Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2024: an interview with Jayne Bauling

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Jayne Bauling (South Africa) is one of five shortlisted African authors for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2024. (Photo: provided)

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from any of the Commonwealth’s 54 member states.

The stories on the 2024 shortlist were selected from a total of 7,359 entries. Small countries like Mauritius, Rwanda and St Kitts and Nevis have authors on the shortlist for the first time.

“Today, perhaps more than ever, it is storytelling that will help inspire the love, compassion and understanding that our world so desperately needs,” commented Dr Anne T. Gallagher AO, director-general of the Commonwealth Foundation.

Jannike Bergh conducted interviews with the shortlisted authors from Africa. Below is an interview with Jayne Bauling.

Hi there and congratulations on being shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Please tell me a bit about who you are and what you usually write.

Thank you. I’m Jayne Bauling, a South African writer living in Mpumalanga. I write mostly for youth – novels primarily – and stories for Fundza Literacy Trust, where my short stories satisfy the need to write for adults as well.

Could you tell me about your country and what you experience as story material in the country you are from – and why?

South Africa’s rich cultural diversity is a source of inspiration. So too, sadly, is the inequality, especially economic, as social issues have always featured – peripherally rather than centrally – in many of my stories, both for adults and youth.

What is your story about – and what inspired you to write this specific story?

A chance encounter sees a pensioner reflecting on how his community’s prejudices and his own timidity ended his personal love story. This story grew out of seeing people queuing for their social grants both during and after the lockdown.

Do you think stories can make a difference? Tell me about a story you have read that you still think about.

I believe that the stories we read in childhood have the most influence on us. I love fiction, and a story I read in adulthood that has stayed with me for many years is Sozaboy by Ken Saro-Wiwa – not only for its content, but because it showed me that reflecting the way characters speak and think, rather than perfect literary writing, is what brings stories to life.

What is the importance of being shortlisted for a prize like this?

It is so affirming and hugely motivating.

As with many art forms, writing can be a solitary practice – perhaps the most solitary pursuit of them all; there is no stage, no gallery wall with an audience or a visible reaction from viewers. What is your writing process, and what do you typically do once you have finished a piece and sent it into the world?

I don’t plot extensively, but rather begin with the merest idea; for me, it’s the act of writing itself that unlocks the story. Once I’ve finished a story and submitted it, I feel that it is no longer mine alone, so I try not to think about it too possessively.

From your experience, what advice or message would you have for young writers?

You know you are a writer. Don’t lose sight of that. Always be open to learning from editors and other writers, and don’t stop!

Artificial intelligence is here – many creatives fear or resist it, while others embrace it and include it in their creative process. What are your thoughts on the matter?

I accept that it can have a useful role, but I don’t believe it can replace an individual’s originality and creativity. Writing can be difficult and painful, but there’s also pleasure and pride in creating.

Also read:

Press release: 2024 Commonwealth Short Story Prize shortlists announced

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