Where did your love of books and storytelling come from?
I grew up under difficult conditions and books were the place where I found comfort. You could live any life you chose inside the pages of a book and for me that was wonderful. Writing came very late in my life, when I was just turning 40, and really it's just an extension of my love of books and stories.
What was your favourite book growing up?
The first books I loved were Dr Seuss. I remember being quite small and desperately wanting to read. I didn't have adults around who could read to me and I used to sit with picture books and look at the black squiggly lines at the bottom and wish somehow I could figure it all out on my own. Learning to read was incredible, it was as if I was given the keys to the world. But then in class I was devastated to find such boring books. It was crushing to think that for so long I wanted to decipher those squiggly lines and this is what they said! But then I found Dr Seuss in the school library and I realised there were books- and then there were BOOKS! I was captivated. I remember reading The Cat in the Hat and thinking –"This is what I've been waiting for!".
Can you tell us about the first piece of writing you ever had published?
It's a bit difficult to say because I owned a small newspaper for about ten years and had lots of things published there. The first really important piece of writing that got some recognition outside of Botswana and made me feel that perhaps I could make a go at being a writer was a story I wrote called A Pot Full of Tears. It was short, I think about 600 words, and I sent it in for the old Commonwealth Broadcasting Association short story contest. It was shortlisted and was recorded on a CD by an actor and then it was published in a few anthologies. It was very exciting and validating.
|The Mechanic's Son. Artwork by Peter Sheehan|
What are some of the challenges you face as a writer?
The biggest challenge being a writer in Botswana, and even in Southern Africa since many of my books are published in South Africa, is that the book buying public is small. It's difficult, actually nearly impossible, to make a living by writing books that are sold through bookstores. I'm a little bit lucky at the moment since some of my books are chosen to be read in schools in Botswana and South Africa. Without that I would have to have a day job to survive.
When coming up with new story ideas, do you tend to think about plot or character first?
It really depends on the story, but it's more likely to be plot first. I'm a big plotter. I think a story is exciting if it has tension and tension is created by good plotting. Of course you must also have believable complex characters too otherwise the plot will fall flat.
Do you seek feedback from anyone while you're writing?
I have a few good writing friends and we discuss our projects with each other. We also occasionally share our work with each other and help each other to improve on what we've done. That's important since being a full time writer can be quite a lonely business.
Can you tell us what you're working on right now?
Well, as is usually the case, I'm working on a few things. I'm writing a few books for a UK publisher for a new international early reading programme that I'm quite excited about.
Also, I currently love historical fiction. I'm shopping around to publishers a novel I've been working on for nearly three years about the war between the Germans and Herero people in Namibia in 1904 told through the stories of three people.
When I was doing research for that novel, I stumbled across an interesting case from 1882 in Botswana. It's a witchcraft case and I'm just starting work on a novel around that case. I've been reading a lot, trying to collect the facts. It is difficult since Botswana's history can be quite patchy. Yesterday I went off on a research trip for the day which was interesting. I'm getting excited to start working on the rough draft for that novel and suspect it will keep me busy for some time.