It’s a question that every child gets asked at some point in their life: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
When I was between the ages of 8 and 10 I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up.
“A baker, a writer, an actress and a mermaid,” was my canned, enthusiastic answer.
The most influential women in my life at the time were my Aunt Blanche (of Bakeshop Classics fame), my Auntie Tamu (who introduced me to the typewriter) and Ariel from the Little Mermaid. I was a staunch believer in the existence of mermaids, and was convinced that if I put enough salt in the bathtub, found a sea priestess and believed hard enough, I too could grow a tail and swim with the dolphins.
Of the four occupations, I can lay claim to having done three successfully in my adult life. I baked for every special occasion that our ASP/SCAB celebrated in South Africa and was feted as a confectionery genius. Of course, I understand that it could have been the sugar talking through the mouths of babes – but it still felt good to be appreciated for my pastry prowess. Then there were those few times I acted in school plays and later auditioned for theater in university. I was brilliant, but I never pursued it past the audition. I’ve tried diving into the sea on several occasions, but my body is way too buoyant and not nearly streamlined enough, so my mermaid attempts have been utter failures. And then there was the writing.
I’ve always written creatively, but my work came so naturally to me that I never saw the true value in it. When I started writing short stories when I was in first grade, it was just a way to get all these characters and scenarios out of my head so that I could make space to replace them with new ones. The first person to take me seriously as a writer was my best friend Temeri, who would implore me to add more and more to my script.
“These are so GOOD, Malaka,” she would say.
Temeri was always a better and faster reader than I was, so I assumed she was skimming through my works and not really reading them. I will never forget that the read The Hobbit in a week and read The Lord of the Rings Trilogy in two! She mocked me for taking a month to struggle through one volume of Sweet Valley High. We were polar opposites, with different skills, different rates of development and different family dynamics. But I will never forget the shared pride we felt when I showed her my first “book”: a stapled and taped together manuscript of 12 pages. Incidentally, it’s one of the many precious things that is forever lost in the myriad of items that were discarded after my parents’ divorce.
I was flipping through my Facebook pictures and found a picture that one of my siblings tagged me in. It was a 7/8 year old me, grinning into my Uncle Sonny’s camera. For a moment I was transported back to that time, recalling summer days chasing milkweed plants and making wishes on dandelions. (Don’t ask me why.) And then I realized that I had done it. At 35 I had finally fulfilled the dreams of my 8 year old self. I had actually cobbled together something that could be published as a legitimate book.
Daughters of Swallows is not your typical M.O.M fare. It’s actually adapted from posts on The Other Blog – the one Ebenezer Mr. Scrooge who drops by here is acquainted with. 🙂 One of the greatest pressures for me as a writer has been to write a book; and one that will make people laugh, specifically. Being intentionally funny is a lot of pressure! So I rejected that pressure and wrote a raunchy romance/African chick lit novel instead. Knowing that doing this would be to the utter chagrin of my holy acquaintances (and my father!), I am being published as “Malaka.”.
That’s: Malaka Full stop.
There are issues with men and and their possessiveness over surnames that I am not willing to contend with at this time. I have lived my life as Mr. So & So’s Daughter until I became Mr. So & So’s Wife, and then eventually became So & So’s Mother…and this book is all about me as an individual and a woman. Period.
It comes out on May 10th.
I feel like I’m having my first baby.
I think I’m going to throw up.