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Máire Fisher

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

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 away at my writing, trying to get better and better. Sometimes I am thinking about character and how to ‘do characterisation’. Other times a particular character stays with me for a long time, lives alongside me, inside me. I see the world through her eyes.

The thing I find hardest to do is to send out unsolicited work to magazines and journals and to enter writing competitions. It feels too much like admin. But I know it is an important step or set of steps in becoming a writer, being a writer.

I go through periods of writing more, writing less. Lately I have been distracted by amongst many other things, Facebook and starting Modjaji Books.

Sometimes I write down my dreams, often I write To Do lists, sometimes I write about something that is troubling me, that I am trying to get to grips with. I have long periods where I can write nothing, I don’t even try, I am speechless, wordless, like an animal or a small child.

In my office I have most of the notebooks I have written in over the years, halfbornthey take up two shelves, about 60 notebooks. I lost one once, in fact my newish white Nissan bakkie was broken into outside Naran’s in Grahamstown. I’d popped in to buy some veggies and when I came out the window was smashed, my bag was gone. I lost my purse, ID book, cheque book and notebook and keys to the doors of the NGO I worked for up in Joza. The loss of the notebook disturbed me, left me bereft as though I’d lost a hand or a large piece of flesh from my inner thigh or an ear. The notebook contained writing from a trip Andre and I made to Lesotho, we had visited the trading station where my family had lived when I was four and five – Hellspoort, near Thabana Morena. There was also a picture in my notebook that a friend had given me cut out from The Cape Times ‘society pages’ of the man who may or may not have been my birth father. Sometimes I see the signs for his company up around Cape Town. His son went to Bishops.


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    June 3rd, 2009 @08:44 #

    What intimate insights in such a short piece, Colleen.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    June 3rd, 2009 @10:13 #

    Lovely, Colleen. I'm so glad this series has resumed.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    June 3rd, 2009 @10:45 #

    I love the way you wrap the apparently ordinary around revelation in your writing.


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