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What is your greatest regret? “Not taking better care of myself as a younger person” – Craig Higginson answers the Proust Questionnaire

By Mila de Villiers

A sepia snapshot of the scribe, provided by the author himself.

The sound of the ringing doorbell of acclaimed novelist and playwright Craig Higginson’s home in Johannesburg’s leafy suburb of Parkview is met with enthusiastic barks.

Dressed in bootleg jeans, his casual shirt rolled up at the arms, and a pair of brown Chelsea-esque boots (“I think I got them in somewhere like Woolworths”), the tall, blonde author opens his blue front door, revealing a garden and a modern Dutch Colonial house.

The canine welcoming committee – two Cocker Spaniels introduced as Rosie and Chuckles – follow the writer into his open-plan kitchen, where a kettle is whistling on the stove.

“I always make too much,” he apologises with a smile as he passes a near-overflowing mug of tea across the kitchen counter, of which a few droplets land on the wooden corridor leading to his study cum writing room.

The room (“which I’m very happy to have”) is brightly-lit with natural light pouring in through a window displaying a driveway and colourful flowers; a computer, stacks of books and a lamp to write by atop his desk.

Considering that this bibliophile has read “thousands and thousands” of books and declares re-reading as “the greatest”, it comes as no surprise that a large bookshelf – featuring titles as diverse as Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy and Nathan Hill’s The Nix – occupies the space behind his writing desk.

A vintage couch with a floral print and two matching armchairs surround a coffee table in the middle of the room. Higginson seats himself in one of the armchairs, draping his left leg over his right and placing his fingertips against one another, drawing attention to the array of colourful – yet unobtrusive – beaded bracelets adorning his left wrist; his right wrist sporting a digital watch.

And thus the questionnaire call time commences…

Apologies to Charles M. Schulz, but happiness isn’t always a warm puppy

Higginson runs his hand through his mop of hair, a pensive look on his face as he considers his response to the first of several questions featured on the Proust Questionnaire: ‘What is your idea of perfect happiness?’

“I suppose being able to do what you were … made to do,” the native Jo’burger eventually replies in his cultured voice, his tone relaxed.

“I think I’m pretty happy,” he continues. “I’m able to do what I want to do and I’ve got quite a rich life. I mean it’s a suburban life and the drudgery of having the pay the bills squashes you,” he says, his head resting on his left hand.

“I think everyone’s life – whoever you are, whatever your job is – there’s an element of drudgery and there’s an element of magic and you’ve got to make sure that the drudgery doesn’t snuff out the magic,” the author muses.

“For me, it’s being able to do what I was kind of brought into this world to do.” This being none other than “writing”, he confirms without hesitation. (Naturellement!)

Higginson received little encouragement from his family to pursue his writing, but maintains he preferred it that way.

“It was quite nice to develop a secret thing,” he explains. “If I had told everyone or shared my poems with my mom, the subversive nature of writing would be lost.”

Higginson’s sister was an avid horse rider and the tedious days spent at the stables with her and their mother propelled him to storytelling; he’d while his boredom away by “going internal; I developed my own internal imaginative landscape.” This included making up words, games and cartoon strips.

He wrote his first story at age 10 – seven exercise books in total, he recalls – about a boy who ran away from school and forms a bond with an owl. These seven exercise books would ultimately materialise as The Hill, published in 2005.

“When I was at school [Higginson attended Michaelhouse], I just wrote stuff without anyone telling me to,” proclaiming that a teacher of his encouraged him to pursue art. This didn’t stick well with Higginson…

“And I was, like, ‘why do I want do art?’” he incredulously asks. “‘I want to be a vet’.”

His teacher’s counter-argument was that Higginson received the highest mark in his year for art which Higginson found odd, as he laughingly admits that “I just drew the same kingfisher over and over again!”

Yet he did decide on taking art as a matric subject, which, he says, introduced him to the “arty kids, alternative music, and an interest in books. It was a whole different way of being in the world.”

There’s more to fear than arachnids, death and failure

‘What is your greatest fear?’ is received with a heavy sigh, followed by a pause; a frown etched across his forehead.

“I’m afraid of wasting my life, I suppose,” he responds in a considered tone. “I would hate to look back and think that I didn’t use it properly. We probably all feel that a bit…

“I’m scared of…,” he starts, pausing once more, studying his hands, “…of … not being alive when I’m alive.”

He can’t overtly state whether he’s alive at the moment, reasoning that “it’s layered.”

“Like, yesterday we [Higginson, his wife and young daughter] went to the zoo and looked at animals and the spring blossoms were out. It was lovely to be there but I felt…” He interrupts himself, a meditative look on his face. “One has anxieties and preoccupations and those things often come between you and the present,” he reflects.

Trying to be nice proves to be a trying task

Not even one’s inner demons, insecurities or irksome habits are immune to this 19th century questionnaire popularised by Proust and Higginson’s response to ‘what is the trait you most deplore in yourself?’ is met with a very human and relatable counter-question: “What do I hate the most about myself? I think lots of things…”

Shifting in his armchair, Higginson confides that he has spent most of his life fitting in with other people, “trying to be nice. Not trying to be liked,” he says, placing an emphasis on ‘liked’, his brow furrowed, “but making other people feel better about themselves.

“I think it takes great courage to just be yourself,” he continues.

Higginson’s ‘true self’ comes through in his writing: “I’m much more alive, much more clever when I’m writing as a person in the world…

“I’m quite self-effacing. Well, that’s what my perception of myself is,” he laughs.

“Other people probably see me completely differently. They probably think I’m this arrogant, loudmouthed, pushy person,” Higginson says with a playful grin on his bakkies.

He reiterates that he dislikes “trying to be nice to everybody” but struggles to adhere to this social norm since it’s “also important to be nice to people, and to make people feel comfortable, to be respectful of people.”

After a lengthy pause, Higginson smiles wryly. “Sorry, these are big questions.”

Consider your criticism

 ”Criticism without self-awareness” is the deliberated, yet determined answer in question to the trait he most deplores in others.

The origin of this pique results from a conflict of interest with a PhD supervisor of Higginson’s whilst he was completing a doctorate in creative writing at Wits University.

Two of his three supervisors “loved what I did, but one said she suspected I was re-inscribing white male centrality through my writing.”

The criticism of The Dream House (which was the PhD novel) was very superficial, the author says, elaborating that The Dream House is “all about issues of representation and the end of white centrality. And how nice that is; how healthy.”

Higginson is conscious that he, as a white male writer, does re-inscribe white centrality “because I am the narrator of my own narrative and I am a white male and I am central to my own narratives.

“All forms of criticism is a form of autobiography as Oscar Wilde said,” he continues, expounding on this statement by reasoning that people who don’t question their own centrality do so owing to a woundedness.

“There’s a wound and they react out of that wound; they criticise out of that wound without that kind of level of self-awareness.”

The ability to criticise, dismiss and categorise a middle-aged, middle-class white male is “very easy” he says with distaste.

“I deplore laziness in others – and myself,” he quickly adds, “but in other people as well,” harshly criticising “knee-jerk defensive reactions that are about promoting one’s ego.”

Visibly exasperated, Higginson condemns the perpetuation of one’s own ego and self-importance, bluntly stating “I hate it.”

Higginson’s loathing of egomania is “probably” the reason why he thinks of himself as self-effacing.

“I hate the pomposity of these people who think they’re so important. None of us are important,” the author reminds us.

“We’ll all be dead soon, we’re all passing through, we’re all going to be forgotten,” he says, with a slight shake of his head. “We’re not special and that’s good.

“All those things make me panic,” he nervously laughs.

The anxiety caused by the insignificance of our lives incites Higginson to write books and “to make it matter. I want to make meaning and create something.”

He imparts that it’s a “great honour” when his books are read reasoning that you (as an author) are able to connect to someone you’ve never met and shift something in them. “You get them to feel something. You’ve touched each other,” he explains in a slight reverie.

“Anything is better than lies and deceit” – Hear, hear, Tolstoy

Higginson deplores falsehood of the self, but this does not dismiss the fact that humans. do. lie.

In question to when he lies most often, the writer acknowledges that he lies “to protect people from truths that are hurtful” but without intentionally hurting someone.

“The problem with – or maybe it’s a good thing,” he starts, grimacing slightly, hands clasped together. “The problem is I hate feeling that I’m lying.”

Unclasping his hands, he professes that he would never be able to have an extramarital affair as he’d hate living with a dishonest version of himself.

He adds that if he were to attend the premiere of a friend’s play which he didn’t particularly take to, he’d withhold his commentary (you’re under enough duress as it is – nerves, media, cameras), and critiquing it on the night would be unnecessarily pernicious.

The present is pleasant

‘When and where were you happiest?’ is followed by a pause from Higginson which, if likened to sheet music, would have been indicated as a fermata…

“I spend most of my life not really worrying about whether or not I’m happy,” he eventually answers.

“I know that sounds terrible,” he says with a slight smile.

He was aware that, as a writer, he wasn’t going to live to accumulate money, security and a decent pension, furthering that he “lived to be a creative person, to make works of art.”

Higginson describes his pursuit of a creative life as relentless and quite uncompromising, admitting that on the rare occasions that he allowed himself a holiday it was purely for research purposes.

“I think now that I should have thought more about happiness,” comes the contemplative, fairly concerned response. Throughout the years he’s often sacrificed having fun, owing to his busy schedule and having to fit “so much” in a day.

“Another thing I don’t like is how I sometimes lose the roots to just having fun, just being light. I can get too serious, you know?” he says, with a piercing gaze of his deep-set blue eyes.

“I’m happiest now,” he decides. “I’m doing what I want to do. Each day is a good day.”

(Craig’s day, by the way)

- he wakes up
- takes his daughter to school
- sits down, writes
- does his day job from home (“I love being able to work from home”)
- walks the Westcliff steps (all 10 000 of them!)
- listens to “really lovely” music whilst walking
- checks out the spring blossoms
- thinks his thoughts
- chats to his family

“It’s a lovely day but kind of the same day,” he ruminates, before stressing the importance of travelling; to go to different places; try things that are scary; get outside of your comfort zone.

“Happiness isn’t the be all and end all,” he straightforwardly states. To stay alive; to grow; to be excited and adventurous; “to try and find the magic” – that’s what’s of great importance to the author.

After a contemplative pause, he mentions that he’s uncertain as to whether that’s the same as happiness, and that we often tend to mistake comfort for happiness.

He explains: “You think if you have security and a house and a dog and everything, ‘I’m really happy’. That’s not true.”

Higginson draws on South Africans’ propensity to emigrate to Australia as an example of mistaking comfort for happiness.

With undisguised contempt for those who decide to leave the country for the Land Down Under, he reasons that they expect to be happy in this “promised land” but “they take all their kak with them … It’s just an alien land.”

“Oh, the places you’ll go!”

Speaking of countries…

“Either a flat in South Africa and a little house in Europe or, like, a flat in Europe and a little house in England,” Higginson responds in question to where he would most like to live.

He likes being in Johannesburg as a working person but wouldn’t want to grow old there, clarifying that he’s “always lived in Jo’burg”, save for his years at boarding school and the 10 years he spent abroad.

As he is equally attached to the city and the countryside, the imaginative author has plenty of options to play with.

“I’d like to be by the sea … Or have flat in Paris or London and a beach cottage on the coast of Natal, the Eastern Cape, or the Transkei.

“How about that?” he beams.

A portrait of the author as a young man posing with his daughter, Phoebe, during a seaside holiday. (Pic supplied)

He adds that that will only be possible if he were “a whole lot richer.” (The house belongs to his wife, actress Leila Henriques.)

At the mention of his house, his eyes drift around the room, settling on a section of the ceiling which had recently undergone repairs.

“We had a hole in the ceiling – in the roof – when it rained,” he explains as he gestures towards the slight blight.

“Parkview is nice,” he says after a while, although it can sometimes get “too much. I know everyone…”

When your vocation happens to be your favourite occupation

A resolute “writing fiction” is Higginson’s response to what his favourite occupation is, describing his day job as a script writer for the immensely popular TV series, Rhythm City, as “not really writing.

“I’m not being horrible or snobby about it,” he goes on, specifying that the impersonal and collaborative nature thereof makes it hard to feel as if it “feeds you in a nutritious sense.”

He returns to the question, stating if he was to do “all this over again, I’d probably be a psychologist. Or an architect.

“Not that I dislike what I’m doing. I’m just quite insecure…. I’m an aging, white male in an increasingly transformed space where the stories are kind of black reality stories,” he conveys in a subdued tone.

“There’s a whole generation of amazingly talented black TV people and writers. It’s quite a young industry, why do they need someone me? They actually don’t and increasingly they won’t,” he answers matter-of-factly.

From McEwan to St. Aubyn – here’s who Higginson reads

‘Who are your favourite writers?’ is a question Higginson has most likely been asked ad nauseam but he seems happy to comply with this famed questionnaire’s personality catechism.

“I’ll always read the new Ian McEwan, the new Tim Winton,” the author begins before leaving his armchair, walking towards his desk, and picking up his copy of Maggie O’Farrell’s I Am, I Am, I Am. (“I recently discovered Maggie O’Farrell – this was great.”)

Although a fan of both Jonathan Franzen and Michael Ondaatje, Higginson admits that he was disappointed by Purity and gave up halfway through Warlight before losing interest. He sheepishly confesses that he doesn’t read many local writers.

He turns to his book case and hands me Edward St. Aubyn’s volume of The Patrick Melrose Novels, pronouncing St. Aubyn’s monographs as “brilliant.”

Be mindful of your mental health

Higginson returns to his armchair and, once seated, earnestly and introspectively discloses that his greatest regret is giving up on himself after university; not taking better care of himself as a younger person and neglecting his mental health in the process.

His involvement with the Market Theatre, working in a bookshop in London and “my nebulous theatre career” was met with years which “I wasted by losing that momentum I got.

“I regret not just taking better care of myself as a younger person. I should have gone to therapy,” Higginson says in a heavy voice.

“I think I was quite depressed for a couple of years, without naming it or even being aware of it,” he continues.

“It’s very hard to take control of your life when you don’t have parents who are present or someone in your life who is saying ‘what are you doing next?’”

The author hesitates before revealing that he was always left to his own devices, with neither family nor friends enquiring about his mental well-being.

He’s of opinion that youth is definitely wasted on the young, as you’re “so depressed and riddled with fear and anxiety and self-fear.

“They don’t actually know what they’ve got … The gift of freedom to go and live anywhere in the world … To do anything…”

He chuckles slightly as he realises that that was exactly what he was doing twenty-odd years ago and now regrets doing that.

“You have your one life and you don’t have a second draft and then you die and that’s that,” he says solemnly, his eyes focused on his clasped hands.

“You’re going to get things wrong and the most important thing is that when you do fuck up and when you do make a mistake, is to turn that into something positive,” he furthers with an intense look in his eyes.

“Which I think I have done, you know. Ja…” Craig Higginson trails off, a small half-smile on his face, picks up his cellphone, and announces that it – unfortunately – is time to get back to the drudgery…

Three concluding questions

1. What is your motto?

I try not to come at anything with a motto. I try to make sense out of what stands in front of me – and then move on from it, as if it’s a stepping stone to somewhere more present, more accurate.

2. Who is your hero of fiction?

I don’t have one and I have learned from a wide range of writers. Graham Greene, for instance, taught me that you can write into places that are dark and into the lives of people who are despairing but still come away with a novel that is affirming and uplifting. He was also able to write books that dug deep but were always story-driven and entertaining. His writing style is clean and supple and I like the way he proceeds with so little fuss.

3. Who are your heroes in real life?

I most admire people who don’t whine and complain about things that impinge on their own self-interest. There’s that term ‘grit’ – which to me means perseverance, humour, perspective, courage – what used to be called ‘character’. There are so many reasons to be bitter and twisted – but what contribution are we making and how immediately boring we are if we submit to that?

What contribution indeed.


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Peter Harris’s first novel rings as true as any history, writes Ray Hartley

Published in the Sunday Times

Peter Harris, more used to chronicling the facts, gives us new insights into what’s going on behind the scenes with a novel about a mining magnate, writes Ray Hartley

Bare Ground
Peter Harris, Picador Africa, R260

I arranged to meet Peter Harris at the restaurant 10 Bompas in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs. I chose the restaurant because it was where I had met Harris before to interview him about his previous work, Birth. Like his first book In a Different Time, Birth was nonfiction, telling the story of the 1994 election. Harris had been head of the Independent Electoral Commission’s monitoring directorate and his insider’s account read like a thriller.

The book I wanted to discuss with him over lunch, Bare Ground, is a work of fiction. But so intertwined are its characters, locations and plot with contemporary South African life that it rings as true as any history. As if to confirm this, I discover while finishing the book that 10 Bompas is one of its locations, a place where dealmakers and power brokers lunch.

After we have sat down, I point out this coincidence and Harris laughs, uncertainly, as if laughing and then deciding to withdraw the laugh until he has thought it through more carefully.

“At the next table,” he says motioning with his head. I turn and, as if on cue, one of Joburg’s rougher businessmen can be seen at a table where deals are made.

I opened Bare Ground with trepidation. How would a chronicler of the transition manage the infinitely more complex task of writing fiction, which requires pace, character development and plot?

A few pages in, however, I was lost in the world Harris has conjured up. It is a world both familiar and revealing, where the powerful, greased by whisky, fuelled by steaks, embalmed in wood panelling, and blissfully ignorant of the consequences of their deeds, decide the fates of their corporations and, sometimes by accident, sometimes deliberately, that of the nation.

Harris has brought this world out of the shadows where it has lurked, largely unobserved, for the last 23 years and beyond. The set is the mining town of Johannesburg, now evolved into a place of commerce, but still carrying the rude DNA of its origins.

“Johannesburg is a central character, a living, breathing, passionate character. It’s an organism with all its contradictions,” says Harris. “You pitch up at the robots and you’ve got economic refugees from Africa. A blind guy being led by a lead. There’s a part of Johannesburg that keeps its mining town mentality. People are bribing, stealing, grabbing, pushing – 1994 did not change any of that.”

I tell him that it reads like a thriller.

“It’s the pace of Joburg and its politics. The moment that they hear there’s a deal in the offing, they come sniffing.”

The novel tells the story of one such deal in which the head of a mining house, which has come late to the empowerment party, seeks to bring aboard partners who will not threaten control, but will keep the doors to political power open.

The head of this business is Max Sinclair, a complex man with a troubled history. By the time the deal is done, lives will have been upended; some will be rich, others poor, as Sinclair orchestrates the details with a sociopathic detachment from the consequences of his actions.

“Max is cold, ruthless. Betrayal is in his blood,” says Harris.

What makes Bare Ground compelling is that Sinclair’s motivations extend beyond greed and the desire for power. There are events in his personal history that explain his choices and his emotional isolation.

I ask Harris if his is a bleak world. He is anxious to dispel the notion. There are characters, he points out, who are not prepared to sell their souls. One such character will find himself tested to the limit as the deal unfolds. He is a human rights lawyer, and an adviser to the rich and powerful.

It is possible to see real people in these characters – or bits of real people cut apart and reassembled so that they are not immediately recognisable. Harris’s own background as a human rights lawyer and one who has witnessed the churning wheels of post-apartheid power first-hand shows in the authenticity of these characters. In a Different Time and Birth documented the recent past. He has managed the transition from nonfiction to fiction so seamlessly that Bare Ground seems the logical third book on the state of contemporary South Africa.

Harris has avoided proselytising and has maintained the pace and complex development required of a thriller.

“You can’t give a state of the nation by banging on a drum,” he says. @hartleyr

Bare Ground

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“Apartheid did impart in us a violent approach to life” – a feature on Achmat Dangor

The last time Silas Ali encountered Lieutenant Du Boise, Silas was locked in the back of a police van and the lieutenant was conducting a vicious assault on Silas’s wife, Lydia, in revenge for her husband’s participation in Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress.

When Silas sees Du Boise by chance twenty years later, as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is about to deliver its report, crimes from the past erupt into the present, splintering the Alis’ fragile peace.

A clear-eyed story of a brittle family on the crossroads of history and a fearless skewering of the pieties of revolutionary movements, Bitter Fruit is a cautionary tale of how we do, or do not, address the deepest wounds of the past.


Kwanele Sosibo recently wrote a feature on Dangor, published in The Mail & Guardian; the two discussed Dangor’s acclaimed novel, the TRC, and why it’s an appropriate time to have reprinted Bitter Fruit, 16 years after its original publication:

‘What turned these apartheid police into killers?” asks author Achmat Dangor. He is in his lounge in the Johannesburg suburb of Parkview discussing the inner worlds of the complex characters that populate his novel, Bitter Fruit.

“They weren’t born inhuman. Is it their culture, is it their upbringing? Is it things that are planted in them by their surroundings, by their family, by their culture? That’s what creates human beings.

Bitter Fruit, because of its context, was the one where, perhaps, I took this beyond what people would expect … the personalisation, turning into personification.”

First published in 2001 and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2004, Dangor’s Bitter Fruit was re-published by Picador Africa earlier this year.

“I think it was appropriate to [re]publish it because there are issues in the book that we are still dealing with today,” says Dangor.

“Ahmed Timol’s killing is only being truly investigated now, after all these years. Apart from people who suffered like that there must also be families and communities who need an understanding of what happened so they can come to terms with it,” he says. “Ahmed Timol’s mother gave evidence at the TRC [the Truth and Reconciliation Commission] but there was no follow-up investigation.”

The TRC is a significant pivot in Dangor’s Bitter Fruit, set as it is at the tail end of Nelson Mandela’s presidency. Its unfinished business and its lack of capacity preoccupy the professional and personal lives of several key characters. At a party to celebrate the 50th birthday of Silas, a spin doctor in the safety and security ministry, guests throw pithy darts at the TRC process, with the report having just been released.

“After all this time, we’ve got a big fat report but we’re still no closer to the truth,” says one guest. “That’s because we always put our faith in priests. They don’t have it in them to hold these apartheid thugs accountable!”

Having known people close to the process, Dangor is even-handed in his criticism of the commission, noting how the commission was hamstrung by not having its own investigators and very little time. “I think at some point the government just decided, ‘Look, it is time to move on, beyond just dealing with the past …let’s try to plan for the future.’”

The irony, of course, is that there are apparently too few positive results of that eagerness to move on. Reading the book 16 years after its first publication, the absence of a giddy euphoria is refreshing.

In Dangor’s recently liberated South Africa, a sense of foreboding surrounds the Old Man’s presidency. Corruption is not quite the order of the day but the urgency to paper over the cracks of the transition hem in the lives of the new democratic country’s citizens, in particular its women.

“I don’t know if I had a direct political agenda. My intention, really, was to tell some untold stories,” says Dangor. “I come from an activist family. The things that my family went through …

Continue reading here.

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“Children are not colour-blind” – Mylo Freeman on racial diversity in children’s books

Mylo Freeman

The Dutch author Mylo Freeman, who gained recognition for her Princess Arabella-series, which features a black princess as main character, recently wrote a piece for The Guardian on how the struggle for diversity in children’s literature still has a long way to go:

I’m a black Dutch author and illustrator of picture books and I’d like to tell you something about my work. The idea for my main character Princess Arabella came from a story I heard about a little black girl who was offered the role of princess in a school play, which she declined, simply because she didn’t believe that a princess could be black. I decided then and there it was high time for a black princess to appear in a picture book! Once the book was finished I had to look for a publisher of course. After some research I thought Eenhoorn, a Belgian publisher, would be the best candidate. I wrapped all the illustrations carefully and sent them by mail to Belgium. After that it was just a matter of waiting for a response…

“It was a rainy day,” my publisher told me later. “I had just attended what was supposed to be a meeting to celebrate an organization that provides books for children who are having difficulties learning Dutch as a second language. They were mainly children from a Moroccan background”. The books my publisher brought to read to them didn’t relate to them at all. Frustrated and disappointed she returned to the office only to find my first manuscript and illustrations for Princess Arabella carefully wrapped at her desk!

This was 10 years ago and now there are 10 Arabella books published and more to come! Princess Arabella’s Birthday was very well received, won prizes and was translated into many languages. However when it came to selling the rights to the US things got complicated. “It’s her hair”, white American publishers whispered, embarrassed, “her hair looks uncombed, our audiences will be offended”. I was baffled, how could Arabella’s and her mum the queen’s hair be offensive to anyone? I modelled it after traditional African hairstyles after all?

This of course had everything to do with African American history. A history marked by slavery and where generations after still reflected the white dominant culture. However, there has been a trend going on for some time now for black women to have their own natural hairstyles. And it seems that women nowadays get to make a choice as how to wear their hair and not out of an imposed sense of social pressure.

Continue reading here.

Princess Arabella’s Birthday
‘Once upon a time, there was a little princess called Arabella. She lived in a big palace with her father, the King, and her mother, the Queen. It was nearly Arabella’s birthday. But what do you give a little princess who already has everything?’Ruby-encrusted roller skates, a golden bicycle, a stuffed mouse, a cuddly mouse, a tea set, a doll’s pram carriage? No, Princess Arabella wants something different for her birthday: an elephant.But will she get what she wants?

Princess Arabella Mixes Colours
Princess Arabella thinks her room is boring. So she decides she’s going to do something about that – all by herself. She mixes up some paint and in no time at all her room looks fabulous.The latest book about the popular little Princess Arabella, with fun information about mixing colours.

Princess Arabella's Birthday

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Princess Arabella Mixes Colours

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Fill it With Intent: Read Steven Boykey Sidley’s Stirring 60th Birthday Speech

Imperfect SoloSteven Boykey Sidley, author of Imperfect Solo, made a moving and eloquent speech at his 60th birthday recently.

Sidley shared the speech on his Facebook page; it’s a superb piece of writing, in which he reflects on having reached a time of life were he has all that he needs – “in a Maslovian sense” – while also insisting that “wants forever unsatiated” are vital to human existence.

Read the full speech here:

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Jacob Dlamini Writes About South Africa’s Monolingualism for The Big Issue

Categories of PersonsJacob Dlamini, co-editor of Categories of Persons, has written about South Africans’ inability to converse with one another in The Big Issue‘s collector’s edition, which is on sale until 17 January 2014.

“For all our vaunted multilingualism, South Africa is essentially a monolingual country,” Dlamini writes. Read a snippet of the article:

It is one of the ironies of South Africa that for a country so loud and a people so talkative, South Africans barely understand each other. Sure, we have 11 official languages that are spoken and understood by the majority of the country’s 50-million odd inhabitants. We have some of the best code-switchers (people who can converse in more than one language at the same time) in the world. Yet, for all that, we cannot converse with one another. Why is that? This inability is my big issue.

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“Work is a Whole New World”: Shelagh Foster on Your First Year of Work: The Survival Guide

Your First Year of WorkOn All4Women Shelagh Foster, author of the newly published Your First Year of Work: The Survival Guide, gave some handy tips from the book on work ethics and how to get ahead in your first job.

Foster explains that she wrote the book because “Work is a whole new world” and she has “witnessed countless candidates and new employees battling to get ahead”:

When I wrote Your First Year of Work – A Survival Guide it was aimed predominantly at workplace newbies; those who have no experience of work culture and who need guidance to become fully functional employees.

However, once I start discussing the book with friends and colleagues, many of them said the same thing: ‘Never mind the youngsters: I could do with this book.’

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Mtutuzeli Nyoka Explains How a Love of Reading Led to Him Becoming a Writer

A Hill of FoolsMtutuzeli Nyoka, author of A Hill of Fools, has blogged about how his love of writing stems from a life-time of reading. According to Nyoka, reading as a writer differs from reading for pleasure. “With time, as your own writing improves, you realize that writing is not perhaps a gift that one is born with.”

Nyoka says that he reads a lot of history and biographies because for him “writing is not only about the language or just telling a story but also about the great forces that shaped people’s lives and the causes they stood for”. He adds that it is equally important to tell a gripping story and that, as he matures as a writer, he finds that this comes more easily. “Because of the wonder of words and the beauty of language most things in my life now seem worthy,” he concludes.

I am sometimes asked where my love and inspiration comes from for writing. I think this has been continually nourished by a life-time of reading. I have had the stupendous fortune to grow up in a home filled with books. They were the lucent edges of a memorable childhood.

I remember the enchantment, and the sweet thrills that books brought, and still do, into my life. Not only was my mind nourished and my spirit refreshed, but each book beckoned me to another, and another. These treasures all led me to a vast Eden of knowledge.

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Mtutuzeli Nyoka Discusses the Theme of Slavery in His New Novel, A Hill of Fools

A Hill of FoolsWhile most books on African slavery deal with the reproachable way in which they were treated during the passage and upon arrival in the new country, Mtutuzeli Nyoka chose to look at “how slavery enacted itself on our continent” in his new novel, A Hill of Fools.

On his blog, Nyoka describes the idea behind the story line of A Hill of Fools, saying “I set out to discover the instinctive reactions of the ordinary African men and women to the extreme burden of slavery. I have therefore based the story entirely on the continent.”

I suppose my interest in slavery was piqued in the 80s when I laid my hands on a banned copy of Roots – Alex Haley, and I read it as a thirsty man would sip water. I think I was both stunned and fascinated that money could buy human beings as property.

Since then I have steadily devoured most of what I could find on slavery, not for the purposes of academic learning, but out of interest in the history of the continent: what my late school principal once referred to as the worst affliction visited on any continent in the last millennium.

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Francoise Malby-Anthony Describes Meeting Lawrence Anthony for the First Time

The Last RhinosThe Elephant WhispererMyrtle Ryan from the Sunday Tribune paid a visit to Thula Thula, the late Lawrence Anthony’s game reserve, which is featured in his books, The Last Rhinos and The Elephant Whisperer.

Ryan met Anthony’s wife, Francoise Malby-Anthony, who described recording the voice-over for the Coronation Fund Managers advert about Anthony and spoke about the first time they met.

When the renowned Lawrence Anthony, often called “The Elephant Whisperer”, died, the herd came to his home to bid him a final farewell.

But they did not forget the woman he loved, his wife Francoise Malby-Anthony. So when two new calves were born, on both occasions the elephants took them up to the house to show her the latest additions.

Book details

  • The Last Rhinos: My Battle to Save One of the World’s Greatest Creatures by Lawrence Anthony, Graham Spence
    EAN: 9780283071621
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  • The Elephant Whisperer: Learning About Life, Loyalty and Freedom From a Remarkable Herd of Elephants by Lawrence Anthony, Graham Spence
    EAN: 9780330506687
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