Wild Nights and Book Fairs

Writers on Trains: me, Mel, Sally and Karen (photo by Mel Ferguson)

I am a woman in love
And I’m talking to you…’

I wave my pink floral scarf like floaty wings as I dance around my hotel room, Barbra Streisand’s voice giving me goose bumps as I sing along, loudly and very badly, to ‘Woman in Love’. On this last night of a jaunt to Jozi for the Kingsmead Book Fair, I need the melancholy her voice mirrors in me, and the release of moving my body, the gentle comfort of a camomile tea steaming on the nightstand.

And this is how I come back to myself after a busy day filled with faces and voices. This is how I dance my feelings and loosen the words that are all bunched up inside me. This is how I make sense of a dream come true.

Those years of sitting at my desk, dreaming and writing, planning and writing, are all with me in the room, together with Barbra (and Barry Gibb).

I think back to the writing workshops run by Melinda Ferguson I attended some years ago. She was the first publisher to show interest in my memoir and it was this that gave me the last bit of energy I needed to finally get it finished. It was a full circle moment to find myself deep in conversation with her on the plane this weekend.

We met up with Sally Andrew (The Milk Tart Murders) and Karen Jennings (An Island) at the luggage area and made our way to the Gautrain. I felt a bit like a country bumpkin, wide-eyed at the slickness of it all. After a chatty train ride, we got to the Rosebank Holiday Inn and checked in.

I let myself in to my hotel room and revelled for a while in the joy of a room all to myself, where I’m not making constant mental notes: must clean this, tidy that etc. Then, when my rumbling stomach got too loud to ignore, I headed down with a book for a planned solo dinner at the hotel restaurant. But an unexpected encounter with Bongani Kona (Our Ghosts Were Once People) meant that we had a lovely convo about writerly things over burgers and ribs.

What’s beneath the silver dome?? Vanilla ice cream!

Then, all talked out, we said our goodbyes and I went up to my room, got into my pjs and ordered room service ice-cream. Gotta love those silver domes!

The next morning, after a quick breakfast in the hotel, Penny Haw (The Wilderness Between Us) and I walked across to Kingsmead and went straight to the Green Room. My first ever!

As Kate Sidley (whose writing partnership as Katie Gayle with Gail Schimmel has produced some fab cosy mysteries) said, ‘the Green Room is Writer Heaven’, filled with writer friends, books and good food.

Someone with ‘Author Guide’ on her name tag approached me wide-eyed:

Hi! Cathy Kelly? I’ve read ALL your books!

I basked for a moment in the glow of her admiration, then broke the news gently that I wasn’t the bestselling (Irish) Cathy Kelly she was thinking of.

The first session I attended was Finuala Dowling (The Man Who Loved Crocodile Tamers), Yewande Omotoso (An Unusual Grief) and Karen Jennings, expertly interviewed by Alma-Nalisha Cele from Cheeky Natives. I’ve attended sessions with these three writers before, and somehow, each one of them manages to make my eyes well up at some point.   

I loved what Finuala said about how the writer needs ‘to become a biddable creature’ to his/her book. ‘You sit down at your desk and say, I am here. The book wants to do stuff and you are at its service.’ She also had an interesting take on the role of the author: ‘I see myself as a hotelier, asking, Is my reader comfortable? Warm enough? How can I be of excellent service?’

Then it was time for my panel with Barbara Masekela (Poli Poli), Andile Gaelesiwe (Remembering) and Pindiwe Mgijima-Mabhena (Echoes of the Mountains). Although Lorraine Sithole did a fantastic job with a difficult task – weaving together four authors and four quite different books – for me, it was probably the toughest conversation I’ve had since Boiling a Frog Slowly came out.

(Photo by Karina Szczurek)

And this was not at all because of the questions or the emotions attached, but because I struggled to find my groove with my answers. When there are four authors, the airtime is very limited and whenever Lorraine addressed a question to me, I got panicky about getting my point across succinctly yet strongly, with the result that I got a bit tongue-tied. But seeing friendly faces in the audience, especially that of Karina Szczurek, my publisher, definitely helped.

Lorraine Sithole asked us, in the context of having written memoirs about intergenerational trauma, whether we thought that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I said our stories are like stones thrown into a lake. The ripples reverberate outward, back to our ancestors and onward to our children, our children’s children, in ways we can’t even imagine. Any creative act changes the creator on a cellular level, so who knows what impact our stories have across space and time?

(Even now, as I type feverishly, because I’m using an app called The Most Dangerous Writing App, which deletes your writing if you pause for longer than a set time, I feel shifts inside me, small adjustments happening here and there like a cat getting into a comfortable position, and as I write, things fit better.)

Our panel was followed by a quick visit to the Green Room and then a meet up with my Jozi-based BFF, Caroline, (she’s in the book) where we had churros and cappuccino to die for.

Then we went to the last two sessions of the day: a panel on Creating Suspense with Penny Haw, Sally Andrew and Quraisha Dawood (Stirring the Pot), expertly and wittily interviewed by Gail Schimmel (Chasing Marian). There is such happiness that rubs off on us in the audience when storytellers share their joy in creating.

Lastly, we went to listen to the Fab Four (Pamela Power, Gail Schimmel, Qarnita Loxton and Amy Heydenrych) talk about their book, Chasing Marian. This session was entertaining and funny, and the conversation was filled with the joy of friendship and witty dialogue – very much like their book. (Buy it!)

The day ended with dinner with my BFF and dear Jozi friends, followed by camomile tea and Barbra Streisand in my hotel room. Wild nights indeed!!

Then, a chatty Gautrain ride back with Penny Haw and Finuala Dowling and onto the plane with Mel again. And best, best, BEST of all, was getting to the airport and seeing my boys waiting: Joel in his beanie and Uggs, Jack in his current outfit of black hoodie and jeans. Both of them wearing a big grin.

Heartfelt thanks to all at the Kingsmead Book Fair 2022 for treating writers and readers to such a fantastic experience.


Good to meet fellow reader & writer, Khalida.
Lovely to see my frog book in this selection at the Kingsmead Library!
With Chanel Jane Mansfield from What Now Publishers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s