Catching my breath, catching up…

I’ve just checked and the date of my last post was February 2014. That’s a whole 10 months ago. In my bio here :

it says I blog occasionally. Perhaps with this timeous piece before the end of 2014, that would be somewhat true.
A lot has been going on.

Back in February I was in the midst of Writivism 2014 – an experience I thoroughly enjoyed. I will reproduce the foreword I wrote for the anthology of Longlisted writers – not because most people skip it, but a) because it was quite a nerve-wracking endeavour and b) because I think I touch on an important matter. Besides, anyone who loves good fiction could do worse than sampling the amazing array of emerging African writers.

The world feels a whole lot different to 10 months ago. The atmosphere somewhat subdued even though tis the season to be jolly. Issues of identity plague us daily – the media doing a merry dance to the Islamophobia tune and driving normal, sane bog-standard Muslims, nuts.

But! I am alive, albeit subdued and grateful that I live in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural city where a good few million are Other. To add to my subdued state, I recently read an article on apartheid in publishing – written by a British woman; about the British publishing industry (Mslexia, Sept/Oct/Nov 2014). The mere word apartheid brought me out in hives and the article itself made me wonder why I bother.

So I’ve been dragging my feet work-wise: I’ve been sporadically editing my third novel and half-heartedly plotting a work of genre fiction. But good news for Maha fans – she’s back! Well, in my head at least. After swanning off with Shahzad I didn’t think she had anything else to say – but I was wrong. So feel free to hold thumbs and watch this space.

Another literary highlight was being invited to judge the YMWA short story award ( I was asked to write an article for the magazine advising the young aspiring writers: feel free to share.

The most overwhelming aspect of the year has been our house move. We have only moved about a mile from where we used to live – but packing up eleven years of our lives and leaving the home where our kids grew up was daunting. I filled boxes with dolls houses and action figures – along with my early drafts of Maha and mulled over the ups and downs of the decade and a bit.

I have come to realise that Moving House is not a single act. Yes, there is the actual move with 10-ton trucks, piles of boxes and mainlining Rescue Remedy. But settling down and settling in is a process. Right now, every time I start to feel settled, we add or subtract as we adjust the new space to meet our needs and I feel as though I’m back to square one. I am yet to work in my new home and for some unknown reason it feels like a huge hurdle to clear. I
must work in my new home and break the spell – even if it’s writing a page of tripe. I am hoping that the New Year will bring some equilibrium – and find my bottom firmly attached to my chair in my new workspace.

To all those celebrating this month: Merry Christmas / Happy Hanukkah and to everyone else – Happy Holidays. Wish you all a happy, healthy 2015 filled with peace love and every success in all you endeavour.

FOREWORD (Fire in the Night and Other Stories)

It has been an honour to edit the 14 stories longlisted for the 2014 Writivism Short Story competition. Kudos to the Centre for African Cultural Excellence who have provided platforms for our stories - long may it fulfil its commitment to nurturing the Arts in Africa.

As a child, I believed that everyone loved stories. Period. It didn’t matter where they were set, they simply needed to be captivating. Fast forward to the 21
􀇥􀇦 century and the internet is crammed with discussions on African Literature. Should our stories be issue-based or idyllic characterisations that fit the PR image of the continent? The website presented a collection of African Books, pointing out that the sun rising, or setting spectacularly behind an acacia tree, has come to represent Africa. All the covers mirrored this image.

While the world may be comfortable with images that present Otherness in ways that are easy to understand, we must not allow this Otherness to penetrate our writing. Bookshops in Africa need to assimilate our work into the mainstream, so that this Otherness does not affect the reader’s choice either. Ben Okri, in his recent BooksLive interview says, “Writings from Africans need to be perceived purely as writing and not prefixed with the continent.”

I am with Okri on pushing forward and losing the prefix.

Let us write what we will, giving voice to the poor and the privileged, the unbridled optimism and the depths of despair. The full range of human emotion and experience set against our vast and varied rural and urban terrain.

If a novel is a film, a Short Story is anything from a photograph to a YouTube clip. The essence of a Short Story has been described as a punch in the gut. This anthology more than satisfies the above criteria while exhibiting a diverse, multi-cultural Africa.

The stories open windows on lives we may not know, events we cannot understand - like Sseguja’s Walls and Borders, a disturbing tale of a Rwandan refugee searching for her home. Or Ugbede’s Day After Tomorrow and its grappling with the madness that is often associated with Africa.

Sadly, all Africans are au fait with varying degrees of corruption, and Ngasa’s Devils speaks boldly to us all. There is dissonance in the form of Mwale’s Fire in the Night and Bhamjee’s Lunatic, both discomfiting but beautifully written stories. Coming of age and defying tradition are entertainingly tackled by Atemnkeng’sMy Breasts. I am ashamed that I was aware of foot-binding in China yet had no idea Breast- Ironing pubescent girls was practised in the Cameroon.

Kiguwa raises questions of identity in The Wound of Shrinking with aesthetic grace, a grace that colours Musalia’s tale of magical realism Kawesa and Preen’s sad but satisfying The Gift.

Bamjee and Lawal approach idiosyncratic notions of Motherhood with aplomb in Out of the Blue and Dr Lawanson. Human relationships and bizarre families are reflected in Kasese’s Inside Outside and Njoku’s Survived By. Paquita’s Friday Night is a zany portrayal of Born Free angst in Cape Town.

I invite you to be entertained, amused and disturbed - to celebrate common humanity while getting acquainted with Africa. Let our book covers make room for the Kolanut Tree and the mighty Baobab. And let our stories be perceived as stories. Let us not be the Other in our land.

Sumayya Lee
London, May 2014 Author: The Story of Maha / Maha, Ever After

Beating the February Blues

The year appears to be chugging along rather speedily. I have survived February, which is always something I look upon with some wonder. Anyone who’s read the Author Profile in my books knows I loathe the month, with its incessant grey and accompanying rain.


This year I vowed to force myself out of my comfort zone (on the sofa, under a blanket, chocolate within reach) and
do something. It has helped that I volunteered to Mentor for Writivism 2014. Mentoring has forced me look at writing differently and this can only be good for my own writerly development.

I was cheered up one day in Feb when a fan posted a picture of my appearance in the March Woman and Home (SA Edition). I was ambivalent about the piece as I’ve only recently taken to e-reading.

I will always read
real books, but I have come to acknowledge that as a temporary substitute, e-books are brilliant. Like when travelling and having to weigh books so that you don't exceed the baggage allowance. 

My husband pointed out that an e-reader meant I could carry a bagful of books without worrying about the weight – and he had me at bagful.

Long Walk to Freedom


Long Walk to Freedom

I was glued to the Mandela Memorial all Tuesday morning – clutching onto my Mr Price cushion and moving only to see to the laundry and dishes. I was moved by the multi-faith prayer, reflecting the spirit of our truly Rainbow Nation – moved enough to tweet about it. My heart was filled with hope for the country of my birth.

was a sad day and even the heavens wept, but it was also a reminder - of Madiba’s great humanity, that good can win and that nothing is impossible.

Children of Apartheid grew up in an unhealthy environment, to say the least. We are a troubled lot - exposed to propaganda that the alternate to Apartheid was That Which The Whole World Feared. The alternate was Communism - which would plunge our country into the dire, depressing world of Dostoyevsky’s Russia.

But Communism crumbled and South Africa held a referendum. Winds of real change stirred hopes but also great fear. All around, the country imploded, fanning the fears and a state of emergency was declared.

We feared the clash of the extreme Right and Left, we feared that the rest of us would be caught in the middle. Self-defence and Survival became booming industries. Even doddering old suburban ladies learnt which household items could be used as weapons – forget pepper spray, the aunties filled their bottles with vinegar and crushed Durban chillies.

Communities stockpiled bottled water, tinned goods and gas – preparing for the worst-case scenario of all-out civil war. But instead, against all odds, Madiba stood firm on forgiveness and peace. Truth and reconciliation. And hope.

It is true that over the transitory decades, all has not gone according to plan. And much still needs to be done. But as one of the interviewees said, South Africa does not have political problems, but rather, economic problems.

While Obama rocked the stadium as Master Orator – it is worth remembering that the people of the USA, 50 or so years after the Civil Right Movement and an economically developed country to boot;
still suffer the ravages of poverty.

Perhaps now, as the world weeps along with South Africa, South Africans will realise the beloved country’s awesome achievements and be re-inspired to uphold the ideals of Madiba’s legacy. And perhaps We the People, politicians
and plebs will continue the long walk - to freedom from poverty.

N’Kosi Sikeli Afrika.


The Good The Bad The Hunger Games

It feels as though I’ve been away from my desk forever. In reality, it’s only been 3 and half months. Summer has seen busy days and for once, heaps of sunshine. Emotionally it’s been a yo-yo – I celebrated Eid in Durban after a decade, I am coming to terms with having grown-up children and I’m still struggling to deal with the loss of Aziz Hassim, a close friend and invaluable writing mentor.


Aziz Hassim 1935- 2013. A dear friend & mentor.

I read somewhere that we tend to over-plan for a year but under-plan for a decade. While I generally avoid planning – unless it’s a plot-line for a story - this got me thinking to stop looking at the past 10 months and instead, look at life in a larger chunk. Maha at least, has had some milestones…

There is an extract from
The Story of Maha in Professor Rajendra Chetty’s The Vintage Book of South African Indian Writing – an anthology commissioned as part of the1860 celebrations in 2010. It contains works of fiction and non-fiction by the likes of Fatima Meer, Ronnie Govender and Aziz Hassim. So I am happy that a slice of Maha’s life sits in fab company.

Bits and pieces of her also can be found, in Rajend Mesthrie’s
Dictionary of South African Indian English. Yes, incredibly, Chaarous now have their own dictionary.

And in 2012 – in keeping with the times,
The Story of Maha and Maha, Ever After went digital. 2012 also saw the birth of my website and Twitter Account. Which reminds me that I must remember to blog more regularly.

I’m still not totally sold on tweeting, Arab Spring notwithstanding. This total disinterest in keeping the world informed of my actions and thoughts reminds me that I am far from young and trendy and still feel weird conducting myself in the public domain.

While the year may not have seen much writing – I have gleefully engaged in other bibliophilic activities – like reading and reading some more. I rounded up this reading spree with a 3 day Hunger Games Fest.

I know it’s a series written for teens but I do not believe grown-ups are barred from children’s literature. Besides, it’s a great story to sink into, with characters you want to root for. Think George Orwell crossed with the concept of reality TV.

It is also a sobering reflection of our World – with its imbalances and echoes of Panem et Circensus. But
our world, in spite of the madness and mayhem, is thankfully larger than the dystopian Panem - and so is our hope. Winter may be coming to London, but still - it aint that bad.