Lessons from the Books on The Bay Literary Festival
An impressive congregation of writers gathered for Books on the Bay’s inaugural literary festival in the naval village of Simons Town, South Africa – a feast for readers and a trove of information, ideas and learning for writers.
In the “Family Legacies” session, Elleke Boehmer spoke to Denis Hirson and Jan Glazewski about their memoirs, My Thirty-Minute Bar Mitzvah and Blood and Silver, respectively. Boehmer pointed out that both were excavating the past and that, while they were very different books, both were about complex family histories and coming to terms with them.
The discussion touched on some important lessons for all writers, and writers of memoir in particular, about the importance of memory in writing and the benefits to the writer of focusing on the self. Here are some of key takeaways:
- Memory has a life of its own and will lead you in sometimes surprising directions in the creative process “Memory is an artist. It doesn’t stick to what really happened.”
- Memory and the act of memoir writing can help you gain an understanding of difficult and confusing events and process emotions that you may be struggling with. It can help you process these complexities and gain a new perspective on things.
- Sit with your trauma and pain and learn to embrace it rather than fight against it. “I don’t want to be cured of trauma. I use it as an ally. The pain I’ve been through, the trauma, are also resources. Writing this book was a way of doing this.”
- The act of memoir writing can be a way of putting into words things you are not able to say out loud. It provides a safer way to explore difficult emotions.
- Memoir writing can help the writer relieve some of the pain and intensity of very painful emotions over time.
- Memory can help us keep a connection with those we have lost and play an important role in processing grief.
Exploring some similar themes, “Damon Galgut (The Promise) and Wahbie Long (Nation on the Couch) discussed the role of historic and intergenerational trauma in fiction writing. In the “Fiction and Psychotherapy” session, they explored the role of fiction in processing this trauma.
The discussion centred on the importance of fiction writing in helping South Africa, as a nation, heal from its historic and ongoing trauma. It contained some important lessons for all writers on their importance in the world. Here are some key takeaways:
- “The unconscious is at the basis of so much. We want things we don’t know we want. It is a rich ground for fiction.”
- Writing can fulfil a similar role to therapy in that it can allow us to articulate trauma and therefore escape it.
- South Africa is a deeply traumatised nation and writing is providing a way for people to process this trauma by telling stories that could not be told before.
- “Novelists don’t resolve things for us. They make us question, and frustrate and confuse us.”
- We often want to avoid history as it is painful, but stories of history can help us to process the difficulties we are experiencing in the present.
- Finding stories of hope can also play an important role in overcoming historic and intergenerational trauma.
In the session “Writing a Novel: How, When, What and Why?” Finuala Dowling, (The Man Who Loved Crocodile Tamers), Henrietta Rose-Innes (Green Lion) and our own Jo-Anne Richards (The Imagined Child) discussed their experiences of being a writer, what inspired them and the most important attributes they believed were necessary for a writer. Here are some of the key takeaways for all writers to consider:
- Being a writer often develops from a love of stories and making one’s own worlds.
- Writers can use their ability to find humour in the tragic, to engage their readers and also process difficulties in their own lives.
- If you get stuck, remember that you have the solutions within you. Let them come to you.
- Writers should approach the world with a sense of openness and inquisitiveness.
- Find the extraordinary in the ordinary and the big story in the small story.
- “The most important attribute for a writer is doggedness.”
- Being a writer is a privilege that allows you a wide range of experiences.
- “It’s difficult having a book out there. It’s incredibly exposing,”
In “The Words Behind the Music” session, All About Writing associate Fred de Vries discussed his book Blues for the White Man with Xavier Nagel. The discussion centred on the influence arts, such as music and writing, have on culture and society and the influence of culture and society on the arts. The arts were shown to be crucial for gaining an understanding of and empathy for others. Here are some key takeaways for writers and artists of all kinds:
Fred de Vries
- Music is more difficult to describe than writing and its interpretation is a much more individual experience.
- The arts are not separate from the political and social realms. They have a great deal of influence on each other.
- The act of writing about people who have very different experiences to you helps you to gain an understanding of the history and culture of others and thus gain empathy for them. This understanding and empathy is then passed on to your readers
We, at All About Writing, are thrilled to have been a small part of what is set to become an annual literary event. We are particularly proud to see members of our community involved as speakers: Jo-Anne Richards, Fred de Vries and memoir writer Jan Glazewski, an AAW alumnus.
If you’ve been longing to start or take your writing project to the next level, here’s how we can help.
- Learn the Art of Memoir Writing from Jo-Anne Richards (The Innocence of Roast Chicken) and Joanne Hichens (Death and the Afterparties) at the Karoo Art Hotel in the village of Barrydale over the weekend of 14 to 16 April.
- Stay on, or join us on Monday 17 April, for a week’s retreat, during which you can write – fiction or non-fiction – to your heart’s content, with one-on-one advice and feedback each day.
- Special offer of less 10% if you sign up for both.
Tucked into the Tradouw Valley, at the foot of the Langeberg mountain range, the village offers dramatic landscapes in which to walk, write and dream. The accommodation offers the experience of a traditional Karoo country hotel, lovingly renovated and offering fine Karoo cuisine.