Photograph by Chris de Beer

Nick Mulgrew on writing, publishing and unearthing literary gems

Buckle up, we’re getting meta about writing here – this is an article where a writer writes about writing and the reality of being a writer, taking time to reflect on the state of the writing industry within South Africa. In an attempt to engage the issues that young writers, wanting to start their own publishing companies or wanting to self-publish, face, we turned to an individual who has been navigating the terrain for some time now.

Nick Mulgrew is a writer, and due to feeling that “the publishing industry was failing both writers and readers” he began to initiate projects and form publishing avenues for others like himself. For, “how can I flourish if the publishing industry and our country’s reading culture aren’t?” These projects include Prufrock Magazine, where Nick is now the fiction editor and designer; uHlanga, an award-winning poetry press, where Nick is founder and publisher, and publishing the bestselling collection, ‘Collective Amnesia‘ by Koleka Putuma.

The result of these endeavours has been to help unearth writers and launch their careers at Prufrock; writers such as Simone Haysom and Lidudumalingani, some of whose first literary work appeared in the magazine. uHlanga has managed to bring poetry into the mainstream again, bringing poetry into places where poetry usually hasn’t been considered of much importance. Koleka’s book, which was named one of City Press’s Books of the Year, was one of the main catalysts for that.

In terms of managing both a business and a career as a writer, Nick offered some very practical advice, saying, “The secret is being productive, not busy. I divide my working day in two, roughly. In the morning, I work on one project, then I go to gym or have lunch or run my errands or whatever, and in the afternoon and evening I work on another.”

An already accomplished author, Nick’s own writing has to do with “deconstructing and looking at South Africa’s dysfunctional society, especially in the ways it is riven by racism, sexism, homophobia and so on. That’s not to say my work is always serious in tone. ‘Stations‘ is a book that deals primarily with the everyday ways in which people make negative impacts on their lives and the lives of other people; ‘The First Law of Sadness‘ has to do with larger events: catastrophes, spectacle, grand moments. Some people might say those descriptions sound boring, which they are in contrast to the subjects I write about – like pornography, making biltong out of roadkill, tattoo removal – but those are the underlying mechanics that give life to the entertainment and the emotion.”

Nick’s passion and commitment to his craft were immediately picked up through our correspondence. He sharpens his craft through practice. I quote: “If you want to get good at rapping, you rap. If you want to get good at painting, you paint. Writing is no different: I hone my writing by writing. I don’t take cues from other writers, but I’m always influenced by my reading.”

Ending off, Nick had some words of wisdom for local emerging writers; “I wouldn’t say that they should just read, because what you read matters just as much as whether you read. You should read as much local writing as possible, because it’s impossible to make an impact on your literary community if you’re not listening to what artists around you are producing and engaging with.”

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