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SA Partridge

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Memories of the Cape Town Book Fair

The Cape Town Book Fair takes place from 15-17 June 2012 at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. The fair is one of the highlights of my year. (See this blog post to find out why).

I asked some writer friends to share their favourite moments of the fair.

This year Sunday Times columnist and author Paige Nick is looking forward to a relaxed Book Fair where she can simply enjoy the books on offer.

Memories of my first Cape Town Book Fair, back in 2009, are mixed. They sit somewhere between overwhelmingly excited and vaguely nauseated. I remember traipsing the floor with an agent, trying to flog my freshly scrubbed, newly finished first manuscript to publishers.

So I look forward to the fair once again this year, although fortunately now there’s less of the terror, and more of the enjoyment.

Alex Smith, who recently won the Nielsen Bookseller’s Award for her novel Four Drunk Beauties, reflects on her very first Book Fair.

There’s nothing like a first – first book, first baby (I’ve just had one, an adorable little boy who will possibly be making his first Book Fair visit at seven weeks). My happiest Book Fair memory was the first Book Fair which coincided with the launch of my first novel Algeria’s Way. I was on an Umuzi panel with Rayda Jacobs and Pamela Jooste, both of whom were very kind and encouraging to nervous debut me. That first panel went well and that first fair was terrific, such a buzz, such a high.

Crime writer Sarah Lotz, who also writers YA fiction with her daughter as Lily Herne, and Horror fiction with Louis Greenberg as S.L. Grey, recalls her first Book Fair as a debut novelist.

I launched my first novel, Pompidou Posse at the Penguin stand at the CTBF in 2008. I was terrified. I’d never spoken in public before, could only squeak out a word after knocking back two glasses of wine, and I know for a fact I sounded like an idiot. Thankfully, the Penguins were all wonderfully supportive of their weird new author, and the brilliant Mike Nicol was the compere – I’ve never forgotten his speech, which was witty, referenced a story I wrote about an eye in a toilet bowl and was far too kind. Afterwards I drunkenly accepted an invitation to have dinner with the Penguin crew and visiting author Marina Lewycka (who despite being a best-selling superstar is laid-back and lovely). The car broke down on the way to the restaurant but we made it in the end. Good times.

Dr Helen Moffett, whose many hats include author, poet and editor, attended her first Cape Town Book Fair after a sojourn in Atlanta, and realised just how much she missed home.

I remember my first Cape Town Book Fair. I had just climbed off a plane, returning from a semester as a Fellow at Emory University, which had been traumatic for various reasons beyond anyone’s control. I was amazed at the bustle and bubble of energy around me, delighted to see how many people shared my passion for books, but what amazed me most was the sense that I had left a culturally moribund space for a space of energetic, full-tilt debate and raw creativity. There was such a sense of ferment.

It was also the most wonderful way to reconnect with dozens of friends and colleagues I hadn’t seen in a long time. I bumped into Mike Nicol, and told him “The last time there was this kind of creative passion in South African writing and print was the Drum era.” (Mike wrote a wonderful survey of this era some years ago.) I went on, “This is even better. It’s far more diverse — racially, geographically, in gender and sexuality terms. We’re going to be able to look back one day and say we lived in the Golden Age of South African fiction, warts and all.” He turned to me, and I thought he was going to disagree: instead, he said “Absolutely!”

I’ll never forget the happiness I felt knowing that I was exactly where I wanted to be: in South Africa, in Cape Town, in a place full of books and people that inspired me, a place I belonged.

I asked Kathryn White for her fondest memory of the Cape Town Book Fair. Kate’s novel, Things I Thought I Knew, was longlisted for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize.

I was 27. Kiran Desai had just won the Booker Prize for The Inheritance of Loss. A book I loved so much that I slept with it under my pillow: one hand in my then-boyfriend’s hair, one hand on the book. I was sitting on a couch, waiting to join a panel I was on, when she walked past with her agent. Even though it makes me unnaturally uncomfortable when readers come up to me and touch me on the arm, look me in the eye and tell me they loved my book, I did this to her. I hate that moment on the other side. What do you say? But to her I said: I loved your book; it changed something in me. And I touched her arm, in the same way that I had held the glossy green cover of her book.

Author and editor Louis Greenberg, who most us know as the proud father of the Home Away anthology, associates his fondest memory of the Book Fair with becoming a dad!

I was lucky enough to be treated by Umuzi to a trip to the first CTBF in 2006 for the release of The Beggars’ Signwriters. I was placed on a signing session with Ivan Vladislavic, a totally overawing prospect for a literarily isolated chap, and he turned out to be such a warm, kind, authentic person. I also met Henrietta Rose-Innes for the first time, another of the local literary pantheon. My wife and I enjoyed a breakfast launch of Vladislavic’s Portrait with Keys at the Metropole Hotel, and a red-night launch at the M Bar there of Imraan Coovadia’s Green-Eyed Thieves. The MC was an American-accented chap who seemed to know an awful lot about South African letters, by the name of Ben Williams. I also met the fine publishing team from Umuzi: Stephen Johnson, Annarie van der Merwe, Jeanne Hromnik and Catherine Born. Random House had set up an impressive double-storey stand complete with coffee couch on the top and massive blowups of all the Umuzi covers and I felt very bling indeed. In many ways, that was my introduction to a number of key people in my developing career. It seems so long ago now, realising that everyone at Umuzi then has moved on, and I still haven’t published another solo novel! (Two intervening children, a PhD, a compilation and three co-written novels may serve as some excuse but not entirely.)

But the best of all that trip to the Cape in June 2006 was finding out that my wife was pregnant with our first son. Thank goodness he and his brother will still be with us long after all my books have been pulped into egg cartons.

Each year author and playwright Robin Malan man’s the the IBBY SA stand for children’s books. Naturally, he has some fond memories of families and children delighting in the books on display.

The good moments are the small moments.

You’re on your way to get some coffee and there, behind the stand, sit a small boy and his granny, facing one another, and she’s holding a book and reading to him. You run and fetch your camera, because it’s a good pic.

You come back to the IBBY stand after lunch, and there’s a dad and a daughter chilling against the beanbag, paging through the same picture book.

You’re listening to a young fella reading from your book for children, Sonny Jim and His Sister, and he’s reading it beautifully.


Recent comments:

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    June 13th, 2012 @14:45 #

    Very cool post, Sally.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Sally</a>
    June 14th, 2012 @09:35 #

    Updated to include a lovely memory from Robin Malan as well as two photos from the Ibby stand x

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Sally</a>
    June 14th, 2012 @12:28 #

    Updated to include Louis Greenberg and even more pics!
    I've created a monster :)

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    June 14th, 2012 @21:22 #

    This is lovely, Sally. *whispers* what will it cost to get you to replace that pic of me with one where I'm not squinting and don't look like I've been stung in the face by a swarm of bees?

    And wow, Louis, you make the writing life sound so glam. And yes, I remember when that American chappie started popping up everywhere, speaking knowledgeably of de Kok and Krog and Press and Kozain... little did we know what wild adventures he would set in motion.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Paige</a>
    June 15th, 2012 @08:04 #

    Love it Sally, but what about your first memories? Can we convince you to add them in?
    (Helen, I think I might have been attacked by the same swarm in my pic!)

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Sally</a>
    June 15th, 2012 @14:42 #

    Hi Helen, Paige. I had to choose pictures that were approximately the same size and dimensions. Just tried to change Helen's but it came out weird.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Sally</a>
    June 15th, 2012 @15:02 #

    I have so many memories of the Cape Town Book Fair. Attending with friends and coming home with bags and bags of books; attending as an author just after I won the MER Prize for The Goblet Club and appearing on my first panel, so nervous that I couldn't eat out of fear of throwing up; launching Fuse seeing the book for the first time in print....


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