About Helen

Photo: Martine Bisagne

Photo: Martine Bisagne

I'm an editor, writer, poet, teacher, and scholar.

As an editor, I'm an amalgam of a supervisor, mentor, advisor and sounding-board, as well as someone who re-arranges words, checks facts, and nags about details. I believe that editor and author should meet as professionals with equally valuable skills in a spirit of collaboration, and that both parties should learn and grow from the experience.

Although I started out as an academic, then worked as an academic editor, in the last twenty years I’ve been lucky to work with some of the African continent’s brightest literary and academic writers, including Lauren Beukes, Zakes Mda, Ivan Vladislavic, Sarah Lotz, Thando Mgqolozana, Diane Awerbuck, Gabeba Baderoon, Nadia Davids, Jacqui L’Ange, Nechama Brodie, Fiona Snyckers, Petina Gappah, Jamala Safari, Liesl Jobson, and Sindiwe Magona.

I also work on the other side of the author/editor relationship. I've released two collections of poetry: Strange Fruit, published in 2009 by Modjaji Books; and Prunings, published in 2016 by uHlanga. John Eppel found Strange Fruit a “compelling” read, containing “a poetry of glittering surfaces”. (LitNet found the poems “altogether edible”.) Prunings likewise has been lauded for its “wonder” and “power” in the Cape Times, and was joint winner of the South African Literary Award for Poetry in 2017.

I've also had huge fun producing commercial fiction, notably the A Girl Walks In choose-your-own-erotic-adventure trilogy I co-wrote with Sarah Lotz and Paige Nick under the nom de plume Helena S. Paige. A Girl Walks Into a BarA Girl Walks Into A Wedding, and A Girl Walks Into A Blind Date have been translated into twenty-one languages, including Catalan and traditional Mandarin.

I love collaborations, and two of my favourite projects have included a memoir of Rape Crisis Cape Town (the world’s oldest independent surviving crisis organisation) and Stray: An anthology of animal stories and poems, co-edited with Diane Awerbuck. The cover was designed by Joey Hi-Fi, the international award-winning designer who does the covers for Lauren Beukes’s books, and the proceeds benefit TEARS, a local animal charity.

Another passion project is Short Story Day Africa. I serve on the Board, and as the Editing Mentor for our annual anthology of stories from all over the African continent. This project is not only designed to showcase the best in fresh talent, but to develop editing skills and support structures by choosing promising young African publishers to nurture. So far I’ve worked on the collection Migrations, with Efemia Chela (Zambia) and Bongani Kona (Zimbabwe) and ID, with Nebila Abdulmelik (Ethiopia) and Otieno Owino (Kenya). I’m currently working on the 2018 anthology, Hotel Africa, with Ope Adedeji (Nigeria), Anne Moraa (Kenya) and Agazit Abate (Ethiopia).

Away from creative writing and editing, I work as a teacher: I love it more than anything else. While life has conspired to lead me away from university teaching, I still do training and facilitate workshops, both in South Africa and abroad. Some of my clients include the African Gender Institute, the Centre for Conflict Resolution, the Human Sciences Research Council, Wiki, and the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation. This overlaps with my activist hat. My work on sexual violence has been used for training purposes by Rape Crisis Cape Town, UN-INSTRAW, Womankind UK and the National Resource Center for Sexual Violence in the United States. This is emotionally draining but necessary work.

Until the tide of sexual violence abates in South Africa, I have to find sanity in more soothing work. Most notably, I spent ten unforgettable years working on the late cricket guru Bob Woolmer's magnum opus, Bob Woolmer's Art and Science Of Cricket, with a team that included co-author Tim Noakes and editor Tom Eaton. I have also worked on an anthology of landscape writing, several university textbooks, and much more besides.

You can find out more about all of my books here.