Q&A with 2016 New Voices Award Nominee Frederick J Botha

09 Nov 2016
Q&A with 2016 New Voices Award Nominee Frederick J Botha

Frederick J Botha’s story “Please Help, God Bless” was nominated by PEN Afrikaans for the 2016 PEN International New Voices Award. PEN South Africa nominated Beatrice Willoughby for her poems “The Mad, Sad, Rad Collection” and James Clarke for his short story “Old Iron”.

Read our Q&A with Botha below and his story “Please Help, God Bless” here

Can you tell us a bit about your writing life – how long you’ve been writing for and what you like to write about?

I like to write about real life people who fascinate me – situations that intrigues me. I guess you could say I want to use my writing to portray the way I see and experience humanity.

I’ve been writing most of my life, in some way or another.

I wrote my first story in the first grade and received great praise from my teacher (even though this was a badly plagiarised version of a children programme I saw on television). In school I always enjoyed writing essays and all other creative work for Afrikaans and English, with some of my poems and short stories that was entered for eisteddfods.

During my tertiary studies at the Potchefstroom-campus of the North-West University I chose Creative Writing as one of my electives, and this is where I was introduced to the more technical side of writing. It’s also during the two years I had Creative Writing as a subject where I discovered my love for the short story genre, and started to focus only on this genre. In my third year my first published short story, “Agter die groen deur,” appeared in the art magazine Bravo, after I simply took a chance and emailed the editor and asked her if I could send through one of my stories for possible publication. During my student years in Potchefstroom I was also a journalist for the student newspaper Wapad.

Later in life I once again followed a career in journalism for six very short months at a community newspaper, where I had to write about anything from investigative journalism to sport events and human interest stories.

In 2013 two of my short stories were published in Nuwe Stories 2, a short story collection by Human & Rousseau showcasing upcoming writers under the age of 30 who have not had a solo publication. Three of my short stories were published the following year in Nuwe Stories 3, and I was also named overall winner of the competition with my short story “The day Madiba died”. This story was nominated by PEN Afrikaans in 2015 for the PEN International New Voices Award.

At this stage I’m earning a living as one of the scriptwriters for the Afrikaans soap opera on kykNET, Getroud met Rugby. If I’m not writing for the soapy, I’m either writing short stories, literary reviews, or my doctoral thesis.

Tell us a bit about your short story “Please Help, God Bless”, which was longlisted for the 2016 PEN New Voices Award?

“Please Help, God bless” is a short story I wrote for a competition held by PEN Afrikaans in 2015 where they wanted to choose two candidates (one male and one female) to be the candidates they nominate for the PEN International New Voices Award. I was ecstatic when I heard the news that I was chosen by PEN Afrikaans as their male candidate. When I later received the news that I made it onto the international longlist of six I was completely overwhelmed, yet very excited and honoured.

The story is about a motorist in Johannesburg who on his daily route to work becomes aware of a beggar at a traffic light. There is something specific about this beggar that excessively fascinates the motorist, to such an extent that the motorist becomes obsessive about the beggar. When the beggar one day makes contact with the motorist, the motorist confronts this aspect of the beggar that has been fascinating him for days.

Writers or books that have had an impact on you?

I’m enrolled for my PhD in Afrikaans literature, which means I spend most of my time reading Afrikaans literature. My favourite Afrikaans writers whose work continuously moves and inspire me is Ingrid Winterbach, Etienne van Heerden, Marlene van Niekerk and Eben Venter.

Books, specifically short story collections, which had a tremendous impact on me as reader (and as writer), is Melk by Elsa Joubert, Maal by Nicole Jaekel Strauss, Alfabet van die voëls by SJ Naudé, Op ’n plaas in Afrika by Helena Gunter and Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower.

What was the last book or short story you read that you really loved?

I recently read a collection of short stories by Nanette van Rooyen entitled Om te vlerk which was published in 2001. This book is one of the very few short story anthologies where every single short story intrigues and moves me. These short stories are made up of the most beautiful sentences I have ever read: sentences that beg the reader to reread them. This collection is an excellent example of how every word in a short story should be carefully weighed to ultimately have the maximum effect on the reader.

What’s next? Where can we find more of your writing?

I’m busy working on a collection of short stories for my debut. I already have a number of stories ready, but at the same time there are others that are still in the developmental stage and some waiting to be written. And in between there are constantly new ideas. Time is however the biggest obstacle, and in between my work as scriptwriter and my doctoral studies, I try to allocate some time for my own creative writing – not always very successful! The recognition I received with being longlisted for the PEN International New Voices Award is much needed motivation to work more seriously towards my debut.

As I already mentioned: two of my short stories are published in Nuwe Stories 2 (“Petrus” and “Desperate Housewife”) and three of them are published in Nuwe Stories 3 (“The day Madiba died”, “Drie daggakoppe rook tesame” and “Antie en die engel”). Both collections of short stories can be found in most leading bookshops. I was recently asked to write a short story for the art festival hosted by the radio station Radio Sonder Grense (RSG) which will be broadcasted on Monday the 14th of November at 09:15. The title of the story is “Die dag toe Annelie begin sing het”. I’ve also been invited to contribute a short story for an upcoming collection of Afrikaans short stories to be published in 2017 (unfortunately I still have to be bit secretive about the specific details of this project).

Where else can you find more of my writing?

Just watch Getroud met Rugby on kykNET, weekdays at 18:30!