Michael Stanley chats to Joanne Hichens about the newly released South African crime-thriller fiction collection of short stories BLOODY SATISFIED – ‘A cracking collection, with stories of stunning originality and skill,’ says Sarah Lotz.
Editing an anthology is a great deal of work even if a publisher is in place. You had to find the publisher, raise the money, solicit the stories. What were the major challenges and how did you overcome them to make BLOODY SATISFIED a reality?
Certainly there’s a tendency to underestimate the behind the scenes work involved in getting an anthology off the ground. I’d done it before with BAD COMPANY for which Lee Child wrote the foreword, so I understood the kind of effort it required. I’ve never been afraid to approach people for support, so the first thing I did was ask Deon Meyer to write a foreword. He was positive about the project, as was publisher, Tim Richman of Mercury, an imprint of Burnet Media, and so with an internationally respected author to lend lustre to the collection, and a keen publisher on board, it was all systems go.
Getting the money, of course, was the major challenge, but determination (for better or worse) is one of my personality traits and I kept on soliciting, the glint in my eye sharp. I approached various organizations and businesses, and the South African National Arts Festival agreed to fund the prize for our newly created Short.Sharp.Stories Awards and appointed me curator. I couldn’t have had a better result. The National Arts Council followed suit with funding and it was then a matter of calling for stories, followed by team elbow-grease of editing and production.
Of course, another challenge was making final decisions about which stories to include, and I’m acutely aware that great stories were left behind as we considered the anthology as a whole, how stories would mesh to create a satisfying read. The publisher scolded me, letting me know in no uncertain terms that a 400-page book was simply not a possibility. I had to let go.
But I’d say the major challenge, of any book really, is the marketing and selling. We’ve had plenty of launches, and good sales since the anthology was launched in July. I admit a highlight was the moment Ian Rankin popped into a local bookstore and bought a copy, after which I stalked him, at the recent Open Book Festival held in Cape Town, for the pic on this page!
Was there a point at which you thought it was hopeless or just not worth the effort?
Never! There were times when I wondered why I was expending so much energy to get other people’s writing off the ground at the expense of my own. But I truly believe in the collective South African ‘Voice’, that South Africa is a fertile ground for riveting and thought-provoking crime fiction, inspired by, as Deon says in his foreword, ‘our idiosyncrasies, our headlines, our fears, but above all, by the imaginations of seriously gifted authors.’ I simply kept on reconnecting to my commitment to work towards combing the forces of so many talented people.
Interestingly, Deon Meyer good-humouredly ‘apologizes’ in the foreword for a statement he made a while back in the international press. Can you comment on that?
Yes! He refers to a statement he made in an interview featured in THE GUARDIAN newspaper. He was asked if South Africa was taking over from Scandinavia as the new home of crime fiction, to which he expressed his doubts saying that ‘South Africa is just not as sexy a place as Scandinavia.’ He goes on to claim that he said this before he had the pleasure of reading the stories collected in BLOODY SATISFIED. ‘Before I knew,’ he writes, ‘about the cornucopia of crime writing talents in this crazy country.’
Would you tell us about the prize? It certainly attracted a lot of attention. Is there a chance that the awards will be made annually?
The awards sit currently at 35 000 Rands (equivalent to $3500 dollars), which I’m hoping to swell. The National Arts Festival own the Short.Sharp.Stories Awards and will keep funding the project as long as gifted writers are submitting and we’re able to publish their original, entertaining and well crafted work.
However, the theme of the collection will change every year. This year’s title is ADULTS ONLY and we’re looking for stories of love, lust, sex and sensuality, stories that have a bite to them (interpret that any way you choose!) This though does not preclude crime writers from submitting ‘sexy’ twist-in-the-tale stories.
When it comes to crime fiction awards, there’s been plenty of talk of getting an African crime fiction prize off the ground and of course I’d love to see that happen. There’s such an exciting range of African crime and thriller writers each with a fascinating perspective – including Mukoma WaNgugi, Hamilton Wende, Kwei Quartey, Roger Smith, Richard Crompton, Tony Park, and Michele Rowe whom I interviewed for ITW last month. A crime fiction prize would really cement South African and African writers as players in the international crime writing arena.
Please tell us about the prizewinner and the winning story.
The winner for Best Story, Dawn Garisch, doesn’t describe herself as a crime writer. She writes across genres. She’s written memoir and literary fiction and is currently working on a play. The judges – including crime fiction author Sarah Lotz – responded to her immensely readable and sharply observed story of a date gone wrong. “What To Do About Ricky” is wickedly noir, and a worthy winner.
Indeed, the beauty of the collection is that the competition was not restricted to crime writers. Primarily we wanted strong narrative. Writers hone craft through short stories, as they often delve into and explore unknown territory. The fabulous response from writers who submitted to the inaugural competition proved the tremendous interest in writing crime fiction.
The collection ranges between big name authors and unpublished writers. The theme was very broad. Would you tell us how the anthology became coherent?
We feature a number of new writers – watch for Liam Kruger and Nechama Brodie who’ve not yet published full-length manuscripts. Andrew Salomon was recently a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel of the Year Award; Anirood Singh has just completed, as part of an MA degree in creative writing from Rhodes University, a manuscript featuring an Indian detective – a South African first; Melissa Baumann will have her debut novel published by Penguin next year. Then we have Roger Smith, Peter Church, Yewande Omotoso, all internationally published, and we have the perfect set of ‘bookends’ with stars Deon Meyer and you, Michael Stanley – thank you for penning an informative afterword in which you place South African crime fiction in a world context.
The coherence in this case lies in the diversity. South Africa boasts emerging writers from all ethnicities and cultures. The range of criminal activity is (unfortunately) spectacular and I wanted the reader to have a sense of the kind of crime story that plays out in a distinctly South African setting. Also, I wanted a reader to have a sense of the diversity of crime fiction itself so I included in the collection the cosy, the hard-boiled, the story from the victim’s point of view as well as from the perpetrator’s. I wanted the collection to be fun too. The use of irony and black humour helps us face the atrocities which inspire our stories.
You were also the editor of the first anthology of South African crime fiction – BAD COMPANY (now available from Amazon as an ebook). Would you be willing to make it a threesome?
I’ll never forget the thrill I got when reading Lee Child’s shout line for BAD COMPANY: ‘They told me there were gold mines in South Africa – and look what just came out.’
I’m certain #3 will become a reality. With so many aspiring writers out there, it would do them justice to showcase their stories in another ‘cracking’ crime-thriller collection.