How I felt after reading the Hunger Games

During the month of March, as part of a reading challenge this year, I manage to devour the Hunger Games trilogy.

I am not familiar with Suzanne Collins’ work, but her writing was so captivating, for lack of a better adjective.

I had never watched the movies. I made a deal with myself to read the books first, and I was not disappointed! I can’t remember the last book that made me obsess so much. I was really pulled into a different world and I finally get what everyone else was raving about it, even though it’s almost 10 years later.

I loved the way Suzanne Collins used practical descriptions in her book to create the images of the districts I saw in my head. She really made it relatable.

She wrote from Katniss’ perspective, and I really felt like I was in Katniss’ head. Taking things in as she was. So I think it’s fair to say Suzanne Collins is one of my new favorite writers, up there next to John Green and J.K Rowling.

It’s so great that she had a female protagonist in this story- especially because our world is still unlearning to put women in boxes. In a way, I think Katniss was still battling to believe she was a hero. People placed high expectations on her, and I don’t think she realised what she was capable of until the very end.

In many ways, I think a lot of women are like Katniss. We don’t realise our potential and it take something great to call that out of us.

So there was a lot of moments of personal reflection I had throughout reading this series, and writing this post counts as one of them.

I realised that the Hunger Games was ironically a book about food.

After reading book one, I realised that the Hunger Games was ironically a book about food. Man, I got really hungry every time Katniss described the food she was eating, even the lamb stew with the prunes, and I’m a vegetarian!

It also made Katniss seem like a real girl who gets hungry, like me. Again, that’s another example of how Suzanne Collins just shattered the limiting perceptions we have of women. Yey for women who get hungry and then eat with their hands!

Of the characters I will say that I was #TeamPeeta after the story about the bread. (See, they mention food a lot in this book). I always liked Gale. I thought he was great a friend to Katniss, but I knew there would have to be a twist in the story so I was vying for Peeta.

I will admit the love triangle situation was probably unnecessary, and it reminded me briefly about Twilight. But this book’s saving grace is that the love triangle was only a subplot and there’s a bigger story about a revolution going on here.

Haymitch was one of my favourites, I didn’t like him in the beginning but he really did that thing where he grows on you. Also, I think Suzanne Collins just gave him great lines. His like that family screw up, who’s not afraid to drop the truth even when it hurts. We need more people like Haymitch, except the part where he’s an alcoholic; no one should suffer like that.

I never had strong feelings about Effie Trinkett. I can’t say I liked her nor that I disliked her.

I liked who Prim becomes. So in the beginning, all we know is that she’s Katniss’ younger sister and that Katniss would give her life for her. But she’s not as helpless as Katniss makes her seem. I was disappointed at the end when Suzanne Collins killed her off anyway. I was like: “Whaaaaaaat?! Isn’t the point of Katniss volunteering to go into the arena to save Prim’s life the whole point of this story?” Anyway, so that sucked. Especially when Katniss had to return home, with no one. It’s like when the thing you try your best to stop from happening, actually happens.

So I guess that was an unexpected twist. At that point I thought Prim was safe, so well done to Suzanne Collins for making that happen. Honestly I was expecting her to kill off Gale. I was preparing myself for that.

So when Prim died, I was gutted. I’m still replaying exploding parachutes in my head.

Finnick – I like Finnick, because of his story. At first he seems really hardcore and like those annoying goodlooking people who have it easy. But he’s suffered and I kind of respect him for all his endured. It gives him some sort of humanity.

He’s also an example of many of the other loveable characters that died in this book. So after food, this book has a lot of death in it.

I was particularly fond of Cinna, Katniss’ stylist. I liked that they kept his presence in the book, even after his death.

I cried reading about Rue’s death. It was a strange experience for me. I’m used to books making me laugh out loud, so this was a different.

GOODBYE RUE: I finally get what everyone else was on about, and I am disappointed that I had to figure it out 10 years later.

I liked Pollux, even though he didn’t talk. I like that he plays a really important role in the end and that he gets along with Katniss. He even gets her to sing the Hanging Tree.

The Hanging Tree

I love this song. I found an hour-long version of it on YouTube and kept listening to it. I had first heard it a few years ago when Mockingjay part one came out. I liked the tune of the song then, but remember I hadn’t watched the movies. So when I actually read the words in the book, I was like: “Woah! This is a really dark song. But I love it!”

I think the part on the book where Katniss explains how she felt about the song, was funny. Even though it was probably a serious point in the book, but she was really just unpacking her thoughts as a teenager. Still a beautiful song. I kept singing it myself.

I wrote out the lyrics on a notepad just so I could stop thinking about it! I know, it’s kind of strange to get excited about a song about death.

If I have a choice, I don’t usually do war stories. It takes a lot of convincing for me to watch a movie about a war, usually because they’re so long. The Hunger Games, although it culminates in a war at the end, didn’t feel laborious to read, I didn’t zone out in the action scenes, either. Again, that’s a testament to Suzanne Collins’ great writing.

It felt like a journey. This was a journey of Katniss’ transformation from the girl who hunted in the meadow at District 12 to a soldier.

Who is Katniss?

I like that Katniss changes. Who she changes into isn’t really great. She loses a lot of herself because of the terror she’s faced. Then again, she was always a bit depressed. I imagined the beating her body took and I don’t think mentally you’re alright after that. I liked the reality of that. Suzanne Collins didn’t try to brush over that with a happy ending.

At the same time, Katniss discovers she’s a survivalist. She’s a strong woman, looked death in the face a number of times. Killed a few people too. So yes, I’m okay with her brokenness. She has good reason to be.

She never really listens to orders but in the end there’s more conviction to her actions. So she’s always been a rebel. She’s definitely not presidential material.

Surprisingly she is someone who loves. Although she has a very strange way of showing that love. Near the end I thought she would end up alone and I was willing to accept that given everything else that happened. I was sketching out a future for her where she ends up like Haymitch, I know not the best but definitely plausible.

But I guess Suzanne Collins probably rescued that train of thought and brings us back to the beginning.

Katniss always loved the boy who threw her that bread, even if she didn’t recognise it in the beginning. I guess she’s the kind of person who had to go through this very treacherous journey which practically tore her soul apart to realise that she needs someone like Peeta to make her feel whole again.

Barf! I know that’s so cheesy, but that’s what happens, he’s the hope she needs to carry on living. If he had died, she surely would have died. Think about it, he was in the arena with her, he understood everything she had been through and somehow he still came out of it with a shred of hope. He’s Katniss’ sliver of light.

Besides, if she ended up with Gale, I think they would have killed each other, or they would have lived miserably, never getting past the war.

Where is Gale?

I know Gale gets a fancy job in District two. But seriously were is Gale? What is this fancy job? Is he still constructing bombs or was he so eaten with the guilt of building the bomb that killed Prim that he stopped doing it altogether?

Also he really loved Katniss. So does he fall in love again? Does he meet someone who loves him back. I thought his other option would be Madge, the mayor’s daughter, but that whole family died.

Then I remember, Suzanne Collins doesn’t have to tell us what happens to Gale. The story is not about Gale. The story is about Katniss. She is the hero. Again, as a reader I am being challenged to accept the completion of a story about a woman.

Also – I’m totally having a Hunger Games movie marathon before the year is over. #Mockingjay

And just because these words are equivalent to a Shakespearean soliloquy:

 

What I learnt from writing a novel

I recently finished writing a 50 000 word novel, in less than 28 days. Why would I do such a crazy thing? That’s simple, as a member of the human race I have come to believe that we are all inherently crazy. Politics is enough proof of that.

Me, after writing a 50k word novel in less than a month.

Me, after writing a 50k word novel in less than a month.

But seriously, working as a journalist I felt that I had hit a wall in terms of my creative writing. I have been trained to write as a reporter. That means I need to restrain my flair, keep my writing concise and lose the parts that don’t add value to a hard hitting news story.

Also, it’s been a few years since I have written simply for the pleasure of writing. There was a time, when I used to write poetry, plays, songs and short stories that were never published. As a teenager writing helped me express what I was feeling. I kept some of these written pieces in a note book, no one else has read them.

As a journalist I got used to my work being published, all the time. Essentially, I haven’t written work that is not meant to be read by anyone else in four years!

In a way the act of writing became a machine that fed my ego. As the late writer Sylvia Plath once said: “I think writers are the most narcissistic people. Well, I mustn’t say this, I like many of them, a great many of my friends are writers.” Those words could not be more true (I’m referring to the part where she calls writers narcissists). One of the guest lecturers in journalism school said something similar, alluding to the idea that the only reason we write is so others can read our work.

Before this exercise turns into another measure of my self-importance let me explain why I took on this personal challenge. I borrowed the idea from National Novel Writing Month which takes place in November. I started writing my novel in December in a bid to do something “proactive” before the end of the year.

The plan was to write up 1667 words per chapter. I had written out a blueprint for the story, complete with characters. It was meant to be complete in 30 chapters, one for each day.

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Blueprint, well half of it.

Over time my story evolved. I didn’t stick to the plan. I changed the word count to 2000 words, I introduced a completely new character and changed other details. The story was completed in 27 chapters.

There were no restrictions on the way the novel would be written. I write mostly in the first person. There are some aspects of time travel and differing perspectives for the same event.

This experience has been like opening the sluices of a dam and then watching endless water run through. I say that because I have an idea for another novel that I want to write. The challenge this time was the volume of words and the time limit. I hope the next novel will create room to explore each character in more detail and more plot development.

I recommend the challenge to anyone, even if you don’t write. It’s an awesome opportunity for introspection.

There are four main lessons I take away from this experience:

1. Writing is pain

Throughout this process I have come face to face with my poor vocabulary, countless grammar mistakes and the general butchering of the English language. One of the things that helped me continue writing was the idea that no one would read this material. As writers we already put pressure on ourselves through the way we scrutinize our own work. Not having to worry about the judgement by readers helped keep the writing going.

It also came with a lot of sacrifice, which mainly cut into my hours of sleep. I would only really get a chance to write in the evenings. I would start after 8 pm and finish around 12 pm every night. I think it took me that long because the process involved a lot of pacing, drinking of Rooibos tea and the rehashing of conversations, out loud.

But after every chapter there was just so much relief! It really is like eating an entire elephant, one bite at a time.

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#Mood, after finishing each chapter.

2. Life happens when you’re writing

During this process, I still had other commitments which I had to fulfill, such as work for example. People don’t care that you’re writing a novel. When your friends come over, they come over. When you tell them you’re writing a novel they say: “Great, I want to read it.” And then they proceed to talk about their lives.

Once I even chose between washing my hair and writing another chapter. I did both and just slept five hours that night (I don’t recommend that). When Rogue One was showing in theatres, I had to complete two chapters in one day because I knew I would be too tired to type out another chapter after going to see the movie. I had to compensate like that a few more times for the “writing days” I missed.

It’s not just the “tiny” day to day events to consider either, there was a death in the family, something serious. I had to write through all of that too.

3. Writer’s read

The thing is, 50 000 words is a lot and I really did not think I would be able to colour those blank pages. I think that I drew influences from novels I had read throughout the year, especially in terms of writing styles.

In one example, I used the method to move between scenes from the current novel I am reading. I also used similar methods when dealing with dialogue between characters, which becomes really tricky in the first person. I took a conversational approach because I found that was easier to read.

In a way reading gave me confidence to sit down and write my own story. It’s kind of a – if they can do it, so can I – conclusion.

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Author Zadie Smith, reading.

4. Writing is intimate

Readers don’t realise that writing is an intimate experience. Apart from the personal reflection, it’s an invitation to the reader to step into the world the writer has created. The writer puts herself or himself in a vulnerable position by exposing their inner most thoughts, on record. No one writes without leaving a piece of themselves in their writing.

I found that even though this was a work of fiction, I wove in truths from my reality into the story. It also exposed some of my own thoughts and feelings on certain topics.

I have also created an ideal world where every character in my novel is completely honest. That’s probably unrealistic, but I have seen that it’s a reflection of the world I want to live in. So I’ve learnt a lot about myself in that regard.

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Final word count

Some of my friends have asked to read the novel, but I believe it defeats the purpose of this project. This was a chance for me to get back onto the horse, as a creative writer.

At the same time, having others read it will open my work to criticism, and I need to hear that if I’m going to improve my writing.

I found that, when you make promises to people, you have to keep them. However, it’s much easier to default on promises you make to yourself.  I once started writing a novel in high school and I never completed that novel. It’s haunted me ever since, especially whenever I think about writing long pieces. It’s probably why I have stuck to shorter pieces. Writing this novel has been daunting, finishing it meant that I kept a promise to myself.

What I do envision for this novel is to turn it into an audio project. I don’t know where I will find the time, but I have some idea of how. I think it will provide the perfect platform for my next creative endeavour.

 

Feeling Jack Keruoac

It was my first day on the new job. I was stuck in a minibus in Sunnyside, Pretoria. The bus was leading a crowd of people in a march, so naturally it was moving at a snail’s pace. However, my fingers were typing away at lightning speed.

I was racing against a mobile device that was losing power by the minute, and an internet connection that kept breaking at random. All the while I was thinking: “What did I get myself into?”

I was not supposed to be on that bus. The other journalists had left an hour earlier. They got all their pictures and quotes and promptly headed back to their respective newsrooms to file their stories.  But I chose to hang around to get the video footage I needed.

Waiting a few minutes longer meant that I would have to find my way back to the starting line, by foot. Being in unfamiliar territory, I was not confident that I would navigate back safely. I decided to complete the march, all 15km of it.

But it was after the second uphill when I told myself: “You’re a journalist. You’re not supposed to be marching. Your editor is waiting for the story. You can’t tell her you didn’t file it because you were marching.” Survival mode kicked in, I hitched a ride on the minibus and I filed the crap out of that story, frankly speaking.

In the past few weeks, I feel like I’ve been turning water into wine. Seriously, I have been doing impossible things or rather what I figured was impossible until I tried it. Working in a digital newsroom requires you to work at a faster pace than in print. I’ve gone from writing two stories a week, to four in one day. It reminds me a lot about my time at Wits Vuvuzela.

The Wits Vuvuzela newsroom taught me everything I know about journalism. It was characterized by its controlled chaos. I was constantly exhausted but I kept living off boosts from the adrenaline rush that came whenever I was on a story. I am in that space again.

I like to think that I make safe decisions when it comes to my personal life.

Someone asked me once if I have an addictive personality. I was not sure at the time. But after I covered a wage protest it became clear to me why I loved the job. It’s the adrenaline. I like to think that I make safe decisions when it comes to my personal life. But when it comes to my job, I am fearless. I take risks, all the time, without hesitation.

Once I was heading to a story, in the Johannesburg CBD, at night. I took an Uber, but on the way I wondered what my parents would say if they heard what I was doing. “Be safe,” I could hear my mother’s voice in my head. And then I heard: “You have to do the story. What are you going to tell the editor if you don’t do it?”

And that’s what happens in my head most days. One voice signals caution and the other eggs me on to push the boundaries. The only reason I do take the leap is because I know there’s a figurative safety net to fall back on. “It’s my job. I have to do it,” I coax myself.

And the adrenaline, it’s almost incapacitating. “Almost” because if it was entirely debilitating, I wouldn’t be able to report the stories.

Find the words

Reflecting on my job, I feel like Jack Kerouac. Except for the drugs and promiscuity. But equally burnt out. Like him, I am doing what I love. But I wonder, whenever he created a piece, was it painful, or did it give him joy? Did it come from a place of hidden melancholy? Or was he perfectly fine, and he just happened to write these great pieces in passing?

I write constantly. There is not a day that I don’t. If I don’t write then it means I didn’t work. I’ve been writing so much for work purposes that I have not had the time to do so creatively. I used to write from a place of pain. Now it just comes from a place of skill. I don’t know if it’s natural. And I cannot measure whether it was better as a hobby, than as a job.

I used to write to unwind and reflect on life. After a day’s work the last thing I want to do is write. So I have been challenging myself to find a new hobby. But writing always wins.

I come back to it, even when I don’t want to. There is a release of some chemical in my brain, perhaps dopamine, whenever I write. Whether I’m reporting at a protest, or sitting in my lounge at home, typing at leisure, I feel that rush. I feel that pleasure. I am addicted.

Source: Writersatwork.pfauth.com

Source: Writersatwork.pfauth.com

I still feel there’s so much to learn about writing. So much I have to master. I still haven’t found my voice as a writer. That thing that marks that a piece was written by me. I think part of finding your voice, is understanding the space in which you are most creative. For me that space has evolved from sadness to thrill. And I am concerned about whether my pieces are still good, if the place from where they are coming is happy?

One of my writing mentors at varsity once explained spontaneous writing. He went on to add: “But you have to use punctuation. You’re not Jack Kerouac.”

So I think it is just fitting to end with words by Jack Kerouac in his book, The Dharma Bums: “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”

Yeoville Day 15: Kill your babies

*As part of the in-depth research project, one of the requirements of the BA Honours in Journalism and Media Studies degree at Wits University, students are required to write daily blog entries to show the progress of their projects. This year the theme is Yeoville and students have to take on a topic that tells a story that is Yeoville specific.

This morning Roxanne helped me film researcher Simbarashe Nyuke talk about churches extorting money from congregates.  He kept telling us how odd it was to be filmed and that it was a new experience for him.  I guess journalists double-up as talent agents.

I’m halfway through my multimedia, but getting B-roll is still a challenge.  I still need to do my infographic, I keep forgetting about it.

I’m still working on my second draft, it’s excruciating.  I’ve cut out so much information.  You spend hours doing research, meeting different people and then you hardly use the content.  But the extra information is probably good for me to have perspective and build up networks.  Killing my babies is a struggle, but knowing what I want to achieve with my piece helps me remain objective.

I let Rofhiwa and Luca read it, they gave me some tips but I’m no where near finished.  I’m trying to add “colour” without unnecessary details that don’t add value.  At the beginning of the year when our course coordinator told us to read as many books as we can, this is why!    If I read more, maybe the writing process wouldn’t have reached this mental stalemate.  All the “tiny” things we learnt this year has made a cameo appearance in this In-depth project.

That was my first death threat as a journalist.

In other news, I helped Luca get footage of his subject, piano teacher Roz Liebman.  She turned 93 years old today!  We met her son who’s visiting from Cape Town and they gave us food to take home.

Things were going great, until I started coughing.  Liebman was paranoid that I’d make her sick.  She told Luca: “If she gives me bronchitis, I’ll kill her!”  And that was my first death threat as a journalist.  (It so totally counts).

Along with the threats from the one pastor who said he’d sue me if I publish lies about him and the indemnity forms we had to sign to do work in Yeoville, I decided once this project is done,  I should get a lawyer.