So… about two months ago (and I will try my level best not to ramble on and on about this)… I found myself (quite unexpectedly) invited to participate in some of South Africa’s book fairs.

Now… one would think that – (being a book-lover who has published books of her own) –  I would have been to a book fair before!

But no.

I have not been to a book fair before.

Book fairs… (according to the stubborn stereotype lodged inside my brain)… are for those other people.  It’s for the credentialed, clever people.  It’s for the Real Authors… who have their books published and distributed by Real publishers.  Book Fairs are for scholarly-academic folk in corduroy jackets who huddle in small groups and discuss (in whispered tones… like librarians) the deeper-themes-that-the-writer-is-attempting-to-explore… and they say things like:  “It’s an interesting choice of language…”,  “I put it to you that Jessie is an echo of the author’s Great Aunt Josephine…”

According to my inner-stereotype… book fairs attract the same kinds of people who attend opening exhibitions at expensive art galleries and wax eloquent about the deeper themes behind said art.  The same people who wear carefully draped scarves and real leather shoes… who listen to classical music, who swirl and sniff their wine before sipping it… and nibble on small blocks of cheese while discussing the cultured things that cultured people talk about.

See… I’m a bit of a buffoon when it comes to all things “culture, class and good-breeding”.

I’m the person who drops cocktail meatballs down my cleavage at fancy gallery do’s and wears slip-slops to red-carpet events (because I can not function in heels).  If I love a painting, I say something deep like:  “Wowzers!”.   I have zero knowledge about wine and wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between cheapo box-wine and an exorbitantly priced bottle of vintage  insert-French-sounding-words-here.

I’m like:  “Can I have some of the pink wine, please?  The sweeter the better”…

So when someone called Darryl Earl David (who, by the way, is a professor at a university!!)… asked me… not only to come to the Midlands Literary Festival (and to the Cradock Literary Festival and to the Richmond Festival)… but to speak at those festivals too… I began to ruminate.  Obsessively.

I began to entertain grim visions of me… standing before a group of sour, stony-faced intellectuals.  How would they respond to the high-school-drop-out who shares stories of rat-popping and glitter-poo?  I braced myself for their scorn…

Of course, you guys probably already know what actually happened.

As usual… I had ruminated myself into a frenzy… and (as usual)… the actual experience of the book fairs was nothing like what my brain had imagined they would be.

At the Midlands Literary Festival (held at the Fern Hill Hotel just outside of Howick), I met an eclectic range of very diverse and very interesting people.  I thoroughly enjoyed the talks given by the other authors.  There was a photographer who’d spent years photographing the landscapes, animals and people of the Drakensberg.  There was a vet who’d written a book of short stories… a young poet from Underberg… an artist from Noordhoek who’d written an unusual biography of a musician called Syd Kitchen… and a human rights judge whose stories were so fascinating – I could’ve listened to him talk for the whole day.  There were others too, of course.  It was an eclectic mish-mash of diverse stories, experiences and opinions.

And with that, I decided to swiftly jettison any ideas I may have had about giving a practiced-un-buffoon-like-speech I spoke from the heart about “How Heather got her HAT’ness back”… and the response was genuinely surprising to me.   Copies of my book flew off the back table.  One of the older men (who I’d unfairly decided was one of those solemn, stony intellectuals I so feared) stood up and declared that I was “a breath of fresh air”.  I had people approaching me afterwards and sharing their stories with me.  Another man had to hold back tears as he told me about his daughter and her terrible struggle with self-hatred and depression.  An elderly lady told me that she wanted a copy of the book to give to her sister whom, she feared, had “lost herself”.

But the best conversation came from a woman who said:

“I can’t believe that you’re at this festival!”

I wasn’t sure what she meant… but she quickly filled me in.  She said:

“Just last week, I was getting a treatment at our local spa and my beauty therapist told me that she wanted to read me something while I was getting my treatment done.  I closed my eyes and I listened to her read – and it was your book!  She read your book while I was getting my treatment!    And now – sure enough – here you are in person and now I’m able to get a copy for myself!”.

I was amazed!  Firstly – I have NO IDEA how a copy of my book ended up in a KwaZulu Natal Spa… when I live in Joburg… and my books aren’t on sale in Durban.   But I am utterly delighted and flattered by the idea that there’s a beauty therapist out there… who reads my book to her clients while they’re receiving their massages and facials.  🙂

The loot I brought back from Howick & Cradock. The statue was a gift that Darryl gave to the authors who spoke at the Midlands Festival.

Anyhoo…

So after a lovely long-weekend in the Natal Midlands, we drove the 6 hours back to Joburg with a completely different perspective about book fairs, the people who organise them and the folk who attend them.

Darryl – the wild-haired, literary-loving, nutter-professor with zillions of big-crazy-ideas… completely obliterated my inner stereotypes of “distinguished-professor-from-distinguished university”.  He’s a madman.  Just the type of inspirational human I enjoy being around.

I’ll write later about the Cradock Literary Festival (very… very… different to the Midlands version – but no less fascinating).

I’ll end this post with some links:

And a suggestion for South Africans travelling the N3 highway from Durban to Joburg (or vice versa):

Do not stop for lunch at the same-ol’ shitty quick-stop, petrol-station places (it’s usually always the overcrowded Harrismith petrol port and similar spots).  I have two other suggestions:

  1. Thanda Tau is about 60 km’s after the Wilge Toll Plaza (if you’re travelling from Joburg)… or 40km’s after Warden (if you’re travelling from Durban).  Lovely vibe.  Big gardens.  Loads of stuff for kids to see and explore.  Freshly baked yummies from the tannies in the area.  Good coffee (but okay’ish food).  But you don’t stop there for the food!  You stop there because it has a whole bunch of  animals including white lions, cheetah and rhino…that you can watch and photograph.  There’s lion cubs too.  And they have really nice little stop-over chalets… brand new (if you want a sleep).
  2. If you want GOOD FOOD on your journey… take the Nottingham Road offramp (R103).  Turn right at the top of exit if you’re approaching from Joburg… or left if you’re approaching from Durban.  About a kilometre or two down the road… on your left… you’ll see a sign for Blueberry Cafe.  You will not be disappointed!!!  The restaurant sits atop a hill with exquisite views of the Midlands… and their coffee, their platters, their food… utterly divine!!!  If you need a wee – they have a “Loo with a View” (go see for yourself).