Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Interview with Shirley Tucker and Giveaway

Recently Anthony Horvath, publisher of Diamonds in the Dust, wrote a guest blog for us. Today I welcome the author—Shirley Tucker. Leave a comment and your email address for a chance to win a copy of Shirley's book.

Born in the doctor’s bed in a leper colony, Shirley Tucker spent her early years in Zambia. Despite having no access to children’s books, her love of story began with her father, who, as his family traveled long distances on dusty roads,  entertained them with spontaneous stories of animals . At eight, she moved with her family to Zimbabwe where she eventually became a teacher and told stories of her own. Off on the next leg of her country-hopping life, she moved to South Africa where she met her Canadian husband, Mark. Three wonderful children followed and then another country move – to Canada this time.

In 2007, the children now grown, stayed in Canada while Shirley and Mark returned to South Africa where they founded Phakamani Foundation, an organization that lends money, with training and support, to poor people in South Africa to build small businesses.

Welcome, Shirley.  As a fellow South African, I find it very exciting that Diamonds in the Dust, with its South African characters and setting, is being  published by an American publisher. How did this come about?

Thank you Ruth. I’d written Diamonds in the Dust and sent it to a few literary agents in the States without success. One day as I was searching for writer’s resources on the web, I saw a novel competition run by Athanatos Ministries and thought it wouldn’t hurt to see if they would accept a foreign submission. They did and, amazingly, I won.

Please tell us about your book and what inspired you to write it.

Coming back to South Africa after living in Canada for fourteen years, I got involved with an organization in our area called Hands at Work, helping with a group of orphans with homework and life-skills training after school once a week. One of the projects I did with them was a writing competition where they were given the opportunity to tell their stories. Their stories exposed me to a whole new world and opened my heart to the enormous challenges they face every day.  I realized the children themselves are hidden behind the staggering numbers of orphans. So I wanted to give them a face and tell their stories.

Here's one of the stories:

Themba* started life as a happy little boy whose mother sewed for a living and his father was a truck driver.  He was doing well in school but while in grade four his life began to unravel. His parents began to quarrel and before long his mother left the family and he never saw or heard from her again. Life without mom was very difficult but his father did his best to look after Themba* and his two younger brothers. 

Then three years later his father became very sick. Sometimes Themba* got up at 4:00 each morning to clean the house and feed his brothers and prepare food for his father for while he was away at school. Only then would he go to school and at break time, he set off again to check on his father. 

One day he arrived home to find his father on the floor, unable to move or see. The pot had been left burning on the stove and the house enveloped in smoke. His father asked him to call his uncle but “I didn’t call him because my heart was very painful to see my father dying on the floor. I went … to the corner of the house and I cried there until the bell ringed at school but I was unable to go back because I could not leave him dying.”

His uncle stepped in and took his father to hospital where he stayed for four months. There was no money to get a taxi to see his father and no food in the house to feed himself and his brothers. So he went looking for a job and found one selling fruit and vegetables in a spaza shop. Then news came his father had died. His uncle took the boys to live with him. At first all was well and he thought his uncle “cool” but soon reality sank in. The uncle took everything he wanted from Themba’s* family home and his wife began to mistreat the boys. 

The boys called the uncle’s house Egypt “because we were suffering there.” Finally they left the uncle and went to live back home where “we weren’t treated badly anymore.” Two weeks later Masoyi Home Based care, a wonderful organization in the area,found them and gave them food and clothing. He says, “As long as we are together with God, nothing will defeat us.” He goes on to say, ”During those hard times I thought it was punishment from God, but I didn’t know that he is preparing me to be responsible in the future, like today I am responsible to take care of my brothers and our house.” 

* Please note, name changed to protect Themba's identity

What a heart-breaking tale, no wonder you wanted to give the orphans a face.

Where can our readers buy Diamonds in the Dust?

In the USA and Canada it's available through Amazon in print and Kindle versions. In South Africa we’re still working with Kalahari. Until that pans out, I am getting a consignment of books and am willing to send people copies from home. My email address is shirleytucker@telus.net

Note from the publisher: Diamonds in the Dust is available as an e-book. Here is the link to purchase it directly from us:  http://athanatosministries.org/store/products/diamonds-in-the-dust-ebook

For those who cannot use paypal, our credit card processor, they may be able to find it on Kindle, the Nook, or Smashwords.  All of those are linked off of that same page.

How did you research your book?  

Most of my research came from the children themselves and from what those who have worked with them on a full time basis have told me. I’ve been in the homes of orphans. And seen how they live. The setting for my book is in the area where I live and where our organization operates so it was very familiar to me. I have tried to paint a picture in my book of the conditions many of the orphans find themselves in after their parents have died and the kind of lives they lead.

How did you weave in a spiritual thread without being preachy?

I wanted the spiritual side of things to come out naturally as it would in everyday life - through the story. It was important to me that the story itself revealed the truths about God. I know how off-putting it is when a writer’s opinions suddenly intrude their writing. You hear the writer, instead of the story.

I mentioned in one of my blogs that two people send me updates on bad situations in a neighbouring country. Both write about similar things. Both have a desire to tell the world about injustices done there. One tells what he feels about the wrongs done. The other tells the stories. I delete the first one’s emails but I love to read the second writer because I can make up my own mind how to feel about it. I feel the same about writing what is important to me. The story has the power to speak for itself. There is a short passage when my protagonist has a chat with God but I tried to make it simple, creative and short. The truth is there but, hopefully, it comes through as naturally as breathing.

Did you have any particular Bible verses running through your mind as you wrote?

I didn’t have one verse going through my mind but the Bible has more to say about the poor, widows and orphans, the vulnerable than just about any other subject. If they’re important to God I want them to be important to me too. Like  Isaiah 58:7-9 “…is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?  Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer.”

What do you hope your readers will take away from your book?

As I mentioned already, I’m hoping readers will see the faces of orphans and understand the struggles and feel their pain.  Since we’ve been back in South Africa I have been blown away by how many people here are involved in some way, making a difference in the lives of the vulnerable but there is so much more to be done.

Please tell us about your current book/project.

My next book is another mystery/adventure, set in a game reserve in South Africa with a sub theme of rhino poaching and an underlying theme of fatherlessness in South Africa. For whatever reason, fathers are largely absent from families. Generations of boys are growing up without a dad to help, encourage, train and  teach them how to be men - with devastating effects. Girls largely have their mothers but many boys have to rely on “street talk” to tell them how to live. I’m hoping to address some of this in my new book.

Wow, that's going to be powerful book. 
Thank you sooo much for the interview.  I’m really excited about your book and it’s great to have the chance to help promote it.

Bless you Ruth for what you’re doing to help new and experienced authors.

Shirley has kindly offered to send a copy of Diamonds in the Dust to one lucky reader anywhere in the world. Please leave a comment for Shirley and your email address before Thursday 15th December if you would like to be entered in the draw. The winner will be announced in the Sunday Edition on the 18th December.

The giveaway is void where prohibited; the odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. Entering the giveaway is considered a confirmation of eligibility on behalf of the enterer in accord with these rules and any pertaining local/federal/international laws.


  1. Fabulous interview Ruth and Shirley. Thank you. How GOOD to read of the success of another South African. Please won't you join our online group for Christian South African Writers? Ruth can tell you about it. You would be such an encouragement!
    I would LOVE to read this book so please enter me in the draw. shirl.corder@gmail.com

  2. Shirley

    Diamonds in the Dust sounds fascinating ... and what a beautiful title when one thinks of the African orphans in their dusty environments, and yet, deep down they are just diamonds waiting to be found.

    Just reading your interview is spurring me on to want to finish writing the book I started on my mother's life and how she grew up in an orphanage (1935-1943).

    I myself am starting to be exposed more and more to those who are homeless as my youngest son goes out on street ministry, bringing home the destitute for some clothes or a meal. When one reads Matt 25:35-40, how can one turn your back and not help where you can?

    ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,
    I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

    “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?

    When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

    “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

  3. Oh, ps. Please enter me for the draw :)

  4. Thank you for your encouragement, ladies. I'm looking foward to getting to know more of and about you. Shirley, when my life settles down, I would love to join CSAW.

  5. Diamonds in the Dust is, I'm sure, just the tip of the iceberg of suffering children. Your heart's cry is well written in this interview. I would like to have the opportunity to win your book.

    desertrose5173 at gmail dot com

  6. Another thought. Have you hooked up with Lisa Harris. She is in Africa as well.

  7. Whew, this book sounds like a gem, Shirley! Just thinking about those orphans, from what you have said in this interview, brings tears to my eyes. I can't wait to read your book. Fiona xx

  8. Yes, there's nothing like connecting with a parentless child who is without resources or hope, to change your apathy to gratitude.

  9. Judging by the comments today, Shirley is well on her way to giving the orphans a face.

    Thank you for all the comments.

    Please remember to leave your email address if you want to be included in the draw.

  10. God finds so many different ways to bring encouragement to others. Telling the stories of those who are poor and needy brings home to many the need to reach out to help others. We are so often deaf and blind to those who live outside our own little circle, and Shirley, you are helping us to grow in compassion and care for those who are less fortunate, by awakening our emotions. Thank you! Please enter me in the draw for your book.

  11. Ruth Ann & Shirley, thanks for your insightful interview. Shirley, your book sounds like a fascinating & powerful story I'd love to read.
    narelle (at) narelleatkins (dot) com

  12. What an awesome mission God has called you to. I know the book will help us all to become aware of the problems these orphans face. Jesus does have a lot to say about widows and orphans so it must be close to His heart. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. God bless You.
    Glenda Parker

  13. Congratulations, Shirley, on the release of Diamonds in the Dust. I lost my parents at a very young age, too, but I was fortunate I had an adult sibling to care for me. I can't think what might have happend to me if I hadn't. I'm always grateful to God for giving me the life he has. You are bringing the truth about these orphans to the world. Thank you. Blessings, Laura.

  14. Shirley - what a wonderful thing you're doing, giving your time and talents and bringing light and hope to so many countless orphans. I love the title of your book (so perfect!) and enjoyed reading the interview and excerpt too! I don't know if I'm too late, but I'd love to win a copy too! God bless you in your continued work with these children!

  15. A big thank you to all who left comments.

    The winner of Shirley's book is Narelle Atkins.

    Congratulations, Narelle, I'm sure you're going to enjoy your book.