Where’s the hype, people?

In my last post I mentioned Lauren Beukes winning the Arthur C. Clarke award and nobody making a big deal about it. Let me begin this one by relating how I came to know about this in the first place.
Now as much I like to be in the know about what’s going on in the world, every time I pick up a newspaper I get bombarded with crime, corruption and general negativity that always gets me depressed. So I resort to only reading the paper every now and again. It was on one of these rare occasions that I was perusing through our local daily and on reaching the editor’s page, I saw something very strange: an article written in English by Afrikaans singer and musician Koos Kombuis.
So I read what he had to say, you know, just for kicks. I was forced to chasten myself afterwards for I learnt more from Mr. Kombuis in terms of newsworthy information than I did from the rest of the newspaper combined.
Not only did he mention Ms. Beukes winning a major award, he ranted about going into a well-known bookstore, where the assistant was unaware of a book called ‘Zoo City’ and how it took them quite a while to locate it. When they eventually did, the book was sitting unceremoniously on a shelf partially obscured by other books on the same shelf. In essence Mr. Kombuis complained about the lack of media attention given to local achievers.
Having thought about this, I share his anger and frustration but at the same time I find myself pointing fingers at Lauren Beukes. Or rather her publishing company.
Now I have to admit that I’m still not very knowledgeable when it comes to the world of publishing but why was I of the impression that publishers have an in-house marketing team that deals with promoting the book, or is it much more complicated than that? I know that Angry Robot, Beukes’ publisher, is an international company who specialize in the fantasy and sci-fi genre. Did they spend so much time promoting the book everywhere else that they forgot about little ol’ South Africa?

Why I am slightly peeved at the moment is that if this was a movie star, a musician or a sportsperson, anonymity would not be the order of the day.
We all knew when Charlize won an Oscar, when Ladysmith Black Mambazo won a Grammy, when Seether was heating up airwaves in America. We all know when a Bafana Bafana player signs up with a European team, when one of the Proteas wins Cricketer of the Year or when a local swimmer marries the prince of a country that’s the size of my house (the country not the prince), we all get to hear about it don’t we?
Okay maybe that last one doesn’t count but to prove my point, has anyone heard of JM Coetzee? Anyone? If you do, well done. If you don’t: Coetzee, at one stage, was the only author to have won the Booker Prize twice, and in 2003 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. There, I rest my case.

Maybe I’ve missed the point here or something. Maybe it’s because I love books so much that I look at authors the same way everyone looks at Hollywood stars and other big celebrities. I also expect the media to treat them the same way. Maybe authors are a different breed of celebrity and things work differently for them but isn’t “exposure” the keyword here? No wait, let me change that. For me the keyword is: hype. H-Y-P-E. There’s not enough of it in South African Literature. Yes maybe writers in general are shy, sensitive types and we might not know what to do with ourselves if given too much fame and media coverage but what they don’t realize is that by neglecting the marketing and promotional side, you are robbing potential readers of the chance to enjoy something that you created and the chance to inspire many others in the process. I mean, don’t you WANT everyone to know your message?
Come on, publishers and media people, work together and create some HYPE!!!

Is local not lekker enough for me?

Back in the 1990’s when I was a music junkie and would sit by my radio, as if waiting for a secret message via Morse code from across the Atlantic, a new cause was created in South Africa as the country’s new found democratic freedom took over from an oppressive regime. I remember very vividly the fervour surrounding the South African music industry at the time and the “call-to-arms” in support of local artists. As a conscientious young teen (who never did her homework but preferred to read and listen to music instead), I jumped on the bandwagon. As a result Johnny Clegg, Just Jinger, Urban Creep and Qcumba Zoo (remember those guys?) became my local heroes who had my full attention and support.
More than 10 years have passed, and I now feel like a complete hypocrite. As I continue on my literary journey, I feel a sense of déjà vu as the lack of support for local talent comes under the spotlight once again. This time, however, the SA music industry is the least of my worries as my focus has now shifted to South African Literature instead.

It began two weeks when I found out that Cape Town author Lauren Beukes won the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke award (for 2011) for her novel Zoo City. For those who are not sci-fi fans, let me tell you that internationally this is a very big deal. So why wasn’t a big deal made of it here then?
Even the manner in which I discovered this (from a ranting article written by a local music star of all things) is something I attribute to providence. (Look out for my next post)
It was then that I realized with absolute horror, that I do not personally own any books by South African authors. I haven’t even read John van de Ruit’s Spud yet(!).

Have I been so blinded by my bias attitude towards “classic European literature” that I have stupidly snubbed some great books without realizing it? The fact that the movie version of Spud starring the irreplaceable John Cleese was not enough to make me buy the book means I certainly have been blinded. But now its time to rectify this.

Exclusive Books, SA’s leading bookstore chain, is now doing what radio stations were doing a decade ago. Promoting home-grown talent. Their “Homebru” sales feature has got me excited and I will be redeeming myself today. As Seneca once said, we are citizens, not of a single country, but of the world. This does not mean, however, that we should ignore what’s right in front of us.
The one thing I’ve realized on my journey, is that the support and advice of fellow writers can be invaluable. How can I expect support from my fellow South Africans when I don’t even support them?
Forget charity, the road to world domination begins at home 🙂