Report Back – Monthly Meeting – 20th August 2016

Kirsten_MillerKirsten Miller is an independent award-winning author who has published several books and short stories.
Her autobiographical first book, Children on the Bridge – A Story of Autism in South Africa recounts her work as a tutor of autistic children and she is currently manager of the Action for Autism organisation.
Kirsten holds an MA (summa cum laude) in creative writing from the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, where she was also a participant in 2008 and 2015 in the annual Time of the Writer held at that institution.
A prolific writer of articles on travel, arts and culture, personality profiles, health and education amongst others, Kirsten has been published in The Sunday Times, Special Kids, FairLady, Cosmopolitan and various other high profile magazines.
In 2006 and 2007 she had short stories shortlisted for the HSBC/PEN Literary Award and in 2009 Only In Art was shortlisted for the SAPEN/STUDZINSKI Award. Kirsten was the winner of the prestigious Wilbur and Niso Smith Award for best unpublished manuscript in 2016.
Kirsten states that she is better at writing than getting published: her other books include:_
* Between the Lines
* All Is Ash (Jacana, 2007)
* A Time for Fairies (Bowmaker, 2008)
* Sister Moon (Umuzi, 2014)
However, she has a number of unpublished works which she regards as being equally important to herself.
Her writing career began with the acquisition of an old Royal Typewriter and a love of reading. With her brother’s help, she taught herself to read before she was of school-going age. Her second book and first novel, All Is Fish was written when Kirsten was aged 27 or 28. After five years and 8 rejections, Jacana Press accepted the title and Kirsten went on to be named as a finalist in the 2005 EU Literary Awards.
Kirsten pointed out that it is very difficult to get a manuscript read in the corporate markets of the UK or USA. Your first step, despite you, friends and family believing that you have written a masterpiece, should be to put your work away for six months, then revisit it with fresh eyes. Kirsten believes we still have a literary heritage here in South Africa but has learnt to control her impatience with publishers who can be tardy in responding to submissions, even after one of her manuscripts was lost by a publisher! She advised us to wait and only follow up if no response has been received after months, rather than weeks of anticipation. She also advised that publishers do not like a prospective author submitting their work to more than one publisher at a time. However, if you do this, be professional and at the first indication of interest from any publisher, write to the others and withdraw your manuscript immediately. Remember that you should only submit a synopsis and three sample chapters, not your entire work. She reminded us that publishers and editors are also people but they have the experience to launch your work – personally Kirsten has never contemplated self-publishing.
Asked what she loves about writing, Kirsten’s response was that she loves language and the craft of constructing worlds and ideas. She enjoys being alone but the most exciting aspect is meeting people at festivals, talking to co-authors and generally interacting and broadening her mind and horizons with like-minded folk.
What should you do to be a better writer? Kirsten suggested that you
* Write anywhere.
* Eavesdrop on stranger’s conversations, jot down notes, be a recorder (but not a judge).
*Don’t underestimate your readers’ intelligence.
*Get your dialogue right.
* Find your own voice, don’t emulate someone you admire. By all means try someone else’s technique as an exercise but find and define your own style.
* Read, read, read, read …
An interesting statistic is that 10.5 million books are sold in South Africa every year. However, about 80% of those are non-fiction; text books, biographies, sports, self-help, cookery adult colouring-in, religious, joke (think Zapiro’s Xmas Special), kids – add your own examples.
Adult fiction in this country only makes up about 2.5 million sales annually, of which more than 450 000 are Afrikaans books.
South African fiction sells in the region of 550 000 books per annum – the average SA novelist writing in English will sell only between 600 and 1000 copies of a novel in a lifetime.
Don’t be disheartened by the facts and figures. If you love writing – write! We thank Kirsten for an inspiring and informative talk and wish her every success for the future.