Complementing my interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the three hundred and twenty-eighth, is of romance and YA author Jayne Bauling. If you would like to take part in an author spotlight, take a look at author-spotlights.
After having seventeen romance novels published by Harlequin Mills & Boon, South African author Jayne Bauling yielded to the urge to explore new writing directions. This coincided with a move from Johannesburg to the Mpumalanga town of White River, close to the Kruger National Park. She believes that breaking away from city life opened her up to the possibility of other changes.
The only question at the time was – which directions did she want to explore? She felt out of touch. Who published what? She was downloading submission requirements without having written anything to submit. The thought of starting out all over again was daunting.
YA fiction was an impulse. She had never imagined herself writing for anyone other than adults, although she occasionally read YA fiction, admiring writers like Melina Marchetta and Julie Bertagna. It was Macmillan’s call for YA novels from Africa that was the spur. Could she do it? Maybe. After all, since her move, she was getting to observe and interact with teenage family members and their friends, all living in the White River area. She was learning how they thought and felt, and about their aspirations and the pressures that shaped their lives. She paid special attention to their language and the way they used it. Inspired, she started a novel, she stopped, she resumed. The deadline loomed. Until now, writing had been her day job.
Now she did what she’d never done with her romance novels – she worked late into the night on the second draft of E Eights, an edgy story set in the Johannesburg she had left behind. It was the year 2008. She didn’t check her e-mail very often in those days. It was nearing midnight on a Friday when she learned that E Eights had won the Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa. She remembers the cat’s alarm at the sight of her leaping around, punching the air. E Eights was published by Macmillan in 2009 and launched at the Cape Town Book Fair that same year. It was Bauling’s first experience of a book fair.
Was it a fluke? While waiting for the E Eights big day, she wrote and entered a YA short story for the Maskew Miller Longman Literature Awards. Dineo 658 MP took the silver prize and was published in the anthology You Pay for the View. So YA seemed the way to go, she decided. Novels preferably, although another short story for slightly younger kids, This Ubuntu Thing, was shortlisted for the inaugural Golden Baobab Prize. Our Side of the Wall, a humorous novel, was another case of close but no cigar, being shortlisted for the 2009 Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature but failing to win. At that stage, she was troubled by the idea that her writing was distinctly hit-or-miss. At the same time, being shortlisted was encouraging. She kept writing.
The next novel was Stepping Solo, about the social and other pressures that poverty places on young people; it won the 2011 Maskew Miller Longman Literature Award and was published by MML. Then came Dreaming of Light, set in the world of illegal gold-mining, published by Tafelberg and awarded the Sanlam Gold Prize for Youth Literature. It was also shortlisted for Media24’s M.E.R. prize for best youth novel.
Bauling hasn’t entirely neglected adults in recent years, with her short fiction being published in a number of anthologies: The Bed Book of Short Stories (Modjaji Books), The Edge of Things (Dye Hard Press), African PENS 2011 (Jacana), the e-book Behind the Shadows which was an African-Asian collaboration with an ‘Outcasts’ theme, and two of the Breaking the Silence anthologies brought out annually by the South African NGO People Opposing Women Abuse, and published by Jacana. Flight was shortlisted for the 2012 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, while her re-telling of the OT Samson story appears on Ludic Press’s website. Two more short stories, Business as Usual and Choke are due for publication in the African Roar and Short Story Day Africa anthologies respectively. Bauling’s only attempt at Flash Fiction, Settling, won the first African-Writing Flash Fiction Contest.
As you may have gathered, Bauling is as great believer in writing contests. Another of her new directions has been poetry, ‘sporadic at best,’ she says. Her poetry has appeared in three of the above-mentioned POWA anthologies as well as in ouroboros review, Markings, poetandgeek, Ons Klyntji, Litnet and The Lowvelder. She has won poetry awards from POWA for Fist, and national broadcaster Safm for Symbiosis, which has been broadcast a number of times.
Her plans for the future? To keep doing what she’s doing, and doing it better.
And now from the author herself:
This writing business? I think I’m still in the process of becoming a writer. I’m learning all the time, but I don’t think I’ll ever have a complete grasp of what it is that I think I’m doing or am supposed to be doing. A lot of the time I’m winging it, especially as I’m not great at plotting. There are times when I feel like someone pretending to be a writer and that I could be exposed as a fraud at any moment. At other times I’m just frustrated by how slow I can be, and I feel as if I’m languishing in other faster writers’ dust! But then there are the good times, when I really do feel I’m getting it right. I hope that some day I can look back and know I got it right more often than I didn’t.
Writing. It’s a crazy feast-or-famine life, exhilarating but scary too at times. I love the challenge. Yes, it can be a slog, but there are also those moments when everything falls into place or my characters start to take on lives and personalities of their own. Sometimes I laugh out loud when that happens; it’s just so exciting.
The switch to YA was liberating. I can choose structure and subject matter instead of having to fit a story to a formula. Young South Africans face many harsh realities on a daily basis, and I choose to reflect that in many of my stories. E Eights was about teenagers becoming aware of xenophobia, and their reaction to it, especially when it is demonstrated by my main character’s father. I wrote it prior to the first outbreak of large-scale xenophobic violence in South Africa, but I’d always been aware that xenophobia existed within my country. There were regular reports about Somali shops or stalls being burnt, and that was my starting point.
Again with Stepping Solo, I looked at aspects of teen life in a particularly South African setting: peer pressure, the poverty that has lead to the phenomenon of Sugar Daddies, abuse and child-headed households. Distressing material? Yes, it’s true, but at the same time I like to show my characters coping and eventually taking control of their lives. There’s no happily ever after, but there is hope.
Hope. It was consciously my theme for Dreaming of Light even though it’s probably the harshest of my YA novels, set in the dark, claustrophobic world of illegal mining, with trafficked children labouring as slaves and enduring horrific abuse.
Books that reflect reality and set you thinking versus books into which you can escape? I believe both are necessary. The important thing is to get people reading, or to keep them reading. As a YA author, I’m conscious of how important it is to respect my readers.
I can’t imagine not being a writer. I was probably six or seven when I decided that writing was my future – of course, without having a clue about what that entailed. I still shake my head over what the writing life involves: the sheer terror, the high of knowing you’re on a roll … Who would choose to live like this? I would. I do.
Most of us write at least our first drafts in isolation, and I’m frequently asked if it isn’t a lonely life. For me the isolation is essential. I’m very secretive about my work until it’s ready to be sent out into the world. At the same time I love how supportive the South African writing community is, even when we’re in competition with each other. We mostly interact via social media, but every once in a while there will be a launch, a book fair, an awards ceremony or a workshop where some of us can get together. Those times are so gratifying, especially if it’s one of my own books being launched or winning a prize, and getting to hang out with other writers almost feels like a reward for all the time spent alone at my desk, even if I do cherish that solitude.
I don’t know whether I’ll write another adult novel. I never thought I’d write for youth, so it’s a case of never say never. I do write more short stories for the adult market. At least in South Africa, there are always new anthologies being published, and I know the short story is hugely popular in other African countries such as Nigeria. Themed anthologies seem to be growing in popularity. I used to think I preferred not to write to a theme, but thinking about it now, I realise I’ve learned to like it and even find it helpful.
I’m excited by what’s happening in YA fiction. I love the humour in a lot of the writing. Then there’s a wealth of dystopian, paranormal and fantasy about, but also plenty of novels firmly rooted in either contemporary and historical reality. Sometimes it seems a very short distance between today’s reality and some imagined future dystopia, especially when you look at the huge gulf between the conspicuous consumerism of the super-wealthy and the dire circumstances in which the poorest of the poor live all around the world, not to mention environmental concerns.
YA authors I admire include Malorie Blackman, Julie Bertagna, Louis Sachar, Anthony Horowitz and Melina Marchetta, and in South Africa Edyth Bulbring, S A Partridge and Joanne Macgregor. They inspire me.
E Eights and Dreaming of Light (including Kindle Edition) are both available from Amazon (UK). See link below for info about Stepping Solo.
You can find more about Jayne and her writing via…
- Twitter @JayneBauling
- Facebook page: Jayne Bauling Writer https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jayne-Bauling-Writer/165514616870712
- http://www.tafelberg.com/Books/12671 (Dreaming of Light)
- http:www.mml.co.za/book/9780636118249 (Stepping Solo)
- Read one of her stories for younger children here: http://shortstorydayafrica.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/JayneBauling.pdf
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