Friday, 27 March 2015

Welcome to the 'surgical menopause in your 30s' club, Angie

In May 2013 I wrote a post about Angelina Jolie having a prophylactic (preventative) double mastectomy to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer, followed by reconstructive surgery (implants) nine weeks later. And it recently emerged that last week (March 2015) she underwent a prophylactic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy - removal of both ovaries and Fallopian tubes, to reduce her risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Through a blood test prior to all these surgeries, it had been determined that she had inherited a mutation in the BRCA1 gene, which gives her an estimated 87% increased risk of developing breast cancer, and a 50% increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. She has already lost her mother, grandmother, and aunt to this insidious disease.

What this means is that she, like me, is now in full-blown surgical menopause, necessitating the need for immediate and ongoing hormone replacement therapy. The difference between our procedures was that hers was a much less invasive laparoscopy (minor keyhole surgery), while mine was a three-hour-long laparotomy (major abdominal surgery which, along with the removal of both ovaries and Fallopian tubes, also entailed the complicated removal of massive cystic teratoma which had mushroomed and taken up residence in between all the organs in my abdominal cavity).

Besides the fact that we are so similar in age (she is 10 months younger than me), and we now share a similar endocrinological journey ahead, Angie's story reminds me of yet another issue very close to my heart: The grave injustice of adoptees who are prohibited by law from accessing personal records that pertain to their genetic identities.

While I was lucky enough to be born and adopted in South Africa, a country that allows an adoptee to search for their biological parents once they turn 18 - with their adoptive parents' written permission, or 21 - without their parents' permission, this is not the case for millions of North Americans who are forced to live under an archaic system of permanently sealed birth records. This has given rise to organisations like Bastard Nation, who are vocal campaigners for the right of all adoptees - not just those in certain States - to access on demand of their unaltered original birth certificates (OBCs), at age of majority, without condition, and without qualification.

If what Dr Jason Knight of the Cleveland Clinic says about "Family history [being] the most essential tool that is used by physicians to determine who should have testing," and "the most important thing that a person can do is know their family's cancer history," then let's hope that stories like Angie's, and my own upcoming adoption novoir, will help organisations like Bastard Nation in their lobbying efforts for nationwide access to OBCs.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Democratisation of the publishing industry

What do William Blake, Lord Byron, e e cummings, TS Eliot, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Hardy, Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, Rudyard Kipling, DH Lawrence, Anaïs Nin, Edgar Allen Poe, George Bernard Shaw, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and Virginia Woolf, have in common? They all, among many other literary greats, self-published at some point in their careers.

So then, why the lingering stigma attached to self-publishing? Unfortunately because 'indie authors' are automatically lumped into the same category as 'vanity authors', even though self-publishing and vanity publishing are as distinct from one another as traditional publishing and self-publishing. While indie filmmakers and garage bands are lauded for their grit and tenacity in producing self-funded movies and music, the stigma of self-funded publishing continues to be a millstone around many an indie author's neck.

But it's high time for the stigmatisation and marginalisation to end. Just like 21-year-old Australian-born model Stefania Ferrario (below) - currently the face of Dita Von Teese's lingerie label - is campaigning for the fashion industry to #droptheplus size label for curvier models, so too, is a new wave of indie authors arguing for equal respect and recognition alongside their mainstream counterparts. Books and their authors, just like models, should come in all shapes and sizes - some catering to the highly commercialised mass market, others to smaller, or more discerning niche markets. Neither should be perceived as superior or inferior to the other, but rather variations on the same core product. A model is a model is a model, whether 'straight-size' or 'plus-size'. A book is a book is a book, whether a paperback, hardcover, or ebook. And an author is an author is an author, whether traditionally published or self-published.

That said, any self-respecting indie author who expects to be taken seriously needs to make sure that everything about their book is on a par quality-wise with the books produced by trade publishers. From the writing and the editing, to the layout, formatting, and cover design - it is inexcusable to cut any corners. Not only do you risk undermining your brand and weakening your value as an author in the eyes of your readers, but also in the eyes of your fellow authors, and mainstream publishers, all of which simply perpetuates the stigma of an inferior product. (It would be wise to remember that traditional trade publishers could turn out to be prospective investors down the line, as in the case of Amanda "poster child for self-publishing success" Hocking. In the first year of her foray into self-publishing, the then-20-something Hocking made $2 million in ebook sales, capturing the attention of and earning her a $2 million conventional publishing contract with St Martin's Press - part of Macmillan Publishers.)

So then, how do local indie authors go about producing high quality, commercially viable books that can sit comfortably alongside their traditionally published counterparts, on both virtual and real-life bookshelves? By paying for the professional services of credible industry players and pioneers, like Porcupine Press and My eBook, both based in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. Tapping into the ever-increasing demand for cutting edge self-publishing services - in paperback, hardcover, or ebook format - these guys offer a one-stop-shop for indie authors who are serious about the quality of the work they put out for public consumption and scrutiny. Individual services can be cherry-picked by the author according to their needs and budget, to best prepare, polish, publish, and promote their books - in national bricks-and-mortar bookstores, as well as across the plethora of international online stores. For those of you who, like me, have always wondered how South African authors go about collecting ebook royalties from the likes of US-based Amazon and Smashwords, I found an up-to-date and extremely encouraging article on the subject here.

March 2015 has been a boon to the local independent publishing industry, with not one, but two major events taking place over consecutive weekends. Last Saturday I attended South Africa's first Indie Book Fair at the Sunnyside Park Hotel in Parktown, organised by Porcupine Press and their brand new indie imprint, African Narratives, primarily to listen to Sarah Taylor deliver her keynote speech on Broadening Horizons: The expanding opportunities and freedom of self-publishing. (Taylor is the marketing manager of UK-based Matador, the self-publishing imprint of Troubador Publishing Ltd, and editor of The Self Publishing Magazine.)

And this coming Saturday (28th March 2015) I will be attending the first SAIR book festival at Modjadji House in Floracliffe. [Update: The debut event was called 'South African Indies Rock'; in 2016 they changed the name to 'South African Indie Revolution'.] There are still a few seats available. Click here for ticket info. The programme from 9am - 2pm, with four guest speakers, is as follows:

9am Welcome by Carlyle Labuschagne (author and founder of SAIR)

9:15am Janet Wallace (based in Nashville, Tennessee, founder of utopYA and Social Deviants) on Thoroughbred marketing and branding in a hybrid world

9:45am Panel discussion on Writing for an international audience - from an editor’s point of view

10:15am Gareth Crocker (author and indie filmmaker) on How much does luck account for it?

10:45am Panel discussion on Marketing and branding - how to successfully put yourself out there 

11:15am David Henderson (founder of MyeBook) on Understanding digital publishing

11:30am Pitch your book contest

12:30pm David Robbins (co-owner of Porcupine Press / African Narratives) on Independent publishing and why it is here to stay

12:45pm Panel discussion on Publishing - what path is right for you? 

1:15pm Giveaways

I've always loved the prehistoric beauty of cycads and, judging by these photos I found online, the gardens of Modjadji House are really something quite special. I'm so looking forward to checking out the venue for myself.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Hidden gem on Beyers Naude

This afternoon I popped into the Blackheath branch of Petits Fours Deli & Décor in the newly refurbished Heathway Square to get some pies and quiches for supper. A few months ago they relocated from Verdi Shopping Centre, about a kilometre south along Beyers Naude, to this amazing 400 square metre, double volume space which was originally shop-fitted for and occupied by Primi JunXion.

Style wise, it's Industrial meets French Provencal. If Al Jourgensen and Biggie Best had a lovechild, this would be it! Besides serving breakfast, lunch, and everything else in between their opening hours of 7:30am - 5:30pm, they also do outside catering for corporate or private events, including party platters and celebration cakes. Basically, the whole shebang.

If you're looking for a really great spacious, yet cosy, venue to host a high tea or special occasion, or just somewhere really pleasing on the eye to have a quiet coffee and bite to eat, or do a bit of décor and gift shopping, Petits Fours in Blackheath is definitely worth a look-see.

Before: What it looked like before, as Primi JunXion

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Slicker Than a Hipster's Brylcreemed Barnet Fair

It's been 18 years since I visited Amsterdam, but it still ranks as one of my favourite cities around the world. While we were there, over the Easter weekend in 1997, Lee and I stumbled across a rock bar called Café Sound Garden, a stone's throw from the Anne Frank Huis. Although no different to any other alternative venue we've visited in any other country - in terms of music, patrons, vibe, or decor - the one thing that does stick out in my mind was a huge mural of Iggy Pop on a rather grubby interior wall. A quick search on Google today revealed that Sound Garden is still in business, in the same location (grubbier than ever), with Mr James Newell Osterberg, Jr still keeping an eye on all the shenanigans from his spot on the wall!

Above: Me, age 22, in Amsterdam, Easter weekend 1997.
This was the first of my (two) platinum blonde phases, both of which I miss dearly.

Below: Mural of Iggy Pop in Café Sound Garden, Amsterdam

This Saturday afternoon, Lee and I headed out to a mate's birthday shindig at a (new'ish) rock bar right here in Jozi town. And all I can say is, wow!! Hell's Kitchen on 7th Street in Melville has certainly raised the bar (pun intended) - not just for rock-themed establishments here in South Africa, but also abroad. [Unlike the Hard Rock Café Johannesburg, which we visited exactly a year ago, this place is the real deal.] The music is a mixture of rock and jazz, spanning several decades, the vibe very laid back and unpretentious. The decor alone speaks volumes about the owners' passion and clear vision for this venture. Slicker than a hipster's comb-over, but without being intimidating, it strikes just the right note. You are made to feel immediately comfortable, but not too comfortable, like you tend to do in many (if not most) venues that play this kind of music, where you wouldn't think twice about ashing or chucking your stompie on the floor. This is a beautiful, chilled space for rockers and hipsters, young and old, to make their own. A friendly neighbourhood pub. A home away from home. Kind of like Cheers, where you can pull in any day or night of the week, and bump into a familiar face, or two, or ten. For fans of black-and-white portraiture, a well-curated collection of framed prints featuring the likes of Iggy Pop, Johnny Depp, Bob Dylan, William S Burroughs, and Charles Bukowski, amongst others, adorns the walls. Oh, and there's even a secret poker room behind the bookcase! Coupled with hot tattooed waitresses (reminiscent of Yeoville's Rockey Street in the early 90s), a great selection of beer, wine, whiskey and cocktails, awesome pizza (refreshingly only two options - meat or vegetarian - with a to-die-for-delicious base that tastes like the shortcrust pastry they use to make quiches), the place just ticks all the boxes for me.

And then, tucked away at the back of the Hell's Kitchen courtyard, I found a rad little rockabilly-themed barber shop called Freedom Hair. I had a lovely chinwag with the owner and stylist Boyden Barnado, who moved his business from Parkhurst to Melville late last year, presumably around the same time Hell's Kitchen took up residence on the 7de Laan strip. Not only does he do men's hair and beards, he also does women's and kids' hair, and sells a range of freshly brewed teas and coffees.

Both businesses have slowly but surely been earning their stripes, and have now, clearly, established themselves as the alternative drinking hole and barber shop of choice in the Melville area. Best part is they're just a ten-minute drive from home. We will definitely be back!