The Monkeys’ Wedding: where rain meets sun

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Photo copyright 2015 Tish Farrell. Art copyright Kathleen Collins Howell

The Monkeys’ Wedding  was my first children’s short story. I wrote it while we were living in Zambia (see Letters from Lusaka 1 & 2) . It was also the first piece of work accepted for publication. This stroke of luck was due to my good friend, artist and illustrator, Kathleen Howell. At the time she was Professor of Children’s Illustration at SUNY Buffalo, and had received several freelance commissions from America’s well beloved children’s magazine group, Cricket.

Unbeknownst to me she had sent a copy of my story to the then Art Director. He liked it and, after much editing, I received a contract. Time passed. Quite a lot of time in fact. Things, as I was to learn from future contracts, can move slowly at Cricket Magazine. They like to do their best by their writers and illustrators, and in each monthly edition of their magazines, combines submissions that complement one another, or follow a theme. In the meantime, Kathy said she would like to illustrate it, and finally in 2001, some 7 years after I’d written it, the story saw the light of day in Spider Magazine. It was also given a re-run in 2009.

The thing that sparked the story in the first place was the colloquial expression ‘a monkeys’ wedding’. It is possibly of Zulu origin, and I found it in my South African Pocket Oxford Dictionary, the only dictionary I could find to buy in Lusaka. (There were hardly any books in Zambia in the early 1990s).  The  phrase means simultaneous sunshine and rain, and I was so pleased to discover it, I set about creating my own folk story to explain it.

And so evolved the humorous tale of the monkey chief who was about to marry off his daughter, but made the tactical error of inviting everyone except Rain to the wedding.  Rain, in a big sulk, then drenches the forest for days. Something has to be done, or the wedding will be a wash-out.

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Copyright 2001 Spider Magazine: August 2001 and September 2009

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It’s interesting re-reading the text some 20 years on. I probably wouldn’t write it quite this way now, but Kathy’s illustrations are still brilliant. The top photo is some of her original artwork done with mixed media collage.

And now here’s a photo of an actual ‘monkeys’ wedding’ taken at Hunter’s Lodge, Kiboko, in Kenya during a sudden brief and sunny deluge. This place, with its many vervet monkeys, was also a source of inspiration for the story. Aaah. Happy days of finding monkeys under the bed, or rifling through my bag.

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copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Unveiling ‘Losing Kui’: the story of the story, or how writers need good editors

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Cover: Kathleen Collins Howell

YOU CAN READ AN EXTRACT HERE

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I am trusting that this is the final version of this novella. But then with stories you never do know. It’s  both the pleasure and the pain of e-publishing: you can tinker with your text until the end of time, re-posting the updated versions. I anyway have a tendency to re-make earlier works: putting them into new forms, re-shaping them for different audiences and purposes.  With this story, though, only length and title have changed, oh yes, and  in this final version I have started at a different point from two earlier versions.

The first published version came out in 2008, in the  Nov/Dec issue of Cicada, a US literary magazine for teens to adults. The title then was El Nino and the Bomb. For those of you writers who do not know  about Carus Publishing/Cricket Magazine Group (founded by Marianne Carus in 1973 and “won more awards than any other children’s publisher”) you can find out more HERE. If you are learning your craft as a writer or illustrator, and have an interest in children’s and teen publishing, then you can learn a lot from these magazines. The general ethos is multicultural, and each  title – Babybug, Ladybug, Spider, Cricket, Cicada caters for a specific age group, thus nurturing a life-time’s habit of good reading.

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Cricket Feb 2001 vol 28 no 6;  Art: Ann Strugnell

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Cicada have published a number of my short stories over the years, works that started off as 5,000-word entries for adult short story competitions. This was how Losing Kui began, although back in the early 2000s the title was Material Days. In this form it was short-listed in  Carve Magazine’s Raymond Carver Short Story  Contest. The then editor, Melvin Sterne, sent me a very sweet email, saying he was sorry that it did not make it to that year’s anthology. 

I still like the Material Days title, although it perhaps means more to me that to anyone else. When I was living in Kenya it was a phrase I read often in newspaper crime reports. At the time it chimed with my sense of indignation at the then government: the way it abused its people, and the poverty it so wilfully inflicted upon them.

And so, spurred on by Melvin Sterne’s email, and still nursing that sense of indignation over the state of things in East Africa (a situation that Great Britain and other donor nations have long had a hand in), I began an expanded version of the story with the idea of submitting it for Cicada’s novella slot. They accepted it too, although there was a wait of several years before it was actually published. In that long interval I was fortunate to work with Cicada’s then Senior Editor, Tracy C  Schoenle, and Executive Editor, Deborah Vetter. I learned a lot from their thoughtful and  respectful editing.

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Cicada Nov/Dec 2008 vol 11 no: 2.  Art: Home by Eamonn Donnelly

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But there was a bigger lesson in store than seeing how best to trim excess words, or make meaning sharper. It was Marianne Carus, Editor in Chief, who was responsible for a major change in the story. She suggested, very delicately, that I had left the protagonist  Kui in too bleak a place and wondered if I might consider a more positive ending. At first I huffed to myself: I liked my ending. But then once I was over my fit of writer’s pique, I knew she was right. The last third of the story was thus written in response to Ms Carus’s comment. I remember it flowed out at some speed, as if my subconscious had also known that I had not finished the story. 

Time of course had passed by then, and I wasn’t quite so angry. Instead of hopelessness (relieved by elements of dark comedy) I saw possibilities for redemption; my characters began to take charge of their lives, and rise above their misfortunes. And that was the moment when I truly understood just how much writers can learn if they have the chance to work with a good editor.

More recently when I was working on cover ideas with my good friend, and illustrator Kathleen Collins Howell (Associate Professor of Art, Emeritus SUNY at Buffalo), I also began to see the story in quite a new way. I suddenly understood that the lost child Kui represents something far bigger than her own self. She is far from home, frightened and abused and yet…and yet…

Here’s the blurb:

Things are going from bad to worse in Ingigi village. No one knows why five-year old Kui has gone missing. Nor does Sergeant Njau want to find out. He has his own problems, pressing matters that are far from legal. Then there is the endless rain. Will it never stop? Some Ingigi folk think it means the end of the world. Old man, Winston Kiarie, has other ideas. He senses some man-made disaster, and when it happens, it is worse than his worst imaginings. The fierce storms are causing landslides and throwing up British bombs, unexploded for forty years. Their discovery is giving the Assistant Chief ideas: how to make himself very rich. And then there’s young Joseph Maina and the primary school drop-outs thinking they have found treasure, and about to do something very, very foolish. Meanwhile, is anyone looking for Kui?

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READ AN EXTRACT HERE

Losing Kui by Tish Farrell

Out on Amazon Kindle

Available also on ePub Bud for Nook, iPod/iPhone etc HERE 

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