Archive for the ‘Live! Blogging.’ Category

Horror unravels on Twitter

Posted: August 6, 2009 in Live! Blogging.

I have succumbed to the delights of Twitter.  Failing to understand what it is about, I decided to write a Twitter Horror.  130 characters – twice a day.  It is an interestting experiment because I think the trick is to make every tweet (130 characters) into as near as possible functional story on its own, but when it is incoroprated into the other tweets it must flow like a short story.  The story is called  Biting the Bed.  I ripped it from one of my haunting recurring nightmares.  Here’s the first few tweets. If you’re also a twit you can see how this nightmare unfolds.   Just visit AstridStark on Twitter

Biting the Bed.

She can see him in the rear-view mirror; his enormous hands are trembling against the pitchfork. She floors the accelerator, hacks at the radio. It’s the woman who talks to whales. Does she also channel bees? There are too many fly-by and die bees in her house these days.  It reminds her of when she was seven, collecting dead bees in ice-lolly packets; burying them in mass graves.  She already knew then that something terrible was wrong.  The knowing started around the same time the little old men tried to pull her from her bed in the dark of night. How her brother laughed. They’ve been around ever since that first night; no matter where she moved. They didn’t come every night; there were no predictable signs.  One time she saw them in London, shimmering in the passage. She had to go to the loo but they blocked her way.  She peed into a milk jar.   Her mom dropped her off at the shrink. He was smoking a thin pipe. Reminded her of the caterpillar in Alice; he was not as clever though.  She is a jellyfish.  He can see inside her.  She is a leaping duck.  He keeps asking questions anyway.  She doesn’t answer.  Their time is up. After the visit to the shrink she never again spoke of the little men. When they came to her bed she stifled her screams into the pillow.



Franschhoek, land of Broekielace, corrugated roofs, and barrels of lavender

Franschhoek, land of Broekielace, corrugated roofs, and barrels of lavender

Sunday rolled on and for the first time in three days the sun decided to make an appearance; reflecting violently from the water pools, streets and shop windows. Teliwe went to a talk featuring Diale Tlholwe, Finuala Dowling and Vikas Swarup – chaired by Michele Magwood. It was all about the writers’ urge to write, their methodology and influences. She resurfaced an hour later, glowing and inspired.

 I went to listen to a talk on ‘what kids want to read’ by Dianne Stewart, Mhlobo Jadezwini and Edyth Bulbring. And resurfaced safe in the knowledge that we don’t really know what kids want to read. The writers pointed out that it is a tricky business and what we should do is listen to the children themselves – let them guide us. Note the ages of the children that you are writing for: What challenges are they facing (emotionally, physically). A bit of a heated debate ensued on the Harry Potter/ mythology/ vampire phenomenon. Is it good for children to be introduced to witchcraft, etc A resounding, yes. Bulbring pointed out that forbidding your children to read these books will only vilify you and it will become attractive to children – forbidden fruit.

Then it was time for, ‘How many editors does it take to change a lightbulb?’ A passionate discussion between Henrietta Rose-Innes, Helen Moffet and Suzette Kotze-Myburgh, chaired by the charming Tom Eaton on the relationship between writer and editor. All three editors highlighted the importance of the link between ed and writer. Helen Moffet gave a startling emotional account of her experiences as an editor – tears, laughter and melodrama – she has a potential career on the stage. Moffet wrote a very informative piece on the role of editors in the latest Wordsetc., which is well worth a read by all editors and writers. The gentle and intelligent Suzette Kotze-Myburgh recounted how Koos Kombuis made an honorary mention of her as his editor and that it is this little gesture adds value to her work. But she pointed out that if you want recognition as an editor – you should probably find another job. What really came out from the discussion is that editors are vital in the process, and undervalued in general. Also, that a true editor is born, an intuitive nature cannot really be taught.

 Our last talk was given by journalist and broadcaster, Max du Preez. The man really is just a gentle genius. He spoke at length about his new book Of tricksters, tyrants and turncoats. I promptly bought a copy which du Preez signed and I am getting up close and personal with some of our lesser known characters in history. Honestly, you cannot make the characters up, they are wicked, bizarre, original and very real. Du Preez suggests that we all pick a character from the past and make them our own hero or ancestor. “ancestors can be chosen.”

Hier ist alles zu!

Hier ist alles zu!

 Too soon it was all over. Teliwe and I ended up at Kalfies Restaurant, ordered smoked salmon salad and veggie pasta, a bottle of bubbly and toasted a wonderful intellectual and creative weekend as the sun slowly set behind the mountains. Much later we were lying on our bed at the hotel and we had our own slam poetry evening. We recited words, and dreamt up great intellectual and spiritual journeys. Next up… Grahamstown National Arts Festival!

The Youth Affair put forward a play during the Litfest that just oozed raw talent and passion. It is an initiative by the youth, for the youth, to keep them from rabble rousing on the streets.  The play entitled, Maid in Franschhoek, tells the tale of two girls that work together in a guest house.  Every day they battle poverty and substance abuse as they search for meaning and direction in their lives.  It’s a flurry of Afrikaans and English with some great poetry by Koos Kombuis, Adam Small and Peter Snyders tossed in for good measure.   It was a great way to spend our lunch hour at the fest.

We then dashed to the cosy Elephant and Barrel to dry our clothes. Then it was over to the straight shooting Sindiwe Magona (Beauty’s Gift), Terry Morris (Picador Africa) and the beautiful Petina Gappah (an Elegy for Easterly) to take to the mike. 

Petina Gappah

Petina Gappah

 They spoke about the importance of the literary journal in the electronic age.  The talk was chaired by Phakama Mbonambi; publishing editor of Wordsetc.  Both Magona and Gappah spoke at length on the importance of the literary journal and also about the importance of cultivating a love for books and reading in South Africa.   

A literary journal is often regarded as a labour of love, however it is an essential stepping stone for new and established writers, and good journal reflects the literary pulse of a country or a generation.  The latest Wordsetc. is packed with fascinating short stories, interviews, reviews and profiles.  At R170 for 4 issues its an absolute steal.  “Come on, people!” cries Bill Cosby.

Sindiwe Magona

Sindiwe Magona

Here are some of the journals and websites that were mentioned and that are worth checking out:

 Wordsetc – “a literary journal that seeks both to promote new South African writing and to pay homage to the literary masters of the past,” is how they describe themselves.  It’s a beauty; filled with fascinating reading. If you’re somewhat interested in life, the psychology of us, the greater meaning of the global community, a good story told well, and the way that words just fall together in a sentence that’s forever etched in your mind like a first love – sign up.  The welcome submissions. – an online literary magazine dedicated to flash fiction (1000 words long) The term “smoke-long” comes from the Chinese, who noted that reading a piece of flash takes about the same length of time as smoking a cigarette.  All the work they publish is just that—about a smoke longWicked illustrations and the written word?…check it out for yourself.  Submissions welcome but read the guidelines!

Per Contra -The international journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas.  Dodgy, archaic looking website, but they do host a lot of brilliant writing, and they recommend a list of note worthy blogs. Submissions reopen October 2009.

Guernica – a magazine of art and ideas that author Howard Zinn calls “an extraordinary bouquet of stories, poems, social commentary, and art.”   This site is HOT.  You can get lost for days in the writings from across the world. And they actually take submissions.

 And two not mentioned but  certainly some of my favourites… – if you don’t know about this site…  Nuff said.  Take a week from work, visit it, get lost… enjoy … and submit your own.  It is South Africa’s only magazine featuring horror, sci-fi and all things supernatural; available online or in tactile form.  Most of the content is provided by local artists and writers.  The artwork is truly sublime, and some of our top writers have been featured.  Off the wall, spine chilling and delightfully decadent.  And yes submissions welcome – but take a number.

Of course there’s more, but this will have to do for now.

Back to the Litfest….

Time for an early dinner at the Elephant and Barrel before making our way to the see legendary playwright, Mike van Graan’s,  Bafana Republic III.  I love the way he has used the audience to choose his actor – a bit like idols.  Very progressive and typical of a man who just drives forward all the time.   

Mike van Graan

Mike van Graan

 The one man performance was powerful and true to Van Graan’s biting satire.  It needs a bit of a polish here and there but I am sure it will be a showstopper, again, at the Grahamstown Festival this year.

Then back to Col’Cacchio for veggie pasta and a fine bottle of Merlot; then to bed for a good night’s rest.  After Friday night’s shenanigans – the good lord knows we deserve it.

The rain is gushing down as we drive along the highway from Cape Town to Franschhoek in Teliwe’s baby blue jalopy. Water is leaking in from the bottom and we have to keep the windows open to keep the car from steaming up. 

She laughs.  We screech into the pastoral village at around 5; unload cameras, laptops, scarves and coats – sprint to get out of the rain.   We sit under the  tin roof listening to the rain filling up the swimming pool.  Teliwe says it is time. Colcacchio’s in Franschhoek.  It’s open mike.  Locals and Capetonians have brought their poetic musings to share with us in the hot roof of a pizza joint.

The poetry is bad.   “Real bad”, I mutter into my glass, scouting the faces around me.  A man’s fingers read his bumpy poetry; his companion stands dangerously close to him.  I misread the  situation and try to strangle Marie.  Teliwe is weeping. “It’s so beautiful,” she sighs.  A heated argument ensues about the nature of poetry.      Poetry is objective,”  I say knowingly.  Marie looks at  me with her surprised eyebrows and slugs at her beer. Teliwe cries a little more.  “Poetry is subjective,”  I sneer.   Teliwe wails and rises from her chair. “Poetry is subjective!” I gasp without conviction. “Ah, maybe we should be lovers,” cries Marie, hugging us to her Egyptian body.  She wants to listen to Mozart in the NG church. “I object!”, I holler, feeling a little like Alice with the flamingo grasped in pale hands.

It’s much later in the evening and we are screaming at the skinny musician “Encore!”  He says he is missing a few strings.  We nod knowingly and beg for more. Teliwe gets cross with the German bumming cigarettes from her.  I say her anger is misdirected.  The German says he lives in a mansion with 11 rooms and two pools. I wonder if there is a steamroom. But I don’t bother to ask. The musician plays “Violent Femmes” and Teliwe opens the dancefloor.  Her long red, body sways and dips, a little smile playes across her face.  The German is trying to be as cool as Johnny Cash, he flicks his hips and blows smoke into the air. Then glances over at me for approval.  I am thinking how I feel like the beans in Jack’s bag.  The ones that he swapped for the cow.  And I wonder what will sprout out next.

Copyright: Theresa Brown

It’s late. Arm in arm we jump wide-legged across pools of water in the glistening street. Water gushes violently along the gutter. We hold our wet faces up and swallow the sky and stars and soggy clouds.  We are immortal.  We run with strong legs. 

We lay our happy bodies down on crushed rose petals, candles flickering and die into a long penetrating darkness.  We rest and sleep like the innocents.


 I am off to join in on the ultimate in adventure sport for bibliophiles; the Franschhoek Literary Festival.  Drool over the latest releases by local authors, scream in horror and delight at the slam poetry and eat and drink in the pastoral streets and frosty mountain air.   True to Stark’s unVirgo-esque nature, not a ticket has been bought nor an itinerary planned.  All I know is that Sindiwe Magona (Beauty’s Gift) Tom Eaton, Vikas Swarup, the deliciously controversial Max du Preez and many others will be there …  Ah and Koos Kombuis. Wonder what he is up to?  There will be a play by one of my heroes, Mike van Graan, and music and poetry recitial, and of course all the delicious Franschhoek wine that you can drink.  Unlike slumming it in a tent at the recent KKNK, I will be staying in a room with four walls and a roof. I believe it is called a Hotel; the Protea Hotel nonetheless.  Ah there is something to be said for hot showers, clean sheets and snug pillows.

What I really like is that the Litfest uses  the money raised to buy books for local schools and to support the crèches.
Close by my side will be my sand and sky sister, Teliwe; she who dances with lanterns and swims with Sangomas.  So we are looking forward to a weekend filled with laughter, debate, dreams, music and fantasy as we run through the imaginariums of our minds and join the rest of the Clan of the Book.  We will be avoiding any snooty bookish types, smoking their pipes and snobbishly rattling on about pushing out that first novel and bla blah. 
Litfest – 15-17 May 2009

©Astrid Stark

First published in  Business Day;  Weekender, 11 April ’09

Roosterkoek grilled on an open fire, juicy Kudu sausages drenched in tomato relish, Ostrich biltong, bokkoms, pancakes dripping with syrup, melktert, koeksisters, and an ice-cold beer at the end of a long hot day.

It’s that time of year when thousands of art lovers trek up to the spectacular of the annual Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK).

From 4- 11 April, the dusty town is transformed into a colourful hub that teems with performing artists, musicians, bustling foodstalls and hawkers selling wire art, imitation crocs, sunglasses and anything made from ostrich.  At night flame throwers, sparkling street light decorations and flashing neon headgear lights up the Karoo sky.  By day the sandy streets are awash with streams of festival goers, drifting between shocks of brightly dyed ostrich feather dusters, multi-coloured stalls and violently bright sponsors banners crammed into every nook and cranny.

© Astrid Stark

© Astrid Stark

Music, wine and beer halls are spread across the heart of the town, their blaring music chaotically competing with each other that of the beating of drums rolling in from the flea market.   Every school, church and public hall serves as a make-shift art venue.  

The downturn in the economy has resulted in people booking cheaper accommodation such as school hostels, army barracks and camping, but they are still buying tickets.  Many of the main performances were sold out well in advance.

Jericho! played to fully booked shows of 600 people each.  It is an impressive production with the powerful Libertas Choir stealing the limelight from an overwrought performance by   Anna-Mart van der Merwe.  The production includes music from Bäch, Handel and Mendelsohn, beautifully mixed with African rhythms and lyrics. Tasteless was their use of shock tactics by projecting images of starvation and despair on the back wall.

Sandra Prinsloo’s Die Naaimasjien was a showstopper; according to the few lucky ticket holders.  Koos Kombuis’s performance was so intimate it felt as if we were all sitting in his lounge, sipping red wine, and sharing memories of South Africa then and now.  Kombuis has the ability to make us laugh through the heartbreaking events which punctuates our lives as South Africans. 

Finding the music headquarters of MK to watch 2-21 rapidly escalated into a nightmare as the venue was situated on the outskirts of town and the supplied directions were misleading. The situation was exacerbated by 2-21 ‘s aggressive management.

One of the gems of the festival was discovering the !Garob Project, which is a partnership between the KKNK and local communities.  Their projects include the Khoi Konnexion featuring the Ghetto Poet of Tanneman !Xamm, and the lovely boys and girls doing a traditional Rieldans.  The boys alternate between performing as young bushmen, and then the animals that they hunt.  They leap like Springboks and shuffle their feet sending dust clouds into the air.  It is a beautiful and rare performance.

The new curator for visual arts, Johan Myburg, took visitors on daily tours of many of the exhibitions on offer.  Clusters of local shops in Baron van Reedestraat were emptied out of their regular stock and transformed into art galleries.   Artists come from all over the country to exhibit and many set up their easels inside the galleries to treat visitors to a session of live painting.     Bredasdorp painter, Ronald West, expects to sell around 15 painting at the KKNK. He says business has been good so far. 

In 2008, KKNK generated R30m for the economy, of which R7,1m was generated by ticket sales. This year organisers expect around 300 000 visitors to pass through the gates; producing even more sales than last year.

However this is not a poor man’s festival. Enthusiasts really had to dig deep into their pockets if they wanted the whole experience.  Most of the performances ranged from R70 to R100, and even the site-specific outdoor shows were cordoned off and ticketed.  Cheap food stalls were in abundance, but if after days of fast food, you craved something green and healthy, you paid dearly for it.   A man was arrested for violently protesting about the R2 charged for the use of public toilets. 

Radio sonder grense (RSG) had one of the few free music tents and they put on daily shows ranging from mundane musicians to a cracker live radio drama performed by a string of radio gurus.  RSG presenter, Leon van Nierop wrote and directed the piece for the stage, which he admits is something of a new genre.  Van Nierop and radio stalwarts like Betty Kemp and Chris van Niekerk romped about the stage illustrating the chaos that takes place during a recording.  Much to the audiences’ delight they demonstrated how sound effects, such as a creaky door or rattling chain, can go horribly wrong.   Van Niekerk afterwards commented that this production brings radio to life for a whole new generation.

RSG team: From the left; Leon van Nierop, Denver Vraagom, Bettie Kemp & Chris van Niekerk

RSG team: From the left; Leon van Nierop, Denver Vraagom, Bettie Kemp & Chris van Niekerk

At night the musicians really came out to play.  Contemporary and traditional, mostly Afrikaans, musicians rocked and crooned in every available space.  Steve Hofmeyr, a brief appearance by Amor Vitone, David Kramer and a slew of well known and new rock bands kept visitors up until the early hours. 

Teerpad, a progressive rock group from Tzaneen, had fans at the African Space and Lemon and Lime dancing about like banshees; their drive and unique approach is set to take them far. 

Before too long it is time head home.  Broke, exhausted, and with your head spinning from all the chaotic sounds, tastes and textures, you realise that you have only but skimmed the surface of what’s on offer at the KKNK.  The festival is bursting at the seams; undiscovered gems are buried underneath the many mediocre performers that fill up every second of the time, in every space imaginable.

 Maybe the organisers should consider enforcing stricter entrance criteria for artists?  The tired old flea market selling the same sad stock year after year, and the sponsors’ overwhelming self-promotion gives the mistaken impression of a cheap carnival.

 More integrated and better promoted performances, such as !Garop, that include the local community will broaden the cultural experience and will maybe absorb the many clusters of tiny children, begging on the streets, into a program that leaves a lasting cultural legacy.

The Afrikaans performance and visual arts industry is obviously healthier than ever, as indicted by strings of additional performances and sold-out shows. Established artists such as Sandra Prinsoo, Gys de Villiers, David Kramer and Koos Kombuis constantly raise the bar and pave the way for a new generation of artists that are passionately immersing themselves into their work.  The locals who have to brace themselves for the annual traffic jams and noisy revellers also deserve a medal of some sort.   As an effort to generate greater collaboration between artists and as a springboard from which unknown stars are shot into the open sky, the KKNK is by far the leader in their field.

Astrid Stark



© Astrid Stark

© Astrid Stark

Andre Visagie of the progressive rock group, Teerpad, burns up the amps.
at the National Arts Festival.