Namibia finally taps fiction

By Theresia Tjihenuna
November 2012
The need to create and develop a readership of fiction by Namibian authors led to the birth of Wordweaver Publishing House.

So great was her passion that Bryony van der Merwe eventually quit her job to start the publishing house that would give Namibian writers a platform to share their talent and stories.

Not only has she worked for renowned companies like MacMillan Publishers Namibia, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) and Desert Research Foundation of Namibia (DRFN) but she has also authored a number of booklets for Desert Soul.

Riding on her rich background in the publishing industry, Bryony decided to focus on a genre that other Namibian publishers don’t prioritise - fiction.

“Many publishing companies in Namibia have long focused on literacy and educational books. There is nothing wrong with publishing this type of material, which is really instrumental in our schools and universities but we also need to create a culture through which fiction should thrive,” she says.

The company was launched on 17 March this year as a response to the incredible talent of Namibian writers who have difficulty in getting their work published.

Shortly after the company’s launch, Bryony advertised in the local newspapers calling on budding authors to submit their manuscripts.

The response was resounding and encouraging but going through the submitted work to decide on any worth publishing material proved to be a challenge as there were only a few good ones.

“I was actually overwhelmed by the response because many writers are usually skeptical about submitting their work to random publishers before a background-check. So for a publishing house that had only started, it was a surprise,” she relates.

Bryony has since published three books while a few more are about to go to print.

Some of the books, which have been published, are: ‘Hakahana’ – a poetry anthology by Hugh Ellis as well as ‘Bullies, Beauty and Beasts (BBB)’ - a collection of short stories by Isabella Morris and Sylvia Schlettwein.

There is also the ground-breaking crime novel - ‘Dante International’ by Sharon Kasanda.

Wordweaver has also published its first two children’s story books titled ‘When You Dance with the Crocodile’ by E Müller and ‘The Most Important Book’ by Noreen Arangies.

Bryony says, currently, Wordweaver is not interested in historical titles but coffee-table non-fiction work would be a thrill to consider.

Marketing and promotional campaigns gathered momentum after the publication of the five books, she beams; “We got a lot of publicity from radios and print media and I even started receiving more submissions.”

‘The Big Adventure’, a children’s book by Terah Lee, was launched at the first ever Goethe Centre and the Franco Namibia Cultural Centre (FNCC)’s Namibian Youth Book Fair held in the capital last month.

During the fair, authors promoted and spoke about their books.

Bryony also plans to do something for Namibian poets; “We are planning to publish a collection of poems by local poets from the Spoken Word initiative where we will select poems that have been recited for the past 10 years.”

“So far, we’ve had very good sales. This proves that there is a market for this kind of material and the culture is growing as far as local fictional literature is concerned,” she says.

For now, the number of copies printed per book is limited to 1 000.

“I think this is a good number to start with as a middle ground. We will assess the progress in a year’s time as the demand for the books grows and see whether or not to increase the number of prints per book,” she reveals.

The books are available at Windhoek’s Book Den, Demasius Publications and throughout the country and distributed by Namibia Book Distributors.

“People can also order directly from me,” Bryony states matter-of-factly.

She, however, admits that although she is assisted by Jennifer Iyambo, the hard part of publishing a book is the editing and proofreading process; “While going through the manuscripts I had received, I came across a very good one.

“While reading the story, I could tell the writer had what it takes but then, the English grammar was very poor. This means that should I decide to publish this book, a lot of extra editing would be required.”

With new publishing houses like Wordweaver, the future looks bright for Namibian fiction writers who previously didn’t have a platform to showcase their work and talent. PF