Spotlight on Karen Jeynes

Karen Jeynes was first published in English Alive, when she was in high school. After studying English and Drama at UCT, she wrote the plays "Laying Blame", "sky too big", "Backwards in High Heels" (co-authored with the cast), "Don't Mention Sex", "Kiss Kiss" and the multi award-winning "Everybody Else (is Fucking Perfect)". Her teenage novel, Jacques Attack (co-authored with Nkuli Sibeko) was published in 2004, and her latest book, Flipside, was co-authored with Eeshaam September.


This November Karen will be presenting "sky too big" at the Women Playwright's International Conference in Mumbai.

Q. How did you become a writer?

I've always been one. When I was little I made a newspaper for our street. I had poetry published in High School. It's just something I do!

Q. How do you decide what to write about? Where do you get ideas?

I'm a voyeur. I watch people. I get ideas for characters - who are these people, what are their stories? Sometimes newspaper stories trigger ideas. But it's always about people.

Q. What general advice would you give aspirant writers/journalists just starting out?

Write. Write all the time. Write about everything. But just as importantly, read. Read the publications you'd like to write for. Read their competition. Or if you want to be a scriptwriter, go to movies, go to the theatre, download scripts, read plays. Learn from everyone else.

Q. How easy is it to make a living as a writer?

It's not! Both because there's not a huge amount of money in it, and because sometimes your creativity just isn't there. It's not a career I'd recommend lightly.

Q: What do you consider to be the most important writing tip you ever received?

If you can't write the press release for your script, don't bother writing it. If you can't think why people would want to watch it, they probably won't.

Q: When you mark your students' work, what are key qualities you look for in their work?

A big thing for me is how well they've incorporated feedback. Are they improving? Can they take what I say and incorporate it into their own work? And what that also includes is: do they have a personal voice? Anyone can be a competent writer, but in order to be good you need something truly special. The worst criticism I can give is "there was nothing really wrong with it." That's bad. Then you know you're in trouble.

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