Short.Sharp.Stories anthology Fluid: interview with Alex Latimer, author of "YOLO"

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Alex Latimer, photo: provided; Fluid book cover: Karavan Press

Short.Sharp.Stories is a platform showcasing top and emerging South African fiction writers. The theme of this year’s anthology is Fluid – freedom to be. Fluid, this year’s Short.Sharp.Stories anthology, seeks to engage fictional expression around identity, culture and society.

Karina Magdalena Szczurek conducts interviews with the respective short story writers.

Below is a mini-interview between Karina Magdalena Szczurek and Alex Latimer, author of the short story “YOLO” in the 2023 Short.Sharp.Stories anthology, Fluid.

Alex Latimer is an award-winning author and illustrator based in Cape Town. He has written and illustrated dozens of picture books, which have been published around the world. He has also written one novel, The space race, and co-authored two others, South and North, with Diane Awerbuck. Alexs story “Extinction” was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2019.

He says of his story: “It is part of a group of stories I’ve written, all with the same basic premise: You die and then you fall in love. I loved the challenge of the idea and how impossible it sounded. With ‘YOLO’ I tried to explore the fragility of our existence and how that very fragility makes life all the more precious and worthwhile.”

With “YOLO” I tried to explore the fragility of our existence and how that very fragility makes life all the more precious and worthwhile.

KMS: In the book world your creativity expresses itself in words and images – do you have any other creative talents?

AL: No. I’ve been known to play guitar and cook and garden, and though all those things are creative pursuits, I don’t have talent for any of them.

KMS: You recently attended the famous Bologna Childrens Book Fair – please share a few of your impressions with us.

AL: As an author I’d always thought I really should get to one of the big global book fairs, but having been to one now, I realise it’s not for me. Book fairs are for meetings and pitching and networking, and those are not my favourite kinds of things. Plus, there’s this other frustration of walking past stalls with incredible books on display – and none of them is actually for sale, unless you want to buy the rights. Thankfully, I was there as part of Book Dash – where we made two picture books in two days, and then presented them to an international audience. It was amazing to showcase our very own South African publishing innovation. (

KMS: Your childrens book Pip and Egg, illustrated by David Litchfield, is one of my all-time favourite reads. It is a beautiful story of growth and friendship. It is timeless, but I felt that we needed it even more now than ever, when our world is becoming more and more divisive. Was there something specific that sparked it?

AL: The spark for Pip and Egg was emigration. So many of my friends have left South Africa over the years and I was thinking about how friendship works when you’re apart, and how with the good friendships – the real ones – you don’t have to have spoken for months, but the bond is still there.

KMS: Are children more demanding readers than adults?

AL: In a way. With children’s literature there’s really no room for wasted words or unnecessary tangents. If you lose a child’s attention, you’re not getting it back. With grown-ups there’s slightly more leniency, but not much more.

With children’s literature there’s really no room for wasted words or unnecessary tangents. If you lose a child’s attention, you’re not getting it back.

KMS: You write novels and short stories – what attracts you to the shorter form?

AL: I love the speculative nature of short stories. A novel is a multi-year commitment, but with short stories you can set up a premise and explore it and have fun poking around to see what emerges. You get to unearth some weird and wonderful things that would be lost in a novel.

KMS: Your story “YOLO” is part of a series of stories you are working on. Can you elaborate on the premise for the collection You die and then you fall in love? Can you give us a few examples of how the premise manifest in other stories that will be part of the collection?

AL: A bad person is reincarnated as a terrible smell and over time falls in love with a woman. A man dies and goes to a place where all living things go – a menagerie of animals roaming an endless meadow – and there he finds love in familiar faces. A mother and son reunite in a heaven that is also hell – depending on how you see it. Two people die on the moon and live undead through aeons, moving through the phases of love while watching the lights on Earth flicker out. 

KMS: Would you agree that your writing could be categorised as speculative fiction or magic realism, or do you think of it in completely different terms?

AL: I like the term speculative fiction more – just because that’s exactly what I feel I’m doing when I write: I think of an idea and I speculate. But there are definite magical realism aspects to my writing.

KMS: You enjoy creative collaborations. Whose creativity has had the greatest influence on your own work?

AL: I do enjoy collaborating. Ive found that as my career has progressed, I get the chance to work with more and more incredible people. For me, the fun is making a book or a comic or a novel that is better than what I could do on my own. Its a kind of magic. I dont think I can single out a greatest influence, though.

KMS: The book you are currently working on is for children and has a great main character – please give us a preview of what the story is about. 

AL: Ah. Yes. I’m working on a book for children who have just learned to read but don’t want to be seen reading picture books in the playground. It’s novel-shaped and it’s highly illustrated and it’s called Gordon the Meanest Goose on Earth. Gordon is a terrible goose who reforms his ways and begins trying to make amends for all of his past misdeeds. It’s part of a 4-book series with Oxford University Press in the UK and the first book will be out next year.

Also read:

Short.Sharp.Stories anthology Fluid: interview with Kingsley Khobotlo, author of "Against the grain"

Short.Sharp.Stories anthology Fluid: interview with Yuwinn Kraukamp, author of the short story "iHeart you now and always"

Short.Sharp.Stories anthology Fluid: interview with Jarred Thompson, author of the short story "What we ride in on"

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