We’re feeling patriotic this Independence month… are you? Petlwana is looking for a Setswana poem and an English essay on any theme that can be applied to Independence. Please submit your entries by 20th September 2022. The winning entries will be published on the Petlwana and Petlo websites.
Priscillar Matara is a writer and film maker from Botswana. She writes short stories, some of which have been published in anthologies such as Lemon Tea and Other Stories, Flash, Roses for Betty, Bundle of Joy and Other Stories, Botswana Women Write and Waterbirds by the Lakeshore. She is also a 2nd prize winner in the 2018 Poetavango Award for Short Fiction in Botswana and a participant in the 2018 Commonwealth Short Story Workshop in Zambia as well as the Goethe Institute’s Adult Young Fiction Workshop in 2019.
What, if anything, do writers owe to society?
Writers have been described as mirrors for society, that they force society to look closely at itself and to do so honestly, to acknowledge that nobody has a definite idea about what ‘this’ life thing is about. So I guess we could say, writers owe society honesty. But I also believe, writers owe as much to themselves. We try to make sense of the world by creating stories, characters that we assign the lives we think they deserve. And perhaps that is the only way to be honest.
What is the most important thing happening in the Botswana film/TV industry right now?
The most important thing that is happening in the Botswana film/TV is the realisation of how big and universal the industry itself is. Even though locally it is still small, it is very alive and it is refreshing to see people in the industry exploring the opportunities everywhere, particularly Botswana. In addition, it has become clear that traditional methods of broadcast such as the TV programming are no longer sufficient and streaming platforms provide a big space for all in the industry.
What is a word or turn of phrase that you use time and again in your work, and why does it appeal to you?
When I was younger, I had an unhealthy obsession with the word kaleidoscope. Characters in my short stories always dealt with a ‘kaleidoscope of colour’ one way or another. I thought it was the height of creativity and made sure I found space for it in any way I could. It was hilarious, actually, because I don’t think I was as versatile with it as it deserved. I still laugh about it.
With the rise of streaming, podcasts and social media content, do you think there is still a place for the radio drama?
I feel there is still a place for radio dramas; perhaps there isn’t much interest locally in writing and producing radio dramas but I still feel it’s still very relevant. Actually, BBC Radio still streams radio dramas so I don’t think radio dramas are going anywhere. In fact, if we are to compare radio and TV drama in terms of expenses, radio will seem like an easier choice because it is relatively cheaper to produce.
What are you currently working on?
I am very excited to be working on an idea for a play. I have never written a play before so I get moments where I second guess myself a lot, but I am pushing forward. The concept is very universal and I can’t wait for the first reading but first the play actually has to happen. Other than that, I am trying to interest a regional television broadcaster in a proposal for a lifestyle show. We can only try.
You can follow Priscillar here and here and check out another interview she did here.
In honour of International Women’s Day (March 8th) here is a list of extraordinary women writers who blazed a trail for the rest of us.
Enheduanna: First woman writer (possibly the first writer of any gender).
The Akkadian poet and high priestess lived two thousand years BCE and is thought to be the first writer known by name. She was responsible for creating poetry and prayers that might have influenced the psalms and hymns of ancient Greece and the Hebrew Bible. Her work (see image on the left) was discovered in 1927.
Ogbuefi Florence Nwanzuruahu Nkira Nwapa Nwakuche, otherwise known as Flora Nwapa, was the first African woman to have a novel published. In 1966 her book Efuru was published under the Heinemann African Writer’s Series.
Phillis Wheatley (1753 – 1784) was born in West Africa and sold into slavery at age seven. The family that bought her taught her to read and write. She was the first slave to have a book of poetry published, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, in 1773.
Agatha Christie (1890 -1976) was a British author best-known for her crime novels featuring the detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. She still holds the record of bestselling novelist. (The title of bestselling fiction author overall goes to Shakespeare.)
J.K. Rowling rose to fame as the author of the much-beloved Harry Potter books, and was widely credited with helping to create a shift in children’s literature that encouraged kids to enjoy reading again.
This ambitious anthology, featuring everything from fiction and poetry to court documents, was co-edited by Dr. Mary Lederer, Professor Maitseo Bolane, Dr. Leloba Molema and Dr. Connie Rapoo and published in 2019.
The Copyright Society of Botswana (COSBOTS) was commissioned and became fully operational in November 2011. In 2012 the registration of members, together with licensing of users, began leading to a successful distribution of royalties in 2014. COSBOTS is mandated by the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act – CAP6802 of 2006 to, among others, license and collect royalties from users of copyright protected works, to distribute them to copyright owners.
This interview was conducted with Mr Letlhogonolo Makwinja, the CEO of COSBOTS.
Why should writers register with Cosbots?
We make sure you receive the money you’re entitled to as a writer when someone copies or uses your work. We collect money from all over the world, then pay it to our members.
What is the difference between a publishing license and copyright?
When you sign a publishing contract, you are granting the publisher permission to exploit (i.e., to publish and distribute for profit) some or all of your rights for a defined period of time. Generally, when publishing a book, the author will grant the publisher a license.
The author can also assign copyright to the publisher (copyright transfer agreement). In signing a copyright transfer agreement, the author grants all their rights as author and copyright holder to the publisher.
What is one common misconception about Cosbots that you’d like to correct?
COSBOTS is a secondary rights player in the collection of royalties. Which simply translates that primary rights is where artists are supposed to make the big monies. Collecting societies are only functional on possible infringement of rights and those are places that artists will normally not know. So, it’s small monies by its nature but people expect to get rich from secondary rights and pay less attention to making sure that the primary rights are worthwhile.
How does a writer register with Cosbots?
Visit cosbots.com and download registration documents or visit the office.
What’s the most important thing writers need to understand about copyright law?
Contained within copyright is the entire bundle of rights that an author can grant to others or utilize him/herself.
You can lean more about COSBOTS and how to register here.
Mafoko Manuscript Services is an editing agency based in Gaborone, Botswana. It is run by Dr. Leloba S. Molema and Dr. Mary S. Lederer. They also offer translating services in Afrikaans, English, German, Setswana and Sesotho.
What’s the most common mistake writers make, in your experience?
Prepositions and references. Prepositions are difficult in any language, so we expect that, but references need to follow a style, and that has to be done by knowing what referencing style you are required to use and following it EXACTLY for each kind of source (web page, report, book, journal article, online article, etc.). EXACTLY means including where each full stop, comma, and colon goes. In general, though, because writing is idiosyncratic, each writer’s errors are idiosyncratic.
Which is easier for you: writing or editing?
Mary: Editing, including my own work. It is always easier for me to look at something that already exists. I’m not as imaginative as our clients!
Leloba: Editing is easier. Writing is more taxing because I have to pay attention to things like overall coherence regarding the point I’m making, the research I’ve engaged in regarding that same point, and the self-editing I carry out as I write. And when I’ve finished writing, I edit some more, and this time quickly—checking for coherence, grammar, typos, etc.
Give some examples of writing habits particular to Botswana writers, and how you tackle them in the editing process.
Mary: In any second-language editing, the trick is to preserve the flavour of the writer’s voice in the original language without forcing it into an English corset. So we usually try to leave such things alone and to make sure that what is being written is clear and vibrant.
Leloba: I agree with Mary, especially regarding novels, short stories, poetry, plays, autobiography/memoirs, and also when translating quotations from, say, Setswana/Sesotho literature into English, in academic papers.
About academic papers: Quite a few researchers use the passive voice in the belief that they are being objective, e.g., “It is argued in this paper that what, what, what, something, something, something”. So I also quite often turn this type of sentence into the active voice, e.g., “In this paper I argue that….” The objectivity lies not in omitting the “I” but in the quality of the research and how the result of that research is put together in a coherent argument, point by point, paragraph by paragraph.
Sentences in the passive voice can also be wordy and, as a result, incomprehensible to the reader, even when grammatically correct. (Here is an example from an editors’ blog: “The globalisation of travel and tourism has led to the employment of millions more airline operatives in the service of passengers globally. The recent referral by the UN report to this phenomenon has put it under the spotlight.” Instead, “The globalisation of travel and tourism means that airlines have hired millions more operatives to serve passengers. A recent UN report highlights this phenomenon.”)
What has been your favourite editing assignment so far, and why?
Neither of us has a particular favourite assignment, mostly because we find everything we edit interesting. There are so many things to learn! We would never have thought about classroom seating arrangement, for example, as a subject of study, but there are many more aspects to it than we realised. We learn something new from absolutely everything we edit, especially about situations with which we have some experience, and sometimes what we edit explains things in our own lives.
You recently compiled and edited one of the most significant books in Botswana’s literary history. If resources were no object, what would your next project be?
Mary: Hard to say. I’ve got some stuff going at the moment that is Bessie Head-related (editing a book for young people about Bessie’s early life, digitising one of the anthologies we edited, and compiling an annotated edition of A Question of Power). One thing that has been on a back burner for lack of resources is a photo/essay book about women in Botswana.
Leloba: I am seized with my memoir.
Learn more about Mafoko Manuscript Services here and here.
N&M Productions PTY (Ltd) is a 100% citizen and women-owned entertainment production company and script-writing agency, with a vision to create a space where all Africans feel represented, respected and above all, entertained. It is owned and managed by Serena Serene Mmifinyana and Nikita Neo Mokgware. Their work includes UPICtv police drama The Star and Multichoice podcast This Is Africa.
What excites you most about writing for the screen?
Nikita: Writing for screen holds the promise of seeing it in action before your very eyes in ways you only dream of. I enjoy thinking of ways to make my story not just fun to read, but also fun to watch play out in front of you. And it’s not just the characters, but also camera movements, editing methods, and creative special effects that can take your story and elevate it to new heights! So many options, so many more stories to be told and utilized; I mean wow! How exciting is that?
Serena: It’s always such a surreal moment to see your writing transform from paper to screen. It’s a wonder to see the work that you put in go through the transformative processes of production to finally be translated to a visual platform for all to see. As a media person, I am aware that media shapes and influences our communities, the world we live in. To be able to contribute to that – to teach, to entertain, to represent and celebrate our people – is truly surreal!
What’s the most important ingredient in a thriving film industry, and how does Botswana’s industry fare in that regard?
Nikita: There are many things that go into a thriving film industry, and it’s hard to pinpoint one. Off the top of my head, I would say that a thriving film industry relies heavily on collaboration between filmmakers. We need to utilize all of our collected skills and talents to make sure the work coming out of the country is top quality, and all local. Our own industry is still learning this.
Serena: Business skills are a must in any industry, and currently our film industry is lagging behind. As creative and talented as we are as Batswana, we need to think of our art as a business because we too must put food on the table. The art of business allows us to explore larger markets, to pitch to investors and stakeholders so we can develop and thrive.
In the movie of your life, what would the opening scene look like? Who would play you?
Nikita: The opening scene would probably be quite melancholic. I enjoy such emotions being portrayed on screen, and so I see my own movie starting with that, then leading into a more joyful space; a sun rising, or a child alone on a playground being approached by a new friend. I’m not sure who would play me to be honest. My first love was acting, so probably myself!
Serena: I see a little girl stretching her arms out to the sky, eyes sparkling with passion and wonder at all that life can offer… I am a big fan of discovering new talent and would love to see a beautiful, Motswana girl make her debut on screen and captivate the world with her talent and aura.
What’s the biggest misconception about screenwriting?
Nikita: That it’s easy. Everyone thinks screenwriting is far easier than the different writing methods and honestly, as someone who has dabbled in novel and playwriting, it’s so incredibly difficult. You have to balance character dialogue with action lines. Figure out camera movements and any editing mechanics that need to be mentioned. Then there’s page count matching however long the episode or film needs to be, being aware of budget if it’s a small project and that scenes don’t end up costing a producer an arm and leg; so much to consider. Notice how I haven’t even mentioned the story itself yet! It’s so much fun, but it’s not simple or easy by any means to get a (good) script done.
Serena: Writing is easy; just make up a story! That is far from the truth! It takes research and planning, consulting and editing, constant re-writing and endless sleepless nights to develop a script. We create worlds and birth characters that our audience should be able to relate to, and that our producers and broadcasters are satisfied with; if we don’t hit the mark, it’s back to the drawing board! Screenwriting is a process, it’s a skill that only gets better with each script that we write.
Which local story, folktale, myth or real-life story, would you love to bring to the screen and why?
Nikita: My friend once mentioned all the folktales and myths that surround Mochudi, the area. I’ve dreamt of making a series based on them for the longest time. Setswana folktales are just as engaging as those from other cultures, so it would be nice to have our own stories be part of film history!
Serena: There are so many stories in Botswana that I would love to share with the world – our history, our folktales, our mythical creatures… However one that has always stood out to me is the story of Matsieng; to see Botswana’s first ancestor on screen leaving footprints behind on his adventure in a new world… What did he do? What did he see? Was he alone?
You can learn more about N&M Productions here and see their work here and here.
Petlwana is open for submissions for the 2022 June issue!
Going forward, Petlwana will be published biannually. The June issue will have a different theme each year, while the December issue will be open to all topics.
The theme for June 2022 is: Secrets and Lies. We’re looking for stories, poems and short plays that deal with deadly deceptions, mirthful misunderstandings and intriguing indiscretions. Be creative! We’ll accept a broad interpretation of the theme. Little white lies, lies of omission, lies that save lives or end them; family secrets, political secrets, magical secrets; things left unsaid, tricks and gambits.
The closing date for submissions is March 10th 2022.
All photos courtesy of Press Photo and Gaborone Book Festival Trust
The Gaborone Book Festival Trust was founded in 2017 by Kenanao and Keikantse Phele and organized the first Gaborone Book Festival in 2018. Their mission is to encourage and inspire people of all ages in Gaborone and beyond to read and share the transformative power of reading. In addition to the Festival, the Gaborone Book Festival Trust also hosts monthly book reviews, book nights and a School Outreach Programme.
What drove you to start the Gaborone Book Festival?
We were driven by our love for reading and realizing that Botswana doesn’t have a literary festival. As such we felt obliged to create this multiple tier platform where we can we can highlight the literary works of Batswana and that of other African authors. Furthermore, we wanted to create a legacy of inspiring a generation of readers and writers.
What’s the last book you read that had a profound effect on you?
It’s not the last book but one of the best I have read this year. It has to be Nanjala Nyabola’s Travelling While Black: Essays Inspired by a Life on the Move. This is not a travel memoir as she sates in the book but it looks at issues of migration and immigration, based on her travels across the world. She discusses these issues in her essays with so much clarity and brilliance. It’s an essential read especially now given how the world of travel, migration and immigration keeps on changing due to Covid-19.
What do you hope to see the Gaborone Book Festival Trust achieving in the next five years?
We want to grow our School Outreach Programme because we have seen the dire need of literary activities in schools especially those in hard to reach places or low income. Furthermore, we want to venture into research in order to know the reading habits of Batswana in order to influence policy at government level and CSR for private organization. They are other book ecosystem places we want to venture into like specialized publishing of certain genres like history. Botswana history is grossly undocumented.
How can people support the Gaborone Book Festival Trust?
Anybody who wants to partner or support us can reach out to us via social media where we are active. Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always looking for partners and collaborators. And to us, no partnership is small.
We live in the digital age, where we can get all our information and entertainment online. Why do books still matter?
Books will always matter – whether physical or e-books. There is magic and space in books.