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Put pen to paper

We chat to four inspiring women who turned their writing dreams into reality.

Caitlin Anne Tallack – Engineering student

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The words engineering and poetry are rarely, if ever, used in the same sentence. They are polar opposites, right? Well, there’s always that exception. Take Caitlin, for example. Despite being an engineering student – with a bright future in front of her, since she was eight, she’s dreamt about being a published writer. A dream that has finally come true.
“The first poem I ever wrote was a two-verse ode to my family’s double-my-size Great Dane puppy. The poem was called Puppy Love. It was probably a terrible poem, but it was the beginning of my attempts to express myself through that poetry.’’
And from scribbling poems about dogs and the garden, 21-year-old Caitlin has come a far way. The 86 free-verse poems in her book are all about her personal experiences. About love, hope, heartache. About the beautiful and mundane experiences that each year brings.
“Growing up, I read poems by long-dead, ancient poets. I loved the poems, but they weren’t my story. I wanted a book by a young woman about what it’s like to be a young woman, so I wrote it. A book that readers can relate to and resonate with. And it is really pretty too, filled with full-colour pages and images. So between the poems about break-ups and the pressure to be pretty, you can also expect beautiful images.”
Caitlin loves to spoil herself with food and guess what … books. So it comes as no surprise that she is quite a book collector. ‘Maybe a bit of a book hoarder rather? Haha. My books are organised in colour order and nothing makes me happier than staring up my bookshelves. Especially when I notice my pretty in pink book there as well.’
Although she does not have any plans for another book just yet, she hopes that her book will inspire others to pursue their dreams, despite how intimidating they may seem. Right now, she is enjoying the fact that she now has the freedom to choose a new dream.
“But, this book won’t be the last. I would still like to write about my experiences as a South African. I think our country has learned lessons that the entire world could benefit from learning too.”
Caitlin’s advice to anyone thinking of writing a book? ‘It is one thing to commit to starting your book. It is much more important to commit to finishing your book. I know so many incredibly talented writers with hundreds of unfinished drafts. It is challenging and terrifying and it should absolutely scare you a little. But give yourself a deadline. And then finish it!’

About A Birthday Card in May:
This vibrantly visual poetry collection is divided into a dozen chapters – one for each month of the year. Each poem is a reflection on one of the year’s special holidays. From New Year’s Day to Peculiar People Day, holidays recognised, religious and ridiculous, each provides a medium through which to explore the love, the hoping, the heartache, the beautiful, the mundane and the growing of a year. Of twenty-one years. Get your copy from abirthdaycardinmay.com for R240. Use the promo code GETIT to get 20 per cent off of your order.

Regine du Plessis: Consulting dietician

A compulsive list-maker, Regine can finally tick off ‘write a recipe book’. Which any list maker will tell you is one of the most liberating feelings ever!
Working as an in-house dietician for a food magazine, the idea to write a recipe book lingered in the back of her mind. Gaining heaps of knowledge and experience, her ‘one day’ scenario turned into many years of writing 1000kJ recipes. Eventually, a brilliant opportunity came her way to design a 12-week family challenge to get healthier … with a 1000kJ restriction per meal. Yay! Regine could finish what she started.
“Thirty-five years of collecting ideas, gaining experience as to what patients need and want, six months of intense writing and one and a half years of editing with the editor. Phew! What an enriching and exciting journey.
“The whole process is absolutely a form of extended character-testing and development. I got to confirm many things about myself … my strengths, weaknesses, highs and lows, tolerance levels, willingness to compromise, seeing an editor’s point of view and staying true to myself and my message. And then to get positive feedback from the readers that my book made a difference. Best. Feeling. Ever.”
Regine has already completed the second manuscript which will be a follow-on to the current format, but with the inclusion of recipes for 18 specific lifestyle conditions.
Reading is almost just as important as eating healthy, according to Regine, as she believes “it encourages a fertile mind. I love to read biographies, autobiographies, historical fiction, motivational books, cookbooks – yes, I read them from cover to cover, and coffee table books.
“And preferably a hard copy. I love the feeling of turning paper pages, rather than scrolling. I am by no means opposed to electronic books, but then again, what would I fill my library with if it weren’t for paper books? And as far as recipe books go, I prefer to have them as a permanent fixture in
my kitchen.”
Regine’s advice for any aspiring writer is to write the book to help others and make a difference. Writing a book for pure financial gain is a pipedream for most authors. Believe in your topic, then you are already halfway to having it accepted by a publisher. Write from the heart and set aside a certain amount of time every single day to write and work on the manuscript. Ideally, complete the entire manuscript before submitting it to a publishing house. Always seek a win-win between your message and the requirements of the editor. Remain flexible. “And then just jump into the deep end and do it, rather than listening to too much prior advice before starting.”

About A Slimmer You Cookbook
This is a DIY guide to becoming healthier and losing 10 kg in 12 weeks. The introduction allows you to decide on your goal weight and the kilojoules required to achieve this. The remainder of the book is presented in the form of 75 home-style recipes (breakfasts, lunch-and supper recipes, all interchangeable), with each recipe giving you 1000 kJ per serving. Each recipe can be made for one, four or ten servings. Lifestyle nutrition can be delicious, good-looking and healthy. Let the book guide you. Get your copy from all good bookstores, Takealot.com, Loot.co.za and Makro online for around R320.

Alta Strauss: Writer, motivational speaker and radio presenter

While Alta enjoys many things, nothing excites her more than books. From reading the HAT Afrikaans dictionary to psychology and philosophy books and then, to hold a new book for the first time.
“I love everything about it, the crackling sound when you open it for the first time. The smell of the paper and the ink. The touch. And then there’s that incredible feeling holding a hard copy of your own book in your hands.”
Alta is no newbie to writing. She’s been a co-author for many inspirational books, but it is poetry that ultimately makes her heart beat a little faster. Over the years she has penned her thoughts and feelings in poetry form. Eventually, friends hinted that she should really consider publishing it. Finally, an opportunity came knocking. Just a few months ago, Alta and René Roux published their first poetry book, Steeds Vrou, sharing their losses and the hope they brought along. Now on a roll, Alta’s very own poetry book, Net Ek, hits the bookshelves this month. And what makes this book extra special is that the striking cover image was taken by Alta’s daughter, Esteè Strauss.
Not one to rest on her laurels, she’s already planning on writing another book. But next time, it will be more about the intriguing ways the mind work and how it influences how we think and behave.
“So, you’ve got things you want to say, and you’ve probably had a book idea for a long time. But actually writing it? Too daunting? Well, I’m telling you, yes you can write it. Everyone has at least one book in them, some people a hundred. We all have something meaningful to say. So your message should be clear, insightful, and genuinely helpful. And then get a strong publishing team on board.
“When the whole process is finished, you’ll enjoy the immense satisfaction of handing the book to someone who will genuinely benefit from it.”
Alta’s favourite book of all time? 12 Rules for life by Dr Jordan B. Peterson. “As a psychologist, he combines ancient wisdom with decades of experience to provide twelve profound and challenging principles for how to live a meaningful life, from setting your house in order before criticising others to comparing yourself to who you were yesterday. Truly insightful and a brilliant read.”
When Alta is not reading or writing, she loves to go on road trips, explore new places, and spending as much time possible with people close to her heart.
“This past year taught me to take nothing in life for granted. Forever is just a moment. It can be this very moment. So make it count.”

About Net Ek:

“This is a compilation of poetry I have written and re-wrote over 20 years. It is my first thought … bare, authentic and honest. It deals with emotions and experiences we have all felt sometime in our life … loss, hope, intimacy, romance, depression and adventures. With Net Ek, I hope that it will help readers to articulate their own emotions and experiences better. To help them find their truth and meaning in a non-confrontational way, allowing them to confront their fears wilfully and overcoming them by doing so. We are all human. More the same than we are different. We are and should all aspire not to compete with others, but with ourselves. Always trying to be a better person than we were yesterday.” Get your copy from i[email protected]s.com for R200.

Candice Mes – Occupational therapist in adult mental health

A little more than two years ago, the idea to write a children’s book was sparked when Candice leisurely strolled through a mall during the festive season. ‘It suddenly dawned on me how much Christmas is portrayed by snow, jolly fat men and elves. It crossed my mind that I would like to create a space where a different story could be told, but with just as much excitement and fun.’
It was only a few months later, when one night Candice was struggling to fall asleep, that she put pen to paper. And the first draft saw the light. “Many more edits later followed by the publishing process and I finally had the hard copy in my hands! I was so grateful and excited. And at that moment all the self-doubt I experienced during the writing process just flew right out of the window.
“The past two years have been really tough. This book was a little spark of joy and hope amidst the chaos in the world. It helped me to stay positive and gave me a new hobby and skill set –
working with a publisher, editing, marketing and online publishing.”
And there is no stopping Candice now. She has already completed the first draft of her next children’s book.
“I love to hold and read books, especially to my son, Levi. Children’s books in print allow you to discuss the pictures, messages and emotions of the characters with the young reader. It also creates a unique sensory bonding experience in an era where screen time is often misused.
“But apart from all this, writing is such a great escape from my everyday job. Although
people do have the misconception that writing a children’s book is quick and easy. Not true. It takes many hours of editing and tweaking, making sure the illustrations fit and that your core message remains.”
Any advice for aspiring writers? “Write about something you are passionate about. This will not only reflect in your story but also help keep you focused through the editing process. “And find a publisher that fits your needs. If you write for a specific genre,
look for companies that specialise in that.”
The book Candice can read over and over is Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. “It is a fictional tale of love and redemption. Every time I read it, I find new inspiration. It is beautifully written. A book that will move you while reading and stick with you in the future.”

About A love that cannot hide: A bible adventure story

Track the mouse as he follows the birth of Christ, but be aware, he’s hiding! Young readers are prompted to spot the mouse hiding on each page. There are also additional colouring pages included so the children can make the story their own and in this way connect with the idea of a personal relationship with God. This book, illustrated by Candice’s aunt, Colleen Benn is ideal for children ages four to eight years, showing them that God’s love is in every moment of every day, even if we struggle to spot it. Get your copy from amazon.com, [email protected], the AFM Noordheuwel Church or at the Ceder Tree Christmas Market at Khosa Sports Club in November and December for R100.


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