Feeling festive, out of Africa!

So I missed WORD Christchurch Autumn Season but just up the drag from Cape Town, in the beautiful Western Cape lies Franschoek, where every year (in May) the Franschoek Literary Festival (FLF) takes place. I was curious to see how Africa festivates*, so my daughter and I offloaded the kids and headed into the mountains.

At Franschoek with Mohale Moshigo

What is it about festivals that I love? Is it the books, the authors, the coffee, the vibe? In fact a better question might be: What’s not to love? The event that we booked for at FLF was entitled On Being A Book Club Writer, with three world renowned authors: Joanne Harris (of Chocolat fame), Lesley Pearse (books like Belle and Tara) and Sophie Hannah (murder mystery writer of books like Closed Casket). The event was chaired by an ebullient Mohale Mashigo who thoroughly enjoyed herself, and worked the festival miracle of getting participants to interact with one another.

Here’s a selection of some gems that I gleaned:

Lesley Pearse:

I’ve never belonged to a book group, but I am glad they exist. Basically I am a storyteller – I think everything I write is rubbish until I’m told otherwise. My most bizarre reader interaction came from a young Korean man who proposed marriage. To this day I think he mistakenly thought the beauty selected for the cover of the book was me! All my writing is kept in my head, I make no notes, I seem to have no control over my characters. If I get Alzheimers, that will be it. You’ll be on your own!

Joanne Harris:

I’ve attended many book clubs and spoken at quite a few of them. I love it when people come to blows over my writing. That coupled with wine and pizza, what’s not to love? It certainly feels to me that Book Club members care about books and reading. But I don’t write for book club members,  I write for me. I too have very little control over my characters, I am more attracted to the Voodoo of writing, the making of little marks on the page. I once got a Valentine card from a Japanese man made from his hair – that’s the weirdest correspondence I have had. I firmly believe that you can’t express anything in writing unless you have experienced that feeling (OK so you can’t murder everyone, but you must have felt murderous at some point in order to write about it).

Sophie Hannah:

I did belong to a dysfunctional Book Club once, it had nine members, all women. Two of them spoke constantly, the other seven never spoke at all. I walked out one day saying I was off to fetch Chinese takeaway and I never returned. I don’t have a single weirdest correspondent. Bizarre correspondence is so regular, weirdness is so normal. I keep very detailed notes. I adore buying beautiful little notebooks. You might as well work in a canteen if you don’t like writing in a notebook! I work on a battered laptop, for at least a year the letter “p” didn’t work and I had to cut and paste it. I was writing a Poirot novel at the time!

Happy Festival Faces!
Happy Festival Faces!

This was my first festival coverage out of New Zealand. I loved it just as much as all the home fests I have covered. When I am old and very, very rich (one of those things has yet to happen!), I intend travelling the world from festival to festival … by train.

Sawubona from Africa!

* You are allowed to create new words when you blog about festivals!

“There’s a fine line between having an imagination and having a mental illness”: Joanne Harris

Joanne Harris is probably most well-known as the author of the Chocolat, which was later made into a movie, starring Johnny Depp.  She has written 14 novels, including Runemarks and Runelight for younger readers, and 2 cookbooks.  I’m a huge fan of her writing so I was looking forward to spending an hour with her at The Press Christchurch Writers Festival on a Saturday afternoon.

Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure, a follow-up to Chocolat, is Joanne Harris’ latest book and most of the session focused on this. When asked why she keeps revisiting Vianne Rocher, Joanne admitted that Vianne keeps on knocking at the door, and she keeps wondering what happened to her and where she has gone.  Over the course of the three books, Vianne has changed and some readers haven’t been happy with this.  As Joanne pointed out though, the nice, comforting thing about stories is that things stay the same, but life has changed Vianne.

Another reason Joanne wanted to revisit Vianne and her family was that she felt that both she and her characters had unfinished business.  She wasn’t daunted about writing about Muslims, but a lot of people couldn’t understand that. As she explained, she was writing about people who were Muslim or Christian, not about the actual religions. Her story is simply about ‘individuals living in certain circumstances, facing certain situations.’  She just wanted to write the story and people would get what they wanted to get from it.

Joanne delved into her characters and where they came from.  A lot of people are quite disappointed that she doesn’t look or act like Vianne, but that there are aspects of her personality in the character. The relationship that Vianne and Anouk have in her books is very much the relationship that she has with her own daughter. The most memorable thing she said about characters and the way that they get inside your head is that ‘there’s a fine line between having an imagination and having a mental illness.’

Joanne felt that she had been put in the camp of ‘comfortable writers who write with a quill pen’ but she has also written some quite dark stories.  She’s a seasonal writer, so her lighter, sunny books have been written when it’s sunny, and her darker books in the dark and gloomy months.

You may not know that she’s also written books for younger readers (aged 12 years and up) called Runemarks and Runelight.  Joanne started writing from the minute that she realised books weren’t enough, and she would write continuations of stories she loved and would bring her favourite characters back to life in new stories.  When she was first published she told her publishers that they were never to give her a deadline and never to tell her what to write.  Something that I found really interesting was that nearly all of her books have been published out of sequence and giving readers the illusion that she writes a book a year (which she doesn’t). If you follow her on Twitter @JoanneChocolat, you’ll know all about her writing shed, which has its own personality (and has more followers than her).

The hour flew by and I could have listened to Joanne talk for another hour. I highly recommend Joanne’s books, especially Lollipop Shoes and Runemarks, and they’re all available in the library for your reading pleasure.