Trade Secrets

It was such an honour to make the shortlist for the Short Sharp Story Award, and even more so to be included in the anthology. I learned a lot from the editor, Joanne, and I can honestly say my future work will benefit richly from the experience.

I am so, so passionate about short story writing. Short stories are little snippets of life. They capture the reader’s imagination in a few juicy bites, and usually have a little twist at the end to remember them by.

I can still remember reading Can Themba’s The Suit in school. It has stayed with me all this time.

Philemon lifted it gingerly under his arm and looked at the stark horror in Matilda’s eyes. She was not sitting up in bed. Her mouth twitched, but her throat raised no words.
“Ha”, he said, “I see we have a visitor,” indicating the blue suit. “We really must show some of our hospitality. But first, I must phone my boss that I can’t come to work today …”

So powerful.

I especially love writing short stories for children. I’ve contributed to school setwork anthologies and also the amazing Yoza initiative, which makes free short stories accessible to kids via their cell phones. In First Date, I wrote about a girl who is spirited away by a carousel pony. In Blue versus Red, two laser tag teams face off on the moon. And in The Battle, a group of trading card players take on an adversary that never plays fair.

But I don’t only write for children and teens. If an idea or character strikes me, I’ll write about it.

I’ve contributed to numerous anthologies and often submit to competitions. I’ve written about enterprising children in war-torn villages (Take Me Home United Road – shortlisted for the 2013 Commonwealth Short Story Prize), clueless royals on holiday in Cape Town (The TouristStray, 2015), vampires from outer space (Planet XAfroSF, 2012), a haunted house in Mauritius (The ExpeditionHome Away, 2010), mermaids, ghosts, creepy kids, the devil, more vampires, clown cults and cursed villages

… I guess I have a fondness for the speculative. But that is the wonderful thing about short stories. You can write about absolutely anything. Even Hilary Mantel wrote about zombies in The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher.

My favourite short story writers include China Miéville, Neil Gaiman, Karen Russell and of course the masters, HP Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe and Roald Dahl. I love how these writers are able to lace their stories with a touch of the fantastic and the surreal, creating rich, atmospheric tales that transport you somewhere completely wonderful, tales that you can completely lose yourself in.

Locally, there are some truly brilliant short story writers. Henrietta Rose-Innes, Diane Awerbuck, Ivan Vladislavic and Mary Watson, whose Caine-Prize winning story, Jungfrau, is just exquisite in every way.

The Virgin spent hours in the bathroom every evening. Naked she walked
to her bedroom, so lovely and proud she seemed tall; I followed faithfully, to
observe a ritual more awesome than church. With creams and powders she made
herself even cleaner for God. How he must love her, I thought. She spread his love
upon her as she rubbed her skin until it glowed and her smell spread through the
house, covering us all with the strength of her devotion. Then she went out, just
after my father came home, and stayed out until late.

I suppose every writer dreams of writing stories that touch their readers in some way.

Trade Secrets collection
For the Trade Secrets anthology, I wrote about an old witch living in Muizenberg, who makes her living telling fortunes in a most unusual way. I won’t say too much. It is a trade secret after all.

What I will tell you is that the story is called Kitchen Witch. It’s whimsical and light, and I hope it brings you as much joy to read as it did to write. Here’s a short extract.

Ballantine usually waited for her at the gate. The enticing smell of kabeljou should have had him mewling between her ankles by now. The cat was nowhere to be seen, but someone else was waiting. A young woman, with a sweep of dark hair tucked under a scarf, hovered near the pink hydrangeas, picking at the leaves and tearing them into strips, a large Tupperware container at her feet. Mrs Bailey’s client list consisted in the main of elderly women who knew the old ways and revered the craft. Most young women hadn’t even heard of the art, let alone believed in it. Mrs Bailey reckoned many of them would dismiss her as a feeble old fool… But thirty-something Eleanor February believed in her. It showed in the way her eyes widened as she spotted the old woman’s approach. “Mrs Bailey, you’re here,” said Eleanor with visible relief.

Open Book Short Story Workshop
Thankfully, advice for writing short stories is not a trade secret. I’ll be hosting a short story workshop at this year’s Open Book Festival and offering tips on getting the best out of your story. It’s a two-hour workshop, and I’ll be joined by Caine Prize winner Bushra al-Fadil, who will be answering questions about his experiences leading up to his win. It’s a free event, but booking is essential to secure a place.

Short story workshop:
Date: 09/09/2017
Venue: HCC Boardroom
Time: 10.00 – 12.00
Price: Free entry

Click here for more details.

What is your favourite short story? Tweet me @Sapartridge

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