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Liesl Jobson

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Ride the Tortoise steps out on The Next Big Thing

A sage friend with 30 years’ publishing experience sat me down recently, just as Ride the Tortoise was about to hatch. She reminded me of my staggering good fortune: getting a book published in this day and age is a big deal. “It comes with responsibility,” she said in a tone that brooked no shilly-shallying.

“Your job is to promote your own book… to sell it,” she said, shuddering as she recalled me giving away all my author’s copies of 100 Papers. “You don’t write for love, do you?” I blinked. The question wasn’t rhetorical.

“Times have never been tighter; marketing budgets have shrunk to invisibility.” Barely suppressing a wagging finger, she cautioned: “If you do not endeavour to publicise Ride the Tortoise with every recalcitrant fibre of your being, it will drop like a stone down a well, never to be seen again!”

Strong words indeed. Suffice it to say that being tagged in The Next Big Thing by the American poet, professor, and co-editor of The Ecopoetry Anthology, Ann Fisher-Wirth, was just the prompt I needed to initiate my promotional effort.

What is your working title of your book?

The working title was “The Edge of the Pot”, which referred to a Zulu idiom featuring in one of the stories. However, a recent short story collection edited by Arja Salafranca came out with the title The Edge of Things, so my editor put on her thinking cap and recommended Ride the Tortoise. Rather pleased with the new title.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

A great motivator for getting things done is to make it a game, to enter a competition. Writing for the sheer love of writing, doesn’t wash, perhaps because it’s so damn difficult. Writing for the purposes of fame and glory, however, usually gets me started. To that end, I put together a handful of published stories and sent them off to a couple of writing competitions where the prize included publication. Happily, this manuscript was awarded an “Honorable Mention” the Dzanc Books Short Story Collection Competition. This coincided with the invitation from Maggie Davey to submit the collection for consideration.

What genre does your book fall under?

Short stories. Literary fiction. South African interest.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

In Werner Herzog’s 1976 classic, Heart of Glass, all the characters appearing in the film, except one, have been hypnotised. I’d leave it to Herzog to decide who would play leading roles in a movie made from the title story – as long as they’re all in a trance. In fact, I’d let Herzog decide whether to present the narrative as a movie or an opera – which another interest of Herzog. Perhaps the female lead could present her bewilderment as an extended aria. There’s enough Mahlerian angst in the collection for that.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

In each short story the narrator picks apart her experience of contemporary South Africa in all its beauty and horror, emerging sufficiently intact, despite the odds, to tell the tale with a pinch of wit and a modicum of redemption – even if I say so myself!

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Self-publication is for those who are made of far stronger stuff than I am. I daily rain blessings down upon the team at Jacana Media, who invited me to submit this book, endured through my foot dragging, and chivvied good-naturedly. In particular thanks to Helen Moffett for holding my hand through the final push of this sweet little beast entering the world. May they live long and grow strong. May they have many fine books go out into the world and make pots of money.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

My first literary endeavour, aged eight, was an account of the near drowning of my silkie hen and her nest of chicks when the Umbilo River rose and flooded our cellar. It was published in Fair Lady and contained the seeds of every other story of terror and redemption that I’ve ever written. I’m almost fifty, so shall we say the drafting process took a round forty years?

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Diane Awerbuck’s short story collection, Cabin Fever, is an utterly exquisite book. I love her quirky, whimsical narratives that slice through the shifting psyche and expose what remains when there’s little left to lose. Karin Schimke, books editor of the Cape Times, one likened my short stories to those of Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You. I’m still dining out on that.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The need to comprehend this bizarre country is at the heart of my book. How else, but by writing about it, does one make sense of its disturbed inhabitants, their collective unconsciousness and schizoid amnesia? Equally baffling is the weird resilience, the unanticipated acts of grace that permit ordinary people to transform a brutal history and hideous present into lives yet worth living.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Ride the Tortoise roves through territories that are deep and wide, personal and collective. Whether the lens is on a teen tending her sick parrot or a photographer stealing an image, a sex deprived wife swallowing her rage or a would be émigré to Canada, these stories aim to transcend the barriers of religion, culture, race and nationality. They are, hopefully, universal.

* * * * * * *

As this is a blog roll, I’m handing over to Diane Kendig, Consuelo Roland, Martinique Stilwell, Jo-Anne Richards and Pat Fahrenfort. Check their blogs next Monday for the next installment of The Next Big Thing.

Ride the TortoiseBook details


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