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Where South African Authors are Inspired to Write

It is said that inspiration can strike at any moment; be it at a red light while watching taxi drivers argue over who the better driver is, or while you wait in the queue at a crowded coffee shop. But that is the when. For writers, the where is also important, because the setting, scenery, and surroundings can all play a huge role in the words that are eventually written and how quickly it is done.

For some local authors, a little nook in a nearby café on a busy street in the heart of Johannesburg always does the trick; while for others, a weekend roughing it in the woods, being “one with nature” and camping in Mpumalanga, is where they’re most inspired.

In pursuit of tried-and-tested places to draw inspiration and craft the written word, we went on a journey of discovery, researching the different places that inspiration struck for some of South Africa’s authors. Here’s what we found:

Picture this: charming little cabins at the end of a long winding dirt road. This is basically what Oudrif has to offer. The cottages are perched on the Oudrif Hills, overlooking walking trails, ancient rock sites, and a tea bush harvest where beloved rooibos is grown. Karina Magdalena, the author of Invisible Others, which was longlisted for the 2015 Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize, records Oudrif as a place “her heart refuses to leave.” And so far away from the bustle of the city, it’s no wonder this place can encourage the writer’s pen.

Recipient of the Achievement Literary Award from the South African Ministry of Arts and Culture, David Robbins pinpoints Port Nolloth as the place where his inspiration strikes. A small town and domestic seaport located 144 km northwest of Springbok, Port Nolloth is a writer’s paradise. With houses on the sand, and home to only 6 000 people, the town is almost worth describing as desolate. And that’s where its beauty lies, that’s the attraction of its yearning; it offers refreshing solitude, and friendly people who you’ll quickly get to know by name, soon finding yourself part of their tight-knit community.

Known as South Africa’s premier whale-watching destination, Hermanus is a seaside town southeast of Cape Town. Although it’s small, it’s not underwhelming in beauty and development. The town, transforming into the new age, boasts modern infrastructure, upmarket shops, and numerous adventure opportunities. Darrel Bristow-Bovey, a travel-writer and finalist for the Caine Prize for African Literature, still finds his inspiration in Hermanus in spite of the many places he’s been while trotting the globe. Personally, we’re suffering from a little FOMO, anyone keen to book a flight?

A trip to Haartebeespoort, affectionately known by locals as ‘Harties’, is usually a fun-filled vacation destination for family and friends. But have you ever considered it as a location to seek inspiration? Aside from the Haartebeespoort Dam, the location is rich with attractions, from its Aerial Cableway that ascends to the top of the Magaliesberg mountains, to its spring water dive site (Miracle Waters). It’s no surprise Niq Mhlongo repeatedly finds inspiration there. A South African editor, author, and 2022’s HSS Award winner for Best Fiction Edited Volume, Mhlongo is best known for his book, Black Tax. Mhlongo describes Harties as a place where he remains “wrapped in warm coils”, and if that doesn’t get your pen inked, what will?

Only two hours away from Cape Town, the Cederberg Municipality is a picture-perfect setting, with towering mountains, orange sunsets, waves for surfing, and open-air restaurants. And South African writer, Henrietta Rose-Innes, visits often to reset and draw inspiration. Somewhere between rock climbing and sunset watching, Rose-Innes was able to find inspiration for her novel, Nineveh, which received many awards and nominations. To us this just means it’s well worth checking out!

For writer’s, finding inspiration is not always easy, but having a place that feeds our pens can be just the thing to remedy even the most stubborn of writer’s blocks. We hope this helps you open your eyes and go out in search of your own place (or those we’ve already listed) so you can be inspired to write what you hope to. Good luck!

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