Writing advice from Marlon James

Marlon James, Jamaican writer, has published four novels. I have only read A Brief History of Seven Killings – a fictional account of the plot to murder Bob Marley – which won the Man Booker Prize in 2015. It is an immersive read, filled with dialect and alive with characters that will have you thinking about them for months and years afterward. The plot is pretty damn fantastic too.

His latest book – Black Leopard, Red Wolf – is the first in a fantasy trilogy he’s writing and is on my bookshelf waiting for me. He also has his own literary podcast with his editor – Marlon and Jake read Dead People. I’ve listened to James in quite a few other podcasts too, and after listening I’m left with is the sense that writing can be an intensely pleasurable task and that we shouldn’t all take ourselves so seriously. I always feel encouraged by that.

He was interviewed by LitHub in 2017, and offered a bunch of helpful pragmatic advice, including the following:

Writing is work for me. I just don’t have the luxury of waiting until the mood strikes. I don’t have the luxury of waiting until inspiration strikes. I also don’t believe that’s how ideas work. I think ideas hit you when you’re busy, when you are already in the process of discovering, or thinking, or creating, that’s what leads to creation.

Marlon James as interviewed by LitHub.

Hopefully this advice sparks your enthusiasm and you get writing too.

Writing advice from Will Self

Today’s advice from the Guardian collection Write, from the chapter by Will Self. This chapter takes the form of ten tips for a writing life.

10. Regard yourself as a small corporation of one. Take yourself off on team-building exercises (long walks). Hold a Christmas party every year at which you stand in the corner of your writing room, shouting very loudly to yourself while drinking a bottle of white wine. Then masturbate under the desk. The following day you will feel a deep and cohering sense of embarassment.

From The Guardian – Write (2012)

Writing advice from Stephen King

Today’s writing advice from the author of more than sixty books and more than 200 short stories – Stephen King.

This advice can be found in his fantastic book On Writing, available in all good bookstores. Much of the advice in this book is practical and a great deal of it has to do with letting go of what you think you should be writing, and writing the thing you can and must write.

Very good advice, indeed.

Book buyers aren’t attracted, by and large, b y the literary merits of a novel; book-buyers want a good story to take with them on the airplane, something that will first fascinate them, then pull them in, and keep them turning the pages.

Stephen King – On Writing

Living While Feminist is in a good bookshop near you!

What a good way to start a week!

Living While Feminist is now out in the world and in bookstores. HOORAY! 

You might have already seen that:

  • Living While Feminist has been profiled as ‘New and Noteworthy’ by the Book Lounge on their landing page, and is available for delivery from their store (if you’re in Cape Town);
  • You can order a copy from Exclusive books; and
  • You can now order a copy from Takealot.

If you’re a kindle reader, you also know that the eBook has been released on AmazonSnapplify and Kobo and is now on Takealot
So, tell your friends, and please tag the publishers on social media if you share about LWF online!

All of us who contributed to this book are very proud of it, and hope you enjoy!

Going back to High School, 18 years later…

This March I had the opportunity to go back to my high school as a writer in residence to give writing workshops and have discussions around feminist issues with the girls there.

In 1997, the then Principal of Epworth, Geraldine Kerton-Johnson, had come to my junior school to tell us about what it was like there. From a fold up chair in a small school on the KZN North Coast I listened to her warm voice tell stories about the school far away in PMB. I came home that day and told my mom I was going to Epworth. There was no way we could afford this unless I got a scholarship, and so I wrote the entrance exams on what I remember to be a cold day, with a lot of nerves. A few months later I got in on an academic scholarship.

In early 1998 my mom and I rocked up to Epworth in our old red Nissan Exa with a boot full of the clothes I’d need and all the things from the very long list of hostel requirements. It would be my first time at a boarding school. I was already wearing my checkered dress and bright red jersey and was shown around the hostel I’d be staying in by the elderly matron, almost my height. She showed me to my tiny room with a curtain as a door, and told me we’d be getting up at 6.10 am, alerted by a bell.

The same bell, still there, all these years later.

When I had recovered from the shock of that news my mom and I walked around the school a bit. It was beautiful. When she left, she was tearful, but I was so excited to be there.

I spent five years of my life living at Epworth School. That’s the longest I ever lived in one place. In the hostel I made friends with people from all over the country, whose lives were nothing like mine, and yet because we were all in the same place and all teenagers, we all had things in common.

I learnt from teachers who taught with passion and enthusiasm, who encouraged us to ask questions and to listen respectfully to others. I became part of teams and we cheered for each other. We celebrated each other’s successes and we mourned each other’s heartbreaks and hardships. I also learnt to make my bed neatly – such a struggle that my progress in this regard was commented on in my reports by the matron – and I think of my hostel most mornings when I do so.

At Epworth my feminism found its roots and they went deep, not through lesson but through lived experience. There was never a doubt at Epworth that women could do anything, that we were as smart, as talented, as capable as any other person. Epworth taught me that female friendship is one of the most important things you can cultivate in your life. Our school motto was fida humana fortis – faith, compassion, courage.

At Epworth – an incredibly privileged school – I learnt about social injustice and how painful it was that money could shape your opportunities in life. We were encouraged from Grade 8 to participate in social development programmes, to take note of those with less than us, to not just empathise but act. We went out into the world, and tried to make it better.

There were many times during my school career when it was uncertain whether my family was going to be able to pay the outstanding fees that weren’t covered by my scholarship. I learned that you make the most out of the opportunities that you are given, and that when you work hard it helps to open doors that otherwise would have been closed to you.

One year when I was still there our former head girl (Nomalanga Mkhize) came to speak to us during end of year assembly. I was so proud to know her and to hear what she had to say and what she was doing with her life. I always thought – wow, I hope one day I am doing interesting enough stuff that they ask me back to talk. So when I got the email last year to invite me to come it really felt like an honour.

Going back to Epworth felt like going back home.

I left there feeling nourished and inspired. The girls asked me hard questions and weren’t afraid to put up their hand and give their opinion. They were socially aware and were kind to each other even when they disagreed. They listened and spoke with respect, conviction, and courage. In some of the classes I worked with them on writing – for themselves and for their teachers. These pieces of writing were earnest and honest and powerful.

On the Friday, eight brave young women stood up and did slam poetry in front of the whole school. They were incredible, and the screams of support and finger clicks of encouragement gave me goosebumps. These were young women rooting for each other. We need this. The world needs this.

I remember when I was at school that Baz Luhrman ‘Wear Sunscreen‘ video came out, packed full of advice we were too young to receive. I wondered what advice I could offer these young women that I am sure of now, 18 years after I left high school at 18. I realised they probably have more good advice for me. Still, I hope that they keep writing, keep speaking up, keep thinking about injustice, keep supporting each other.

These women weren’t even born when I left high school and yet, they have so much insight and courage and passion. If this is the future generation, we are really really lucky.