/ 19 May 2023

Franschhoek festival: go tell it on the mountain

Screenshot 2023 05 20 At 10.11.22

The Western Cape town known for its wine and food offerings will once again play host to some of the continent’s and the world’s most celebrated authors at the 16th Franschhoek Literary Festival this weekend. 

The voices of more than 100 speakers, including authors, journalists and politicians, will be heard, bringing new perspectives to the world of literature.

On top of meeting authors and attending talks, visitors can go to  forward-facing events such as breakfast  at Reuben’s Restaurant to discuss it the future of South Africa with esteemed journalists Ferial Haffajee, Prince Mashele and Richard Calland at the News24 Breakfast: What’s next for South Africa

“The state of our country also comes into sharp focus, through sessions and books that both shine a light and offer ways forward. There are stories set in the wild, and for those wild at heart, sparking meaningful engagement between author and reader,” says Elitha van der Sandt, director of the Franschhoek Literary Festival.

A highlight of the festival is the Prisoners of Love event on Friday, which looks at the writing of Winnie & Nelson: Portrait of a Marriage with author Jonny Steinberg

It is a tale not only of two people, but an entire nation. Part of the book shows readers how Winnie Mandela worked to orchestrate an armed seizure of power, a path her husband feared would lead to more unrest.

“During his years in prison, [Nelson Mandela] grew ever more in love with an idealised version of his wife, courting her in his letters as if they were young lovers frozen in time. But Winnie, every bit his political equal, found herself increasingly estranged from her jailed husband’s politics,” says Jonathan Ball, who published the book in April. 

Also at the festival will be Pie-Pacifique Kabalira-Uwase, who tells his story of fleeing from Rwanda to South African during the 1994 genocide through his book Witnessing.

“The three-day festival provides a space for a cross-section of South African and international authors to gather to inspire, delight, inform and challenge audiences,” according to the organisers. 

Between the lines 

Workshops at the festival range from writing novels and memoirs to practising the craft of the written word. New books will be launched and there will be practical, insightful seminars by leading authors.

Beyond Africa’s bold non-fiction and political writing, fiction plays an important role in social landscapes, developing empathy, broadening minds and honing critical thinking. The Why Fiction? workshop with authors Sue Nyathi, Gail Schimmel, Rachel Joyce and Margie Orford (known as the “Queen of South African crime fiction”), explores what it takes for writers to pursue the genre. 

Van der Sandt says that, at the Franschhoek Literary Festival, “there is something to stimulate the intellectual curiosity of all book lovers, from traumatic and painful stories to ones that are light-hearted and fun”.

Navigating the publishing scene in South Africa can be daunting. On 20 May, The Story of You workshop, hosted by Melinda Ferguson, author of the trilogy Smacked, Hooked and Crashed, takes aspiring writers through what it takes as well as how to sharpen their writing. 

The Getting it Down workshop, with author of 45 books Dianne Stewart, takes visitors through the different forms of journaling. 

Journals and the act of journaling speak to those handwritten books that have told histories, the meditative exercise of writing and can be the “seedbed for future writing projects”, says Stewart.

I Am Here

On 19 May, there will be a screening of the documentary I Am Here, which tells the story of Ella Blumenthal, a Cape Town resident who narrowly escaped death in a gas chamber during the Holocaust.

It tracks Blumenthal’s life from Poland during the Nazi invasion during World War II and taking part in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, to becoming part of Sea Point’s Jewish community. 

The film’s juxtaposition of historical footage, animation and present-day storytelling won it three Golden Horn Awards last year.

“I was born in Warsaw and I was a happy teenager until the Nazis invaded Poland. I lost almost my entire family, but my niece lived, and we were sent to terrible places,” says Blumenthal in the film.

Today, Blumenthal is 101 years old and presents herself as a jazzy, energetic person.

South Africa’s reading culture 

The festival celebrates the love of writing, while promoting a culture of reading. In South Africa, it’s still a struggle to embrace the multilingual society in which we live through literature and make books available to youngsters from preschool to tertiary education level. 

It’s no secret that South African reading culture has been strained since the days of apartheid. The Soweto uprising was rooted in linguistic exclusion as young black students gathered on 16 June 1976 to protest the use of Afrikaans as the main medium of instruction in schools. 

Decades later, a study conducted by The Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa earlier this year indicated that the country is facing a reading crisis. It found that 41% of South Africans own fewer than 10 books.

There is a growing need for literature to embrace the many languages of our country and continent.

For an author who is in the middle of writing a book there might be moments where they are stricken with self-doubt, fear, insecurity and self-scrutiny, leading them to question if there’s any value in what they are trying to express. Psychologists call it “imposter syndrome”. 

American writer Steven Pressfield expressed it so eloquently in his 2002 non-fiction book The War Of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, where he discusses the difficulties we face when trying to overcome mental barricades.   

“Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equals the strength of Resistance. 

“Therefore, the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul,” Pressfield writes in the book. 

In it he explains why feelings of fear and self-doubt are signs showing where passions lie by asking readers, “Are you paralysed with fear?” which he says is a “good sign”.  

But, unfortunately, for writers putting pen to paper is only half the battle. Deciding on which path to take to put out your work may be just as stressful as writing, if not more. 

For writers, navigating whether to self-publish or approach a publisher can be a tricky decision. 

One of the toughest tasks for any artist is to put out the work they’ve created for millions of people to consume and criticise — or even praise — and sometimes the challenge begins in the creative process.

In recent years there has been a shift from traditional publishing through a company to self-publishing, which has proved successful for the likes of Dudu Busani-Dube, author of the best-selling Hlomu the Wife series. 

It was published in 2015 and later adapted into a telenovela by the streaming site Showmax. 

Delivering a keynote address at the second annual Durban University of Technology Faculty of Arts and Design Entrepreneurship Week in 2021, the author emphasised the importance of creatives having ownership of their work.

“You need to understand what intellectual property is. Artists and creators rarely ever consult an intellectual property attorney or ask questions or some of them don’t even know that those exist. 

“So, you need to have that information. The research and the knowledge and protecting what you have created,” Busani-Dube said.

But following the traditional route of using a publishing company to launch a book might be a more attractive option for some writers because they can absorb the printing, designing and distribution costs, among others. With self-publishing, that would be the responsibility of the author.  

Regardless of which option the writer chooses, there are various processes and steps to follow before a book can be launched. 

How to publish with top companies in South Africa 

For an organisation such as Jonathan Ball Publishers — which has been around since 1976 and distributes books on topics ranging from politics and current affairs to biographies and history — there is an intensive selection process.  

Nicole Duncan, an editor at the company, says that once a writer submits a manuscript, there is a vigorous and strict review process before a decision to publish is reached.  

“Our editorial department, together with representatives from our sales, marketing and publicity teams, will have a submissions meeting where the publisher formally submits the manuscript or concept to the team members. 

“The team then reads and reviews the manuscript, or considers the book concept, and gives feedback. The manuscript can also be sent to a reader or expert reviewer for an assessment,” Duncan says. 

“The publishing decision is based on a number of factors, including the quality of the writing where a manuscript is available, the novelty and strength of the concept where the manuscript is still to be written, whether we think there will be a big enough market for the book, will the topic be of interest to a broad audience, previous sales of similar books and also the profile and network of the author.” 

Assuming a book is well written, the author could still be rejected because the topic wouldn’t interest a large enough audience. 

Much like Jonathan Ball, for Penguin Random House, “market appeal” is an important part of whether a book will be published.  

Its policy says, “Penguin Books South Africa is ultimately looking to publish books that will work within the South African trade book market. Originality, high writing standard and market appeal are therefore essential.” 

The company doesn’t consider poetry, short stories, scripts for plays, movies or TV or religious, educational and academic texts.  

Guide to self-publishing   

Groep 7 Drukkers provides guidance for authors who are seeking to self-publish. A writer can email a copy of the manuscript to be quoted for editing purposes, which takes four to 12 weeks. 

Unlike traditional publishing houses, Groep 7 provides self-publishers with help and advice, depending on the author’s target market.    

“Since authors have different goals for publication, we provide the following information on three categories: limited category for private interest and own training material; niche market category for limited readers market and premium category for bookstores who will only order self-publishers’ books at Groep 7 if these books are of a high standard and directed to the general readers’ market,” says Ilette Strydom, Groep 7’s co-founder. 

Duncan says Jonathan Ball covers all fees except the costs of images and the compilation of an index, if the book requires one. 

“When a manuscript is accepted for publication at Jonathan Ball Publishers, we take responsibility for, and cover the cost of, the entire production process, including manuscript development, editing, proofreading, setting and printing. 

“We also cover warehousing, distribution and publicity/marketing costs,” she says. 

Duncan says the cost of publishing “is dependent on so many various factors” that are specific to the requirements of each book.  

“If photos are printed in the colour picture section versus in black-and-white, and are interspersed throughout the text, the cost to publish will fluctuate significantly. 

“It is a book-by-book costing process. If a manuscript requires a lot of development and editing that can also increase the unit cost substantially,” she says. 

For a book of 40 000 words and 160 A5 pages, Groep 7 charges anything from about R1 750 to R11 500. This is based on various factors, such as the cover design, administration costs, quantity of books printed and digital distribution if it’s an e-book.  

“Groep 7 can take care of the packaging, distribution and administration on behalf of authors, using one of the four options.  

“An agreement needs to be completed for each book with reconciliation of sales done every three months and the net income calculated and paid to authors,” says Strydom. 

These include orders by authors who provide a list of names and addresses where books are to be sent. Groep 7 will print, send out the books and invoice the author for the printing and courier costs. 

For a once-off fee of R150, authors can use the Groep 7’s website to sell their books at a price of their choosing. The self-publishing company will print and dispatch orders.

Duncan says if a manuscript is accepted for publication, the author will have various services at Jonathan Ball Publishers they typically wouldn’t get if self-publishing  such as manuscript development, editing, proofreading, setting and printing skills. 

“Sadly, self-published books are often very poorly produced. Publishers have the knowledge, understanding and experience of the book market to ensure that a manuscript is developed in such a way that it is accessible, flows in a logical way and will appeal to a big as possible audience. 

“Publishing houses also have a full sales, marketing and publicity team behind them to support the book’s publication. 

“They have established relationships with all the major bookstores and e-tailers and strong distribution networks. 

“Therefore, being published by a publisher will expand the reach of the book significantly,” she says. 

The Franschhoek Literary Festival runs from 19 to 21 May.