Short.Sharp.Stories anthology Fluid: interview with Shanice Ndlovu, author of "Of somo seeds"

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Shanice Ndlovu, 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 Shanice Ndlovu, author of the short story “Of somo seeds” in the 2023 Short.Sharp.Stories anthology, Fluid.

Shanice Ndlovu is an Epic Fantasy writer. A few of her short stories can be found in her first collection, The pride of noonlay, published by Modjaji Books (2020), and in The Ishmael Tree (2022). She was crowned Africa’s Ultimate Storyteller by Hadithi Ya Africa in the same year. Ndlovu started and runs a poetry podcast called The Poedcast. She has been nominated for the NOMMO Speculative Fiction Awards.

She says about her story: “‘Of somo seeds’ is a love letter written to a sister who has been lost. It asks, among other things, just how much of what we love in those we love is determined by the flesh that covers their bones – if the flesh changed, would the love also change?”

KMS: “Of somo seeds” is one of the most imaginative stories I have ever read. It was highly commended by the Short.Sharp.Stories judges. What sparked the idea for the story?

SN: I set out wanting to write a story for a friend’s birthday and, of course, it morphed itself into this whole other thing, as stories tend to.

KMS: Your story reminded me of the poignant love story in The left hand of darkness by Ursula K Le Guin. It also asks what exactly do we love when we profess to love someone. Do you think that true love can transcend the “flesh that covers our bones”?

SN: It’s funny that I was introduced to Ursula Le Guin a few weeks ago by someone who said my work reminded them of her, which is insane, because she was a genius. I think what we do share is an idea of what it means to love someone or “true love” that isn’t shackled by the limitations of a mostly Western hierarchy that determines that a romantic love outranks a friendship, or that a friendship can’t be romantic, or even that a relationship needs to be named to be one or the other, for that matter. I think once we do away with many of those beliefs, then that question is not so difficult. A love that claims to be true, whatever that may mean, surely far extends beyond flesh.

A love that claims to be true, whatever that may mean, surely far extends beyond flesh.

KMS: Shubnum Khan said the following about your story, “An astonishing, magical story that almost reads like a long poem. I was captivated.” And Rešoketšwe Manenzhe said, “This story drew me in with its evocation of memory, to be precise. It made it immediately nostalgic. The writing is captivating, full of moments of longing and belonging.” What does it mean for you to be recognised by such acclaimed writers?

SN: It’s always a gift when someone takes the time to actually read and understand my work. That they are amazing writers and actually enjoyed it is definitely the cup full and spilling over.

KMS: What draws you to Epic Fantasy?

SN: I should probably start off by saying that a lot of what writing is to me feels less like something that I’m responsible for and more like something that happens through me, at least at the beginning, when the story is first written. So, too, this world where most of the stories I write take place. To answer the question: Freedom. It has been clear for a while that this world is not this “real world” as we know it and Epic Fantasy provides the freedom to build an entirely new one.

KMS: And to the short story?

SN: The short story as a form is a hook-up – you get to finish and go home without the complications of strings. Which is great, for a time, but the stories have all started to thread into one another lately and it is definitely time to commit to a novel. But I love stories and will most likely always write them, even if it’s many stories that come together to make a bigger one.

The short story as a form is a hook-up – you get to finish and go home without the complications of strings.

KMS: Can you imagine developing “Of somo seeds” into a longer narrative? 

SN: Entirely. I have no doubt that this is not the last we have seen of Suli and her kin, especially considering how the world itself is still being written.

KMS: How do you go about world-building when you write fantasy?

SN: World-building for me is a discovery. I don’t have a map (I will have to at some point). I have a rough idea in my head of where places are, but what I will find there is a discovery each time and I can know only when I put it to the page. The reader and I find things together. But because I have been writing it a long time, there is some canon that I must navigate, but a lot of it is still getting discovered with each word put down.

KMS: Can you tell us more about the local fantasy scene?

SN: I haven’t had the opportunity to interact with a “fantasy community” in South Africa that isn’t online, but I have no doubt that people are writing and people are reading.

KMS: Which local writers inspire you?

SN: I am a fan of André Brink and Nerine Dorman. I am exposed to a lot of poetry as well, which often tends to be performed, and some of my favourites are Belita Andre and Kwanele Nyembe, to name just a few.

Also read:

Short.Sharp.Stories anthology, Fluid: interview with Lerato Mahlangu, author of the short story "The healer who married the water"

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 Kingsley Khobotlo, author of "Against the grain"

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