By: Tumelo Motaung
Today, we’re featuring our first author interview. These interviews could work out to be an amazing resource for writers, because they allow you to hear the story of a successful writer and determine what did or didn’t work for them.
I was still running the NERDAFRICA pop-up bookstore when Aus Tumi arranged for us to meet one Sunday afternoon. I remember taking her call, half asleep, and only then remembering the appointment. She offered to come to my place, but I could not fathom the embarrassment of a messy house. I walked into the coffee shop that afternoon, extremely nervous, and although she had been waiting for me a while longer than necessary, she had that gleaming smile on her face when she stood up and gave me one of the warmest hugs I’ve ever gotten.
Tumelo Moleleki is a Software Test Analyst with a Bcom Law degree. She says she started writing even before she had access to computers or knew how to use a word processor. Her mother inspired her love of reading. She now, after having published three books, has inspired her mother to write her own stories. Tumelo also takes time to read work by upcoming local authors and writes reviews on her Facebook page.
What does it mean to you to be able to tell a story?
It means I have a voice that cannot be drowned out by the murk of fake voices that have been impersonating us. Writing stories about us and representing them as our truths even though they know they are lying is a form of oppression designed to send a message that who we are is not acceptable. We should conform to who they want us to be. I have issues with a book in SeSotho that is authored by someone who cannot even speak a word of SeSotho. The stories themselves usually have no substance because they expose how this author lacks understanding of the subjects of their stories. It also shows that our people will translate stories, no questions asked, because this service puts food on their table. To be able to tell an authentic story about us is a privilege and a right which I enjoy unreservedly.
Why did you start writing?
I believe I was compelled by a story that wanted its day in the sun. I did not set out to be a writer but I found that I often wanted to replace the white characters in the books I read with black characters. I didn’t really start writing so much as I started paying attention to the stories I was writing and giving them the respect they commanded. I remember being as young as fifteen and writing things that were not commissioned by my school obligations or my language teachers.
This dream left such an impression on me that I wanted to see if I could remember this picture and describe it on paper so that I could attempt to draw it later when I have time.
What was the thinking behind your first book, and how did it feed into the second and third?
I did not wake up and think ‘let me write a story’, what happened was I had a dream where I saw a picture. This dream left such an impression on me that I wanted to see if I could remember this picture and describe it on paper so that I could attempt to draw it later when I have time. It seems, something was just waiting for me to do this because suddenly a story was pouring out of me. I ended up not even noting down the features or description of this portrait in my dream but a different portrait superimposed itself on my word processor and Her Heart was conceived and birthed. The second book His Joy is a sequel of the first and the reason it came about was because my sister, who read the first manuscript wanted me to write another installment because she wanted to know what happened to the characters afterwards and no amount of placating would deter her. I became her slave as I churned the second, third and fourth manuscripts of the series even though the first one had not even seen the light of day at the time. The third book published, The dry tears of a bleeding child, was a story I initially wrote to tease a friend of mine. She did not believe me when I said I would write a story about a protagonist with her name. Initially I wrote a short little story but her lack of interest saw me abandon it. I picked it up some time after and the story took over. It just told itself and used my hands as instruments.
Two of your books are self-published, what challenges did you face as an upcoming author with publishing houses?
I was not taken seriously and my work was not considered worthy, I guess. Perhaps my submissions never even received a perusal because I never even got a response saying ‘thanks, but no thanks’ so I presume that who I am is what landed my manuscripts in the rejected pile of the renowned publishing houses. Some of the people I spoke to thought that maybe I did not do due diligence prior to submitting my manuscript to the publishing houses. I think that perhaps I was naive to think that a manuscript in the same genre as the books they had already published would interest them because of the story-line and not who the characters were but clearly I was wrong. I might have abandoned the whole idea had I not been someone who loves proving naysayers wrong.
The last thing you want is to invite people to a book launch, have those people respond in the affirmative that they will come, only to have no one show up to celebrate your milestone. It guts you.
Is self-publishing a better option?
I think in terms of total ownership of your work, it is the best. But in terms of the work one has to put in, it requires careful thought and analysis of your situation and your skills. It also requires a scrutiny of your existing network. The last thing you want is to invite people to a book launch, have those people respond in the affirmative that they will come, only to have no one show up to celebrate your milestone. It guts you. What it can do for you is teach you a new skill, expose you to hard emotional growth because you face a lot of rejections, show you what you are made of and embolden you to dream even bigger. Inspire you to set even more daring goals. It inspires you to give of yourself, or at least it has done that for me. You learn to take risks in the hopes that the rewards will assuage the pain and close the financial hole created by the investment. And I cannot stress this enough, self-publishing is an investment in yourself. If you doubt your own ability and thus you are not willing to invest in yourself, how can you expect others to?
The people I have met on these work engagements have been phenomenally supportive. The only thing is that they don’t write reviews.
You travel all over to promote your book, how has support been from readers? Are you gaining insight from people engaging your work?
I wish I could travel all over the country and the world but yes, I have been to a few places to promote the books. When you have a boss to report to every weekday, travelling to promote becomes a challenge. I have received tremendous support from the people I have worked with in the past. As a consultant, I get the opportunity to market my books to different faces regularly. The people I have met on these work engagements have been phenomenally supportive. The only thing is that they don’t write reviews. From those I have met on events outside of work, it has been unbelievable and they have really grown the strength of my voice. As a writer I grow with each interaction I have had with my readers. I am indescribably humbled by the love and support over the years.
One of the places you sell your books is at the BrownSense market, how has the experience been with having access to a platform that works to promote work by locals?
BrownSense is a revolution. I am grateful to Nkosana, he was the contact who introduced me to this network of brown people working towards a cause I have often pondered but never had the temerity to get up and do. The brownies have supported me at each market and they have engaged with me, wanting to know more about my journey and hopefully they have taken something from these chats, which have helped them embark on their own new journeys. The atmosphere in these markets cannot be manufactured or faked. You get to see what brown people are doing out there and myths about us are getting busted.
We need to consciously create a culture of reading in our children. Read with them, read to them, have them read to us and get them to tell their stories.
What improvements can be made in the African literary space?
We need more participation in literature and literary events by brown people. We have already seen the possibilities of how that can be with the inaugural Abantu Book Festival held at the end of 2016. We need to consciously create a culture of reading in our children. Read with them, read to them, have them read to us and get them to tell their stories. A lot of competitions exist that ‘purport’ to promote literature in our native tongues and yet you find that either people do not enter these competitions or people knowing little to nothing about our languages and our lives make the decisions about the merits of these stories. It is high time publishers and bookstores stopped earning bread for foreign authors on our soil, taking up space that could be used to the benefit of our local economy. Danielle Steel or JK Rowling does not contribute to our economy. What royalties they earn from sales here they spend in their own countries. Have they ever even come to visit and spend their money admiring our beautiful country? Yet they make millions from local sales facilitated by these European-promoting bookstores and publishing houses. The fact that the majority of brown authors are Indies and they cannot earn a living from their craft is not only because the culture of reading is not strong it goes to the deliberate exclusion of our people. Elitist distribution models are a major contributor.
Tumelo is a wolf that breathes aether…