Charm 18/22

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While it’s still far from dark outside, the light is getting that heavy late afternoon feel, like it’s pressing down on my shoulders. I’m practically sticking to the car’s fake leather seats as I take the quickest route I can remember towards the art school. Every time I see a bunch of scruffy high school kids with their blazers stuffed in their school bags and their grey school trousers hanging off their arses, shirts untucked, ties hidden, I slow down. Not one of them is my brother.

So,” I say, not looking in the mirror to get a glimpse of Caleb, instead steeling myself to stare ahead, to scan the streets and the pavements. “This golden art.”

What about it,” Caleb drawls. “Finally admitting to yourself that this refusal to use it is a childish tantrum that could get your killed?”

I grit my teeth and breathe in sharply through my nose. Do not rise to the bait, Irene. “Actually, I have tried to use it.”

Continue reading Charm 18/22

Synopsis Hell

(this is mainly to cheer on the lovely Tallulah Habib, who is stuck in Synopsis Hell)

No one in the whole of publishing likes a synopsis. NO ONE.

Not the writers, not the agents who request them, not the editors who must force themselves to read them to see if you have a basic grasp of plot. They are awful, terrible things, and the first of you to raise your hand and say, “But Cat, I love-” is gonna get stomped so hard with a Stompy Boot of Doom you won’t be able to write another synopsis ever.

We clear?


Continue reading Synopsis Hell

Charm 17/22

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The door slams behind me, cutting off their low voices and dampening the smell of cabbage. I sit down on the corridor floor and lean back against the wall outside Zelda’s flat. The bricks are cool on my back, and that tight feeling that’s been building in my chest loosens a little as I light up a cig. Smoke curls around my fingers, and I can almost see tiny serpents weaving in the silvers and greys. Wild magic, changing the face of the world, and waiting for someone to harness it. I can almost understand why Heinrich wants it. If all this was mine…. I flex my fingers, rippling them through the smoke. Under the ground, the world shifts, half-dreaming. Immense with power.

But I’m not Heinrich, and I don’t want to rip a hole in the word so I can get more magic I can’t control. All I want is for the people I love to be safe. To stay alive. For that alone, I need to understand how to use my own power. I snort. Power I don’t even know how to access. God. I have no idea what I’m doing.

Continue reading Charm 17/22

Charm 16/22

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Cabbage and Tea and Love

Wild magic is,” Rain glances at Caleb, “it’s like, everything.” He waves one hand at the scenery.

That’s wonderfully evocative and I am now suitably enlightened. Thank you.”

God, Irene.” He shakes his head. “It’s life, it’s what came before us.”

I said I’d tell her,” Caleb says drily. “Once we are safe. I keep my word.”

I want to laugh at that particular lie, but Rain’s stopped saying anything and his explanation wasn’t helping anyway. “So where are we going?” I start walking back to the car. ‘Cause I really don’t want to stand here with the storm just about ready to break, and three very mangled bodies at our feet. They’re already disintegrating. At least that’s one less thing to worry about. The cops might be an incompetent bunch of tits, but I still don’t want to be on the wrong side of one.

Continue reading Charm 16/22

Charm 15/22

And I’m back! Internet woes have been sorted out, and I shall quickly update the backlog of Charm posts. 😀


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The Wolf Magician

Caleb brakes suddenly, and I lurch into the back of the passenger seat, almost breaking my nose. God, this is when I wish Beetles came with seat-belts in the back. “I know you don’t like me, but wait ’til after this business with your buddy Heinrich is done before you try kill me.” I rub the bridge of my nose and wince.

You wanted other magicians,” he sneers. “And I’ve brought you to one.”

My heart makes a sudden dolphin-sized leap. He doesn’t know why I want to meet other magicians, surely? I concentrate on keeping my voice even. “You said they were barely worth calling magicians. So what are we doing here?” I don’t want to get my hopes up. Maybe Caleb is wrong about everything. It’s not like he’s infallible. He’s lost most of his magic, if my mother’s book is to be believed, and he’s already died at least once.

Continue reading Charm 15/22

Signing Stuff.

I’m not sure which strikes more terror into the heart of a writer – editor’s letters or book signings.

So far, my only experience has been with the former. I shall now be donning my Stompy Boots of Doom, and heading out into the real world where humans live, and finding out what the other is like. It’s all in the name of science.

Cavendish Exclusive Books is hosting moi at a book signing. Obviously, you want to be there because there is nothing more hilarious than a writer out of its element, staring wide-eyed with fear at shoppers. This is how you will get your kicks on Saturday the 29th of August. After which you will go have lunch and wonder if it would have been kinder to shoot me.

I’m kidding. 😉 A little.

In all seriousness, you’re invited, and if you’d like to come join me there please RSVP cavendishdeputy at exclusivebooks dot co dot za.


Charm 14/22

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The Ratcatcher

The letters shift and settle, and I let the rumble of the engine, the hot sweaty stink of the air fall away. I follow the words, fast as rats, my finger tracing their tails:

This little boy—let’s call him Caleb Dunning, for that was indeed his name—was born in a storm, two weeks before he was due to come screaming into the world. Perhaps the thunder and lightning, the infernal rocking, they frightened him early from the womb. Or perhaps, Caleb just knew that he had to arrive on that exact date and no other.

It was in September, just as the ship was coming in to the Cape of Storms, that Caleb opened eyes like slate and saw the world around him. Born on water, a space made of potential. His parents hurried him ashore, swaddled in sea-salt cloth and trailing magic like smoke. Unaware, of course, just what it was they cradled to themselves.

Continue reading Charm 14/22

SSDA flows on


There is one week left to submit your story to one of Africa’s premier short fiction anthologies – Short Story Day Africa.

Along with Rachel Zadok and Nick Mulgrew, Tiah Beautement is one of the three people at SSDA , and we spoke a little about the project.

Thank you to Tiah for taking the time out to have a chat. 😀

Cat: What about Short Story Day Africa and its aims do you think makes it an important feature for African writers?

Tiah: Short Story Day Africa is run on the continent with the love and support of African writers. This is something Africa owns, not something given to the continent from somewhere else. We are promoting our writers and stories while pushing each other to improve and raise up our game without trying to please an off-continent audience. This is about self-respect.

This is hugely important to me, as a mother of two children. I still remember watching my eldest’s first pre-primary concert. All the music they played was from artists overseas. I thought about what situations like this tell our children – if you want to be respected for what you do you need to leave. Which is bullsh-t.

When my children are adults, if they want to travel, that’s fine (so long as they pay for it). The world is an interesting place. But I don’t want them feeling they must go overseas in order for their skills to be respected. I want them to see that there are brilliant things happening right where they were raised. Short Story Day Africa is my way of proving that.

Cat: What’s been the most exciting development you’ve seen since you’ve been on board with the project?

Tiah: Short Story Day Africa is an exciting development in itself.

I’ve was a participant in SSDA from its first year, back in 2011, when it didn’t even have a contest and Rachel Zadok was both its creator and its only official team member. In 2012 I became team member number two, we ran the first contests and the project morphed into a child with rollerskates. We are now a team of three, chasing this kid zooming downhill and showing no signs of slowing down. The project evolves, bends and expands, both in response to what people want and what our resources allow. The fact that we’ve not only managed to keep this runaway child alive, but also flourish, is both an amazing and thrilling achievement.

Cat: SSDA is a grassroots approach to short story writing  – tell us a little about the workshops, the editing, the submissions to awards etc that SSDA does to polish its new and emerging writers.

Tiah: Writers that make our longlist – stories that will be published in our anthology – get put through a mini-boot camp. This is typically an experience reserved for writers who have a novel or a collection being published. But being paired with an editor is how a writer truly learns to take their writing to the next level. Our editors create a conversation between themselves and writers, pointing out plot holes, unnecessary description, sections that drag, where dialogue sounds the same. They go back and forth until everyone is satisfied. It’s like being a runner and finding a coach to train for the big race.

As to workshops on the ground, we do have a history of encouraging writers, in the spirit of SSDA, to host workshops in their local area, especially where youth is concerned. This year we’ve changed it up. For starters, we now hold #WriterPrompt. Twice a month a prompt is given and writers can post a story of up to 200 words. A member of the SSDA team moderates, while giving constructive feedback and encouragement. Participants are further encouraged to comment and provide thoughts on each other’s work. This year we’ve also been highly fortunate to have special funding ProHelvetia and the Swiss Arts Council to participate in SDC Regional Cultural Programme. This enabled us to have writers from Malawi, Zimbabwe and Botswana attend a course run by established writers in their own country.

While courses and workshops carry different themes, the overlying message is to craft your work with rewrites. As somebody who has read stacks and stacks of submissions, the biggest thing holding the majority of writers back is that they send in first drafts. Yes, they fix their punctuation and grammar. But this amounts to putting a first draft in a clean dress. These first drafts – clean dress or otherwise – don’t get published. I also suspect that rather than take the rejected story and try to make it better, the writers are moving on to write completely new stories. A pile of first drafts don’t create a ladder to publishing dreams. Which is why, on places like #WriterPrompt, we encourage writers to keep editing the first story they post for that prompt, rather than posting numerous stories over the two week period.

Cat: How do we tell stories and use language in a different way from Western story-telling?

Tiah: This is difficult to answer because Africa, as you know, is a massive place with many cultures, languages and influences. So while there are different approaches to telling a story, and some of these reflect a tradition the writer has grown up in, I can’t make a blanket statement.

Which I suppose is the point. It is not so much that African story-telling is different than Western story-telling, than it is about an African writer being able to tell stories without having to conform to a Western-reader-check-list. African stories might be about poverty, sex or vampires, but in a manner based on being in Africa rather than exploring Africa through a series of limited microscope lenses. Which means writers submitting to SSDA are not obliged to write their stories for an assumed Western reader. A writer in the United States wouldn’t be expected to explain to readers what caddy-corner means or the phrase ‘look two; go one.’ So yes, an American reader of a South African tale might initially get the wrong idea when they read about a taxi stopping at a robot. But if African readers can figure out Western stories, Western readers should be able to do the same. Having to write for outside readers changes the flow of a story and ‘others’ the characters and place.

Cat: There is no one Africa, and yet the international world sees us as the “dark continent” – an illiterate starving mass of indistinguishable faces. This is very disheartening for writers in Africa who are often expected to write a kind of “poverty-aids-orphan porn” to show the “real” Africa. If you were to highlight the sheer variety of stories that we tell, could you pick four writers and their stories to share with us?

Tiah: I’m not sure where to begin. There is so much out there that we can, easily, post on FB and twitter a daily #amreading – a previously published story from one of the many organisations putting out new content. Nor do we have any trouble filling in our #WriterWednesday slot, where we feature an African writer on our social media along with conducting an interview. There is so much talent and stories out there that it is rather amazing how people can remain oblivious.

From our anthologies, however:

Feast Famine and Potluck produced two Caine Prize shortlisters: ‘Chicken’ by Efemia Chela which has a character contemplating selling her ovaries and ‘My Father’s Head by Okwiri Oduor (who won) where the main character calls up her dead father to remember his face.


Terra Incognita was won by Diane Awerbuck. She describes her story ‘Leatherman’ as Tokoloshe porn. Mary Okon Ononokpong wrote ‘Editöngö, which is a creepy tale of a spirit that is continuously reborn.




Twitter: @ShortStoryAFR

Tiah Marie Beautement is the author of two novels: award nominated This Day (2014, Modjaji) and Moons Don’t Go To Venus (2006, Bateleur). Her numerous short stories can be found scattered across the internet and various anthologies. Her day jobs include: running writing courses for youth and adults, a book reviewer for The Sunday Times and is a member of the Short Story Day Africa team.
Find Tiah via her blog – – or on twitter: @ms_tiahmarie

Rejected? Take It Personally.

I mean, if an editor rejects your story out of the thousands in the queue, and probably also the other 998, then it’s gotta be a personal vendetta, amirite?

Plus you were so nice to them on Twitter, which just goes to show that all those hundreds of faves didn’t even count because editors only buy stories and novels from their buddies and then they get together at cons and all laugh about YOU PERSONALLY while getting drunk on the money you should have made.

Actually, what you should do right now is go pen a nasty response to that form rejection letting them know exactly what you think of them and their shitty mag and the shitty stories they publish:

Or, yanno, not so much.

There are many reasons why a story or novel gets rejected. Making Light have a post outlining the many reasons novels don’t make it through the slush, and I think it’s a good place to get an idea of what’s going on behind those form responses.

Here’s a sample of the thinking, but the whole post (and comments) are well worth the read:

Manuscripts are unwieldy, but the real reason for that time ratio is that most of them are a fast reject. Herewith, the rough breakdown of manuscript characteristics, from most to least obvious rejections:

    1. Author is functionally illiterate.
    2. Author has submitted some variety of literature we don’t publish: poetry, religious revelation, political rant, illustrated fanfic, etc.
    3. Author has a serious neurochemical disorder, puts all important words into capital letters, and would type out to the margins if MSWord would let him.
    4. Author is on bad terms with the Muse of Language. Parts of speech are not what they should be. Confusion-of-motion problems inadvertently generate hideous images. Words are supplanted by their similar-sounding cousins: towed the line, deep-seeded, dire straights, nearly penultimate, incentiary, reeking havoc, hare’s breath escape, plaintiff melody, viscous/vicious, causal/casual, clamoured to her feet, a shutter went through her body, his body went ridged, empirical storm troopers, ex-patriot Englishmen, et cetera.
    5. Author can write basic sentences, but not string them together in any way that adds up to paragraphs.
    6. Author has a moderate neurochemical disorder and can’t tell when he or she has changed the subject. This greatly facilitates composition, but is hard on comprehension.
    7. Author can write passable paragraphs, and has a sufficiently functional plot that readers would notice if you shuffled the chapters into a different order. However, the story and the manner of its telling are alike hackneyed, dull, and pointless.

(At this point, you have eliminated 60-75% of your submissions. Almost all the reading-and-thinking time will be spent on the remaining fraction.)

    1. It’s nice that the author is working on his/her problems, but the process would be better served by seeing a shrink than by writing novels.
    2. Nobody but the author is ever going to care about this dull, flaccid, underperforming book.
    3. The book has an engaging plot. Trouble is, it’s not the author’s, and everybody’s already seen that movie/read that book/collected that comic.

(You have now eliminated 95-99% of the submissions.)

  1. Someone could publish this book, but we don’t see why it should be us.
  2. Author is talented, but has written the wrong book.
  3. It’s a good book, but the house isn’t going to get behind it, so if you buy it, it’ll just get lost in the shuffle.
  4. Buy this book.

Obviously the Tor editors here were talking about novel manuscripts, but much the same holds for short stories, and it’s up to you to be honest with yourself and decide what the real problem is. If it’s a matter of grammar and basic literacy – fix it; if it’s hackneyed plots – READ MORE, and so on.

When you get to the point where you know (and people who are not related to you have confirmed it :P) you’re good, then in an odd twist, yes, your rejections do become personal and yet they hurt less. Sometimes, you get happy about personal rejections. Sure, it wasn’t a sale, but the editor was interested enough to make suggestions, or ask to see more work. No one has time for this, so it’s always a damn good sign.

Once you reach this point you have a better understanding of market, of how the industry works, and how a good story can be the wrong fit for an editor or magazine. This is a beautiful place to reach because the anger is gone. You can simply resubmit your story to another market. And another and another, until it finds its home. Sometimes you come to a realisation that a story you thought was good is perhaps…not so much, and you shelve it. But by this time, you’re writing steadily. You always have several stories in circulation, and new one on the boil.

So take rejection personally. Rejection is a path to growth.  It’s a way to reconsider how your work looks when it reaches editors, if you need to do better research on markets, if you need to work harder on the bones and the scales, if you need beta readers who are more critical.

Don’t take rejection as an excuse to bitch online about editors or markets, or send snotty little responses. It makes you look clueless, petulant, and more trouble than it’s worth to publish you when you do write a decent story.


Charm 13/22

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The Book of All Things

Lily is not the only one who looks different. Outside in the sunshine, I squint at Caleb, and see the same blackness around him. It’s very faint, but it pulls at me like a vacuum. I drag my gaze off him and look around. The ointment hasn’t just opened my eyes to the magic in people, but to the power flowing through the world. Everything seems so much more real and there—the colours brighter, deeper, the life moving through the plants, the grey-black tar sluggish as a river. It reminds me of being high, but also not. There’s no way for me to clearly articulate, but there’s none of the slow-headed confusion that comes with tripping. Things are different. I see their real reality, but I’m still in control. A feral pigeon wing-claps across the sky and the iron plumage shimmers with plum and emerald highlights, iridescent auras. Even the sound of its wings is different and new, and I can see the air eddy around each stroke, as though the whole universe has slowed down just for me.

Continue reading Charm 13/22