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Lauri Kubuitsile

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Merry You, Merry Me!

The overriding fear when I was growing up in America was the fear that someone, everyone, would find out I was different. I saw what being different got you. There was David Nico who rode my school bus every morning, who gave me a peek into what different meant. His parents had him when they were already old. By the time he was on the school bus, they were grey haired and bent. And to make matters worse, he kept geese as pets, and told people about it. And he wore outdated clothes. He was different and everyone made sure he knew it. It was daily warfare for David Nico. Tripping, spit balls, name calling, laughs into hands. But David Nico didn’t seem to care. He just went on being the way he was; he didn’t try to hide anything. I looked at him and wondered why. Why couldn’t he just try to be normal?

We went through some of primary school and all of secondary school together. At university, where people should be free to lose all of that baggage accumulated in their childhood and remake themselves, I found David Nico siting in my Zoology 101 lecture that first day and I made sure to always sit far away from him, to never greet him. I didn’t want his stink on me. I was still petrified.

At home, I had a crazy mother for a long time and then an abusive stepmother and her dull, drug-taking children. On top of that we were poor. Different, different, different. I would go to any length to distance myself from it all. I was a normal girl like everyone else. Maintaining my normalcy was exhausting and incredibly time consuming. Friends coming over? Oh no, let me come to yours instead. And will your mother come for parent’s day? No, sorry, she’s dead. Is that druggy girl your stepsister? I don’t know her; she’s lying if she says otherwise. You know how these druggies are. It was tough but I was vigilant. I knew the punishment I would get if I didn’t keep up the façade. The work was worth it.

Holidays, all of them, require normalcy. It’s a prerequisite. There’s a package of what you must do. Put up a tree. Buy presents. Put out stockings and wait for Santa. And there is the other package of feelings. You must be with your family, whom you love, of course, and they love you in return. You must be happy. You must be thankful and joyous. You might even sing Christmas carols and go sledding. It’s the normal, the right way, to be.

If you’re doing anything else, if you’re feeling anything else, it’s abnormal. Abnormal comes at a big cost. You obviously didn’t do something right. Something about you is wrong and because of that you should feel sad. You are wrong. You need to accept your punishment for not being normal. Holidays are tough on the abnormal; merciless.

I count myself lucky almost everyday now, because somehow I managed to break free. By a series of accidents, I managed to escape the normal boxes, both physical and mental. I didn’t even know I was doing it, or maybe somewhere inside I did.

I found myself here in Botswana. There was no way I could hide my abnormal any more. I was white and most everyone around me was black. And once I couldn’t hide that particular abnormal, it didn’t seem to make any sense to hide any of my abnormal. The endless struggle to keep everything in check just fell away and I realised how much of my life had been squandered on keeping my wonky walls in place. I realised it had all been an incredible waste of my far too little time. I could finally be me, all of me.

And that went for all of the normal around the holidays too. Holidays are defined any way I want now. It might mean camping at the Atlantic Ocean and swimming in the icy sea. It might mean playing Scrabble. It might mean eating watermelon all day in front of the TV. It might mean being with the family I choose, or not. It might mean sleeping all day. It might mean laying in the sun and getting burnt to crisp or eating pumpkin pie until I feel sick.

Normal is such a bully. Such a waste of time. Such a lie. Normal is like that king with no clothes that people lied to just to not be singled out and, just like that king, we only need to turn and look at Normal and say- “Nope, you don’t exist”- and poof!, just like that the honesty of it all can be seen.

If I had one wish for the people I love this year it would be to stop being normal. Stop being forced into those boxes no one fits inside. That road is so worn and so laden with tears and sadness. Don’t let these holidays bully you with their normal boxes. Step on them and crush them into the ground, they’re filled with nothing but air in any case.
This year let the holidays ring with Merry Me! And Merry You! -just exactly how we are.
That’s my wish for all of us.

(Originally published at Thoughts from Botswana)

The Interview

As part of Short Story Day Africa, I’ve been asked, along with lots of other writers, to answer a few (!?!-21!) questions. I’ve tried my best.

Do you actually enjoy writing, or do you write because you like the finished product?

When writing is going well I enjoy it very much. When it’s not I eat chocolate cake.

What are you reading right now? And are you enjoying it? (No cheating and saying something that makes you sound like the intelligensia).

I just finished May We Be Forgiven last night which I liked quite a bit. I’m not sure what I’ll read next I have two to choose from We Need New Names and The Art of Fielding.

Have you ever killed off a character and regretted it?

In my detective books I always kill characters I like. I hope the readers will like them too so they care about the fact that they’ve died. No, I don’t normally regret that.

If you could have any of your characters over for dinner, which would it be and why?

I don’t know about that one. When I live with them so long in my head I’m a little bit glad to see them on their way. I like quite a few of my male leads in my romance novels, but I suspect Mr K would not be very kind to them if they came to dinner.
I tend to have a certain kind of girl in my stories for kids. One best described as plucky and brave without reason, but socially a disaster. I’d like all of them to come to my house.

Which one of your characters would you never invite into your home and why?

There are many of those but it’s difficult to mention them without revealing endings to books that people maybe haven’t read. Most are psychopaths of one sort or another.

Ernest Hemingway said: write drunk, edit sober. For or against?

I have written incredibly sincere (at the time) nonsense when I’ve been drunk. While sober it had to all be deleted, so I suspect it is not an efficient way to work.

If against, are you for any other mind altering drug?

I’m for all sorts of mind altering drugs (Children: don’t do drugs!) but their effect on my writing is very much like alcohol.

Our adult competition theme if Feast, Famine and Potluck. Have you ever put food in your fiction? If so, what part did it play in the story?

Yes I’ve had food in my fiction quite often, how could you not?

What’s the most annoying question anyone’s ever asked you in an interview?

I hate all of those what’s your inspiration and African writer questions. And who’s your audience. Actually, there are a lot of questions I don’t much like answering and I always answer differently because I don’t pay much attention to what I’m saying and expect the same from everyone else.

If you could be any author other than yourself, who would you be?

Kate Atkinson. I’m a long time groupie.

If you could go back in time and erase one thing you had written from your writing history, what would it be and why?

I don’t know, I’ve written a lot of crap, but you have to get through crap to get to good. I hope.

What’s the most blatant lie you’ve ever told?

I’m fine. I haven’t been fine since 16 January 1964.

If someone reviews you badly, do you write them into your next book/story and kill them?

No, but that’s an idea. It’s been noted.

What’s your favourite bad reviewer revenge fantasy?

That later I go on to win The Booker and then when I’m collecting the prize the person is in the audience and they raise their hand to ask a question and even though they’re bouncing up and down in their chair begging me to call on them, I pretend I can’t see their hand.

What’s the most frustrating thing about being a writer in Africa?

That if your books are published on the continent and not overseas, no one seems to take you as a contender.

Have you ever written naked?

Oh god no!

Does writing sex scenes make you blush?

No, I write romance in any case. But I do feel explicit sex scenes are not that sexy for me. They go too biological and biology is not sexy.

Who would play you in the film of your life?

Dawn French

If you won the Caine Prize for African Fiction, what would you do with the money?

I’d travel until the last thebe was finished.

What do you consider your best piece of work to date?

There are two short stories I like quite a bit, Moving Forward and In Grace-land. I also like the novel I’m working on right now. But if it is anything like the six novels that preceded it, I doubt it will ever be published. I’m hopeful though.

What are you doing on 21 June 2013, to celebrate Short Story Day Africa?

Sadly, this year I am not involved in any Short Story Day activities because I’ve been sick for two months and still am. Maybe I’ll celebrate quietly in bed writing a new short story.

I’m Serialised in Jungle Jim No. 18!!

My Kate Gomolemo Mystery Series are books very near to my heart since they were the first that were ever published. The first book in the series The Fatal Payout (Macmillan 2005) was my first ever published book.And now Claws of a Killer, the last in the series, is being serialised in Jungle Jim, starting in No.18, and I am so completely chuffed. I love the concept of Jungle Jim, the look of it, the stories inside- I’m so very pleased to be able to be part of it.

Claws of a Killer is about a serial killer at the University of Botswana, stalking and killing women, leaving three claw marks down their bodies. My attempt at being scary.

When I started writing I wanted to be either Edgar Allan Poe or Sue Townsend. In my early attempts, I was showed, quite brutally, that I was not funny. But I could occassionally scare people, or at least creep them out. So I stuck with that for a while. After driving my writing car on just about every lane available, I have had a bit of success with funny short stories (In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata is funny, I hope, and was shortlisted for the Caine) and books for teens (Signed, Hopelessly in Love has done okay at least review-wise and many say it makes them laugh). So maybe there is still hope in the funny department….we’ll see.

In the meanwhile, buy Jungle Jim. Read about my serial killer. Let me know if I managed to scare you at all. I’m still driving, and pretty sure I’m not yet going in the right direction.

What to Write on my Books LIVE blog or Why Facebook is Not Always a Waste of Time

So I have this new blog at Books LIVE and I thought to myself, what should I write for my first post? Many writers in South Africa don’t know me, so maybe I should introduce myself, I thought. But then I thought, some of the writers in South Africa actually DO know me and are pretty tired of hearing about me, so introducing myself would just put them off and I’m only just starting this blog so I don’t want to put readers off just yet.

Then I thought and thought, and then I thought- Hey, there are a lot of people on Facebook who have blogs on Books LIVE so maybe I should ask them what’s gwaning, so I did. Many people like to peg Facebook as a big time waster, but, as you’ll soon discover, it can also be quite helpful.

So then a famous South African writer, who I really shouldn’t mention her name because surely if you know I’m FB friends with her you will think better of me for the mere fact that I am FB friends with her, and I don’t want to think less of you because of that mis-step on your part because we really do all make mistakes. (Her name is Helen Moffett, if you must know.)

Anyway, the famous writer told me to just write about anything, like I could write about what my “writer day” consisted of. So I thought about that and thought I didn’t think my “writer day” was very writerly, between playing on Facebook and watching my fish, so I really didn’t want to write about that. I’d be revealing all sorts of things I shouldn’t reveal, like seeing the hands running Ernie and Bert on Takalani Sesame. It can traumatise you. For life. I would never want to do that to someone, though apparently those Muppet folks don’t share my point of view.

But then another FB friend, who I will not mention because I don’t think it will get me enough political mileage to justify revealing her name (not to malign her, but just saying) said why not write about apes.

Then I thought I would write about apes but, frankly, I don’t know much about apes. I do know a lot about monkeys, though, as I told my unidentified FB friend. But I can’t write about that because it would upset the famous unidentified (okay, identified) writer FB friend because my monkey knowledge came to me in a way that might be described in some circles as animal abuse. But like I said on FB, they got their own back, many times over. Monkeys are pretty mean, let me tell you. And they have an international network ( I suppose something like Facebook but not with computers) where they get the word out. I’ve had “events” with Zambian monkeys and Zimbabwean monkeys and yet my initial contact, that I’m sure has led to the entire monkey mix-up, happened with American monkeys! Imagine! There are so many things we just do not understand.

So anyway, I’m not going to write about monkeys. It would be too traumatic for certain people I don’t want to mention and besides the monkeys may be listening. No need to further cloud the murky waters, I have an upcoming trip to Zimbabwe.

So I’m still sort of thinking about what I’m going to write on here. But somehow I feel better sorting out a few of the things I won’t be writing about. I really must thank Facebook for that. Sorting things always makes you feel better, doesn’t it?

Anyway, have a nice day.