Talking authors: Siphiwo Mahala

The Mail & Guardian is running a series of interviews with South African authors. We posed difficult questions; we also asked some easy ones. Siphiwo Mahala takes up the challenge

Describe yourself in a sentence.
Some people say I’m reserved but I love to laugh and make other people laugh even more; and I guess that makes me a sucker for fun, love and peace.

Describe your ideal reader.
Imaginative individuals who allow words to invade their minds, penetrate their heart and soul, and take them to the highest peaks of ecstasy.

What are you working on?
I’m experimenting with a project comprised of trilogies that transcend different periods and written from different perspectives. Writing short stories for me is liberating and ignites my creative juices more than any other form of creative expression.

Tell us about your everyday writing routine.
I write at any given moment. Inspiration to write comes at the strangest of times and in very awkward places. I once wrote a story on the programme while attending a funeral. Sometimes when I’m overwhelmed by voices in my head I sneak out of the bedroom and sit in my study without my wife noticing.

Which book(s) are you currently reading
Memory is the Weapon by Don Mattera. It’s a re-read, and I’m revisiting some notable texts including Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimmamanda Ngozi Adichie. I finished Black Diamond by Zakes Mda a few days ago.

Do you remember the first novel you read?
Not exactly, but the few that have stayed on my mind would be Ubulumko Bezinja by Rustum Siyongwana, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and Animal Farm by George Orwell. However, I am highly influenced by short story writers such as Can Themba, Njabulo S Ndebele, Peter Mtuze, Bessie Head, etc.

What book, if any, changed your life?
I wouldn’t say it was life-changing but Fools and Other Stories by Njabulo S Ndebele opened new vistas of creative imagination for me.

Do you write by hand, typewriter or computer?
I always begin with handwritten sketches before using the computer. Much as computers are a more advanced medium, I find them quite obstructive when writing a new story.

Why should people buy your book as a gift this holiday?
I am told that When a Man Cries is great company when you want to relax, have fun and take an objective view to life. It is an essential read for men who want to make a positive contribution to society and women who want to understand men better.

Which book(s) are you buying as presents?
A Man Who is Not a Man by Thando Mgqolozana, Black Diamond by Zakes Mda and Holy Hill by Angelina N Sithebe

What CD are you listening to now?
Soul in Mind by Lira.

In a multi/polymedia world, why is book publishing still important?
Books are resilient, enduring and will remain an essential part of our civilisation. They possess a certain aura of intimacy that cannot be obtained in iPods, kindle, computers and all such devices. They are reliable companions that keep you company when you go to bed, to the beach, in a taxi or even in a remote desert. Books are sources of entertainment as much as they are fountains of knowledge and wisdom.

What subject is now passé in South Africa?
Great writers can tell dull stories in exceptionally vibrant ways. It is how you write rather than what you write about that makes a great work of creative imagination. That is why there are new novels still being written about the Jewish Holocaust, which happened more than half-a-century ago.

Siphiwo Mahala was born in Grahamstown. He completed a BA honours degree at Fort Hare University, and a Master of Arts degree in African Literature at Wits University. His short stories appear in several anthologies, including the Southern African Short Story Review (2002), “A” is for Ancestors (2004) and Words Gone Two Soon (2005). He is the recipient of the 2006 Ernst van Heerden Creative Writing Award for his first novel, When a Man Cries (UKZN, 2007).

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