Interviews with Our Authors: Jenny Robson, 2012 Category A Winner

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This week on Golden Baobab’s blog: an exclusive interview with 2012 Golden Baobab Prize Winning Author Jenny Robson!

Jenny Robson won the 2012 Category A Golden Baobab Prize for her story “Wha-Zup Dude”. This story, written for readers ages 8-11, follows a young boy who finds an abandoned mobile phone on the ground beside the sidewalk. On his way to turn the phone in to the police station, the boy answers the phone when it rings and finds himself in the middle of a suspenseful and highly illegal plot!

We had the opportunity to ask Jenny some questions about herself as an author and her hopes for the future. Keep reading to hear what she had to say!

 

 

What is your name and where are you from? 

My name is Jenny Robson. I was born in Cape Town, South Africa but I have lived in Botswana for the past thirty-five years

 

Describe your childhood. What were you like, what was your family like, and what did you like to do?

I was quite a sad little girl, far too sensitive and easily hurt, I think. I found it difficult to make friends and never seemed to fit in with my peers.

 

When you were young, did you like to read?

As a child, reading was the one place where I felt at home. I lost myself in books and the real world faded away.

 

What types of books did you read when you were young? What was your favorite book as a child?

At eight, I discovered Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven series. They were the only books available in our school library and I devoured them. My grandmother who lived with us, would send me to borrow adult historical romances from the municipal library. I would wait till the coast was clear and my parents were out and then read those as well. Reading for me was a subversive, rebellious activity – and all the more exciting because of that!

 

When did you start writing, and why? Describe how you developed into a writer.

In my mid-thirties, I went through a very traumatic experience. Even now, years later, it is too painful to speak about. But as I finally reached the other side of that horror, I realized that there was this yearning within me to write.

As I was a teacher, I knew most of all I wanted to write for young people. I enrolled in a well-known long-distance writing-school. My tutor told me, after marking several of my story attempts, that I had little talent and should take up some other hobby.

That was like a red rag to a bull! I was utterly determined to prove him wrong – even though it took three years of rejection before I finally had my first story published.

 

Describe yourself as an author. What types of stories do you write and which audiences? What is it about writing that you love?

Most of all, I love to write for young people. My stories are mostly true-to-life, mostly about “ordinary” young people faced with difficult challenges and finding a way to conquer these. To me, there is no such thing as an “ordinary” person: everyone of us is unique and special; there is no one quite like you in this entire world!

I write specifically for African readers. If youngsters in other parts of the world enjoy my stories or find meaning in them, that is well and good. But my priority is our own young people.

           

Please describe your writing process and how it has developed over time?

A novel starts with something I feel passionately about, something that really matters to me. Otherwise why bother to spend all that time and effort writing it? If I get bored writing the novel, then for sure the reader will get bored reading it.

I usually have a loose idea of my plot and then write the story in pencil in longhand over and over and over, from start to finish. After perhaps eight drafts, I finally feel as if I have some understanding of what my story is about. It is strange to see how much a story can change during these drafts. But the moment finally arrives when I know the story has become what it promised to be.

 

Who is your favorite author?

My favourite author is the late Ayn Rand. I admire her complex plots, her tireless work ethic, her passion for what she believed in even if I do not share her beliefs. I also am moved by the way in her own life that she fell so far short of her ideals. She lived – and died – in total denial of her faults and frailties. That makes her all the more meaningful to me.

 

Who is your biggest inspiration as a writer?

There is a saying in my family “Share the name, share the fame.” And my two sons have always been my strongest inspiration. Even now that they are adults, I still want to make them proud of me.

It is also all the children I have taught over the years here in Botswana, who have inspired me: with their honesty, their fresh joyous ways of looking at life, their lack of cynicism, their unique personalities.

 

Explain how you found out about the Golden Baobab Prize and why you decided to submit?

My good friend Lauri Kubuitsile, a well-known and award-winning Motswana writer, told me about the Golden Baobab prize. I am always keen to support organizations that promote stories for African children.

 

What do you like to do in your spare time? What are your hobbies? What issues interest you?

I spend my weekdays teaching music, which is a passion for me. Music can reach parts of the soul that nothing else can reach. And I count it a great privilege to be able to share my love of music with young people.

I spend my weekends writing. So there is no time or inclination for any hobbies. I have a few very close and very dear friends and for the rest I am a recluse and quite comfortable to be one.

 

What are your goals for the future regarding your career?

I hope to continue writing stories for young people set in Africa for as long as I can.  I hope to never run out of issues I feel passionately about.

 

What are your hopes for the future of children’s literature in Africa?

As a youngster, all the books I could lay my hands on were set either in the UK or in the USA. I grew up feeling that Africa was not really part of the world that counted and mattered.

And that is my greatest hope now: that our young people will have a wealth of literature that explores the wonder and intrigue of our own Motherland, that they will meet characters with whom they can identify.

At the same time, it would be great to see youngsters from other continents reading our stories, opening themselves up to them and being able to connect.

 

Thanks for sharing your author’s insights with us, Jenny! We look forward to seeing many more wonderful children’s stories for African youngsters from you in the future!

Comments

  • Jayne Bauling Friday, 12 April 2013

    Lovely interview. I'm a great admirer of Jenny Robson's writing - especially her novel Praise Song. Her comments about her childhood really resonate; I was the same sort of child!

  • Carol Ann Davies Thursday, 25 April 2013

    What an inspirational interview! Actually I can identify with Jenny Robson. I was born in Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) and grew up in the wilds of Africa.
    I've often wondered why there are'nt many African authors and began writing stories set in Africa, espacially in my own country, which were for my own pleasure.
    I used to work as a journalist and reporter, so I'm used to writing and just love it!
    The Sunday News published in Bulawayo ran a conpetition for people to send in a short story and every week the best story was published.
    So I submitted a story called "The Ghostly Goat". It was published and on the Monday I got a phone call from the head librarian at the Bulawayo Public Library.
    "Ann" she asked "do you know what you've done with that story which was published yesterday?"
    "No, Otilia, what's happened?"
    "As soon as the children were out of school, today, we've had hundreds of them coming in and asking for a copy of 'The Ghostly Goat' story you wrote!"
    That's when I realised that there was a tremendous need for fiction written exclusively for the African child.
    So I say: Good work Jenny Robson and may you have many, many more successes. May you have a wonderful share in filling the hands, hearts and imaginations of all the African children on this planet.
    I hope that, one day, I can join you in the endeavour.
    With warm regards,
    C. Ann Davies.

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