On Books

the FEAST of the Franschhoek Literary Festival 2019


Deadlines loom but it’s impossible for me to move on until I can empty my mind onto the paper (or here onto the laptop).
I hope to contain it all in a vaguely coherent way that will be readable to you, Dearest Reader, but you know what? Part of me doesn’t mind as much- this is only a blog and mostly, it’s what’s in the books that count. I may even break out into bullet points – it’s much faster. Forgive me.

Book people, overall, are a fascinating breed. If you put them on a panel for psycho- analysis, I have no doubt that the results would yield some extraordinary findings. In a nutshell, though, something has happened around them or to them and part of the process of coming to terms with their story is in documenting it in a book. Book people want to record this process somewhere and whether it comes out as fiction with incredible plot or in terms of a beautiful piece of prose, it matters not. Sometimes it’s about vitally important issues- like lawfare or confronting apartheid, issues which serve whole communities and educate the nation but whatever it is, it must come out.
So, the thing about a book festival such as this, apart from a spectacular setting and the (copious!) compulsory wine and of course THE BOOKS, are the people behind the books. I’m intrigued by book people and when they’re talking about their books, you learn a hellava lot more than by simply picking the book off a shelf and reading it or (even worse, sometimes) reading someone else’s review of same book. We are not all interested in the same things – how could we possibly all like the same books? We find things that resonate with us, that connect us to something that we’re interested in and that’s why we read what we like!
But what I learnt this time at the Lit Fest, is a very interesting fact about many (not all but some) is that in order to write, you must overcome fear. Fear, vulnerability, insecurity, whatever you want to call it, it’s there. Not good enough, not interesting enough, not literary enough, not brave enough.
(I’m nearly ready for my bullet points. I didn’t mean to go down this path…)

My only regret is to have missed out on so many book talks simply because it’s impossible to attend them all – and especially if there’re 9 of them going on simultaneously! That’s when you meet to debrief and drink wine and hear from others what they heard, and you didn’t.

It’s bloody marvellous this whole thing.

Here’s what I learnt from the talented, authors I met or heard or have read (sadly, far too few):

  • On marketing your book: Eva Mazza (Sex, Lies and Stellenbosch) has taken a book, together with her extraordinary publisher, to new heights of selling fiction because of her dedicated, passionate and bold vision of getting books into readers hands. Being connected and generous and grateful to her readers and writers (and writing a book of unbelievably steamy sex scenes with effortless ease it seemed, and for me at least, some interesting undertones of women in patriarchal society) is an endearing quality of a writer. ‘Sex sells’ she says and we know but I can tell you quite candidly, that though this is not my first choice of book to read (I tend to read non-fiction mostly) it’s because of her that I wanted to read it. Colourful, bold, brave honest and just fab.
  • On choosing your words: Darryl Bistow- Bovey (he, the famous writer of travel columns and books!) revealed that even he suffers not from writer’s block per se but from writing which is good enough. That cycle of self- loathing. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done it or know you can do it, it still causes anxiety. And Botlhale Tema, (Land of my Ancestors) that for her, she needed to learn to use the right words to tell her own story and that when it is a human, family one, there was no need for it to be politicized. She wanted it for herself, to be a human story, to ‘keep it quiet’ because otherwise it becomes everyone else’s. I loved that thought.
  • On finding the time to write: That seeking out the creative side of one’s brain when you are automatically geared for the academic/technical side is something that people like these, Doctors or Academics find hardest. That Zapiro, he of world class fame as SA’s best cartoonist and a vital, integral part of the awareness/understanding/solution for political peace in South Africa, is also contemplating writing a book. Now that would be extraordinary.
  • On books about the Judiciary and South Africa: Lawfare: My past lecturer, mentor – okay, my absolute hero, Dennis Davis on the survival of the judiciary with the absolute deluge of political cases these days (something that concerns me too) : that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights (powerful and democratically sound starting points ) can only withstand constant scrutiny if the implementation by the other organs, but particularly the parts of the Executive, the police and foremost the NPA is doing its job. Separation of powers, that wonderful doctrine can only work when everybody is #doingtheirjob. This brings up all kinds of issues of the (political? sometimes? ) appointments/transparency of the JSC and articles of past and brilliant academics like Etienne Mureinik on the priorities of cases which impact on the socio-economic before anything else to get this country right. Michelle le Roux is equally so eloquent and inspiring ( her new campaign apparently, #doyourjob – and that means everyone , parliamentarians, lawyers, employers, employees, trade unions, civil society…) that my head starts to ache again as I walk out.
    ‘I think I must get back into law’ I whisper to my long- suffering husband as we walk out. “What? Be an advocate and get involved with all that stuff and do all that hard, grinding, slog…” It never ends for me. Can more women lawyers please stand up! There is so much work to do.
    Next was the Power of One, with John Dugard, Ray Ndlovu and Wandile Ngcaweni. On the plight of Zimbabwe, Confronting Apartheid and Fees Must Fall.

Now can you imagine what there is to say about that here? On this blog? Hahahaha!

And that was just until 5pm on Saturday.

Then you still have to drink wine and socialise and watch rugby (or talk right through it in my case) and walk the streets to find the friends staying down the road and by now your feet are tired and sore ( especially when you wear ridiculous boots on a beautifully warm day) and then have supper at one of the amazing restaurants and talk more books and find your way home later.

On Sunday alone there were more than another 20 events or so! Brave human stories of authors with titles of talks like, ‘I’m still Here and What is a man? Subjects of Art, poaching, multilingual repertoire. And more tools of the trade: visual story tellers and the role of reviewers and commentators.

But it was time for me to go home. I am a mother of four. And the inspiration for my writing life in so many ways.

I devoured Sex Lies and Stellenbosch in a few short hours as I lay on the couch later and I want to write my thoughts about it – about privileged women who are trapped and have ‘nowhere to go’ – it’s a pretty universal story, but I’ve said enough for now.

Cannot wait til next year!

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