist of a combination of publishers, book publicists, literary journalists and other publishing industry specialists. A way to set Jacana Media apart from other publishing houses in South Africa, Pitch to Publication has also given our publishers an opportunity to meet prospective authors in person at a very early stage of the submissions process, interrogate the thinking that informs their writing, while creating marketing mileage for our small independent publishing house.
By the Fading Light is a gorgeous novel that delves into the themes of “lost innocence, the uncertainty of kindship ties, and the unbending nature of fate”. The manuscript had to go through a few iterations before we settled on the final touches to the manuscript before it swanned its way to one of the best fiction editors in South Africa to help spit and polish it into the best possible shape for the readers here and abroad.
I was excited to work with the author and looking forward to conceptualising a punchy marketing campaign, drive publicity for the book to book-loving fiction readers, and hopefully (fingers crossed) garner many sales and new readers in the process. The content was exemplary. The author was well-established as an award winner, albeit he is not in the public eye that much, but we had a pretty good foundation, through our learnings from the pre-order marketing campaign we did for debut author Terry-Ann Adams’s Those Who Live in Cages, to help us push this latest novel from Jacana Media into the consciousness of readers and the media alike.
As I try to settle down and get going with conceptualising the new pre-order marketing campaign, the facts related to that tweet kept pushing front of mind. Facts that every publisher have uppermost in their minds as they choose who and what to publish; how best to package new content; how to sell it in what sometimes feels like a saturated market overflowing with amazing books and authors, but also too little disposable income in the pockets of the citizens of the most unequal country in the world.
“A reminder that selling 3000 copies of a novel in South Africa is considered a bestseller. And yet we struggle to sell 1000 copies of one title over 2 to 3 years.
Please support local writers and their attempts to publish our local stories.”
I’m distracted (another issue that this pandemic has cemented in the last few months) wondering how different my life would have been if I had put my Journalism degree to full use and remained working in media for a large multinational company or if I’d transitioned to corporate communications. I’d be earning a bundle more, that’s for sure. I’d probably have greater job security and many perks that would come with a top-tier salary and years of experience. It all looked so amazing in my mind’s eye. And it seemed as if it would feel great too.
But then I think about not being a book publisher … Would I be as passionate as I am about books and all that goes with publishing them? Would I get the same goosebumps when I read a highly anticipated second draft of a manuscript? Or would I have a smile tugging at the corners of my mouth while I copy and paste a beautifully reworked chapter to a fellow publisher, so I can have a humble brag about my author who has delivered over and above what I had expected them to do. Would I be able to use my journalism skill of hunting down the best new political analyst on the block to bring her into the fold of authors that I so love and admire? Probably not.
And so that’s why I stay. That’s why I take the okay salary (that has been cut by 25% since the first lockdown at the beginning of 2020) and I make do. That’s why I look for the gifted black and brown writers who need the recognition and the nurturing, so they can see themselves published in their fields of expertise with pride. That’s why I take the time to answer all the publishing queries in my DM’s, help where I can and point people in the right direction where I can’t. That’s why I support and root for all the writers who come across my path – the self-published, the established, the award winners, the newly published, and the aspiring ones.
Earning a living as a book publisher in South Africa is a tough act. It’ll come at you with all its might threatening to take you out as you try to cajole authors into finally writing their second book, edit manuscripts into publishable artworks without losing the voice of the new author, test your very limited Excel skills, dash your hopes with budgets that just won’t budge, compete with bigger and better marketing campaigns that could render your attempts stillborn, and generally just exhaust you right down to the bone.
Those in the know will tell you, if you have less passion than conviction, you’ll probably leave the publishing industry within a year of starting to work in it. We find ourselves in an industry that is struggling to keep head above water. Cost increases for skilled professionals, printing, distribution and bookselling see most publishers struggling and trying their very best to publish new titles that will be profitable, so those profits can support the writing, production, printing and distribution of new titles that are important, but not necessarily wildly popular or bestsellers in waiting. The balance is delicate and requires a firm business mind but also one that understands the South African book-reading and buying public and the mandate that every publisher in a developing country such as ours should have.
As I push the facts of my tweet to the back of my mind and turn my attention to the blank Excel spreadsheet in front of me, I realise it should have had at least half of my marketing campaign for By the Fading Light mapped out by now. I shake off the worries that I cannot control and focus my attention on what a beautiful book Ashraf Kagee has written and how everyone who loves fiction, reading or just the telling of a good story should have a copy on their bookshelves by the end of April. And if that were to come to fruition, we’d have a 10-time over fiction bestseller, a positive tick to add to our publishing success and some profit to support all the new writers who are waiting with their beautiful manuscripts to be published.
In bookstores in April, By the Fading Light by Ashraf Kagee is an astonishing evocation of Salt River, Cape Town, in 1960, and follows the lives of three friends who play a prank that places their lives at risk. Set in the shadow of the Sharpeville massacre, the lives of four young boys is weaved together in a beautiful story of lost innocence, the uncertainty of kinship ties, and the unbending nature of fate. Kagee’s first novel Khalil’s Journey won the 2012 European Union Literary Award and the 2013 South African Literature Award.
Those Who Live in Cages, Terry-Ann Adams’s first novel was published in October 2020 and captures an astonishingly intimate view of life in Eldorado Park, a Coloured township south of Johannesburg, through five women – Bertha, Kaylynn, Laverne, Janice and Raquel. These unforgettable characters’ lives intersect as they attempt to do the most important thing: survive another day in “The Park”.
With a nod to Marian Keyes, a curtsy to Shirley, Goodness & Mercy and a wave to Bernardine Evaristo, Those Who Live in Cages will move you, lift you, and yes, change you.
Nadia Goetham passed away on Sunday the 25th of April 2021 due to Covid-19 complications. The bio provided below is what Nadia wrote about herself when she contributed this guest post. Nothing has been changed. She also added a list of independent bookstores and publishers in South Africa which she supported.
Nadia Goetham hails from Paarl in the Western Cape, and has been living and working in Johannesburg for the past 21 years. She is a qualified journalist with close to 25 years’ experience in media, communications and publishing. The last 5 years she’s been working in the book publishing industry as a production manager and more recently as a publisher. Her goal is to encourage and facilitate the publication of works of fiction and non-fiction by black and brown authors, with a view of making them household names in South Africa and across the continent.
A quote that sums up Nadia’s love for books and the art of publishing: “I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.” – from Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
TOP 8 BOOK WEBSITES IN SA TO VISIT AND SUPPORT
With a focus on small independent publishers and bookshops, I’d like to promote the following websites that are all e-commerce complaint, people in SA can shop online for home delivery.
They say black don’t crack but his neck did crack when a knee was bent on a strong black neck.
In an unofficial act, a figure of authority, hand on the holster, bolstering on a minority, in an act of superiority.
The man lying on the street, accepting his feat, saying,‘I can’t breathe’ Because black don’t crack but my will did when a mother’s son was killed by a man called to serve. Now the only thing he will serve is time in a cell unreserved.
Black still don’t crack, even when the whip does. Those lives will continue to matter through wounds and bruises as the sirens try to drown out, Black Lives Matter!
People always fear what they don’t understand but you are brave enough to take a stand. Marching through the streets, chanting ,‘Black Lives Matter!’
I don’t know who gets madder, the man holding the gun in his hand or the one on the other end.
And when they cracked the whip on your father’s dark skin, remember yesterday your kin was lying in the street, unable to breathe Now today you’re here, breathing for him.