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Monthly Archives: August 2017

5 things I have learnt about the journey from writing to publishing.

1. Size does not matter. It doesn’t matter how big or small your publisher is, what matters is their vision and courage. Modjaji Books has been a joy and inspiration to work with. Colleen Higgs has been running this little powerful publishing house for 10 years. And it is a courageous press that publishes what it believes in.

I love the fact that she was open to publishing my mix of prose and poetry without question. Many people have asked how I convinced her – I didn’t. It was never discussed. 

It was through Colleen and Beverly Nambozo of the Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation that I met my East African publisher, Nyana Kakoma of Sooo Many Stories. They are a new outfit – Flame and Song – is only their second book. But they have put her out there in style. I have learnt to use Instagram and Twitter, and more recently Facebook Live because of them.  

Both are relatively small outfits, run by amazing women. Both have open doors for my book to travel. It was great to have them hold my hand on my journey. 

2. A good editor makes a big difference. What I learnt was the editor shapes the book; helps the author tighten the story. It’s a collaborative process, and the editor helps the writer stand outside of their writing and see new possibilities.

I worked with Andie Miller. We deleted chunks, and brought some of it back in at a different place. There places in the text where she asked for more and others where she asked questions that helped me sharpen my work. And we sometimes disagreed. There were times we had robust conversations. 

Most times her questions, comments and suggestions helped become clearer about what I wanted to say. A good editor is not an option. 

3. Proof-reading is critical.  I learnt that the proof reader doesn’t just check grammar and spelling mistakes. They also check facts, and copy right issues too. They read with a new eye and point you to things you can’t see because you are so immersed in the text. 

We often call the proof reader an editor. Their tasks are very different. 

4. Titles are important – and they can change. For years, as I was writing, my book was called ‘She of the Ashes and Flames’.  It grew on me – and with one friend we referred to it as SOTAF. It was perfect – or so I thought. I loved it. When I started working with Modjaji I was gently asked to change it. So we decided that ‘Ashes and Flames’ would be the working title. It grew on me. I loved it. As we neared the publication date I was told we needed a new title. There was another book that had a similar title. It was Lauren Smith (I think) who finally came up with Flame and Song.  It has grown on me. I LOVE it!

5. And then there is design. Did you know that after you finish writing decisions have to be made about design: the font; the font size; the book size; the headings; the book cover and many more?  All these things impact on the look and feel of your book. And book covers can change. Did you know that? Flame and Song has two covers. 

The book is then laid out  and sent to the printers. 

The printers and publishers decide on the colour and quality of the paper of the pages; and of the cover. 

After this the book is printed. 


The debut: 5 August 2016

On the 5th of August 2016, Flame and Song made her debut into the world. Woman Zone had invited me to speak on a panel with Malika Ndlovu, Ruth Carneson, Ntsiki Sigege and hosted by Nancy Richards. This was part of the Woman Zone’s contribution to the Artscape Woman’s Festival. 

The book was HOT off the press, literally! In fact I read from a copy that I ‘borrowed’ from the Clarke’s Books seller at the event!!!

You see we really wanted to have the book at the festival, so we pushed VERY hard. And then Modjaji’s long loved printers and warehouse closed, and Colleen had to find new providers. She managed to pull it off and a few copies were printed just in time for the festival. 

Because of this I could only get the book on the afternoon of the 5th. The plan was that the Modjaji books intern (a student…) would meet me at UCT at 2 pm as I left a meeting, and she prepared to go for a lecture. Plans changed, the printers were running a little late, so we agreed to meet at Artscape. She was delayed at the printers, then went to the wrong place. Then she decided it was okay, she would deliver the next day and went home – lol!!!😡. 

So I phoned Colleen and told her what had happened. Took a deep breath. Asked the bookseller to lend me a copy and went in. 

We had a wonderful talk, and when we got out for tea my books had arrived. 

The Call – a repost from 2 years ago

There are gashes that cut through

generations gone and generations coming

no amount of scars and scabs can hide

for we have not yet wept.


Pain seared deep

lulling us into a numbness

that forgot the rituals

that bring healing

that laid things to rest

And now the pain bleeds rage

and hate and a forgetfulness

of who we are, of who we were

of who we can be.

So we walk around in this

grotesque form of who we could be

contorted in pain yet

thinking we walk upright…

Still spat on and chained.


Let us now stand still

Let the pain

break away the brittle numbness

that lulls our hearts into forgetfulness

Let the water

of tears

long-held back

wash over us,

sweep us off our feet

wash everything away

for we do not yet stand on solid ground

Let us shake away the skeletons

that cling to us

Let our mouths open wide

and let us sound that grief

Wooiee, wooiee, wooiee.


Beat the drums my brother

let us dance away the grief,

let us not stop until

the wounds are clear

no more pus, no more pain

Let us dance again

until our children, my grandchildren, and their great-great-grandchildren

carry in their bones this healing dance

until all those who came before us know

that we have heard, and seen their pain

Wooiee, wooiee, wooiee…

Then wrap us in love

and let us sleep the deep sleep

of restoration

so that tomorrow our dance will be a dance of hope

that will vibrate across generations gone

and generations to come

Wrap us in love

let deep sleep restore these tired bones

breathe wholeness back

breathe back wholeness

wholly breathe

Holy breath.

© namutebkabalikagwa

1 June 2015

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