Born in 1947, I grew up in apartheid South Africa. At the age of five, my parents divorced and a writer was born. Skin color – even a fair complexion in a Muslim family – separated people in those days. My brother and sister bonded and I was left out. I was a loner and found solace in reading books and scribbling things down in a diary. The diary was comforting. It was a place to retreat when no one listened. I could write down my fears. Writing turned out to be a coping mechanism but I did not know this at the time. Reading a James Hadley Chase or Mickey Spillane crime novel transported me to another world and I could forget my own.
At the age of twelve, I wrote an episode for “The Creaking Door” program on Springbok Radio, and never heard back. I’m sure it was a lot of nonsense. The same year I pronounced the word assegaai wrong in class and the pupils laughed. I was embarrassed. I spoke mostly Afrikaans at that time and vowed to master the English language.
At the age of twenty-one, I got a call at work and was asked by the Criminal Investigations Department to come down to the police station where I was charged with sitting in the front section of the train. It was horribly humiliating. My mother had bought an illegal identity card to enable me to go to a white college; there was no such thing as a finishing college for people of color at the time. My lawyer spoke up for my rights. Two months later my sister and I immigrated to Canada.
I got married, had two children, and worked for a firm in Canada selling life insurance during the day and writing at night. I joined a writers group. My first big break came when my daughter was involved in a near-fatal car crash, sustained a head injury, and I had to stay home. It was during this time that I woke up in the middle of the night and sat up in bed and wrote “Letter to you, Pa” in longhand. It was a painful piece of writing. I read it at the group on Tuesday night. One of the ladies there said, “Rayda, I would put down that novel you’re writing and send this off to a publisher and propose a book of short stories.” I sent four short stories to Second Story Press and I got a contract for my collection “The Middle Children.”
I returned to South Africa in 1995. Since then I have written seven novels, a travel diary, and two short story collections. I write for magazines and newspapers in South Africa, and also write novels. I won two awards and ninety thousand rand for my best-selling novel Confessions of a Gambler. The film debuted in Miami and Dubai, where I met the famous Paulho Coelho and Danny Glover, who were my fellow panelists on “Bridging Cultural Gaps”. I wrote the script for “Confessions” and directed and starred in the film. My latest book, Joonie, was just published. I am busy now with my second film, “Crossroads”.
For extra income, I can call up an editor and write a piece like “Turning Sixty” for a woman’s magazine. I teach creative writing and have readings once a month at my house. I’m accessible to my readers and sell a lot of my books myself. The National Arts Council has given me a grant for every book I wrote.
Rayda Jacobs is the award-winning writer of the novel Confessions of a Gambler, which was adapted into a script and premiered in Dubai. She has written ten books, converted Confessions of a Gambler into a film, and directed and has also written a multiplot film called “Crossroads” which will go into production this year. Rayda teaches creative writing on Sunday afternoons.
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