Originally from Cape Town, South Africa, but currently residing in the EU, Don Afrika Beukes is a retired South African and British teacher. He has authored flash fiction and poetry books, and has also been nominated for a US Pushcart Poetry Prize and ‘Best of the Net.’
Recently, NWASA sat down with Mr. Beukes to learn more about his writing journey and the lessons he has gained thus far. He was asked a series of 10 questions, which have been shared below:
1. Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Where to begin? I am a writer of poetry and flash fiction. I am originally from Belhar in Cape Town, born, raised and educated in the last two decades of Apartheid; and graduated with a BA Degree in English Literature and Geography, specializing in Town Planning. My education was forged during the dying days of Apartheid from 1979 to 1993.
I identify as ‘mixed’ race with a German great-grandfather, although I’m not bothered to also identify as ‘coloured’, because the culture I grew up in was very diverse, especially the different backgrounds of my family tree but also the food culture and neighbourhood life, where a whole street would dictate our moral compass and be called aunty or uncle.
The end of our street looked over the landing path of the planes descending at Cape Town International Airport with a view of Table Mountain. I guess that inspired me to discover the world, which I bravely did but not before exploring South Africa first. My first ever bus trip through South Africa was in Matric. I was also blessed to go on my first ever flight to Durban during my studies to visit a school friend, Gavin Joachims.
In 1999, I decided with a friend to explore Britain on a Working Holiday Visa and ended up in a beautiful valley, along the River Ribble in North-West England, where we were waiters and met all manner of people. I even had the opportunity to return to England and worked as a Part-time teacher, as my application to get a bursary from the ANC Cape Town City Council to study Town Planning at the University of Cape Town, was rejected, even though UCT accepted me.
I did eventually get recruited to teach in England in 2001 and taught for ten years, settling in France; where I am an EU Resident and a British citizen, whilst retaining my SA Citizenship. I have steadily built up a credible reputation as a Book Reviewer, which I am very proud of, as I also review books for my UK Publisher, Steve Cawte of Imspired Publishing.
2. Are there any books or authors that inspired you to become a writer?
‘IT’ by Stephen King was my first experience of the ‘Horror Genre’. A neighbour gave it to me, knowing that I liked to read, after she found out that I absorbed stories and articles in ‘Reader’s Digest’ from a young age. Although the themes would turn others away, I could not help but to immerse myself in the techniques the author employed to create suggestive tension and surprises as part of the reading experience.
It’s no surprise that I then moved onto ‘The Rats’ by James Herbert. The atmosphere created by this author had me glued to the pages.
Another book which will always remain with me is ‘When She Was White’ by Judith Stone, the extraordinary story of Sandra Laing, who was born to white parents. It was attributed to ‘Genetic Throwback’ hinting to a mix further back in the bloodline. The book gripped me from the first word to the last, dealing with the most racist and nastiest treatment of a mixed race child in the Apartheid era. I will never forget it.
Lastly, I must not forget to mention ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee.
3. What was an early experience where you learned the power of language?
I guess it started in Secondary school. During exams, being bilingual I relished the challenge to write essays both in Afrikaans and English. I used to lose myself in the stories I conjured up, especially in English, due to my excellent Teacher, Mrs De Wett, who inspired me to be fully bilingual and to write to the best ability possible.
The same for my Afrikaans and class teacher, Mrs Heradien, who inspired me to do my best to pass my First language. I guess I had a vivid imagination and always had to be stopped writing during examinations. I realized that my writing was of a good quality, which allowed me to do well in languages. That inspired me to study English Literature at UWC and graduate with a BA degree in English Literature.
4. Can you describe your approach to writing?
I tend to read world affairs on a daily basis, especially politics, as power hungry leaders and influencers attempt to silence those who are hesitant to express their opinions. I see myself as a ‘word assasin’, challenging the status quo and have to be on top of what happens in the world. It informs my writing a lot. A headline, a photo, nature, refugees, far right sentiments, immoral politicians, the afterlife, human suffering and so much more inspire me to put pen to paper.
My writing process involves listing key themes and ideas from possible tiltles. I guess my approach is quite forensic. I am quite harsh on myself and will abandon anything I’ve started if I don’t feel it with my whole being. I am quite weird with my subject matter. My last book, ‘The Girl in the Stone – The Monte Arabi collection’; is a collection dealing with a bronze age UNESCO World Heritage Mountain site in Yecla, Spain, where I spend six months of the year.
The collection was inspired by a stone, when one golden evening sunset, a face was revealed on a stone and with closer inspection, her ‘protector’ in the form of a wolf made an appearance. The book cover immortalized it with a stunning painting by South African artist, Jonel Scholtz. Incidentally, since 2016, I have specialized in writing Ekphrastic Poetry, interpreting artworks.
5. What do you think makes a good story?
I think current and past human experiences always make good stories. Victims of persecution, workplace bullying, those who live in the crevices of society, starvation, environmental decline, politics, the undernourished, revolt against tyrants, climate change, getting rid of plastics, moral decline etc. Stories that tuck at our heartstrings.
Most of all, stories of ‘The Underdog’ in this global village. Mental health and the Corporate world are also possibilities and finally, any story of heroism still finds an audience.
6. What risks have you taken with your writing that have paid off?
My most audatious risk I undertook was in 2016. I became aware that Casper De Vries, Comedian and ex Radio Host at Cliffcentral, was going to exhibit his collection of nine artworks for his ‘Aapstrak’ Collection of nine artworks at the The Alice Art Gallery in Ruimsig, South Africa. I met Casper previously when I still lived in Cape Town.
I contacted him to suggest a one of a kind collaboration, where I would interpret his artworks through Ekphrastic Poetry as in Greek times. Remarkably, he agreed. My Poetry accomanying his artworks was specially printed on canvas and even sold with the acompanying artworks. Unfortunately I could not attend but my brother Norman Africa who lived in Secunda, represented me at this historical event in my debut Ekphrastic Exhibition in absentia.
In 2017, my Ekphrastic Poetry Collection, ‘Icarus Rising’ was published by Alien Buddha pres (US), in collaboration with Casper De Vries, Nanda Soobben, Amitabh Mitra, Luke Borril, Jonel Scholtz,Shameeg Van Schalkwyk and Vakseen (Vanity Pop Artist US). My Ekphrastic journey continues and I am blessed to work with exceptional artists around the world.
7. What’s your favourite and least favourite part of publishing?
My favourite part is to select which works will make it into my poetry collections. I love the challenge of ensuring that only the most effective works make it into my books. I also enjoy the challenge of selecting artists who will allow me to use their art for one of my books. It is quite a moment when I hold a new book of mine in my hands to get that old fashioned glee of pride.
My least favourite part is to do my own marketing and to keep up the momentum to let the world know I have a new book out. This is an ongoing necessity and quite stressful to keep up the momentum.
8. Are there any projects you are currently working on?
Honestly? Not at the moment. I do want to plan my first Short Story collection.
9. What advice would you give to aspiring writers, or those looking to improve their writing skills?
To aspiring writers, I would tell them to write daily. Make notes of what you experience on a daily basis. This could be at school, a workplace, a park, a beach, or even walking in nature. Let your emotional journeys also inform your writing.Be bold. Be brave. Break the mould. Throw normal convensions out of the window but most of all, be yourself. Find your voice and never look down.
I would suggest those writers who need to improve their skills, should read other authors to identify what type of writer they want to develop into. Never stop planning. If a moment of inspiration presents itself, grab a notebook or piece of paper and keep it safe until you transfer it to a computer or journal.
List possible future titles or even themes you want to dive into at a later stage in your writing process. Lastly, be your own worst critic and lastly, be patient. Develop your style and choose who your audience will be. Consider collaborating with others.
10. How can people access your publications and get in touch with you?