Some courage for writers from the Kingsmead Book Fair – part one

 In How to write a book, Tips for Writers

On Saturday the 27th of May, I joined the crowd of writers, aspiring writers and literature enthusiasts who had gathered for the eleventh annual Kingsmead Book Fair.

The theme of this year was courage and the writers who took part in the panel discussions certainly demonstrated a great deal of courage both in their writing and in the knowledge and wisdom they imparted to us. My hope is that some of this knowledge and wisdom can bring you the courage you need to tell the story you have been wanting to tell.

In the session “Noonday Noir: Murder in Sunny Climes”, Michael Sears (A Deadly Covenant), Tony Park (The Pride), Dire Tladi (Sins of the Father) and Gail Schimmel (Little Secrets) talk to Kate Sidley (The Kensington Kidnap) about how the juxtaposition of Southern Africa’s sunny climate with its high rates of violent crime can create a particularly interesting back drop from writers of crime/noir fiction which is a genre normally associated with very different settings. They also spoke of the challenges and opportunities associated with writing about unfamiliar settings as well as all too familiar settings.

Here are some of the top takeaways from the authors.

Tony Park

  1. You have to fully immerse yourself in the places you write about and ensure you do careful research to portray them accurately.
  2. The people of Southern Africa have rich and diverse experiences and stories that deserve to be told.
  3. It is the people more than the landscape and wildlife that make Southern Africa a compelling setting.


Michael Sears

  1. It is important to tell stories that are relevant to the people of Southern Africa and in which they see themselves reflected.
  2. When you are writing about people whose culture you are not part of it is important to humble yourself and collaborate with people from those cultures to ensure you are portraying them accurately.
  3. No matter how different from you the people you are writing about are, remember that all human emotions and reactions are in a sense universal.


Gail Schimmel

  1. Suburban Johannesburg can provide a great deal of inspiration to writers of crime fiction due to its bright and happy surface and dark underbelly.
  2. It can take courage to write about settings you are intimately familiar with due to the fear of backlash from those around you.
  3. Writers draw on all aspects of their everyday lives to create stories and characters.
  4. As a writer don’t shy away from telling stories about the ordinary and every day. Be fascinated by the ordinary.


Dire Tladi

  1. Just as setting has a huge influence on writing and how stories play out, it has a huge influence on our real lives and things such as international politics.
  2. We cannot understand the complexities of international politics without having an intimate understanding of the spaces in which these things play out.
  3. When writing about people and places you are very familiar with, you need to balance honesty with making sure not to cause harm to or compromise people.

In the session “How will I be remembered: Legacy Stories”, Bryan Rostron (Lost on the Map), Jan Glazewski (Blood and Silver) and Joanne Jowell (I am Ella) talk to Sewela Langeni (Making Friends with Feelings) about the importance of memory and stories being told, both to the individual and to communities. The discussion also addresses the fallibility of memory and how different the same story can be from a different perspective.

Here are some of the top takeaways from their discussion:

Bryan Rostron

  1. Memory and perception are very fallible. It is important to always be sceptical of both family myths and large scale myths such as those told about colonialism.
  2. The process of memoir writing and research is a good way to start interrogating some of these myths and find the true story underneath.
  3. Story has a huge impact on how people and historical events are perceived and thus has a huge impact on how modern society is viewed and structured.


Joanne Jowell

  1. Stories of past atrocities, such as the holocaust, are important to tell in order to understand the present and the ripple effect of these events through generations.
  2. We are able to understand and connect to stories of huge historical events when they told through the eyes of characters that we can connect with and relate to.
  3. Use small, individual stories to tell large stories.


Jan Glazewski

  1. People have a natural urge to leave behind some kind of legacy or mark on the world. Telling our stories is an important way for us to do this.
  2. Understanding the stories of our families are an important part of understanding ourselves and why we are who we are.
  3. The act of memoir writing provides a way for us to process our trauma, both personal and intergenerational.

Happy writing!

Watch out for part two next week!

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