Playing with fire front cover (2)

FunDza Literacy Trust and Cover2Cover Books conceptualized the Harmony High series, set in a fictional township, to get reluctant teens reading. Authors who were identified and mentored by the FunDza’s Literacy Trust wrote three of the most recent in this page-turning series.

“Having stories written for young black South Africans by young black South African writers is what we wanted to achieve. Young writers know what their audience will relate to in terms of character, plot and language. They bring a colloquial, authentic voice to readers who see these writers as role-models. This kind of initiative boosts our young writers’ confidence and in turn gives other potential writers the confidence to try,” says Ros Haden from FunDza.

“FunDza’s Developing Young Writers programme offers young aspiring writers, FunDza Fanz, an online platform to publish their writing. FunDza also runs writing workshops and this is where we have found some gems! We havementored many young writers and have commissioned two of these writers to write Harmony High novels, including Sicelo Kula (Taking Chances) and Zimkhitha Mlanzeli (Blood Ties).”

Ros Haden and Dorothy Dyer wrote the first few Harmony High titles and thoroughly enjoyed writing page-turners for teens. They loved collaborating, the fact that the teens loved them and that they were getting it right.

The action moves from Cape Town to Limpopo in the latest of the Harmony High series, Playing with Fire. The author, Sello Mahapeletsa, a writer and a teacher from Maphosa in Botlokwa, Limpopo, was already a published writer when he first wrote for FunDza as a FunDza fan.

Mahapeletsa sent his novel proposal to Cover2Cover and Haden invited him to send a story to FunDza Literacy Trust. This story, “Young Love” was then published on the FunDza mobi site and the FunDza Fanz comments encouraged Mahapeletsa to write more. We chatted to Mahapeletsa about his process.

Your first young adult novel, When Lions Smile, was prescribed for Grade 10 and 11, and in 2006 you published your second novel, Tears of an Angel (both Kwela Books). How did you first get published?
I wrote my first novel, which I sent to a publisher who strongly recommended that I send it to another publisher. I
did and the next time I saw it, it was a complete book. That motivated me a lot! I just couldn’t get my eyes off that copy, for weeks.

What’s the most helpful thing you’ve ever been told?
My friend and my brother always told me that I should be a writer when I was still in school. Their words gave me courage to keep on believing that I can do it, even when some people thought I wouldn’t because I was from a dusty village in Limpopo. It wasn’t easy to believe that I could be a writer when I’d never met even a single writer before. So, those words of encouragement were like treasure.

What’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done for you?
There was this woman who was working as a maid. Her boss was a fan of Danielle Steel and every time she (the boss)
finished reading a book, she would give it to her, not knowing that she couldn’t read English. She took the books and gave them to me. I became a published author because of the inspiration I got from reading those books!

Q What was writing a Harmony High book like for you?
A Having to take someone’s character and give it a new life was fun. Something I’ve never done before. Writing can be a lonely job but with Harmony High I felt like I was working with a team.

Q Do you prefer to write on computer or by hand, and why?
A I prefer using a computer because when I write, I drown in my stories. Sometimes I even wonder if what I was reading was really written by me. I can start a story with a certain plot but ended up with a different story. It becomes easier to edit the story on the computer – you write without worrying about spelling mistakes and just follow your characters as they grow in their fictitious world.

Q How do you build your characters?
A Sometimes I found myself doing things that I never thought I could, just to experiment for characters. As long as it’s not illegal and doesn’t hurt people!

Originally published in Bookmark, September 2017.