“Perhaps a molecule that is part of me may have once dwelled in an astronaut who has been to the moon."
SSDA: Where do you find time to write while helping with Short Story Day Africa and other commitments?
TIAH: Ah, the old, 'I've always wanted to write a book but haven't found the time.' In Rachel Cusk's novel, Outline, there is a brilliant retort to this: 'You never hear someone say they wanted to have an affair but they couldn't find the time, do you?'
That said, I do find it difficult to create new content when there is a lot of noise. It obscures the voices in my head. I have tried writing when the kids are home and, thus far, everything I've produced in those attempts has been rubbish. Consequently, I usually write in the mornings, after the children have been dropped off at school.
The work for Short Story Day Africa, however, fits into writing breaks, in-between the children's afternoon activities and down time on the weekends. A lot of my other work involves reading, which I can do wherever I go and in the evenings. However, I am constantly reassessing how I can use my time more effectively.
SSDA: There are a lot of writer stereotypes: the drunk, the chain smoker, the cat owner and the procrastinator, to name a few. Do any writer stereotypes bother you?
TIAH: I'm not sure bothered is the right word. I do find it odd, though, how persistent the belief is that writers can only succeeded if they are alone. Can practically hear David Attenborough narrating the stereotype: Here we see our writer living strictly for the muse – no children or commitment to a spouse, while creating his masterpiece in sealed pod of solitude, using only a typewriter.
Yes, I could write faster if I had a week each month with no other distractions. But writers write about life. You learn about life by living it. Much living is accomplished while parenting. So yes, I suppose I am rather tired of seeing women writers get asked if they can still write if they have a child, or if it is possible to write with more than one child or… Carol Shields had five. Then again, she published her first book after the age of 40. Think of what a treasure readers would have missed if the world had been preoccupied with only young writers.
SSDA: Water is the theme for the 2015 Short Story Day Africa Prize. Water also plays a major role in your latest novel, This Day. What is so interesting about H2O?
TIAH: My grandfather, who taught science at The University of Portland, had me peering through a microscope before I could read. There are entire worlds inside a single drop. Water is fascinating. It is essential for life, yet it can kill. It feels so soft, yet can be powerful enough to move cars and destroy homes. Depending on age, humans are between 65 to 80 percent water. Perhaps a molecule that is part of me may have once dwelled in an astronaut who has been to the moon.
SSDA: What question did you think people would ask about This Day, but haven't?
TIAH: The hammock sex. When I wrote that scene I was convinced people would ask if that was taken out of my life and / or if my children had been conceived in a hammock. This is because after my first novel I was routinely asked if I drew on my own experience with pregnancy and motherhood – overlooking the fact that I wrote it before I'd ever been pregnant or a mother.
However, some readers of This Day have asked my mother-in-law (who is alive!) if she planted hydrangeas in my garden / if she did awful things to my garden / if she has strong opinions on hydrangeas. The truth is, my mother-in-law is a fantastic gardener and has not planted a hydrangea in our garden or her own. But, once-upon-a-time, I read an amusing debate on hydrangeas where gardeners had passionate and decisive opinions on the plant. Such are the odd tidbits that stick in my brain.
SSDA: What tip would give an aspiring writer?
TIAH: Thank the people who help you. No writer gets anywhere on her own. I had one person thank me with twelve bottles of wine. Now, that is a rather grand gesture (I was thrilled). But at the very least, write an email saying how much you appreciated the person's time. It's networking, with manners.
Tiah Beautement is an American-Brit living on Garden Route with her South African husband, kids, dogs and a flock of chickens. In between her own writing and work, she helps run the Short Story Day Africa project. This Day (Modjaji Books 2014) is her second novel. This Day is long-listed for the Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize.