Children's Literature in Southern Africa

Sinovuyo Nkonki

Looking back, Sinovuyo Nkonki remembers wanting to tell an authentic South African story centred on a matric dance. She penned her first romance novel at the age of 19 (Crooked Halo) which she based on her own first love experience. Although painful to tell, she found the process healing.

After the success of Crooked Halo Sinovuyo is penning her second YA novel.

How and when did you start writing?

In primary school, I was bullied and developed low self- esteem. It was non- existent, really. My diary became my solace and I have kept one ever since. I was always called an “average” student and began to believe I wasn’t really smart or good at anything, but I excelled in English particularly when it came to creative writing assignments. My love for reading and writing poetry, novels and plays stemmed from there. My parents always encouraged me to pursue a career that I was passionate about and writing feels like breathing to me so I decided it would be my career when I was 14.

What is the most difficult part of being a children's book author? Does being so young make it easier or more difficult?

enter image description hereThe most difficult part is thinking of the type of subject that young people relate to. Now, trends amongst young people change so quickly and I try to find the divide between something meaningful and deep to write about while still being ‘trendy’, relatable and clean enough for young people to enjoy the novel without having to hide it from their parents.

For me personally, being younger has proven difficult in that I really need to believe in myself and what I have to say through my work. The writing circles I’ve been in professionally are generally not full of people in their twenties or younger so it can be quite daunting standing beside experienced authors trying to sell your new little book! The up side is that my readers relate to me and because of that, are more likely to take an interest in my work.

You self-published 'Crooked Halo': what was that experience like? Would you do it again?

Self publishing was a great experience because I was in control of everything; from the content, cover to the font size and type. For my debut novel, it was a pleasure because it really felt like mine and not a modified version of what I meant to say. The only unfortunate thing about self- publishing is the bad reputation it has in the writing industry and the financial issues that come with it. Everything involved in the book’s production came out of me and my family’s pocket. They were a great support. Honestly, if it weren’t such a strain to the wallet, I would continue to self publish. It gives an author the freedom to just be. I would advise anyone who goes that route to get as much professional assistance as they can to produce a book that will contend with books coming out of big publishing houses.

What do you think of the standard of South African children's book publishing and writing?

I think it has improved immensely. When I think back, I can’t remember having a South African book to read as a young teen. Books for teens were mostly American and you simply had to learn to relate to the characters. Now, the young adult genre in South Africa is budding beautifully and this generation of teens is really spoilt for choice. The quality of writing is also at its best. I do feel that the YA genre needs a lot more support from the publishing or literary industry and really just amongst local readers in general. YA is not limited to teens. I was surprised to find that both 16 and 60 year olds loved Crooked Halo so the genre really deserves more attention and respect.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on my second book. Like Crooked Halo, I believe readers of all ages will be able to appreciate the character’s journeys. And of course, there will be a romantic element tied to it and I explore some of the more serious issues that young people need to contend with.

What was your favourite book as a child?

I find it so hard to think of just one; I just love variety. In my early childhood I loved Roald Dahl, The BFG and Matilda, R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series and anything by Judy Blume. In high school, I was into James Patterson, Danielle Steel, Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison. I think Coconut by Kopano Matlwa was the first local novel I read and related to and from then on I began exploring work by local writers.