Refiloe Moahloli – A Wayback Wednesday Interview

Pamela and Refiloe Moahloli
Pamela and Refiloe

Refiloe Moahloli is the best-selling author of How Many Ways Can You Say Hello, Tullula and Yes Yanga! She is passionate about writing stories that bring out the best in the human spirit, stories where children can identify and celebrate themselves.

You are one of the most proactive authors I know, you are out there on social media and IRL constantly promoting your books and literacy. What impact have books and reading made on your life? Do you truly believe that books have the power to change people’s lives? 

Books and reading have given me a sense of purpose for my life, an exhilarating reason to wake up in the morning beyond just mere survival. I do believe books have the power to change lives, they have changed mine.

As far as I know you have published three books – the smash hit How Many Ways Can You Say Hello?, Tullula and Yes Yanga! Tell us the inspiration behind each book and what they are about (brief synopses).  

Book launch Love Books

How many ways can you say hello was inspired by nieces, with them starting school early and being exposed to the diversity in our country, our world – I wanted to write a book that celebrated who they are and encouraged them to share it with others. It’s about a girl who travels the country, makes friends and learns the many ways to say hello in South Africa’s official languages.

Tullula is a story that my cousin asked me to write, she had come across Simon Mahlo’s embroidery work and loved his illustration style for children. They introduced me to this majestic bird named Tullula, and I wrote a story on how being brave and challenging of the status quo not only benefits the individual, but everyone around them as well.

Yes Yanga! was sparked by my love of cricket, I have always been fascinated by (and miss) the games we used to play as kids, and found so many similarities between cricket and 3 Tins. The focus in the success of a sports player is not so much on the technicalities of the game; but the skill, discipline and spirit of the individual involved. Therefore you could put them to any challenge, and they would do well. Yes Yanga! is about celebrating the champion within all of us.

I know that Yes Yanga! Was translated into isiXhosa. How important do you think it is for children to read stories in their mother tongue, and are we doing enough to get books translated?

It’s critical, especially at a young age – their minds are so malleable the more languages the better! And most importantly it’s about preserving the child’s heritage, there is so much richness to that. There is always more that can be done, as long as we do the best we can with what we have in each moment.

Refiloe Moahloli signing the isiXhosa version of her book for me
Refiloe signing the isiXhosa version of her book for me

It’s no secret that I have had a tough year as far as my own writing goes. I was so touched when you called me up out of the blue to check up on me and tell me to keep on keeping on. Would you like to share with our readers some of your low moments as a writer and how you managed to overcome them?

Refiloe and I celebrate our books being chosen for the Exclusive Books Homebru promotion with Lorienne Brown from Penguin Random House SA

There have been some touch and go moments there when I have struggled financially and I felt I almost betrayed my passion for writing.

I personalised it and couldn’t see the wood for the trees.

After taking a bit of a step back I realised it’s much bigger than just lil ole me and I had to fight (mostly within myself) to make it work for the beneficiaries of the work, those known and unknown. 

And on the flip side – tell us about your cracking open the prosecco moments…

When I receive feedback on the positive impact I have contributed to or inspired, whether in a child, an adult or a family; those are always special moments.

I have been stalking you on social media and I am particularly enjoying your poetry. Have you always written poetry? Is there going to be an anthology from you soon?

Poetry has been one of the most beautiful unfoldings for me in the past year. A magical way to express myself. I published a limited edition of my debut anthology ‘It’s not a rejection of you, just feedback’ earlier this year; definitely there are bigger plans for this, the feedback I have received has been encouraging. 

I know that you are a keen sportswoman. Tell us a little about your favourite sports. How did you feel when we won the Rugby World Cup? Is there a rugby book for teens in the offing (just putting it out there!)

I love playing hockey, it gives me such joy being on the field with friends; and I enjoy watching cricket. The rugby world cup win was inspiring. You know it’s always the backstory that gives the most goosebumps…and really how that team consciously worked towards that win is out of this world. Definitely something to be replicated, in our own personal lives and in our bigger community as a country.  Rugby book for teens sounds a like a great idea to me 🙂 (hello, any publishers out there who are keen??)

Tell us about your writing process and how it works collaborating with an illustrator.  

Refiloe reading to the audience at the launch of Yes Yanga at Love Books

My writing process is unstructured, an idea comes into my awareness, it plants itself in my mind and then I proceed to obsess over its fruition.

Sometimes that takes years, other times months – it all depends on where I am at that particular point in life I guess. When It comes to illustrators I usually have an idea of a style for a specific story and find the illustrator who suits it.

Creatively however, I like to step back and alllow them to pour their own interpretation into the visuals. So many beautiful surprises that way…

Do you have any book recommendations for this holiday season?

Sulwe, by Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o is so so beautiful. A must for all bookshelves… 

I know you always have a million projects on the go. What is really next for you (besides the poetry and the rugby book 😊)

2020 exciting times! Have two new projects coming up next year…one on the theme of kindness, one of the most important values to action as children, as adults, as citizens of this beautiful country and planet. (AGREED!!)

Book Launch @ Love Books 1

Thank you so much for taking part in #FridayReads! xxx