Lauri Kubuitsile is a two-time winner of The Golden Baobab Prize for African children’s writing, the winner of the Botswana Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture’s Botswerere Prize for Creative Writing, and a finalist for the 2011 Caine Prize, among others. She has more than 30 books published for a range of age groups and her short stories are published around the world. Her books are prescribed reading in schools in Botswana and South Africa, and she has eight titles in the internationally successful Cambridge Reading Adventures series published by Cambridge University Press UK.
Her historical novel, The Scattering (Penguin 2016), won Best International Fiction Book 2017 at the Sharjah International Book and was recommended by the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction (UK) 2017. The North American rights have been bought by Waveland Press (USA), it will soon be published in German by Interkontinental, and it has been optioned for a film by a German production company.
Her second historical novel But Deliver Us from Evil was published by Penguin in May 2019. It was long-listed for the 2020 NOMMO award. In May 2020, her legal thriller/romance, Revelations, was published by Love Africa Press.
She lives happily in Mahalapye with her daughter, grandson, three dogs and two cats.
How important is accuracy in historical fiction, i.e. do you feel compelled to speak on behalf those who lived through the time periods you write about, or are you more focused on the particulars of your own story?
Of course, historical accuracy is important, or you will lose credibility with your reader. And you need that research to understand the environment your characters live in —always— not just in historical fiction, or they will not ring authentic.
Yes, the story is important, but often the events of the time you are writing about will change your story. For example, in The Scattering, when I started, I believed that Riette and Tjipuka would meet in Mahalapye, it was part of why I started that book. Once I did the research, I realised that would be impossible because when the Baherero were given land in the Central District, first in Serowe and then in Mahalapye, it was in the 1920s, it would be too late for the events of my story to work. So they had to meet in Ngamiland.
As to including real people in historical fiction, my method is to attempt to research as much as I can about the person, from all sides. For example, in But Deliver Us From Evil, Kgosi Sechele plays a minor but important role. I tried to read everything I could about him, accounts from others, writings from him, and biographies telling me more about his life. But from there, as a novelist, you must take leaps of the imagination. If I know his writings on religion, his harsh life as a boy being forced to roam the lands of Southern Africa as nearly a destitute and beggar, to have had everything stolen from him and his mother by people greedy for power, you can make that leap to speculate about how he might treat someone like Nthebolang and her mother when they come to him for refuge.
What would you say is the biggest lesson we have not learned from the past?
In both of my published historical novels and my unpublished one, I deal with the biggest travesty of humanity—our inability to learn that war ends nothing. The other issue very near to my heart, and something I come back to time and again in my novels and short stories, is that of our need to make connections and bridges to each other, never boundaries and walls. We seem unable to change this self-defeating behaviour. I suppose these two issues feed into each other. Those who champion war also champion our differences.
Of all the characters you’ve created, which is your favourite, and why?
There are so many; I have hundreds of short stories, published and not, now more than thirty plus published books. At the moment, I’m working on a manuscript I’ve been writing for about two years or so, called Reflecting Light. There’s a little girl who enters towards the end of the book, called Penny, who I have a special fondness for. She’s so resilient and positive after a horrid time she’s had, and she has a lovely open heart. She helps everyone around her to see their way. I think about her a lot. She’s certainly up there with my favourites.
Would you rather re-read one book for the rest of your life, or read only the first chapters of a hundred new books?
Neither. Each would be its own sort of Hell. Well, I do pathologically hate excerpts of all sorts, reading them makes me bite-y. I like reviews of books much better. So, because of that, I guess, if I must choose, I would choose to read one book over and over. I rarely re-read books, even my favourites, there are just too many books in the world that I want to read. What I do nowadays, though, is if I read a book I love on my Kindle (and since I’m rarely in places with bookstores of any quality so I read most things as ebooks at the moment) when I do get to a bookstore, I will buy the book and read it again. I find that the experience of reading an ebook is slightly different from reading a book, and if I love a book, I want to get every last bit of enjoyment out of it; I’m by nature a greedy person.
A book I recently did that with was Aminatta Forna’s Happiness. I love her books; I’ve read everything by her, both fiction and nonfiction, except for her most recent travel memoir, which I have decided I will not read on my Kindle, only as a book. I suppose I could read Happiness over and over again if life was so cruel as to deny me books. But then, honestly, there are so many books like that, and, frankly, I don’t like this question.
What are you currently working on?
Nothing. At least nothing of my own. COVID has done my head in, too much fear and chaos to settle my mind to write anything creative and of my own. I’ve spent nearly this entire time ghostwriting for others. For a client in America, I’ve written two biographies of serial killers and I’m currently writing a book on Benjamin Franklin. These short, heavily researched nonfiction books seem to suit my COVID-monkey-mind.
I feel a light at the end of this horrible tunnel now that vaccines are here, and even my writing brain feels that. I’m about to start a quite long writing workshop (over some months) with a writer in UK that I really respect. I’m hoping this breath of fresh air will bring my creativity back.
You can connect with Lauri here.