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Saaleha contributes during the Writers Studio workshop

Saaleha contributes during the Writers Studio workshop

It was on a narrow stretch of road, sometime in January, somewhere between Victoria Falls and Bulawayo, that my phone connected to Wifi out of nowhere and vibrated. I was surprised, having grown accustomed to a silent phone over the previous two weeks. It was an email. It started with the word: Congratulations. As a serial non-winner of competitions, I was amazed.

I needed to present myself in Cape Town for a one day workshop that would be conducted by Whitbread Shortlisted Writer, Rachel Zadok (of course, at the time I didn’t know this), since my “application to the Writivism 2014 Creative Writing Workshop had been accepted”.

The application had been carelessly sent. Something done on a whim, without too much thought given, to which bits of myself I would bare to the organisers. It was simply, a story taken from my blog, pasted in the body of an email, with a short introduction of myself. I knew that had I agonised over what to send, I’d have gotten cold feet and just forgotten all about Writivism.

Cape Town turned out to be nothing short of enchanting, the only blight on an otherwise idyllic weekend being The Workshop. I sucked at it. Really sucked.  I wasn’t made for these exercises. I couldn’t write with an audience. I especially couldn’t share my icky first draft (written in pen, as opposed to my computer) with a room full of polite strangers, all trying to find something good to say, in the hope that I’d return the favour when their turn came. Had it not been for my doppelganger, Saaleha Idrees Bamjee, who had also been successful with her application, I would have died a zillion deaths by the end of that day, as opposed to just a dozen.

But, it was when I got home, that the real work began. I was introduced to my mentor, Nigerian poet (doctor too), Dami Ajayi. He was a prickly man. I was suitably intimidated. I penned my flash fiction piece, Breaking Glass, published on Deyu African.

This was the easy part though. Wondering how people would react to this piece was less easy.

That behind me, my next task was to write a short story. Anyone who knows me, knows that short stories have always been “my thing”. I wrote them (rather poorly) in one sitting, often without too much thought. But with Dami, I learnt how to count my words, how to tighten my prose. He was a harsh critic and for that I am thankful.

Once my story, Lunatic, had been submitted, I got on with baking and caking. The memory of the talented writers I’d met during the workshop was still very fresh. Writers who, unlike me, didn’t collapse at the sight of an audience. Writers who could turn clever little phrases and write glowing prose under pressure. So, when another email, beginning with the word ‘congratulations’ landed in my inbox, I was stunned! Really pleased, but completely stunned. Delighted too, that my doppelganger had made the longlist along with me. The 14 longlisted stories would be published in an anthology, Fire in the Night, and launched on June 20 at the Writivism Festival in Kampala. This was more than I could ever have hoped for.

I could now throw myself into the task of preparing for Ramadhaan, knowing that with all its soul sapping fracas, 2014 had finally redeemed itself. So, when another mail arrived on the May 27, beginning with the word (you guessed it!) ‘Congratulations!’ I was shocked into silence. (Yes, incredible, I know.)

I had made the shortlist. One of five writers. I’d be attending The Writivism Festival in Kampala and thankfully, so would my doppelganger. (Can you imagine how terrifying this would be if I was doing it alone?!)

I don’t think the enormity of what had happened had sunk in by the time I travelled. Those few weeks were a blur of chicken fillets, kids’ homework, and worrying about how my mum would deal with my absence.

The very last week before departure was the craziest. There was a week’s worth of meals to prepare, along with shopping to be done and kids to assist with studying for exams.

There was anxiety to face and a dream to embrace. There was disappointment to swallow too. It’s not only hard times that reveal our friends, see. Our successes expose them too.

There was insecurity to brave. I CAN write.  There was a meeting with an agent to prepare for. I MUST write.

Thank you. I wrote, all these years, and you read.  And that always gave me one more reason to write even when there were a hundred others not to.

Most importantly, Alhamdulillah. All praises are His alone. Writing is, sometimes, an act of faith!

******************

 About the Author: 

Saaleha Bhamjee’s shortlisted story, Lunatic {Read HERE} won second place of the 2014 Writivism Short Story Prize, announced at the June Writivism Festival in Kampala. Bhamjee writes between mothering five children and running her bakery. A self-confessed Twitterholic, she writes a blog titled Afrocentric Muslimina. She was part of the Cape Town February Writivism workshops and the online mentoring program. Her shortlisted story is titled Lunatic.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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  1. #Writivism2015: Interview with Saleeha Bhamjee | - 2015/08/15

    […] to know. In 2014, you were shortlisted for the Writivism Short Story Prize. You wrote a piece in Brittle Papers, recounting how this made you feel and there, you described writing as an “act of […]

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