The preparation for a book fair, particularly if you are chairing panels begins a good few days before the actual fair. I was in conversation with a chef, namely Sifo – the Cooking Husband as well as preparing a section of our panel for Chasing Marian so I had a fair amount of prep to do.
I was also anxiously watching the weather as naturellement the forecast was for freezing and pissing with rain. I kept manifesting that the cold front should arrive sooner. Obvs my manifestation skills need more work as the weather was as kak as predicted – it even sleeted a bit.
Preparing for your panels is not the only preparation required, I also had to get out of my pjs, and try look a bit more human. So, I went to see lovely Storm and her mom, Colleen at The Hairdresser & Some and had my hair and nails done. Planning my wardrobe so that I didn’t freeze my tits off but could still show off our brilliant CM t-shirts took some engineering too. But I managed with the assistance of some very sexy thermal underwear and a beanie and scarf.
Author, Boykey Sidley (Beyond Bitcoin) told me years ago not to book too many panels as I wouldn’t have enough time to schmooze with bookish friends. Have I ever listened to him? Nope. And this year was even worse because it was the first lit fest after Covid struck so of course I went to three panels in the morning, had to do a little rehearsal for our own panel and then go and appear on two panels and never had a chance to chat to anyone.
I never even tasted the gluhwein *crying emoji*.
The three panels I went to were all BRILLIANT. Something that really stuck with me was what fave Yewande Omotoso (An Unusual Grief) said in The Weight of Expectations about this idea of winning a prize or getting a huge book deal and that feeling of having arrived.
“Arrived where exactly?” asked Yewande and went on to quote her equally famous brother, film-maker Akin who says: “Don’t drink the cool aid.” In other words, “Don’t believe the bullshit.” Keep focussing on the work and not on writing something that’s going to win prizes.
As a writer, I needed to hear that. This is what I love about these book fairs as I end up feeling filled up creatively by the end of them after listening to brilliant writers.
The next panel I attended included besties, Qarnita Loxton (Being Dianne) and Fi Snyckers (The School Gates) along with authors I don’t know that well, Samke Mhlongo (Ringfence) and Takalani M (Burning Desire). It was about romance writing and I couldn’t help reflecting that there is this misconception that romance is written by airheads. NOT TRUE. The four women on this panel were scarily bright – a lawyer, a journalist and two financial fundis AND they were hilariously funny.
My third panel was about raising teens and was moderated by Jen Thorpe (Adulting 101) and included Head of School, Lisa Palmer and Dr. Nokuthula Mazibuko Msimang (Daughters Of Nandi). I loved what Lisa had to say about partnering with a school in your child’s education. Not seeing the school as some sort of enemy to be conquered. I often wonder if we don’t bring our own perhaps not-so-happy memories to bear when our kids start school and start punishing the teachers for what we went through? Something to think about.
After my three panels, I looked longingly at the delicious lunch in the green room but did not partake as I had visions of heading to my next panel with crumbs all over my face and spinach in my teeth.
I was TERRIFIED for the cooking panel as I’m not exactly the world’s best cook. But as I said at the beginning of our session, what I am excellent at is watching a man cook. Luckily, my chef, Sinoyolo Sifo was utterly delightful, plus I had the daughter, the husband and assorted friends supporting me (thanks, guys!) and our panel went well. I see great things in Sino’s future – maybe a restaurant, almost certainly a cooking show, I can’t wait to see what he does next.
I didn’t even get a chance to taste what Sino had made (fear of spinach in teeth) before I had to head back to the green room and touch up my face before our panel. Looking dreadful in photographs is a real problem at book fairs so it pays to make sure your make up is on point. As Amy Heydenrych said, she knew I was going to be snapping selfies every chance I got, so she sprayed her face with some magical stuff that sets your make-up for the day.
My contribution to the Chasing Marian Panel, was the fun intro which I call “Getting to know the author” and included a True or False and an Either/Or section.
Example: Did Pamela work as a compere for a performing monkey show?
Gail: Nothing you did would surprise me. True.
Me: False! It was performing elephants.
Gail: *rolls eyes*
In spite of us missing out a huge chunk of our Chasing Marian origin story (did Marian read the book and what did she think of it? Thank you to the audience member who asked the question) our panel went sooooooo well. It was in the last slot of the day, and I was worried we would have no one there, but HUGE RELIEF it was filled to the brim, and I was very touched that my brother and SIL, came all the way from Benoni to support us AND donated SEVEN HUGE BOXES of books for our book drive. Big, BIG MWAH.
I would like to end off by thanking Kingsmead College, Exclusive Books, Standard Bank and Timberland and especially Alex Bouche, the curator of the fair for a truly fantastic day. Having now worked behind the scenes I have a fresh appreciation for the incredible hard work that goes into putting together a literary festival. You have to have the wisdom of Solomon as you would like to include every author you’ve ever met, but alas that is just not possible.
I remember when we were first deciding which school to send my daughter to, back in the day, and the reason Kingsmead won our hearts was first of all that Lisa Palmer gave a speech about happiness – that at the end of the day, beyond how many ‘As’ your kid gets for matric, that is what counts – and secondly that it’s the school that has a book fair. As my friend Anne Buchanan says, “Always choose the school that has a book fair.” Happy reading xxx