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A good girl, bastardised

Some who follow me on Twitter  react with an exaggerated befuddlement over exactly which of the venerable President’s bevy of children ‘Zuma’s Bastard’ refers.  Not among the spawn of Zuma, but perhaps of Satan and also the title of an upcoming book by Azad Essa from the Two Dogs stable, ‘Zuma’s Bastard’  is the work of a friend, suitably outfitted by the winning cover design of another friend,  Saaleha Idress Bamjee. More essentially though the publishing process of ‘Zuma’s Bastard’ has led me to realise that this sense of significance achieved through the book is a communal one. There are a number of people who, like me, feel the book is as much theirs as it is Azad’s. Make no mistake, it’s him who’s pushed eighteen hour days,  becoming surly varying his disposition between peevish and cranky. Perhaps it’s because so many of us have had to put up with Azad’s errant moods that we feel so closely related to the book, or perhaps too we’ve managed to channel, collectively through Azad, our own hopes, dreams and forget-me-nots.

I have absolutely no knowledge, whatsoever, how the walls of the 44 Stanley Avenue complex, during the Mail and Guardian Literary Festival last week, were adorned with ‘Zuma’s Bastard’  posters despite warnings against such ambush marketing tactics by the diligent security personnel, who were similarly ineffective in deterring more accomplished lawbreakers from stealing a handbag and wallet from under their noses. When I first spotted ‘Zuma’s Bastard’ paraphernalia on the wall of a restroom I felt an absurd surge of pride. No, it’s not my book but I will buy a bucket load of copies to distribute to my family, at least those who wont take offence to the incendiary title, as a sort of promise that there may some day be one of my own ( a book that is, not a bastard).

I think Azad and Two Dogs have latched onto the right approach with the Cover Design Competition. They’ve selected a cover from an astonishingly high quality set of entries and have been careful too to choose a design that stands out against more dour South African book designs. It is not at all a run-of-the-mill book cover. It’s irreverent, cheeky, bold and an immediate eye-catcher. I am particularly pleased that the cover has been seen as an essential tenet of the book and not just a seductive ploy to see books out of stores.

Saaleha’s also the design guru for Al Huda, a cousin twice, thrice, or more removed, (it was only after meeting as bloggers that we knew each other as family) and one of the most talented people I know. She was one among a gregarious group of women who were my company for the Literary Festival. And after a diminutive, French woman working for TV5, in a rushed whisper insisted to know where Saaleha was from, casting aspersions on Ms.Bamjee’s South Africaness and earning the rest of us a scolding glance from some who’d have liked us to be more quiet in defending our citizenships. Our French companion later clarified her suspicion of our identities as she believed we speak English with a French accent. My parents are of course pleased to know that two years of French school have at least left that lasting legacy. In a fit of giggles over how the rest of Johannesburg’s litterati may be boxing us, Saaleha and I played interviewer-interviewee. I’ve decided to post it here before she and Azad are really famous and deny any knowledge of me, or my blog.

Saaleha purses her lips in front of a 'Zuma's Bastard' poster sporting her winning cover design at the Mail and Guardian Literary Festival

Who are you anyway?

I’m a freelancer and my email signature reads, “Wordworker, Ideas Girl.” Kind of vague, yes, but I don’t have a job description set in concrete. I’ve designed wedding invitations and co-written a radio drama series. I sold shweshwe fabric-covered notebooks at the Rosebank Rooftop Market and interviewed Justice Edwin Cameron on HIV/AIDS law for Inter Press Service. You could say I’ve got my thumb in a lot of pies, and I food blog. I grew up in a little town called Azaadville on Johannesburg’s West Rand. Sounds a bit portentous now, doesn’t it? I went on to study Marketing Communication at the then- Rand Afrikaans University and followed this with an honours in Journalism and Media Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand. That was a turning point for me, and it was the first time I was introduced to print design as a subject, allowing me to crack my knuckles over the layout of our student newspaper.

After an intern stint at City Press newspaper, I became something of a Jill-of-all-trades at frayintermedia (formerly Paula Fray & Associates). Moving from the newsroom to a media training agency meant that I got to write, edit, design and account manage. I had to negotiate really bendy learning curves, and it was a brilliant place to build and refine my skill-set.

So you’re a writer/designer, designer/writer, designer, writer?

If it came down to, “Writer or Designer?” with my hand on my heart, a writer I am; a dilatory one at that, but, a writer. I started blogging in 2005, with the aim of using that space to ‘write to keep the rust away’. It’s been fruitful; I’m getting the words out there and meeting some pretty awesome people along the way. I do love good design though (my personal guiding tagline, ‘Pragmatics meets Pretty’), and I’m still pretty much a noob at it, which is why winning this competition was such coup for me in terms of building my design profile.

I don’t understand why the announcement that you had won took you by surprise. Your cover rocks!

When I saw the announcement, I was genuinely surprised. Flipping chuffed, but surprised. I knew my cover held its ground against the other short-listed covers, but I did think the concept was maybe just a tad over-the-top, that I’d pushed a small stationery store’s worth of envelopes. The other designs were posh and pretty much spot on the brief. They were the type of covers that would make me buy books.

There’s a lot of violence, irreverence and humour in this cover and you have all the looks of a sweet, Muslim girl. Weren’t you nervous about how your cover would  be received?

Not really nervous. I was certain that the Powers That Be would be able to see what thigh-slapping fun I had putting the cover together; from sourcing stock graphics to working with Azad’s disembodied head on my Photoshop art board. It was also one of the boldest things I’ve ever designed. I wanted the cover to reflect the irreverence of his writing; his in-your-face-suck-on-this type of appeal. I knew I had to have his face on the cover somewhere because this was a book born from a blog, and what is more narcissistic than a blog even if it is about the politics of our times? The twitter-logo font was one of my favourite parts. It looks a bit comical and soft, but what it captions belies this. It’s also a reference to Azad’s MO of using social media and blogging to spread his brand of desktop activism. The USB-capped gun came right at the end of the process. It was meant to diffuse some of the aggression from my initial submission, which received really valuable feedback. A brown guy with a gun can be pretty damn scary.

You are familiar with some of the work in Zuma’s Bastard – being a blog groupie yourself (ahem).Do you think there’s a role for such writing or should people buy the book just to look at your cover?

There’s most definitely a place for the type of political opinion Azad puts out (and I’m not just saying that as a groupie who followed his blog from his freelance hero days on blogspot). It’s the type of stuff that holds up a mirror to society. Sometimes brash, slightly aggressive, he pulls you in with the shock-awe, and after you’ve read a little further, you start thinking, “Hey, this lightie has a point.” I’d tell people to buy this book because the writing is smart and incisive.

PS. Azad Essa, Saaleha Idrees-Bamjee and I have all been nominated for awards in this year’s South African Blog Awards. Do pop a vote for the three of us and some of the other brown nominees here. (update: Voting has now closed and the top two in each category have been announced. While none of us have cracked nods, we thank everybody who has supported us)
PPS. Join the Zuma’s Bastard Facebook page for updates on the launch and other trifling illegitimacies.
PPPS. For an interview with Azad Essa himself, scurry over to The Daily Maverick.

6 replies on “A good girl, bastardised”

Have to agree with Aasia, warm fuzzy wooshy feelings pouring out!
Btw love the design though one or two things need work.
Yes I am critical and honest. 🙂

But love it and I love knowing you 🙂

You have no idea how much this warms me that I can count so many good friends amongst these talented people.

Genuinely happy for their success and have something to aspire you onto greater things. 🙂

can’t wait for the book to drop!

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