The Bed Book of Stories Interview - Janet van Eeden, Litnet
What thoughts are evoked by the image of a bed? A warm place to come to rest each night; a place for dreams; both waking and sleeping; a place for indulging delicious sexual fantasies; or even a place for a peaceful afterlife? Or the opposite: a place where rights are violated; a place where the sickness of a relationship cannot hide; a place where sterility becomes endemic in all aspects of a life?
The Bed Book of Stories conjures up all these tales and more. Women from all over Africa have taken the broad theme of the bed and explored more aspects of it than you thought were possible. Some of the stories deal with sex in all its guises, from the enticement of the illicit (Nia Magoulianiti-McGregor's "Hunters and Lovers"), to the destruction of entitlement through rape (Gothataone Moeng's "Lie Still Heart: Scenes from a Girlhood Devoured" and Anne Woodburne's "The Artful Craft of Quilting"). Others deal with the end of a life culminating in the earthly place of rest, the bed (Liesl Jobson's "On a Broomstick"; Sylvia Schelettwein's "To Own a Bed" and Joanne Hichens' "Goodnight, Sleep Tight").
Some deal with the beginning of life in the same place. A renewal of dormant aspirations are explored in both Bronwyn McLennan's "Portrait of a Woman in Bed", where a painter is inspired to persue a new course of life through his art, and in Jayne Bauling's moving story of regugees crossing the Kruger Park in "Stains Like a Map". Erika Coetzee's "Divine Possibilities, Rewards Uncertain" also examines how two people decide to change their lives, using the bed as an inspiration.
The complicated terrain of sexual politics is explored with humour by Lauri Kubuitsile's "In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata"; with philosopic profundity by Arja Salafranca in "Desire, with Borders"; and with poignant ternderness in Joanne Fedlers' "Bedrock".
The collection also has plenty of humour. For example, Sarah Lotz's "Heaven (Or Something Like It)" takes the world of the bed into the afterlife, where a much put-upon woman finally finds peace in her bed, trusty remote control by her side. And sometimes a bed isn't even a bed, but the front seat of a bakkie, as in Isabella Morris' steamy "The Outsider".
There are so many more stories in this collection of thirty which deserve mention, but it's impossible to pay tribute to them all. Suffice to say that this is a Quality Street box of stories: each entirely different from the one before and each completely delicious in its own right. Do yourself a favour and spoil yourself with this delightful collection. Take a copy, well, to bed. It's obviously the only place to savour The Bed Book of Stories.
Q & A with publisher Colleen Higgs, compiler Lauri Kubuitsile and editor Joanne Hichens.
- The Bed Book of Short Stories, is a very unusual collection. The subject matter covers a wide range. There is the light fantastical story of a haunted bed in Sarah Lotz's "Heaven (Or Something Like It)". Then there is the deeply disturbing, bald depiction of a girl who, like many others in this country, is abused from childhood to death in Gothataone Moeng's "Lie Still Heart: Stories from a Girlhood Devoured". What gave you the idea of publishing a collection of short stories based on as variable a subject as a bed?
Colleen: I wanted to have some sort of unifying idea, but not to be too limiting. I also wanted to use something concrete and from everyday life; ordinary, but with the potential to yield rich metaphor and a range of possibile stories. Although I was wary of the stories being too explicit about sex, it just seemed like the right theme to capture the imagination of the readers and the writers. Lauri and I had some back and forth about possible topics until we both settled on "Bed". Both of us were pleased with it in the end. It was also very interesting to see what kinds of preoccupations different writers have. There were also so many different "flavours" of stories.
- How did the selection process take place? Where and when did you put out a call for stories, and how did you choose the ones that made it into the final collection? What criteria were you looking for when you made your choices?
Lauri: We accepted stories up until 31 July 2008 from citizens of SADC countries. When I read stories I had three folders: "No", "Maybe" and "Yes" stories and made a final selection of - if I remember correctly - 35 or 40 stories. From there Colleen chose the ones she liked from the list. We had a few discussions about stories. If I felt strongly about a story she took that into consideration.
Regarding choosing stories, for me it was strictly through personal preference. I love stories. I want a beginning, a middle and an end. I want something to happen. I want to be pulled in. I want the writer to squint at the theme, look at it from an angle, knock against it on his or her way elsewhere. Heading straight at it usually puts me off.
- Joanne, you edited this dence anthology of stories. They are so rich and varied that I wondered how you managed to create a sense of unity out of such disparate tales.
Joanne: I love the editing process. I said at the launch that it was like being the mother of thirty children, each at different stages of development, with many ready to leave home needing just a few last bits of input. But I had to take the newer writers more in hand and offer more nurturing before I could even think of kicking them out the door! I think this was the fundamental lesson learned for me: the importance of editing, the fact that writers need nurturing, are appreciative of it, and are generally so keen to consider and use feedback to make their stories stronger. Of course I didn't want to interfere with their own personal voices or rewrite their stories. But editing is an incredibly important part of the process, a very intense process, but satisfying for me in the fact that the work done on Bed, by both editor and writers, has resulted in a polished collection of stories, each one still retaining its original flavour and unique qualities.
- Colleen, I see that you were funded in part by the Arts and Culture Trust. Tell us how you managed to get funding for this project, and how did you put the funding to best use?
Colleen: I applied twice, because I knew Modjaji Publications wouldn't be able to afford to do the book without funding and still keep it competitively priced. Now the recommended retail price is R150, but without funding it would have been more like R270 per copy. I wanted to publish a book that would give newer writers a chance to be published alongside better known writers. I also wanted to give these newer writers a chance to experience the editing process as this a potentially nurturing and learning experience. So I needed funding to pay for editing and printing. The book was 320 pages long and quite thick with all thirty stories. And I wanted to have writers from all SADC countries to have a chance to be included.
- A short description of a few of the stories, with a comment from the writer of each about how she decided on her particular take on a story about a bed.
Lauri Kubuitsile's "In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata" is a delightful story about a resident Lothario in a small village, McPhineas Lata. When he dies, he leaves behind a gaggle of women devastated by the loss of their inventive lover. Their husbands decide to compare sexual notes in the hope that their improved bedroom behaviour will stop their wives throwing themselves on their lost lover's grave. "When I started writing seven years ago, I wanted either to be a humorous writer or a writer of ghost stories. With this story I tried my hand at both - ka di style, which means "in a fashion". I didn't really write a ghost story, though McPhineas does haunt the men and women in Nokeng," says Lauri.