Photo Essay: Authors At The 2009 Cape Town Book Fair
A brainwavez.org Literary Feature

South Africaby Mandy J Watson
Posted: 30 June 2009

The opportunity to meet authors - both local and international - and hear them talk about their writing processes and experiences is one of the most exciting aspects of the Cape Town Book Fair. Here is a selection of some of the authors that were manning stands, launching books, and signing autographs for fans at the 2009 fair.

Half the fun of the annual Cape Town Book Fair is discovering new books and attending the formal author sessions and panel discussions. The other half of the fun is being able to spot authors unexpectedly in the exhibition area and interact with the friendlier writers at the stands, while getting a book autographed or just taking the opportunity to ask one-on-one questions and hear some advice or writing wisdom.

Snapped At The Stands
Authors could be found all over the fair working at the stands, either helping to promote books and publishing operations, or sitting patiently at a desk signing autographs and having their photos taken with eager fans who had been waiting in long queues.

Marcel Oudejans
Above: You can never miss Marcel Oudejans, a professional speaker, corporate entertainer (his medium is magic), and marketing and social-networking expert whose passion is educating businesses in the art of customer service, communication, and retention and promoting strong, positive brand identities, as he is always the best dressed man in a room. As part of his activities at the fair he was promoting his new book The Serious Business Owner's Guide To Creating Customers For Life, which contains "tips, techniques and strategies for growing any business, even in the toughest economies".

John van de Ruit
Above: This is, arguably, the man that most fair attendees came to see: local author John van de Ruit whose "Spud" series of books may almost singlehandedly have encouraged an entire generation of South African kids to read, though that's not to say that he doesn't have a legion of adult fans too. This year he was promoting his third, and penultimate, book in the series, Spud - Learning To Fly.

Simon Gear
Above: This year local author and meteorologist Simon Gear promoted his new book Going Green [review]. It is a compilation of 365 tips you can use as inspiration to make small changes in your life that will help you to live in a greener, more aware way without you, in the process, having to change your entire lifestyle to something unrecognisable. Rather, the book highlights small steps you can take that will nevertheless have a cumulative effect and provides subtle suggestions that will adjust your perceptions of your life and environment in a considered way.

Simon Gear is pictured here at the Penguin stand after an author signing session.

Ben-Erik van Wyk
Above: I had an interesting chat with author Ben-Erik van Wyk, who was one of the people manning the stand housing Earth - The Comprehensive World Atlas [details]. He is also a botanist who has written or co-authored a number of books on plants, including two that were launched at the fair this year, Mind-Altering & Poisonous Plants Of The World (pictured on the left), with Michael Wink, and a revised edition of Medicinal Plants Of South Africa, 2nd Edition, with Bosch van Oudtshoorn and Nigel Gericke. Both books are published by Briza Publications. For one of his earlier books, Food Plants Of The World (pictured on the right), Ben-Erik collected seeds from all over the world and then grew and photographed most of the plants himself as part of his research. He is quite a comprehensive database of plant information and if you are interested in plants or gardening I would recommend that you have a look at his books if you can't corner him at a book fair as I could.


The Dalro Forum
The Dalro Forum was an open session space set up in the middle of the exhibition area, rather than in one of the convention centre's workshop rooms, where most of the panels and discussions took place. At The Dalro Forum authors participated in group chats on a specific topic or interviews about themselves or their latest published works. During most sessions members of the public were given the opportunity to ask questions or make comments.

Andre P Brink, Professor Leon de Kock, Max du Preez, Kevin Bloom
Above: I missed this session, which drew a large, interested crowd and seemed to be quite a fascinating talk, but I managed to snap a photo as I was moving past on my way to another discussion.

From what I read, authors André P Brink, Max du Preez, and Kevin Bloom discussed issues with Professor Leon de Kock that face writers who choose to stay in South Africa rather than emigrate, and how that may affect their work as fiction is unintentionally influenced by fact, and vice versa.

John van de Ruit
Above: John van de Ruit was one of the guests at the fair that participated in the most activities. (Zapiro was another.) He gave presentations during the workshop and discussion sessions, he signed books at the Penguin stand, and he was interviewed by Penguin's Alison Lowry and read from is latest book at The Dalro Forum, before taking questions from the audience. I'm always quite amazed at the intelligence and astuteness that his younger fans display and the well considered questions that they tend to ask him about everything from his characters and the storylines to his process and experiences as a writer.

At this session John van de Ruit discussed his latest book, Spud - Learning To Fly, with a few anecdotes from the writing process, and also passed on the news that the Spud movie is going ahead and is expected to start filming next year around Easter, with a December release date. He said that Michaelhouse, the school in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal where the books are set, has given permission for the production to film there. He also talked about the process of converting a novel into a screenplay, which he is not doing himself but he is involved in the production in an advisory capacity, and that the script has - so far - had about 14 revisions. He also talked about the casting process, which is ongoing, and had a very philosophical outlook regarding reader's expectations versus production realities. These expectations can often result in a movie not necessarily being well received by fans of the book or in fans being critical of certain aspects of the storyline that would have to be changed in order to make the content more suitable for a visual, time-constrained entertainment medium.

Finally, he threw out the very exciting news that John Cleese is in negotiations to star as the character the Guv (he has given permission for his name to be used in association with the production), which also gives the production more Hollywood clout and is therefore very beneficial in ensuring that the movie-making process will run a little more smoothly.

Rosemund J Handler, Alison Lowry, Sarah Lotz
Above: Cape Town-based authors Rosemund J Handler, left, and Sarah Lotz, right, both launched new books at the fair this year. (More on that in a moment.) They participated in a session at The Dalro Forum, moderated by Penguin's Alison Lowry, about writing fiction in which they discussed their new books, what had inspired them to write the stories, and what their writing processes had been that enabled them to finish the works. They both also read from their latest novels.

It was interesting to learn that for both authors discipline is key but their methods of being disciplined differ greatly. While Rosemund J Handler is very disciplined during the writing process, making sure she productively outputs text regularly (she aims for about four to five hours a day), Sarah Lotz says she tends to hole up in her writing room for spurts in which she "vomits" out thousands and thousands of words, possibly getting out an entire novel in just a few weeks, and the discipline only comes in to effect during the editing process, in which she works hard to cut the surplus text, tighten the storylines, and work through any loose ends. She also says that having a publishing deadline is key for her.

The authors also spoke about their characters' voices and how they relate to the characters. Rosemund J Handler's main character is a woman, whereas Sarah Lotz's is a man, so they discussed how they approached writing those voices. Sarah Lotz, in particular, was asked questions about her experience writing from the perspective of a man and how she approached having to do so.


Book Launches
Low-key book launches are a familiar occurrence at the Cape Town Book Fair as it is an ideal venue to facilitate them and I always enjoy attending them.

Sarah Lotz with Helen Moffett
Above: Sarah Lotz launched her second novel, Exhibit A, at the Penguin stand. Poet, author, and academic Helen Moffett spoke at the launch. She is an expert in gender and gender-violence issues and was a pertinent speaker as Exhibit A is a crime thriller and courtroom drama set in Cape Town and small-town South Africa that centres around a rape. However, this being Sarah Lotz, the subject matter is handled sensitively and with appropriate dark humour that results in a riveting story.

Sarah Lotz
Above: Sarah Lotz signs copies of Exhibit A at its launch at the Penguin stand.

Rosemund J Handler, with Hugh Hodge
Above: Capetonian Rosemund J Handler launched her third novel, Tsamma Season, at the Penguin stand. Hugh Hodge, a poet and the editor of New Contrast, a South African literary journal, spoke.

Tsamma Season is set in the Kalahari at the turn of the last century and Rosemund J Handler spoke quite poetically and eloquently about her reasons for setting the book there, which she described as "one of the world's great wilderness areas". The book tells the tale of a family that moves to the Kalahari to build a life there and is told through the perspective of the couple's daughter.

(Should you be wondering, a tsamma is a type of melon found in the Kalahari.)

Rosemund J Handler
Above: Rosemund J Handler signs copies of her third novel, Tsamma Season, at its launch at the Penguin stand.


Some Of What I Missed
Here's some of what I missed. Don't tell me what else I missed because it will just upset me further.

• Briza Publications launching a range of books, including some that were mentioned above, at a side function to the fair.

• Internationally acclaimed chick-lit (or "women's fiction" - an equally insulting label) author Adele Parks and local investigative journalist Jacques Pauw signing books at the Penguin stand.

• Four noteworthy poets launching their books, all published by Modjaji Books, at the Dalro Forum. Unfortunately it was at the same time as Rosemund J Handler's launch of Tsamma Season so I wasn't able to attend. The books were Strange Fruit by Helen Moffett, Oleander by Fiona Zerbst, Please, Take Photographs by Sindiwe Magona, and Burnt Offering by Joan Metelerkamp.

• Local author SA Partridge talking to Kabous Meiring about her second novel, Fuse, at the Dalro Forum. It is being launched next week, on 7 July, at the Book Lounge. Email (booklounge ~at~ gmail) for details.


On The Internet
Official Site: Cape Town Book Fair | Blog


Elsewhere On brainwavez.org
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