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Q&A: Flow Wellington

Quaz | Feb 10th, 2019 | Q&A | No Comments

Flow wellington is an author, publisher and founder of Poetree Publications. She recently released her second collection of poems and stories titled GauTrained. Poetree Publications also celebrates its 8th birthday this year, so we thought it fitting to ask her a few questions about her journey thus far. 

QR: Congratulations on the success of GauTrained. You’ve done a lot of travelling and readings throughout 2018 and early 2019.  How has the process treated you thus far?

FW: I’ve learned to accept the high’s and low’s that comes with these sorts of things with the same level of gratitude. Setting out on the GauTrained journey was exciting but scary at the same time. You never know if your work is going to be well-received, if events will even be attended or if the expenses will be worthwhile. But because the story and its message is so important my spirit felt compelled. And I’m not sorry about any of it. Sure, in some places there were skeptics and some readings were not as successful as others – some cities were more challenging to organise and rally support – but the feedback has been tremendously overwhelming, especially from female readers. This is ultimately what keeps me going: knowing that lives are impacted, that people are relating and finding a voice, finding healing through this book. It’s taxing – emotionally and financially – but passion drives purpose.

QR:  What is the title of this chapter of your life?

FW: I think I’m still on GauTrained: Full Steam Ahead. Especially now that I’m a parent, it’s important for me to mirror resilience to my son, more so in the era that he is growing up in. I also think that I’ve reached a stage of exhilaration in my life. As shitty as some days may be, I am the most fulfilled that I’ve been in my whole life and it feels like it can only get better from here. If a turn or a dip in the equilibrium does at some point happen, I suppose a new book will be written 

QR: Your collection GauTrained delves into spatial politics and looks at how Johannesburg CBD visits itself on the individuals that work, live and transit through it. It is not the sanitized “tourism brochure” version that Joburg is often portrayed to be. You talk about the plight of women, bogus medicine men, backdoor abortions, the filth and the dreaded “Vimba” that precedes senseless mob violence.  What does this city look like 10 years from now from your vantage point?

FW: I think 10 years from now there will definitely still be pockets that hold these gritty and grimy parts of the city. And as progressive as we think we are, humans are the ones who create and perpetuate such pockets. We want to believe that our innovations and charitable efforts will eventuallyeradicate the “scum” that infests our inner cities but with the gross inequalities our people face, the cycle is continuous. Change is inevitable but the hierarchy of needs and wants is constant. The more people enter the city, the greater the demand, and the greater the potential to fight for a piece of the pie.

One incredible transformation that the city is undergoing is the fierce trajectory that women and the LGBTIQ communities are on. Being alive in these times is overwhelming and we are forging stronger, broader, better foundations for our future generations. I can’t imagine that only 10 years from now walking the streets of Joburg will offer that much of a safer experience, but the groundwork is being laid for a better experience. This is the generation who is remodelling the city, candidly and boldly. This is the generation who, in some ambitious way, is pioneering a new City of Gold; one that is not pretentious or dreamlike.

QR:  Regarding the characters in Gau-Trained, how much of a responsibility do you have towards them beyond telling their stories? Does the poet’s job end in the last stanza of the poem?

FW: Oh man! I think if we tried to carry too much of it any further than the story we’d most likely drive ourselves mad, as activism in any form has the potential to do. As writers, I think part of our responsibility is documentation, sharing and being truthful in our creation of history. It is important that the characters we write about are REAL to people; that they are not lost/forgotten after closing the book; that we are compelled to do better and be better because of them.

In the past, I became too close to some characters whose stories lingered with me for years, and I found myself trying to right wrongs that were beyond my individual control. Now I have a deeper understanding about what my calling as a storyteller is: to ensure that history is told as accurately as possible in the most authentic way necessary. And that these stories are able to teach on a grander scale about who our people are, how decisions and circumstances in this city has molded their lives and how perseverance holds us upright.

QR: Poetree Publications turns 8 this year.  Congratulations. How has the journey been? Can you share a few titles with us that you have assisted in publishing?

FW: Thank you. The past 8 years have been some of the most challenging and disturbing (hahaha). I’ve always known that writing is what I want to do with my life, but I kind of stumbled into the publishing path. I’m glad I did though because it has also been so fulfilling to contribute to the African literature legacy. I’ve taken this journey in its stride; some years have been juicy and fruitful while others have been drier than a Cape Town drought. But I try to be mindful and realistic about the industry as well: who’s writing about what, who’s reading what, is it necessary to be publishing certain genres at any point in time? These are all directly related to “how am I going to pay the bills?” too. But I try to stay true to myself and my gut, mostly.

I’ve been blessed to have wonderful writers trust me with their projects; people I’ve admired and revered have given me the opportunity to grow beyond my limitations: Dr Sarah Godsell’s debut, Seaweed Sky… Dr Raphael d’Abdon’s Salt Water… Prof Brian Walter’s Poems Packed for Travel… Jessica Denyschen’s The Magic, the Madness and the Loss… a children’s book for Californian author Yaya Sorrel, Koffee Blessed… an collaborative anthology between the University of Free State and Tasmania… I can go on and on. In 8 years I’ve had 17 titles shipped from my doorstep. I hold this in great esteem because it means that 100 years from now, people will know that I helped grow this literature landscape.  

QR: Poetree Publications is not a conventional publishing house. Can you explain to our readers what services Poetree Publications offer?

FW: Poetree Publications offers self-publishing services. This means that the writer submits their manuscript and we charge a fee based on the work we’ll complete to get the project from draft to final product. Often times writers submit fully edited manuscripts and their own cover ideas already. In essence, the writer only pays for what they need to, to eventually hold their published book in hand. These fees and services differ from project to project and are often extended beyond the package specification, like distribution, marketing, book festivals, etc. 

Poetree Publications also has another division that some may not be aware of: freelance writing services. This includes article writing for digital and print media, web content, copywriting, and the likes.

QR: What do you look for in a manuscript? Do you remember any specific ones that got you excited? Are there any titles that you wish you did not work on?

FW: I can’t be seen to hold any bias or favouritism! ???

 LMAO…In the beginning, when I was just starting out, it was really more about being the go-to, earning favour, eager to be liked. I was new and unknown in the industry and I needed to survive, so I didn’t really consider who and what to publish. I was just to happy that people were finding me and recognising the potential. These are probably ones I secretly have second thoughts about but they were the teething stages so I’m happy about them too. These days I’m more particular about manuscripts. Quality has become pivotal to how I perceive the Poetree brand and how I want others to view it as well. As the business grows, I grow as well, and in turn, my contribution to the industry. (This also attracts a more high profile client, if you get my drift?) I always try to look at it from the consumer’s point: does this story hold significance to readers; can the quality of the writing stand separate from the writer’s popularity; is this manuscript something I want associated with my brand; will generations benefit from this publication? I think the longer I’m in this business, the more headaches I’m giving myself hahaha!

FW: I thoroughly enjoyed the Afrikaans poems in Gau-trained.  Poetree Publications has also assisted Afrikaans poets like Eugene Damos and Ricardo Korkee with publishing their collections. Given the space that Afrikaans occupies in our national psyche, historically and politically, but also what it means to people like you and me who hold it dear as a mother tongue, how do you as a publisher approach an Afrikaans collection? What expectations do you have for it?

FW: Afrikaans literature is especially dear to me because it holds so much of my personal history and heritage, so I am particular about it. I’ve also been very cautious with it in the past because the ideologies around it are so intricate: is it too “white”, is it authentic enough, is there even a market for it? Now, I find that the more unapologetic we (mixed-race South Africans) are becoming about OUR Afrikaans, the more unapologetic I am becoming in publishing such works. This again ties in with creating and producing content in OUR voices, to preserve our stories in a language which has lost its real identity through years of political abuse. 

I do wish more “Coloured” (for lack of a more popular word) Afrikaans was being published. I think there is huge potential for growth in this area and the potential to inspire our communities to be proud of their language and this style of writing.

QR: Is there a genuine growing interest in South African literature? Does the online noise translate into sales? Are more authors approaching you to help get their work published?

FW: If there was any real comparison to draw, then I’d say it’s still snail-paced. Sure, interest in SA literature is definitely growing; more and more people are buying and reading books… but because of our economic constraints its not nearly as successful as we’d like it to be. Books are expensive. PRODUCING books is expensive. So these factors directly influence each other.

And our government is not helping in that regard either. There’s still so much work to be done in our school distribution system to provide South African content to students. 

I can say that many authors enquire about publishing, but not every manuscript is publishable and not every author is willing to invest in their project. I think there’s a magical dream that if you write a few good stories or quotes, or if you have a good idea that you should publish a book. This doesn’t always translate well once you look at the actual content. As much as there are books being published, we still have a long way to go in terms of content that is highly esteemed that will stand the test of time.

QR: The face of independent publishing has changed over the last few years. We have woman like yourself (Poetree Publications), our founder Zamantungwa Mabaso(Black letter Media), Vangile Gantsho, Tanya Pretorius and Sarah Godsell (Impepho press), Thabiso Mahlape (Blackbird Books), Mabotseba Kobeli (RYB Publishers) and Nkateko Masinga( NSUKU publishing consultancy) to name a few, who are at the helm of creating space for authors to thrive.  What do you think of the resurgence of the independent publisher, and in particular the fact that it is predominantly woman leading that charge?

FW: Isn’t it marvellous?! I think it’s because we are forging new paths and changing the view of the world on what women are capable of. We are the custodians of this era. I also think it’s because a new voice of writers is emerging; voices who are not afraid to bust open confined spaces; voices who are setting fire to patriarchal systems. And we are the ones who understand what that means and the importance of providing these platforms, the importance of creating safe, honest spaces for stories to go further than just a notebook or a hidden file on a computer. So often, stories are watered down and altered so much to tick certain boxes or to avoid chaos or to soothe egos. As an independent publisher, I think we afford a platform for more more control over the product, for a deeper sense of what South African literature should look like to the world.

QR:  What does the poetry landscape look like from where you are standing? What are we getting right?

FW: The ideas and schools of thought behind poetry is always changing, especially because we’re influenced by a lot of external factors. When I was growing up, I knew very little about Spoken Word or South African poets, for that matter, so I was rigid in my writing style, influenced mostly by English prescribed books and international texts found in the library. Now, we’re exposed to a global poetry arena that makes us develop multiple forms and styles of poetry is and can be (although we will always argue about its original definition and if modern/ new age stuff is really poetry). 

What we are getting right though is that we are in it, we are participating. We are not letting this intricate form of literature die because we need to “move with the times”. Poetry is moving WITH US. As much as we are shaped by it – in structure, rules, style – we are shaping poetry in language, in culture, in revolution.

QR: Before I let you go, what book do you wish every person should read?

FW: GauTrained, of course!!! LOL
But because I’m on a journey of connecting with my Ancestry and learning more about the true First People of this continent, right now, I’d say The Keeper of the Kumm by Sylvia Vollenhoven. This book is not a history book or some sort of anthropological text book, no. It’s a Bushman woman’s memoir that grabs hold of your spirit and reflects your life in every page. Sylvia writes so beautifully about how our heritage has become something that’s looked upon in shame, but discovering true identity and spirituality and owning it. This is the book that every brown person must read to realign their mind, body and spirit with the truth.

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