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All the Highlights from the 2015 Kingsmead Book Fair in Joburg

PJ Powers

 
Here I AmThe 2015 Kingsmead Book Fair was a rocking sensation! Speakers and authors came from far and wide to spend the day at Kingsmead College in Melrose, Johannesburg, and after a day filled with coffee, cake and conversation, legendary singer PJ Powers closed the show with a touching performance of her best songs and stories from her memoir, Here I Am.

The singer and author spoke about her life – from leaving home at 18 to join a girl band and reaching fame at a young age, to her battle with alcoholism and losing the desire to live after you’ve hit rock bottom – in her humorous, often wry style of storytelling:

 

 

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Gareth Crocker, Carol Campbell and John Boyne

 

The Last Road TripEsther's HouseA History of Loneliness

 
The day kicked off at 10 AM with a panel discussion entitled “Song for the Dispossessed”. Sue Grant-Marshall asked Gareth Crocker (The Last Road Trip), Carol Campbell (Esther’s House) and international author John Boyne (A History of Loneliness) about the theme of loss and hope in their novels.

Looking around the room Boyne quoted the English novelist Ian McEwan who said “when women stop reading, the novel will be dead”, joking: “I think we’ll be okay.”

A History of Loneliness is Boyne’s first novel set in his home country of Ireland and is told by a Catholic priest, Odran Yates, who enters the clergy full of hope and ambition and 40 years later emerges disillusioned and forced to confront his own demons and the issues of the time.

“I went through my 20s and 30s very angry at the church,” Boyne said, “I didn’t want to write about revenge or a diatribe.” Instead his book asks: What happens when a priest who’s lived a good life and dedicated himself to the church becomes not only disillusioned but recognises his own complicity in the wrongful acts and crimes of the people within the institution?

Boyne explained how times have changed in the Catholic church, how priests are afraid to wear their clerical garb in public because people will come up to them and mutter “pedophile”. He also spoke about the terrible risk of helping a child and the fear of being persecuted.

Campbell’s Esther’s House deals with a different kind of loss. When the author was a journalist in Oudtshoorn she heard that a group of women had moved into a cluster of houses on a hill and this made her wonder, “What drives a group of law-abiding citizens to occupy houses illegally?”

“What I wanted to do was get to grips with the housing issues in South Africa in a readable, gripping way,” she said about the “human tragedy” that was unfolding before her eyes. “As a news editor I know how many shack fires come across my desk,” she said about the way we become desensitised to news of homelessness and despair.

Crocker’s The Last Road Trip starts with a loss but ends with many gains. Four friends live in a posh retirement village, waiting out their last days, until someone they know dies and they decide to go on one last hurrah through South Africa. One of the characters is also searching for a bird, the Kori bustard (Crocker revealed that he consulted his dad for all the “bird-bits” in the book). The author said that the best stories are human, sad and still, uplifting.

“I have a huge affinity for old people,” Crocker said, and told the story of an 80-year-old woman he once met who wasn’t afraid to drive on the back of a Harley Davidson with a complete stranger.

Esther’s House is really a book about women,” Campbell said and added that if it was left to the men the women of Oudtshoorn would still have been waiting for their homes. “Esther doesn’t want much, just a roof over her head and a patch of land,” Campbell concluded.

Annetjie van Wynegaard (@Annetjievw) live tweeted from the fair using #KBF:


 

 

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Anna Trapido and Pete Goffe-Wood

 
Hunger for FreedomA Life DigestedIn the second session Anna Trapido (Hunger for Freedom) spoke to Pete Goffe-Wood (A Life Digested) about his “Hunger for Life”.

The MasterChef South Africa judge and author started cooking when he was a student of the University of Cape Town and he suddenly had to fend for himself in the kitchen. He soon found out that a home-cooked meal was also a great way to attract women, and the stage was set for his culinary life.

Trapido wanted to know about his food life before university and Goffe-Wood gingerly said that he’d been in trouble before for what he was about to say. His mother was an extremely accomplished woman but cooking was quite low on her list of priorities, he told the audience. “Cooking never featured in our household,” he explained. University was more of a social experiment than an academic one for Goffe-Wood, and today he gets to taste food in fabulous locations while his wife works.

On the subject of TV chefs, Goffe-Wood said that he doesn’t enjoy the American style of confrontational television as seen in shows like Hell’s Kitchen or American MasterChef. “When people are being screamed and shouted at they’re more likely to make mistakes,” he said, adding that fostering a good working environment is really important.

Responding to a question from the audience about which dish works the best when it comes to wooing, Goffe-Wood said that the whole process is important, from finding out what she eats on the first date to preparing a meal. There is nothing worse than preparing a good meal and then finding out they don’t eat chicken, he said.

Read the tweets for more snippets of brilliance from Goffe-Wood:
 


 

 

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Mike Nicol, Fred Strydom, Liz de Jager and Edyth Bulbring

 

Power PlayThe RaftThe MarkVowed

 
Mike Nicol, Fred Strydom, Liz de Jager and Edyth Bulbring spoke about the otherworldly appeal of their novels in the third session of the day.

Nicol described two of the books, Strydom’s The Raft and Bulbring’s The Mark, as dystopian, while De Jager’s Vowed is more in the realm of contemporary urban fiction. Underneath the labels, however, lurk intricate storylines and wonderful worlds and Nicol wanted to know more about the authors’ inspiration.

“I like things that live in the shadows,” De Jager said. The South African-born author grew up listening to her father’s folk tales and when she moved to England she was again inspired by the gritty, shadowy, beautiful city of London.

Strydom said that while we often hear stories about the end of the world what he wanted to explore was “what happens after the collapse”. In The Raft, his debut novel, all the people in the world lose their memories in an incident called Day Zero. The novel is partly set in the Tsitsikamma forest, Kroonstad and an unnamed beach location. “I lived in Kroonstad for a little bit,” Strydom said, “It was a creepy place.”

Bulbring, meanwhile, said she took the things she dreads most – for example climate change – and used them as a way to explore the “consequences of the actions of greedy bastards”.

Nicol decided to play devil’s advocate: “Why these other worlds? Why is the world we live in not magical enough?” De Jager lamented the way technology has in a way stripped the world of its magic and said in her created world, the “Otherwhere”, she can introduce wild magic that rocks the boat. Bulbring mentioned that she used to love receiving physical letters but nowadays only receives bills in the mail. “One of my fears is a future with no record,” she said.

“That’s the luxury of science fiction, it’s just ‘what-if’ fiction. There’s always a central theme of hope and survival,” Strydom responded and joked: “Eskom’s just training us for when everything goes tits up.”

Nicol next asked the panel about reading for escapism, to which De Jager responded that there’s a huge drive in the UK to encourage children to read, and if fantasy and science fiction are the way to go about it, why not? Strydom said he doesn’t necessarily consider The Raft escapist, instead it can be seen as a metaphor for eliciting question about the way we live and perceive the world. Both Strydom and Bulbring warned against calling books “escapist” as it creates the idea of frivolity and detracts from the real issues that are often dealt with in these books.

The authors debated issues of point of view, different voices and the driving factors behind their characters’ actions. Read the tweets from the event here:

 


 

 

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Lood du Plessis, Carol Campbell, Karin Brynard, Jaco van Schalkwyk and Olivier Truc

 

KarretjiemenseMy Children Have Faces’n Huis vir Ester
PlaasmoordWeeping WatersDie Alibi KlubThe Alibi ClubForty Days Without Shadow

 
After the discussion on other worlds we stayed in the Learning Centre for the talk, “Gained in Translation”, with Carol Campbell (’n Huis vir Ester, My Children Have Faces or Karretjiemense), Karin Brynard (Weeping Waters or Plaasmoord), Jaco van Schalkwyk (The Alibi Club or Die Alibi Klub) and the French author, Olivier Truc (Forty Days Without Shadow). The panel was chaired by Books LIVE’s Lood du Plessis.

Campbell said that her books were conceptualised in English and translated into Afrikaans. She felt compelled to tell the story of the Karretjiemense and had an intimate relationship with them – she even helped deliver a baby once! “As journalists we’re used to looking in from the outside,” she said, and added that fiction allows her the liberties of going into different worlds.

Van Schalkwyk also felt like an outsider when he began writing Die Alibi Klub in Afrikaans – a language he had tried to deny for so long. In the end, Van Schalkwyk found his honesty in returning to his mother tongue: “My whole life I’ve written terrible things in English, trying to be who I’m not.” Then he had the “crazy idea” to publish it simultaneously in English and Afrikaans, with only a month to do the translation. “It’s not the same book; they’re twins, in a way,” he said.

Brynard agreed with Van Schalkwyk and said that she too was constantly aware of the “baggage of Afrikaans, when the language of your heart is also the language of apartheid”. Her book is a murder mystery set in the Northern part of the Karoo that focuses on the issue of farm murders. She wrote Plaasmoord in the local vernacular of the area and found the most difficult part of the translation process was finding an English in which to express the “descriptive, beautiful Griqua language”.

Du Plessis asked the panelists about the new audiences gained through translation. Truc said that when he heard Brynard share her experience of reading his book he found that “people are touched by the same kind of stories”. Truc has been a journalist for 10 years in many different places across the world and he said that the same kinds of stories are told in different places on earth.

Van Schalkwyk found that his English book is well-received by reviewers, while the Afrikaans will receive two stars out of five. Campbell remarked that for every English book she sold, 10 were sold in Afrikaans. Brynard said: “It’s wonderful to be published in your mother tongue, I wish it was a reality for more languages in our country.”

Read the tweets from this fascinating conversation:

 


 

 

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Don't Film Yourself Having SexThis One TimeThe afternoon panel on the pros and cons of technology was entitled “Digital Overload” and featured Sunday Times Books Editor Ben Williams, social media lawyers Emma Sadleir and Tamsyn de Beer, Alex van Tonder and editor of Stuff Magazine Toby Shapshak.

Before the speakers started the conversation they all huddled behind Van Tonder and took a selfie. Here it is, courtesy of Van Tonder:

Emma Sadleir, Alex van Tonder, Tamsyn de Beer, Ben Williams and Toby Shapshak

 
Shapshak said that internet and the smartphone are two of the most important things that have happened in recent centuries. Sadleir, who co-authored Don’t Film Yourself Having Sex with De Beer, agreed, saying: “With smartphones and the internet we made everyone publishers and gave everyone a voice.”

Van Tonder, author of This One Time, said she’s made an effort to rid her screens of clutter: “I’ve become very conscious about finding and following good creative content.” She’s bought a Kindle in order to use her phone less and warned that digital content can be junk food for your brain if you’re not careful.

Shapshak agreed that it’s important to take time off from the internet. While Williams said he takes “digital sabbaticals”, Shapshak calls them “digital Shabbos” – no TV and no phones on Saturdays and Sundays.

Sadleir said that the effect of getting a like of a follow on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter gives your brain a Dopamine hit – it is really addictive. Shapshak countered that it’s not technology’s fault, it’s the users who need the education.

De Beer explained that parents are always very surprised when they find out that their children have engaged in online activities like sexting: “You can teach children about privacy online – but everyone is doing it.” She said that you can’t shelter your children from all digital risks but you can go through the process of setting up accounts with them. “And gaining admin privileges,” Shapshak quipped.

Van Tonder explained how she delved into the dark world of revenge porn and extortion sites for her novel. The speakers debated the issues of public shaming, ownership of online content, privacy and the tattoo effect of the internet.

Read the tweets for more on this exciting panel:

 


 

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Posted by Books LIVE on Wednesday, 27 May 2015

 

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