Monthly Archives: January 2015

#IDidNotKnowThat

Yesterday, having conquered the lofty heights of 500 facebook likes I turned my attention to Twitter.

Despite what you may have heard, Twitter is a mine of information, and, like any mine worth its salt, its passageways are dark, slime covered tracts of treachery. Yesterday, it was through this house of horrors, shod in my green wellies, I skwodged; arm trembling, lantern held high, straight into a cesspit.

You see, Twitter relies heavily on hashtags (#). In a nutshell, a hashtag represents a following, a connection, a gossamer fine thread linking tweeters together. Without them, your tweets largely echo down empty halls and what’s the point of that? Now they’re not called hashtags fer nuthin: as you blunder down the twisted  tunnels of the Twitterverse you can easily make a hash of it. Like I did yesterday….

Yesterday, #Redneckabook was trending. It was beautiful. People were tweeting things like #Redneckabook Lord of the Fries, or, #Redneckabook  To Roadkill a Mockingbird. Sheer poetry….

The sounds of merriment gambolled along the cold walls to my ears and I hurried towards the embrace of this cheery little bonfire. I nestled my way into the circle, nodded at the good folk on either side, rubbed my mitted hands together and poured myself some Cab Sav. We chinked mugs and chuckled. I took a shlurp, waited for an appropriate opening, leaned forward and dealt my finest card…#Redneckabook I Am Hillgrim….I leaned back with a satisfied shake of the head….

Doh! The Twitterverse drew breath. All movement ceased. And then, from the deep shadows across the trembling flame, a soft voice.

“You makin funna me, boy?”
“Huh?”
“Ah sayed, you makin funna me, Boy”
“I, uh…”
“Don’ be callin no Redneck, no Hillbilly, BOY!”

A rush of blood flushed through my innards and I bristled, about to vent my indignation, but there was something in that voice… something that made me think twice… made me think I better get me some ammo first.

I whupped out muh Google and slapped Wikipedia open and, well…blow me down with a feather, according to Wikipedia a Redneck is not the same thing as a Hillbilly! They are, in fact, two distinct species. Easily offended; never to be confused!!!
Intrigued, I read on. The Redneck, it seems, hails from the Southern US States while the Hillbilly’s favoured terrain is in the East, encompassing the Appalachian Mountains, which makes sense if you think it through….I thought it through.
I did not know that.

I looked up. By the flickering light of the fire, I could see eyes, dark, baleful eyes, all focussed on me….and, disturbingly, off to the left, a glint of steel.

I grabbed my lantern and my papsak and bolted like a mole from an owl as fast as my wellies allowed. The howls of derision coming from behind overtook me easily, and, thus spurred I followed them back into the black obscurity of the catacombs.

Twitter, a mine of information…just mind your step.

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Feed the market…or market your feed?

Market

Cracking the Amazon eBook market is hard and I’m under no illusion as to what I’m trying to do with my particular book, Zululand Snow. I recently made the comment to a couple of mates that, “cracking Amazon would be the equivalent of breaking into the American Top 40 with an Afrikaans liekie.” And this got me to thinking. Few would dispute that the international accent for chart topping songs is overwhelmingly American. For whatever reason, the market demands this, and what the market demands it largely gets. And so we have a whole smorgasbord of South African, Australian, Irish, English and New Zealand singers to name a few all belting out their home-grown tunes in pseudo American twang. And we love it. Almost anything else just sounds dodgy. I’m no martyr either: alone in my car I can belt out Mumford and Sons with the best of them, in flawless hill-billy of course. My local Durban Drone just doesn’t cut it. I’ve tried and it sounds kak. Try bawling ‘I Will Wait’ or ‘Little Lion Man’ in Durbanese and you’ll see what I mean. And I bet it sounds crap in any of the West London dialects as well. There are exceptions to the chart topping rules, of course. Die Antwoord springs to mind. But hey, I’m South African and, poetic as their stuff is, I can barely understand what they’re saying. Nope, for most vocal artists, an American accent is the way to go if you want to make it internationally.

What then for writing? Does the same hold true? I believe it does, whether we like it or not. Most of the media we consume stems from the States or the UK. Little wonder then that, possibly even subconsciously, we might find ourselves drifting toward the inevitable stereotype. The most obvious example can be found within the Fantasy genre. In the literary coup of the last century, someone in some dingy classroom somewhere signed the monopoly on Fantasy Fiction over to The British Isles. Wanna write Fantasy? I bet by the end of page one you’ll find yourself being pulled in the direction of a Medieval Britain. Your characters, will drink ale from flagons and say things like “Tis” or “Begone foul cur!” Why? It’s freakin fantasy. You can make up whatever you want! And yet few do. Most will stick to the tried and trusted Game of Thrones style. That’s what readers want. I’m not knocking it, if I wrote Fantasy, I’d probably do the same. It somehow just feels authentic for the genre. The big dogs have created the market and if us ankle snappers want to feed at the trough we need to behave. But should we? Should we internationalise our local stories to make them appeal to the widest possible audience? Would I have been better off stripping out every South Africanism in my story? Kinda goes against the grain. In the end it’s probably about getting the balance right. Local is lekker and all that, but overdo it at your peril. And yet it’s precisely that concentrated local flavour that makes us non US citizens love stories from, say, the American Deep South. (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple to name a couple). If Tom Sawyer had grown up on the banks of the Tugela rather than The Mississippi, peppering his speech with “Yuslikes!” and all other aspects of his story remained the same, would he have become such an international hit? I doubt it.

So…feed the market or try and market your feed? I don’t have the answer. For now, as a fledgling author, I’m going with my gut and sticking with the simple mantra of “Write what you know”.  It feels right, it feels authentic. It feels good to be charging into battle waving that flag….and who knows, I may yet conquer a koppie or two.


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