Celebrating our literary landscape

 In All About Writing, How to write a book, Newsletters

South Africa is often celebrated for the beauty of its natural landscape. When people think of the country, they picture the wild surf hitting the shore, cloud-covered mountains or herds of wildebeest running from lions across the savannah.

While these aspects of South Africa certainly deserve to be celebrated, something that is often overlooked is the creativity that this landscape inspires.

As our focus at All About Writing is naturally on all things bookish, we would like to take a moment to celebrate our literary landscape – which is as rich and diverse as its natural landscape, reflecting its people and history with all the struggles and hopes that come with that.

To give you a small taste of what South Africa’s literary landscape has to offer, we would like to highlight some important literary festivals, both past and upcoming.

Time of the Writer Festival

One of South Africa’s biggest and best-known literary festivals in South Africa is the annual Time of the Writer Festival in KZN which is presented by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The line-up was impressive and included: Dr Sindiwe Magona, Dudu Busani Dube, Fred Khumalo, Niq Mhlongo, Lebohang Masango, Makhosazana Xaba, Kumi Naidoo and Yewande Omotoso, among more than 100 writers, poets and wordsmiths.

The theme of the most recent festival was “Placemaking: Roots, Influence, Imagination and Expression”. We at All About Writing believe that our surroundings are a major source of inspiration and that creating a sense of place is an important tool in writing. Check out the Time of the Writer online sessions on YouTube.

Books on the Bay

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. We 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.

See below for our top tips.

Franschhoek Literary Festival

“Imagine streets buzzing with book lovers, creating a vibrant ambience as they move between a variety of village venues all within walking distance of each other.” If this is your idea of heaven you are in luck. The annual Franschhoek Literary Festival, taking place from 19 -21 May 2023, provides just this. The FLF aims to harness the power of literature by providing a platform for open and progressive conversations with participation from renowned local and international authors and thought leaders.

If that all sounds too heavy, there are plenty of light, fun sessions as well. The FLF offerings include a storytelling festival, a business breakfast, live performances, documentaries and writing workshops. We are sure no matter what kind of writer you are there will be plenty of lessons to learn and inspiration to be had.

Kingsmead Book Fair

The eleventh Annual Kingsmead Book Fair will take place on Saturday 27 May, 2023. In celebration of Kingsmead’s 90th anniversary, the festival will follow the school’s theme of courage. The programme is designed to provide a mixture of comfort and courage. You can join the other Word Warriors in in-depth discussion and heated debate while enjoying good food and drink.

We are sure the theme of courage will provide some crucial lessons for writers. It takes a great deal of courage to write and this festival might inspire the courage you need to take the plunge. Don’t miss All About Writing alumnus Jane Evans who’ll be talking about her memoir, A Path Unexpected.

London Book Fair

We also have something to inspire those of you in All About Writing’s other home in the UK. The London Book Fair will be taking place from 18 – 20 April 2023.

The global marketplace for story creators and the hub of the publishing world, LBF unites the book community for three days of business, networking and learning.

The seminars, over 100 of them, covering all aspects of publishing, writing and editing will provide many essential lessons for writers, For those who are too far away, don’t worry, Richard and Trish will be there to make sure you don’t miss out on the important points.

Be inspired by the literary and natural landscape of the Karoo

This is your last chance to join us on our Art of Memoir Weekend and follow-on Art of Writing Retreat at the Karoo Art Hotel in Barrydale.

The weekend, from 14 to 16 April, offers a workshop on the basic building blocks of memoir writing with the two Joannes (Joanne Hichens and me, Jo-Anne Richards). The week, which runs from 16 to 21 April, will allow you to work on any writing project, with one-on-one advice and feedback.

No one could fail to be inspired by the wild landscape and historic Tradouw Pass. And this year, we’re offering a special treat: a guest appearance and talk by Sally Andrew, who has achieved such success with her Tannie Maria mysteries, now a popular TV series. Sally has recently turned her hand to memoir writing as well.

Who needs it? Let’s face it: life is stressful. Join a like-minded group, who want to release their tension, leave their daily lives behind and concentrate on their writing. Anyone who would like to start a memoir but isn’t sure how. Or anyone who would like the time and space to get on with a writing project, under the guidance of experienced writing mentors.

There are only a few places left so don’t miss out.

Or be inspired by Venice, and Croatia

For those who want to want to be inspired by a completely different landscape, join us for our famous Venice in Autumn experience.

It’s been running for six years now. Book early, though. Many of our Venice habitues return year after year.

You are welcome to sign up for one week or two – from 10 to 17 October and/or 18 to 25 October with an add-on week in Croatia.

Each morning starts with a group discussion, after which your time is your own. Every day, you can book one-on-one time – to talk about your project or get constructive feedback.

Here’s a link to a video, which gives you an idea of Ca’ della Corte, a 16th century palazzo which has been comfortably renovated, but retains the essential flavour of Venice. Every air-conditioned bedroom either looks out on its own courtyard, or offers a peek into the neighbourhood.

Who needs it? Anyone who never has time for anything, whose life is not their own, who craves time to create, think, dream and explore.

What lessons did the Books on the Bay Literary Festival have for writers?

To give you inspiration from the South African literary landscape, here are our top takeaways from some of the impressive array of writers who spoke at the Books on the Bay Festival:

  • ‘Memory has a life of its own and will lead you in sometimes surprising directions in the creative process…’ – Denis Hirson
  • ‘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.’ – Jan Glazewski
  • ‘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.’ – Damon Galgut
  • ‘Novelists don’t resolve things for us. They make us question, and frustrate and confuse us.’ – Wahbie Long
  • ‘If you get stuck, remember that you have the solutions within you. Let them come to you.’ – Finuala Dowling
  • ‘Find the extraordinary in the ordinary and the big story in the small story.’ – Jo-Anne Richards
  • ‘Being a writer is a privilege that allows you a wide range of experiences.’ – Henrietta Rose-Innes
  • 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 is then passed on to your readers.’ – Fred de Vries

Read our full blog post here.

Winners of our December/January Flash Fiction Challenge

The brief for the December/January writing challenge was a simple one: Write a scene in which a mother and her teenage daughter go clothes shopping. Give us clues about their relationship through their interactions in the scene.

We liked many of the entries. The winner and the runners’ up, however, nailed it through the vitality of their scenes, and the details they used as evidence for the relationship between mother and daughter (or, the step-mother and step-daughter; or the aunt and daughter!)

Winner by a short head, for the sweetness of her conception, and the delicate hints about the literary conflict both characters experienced, was Emily Grace Hart. Well done, Emily. We’ll be sending you details of your prize:  a choice between a literary assessment on 5000 words of writing worth R 2900 / £ 170 or a voucher to the same value to use on one of our courses or programmes.

Runners up, in no particular order:

Linda Ravenhill for her infuriating teenager who, despite her bad manners and criminal tendencies, bewitches us.

Channon Saunderson for her poignant snapshot of an aunt and her niece caught on the cusp of grief.

The ever-reliable Mitzi Bunce-van Rooyen for her brattish and manipulative teenager who will either terrorise the adult world she’s about to enter into – or learn some very harsh lessons…

And finally, Liz Lewis for her teenager whose flippant attitude towards death might well conceal, we feel, a grieving heart.

Well done to all, of course – and courage to the many others who almost made it to the podium. Be sure not to miss the deadline for our next challenge which ends at midnight 31 March.

Read the winning entries here.

Happy writing,


P.S – Don’t forget to check out our Hidden Secrets of Writing blog series for writing tips, and tricks of the trade.

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