Thursday, 22 March 2012

Workshop 2012 - South Africa

This year's Caine Prize workshop was held at Volmoed in South Africa, near Hermanus.  Although it was my first year attending as Administrator, Jamal Mahoub, who has worked on a number of the previous workshops thought it was the most comfortable place the workshops have ever been held.  Is comfort conducive to the potentially torturous writing process?  Essentially a religious retreat Volmoed is hidden in the valley of Heaven and Earth near Hermanus, nestled between vineyards and farmland was blessed with blue skies and sunshine, spacious cottages with stoeps and a wonderful cook who catered for our lunches and dinners every day.  I was tempted to switch off the hot water to make the writers suffer sufficiently to produce great works of art (and reproduce some of the conditions of previous workshops), but I couldn't bring myself to do it.  So with all their comforts provided for, in fact all the writers had to do was write...

The workshop almost went off without a hitch, except two of the Nigerians invited were prevented from attending by the South Africa immigration authorities.  Elnathan John was not granted a visa and Abubakar Ibrahim was deported on arrival in Johannesburg because the authorities were not prepared to accept his yellow fever certificate:  Despite this, the ten writers who did attend were perhaps in for more of an ordeal.  Starting on the third evening each writer would read part of their story in progress to all the other writers, and the two animateurs, acclaimed South African writer and 2008 Caine Prize winner Henrietta Rose-Innes and award winning writer of mixed British/Sudanese heritage, Jamal Mahjoub.  The rounds of praise and criticism received after dinner helped to shape the stories which were then revisited the following week when they were closer to completion.  In the meantime the writers consulted in private with Jamal and Henrietta who offered guidance on structure and direction, acting as editors and facilitators, or midwives...  

All ten writers are under pressure to meet the ten day deadline to complete a short story each of between 3,000 and 10,000 words, which is then published in the 2012 Caine Prize anthology along with the 2012 shortlisted stories that will be announced in the first week of May.  Next year all the workshop stories are entered in to the 2013 Caine Prize and stand a chance of winning £10,000.  As Brenda says in the clip uploaded below, the pressure was intense.  

In the next few days we'll upload a few more film clips so you can see what the writers themselves thought of the workshop plus a few teasers about the stories they wrote which will be published in time for this year's Caine Prize award announcement on 2nd July.  


  1. Sounds idyllic. Lucky you + lucky writers.

    Just thought I'd mention that as part of our hat-tipping-ness to the Caine Prize and the delights of, the London Short Story Book Club is dedicating a whole month to reading African writers/writing.

    Do join us for the discussion and reading-alouding if this is your thang and you're in London in July:

  2. Thanks Steve! If the London Short Story Book Club is keen to come along to meet our shortlisted writers this year keep an eye on this blog and on our facebook page, as well as Twitter @CainePrize. Our events begin on Thursday 28 June at the Royal Overseas League.

  3. While ALL of the writers tours, Cape Town transfers and fun activities were organised and supplied by Percy Tours in Hermanus - - many thanks Lizzy and Nick, see you all soon :-))