Walking in the footsteps of JK Rowling

Literally. I went to Edinburgh, Scotland over the winter/Christmas break and the one and the only thing I wanted to do when I got there, was see where the magic happened. The locations, monuments and scenery that were the backdrop that provided J.K Rowling with the inspiration to finish writing the Harry Potter series.

So the first order of business when I arrived was finding a walking tour that would show us all these places. I booked a two hour guided tour with GetYourGuide and let me tell you it was the best 12 pounds I have ever spent.

z+Uhjut4RWurP3KAFX%SewAs you can tell, I am a Potterhead – a big one. So much so that when the little walking group I joined was sorted into our wizarding classes I was classified as a Death Eater because I answered yes when asked if I believe only people who had read (and reread) the books and watched (and rewatched) the movies was a true fan – I mean duh. But shortly before that, we had been sorted into houses and the “sorting hat” placed me in Gryffindor– so a bit of a tricky one but we move. 

The tour started off in a place that needed very little explaining to the group – Greyfrair’s Kirkyard – the actual graveyard that inspired the (traumatic) scenes from the Little Hangleton Graveyard in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, where we last saw Cedrick Diggory alive (sniffle). Apparently, a mixture of those grey turned black headstones, the names on those headstones and a deep depression inspired Rowling to write some of the most iconic characters and scenes for the series.

She spent days looking into the graveyard from a window at a nearby cafe, the Elephant Cafe and walking in it to keep building on the story she had started writing on a train years earlier about the boy wizard we all came to love. Some of the engraved names I spotted on the day included one Thomas Riddell (Tom Marvolo Riddle/He Who Must Not Be Named/The Dark Lord to us), an unofficial Sirius Black one scrawled on the wall with spraypaint on an unmarked grave and even a little statue that looked exactly like Nearly Headless Nick. Just next to us was a very Hogwarts looking school, George Heriot’s School (circle on left), this building and the Edinburgh Castle (circle on right) a short walk away were reimagined to become the school of witchcraft and wizardry we all wanted to go to.


What struck me most in that graveyard (and along the rest of the route really) is the sheer will to press on, in the face of loss and failure, she just kept writing, making space for the process in every free minute of every single day. Picking up the pieces of a broken and grieving heart, raising a baby, studying and trying to survive didn’t get in the way of writing a chapter or two when she could find a quiet enough spot to do so. And to do that and manage to write one of the best book series of all time feels surreal, but one thing it also left me with is the fact that it is possible if you show up for yourself and believe in the things you are actively pursuing. And I believe it is that quality that allowed her to see and harness everything around her so beautifully and craft it into the story of Harry Potter. There are pieces and places that seemed so familiar to me all around Edinburgh because of the way she managed to weave the places and names into her work. I know it will sound cliche, especially in this context, but it was a true and simple lesson of the magic of commitment and determination. I hope to one day harness and live out this lesson.

Dressed up as revolution

Dabbling the dark arts of fiction, read the full but short story here.

“Their conversation is punctuated with the topping up of wine glasses and champagne flutes. The men and women dressed in black and white lingering on the side-lines catching bits of conversation, looking annoyed as more food is ordered by the increasingly loud bunch — their agitation making those seated at the table slightly aware of their privilege.”

Be gentle.

I’m going to be a writer

Writers Dominique  Botha and Carol-Ann Davids were two of the 'new' authors on the panel. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
Writers Dominique Botha (left) and Carol-Ann Davids (right) were two of the ‘new’ authors on the panel. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

“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.

Carol-Ann davids and Claire Robertson sign copies of their books for fans. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
Carol-Ann Davids (left) and Claire Robertson (right) sign copies of their books for fans. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

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.