Books: Serving A Short Sentence In Franschhoek

May 17, 2014



This weekend, I’m a FLFer. It’s pronounced like that word, but it’s not nearly so hard on the knees. The Franschhoek Literary Festival is, as I write, half-way done, and it’s been its usual melange of the entertaining, intellectual, naïve, earnest, profound and hilarious.

Bookworms crawl out of the woodwork and writhe around in a happy, inter-species hive of literature, expensive meals and manic note-taking and networking, attending talks with convoluted titles that feature generally strange and often wonderful personalities from around South Africa and the world.

Each of those talks creates a context in which very specific topics can be discussed with people who are patently intelligent, which is a pleasant change of pace. Much of the most immediate reportage is via Twitter – every journalist in each room is furiously multi-tasking with cameras, smartphones and notebooks, and casual punters swoon over witty titbits and then relay them to their circle of friends, currently taking kids to school sports days or washing the car back at home.

This aspect of the festival makes for some interesting reading. Twitter guarantees that perspectives are compressed into brief punchlines and while common sense dictates that these shouldn’t be read in isolation, doing so adds an informal and agreeably surreal dash to proceedings.

That’s my excuse for listing the following disconnected quotes from the sessions I’ve been to so far, and I’m sticking to it.


  • “The mistake I made was listening to recordings of pilots’ cockpit conversations as their planes were going down. Now I have nightmares.” Sarah Lotz
  • “I was told, ‘Your book is like all the B-grade movies I’ve ever seen, rolled into one’. I said, ‘I know – it’s great, right?” Charlie Human
  • “Mom, why did you never let me have an Xbox growing up?” Savannah Lotz
  • “At Oxford, there’s not much distinction between social and intellectual life.” Margaret MacMillan
  • I’m living in the past, but Oxford is keeping up.” Justin Cartwright
  • “Go left, then right at the shrunken heads.” Margaret MacMillan
  • “My characters are about the roads I didn’t take.” Richard de Nooy
  • “Truly, it never crossed my mind that I would fail to inhabit my female characters.” Njabulo Ndebele
  • “I’m fascinated by the people I fear and who anger me.” Richard de Nooy
  • “You need to learn to move on quickly from failure and avoid distraction: experimenting and innovating becomes addictive.” Arthur Attwell
  • “A campaign saying ‘Reading Is Awesome!’ is like one saying ‘Breathing Is Awesome!’” Arthur Attwell
  • “Eulogy is sometimes the first step in biography. There’s a different perspective when someone is ‘Well dead’.” Finuala Dowling
  • “Biography started off as history and fiction about imagined lives. It’s schizophrenic.” Shaun Viljoen
  • “I find the word ‘truth’ to be quite slippery. I think everyone’s trying to reflect reality, which is not the same thing.” Damon Galgut
  • “Why no book? Because I’m having too much good sex!” Michiel Heyns
  • “A novel is the exploration of the life underneath the official story.” Njabulo Ndebele
  • “When writing fiction, your skill as a writer is judged by your ability to tell and sustain lies.” Damon Galgut