October Newsletter: From Venetian retreats to South African classics

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The Retreat, Venice, 2019

All About Writing’s 2019 Venice Retreat, which ran for two full weeks for the first time, attracted participants from around the world: Canada, the US, the UK and Australia as well as South Africa. Retreaters could book for one of either of the weeks – or for both.

It was, in the words of the UK’s Fizz Carr, who chose the latter option, a “completely wonderful fortnight and I am still pinching myself that it happened…” It was, she adds,  “a privilege to be with lots of people from all around the globe, all interested in their writing and working on projects that were all very special to them.”

Venice is more than a writing retreat. For five years now we have taken apartments on two or three floors of the Palazzo Albrizzi in San Polo – just minutes from the Rialto Bridge, but, astonishingly, off the well-beaten track of the hordes of tourists that pour through the city every day.

The palazzo represents, as Katherine Hoehn, from Florida in the States, said, “an opportunity few people will ever have in Venice.  There are so many things about it that made Venice more real and alive and gave us a sense of what it might have been like to live there once upon a time,  The quirkiness of the rooms…  was part of its charm.”

Sandy Webster, from Somerset West and who is busy writing a children’s book, said that she “loved the quiet serenity and graciousness of the peaceful palazzo – it was like a haven in the middle of a very frenetic Venice.”

But there were also the daily conversations that Jo-Anne and I led about various aspects of writing. These mini-seminars take place before writers scattered to their favourite spots to think and compose. Fizz Carr again: “The seminars were very helpful and really set me up to write for the day…” 

And then, of course, there is Venice itself, la serenissima, with its food, its restaurants, its wine bars, its cicchetti – the infinitely varied snacks you can order to accompany your campari or aperol spritz or prosecco; its churches, its art, its canals, its islands. It sometimes seems that compressed into this single small city are all the wonders of the world.

And finally, there is the wonderful sensation that every true visitor to Venice has experienced: getting lost in its labyrinth of narrow calle, or alleyways, bridges and squares. In fact, if you haven’t got lost twice before breakfast, your day hasn’t really begun…

We’ve already had a number of expressions of interest for next year’s retreat which will run from September 1 to 16. If you’re interested click here to find out more or email us for more information.

August / September Flash Fiction Challenge: And the winner is…

A multitude of entries this time round – a great many of which came from members of the All About Writing community, which is very gratifying. Songs do appear to be excellent story triggers – and many of the stories they inspired were exceptional. Which makes the judging all the more difficult, of course – although we’d far rather it be difficult than easy…

The challenge, you’ll remember, was “to write a piece of flash fiction inspired by a favourite song. Be sure to include the name of the song and the artist in your entry.”

The winner, just a bar or so ahead of the runners up, was one of our old favourites, Bindi Davies, for her sly and chilling tale of a very intimate murder.

We declare two runners-up this time: Dorothy Dyer for her story in which her character describes a quite exquisite and convincing arc; and Shirlane Douglas for her sweet and nicely judged portrait of grief.

Honourable mentions go to Liz Lewis for her really spine-chilling finale; Alain Mackrill for his innovative use of the second person perspective; and Clive Goodchild-Brown for his evocation, from the inside, of a genuine tragedy in pop history.

Click here to read all the winning entries.

The winner receives, as always, a literary assessment on 5000 words of writing worth R 2750 / £ 150 or a voucher to the same value to use on one of our courses or programmes.

The Innocence of Roast Chicken returns on October 30

In 1996, a South African novel burst onto the international literary scene and made an impact with a readership weary of struggle writing.

Jo-Anne Richards’s The Innocence of Roast Chicken was an instant best-seller and received a number of literary accolades.

Some twenty years later, we are proud to announce that Pan Macmillan is rereleasing her novel through their prestigious Picador Africa Heritage Classics Collection, where she joins writers such as Ellen Kuzwayo, Frank Chikane, Nelson Mandela, Winnie Madikizela Mandela, Pallo Jordan and Johan Steyn.

Here’s what Ronnie Kasrils has to say:

“It was the time of politics with a capital ‘P’ when everything had to relate to the liberation struggle and the overthrow of apartheid in far too prescriptive a manner. Yet the very title of Jo-Anne Richards’s debut novel caught my imagination, so evocative of the Sunday roast chicken of my childhood days, that when I bumped into her at a government reception I spontaneously told her, ‘Your book is what this country is all about.’

“This was when a young white woman was not supposed to be the literary flavour of the month. The self-styled literary commissars were outraged. The author was either ahead of her time or her critics were shackled by the ideas of political correctness, race and gender identification. The Innocence of Roast Chicken broke the paradigm. It helped to define the time, giving insight from where some of us had come, and it pointed the way to what we could become. That’s what great writing should accomplish.”

Please join us to celebrate this achievement by one of our own. The novel, along with new material by Jo-Anne, will be relaunched in Johannesburg at Love Books, Melville on 30 October at 6 for 6.30pm.  

She’ll be in conversation with Professor Lesley Cowling. We’d love to see you there and share a glass and a snack. Please RSVP kate@lovebooks.co.za. 

The Cape Town relaunch is set for 7 November, at Exclusives Cavendish, where Jo-Anne will be in conversation with author and poet Finuala Dowling – but more of that next month.

The book is available in all good South African bookstores. If your local doesn’t have it, they’ll be happy to order it. Alternatively, have it delivered by Takealot.com, who are offering a discount at the moment. 

If you prefer to read digitally, here are the e-book links: Amazon and Kobo. 

Let’s give the last word to Finuala:

“On its debut, The Innocence of Roast Chicken was the perfect herald of South Africa’s transition. It remains an enduringly lyrical and evocative landmark novel, both coolly rational and achingly nostalgic in its depiction of the beloved country.”

All About Writing back in Johannesburg

That is to say, Trish and I will be back in Johannesburg for November from our narrowboat in the UK to run a Creative Writing Course, hold a couple of mentoring sessions and, of course, attend the relaunch of Jo-Anne’s Innocence of Roast Chicken.

We’re delighted to announce that Love Books is the new home for the Creative Writing Course. It couldn’t be a more perfect venue. We only have three places available so sign up now to learn the skills you need to write a novel, short stories, creative non-fiction or a memoir.

We’ll also have a box of delights from Namibia – copies of Frankie Francis’s Stay Light in the Saddle. Anyone interested in reading the entrancing account of her years in search not only of trophies and plaudits, but, more importantly, of the perfect equine partner, should send her a WhatsApp message on +264 (0)81 129 5853, or email her at frankie@iway.na. She’ll send you her bank details and after you’ve deposited a mere N$250, she’ll send you a signed copy. Alternatively, if you’re in Johannesburg, you can arrange to pick up your copy directly from us.

October / November Flash Fiction Challenge

All About Writing’s latest writing challenge offers the winner a literary assessment on 5000 words of writing worth R 2750 / £ 150 or a voucher to the same value to use on one of our courses or programmes.

This month, we’re seeking memoir – with a twist. Write a piece of flash fiction (no more than 250 words) set 10 years in your own future. What has happened to you? What is different? What is the same?

Write no more than 250 words. Paste your entry into the body of an email and send to pam@allaboutwritingcourses.com by midnight on 30 November.

Happy writing,

Richard Beynon and the All About Writing team

With thanks to Katherine Hoehn for the photos from Venice.

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