My first FLF as a panelist

16 May 2011

I attended the Franschhoek Literary Festival this year as a first-time speaker.

I first attended the festival in 2009 as a guest of my editor Helen Moffett. It was a squeal inducing experience with lots of encounters with my literary heroes (Tom Eaton, Finuala Dowling, Max du Preez etc) and lots of running around in the rain (it was the year that Cape Town experienced that frightening storm to end all storms that managed to blow itself into the winelands).

In the space of two years I’ve learned so much and have formed relationships with so many writers. So this year there was less walking around with a perpetual wide-eyed expression, but I was incredibly nervous at the thought of speaking on a panel in front of a full house (so much so that poor Melinda Ferguson had to give me a Halls so I could breathe!)

It turns out I had nothing to worry about. The panel on writing for teens took place on Saturday 14th May at Hospice Hall. I shared the stage with Edyth Bulbring, Sarah Lotz, and Fiona Snyckers. I was really looking forward to meeting Edyth, who is such a warm person and I’m utterly gutted that she lives so far away. Sarah, of course, is always a laugh so as soon as I sat down between the two I instantly relaxed. It was also great to see some friendly faces like Helen Moffett and Paige Nick in the audience. There were also a surprising number of teens in attendance.

The panel, which was facilitated by Fiona, covered a wide range of topics such as local vs overseas, competing with social media, influencing local audiences, subversive content, dealing with issues and alternative mediums.

Interestingly, one of the main areas of agreement was the subject of issues. Teens, especially South African teens, deal with issues everyday, such as rape, pregnancy, drugs, alcoholism etc. What’s important for us as writers is to address these issues in such a way that we don’t preach to our readers, but address issues in such a way that our novels retain their entertainment value.

I used my second novel Fuse, as an example. In the book, two adolescent boys who have both been victims of bullying and abuse, build a pipe bomb which they intend to detonate at school. It was never my intention for readers to go out and do such a thing themselves, but rather I wanted to address the issues of bullying and school violence in a highly fictionalised youth novel that educated young people about the consequences of their actions while still being thrilling and fast-paced.

We also spoke about reaching those readers who don’t have access to new books if they have access to books at all. Sarah and Edyth visit a lot of underprivileged schools, and Fiona brought up the wonderful Read SA initiative driven by Zukiswa Wanner that takes literature to the areas that can’t afford it. We also spoke about Steve Vosloo’s brilliant Yoza Mobi initiative that publishes good South African youth stories via Mxit.

It was a pleasure speaking on a panel with such stalwarts of the teen lit world, and I hope the audience gained some valuable insight from our discussion.

In-between events I was able to network with other writers, some of whom came from far away to attend. It was lovely to meet interesting people like Isobel Dixon, Sifiso Mzobe (shortlisted for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize), Melinda Ferguson, Craig Smith, Jassy Mackenzie and Joan de la Haye.

It was also great to spend time with Helen, Paige Nick, Louis Greenberg, Maya Fowler, Kate White and everyone else I’ve got to know through Book SA.

It was really nice to get away from Cape Town for a few days. I stayed at the absolutely beautiful Le Franschhoek Hotel and Spa that is so secluded there aren’t even any street lights on the way there. It was a fantastic retreat and the staff were absolutely lovely – going as far as sprinkling rose petals on the bed before I arrived home from a networking event.

Thanks to everyone, especially Jenny Hobbs, for the memorable experience. Hope to see you next year.

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