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How many books get sold in SA every year?

An excerpt from The Good Book Appreciation Society August Newsletter:

Have you ever wondered what SA publishing looks like from the inside? How many books the average South African author sells? Or what constitutes a local bestseller? We took a closer look at the numbers, read ‘em and weep:

There were 10.5 million books sold in South Africa in 2015*.

But let’s not pop the champagne quite yet. The majority of this number, about 80%, is made up of non-fiction sales; text books, biographies, sports books, self-help, memoirs, cook books, the Kardashians telling all – again, adult colouring-in books, religious books, kids books, joke books, Zapiro’s Xmas special etc.

Out of those 10.5 million books, adult fiction only makes up about 2.5* million sales annually, or around 20%, if that. And only a FRACTION of those sales come from SA fiction. The rest are internationals; your JK Rowlings, Lee Childs, John Grisham, Gillian Flynn et al.

Harry Potter And The Cursed ChildTheodore Boone: The ScandalMake MeGone Girl

South African fiction sells somewhere in the region of 550 000 books a year across thousands of titles (and that’s being generous). BUT here’s the zinger, more than 450 000* of those are Afrikaans books.

And this is where we get to the sad part of the story. Your average SA novelist writing in English only sells 600 – 1000 copies of a novel in its lifetime. In a country with a population of more than 60 million people** (**2013).

The cherry on top: there were only 3 traditionally published South African english novels that sold more than 2000 copies in 2014. Any guesses which those were?

So please, give something local a shot next time you’re buying. It’s not life and death, but it kind of is.

* Nielsens Bookscan. Nielsen’s measure book sales at mainstream retail outlets – these figures do not include independent book stores.

The Good Book Appreciation Society is a ‘secret’ book club on Facebook with almost 6000 members.
To join the Good Book Appreciation Society or sign up for the monthly newsletter, email or friend Bea Reader on FB, and we’ll add you to the club.

Book details

Maire Fisher interviews Yewande Omotoso on GBAS

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This evening, over on The Good Book Appreciation Society, a secret book club on FB with over 5500 members (friend Bea Reader on FB to join the club) author Máire Fisher interviewed Yewande Omotoso, about her highly acclaimed new novel, The Woman Next Door.

Here is an exerpt of that interview, to read the rest of it simply join The Good Book Appreciation Society by friending Bea Reader on FB.

Máire Fisher Okay, I’ll start by saying how much I enjoyed reading The Woman Next Door. I swallowed it whole one afternoon and have since enjoyed going back to it more thoughtfully. That’s the sign of a good book for me, one that happily bears rereading.
It’s such a beautifully constructed book. With that in mind, and of course, looking at your life as an architect, do you think it’s accurate to draw a comparison between designing a house and creating a story?

Yewande Omotoso Thank you. Means something to hear that. We’re doing a few translations so I have vey keen editors and readers combing through the book and it keeps me on my toes. I always wonder – can the book withstand all this?!! In terms of the arch-writing comparison…
My favourite is to use the various lexicons as metaphors. Yes, foundations, scaffolding, drafting and so on.

Máire Fisher Its foundations are solid …

Máire Fisher How much planning goes into your stories when you write them, or is it a more organic process?

Yewande Omotoso Planning wise very little initially
Initially it’s a lot of feeling the thing out. Wondering what the heck it is
That can take a draft or 3. And then the planning does come in eventually

Máire Fisher I like the idea of feeling it out. Getting to know the people you’re going to put inside the house …

Yewande Omotoso Exactly. It can be scary though.
A lot of stuff NEVER makes it to the book!

Máire Fisher Once a building has been constructed, bricks in place and mortar set, we tend to think of it as being set in stone. And yet, like life, nothing ever really is. Walls can come tumbling down, renovations can change the character of a building completely
it might not make it, but I think a shadow of what has been written stays behind.

Yewande Omotoso Sure. I see shadows all the time. I see the lines that got cut!!! he he

Máire Fisher Even the people who live in a place can make it into something different, cause it to lose its perceived value to us. So continuing with the idea of designing a book, I loved what you did by putting Hortensia into the very first home that Marion designed.
Was this something you’d thought of from the very first moment of writing – or was having Hortensia set up home in the house Marion saw as being hers more of a ‘what if’ moment in the story?

Yewande Omotoso Yes! That idea arrived one day! Definitely not from the beginning. I begin withvey VERY tenuous strands I confess. I keep writing and the story finds me at some point
I begin with character, let me say that

Máire Fisher Writing towards story.

Yewande Omotoso Yes, keep writing till the story appears.
(There must be easier ways!!!!!!!!)

Máire Fisher So Hortensia and Marion were quite strong from the get go?

Yewande Omotoso I always begin wwith quite clear characters, yes. I started with Hortensia

Máire Fisher The whole idea of writing “what you know” bears looking at as far as both Bomboy and The Woman Next Door are concerned. How can you ‘know’ a character as lost and lonely as Leke in Bomboy? How are you able to step into the white narrow (-minded) shoes of Marion, or into the irritable, irascible life of Hortensia?

to read the rest of this interview simply join The Good Book Apprecation Society by friending Bea Reader on Facebook, or email

Máire Fisher is a freelance writer and editor. She also runs creative writing workshops and is a regular member of a writing retreat group that meets at the Grail in Kleinmond. Her work has appeared in Twist, Just Keep Breathing, South African Writing, A Woman Sits Down to Write, Women Flashing and Writing the Self. Several of her poems and short pieces of fiction have been published online. Maire lives in Fish Hoek with her husband, Rob, and her two sons Daniel and Kieran. Birdseye is her first novel, it comes highly recommended (plus I really LOVED it) and you will find it right here.


AND, Yewande Omotoso was born in Barbados. She grew up in Nigeria and moved to South Africa in 1992. Yewande trained as an architect and is a designer, freelance writer, poet and novelist. After completing a Masters degree in Creative Writing, her debut novel Bom Boy was published in 2011 by Modjaji Books. It won the 2012 South African Literary Award for First-Time Published Author, was shortlisted for the 2012 Sunday Times Fiction Prize in South Africa as well as the M-Net Literary Awards 2012, and was the runner-up for the 2013 Etisalat Prize for Literature.


And you can find this phenomenal book that is sure to sweep all the prizes next year, right here.


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Ayesha Kajee interviews Kagiso Lesego over on The Good Book Appreciation Society

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Here is an excerpt of the first Cocktail Hour Interview of the year over on The Good Book Appreciation society, between Ayesha Kajee and award-winning author Kagiso Lesego.

The Good Book Appreciation Society is a secret book club on Facebook with over 4500 members. To join simply friend Bea Reader on Facebook.

Ayesha Kajee Hello everyone, I’m so excited to be interviewing Kagiso this evening. If you haven’t read it yet, TBBMB is essentially a brilliant coming of age novel, but on other levels it also addresses issues of patriarchy within families and the greater society, as well as providing subtle commentary on upward mobility and moving out of the loxion, a theme that also occurs in Kagiso’s previous novel, the Mending Season. Kagiso, did you set out with these themes in mind, or did they evolve organically as you wrote TBBBMB?

Kagiso Lesego I think they evolved organically. I get ideas through conversations, news, etc. So it’s all really stuff I think about and then if I’m passionate enough, it turns into a book

Ayesha Kajee Wow that sounds amazing. In view of the frank (and sometimes devastating) conversations about racism and White privilege that have kickstarted 2016 in SA, one of the book’s most graphic scenes is the one where Basimane is prevented from playing in a rugby match where important selectors would be watching. Was there a specific real incident that spurred you to include this event in the novel?

Kagiso Lesego Yes, actually. I had a friend in high school who was a rugby star and that incident was taken from his experience on the field. The funny thing is that’s the one incident editors and publishers disputed. I was asked: is this realistic?

Ayesha Kajee I thoiught it was very realistic. And still relevant even. Considering Hashim Amla’s stated reasons for why he quit as cricket captain, for example.

Ayesha Kajee Though I feel your books are well suited to adult audiences too, you’ve said previously that the greatest challenge in writing for young adults is staying honest, staying real. Do you perhaps have one or more young adult beta readers who keep you on track? I ask because that searing honesty was evident in both TBBMB and TMS, and I’m awed!

Kagiso Lesego Yes! But there’s a lot of denial and I think that’s because between people of different colours, the other’s experience is often unimaginable. We’ve been taught not to know what’s going on on the other side of the fence. That’s been the power of apartheid, one of its long-lasting effects.

Kagiso Lesego Not really. I think I really connect with my 12 year-old self. And I connect with my readers. I’m open to their experiences, even when they’re hard to hear.

Ayesha Kajee Well, for what it’s worth, I think raising the issues in young adult novels is an excellent start at dismantling that. I lent TBBMB to my goddaughter and she enjoyed it, and we are planning to have a serious discussion about some of the themes you raise. She’s sixteen. When you writte, and with the hindsight you now have, is there any advice you’d have loved to have been given when you were sixteen?

Kagiso Lesego I don’t know about advice, but definitely adult presence would have been nice. Looking back, I wish I’d had adults who’d been reassuring. Townships are rough. You’re on your own in ways we don’t always care to explore. Adults are overworked and oppressed and exhausted. I wish I’d had the benefit of happier, more present adults.

Ayesha Kajee I can certainly empathise with that. And am sure young people today would too. Perhaps one of the biggest questions raised in TBBMB is societal endorsement of GBV and the manner in which women are often constrained to become complicit (albeit passively) in the abuse of other women. As a society, do you believe we’re making any progress towards lessening such invidious complicity?

Kagiso Lesego There’s some really powerful work being done to move forward. If you look at women rising against GBV now, you’re really inspired, but at the time I wrote the book, it was awful. Many older wome’s reaction to President Zuma’s rape trial, for example. I’d rather not remember that.

Ayesha Kajee Eish! yes.When you were at Time of the Writer at UKZN in 2013, you received much flack about comparisons that were made between the situation in the book and the rape trial of Mr Zuma. Did you find that somewhat ironic, given that to some extent it mirrored Naledi’s situation in the novel?

Kagiso Lesego Ironic yes, but generally quite frightening. I was scared when I was at ToTW. I remember us running into the elevator! My experience of the festival was ruined by that. There were many objections to me even just saying he raped his victim, just naming that at all.

To read the rest of the interview simply join The Good Book Appreciation Society by friending Bea Reader on Facebook.

Ayesah Kajee is a development and media professional with extensive governance and rights experience. She directed the Freedom of Expression Institute and the International Human Rights Exchange Program at Wits University, and headed the Political Parties Project at the SA Institute of International Affairs.
Her work includes consultancies for various local and intergovernmental organizations, and her research focus has included hate speech, genocide and incitement to violence. You can follow Ayesha on Twitter on @ayeshakajee

Ayesha also writes book reviews for The Sunday Times, like this one:

In 2002 Toronto-based TSAR published Kagiso Lesego Molope’s debut novel, Dancing in the Dust. Oxford University Press later picked it up for Southern African readers and translated it into three South African languages. Dancing in the Dust was the first book by a South African of African descent to make the IBBY list in 2006. It is also set work in South Africa and read for A levels in Zimbabwe. The Mending Season was published by Oxford University Press SA in 2006 and in 2008 (in German) by Baobab Books in Switzerland. Her third novel, This Book Betrays My Brother, has won the 2014 Percy Fitzpatrick Prize for Youth Literature. Molope has just completed her fourth book and first adult novel.

You can pick up Kagiso’s book, This Book Betrays my Brother, here.

1-Question Interview: Sarah Lotz

Introducing a new series of 1-question interviews on The Good Book Appreciation Society.

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(Click on image to enlarge.)

The Good Book Appreciation Society is a secret book club on Facebook with over 4000 members. To join the club, friend Bea Reader on FB or email

Sarah Lotz is the author of a ton of different books under a ton of different names, her most recent is Day Four. Steven King says: ‘DAY FOUR, is really good. It’s the cruise ship from hell.’

This week’s interview live with Marita van der Vyver in France

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Welcome to Cocktail Hour on The Good Book Appreciation Society.

At 5pm on Sunday 15th November, Terry Ellen Raats chatted to Marita van der Vyver about her incredible book, A Fountain in France live on The Good Book Appreciation Society. Here is an exerpt of that interview.

To join The Good Book Appreciation Society simply friend Bea Reader on Facebook or email

Terry Ellen Raats Thank you Bea Reader! And hello Marita van der Vyver

Marita van der Vyver Hi there.

Terry Ellen Raats In the aftermath of Friday night, our deepest sympathy, Marita, to you and your adopted and beloved France. We trust that you and your loved ones, Alain, Hugo, Thomas, Mia and Daniel, and their loved ones, are all safe ….?

Marita van der Vyver Thank you. We are all sad and shocked, but fortunately everyone I know personally seems to be safe.

Terry Ellen Raats It must feel strange, having grown up in a country where terror was used to fight for ideals, to be in a similar situation again … How are you feeling as you witness the events of this weekend … ?

Marita van der Vyver Very strange. Kind of déjà vu? My 15-year-old daughter sent an SMS Friday night: ‘Maman, I am so glad they are not attacking small villages. But if they do, where do you think we can go and live?’ This was not a question I ever thought I’d have to answer in the heart of ‘civilised’ Europe.

Terry Ellen Raats So tragic in so many ways ….And now to our book A fountain in France ends with “…why would

Marita van der Vyver Why would I want to be French?

Terry Ellen Raats “Why would I want to become French when I can stay Afrikaans – and along the way become a tiny bit provencal too”. How do you manage your dual identity?

Marita van der Vyver I don’t see it as being torn, I see it as being enriched. I often quote a friend who says she has her roots in Africa, but her branches and leaves are thriving in another country.

Terry Ellen Raats How beautiful!

Marita van der Vyver Yes, I wish I thought of it first.

Terry Ellen Raats And with your writing- that is so heartfelt, from the heart, is there a difference between the character Marita, and the Marita who writes?

Marita van der Vyver Ooh, that’s a difficult one. But I suppose the answer is yes, because the moment I write about myself, even in non-fiction like this book, I fictionalise myself. Have you noticed that when you read writers’ autobiographies there is often more fiction in there than in their fiction?
By which I don’t mean I’m lying all the time!

Terry Ellen Raats No, of course not, but as writers we can make up as much as we want to …
Your book Where the Heart Is has been described as an autobiographical novel – did this influence how your wrote A fountain in france?

Marita van der Vyver I’m still struggling to define both Where the Heart Is and Fountain in France (FIF). They’re not travel books, they’re not novels, they’re not autobiography because I’m not old enough to write a ruthlessly honest autobiography (I have to wait for a few people to die first), so I think the reader can call my writing whatever he/she wants to call it.

Terry Ellen Raats Your books read like a travelogue – and some sections feel like a handbook on how to manage/survive a household of teenagers … was that planned, or does your natural humour just make it feel that way?

Marita van der Vyver What I do know, is that I have to be more careful of ‘real’ people’s feelings when i write non-fiction. In fiction you can literally get away with murdering your characters.

Terry Ellen Raats There is a strong dose of humour in your writing – and i’m reading your English versions – to what extent do you feel your sense of humour translates – or is it lost?

Marita van der Vyver Sorry, I added something to your previous question. I never plan humour. It always comes uninvited, even when I try to write quite seriously. But then I console myself with the fact that even Shakespeare wrote some very humorous passages.

To enjoy the rest of the interview simply join The Good Book Appreciation Society. Friend Bea Reader on FB or email

A reader, reviewer and some-times-writer and poet, Terry is mostly a Reader!
Steeped in a career of communications, marketing and copywriting, she has facilitated writing courses and creative workshops in Joburg and Cape Town. She also confesses to being a serial Literary Festival attendee. Terry’s work has also been included in a number of short story collections. Her poetry was selected as the Women’s 2002 Finalist in the Ottakars et Faber Competition, in Banbury, England.

Marita van der Vyver was born in Cape Town and holds a masters degree in journalism from the University of Stellenbosch. She published three novels for adolescents before her first adult novel, Griet skryf ‘n sprokie, became a best-seller, winning the M-Net, Eugène Marais and ATKV Prizes in 1992. Since then she has been a full-time writer of fiction for readers of all ages, producing novels, a collection of humorous essays, a collection of short stories, picture books for young children and numerous stories included in anthologies. She has won several awards as well as a bursary for international study from the SA Foundation for Creative Arts, and was invited to take part in the renowned writers’ programme of the University of Iowa in the USA. All her adult novels are translated from the original Afrikaans into English, Dutch and German, while Griet skryf ‘n sprokie has been translated into a dozen languages including Chinese and Icelandic. She lives in a small village in the south of France with her French husband, Alain Claisse. They have 3 sons and a daughter.

You can buy Marita’s novel here

Jeanne-Marie Jackson interviews Tendai Huchu on GBAS


Welcome to Cocktail Hour at The Good Book Appreciation Society. Jeanne-Marie Jackson will be chatting to Tendai Huchu about his highly acclaimed novel; The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician.

Here is an excerpt of this interview, to read the whole thing join The Good Book Appreciation Society by friending Bea Reader on Facebook, or email

Jeanne-Marie Jackson Hi everyone, thanks for joining us. And – mhoro munyori – waswera sei kuEdinburgh? First, let me note that I’ll be using “MMM” to refer to Tendai’s novel more quickly. I also want to start off with a quick plot summary here for anyone who may not have the novel ready to hand. The Maestro, The Magistrate, and the Mathematician is essentially an interweaving of three different Zimbabwean diaspora novellas across the shared terrain of Edinburgh. The Magistrate is, well, a (former) Magistrate; the Maestro is a solitary, serious reader who also works at a grocery store; and the Mathematician is a grad student in economics. The different plotlines don’t cross, at least for the most part, but I’ll stop there at risk of offering too many spoilers (which I’m sure I’ll end up fumbling into anyway).

Tendai Huchu Mhoro JM, taswera maswerawo. Thank you guys for having me here.

Jeanne-Marie Jackson And now for my first question! Tendai’s first novel, as many of you know, took place entirely in Harare. It is very much grounded in ZANU-PF politics and “new Zimbabwean” wealth. MMM, in contrast, takes place completely in the UK, and the only glimpses of life in Zimbabwe are afforded through phone calls, Skype, etc. So I’d like Tendai to speak a bit to the different challenges of depicting Edinburgh vs the challenges of depicting contemporary Harare. It seems too simple just to say that MMM is a “diaspora novel,” without unpacking what that means, especially given its epigraph from Hugh MacDiarmand’s lovely and understated poem ‘Scotland.’

Jeanne-Marie Jackson While Tendai is typing, here’s the first line of ‘Scotland’ for people who don’t know it: “It requires great love of it deeply to read / The configuration of a land…”

Tendai Huchu I suppose the thing I find about most of my writing is it’s set in cities and urban environments, which give you quite a lot to material. I think writing about the countryside is so much more difficult, unless one is well embedded into that culture and way of life.

Tendai Huchu But Edinburgh and Harare are two very different cities, if I can just go on for a bit longer…

Jeanne-Marie Jackson By all means! smile emoticon

Tendai Huchu I sort of try to have the city as a strong background character in its own right, and each city has a vibe of its own, a personality, if I may call it that. Edinburgh is a small city, lower tempo, much slower than Harare. But I think you find that as you write, you just play by ear and go with how you feel about each space and what you think, rather where you think the soul of the place lies.
Please tell me that makes some sense.

Jeanne-Marie Jackson Of course it does. And it seems that on that score, MMM is part of a larger momentum toward depicting the “global” city, instead of focusing on the characters who inhabit it as the primary point of exploration (which isn’t to say you don’t have characters, of course). I’m thinking of Zadie Smith’s NW, Teju Cole’s Open City, a lot of Ivan Vladislavic’s work on Joburg, etc.
One thing that occurs to me here is that moving from Harare to Edinburgh is also a way for you to emphasize “downward mobility,” as opposed to the novel’s traditional domain of upward mobility.
By that I mean that novels have focused mainly on how characters’ develop and better themselves to move through an increasingly stable world: the Bildungsroman in broad strokes, but also in contemporary African lit in particular. Think about Chris Abani, Adichie, or Nervous Conditions in a Zimbabwean context.

Your characters in MMM, though, are former officials and highly educated people who end up working low-wage jobs at nursing homes and grocery stores. So my question for you is: how does this downward mobility figure into the way you actually structure the book? What’s the correspondence of social reality, here, to form?

Tendai Huchu I envisioned the novel as a book of illusions. It is kinda hard to get stuck in without spoilers, but here goes. The title of the novel itself is a misnomer. It is presented as a literary novel but it is actually a genre novel of a very specific kind, The reader will find that though the narrators of all three novellas are reliable, they are still being lied to. So in that sense, looking at the “downward mobility” thing, I suppose most of the novels I read about diasporas are about folks on a sort of upward trajectory and I kind of wanted to go in the opposite direction to those narratives.
The question of form is a little trickier.

The final structure and language in the text were because of the failure of my first drafts of the damn thing which envisioned a more integrated, conventional narrative. When that didn’t work, I riffed off Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy and decided to have the three characters in the same city, but inhabiting distinct universes.

Jeanne-Marie Jackson It’s a very revealing failure, don’t you think? The book ends up, as far as I’m concerned, even more reflective of contemporary discontinuity and global mediation than do a lot of more fluid, or even “Afropolitan” novels in which characters seem to glide across oceans and skies with ease.

to read the rest of the interview, join The Good Book Appreciation Society by friending Bea Reader on Facebook, or email

Jeanne-Marie Jackson is an Assistant Professor of English at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA. She has a PhD in Comparative Literature from Yale, and also works in Russian, Afrikaans, and Shona. Her first academic book is South African Literature’s Russian Soul: Narrative Forms of Global Isolation (Bloomsbury 2015). She’s now researching a book on Zimbabwean intellectual culture, and also writes for outlets like n+1, Africa in Words, Bookslut, and The Literary Review.”

And Tendai Huchu’s first novel The Hairdresser of Harare was released in 2010 to critical acclaim, and has been translated into German, French, Italian and Spanish. His multi-genre short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in the Manchester Review, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Interzone, Shattered Prism, AfroSF, Wasafiri, Warscapes, the Africa Report and elsewhere. He is a creative writing PhD student at Manchester University. Between projects, he translates fiction between the Shona and English languages. His new novel is The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician. Find him @TendaiHuchu or on .

The Henrietta Rose-Innes and Helen Macdonald interview on GBAS

This morning we had the most magnificent live interview over on The Good Book Appreciation Society between Henrietta Rose-Innes and international bestselling author, Helen Macdonald.


Here’s an excerpt of that interview. To read the rest of the interview, join The Good Book Appreciation Society by emailing or friend Bea Reader on FB.

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HJ Rose-Innes Good morning everyone! We’re talking about a wonderful book today: H is for Hawk is a compelling account of a year the author spent training a young goshawk; but more deeply, it’s about the process of grieving the loss of a beloved parent. It’s gorgeously, lyrically written, containing some of the most sensuous bits of “nature writing” I’ve ever read, as well as profound meditations on wilderness, history, mortality and what it means to be human. It justly won the Costa Book of the Year Award and the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, and is a runaway bestseller. I absolutely loved it, and I’m thrilled to be chatting to author Helen Macdonald today. Good morning Helen! Lovely to have you with us.

Helen Macdonald What a lovely introduction, thank you so much! It’s great to be here. I’m sitting at my desk in my house in Suffolk on a foggy autumn morning drinking coffee and looking forward to our chat!

HJ Rose-Innes Ah, then we are in the same time zone. I’m in Norfolk. I think the people in South Africa need to appreciate that we got up a good hour earlier for this …

Helen Macdonald I wondered whether you were in Norfolk or Cape Town… now I know *Poirot face*

HJ Rose-Innes So, can we start with Mabel, the star of the show?
Mabel is one of the most glowing literary personages I have ever encountered. Her personality just beams off the page – her intense, alien beauty, her playfulness and affection, her ferocity. Now I know you have had a lifelong love affair with birds of prey – but was Mabel something special? She seems so.

Helen Macdonald Yes! She’s…well, she’s definitely the star. I was her sidekick, in a way. Only goshawks can’t write books, so…. grin emoticon

HJ Rose-Innes (Oh I’m sorry – Mabel, is, of course, the goshawk!)

Before her, you never thought you’d train a goshawk, did you?

Helen Macdonald But she was special. She was a particularly calm goshawk. They are just as variable as people in temperament, and I was very lucky to have found her. The other goshawk I NEARLY bought from the breeder (people who’ve read the book will know that I ended up begging him for the bird) ended up being very very hard to tame, almost impossible. I dodged a bullet there!

No, I never wanted a gos. They had this extraordinary reputation as things that rather like feathered shotguns crossed with serial killers. I thought they were a bit scary, to be honest. And they were very much blokes’ birds. But, you know, living with Mabel showed me that goshawks are much more complicated than avian killing machines.

HJ Rose-Innes That is the most extraordinary scene in the book, where Mabel first emerges into the light is just a thing of beauty. I think everyone responds to birds of prey as just stunningly beautiful. Maybe that’s part of the reason this book has touched SO many people.
But it’s more. One of the amazing things about H is for Hawk is how it speaks strongly to so many people. I have yet to hear from one reader who hasn’t been particularly affected by it, and of course it’s been a worldwide sales phenomenon. It seems to have struck a cultural nerve. What do you think is the magic of the book? Why do people find Mabel’s story so compelling? Are people just mad for hawks?

Helen Macdonald Oh my goodness, it’s all been a complete shock, this year. When I pressed ‘send’ and emailed the MS to my publisher I honestly was convinced no-one would read it. So maybe I’m not the right person to ask — but I think partly it is indeed down to Mabel. Hawks are awesome. And a woman once told me that it was a book for ‘anyone who ever wanted to escape from the life they are living’ – which is all of us, I guess, at one time or another.

Also it’s nature writing — there’s been a big craze for it in the UK as you know. I think we’re desperate to renew contact with a natural world that we’re fast losing, make it significant to us.

HJ Rose-Innes Yes indeed. Because of course it is also very much about bereavement – about your grief at the loss of your father. I think it speaks to anyone who has ever been bereaved, or feared death. You speak of training a goshawk as a way of not feeling for a while; of becoming a hawk to get away from the pain of being human. Do you think it’s possible that readers find it cathartic, to witness you going through your “year of madness” with Mabel and coming out the other side? I found it very moving and ultimately comforting, myself.

Helen Macdonald I think so. I hope that the book ends with the recognition that everything changes, that we’re only on the earth for a very short time, that it is possible to bear that knowledge and live with it. Everyone who loses someone very close to them falls off the edge of the world for a while. And there’s a great temptation to obliterate yourself with SOMETHING. It can be drink, or drugs, or inappropriate affairs or meditation … all sorts of things. I did it with a goshawk. I didn’t want to be me any more. But looking back on it, that experience was important because it let me change into someone new. Coming back from that year with Mabel I was a different person.
I think reading about someone else’s journey to the underworld and back can be helpful, can be reassuring.

HJ Rose-Innes I was going to say, that you seem to also have come out the other side with a new appreciation for human fellowship.
“Human hands are for holding other hands”, you write…

Helen Macdonald Yes!
What’s more, this year of touring with the book has shown me that I’m less of an introvert than I’d previously assumed :)

HJ Rose-Innes :) I was going to ask about that! You must have been thrust into some very intense human contact this last year.

To read the rest of the interview, please join The Good Book Appreciation Society on Facebook by emailing or friend Bea Reader on FB.

Henrietta Rose-Innes is the author of four novels and a short-story collection. Her most recent novel, Green Lion, came out in South Africa in May 2015. Her short stories have been widely published, appearing in Granta, AGNI and The Best American Nonrequired Reading, and have earned her the Caine Prize for African Writing, the South African PEN Literary Award, and a second place in the BBC International Short Story Competition. In 2012, her novel Nineveh was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize and the M-Net Literary Award, and in 2015 (in French translation, Ninive) it won the François Sommer Literary Prize. It will shortly appear in Spanish translation. Henrietta is currently in her second year of a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, Norwich.

henrietta green

Helen Macdonald is a writer, poet, illustrator, historian, and naturalist, and an affiliated research scholar at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, where she teaches to graduate level. Over the years she’s also worked as a Research Fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge, as a professional falconer, assisted with the management of raptor research and conservation projects across Eurasia, and bred hunting falcons for Arab royalty. She’s also sold paintings, worked as an antiquarian bookseller, organised academic conferences, shepherded a flock of fifty ewes and once attended an arms fair by mistake.
In 2014 Helen’s first trade book H IS FOR HAWK was released in the UK, where it went on to win The Samuel Johnson Prize in November 2014 and the overall Costa Prize in 2015 having won in its category. It will be published in over twenty countries and has been a number one bestseller in the UK and the US.

Helen can be found on twitter as @HelenJMacdonald

Henrietta Rose-Innes interviews Helen Macdonald on GBAS

Henrietta and Helen Macdonald.001

We’re super excited to announce our biggest International Pajama Flash Festival ever!
This Sunday 11 October at 9am (South African time) HJ Rose-Innes will be interviewing Helen Macdonald on her bestselling international smash-hit, H is for Hawk on The Good Book Appreciation Facebook page.

To join the club simply friend Bea Reader on Facebook or email

We’re also offering club members this incredible ebook at a massive discount. So do join us.


Jeanne-Marie Jackson interviews Petina Gappah on GBAS


Welcome to Cocktail Hour at The Good Book Appreciation Society, today at 5pm, Jeanne-Marie Jackson spent an hour interviewing Petina Gappah on her highly anticipated novel, The Book of Memory. Here’s an excerpt of that interview:

[To join The Good Book Appreciation society, simply friend Bea Reader on Facebook, or email]

Jeanne-Marie Jackson: Hi Petina, nice to “see” you here. (And I don’t plan to grill you, don’t worry.) Since I know some people haven’t had a chance to read the novel yet, I’ll try to avoid plot spoilers as nimbly as I can. But, let me offer just a bit of background to make sure our conversation is intelligible: the theme of memory that the title of your novel announces refers to both the narrator, whose name is Memory, and to the contents of her narration. She is trying to piece her life story together from her present-day imprisonment at Chikurubi, a maximum security prison in Harare where she waits on death row after being convicted of murder. Memory is an albino woman who is raised first by her Shona parents, and then by a white Rhodesian liberal named Lloyd – a sympathetic character who fought on the side of Zimbabwean independence. In many ways, the novel is also a reconstruction of how Zimbabwe as a whole remembers its past (I’ll go back to this topic later). I want to kick things off by posing a more explicitly literary question, though: what makes memory such an attractive concept to the novelist?

Petina Gappah: Memory is attractive precisely because it is so uncertain. We remember imperfectly, but at the same time we are quite certain about what we remember. I wanted to write a novel rooted in an imperfect memory of one particular event in this person’s life. So certain is she that her memory of it is accurate that she explains her entire life by that ultimately untrue memory.

Jeanne-Marie Jackson Yes,and as we’ve briefly discussed here before, you’ve writing yourself into a long and venerable tradition of “memory novelists.” It seems to me that this is most evident in the way you construct Memory’s voice: she brings together two “versions” of the unreliable narrator, each with their own literary heritage. On the one hand, there is the highly educated, canny, even manipulative adult narrator that many people associate with Modernism (your Vladimor Nabokov reference brings him to mind, but Virginia Woolf might be the best known example), and on the other hand, there is the child narrator whose memory is naturally subject to gaps in understanding. Memory occupies both of these roles, at different points in the novel. Can you speak a bit to the relation between these two narrating personas? What are some of the practical challenges of moving so frequently between Memory’s childhood and adulthood?

Petina Gappah It is a tough one: behind Memory obviously was I as the teller of the story. I manipulated quite deliberately the information that you as the reader receive. She could have told her story in one chapter. “My parents sold me, and I grew up with Lloyd, then Lloyd died and this is how he died and oh no, I was wrong about them selling me and this is why.” The story, like all stories, could have been told in one paragraph. To stretch it out over 90 000 words or so required some manipulation. So moving between Memory the adult and Memory the child was a necessary part of that manipulation.

Petina Gappah Yikes, sorry for all the typos, I will edit while I wait for more. The questions are coming from an echo chamber beneath the earth’s surface, so I have time.

Jeanne-Marie Jackson Ah yes, the magic number of 90,000 words! (Have just spent a lot of time cutting — I hear you.) It’s interesting that you use the word manipulation there, which is obviously technical, but it strikes me that there’s also an audience dimension. The adult, highly educated Memory who kicks off the novel is a self-consciously “literary” figure, but then the childhood Memory is so very, vibrantly Shona, and local. Do you feel like you had to be conscious, as you were writing, of reaching a Zimbabwean audience and a broader one in different ways? What I loved about the book is that it truly does do both.

Petina Gappah I write (so far anyway!) stories about Zimbabwean characters, and so I want them to feel true to Zimbabwean readers. But I am published around the world and I would like the specificity of my Zimbabwean characters to find an echo in readers everywhere. But it is an easy thing to pull off, I think, if I write what feels true. Because pain is pain, love is love, it does not have a national character. What we eat may have that character, how we live may have it too, and the names we choose for our children may be specific to our location, history, education and so on, but ultimately, I write about human concerns.

Jeanne-Marie Jackson It’s a refreshing change of pace for many readers, I think, from seeming to be caught in a tug-of-war between endorsing the “African writer” label and then refuting it. What you’re doing is, as you say, much more specific: it’s the old idea of the very big connecting to the very small, or the specific and local being the surest path to the “universal,” if we can call it that. I have to confess here that I’m a bit of a Shona nerd, and on that note I really loved how you brought such playful, musical Shona into the text through childhood games, songs, proverbs, etc. It got me wondering about the question of literary influence in again, a really local-but-literary way. I felt like I could hear some of those classic Shona novels that you must have grown up with in the background (Pafunge, Mungoshi’s Shona novels, etc)! What are some of the Zimbabwean sources that loom largest for you as you produce such ambitious work?

Petina Gappah The Shona novels were the first thing I read as a kid at a school in Rhodesia. We also used to listen to the serialisation show Kuverengwa Kwemabhuku, a sort of book at bedtime show. It was agony to wait from wine week to the next for the story to continue. And one of my earliest memories as a kid was steeling a dollar from my mom to buy for 25cent novels from the Literature Bureau van outside our school in Glen Norah. Then I moved to Alfred Beit and just went crazy. All the books! There were books everywhere!

So for me, reading has always been about pure story. You are compelled to find out what happened next.

I love books that grab you, hook you, draw you in, and will not let you go.
That is the kind of book I want to write the books I read as a child.
You see how deftly I am evading the “African writer” question

Jeanne-Marie Jackson It’s an incredibly influential canon, in Zimbabwe, don’t you think? I’m always amazed by how hard those books from the 80s in particular are to find, because people just remember them so vividly. On that issue of “hook,” though, why Memory in particular? I don’t mean the concept, I mean the woman, and then the girl. What about her demanded to be written?

(Haha, no “African writer question” here, I assure you.)

Petina Gappah I loved your earlier reference to Nabokov because along with the Shona novelists, he played a huge role in getting me to write this novel. It started off, if you will believe it, as Lolita in reverse. It was supposed to be a sort of Zim Lolita writing her story about the man she lived with and seduced etc etc. It was HIDEOUS! Oh it was terrible! I had to tell myself, lady, you are no Nabokov. Stop this nonsense.

So several drafts later, I wrote what felt like a more honest book. But she was always called Memory, she was always an albino woman, and she was always in prison, that part never changed. What changed was that I started with a very very unlikeable, very cocky character, and I hope I ended up with someone much more sensitive, fragile, and uncertain……….

To read the rest of this fascinating interview, join The Good Book Appreciation Society by friending Bea Reader on Facebook, or emailing

Jeanne-Marie Jackson is an Assistant Professor of English at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA. She has a PhD in Comparative Literature from Yale, and also works in Russian, Afrikaans, and Shona. Her first academic book is South African Literature’s Russian Soul: Narrative Forms of Global Isolation (Bloomsbury 2015). She’s now researching a book on Zimbabwean intellectual culture, and also writes for outlets like n+1, Africa in Words, Bookslut, and The Literary Review.”

Petina Gappah is a lawyer and writer from Zimbabwe. She lives in Geneva, where she works as an international trade lawyer. Her work has been published in more than a dozen languages. From 2007 until 2014 she wrote the blog The World According to Gappah. She shut it down after it topped 160 000 words and she realised that no one needed to read, or write, that many words about basically nothing.

You can pick up Petina’s novel here, or in any decent book store.

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