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Writing: Agony and Ecstasy

Gabeba BaderoonI’m always fascinated when accomplished writers talk about their method of putting words to page. There are the early morning routine junkies, the muse-driven, the time bandits, the exorcists and those who are simply slave to the writing urge.

There was one of each represented at the Kwela Coffee hour which took place at an almost indecent hour on Sunday morning – no inconvenience for poet Gabeba Baderoon (Daimler Chrysler Award Winner and author of A Hundred Silences, among other collections), who likes to get up early and do her writing before the world awakes.

Sello MahapaletsaThe authors gathered to talk to Mike Nicol about the “second book syndrome”: the crushing weight of expectation that can numb an author into silence after their first taste of literary success – and industry pressure.

Which was when children’s author and teacher Sello Mahapeletsa – who hails from near Polokwane – described writing his second book as “facing a ghost which was my first book” (When Lions Smile). Having said that, Mahapeletsa admits that he doesn’t force his writing – if it’s not coming, he’ll just go and watch soccer instead.

Dawn Garisch (whose most recent work is Once, Two Islands) has a philosophical approach. “I write because it’s part of who I am. If I get published, that’s the cherry on top.” She says writing is like life. “You don’t always know how it’s going to happen, you just have to work it out.” Garisch, who is also a doctor, wife and mother, doesn’t adhere to a rigid writing schedule, but gives in to the urge when she feels the story needs to come out.

Ken Barris and Mike NicolBaderoon recommended that people remain as free as possible with their writing. “There are industry dynamics and expectations which help books get out but are different from the creative process.” To fuel the latter, she says, you have to maintain you sense of fun.

Ken Barris believes that, “to write you need a thin skin, to publish you need a thick one.” He wasn’t just talking about surviving critics and reviewers – his The Jailer’s Book won the M-Net Prize after being rejected 26 times by other publishers and editors.

Barris was quick to point out that the anxiety of writing was countered by a great deal of joy. He described the feeling as“something just going to pop.” Nichol suggested that the feeling was akin to orgasm, and Baderoon demurely agreed that although the analogy was “a little bit naughty” she had experienced that sense of “an unstoppable physical rush”.

It’s good to know that, whatever their preferred modus, our writers are still in it for the pure thrill.

Gabeba Baderoon, Dawn Garisch, Sello Mahapaletsa and Ken BarrisQuote of the hour: “Writers pull something from the future and create the incredible universe that we all share. They make something that has already happened.”
-Gabeba Baderoon

Sunday 17 June, Via Afrika Lounge M1