I’ve just heard that my story 'Thirstlands' has just been short-listed for the Aeon Awards 2008.
I am currently dipping in and out of a book on African history as work allows. It's the pre-colonial history that particularly fascinates me, not just the colonial or post-colonial periods. This interest has been nurtured by many conversations with a long-standing friend, who has been working for several decades within South African archaeology and has contributed to the overhauling of information in museums, by both reinvigorating pre-colonial information and redressing biased and racist colonial interpretations after the demise of apartheid. Of course, this hasn't always neatly fitted with perhaps more popular current conceptions of history either – history and its interpretation is an inevitably political activity too - and, from what I gather, it has been a delicate balancing act to present the limited evidence available objectively. It has thus also been a matter of trying to ensure as much as possible that all voices are heard in the gathering of evidence and the presentation of historical narratives - including those communities who may still feel to some extent marginalised, such as the Khoikhoi and the San.
What does history have to do with writing? A huge amount, I would think, as history impacts both on our sense of who we are and where we come from. We have a personal sense of history too and the further back we go, the less reliable our recollections seem to become, certainly as they enter pre-verbal realms, where language is not available to bootstrap our experiential memories. So we end up creating stories of our lives to try and link the fragments of memories we have - some of which may have been 're-described' and reinterpreted by our families and perhaps also seasoned with our own fantasies and dreams. In the end, it's hard to assert what is 'absolute reality' and what is reconstructed experience. So perhaps it goes for communal histories too - even ones that have documentary evidence forming historical literary evidence, there remaining questions as to who's version of history is presented and how 'accurate' and full a representation it may or may not be.
So is this just another post-modern plea for the relativity of all histories? I hope not - I have many clear memories that I strongly feel actually 'happened', some of which I'm proud of, others less so. Similarly there are many events and achievements in African history such as significant civilisations in Kush, West Africa (e.g. Ghana, Mali and Benin) and Great Zimbabwe, as well as other more disturbing places and events - e.g. contemporaneously Zimbabwe and Darfur, although colonial and post-colonial influences often end up exacerbating these places and situations as well.
As for stories, they often reflect these themes too - i.e. trauma, pain, achievement; the best of which has a realistic verisimilitude which encourages the 'suspension of disbelief'. A central story of science which appeals to me is that we are ALL Africans, if we go back far enough.
Finally - after all that! - in order to read a non-Afrocentric story of mine recently published, please see Escape Velocity http://www.escapevelocitymagazine.com/. The Fix Ezine has now published a review of Escape Velocity available at thefix-online.com/reviews/escape-velocity-2/ which includes a review of my story Mindreader two thirds of the way down the page.
Nick Wood - Mar 2008