‘Thank God for storytelling’ – Jackie Phamotse on raising important social issues in her bestselling novels

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Jackie Phamotse. (Photo: Supplied)
Jackie Phamotse. (Photo: Supplied)

Interview: Jackie Phamotse

Bestselling author Jackie Phamotse, whose Bare series has just reached its fourth volume, Mercy, appears at the Franschhoek Literary Festival to talk about self-publishing – and, in conversation with Deon Meyer, the creative process. Phamotse’s novels are about the lives of women in South Africa today. She is also featured in the Exclusive Books Homebru promotion, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary as an annual focus on the leading homegrown books of the season. Get the full Homebru catalogue here.

Jackie’s books are embraced amongst her readers as they engage with the Bare hashtag, mobilising her influence and storytelling. She is a vocal and vibrant social activist and philanthropist, using her narrative to raise awareness.

"I was not born to conform or cower" is your very own quote displayed on your social media bio. How was this power-packed mantra born?

Over the years I have faced so many difficult moments; from being bullied to having severe self-doubt that almost led to me never writing again. I found myself thinking how can I be so weak? There came a point that I told myself that I will never give up on my dreams because of people, and I began filling myself up with positive affirmations to remind myself how important my work is. When you write books that are like mine, you get treated like an outsider and sometimes people fail to see through your teachings and they begin to attack you, so I focus on my true intentions and keep going.

How do you think that using your storytelling in the Bare series chronicles and sheds light on the heavier and grittier subjects, and propels difficult conversations?

Thank God for storytelling, for many years no one wanted to touch the topics that I speak about. I have been told that I will get killed, blacklisted and my books will get banned – but I am still here. I am grateful that I fought to tell the truth, to help many others overcome so many societal problems. Many parents have serious difficulties with their kids, drug infested communities, human trafficking, sugar daddies that are destroying the youth, cults and churches that have scammed people in the name of God. My writing brings all of these themes alive; people can find themselves in the stories and in the process, find healing and enlightenment. The Bare series was designed to educate and give hope. The series was raw and gave light to so many hidden truths, but the series was a first of its kind. It made people talk, question and reevaluate their lives. What’s important in storytelling is leaving room for self-actualisation and hope.

You recently published a children’s series, Liwa, which highlights social issues and injustices, and offers the steps to identify and articulate methods of accountability. What inspired this series and the expansion of your readership?

The Liwa kids book series was inspired by the Bare series. Many people asked if I could write a book that deals with different topics for kids. I remember how I grew up and the books that I wished I had when I was young – books that spoke to my actual reality. Kids are dealing with bullying and low self-esteem because of our broken communities. The rise of social media can create a lot of self-doubt in kids and I thought it would be important to address these topics in a light and fun way. The books are educational, yet light-hearted and interactive.

What are some of the exciting projects you are currently working on?

I am currently working on another book, Liwa and the Bloody Connectors, part two of Liwa, the adult version, and I have something in the pipeline for TV. We have been working on this project for years and I am glad it’s finally happening. I will be involved in more book festivals this year. It feels good to have our lives back again.

Franschhoek Literary Festival: On 13 May at 10:00 Jackie Phamotse talks to Deon Meyer about his new thriller, The Dark Flood, and the creative process. On 14 May at 16:00 she and Dudu Busani-Dube talk about self-publishing bestsellers.

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