Thank goodness for Small Mercies
Durban - It was quite by accident that Bridget Krone’s novel for 9- to-12-year-olds, set in Pietermaritzburg, was published after a friend submitted her manuscript to an overseas publisher after it had been rejected locally.
Now, Krone is bowled over that Kirkus Media, a prestigious book review magazine in the US, has ranked Small Mercies among the top 100 out of 850 books it has reviewed for that age group this year
“Small Mercies stood out for a number of reasons: the strength of the characterisations, the sympathetic portrait of a family defined by love and not necessarily blood, its sense of humour, and the fineness of its prose style,” Kirkus Media’s Young Readers’ editor Vicky Smith told the Independent on Saturday in an email from Portland, Maine.
“Furthermore, it is my personal belief that it's too easy for young readers in the US never to travel in literature beyond our shores, so I make a point of trying to highlight great international literature for kids.
“A book that speaks authentically to the cultural complexity of modern-day South Africa is a rare find indeed in these parts.”
Krone said she would never have imagined that the book, in which the main character is a schoolgirl living with two foster aunts, would have had such success in the US.
“It’s such a home-grown story. But I am coming to the conclusion that the more detail you write in a book, the more universal its appeal. People like detail, such as how the characters go about their daily lives, how they eat, how they go to school, little things like that. It makes the themes I deal with - culture, bullying, unresolved family issues or telling the truth - more easy.”
The initial success of Small Mercies prompted Krone to have a second go at another book she had written, which was not doing well on the shelves.
“I decided to ask for the copyright back from the publisher.”
Her rewrite is now with the overseas publisher of Small Mercies, which she expects will give it a title of their choice.
Unlike Small Mercies, set in the provincial capital which Krone knows backwards having been at boarding school and university there and lived there most of her adult life, her next book is set in Cedarville, near Matatiele, where she grew up on a farm.
“I have kept the central idea of that story and embellished it with more sub-plots and characters.”
In Small Mercies the main character is a little girl, and in the next book, it is a boy living in an RDP house.
The publishers are yet to come up with a title.
Krone said the local publishing market for books targeting the ages she writes for is flooded with imports. At the same time foreign publishers want something different from South African authors.
“I get the feeling that we’ve developed the reputation for writing worthy stories rather than good stories and they’re sick of us. We must up our game.
“We write issue-based stories, about hardship, which can be very worthy but you can see what the ending is within a few pages.
“We must write with more surprises,” she said.
Perhaps the news Krone received from the United States makes her own story fit the writing formula she recommends for herself.
The Independent on Saturday