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Hamilton Wende

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

African skies: fly at your own risk

My good editor and good friend Arja Salafranca has rebuked me severely for my tardiness in posting this piece on flying in Africa to Book SA, so here it is. Enjoy!

In the 25 years that I have been working and travelling as a journalist on this continent, some of my most memorable experiences have been on planes. For me, that precise moment when the wheels lift off the ground is always a thrilling experience.

As you hang in the sky in that first ethereal split second, time itself seems to be suspended, holding you in the thrall of the promise of the destination that lies ahead. But sometimes the flight itself is as much of an adventure as the place you are going to.

One of the very first flights I took as a journalist was from Wonderboom just outside Pretoria to Jamba, the secret headquarters of Unita in southern Angola. Unita had kidnapped a group of foreign mine workers and was going to release them in front of the world’s television cameras. Most of the country was very much an active war zone. It was my first trip to a combat area, so I was nervous, excited and curious.

Hamilton Wende and Prynnsberg

Had a great weekend in the Free State with the inaugural ‘Write That Book!’ workshop hosted by myself and Rick and Sue Melvill from the lovely Victorian manor house on the veld called Prynnsberg. It is a ‘boot camp’ for writers designed to take people who’ve always dreamed of writing that book from ‘concept to completion’. I take them through a series of linked exercises which begin very vaguely – and gently – and by the end of the weekend they have the rough beginnings of a real book – fiction or narrative non-fiction to take home with them. Further mentoring opportunities are available.

It was hard work. It starts on Friday after a light lunch and finishes on Sunday at lunch time so everybody can be home for work on Monday morning. But what a transformative experience for myself as facilitator and for the people who participated! From nothing on Friday lunch we now have five new books under construction by five new writers – a really rewarding experience for all of us!

The next one we are holding is on November 26, 27, 28 if you know anyone who would be interested in coming to ‘Write That Book!’ then please get them to send an email to

cheers for now


Weekend reading etc

Atually the Pytheas the Greek voyage got a bit dry and tedious towards the end, so switched to Ceridwen Dovey’s lapidary ‘Blood Kin’ filled with evocation of today’s Zimbabwe etc. That filled a rainy afternoon very well and now, on the recommendation of a fellow journo am starting James Meek’s We are Now Beginning our Descent about journos in northern Afghanistan… so far it has started off very well. I can relate well to it also from my own time in northern Afghanistan

The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek

Very readable account of Pytheas’ voyage around the British Isles in 320BC wonderful blend of ancient myth, philosophy and history

The Boy in You

Got diverted from my eclectic weekend reading plans by Marguerite Poland’s wonderful biography of my old school St. Andrew’s College in Grahamstown. It really is a fascinating book and a monumental work that must have been quite a task to complete. It is already a piece of Africana and a great addition to Marguerite’s already impressive collection of writing!

New Bond

Just finished ‘Devil May Care’ the new ‘Bond’ book written by Sebastian Faulks. It’s fantastic – Faulks is way way better than Ian Fleming. It captures the Fleming tone and surprisingly thoughtful psychological insights exceptionally well but you are conscious always of a delightful sense of irony in Faulks’ version. It’s witty, literary and a cracking good read.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Finished ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ Really enjoyed it up until the end when I think it kinda petered out.

The Uncommon Reader is a minor delight – it reminds me of John Steinbeck’s The Short Reign of Pippin IV’ which is a true gem!

Also just read ‘Elephantoms’ while I was in the Kruger. It kinda carried me along, but somehow didn’t quite work for me