“Where have you been so long?”
“I live in the States now. Wisconsin.”
“Is it cold there?” my questioner asked warily.
It only he knew! I took advantage of being back in Johannesburg to visit my old writers club, Writers 2000. The group meets the last Saturday of the month in the elegant clubhouse of a retirement center surrounded by manicured gardens.
This months’ speaker, Jane Griffiths, turned fifteen years of urban organic gardening experience into a beautiful book on raising vegetables in the South African climate. With excellent sales in this limited market, Jane’s Delicious Garden has been followed by Jane’s Delicious Kitchen, full of recipes, anecdotes and advice on harvesting key ingredients organized by season. Of course, in this book spring is from September to December!
After a break for tea and chatter, we returned to club business, applauding a member’s success—a short story and a profile published in the glossy Essentials—and awarding prizes for this month’s competitions. Winners are published in the club’s journal, The Write Stuff, along with other contributions.
Being in Johannesburg for a full four weeks, I was also able to catch an event of the local chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. When I arrived in South Africa in 2005, SCBWI (of which I was a member in the US) had a list of Cape Town activities that made me drool. Since then, editor and curriculum writer Jenny Hatton has worked hard to get things going in Gauteng Province, the area around Johannesburg and Pretoria. What has been most successful is a series of Open Studios where local writers or illustrators invite the group to their homes to talk about their own creative process.
It was only when I arrived that I recognized the hostess, Rozenn Torquebriau, as the delightful Frenchwoman I met over dinner at a children’s literature conference, and roomed with at the 2008 SCBWI retreat near Cape Town. Rozenn comes from the south of France and her lovely Pretoria home reflects a Mediterranean love for light and gardens. She took the dozen of us to her upstairs studio and showed us charcoal drawings her students had done in a cooperative project with a British illustrator. Rozenn continues to use drawing as a way to free her creativity and inspire her writing for children.
After her presentation we sat around Rozenn’s dining room table, sharing the lunch we had brought and talking children’s books and writing. One woman had just returned from the SCBWI conference in New York with lots of stimulating ideas to share. Unlike Writers 2000, whose members are mainly senior citizens, this group includes a number of young adults with careers in the arts.
Writing can be a lonely passion. Groups like these remind me that I am not alone. Others have experienced the same frustrations, disappointments and occasional elation. Groups are a place to network. At Writers 2000 I found a potential reader whose life experience will be invaluable for critiquing my Glastonbury Tor sequel. I gave my card to a couple illustrators at SCBWI, still searching for the right one for my HIV stories. I am involved in a critique group at home, but it is nice to revisit old haunts and renew friendships with people who have encouraged me in the past. I’m not sure when, but I know I will be back.
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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