Writing advice and wisdom at Kingsmead Book Fair

 In Books, News, Tips for Writers

Here’s a guest blog post by All About Writing community member Aimee-Claire Smith, who joined us on the McGregor Writing Retreat and is a recent graduate of our Creative Writing Course.

In my childhood, very few things could stop me from reading. If my father took away my book because I was supposed to be doing chores or homework, I simply selected another from the bookshelf.

When loadshedding struck and my brothers bemoaned the loss of their PCs, I was happily curled up in bed, reading by candlelight. This hardiness continued into adulthood, and a cold front accompanied by rain could do little to discourage me from attending the 2017 Kingsmead Book Fair. Nor, apparently, was I the only one – the grounds of Kingsmead College teemed with booklovers of every kind.

This years Kingsmead Book Fair, centered around the theme of “Worlds Within Words”, boasted a programme packed chock-a-block full with panels, talks, readings, and workshops for all ages. From thriller writer Lauren Beukes “Create-a-Critter” workshop for kids to Iain Thomas, “short, heart-breaking poems”, attendants were spoiled for choice – far from being limited to all things literary, topics spanned politics, parenting, and environment, with an entire programme dedicated to the culinary world.

When you weren’t attending a specific event, you could browse the Exclusive Books pop-up shop and stock-up on books by all the featured authors (taking advantage of the occasion and having them signed on the spot!) or take a foray into the children’s section and delight yourself with beautifully illustrated story books, because you’re never too old for a good fairy tale.

I myself attended three panels. First up was Trigger Warning, which bravely tackled the issue of how (and whether or not) to write about trauma and violence. Nape `a Motana (author of Hamba Sugar Daddy) likened violence, in a story, to hot water – the hotter the water, the stronger the tea. I wasn’t sure whether he meant the teabag to represent the character or the story, though!

After the panel, I spoke briefly to Ishara Maharaj (Namaste Life), who disclosed that writing the violent scenes in her novel, which drew from personal experience, was both painful and therapeutic – something which I have also found true in my own writing.

In Words should be Weighed, Not Counted, four short-story writers discussed the joys and struggles of writing this particular form. “Writing short stories is for people with commitment issues,” Diane Awerbuck (Cabin Fever and Other Stories) joked. But like all good jokes, this one carries a grain of truth, which was reflected when Yewande Omotoso (How Free is Free?) admitted to having deep admiration for writers with the “disciple and patience” to write full-length novels.

With brilliance, humour, and incredible insight, Jolyn Phillips (Tjieng Tjang Tjerries) spoke of how she sees being a writer as “pretty much like being an orthopedic surgeon, or a Frankenstein. You’re making decisions – to add or remove a limb – based on what’s best for the body, but you don’t know whether the body’s going to reject it, or if it’ll look a bit weird.”

Lidudumalingani Mqombothi (Caine Prize Winner) confessed, “Every time I sit down to write, it’s a combination of torture and pleasure,” – a sentiment every writer can relate to – and, with a no-nonsense, practical attitude that we at All About Writing can definitely get behind, Diane Awerbuck proclaimed: “It’s a sin, an absolute sin, to to think that your writing is so good that you don’t need a plot.”

After the panel, I overheard Yewande Omotoso talking with a fan and aspiring writer, to whom she divulged the timeless advice of: “Read an immense amount. And start writing. Writing is a habit. Train yourself to record your thoughts and your ideas.”

Then, in an effort to escape the paralysing cold and to enrich my mind further, I slipped into one of the free-admission programmes running throughout the day in the Artist’s Studio, where I caught painter and sculptor Mary Sibande telling the tale her alter-ego Sophia, who features in all of her work.

When asked when fans could expect her next work, Mary said, “I’m busy collecting images for the next body of work,” – a simple yet beautiful nod to the truth that all artists require time to gather inspiration and influence as much as they need to just sit down and get the work done.

Before taking the Gautrain back home to Pretoria, I attended one final session, Unbound Imaginations, a panel on writing speculative fiction. Alex Latimer (South) emphasised the importance of writers “getting behind” every one of their characters – even the antagonists and Sam Wilson (Zodiac) debunked the age-old adage of “Write what you know” with “write what you care about”. To close off, Diane Awerbuck inspired us with these words: “Anyone can learn to write. You can’t teach talent – but there are basics.”

All the panels were a delight to attend. I felt safe and exhilirated, knowing that I was surrounded by people all of whom, in one way or another, shared my passion for books and for literacy. Aside from having gained invaluable advice and wisdom on writing, my to-read list, already miles long, grew a substantial ammount!

Aimee-Claire Smith is 18 years old and lives in Pretoria, South Africa with her father and six siblings. She is still trying to figure out exactly what to call herself and what to do with her life, but knows that she really likes to write and hopes to be able to do it as much as possible. She was homeschooled throughout her schooling career, spends way too much time reading, is a bit of a coffee snob, and likes wearing over-sized patterned blouses. To see more of her work, visit her blog (http://www.shecraftswords.co.za/) or follow her on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/shecraftswords/) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/shecraftswords/)

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