Wednesday, October 28, 2009

[Interview] Ulysses Chuka Kibuuka

Ugandan writer, Ulysses Chuka Kibuuka has written and published three books: a thriller, For the Fairest (Fountain Publishers, 1991); a collection of short stories, Pale Souls Abroad (Fountain Publishers, 2004); and a novel, Saints and Scarecrows (Fountain Publishers, 2007).

His first novel, For the Fairest, won the 1993 Uganda Publishers and Booksellers Association (UPABA) Award for best fiction and was reviewed by The New Vision and Radio Uganda, among others.

In this interview, Ulysses Kibuuka talks about religion, writing and the state of publishing in Uganda:

When did you start writing?

I started writing when I was a kid in p4 (Uganda) but first got published 1991 even though I had written For the Fairest in 1980.

Uganda had a real hell of a time and education and all that goes with it went to the dogs -- hence the deficit in publishers or enthusiasts. The difference is not much today -- not in terms of security but in terms of respect for literature, writing, etc.

With the coming of the current administration into state power -- I was part of the guerrilla detail that captured the city Kampala and still serve in the armed forces aged 56! -- it was relatively easy to get a publisher. Fountain Publishers are new having began in 1990. I am their first (fiction) published writer.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

The challenges a writer in Uganda must face are poverty -- inability to afford paper or, worse still, a computer. The worst is that our publishers, very well and perhaps rightly knowing the difficulty in marketing fiction, only encourage us to write as long as we don't expect them to handle our manuscripts with any iota of urgency.

I wrote Fairest in 1981 and only got it published in 1991 after a lot of beseeching and cajoling the publishers. I am sure the print run of nearly 2,000 copies isn't sold out so many years down the road!

Who is your target audience?

I never targeted any specific audience. All readers of books were in my mind as I penned down my words.

I -- wrongly, of course -- believed there were many readers in Uganda and that there was money to be made from writing a thriller.

Because I loved what I wrote, I believe it would be loved by everybody, it was almost as if I expected them to know my book was sweet even before they opened it!

Who influenced you most?

I was influenced by early books I read as a child in primary school.

Henry Rider Haggard's Montezuma's Daughter, The Black Arrow and Treasure Island by R. L. Stevenson, Typee by Herman Melville and much later Alistair MacLean's and Mickey Spillane's thrillers helped sharpen my whodunit sense of the thriller.

MacLean greatly influenced my Fairest.

Have your personal experiences influenced your writing in any way?

Yes, my personal experiences can be found in much of my writing. Some I've been unable to conceal!

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My concerns as a writer are plenty. I hate organised religion, for instance, and know Africa might never get over the damage these 'faiths' have done to our spiritual and even moral fibre(s). In Saints and Scarecrows, I vent my anger at this and give my reasons which I am 100% sure nobody can dispute to win over me.

I am motivated to write by looking at all the wrongs we as man do fellow man unnecessarily. I see apartheid practiced amongst us Africans in extents nearly, if not as bad, as the Boers did in South Africa.

Do you write everyday?

I don't write everyday. I even spend months without noting down anything. The reasons for this are many but one of them is that I've been disillusioned with writing.

However, I have more than 20 books projected in my head! Writers' block? Maybe.

I want to try my hand at screenplay writing. There is money there.

How would you describe your latest book?

My latest (last) book is Of Saints and Scarecrows which came out in 2001.

I always find it easy to write on the subjects I choose. Of course, I put in a lot of research. I don't see any aspects of my book(s) that I don't find enjoyable.

My last book is a novel that touches on carnal love between a Ugandan Muslim trader and a Munyarwanda (Rwandan) Catholic nun exiled in Uganda. I can say I started that book two decades before the Rwanda genocide, but I cannot prove that I predicted most of the causes since my publishers only accepted it long after the horrors.

If you do decide to continue writing, what will your next book be about?

I have projected four novels. One is to be titled The Dekabusa Autopsy and is a thriller involving a Ugandan secret agent operating in Nairobi who uncovers a plot by a group of post-apartheid South African supremacists who want to use East African politicians to bring back a sort of colonial rule.

The second novel, Flight of the Termites takes place during the last days in power of Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada. The war that ousts him starts in Tanzania and enters southern Uganda. In a southern Ugandan town, an Arab man has left behind nearly a ton of gold and several precious stones. He hires an Idi Amin army deserter to collect together a number of men to pick this stuff from the deep south and bring it to Kampala before it crumbles...

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Related Interview:
[Interview] Gisela Hoyle, author of 'The White Kudu', Conversations with Writers, October 3, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

[Interview: Part 2 of 2] Dave and Lillian Brummet

In the first part of this interview, Dave Brummet talked, among other things, about how most writers today are also having to play a bigger role in promoting and marketing the work that they are producing.

Lillian Brummet now gives her views on the work she and Dave are doing. Together they have written and published two "how-to" books, Purple Snowflake Marketing: How to make your book stand out in a crowd (2nd edition, BookLocker, 2009) and Trash Talk: Learn how you can impact the planet (PublishAmerica, 2004) as well as Towards Understanding (PublishAmerica, 2005) a collection of 120 poems on society, the environment and overcoming trauma.

They also host two online radio programmes, Conscious Discussions talk radio show and Authors Read radio program.

How would you describe your writing?

I began with the Trash Talk column because I really believe in the individual’s power to impact the health of the planet with really simple actions. The success of this column, and later the book that Dave and I wrote, was the fuel that got us going on the road we are traveling now.

For me, writing is about leading others by showing them just how easy it is to create a more peaceful, healthy world. Each of us has a legacy to leave behind and we already have the tools to do it, what we need is some inspiring, positive information that will urge us to get out of the rut of apathy and become more proactive in life. That is my passion, when it comes to writing. Our first two published books and most of our articles reflect this passion. The most recent book is a slight diversion from this focus in that we have provided a marketing plan development guide for fellow authors.

When you were thinking about Purple Snowflake Marketing, which authors would you say had the most influenced you?

Initially it was conversations on writer’s forums that got us thinking about releasing a book like Purple Snowflake Marketing. People were constantly asking us questions on how we were able to build the name recognition we have and how to go about each step of the marketing process.

As book reviewers and self-education enthusiasts we had ready access to writer’s resource materials, and from this we saw several areas that were really lacking in providing the key skills that help a writer develop a plan that suits their particular situation. We made note of any area we felt was lacking in other resource materials and made a great effort to create a well-rounded resource for writers, one they can use indefinitely to promote each piece they create.

We cover emotions, writer’s block and even how to handle the responses from the family and friends in our lives. Every writer we’ve ever met, either in person or Online, has been an influence in this regard.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Time management is a real biggie for me. There is always so much to do. Someone wants a banner ad, another radio show needs a promo ad, there’s guests to book on the radio show and outlines for their interviews to create… writing the column for Poetic Monthly Magazine, and articles for newsletters or blogs… emails popping in every few minutes for an interview, or networking opportunity.

Keeping records of all of this and making sure that everyone has been followed up on, while finding new contacts, new opportunities to reach an audience that has not yet heard of our work -- this can eat up a lot of time.

Part of the struggle is keeping up with the new technologies, each of these takes a little time to become accustomed to.

New book releases are the most time-constraining for writers, we need to find patience through this busy time and know that there will be time for writing again soon enough. Besides being patient, keeping good records is essential to ensuring nothing is left behind along the way.

How many books have you written so far?

To date we have three books available to the public.

Trash Talk discusses the 4-R’s of waste management and the proper order for them. This being Refuse, Reduce, Reuse Then Recycle… before we even consider sending the item to the trash bin. Trash Talk focuses on the third R, Reuse – which also saves people a lot of money (through reduced shopping, reduced utility bills...) and provides a way to make a real and measurable contribution towards a healthier planet - enabling readers to feel more positive in life and leave a lasting legacy. Trash Talk is currently available in both paperback & hardcover formats.

Towards Understanding’s revised edition is a collection of 125 non-fiction poems written in chronological order. It is a true story of a young pre-teen female growing up on her own, struggling to survive, breaking the chains of inner demons and finally growing towards understanding of her value & purpose in life -- but not quite reaching it. Thus the title… Towards Understanding.

The original version of this book is still available in paperback & hardcover. This new revised edition offers 5 new poems, creating an ending the author is more comfortable with, and updated author information – and is available through booklocker.com.

Purple Snowflake Marketing: How to make your book stand out in a crowd, is a reference guide for self-marketing authors who want to be noticed in a snowstorm of writers. This book provides reassurance to authors along with ample advice for avoiding pit-falls and setting a pace for marketing endeavors.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into Purple Snowflake Marketing?

I turn to Dave (she laughs). It is true! You see -- the benefit of our working relationship is his skills take over where mine falter, my abilities rise where his are not so strong, his talents shine where mine are listless. When he is feeling tired, I take over -- and vise-versa. I don’t think there is one thing that our office produces that hasn’t had both of us working on it in some way -- whether or not both our names are in the by-line.

What sets the book apart from the other things you've written?

Purple Snowflake Marketing, although it is a self-help, how-to book -- it is quite different from the other products we’ve produced in the past. This is a book geared for a specific audience -- writers… rather then a general audience of individuals looking for inspiration.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Getting published (she grins)! Winning all these amazing awards is pretty cool, all the acknowledgments from leading environmental and writer-education organizations continues to be a huge honor -- getting thanked by the Premier of BC for our environmental efforts was really amazing. But honestly when you strip all this away, the real addiction to this drug we call writing is the fact that it offers both Dave and I an avenue to leave a real legacy behind.

Now, let me clarify here that I don’t mean having our name in print and being ‘known’ or famous. When I say the word legacy I mean this -- answering questions like: Why we exist in this moment… What is the value of our life… How did this world benefit from our existence? These are the questions we hope to answer through our writing.

Possibly related books:

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Related resources:

Monday, October 19, 2009

[Interview: Part 1 of 2] Dave and Lillian Brummet

Canadian authors, Dave and Lillian Brummet have written and published two "how-to" books, Purple Snowflake Marketing: How to make your book stand out in a crowd (2nd edition, BookLocker, 2009) and Trash Talk: Learn how you can impact the planet (PublishAmerica, 2004) as well as Towards Understanding (PublishAmerica, 2005) a collection of 120 poems on society, the environment and overcoming trauma.

In addition to writing, the Brummets host two online radio programmes, Conscious Discussions talk radio show and Authors Read radio program.

In this, the first of two interviews, Dave Brummet talks about the work they are doing:

When did you start writing?

I’ve been writing all my life.

I decided to become published around 1999 after taking a writing course and learning, most importantly, how to present one's self to a publisher. I just felt that writing was my calling and wanted to “follow my bliss” (from Joseph Campbell) -- so to speak. I also educated myself on the business and politics side of writing in order to query in a professional manner.

Who is your target audience?

Our target audience, with Purple Snowflake Marketing, is any writer -- because every writer needs the knowledge to be able to promote their work.

These days, as a writer, publishing companies expect authors to be willing to market themselves and their work, often with their own resources. We realized that there is a huge void in the information available for us, as writers, to do this.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

Because we like to write about the things we love in life, for example gardening, cooking and outdoor recreation, these experiences become a part of each and every story. Even if it is a how-to article, I try to relay through the writing how I learned myself, as a first-timer, thus connecting with the reader.

I tend to write as if I am speaking to a person, often with some humor, rather than a textbook dictation-like approach. This seems to come across as more reader-friendly this way.

Do you write everyday?

Ideally I would like to write everyday but unfortunately editing, graphics, web maintenance, ads, radio promos, voiceovers, interviews (he laughs)… and life in general all have to maintain a balance as well.

When I do write I begin with outlines and well-thought out plans, I then extrapolate from there and size the article accordingly to the specified word count.

After the initial writing, an article or a book will need edits (often over and over) and the writers must take the time to get away and let their minds recover -- to come back to a piece fresh and proofread it.

At some point you have to stop editing because, with our ever-flexible English language, you could go on for forever. You need to trust in your talent and believe that it is going to be good enough for your market.

How would you describe your latest book?

Purple Snowflake Marketing: How to make your book stand out in a crowd, is our most recent release. The first edition was put out in 2007 and within 18 short months it had made the recommended reading list of a dozen writing courses.

We’ve created this new revised edition with updated information, hundreds of new resources and several new sections -- which is now available through booklocker.com We compiled it from our own market plans for our articles and books, which started back in 2004 with our first book Trash Talk.

We chose to create this project as an e-book specifically because writers are already at their computers and they benefit from the live links that link them to promotional opportunities and well-researched resources with the click of a mouse.

Which aspects of your work do you enjoy most?

I like the creative process of writing -- crafting a sentence out of nothing in order to convey what you want the reader to get out of the piece. To me this is the true art of writing, the reason why I got into it at first… this creative aspect of writing.

I also now enjoying the graphics and creative design of book covers, bookmarks, ads, business cards, radio promotion blurbs -- everything a writer needs to promote. I love the fact that we have more control and save a lot of money by doing this in-house. Graphic design work is not cheap.

What will your next book be about?

We have a series of garden, cookbook, animal rescue and landscaping books that we are currently working on.

As a musician and a drum-maker, I also have plans to share my years of knowledge and experience in these rather unique fields. I’ve repaired and refurbished a wide variety of instruments, built drums and taught students for 25 years -- this has given me a unique insight into the trade that I feel is worth sharing with readers.

Which one is next is a good question!

Related resources:
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Saturday, October 3, 2009

[Interview] Gisela Hoyle

Poet and novelist Gisela Hoyle was born in Barkly-West, in the Northern Cape of South Africa.

She attended Kimberley Girls High School and graduated with an MA in English from Rhodes University.

She taught at Rhodes University and then at various schools in South Africa. Currently, she lives and works in the UK.

The White Kudu (Picnic Publishing, 2010) is her first novel.

In this interview, Gisela Hoyle talks about her writing:

When did you start writing?

I have been writing since I was a child -- mostly poetry and mostly for occasions in the family or at school (I am a teacher).

I decided to get published about 18 months ago now -- because I had written my first complete novel, The White Kudu.

I took my manuscript to a Writers’ Clinic, where it was positively received, and I got some good advice on how to approach publishers; which I did.

How would you describe your writing?

Well I don’t think I’m a genre writer. I just write and let other people put it into categories.

The White Kudu has been described as both an Indiana Jones type of adventure story and a literary novel. I suppose this is because the plot follows this young geologist and his discoveries. These lead him to the local mythology -- which is what always seems to happen to Indiana Jones; and then the literary side, I suppose, has come from readers finding several layers of meaning in it, and perhaps the way it is written, I’m not sure. Also, because it is a story about stories and the role of narrative in defining identities, in the interaction between people and places.

Who is your target audience?

I don’t really write with a particular audience in mind -- I think ‘audiences’ are commercial categories for publishers, rather than real people. I’d like to think my writing would appeal to those -- of any age or gender or nationality.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

Writing about South Africa’s past is a challenge. I want to do that compassionately and truthfully.

South Africa’s past (and present still) was fraught with conflict and violence -- brought on by deliberate injustice. There are so many stories and versions of stories and they each will have some element of truth, but they will each also be utterly subjective and almost inevitably biased.

When I was growing up there, everything you said, the most ordinary daily details -- like what you had for breakfast -- were politicised; placed you in a camp, somehow. It was extraordinarily tense and loaded. So, how can one speak about it clearly, fairly, objectively? I think this is what the Truth and Reconciliation Hearings were trying to address -- speaking about such a past is always a risk: it risks being unfair, it risks being misunderstood and yet if there is to be a future, it must be done and done in a spirit of reconciliation. It was abused, of course it was, but it was an astonishingly brave thing, too.

For me, writing about it now, from another country means risking rose-coloured spectacles and nostalgia on the one hand, and dramatisation on the other; both of which will skew the real, the human story. I have tried to focus on individuals within such a situation of strong group identification and the resulting violence -- what does it mean to live your life, and live it decently, in such a world?

In the writing you are doing, which authors influenced you most?

Probably mostly South African authors, such as Marguerite Poland, Andre Brink and Etienne van Heerden, who all share an interest I think in the mythology of South Africa and the relationship of various people (coloniser and native, missionary, shaman and farmer) to the land and the landscape.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

Well, The White Kudu is set in the place where I grew up: a farm in the Northern Cape of South Africa. The place is a mission farm in an area, where land ownership was deeply contested -- and the questions of who the land belongs to, whether it can belong to anyone ; or whether it is not rather a question of people belonging to the land have always interested me. Also because of my own hybrid nationality. The time is the mid to late 90s -- so early post-Apartheid South Africa.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

I am interested in language: its role in defining our identities and how that works in multi-cultural or more specifically hybrid societies.

It is, I think, especially through stories that we achieve an understanding of ourselves and our societies. So The White Kudu is really a novel about stories -- their power over us, their beauty and their danger. But also their power to connect people and to help with understanding history.

You make reference to "hybrid nationality” and "hybrid societies". What do you mean by this?

I mean people and societies which are not defined by a single culture and that have been so for a time long enough to feel that they belong to both -- so, more than just multi-cultural.

I grew up in a German-speaking family with very close ties to Germany, as my parents worked for the Berlin Mission Society; but I also grew up in South Africa, went to South African schools, am ‘at home’ in South Africa. I belong to both. I think it is best expressed by a kind of ‘both and’; rather than ‘either/or’ approach to life -- it is always looking from two angles at once, and being OK with that.

Do you write every day?

I do try to write every day -- this is not always possible, especially during very busy times of term.

I get up early and write between 4 and 6 o’clock in the morning -- before school or anyone else in the family is even up. I love the quietness of that time.

I simply made a decision that a day in which I have not written is a day wasted and so I get up make a cup of tea and write.

At times I set myself a word target or just aim to get a certain scene or poem written. It ends because the rest of the day starts and I have to get to work.

How many books have you written so far?

The White Kudu is my first novel to be published.

It is the story of a young geologist, who is posted to a farm in the fairly remote rural area of the Northern Cape. He encounters there the legend of a white kudu as well as the story of his predecessor’s scandal. During his search for mineral wealth he uncovers an ancient skeleton, which adds another dimension the land claims battle raging in the area at the same time.

How did you choose a publisher for the book?

I chose Picnic Publishers because they stated very clearly that they were interested in the writing, the story or the poetry and not in the biography of the author. It is a small independent publisher, which is great as one stays far more involved in the entire process of publishing than I imagine one would with a bigger publisher.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work that you put into the book?

There is quite a lot of anthropology in the novel -- that was an interesting challenge to work into the story. It was important for understanding the resolution, but it is not the sort of conversation people outside universities have much. So, I needed not to get too involved in that -- but it was very tempting, because it is so interesting.

What did you enjoy most?

I really enjoyed ‘reliving’ many of the stories of my childhood -- also doing the research on them and finding them to be a part of the authentic mythology of San people of South Africa. So the most difficult was also the most enjoyable, really.

What sets The White Kudu apart from other things you've written?

The strong mythological content makes it very different to many other books. The only other work I published is poetry, so as a novel it is very different. As a story it is also very closely linked to very specific places in the world -- poetry is not like that, or my poetry is not.

In what way is it similar?

The interest in language, in the power of naming things is present in all my work and the power language has to make connections: between people and the place in which they live, between people. The way shared language can create a sense of belonging -- but also the power of language to confuse and alienate.

Questions around who owns the land and who the land belongs to are contentious in many parts of Africa. Do you see a time when these questions will be resolved?

Yes, land ownership is very contentious, because it goes to the heart of the injustice of South Africa’s existence. When I was growing up, it was something constantly looming over our lives. The Nationalist government at the time did not trust the Berlin Mission at all and were constantly threatening to appropriate the land. So I grew up knowing that ‘home’ did not belong to us -- we were outsiders, from all sectors of South African society, but that did not prevent the feeling of belonging to the place. And I think that is perhaps a useful distinction: people belonging to the land and the land belonging to people.

People, for various reasons, have a right to live in a certain land: politically in South Africa the white farmers as a group had no right, because they had come by that land unjustly. But then, when you consider a farmer individually, who has worked the land, has got to know the land, has loved the land and taken care of it, perhaps even suffered for it -- what does that mean for ownership?

On the other hand, there are traditional claims to land ownership, there are blood-ties to land -- and the facts of stealing and war and conquest in history remain, too.

The farm I grew up on had been ‘given’ by the queen to the Mission Society as a refuge for those Black people, who had become Christian and were being persecuted by their people for it. So it occupies an interesting, ambiguous place in that history: it was both taken from the people but also being used for the people. The descendants of these communities still live there and the process of establishing their ownership of it is underway.

I have no answer to these problems but think that if history is so intractable, why can we not think about it practically -- what would be best for the land? I do not think that individual people owning an unworkably tiny piece of land as restitution for the past is a practical solution or is even fair in any real sense of the word.

The more I think about it, the more I find the concept of owning a piece of the earth strange. Perhaps we should only own time on the land, rather than the land itself?

What will your next book be about?

My next book is a coming of age story. It is also set in South Africa, but in the Knysna Forest in the Western Cape and further back in time -- still in the Apartheid era.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

I think it is very much too early to tell.

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Related Interview:
[Interview] Jason Blacker, author of "Black Dog Bleeding", Conversations with Writers, September 30, 2009