I think if such things were measured in Botswana, the novel, Love on the Rocks by Andrew Sesinyi may be one of the most read books by Batswana.
It’s the Romeo and Juliet tale of Moradi, the upper class girl, in love with Pule, the intelligent but poor boy, all set in Botswana. The book was published in 1981 as one of Macmillan’s very popular Pacesetters.
I caught up with Rre Sesinyi to find out more about the origins of the book and how it made its way into the world.
“I first wrote Love on the Rocks as a dare to a friend, and then when he became interested in the flow of the plot, I developed it further into a book,” Sesinyi said. “Love on the Rocks was conceived, written and finished from a typewriter. It was hard getting a publisher but thanks to the late Reverend Jones of the Botswana Book Centre who took my manuscript and referred it to Macmillan Publishers in Basingstoke, who were then about to launch their Pacesetters series in Africa. Their first work in Botswana included publishing my novel. Once you have a publisher, you have a receptive ear but that does not mean you will always agree on what should be published and how.”
Many unpublished authors believe once you’ve found a publisher it’s smooth sailing, but Sesinyi’s experience proves otherwise. “After years of being ignored because generally in Botswana, as it would appear, and because our market for everything is largely government driven, most authorities do not think a Motswana citizen can produce a work of literature that is qualitatively educational. Love on the Rocks became a set book in the 90s. Even then, that was because the publishers pressed hardest to introduce the book in South Africa, after which they offered it to Botswana at an immensely reduced price.
The inferiority complex and its inherent pettiness are the key impeding factors for the promotion of creativity and writing in general among Botswana citizens.”
Despite the hurdles, the book went on to find success. “The book sold very well in Nigeria,” the author said. “When we say “sell well” though, we are talking mainly of copies in circulation and not necessarily “doing well” in sales as far as the author is concerned. Publishers take virtually all proceeds from the book sales. In a country like Botswana where even if you forced everyone to read the book you would not make sales of over 1.8 million copies, writing is largely more of a passion than a business.”
Sesinyi believes even now in 2012, the government does not do enough to support indigenous writers. “At least the major market, government, could be reviewing the books by indigenous authors and stating reasons why these do not qualify for set book prescription. Most importantly, the criteria for selecting set books in schools is not transparent. Notably though, there are some Batswana authors who have made it through the opaque selection system, but these are too few to count; and the primary selection process appears to have ghost authors. Just like in the tender processes, set books criteria ought to be clearly stated for authors to tailor make their works if need be.”
Many might think after Love on the Rocks, Sesinyi gave up on writing, but that’s not the case at all. He has five titles to his name. The others are Rassie (Macmillan 1992), Carjack (Longman 2001), Shadows of Birth (Media Palms 2010) and the play Goodbye to Power (Media Palms 2010).
Fans of Love on the Rocks, like myself, will be happy to hear that it has been optioned to be made into a film. When I asked about the status of the film, Sesinyi said, “The gentleman who obtained the rights from Macmillan Publishers for him to proceed with his movie concept has been working on the project for about three years now. He assures me that the project is doing well and I have seen his script and met a few people he is working with. A year ago when I spoke with him he was trying to rope in the government through the Ministry of Tourism for marketing purposes, I believe. The key success of his movie lies in local market support, and local market in Botswana means the key economic driver, government. I wish him well because he has invested quite a bit of money in the project.”
Although I, sadly, failed to find a copy of Love on the Rocks at our public library in Mahalapye, Sesinyi assures me that it is still on sale at Botswana Book Centre and Exclusive Books, if you’d like to give it a re-read.