Ntando Gerald, known as Gerald, is one of two South African-based authors shortlisted for The James Currey Prize for African Literature. Named to honour the leading publisher of academic books about Africa, the competition was established last year by Onyeka Nwelue, a Nigerian writer, filmmaker and publisher. The annual award is for the best, unpublished work of fiction set in or about Africa or Africans.
When Gerald heard about the competition he went through his unpublished work and as luck would have it, he found a manuscript called A Reign of Terror, which he dusted off and submitted.
I’ve personal reasons for rooting for Gerald and was almost as chuffed as he was when he shared the news of being in the final five. Thirteen years ago, a 20-something Gerald called to inform me he wanted to join my writing team. His main interest at the time was scriptwriting but when I quizzed him about his experience, it was clear he would not qualify to work alongside seasoned professionals. I told him to go on a writing course and volunteered to pick up half the tab if he could find someone else to match my offer, which he duly did.
Born and brought up in Zimbabwe, Gerald had come to live with his uncle in Johannesburg and was trying to find his feet. For a good few years, Gerald became what I loosely referred to as “my intern”, which involved checking his copy and giving him feedback. This of course allowed me to keep an eye on his development when he expanded his repertoire into fiction (or thinly disguised autobiographical material).
A year ago he requested a quote to edit his work. I was blown away – Gerald had come full circle and was now employing me.
He had learnt his lessons well and his writing showed a new maturity. It was time to give Gerald what he first asked for – the opportunity to write for my team, which didn’t actually exist although I did bring together groups of writers when needed.
In this instance, Quaid Dunn, a young movie and TV producer, had approached me to get together and manage a group of writers to work on joint projects with him, which he planned to sell in the UK. I hand-picked some writers including Gerald for a brainstorming session to discuss an idea I had. It was a good mix of writers but sadly, Covid was about to put the project on ice, which resulted in all of us going our separate ways but with some luck, we’ll have a post-Covid reunion.
Currently working as a freelance researcher on My Big Fat African Wedding, which broadcasts on DSTV Channel 173, Gerald’s ambition is to be an accomplished author, television writer and director and to have his own TV show. Then he adds: “But first I have to win the prize for A Reign of Terror.”
Stephen Embleton from KwaZulu-Natal is also in the running for the award with his book Bones and Runes. The prizes include a publishing deal and £1000 cash. The winner will be announced in the UK in September.