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WRITING GURU: Lauri Kubultsile with her husband

GROWING up was not an easy road for Lauri Kubuitsile and she had to fi nd solace in something, books provided that much needed refuge.

While back then reading was to keep her mind occupied it in the process created love for writing. Today she has made a name for herself as one of the best writers in the country and the region.
Although it does not pay, that is not much of an issue to Kubuitsile because as she says in this interview, she’s writing for the love of it.

Q. Please give us your brief background
I was born in Baltimore Maryland USA. I grew up in Wisconsin, raised by my father.
I went to the University of Wisconsin Madison and did a Bachelor of Science degree in secondary education (natural sciences). I came to Botswana in 1989 as a volunteer science teacher. I met my husband here and we decided to make Mahalapye our home.

Q. You are one of Botswana’s renowned writers, where did the love for writing come from?
My love of writing comes from my love of reading. I had a problematic childhood and books were where I found refuge.
Even now there is no better way for me to spend the day than reading a well written novel. Because of my love for books I was always fascinated by authors. One of the first letters I ever wrote was to an author of one of the books I’d read. I remember the book was about monkeys. My teacher posted it for me and when the author wrote back my teacher laminated the letter for me (lamination was a big deal in the 1970s), that letter was one of my most prized possessions for a very long time.

Q. How many published books do you have?
I have 14 published works of fiction but I’ve also written seven textbooks.

Q. Which of your books have been chosen as set books and for which forms?
In Botswana, I have five books that are prescribed.
Three short story collections that I wrote with Wame Molefhe and Bontekanye Botumile which are being used in  standards 5, 6, and 7. My book, Mmele and the Magic Bones, which was shortlisted for UK Macmillan’s African Writers Prize in 2008, is also prescribed for standard 5. And the first book in my Detective Kate Gomolemo series, The Fatal Payout, is prescribed for junior secondary students. The book is the first in a series of four books. The second book in that series, Murder for Profi t, which is also published in Botswana by Pentagon Publishers.

Q. What inspires you to sit down and write a book?
Writing is my job. I work everyday (Monday to Friday, occasionally Saturday) from about 9:30 until 6 pm, so sitting down to write is not really an issue. What I write about is inspired by almost anything. I love stories and I see them everywhere.

Q. What else do you do besides writing?
I’m a full time writer. I make all of my income from writing and things associated with writing (running workshops, speaking, etc.) Seven years ago when I decided to see if I could make a living as a writer, I wrote everything that came along. I freelanced for many local and foreign publications, I wrote radio scripts, I wrote for television. In quite a short time I was making a good enough income to live on and sold my business. But always my main goal was to try to live on my fiction writing. I’m not sure how sustainable my current situation is but I’m working hard all the time to reach my goal of living exclusively on my fiction.

Q. There is a belief that writing does not pay in Botswana, what’s your take on this?
Writing doesn’t pay anywhere, it’s only that in Botswana with our miniscule population the problem is magnified.
I have very successful writing friends in South Africa and UK who must keep their day job.
The biggest problem is that writing a book takes a long time if you want to do it well. Even if it sells (which is not always the case) if you work out the money you’ve made against the time put in, most writers barely make minimum wage, myself included.

Q. As a writer how would you rate the culture of reading in the country and if you feel the reading culture is low or not there at all, what do you think should be done to improve the situation?
Yes Batswana don’t read or at least don’t buy books, but again I think this is a worldwide phenomenon.
Having said that, I do think ebooks and devices like the Kindle are giving books and reading a much needed makeover. Reading is becoming sexy and that’s a good thing!
In Botswana I recently helped organise the fi rst National Read-athon. It was a big success and the Writers Association of Botswana (WABO), of which I am the vice chair, is in the process of looking for funding for the Read-a-thon to continue for at least the next three years. I hope this will help to improve the level of reading in the country.

Q. You were shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African writing, how did this make you feel considering that you were the first Motswana to be shortlisted?
I’ve won or been shortlisted for quite a few writing prizes before, but the Caine is really the prize most African creative writers are looking to. I was very proud to have made it to the shortlist. I think now it’s up to all of us to really work at our writing to make sure it doesn’t end there, that Botswana is consistently part of the Caine just like our neighbours South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Q. And you were recently in Nigeria and London, what was the purpose of these journeys, if they had to do with your writing which other parts of the world has writing taken you to?
In Nigeria I was attending the Farafi na Creative Writing Workshop run by Chimamanda Adichie. It was a fantastic opportunity, wonderful. Other teachers were Binyavanga Wainaina , Tash Aw and Faith Adiele- all amazing writers. I learnt so much and we had a great group of writers in the workshop too.
I was in London for the events around the Caine, including public readings, a lunch with agents and publishers, lunch at the House of Lords with the wife to the founder of the Caine Prize and the awards dinner in Oxford.
Earlier this year I was in London on a trip sponsored by Arts and Culture where I spoke at the London School of Economics. Last year I spent a month in El Gouna Egypt for a writing residency.

Q. What has been the greatest achievement of your writing career?
It’s hard to pick one since I’ve been quite lucky. The Caine shortlisting was quite signifi cant.

Q. What are you doing to groom upcoming writers so they can also achieve the same like you if not surpass?
I have a real problem with this question which is oddly often directed at writers exclusively. I always wonder why writers are expected to train or assist people to be writers (for free, of course) while no one expects that of plumbers or lawyers or even musicians.
Having said that, I give back to my community when I can. I have been a member of the WABO executive committee for many years now. We do many things for writers including the publishing of the literary journal, Mahube, the maintaining of our blog which has news and information for writers, and this month we’ll be starting the first of our monthly writing workshops.
I occasionally donate my time for other things. For example, earlier this year I ran a writing workshop in Maun as part of the Poetavango Festival.

Q. Words of advice to upcoming writers
Writers must read (a lot) and they must write all of the time, honing and improving what they’ve done before. If you’re serious, you will be successful.