6Noz­izwe

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The au­thor of the hit novel Hap­pi­ness Is a Four-let­ter Word, Noz­izwe Cyn­thia Jele, is thrilled that her book has be­come a film – but now she just wants to quit her day job and move to a farm to write. Do you dream of be­ing a full-time writer?

I tell my­self ev­ery day that I should just quit ev­ery­thing, buy a small farm out­side of Joburg or in the KwaZulu-Na­tal Mid­lands and spend my days grow­ing veg­eta­bles and writ­ing. I’m not sure, though, that if my dream was granted, that I’d be happy. Writ­ing is a soli­tary ex­pe­ri­ence and farm work is ap­par­ently dif­fi­cult. How did Hap­pi­ness hap­pen? What made you de­cide to write it? Is it based on your own ex­pe­ri­ences?

Hap­pi­ness hap­pened as a re­sult of watch­ing too many episodes of Sex and the City, and read­ing too much “chick lit”. I iden­ti­fied a great deal with the char­ac­ters in th­ese sto­ries, or knew peo­ple who shared sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences. At the time I started writ­ing the book, which was around 2006, I had not read any­thing lo­cal that cap­tured the ev­ery­day lives of mod­ern South African women – their small and big joys and heartaches. So I thought I would write some­thing about “us”, and three years later, I had writ­ten a com­plete man­u­script. What was your in­ten­tion with the novel, es­pe­cially in terms of a black woman’s ex­pe­ri­ences in Joburg?

My in­ten­tion was sim­ple – to write a fun and read­able book re­flect­ing our ex­pe­ri­ences. What Hap­pi­ness has made me re­alise, though, is how priv­i­leged I am to be liv­ing in th­ese times in our coun­try, to have ac­cess to cer­tain things and peo­ple, and to have my fam­ily and friends around me. Do you think the nor­mal lives of women in Joburg are un­der­rep­re­sented in our pub­lish­ing in­dus­try?

There is cer­tainly room for more books writ­ten by women for women. We’re start­ing to see young women bring out good ma­te­rial, but it’s not enough. Mar­ket­ing and dis­tri­bu­tion are still a prob­lem, be­cause some­times I find books months or years af­ter they were pub­lished and I’m ac­tively seek­ing out lo­cal books. Have you seen the film? What did you think?

No. I missed the op­por­tu­nity to see it last year. I love what I see in the trailer, which I con­fess to watch­ing ev­ery day since it came out. Have you seen how HOT ev­ery­one is? What can we ex­pect from you next? Are you work­ing on a new novel?

It’s a story about cop­ing with grief af­ter los­ing a fam­ily mem­ber and mov­ing on. It’s not sad, I prom­ise. While it’s dif­fer­ent to Hap­pi­ness in style and set­ting, the com­mon themes of love, re­la­tion­ships with fam­ily and friends, and work are still there.

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