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Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Come see Modjaji’s Stellar Authors at the Franschhoek Literary Festival

Franshhoek Literary Festival

This year’s edition of the annual Franschhoek Literary Festival is being held from the 19th to the 21st of May. Modjaji is proud to have some its authors among the ranks who will soon file into town to fill it with vibrant ambience and all the bookish conversation one could dream of.

Tickets are priced at R70 per event, and are on sale via Webtickets. A limited number of student tickets are available for R20 per event – verification will be required.

Don’t miss our authors discussing their work at these not-to-be-missed panel discussions:

Philippa Mamutebi Kabali-KagwaFlame and SongPhilippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa
FRIDAY 14h30-15h30
[25] Writing their continent (Old School Hall): Darrel Bristow-Bovey invites Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa (Flame and Song) and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (Season of Crimson Blossoms) to share how they reveal their love and knowledge of Africa through fact and fiction.
SATURDAY 10h00-11h00
[45] The transformative power of reading (Council Chamber): Jacques Rousseau discusses the intellectual, social and personal impact of reading, with Bronwyn Law-Viljoen (The Printmaker) and Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa (Flame and Song).
SUNDAY 11h30 – 12h30
[95] Writing my family: (Council Chamber): Negotiating the path between family sensitivities and the author’s right to write the story as they choose is a skill that Daniel Browde, Neil Sonnekus and Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa have all developed. They tell Hagen Engler how they did it.

Jolyn PhillipsTjieng Tjang Tjerries and other storiesJolyn Phillips

FRIDAY 13h00-14h00
[23] I write short stories because… (Elephant & Barrel): Are they easier than long fiction, more lucrative than nonfiction, more popular than Harry Potter? Jolyn Philips (Tjieng Tjang Tjerrie) asks fellow writers Harry Kalmer (A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg), Ken Barris (The Life of Worm and Other Misconceptions) and Marita van der Vyver (You Lost Me) what it is about this form that appeals to them as they discuss the challenges of writing in the short form.
SUNDAY 10h00 – 12h00
[90] Workshop: Hide & Seek Poetry (The Hub) Sometimes the writing comes easily, but what do you do when the spring dries up or you have more sand than compost in your head? Come and learn to hunt and gather words at a two-hour poetry workshop with poets Jolyn Phillips and Karin Schimke. Tickets R120 through Webtickets.
SUNDAY 13h00 – 14h00
[104] The polylinguists (The Hub) Tom Dreyer asks Jennifer Friedman (English/Afrikaans) and Jolyn Phillips (English/Afrikaans/French) whether the ability to speak and write in different languages is a help or a hinderance?
Dawn GarischAccidentDawn Garisch
SATURDAY 13h00-14h00
[63] Dark things brought to light (Elephant & Barrel): Fred Strydom (Inside Out Man), Dawn Garisch (Accident) and Dale Halvorsen (Survivors’ Club with Lauren Beukes) discuss the darker side of human nature as reflected in their writing, and why readers feel the need to be disturbed.
Ishara MaharajNamaste LifeIshara Maharaj
FRIDAY 13h00-14h00
[22] The power to move us (Hospice Hall): Ishara Maharaj (Namaste Life) and Dennis Cruywagen (The Spiritual Mandela) discuss the joys and challenges of writing of spiritual matters in a contemporary world.
Colleen HiggsLooking for TroubleLava Lamp PoemsHalfborn WomenColleen Higgs
SUNDAY 13h00 – 14h00
[102] What publishers want (Council Chamber): In preparation for next year’s projected Porcupine’s Den event (think ‘Dragon’s Den’ for writers), would-be authors get to pick the brains of publishers Ester Levinrad (Jonathan Ball), Phehello Mofokeng (Geko Books) and Thabiso Mahlape (BlackBird Books), led by Colleen Higgs (Modjaji Books). Other publishers are welcome to attend and weigh in on the discussion.
Karin SchimkeBare and BreakingKarin Schimke
SUNDAY 10h00 – 12h00
[90] Workshop: Hide & Seek Poetry (The Hub) Sometimes the writing comes easily, but what do you do when the spring dries up or you have more sand than compost in your head? Come and learn to hunt and gather words at a two-hour poetry workshop with poets Jolyn Phillips and Karin Schimke. Tickets R120 through Webtickets.
Helen MoffettStrange FruitStrayHelen Moffett
SATURDAY 14h30-15h30
[70] What is feminism, and who ‘owns’ it? (Ebony Gallery): Helen Moffett (Prunings) asks the questions of poet and singer Blaq Pearl and Thabiso Mahlape (BlackBird Books).
SUNDAY 10h00-11h00
[87] A few good editors (Council Chamber): Alison Lowry and fellow editors Helen Moffett, Phehello Mofokeng and Thabiso Mahlape discuss the consistent criticism around the literary world of ‘poor editing’ and the state of the industry in South Africa.
Michelle HattinghI'm the Girl Who Was RapedMichelle Hattingh
SATURDAY 16h00-17h00
[73] From victim to survivor (Old School Hall): Michelle Hattingh (I’m the Girl Who Was Raped) uncovers stories of courage, faith and perseverance in the face of opposition and adversity as told by Grizelda Grootboom (Exit), Lindiwe Hani (Being Chris Hani’s Daughter) and Shamim Meer (Memories of Love and Struggle).
Shirmoney RhodeNomme 20 Delphi StraatShirmoney Rhode
SUNDAY 11h30 – 12h30
[93] Playing with words (Hospice Hall): On knowing the rules of writing, and how to break them: Sue de Groot tests the boundaries of poets Blaq Pearl and Shirmoney Rhode (Nommer 20 Delphi Straat), and novelist Claire Robertson (The Magistrate of Gower).

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“One of the most affordable return tickets to Uganda” – launch of Flame and Song by Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa

Flame and SongI don’t get to go to the launch of every book that Modjaji publishes. I was very glad to get to The Book Lounge launch of Philippa Namubeti Kabali-Kagwa’s memoir, Flame and Song, that we published in time for the Women’s Day Story Cafe at the Artscape. Last Tuesday was the “official” launch, and The Book Lounge was full of people from East Africa.

Malika Ndlovu framed the launch with her beautiful voice, almost like a praise singer. It set the tone for an evening of story, song, memories – it made it feel a little as though we were sitting around a fire – while Philippa was interviewed by two young women, Diana Mutoni and Sandrine Mpazayabo, friends of Philippa’s daughter, Faye.

They asked unflinching questions about Philippa’s life, the difficulties and challenges and the many griefs she has experienced. Philippa responded to all of the questions, however challenging with grace and warmth. Philippa also read from her beautiful memoir, both poetry and prose excerpts, I was left feeling filled up with song, poetry, and a sense of family and community and love.

For more photographs of the launch click here These photographs were taken by Neo Baepi.

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Massive Modjaji stock clearance sale

Publishers loungeWe have a big website sale planned, but in the meantime these titles are 50% off – you can email if you are interested in buying any of them. Only while stocks last. There are some fantastic titles on sale at a huge discount.

What with On the Dot closing and having been publishing for 9 years now, and some slightly ambitious and optimistic miscalculations in print runs, and especially needing space in my lounge and dining room for normal human activities I’ve decided to have a massive stock clearance sale. You could buy books for a library of your choice as a Mandela Day gift to the library.

The list of the 50% off titles is below. All other titles on the website for now are 10% off – Only While Stocks Last

Haidee Kruger’s The Reckless Sleeper (poetry)
Piecework by Ingrid Andersen (poetry)
Strange Fruit by Helen Moffett (poetry)
Pleasure in Relating by Susan Groves (poetry)
Sarah Frost Conduit (poetry)
Kelwyn Sole Absent Tongues (poetry)
Beverly Rycroft missing (poetry)
Fiona Zerbst Oleander (poetry)
Arja Salafranca Beyond Touch (poetry)
Fran Zieman This Listing Place (poetry)

Arja Salafranca’s The Thin Line (short stories)
The Bed Book of Short Stories edited by Joanne Hichens and Lauri Kubuitsile (short stories)
Danila Botha’s Got No Secrets (short stories)
No Sacred Cows by Chris Nicholson (short stories)

Jane Katjavivi Undisciplined Heart (memoir)
Karen Lazar’s Hemispheres: Inside a stroke (memoir)

Priscilla Holmes Now I See You (crime fiction)
Whiplash by Tracey Farren (new edition coming out with the movie, Tess in Feb 2016) (novel)

You could also buy books for a library, Modjaji will deliver the books for free if you spend R1000 on books.

And if you spend R500 – you will get a mystery discount.

All other titles on the website for now are 10% off – Only While Stocks Last

For more information on each title go to the website

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An interview with Anne Woodborne

Anne Woodborne

Anne Woodborne’s debut novel, The Cry of the Hangkaka, tells the story of Karin, a young child who is uprooted from her home in South Africa when her mother, Irene, packs up their things to escape the shame of divorce. Irene is so desperate to start afresh that she marries the drunken, tyrannical Jack and follows him, first to Scotland, then to Nigeria, forcing Karin to live a lonely life where books and her imagination offer the only escape from solitude and the loathsome Jack.

We asked Anne to share her thoughts on writing colonial Nigeria using a child narrator.


Like Karin, you spent part of your childhood in Scotland and Nigeria; is The Cry of the Hangkaka partly autobiographical? Can you give some examples of what you chose to fictionalise and why?

The Cry of the Hangkaka is partly autobiographical; that is faction – part fact, part fiction. I chose to fictionalise all the characters because memory is often faulty and always subjective. It was also to give me the scope to extend and embellish the characters and to distance myself when writing about the sensitive issues of domestic violence and abuse. It was necessary to invent characters and situations in the narrative to fill the voids where a young child might not have understood the implications of what she was witnessing. For example, I used the fictional character of Adia to explain a real incident where Amos physically attacks Jack later in the book; an altercation Karin finds confusing. The account of Jack’s drunken arrival at the school’s nativity play was invented to show his conflicted character – his addiction to alcohol and his urge to humiliate and shame Karin and Irene. The alcoholic’s illogical and inexplicable behaviour can only be surmised by the reader. Although much of my book is fiction, I think I stuck closely to the emotional truth.

The Cry of the Hangkaka The story is set in colonial Nigeria, although seen from the perspective of the mostly Scottish expats, who stick to their private and social spaces. What were your goals when crafting the world of the novel?

My goal was to recreate the era just after World War 2 and capture the feeling of new beginnings and fresh hope after the horror of war. It’s a new beginning for Irene as well. At a time when displaced people are desperately trying to return home, she is just as desperate to leave home to escape her bad memories and bitterness. She takes herself and Karin to the northern hemisphere to marry a man she hardly knows, to live in a country depleted by war. It’s a risky venture and one wonders why she chooses to travel so far to escape her past. The theme of displaced people continues with the Scottish expats living in isolation on the Jos Plateau amongst the various indigenous tribes. The contrast between the cultures of the Scottish expats and the Hausa/Fulani tribes could not have been greater. I enjoyed the challenge of recreating the mores of the 1940s and 1950s in a tropical setting.

During her time in Nigeria, Karin reads a book about a Viking named Siward, and his lover, Frida. The Cry of the Hangkaka includes many extracts from this book, which comes to play a significant role in Karin’s life. Why did you choose a Viking tale and what is it about this story that makes it so meaningful to Karin?

It’s purely by accident that Karin is drawn to the Viking saga in the second-hand bookshop in Perth. Perhaps it’s the pocket-sized edition and the gold lettering. Once she starts reading the book on the voyage to Lagos, she is drawn in by the bold character of Siward and the magical, fantastical world of ancient adventure he represents – a world that becomes an escape from her often unpleasant reality. Later at school, she learns more about ancient civilisations in the book From Ur toRome by Kathleen Gadd and Rudyard Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill. Like all solitary children, Karin needs an imaginary friend but she uses the book character of Siward to be her imaginary protector. She hopes to assimilate his bravery and fearlessness into her own oppressed, fearful self. One can perhaps go so far as to say that on a subconscious level, he becomes a quasi-father-figure. Rather than tell the reader what Karin reads in the Saga, I chose to show what it was like for her to enter that fantasy world and thus wrote the extracts to insert into the narrative. I enjoyed the opportunity to write in another voice.

What are the challenges and pleasures of writing a child narrator for an adults’ story?

After a few false starts, I realised the book had to be written from a child’s perspective. I wanted to give the child who had been silenced and neglected a voice so she could be heard. The challenge was to put myself in the body of a five-year old child, see the world through her eyes, and tell the story with her limited vocabulary. For instance, when she visits her Ouma to say goodbye and the old lady draws in her breath for an angry outburst, I used ‘nose holes’ instead of nostrils. As Karin grows, so does her vocabulary. Her speech becomes more sophisticated as she becomes more observant. I had to be careful not to drift off into an adult’s voice. I used a lot of adult conversation (overheard by Karin) to keep the narrative flowing. Viewing the world through a child’s eyes recalls a kind of freshness when life offers new sights and sounds (e.g. Karin’s first hearing of the Luton Girls’ Choir and her encounter with death, whom she turns into an image) and her childish naiveté gives rise to an innocent humour.

Karin has an aversion to lies and secrets but the adults in her life force them upon her. Paradoxically she uses a ‘badgirl’ persona to express honesty, if only to herself. Would you say this kind of contradiction exemplifies the relationship between children and adults? How does Karin cope with the difficulties of living as child among adults?

The need for lies and secrecy evolves out of Irene’s obsessive desire for respectability; she fears being the object of gossip and moral condemnation. Karin finds this especially burdensome after Pammy’s mother impresses upon her the importance of being truthful (one of the book’s facts). Karin has to be circumspect about what she tells her friends about her family; she’s aware that her family has shameful secrets. This make her feel like an outsider. Karin’s badgirl voice is her way of keeping true to herself and also the first sign of rebellion. She can never speak her truth in her home because there would be unpleasant repercussions. Irene needs her to be tidy, respectful and compliant.

Faced with such restrictions, Karin has no choice but to go underground. Most children keep secrets about themselves from their parents; it’s a way of growing up and achieving independence. A section in J.M. Coetzee’s autobiography Boyhood springs to mind, where he says he had to hide everything he ever loved from his mother, burrowed deep in a hole like a trapdoor spider. In Karin’s case it’s her imagination that enables her to escape into fantasy from Jack’s tyranny and her mother’s strictures; in J.M.Coetzee’s case it was his love of everything Russian.

By using her imagination to escape interior worlds. Karin finds a coping mechanism to deal with difficult caretakers.

Jack is a vicious, opaque character. Why does he loathe children?

Jack is aloof, arrogant and deeply uncomfortable around children as well as society in general. He finds it difficult to interact with people. This may have stemmed from his own troubled relationship with his father.

Jack may fear his own vulnerability, which he sees reflected in Karin. He is also possessive of Irene, and does not want the child to intrude on their privacy. He resents having the child of another man under his roof. His prolonged abuse of alcohol brings about personality changes and entrenches his negativity. Long-term alcohol abuse causes frontal lobe syndrome, and the frontal lobes are the seat for judgement, empathy and caring.

Jack is a composite character; I drew on a few sources to create him, the main one being the real-life Jack himself.

Are you working on any new writing projects?

I am working on the third draft of my second novel. Its progress has been patchy because life keeps getting in the way and I have just had another downsizing move.

The protagonist in my second novel, whose working title is ‘Torn’, is coasting along in a fairly stable relationship and has a number of children when her life suddenly does a 180-degree turn; nothing is as it was and it is frightening and terrible. How she survives and how her children are affected is the theme of the book. It could also be seen as the portrait of a toxic narcissistic character.

I am still trying to get the right voice, an authentic one.

Thank you for your time Anne!

Interview by Lauren Smith

The Cry of the Hangkaka

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Launch of Anne Woodborne’s “The Cry of the Hangkaka” at Kalk Bay Books

The Cry of the Hangkaka Modjaji Books and Kalk Bay Books are delighted to invite you to the long awaited launch of Anne Woodborne’s novel, The Cry of the Hangkaka.

Anne will be in conversation with Máire Fisher, (author of Birdseye and well known editor).

Join us for a glass of wine and snacks and to celebrate the launch of this long awaited novel.

The Cry of the Hangkaka is the story of young Karin and her mother Irene. Shamed by a divorce, Irene seeks to flee with her daughter from post World WarII South Africa. Jack, a Scotsman who works at the tin mines in Nigeria, seems to be the answer to Irene’s prayers. In the torrid heat of the Nigerian plateau, Karin is exposed to the lives of the colonisers, colonised, and most of all to the dictatorship of Jack.

This is what Máire had to say about The Cry of the Hangkaka:
I read, late into the night, cast adrift with Karin, a young girl struggling to make sense of a nightmarish adult world, her only anchors a beautiful, capricious mother and a sadistic step-father, her only salvation school and the joy of reading whatever she can get her hands on.

With jewel-like clarity, with writing that is as fluid as it is creative, Anne Woodborne brings a colonial mining town in Nigeria to life. She steps into Karin’s life, inside her very skin, into a steaming, claustrophobic world, as harsh and hard as the call of the Hangkaka; as surreal and exotic as a waking dream. I read compulsively, hoping Karin would find a way to escape, hoping she wouldn’t … because then this beautifully nuanced story would come to an end.

Anne WoodborneAnne Woodborne was born in Cape Town, where she still lives. She spent a large part of her childhood in Scotland and Nigeria. She has been widely published in women’s magazines, and in various anthologies and collections. She is working on her second novel, and has written and illustrated two children’s books for her grandchildren.

Event Details

Book Details
The Cry of the Hangkaka

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List or advertise in the new African Small Publishers’ catalogue

Small Publishers' Catalogue 2010 - AfricaSPC Africa 2013It’s time to put together a new “Small Publishers’ Catalogue: Africa”. We feature publishers and services, programmes and institutions that are useful to publishers in Africa and to those who are interested in Book Publishing in Africa. The distribution is via bookstores in South Africa, online from our website, and we take it to book fairs – the South African Book Fair and to Frankfurt and London. It gets to readers, librarians, booksellers, other publishers all over Africa and internationally to those who are interested in book development in Africa. The last edition in 2013 listed 50 publishers mostly from Anglophone Africa, but not exclusively, and included publishers from Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Algeria, Kenya, Uganda, Botswana, Namibia, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and of course South Africa.

For more info about the previous catalogues click here

We plan to bring the catalogue out in March 2016, so no time to waste.

If you are interested in listing or advertising, contact Colleen Higgs for more details.

A listing costs R500. You get a free copy of the catalogue with your listing. The rate card for advertising or sponsoring will be sent to you on request.

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Letter from Uganda

At the beginning of September, while I was preparing for Open Book and the Frankfurt Book Fair, amongst many other things, I got a call from Goretti Kyomuhendo of the African Writers Trust to ask if Modjaji Books would consider hosting Crystal Rutangye for a six week internship. Well my heart stopped, how to manage this before the end of the year? Nevertheless, in spite of all my deadlines and misgivings about how much time I would have to really mentor the intern at the burnt out end of the year, I said yes. I said yes, because I had an opportunity to go to Kampala on a Femrite writers’ residency in 2008 and I loved it. I said yes, because I know that there will never be a perfect time for a 6 week internship. I said yes, because it was a wonderful opportunity for the intern and perhaps just being in Cape Town would be enlivening. Crystal duly arrived in the first week of November and stayed till the 15th December.

Crystal Rutangye back home in Uganda

Here Crystal writes about her 6 week internship with Modjaji Books. Even though some of it is a little embarrassing to me, I think the value in Crystal’s letter about her internship is seeing through her eyes what she got out of being here. It also moved me enormously to see just how much Phumi (Phumzile Simelane Kalumba) and Na’eemah Masoet contributed to Crystal’s wellbeing and learning. So posting this letter is a chance to publicly thank them for being such generous hosts and friends to Crystal and by extension to Modjaji Books and the African Writers Trust. It does indeed take a village, and I’m delighted to hear of what Crystal has done since she was here.

When I left for Cape Town, I boarded the plane with a small suitcase of clothes, a backpack with books and gadgets, and a mind filled with horror stories about South Africa. It didn’t help that I was boarding a plane for the first time since I was eight years old!

I was the first intern selected to participate in an editorial programme initiated by African Writers Trust, whereby Ugandan editors were to undergo a six-week internship in a reputable publishing company in another African country. After a long preparation and planning process, I was finally accepted by Colleen Higgs, the proprietor of Modjaji Books. Modjaji Books is an independent press that publishes southern African women writers.

The Arrival
Even before I left Uganda, I could tell that Colleen was a great person; first, by the fact that she accepted me as an intern in the first place, and secondly, because she did not seem inconvenienced by the way I badgered her into re-writing an invitation letter about three times, to fulfil my visa requirements. Thirdly – well, she thought about everything:

I stepped on South African soil for the first time in my life on Saturday, 2nd November 2013, towards 1500hrs. Colleen had arranged to have someone pick me from the airport and take me to the accommodation premises she had helped arrange for me (even when she didn’t have to). I was welcomed by a host of the most hospitable people ever. On Sunday 3rd November, my hosts received a call from Phumzile Simelane Kalumba. ‘Phumi’ is the author of ‘JABULANI MEANS REJOICE – A dictionary of South African Names.’ Her book was published by Modjaji. Colleen asked her to link up with me, not just because she lived near my host’s home, but also because she has a Ugandan husband. Friendship unfolded easily between us. On that very first Sunday, Phumi challenged me to start on a proposal for whatever it is I want to do after the internship. I met her family, and thus got integrated into my second most formidable hosting family ever. Phumi was truly my ‘divine appointment’.

On Monday, Phumi let her family drive off for the day, and walked to my home to walk me to the train station to teach me how to use the trains. Ok wait – that doesn’t sound right. Let me rephrase: This is what happened;

My internship began on Monday, 4th November. Phumi, who has a busy, corporate 8:00am – 5:00pm job, came to pick me up. As in: she let her husband take the children to school in their car, took the 20-minute walk from her house to mine, walked to the train station with me, and took the train with me to teach me how to use trains in Cape Town. (In Uganda, I probably see a train once in every two years, and it is never carrying passengers; mostly commercial products if anything). So much for all those horror stories and prep talks about South Africa! Phumi showed me around, taught me a thing or two about research and proposal writing, and then dropped me at Colleen’s office.

The Internship
I experienced what I call an editor’s culture shock. By Ugandan standards, I am such a fast reader. I am ahead of the game. But I was shocked when I was given three manuscripts to read through in my first week of the internship. They were given to me in a casual manner, as though I was being given an easy start. As though reading three manuscripts in a week is basic stuff. Did I mention they were big? It was at this point that I recalled my amazement on the plane from Johannesburg to Cape Town at noticing that almost everyone pulled out at a book to read immediately after take-off. The difference in the reading cultures is glaringly obvious. Sit in a taxi in traffic jam in Kampala, Uganda, and everyone will be staring into space, except me and the other occasional odd person who values this ‘reading time’. Sit in a plane from Johannesburg to Cape Town and you will be the odd man out if you haven’t carried a book or two to study on the flight.

Na’eemah Masoet was working for Modjaji full time last year as a publishing intern. She and I hit it off immediately. Editing seems to be such an unconventional interest that it is always refreshing to meet someone else who shares it. She and Colleen gave me a brief induction, and then we were good to go.

Colleen’s work is amazing. Do not be fooled by her soft-spoken, down-to-earth, gentle nature. Colleen is a publishing giant in her own right. I looked through the shelves of books she has published, and could not help feeling proud to be associated with such importance. Just like all her media tools state, Colleen is ‘making rain’ for southern African female writers.

I was awed at the number of Modjaji books that have been shortlisted and long-listed for awards, let alone won the awards!

Having something to compare to made me realize how much fiction publishing in Uganda is greatly lacking. From the quality of the writing, to the quality of paper, graphics designing, printing, editing and marketing methods, publishing in South Africa is way advanced. Most Ugandan authors and publishers use the ordinary white bond paper for their novels, the same bond paper that is used for text books. I actually have never seen a non-academic Ugandan book published with the creamy bulky paper Modjaji prints their books with, giving them an exotic look. The roles of the publishing stakeholders in South Africa are quite streamlined. Graphics designers are different from editors, who are sometimes even different from proof-readers. In Uganda, many times an editor will have to type-set the book and then even proof-read it. Sometimes, they even design the book covers! An editor in Uganda will have to have all these skills to be rendered sufficient enough to work in a Ugandan publishing house on a full-time basis. This lowers the quality of books produced because a graphics designer for example should be an artist at heart. How easy is it to find a creative artist who can edit books well?! By letting one person handle a book, either the design of the book is compromised because the person is actually a better editor than designer, or vice-versa; you hire a designer and the language in the book is compromised. Most Ugandans look for the cheapest way to do things, and compromise quality.

Over the weeks, I watched and learned. There was not much to cope with in terms of fitting in; the learning environment was friendly and informal. I did not have to compromise any of my own values, beliefs and opinions. I tagged along with Na’eemah everywhere she went to deliver books or pick up books or get books packed or to post things and the like. I got an all-round albeit brief publishing experience. Na’eemah and Colleen answered every single question I had. All the tasks given to me were new.

I had a most interesting session where Na’eemah took me through their whole publishing process, step by step, from the time an author submits a manuscript requesting to be published, to the time the book is printed and distributed. She also taught me how to edit using adobe software where it is much easier to track changes and comments, and ‘chat’ back and forth with the author, within the same document. It has more advanced features than Word. Most of all, I learnt how to write Advanced Information Sheets!

I cannot say enough how insightful every single day was for me.

Work and Play
Na’eemah is easily the best thing that happened to me in South Africa. I can conscientiously say the same about the Kalumba family and my resident hosts (Carol, Nusee, Alucia and Stanley). I lacked for nothing. Na’eemah introduced me to her WHOLE family. They took me to nearly every tourist hotspot in the Western Cape, for free. Had I not been a patriotic Ugandan, I would have mistaken Cape Town to be the real Pearl of Africa! She also introduced me to her own friends who gave me memories that I do not have enough space to detail here. I had a lot of ‘firsts’ with Na’eemah – first time doing sushi, first macaroni and cheese dish, first McDonald’s, sheish! Our fun-and-friendship relationship seemed to be stronger than our work-relationship! I can’t even tell where we drew the line, because we had a lot of fun at work together; munching chocolate at work everyday (there’s lots of white chocolate in S.A.!); her laughing at my fascination at all the new types of foods and fruits she was delighted to show me (cheese is so relatively cheap in Cape Town that I packed a cheese sandwich nearly everyday); sneaking in silent, intimate conversations at work about our lives and countries; taking advantage of free time (and a bit of errands time) for her to show me fancy technology and malls and infrastructure that Uganda is highly lacking in (I hope Boss-lady Colleen isn’t reading this part); and showing me ‘her’ version of Cape Town (too sentimental for me to detail here). Phumi took me ‘shopping’ several times, and drove me along the Muizenberg coast to show me more scenery. Stanley and Alucia’s family were truly my home away from home. They ‘took me in’ as if I was their very own child! (They ‘invited’ me to dinner every night). Caroline treated me as if I had rights to her house. Her own career story inspired me;- it is never too late to study want you want to advance in! This is one of the best things about an internship in another country; that the experience goes beyond just work. I have been able to remain in touch with the friends I made. Na’eemah and I still keep tabs on each other and our progress.

Hardly had I arrived than it was time to leave already. I am still shocked at how the six weeks went by so fast!! I recall only one hour of homesickness the whole time I was in Cape Town. I instead spent the last few days feeling so sad to be leaving!!

On the night before my last work day, Nelson Mandela Madiba died. If anything must be recorded of the story of my life, let this not be missed;- I was there. If anyone is to ask me where I was at such a historical moment when the world mourned this loss, I was right there on South African soil, paying tribute to him at St George’s Cathedral, walking with Na’eemah and Yassin, retracing the walkways and pavements which only a few years before were filled with football fans celebrating the arrival of World Cup to Africa, but which were now filled with mourners failing to contain their emotions. I was there, listening to Na’eemah and Yaseen reminisce over political stories, watching them try to still act like great hosts in the midst of their overwhelming sadness; I was there trying to put on a sad face and mourn with them even when deep inside I was excitedly conjuring up all the stories I would tell back home to brag about how I WAS THERE ! How could I have ever known that someday in my life I would be there?! This is the closest I ever got to such a celebrated history-maker.

On that Friday, 7th December, my last workday, Colleen took Na’eemah and I out for a farewell/end of year staff lunch. I then spent my last weekend dining with Phumi’s family and friends; and doing last minute shopping with Alucia, and packing. Then I bade farewell to her family. Early on Monday morning, Phumi drove me around town with my luggage, tying up more loose ends, and then dropped me at Na’eemah’s home. And I said farewell to Phumi too. Na’eemah’s family took me to more dumbfounding tourist hotspots, and finally to the world-famous Table Mountain. I felt like I was in a great movie. I spent the last night before my departure having my first ever Burger King meal, with Na’eemah and family. On Tuesday, 10th December, I woke at about 0400hrs. Two hours later, Na’eemah, her mum and her dad were driving me to the airport, to have our last breakfast together, and to see me off.

When I left for Uganda, I boarded the plane with a small suitcase of clothes, an even bigger case filled with books and gifts from everyone for my family and friends back at home, a backpack filled with more books and gadgets, and a mind filled with wonderful memories I wanted to re-live.

The Fruits
Now I had to go through the culture shock again of re-settling into Uganda, snobbish as that may sound. But despite the potholes, the rowdy bodabodas, the scarce availability of wi-fi internet, the lack of McDonalds and Burger King franchises,* and the un-affordable cheese prices, home is still sweet home, where I belong. I have been pleasantly surprised to see my internship experience was more fruitful than I thought. Five months down the road, I quit my administrative job in an academic publishing company, and I am now heading the editorial team at non-academic publishing company. I am actively involved in African Writers Trust projects. Most of all, I have experimented with Advanced Information Sheets, and some bookshops are liking the idea! Maybe I can be Uganda’s next Colleen Higgs after all!

Thank you!
I am deeply indebted to the AWT and Modjaji Books and all my hosting families for making this happen. I wish us all much success this year and in future!!

Jabulani means Rejoice

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Yewande Omotoso talks about shortlisting of Bom Boy for the Etisalat prize

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Bom Boy

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Yewande Omotoso’s fabulous Bom Boy on Etisalat prize shortlist

Bom Boy by Yewande OmotosoYewande Omotoso does it again, Bom Boy has been shortlisted for the inaugural Etisalat Prize. My inbox has been pinging with queries from agents, requests for review copies from places as far afield as the UK and Ghana, and the Nigerian press is full of the short-list story. The other two authors and books that are on the list are No Violet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names and Karen Jennings’ Finding Soutbek. The short-list thrills me because all of them are women. And they are all wonderful women. Karen Jennings worked for Modjaji as an intern a couple of years ago, and she is still a firm friend of mine and of Modjaji Books. I would be thrilled if any of the authors won.

I really commend Etisalat and the prize organisers for the way they have thought through the prize, they are taking the three short-listed writers on a three city book tour. The books they are buying are creating distribution pathways within Africa, so that links are built up and the way is paved for future book sales into the sites that are identified.

This is a big deal for Modjaji Books, especially as the prize organisers have decided to, as part of the prize, buy 1000 copies of the three short-listed titles for book clubs, libraries and other institutions all over Africa. Usually only the authors get a prize, and in South Africa, being short-listed or even winning a prize doesn’t necessarily mean that sales shoot up. Sure – you might sell an additional 50 or 100 copies of a ‘literary’ novel, but never 1000 copies.

The Nigerian press has taken up the prize with great gusto, here is a link and here is another. Because of Yewande’s Nigerian origins – she seems to be their favourite.

The Blogosphere has lit up with news of the shortlist too. 9jaFlave has carried the story, and so has Kinnareads. James Murua’s blog features the story too.

Now we wait till the 23rd February, Lagos, to hear who is the winner. But so far, all three authors and their publishers are winners.

Bom Boy

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Extreme summer special offer on all titles for two weeks only

Check out the Modjaji Books website first – click on titles and Hands-On titles to see what is available. Email me if you want to take up any of these offers.

All books are ON SALE for the next two weeks till November 22nd, 2013. (Postage excluded unless you select a package deal)


Novels are R130
Longer Non-Fiction – R150
Shorter Non-Fiction – R100
Short stories – R110
Poetry – R100

3 POETRY titles for R200 (including postage for South African addresses only)
3 SHORT FICTION titles – for R250 (including postage- for South African addresses only)
2 NOVELS for R250 (including postage – for South African addresses only)
2 longer NON-FICTION titles for R250 (excluding postage)
2 shorter NON-FICTION titles for R150 (excluding postage)


Jabulani Means Rejoice – Dictionary of South African Names – R150 (usually R250 in stores) Excl postage.

Small Publisher’s Catalogue: Africa, 2013 – R60 incl postage

New titles:

The Turtle Dove Told Me by Thandi Sliepen R100 incl postage (usual price R150)

Pleasure-in-Relating by Susan Groves (R100 incl postage – usual price R150

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