How To Support Local This Christmas

It’s been an insane year, most of it spent under strict lockdown conditions. Local businesses took a huge knock with many small enterprises only managing to hold on.

The local book industry was one of the many sectors hit. If you look past the bigger publishing houses and chain bookstores you’ll see a wide network of independent bookshops, small publishers, authors, freelance designers, editors and proofreaders, and bright young people just starting out their career.

It’s a sector characterised by passionate, creative, and visionary people who devote their lives to promoting local literature and artists.

So now that restrictions have been lifted and everyone is readying for a safe and sunny festive season, please consider spending your spare Rands and cents (if you can) on helping the small businesses who keep the industry alive.

Here are a couple of ways you can help.

Karavan press titles

Support a Small Publisher

South Africa is pulsing with small presses doing exciting things. What makes these businesses even more special is that they are run by some truly amazing people who really care about growing South African talent.

Here are a few, off the top of my head. Let me know if I missed anyone.

Female-led Karavan Press, Modjaji Books, and Blackbird Books produce excellent books by some of the best new voices that definitely deserve a place under the tree.

uHlanga Press and Dryad Press produce award-winning poetry collections – perfect for that weekend off.

And for the younger members of the family, Cover2Cover Books and New Africa Books have an excellent selection of proudly South African children’s books available.

Visit an Indie Bookstore

In every city across the country you’ll find an independent bookstore that not only puts local titles in pride of place, but are great places to just hang out and browse.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but some of my personal favourites include The Book Lounge, Kalk Bay Books, Clarke’s Bookshop, Love Books, Blank Books, and Bridge Books.

Pop me a message if you’d like to see your favourite bookshop listed.

Image source: Book Dash

Donate to a Great Initiative

The local book industry has its fair share of heroes doing amazing work.

Book Dash pulls together some of the country’s brightest creative talent to produce stunning illustrated children’s books. You can download every single book for free, but you can also purchase them at selected outlets. Donate to this incredible project here.

Short Story Day Africa is an organisation dedicated to promoting African fiction. Every year the project runs a short story competition that results in an award-winning anthology of stories by writers from across the continent. Many have gone on to achieve great acclaim. You can help SSDA continue their great work by donating here.  

2020 South African YA titles

Buy a Book by a Local Author

For South African writers, it was a terrible year to release a book. For safety reasons all events, launches and tours were cancelled, and all promotion had to take place online. Getting the word out is crucial for sales, and providing a much-needed income to everyone involved.

Here is a small selection of some local titles published this year that I’m looking forward to reading (including a sneaky plug of my own book. Shhh.)

Again, this is not an exhaustive list. You can also visit your local bookstore for their favourite recommendations.

Fiction
A Family Affair – Sue Nyathi
An engrossing look at a family with their fair share of secrets.

Paradise in Gaza – Niq Mhlongo
A city man returns to his village for what he hopes is a short visit… until his son disappears.

Critical but Stable – Angela Makholwa
An elite club full of rich, glitzy couples – all with their own secrets and motives.

The Fall – Jen Thorpe
A diverse cast of characters, high stakes, an alternative Cape Town and the very future at stake.

The Gospel According to Wanda B. Lazarus – Lynn Joffe
What if … the Wandering Jew … was a woman? This book comes recommended by Stephen Fry!

Mermaid Fillet – Mia Arderne
Magical realism meets crime noir in this colorfully re-imagined Cape Town. I can’t wait to read this one.

Charlotte – Helen Moffett (I LOVED this one. Read my review here.)
A look at what happened to Charlotte Lucas after she married Mr. Collins.

Non-fiction
Death and the After Parties – Joanne Hichens
A memoir about grief and friendship, by one of South Africa’s most loved crime writers.

Young adult
Brandejaer – Joha van Dyke
A young surfer with secrets, a girl who wants to unravel them.

Wêreld van wolwe 1 – Fanie Viljoen
Book one in a new fantasy series set in a small town where werewolves are real.

Sea Star Summer – Sally Partridge
A holiday love story set in one of South Africa’s most beautiful beach destinations.

If you’re still reading, thanks for your time. I hope you’ll consider a local gift this year. You’re sure to end up on Santa’s Nice List if you do, and even if you’ve outgrown the jolly old man, you’re definitely putting a smile on someone’s face.

Karen Russell’s Orange World in LEGO

In 2007, a friend told me I should read St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, a short story anthology by American writer Karen Russell. It was the type of book that took you to Neverland, she said. So I bought a copy, and was passed the baton as Russell’s next evangelist, telling as many people as I could about the magical, dreamlike stories hidden inside that much-loved paperback. (Another friend went on to emigrate with my copy.)

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LEGO book review: The Dragon Lady

I first encountered Louisa Treger’s writing in 2015 when I was asked by The Sunday Times to not only review her novel, The Lodger, but to also interview the author, who has roots in South Africa.

The Lodger was a captivating and enchanting work of historical fiction that detailed the doomed love affair between HG Wells and the lesser-known but equally brilliant writer Dorothy Richardson.

I must have talked about that book for months after, and recommended it to absolutely everyone.

You can read the full review and interview here.

I was excited to hear that Bloomsbury had picked up her second novel, The Dragon Lady, the idea for which was born during the author’s time in Franschhoek (or so I’ve heard). What I wasn’t expecting, was an advance copy of the book itself, which arrived on my desk completely by surprise last week.

Naturally, it found itself right on top of the reading pile.

The Dragon Lady follows another intriguing woman lost to the front pages of history, Lady Virginia Courtauld. Ginie, as she was known, was quite the scandalous figure in London society.  She was a divorcee, didn’t really care what people thought and was rumoured to have a snake tattoo stretching all the way up her leg.

The novel follows Ginie and her husband Stephen’s time in 1950’s Rhodesia, then still under British rule, where instead of finding peace from their enemies, the couple only succeeded in making more.

Written in Treger’s signature captivating style, the book catapults the reader ever forward as Ginie struggles to win over her racist settler neighbours. Ginie and Stephen were outspoken against the wrongs they witnessed and worked tirelessly to change their new country for the better – even going as far as to have secret political meetings in their home. Needless to say, it won them few friends.

Treger has captured the last days of colonial Rhodesia perfectly. It is not just Lady Courtauld’s story, but also the people fighting for the country’s future. And while the book may only focus on a small piece of Zimbabwe’s long complicated history, it does so with emotion and fire.

I love learning about history’s forgotten heroines and The Dragon Lady succeeds in shining a light on a truly remarkable woman. Ginie was a fascinating character, never without her pet lemur Jongy (pictured above, regrettably, as a skunk, which was the closest thing I could find) Her home, La Rochelle, remains standing to this day and is maintained by the National Trust of Zimbabwe.

It’s a marvellous novel best enjoyed in a garden setting, with a large gin and tonic.

According to Amazon, The Dragon Lady will be available in June 2019.

The Dragon Lady

LEGO book review: The Fault in our Stars

From  the archive: 5 June 2014

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I read The Fault in Our Stars over Christmas (it was a gift to myself). In fact, I very rudely sat outside in the sun, while my partner and his family were inside in the middle of Christmas lunch celebrations. I couldn’t put the book down, not even on Christmas Day.

(See this picture? That’s me stretched out between two camping chairs while trifle is being served inside.)

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Trade Secrets

It was such an honour to make the shortlist for the Short Sharp Story Award, and even more so to be included in the anthology. I learned a lot from the editor, Joanne, and I can honestly say my future work will benefit richly from the experience.
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LEGO book review: The Roanoke Girls

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I know a few people who make a habit of not reading Next Big Thing books because ultimately, the end result never quite lives up to the hype. (I haven’t read The Girl on the Train and the movie’s already gone to DVD).

But sometimes it does.

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LEGO book review: Closed Casket

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I’m not quite sure why I love Agatha Christie mysteries so much. Nostalgia. The challenge of trying to figure out who did it. I read them again and again, especially around this time of year. And each re-read is as satisfying as the first time round.

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When a book is so much more than a book

To call myself a Harry Potter fan would be an understatement.

One of my best friends gave me a homemade Harry Potter Monopoly set for my birthday this year. She has a twin set herself, with different properties and Chance questions. The reason we’re friends in the first place is because of our mutual love of the boy wizard. (We’re the type of fans that immediately pick up the mistakes in the Harry Potter Trivial Pursuit game.)
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LEGO book review: The Girls

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Everybody wants to belong.

After her best friend ditches her, fourteen-year old Evie has to spend her summer wandering around the town alone. That’s when she notices the girls. They’re raggedy around the edges, with long hair blowing freely in the breeze. They’re misfits, who shoplift and break into people’s homes and even scrounge for food in dumpsters. But there’s something magical about them. They live without rules in a big old house near a creek and have wild parties at night around bonfires and burning cars. Their leader, a charismatic musician named Russell, teaches them about free love and togetherness.
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