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Visit the active LitNet platform at www.litnet.co.za

Feeste | Festivals > Artikels | Features > Friday at the Franschhoek Literary Festival 2011

Friday at the Franschhoek Literary Festival 2011

Sadie Beyl - 2011-05-20

One could be forgiven for thinking that the Franschhoek Literary Festival is full of serious, middle-aged people wearing tweed. Oh, that crowd does exist, but the first talk that we went to was certainly not like that. The audience consisted of a lot of teenagers in crisp school uniforms. Okay, one man on the panel was a little older than most. Sam Wilson (editor-in-chief of Women 24) chaired the talk and dubbed Michael Rice (an education specialist) “The Old Man” as she multitasked, asked questions and sent tweets. The talk was entitled “A Real Tweet”. Luckily Michael is easy-going by nature and he was unruffled.

I was interested to learn that different age and social groups use different platforms, like Facebook, Twitter and MXit. A large percentage of people use all three, but favour one. Steve Vosloo of the m4Lit Project conveyed his passion for tackling the high illiteracy rate by reaching and encouraging children to read via their cell phones. Thousands of children and young adults avidly followed the cliffhangers on a 2,5 cm by 5 cm monochrome screen, the most widely used cell phone being a particularly old Samsung model. The most amazing thing for the team at m4Lit was the feedback and interactive nature of the medium. The process developed from a response to the stories and their characters. The plots were commented on and speculated about, and dilemmas were debated. An example given by Sam Wilson (a Kontax scriptwriter and winner of a cell phone story competition) was of a character, a young girl, whose mother is HIV positive and the daughter contemplates dropping out of school to earn money to support her family. The overwhelming response was that she should stay in school and complete her studies. Sam (Kontax)quipped that parents may not be entirely happy with the content but at least the young people were reading.

And that was how the cell phone story was born.

(By the way, I do hope that you, the reader, have realised that there are two people called Sam Wilson, one female and one male, and that both of them are on the panel of the same talk at the Franschhoek Literary Festival – what are the odds?)

All the questions from the audience were pertinent and intelligent, which essentially led the discussion in the direction of the future of literacy and education in South Africa. I had no idea that countries like Bangladesh and the Ivory Coast had introduced Kindles, Samsung Galaxy Tabs or iPads  into their schools, loaded with their curriculum textbooks and educational material. They are looking at a similar roll-out in South Africa as the tender, procurement and delivery of textbooks is currently a thorn in the Education Department’s side. Apparently the large volume of orders will have the effect of making these devices more affordable.

The talk then shifted to Kindle back-lit versus iPad touch-screen technology and an erstwhile student in the audience made the point that once one is familiar with touch-screen technology there was no going back. Sam Wilson (Women 24) backed him up by saying that after she had used touch screen technology, the button set-up of the ATM had her fumbling and stabbing at the screen in frustration.

I was surprised further in the second talk that we attended: “Transitions”. I haven’t read House of War by Hamilton Wende, but he is most certainly a charismatic person and I can’t wait to get my hands on his book. Similarly, Jenny Hobbs’s latest book, Kitchen Boy, and Jacques Pauw’s The Little Ice Cream Boy  sound sensational.

This talk, expertly chaired by Jenny Crwys-Williams, was a pleasure to listen to. She had erudite questions ready for each of the authors in turn, as she steered the talk along.

Jacques Pauw was very colourful in his description of how writing a novel differs from his usual writing of documentaries. At one stage he counted how many times the word f*cking  appeared in a chapter of The Little Ice Cream Boy and was shocked at the high number (around forty times, I think he said). He cut it down to twenty-two appearances. That’s how the people he was writing about, speak, was his justification, and it does seem that he has spent a lot of time hanging around bars on the West Rand and visiting Ferdi Bernard in prison, so he should know. His book is about the true story of Ferdi Barnard, who is in prison for the assassination of David Webster. Jacques Pauw maintains that he was not able to tell this story fully, in his usual documentary style. The only way the story could be told in its entirety was as fiction. The Little Ice Cream Boy is on my side table; I’m going to start reading it just as soon as I have finished writing this. Jacques Pauw was fortunate enough to be on sabbatical when he wrote the book. He rented a cottage and just spent his time writing.

Hamilton Wende then advised any aspiring authors of fiction not to rent a cottage somewhere with the intention of writing a novel. The pressure is just so great that it often works against one. Who knows when genius will strike? Rather write a little every day, was his opinion. Ideas come to him even while he is in the shower, so keep that laptop on, aspiring novelists. A member of the audience agreed with him, but said she had tried what he suggested and had not succeeded. She got bored writing every day, she said. Everyone laughed and Jenny Crwys-Williams added that she should consider her potential readers’[ reaction to her writing if she, the author herself, was bored.

Jenny Hobbs offered a down-to-earth confession that not all the books that she has submitted for publication have been accepted. Just because she is a successful author, that doesn’t automatically guarantee that her books will be published. Jenny has raised four children and worked from home while writing features and her novels. She revealed that she viewed her writing as a retreat from the chaos of daily life.

These authors all had differing approaches and views about how to write fiction. It depends on the individual and the circumstances. I have subsequently discovered that Hamilton Wende offers a writing course for all those would-be novelists out there.

I left Franschhoek feeling inspired. I wished that I had booked myself into some quaint B&B and was able to stay the entire weekend. It’s definitely on my list for next year.

18 May 2011