Franschhoek Literary Festival on the run

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Andra le Roux-Kemp: As we ran towards the Franschhoek Congregational Church, we almost bumped into the man we were all so eager to meet: Deon Meyer.

At the Franschhoek Literary Festival (FLF) it is indeed guaranteed that you will, literally, run into some famous and infamous personalities.

If you wanted to give the editor of the Sunday Times a piece of your mind, for example, you merely had to venture in the direction of the restaurant French Connection. If cooking is your forte you were sure to be in good company with Reuben Riffel, Marita van der Vyver and sisters Zuretha Roos and Annalie Nel at the church hall. Media hotshots, artists and authors were roaming the streets, and judges and politicians (current and ex) were sipping wine in a variety of popular local spots.

The primary aim of the Franschhoek Literary Festival is to promote South African writing and reading. And in this it certainly succeeded, together with its generous sponsors The Sunday Times and Porcupine Ridge wines from Boekenhoutskloof winery in Franschhoek.

Almost each and every event and session of the three-day programme was sold out even before the festival commenced. And the Franschhoek Autumn Music Weekend with which it coincided offered a series of delightful concerts under the auspices of Christopher Duigan, adding an additional level of flair to an already jam-packed weekend.

First on my programme was the FLF Fourth Annual South Africa Wine Writer’s Prize announcement at the quaint Essence Restaurant and Coffee Bar. The winner, Norman McFarlane, was selected by wine-writing connoisseurs John Platter, Matthew Dukes and Bruce Jack. McFarlane received a R25 000 cash prize as well as an artwork donated by the well-known South African artist Deny Meyer. MacFarlane’s achievement is particularly exceptional seeing that there are very limited publications available for wine writing and the competition is so fierce.

The conversation between Jenny Crwys-Williams and Deon Meyer was one of the highlights of the Saturday programme. Meyer spoke about his journey from writing his first novel in 1992 to becoming the world-renowned author that he is today. He described his process of writing as an organic and instinctive process where he actually writes a story for the reader inside himself; writing something that he would like to read. Meyer enlightened the audience on his creative process in constructing complex characters like Bennie Griessel and also gave his fans a few clues of what we can look forward to in future.

Equally thought-provoking was the conversation between poet and sociology professor Ari Sitas and satirist and Al-Jazeera journalist Azad Essa. Essa, author of the books Zuma’s Bastard and The Moslems are Coming, is truly a fearless personality and one unscrupulous in articulating his views on politics, racism and Islamophobia. He discussed in fascinating detail his work as an Al-Jazeera journalist and his personal experiences of how different generations deal with political developments, stereotypes and prejudice.

I concluded my day in the church hall with Tim Butcher, Andrew Feinstein (author of The Shadow World), Raenette Taljaard (author of Up in Arms) and security specialist Antony Altbeker (author of Fruit of a Poisoned Tree). In the packed hall, with audience members standing and sitting wherever they could find a spot, we attempted to unravel the sinister world of corruption and arms deals, not only in South Africa but the world over. We pondered the suspicious odour of our democracy and speculated about succession politics, corruption and war.

As I looked around at the capable ladies responsible for the organisation and management of the Franschhoek Literary Festival I wondered why we have not considered asking them to sort out the tangled mess of politics as well. Even if just once a year.

 

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