Tuesday, 15 August 2017

2nd Edition


Very excited to read this article in the New Times today:

Activists are pushing for the recognition of sign language as one of the country’s official languages.

This would make it the fifth official language after Kinyarwanda, English, French and Swahili.

The development comes at a time when the country is awaiting a new sign language dictionary, which is expected to be ready later this year.

The dictionary, which would be the second of its kind for Rwanda, has been in the works since 2014.

I first came to Rwanda as a sign language researcher, and was involved with the inaugural dictionary right up to its publication in 2009. We travelled all around the country, documenting regional linguistic variations. It's really great to see it's being updated, and that the fight to recognise sign language is going strong.
 

1st Edition

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Flip the Flop


I haven't been making many posts recently as editing is keeping me busy. Just wanted to share this, though. 

Possibly the world's first ever piano hammers made from recycled flipflops. Made for our Kigali Keys piano project thanks to our friends Ocean Sole in Kenya.

It'll be a couple of months before we can test them properly, but it's a really exciting experiment.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Perdua Publishers


Extremely proud to be working as an editor for Perdua Publishers in Rwanda. Or, rather, extremely proud of how far my friend Firmin has come. We first met back in 2008 when he was running Kivu Writers, a project to get secondary school kids writing. Now he's helped to found a publishing house.

I've just taken charge of ten short stories for upper primary and lower secondary.

I'm excited to be involved in the project whilst doing what I enjoy.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Versus


Very happy to be reviewing this collection. It's a bit of a milestone. The first anthology of contemporary adult fiction I'm aware of in Rwanda. Published by Huza Press (pronounced hoo-sa - Facebook/Twitter). They hope to have it available in e-format by the end of the year.

Each year, Huza run a short story award for Rwandan writers, with a $1000 prize. The eight shortlisted stories from their 2015 competition have now been released as Versus. This is a really big deal. ImagineWe has been making strides into children's books with Oh Rwandan Child! and ABC's of Rwanda, but this is the first time contemporary adult fiction has been offered up, and it spans a wide range of genres including literary, fantasy and science fiction.

I was really excited to get my hands on a copy. 

A couple of the stories that really stood out for me: 

Today I Leave You by Jean-Claude Muhire (Twitter): I first met Jean a couple of years ago when I was country director of a youth and human rights program. He came to give a talk on LGBT rights, and he has been a passionate advocate of women's rights since. Many of my friends in the writing community became friends after I read their work (and gushed about it): Remittance Girl, Will Davis and the like. It's always really awkward when you start as friends first, then sit down to read somebody's work. You're always terrified by the thought: what if I don't like it? It's easy to write honest reviews about strangers, but it's always really hard when there's a personal connection behind the writing. Thankfully, I can honestly say, I really enjoyed this story. A harrowing, and at times poetic, exploration of domestic abuse written convincingly from a woman's perspective. I look forward to reading more of his work. He told me he is developing something at the moment, so watch this space. 

Nomansland by Dayo Ntwari (Twitter): I've never met Dayo, but it's not for lack of trying. When I moved back to Rwanda and heard there was a science fiction writer here, I desperately wanted to read some of his work, but it's only now, with this compilation, that I've had the chance. I even turned up in the rain to a talk he was giving, only to realise the Facebook event was a year old and nobody had taken it down. He wasn't even in the country. Felt like a right plonker. Anyway. Finally got my hands on his work and it stood out a mile. A futuristic, apocalyptic war zone with shape shifting hyenas, spider-based hallucinogens and space castles. I bloody loved it. Very talented writer. Apparently he's working on a collection of short stories and a novel - absolutely one to watch on the scifi scene.

A Little Red Car at the Gusaba by Eva Gara: According to her bio, Eva is a retired teacher who began telling stories to her own children. This was a really touching one exploring childhood tragedy and how love has to battle to overcome family traditions. I just really enjoyed both her style and the flow of the story.

Back in 2007, when I did my VSO training before coming to Rwanda for the first time, there was a session on cultural adjustment. I remember we were shown a drawing of an iceberg, two-thirds submerged beneath the sea. As the little penguins on top, we were told that we would probably only ever come to understand a small amount of the cultures we were venturing into, and that there would always be a huge amount we would never understand.

That was until local authors started writing, and local publishers stared printing them.

At which point, that iceberg starts to rise rapidly out of the water. 

I've been teaching a fiction course in Kigali, and was really intrigued to receive a piece from a local student recently which explored both lesbian and asexual characters. What often stands out about my students' work, and the work in this collection, is that issues are similar around the world: sexuality, love, death, violence, loss, happiness. 

The fascinating gift that literature gives us is to see that, quite often, our thought processes as human beings are remarkably similar globally. What differs are our circumstances. Sometimes our laws, our religions and our social traditions force us to make different choices, or behave in a certain way, but, through literature, nothing is incomprehensible. Reading these stories has filled in a few blanks for me, and offered up some knowledge about local language and culture that I didn't know, but it's also affirmed that, thankfully - people are people. We can understand most things if we're willing to listen. Stories transcend any boundary. 

That's why collections like Versus are so important. 

The Lovely Mr. Jean-Claude Muhire


Saturday, 29 July 2017

Your Best Side


Ah, those crazy Victorians (quite literally, what with lead in the pipes and arsenic in the wallpaper...)

Finally broke the 40,000 mark on Still Life. I would have gotten there sooner, only I took a break to write fairytales.

It's not all doom and gloom in the world of postmortem photography. Well, mostly it is, but I'm also exploring the early world of photography in general. It's quite incredible how something we take for granted today, which has become so point-and-click, took so much painstaking skill in the early days. 

Thirty years after the invention of the Daguerreotype and collodion processes, we were still taking pictures in a similar way to the way we still use the internet today. It looks a bit flashier, runs a bit faster, but, essentially, we're yet to achieve the Polaroid or the digital camera. 

It provides an interesting, and contrasting, insight into how technology moves forwards in spurts, interspersed with long periods of normalisation as existing technology catches on with the masses. 

40-45k is roughly half a novel, but it's taking a lot of time as there's so much research required. Some days you can type a couple of lines then disappear into Wikipedia for an hour. 

When I began this, I didn't really have much of an interest in photography. It was really the mortality and memento mori side of things that drew me. Since then, I've really come to appreciate just what went into creating early photographs, and what we might have lost with the invention of digital photography. 



Friday, 28 July 2017

Antiartists


Recently finished reading an excellent debut novel, Antiartists, by author Ralph Pullins (website, Twitter):

What do you do when you don’t know who you are, when who you thought you were, who you thought you would become, is destroyed? This is the story of young man, Chris, seeking an identity after the seemingly catastrophic collapse of his life, seeking what it means to be a creator, and, ultimately, seeking a glimpse of hope and recovery after a rock-bottom event. 

During his search, he comes to the conclusion that instead of creating beauty for an ugly world, he wants to destroy beautiful things. Because of his background and education in art, Chris knows of a secret: Michaelangelo’s David has a fatal flaw, a weakness that if struck correctly would shatter the marble into fragments. What will Chris and his newfound group of society’s rejects do with this knowledge?

Antiartists is both bleak and darkly comic, playful and serious. It is about broken people doing broken things, and about trying to find a reason to carry on when there seems no escape from the downward trajectory of one’s life. It is, in the end, about redemption and hope, about finding a way to keep living when everything seems lost, about finding a light in the darkness. It is the story of an outsider coming to terms with his differences. This story is ultimately about believing, once again, that it is worth carrying on - that even after seeing rock bottom, life can be beautiful again. 

The book begins with the warning:

This is a story of broken people doing broken things. If there is anything in the pages that follow that seems like a good idea, please seek appropriate help.

I really enjoyed it. It played to my dark sense of humour and fascination at how far people will go in desperation. It reminded me a bit of DBC Pierre's Lights Out in Wonderland, in its exploration of addiction and self-destruction. 

Very much looking forward to whatever he writes next.