If I had ever sat down to write a bucket list, going to the Franschhoek Literary Festival would have been at the top. So, flying to the Western Cape this weekend and meandering through the wine lands to reach the normally sleepy town was a highlight. Franschhoek was abuzz with booklovers roaming past posters containing writer-ly quotes. In church halls, school halls and town halls, panels of well-known South African and international authors discussed books and the writing process. And, indifferent to the fact that my library is cracking at the seams, booksellers sold an alluring range of books at all the venues. I was in heaven!

Besides the simple pleasure of being a part of it all, I also learnt some invaluable lessons. Here are just a few of them.

Even renowned writers feel insecure

I have a notion that once I am published, I will be confident and assured. To this effect, I spend a lot of energy on trying to break through that publishing barrier. Yet listening to these published authors gave me an interesting insight: you never quite arrive. Somebody else’s book will undoubtedly receive more publicity or better reviews. An author of more than fifty books admitted—somewhat sheepishly—that on walking into a bookshop and seeing a rival’s books in a more prominent position, he will swap their books for his own.

Linked to this was the realisation that I could relate to these writers: their struggles and processes and insecurities. There is no ‘them and us’ or ‘published and unpublished.’ We are all writers, no matter where we are on our journey, each one of us working on improving our beloved craft; each of us passionate about the next sentence, the next paragraph.

To become a bestselling novelist in South Africa, write a political thriller

Every South African writer, cartoonist and editor said the same thing—South Africans are obsessed with politics. If you can write a great political thriller, you’ll be the next Deon Meyer. I dislike politics and politicians, so I am doing absolutely nothing with this insider information except passing it on to you, my dear reader. I do however, expect an acknowledgement in that first bestseller!

Readers are delightful people

I suspected this already, an observation garnered from long, fascinating afternoons at Book Club. Sitting with perfect strangers on church benches cemented it for me, though. Speaking to them was easy, books our connection point. We discussed our favourite authors and titles as comfortably as re-united friends. From there we moved on to other topics–restaurants and wines and community projects (and not too surprisingly, politics). Readers are interesting; they are interested in life and issues.

What does this mean for me as a writer? It reminds me to engage my readers in thought-provoking conversations online, to treat them with respect and friendship, instead of just ‘pushing my books’ down their throats in my marketing attempts.

I learnt a few other priceless lessons, but I’m going to keep you on the edge of your seats a little longer. Watch out for my next post, “What ELSE I learnt about Writing, Writers and Life at the Franschhoek Literary Festival.”

It’s almost as good as going to Franschhoek yourself, right?