I have spent the last three days in Franschhoek, attending its very successful Literary Festival, for the first time as a book writer myself. I found it insightful, and loved meeting some authors in person, their personalities shaping what they write, and the characters in their books.
I attended every Franschhoek Literary Festival when I had my guest house in Franschhoek, but had not been in the last three years. I could not transpose myself into the role of the authors we listened to in those days, in being a blog writer, but this year I was able to identify with the angst and agony of book writing, but also the joy and satisfaction that it brings one with a sense of achievement in completing a book and holding it in one’s hands.
Book writing is not for the faint hearted, and I learnt the importance of discipline in writing, and in having a routine. When I wrote my two SwitchBitch books in Apricale in the past two years, I wrote straight after breakfast, a chapter a day, and then I could spend the rest of the day going on walks, and swimming. Some authors shared that they have a word goal per day, and like going to the office, they write until they reach that goal, whether they are tired, not feeling well, etc.
Discipline is important too in editing, and I had often read that one should not edit one’s work while writing it, as it breaks the flow of writing. I started following this advice, but am so used to correcting typing errors as I write my Blogposts, so this needed discipline. Spell check is an easy start, but often other errors are evident too. I lacked the discipline when I returned from my writing, to sit down and edit, the more boring part of the writing process, literally using a ruler, checking line by line. Procrastination was a mirror I had to face, being one of my weaknesses.
Writing non-fiction, as my SwitchBitch books are, in telling the story of my transformation, both physical in losing 45 kgs in weight, and spiritual, in becoming gentler and learning self love, appears easier, as one is documenting a sequence of events. Much harder appears to be writing fiction, as one has to create characters for the book. I was fascinated that authors talked about the characters as if they are real persons, and that they talk to their characters, and ask them questions, as to what they want to be in the book. In fiction it appears that the role of an editor is vital, in ensuring the flow of the book, and the role of the characters, some upfront and dominant, and some sideline. And to not give to much of the end away too early.
I have self-published my books, perhaps because I do not (yet) have the confidence to submit my books for publishing, and facing being rejected. I do have a thick skin from my years of writing restaurant reviews, and facing the wrath of arrogant chefs with ego, but a book is like giving birth to a new baby, and is very personal. Authors shared that the rejection by publishers is painful and depressing, but a reality, often forcing them to relook their work and make it more presentable. It can take up to two years from presenting a draft of a book to a publisher, to having it printed and published, we were told. Publishers are linked to editors, and have experience in guiding and enhancing book sales. I was impressed that Eva Mazza, writer of ‘Sex, Lies and Stellenbosch’, visits key Exclusive Books in her area, and has built up a relationship with the staff in these stores, and signs her books while she is there, knowing that signed books sell better. Publishers also guide the book title, and often choose or create something vastly different to what the author had created as a working title. We were advised that the title should come from a phrase in the book. The cover design is coordinated by the publisher too, and should be ‘beautiful’, and obviously attract attention on the bookshop shelf.
The other downside of book writing is the poor financial return. Given how many books are written, it demonstrates that writing is a Labour of Love, giving tremendous satisfaction, especially when one has completed the first book. My first SwitchBitch Book was intended as a once off, but is growing into a Trilogy, having started my third book, and writing more of it while I walk the Portuguese Coastal Camino, learn to dance the Salsa in Havana, and the Tango in Buenos Aires, in the next three months, departing next week.
Marketing one’s Book was the Literary Festival topic of greatest interest to me, especially as a self-publisher. Like many others, and confirmed by Eva Mazza, giving books away is a Marketing tool that creates awareness. Social Media is vital, and a Facebook page for the book is created, with news and interaction stimulated on this page. Eva is marketing savvy, in having built up a relationship with her target audience before publishing the book, asking whether her characters should do this or that, a type of poll to guide her writing. Her fans came to attend her sessions at the Literary Festival, they having become so loyal to her. In fact, author Barry Gilder, who shared the session with Eva, learned quite a few things from Eva during the discussion, having become a very recent Social Media communicator! I spoke in the question time about reviewing Eva’s book, having been sent a copy of it by the publisher, and that I had added the similarity in my own transformation to that of the main character in her book, but that the publisher’s PR person had requested that I rewrite it, to not give so much of the story away. I learnt the term ‘Spoiler Alert’ very recently, not having heard it before, raising interesting questions for me as a writer, even about reviewing restaurants. Eva was very complimentary about my review in the session.
i approached the Literary Festival organizer, about a slot on the Festival,program next year, and was immediately asked who my publisher is. It seemed clear that books with a publisher have preference, as the publisher’s marketing muscle will attract more Festival goers. And Fiction dominated the Festival,program.
For me the last talk of the Literary Festival yesterday was the best, in seeing Herman Lategan on stage, the only writer, giving sole attention to his new book ‘Opstokers, Fopdossers, & Tweegatjakkalse’, a compilation of his ‘Woorde wat Wip’ columns in Rapport. Herman bares his soul, and is very entertaining, and his book cover design is strong in attracting attention. I had to laugh that they had a bottle of red wine on the table instead of water. Herman was hilarious, and presented himself in all honesty, warts and all. He is proudly Afrikaans, not always so, having turned his back on the ‘Taal van die onderdrukker’ at one stage. He told us that Afrikaans books sell better than local English ones. He repeated a few times that he cannot stand the faux British English accents of the residents of Wynberg and Kenilworth. He told us about ‘ Gayl’, a code language for gay persons, in Afrikaans. And about Kaapse Afrikaans .
But the Franschhoek Literary Festival is also about rediscovering this special village, and its variety of restaurants. I love Café Roca Speakeasy, tucked away in a lane, with its wonderful music, good WiFi, and the fact that the locals go there. Owner Craig Sherrel has been super kind, and is selling my SwitchBitch books from the restaurant, and did so to Khumo Shongwe while I was there over the weekend. Their Tapas offerings, at R80, is excellent. Next month they open Marilyn’s next door, as an oyster and sushi bar. We were invited by Chef Nico Vorster to try the Friday night dinners at La Paris Bistro, with live music by Chris Rein, a lovely evening of spoiling, which will be covered in a review later this week.
Linked to the Franschhoek Literary Festival was the Autumn Music Weekend, organised by pianist Christopher Duigan. I attended a ‘Mostly Mozart’ programme he performed on Saturday morning, and a Beethoven Cello Sonatas programme with pianist Albie van Schalkwyk and French cellist David Pinoir on Sunday.
Special thanks goes to Llewellyn Lambert of Dieu Donné Vineyards, for allowing us to stay in their comfortable two-bedroom cottage, which I shared with my dearest friend Vivian Warby, and her friend, journalist and author Pieter van Zyl. We had a great time together, with lots of laughter.
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein