As promised, you are about to receive the second part of your instructions on this treatise. Heed them well and very soon, your name shall join those being celebrated in print,on air and online. It has been noted that some of you have already begun applying these nuggets in earnest . This is most commendable, the shortlist seeker must be a person with their wits about them. Time is of the essence. Now to business.
7. Avoid Technology .
When crafting such an important story, you might be tempted to mention some of the latest communication gadgets: mobile phones, laptops, Ipads,Tablets and the like . This temptation you must resist. However the mistake you must never make is to mention the internet! You are also not permitted any hint of the Social Media world, space may not permit to list them all but surely you understand. Yes, Facebook and Twitter are not allowed. This is an absolute. So when you feel the need to have characters sending email,pinging on blackberries, and skyping remember–you have been warned. Telephones are allowed though, provided their connections crackle with static. Also no guns, you can use sticks, stones and occasionally a machete for your violent scenes. Don’t mention any of the anti-aircraft guns possessed by insurgents. Be silent on the sophisticated assault riffles used for election violence. Don’t even let a character wish for them. Care less about how this might hinder the plausibility of your story, or render your narrative unauthentic. Ignore this at your peril.
8. Never Write A Heterosexual Romance
The quick learner you are , you must have read through the shortlists of as many years as are on the internet. You must have found that any kind of love is well received except the old fashioned type that exists between a man and a woman. (i mentioned this in a in 5 above but it bears repeating)
So let ladies touch jambullas or get caught by their mothers or men face trials for love. Just make sure it is not a man-woman thing. You will be on prize story ground.
If you must include any heterosexual romantic liaisons it must be in the context of a Fable or an affair. Forbidden love like forbidden fruit always sells.
You would better off without it though. This is to assist, if you insist.
9. Use Your Story To Highlight Political Issues
Here corruption is an instant winner. Crude oil spillage, bad governance, inefficient civil servants will come handy, arm yourself with a lot of them.. You must be quite expansive here, ensure no one is innocent. Everyone must have a trace of corrupt even the expatriate embassy staff. It is a guaranteed winner. Political issues create a resonance in your readers. It reminds them vividly of the Africa they see on television. Don’t you dare enlighten them. Take a clue from the stories shortlisted in the past. Never mind the “new” African focus. The new is silent.
10. Get Your Story Published Overseas
Of course there is a 20% chance of making it on the shortlist by getting published by a home based outfit. This you can in no way guarantee. The easier matter is to be in the 80%. That should be quite self explanatory. Besides it would be quite the task to convince a local publisher that children’s bodies are black with crude oil in Port Harcourt or that you need 3000 words to describe a fictitious healing. Western publishers however would be delighted. Besides where exactly would you find a publisher to accept just a short story from you ? Not in Nigeria definitely and not in Serria Leone. Simple statistics, get the story published overseas.
11. Be Blind To Other Races.
You might have observed first-hand some fascinating yarn that involves Indians, Chinese and Lebanese living on the continent. You might even have gotten a fast moving authentic story written and under the word count too. Unfortunately this you would have to discard. A shortlist story must not feature any of these, ever. There is a picture of Africa in your reader’s mind, your duty is just to highlight it. Zoom on it if you will. Any attempts at radical,rebellious,experimental, what-if thinking will meet the fate of the 92. And like them your story will languish in the endless literary cosmos, unread and un-appreciated, soon to be forgotten…. A most unbearable thought.
12. Limit Infrastructure.
This point you know already so it will be brief. Write only of the kind of infrastructure all the other writers have written of. Again this is reminiscent of
7 above but a slightly different matter. Transport for instance. Your story must never feature aeroplanes. Private jets are anathema as are any air conditioned vehicle. Bicycles,canoes, leg breaking motorcycles and rickety buses with smelling women are allowed though, so make good use of them. Note that the roads must always be bumpy, “sandy and brown ” and bumpy.
Also any mention of the following in your stories will be deeply frowned upon : fast food outlets, universities, cinema theatres,shopping malls, picnics, carnivals and parties. Forget your ambitious entertainment industry and their like. You must stay within the boundaries set from old. As in E.C.Osondu’s Waiting, Monica Arac De Nyeko’s Jambulla Tree, Noviolet Bulawayo’s Hitting Budapest, you must paint a bleak picture and do that deftly.
At this point you are ready to produce a shortlist story. Of course you would not attempt to set your story in a futuristic context. What? This is not genre fiction! There are other concerns like the liberal use of mosquitoes, nauseating smells and the ubiquitous eye disorders and the absence of banks. These you will discover in time and be all the more shortlist worthy when you do. There are other matters of course, punctuation, continuation, omissions ( now known as typos). These are minor matters that the help of a first rate editor can easily solve, another reason to examine with care where you send your story. It feels bad to let you go now, but all good things must end. Go, put your name on the Caine Prize shortlist roll call, 2014 is just months away. Best wishes. Adieu.
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