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Jo-Anne Richards

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

The publishing process: Frailties in Cape Town

DSC_0004-Jo-Anne Richards

There’s nothing quite like a double bill launch for making a person aware of their character flaws.

I spent last week in Cape Town launching The Imagined Child alongside my fellow Pan Macmillan writer Steven Boykey Sidley and his book, Stepping Out, at two of my very favourite books stores, The Book Lounge, in Roeland Street and Kalk Bay Books.

They were both extremely successful and for that, I’m grateful. But there’s something about a two-hander that toys with human frailties. You listen for the laugher; you hang on the applause. Did they like his reading more than mine? Did they laugh more at his jokes? And worst of all, did he end up signing more books?

It’s hard to avoid. No-one is ever neutral about their book. It’s too close; too much a part of them. It’s like asking a mother to be neutral about her new-born child. I once saw a movie in which a reviewer said to a writer: “I hope you didn’t take it personally?”

What a ridiculous thing to say. How else was he going to take it? It is personal. And much as many of us might try to be generous souls, there are occasions when it’s hard to maintain.

At The Book Lounge, poor Boykey had it harder than I did. His plane was delayed and he arrived rattled, in time only to swallow a hefty drink and begin. I, meanwhile, had arrived early and was leisurely sipping my before-launch glass of wine. (Remember? One calms the nerves, two knocks your judgment.)

I did feel for him. Besides the fact that his book appeared at the same time as mine, he is a nice guy. And in any case, one doesn’t want to get more laughter/applause/books to sign on that basis. That would be cheating.

In the event, Boykey relaxed admirably fast and I think we probably ended up about equal – in all those areas.

Mervyn Sloman asked his usual incisive questions which showed a deep engagement with both our books. I love being questioned by Mervyn because he always gets exactly what I’m trying to do, while making me think about it in ways I hadn’t considered. The Book Lounge always draws a great crowd – active, intelligent readers who make you feel that the effort was worth it after all.

Fellow Pan writer, Craig Higginson, who happened to be in Cape Town, came to support us and we went out for large plates of Portuguese seafood afterwards. Those are probably the best moments when, launch over, you share the same vulnerabilities over a few glasses and realise that we all probably feel much the same way.

Boykey and I drove out to Kalk Bay together – way too early, of course. Which was just as well…

“So I believe you two are going to interview each other?” asked Ann Donald, of Kalk Bay Books.

“You’re not serious, we thought you were going to ask us questions?” Boykey could still speak. I merely emitted a high keening sound. But no, it turned out she was deadly serious. That’s what she’d been told and somebody had forgotten to inform us.

Nothing for it. A hefty drink each in The Annexe behind the shop, while we rustled up a few intelligent questions to ask each other. The evening before turned out to be a great guide. (Thank you Mervyn, for your insightful probing.)

Both crowds were receptive and warm, but Kalk Bay had a slightly different vibe. No-one stood on ceremony there and people interrupted us to ask questions or add comments of their own. It was refreshing and I enjoyed their engagement.

Again we were joined by other writers: Ken Barris, whose father used to be part of the same hardy group of early-morning swimmers as my father. Clearly there’s something about spending your formative years swimming at sunrise with your dad in Port Elizabeth that produces writers.

Liesl Jobson was there to cover the event for BooksLive. Liesl is busy launching her wonderful new book of short stories, Ride the Tortoise. Look out for it.

This week, Boykey and I brought our books home to the Allaboutwriting monthly workshop, but again, too late for this blog. I’ll tell you about it next week.The Imagined Child Jo-Anne Richards

  • The Imagined Child is published by Picador Africa and is available through Kalahari and all good book shops
 

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