The weather is autumn perfect. Leaves are red and gold. The encircling mountains are chocolate-box blue. So is the sunny sky. Gardens are bright with flowers, apricot hibiscus bushes are lush. Broekie lace trims verandahs, paintwork is fresh, verges are clipped green mats. It’s got to be Franschoek in May. It’s the annual Franschoek Literary Festival.
Everybody’s here: the literati and the glitterati; the bookworms and the browsers; the wannabe writers and the published stars; the critics and the columnists; the nervous new panellists and the blasé old stalwarts. Biographers trade secrets in coffee lounge corners, while the blue rinse brigade congregate in wine bars and brag about their literary dinner parties. The Hospice book sale is in full swing, and the elderly ladies down the road in the rambling second-hand store have dusted off their smiles along with their calculators. The impeccable owner of Africana and First Editions sits magisterially at his burnished desk and welcomes patrons into what he describes as an extension of his private library . And it is indeed meticulously arranged, the books are slip-covered in library film, categorised to the last decimal point. It seems crass to disturb the gleaming displays by actually purchasing a volume. However, the prices are so rich and rare (like everything else in Franschoek) that this impecunious blogger scuttles away, suitably chastened.
A more affordable option is the chocolate shop – it reeks of chocolate, and is crammed with sinfully enticing merchandise wherever you look, and I succumb. My willpower can resist only so much temptation, and then I crumble. But it was worth it – oh! that chocolate marzipan, flavoured with orange peel … one of life’s little pleasures and indulgences.
A quick pit-stop at the coffee wagon, and then on to happy hours of panel discussions, interviews, debates. The only downside is my backside, when forced to sit on bone-achingly hard pews in a church, which serves as one of the venues. But a quick sprint through the streets to the next venue, helps to ease the aching a little.
I listen to academics expound; poets are surprisingly hard-nosed about sales figures; book review columnists ask awkward questions; publishers get technical; new writers gush enthusiastically or mutter unhappily; successful novelists toss bon mots to the adoring audience. And, I regret to say, several writers speak in condemnatory tones about bloggers who dare to write reviews of their work. Hey! Come on guys! Us bloggers are not out to crucify you! And not all Lit Bloggers are ignorant yahoos from the murky electronic depths – in fact, I have read many deeply erudite book reviews on Literary Blog sites. Just because we don’t have an MA in Creative Writing doesn’t automatically consign us to the ignoramus section – we’re writers too, and more importantly most of us are your readers, or your prospective target market. A little fellowship here would be appreciated.
That said, it was a grand event, and I can’t wait for next year’s Franschoek Literary Festival.