Author Corner – S.A. Partridge

Sally-Ann Partridge is an author of young-adult fiction novels (she writes under the name of S.A. Partridge).

Her debut novel, The Goblet Club, won the SABC/YOU Magazine ‘I am a writer Competition’ in 2007, as well as the MER Prize for Best Youth Novel at the M-Net Via Afrika Awards in 2008.

Her second novel Fuse was short-listed for the Percy Fitzpatrick Prize for Youth Fiction awarded by the SA English Academy and was an IBBY Honour Book in 2012.

Dark Poppy’s Demise was awarded the MER Prize for Best Youth Novel, at the Media24 Literary Awards (previously the Via Afrika Awards).

Her fourth novel for the young adult reader is Sharp Edges and this book will be released at the end of August ’13.

1.       From first draft, to published book, how much editing do you do?

A considerable amount. A story is never quite finished till it’s finished. Once I’ve completed a first draft, I print out the entire book and go through each line with a red pen, making notes where I think I can add more in or take out scenes that don’t work, pick up spelling mistakes and cliches and fix as many continuity errors as I can. (This is a trick acclaimed editor Helen Moffet taught me as well as quite a few more useful tricks). I then rewrite the manuscript and apply the changes, then repeat the process until I’m one hundred percent comfortable submitting the book to a publisher.  If there are long lead times between deadlines I’ll ask a friend to read the novel and make changes according to their feedback. Sometimes a publisher will ask me to rewrite based on feedback they received from a reader’s report, other times the major rewriting work comes in once an editor has been through the manuscript. A novel only really starts to shine once it’s passed through several stages of editing.

2.       What research do you do for your book?

I love the process of taking out reference books and making copious notes, which I constantly refer to during the writing process. I think it’s having a hundred pieces of paper orbiting around my desk that makes me feel like I’m well and truly knee-deep in a book. If I just want to check up a small fact, a quick Google search is usually fine. I love visiting places I intend using as settings and interviewing people. You can never really do enough research, especially if you’re writing about a subject you’re not completely familiar with. A trick with research is to never copy and paste from a source. I always make notes in my own words, and then ensure it forms part of the manuscript naturally, rather than just inserting it in.

3.       How many words do you write, on average, per day?

It depends. I work full time, so the majority of what I write is written in the evenings and on the weekends or any break I can get. If I’m busy writing a story and it’s really flowing I can usually write about three to five thousand words in one sitting or more. Some days I write nothing. I find that I can’t force it. If I’m not feeling the story then I’ll produce next to nothing. It’s those wonderful good writing days when I achieve output and find it hard to stop.

4.       Explain your writing process – do you write an outline and fill in the story, or do you write from Chapter 1 and let the story and characters lead you?

I start from the beginning and continue all the way to the end. Sometimes I’ll write an outline, other times I write in scenes. It depends on the particular story I’m writing at the time. I don’t have one concrete method that I stick to. I prefer the writing process to be natural and to dictate where it wants to go. Other times I’ll envision the entire story, lay it out, then write.

5.       Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing, and if so, how do you overcome it?

I find intimate bedroom scenes quite challenging. I tried to write one in Dark Poppy’s Demise, and then eventually rewrote the scene so that it didn’t happen. I’ll master this though. I think it’s more to do with shyness than anything else.

6.       What do you do when you have writer’s block?

I let it be. The story will continue when it wants to. Personally, I’d rather not force myself to write and to produce output for the sake of producing output.

7.       When you submit your manuscript to a publisher, what information do you include in your proposal?

A synopsis of the story, what genre and target audience it falls under, and the full manuscript attached as a Word document. But then again, that’s just me. I’m sure it works differently for everyone.

8.       What advice can you give aspirant writers?

Write the story you want to write, not the story you think you’re supposed to write. Finish the manuscript no matter how frustrated you become half way and always, always produce at least a second draft.

Click HERE to visit her website.


The Bloody Book Week – Practical Publishing Advice Event

Jenny Crwys-Williams is a talk show host on Talk Radio 702 and she has become well-known in South Africa for her influential weekly book show.

And Jenny’s latest venture is The Bloody Book Week, Africa’s first crime book festival, happening in and around Johannesburg from the 31st of July to the 4th of August.

‘The crime genre is so huge,’ Jenny says, ‘that it became impossible not to want to do something special with it, and to reflect some of the fine crime writing, fiction and non-fiction, coming out of South Africa.’

Alison Lowry and Tracey McDonald will be holding a condensed version of their full day seminar, The Suitcase Under the Bed, at this year’s The Bloody Book Week – if you are an aspirant writer, looking for practical advice about publishing, you may want to attend this event:

  • Jenny & Co @ TBWA/Hunt/Lascaris Auditorium
  • Saturday, 03 August ’13
  • 13h30 to 16h00
  • 3 Sandown Valley Crescent, Sandton
  • Cost: R500
  • Bookings:

Jenny has a fabulous range of events for The Bloody Book Week 2013, some free, some fee paying, but they all have one thing in common: crime writing at its best. Click HERE to download the full programme of this year’s festival.


Author Corner – Michele Rowe

Photo of author Michele RoweMichèle Rowe is a South African scriptwriter who works primarily as a head writer and story originator for television and film. And in June she was able to add ‘published author’ to her hat – What Hidden Lies, her debut crime novel, and winner of the 2011 Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award, was published by Penguin Books. At present she is writing the follow up called Hour of Darkness (to be published by Penguin Random House in 2014). 

Michele Rowe's What Hidden Lies

From first draft, to published book, how much editing do you do?

I write and edit, write and edit in an ongoing process of refinement.  It means that I write pretty slowly, but I can’t separate writing from editing. Coming from a screenwriting background I am used to rewriting draft after draft, so I’ve learned not to get attached to the peerless beauty of a sentence. If I do then it probably should be thrown out anyway! I’m less concerned with trying to perfect phrases, and more about building a strong narrative paragraph by paragraph in as clear and lucid a way as possible.

What research do you do for your book?

Research is an ongoing aspect of writing for me. I worked in documentary and actuality television for a long time and enjoy research. At some point though, and preferably early on, I try to dispense with facts and get down to writing otherwise I lose confidence and forget to trust in the mysterious alchemy of the imagination. Imagination has its own truth.

How many words do you write, on average, per day?

I write in bursts. Some days I don’t write a word, other days I write for hours. In order to write I must have nothing else to do, as I am a hopeless multi tasker. If I start counting words, I only end up with a lot of unusable stuff on my hands. There is much to be said for writing x amount of words a day. But it takes good organisational abilities and an iron will. I lack both I’m afraid.

Explain your writing process – do you write an outline and fill in the story, or do you write from Chapter 1 and let the story and characters lead you?

I usually begin with something that interests me for whatever reason. It could be a character, or a moral question, or something I have seen or heard. Sometimes it’s a relationship issue, or personal dilemma or a particular character. Sometimes it’s a visual thing, an image, or a story someone has told me. It tends to niggle away, usually because there is something about it I don’t understand. Weather and geography also play a large part in the development of a narrative. I sort of mull on all these elements and then I begin to give it a structure. The book I am writing now begins during Earth Hour, and features disappearances that happen when the city turns off its lights and is plunged into darkness.  The story unfolds over autumn, a melancholy time, when people are sombre and inward looking. It’s also a time of introspection and darkness for Persy Jonas, the young detective who drives the story.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing, and if so, how do you overcome it?

I find plotting and structuring the most frustrating aspect of writing.  I am a terrible procrastinator. I usually begin by writing key incidents that are in my head and I feel I have to get out. These usually get thrown out eventually or have changed beyond recognition by the final draft.  Because I’m indecisive and so the story is in a state of flux all the time. I keep all my options open until its completely critical. Then I hone in on the central story. It’s laborious and completely impractical and a dreadfully slow way to write a book. I also battle with time lines and multiple plots. I have no idea why I torment myself by writing mysteries and crime fiction as the form increases these challenges a thousand fold.

What do you do when you have writer’s block?

I’m lazy as anything, but that’s laziness rather than a block. Maybe because as a screenwriter I often have to write to deadline, I think of writing as a job like any other. Dentists and accountants have days when they don’t want to work, but they don’t have the luxury of calling it a block.  Having said that I do get stymied by problems that can go on for months. Writing often feels as if I’m navigating a maze, only to find I’m back where I began. It’s a frustrating business and takes a certain calmness and distance not to panic. I try writing short stories, or working on another book, or going for a swim or a walk to clear my head. Sometimes I just have to wait it out.

When you submit your manuscript to a publisher, what information do you include in your proposal?

I limited myself to a page of about three paragraphs. I introduced myself in one paragraph, told them what I’d done in the second, and briefly described my book in the third.  It’s probably best to keep it short. People are generally busy, and want to get to the point of a letter as soon as possible. I think that if you waffle in your letter, publishers will tend to assume that your book is going to waffle.

What advice can you give aspirant writers?

I don’t really feel in a position to give professional advice after only one book. As a first time novelist I had the advantage of a certain optimistic naiveté.  I had to work hard at maintaining that buoyancy, as writing can be an altogether disheartening process. I would say what you need most is a stubborn persevering nature. And develop a taste for penury!

Visit Michele’s website to read more about her, and her book What Hidden Lies –




Author Corner – Helen Moffett

Helen Moffett wears many hats. She cut her teeth as an academic editor, and soon came to specialise in what some call development editing. This means acting as much more than a copy-editor:  the role is an amalgam of academic supervisor, agent, mentor, advisor and sounding-board. Increasingly, Helen is focusing on fiction editing, where she has worked with some of Africa’s best and brightest writers.

Some authors Helen has worked with: Diane Awerbuck, Lauren Beukes, Andrew Brown, Mike Cope, Nadia Davids, Richard de Nooy, Tom Eaton, Liesl Jobson, Sarah Lotz, Sindiwe Magona, Siphiwo Mahala, Amina Mama, Zakes Mda, Thando Mgqolozana, S. A. Partridge, Jamala Safari, Elinor Sisulu, Jane Taylor, Ivan Vladislavic, Terry Westby-Nunn, Makhosazana Xaba.


Under Helen’s poet hat, her first collection of poems, Strange Fruit, was published by Mojadji Books.


On the 15th of this month, Helen’s choose-your-own-adventure erotic novel, A Girl Walks into a Bar, will be released (as an under the pseudonym Helena S. Paige.  This book is co-written with Paige Nick and Sarah Lotz. Hard copies of this book will be released in November 2013.

1.       From first draft, to published book, how much editing do you do?

I only stop editing when the deadline intervenes and the MS is torn from my twitching hands. I agree with whoever said “Writing is rewriting”.

2.       What research do you do for your book?

I write such different stuff, it depends. When I write academic pieces, research has to be very deep, and takes far more time than the writing. When I’m writing or editing anything else, I mostly just fact-check everything. My Google search history ranges from boring to bizarre: on the same day, it once included EU trade agreements and sea-urchin gonads. Occasionally, research is pure pleasure: for A Girl Walks into a Wedding (the second in the erotica series by Helena S. Paige, which Sarah Lotz, Paige Nick and I are writing), I spent a few days visiting wedding venues and chatting to wedding planners – in the Cotswolds, in the prettiest spring weather.

3.       How many words do you write, on average, per day?

It depends entirely on what I’m writing. If it’s a poem, it can be as little as 50 words. If it’s something academic or serious non-fiction, I rarely go past a thousand words a day. But for lighter stuff, I can go at a gallop, and have been known to produce 5 000 words in a day. But then a lot are chaff.

4.       Explain your writing process – do you write an outline and fill in the story, or do you write from Chapter 1 and let the story and characters lead you?

Poems fly in the window and flap at me until I write them down (corny, but true). My academic writing is a bit like constructing a case, using building blocks of research/evidence and cementing them together with logic. For fiction, sometimes the entire thing is clear before I start writing. Or I can see a particular scene or character in my head, so I write it all down, and hope the next scene will form in my head. But I’m not sure that this is good writing practice: I recommend outlines, also collecting bits and pieces and putting them into some sort of order first.

5.       Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing, and if so, how do you overcome it?

I was once commissioned to write a paper on child rape. Towards the end, my mind’s eye was so flooded with horrors, I got into my car and drove it straight into a highly visible tree. I find that when I have to write something important but difficult, it helps if I get really angry. Once I hit a certain flashpoint of rage, it all comes boiling out.

6.       What do you do when you have writer’s block?

Ah, trade secrets. As an editor, I sometimes work with authors who are blocked, and find that Louis Greenberg’s words apply: “Editing is therapy at a cheaper hourly rate”. Intractable writer’s block is often rooted in some personal anxiety or issue. When I get writer’s block (in my case, the sense that my brain has been scraped bare), I’m lucky in that a long walk almost always solves the problem. There’s something about repetitive movement or action that shakes thing loose.

7.       When you submit your manuscript to a publisher, what information do you include in your proposal?

Before I do that, I research the publisher carefully. Every day, publishers get manuscripts that simply do not match the kinds of books they publish. I encourage writers to read local writing and study catalogues carefully to pick a good fit between their MS and a publisher. Once I submit, I keep the cover letter short and practical. I include a brief bio and list of writing I’ve already published, a short but juicy synopsis, and a paragraph about the market it’s aimed at. The latter is critical, along with a description of how it might fit into the local publishing scene: something like “set in the world of teenage skateboard gangs on the Cape Flats, this book has the gritty humour of Sally Partridge’s YA novels, along with the moral dilemmas of Sifiso Mzobe’s Young Blood”.

8.       What advice can you give aspirant writers?

Nothing earth-shatteringly new: remember that writing may start as a gift, but it survives as a craft. So the more you do it, the more talented you’ll get. And that old chestnut also applies: the harder you work, the luckier you’ll get.

But one thing doesn’t get stressed enough: befriend, support and share your work and experiences, good and bad, with other writers – you’ll learn so much from each other. And be happy for them when they get published. It’s a combination of common sense and good karma. If you’re lucky (see point about hard work above), one day it will be your turn.