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The newbie’s guide for the Franschhoek Literary Festival: Kate Sidley offers insider tips

Published in the Sunday Times

There will be free wine. Lots of it, because Porcupine Ridge is a generous sponsor. What many newcomers don’t realise, is that it’s not compulsory to take every glass that’s handed to you. Pace yourself.

Book upfront. You think it’ll be nice to have your options open but it’s not, it’s stressful, and besides, the popular sessions get booked up in advance and you walk around in a state of FOMO.

Pace yourself (II). Three sessions a day feels right to me. Maybe four. It is a full, stimulating day, but gives you plenty of time to lurk in a sidewalk café watching people go by and spotting your favourite novelist or columnist (tip: adjust for the fact that the author photo was taken after a good night’s sleep by a professional photographer, with kindly lighting, 6 or 7 years back. I know mine was).

From Ancer to Zapiro, there’s a whole alphabet’s worth of talent, no matter what your reading tastes.

It’s worth going to one of the panels with the big-name, smart-talking opinionista types. I won’t mention names. Oh, alright then, if you insist – Darryl Bristow-Bovey, Rebecca Davis, Marianne Thamm, Fred Khumalo, Paige Nick, Justice Malala, Tom Eaton. They are always entertaining.

Do see a couple of the Famous Writers. Look out for authors from The Overseas – Sophie Hannah and Richard Mason and Lesley Pearse and Philippe Sands and Joanne Harris.

Go to one of the big political panels with heavy-hitting non-fiction writers and journos and politicos. They are often fascinating, even heated, and handily provide the opportunity for you to casually mention over supper, “As Dikgang Moseneke was saying the other day…”

Go see a poet you’ve never heard of talking in some tiny venue, with two fellow audience members. Chances are it’ll be the best session you’ve had all weekend. (Or it might be crucifyingly embarrassing, but at least you went).

Go for the facilitator, as much as the panelists. Personally, I follow the always-brilliant Victor Dlamini around to his panels, but you will find your own favourite facilitator person to stalk.

If it’s your first time at the rodeo, and you have a bit of cash to splurge on a fancy meal, and you want to dine with authors, go to Jenny Crwys-Williams’ famous Saturday night dinner at Pierneef, at La Motte.

Don’t waste your time trying to find a proper jol, Franschhoek is not a party town. But there are always a couple of musical items, some long and raucous suppers, and – for the very brave – an open mic for poets at the Elephant & Barrel. Oh, go on…

Wander the streets and poke around the shops. Just remember, you’re in Franschhoek, where the wine’s free and a T-shirt costs a grand.

Be prepared to hear about the times you should have been there but weren’t: last year, when Eugene de Kock made an appearance; the year before, which Thando Mgqolozana denounced as a white colonial literary festival; or even in 2010, for the row between Rian Malan and Antjie Krog. It’s like when you finally make your dream trip to Thailand and come back bubbling with excitement and some prat tells you that you should have gone there in the 80s before all the tourists wrecked it.

Just think, when you come back next year, or the year after, you can be that person. “Ah, but you should have been here in 2017…” you’ll say, gazing wistfully over your Porcupine Ridge…

Follow Kate Sidley @KateSidley

•The Franschhoek Literary Festival is from May 19-21. Info at Bookings at


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