With this year's now announced, Mildred Kiconco Barya interviews Henrietta Rose-Innes, the 2008 winner of the prize. The winner of the 2009 prize will be announced at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, on Monday 6 July.
Henrietta Rose-Innes a South African author of two novels, Shark’s Egg and The Rock Alphabet (2000 and 2004, Kwela Books). Her short stories and essays have appeared in various South African and international publications, and her writing has been translated into German and Romanian. Her short story Poison won the 2008 Caine Prize, as well as the 2007 Southern African PEN Literary Award. Henrietta is based in Cape Town, but has held writing residencies in Germany, Switzerland, the USA and at the University of Cape Town.
MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: Why do you write?
HENRIETTA ROSE-INNES: To give shape to my perceptions and to pursue the meaning of those images that compel me.
MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: At what age did you start writing creatively?
HENRIETTA ROSE-INNES: My first memory of writing purely for myself – not for school – dates from about age 11. It was a poem about a plane crash.
MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: Describe your writing journey.
HENRIETTA ROSE-INNES: About 17 steps from bed to coffee machine, then 22 steps from the coffee machine to the computer.
MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: What are the thematic concerns in your writing?
HENRIETTA ROSE-INNES: I am interested in the interactions – physical and psychological – between human beings and the landscapes they inhabit.
MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: What was the inspiration behind your story submitted for Caine?
HENRIETTA ROSE-INNES: The setting was inspired by a particularly bad year for wildfires on Table Mountain, in Cape Town. The sky was covered in clouds of smoke, as in the story, and everyone in the city was watching the sky, united in unease.
MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: How did you know about the Caine prize?
HENRIETTA ROSE-INNES: I was aware of it through my friends Mary Watson, who won in 2006, and Darryl Bristow-Bovey, who was short-listed that year.
MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: What was your initial response when you won the Caine prize?
HENRIETTA ROSE-INNES: I was mostly concentrating on getting to the podium without tripping on my long, newly bought red dress. I was very happy!
MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: What has been happening or not happening since winning the Caine?
HENRIETTA ROSE-INNES: I have been working on a number of short stories, as well as the beginnings of a novel.
MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: If you were to rewrite your submitted story what would you change?
HENRIETTA ROSE-INNES: God, what a terrible thought! I have fiddled with that thing millions of times; now I feel a wave of nausea every time I glance at it. So, actually, nothing. Why? Is there something wrong with it?
MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: How often do you revise or redraft your stories?
HENRIETTA ROSE-INNES: Millions. Millions and millions of times.
MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: What’s your take on writing?
HENRIETTA ROSE-INNES: Before or after tax? But seriously, that’s quite a tough question to tackle without either being flippant or going on for pages. And I’m not at all sure that I know the answer.
MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: How do you deal with a writer’s rejections?
HENRIETTA ROSE-INNES: I’ve never been rejected by a writer, but I imagine it would be most humiliating.
MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: Apart from writing, what else do you do and why?
HENRIETTA ROSE-INNES: I teach creative writing at the University of Cape Town and online.
MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: Forty years from now where do you see yourself?
HENRIETTA ROSE-INNES: In a comfy chair, I hope, with a cup of tea. And perhaps an attractive young personal assistant to answer my emails, or their mid-century equivalent.
MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: What’s your best quote?
HENRIETTA ROSE-INNES: 'Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.'
MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: Which five authors do you admire most and why? List your favourite five books.
HENRIETTA ROSE-INNES: You know, I’m going to take a pass on these questions because I always feel uncomfortable answering these questions … it always feels so limiting and untrue in a way, to choose only a few, and my choices change all the time.
MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: What’s your vision?
HENRIETTA ROSE-INNES: Short-sighted, slightly astigmatic.
MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: What genre do you read most and why?
HENRIETTA ROSE-INNES: Apart from literary fiction, I read quite a lot of non-fiction (history, natural sciences), and I read crime to relax.
MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: If you were to make a wish right now what would it be?
HENRIETTA ROSE-INNES: Actually, my 'forty years from now' scenario sounds pretty good, so maybe I’d wish for that right now.
MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: If you were to have powers of a genie, what two things would you change?
HENRIETTA ROSE-INNES: Cheaper, VAT-free books. More public libraries in South Africa.