Lauri Kubuitsile is the Joyce Carol-Oates of the African writing scene. She is an award-winning, versatile writer and, like Oates, is exceptionally prolific and works across multiple genres. Tiah chatted to her about her latest projects, and got us some great advice on how to manage the publisher/author relationship when you don't have an agent.
TIAH: Tell us about The Vanishings project.
LAURI: The Vanishings is the first novel in my new detective series featuring Dambuza Chakalisa and Delly Woods. The novel was supposed to have been published by Black Crake Books, our first trade publisher in Botswana, but before it could get to the printer, the company ran out of money. Then it was accepted by a Nigerian publisher, but again I had to back out of the deal. I felt the manuscript had had a very rough time and maybe the traditional way of doing things was not the right way for this book.
So I decided to try an experiment. I found a few places around the internet (in the end it was a blog, lo-blogs, and an online magazine, Afrikan Mbiu, to serialise the novel, two chapters a week. The chapters appeared around the internet (including on my blog, Thoughts from Botswana) on Thursdays, and then on a Facebook page made just for The Vanishings on Fridays . We started The Vanishings Project on 12th February and the last chapters went up 4th June. The full novel is now available as an ebook on Amazon for those who don’t like to read a book in parts.
TIAH: Rumour has it that you had a novel recently picked up by a South African publishers. Can you tell us more? Please!
LAURI: Yes, I have a historical novel coming out next year May with Umuzi (Penguin Random House- South Africa). The book is called If Not For This. It is set primarily in 1904-1908. It’s about a Herero couple, Tjipuka and Ruhapo, who get separated during the final battle of the German-Herero War at Ohamakari. They both believe that the other one is dead. They suffer through the extermination order from General Von Trotha, the concentration camp at Luderitz, and arduous treks through the desert. They are eventually reunited in Tsau, a village in the then Bechuanaland. In Tsau, Tjipuka meets an Afrikaner woman, Riette, and the strange parallels of their lives bring them together in an unlikely friendship. But war changes people and Tjipuka and Ruhapo struggle to find their way back to each other. In the end, it’s a novel about war and all of its horrible repercussions, and the ways people try to survive.
"I’ve been writing seriously now for nearly twelve years, going to my office from about 9am to 6 pm, five days a week. That’s a lot of time to write."
TIAH: You are one of the most prolific writers I know. (I am in awe and bow to your mighty pen.) Do you make a lot of outlines in order to achieve this? Or are stories simply flying out of your fingertips at 90wpm? Or both?
LAURI: Sometimes I feel embarrassed by how much I write, I look around and see I’m slightly abnormal. I’ve started hiding writing because I fear people will think I don’t take things seriously enough, but I do. Honestly. The thing is I come from a working class background. What this means is that if you have a job from which you earn an income, you must go to your job every day, Monday to Friday, and work. So I’ve been writing seriously now for nearly twelve years, going to my office from about 9am to 6 pm, five days a week. That’s a lot of time to write. I do try my best to waste time on Facebook, but eventually that gets tiring.
As for outlines, yes I do have outlines, especially for longer works and for genre stories that require tight control of plot. But then too, sometimes I put together outlines and character bibles and chapter synopses, and then I don’t follow them. For example the novel I’ve been working on for about a year now. It is meant to be another very serious historical novel about the Bakwena king Sechele I, a devout Christian, probably one of the most effective missionaries of his time, who had thirteen people killed for being witches. It all started out very nice, well organised, following the plan- but things have gone astray. It is now some sort of historical, Stephen King rip-off mash-up with a missionary’s wife who has morphed into a ghost whisperer. So sometimes, too, I just let my brain go off on its own and then I find myself in strange places.
TIAH: You are one of the most astute writers I am aware of in regards to author's rights and publishing contracts. Can you give some tips to the rest of us agent-less writers that tend to see a contract and go, 'Where do I sign?'
LAURI: I think being a writer can be difficult when it comes to the business side. Writers are artists and squabbling over clauses in contracts and rights and royalties is against all they believe in. But writers must accept that this is a business. It doesn’t need to be an antagonistic relationship between you and your publisher, but you must approach all of your dealings with them wearing your business hat, no matter how hard it might be for you to put it on.
Your publisher is first and foremost a business person. The contract that the publisher sends you is the best case scenario for the publisher. Read your contract. Ask about what you don’t understand. If there are things in the contract that you don’t like, ask them to be removed. There are many places on a contract where publishers cannot budge, but at the same time there are places where they have wiggle room. Always ask for what you want, the worst they can say is no. Then it will be up to you if you can live with the contract as is, or if you should walk away. I have walked away from my share of contracts. It’s much, much better to walk away than being locked into bad contracts – I have a couple of those too.
Writers must lose the idea that a publisher is doing them some sort of favour by publishing their book and they should be thankful for that favour for eternity. Have no delusions – publishing is a business. They will publish your book if they think there is a chance of making a profit. Yes, publishing is a risky business; it does not have high margins, but if money was not being made, it would no longer exist.
Currently on Lauri's Bedside Table:
Lately I’ve been reading lots of African crime fiction. I was recently invited to Sweden to attend a panel about African crime fiction (read Lauri's column about her trip here) and I felt a bit of a fraud since I’d not read a lot of crime fiction set in Africa. So I’ve been reading Margie Orford’s Clare Hart series. I read Nairobi Heat by Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ. I’m also a late comer to Swedish crime fiction. I read the first of Stieg Larsson’s books, The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo, and the book that really affected me recently was Blackwater by Kerstin Ekman. Since reading it, I’ve found myself writing all sorts of complicated, dark murder shorts attempting to copy her style. I looked in Uppsala for more books by her in English, but in the end had to make a deal with the English bookshop owner to send me some. I am waiting impatiently at my post box.
Read a detailed assessment of The Vanishings project on SSDA's website this Friday.
Lauri Kubuitsile is a full time writer living in Botswana. She has numerous published books across many genres and many short stories published around the world. She has won or been shortlisted for a few prizes among them she was shortlisted for the 2011 Caine Prize, and twice won The Golden Baobab Prize for children’s stories. She blogs at Thoughts from Botswana.