South African writer Edyth Bulbring has published eight Young Adult novels. Her latest, Snitch, is due out later this month. She spoke to us about connecting with young readers and the lack of swagger on the S.A. lit scene.
Tell us a bit about Snitch.
EDYTH: There are rules that all teenagers should know if they want to survive their mothers – and adolescence. As the puberty gene kicks in, thirteen year old Ben Smith breaks the most important of the survival rules: never tell your mom stuff. Mom blabs, hell breaks loose. And things change between Ben and his mom, and between Ben and his friends. He becomes known as Snitch. The book is about mothers and sons, bully boys and tough girls, falling in love for the first time, and of course, a dog with anger issues.
What's currently boiling on your desk?
EDYTH: I get nervous talking about what I’m working on. It’s like if I talk-talk-talk about my work, then I talk it all out of me and never sit down to write it - I get bored and lose impetus. But I am working on another stand-alone YA book, and I have also begun thinking about writing a sequel to The Mark, my dystopian book that was published by Tafelberg in 2014. It’s sort of bubbling about at the back of my head. I will get down to it next year after things have boiled over. (Other than that, I am trying to sell my house. Anyone looking to tie up their capital in a Joburg home? No?)
Many of your readers are under 18. What is the most memorable interaction you've had with your young fans?
EDYTH: One of the things I like doing is visiting schools and interacting with young readers. A few years ago I visited a primary school in Benoni and the Grade 7s showed me the books they had written for their library. They had done everything, from the text to the covers to the illustrations. I spent a long time reading these and loved it. When I left, I was escorted to my car by a sweet young boy whose story I had not read. He told me that he had written a book about a very sad fat boy who was bullied and lonely at school. A teacher advised him to take up swimming, which the boy did. Swimming became his biggest joy. He swam, and swam. He got fit and heathy and became happy and confident and made friends. The sweet young boy taking me to my car was the very same sad fat boy and this was his story. I was so moved by him telling me this. It has always stayed with me.
Fellow South African Ekow Duker was quoted as saying, "There’s swagger to Nigerian attitude which is great – see their soccer World Cup confidence. We need more swagger as SA authors.” Do you think Duker has a point?
EDYTH: I think Duker is correct that South African authors don’t swagger. The ones I know certainly don’t. In fact, most need a fist full of chill pills just to make it on to a Book Festival platform without vomiting with nerves. Also, I think it’s hard for South African fiction writers to swagger, especially in book stores, where they can never, ever, ever (!) find their books for sale. (Local ain't lekker, you know.) But perhaps swaggering is a bit over-rated. You never saw Harper Lee swagger, did you? She just wrote a damn good book. I think if authors focussed on writing that brilliant book and left the swaggering to their publishers then that would be just fine. It is their job, surely?
As a reader, rather than a writer, what do you hope to see change in the book world?
EDYTH: I would like to see a functioning library in every primary school in South Africa.
On Edyth's Bedside Table:
The past month I have been reading a few things at the same time, which is unusual for me, as I tend to read one book to the end. In between delving into Africa: A Biography of the Continent by John Reader, I have been devouring Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels. But then, wanting to delay coming to the end of the wonderful Ferrante series, and feeling a little stricken by Mr Reader, I took a break with Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah. It was absolutely Wow! I was gutted by it.
Edyth Bulbring was born in Boksburg and grew up in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. She worked as a journalist for fifteen years and was political correspondent at the Sunday Times. After completing her MBA at Wits University in 1999, she was a project manager for a few years before quitting corporate life to write books. She lives in Johannesburg and likes dogs, trees and junk shops.
She has published eight Young Adult novels: The Summer of Toffie and Grummer which was shortlisted for the 2010 Percy Fitzpatrick prize for youth literature (Oxford University Press, February 2008); Cornelia Button and the Globe of Gamagion (Jacana, April 2008); The Club (Jonathan Ball Publishers, September 2008); Pops and The Nearly Dead (Penguin, March 2010); Melly, Mrs Ho and Me (Penguin, September 2010); Melly, Fatty and Me which was awarded the 2012 Percy Fitzpatrick prize for youth literature (Penguin, September 2011); The Mark (Tafelberg, September 2014) and Snitch (Tafelberg, May 2016).
Interview by Tiah Beautement a.k.a @ms_tiahmarie