Tuesday 26 May 2015

It's the most wonderful time of the year

The morning looked and felt cold. Not the crisp cold of the Highveld with a promise of sun and warmth by mid-morning, but the damp coldness that could go either way. I dressed warmly, memories of that first Kingsmead Book Fair making me smile. It is always freezing cold or raining when Kingsmead College hosts a big function. Excitement was brimming in the chattering lips sipping steaming brews, surrounded by beautiful d├ęcor, patient prepared food vendors, and other early morning connoisseurs of all things literary.
It is the most wonderful time of the year. I know, I know it’s not that other time (for other non-last-minute-Christmas-shoppers like my sister – there are 212 days to go – better hit those shops soon). But it is my most wonderful time of the year, the annual Kingsmead Book Fair (KBF). You see, for me, being around books and the people who like them, makes me happy. There are discussions about books, and there are books for sale. People who like books know how to enjoy life – so there is also great food and wine, and whilst you enjoy that, you can bump into people and be sociable. The conversations seem better, and there is more laughter, sharing and connection than usual. It feeds my soul. It is probably the longest period that I have observed my husband be sociable. Ever. It is also the only school event on a Saturday that my kids don’t moan about attending.

What follows is a chronicle of my day. I've added in some helpful tips for you, if you are planning to attend next year.

Helpful tip #1: Don’t agonize too much about which session will be best. 

It is difficult to predict the outstanding ones ahead of time, and really it doesn’t matter – it’s quite pleasant to be surprised. Generally the organizers will put the ones they think will be most popular in the larger venues, which will sell out, so if you want to go to one of those, book in advance.

Nik Rabinowitz, Marianne Thamm, Rebecca Davis and Nia Magoulianiti-McGregor were 
Taking Potshots at our politicians. That was a good start to the day. Ms Thamm for her comment that we South Africans are way funnier than politicians and for the observation that the only one to ever have cut Nik down to size is his rabbi!

Helpful tip #2: Decide as much as possible in advance. 

The place gets busy. So decide your sessions, book and print the tickets at home. Decide what you want to eat, and buy it early. You really don’t want to waste time in queues.

The next two hours I spent browsing, shopping, chatting, listening to music and having a bite to eat. I even popped home to ferry kids who had slept in. Enjoying myself immensely, I didn’t realise I was almost late for “The Books that built me” session. However, we had printed our tickets, so we went straight inside, to the envious stares of those waiting to pay.

Helpful tip #3: Allow time for eating, drinking, chatting and shopping. 

Don’t book back to back sessions. Leave your FOMO at home. The day is great – enjoy it.

After that, we met with friends, had a quick coffee and headed off to John Boyne, who wrote “A history of loneliness” and “The boy in striped pyjamas”. This session was captivating, because John Boyne is such an interesting person. He is humble, yet brilliant, having every reason to be angry and bitter, yet choosing not to be. I laughed and cried and am a complete fan.

Helpful tip #4: The authors are the stars of the day. Enjoy them.

Interact with them. They are ok with it. Their publishers have told them to be. And if you can read things they’ve written before the event, even better. They love questions, and seem genuinely proud if you like their work. Take copies of your books to get them signed. 

Lastly we went to “The Gory Details” with Belinda Bauer, Mike Nicol, Karin Brynard and Olivier Truc. They did let it all hang out, Karin telling us about killing a baboon, and hearing how all the little details have to be right. Fascinating.

Helpful tip #5: Don't plan anything else on that day. You will regret it.

And best of all was that I got to extend this most glorious time backwards and forwards this year. The weekend before we spent at the beautiful Franschhoek Literary Festival, which was an overture of beauty, an interlude of culture and an encore of fine wining and dining, with the perfect accompaniment of friends. 

On the Sunday after KBF, I arrived at a girlfriend’s birthday tea, and two people sitting near me had been at the fair – so we gushed about books and such most of the afternoon – sublime! I am a lucky girl. Hands up who is humming THAT Christmas song?

You may also enjoy my reviews of books by authors who were there:

The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer
The Last Road Trip by Gareth Crocker
The Missing Piece by Kevin Lings

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