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Writing my memoir



My memoir, which I had hoped to self-publish two years ago has been published this year by Modjadji Books – a small publishing company that prints women writers in Southern Africa. I am so excited. I worked very hard with my editor (between lapses into the world of work that pays the bills) – to finish. It is been challenging and I am really enjoying it and learning a lot about writing, publishing, and what happens after a book is written.

Knowing this year was going to be full of writing, I was so happy when my book club – Celebrating African Literature – decided that we needed to go on a writing retreat. At the end of January we went to the Volmoed Retreat Centre, in the beautiful Heme en Aarde Valley, near Hermanus and wrote. What a treat! 10 women ranging from age 24 to almost 60, writing memoir, travel blogs, academic work, poetry got together and created a safe space for each to write. We wrote, cooked for each other, laughed, sang, had Shabbat, and Moslem prayer, Yoga, Christian hymns, swam under the waterfall, witnessed a family of baboons crossing the property, had long amazing conversations…  And did I say wrote? Soon you will see the results of all of this. For me it kickstarted this last editorial process and has been invaluable. We will do it again.

Then the work began. A chapter a week, as far as we could, passing back and forth between the Editor and myself. Starting to understand how each one worked. All this was quite new to me and it took me a while to realise just how much work this was. I mean I have edited this many time over but this time it has been different. Questions asked trigger new thoughts, make me research more, or stubbornly stick to some of the things I have written. Questions bring new insights what I am writing, or why I am writing, or who I think my audience might be – and does that matter? Questions scratch old memories awake – some unresolved that I am not ready to look at – or had forgotten. And the writing continued.

April was a hard month. It is the anniversary of my mother’s passing, and it was the month that I was editing the chapter which deals with loss. As I wrote, though, I found that God works with you in mysterious ways. That month was the month my niece graduated in Johannesburg and her parents invited me to the graduation. Her father, Kitongo, is the son of my mother’s brother, and we had not seen each other since a week before my mother passed. We were able to spend some quality time reconnecting. And we remembered how, on that afternoon when he last saw my mother, we sat and talked for a long time. And every time he got up to go, my mother told me to call him back, and she gave him more instructions, or information, or asked him another question. We thought it was just old age, but… who knows? Maybe she knew she would not see him again.

The book is now finished. Yes! In print! It was called From the Ashes and Flames, but it is now called “Flame and Song: a memoir“.  It will hit the bookshops soon. And I will be at the Open Book Festival on Friday 9th September  and Saturday 10th September  at 6.00 pm, at the Annexe 1. .

I will also be in conversation with Deirdre Prins-Solani at The Story Cafe at Woman Zone Cape Town (next to the box office at Artscape) on Saturday 17 September from 2.00pm to 4.oo pm. The theme is Writing Home, and after our conversation there will be an open mic which will be kicked off by Rwandese poet Epiphane Mokasano. We will have a spread of East African tea and snacks, supplies by the meeting point, and my family in Uganda.

The official launch of the book will be at the Book Lounge on October the 4th.

Please do come to one or all of these events. The book will be on sale then.


new poem, reworked poem

Aunty Violet


She was a tall, dark

voluptuous woman

with big eyes.

Waiting outside his office

She sat still and upright

Hands folded in her lap.

Only her eyes hinted at the fire within.


Finally they let her in.

Mr Bob sat across the desk

His face pink and sweaty

On this humid afternoon.

‘Where is my husband?’

She asked quietly.

Her eyes glinting.

Her body, very still.

‘I don’t  know’ he replied.


Very slowly she leaned forward

And said,

‘You have taken him


and I have come to fetch him.’


‘I do not know your husband.’

His thin pale lips

Twitched as he spoke,

His eyes, cold and empty, 

Staring back into hers



She stood  

And pushed his desk up

Against his big belly

Pinning him helpless

Against the wall.


Her eyes blazing

She said

“Bobu!  Tukooye okutuyisa


My husband has done nothing wrong

and I will NOT leave here without him!

I will NOT raise my children alone.



Mr. Bob’s eyes opened wide

And he gasped!

Face ashen,

pinned between the wall and the desk

Unable to move or breathe.

He looked into her burning eyes

Her tall body towering over him

And suddenly

he remembered her husband

… and where he was!


“Please Madam,

Let go of the desk,”

He wheezed. 

“Your husband will

be here soon.”


That day

Her husband came back home

And was never taken again!


Going home (formerly known as In a Foreign Land)


At the dinning table

shoulders hunched.

Quiet tears .

A soft moan .


Two aunties next to her

hushed words

taut faces.


A child

leaning against the wall

Eyes flashing, fists clenched

’What did they say?’


Nabutiiru says

‘I’m alright.

Khukhu passed away last night.’


The child   

Wraps her arms

Around her Mother

Mourning her Mother.


Nabutiiru.looks around her.

Their homeland

Fast falling into war.

She dislocated

With three of her children.

Far away from home.

The older two

wheel-chair bound.

Minds alert

Unable to speak, or walk,

Or care for themselves.

The younger one, 13.

The caregiver barely 19,


She must go.

Can she leave the children alone?

Bury her Mother

Will she be safe?


Her husband kilometers and kilometers away,

Her eldest child further.

The second born at home –

maybe she will be at the funeral.


An aunty speaks.

‘What if the soldiers get you? Stay.’


Nabutiiru stands.

‘I must go.

I must bury my mother.’

‘We will be alright.’


Bag packed.

She gives the child some money.

‘I’ll be back soon.

If you need anything

Call Aunty.’


Nabutiiru travels

In a Matatu

Through the Rift Valley

Towards Busia


She remembers

The last words her mother,

Hand on cheek, she had asked:

“Nabutiiru, will you manage

With the children in a foreign land?”


Nabutiiru crosses Manaafa,

The river of her home.

The floodgates open up

Tears wash over her.


At the homestead

They wait.

Coffin lowered into

The grave.

They wait.

Corrugated iron sheets over grave.

They wait.




As the sun sets

She steps out of the car

Into the homestead.

They see she is here.


The voice of an old woman

Singing a dirge

Rises through the air

One by one

They move,

As if dancing,

To the grave.


Nabutiiru is here

She will bury her mother.

They will be alright.


And far away

In a foreign land

The children now wait.

Africa! my Africa!

My poem, ‘Velvet Skies’ is included in Africa! My Africa!  and it looks like the books will be delivered from the printers on the 20th of December !  Watch this space for the launch dates.

Africa! My Africa! an anthology of poetry is

“Patricia Schonstein’s personal selection brings together a wide, rich range of poems all held together by a simple yet deep honesty.

The words of Nobel Laureates, well-established poets, emerging poets and even Cape Town’s homeless people share the pages, expressing eloquence and wit, and reminding us of poetry’s unique place in the landscape of the human heart.”

She has included poems from over 100 poets!

As part of the process Patricia has, over the course of this year, been reading the poems out loud in very many parts of Cape Town – just randomly!  Here are some links from her blog:

Patricia is an internationally published and critically acclaimed author and poet, a philanthropist and outspoken advocate for peace and reconciliation.   You can read more about her at – or at .

I am really excited about this project because it was put together to raise funds for another dream that she has – SEED READERS.  Seed Readers is a project that will produce story books, for children,  based on principles of peace, non-violence, non-racism and care of the earth. They will seed an understanding of our true role as custodians of the earth and oceans. They will inspire children to live ethically and in a sustainable manner.

Please email to place your order of Africa! My Africa!

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