Of Canapés and Tricky Questions

(Photo by Karina Szczurek,
Karavan Press)

In the years that I’ve been working on my memoir, there were many moments when I’d slump down after an uninspiring writing session, and question what I was doing. Joel would hug me and say: Let’s talk about your book launch.

Then we’d spend a few pleasant moments talking about where it would be, who would be there and what canapés (or knaps, as Joel calls them) would be served. Because the work as a writer and a memoirist of excavating the past for treasure can be lonely and often grubby, sometimes you have to borrow energy from future possibilities.

And finally, this future dream became a reality. Instead of a book store though, it took place in the cosy The Alma Café (usually a live music venue) surrounded by collections of old tins and music posters. (I would’ve been mightily tempted to break out in song, if I had a good singing voice.) And instead of ‘knaps’, we had delicious Cornish pasties made by Retha from the Alma.

‘A book launch can feel like a graduation…’

(Nicola Lockhart-Hendriks)

As one of the audience members said, a book launch can feel like a graduation of sorts. And I think this is definitely true for memoirists, because they get to write about a transformative experience and then, hopefully, get their story out into the world and have the luck of marking this milestone event with a party / book launch.

(Photo by Chantal Stewart)

As I sat perched on the stool with a microphone in front of me, there were some ghosts from the past keeping me company:

At the very start

A woman sitting at a small desk next to a window, the night air cool on her skin as she writes. The constant rush of the river at the bottom of the garden forms the undercurrent to her thoughts as she selects the right words, the ones that will last long enough on the page to enliven a reader one day in the future.


A woman attending the Open Book Festival in Cape Town. It is her first time here as a reader (and wannabe writer) and she is breathless with excitement and a kind of hope-filled conviction. She promises herself that she will one day be part of this world. Making her way from one panel discussion to the next, she finds herself walking behind a writer she admires, Karina Szczurek. She slows her steps and pricks her ears, trying to hear what it is that writers talk about when they are walking up a street at a Book Festival.

Even later

A woman is at a writing workshop, one of many she attends to learn the craft of writing. The same hope-filled conviction, the one that sparks in her heart, catches in her throat and drives her pen across the page, burns inside her. She is sitting next to another writer she admires, Maire Fisher, whose book she has loved, and she can’t quite believe her luck.

(Photo by Kate Secomb)


And now, here this same woman is, perched on a stool with a microphone in front of her, witnessing all her hopes come to fruition.

I squint against the glare of the spotlight to see the faces of those gathered: Karina, who I first saw at the Open Book Festival, is now the publisher of my book; Máire, that writer I admired, is next to me on the podium, ready with her questions; and the chairs in front of us are filled with special friends and writers I have long admired, many of whom I am now lucky enough to call friends.

I look over at the table where my family sits: my mum and stepdad, who were there at the beginning and are here with me still, and Joel and Jack, my two boys who are the happy beginning of a new chapter. Joel is diligently recording, as I’ve asked him to. And whenever I catch Jack’s eye, he gives me a big grin and an encouraging nod.

‘Why did you lie to your mom? How come you stayed with a bully for eight years?’

Jack Kelly

Then, when it’s time for questions from the audience, Jack, my eleven-year-old son, raises a hand and throws out two of the most difficult ones: Why did you lie to your mom? How come you stayed with a bully for eight years?

I sweat my way through some kind of answer, feeling simultaneously proud of his confidence AND making a mental note never to invite him to a book launch again.

Then there’s the signing of books and making sure my overstimulated brain spells names correctly.

As people pack up and call out goodbyes, Jack comes to sit on my lap and shows me some new avatar accessory on the phone. I nod and hold him close, savouring the warmth of his chest against my palms, the weight of him on my knees.

All too soon it’s time to head home, the full moon sliding across the sky alongside our car.

You can read Karavan Press’s blog about the launch (and see some lovely pics) here.

(Photo by Karina Szczurek,
Karavan Press)

3 thoughts on “Of Canapés and Tricky Questions

  1. Hi Cathy,

    Thanks for this… a good read. Now the book has been officially launched in CT. Will be good to see you next month in Jhb.




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