SA author spotlight: Bontle Senne, author of Shadow Chasers Book 1: Powers of the Knife

Today I’d like to welcome South African author Bontle Senne to the blog.

Bontle, who has recently published her debut novel for middle grade to early teen readers, is here to chat about why she’s written for this specific age-group, especially in a South African context, and to give us an introduction to the spunky characters in her novel, which is the first in a brand new series with a uniquely South African flavour and setting.

Before we get around to chatting to her, here’s some information about the book.

About the book:
What if you discovered that you come from an ancient family of Shadow Chasers, with a duty to protect others from an evil Army of Shadows?

Nom is an outsider at school. When she and Zithembe become friends, life still seems ̶ well ̶ a little ordinary.

But when an army of monsters threatens their world, it’s all up to the two of them … and the start of a journey into the dreamworld on a quest that will change their lives.
Powers of the Knife is the first book in the Shadow Chasers trilogy.

It’s an African fantasy adventure ̶ one part family saga, one part hero’s quest.

Add it to your TBR pile.

Describe yourself:

I’m a Libra who enjoys brisk walks near the beach but not on it. I grew up in Johannesburg on a steady diet of Roald Dahl, Goosebumps, and Harry Potter. I have never been able to do one thing at once or for too long.

As a result in high-school, I did ballroom, latin, hip-hop and modern dancing, debating, drama, kick-boxing, public speaking. In university, it became tutoring, debating, fencing, volunteering and burlesque dancing. I still technically live in Johannesburg but I spend a lot of time travelling for work.

Why have you chosen to write for this age group?   

On my first day working in publishing, as an intern at Modjaji Books, my boss, Colleen Higgs, said to me, "What we really need are local children's books. If you want to make a different in local publishing, make children's books".

At the time, I was young(er) and a little self-important so I rejected the idea immediately: I wanted to make "serious" books. I wanted to write "important" literary novels. But over time I realised that, in a Southern African context, children's books are the most important books we have.

There are few books for this age group that are contemporary, Afro-centric, accessible and just fun.

And why these characters?

I love writing girls that kick-ass so that was a given. Nom had to be different from some of the other girls I was writing at the time and - because I had already decided to name her after my mom - I weirdly thought about what my mom would have been like at that age.

Their personalities are pretty similar: action-orientated, fiercely loyal and independent. But Nom needed to have some kind of counter-balance so I wrote a bit of myself into Zee: more analytical and skeptical, more grounded but willing to take as many risks for things that are important to him.

I find that they are still growing to be more like themselves, and less like who I initially thought they were, every time I write them.

What is next for the characters in the story? Any sneak highlights to look forward to in the next book?  

Dragons! Winter is coming! No, I joke... Next is finding Zee's knife. More monsters, more Shadow Chasers, more of Nom running face-first into danger…

Are you as adventurous as the characters in your book?  

I'm not fighting a secret army of monsters or anything but kind of, yes. I have a very risk-taking nature and I get more impulsive as I get older. As long as it doesn't involve heights or extreme sports, I'm in.

Do you think friends who knew you at school would have expected you to become a writer?
In the ninth grade, I had a computer in my room for the sole purpose of being able to wake up in the middle of the night and write.

I wrote a short story a month, poems, one-act plays all at 3am on a school night... I think my childhood friends are surprised that I've ended up doing anything besides being a writer.

When you were a child, of the age of your readers, what did books offer you?  

For a long time, I was painfully shy and introverted. Books were my best friends, my holiday, my safety blanket.

And not just reading them - writing them has been a big part of my life since I was 8 or 9. I think especially if things aren't happy or safe at home, books become your happiness and safety. They were certainly mine.

About Bontle: 

Bontle Senne is a book blogger and literacy advocate. She wrote her first short story at 6 years old and her first book review at 9 years old.

She hasn’t stopped writing ever. Bontle is a former managing director at the Puku Children’s Literature Foundation, a trustee of READ Educational Trust and a part owner of feminist trade publishing house Modjaji Books.

She occasionally writes books reviews for the Sunday Times and even though it was a long time since she was 16, her favourite books are still books for teens.

She has spoken around the world in Congo-Brazzaville, Germany, France and, of course, South Africa about African children’s books and reading.

Follow her on Twitter.

To order a copy of the book, you can visit