“I know I’m going to be a writer one day. I don’t think it in my brain but I know it in my heart,” I have not been able to look back since I read this Chris Van Wyk quote three years ago. It provided me with the resolve to do exactly what I’m doing in my life right now.
This past weekend a colleague and I went to the 2013 Mail & Guardian Literary Festival, to bask in the presence of some of South Africa’s literary giants.
The Market Theatre was the historically apt venue picked to host the festival. Couches in the middle of a black stage in the main theatre providing the speakers with their literal platform.
We sat in one session after another, furiously typing out tweets, scribbling notes and snapping photos. Between all of this we had to process what was being discussed on the various panels. All of which were interesting and engaging in their own ways.
One recurring statement made by writers like Nadine Gordimer and Craig Higginson, was that writing is a calling of sorts. One doesn’t write because they want to but because they have to. Craig went on to say that it simply isn’t worth the pain and effort otherwise.
I want to be like them
I was lucky to sit in on a panel discussion with a theme of ‘fact and fiction’ luckier still to listen to the first panel of women only, all of whom are first time published authors.
I have ambitions of being in their shoes one day. I’m doing journalism in a mission to be on the right side of history and because I really do enjoy writing. I want to be a journalist because I imagined at some point when I am too old or too tired of being on the field, I would magically turn into a writer. Well not magically but all that training will come in handy.
Anyway long story short, becoming a writer is the end goal.
So this panel discussion provided enough information for me to be inspired to keep on keeping on where this dream is concerned.
Journalism and writing
Claire Robertson provided some insight on how she managed to use her experience as a journalist to help her write her book, The Spiral House.
She said that she tried to avoid writing about her personal life, because in journalism reporting on oneself just isn’t done. “I’m not brave enough to write too intimately about my life,” confessed Claire. Clearly I have no such inhibitions, one browse on my tumblr blog is evidence of this.
However, she did insert herself in the places were she deemed it necessary because it was unavoidable. Her background helped her to write much faster than some of the other women on the panel, in this moment she was thankful for the demanding deadlines.
Fact versus fiction
A little fact, mixed with some fiction or do you have to one or the other. Author, Dominique Botha said the truth is incredibly hard and can never really be 100% in that regard. This makes for a problematic relationship between memoir and fiction she added.
“To retrieve memory is the first act of fiction,” she said. Botha added that memory relies on the act of imagination, in an effort to illustrate that memory is compromised and can’t be considered as 100% accurate.
Carol-Ann Davids, author of The Blacks of Cape Town said that one needs a little bit of both (fact and fiction) to tell a story.
The women on the panel emphasised that what they were doing was telling stories. Claire went as far as to say being a good writer is not enough, one has to be a good storyteller to write something of substance.
Maren Bodenstein , said that by way of storytelling and using details you can get a little closer to the ‘truth’ Dominique said was illusory. She said that this was the magic of, “dealing with the theory of literature”.
When asked by chair, Craig how they all managed to write such mature and deep books on their first try, the women unanimously agreed that they got to that point through enduring a lot of rejection and humiliation. “After chipping away at yourself you have no option but to write from your gut,” added Dominique.
The discussion then opened up to the floor in which time questions about getting published and being mothers were asked. Basically it difficult, it’s difficult to get published – to get someone to believe in your story. On being a mother while writing her first book, Carol-Ann said it was challenging but not impossible.
I learnt a thing or two about the journey I am yet to travel and was encouraged to press on.
- Johannesburg: The migrant city that is anti-migrants (thejourneytoadream.wordpress.com)
- Nadine Gordimer helped me see how fiction writing can illuminate reality | Aminatta Forna (theguardian.com)
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