The Youngsters: Mandy Wiener
In this series of interviews, HowzitMSN takes a look at the new The Youngsters book series, written by some of South Africa's young rising stars about their experiences as young adults. Award-winning journalist Mandy Weiner edited the novels, and we chat to her about the series.
Journalist Mandy Weiner at The Youngsters launch.
Known for her hard news stories and the hit book Killing Kebble, Mandy Wiener stepped out of her comfort zone to edit the five very different and funny books in The Youngsters series.
How did you get involved?
I worked with the publishers while writing Killing Kebble, so shortly after that was published they
asked me if I would get involved with this project. It was the brainchild of Terry Morris, the MD of
Pan Macmillan. I really liked the idea - it was fresh and different. Something that hadn't been done in South Africa.
What was the pitch they gave you?
It was to be editor for a series of books that would be young voices. They looked at the idea of
The Elders and they wanted young voices to do something similar, thus The Youngsters. Young
people who are popular, who are prominent, have big ideas, and are active on social media and
other modern channels. People who have their finger on the pulse of the youth of the country. The publishers wanted me to play an oversight role - I guess you could say I was the grown-up! In this group I'm the serious kid who deals with death and destruction in my day job. So for me - I loved it. It was so different to what I usually do.
Did you have any say in the selection of authors?
Yes. Right from the start we had a list of people - and the list was pretty long. They had to be under 35, they had to be popular - we narrowed it down to five names of people who were willing and able to create these books.
Did they all do it by themselves? Were there any ghost writers?
There was a little bit of ghost writing. Not with all of them, but there was some. Danny K had a
ghost writer, Anele had some help, and obviously Nik worked with Gillian, but they have done so
for a long time. None of them have written a book before. Khaya is an excellent writer, so is Shaka. Anele writes likes she speaks - she just goes! So I was careful to not edit too much. The books had to reflect that raw voice and be conversational.
How did you keep them all in line? Was there a common theme or thread that they had to follow?
It was pretty tough. They all have such strong personalities and they are all so free-spirited, that
we specifically didn't give them a brief. We just told them to write about things that the youth are
talking about today. One of the goals was to get the younger market to read. If you look at the
statistics in South Africa, only something like two percent of people are buying books. It's tiny. So
we wanted young people to buy books. We also wanted to appeal to people who don't usually buy books. That's why the books are made accessible - they are small and at a good price.
They ARE cheap - only around eighty rands.
That was important. And you can buy one or you can buy all five or just buy the ones by those people you care about. Hopefully you'll buy the one, like it and buy the rest. As long as you read!
That's the most important.
What if I am not a fan or too old? Should I pick up a copy?
Absolutely! A lot of people have asked me on Twitter: I'm not a youngster, should I buy the books? And it's a resounding yes. The thing for me is that while I edited the books I learned a lot. I did not know a lot of the stuff they were talking about, stuff which is so relevant to the youth. For example, Khaya has a chapter about Towning and I had no idea what that was. And Anele at one point writes about weaves and relates them to men. She takes these completely contrasting ideas and relates them. That's how she talks - that is exactly how she is in real life. She goes all over the place. That was one of the more difficult parts of my role - the writers would go off on tangents. My challenge was reigning them in.
What if I'm a youngster and I'm worried that this book might be condescending or lecturing me?
I don't think any of the five authors would profess to being experts or condescending in any way.
The nice thing about the book is it's like sitting on a couch and having a conversation. They made a point of not making the books preachy. I think you can read it and relate to one of the books in one way or another. And when you don't relate you will learn something.
Was it a challenge coming from the hard news world and Killing Kebble to something like this?
I think I needed to do this after Killing Kebble. That was very taxing and dealt with hard crime, heavy with politics and was a very dense book. This was lighter, in a sense, but not to detract from the content. While Nik and Gillian are very humorous, and Anele can be quite irreverent, they still tackle some serious issues. What I enjoyed is it wasn't about news and allowed me to get off the treadmill for a bit. I really enjoyed that: stepping away from a day in the newsroom and to go to their texts and deal with issues that are completely different.
Has it enriched your ability as a news writer?
Ja, it has changed my writing a lot. When you are dealing with different people and the way they write, you learn a lot. It was very challenging.
Do you think you might have a new career as an editor?
No, I still prefer writing!
Would you edit another such series if you were asked?
I don't know - I guess I'll have to see how it goes. I'd consider it. It's been a wild ride and I got to
meet some fabulous people. They are all in their own right so successful and such stars. Those are not the kind of circles I usually move in, so it's been interesting.
Would you ever write one of these books?
They asked me to and I said no, because I preferred more of an oversight role. After Killing Kebble I felt I needed to chill out a little.
Do you feel like a celebrity, especially after the success of Killing Kebble?
No, but it is very surreal. I still feel like a journalist, not an author.
Find Mandy on Twitter: @MandyWeiner