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Máire Fisher

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Birds – in and on Books

Last week was really and truly and very exciting: seeing the beautiful cover of Birdseye for the first time. The story revolves around a little girl called Bird, and gives her bird’s-eye view of the world. Jacques Kaiser, the graphic designer, chose an aerial view of an antique bird’s cage and placed Bird in the very centre of it. He then chose other images which tie into the story. His beautiful work has sent me on a bit of a journey, to look at the covers of novels about or connected to birds. Or, indeed with characters named Bird (or even Byrd) in them. There’s no shortage of beautiful work to choose from. I’ve narrowed my favourites down to the selection below.

Some of these are books I’ve read, others are ones I don’t know at all. Some of them had more than one version of a cover, and in this instance I simply went for the cover I liked the best. I found it very difficult to find the artist’s details for some of them, which is a great pity as I really do feel that the graphic designers should be acknowledged. If anyone does have those particulars, I’d be very grateful to be able to add them to this post! (Or indeed, let me know if I have attributed anything incorrectly.)

So, here’s my gut-reaction, yes-I’d-definitely-pick-this-book-up-and-look-inside-it choice of beautiful bird-based covers.

I’ve tried to centre all of these pics, but some of them keep flying off to the left. That’s birds for you I suppose. They don’t like to be caged.

it took ages to track this book designer down. Her name is Emily Burns. Isn't this a great cover!

It took ages to track this book designer down. Her name is Emily Burns. Isn’t this a great cover!

I love the feeling of looking through ice here. Cover design; David Baldeosingh Rotstein; cover photo Mike Lee

I love the feeling of looking through ice here. Cover design; David Baldeosingh Rotstein; cover photo Mike Lee

shoe bird
Two beautiful covers. I'm presuming that the cover art is also by the illustrator, Beth Krush, but I couldn't find the name of the cover designer.
Two beautiful covers. I’m presuming that the cover art is also by the illustrator, Beth Krush, but I couldn’t find the name of the cover designer.

“Years later, on my birthday, a talented artist named Mary Sherman gave me a drawing I admired in her sketchbook. She’d written some words around the edge that were almost illegible, Termite, something, something, something. She ripped out the page and gave it to me. The drawing became the image of Termite, because my actual memory of the real boy was almost a spiritual impression.”   Jayne Anne Phillips

I couldn’t find the name of the book designer or artist for this cover.


Such delicate work here., The artist's name is Ilsa Brink.

Such delicate work here. The artist’s name is Ilsa Brink.

I love the drama of this cover. Design and illustrations by Liam Relph & Michael Salu

I love the drama of this cover. Design and illustrations by Liam Relph & Michael Salu

The cover art here is by John Collier.

The cover art here is by John Collier.

How's this for a bird-beautiful cover! By Jason Booher, who designs book covers as well as other things ...

How’s this for a bird-beautiful cover! By Jason Booher, who designs book covers as well as other things …

All the illustrations in this little gem are by Early Masters of Bird Art (Wesleyan University Press, 2010), but I couldn’t find the name of the individual artist for this cover.

delicate edible birds
I love these two covers. The first is designed by  Shubani Sarkar , I couldn't find details for the second cover.

I love these two covers. This one is designed by Shubani Sarkar, I couldn’t find details for the other.

plague of doves 2

Hard to choose which of these two covers I like the most. This one is designed by Fritz Metsch.

And this cover is by Aza Erdrich, Louise Erdrich’s daughter.

A birdcage for Bird - a delicately beautiful composition by  graphic designer Jacques Kaiser

And then, there’s this: A birdcage for Bird – a delicately beautiful composition by graphic designer Jacques Kaiser

Of Birds and Books

I’ve finally done it. My novel will be published by Umuzi in August, 2014, and Books LIVE has kindly allowed me to write here as a writer-member. The novel is called Birdseye and it’s about a young girl called Bird who comes at the tail-end of a large family. She’s the one who tells the family stories. She’s the all-seeing eye.

Bird on wire 2

I like the idea of Bird flying high. And of course there’s the song that goes with the thought. Haven’t been able to get it out of my head for days and I know how irritating that can become for the people around me, who have to put up with snatches of  the song that won’t leave me alone. Pity I don’t sound like Nina Simone.  There are other songs and music that will bring Bird to mind, words and art, and I’m looking forward to browsing my way to them. But tonight’s wonderful gift was this YouTube link, from my writing friend, Christine Coates: Birds on the Wires, by Jarbas Agnelli  It’s great when one link leads to the next; here’s  a bit more about Jarbas Agnelli According to one person commenting on the piece ‘this is “old” (in Internet time) but still cool.’ I find it very cool. Especially as I’d been looking for a new image for my Twitter account and had come across a photo I took in Montagu a while ago, of a bird on a wire. I had some fun with it in Picasa, and then in Photoshop. 


For now, Bird’s come to rest, ‘perched in the sky’.  Maybe there’ll be a new Bird song in my mind tomorrow.

twitter bird 19

The tame bird was in a cage

The tame bird was in a cage, the free bird was in the forest.
They met when the time came, it was a decree of fate.
The free bird cries, “O my love, let us fly to wood.”
The cage bird whispers, “Come hither, let us both live in the cage.”
Says the free bird, “Among bars, where is there room to spread one’s wings?”
“Alas,” cries the cage bird, “I should not know where to sit perched in the sky.”

The free bird cries, “My darling, sing the songs of the woodlands.”
The cage bird says, “Sit by my side, I’ll teach you the speech of the learned.”
The forest bird cries, “No, ah no! songs can never be taught.”
The cage bird says, “Alas for me, I know not the songs of the woodlands.”

Their love is intense with longing, but they never can fly wing to wing.
Through the bars of the cage they look, and vain is their wish to know each other.
They flutter their wings in yearning, and sing, “Come closer, my love!”
The free bird cries, “It cannot be, I fear the closed doors of the cage.”
The cage bird whispers, “Alas, my wings are powerless and dead.”

Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel Laureate (1861-1941)








The launch of Kilimanjaro on my lap and words from Epiphanie Mukasano about her collection of poems

It was standing room only at Kalk Bay Books on Thursday 6 May 2010 for the launch of Kilimanjaro on my lap, a collection of poems by Epiphanie Mukasano, published by DAKINI.

Sadly, Gabeba Baderoon, who edited Epiphanie’s collection, was unable to make the launch. She sent her love and congratulations to Epiphanie, and said how proud and happy she was to have been associated with Kilimanjaro on my lap. In her absence Annemarie Hendrikz opened the launch by outlining the background to DAKINI, an imprint which publishes first collections of beautiful poetry.

The Dakini has many guises and is an important figure in Buddhist mythology, and Annemarie introduced her as a goddess of life-changing moments.  What could be more life-changing for a writer than to see her words in print? The power of the Dakini carries beyond this though, to the heart of the reader affected by the words of a writer like Epiphanie. Perspectives shift, new roots take hold, we are taken into a life that is marginalized and often dangerous, and, as is the case with all good writing, after reading Epiphanie’s poems we see the world differently.

Anne Schuster, founder of DAKINI, writer, poet,  writing teacher and facilitator extraordinaire of Women’s Writing Workshops, could herself be seen as a Dakini – a guardian angel of women’s writing who allows a writing space where voices like Epiphanie’s and many others flourish.

6 May, the date of the launch, is also Epiphanie’s birthday and Malika Ndlovu, Durban-born performer-word-weaver-story-lover, then saluted the birth of Epiphanie’s book and her birthday with a performance poem which she had written in 24 hours, after being asked to step in and take Gabeba’s place.

She is mountain’s daughter
yet spirit free like water
sister born to rolling hills
and weeping sky
yet still she opens
inner eye
it is clear to me
your home is here
your family is near
You need not run or ever hide
for you have found your home
(Malika Ndlovu)

When she woke up that morning, Epiphanie said, the wind was howling and the rain was pouring down. However, she evoked a childhood rhyme: ‘rain rain go away, come again another day’.  The weather obliged, and it was, Epiphanie said, ‘a good day for me.’ A day which had seen the birth of her book, her family and friends near her, surrounded by kindness and good wishes – she was, truly, counting her blessings.

Counting my blessings
I’m sitting in the setting sun, counting my blessings, They keep slipping out of my hands. Nothing palpable. Nothing to thank God for? Maybe my eyes have turned blind. Maybe my hands have turned numb. Maybe my heart is a living rock. I will start all over again. Counting my blessings. I wish I could fill buckets. No, trucks. No, ships. Still nothing palpable. Nothing to thank God for? I will start all over again. I’m sitting in the deep sleep of the sun. Everything is quiet. Even the mice in my house will not interfere. I can hear my breath, I can hear my heartbeat. At last, right under my nose, I have found something. Something to thank God for. (From Kilimanjaro on my lap)


I spoke to Epiphanie about Kilimanjaro on my lap and asked her what lay at the heart of her book.

‘This is my own book – it’s a big step in my life. I never thought I would have a chance like this.

‘Life hasn’t always been easy for my family and me. But writing poetry has given me the opportunity to think this through for myself, and to realise that while it may sometimes seem that we haven’t achieved a great deal, at the heart of all that happens there is always hope. True, there have been many times in my life, when hope looked like dying. Watching people around me die, wondering, will I be the next? We’ve been tossed around by the winds and the storms of life. Then, at a time when I was very low, the chance of publishing my poetry came about. That coincided with hearing big news about my family in Rwanda, some of it harrowing, some of it joyous. I knew then that my poetry had added meaning; it would allow me to share these feelings, the sorrow and the celebration.’

On the edge of madness
the wind carried me away
down the green hill
to land
under a silver tree
(the first lines of  ‘Under the silver tree’, Kilimanjaro on my lap)

‘Sometimes, I feel like a hollow reed. I ask, what has been left at the core of me, and can it ever be filled? I find sounds and music useful. I pour them into the hollowness and they settle. At other times I feel like a branch cut from the mother tree. But then I remind myself, I carry flowers and seeds. Wherever I land my feet I have been able to grow, even in foreign soil, even if that place is plagued by bureaucracy, regulations and xenophobia.  A flower finds a place to grow, even in the hardest soil. My book is a flower – out of nothingness something has blossomed.

‘Working on my poetry, knowing it would become a book, has helped me in another way. I can see my connection to the whole world more clearly. I have often asked who am I? And now I can answer that question. I am someone who has had to work hard, try hard, deal with hardship, but at my core I am someone who wants to celebrate life.

‘Life can be as fragile as glass. War breaks hopes and dreams. In one short time, they are all gone. It breaks our contact with family and friends. The whip of war shatters everything. But in the darkness a bell rings and awakens you. It rings hope; it says, there is something beyond the darkness. Carry on. And then I look at my life, at my beautiful family, and I think, we have been through all of these things. But it has not been the end. We still have hope.’

then in the silent dark
somewhere from within
a song finds its way

light comes in the night
the moon relents
and you sing of the beauty of life
(closing lines of ‘Light in the night’, Kilimanjaro on my lap)

‘I know the colour of despair and the sound of hope; I counter my sense of displacement with a determination to settle and put down roots; I see life for what it is, and dream about what it may become. I accept my sorrows and I work hard at moving past nostalgia because nostalgia can kill you. My home is here now, in Cape Town, with the people who make my home: my family. My home is there too – in Rwanda. The people who died there live in my heart.

‘I carry all this with me and in me, and make my poems from it all.’

I am from a remote land
faint memories of undulating hills
and unwinding rivers
I am a rootless tree
standing as if by magic
swinging back and forth
yet battling not to crumble
(the first lines of  ‘I am from’, Kilimanjaro on my lap)

About the poet
Epiphanie Mukasano is originally from Rwanda where she used to be a teacher. She has a Master’s degree in English Literature, and now lives as a refugee in Cape Town with her husband and children. Her poems have been published in Living on the Fence (2007) a collection of writing by women who are refugees from various countries in Africa. Epiphanie contributed ‘When a name is lost’ to the collection of birth stories, Just Keep Breathing and most recently, Cambridge University Press has published her children’s story Shema and the Goat (2009).

Kilimanjaro on my lap is dedicated to Epiphanie’s mother and to the memory of her father, sisters and brothers.

Kilimanjaro on my lap
By Epiphanie Mukasano
ISBN 978-0-620-46153-5
Kilimanjaro on my lap is available at Kalk Bay Books, Clarke’s Bookshop, Long Street and direct from DAKINI at :

Live Writing provided material support for Kilimanjaro on my lap, and is delighted to have played a small part in the creation of this collection.

Colleen Higgs – South African writers on writing

More or less writing

colleen 2

In my early twenties after reading the first two of Simone de Beauvoir’s autobiographies, I knew I wanted the life of a writer. I have managed very well. I think the two salient points I picked up from that early reading was  how worldly it seemed to write in cafés and to have relationships with wonderfully unsuitable men. The other aspect was to be part of some kind of literary scene, to know writers, to be a writer, to know publishers, to be one. For a long time I thought I wanted to marry a poet. Now I know I want to be one, well a writer. For a long time, I only thought of ‘being a poet.’ As though it was something you could do and be apart from just writing poems. At times some of these desires have led me in conflicting directions, but nevertheless I have persevered with my writing and with the other imperatives.

For me being a writer is writing, it is showing up on the page, it is working » read more

Back on track

It feels as if I have been wandering in the desert for a good long while, and making my way back to BOOK SA is like arriving at a cool and  palm-fringed oasis.  Too many reasons to list for an extended absence, suffice to say it’s good to touch base properly. I have piles of updating to do on the Live Writing site, but that doesn’t mean that the blog should remain bare – so watch this space!

Tracey Farren – South African writers on writing

Fiction writing evokes an unconscious terror in many people. It is not a terror that iseasy  to recognise. It doesn’t bring sweaty palms and a thumping heart. It brings unnecessary trips to the vet and time consuming charity work. It brings devoted support for other writers, often to the point of hero worship. Sometimes it brings leg movement; kilometres of running on the treadmill or the tar. Often it brings a shattering of intimate relationships, when some poor special person is seen as ‘not good enough.’ With the crazy making propulsion of this fear, it is a marvellous thing that fiction even exists!

Fiction happens when the compulsion to write is more powerful than the fear. Either way, we are talking about an internal war. During the writing my first novel, I became » read more

Consuelo Roland – South African writers on writing

What happens next?


A few weeks ago I read John Irving’s The World According to Garp. It’s odd I took so  long to get to it considering that I am a huge John Irving fan, but it was an early book and I found the title unappealing; still perhaps there’s some truth to the adage that the teacher appears when the student is ready. An overseas publisher at the 2007 Franschoek Literary Festival mentioned the delight of completing a trans-Atlantic flight with the manuscript of The World According to Garp as reading material. In spite of the story’s unusual nature she pushed for it to be published and the rest is history. The World According to Garp became John Irving’s breakout novel.

Irving’s Garp writes a novel in which the central character knifes her rapist to death in a graphic first chapter. Garp’s publisher considers the book to be x-rated soap-opera, nevertheless the visceral language and controversial subject matter have potential market appeal so he does what he’s done before with books he’s not certain about: he asks the woman who cleans his office to read it, not expecting her to read past the first few pages. We learn that his reputation as a publisher of surprising books destined to be popular is in fact based on the opinions of this unlikely reader who doesn’t even like books. When he realizes that she has actually read the whole book he asks her why. This is the exchange between them:

“Same reason I read anythin’ for,” Jillsy said. “To find out what happens.”

“So you read it to find out?” John Wolf said.

“There surely ain’t no other reason to read a book, is there?” Jilly Sloper said.

When she asks him for a copy he interrogates her as to why she would want to read it again, and she finally responds as follows: » read more

Richard de Nooy – South African writers on writing

Richard de NooyWhen asked how he went about creating a sculpture, Auguste Rodin replied: “I choose a block of marble and chop off whatever I don’t need.”  I wish writing was that simple. Before most authors get to do any chopping, they first have to write a bloody great block of marble. And believe me, it takes a lot of guts to hack and chop and chip away at something you have lovingly created.

But it gets worse: I once spent ages sculpting a spectacular horse, only to discover that a horseshoe was all I needed. I still have the horse, stained with blood, sweat and tears where I beat my head against it until I saw the light.

I now work with the 3S system – structure, structure, structure. Needless to say, this process takes place before the real writing begins. Very few people set off on a journey without knowing where they are headed. Those that do, often end up wandering aimlessly, gibbering to themselves, with a bottle of cheap booze in hand. Those are hard luck stories no one really ever wants to hear.

If you want to learn about structure, » read more

South African writers on writing

South African writers on writing is a great place to visit on the Live Writing website. So far, nine writers are featured there, and I hope to see this list grow. If you’d like to send me your take on writing please let me know via email (I think the best would be to use my home email:

I’ve purposely kept the topic broad – don’t want to tie people down to a description of writing routines and rituals (if you’re anything like me those don’t exist in your life). So – the joys, the highs, the lows, the advantages of being a writer in south Africa, the disadvantages, what it’s like to write for a living, some good how-to-write tips, your writing space, something funny, something poignant – whatever you feel moved to write!

I’ll be posting these regularly on BOOK SA – over the next weeks, months and years I hope!

The first writer featured is BOOK SA’s very own and very dear Richard de Nooy.

PS If you know of anyone who’d like to be featured please do let me know.

Live! After a 12-month gestation period it’s …

When Colleen Higgs and I sat down one morning and mulled over the question ‘What do writers need?’ I had no clue of the enormity of the job that would follow; nor that what was to follow would take so long! It all sounded so good – to set up a website that would cater to the needs of writers – and South African writers in particular. (The decision to call the site was a very meaningful one).

We talked about looking beyond tips, resources and exercises and the like and offering freelance opportunities to writers. And over and above all of that we wanted to see if there was some way in which a community of writers could offer financial and material support to writers of exceptional talent but limited resources. Although this was to be my project, Colleen, in typically generous fashion, gave hours of her time to helping to formulate exactly what it is that writers need.

» read more