An exciting new author is visiting me today. Maretha Botha has recently moved from Africa to the UK and I can relate so much to the great upheaval she has experienced.
Maretha – I just loved your children’s book “Flame and Hope, An African Adventure”, which gained Gold Medal status on Authonomy. Please tell us how this peer review website has helped / hindered your career as a writer.
The best advice comes from experienced writers who are interested to help “newbies” like myself.
My love of description caused me to stumble – telling too much and showing too little. Thinking about the setting and background of my story, I had an endless list of descriptions – early morning noises, midday siestas, incredible sunsets; animals walking by, birds twittering and flying in the sky. This thing which I loved so much often became a big stumbling block. So I had to learn how to integrate my love of description into the story itself, making it part of the plot.
Of course, to do this is not easy, but when two authors on Authonomy pointed it out to me – very tactfully, I might add – I accepted the challenge and moved all descriptive sections to a special file until I could find a useful setting, integrating description with monologue or dialogue or some sort of action; that sometimes meant letting go of a beloved chapter.
Another positive aspect coming from such websites is making friends with writers from all over the world who support one another through thick and thin when it comes to marketing and publishing one’s book, as well as give positive encouragement in a very competitive field.
But Authonomy is no exception to downsides. We have to spend significant time reading, commenting and writing reviews on other authors’ work. If you don’t get involved, there isn’t much opportunity to move towards the coveted Editor’s desk, get reviews or gain a better ranking for your book. I spent the best part of two and a half years doing just that, which meant less writing, editing or proofreading of my own work. Once I reached the editor’s desk in September 2013, the real wait began as I have not received a review yet. So my aim to get an unsolicited manuscript through the “slush-pile” to be read by a reputable children’s editor has not materialised!
When I moved to the UK 13 years ago, I thought it would be a good opportunity to write, and to try and find a publisher for “Breath of Africa”. I suffered 72 rejections (and that’s not counting no-replies) and it took me 12 years to succeed. I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone. What are your plans for your book?
Firstly, I’ve shortened the title to “Flame and Hope, an African Adventure” after seeing dozens of books with ‘African Adventures’ in their titles on-line. My book will appear on Amazon this week.
Congratulations, Maretha! And are you working on another children’s book?
The second in the series is called, “Friends and Foes, an African Adventure” and the action begins where “Flame and Hope” left off. I hope to get it ready for publication in the New Year.
Would you consider trying another genre?
I have two novels in the pipeline, one called “From Cape to Cairo”. I find it useful to take a break and live in another time frame. I do research, write a chapter or simply jot down points to do with developing a scene or a new character. The other is a Young Adult, short romantic novel with some mystery and mountaineering.
What are your most / least favourite things about being a writer?
Being a writer gives me the opportunity to daydream, get lost in the world of a character and manipulate things the way I want them to be. I like sitting at my desk – these days I’m trying to stand – shut out the noise and get on with creating an unforgettable moment in time. When a story is completed and it all makes sense, it gives me great satisfaction and a sense of achievement.
My least favourite thing is the necessity of marketing my own work and learning about the time consuming aspects of the publishing process. These are essential but unavoidable, like a final exam.
Please tell us about your profession, and how it relates to your love of books.
I studied Library and Information Science as well as Bibliology (knowledge of books and libraries through the ages), English and Italian, at the University of South Africa. I have worked as a research librarian for an oil research facility, but my most enjoyable post was working at a private school in Gaborone, Botswana. Associating with and teaching children aged 5-18 helped me to find my “inner-child personality” again. It meant getting down to serious writing, not just an odd short story here and there.
During the past two years I’ve researched the habits, needs and territories of birds of prey and smaller birds in southern Africa, using this information as a background for ”Flame and Hope, an African Adventure” – stories with a specific main plot throughout – based on fact and personal observation.
Caring for the environment, protecting the habitats of so-called “lesser” birds and smaller animals is important to me. Seeing domestic animals neglected and left to their own devices is something I detest and I tried to impress these sentiments on the minds of students and readers without preaching to them. Change must come from the heart.
Based on that, I think I’ve written something children of all ages will enjoy.
Living for so long in Africa, I’m not surprised you’re a lover of nature. Please describe for us something which has filled you with wonder and inspiration – and send a picture if you can?
There are many incredible places to visit in South Africa, whether you go by car or decide to put on your hiking boots. I love the mountains in the Western Cape. They have this hazy, blue, misty look early in the morning and during winter they are covered in snow – our own little Switzerland. This area also provides beautiful vistas of vines, orchards and natural land- and seascapes. Table Mountain itself remains etched in my mind forever.
There were good reasons why we couldn’t live in Botswana any more, having gainful employment for one. We stayed on longer than intended and saw a miracle. Believe it or not, there are modern miracles which leave the recipients in awe and dead silence. This miracle lingered for seven days. Each morning, just as the sun lit the crest of Kgale Hill, the first snowflakes – perhaps not an appropriate name to use in such a hot part of the world – appeared, bouncing effortlessly across the air waves. Sometimes they slipped across the rooftop and at other times they lightly touched the grass sprouts, shimmering in the rays of the early morning sun. So perhaps I should call them cotton buds or early plum blossoms. It’s a difficult thing to describe – seeing the wonder of thousands of butterflies fluttering about all at once. I could only feel it, standing among them as they lightly fluttered from one little yellow veld flower to the next – opening and shutting their dainty, quivering wings – getting enough solar energy to keep moving east. At night they rested in nearby trees and when the moonlight shone on their wings, the trees looked as if they had grown white flowers.
What a wonderful description! You moved to the UK comparatively recently. Might you share some of the challenges and the good things about your move? I’m sure I will relate well to what you have to say!
The challenge lay in making the decision to move, then to sell up and pack up. It took serious effort to complete all necessary documentation. After our arrival, we faced the big wait for National Insurance Numbers, going to numerous appointments whether to have a screen test, blood test or going for work interviews and filling in countless applications. For about eight months we lived on tenterhooks, hoping that the money we expected from the sale of our small business would be available. We found a small one-bedroomed flat. To go to smaller accommodation and decide what to keep and what to discard was another big challenge – and where to put everything. We are just very grateful, that despite our South African accents, everyone seems to understand us, so that in itself helps me not to feel too much like a foreigner!
The weather has been a good thing – believe it or not. In Botswana it’s mostly hot, dry and dusty. I grew up in the Western Cape, South Africa where winters are cold, wet and very windy, with snow on the mountains. Therefore the Lancashire weather makes me feel right at home.
Please tell us about your interests apart from writing
I’m a keen gardener and animal lover – especially dogs, cats and wild birds – and I spend hours watching them from my kitchen window. It’s a real pleasure to plant things which have a good chance of growing well and not dying on me, because of extreme heat. I’m an ardent environmentalist and strive for a bee- and insect-friendly garden.
I used to love rock-climbing and mountaineering. Nowadays I’m confined to hiking on the moors, but I’m not complaining. The strong winds out there quickly clear cobwebs and the vistas provide food for thought.
We have two grandchildren and spend much time with them reading and listening to their stories. So there’s always hope that they might take up writing or illustrating one day!
I’ve had to revive my love for painting and drawing, as my book needed a few illustrations.
I’ve only recently managed to find my way around cyberspace without getting lost too often. “Flame and Hope An African Adventure” can now be bought from Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00MNKNI04
Thank you for inviting me to be interviewed on your blog, Jane. It’s a grand privilege!
It’s a pleasure meeting you, Maretha, and may the rest of the world enjoy your lovely children’s stories.
Maretha’s blog: http://marethabothablog.wordpress.com/