Nozizwe Cynthia Jele shatters a massive ceiling

BD: How did the love for writing come about?
NCJ: Perhaps the love of writing came from the love of reading. As a child I used to read cartoons and comics, which were replaced by romance books in my teens, e.g. Mills & Boon, Danielle Steele and Jackie Collins formed a staple reading diet. In my late teens/early twenties I graduated to more mainstream literature, mostly western literature. I now read mainly African literature. I’m discovering many brilliant authors and getting educated on the continent and its people.
BD: Your book holds the title of being the first book by a female author in South Africa to be adapted into a movie, how does holding this amazing title feel?
NCJ: What is exciting and encouraging is that a local novel has gone the full circle of being developed into a film. Many books get optioned by movie producers, meaning there is an intention to adapt them into a film, however few make it into full production due to limited funding.
BD: What was the inspiration behind Happiness is a four letter word?
NCJ: Happiness is a Four-Letter Word came about from reading too many books and watching TV shows about thirty-something year old women, and what they go through in their everyday life. I believe women reflect a lot about who and where they are at this age. They start to have conversations with themselves and those around them about what’s important and not. This is also the age where major decisions are taken, life altering even, be it relating to their health and wellbeing, careers, relationships, and families.
BD: Is there a character that you, are able to relate to, if so, who?
NCJ: I suppose Nandi, she works too hard and is terribly indecisive.
BD: Have you seen the movie? What were your thoughts?
NCJ: I’ve seen the movie about 7 times (don’t judge). I discover something new each time I watch it and fall in love with it more. The audience’s reaction was the other reason I kept going back, people really engaged with the movie and expressed their sentiments in the theatres. I thought that was fantastic.
BD: People usually say that movies are not as good as the book, do you think the movie has done your book any justice?
NCJ: I was lucky to have been involved with the development of the script, so I knew the parts of the book that would not feature on screen. And I was also aware of the direction the production team wanted to take, for example, softening the storyline and focusing on the visuals (locations, wardrobe, etc.). I think that the movie has done a great job in keeping true to the Happiness storyline, and that’s what’s important to me.
BD: The movie is what is popularly known as a “chick flic” which is fine. Do you have any plans to do any different types of books?
NCJ: At the end of the day readers aren’t bothered by genres, they want good and relatable stories. I’m working on my second novel, which has a different tone, setting and structure to Happiness. I’m not sure how it will be classified.
BD: Are there any messages you want to send through this book in this atmosphere of bling, “blessers” and other seemingly superficial pursuits?
NCJ: People have their lives to live, and if materialism and other superficial pursuits make them happy, let it be. The only message I wish comes through is that we often have choices in life, and the decisions we make have consequences, good or bad, intended or unintended. We should choose wisely.
BD: It would appear the “blesser” culture is taking hold rather than the pursuit of strong, assertive and financially independent women in popular culture. Would you say this is the case or just some passing fad?
NCJ: I understand the ‘blesser’ phenomenon as something that has always been present in our society – the power dynamics – younger women (and men) looking up to older men (and women) for financial support. The difference between then and now is that social media is making things much public, and the ‘blessed’ are not shy about parading their ‘blessings’.
BD: How does the publishing industry treat women, and specifically black women?
NCJ: I haven’t experienced any preferential treatment in the industry for a particular race or gender. Publishers want good stories that will sell. I do feel the local industry is more open to a variety of topics or content; I’ve seen exciting and unexpected titles come out recently. Having said that, there is definitely a shortage of black women writers, it would be good to see more women writers.
BD: Do you have any formal training in writing or is it simply a talent you possess?
NCJ: I don’t have a formal writing qualification, in fact, most writers don’t. I learn as I go, but reading is the foundation.
BD: Whilst writing the book, did you have any idea how big it would be?
NCJ: No, I was more concerned about finishing the manuscript and getting it published. I had hoped that the book would appeal to those who don’t normally read novels, and especially local fiction. I think it is achieving some successes, and the movie has also helped to spark that interest.
BD: What does success mean to you?
NCJ: Success means every South African citizen has access to books, whether buying them or accessing them from their school and community libraries. Books are a basic necessity. I know what I know mostly from reading.
BD: What legacy would you want to leave behind?
NCJ: I don’t know about a legacy. I wish to continue to write meaningful and empowering stories, and to support as many causes that promote literature and ensuring wider accessibility

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