Franschhoek Literary Festival | The unbelievable heroism of Bill Browder and Jeffrey Archer’s writing secret | News24

Event: The Franschhoek Literary Festival 2022

Bill Browder doesn’t trust South Africa not to hand him over to Vladimir Putin, and Jeffrey Archer doesn’t know how to type because he writes all his books by hand.

Those were just some of the jaw-dropping facts that came to light on the second day of the Franschhoek Literary Festival (FLF).

Although the air was a bit nippy, you only had to move to a sunny spot or sip on some coffee to warm up ahead of the second round of book discussions.

At the two venues hosted by News24 this year, conversations ranged from humorous to very serious, and from local to international as one author after another took to the stage to discuss their work.

First up was Angelo Agrizzi, who joined Dennis Davis via Zoom to talk about his latest explosive tell-all, Surviving the Beast. Agrizzi, who had an oxygen tube in his nose, said he could only talk for 15 minutes and later ended the conversation because his nurse indicated that “his stats are going down”.

During the conversation, he claimed that South African businessman Gavin Watson did not die by suicide. When asked by Davis what he think happened, Agrizzi didn’t want to say. He later mysteriously added; “he died closer to home”.

Over at the Church Hall, a lively discussion with Shaun de Waal, Mark Gevisser and Robert Hamblin was taking place on the LGBTQ+ rights revolution. The panel of authors looked at sexuality, identity and race, and how far we’ve come, but also how much still needs to be done to give all voices a platform.

Beloved South African author Zakes Mda, who after decades as a successful playwright launched his career as a novelist with Ways of Dying in 1995, spoke about his latest novel Wayfarers’ Hymns.

Mda says he thought he had created the idea of a professional mourner through Toloki in Ways of Dying only to discover there are many cultures in the world who have professional mourners. Toloki also features in Cion and Wayfarers’ Hymns.

When asked to talk about the brave and strong women characters in his books, Mda says he doesn’t intentionally create strong women: “I just create women. These were real women I grew up with in Lesotho. It was just who they were.”

These days Mda mostly lives in the United States but he says he “carries my South Africa with me. South Africa lives in me.”

Zakes Mda. (Photo: Gallo Images / Tammy Booyzen)

One of the highlights of the day was undoubtedly the discussion between Bill Browder, author of Freezing Order, and former DA leader Tony Leon. Browder has, for long, been a sworn enemy of Putin as he has fought hard and risked all to expose the Russian leader’s illegal and deadly underground dealings. Browder’s bravery in taking on Putin and his oligarchs has been applauded across the globe.

During the talk, Browder recalled the incident at the 2018 Helsinki summit, where former American president Donald Trump and Putin appeared next to each other. The topic was the 12 Russian spies who hacked the emails of the Democratic National Committee and meddled with the 2016 election.

At a media conference, Putin was asked if he’d consider extraditing the 12 individuals to the US? He hinted that he’d consider it if the US was willing to reciprocate and give up Browder. An eager-to-please Trump said: “I think that’s an incredible offer.”

According to Browder, he was in the States at the time and was busy writing his current book when the summit took place. He was blissfully unaware of the drama unfolding until he turned his phone on and was met with a sea of messages and alerts.

“I was terrified,” Browder admits, saying that he was waiting for four vans to pull up and take him away to Russia, where he would surely die.

Browder said that, if Trump were to be re-elected again, he’d be as scared to travel to the United States as he currently was of travelling to South Africa.

Although he owns a house in Cape Town, he is unable to set foot in the country because of the South African government’s “warm” relationship with Russia. Browder said that, considering South Africa’s dark past, he found the country’s current stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine deeply disappointing, saying: “We won’t forget”.

A close friend of Browder and fellow author, Jeffrey Archer, serendipitously was the next headliner at the NG Church. According to Archer, he has immense respect for Browder and even got to read Freezing Order before its release.

Archer’s session, in contrast, was a lot lighter and humorous as he discussed his latest book, Over My Dead Body, with John Maytham. Although Archer got sidetracked every time cricket was mentioned, John managed to rein him back in.

Probably the most surprising admission by Archer was that he doesn’t know how to type. He dislikes technology and, to this day, still writes all his books by hand, with pen to paper. South African author Damon Galgut on Friday revealed that he, too, prefers this way of writing as it gives him time to think about what his next words would be. Archer agreed.

The 82-year-old author, who has published 27 novels to date, writes at least 14 drafts of each book before handing anything over to his publisher. “I have to be able to read it without feeling like I need to change a word, before I hand it over,” he says about his process, which also consists of writing at least eight hours each day.

Archer acknowledges that, with his success, he admittedly doesn’t have to write anymore, but he wants to.

“I love it. What would I be doing if I wasn’t writing? The day I no longer enjoy it or don’t have any stories left in me is when I’ll give it up.”

To complete his current series, Archer will have to write until he is at least 85 years old to wrap up the Detective William Warwick storyline.

Also at this year’s FLF was South African author Deon Meyer, who took to the stage to discuss his Benny Griessel mystery series.

Meyer told Andrew Brown that his greatest fear is to write the same book again and again. To avoid that, he keeps Benny moving through different life stages.

Asked if he would ever consider killing of Benny, Meyer answered: “I’ll probably pass away before him.”

South African journalist Ferial Haffajee, Tony Leon, and political analyst Ralph Mathekga ended the day by peering through their crystal balls at South Africa after the 2024 elections. 

ALSO READ: Franschhoek Literary Festival: Ramaphosa’s future, SA’s failed nuclear deal, and Galgut’s bank balance discussed 

(With contributions by Adriaan Basson, Carol Paton, and Shaun de Waal)

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