Like the weather, it was unpredictable. Rain poured down all night long before the first session of the day, but then the sun rose and bathed the Simon’s Town bay in its glorious light. We all sensed that a literary festival in the Far South of the peninsula could have plenty to offer for readers from near and far, but no one could tell for sure. Although, judging by the crowds that attended the opening event, which was held a month in advance in the presence of such literary greats as Antjie Krog, José Eduardo Agualusa and JM Coetzee, we could have counted on friendly skies. And so they were. As were the crowds that descended on the story-rich Simon’s Town like the kind morning light …
As the poet with “no money in the bank” is driving home, she imagines all the people she cares about living in the “blue clefts ahead”. With the sun and the sea as her companions on one of the most picturesque roads around, she is “embarrassed to be so rich”. Every time I travel towards the Cape Peninsula, I am reminded of Finuala Dowling’s poem “Riches” (Notes from the dementia ward, 2008) and that feeling of wonder and generosity which the mixture of urban and wild landscapes here evokes. It is no surprise that Dowling’s name features on the inaugural programme of the Books on the Bay Festival, a new brainchild of festival impresario extraordinaire Darryl David. After settling in Simon’s Town a few years ago, David realised how many writers lived in the town and its proximity, and when he reconnected with David Attwell, another recent addition to the growing number of local literary residents, the idea for another festival was born …
Fay Weldon passed away on 4 January. She was 91. I can’t say that I knew her, but I did meet her in 2009 and spent some time in her delightful company in Oslo while we were staying at the magical Aschehoug villa. Fay and André shared the same Norwegian publisher and were participating in a few literary events to promote their latest books at the time. It was just after Fay’s 78th birthday and engaging with her I remember thinking, ‘I want to be always as full of life and wonder as you are, but especially when I am older.’
Living and travelling with André, I’d had the opportunity of meeting many of my literary heroes. In most cases, these encounters had been sheer pleasure. And meeting Fay Weldon definitely belongs to these memories. She was kind and funny and generous. She made me feel like one of ‘us’, a writer, even though I was a complete nobody, making only my first steps in writing and publishing fiction back then. Not all established authors show this kind of generosity of spirit when it comes to emerging writers, but it can be such a gift. I remember and treasure it. And I am grateful for all the hours I spent in Fay Weldon’s literary company, reading her books which, even now when their author has joined the Great Library in the Sky, will always remind me of the inspiring woman who wrote them.
Imagine Little Prince’s ‘hat’ upside down. This is how I see 2022 in retrospect. A good beginning, a deep dive into awfulness, a few months of a terrible low, and a gradual return to stability. There were several significant highs, but they had to compete against a lot of darkness.
January: Watched a beautiful wedding on Zoom. Climbed Table Mountain and had dinner at The Hoghouse for my 45th birthday. A fabulous, unforgettable bubbly weekend at Graham Beck followed.
February: A beautiful weekend of literature, wine and delicious food in Elgin, one of my happy places.
March: A magical trip to the Seychelles where I was reunited with my Mom and Krystian and went snorkeling for the first time; we celebrated all the birthdays we missed celebrating during lockdown and loved every second of being together. The return of the (mini) Open Book Festival.
April: Watched the magical Firefly at the Baxter. Visited Oudrif, one of my other happy places. Had a haircut to remove all the bad energy gathered in the tips of my hair.
May: Neighbour’s 70th birthday celebration. Franschhoek Literary Festival and Kingsmead Book Fair.
June: I don’t remember much.
July: Topolino became mine after I paid off the loan. Rosebank Writers met for the first time. The Kenyan writer Idza Luhumyo was awarded the 2022 AKO Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story ‘Five Years Next Sunday’, published in Disruption (2021) – a SSDA anthology I co-edited with Rachel Zadok and Jason Mykl Snyman.
August: A dear friend’s 40th birthday party. Another trip to our beloved Oudrif.
September: Return of the (maxi) Open Book Festival. A weekend in Saldanha with new, lovely friends. Blown Away by Books. Gothenburg Book Fair.
October: Visit with Mom and Krystian in Austria for three weeks (and finding great memories in the boxes of my old stuff stored in my Mom’s attic)! Cape Flat Book Festival.
November: Road trip and literary festival in Richmond. Spiritual walk with a new friend in Lundadno. Aunt Zosia’s first visit in Cape Town.
December: The Book Lounge’s 15th birthday party. Second Karavan Press Literary Festival. Beethoven 9th at City Hall. Relaxed Christmas. Meeting my step-great-granddaughter for the first time.
Throughout the year, with the help of my friend Joanne, I managed to continue working on the manuscript of No and Other Contradictions. The first draft is almost finished. And considering that we met only once a week for about forty times, about three hours of writing each time, I think that this is a gigantic achievement.
Greatest lesson of 2022: Setting healthy boundaries is life-saving/changing.
Best books of 2022 (apart from the ones I published at Karavan Press, of course) in no particular order:
The Dark Flood
Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention
Mothers, Fathers and Others: New Essays
Ougat: From a Hoe Into a Housewife and Then Some
Mad Bad Love
It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way
Trauma: The Invisible Epidemic
The Memory of the Air
Pip and Egg
The Invincible Miss Cust
Panya Routes: Independent Art Spaces in Africa
The Chaos Machine: The Inside Story of How Social Media Rewired Our Minds and Our World
Can Themba: The Making and Breaking of the Intellectual Tsotsi
I am still reading a few that I wish I had finished this year, but …
At dinner last night, a friend and I reminisced about delighting as children in the simplest things just because they were special to us: for her it was sweets and for me it was oranges. She grew up in a time and place when sweets were not easily attainable, and even though my time and place were different, oranges were just as unattainable for me. I would sometimes get one orange as a gift for Christmas, and every time I peel one today, I still think of my childhood. In my friend’s family, they called these simple treasures ‘luxuries’. Many years later, they still use the word and it still holds its magic. When we parted, I wished my friend a luxurious festive season. And today, I wish it for all of us. May we delight in the simple things, and never take them for granted.
My Christmas Eve’s table is set – as is the tradition in our home at Christmas time, I set it for one extra person in case someone needs a place at our table – and my heart is filled with luxuries. I wish everyone health and love and luxuries this Christmas and in the New Year. Merry Christmas!
We are thrilled to invite you to join Short.Sharp.Stories and All About Writing for two free online short story webinars. They are designed to provide guidance and support to writers who wish to enter the Short.Sharp.Stories competition:
Thursday 20 October 2022 17:30 to 19:30 South Africa Time
Hosts Joanne Hichens and Karina Szczurek will focus on the aspects of short story writing, with a particular aim to encourage emerging writers to understand the elements necessary in the creation of a short story. This session will include a mini-workshop, to spark ideas for a story based on the theme FLUID: Freedom To Be. Have a notebook and pen handy.
Session 2: Short Story Q and A
Thursday 3 November 2022 17:30 to 19:30 South Africa Time
In this session we’ll answer questions and field problems. Participants will be encouraged to send in questions beforehand.
During this time we’ll also do a warm-up writing exercise, focus on showing not telling, the cornerstone of good fiction writing.
Short.Sharp.Stories is a proven platform showcasing top and emerging South African writers. However, we welcome all writers over the age of 18, no matter your background or experience, to send in short stories. FLUID seeks to engage fictional expression around identity, culture and society.
Every published writer will receive an honorarium of R 2 000, with a Grand Winner to receive R 10 000. Additional awards will be given at the discretion of Short.Sharp.Stories.
Joanne Hichens, author and editor, lives in Cape Town. Her crime novels are Out to Score (co-written), Divine Justice, published in the United States, and Sweet Paradise. Her young adult novels, Stained and Riding the Wave, were both shortlisted for the Sanlam Literature Award. Her memoir, Death and the After Parties, explores the passing of Joanne’s mother, husband, father and mother-in-law within a short period of time, and examines all that happens after death: emotional frenzy, funerals, family strife – the fighting and loving.
Karavan Press aims to publish books they are passionate about, of any genre and any length. They nurture authors and their creativity, establish strong bonds between their writers and readers, and offer a literary home for those who treasure words and stories. Excellence, integrity, and their love for the book as an object are the cornerstones of Karavan Press.
I will be chairing a session at Blown Away by Books, taking place at the Fish Hoek Library between 15 and 17 September. On Friday, I will be speaking with Sara-Jayne Makwala King, Erika Bornman and Cathy Park Kelly about their remarkable, brave memoirs.