“The Hero’s Journey” by Sue Brown

Sue Brown and Cathy Park Kelly at the Karavan Press Literary Festival

I am looking through my notes from a ‘how to write’ course. They speak of ‘dramatic imperative’, and stories only as strong as their antagonists. And of that crisis near the end of the book when yet another cruel hurdle leaves us agonising over whether the protagonist, our exhausted hero, will be thwarted – or not – so close to the end of her long, hard journey.

It strikes me that Friday’s shock travel ban would make a perfect illustration of this. All those thousands of heroes who were feeling pretty wrecked after almost two years of the pandemic, but cautiously optimistic about being with family and friends for Christmas. Or of going on that adventure. Getting to that job. Having the holiday they have dreamt of and saved up for.

Antagonists can come in many guises, my notes teach. Oh boy! Here we have no shortage of examples of those. A lethal virus and its mutations. Trigger finger journalists. Powerful, prejudiced countries with fearful constituents and bunker mentality politicians. And last but not least our hero’s internal antagonist, who thought she could bear no more disappointment, injustice and loss. Who could not even cry as she stood with her packed suitcase this past weekend, negative Covid test in hand, staring in numb disbelief at a departures board.

What my writing course notes did not say was how to rescue my hero, to give her journey a happy ending. I want to write relief, an eleventh-hour rescue, and tears of joy and reunion into this tale, but even this writer’s inner protagonist is finding believable words of consolation hard to come by.

The notes did mention that what a hero wants and what she really needs may be in conflict. That what a hero usually needs, according to the great moralists, is to not get what she wants.

In Cathy Park Kelly’s inspiring memoir Boiling a Frog Slowly, she describes how reading the self-help gurus reinforced her self-doubt. Her belief that her abuser was right, his anger her fault, that it was she who needed changing. And that when she eventually left her partner, Eckhart Tolle and his ilk were summarily boxed and dropped off at a charity shop.

I think this new travel ban story is one in which our hopeful, seeking heroes should not be pushed any further, or encouraged to seek ever more transcendent states of self-actualisation.

Can’t they, please, just be allowed to get what they want for a change?

On New Year’s Eve of 2010, Sue Brown’s twelve-year-old son, Craig, was diagnosed with a rare brain tumour. In the turmoil of the time, Sue instinctively turned her hand to writing. In 2017, six years after Craig had lost his battle with cancer, she published a memoir, The Twinkling of an Eye: A Mother’s Journey. She lives with her husband and their daughter in Cape Town. The family spends as much time as they can at Craig’s Cabin in Betty’s Bay. Sue continues to find hope and solace in the written word. Her new book, Earth to Mom: Personal Essays on Loss & Love, is a tribute to her son and the indelible mark he left on his family and friends.

Archie Swanson reviews CONJECTURES by James Leatt

There can be no doubt that Conjectures is a work of extraordinary breadth taking the reader on the author’s journey towards the resolution of deep personal questions of spirituality and faith. James Leatt’s life experience, first as a Methodist Minister and then an academic, serve as a backdrop to the conjectures he outlines.

Of course, a conjecture is a conclusion formed on the basis of incomplete information and therein lies the challenge of the book. How does one pull all the philosophical threads of the ages together to discover a sort of spiritual Theory Of Everything. Leatt experienced a Damascus Road moment standing on the verandah of his alcoholic parents’ rented house in Kalk Bay as an eleven-year-old boy — a deep inner assurance that he had a right to be part of the universe. What followed was a journey in search of spiritual understanding which initially led to his conversion to Christianity followed by a life-long transcendence away from that safe harbour of the Doctrines of the Church towards a secular spirituality.

Enroute we are taken on a tour de force of the thinking of the great writers and philosophers of the ages: Pascal’s ‘The heart has reason that reason cannot know’. In Tennyson’s Ulysses ‘I am part of all that I have met’. The third century BCE questions posed by Epicurus ‘Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Is he able but not willing? Is he both able and willing? What then is the origin of evil?’ The particularity problem raised by Reinhold Niebuhr in relation to Jesus as the only way. Jung’s theory of the two-million-year-old self. Marx’s ‘The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness’. Freud’s religion as a projection of suppressed desires. In Speaking of God, William Horden’s ‘The language of religion is not scientific but rather describes the mystery of God. Nietzsche’s ‘… the death of God’. There are discussions of mindfulness and Eastern beliefs.

As Leatt puts it, “I have been a forager looking for ideas that throw light on my life and times”. He concludes that he can no longer accept Judaism, Christianity and Islam’s appropriation of the world’s religion. He is glad to be the beneficiary of the process of disenchantment whereby magical thought and practice are eliminated by science and technology.

His wrestle with the issues of faith, meaning and ethics finally leads him to the formulation of the tenets of his secular spirituality, yet somehow one is left with the impression that Leatt is still that hungry eleven-year-old boy looking to the Kalk Bay stars for answers.

* * *

Archie Swanson’s poetry has been widely anthologised both in South Africa and overseas. He has published three collections of poetry: the stretching of my sky, the shores of years and, most recently, beyond a distant edge. He serves on the Board of the South African Literary Journal which publishes New Contrast. Instagram @poetarchie 

THE POOL GUY by Melissa A. Volker launched at The Alma Café

Earlier tonight, surfers, romance enthusiasts, readers and writers gathered at The Alma Café to celebrate the launch of Melissa A. Volker’s novelette, The Pool Guy – “the holiday you need”, in the words of Qarnita Loxton. Melissa was in conversation with the wonderful book reviewer, Sammi Malunga.

You can find Sammi on Twitter and IG @sammikoalareads.

These are tough times, but thank goodness for uplifting stories that allow you to escape into a world where, despite challenges, you can expect a happy ending. In Melissa’s stories that ending always includes an empowered woman fighting for her dreams. And she gets the guy – the pool guy in this case! And everybody needs this pool guy in their lives – trust me! 🙂

Thank you to Melissa and Sammi for an entertaining evening of romance and laughter!

And thank you to everyone who attended and to The Alma Café for supporting the literary scene by making their music venue available for book launches and readings. You guys rock!

Karavan Press Literary Festival 2021

What a day of literary delight! Among the doom and gloom of the latest news cycle and despite this weekend’s weather chaos, we made literary magic happen. The (inaugural?) Karavan Press Literary Festival was a resounding success on all fronts (even the Skype connections went smoothly and turned the festival into a transcontinental – Africa / Europe / South America – event!) and I cannot thank the writers and readers who made it possible enough — you make everything worthwhile. Thank you!

10:00-11:00 GOING WILD

Penny Haw discusses the young adult stories included in Going Wild and Other Stories with editor Helen Moffett and contributors Qarnita Loxton, Sally Partridge and Lester Walbrugh

11:30-12:30 LET’S TALK ABOUT …

… the tough life topics: Nancy Richards in conversation with Cathy Park Kelly, James Leatt, Sue Brown and Joanne Hichens about their memoirs and the topics of grief, faith and abuse

13:30-14:30 WRITING WOMEN

Consuelo Roland interviews Melissa A. Volker, Penny Haw, Dawn Garisch, Joanne Hichens and Qarnita Loxton about their writing lives and the women characters they create across genres (literary fiction, chicklit, romance, crime and women’s fiction)

15:00-16:00 SWITCHING GENRES

Joy Watson, Lester Walbrugh, Stephen Symonsand Justin Fox discuss their upcoming books, two debut novels, a debut short story collection and a poetry volume respectively, with their publisher Karina M. Szczurek

16:30-17:30 LIFE WRITING

Dawn Garisch of the Life Righting Collective talks to Charlotte Mande Ilunga, Nancy Richards and Robert Hamblin about life and writing

If there ever was a moving literary event, this was it! To find out more about this amazing initiative, click here:

LIFE RIGHTING COLLECTIVE

18:00-19:00 MIGRATIONS

Karen Jennings and Nick Mulgrew talk to John Maytham about their migratory lives and the themes of land, belonging and migration in their novels, An Island and A Hibiscus Coast

Being currently in Brazil (Karen) and Scotland (Nick), the two authors joined our live audience via Skype and I am grateful to my brother Krystian (in Austria) who helped me set up the connection.

My gratitude to all Karavan Press writers and guests who gave of their time, talent, expertise and extraordinary creativity to make this festival a soul-nourishing event. A special thank you to the authors chairing the individual events.

And thank you to all the fabulous readers who attended throughout the day and have been supporting our efforts in these tough times by buying, sharing and reading our books.

A purring thank you to my Furry Family who welcomed all the visitors into our home and listened in on the sessions.

The Karavan parked at EB Cavendish this week

We parked the Karavan at Exclusive Books Cavendish this week, launching four of our books there, and we had the most wonderful time of celebrating the writers we love and talking books.

Tuesday: The Wilderness Between Us by Penny Haw, who was in conversation with Gail Gilbride

Wednesday: FOR EVERYTHING THAT IS POINTLESS AND PERFECT by Stephen Symons and Beat Routes by Justin Fox – the two authors were in conversation with each other and read from their collections

Thursday: The Skipper’s Daughter by Nancy Richards, who was in conversation with Kim Cloete

Thank you!

Thank you to everyone who made this possible, especially Linda and the great booksellers at EB Cavendish! Thank you to our authors – you make me believe in a future of Karavan Press and the journeys we are still to travel! And last, but not least, thank you to all the readers who came to celebrate these wonderful authors and their books with us – your support makes us possible.

Poetry in McGregor 2021

The first Poetry in McGregor Festival Karavan Press poets participated in at a group event and it was a total success. Because of his academic commitments which took him to Pretoria this past weekend, Stephen Symons could not be with us, but John Maytham kindly agreed to read from Stephen’s poetry collections, FOR EVERYTHING THAT IS POINTLESS AND PERFECT and Small Souls (a very limited special edition of his latest poems, not for sale, but the poems included will feature in Stephen’s forthcoming Selected Poems). Dawn Garisch and Justin Fox answered a few general questions about their poetry and read from their own collections, Disturbance and Beat Routes respectively, and it was obvious from the reactions of the audience that I am not the only one in love with the way these three poets craft words into art. Thank you to everyone who attended and who asked questions and bought books! We are grateful for the enthusiasm and generosity with which we have been received.

The rest of the festival was an immersion in words. ‘You are a river that cannot be denied,’ Malika Ndlovu began her reading at the festival with this line and reminded us that ‘love is persistently at work’, that ‘in my heart it is harvest time’, that ‘we are found’ – and so it felt, the bounty and the homecoming we experienced at the feast of poetry that was Poetry in McGregor this weekend.

During his performance of a script that Finuala Dowling compiled for him during lockdown, “Ice Cream, Thank You”, John Maytham quoted the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski: ‘praise the mutilated world’. The last twenty months have brought many of us to our knees, or worse. To be celebrating the written word among poets in front of live audiences was truly healing.

Poetry is ‘necessary’, Lara Kirsten said during her reading. Thank goodness there are so many fine poets who hold this truth close to their hearts and share it with us so abundantly.

It was also a joy to tell one of the young poets attending that it will be an honour to publish (hopefully, in the near future) the stunning poetry manuscript she had shared with me earlier this year. I hope that she will be reading from her debut collection at the next Poetry in McGregor Festival. Watch this space!

Thank you to all who make Poetry in McGregor possible! You are all ‘necessary’ and I am deeply grateful.

Literary greetings, Karina

Book launch: THE POOL GUY by Melissa A. Volker

Spa manager Lauren runs a professional space, so when Wyatt, the pool cleaner, brings down the tone with his languorous manner and sketchy dress code, she loses her cool. Instead of being intimidated, Wyatt is captivated and tries to chip through her armour of hair gel and makeup to find the real Lauren inside. But he is reluctant to reveal too much of himself, and when Lauren finds out who he really is, the pool guy is in for the swim of his life.

Every time I read this story, it makes me happy! It is the holiday we all need.
See you at the launch.
Love, 
Karina