One of the great joys of SheKilda was meeting so many fabulous women, many of whom were writers. Margie Orford, from South Africa, was one of the three International Guests of Honour, along with Shamini Flint and myself. I had the pleasure of listening to Margie on a number of occasions over the convention, in panels and as the star of the show, and every time she was on stage her humour, knowledge and wealth of experience shone through.
Margie opened the convention with the keynote address on Saturday morning, and I have to say afterwards I told her off for raising the bar so high for us fellow international guests to follow! Her talk about the nature of life in South Africa and her own experiences on the business end of the law when she spent a short time in prison as a twenty-one year old for treason captivated us all.
At the A World of Crime session Margie spoke of the immense rate of crime in South Africa, which is so high the difficulty for the writer was to make the reader actually care about this murder over any other. Some how the topic of crime tourism came up and Margie told of some folk who brought their partners or spouses to South Africa to knock them off, thinking that everyone would take it to be yet another random murder in SA and being sorely mistaken because all South Africans knew a pretty woman, or a tourist would never do that or go there and they were inevitably caught out. Takes dumb tourists to a whole new level. She also gave a beautiful description of describing settings in fiction, in response to an audience question. I liked the analogy she gave of using a camera, taking broad shot in scenes that took the wider view, but focusing in on detail in close scenes between people that needed that tension of the minutiae.
In An hour with Margie Orford we heard a bit more detail about that imprisonment, and a few hair-raising moments in the name of research, but also more about her character, Dr Clare Hart, and the story behind the woman. One of the intriguing comments from Margie was how difficult she made life for herself by making her lead character a woman, because in the books Clare puts herself in situations that in reality no woman with a shred of safety awareness and society would do, and she had to find a way of doing this credibly. She would have been far better off making Clare a man. (Although, I think most of us disagreed, in light of her books.) We also enjoyed Margie's honesty about the reality of trying to combine motherhood with writing, and the ways writing won!
It was a great pleasure to be around Margie, who is an extraordinary woman, and this writer certainly learned a lot from her. And yes, one of her books added to the immense weight of my luggage!