The Spark: Do not go gentle

coverInspired by John Scalzi’s awesome The Big Idea,  The Spark is a guest space on my blog, where African novelists can promote their new novels by writing a short personal essay about the inspiration (or the spark) for the story.

It’s a side project  I run in my spare time because there’s incredible writing talent on the continent (and the diaspora) and I want to shine a blazing light on it.

Authors have previously written about how their novels were inspired by wondering what if the crazy tabloid headlines were true or by a popular Soweto ghost story, or because you were clawing your way out of depression,  or trying to live down the embarrassment of being a black student mugged by a white guy, or because Rihanna saved your life or you wrote this story because you wanted to look fancy reading alone in bars.

Futhi Ntshingila is an author of Shameless, a novel published by UKZN press in 2008. Her second novel coming out in a few weeks is titled “Do not go gentle”.  It is published by Modjadji Books.    Futhi is fascinated by life and its stories as much as she is by living it and telling them.

The Spark for Do not go gentle by Futhi Ntshingila


The Lovable Lothario and the Shack Lives

“Do not go gentle” was inspired by many things some of which got written out as versions after versions kept changing the storyline.   But two incidents stand out for me, one happened years ago when my aunt’s lover passed away.  He was a flashy taxi owner, a self-made man who loved women like as if they were his religion.  His house was always full of boys hanging out with him and hanging on to his every lecherous word. Unlike most characters who are self-made business people, he wasn’t ruthless.  He was likeable, funny and very generous with his money.  With the advent of HIV/Aids in the 90’s he got ill, he became a feature in a long blue gown on the side wall of his house soaking the sun and just hanging out with the boys who continued to visit and care for him.

In a bid to keep normalcy going, they would still make him laugh with lewd jokes even though the laughs were unnaturally louder and hollow, hiding the fear of what’s to come.    Few days before he passed, he was weak but still laughing with the boys.  He stopped abruptly and told the boys that at his funeral he wanted all the females who would come to the service not to wear underwear.  He said because he would be lying down and when they lined past to view his body, he would be smiling like a cat that got all the cream because his eyes would be feasting on what’s under their dresses and skirts.  The boys laughed but he cried and insisted they promise him to at least announce his wish.

Well, that was the talk of the township and a cause for many guffaws.  Of course women didn’t do it but it remained in my mind.  Years later I thought about what if women did it.  What if they agreed to do it?  So I sat down and wrote an unreal story of a man who was so loved by his women that even at infecting them they still worshipped the ground he walked on.  They indulged him even in his death by stripping off their undies.   Needless to say half of that never saw the light of day with most publishers.  Some said it was dangerous to glorify a womaniser with a killer disease like that, others thought it was bawdy and so on. However a smidge of his spirit shows itself. He just remains one of the fascinating characters who left his mark in a strange ambiguous way.  I don’t know what it all means to feminists, conservatives, moralists or whoever else but I know that when I wrote his story I learnt and felt something about love that is unconditional but dangerous too.  I felt at least in my imagination, a kind of surrender which I see some women do.  The way women love men who can endanger them is something that normally gets me angry but with this experiment of mine in writing I come close to seeing their perspective of being smothered to death by love laced with poison.

The second incident that inspired this story was about a decade ago when I worked as a reporter for a newspaper in Durban where in summer there can be fearsome flash floods.   While rain may be a source of joy for farmers and innocent children to jump around and dance in it, for those living in shacks it spells death and destruction.     After the rains I had gone there in search of a story and a by line.  I found women cleaning up and salvaging bits they can, men were drinking their worries away.  There was one family where a grandmother and her grandson were washed off and their bodies found five kilometres away under a bridge.

Music was blurring from the shebeens, taxis were zigzagging collecting people to town, a group of Indian neighbours were dishing out breyani.   I stood there looking and not knowing where to start.   Two people had just died,   shacks were knee deep in slushy mud but people there were determined to keep the normalcy going.  Of course the dead would be buried, shacks would be cleaned out and life will be lived.   I can’t remember what kind of article came out of that but I just knew that people like that should be known.  They have lives and circumstances that led them to the margins of society.