I recently had the pleasure and privilege of being selected as a runner up in the Short Sharp Stories annual short fiction competition. The theme was The Incredible Journey, and selected entries have been compiled into a wonderful anthology that takes the reader on a range of journeys through the South African physical and metaphorical landscape.
Reproduced below is an interview with me which was posted on the BooksLive website. Also reproduced is the photo of me which was used with the interview, holding a small brown dog. This is Jakes, my Life Coach.
Incredible Journey Teaser: Q&A with one of this year’s runners-up, Bridget Pitt
Posted By twodogs On July 28, 2015 @ 8:59 am In South Africa
Bridget Pitt is a 2015 Short.Sharp.Stories Judges’ Choice Runner-Up for her story “The Infant Odysseus”. Pitt is a Zimbabwe-born South African writer. Her first published writing appeared in the anti-apartheid newspaper Grassroots, and she has since written educational material for NGOs, school textbooks, poetry and fiction.
As your first time being a part of the Short.Sharp.Stories project how does it feel to be a prizewinner?
It’s firstly wonderful to be part of the Incredible Journey collection, and to feel part of this community of writers. And, of course, it is very gratifying to get the recognition of being a prize winner, although (as I remind myself on the many occasions I don’t win) the real satisfaction lies in writing as well as I can, and in touching others.
What does this year’s topic, ‘incredible journey’, mean to you?
It’s a very evocative topic, which resonated with me as soon as I’d read it. I think what is so powerful about it is that it captures a sense of process, that as living beings we are in a constant state of change – which can be disturbing, as we like to hold onto things, but is also liberating.
Speaking of constant state of change, is that why you chose a baby as the focus for your incredible journey story?
I felt that the baby’s journey, and the internal journeys that it sparked in the other characters who engaged with it, held a lot of powerful metaphors about us as individuals and as a society. Meeting a baby can be an invitation to relate to another human in a very authentic way – babies don’t judge us; we are not afraid to engage with them in case they take advantage, or think we’re stupid, or misunderstand our motives. They connect us with a time before we were formed – or damaged – by life. But they also connect us with our vulnerability as children, and as adults, which can be quite threatening. This baby also interested me because it was at once both vulnerable and resilient, like feelings of tenderness, or love, or hope.
Your story has a very distinct moment in it when your main character is appalled by her husband’s reaction so drastically different from her own. Have you had a moment like that, living in South Africa, when you’ve realised someone close to you has a completely different opinion?
I have often experienced this, and it is always disconcerting, especially when these responses are from someone I hold dear, or whom I’d assumed shared my views. The South African reality is highly contested, and can feel very personal if someone feels threatened or overwhelmed by the violence and injustice of it, so I suppose it is not surprising that we respond to it very differently.
In addition to the husband and wife having different reactions to the baby both women have a powerful yet different response to the baby – can you comment on this?
The women both have enormously complex relationships with the baby. The mother’s tenderness for the baby is evident, but equally evident are the burdens she carries of poverty and forced migration which make it almost impossible for her to care for her child. For Georgia, the baby is a portal both to her suppressed grief about her own lost child, and to a disturbingly intimate insight into the hardships faced by millions of mothers across the world. At some level, their respective reactions are quite primitive: a meeting between a mother and a barren woman longing for a child. The starkness of this encounter momentarily illuminates the strands of personal and social history that weave their relationship to the child and each other, simultaneously bringing them together and ripping them apart.
As someone who has written many different formats, from textbooks to poetry, which one do you find the most rewarding to write?
My first love is novels, but I like any writing. A successful poem is a wonderful thing, and not quite as arduous as a novel. Textbooks are very much on other people’s terms, but I enjoy finding ways to be creative within those strict parameters.
Describe your fiction writing process. Is it disciplined and 9-5pm or do you need to be in the mood?
I try to spend at least four hours on writing something every day, or at least working on writing-related stuff such as research or making submissions. Once I am fully into a novel, story or poem, I get a bit obsessive and have to drag myself away from it. Then I can go for twelve hours a day.
It sounds like you truly love what you do. Do you have any short story writing tip you can share?
This is hard, because when I read the great short story writers I feel like a total amateur. I think the challenge is to encapsulate something quite monumental and complex into a small moment, but I can’t really say how you do that. I can say “make every word count”, but of course that should as equally apply to a 400 page novel!
Do you believe you have a role in promoting South Africans’ interest in reading?
Hopefully all writers promote reading by writing stuff that is attractive to read. I do think we need to cultivate a reading culture, though, which is why I enjoy working on school-based material and material for children. I like finding texts and activities to make kids feel that reading can bring some inspiration and relevant narrative to their lives.
What can we expect from you next?
I have a novel [Notes From The Lost Property Department] coming out in September this year, which explores brain injury, mountains, secrecy, and the thorny challenge of forgiving your parents. I am also working on another novel, which delves into the issue of rhino hunting/poaching in the past, present and future, which I hope to finish by the end of next year.
Interview by Liz Sarant