Our very own Nathan Festus was instrumental in organising a Readathon at Exclusive Books in Claremont, held on Sunday 4th of August. We're indebted to Linda McCullogh of Exclusive's who was wonderfully supportive, set up a great reading space and provided refreshments, and a display table. We sold a total of 19 copies of the anthology, contributing to our sponsorship funds. Here follows Nathan’s report:
"So when I was confronted with the invitation of creating a greater awareness for the Life Righting Collective, I thought READATHON! Instead of running tirelessly along a never-ending stretch of road, panting and puffing, conquering the tarred road with blistered aching feet, why not do it from the page, allowing your tongue to do the leaping and lapping, conquering pages of writing whilst imparting life stories to eagerly listening ears, pierced attentively to hear the next twist in the tale, and so, the READATHON was born.
I had initially envisaged it as non-stop reading with participants passing the book onto each other, a sweaty baton marking the end of each distance as the tick-tocking of the tired wall clock signaled the start of a new participant, anxiously waiting and ready to enter the race. Refreshingly, this was not so, though we did meet the objective of keeping ears pierced waiting intently for the next twist in the tale.
Hosted at the up-market Claremont, Cavendish Square book store, Exclusive Books, the event drew a range of inquisitive onlookers and folk with long-desired dreams of penning their own life journey to paper.
Participating authors of stories published on the LRC website www.liferighting.com and in the LRC anthology, This Is How It Is, read their own stories and those of others to an audience of both elderly and young, the curious and yet others just eager to sip the free wine and eat the biscuits on offer.
Overall, the debut five hour event was a standing ovation success. The objective of creating the awareness that writing is a healing and therapeutic expression was echoed by the inspired folk I chatted to afterwards. Some who were eager to begin the journey of exploring their own creativity, left names and email addresses. I was moved by a particular Gogo who sat frowning and smiling as she intently took in the reading from various stories and could not help wondering how many experiences she could share.
I am excited, the starting gun has been fired, marking the beginning of what I envisage to be a yearly event, the Life Righting Collective Readathon and fundraiser.
I have a dream that at the next LRC Readathon aspiring writers and poets from every race, colour, creed and age will be invited to share their own short prose and poetry in an open mic session as we continue to encourage creative writing and the learning of other life-journeys in our quest to bring about greater healing, restoration and reconciliation both to the individual and a nation still reeling from its traumatic past."
The LRC exco are always looking for ways to raise funds so that we can continue to sponsor writers and to publish the stories that come out of the courses so that South Africans can get to know each other and grow compassion and community.
We also aim to get our stories out to the world, so that people who live elsewhere can be more informed about the people of this country. So we cooked up an idea to apply for an intern to assist us with putting together an ebook as our second anthology of true stories from South Africa.
An ebook of stories would be a little cheaper to produce than a hard copy book, as there are no storage and distribution costs. Lars Millingsford arrived from Oslo in Norway, and set out to find out how to do this. His research discovered that ebooks are very hard to sell and to market, so halfway through his stay we scrapped that idea, and he instead assisted us with some social media projects. We are very grateful to him for his willingness and enthusiasm, and hope he will visit us again in the future. The photo is from Lars' farewell dinner hosted by wonderful friend to the LRC, Rosie Campbell. [In the pic: from left: Lucy Alexander, Nina Geraghty, Linda Kaoma, Dawn Garisch, Giles Griffin & of course Lars)
There's so much fabulous writing coming out of the courses, so we still want to bring out a second anthology. Despite the huge amount of volunteer work that went into the first anthology, it still cost a lot to publish, and we as yet do not have a reliable source of funding. If anyone has a contact in the business world who might be prepared to finance the next anthology, please get in touch. Another way is to take pre-orders. A third is to encourage you all to ask friends and family to support our work through a monthly donation via Patreon.
We have SEVEN patrons so far! Thank you so much. Click here to become a Patron. If you donate just $5 (R77) a month, every little bit helps!
Are stories harmful?
While visiting a friend, I picked up Yuval Harari’s latest book and was intrigued by an essay titled: Life Is Not A Story. As a medical doctor who sees the consequences of self-destructive narratives in the consulting room, as an author who works within the domain of story, and as a facilitator who assists participants to write about their lives, I read this chapter with interest.
Harari argues that all stories are both false and destructive, making a compelling case for there being no evidence that the nationalist, cultural, historical, religious and relationship stories we tell ourselves and each other have any basis in fact. He advocates that we learn how our minds operate through meditation practices and thereby attempt to abandon story-making altogether. Meditation is an effective way to notice, reflect on and discard damaging habits of thought.
Yet Homo sapiens is a story-telling animal. As far as we know, we are the only creatures that have evolved this ability. Why would we have developed this capacity if the consequence serves only as self-deception? It is true that many stories we encourage promote the dominance of the group – to bind people together in the belief that their way way of seeing the world is correct, leading to ideas of superiority. Conversely, stories can be used to persuade groups that they are inferior.
The novelist and essayist, Chimamanda Adichie, warns against the danger of the single story in her TED talk. She was confronted by one idea of African people when she studied in the USA. The recently deceased novelist Binyavanga Wainaina highlighted our human tendency towards cliché and stereotype in his essay How To Write About Africa.
Can stories heal?
We can use narratives to justify behaviour, to arouse sentiment and action, to avoid reality, to feel special and to manipulate. Some stories allow us to believe things that are patently not true, but can only properly be understood through prejudice, brainwashing and self-deceit on the one hand, and mythology, metaphor and ritual on the other.
Homo Sapiens seems to be the only species that needs to find meaning in order to live with purpose and enjoyment. The novelist Joan Didion said, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live”. We rely on meaning-making in order to accept the difficulties of life and to help guide us through them. We use story to soothe and comfort, to feel at home, to teach and to explore our own capacities and boundaries. I know a woman whose chronic anxiety and eczema was not cured by years of psychiatry and medication – solutions that rely on facts − but by a religious conversion: in essence, a story assisted her.
Meaning is created by association, linking this with that by means of narrative. We create difficulty for ourselves, our communities and the earth when we make destructive associations and tell a single story.
Story and identity
We understand ourselves through the collective and individual narratives we believe about who we are, where we have come from and where we are going. These stories form our national, cultural, religious and personal identities. They can foster a sense of security and belonging. They can also engender conflict when these identities are disrupted by new information, unconscious impulses, loss, illness, migration, invasion or other traumas and events.
The structure of most stories is: There’s a person who has a problem. All of us have encountered difficulties; we read to find out how the protagonist got into the situation and what they are going to do about it, if anything.
We affect and influence each other’s stories and identities in a multiplicity of ways, often without knowing that we do so. Hearing about other people’s experiences can allow us to dip into the circumstances of other lives, which might then give us pause for thought about our own.
Stories as acts of creation
Many stories that we absorb through historical, cultural, family and religious norms operate below the level of consciousness. We need to identify the stories that shape our lives. The world urgently needs stories that enhance and augment life, not only our own but those of people around us, not only those we love, but those whom we regard with suspicion as different, not only of human beings, but all life.
Stories can promote beliefs that harm or heal, that support or demean, that put us to sleep or wake us up. I am interested in our predisposition for assumptions and how they relate to the associations we make. These associations, based on memory, image and narrative, can improve quality of life for ourselves and others – or destroy lives. Imagination can convince us that because someone has a different skin colour, language or custom, they cannot be trusted – or imagination can open our hearts and understanding to learn about a stranger.
I propose that there is a valuable reason we have evolved as story-telling creatures. We can develop this resource by telling stories that reveal the harm embedded in many of the unconscious mottos and motifs by which we live – narratives that are fuelled by prejudice, stereotype, sentiment, and self-sabotage. We can expand our capacity by discovering that there is more than one story about Africa, about each other and even about ourselves.
Discover the stories living in and through you
The courses run by the Life Righting Collective assist participants to write effective narratives that can help us live more curiously and creatively. We publish some of these stories on our website and in our anthology This Is How It Is. Have a look. Come on a course. Opening these story doors might reveal different endings.
 Harari, YN (2018). 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Penguin Random House.
 Didion, Joan. The White Album. New York: Harper Collins, 1979
In this brand new experimental and experiential writing course we will explore our relationship with the natural world. We have done damage to ourselves and our home, the earth, by constructing the idea that human beings are separate from nature. Even our language betrays this attitude – we speak of nature and the environment as though it is ‘out there’.
Through our writing, we will get curious about the barriers we have created that keep us from feeling empathy and care for our natural habitat and our animal bodies. Through experiential exercises and writing, we will explore how the built environment, consumerism, ideas about time and our fears, anxieties, disgust and distrust keep us disconnected from resources that can nourish and support us.
The creative mind is a natural space where we can remake connections with the source of life as inclusive and sensory. Writing into our relationship with the elements, natural cycles and with life in all forms can help us live in a responsive and responsible way, taking better care of the two homes we inhabit until we die – our bodies and the earth, and our fellow creatures.
One course will take place hiking in a breathtakingly beautiful wilderness area near Hermanus over four days (next dates to be scheduled) and can accommodate three people of medium fitness.
The other will take place in four different locations in Cape Town on Wednesday afternoons and evenings for the lunar cycle of four weeks. This course can accommodate twelve participants and does not require fitness. There will also be a one-afternoon 'taster' session to promote the Root course in the next few months - watch this space for details.
For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last month, 18 LRC members read their poetry - many from the Anthology - at the McGregor Poetry Festival. Afterwards, some of our members wanted information on where to submit poems for publication. As you know, I strongly encourage you to write primarily for your own mental health and self-reflection, putting down as faithfully as possible your lived experience; then, in the future, you might decide to put your work out into the world to inspire and enrich others.
First, you need to read poetry to learn about the craft. Then you need to write and rewrite. Read your work to a group of friends, come to a monthly LRC follow up gathering. Put the poem away for a week or three, then look at it again with fresh eyes.
When you feel your poem is ready for submission, start with publishing individual poems in poetry journals. A publisher is unlikely to consider a collection unless your name has been around in poetry journals for some time. Check out the websites of journals that publish poetry and have a look at their submission guidelines. Unless the publisher discourages this, you should submit your work to several journals at the same time. It will take around three months for the editor to get back to you, and you should not hassle them for a response prematurely. In the meantime, you will need an effective anxiety management plan while you wait. I just get on with the next bit of writing and bite my nails.
Here are the local journals that publish individual poems:
The following publish collections:
And of course those who perform at the McGregor Poetry Festival are invited to submit their poetry for publishing in the McGregor annual anthology which will be available at the 2019 poetry festival. There are numerous online forums that consider poetry, but many of them want a payment per submission. Glimmer Train and Rattle are two of the few that not only allow for submissions without a reader’s fee at certain times of the year, but if they accept your work, they pay you!
I encourage you to have a look at the kind of work these poetry journals like to publish before you submit. And local publications are always struggling, so paying a subscription keeps them afloat. But I am sure they are in your local library too.
Going the self publishing route is an option, but it can be expensive. Be aware of the potential pros and cons if you choose this route: you need to pay good editors, proof readers and designers to ensure the finished product is as professional as going the mainstream route. The Centre for the Book has brought out a booklet on 'A guide to small scale and self publishing'. Heather Parker Lewis has also brought out a book called ‘Successful Self Publishing in SA’. These are probably available in your local library.
Mainstream publishing is going through incredible change at the moment as forms other than the paper book bought in a book shop become more established – e-books, Mobisites, print-on-demand, etc. Publishers are having to radically revise their idea of getting books to buyers. Amazon has a facility called Kindle Direct Publishing where you can upload your book for free.
Most importantly, don’t be discouraged if a journal rejects your work. We are all learning here, and not everyone likes all kinds of poetry. Keep writing, we do it for something more important than being in print.
All the very best, and hope to hear more of your work soon.
It’s a topical issue in the world – who do we allow to cross our borders? What entry criteria determine our choices?
We face exactly those dilemmas when reading and listening to others’ life stories.
Where differences jostle up beside us in an anthology that includes a diversity of styles and content, how might we respond? We have been trained to maintain borders, to keep company with the familiar, with ‘people like us’ and to develop the part of the brain that measures, judges and separates. The voices we allow in are too often those that soothe and reassure us,that align with what we believe to be ‘right’.
Voices that are different might interest us, even excite us by their uniqueness. But there are more we might dismiss because they make us uncomfortable, or they speak in a voice that we don’t immediately recognise. They have lived lives that are foreign to our education and experience, they express themselves in ways that are strange, naïve or even shocking to our sensibilities.
There is however, another part of the brain, one that has an open border policy, that is curious and inclusive, that lets in the strange and challenging, that wants to incorporate difference and learn from encounters with alternative ways of listening, reading and seeing.
Perhaps, when hearing or reading another person’s story, if we are not too quick to judge or find fault, we might experience a meeting of curious hearts. Both writers and readers might stand at the threshold of what we usually allow to enter, we might have an encounter that encourages more compassionate ways to live together.
Of course, we need to have boundaries and be discerning, but at the Life Righting Collective, we want that to be helpful, not harmful. In publishing life stories, we do have criteria. Anyone can learn these pointers, however. It’s what the editing part of the course is about, after the free-fall of words onto the page.
Our criteria for inclusion for publishing are:
Please consider submitting your story if you have completed a life writing course with the LRC. We are a small but enthusiastic band that can publish one to two stories a week online, which is why we urgently need funding to enable this service to writers to continue.
Please read these stories with an open and curious heart. Through deep listening to each other’s stories beyond our own internal borders, we can learn to care.
Image by Couleur courtesy of Pixabay
Just over a year ago, a group of writers helped me to raise funds to form the Life Righting Collective. The main aim was to assist disadvantaged writers. We felt strongly that we should also publish an anthology of life writing, despite the time and effort involved in a market where it is difficult to see books. Why?
I am also a medical doctor. It strikes me how stressed and overworked many patients are. We have created a society that is often too busy and exhausted to participate in creative and civic life, and to be self-reflective. This perpetuates a system that is unsustainable, and does significant damage to individuals, communities and the earth.
I sometimes ask patients on the verge of burn-out: what do you do for pleasure? Mostly they stare at me, astonished, then they might offer something like watching movies, or going to the gym. When pressed, they might admit that they used to play a musical instrument, or write poetry. They took pottery or dance classes. Then life became too demanding, and the creative pursuit had to go because it was a ‘hobby’ that didn’t pay.
We have abdicated our creativity and handed it over to professionals.
Creative engagement is a birth right. Jaak Panksepp, the Nobel-winning neuroscientist, has described how humans are born with an innate capacity for play. We cannot learn how to play, because we need to play in order to learn. To play is to experiment, taking risks without knowing what is going to happen next. It is fuelled by curiosity and excitement. It feeds on paradox, contradiction and strange juxtapositions that open up new and surprising possibilities.
Creativity gets us out of the box of logic and reasoning − tools that are necessary but that are overvalued in our culture. From the time we are small, we are schooled to believe there is only one answer and you had better know it. We become afraid to experiment in case we look silly, or make a mess, or don’t produce a masterpiece first time round.
So, the first half of this post is a call for us to reclaim our inborn creativity as a valuable tool. We need to become curious about ourselves, our communities and the world. Creative writing is one way to discover what we don’t know we don’t know. Our unconscious patterns and habits, and the images and emotions that shape our lives, can become clearer to us when we have a conversation with ourselves on the page. We can improve awareness and observation about our habits and tendencies and how we impact on each other and the earth. We can grow compassion, and act more kindly. I think of creative writing as an act of mental health. Our mental health affects our physical health. This has value that no money can buy.
So why publish? When I first started teaching life writing 8 years ago, I purposefully downplayed the aspect of getting published, because if you have one eye on the market and another on the cash register, you will never do your best work. However, I have seen how the act of reading one’s work to others during a life writing course can grow confidence and kindness in the reader/writer, and how hearing another person’s story can help the listener to revisit their assumptions. By relating our lives to each other, we become more related.
Initially I felt ambivalent about the much bigger step of bringing writers’ work into the world. I have always emphasised that our creativity is about growing community rather than a hierarchy of who writes better than whom. Getting into the download space requires us to set aside judgement, and to make ourselves available to whatever needs to be written. I have seen too many writers stop writing if their work was judged not good enough to make it into print. But so much excellent writing was coming out of the writing courses that would never get published by mainstream publishing houses that I felt sad. Not only was the writing worth reading for its own sake, but the stories were having an impact on those who heard them. Our society is traumatised, and we need avenues to help connect us as human beings after decades of institutionalised prejudice and separation.
So when we raised funds for the first year of operation of Life Righting Collective, we included a budget for publishing a first anthology of life writing, and for creating a website to post more true stories written by South Africans from all walks of life.
The collection in our forthcoming anthology This Is How It Is is tender, moving, hilarious, disturbing, quirky and surprising. There are stories written by seasoned writers and beginners. They all reflect our shared humanity in courageous ways.
Reading them has opened my heart.
We are pleased to say that the LRC anthology This Is How It Is is on track, with the expected date for printing in May. We've been advised by our publisher at Jacana to hold the date of the launch for a few weeks after publication to ensure that the books have been distributed and are available in book shops around SA. So we don't have an exact date yet, but you will know as soon as we do.
Our executive committee is meeting on 21st April to plan marketing, which Jacana will be helping us with, which will include launches in as many centres as we can, newspaper, radio and television interviews, slots at book fairs, articles in magazines and newspapers, and talks at book clubs and other forums. We have already been promised a slot for the poets in the anthology to appear at the MacGregor Poetry Festival in August, and will be on a panel at the Open Book Festival in September in Cape Town. And Sara-Jayne King has offered to have us on her book show. We will be in touch with more details.
If you have any contacts in the world of radio, television, newspapers, or friends who review or who have blogs about books, etc, please let us know. We are a merry but small band, and need all the help we can get to promote the book, and the work of the Life Righting Collective. Essentially, we all need to work together to knock everyone's socks off about this fantastic book. Funds that we raise from selling the book will go towards distributing free copies to under-resourced schools and community libraries, and towards the cost of publishing a second anthology, hopefully next year.
It is important that the left hand knows what the right hand is doing, so please let us know if you have a contact who is willing to do a feature or any kind of promotion once the book is out. Email email@example.com with details please.
Now we need to let people know what lies in store for them. Please keep checking our Life Righting Collective Facebook Page , and share relevant info about the book with EVERYONE as soon as we post it.
Thank you to everyone who has been so enthusiastic and willing to help get this anthology off the ground. We're about to take off. Watch the sky!
I am a writer who is also a doctor, interested in what helps us heal. I have used writing as a tool and resource to help me find out more about what I am thinking and feeling, to explore the difficulties and dilemmas in life, to live more curiously, compassionately and creatively, to communicate more effectively and to be more observant, reporting back on observations about the human condition and how we impact on each other and the earth. These are some of the benefits of regular creative practice, which I have found ways to pass on through the courses I run under the umbrella of the Life Righting Collective. My aim in the courses is to put you in touch with your own creative fire and to show you how to get into the 'download' part of the mind. The next course in Cape Town is from 2nd to 4th May. Go here to find out how to book.
This is the first time the Life Righting Collective has published stories, and every aspect of the process has brought up interesting questions. Editing someone else’s work can present dilemmas. We encourage creative expression and developing an original voice. As Emily Buchanan, the second editor for the hard copy anthology pointed out, editing is often a matter of opinion. The old school style of thinking that there is only one correct way of saying something went out with colonialism.
When writers are in full writing flight, and words tumble from their pens, they often come up with quirky and exciting phrases or juxtapositions of images. Authors who are not writing in their mother tongue are prone to using words in refreshing ways. In editing the stories for both the website and the hard copy anthology, we have taken care to stick to some basic principles: Is the story clear or confusing? Does the subject matter veer too widely off the point? Is there unnecessary repetition?
Editing too much can reduce the piece to something bland; editing too little might look as though the editors don’t know what they are doing.
We are checking with authors as we go. As Emily points out, this cross checking with the author that we have not interfered with meaning, or inserted our own ideas and voice, is part of the learning curve. While writing we develop our capacity for writing. When editing, we grow our ability to fine tune what we write so that our work can be more effective in the world.
Writing and editing are different functions of the brain. I have a notion that paying attention to each in turn helps to heal the traumatic ruptures that occur in our lives.
I think the voices that emerge in our published stories are true, vibrant, idiosyncratic and creative. Take a look on our website. The book is due out in May. I encourage you to read it.