Friday, October 13, 2017

Seminar: Children's and Young Adult Books on the 21st October at the Sandton Library

The Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators in Gauteng is planning to host a seminar on Children's Books and Young Adult Books on the 21st October at the Auditorium at the Sandton Library in Gauteng. The seminar is for illustrators and writers - aspiring and published - and features a number of writings about the power of dreams and hard work. It promises to be stimulating, thought-provoking and motivating. Many thanks to Jenny Hatton, the organiser of SCBWI events in Gauteng.

Cost:   Early bird payment by 13th October: R100 for SCBWI members, R200 for non-members
            Payment at the door: R150 for SCBWI members, R300 for non-members
RSVP: to Jenny at

Jenny was also kind enough to invite me to speak at the event, and my topic is "The marketing of self-published books: a tough exercise for a shy person." People who know me in real life are probably aware that I do a very good imitation of a hermit, which makes it hard me to be out there  marketing my works. So I'm going to share some strategies and tactics that I have used. Hopefully, this will help the participants, whether they are self-published or not.

Download the seminar programme here.

The seminar features a lot of people whose work I admire in there, so if you are going to be in Gauteng during that period, do yourself a favour and attend.

Tea and coffee will be available, but participants are asked to bring their own lunch boxes.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Aftermath Of A Stressful Project And Lessons Learned

Listening to: Rachel Platten's Fight Song (on a loop)

Source: Pinterest
I'm knackered  - totally, completely wiped by exhaustion. But I'm happy. Or rather, riding the euphoria that comes from relief of knowing a project was successfully executed and I was able to survive until the end, because there were too many moments along the way when I was tempted to quit and couldn't remember my motivations for getting involved in the first place. But I couldn't quit because the reason for the high pressure was because someone just gave up.
And I knew my stress levels and exhaustion were nowhere near my client's and the situation was not of her doing.She hired a writer to develop the technical section of a conference report. The writer attended the sessions, recorded the sessions and on Friday on the day of the copy deadline, he wrote her a two-paragraph email saying "sorry, I couldn't do it. It was too hard - the language too technical and the accents difficult to understand. Please make alternative arrangements." My client was supposed to deliver the report this Monday.
Turned out I would become the "alternative arrangements," - having to find people to transcribe the audios of the two-day workshop and to use the transcriptions to write the technical report.
The task of finding transcriptionists willing to take the job on short notice was rough - I did a lot of begging. I didn't even pretend that I was offering them fair work for fair pay. I said to one friend, "Forgive me please, because I need to ruin your day."Then I proceeded to explain what I needed. My client helped in farming the work out and eventually, I could start the writing process. Which was tough in its own right because the language was very technical, with lots of physics terms and geometry and mechanics.
Let's just say I learnt more than I ever thought I wanted to know about how railways tracks and trains and heavy haul transports transporting coal and ore worldwide work: the challenges, the solutions in use, the research being done, and the technologies and how all these things are maintained. LOL! I could actually empathise with the former writer - it was all very technical, but the difference is that I was enthralled.
So in the end, I developed 18 articles based on the  lectures, with the sessions lasting around 45 minutes each ( around 4000 words of technical text x 18). My poor client had to do quality control in addition to her own job, ensuring that the pieces were edited and proof-read and then inserting them into the main conference report. THAT was supposed to the job she was hiring me for!
Yesterday were did the final push, and it lasted until today around 4am for me, when I decided to take a nap before I finished polishing the last two pieces and sending them to the client before 8am. I went to bed at 8.30 and slept most of the morning away, blissful that I could finally rest.
So what did I learn from this experience:
1. Despite the hassle, I can still empathise with the writer who quit. I used to be like him - a marathon runner, I sarcastically called myself - running when the going got tough, never considering the consequences on other people. Which brings me to the second point-
2. Just because I don't immediately suffer the consequences does not mean there aren't any. Quitting like that leaves someone holding a bag leaking slimy stuff, and someone has to clean up the mess.
3. I am more resilient than I knew, and can survive stressful projects better than I thought I could.
The day I fell & hit the door, injuring my forehead

4. I need my loved ones to help me survive stressful conditions.
Our Star Wars heroes
 It seemed counterproductive to go visit my sister and her family on Sunday, but I took the laptop along and she really helped me. Plus the conversation, the background noise of my young nephews playing and watching an animated movie (How to tame a dragon 2), the arrival of Baby from her job at the resort camp and the fabulous dinner my sister cooked all served as a counterpoint to the stresses of the project. Then there were lots of  phone calls with my friend Neo, who was doing the transcription and who absolutely swore up and down that "The English don't speak English!" (excuse the generalisations, but the regional accents could do your head in.) Neo is fabulous at understanding the Chinglish and heavy Russian accents of some of the professors and was easy-going about my piling work on her.

5. Opportunity does not come in the form that you expect. I do my normal marketing and have made several phone calls to my network of colleagues and clients asking for work in preparation for the December/January holidays. I would never have predicted that a situation that looked so disastrous would actually be an opportunity for me to land well-paying work.

6. Always keep a stocked larder, fridge and freezer to be able to make quick meals.

Good, nourishing food for stressful days
I've just moved into my house, so I was so very unprepared for long working sessions without an opportunity to prepare good nutritious meals. Thankfully, my friend Christelle took me well in hand and repeatedly invited me to her place for meals and to work at her house . But, I am going to take the time to prepare, so next time, I don't have to rely on the kindness of my loved ones
7. Leaving my house and working in the company of others mitigated the stress levels. There is no doubt in my mind that I love working for myself, in my home office. But under stressful conditions, you could go nuts being alone in the house. Having company helped me to put one foot in front of another.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Slipping Personal Information Into My Characters ( IWSG Post)

When I was a young writer (in my early 20s), I used to worry about whether my characters sounded authentic or not. I felt so gauche and young; like readers would be able to tell I hadn't gone anywhere or done anything to write home about. So how could I make sure that what my characters experienced was plausible or not? And that was back when the advice to "write what you know" was popular.

I didn't know anything! I was very young for my age and my parents were overprotective, which means that the opportunity to be out there making life mistakes was within the realms of fiction for me. I think this is where I admit that Pappa accompanied me to my job interview for my first job in Johannesburg. LOL! I know that sounds ridiculous, because I was in my early twenties. Old enough not to need a babysitter, yes?

Despite the fact that I had spent a year in Alice in the Eastern Cape and had been working in Mmabatho for a couple of years, Mma was very unimpressed by the fact that I was moving to the big city and she wanted to make sure that I was protected while I took care of business. So Pappa sat in the reception area of my potential employer's offices, waiting for me while I was being interviewed in the boardroom. Urgh! That made an impression, I tell you! Thankfully, they didn't hold the fact that I was still considered a baby against me and hired me anyway.

But I digress. The question that is being asked of the participants of the Insecure Writer's Support Group is, have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters either by accident or on purpose? And my answer to that  is YES. I have probably done it by accident, by I also do it on purpose, because as I have said, as I grow up and learn, the characters that I create also grow and learn with me.

Not all the characters have characteristics similar to what I have and they certainly don't always learn what I learnt. But I find that my personal information - be it who I am, where I live and what I do can be a great reservoir of information that I can use in my storytelling.

For example, in my first children's story, The Doll That Grew, initially published by Macmillan South Africa in 1993 and scheduled to come out in digital format with Roundafire, I used my life growing up in Phokeng where boys played with wire cars as the basis of the experiences of the two main characters Neo and Pule. The dynamics between Neo and Pule also came from my own experiences with my brothers and male cousins.

Also, in the children's story "I'm not a baby," published by Macmillan India in 2012, I used my personal information and experiences to create the main character and the secondary character was based on my cousin Billy.

Additionally, I usually name my characters after my family and friends. I have two close friends called Neo (Neo is one of the main characters in The Doll That Grew), and  a key character in my newly-literate adult reader Boitshoko, published in 1996 by Heinemann South Africa, was named for my younger brother of the same name. My naming system does not necessarily align with how I feel about the real people. For example, my brother and I get on extremely well, but he's the villain of the piece in the story, and I kill him off in the first sentence starting with, " Boitshoko is dead..." It has become an inside joke in my family how I twist the real details of my personal information when I use it in fictional characters.

I also use places where I have lived, or continue to live, as settings for my stories. Many a time I have created characters who live in Phokeng or have lived there, and as you know, Phokeng is the village where my family is based and where I lived for a while. I have also created characters who live or lived in Johannesburg, because I have lived in this city for more than 25 years. I love the city deeply, and basing stories here gives me pleasure and I hope that I can create characters who also love this city and can give readers an appreciation of it too.

In conclusion, and as an update for those who followed my journey to move  back from Phokeng to Johannesburg full- time, I found a lovely little house in the Western suburbs of Johannesburg and moved there near the end of September. The cottage-share didn't work out for me for a number of reasons, despite the fact that I became good friends with the woman I shared it with.

But now I finally feel like I have found my new home in the city, and can put down roots here. There is room for Baby when she is in the city ( from Duran where she works or varsity, starting next year) and the house has a home office fully-fitted with cupboards ( for me to write from),  a very large kitchen with a sit-in area and a garden that has space for me to restart my vegetable gardening. And it has been raining intermittently for days this past week, which means that soil will be easy enough to turn in the little corner I have designated for growing my herbs and greens.
 **  Deep sigh.**
Ja! I'm happy here. Let's hope that sparks up my muse to start creating lots of stories!

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With the exception of entries specifically credited to individual authors, the content on this blog is copyrighted by Damaria Senne and may not be reprinted without permission.