Book festivals are becoming more and more popular but if you think they’re easy to curate and organise, think again. You have to think about the where, when and who, what kind of topics you want to present, find a balance between light and weighty, none of which will give you a sure-fire result. Deborah Steinmair from Vrye Weekblad cooked with the right ingredients. DIANE DE BEER was there:

Pictures supplied by Vrye Weekblad

Cullinan was the chosen spot for Vrye Weekblad’s first Gauteng Boekefees following the success of the Cape equivalent in Stilbaai last year. They’re also following with a third one in the Free State’s Clarens in July and there is talk of another one in the Cape. (If you’re interested, follow their social media…)

But this time, book genius Deborah Steinmair was the one who had to get all her ducks in a row. First she found the perfect venue, a church with a large hall, all on one property with parking across the road and in walking distance from where most people would be staying during the weekend.

Architecturally, if that’s your thing, it also had the perfect look. It is a Herbert Baker design after all and that’s what these kinds of towns dotted all across the country offer. Think Dullstroom, Clarens, Tulbach, and more…

And as the visitors started arriving on the Friday afternoon for the editors’ launch Daar’s ‘n Mier in my Broek (There are ants in my pants) with Max du Preez, Anneliese Burgess and Piet Croucamp, it was obvious that the weekend would draw a crowd.

Anneliese Burgess (right) and Piet Croucamp talk SA politics.

Politics in this country is part of our daily bread – especially now – and if you have a few breakaway voices setting the tone, you’re getting it right. But then that’s been a Vrye Weekblad trademark. You had to be there to catch their drift but what really hit the mark for me was the collective decision that we need new ideas not new ideologies.

And then a few pointers. Watch out for distractions. From what did the media turn their gaze when they were so obsessed with the Thabo Bester saga? But there’s good news on that front as well. Who would have known that Parliament could do such a deep dive when investigating Bester’s miraculous escape?

Lientjie Wessels (left) with chicken croquettes and venison and miso bobotie.

This was followed by another Deborah brainwave: asking one of our most inventive chefs, Lientjie Wessels, to host an old-fashioned grand dinner in what was once a diamond town.

The menu and pictures do the talking: from tomato soup with togarashi, to squash hummus, chicken croquettes, roasted beetroot with feta and herb crumbs followed by a venison and miso bobotie with the traditional yellow rice and pear chutney, and concluding with a Persian love cake with lemon caramel.

And if you are wondering, like I did, about togarashi, it is described as a common Japanese spice mixture containing seven ingredients. It’s one of the things I love about Lientjie’s food, I always learn something. Also, you know that every meal by this creative genius will be something extraordinary, and I’m not exaggerating.

We stayed in the Cullinan Hotel and here I also have to give a plug, I was pleasantly surprised. Nothing fancy, but smartly yet simply renovated furnishings in the rooms turned this into a pleasant stay as well

Dinner by candlelight at the Boekefees.

The next morning kicked off with Renée Rautenbach Conradie’s discussion with author Willemien du Preez on her book described as autofiction, ‘n Plaas se Prys. And what that means is that the story is based on her life but interwoven with fictional elements. The talk was titled Futility farm and the Afrikaner’s farm gene. The drift of the story is a couple following their dream, buying a farm and then finding themselves literally and figuratively overwhelmed by the elements – with dust and flies dominating.

It’s a universal story of broken dreams … and yet she lives to tell the tale and probably another, and another.

A highlight was a collective group of feisty women authors who captured the imagination and the spirit of the book fest.

Borrel, gorrel, smoeg en wroeg (loosely translated à la Shakespeare: boil, bubble, toil and trouble) Women who write can bewitch: including Gerda Taljaard (Vier Vroue), Bettina Wyngaard (Lokval), Renée Rautenbach Conradie (Met die Vierkleur in Parys), Michèle Meyer (Moer), Celeste Theron (her first will be released in the next few months), Emma Bekker (Vel), and Marida Fitzpatrick (Mara).

Deborah took the reins: one needs her kind of wicked humour to get the sharp-tongued talk going and with these more recent than others, but all spending stolen or free time on words.

Asked about feminism, the responses varied from an aversion to labels to Wyngaard’s struggle with the basics. If people aren’t accepted as equal yet, how can we ignore the fight?

Feisty females: Back: Emma Bekker, Gerda Taljaard, Marida Fitzpatrick and Renée Rautenbach Conradie; Centre: Celeste Theron and Bettina Wyngaard; Front: Michèle Meyer and organiser Deborah Steinmair.

Some members of the panel are inspired to write by history, others want to investigate certain questions, yet another talks about fever dreams or even nightmares when awake. There are also those thoughts that burst through from the unconscious just before you nod off and another feels for her, writing is the only way to express herself.

And just to throw the cat amongst the pigeons, Deborah wanted to know whether women write better sex scenes than men.

For Gerda it was simple: The male gaze can be quite technical. Replace that with a woman’s perspective and it’s softer, more subtle.

And then I have to agree with Anneliese Burgess about the deeply serious closing  conversation of the day between editor Max du Preez and writers Johann van Loggerenberg (former head of the investigative unit at SARS) and Pieter du Toit discussing ANC Billionaires and Rogues.

It’s the kind of meaty discussion, “an in-depth analysis about the state of the nation”, is how Burgess describes is, you want to conclude with, even though I sadly had to leave after the cheerful chatter of the female authors.

Sunday suitably swung into a gathering of poets (Johan Myburg, Jolyn Phillips, Kirby van der Merwe, Eunice Basson, Martjie Bosman, Emma Bekker, Johann Lodewyk Marais, Pieter Odendaal and Jaco van der Merwe) who did their reading in the Baker church before a final meal with Frik de Jager whose selected dishes each told its own story.

And just like that, it was all finish and klaar. With the next one just around the corner.

I can’t wait.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s