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Writing: To Be or Not to Be

There is a raft of podcasts, workshops, books, and even, one-on-one sessions, about writing (how to become a writer). I recently read Stephen King’s, On Writing, and was intrigued by his memoir and his assertion that all stories are out there, waiting for us to discover them … like a gem to be fossicked.[1] An interesting and engaging thought. #writing #stephenking #zonderwater Some of his advice I questioned—am I brave or foolish? He is, after all, a prodigiously successful writer (sorry, Steve, I couldn’t help slotting in an adverb!). There were some valuable insights though and I’ll share just one although I struggled to choose from a variety that resonated with me:

“Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story. Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot. It’s not just a question of how to, you see; it’s also a question of how much to.” In the end, we are in agreement … if you want to write, you should. Don’t let the fear of being ‘no good’ stop you. Release those words that are a jumble in your head; it is an enlightening release. Don’t expect though that the original narrative will be what you end up with, as everything needs to be worked through so that readers can follow you on your journey and not be bamboozled by your brain dump. At least, the words will be out there (uncovered) to ‘fossick’ through and polish like a diamond. And then, of course, you have to take the next step and be even braver, as you follow through: reveal that narrative to the world. Many authors let their fear hijack them. What a shame; you could be keeping back an account that could be inspiring and entertaining to one or many. I’m forever grateful to my dad for recording his time, as a young Italian soldier, in the South African prisoner of war (POW) camp, Zonderwater, during WW2. It doesn’t even bear thinking about what would have happened if he had been caught as he scribbled away in secret. But he did not know from one day to the next whether he would survive. There was an incessant urging inside of him to leave something behind, and likely, it released the words that pounded in his head; that teased him with their whispering. His experiences in the camps (see the photo of one of the passages from his diaries) are shared in the book, Goodbye to Italia.

Writing: To Be or Not to Be
Writing: To Be or Not to Be

There is nothing familiar here. We are at the mercy of British or Afrikaans’ orders that are inconsistently carried out, dependent on whom is in charge for the day or what mood they are in.

When you are fighting in a battle there isn’t time to think of anything but surviving. Even when blood splatters your jacket and sometimes your face, as your comrade is hit by a bullet next to you and goes down, you are in the thick of a battle; there is no time for thinking. But here, we are subject to the caprice of these foreigners, who seem to have no joy in life and use us like slave labour. Of late, my thoughts wander erratically. I begin to worry that I will lose my mind.

It does not help that during the night, POW departures take place almost at the drop of a hat. We only hear about it the next morning. We go to bed wondering if we will be woken up in the dark and told to get moving. In Block 1, less than a thousand men remain, half of them shipped out without notice.

[1] Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, <>


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