Thursday, March 20, 2014

Panic and Pleasure

The past weekend saw Michael and me putting the full stop at the end of the last sentence of the last chapter of the fifth Detective Kubu mystery.  For reasons that evade me, we don’t write The End.  We just put down the mouse and take our fingers off the keys.  Period.

Of course, before the ink has even dried, panic sets in.  “What will our agent think of the new manuscript, which is very different from its predecessors.  When it gets onto bookstore shelves, what will our readers think?  Will there be any readers?” 

I was going to write this whole blog about our nervousness and trepidation, about the doubts we feel, and the momentary flashes of confidence that pop out of nowhere.  But much of what I would have written was handled most eloquently by Zoë Sharp last Sunday.  So instead I’m going to tell you about a grassroots Literary Festival that is being held this week in Knysna, South Africa, where I lived (when in South Africa) for the past ten years.

Started four years ago by Ling Dobson, the owner of the local franchise of one of South Africa’s best known real estate agencies, Pam Golding Properties, the fifth Knysna Literary Festival has as its goal to help bring the love of reading to the local population and to provide funds to local charities. 

The Knysna Literary Festival ( is very different from others I attend, which are for mystery readers and writers.  This festival appeals to readers of all types and of all ages. 

A month or so before the festival starts, local school kids are encouraged to enter essays and poems into a competition for different age levels.  The prizes are very appealing, ranging from popular personal electronics to books.  Each year the number and quality of entries has risen.  This year there were 185 entries.  Here is the winning poem:

Just for Today

Just for today I want to be five again
To remember all we did back them.
Pretending to be kings and queens
Putting my head down with no worries or cares
Forgetting about my make-up and hair.

Just for today I want to publicly fart,
I want Superman to steal my heart
I want the pure and simple . . . and not a single pimple.

Just for today I want to smile like the sun
And splash like the sea.
I want to be the best version of me.
I want love in the air and gentlemen who pull out my chair.
I want butterflies, the beautiful kind.
I want to put tomorrow out of my mind.

I want to see the world for all its beauty
And forget all its pain.
Today I want to be five again.

Five was free, five was me.
Sixteen is free, sixteen is me.
Just for TODAY, I’m who I’m meant to be . . .

Brittany Chalmers – Knysna High School – Aged 16

And I can’t resist giving you the following essay written by Carly Howard – 10 years old and a few days:

The Long Road

Almost there! Almost there! I can’t believe this is finally happening.  I am in the plane and counting down the hours until we land in the desert outside Cairo and tomorrow I will finally be seeing the pyramids of Giza.  This is something I’ve wanted to do ever since I first heard of them.

The next morning our tour guide, Ramid, and driver, Py, picked us up at our hotel and off we set for the pyramids.  Boy, was I ever wrong.  The first stop was the Golden Eagle Jewellery Shop.  “Oh poop,” I muttered under my breath.  Actually it wasn’t too bad and we left with a golden cartouche with my name in Hieroglyphics and a turquoise scarab beetle.

Would the next stop be Giza?  No1  Now we headed off to a carpet-making factory.  That wasn’t too bad either and I left with some camel wool and a gorgeous small carpet with Tutankhamun’s face.

Surely our next stop would be the pyramids.  I really couldn’t take much more suspense.  Maybe that’s a little bit melodramatic, but I really did want to see the pyramids.

“Ramid, when are we going to the pyramids,” I asked trying to hold back my tears. 

“Soon, my girl,” he replied, “just a few more stops.”

“A few more stops!” I screamed in my head so no one else heard it but me.

We drove to a small white building surrounded by Papyrus reeds.  Inside men were demonstrating how they made papyrus.  There were hundreds of pictures of ancient Egyptian scenes painted on papyrus.  I chose a scene from the Book of the Dead and Tutankhamun surround by Hieroglyphic symbols.

After this it was back to the tour bus and now my hopes were high.  “It’s got to be the pyramids now,” I thought.  But no such luck! The next stop was a shop where they sold cotton T-shits of every colour of the rainbow.  I chose a light blue one and while we drank coffee my name was embroidered across the front in hieroglyphics.

At this point I was starving.  My head was bursting with information and new experiences but my stomach was empty and growling.  After a quick lunch of pizza and mango juice we were off again. 

“The next stop the perfume factory,” announced Ramid.  “Oh no!” I thought.  Actually it was very interesting.  It smelled gorgeous.  My favorites were: Cleopatra and the Secrets of the desert.

Where to next?  You’ve guessed it.  The next stop wasn’t the pyramids either.  Nor was the next, or the next.  Finally I dozed off.  I woke up when someone shook me.  “We are here!”

“OK,” I thought, “we’re back at the hotel.”  I opened one eye and saw huge triangular forms.Could it be true?  Were we finally at the pyramids of Giza?  Yes, we were.

They were way bigger than I thought they would be and quite remarkable.  I went inside the Queen’s pyramid.  It wasn’t as big as the King’s but it was still awesome.  It was also a bit freaky knowing that this is where a dead body had been lying for thousands of years.

That night I thought about the long road I had taken to get to the pyramids and all the treasures I had collected on the way.  Yes, it had been a very long road, but worth every minute.

Pretty good!

The actual festival starts with a theatre presentation of Red Riding Hood for primary school kids.  I am told that it strays quite a lot from the original, with many quirks and antics to appeal to the young audience.

Over the next few days, there are presentations by writers of all sorts of books.

There’s a presentation by Frank Chikane of what really happened to cause the ousting of Nelson Mandela’s successor, Thabo Mbeki.  There’s a panel (Ivo Vegter, Max du Preez, and Vusi Pikoli) looking at the current state of affairs in South African politics.

John van de Ruit talks about his immensely popular series of books (and a movie) about “Spud”, a boy who is sent away to a prestigious, all-boy private school.  Tim Plewman, best known for Defending the Cavemen, helps those of us who may be slightly over the hill with his presentation, Fitness for old farts.  There is a local take-off of Fifty shades of gray, as Jassy Mackenzie (Folly) and Casey B. Dolan Appetite for peas) discuss what women would really like to talk about and men would love to hear.

Alan Weyer leads a discussion of the history of the frontier wars in South Africa, which took place when white settlers wanted to move onto black territories in the early 1800s. 

With over 1,000 rhinos having been poached last year in South Africa, Andrew Campbell’s talk on the future of the rhino is sure to attract an overflow audience.

The overseas attraction of the festival is our own Yrsa Sigurdardottir, one of two award-winning authors who will be interviewed by a local publisher. 

Also Yrsa, Jassy Mackenzie, and I are hosting a creative writing workshop.



Finally, the event that I enjoy enormously is the Delicious Word Journey – an evening event in which attendees are put in taxis and moved from one venue to another.  At each location, they are entertained by a prominent author, fed fine food, and served excellent South African wines.  Making the event more appealing, each venue is a wonderful home on the prestigious Pezula Private Estate. 

What appeals to me about the overall event is that it is low-key and unpretentious.  It started small and is growing slowly.  And the focus is to raise money for Tsiba - a local college teaching business and entrepreneurial skills, and EPAP, which provides nutritious lunches in local schools, ensuring that kids enjoy proper nutrition, without which learning is so much more difficult.

Each event has a price tag, usually the equivalent of about $10, so people wanting to attend can go to as many or few events as they want without paying a high festival fee.  This brings people to the festival who normally wouldn’t attend and has also led to a growing group of volunteers who like the local flavour and local benefits.

To ensure as much money goes to the charities as possible, the festival pays presenting writers an honorarium of about $50 and, in some cases, helps cover travel costs.  Local hotels and B&Bs donate rooms for accommodation, and hotels provide meeting rooms.

Of course, you are all invited to next year’s festival!  South Africa’s Garden Route is a spectacular holiday location, the gem of which is Knysna.  You will enjoy the eclectic offering, gorgeous scenery, and inimitable South African hospitality.


A still-panicked Stan, looking forward to nearly two weeks of pleasure with Yrsa and Oli - Thursday


  1. I can't believe I'm missing this:((. But we're (Cara, Lisa, Annamaria, Tim, and I) all missing you guys over here at Left Coast Crime.:(( We must get our schedules coordinated. And a BIG congratulations on finishing Number Five! Hugs and kisses to Yrsa and Oli from B & me.