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Helen Moffett

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Not exactly a Christmas piece (but there is an editor’s Christmas card)

I tend to sail past Christmas, ignoring it, the legacy of observing “Black Christmasses” back in the mid-80s, a luxury I’ve been able to keep up thanks to the absence of a conventional family, with kidlets demanding traditions like trees and letters to Santa Claus. (Speaking of which, every year I get a card franked “North Pole”… it’s a tiny one-horse-with-three-legs town close to Fairbanks, Alaska, with a very popular post office.)

I digress. Contemplating the gift conundrum (phone calls to one’s nearest and dearest: “Do NOT get me a present because no ways am I getting you one – unless you want a book?” *last phrase uttered in hopeful tones*) leads to thoughts of gifts and gratitude in general. And this year, the most astonishing cornucopia of gifts and opportunities kept showering down my chimney.

I am truly, deeply grateful for them all, and I thought I’d share two of the best – or rather, the two that made me cry the most (in a good way).

First of all, golden girl Lauren Beukes went and won the Arthur C. Clarke award for her second novel, Zoo City, a bravura tale of dystopia and magic in a Jozi that’s alarmingly familiar. I all but did somersaults of joy; having worked on both Zoo City and Moxyland, I know Lauren is an editor’s dream: hard-working, committed, feisty, humble, utterly without ego.

As if that wasn’t enough, this is what Tom Eaton said to me after Lauren’s triumph: after pointing out that she was writing in a genre read by hundreds of thousands, he noted that her work would inspire imitations, riffs, responses, innovations (of course he was right: check here for the tip of the iceberg). “And what this means, Helen, is that you’re not just a writing mother. You’re going to be a grandmother.”

It still makes me tear up.

Second of all, I was lucky enough to edit a lot of fiction – good fiction – this year, and what a joy it was. I really should write at length about how special it was: and I would like to thank Thando Mgqolozana, Siphiwo Mahala, Terry Westby-Nunn, Mark Thornton and Richard de Nooy (collectively known as “the Lambs”) for teaching me so much, and writing such beautiful books. You made this year magical for me. But it was the dedication that Thando (also known as “Youngest Child”) wrote that undid me completely. Here it is, unadorned:

“Siphiwo Mahala, Zukiswa Wanner, Pumla Dineo Gqola, Angela Makholwa, Zakes Mda, Cheryl Potgieter, Ndumiso Ngcobo and Helen Moffett: this book would be dedicated to you, for reasons known to me – if it were not dedicated to your children and kitties, whom I shall name on another day.”

I blamed the sleep deprivation at the time, but it made me sob audibly. It still has me reaching for the tissues.

So there you have it: this sentimental cynic is deeply grateful for all the wonders and gifts I get on a daily basis simply because I am lucky enough to work in the booky business and with booky people. Hats off to you all.

PS: These are the fabulous novels I edited this year: go stuff them into some stockings. And enjoy.

Hear Me Alone by Thando Mgqolozana

African Delights by Siphiwo Mahala

The Sea of Wise Insects by Terry Westby-Nunn

Kid Moses by Mark Thornton

The Big Stick by Richard de Nooy.


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    December 24th, 2011 @18:10 #

    Thanks for your warm words, Helen. It was a great honour to work with you this year. I hope we get to celebrate the birth together in the coming year. Wishing you good health and happiness and the very best of life.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    January 2nd, 2012 @15:45 #

    Thank you Helen. It's awesome to see you nurturing* so many awesome young writers. You're like fairy godmother/midwife/force of good in the world.

    (*ie. kicking 'em in the pants, right where we need it)


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