Thursday, May 31, 2007

Today I'm off to Hay-on-Wye with the lovely Francofinn (who has a couple of days headstart on me). This will be my first Hay Festival. Some press reports (the Independent website has been down all day, but they had a particularly critical one) explore how it is all going downhill and commercialized. Since I've never been, this sounds disappointing, but I am keeping an open mind for the time being.

Among others, I have tickets to hear the following wonderful line-up: Terry Eagleton, Helon Habila, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Wangari Maathai, Fergal Keane, Doris Lessing, Ishmael Beah, Dinaw Mengestu and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I don't really care what else they try and flog me, I'm just looking forward to hearing some seriously talented writers.

Given that I'm not entirely sure about my internet access in lovely Wales, posting may be erratic, but more anon!


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I've been tagged by Reluctant Memsahib over in Tanzania to reveal 8 random things about myself. Given that many things about myself are frequently mentioned on this blog, this is harder than it sounds. Hmmm.

My real name means a "bitter", "peaceful", "victory of the people". Considering how things have turned out in South Africa I consider this remarkably prescient of my parents. I have also been additionally named, over the years, as "freedom" and "the one who smiles." I especially like the latter.

I go scaly if I eat anything with citrus fruits in it. Bizarre, I know, but there you have it. Somewhere I read that this is in fact one of the ten most common allergies/sensitivities. I once worked with someone whose tongue would swell up if he ate citrus fruits. Now that is seriously dangerous. I just get a bit lizard-like (lovely image), starting with my hands, and if I nip it in the bud quickly enough it doesn't spread. Try looking at your labels for lemon and see how you'd like it (it is most commonly used as a preservative) - mayonnaise, jam, ice-cream, mousse, trifle (there's a theme emerging...) There's also the annoying aspect of lotions and potions being full of it too.

I have a thing for trees. Just love them. We bought the house we currently live in because of the very old, gnarled, moss-covered apple trees in the garden. I have been known to hug a tree or two...

I have a passion for woodblock prints. No idea where this came from. Design and perspective? Texture?

I burst into song at the drop of a hat. Doesn't mean I'm good at it.

I lived in a monastery in France for six months. An exceptional place. The brothers focus on reconciliation and their music is justifiably world famous. They argue that they cannot tell you what to do and have no answers, but that they can walk with you as you find those answers. I like this - approaching life with family, friends and strangers as a companiable journey together. The monastery is Taize Communaute.

Although I still occasionally lecture, my degrees have absolutely nothing to do with my current involvement in all things literary. Odd that. Occasionally I wonder idly and without conviction, "what if?" but I have no regrets.

I'll read (and enjoy) any genre except horror. This applies to watching films and tv also.

Now the only problem with this meme is tagging someone who hasn't already done it! So how about James at New Tammany College and Francofinn at Fancy a brew? If you'd like to do it, please consider yourself tagged.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

I've joined Amanda's Summer Reading Challenge (thanks for pointing me in that direction Danielle) largely because it is a challenge with no rules and no specific genres. This works well for me in that I want to read anyway, and it focuses my reading a bit over the summer months.

I wandered around my bookshelves and pulled a few books off that I’ve been meaning to read for a while. The result is a bit of a strange mix, but I’m looking forward to them. Since the challenge lasts two months, I thought it would be realistic for me to select a book a week (bearing in mind that I’ll be reading other African titles alongside this selection!). So, here are my choices in alphabetical order:

ALLOTTED TIME - Robin Shelton
The subtitle reads "twelve months, two blokes, one shed, no idea" which just about says it all really! Here's hoping it inspires my own vegetable growing efforts (don't talk to me about slugs).

THE BLUE TAXI - N.S. Koenings
I've never heard of this author before, but the book is set in East Africa (cover blurb doesn't say where). I always find it interesting to compare how Africans write about our own countries and how outsiders write about them.

EXTRA VIRGIN - Annie Hawes
"amongst the olive groves of liguria" is lent to me by a friend and so obviously needs a bit of prioritization in order to read and return it. The proliferation of books on settling in Italy as a foreigner is amazing, but I seem to enjoy most of them.

JANGO - William Nicholson
Second in the Noble Warriors Trilogy. I've loved his books for teenagers and look forward to this immensely. If you haven't read him yet, start with his Wind on Fire series, beginning with THE WIND SINGER.

PITCHING MY TENT - Anita Diamant
I adored THE RED TENT and enjoyed (but less so) GOOD HARBOR. This is a collection of Diamant's essays. If I get it done before my folks arrive in June, my mum can take it home with her - good incentive.

RESTORATION - Rose Tremain
Another loan from Francofinn - I always feel guilty if I've borrowed a book and yet not read it. This one has been gathering dust for some time. More than a year ago I started it, was loving it, then I'm not sure what happened, but I stopped and now I don't remember the plot at all. So, here's to starting over.

" exquisite homage to Islam" apparently. Never read anything by her and suppose I should. The story is split between Thatcher's London and Haile Selassie's Ethiopia - an interesting contrast.

VERA - Elizabeth von Arnim
Von Arnim is someone I've discovered through the blogosphere and been wanting to read for some time. It is usually a case of living in hope that a copy of one of her books will appear in a secondhand bookshop. However, luckily for me, Elaine at Random Jottings has taken pity, and kindly sent me a copy and I'm really looking forward to getting my teeth into this, especially since I found THE ENCHANTED APRIL in the Oxfam bookshop yesterday, and ELIZABETH AND HER GERMAN GARDEN on bookmooch. Yes, I know I said I was only buying African books, just ignore me.

Labels: , , ,

A trip up to London yesterday meant the opportunity to browse at the Oxfam bookshop on Marylebone High Street. A decade or so ago I worked nearby on Harley Street and would pop in to this very shop on lunch breaks. I found treasures here, but it was tiny, chaotic, had a stained and grungy carpet with an equally stained and grungy person behind the counter. Much to my surprise, yesterday I discovered a charming light and airy shop: it has been extended into space at the back, the wooden floor stripped and gleaming and the entire effect is one of light and airiness. There were several staff in evidence, and none of them had a whiff of grunginess about them.

Naturally, there were umpteen books I could have picked up, but lately I try getting general titles at my local library or on bookmooch. Instead, I am specifically trying to expand my African collection when I buy. The idea is to make me feel less guilty when I have a splurging book shopping spree - after all I can buy general titles any time (so if I restrain myself that's excellent), but I can't always buy African books (having restrained myself on the general titles, I am then free to indulge), if this makes sense.

With this in mind I was fairly restrained. I found Segun Afolabi's A LIFE ELSEWHERE:
For the characters in Segun Afolabi's debut collection, 'elsewhere' is a place they must transform into home. The Far East, Europe, the Americas, Africa - the stories are as varied as their geographical settings. In the award-winning 'Monday Morning' a refugee boy puzzles out his place in a new land. A bereaved father in 'Arithmetic' thinks back to a confusing, youthful sexual encounter that has left him emotionally scarred; Jacinta faces a long retirement with a husband she is not sure she likes in 'Jumbo and Jacinta' and 'The Wine Guitar' tells the story of an aging musician who pays a prostitute for the gift of her youth.

These are tales of Diaspora, of people making their lives in new lands, some for the first time, others in the second or third generations. Often moving, sometimes funny and occasionally shocking, Afolabi's stories reflect the way we live now; exploring the universal need to establish family and identity in a world where the boundaries of geography, culture and language are increasingly fluid.
Afolabi won the Caine Prize for African Fiction in 2005. His winning entry, Monday Morning, is included in this selection of short stories; it was also included in THE OBITUARY TANGO. His second book, GOODBYE LUCILLE, was published last month and he will appear at the Hay Festival next week in conversation with AL Kennedy.

I was also surprised to find Cyprian Ekwensi's JAGUA NANA:
Jagua Nana, late of Onitsha market, is now well-established in Lagos, with its high life, its night clubs and its political intrigue. Jagua, a warm and magnificent prostitute, yearns for security among the elite. She must marry education and falls in love with a young teacher, Freddie. He wants to study law in England and she funds him on the understanding that he will marry her on his return.
Here Jagua is a corruption of the car, Jaguar, and all it symbolises. Originally published in 1961, the book is still frequently assigned on university reading lists and yet is no longer in print. Secondhand copies are available at online sites like abebooks, but it was satisfying to find my own 1979 edition in good nick at £2 and not have to pay postage!

Just a few steps up Marylebone High Street is the exquisite Daunt Books (have a look at the photos in the link if you don't believe me). Their African selection is really rather good for a general, admittedly independent, bookshop. Bookshops like Daunt remind one what a real bookshop should be. There are no discounted titles, but an amazing range. Surprise selections for even the most rabid bibliophile. Quite delicious. Here I found the rare and long out of print SNARES WITHOUT END by Olympe Bhely-Quenum, published originally in French in 1960 as Un Piege Sans Fin; this is a 1981 English version:
'Anatou, Anatou, what have you done to me? Why did you keep telling me that there was another expression, another heart, behind my gentle expression and my soft heart? This was the monster that lies hidden in each one of us. You woke the monster in me.'

The monster that Anatou wakes within Ahouna traps him into a motiveless murder. There is no escape from his tragic destiny...everything is a snare and a delusion.
Hmmm. Not sure about this being my kind of read, but I'll give it a go.

You have to admit, definitely restrained shopping.

Labels: ,

Friday, May 18, 2007

I've noticed a strange thing - when I add a book to my "currently reading" list (over there on the right) I stop reading it. Some titles have sat there for months. So perhaps I should rename it the "living in anticipation" list. At the moment my reading is largely driven by what I have out from the library, which means I am distinctly side-tracked from the bigger purpose of reading at a pace towards the book I'm writing. I need to crank things up a notch or two for this "working reading" as I call it (as opposed to reading for pleasure). Happily, they frequently overlap.

Look at this fantastic opening paragraph to HARVEST OF THORNS by Zimbabwean Shimmer Chinodya:
The day he came back, and she walked in obliviously from the shower-room with soapsuds on her hands and found him sitting in his big brown boots on the sofa, she cried so much the neighbours rushed in thinking she had received news of death; after they had gone and she could talk she looked at the ropes of dried meat hung on a strip of newspaper and fished into her long skirts to send Peter to the butcher.
Published in 1989, part of the novel first saw the light of day as Chinodya's MA thesis at the University of Iowa in the mid 80s. In 1990 it won him the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, Africa Region. It has a wonderful quality to it, and I am enjoying it thoroughly as (unofficial) current reading!

Labels: ,

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Join Desmond Tutu, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, J.M. Coetzee, Noam Chomsky, Mary Robinson and more in reminding G8 leaders of their obligation to the poor. This Avaaz petition will be handed in tomorrow, so sign it today!
This Friday, the finance ministers from the world's eight richest countries will meet to plan the G8 summit. We will send them an urgent letter on global poverty, signed by key global figures: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson--and, we hope, you.

Our message: keep your promise to provide 0.7% of national income in effective aid to relieve extreme poverty. Millions of lives are at stake. The more people sign the letter, the more powerful our demand becomes. Click here to sign:

The statistics of global poverty are shocking. Each day, 20,000 children die preventable deaths in poor countries. That's why the broken promises of rich countries are so infuriating.

The world's rich countries have pledged 0.7% of their national income to development aid. But these promises have not been kept. In fact, outrageously, the G8 countries gave less in 2006 than in 2005.

At the same time, the last few years have seen an unprecedented groundswell against global poverty--which has led to new promises and, in some countries, real change. These fights can be won. That's why we are working with our friends at the Global Call to Action Against Poverty to assemble citizens and celebrities behind a single call--for world leaders to keep their word on global poverty.

Here's an excerpt from the letter:

"Together you represent the world's economic powerhouses. We write to ask that you also strive to represent the millions of people whose lives are blighted by extreme poverty.

Aid is not a panacea. But Marshall Plan aid from the US kick-started the rebuilding of a Europe shattered by war and delivered real benefits to the US in terms of new markets for its goods. Aid to East Asia helped catalyse the economic miracles that have lifted millions of people out of poverty. Today many African governments are using aid to underwrite growth and provide essential schools, health services and water supplies for their people. The poorest countries in the world need you to honour these aid pledges if they are to meet the Millennium Development Goals and end poverty. Please seize that chance today."

The letter will be delivered Friday with big ads in the Financial Times and German press, just in time for the G8 finance ministers' meeting. Click here to join Desmond Tutu by signing on:


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

We had lovely guests over for dinner yesterday, and I had such a wonderful day preparing for their appearance that I thought I'd share it. Firstly, I decided “forget work!” which meant that I could mosey around doing things gradually.

Since it needed chilling in the fridge, I started by making a chocolate lover's dream from Celia Brooks Brown's NEW VEGETARIAN (if you try this yourself, track down Green & Black's white chocolate because you get the lovely vanilla bits in it, making it even more interesting). Easy peasy - no cooking (except for melting of chocolate and butter), and only 5 ingredients, although for the faint-hearted among you look away now, for it is made almost entirely of double cream and chocolate, the other bits are incidental. So delicious.

Next I set the soup on the go: (Zuppa di Zucca if you're being correct, pumpkin soup if you're me) from Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers THE RIVER CAFE COOK BOOK. This is a deceptively simple but stunning soup. You wouldn't think so. How exciting can pumpkin soup be? Very, it turns out. We've never served this without the table falling silent as it is first sampled, followed shortly by recipe requests. And everyone has seconds, even though it is the starter. Even die-hard pumpkin haters.
If you are vegetarian, replace the chicken stock with a top notch vegetable stock, like Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon.

After lunch I took the bridle way shortcut on my way down to town. I'm such a frequent passerby that the nesting blackbird family ignore me now. The stinging nettles are out, along with other weeds and wildflowers - the combined effect with the low overhanging trees, makes for a deep green tunnel as you make your way along. I posted off bookmooches at my friendly local corner store/post office. I've long since given up queuing for hours at the main branch in town, where thirty people will stand in an inching line for half an hour. In my teeny local branch a two people queue is a flurry, and three or more he might call in crowd control! The advantage (or disadvantage, depending on your point of view) is that he is both interesting and interested. So my adventures at the Soyinka event were asked after...

A little while later I popped into the Kenyan Indian newsagent and the Turkish dry cleaners. Then the local farmers' market, The Goods Shed, had flat leaf parsley, asparagus, strawberries, and raspberries, all from farms within an eight mile radius. Canterbury Wholefood had the courgettes, rocket and pinenuts to round out the menu.

I cheated and took a bus home (running out of time) and was rewarded with the following sign: “With all teenagers in the South East so stylish and mature it's no wonder we get confused. Please carry a discount ID card to help us save you money!” Sadly no-one asked for ID. The recent profusion of grey hairs must have given the game away.

My last prep was to whizz up a sundried tomato pesto, and rinse the salad(See the brilliant Denis Cotter's THE CAFE PARADISO COOKBOOK), while roasting the vegetables for the “filling” in the risotto bake (NEW VEGETARIAN again). As the guests arrived, that slipped straight into the oven.

So, if you had been over chez us last night, you would have been served with:
Zuppa di Zucca
Rocket & flat-leaf parsley salad with currants, parmesan, a balsamic dressing and sundried tomato pesto crostini
Torta di risotto with char-grilled courgettes and three cheeses
White chocolate mousse torte
Delicious. Who said vegetarians don't eat well?!

Labels: , ,

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Of course, I cannot be restrained from buying something when in a bookshop. Tuesday's book launch meant I not only picked up Wole Soyinka's YOU MUST SET FORTH AT DAWN, but also:

THE BOOK OF CHAMELEONS by Jose Eduardo Agualusa
Felix Ventura is a man with an unusual occupation. If your lineage isn't sufficiently distinguished, he'll change that for you. If your family history isn't quite as glorious as you'd like, Felix Ventura can make you a new one. Felix Ventura is a seller of pasts.

The Yacoubian Building - once grand, but now dilapidated - stands on one of Cairo's main boulevards. Taha, the doorman's son, has aspirations beyond the slum in the skies, and dreams of one day becoming a policeman. He studies hard, and passes all the exams, but when he is rejected because his family is neither rich nor influential, the bitterness sets in. His girlfriend, Busyana, finds herself unable to earn a living without also providing sexual services for the men who hire her. When Taha seeks solace in a student Islamic organisation, the pressure mounts, and he is drawn to actions with devastating consequences.

And last, but not least (with the finest cover of the year), MEASURING TIME by one of my favourite authors, Helon Habila
Mamo and LaMamo are twin brothers living in a small Nigerian village, where their domineering father controls their lives. With high hopes the twins attempt to flee from home, but only LaMamo escapes to live their dream of becoming a soldier. Mamo, the awkward, sickly twin, is doomed to remain in the village. Gradually, he comes out of his father’s shadow and gains local fame as a historian, embarking on a ‘true’ history of his people. But when the rains fail and famine rages, religious zealots incite the people to violence – and LaMamo returns to fight the enemy at home.

(Book descriptions in this post are from the individual publishers, and are not mine).

They look delicious.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Front Room at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall is not exactly a room, but a roped off section of the foyer. The concept behind this may have been that those sharing the space standing at the bar or sitting at the surrounding tables might share in whatever event is on, by default, as it were. In practise, most people just carried on at “bar volume.” This was a real shame as Soyinka’s reading was superb, despite the background roaring hum, an extract from his escape from Nigeria:

The insides of my thighs ached. These were muscles that had never been subjected to an endurance test, and I marvelled yet again how the body so easily takes for granted every strand of muscle or ligament that makes it function, forgetting that some simply never come up for use in years, or decades. Even if I had been a chronic jogger, it would never have occurred to me to prepare the inner thighs for a ten-hour journey on a motor-cycle pillion. Three times I was compelled to ask my pilot to stop while I walked up and down, improvised exercises to regain circulation and loosen up the muscles as they were repeatedly assailed by severe cramps. They ached so badly that I began to fear that I might have done permanent damage to myself, some calamity such as uncontrollable muscle spasms in the future. As a hapless passenger, with nothing to do except stay glued to the seat of the motorcycle, the night passage was fertile ground for the direst imagining. In addition to three stops, I was thankful when we came to streams that had to be forded, or when we stopped to refuel the tank from the spare jerry-cans with which we were amply supplied. I was even thankful for spills in sudden marshes or loose soil. As we rode deeper into the forest, my face was steadily lashed by branches. My driver did his best to sound a warning as a branch loomed up round a corner and he ducked but, it was mostly pointless. I took vicious slashes, began to wonder if the branches were exacting vengeance for the nocturnal disturbance of the peace of the forest. I could hardly complain; my companion took far more whipping than I did.

Occasionally, we ran into night caravans of smugglers, strung out in a line, loads of every kind of merchandise on their heads...

Soyinka is a tall, striking man with a beautifully modulated voice. It really was a pleasure to hear him read. He will be appearing at both the Hay Festival later this month and the London Literature Festival in July.

Of course, I only met him briefly as he signed YOU MUST SET FORTH AT DAWN, but he was charming. The American edition came out a year ago. This UK edition is published in collaboration with Bookcraft, Nigeria, and is about double the thickness of the US edition. Other than added appendices and index, I’m not sure if the text is any different.

The rest of the evening was spent with old friends and new - some lovely, lovely writerly people.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

I'm off to London today - a party celebrating the UK launch of Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka's new memoir, YOU MUST SET FORTH A DAWN. I've never met him, so this is very exciting!

Soyinka is arguably Nigeria's greatest playwright, but he has also written literary criticism, fiction, plenty of poetry and several autobiographical volumes. He is the first African to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (in 1986).

Civilian and Soldier - Wole Soyinka, Nigeria

My apparition rose from the fall of lead,
Declared, 'I'm a civilian.' It only served
To aggravate your fright. For how could I
Have risen, a being of this world, in that hour
Of impartial death! And I thought also: nor is
Your quarrel of this world.

You stood still
For both eternities, and oh I heard the lesson
Of your training sessions, cautioning -
Scorch earth behind you, do not leave
A dubious neutral to the rear. Reiteration
Of my civilian quandary, burrowing earth
From the lead festival of your more eager friends
Worked the worse on your confusion, and when
You brought the gun to bear on me, and death
Twitched me gently in the eye, your plight
And all of you came clear to me.

I hope some day
Intent upon my trade of living, to be checked
In stride by your apparition in a trench,
Signalling, I am a soldier. No hesitation then
But I shall shoot you clean and fair
With meat and bread, a gourd of wine
A bunch of breasts from either arm, and that
Lone question - do you friend, even now, know
What it is all about?

from THE PENGUIN BOOK OF MODERN AFRICAN POETRY edited by Gerald Moore and Ulli Beier


Monday, May 07, 2007

Gallivanting around Greater London over this bank holiday weekend (starting with a Salif Keita concert at The Roundhouse on Thursday night) has meant little blogging opportunity. More tomorrow, but in the meantime any Commonwealth citizens may be interested in the 2007 Commonwealth Short Story Competition. 1st Prize is £2,000, but you will have to make it snappy as the deadline is 15 May 2007.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

My goodness! It seems that at every turn of late a literary prize is being awarded. I am happy to announce that two more this week were won by Africans!

The 2007 Royal Society of Literature's Ondaatje Prize (£10 000) "for a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, evoking the spirit of a place" was awarded on Monday to the Libyan Hisham Matar for his IN THE COUNTRY OF MEN. Here are a couple of interesting links about him: a Stephen Moss interview in the Guardian talking about the process of writing the book and the appalling story of his father's torture and disappearance (silence since 1995). In the midst of this sadness he has space for levity, describing the writing life:
"The romantic idea of the penniless writer is false," he says. "It's terrible. I hated being in debt, I hated the anxiety of not knowing whether we could pay our rent that month. Thankfully, I had a wife who was very supportive and had faith and shared my madness. I got the call from my agent [to say Penguin had bought the novel as part of a six-figure, two-book deal] on the day I was ready to go to our landlord and say, 'You'll have to add this month's rent to what we owe you.' It came in the nick of time." Matar didn't have enough credit on his phone to call his wife with the good news; his landlord (evidently a saint) had to call her instead.
Here also a link to a Matar Literary Top 10 (don't we all love those lists?!).

Tuesday night saw the awarding of The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2007 (£10 000, although this time shared with his translator) to the Angolan José Eduardo Agualusa for THE BOOK OF CHAMELEONS. I am delighted. Agualusa and Mia Couto visited the shop together a few years back and we had a fascinating discussion about the state of African publishing and difficulties in making African writers known outside of the continent or, in fact, their own countries. He was charming and engaging. A much undervalued writer.

I sense a book shopping trip in the offing...

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Flu and books do not much mix unless the book complements warmth and fuzzy(headed)ness. Usually this necessitates rereading old favourites, especially children's books (by that I mean young adult, not picture books).

I managed one new adult title, Neil Gaiman's STARDUST. I have read all of Gaiman's graphic novels, which are inspiring and full of genius. His Sandman series contains one of the finest, most sympathetic renderings of Death that I have encountered. Death is a young woman, sister to Morpheus the god of dreams (the Sandman), and she comes to you in whatever form you desire. There is a wonderful episode where the storyline is about something entirely different, but in the background Death as a young, approachable woman begins to play with a little girl in the park; by the end of the story the two of them are walking away hand in hand, the child happily chattering. An unforgettable image.

So STARDUST is my first exploration of Gaiman fiction and I find it light as air and somewhat frothy (think champagne, gloriously insubstantial but delicious). This book is a non-intimidating way in to the world of Gaiman which, in my experience, is usually a whole lot darker, and that can only be a good thing if it attracts legions of new fans. Set in Victorian England (although it could be now, no matter) young Tristran Thorn lives in a village which marks the boundary with Faerie. The men of the village of Wall watch over the border, keeping the peoples of both sides apart. Tristran is infatuated with the lovely Victoria Forester and, in a fit of pique, promises her a falling star. The only problem is that the star falls on the other side of the wall, in Faerie...

How does Tristran get through the guarded wall? Will he find the star? What does he give Victoria? You''ll have to read the book yourself. What I enjoyed (as always, with Gaiman) were the layers behind layers:
A question like 'How big is Faerie?'does not admit of a simple answer. Faerie, after all, is not one land, one principality or dominion. Maps of Faerie are unreliable, and may not be depended upon.
We talk of the Kings and Queens of Faerie as we would speak of the Kings and Queens of England. But Faerie is bigger than England, as it is bigger than the world (for, since the dawn of time, each land that has been forced off the map by explorers and the brave going out and proving it wasn't there has taken refuge in Faerie; so it is now, by the time that we come to write of it, a most huge place indeed, containing every manner of landscape and terrain). Here, truly, there be Dragons. Also gryphons, wyverns, hippogriffs, basilisks, and hydras. There are all manner of more familiar animals as well, cats affectionate and aloof, dogs noble and cowardly, wolves and foxes, eagles and bears (pp. 70-71)
Once upon a time while studying at university (unfortunately I don't remember which course), I read THE TRAVELS OF SIR JOHN MANDEVILLE which astonished with his nonsense disguised at truth. He purported to recount his actual travels around the world in the 1300s and what he found along the way (a free copy can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg). Readers at the time (including Columbus and Da Vinci) would have thought his bizarre tales of encounters with strange beings and wondrous countries had a base in reality. I rather like the idea that Mandeville's wacky world might have retreated into Faerie (and I bet Gaiman would too)!

Gaiman has his own website and keeps a wonderful journal/blog, which I highly recommend - an author very generous with his time.

This autumn STARDUST becomes a movie (see here for a trailer). Great looking cast. Let's hope that the charm of "'Scuse me," said a small and hairy voice in his ear, "but would you mind dreamin' a bit quieter? Your dreams is spillin' over into my dreams..." (p. 82) is not lost in the film. What exactly is a hairy voice, then?


The shortlisted candidates for the CAINE PRIZE FOR AFRICAN WRITING have been announced (I've linked to actual stories where available):
Uwem Akpan (Nigeria), ‘My Parents Bedroom The New Yorker June 12, 2006
Monica Arac de Nyeko (Uganda), ‘Jambula Tree’ from African Love Stories’ Ayebia Publishing 2006
E.C. Osondu (Nigeria) ‘Jimmy Carter’s Eyes, AGNI Fiction Online 2006
Henrietta Rose-Innes (South Africa) ‘Bad Places’, New Contrast vol 31 no4 Spring 2003
Ada Udechukwu (Nigeria) ‘Night Bus, The Atlantic Monthly, August 2006
The winners of the Caine Prize tend to go on to greatness partly helped along, no doubt, by the extra publicity generated by the prize. I think that one of the biggest difficulties for many African writers is being noticed by publishers willing to take a risk with their work; so this sort of award can only be a good thing. It is nicknamed the "African Booker" and is given for a short story published in the previous year.

Previous winners are:
Mary Watson (2006), South Africa
A former student of Andre Brink, here's a link to the BBCs Caine Prize announcement.
Segun Afolabi (2005), Nigeria
There's a "books on the move" list of titles to read he suggested to The Guardian here.
Brian Chikwava (2004), Zimbabwe
His suggested list of works by "writers who had a score to settle with society"!
Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (2003), Kenya
With a link to the Guardian's Caine Prize announcement.
Binyavanga Wainaina (2002), Kenya
About whom I raved previously here.
Helon Habila (2001), Nigeria
For a review of his latest book, MEASURING TIME, see here.
Leila Aboulela (2000), Sudan
The first ever winner; for her thoughts on religious identity and nationality, see here.

The Frank O'Connor Award finalists for a short story collection have also been announced.

The pitch of my voice is beginning to sound a little more melodious and a little less of the bullfrog persuasion. It is good to feel better again.