Category Archives: Ya

YA in SA: YA Lit as Protest, Self-Study and Civil Participation

I was a teenager less than a decade ago so I can’t really say when the shift happened. The paradigm shift that moved the ground beneath us, creating a gulf between my generation and every generation that came before it, making our social lives and our digital lives start to seem like the same thing. Facebook and Twitter only hit South African shores after I’d graduated from high school but the unprecedented penetration of mobile phones changed everything. In Africa, more people have access to mobile phones than to water – Google it.

I remember in eighth grade how my friends and I would ache for the clock to strike 8pm, signalling the start of offpeak call time. We never actually called each other, of course, but we texted as though we were possessed. A text became far cheaper to send after 8pm so on a teenager’s budget it made sense to wait it out until late to share the day’s gossip or flirt with a random boy. We rarely used our phones for anything profound or innovative. But then a new shift came: mobile technology started up an affair with Web 2.0 and some South African teenagers started doing something profound with their phones.

Thousands of them started to wait up until midnight, staring at tiny screens in crowded one-room low-cost housing and informal settlements. They weren’t waiting for cheap texts; they were waiting for cheap books.

South Africa has no shortage of great writers. For a relatively small, developing country, we have an incredible number of internationally acclaimed authors writing everything from hard-hitting investigative journalism to children’s picture books. What we unfortunately don’t have is an equally vibrant and diverse trade publishing industry. Books are prohibitively expensive for the majority of South Africans and usually cost more than a full day’s work at minimum wage. For these and other sad and well-known facts, the vast majority of our teens often don’t read anything beyond their textbooks.

This isn’t to say that they don’t want to though. Which is why FunDza Literary Trust, a non-profit reading promotion agency, is giving them what they want: cheap, easy accessible, quality YA lit. Through its mobi-site and its presence on South African mobile social networking platform MXit, FunDza has brought multilingual YA contemporary fiction, autobiographies, poetry, and even science fiction to local readers. Even better, they’re working with our abundant pool of writing talent to do it – serialising the works of award-winning writers like Tracey Farren, Cynthia Jele, Sarah Lotz and Lauri Kubuitsile so that it’s available on any mobile device, at any time.

Of course, the concept of mobile novels is nothing new – especially if you follow the literary scene in Japan and China. The difference is that in South Africa, reading YA is not just a fun pastime. In the proud tradition of all of our literature, it is also social activism, civil participation, education and, for many, it could be a ticket out of the vicious cycle of poverty. It is just as Dr Seuss said: “The more you read; the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.

South Africa is a big, messy, cultural hotpot; youthful and full of big dreams. Couple that with technological innovation and the immense talent and generosity of our local authors and you get a body of work capable of drawing in young readers from all over Africa and the world.

About Me
Bontle Senne is the Managing Director of the Puku Children’s Literature Foundation (@pukubooks): an organisation trying to bridge the literary and digital divide for Southern African children and young adults. She is 24 and lives in Johannesburg.

YA in SA: the Author Interviews: Lily Herne

Daughter & mother writing team Savannah and Sarah Lotz make up the authorial entity known as Lily Herne – author of Mall Rats a zombie apocalypse YA series set in Cape Town.

1. Would you like to introduce yourselves and the Mall Rats series for those that have not been fortunate enough to discover the excellent Deadlands or Death of a Saint. (I have not yet read DoaS yet but will hunt it down this week)

We’re going to be lazy and steal ace book reviewer and blogger Lauren Smith’s (aka Violin in a Void) summation of the series, as we love it!: Mall Rats is a post-apocalyptic YA zombie series set a decade after the infection hit South Africa during the 2010 World Cup. It follows a group of kick-ass teen rebels who fight against both the zombies and the corrupt government that worships the undead in a twisted theology of resurrection. Deadlands is set in Cape Town, while Death of a Saint explores the rest of SA.

Sarah: I live in Cape Town with a motley crew of rescue animals and as I write full-time from home, I spend the majority of my days dressed in pyjamas and drinking way too much coffee. Even though I’m forty-one, I love anything zombie-related (I haven’t grown up).

Savannah:
I’m about to start my third year of my screenwriting course at the University of East Anglia. In my spare time I’m a closet gamer.

2. Lily Herne is an excellent name, what inspired you to use a pen name for the series?

The general consensus is that unless you’re super-famous, readers can be put off by dual-author names on novels. Plus, we both write other, vastly different work under our own names.

3. Did the two of you have any problems when it came to writing together?

Sarah: Not really. We’re too laidback to bicker, although there was a little spat when Savannah insisted on including a baby hyena in Death of a Saint. Animals can be tricky to write. She got her own way in the end (she usually does). Sav tends to come back to SA during her university holidays in order to write with me, but if we need to write or plan anything when she’s in the UK then we work via Skype or email, which is easier than it sounds.

Savannah: The hardest part for me is not so much the writing but having to share a desk with my mum. She likes to mime out actions while writing so I’ve had my fair share of kicked shins and cold coffee spilt over me.

4. According to rumour, Deadlands is the first zombie novel set in South Africa, is this true?

As far as we know it is. (It’s up to readers to decide if this is a good thing or not though!)

5. I read in the Bookseller that the first two books in the series will be published in the UK in 2013, has the series been picked up anywhere else as yet?

Deadlands will also be coming out as an audio book in the UK and we have had other interest, but nothing signed and sealed yet. When we received the news that Corsair had made an offer for the books we almost exploded with excitement. It’s a huge honour to be picked up by such a respected publisher.

6. Sarah you have written as yourself (Pompidou Posse, Exhibit A & Tooth and Nailed), as half of the horror writing team S.L. Grey (The Mall & The Ward) and now you are also part of Lily Herne, have you ever been confused as to who you are writing as when you set pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) or are you able to keep the writing personalities separate?

Haha – no, I’ve never been confused (at least not in that way!) as the solo novels, the S.L Grey books and the Lily Herne collaboration are all so different. I’m fortunate enough to be able to write full-time and I prefer to work on two projects at once. I’m not sure why, I think I must be slightly schizophrenic.

7. What is your favourite part of the writing process?

Sarah: I love the planning and plotting stage of a new book. Starting a new work is simultaneously scary and exhilarating as I really get a kick out of discussing character motivations, plot ideas, settings etc. I can blather on for hours about the tiniest detail, which drives Savannah and my co-writer on the S.L. Grey novels, Louis Greenberg, crazy. After that, I enjoy the actual writing. My stories and novels never turn out as I initially think they will, so the process is always surprising and never dull.

Savannah: I really enjoy the first few weeks after the plotting process. Just before the panic of meeting our deadlines sets in, our plots always take surprising turns and we can end up staying up most of the night trying to work out new twists. There is a certain amount of adrenaline involved during the week before a deadline, which I get a weird kick out of.


8. The SA YA writing pool seems to be incredibly small, can you recommend other SA authors that you enjoy reading? (I currently have you, S.A. Partridge, Cat Hellisen and Michael Williams as well as Liz Davis from Namibia)

The excellent Sally (Partridge) nailed this one in her interview with you – and we second all her recommendations: Lauri Kubitsile is incredibly talented, versatile and prolific; Cat Hellisen’s When the Sea is Rising Red is a phenomenal novel, we adore Edyth Bulbring’s hilarious Melly novels and we couldn’t put Adeline Radloff’s Sidekick or Alex Smith’s Agency Blue down. One to look out for next year is Charlie Human’s soon-to-be internationally published Apocalypse Now Now, a stunning, scathingly witty debut (it’s not strictly YA although it does have a teen protagonist).

9. What can we expect from Lily Herne after The Mall Rats series comes to an end?

We are currently discussing which of our ideas we want to write next – it will probably be a creepy spec novel called The Way Station, but we can’t say too much about it in case we change our minds!

You can find Lily Herne on Twitter: https://twitter.com/herne13

and on facebook: www.facebook.com/lily.herne

YA in SA: Interview with Cat Hellisen

Credit Nerine and Thomas Dorman

1. Hi Cat, until Joe at Something Wicked suggested you I must admit that you had not popped up on my radar, would you care to introduce yourself to readers that may know your book but not you and for those that are meeting you (virtually) for the first time?

Hi Matt, thanks for getting hold of me (and thanks Joe for the props). I live in Muizenberg, which is a village-by-the-sea inside a bigger village by the sea, basically. I grew up in Cape Town and Johannesburg, so while I write secondary world fantasy, being South African definitely influences my writing. I’m a huge music fan, and occasionally I like to torture my family and animals by playing the ukulele at them.

2. When the Sea is Rising Red your first novel is a fantasy laced with magic, vampires, young love, rebellion and a steep divide between the rich and poor. Have you always been a fan of fantasy literature?

Very much so. My earliest reading memories are of being engrossed in my Story Tellers, which were a series of tapes and magazines with stories that ranged from traditional fairy tales to poetry and various other weird and wonderful things. I think a lot of children’s literature is perfectly okay with the fantastical, and it’s only when we venture into the adult section that the battle lines are more clearly drawn. These days I’m very easily bored by a lot of fantasy. I like stuff that plays with tropes, or language, or brings new ideas to the genre.

3. Do you think that inserting social issues into novels (addressing social issues and the divides between rich and poor) helps readers identify more closely with the characters?

I have no idea. I think that in paranormal and fantasy YA there’s been a trend to make the main characters as one-dimensional and non-threatening as possible, perhaps to make it easier for readers to slip themselves into the story – the character is nothing more than a place holder. I find that insulting to most readers and I don’t enjoy books like that. I prefer stories that give me characters with meat and bones and flaws and failures – something that contemporary YA currently seems to do better. Social issues are perhaps a part of filling out the dimensions of character, but not if they feel tacked on or extraneous to the story.

Some of my favourite recent YA has done interesting things with character and society: Chime – Franny Billingsley; Slice of Cherry – Dia Reeves; Shadows Cast By Stars – Catherine Knutsson, and Above – Leah Bobet.

I can’t speak for how anyone else writes, but for myself I like to write characters who feel real, and that sometimes means not entirely likeable.

4. Who were your favourite writers when you were a YA reader (and were you a reader as a teen)?

I read voraciously as a teen, but mostly from the adult section. It’s only now as an adult I find myself reading more YA. Probably because a lot of what used to get shelved as fantasy or urban fantasy is being marketed towards teens now, and possibly because there’s simply more variety in teen-lit these days. My favourite authors as a teen were David Gemmel, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Diana Wynne Jones and Gene Wolfe.

5. When the Sea is Rising Red was published in New York by Farrar Straus Giroux (a Macmillan imprint) – how did you bypass local publishers and end up with an international deal?

When I first began querying my (unpublished) novels, there were no publishers in South Africa (and I think it’s still the case) who dealt with fantasy. It wasn’t so much that I bypassed them as I had to look overseas to find an agent and a publisher. I spent a lot of time hanging around on the Absolute Write forums, where I learned a great deal from publishing people who are way smarter and more experienced than me, and then I began querying. And carried on. And carried on. And kept writing. (A good thing because those early books are too awful to contemplate.)

6. Do you ever visit schools or libraries in South Africa and have you considered Skype visits for international virtual visits and if you answer yes to either of those questions what is the best way to get into contact with you to arrange visits?

I haven’t visited any schools. I’m weirded out by the idea because I don’t really know what I could possibly say that isn’t some variation of – “the info is out there, learn, and prepare to grit your teeth and keep going in the face of failure.” I believe I’m supposed to be doing some virtual book tour thing in the near future along with some fantastic YA writers, but details are a little hazy at this point.

7. What influenced your decision to write for teen readers?

I don’t really think I write for teen readers specifically, more that I wrote a book that could be marketed towards the YA audience. I write what I like to read, and then it gets labelled to sell. Hah, that sounds horribly cynical, but really, I just write stories, I don’t usually have a particular audience in mind.

8. What is your favourite part of the writing process?

When I read something months later, and am pleasantly surprised by the bits I enjoy.

9. The SA YA writing pool seems to be incredibly small, can you recommend other SA authors that you enjoy reading? (I currently have you, S.A. Partridge, Lily Herne and Michael Williams as well as Liz Davis from Namibia)

S.A. Partridge is much better at this than I am. Heh. Most of the YA writers here concentrate on contemporary, and I’m mainly a fantasy reader. I’m sure that there are fantasy YA writers out there in SA, I just don’t think I know of any off-hand. Sadly.

10. Are you currently working on anything new or do you have anything planned for the near future?

I’ve a couple of books on sub to editors at the moment; a scary enough thing in itself. To distract me from that I’m working on a very dark little children’s book and another story.

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions

It was my pleasure 😀 Thanks for inviting me to be a part of your YA in SA series.

You can find Cat online at her website www.cathellisen.com/

or on Twitter at twitter.com/hellioncat

Mondays are Murder: The Long Weekend by Savita Kalhan

Sam knows that he and his friend Lloyd made a colossal mistake when they accepted the ride home.

They have ended up in a dark mansion in the middle of nowhere with man who means to harm them. But Sam doesn’t know how to get them out.

They were trapped, then separated.

Now they are alone.

Will either of them get out alive?
I may have to speak to my lawyer!  Savita Kalhan has TRAUMATISED me!  She lured me in with the offer of a free (signed) copy on twitter and fool that I am I took her up on it .  
 When it arrived I looked at it and thought oooh! Pretty and creepy!  So very creepy-looking!
The Long Weekend is a fairly short book – 180 pages in length – oh good I thought!  Quick and easy – I need a book like that!

Then I made the mistake of reading it! 

It is quite possibly one of the most gripping abduction, escape and chase novels for young people that I have ever read!  The prose is very tight, there is not an inch of wasted text!
Sam is an amazing hero, he is a smart kid but he is just 11 years of age – same age as my nephew and sounds like him a bit as well! 
He realises that he is no Alex Rider as he engages in a terror filled game of cat and mouse in and around the house where he and his friend are trapped. There are no heroics, just a desperate struggle to stay hidden to remain alive.
I loved The Long Weekend it left me breathless – there were several sections where I discovered that I was holding my breath waiting for something terrible to happen. The building sense of dread compelled me to keep reading and as the book neared its end I realised that I had no idea what was going to happen, I had a sick sense of horror in my stomach as the page count diminished and I can honestly say that I was kept guessing until the very end.
It has probably been said before that this story is every parent or guardian’s worst nightmare!
I still feel twitchy even now, I have put the book on my shelf where it is safely away from me!  I fear that I may have nightmares about the worst that humanity has to offer and a little boy who wants to go home.
Five stars for a riveting story!

The fact that I finished The Long Weekend at the end of another long weekend is fitting and totally unintentional.

Many thanks to Savita for the book – it has a special place on my bookshelf of awesome YA books.

The Girl Who Was on FIre

Sarah Rees Brennan asks: Why are readers so hungry for the Hunger Games?
Carrie Ryan looks at how the Gamemakers shape the truth for television.
Jennifer Lynn Barnes rejects both sides of the series’ love triangle and declares herself Team Katniss.
Does real-life media training look anything like Katniss’?  Ned Vizzini says yes.

Who holds the real power in Panem

Trauma and recovery among Hunger Games survivors

Muttations in the real world

What the rebellion has in common with the War on Terror

The Girl Who Was on Fire answers lingering questions, provides new points of view, and will remind every Hunger Games fan why they love the series in the first place.

Having read The Hunger Games trilogy twice I was getting itchy to return to Panem for a third time when I heard that they were making a movie.  My heart leapt for joy as I have a fondness for dystopias.  My heart was still go-going in my chest when I bumped into a competition being run by Smart Pop Books – pay them a visit – they have some amazing things on their site!

Anyway to cut a long story short I won a copy of The Girl Who Was on Fire, which is a collection of essays by some of the best and brightest YA authors. They are (in no particular order): Leah Wilson, Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Mary Borsellino, Elizabeth M. Rees, Lili Wilkinson, Ned Vizzini, Carrie Ryan, Cara Lockwood, Terri Clark, Blythe Woolston, Sarah Darer Littman, Adrienne Kress, Bree Despain

Reviewing a collection of essays is not the easiest thing in the world, with a novel you can give a brief synopsis and write about the story structure, characters and all the good stuff the story holds but in such a way so as not to give it all away and make the review reader want to go out and buy or at the very least borrow the book.

It is slightly more complicated with an essay collection (at least for me).  SO I will just say that the essays are witty, thought-provoking, deep and above-all readable.  They can be used for personal enjoyment but also for group discussion and sharing.

The blurb on the back cover says it perfectly:

In The Girl Who Was on Fire, thirteen YA authors take you back to Panem with moving, dark, and funny pieces on Katniss, the Games, Gale and Peeta, reality TV, survival, and more.

Go on!  Grab a copy! join some of the best-known authors of YA fiction (and maybe even discover some new ones) and be taken back into Panem and The Hunger Games.

A book for everyone who is, was or has ever wondered what it is like to be a 15 year old boy!

One seriously messed up week…

… in the Otherwise Mundane & Uneventful Life of Sam Taylor JACK SAMSONITE

Our hero? 
Jack Samsonite
His mission?
1.  pass his GCSEs
2.  get the girl (to notice he exists)
3.  survive the week without a serious face punching 
 Good thing he’s got a plan. Well, half a plan… 

One seriously messed-up week in the otherwise mundane & uneventful life of Jack Samsonite is being billed as a cross between Adrian Mole meets The Inbetweeners. It is also the only book I have had to stop reading on the underground as I was laughing too much in between cringing at the memories of my teenage years it was dredging up. I am seriously in awe of Tom Clempson, the man is a genius with the pen!  He has captured the awkwardness and uncertainty of being a teenage boy perfectly, combining crudity, romance, confusion, lust, friendship and the desire to get through the day without being bullied into the package of Jack Samsonite.

Warts and all protagonists of the male variety appear to be rare in YA fiction, it started with Adrian Mole in the ’80’s and then there was not much.  It is quite possible that we are witnessiong hte birth of a new trend in YA fiction.  The story is told in the form of a diary written as a school project. It begins with an introduction which was written at the end of the week, so I knew where Jack ended up but as someone once said “Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity, but in doing it!”

The story starts on a Monday – with nob ache. Which, if I remember my teen years correctly, (and believe me there is not a man alive that does not – no matter what we may say. We remember every embarrassing moment clearly) is how many days start for boys in their teens. 
Read this book, gain some insight into the mind of a teenage boy and perhaps you will even sympathise with them the next time one of them really pisses you off for just being a teenI read it and loved it (unconditionally) for the laughs, the angst and the cringe-worthy memories it evoked. I was Jack without being cool but then most of us were in those days.