“How long will it be this time?” An interview with #WriterPrompt winner, Catherine Shepherd.

It is a kiss that blows away in the wind: her high heels clip up the train stairs, she looks me in the eye, then the shadow of her arm flung from pouted red lips.

We walk home trying not to wipe at our tears. Johnny is whistling, both hands in his pockets. His scuffed shoes kick up stones in the path. I turn to look at him. His eyelids are swollen and snot is gathering by his lip. He pulls out one of his little hands and rubs his nose on his sleeve.

Pa waits by the door in the dusk light. He crouches to kiss Johnny on the cheek.

“How long will it be this time?” I ask, squeezing past into the house.

When he glances at me I notice he, too, has been crying.  “She didn’t say," he replies, before closing out the street.

Aromatic spices from a vegetable stew drift around the kitchen. Pa has washed our school clothes and laid them out by the fire. I try not to stare at the empty space where Ma’s coats and hats used to  hang.

“Eat,” he says quietly, catching me off guard. He tilts his head toward the table set for three. “Tomorrow is a new day."

“Thanks Pa,” I say. “Thanks for everything.”

Catherine Shepherd won SSDA's 7th #WriterPrompt Event with her story, 'Thanks Pa'. We spoke to her about her choice to follow her dreams. 


SSDA: You've been writing since you were a child, but only recently started putting your writing out there. What gave you the courage to allow strangers to read your stories?

CATHERINE: I woke up one morning in my forties and realised my childhood dream was fading fast.  I wanted to write a novel and live in the country with horses. My eldest child had become a young man starting on his own journey and all I had achieved was a pat on the back for helping others grow their own businesses. I was desperate. I gave up my full time job and found some part-time work and bought a plot of land in the country. I entered Short Story Day Africa’s first competition. My story did not feature. Getting over the rejection hurdle was the hardest but most important part of attempting my dream. I realised I needed an editor and here, lady luck was on my side. I got my biggest break when the gifted author Rachel Zadok said she would help me on my way.  

SSDA: Tendai Mwanaka mentored you through Writivism? How did the mentorship work? 

CATHERINE: It was a wonderful opportunity to work with such a prolific writer. Tendai was very patient and positive. He encouraged all of us to work together (he had 3 other mentees) which took the mentoring process to a whole new level. One of the mentees was Chinelo Onwualu whose story “CJ” appears in Terra Incognita. It was great to work together. Writivism is a very special platform for writers.          

SSDA: What sparked your story, 'On a Hot Summer's Night' published in Jalada?

CATHERINE: I was inspired by our local beach one Valentine’s Day......All the people and the beautiful backdrop. I love summer and have vivid memories of swimming in a warm sea on a hot balmy Cape Valentine’s eve. I remember seeing the local hobo and wondering what Valentine’s Day meant for him. It was only after the first draft that I realised what I was writing.

Catherine Shepherd was born in South Africa in 1970.  The end of Apartheid was the highlight of her young adult years and still inspires her to this day. Although she started writing as a child it was only recently through Rachel Zadok, ‘Short Story Day Africa’ and ‘Writivism’, all part of the amazing African Writing Community,  that Catherine got the courage to put her writing out there.  Her first short story ‘Joy Ride’ was published by Black Letter Media in 2013. Catherine has a degree in journalism from Rhodes University. She currently lives in Cape Town, but has plans to build a writer's retreat in Suurbraak.

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Interview by Tiah Beautement