Good words and a smile (oh and a good book too)

Wordfest, our annual literary festival is underway. After several months struggling with the fall out from a serious mental health episode this week is my first serious self test, my chance to explore my level of stamina and commitment. It is also an opportunity to spend time with people who love books and listen to great writers talk about their work.

I started with two volunteer shifts and some selected presentations I wanted to see and, as you might suspect, the volunteer commitment portion quickly expanded.

Am I exhausted yet? A little. I will likely sleep for a day when it’s all over but I have so desperately needed to get out in the world. Admittedly I am buffered with medication but the creeping anxiety stays in the car when I get into the venues.

Now if I can find a way for the medical system to prescribe a literary solution I might just be able to live with this bipolar beast. I just have to be able to afford to eat too!

Today has lifted my spirits more than I can remember in months. I had one single volunteer shift as a bookseller at one of the smaller venues, but I was nervous simply because I was expecting a panel discussion featuring one of my favourite authors. When I arrived to discover that the other writer had been forced to cancel at the last minute, the presentation had been redesigned as an hour long one-to-one interview with South African novelist Damon Galgut.

The host was scrambling but I could not have been happier.

American edition of Arctic Summer in case anyone is wondering -a nicer cover than the Canadian/UK I think.
American edition of Arctic Summer in case anyone is wondering -a nicer cover than the Canadian/UK I think.

I have always been apprehensive about meeting my heroes, for fear of disillusion. Nonetheless I had come prepared to have my books signed and hopeful for even a few words with a writer whose works I admire so much. Although we did have books to sell I noticed that I was not the only person who had arrived with their own copies of his latest work, Arctic Summer, already in tow. This novel is an imagined biographical account of the complex personal and emotional factors that led E M Forester through the extended  writer’s block that ultimately produced his greatest work, A Passage to India. As an historical novel it is a departure for Galgut (and one he admitted he would be in no rush to repeat) but rich with a deep affection for India and the driving forces of unrequited desire.

I confess I abandoned my post presentation bookselling duties early to make sure I didn’t miss out on the opportunity to have my copies of In a Strange Room and Arctic Summer signed. To be honest I have yet to see an unpleasant author at any of the events I’ve helped with, but it meant more than I can measure for Damon to take the time to, ask me about myself and encourage me that it is never too late to start writing. I am grateful for his kind words.

This experience, simple and important for me, has lifted my spirits in a way that feels healthier than the meds alone. It feels good to be human again. I have commitments with Wordfest right through until Sunday evening, but for now I am enjoying this warm feeling.

Author: roughghosts

Literary blog of Joseph Schreiber. Writer. Reader. Editor. Photographer.

6 thoughts on “Good words and a smile (oh and a good book too)”

  1. Absolutely thrilled to hear you are out and about in the world of books and that you were able to meet an author you admire. I feel the same way about certain authors and would give my eye teeth to meet a few of them. This is only the baby step, Joseph, so much more awaits you when you emerge once again.


  2. I haven’t yet read Galgut but you have intrigued me with Arctic Summer. Do you think I’d need to reread A passage to India to make sense of the novel? It’s been a long time. I have always liked Forster and read quite a bit at one stage in my life. (PS sorry for the late reply. I’ve been traveling and have also had an adult daughter return home after living in North America – mostly Toronto – for two years)


    1. I wouldn’t read A Passage to India first though you may be interested to return to it after reading Arctic Summer. I did drag out my old Penguin because it has been a good 30 years since I read the novel. (But to be honest, I cheated and took the classic movie out of the library.) Arctic Summer is very lovingly created with careful brush strokes to evoke a sense of Forster’s work and time. Galgut’s typical work though, like the Good Doctor, is rather spare with wide open spaces and unspoken tensions. I asked him if he found this project claustrophobic and he did admit that he would not attempt another historical fiction. I would certainly recommend acquainting yourself with something by Galgut, he is becoming one of the most important South African authors of his time. (He was also very kind with some specific writerly advice toward a project goal of my own.)


      1. Thanks RG … I’ll add him to my list as I haven’t read many South African writers … Imight copy you and check out the film to refresh myself. Such a powerful book.


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