I started my first scrapbook in 2008. The previous May, I had spent a fun weekend with the South African Writers Circle (SAWC) on their annual three-day conference. For the first time, I had lost myself in the joy of meeting other writers, listening to guest speakers, entering writing competitions, and even winning two prizes. I was hooked!
After that weekend, I enjoyed monthly meetings and entered more competitions. At the annual awards ceremony the following January, I won the New Writer trophy, and by the time the next three-day conference rolled around in May 2008, I had decided it was time to start keeping a visual record of my writing progress.
My scrapbook advanced slowly but steadily. Each year the SAWC’s annual writing conference was documented in pictures and blurbs from the programme. The pages between celebrated my own success in writing competitions.
In addition, I made a page for each novel I finished – even the unpublished ones like Willowfountain, the story of my family’s settler history. This was a modest page, with only the gravestones and memorial commemorating the original settlers, but with later pages, I became more adventurous.
I started to enjoy scouring the internet, printing out pictures of the places I wrote about, photos of the actors who I cast as my characters, and images of any interesting artefacts that played a role in the plot. During the writing of a novel, these are arranged across an A1 size whiteboard, but at the end of each novel, what better thing is there to do with these printed images than put them into a scrapbook?
In 2009 I did a university creative writing course and the project on which I worked was based on my own family history. I scanned and printed several photos for my whiteboard. The following year, when that project became a self-published novella, it got a page in the scrapbook as well.
In 2010, three writing friends and I shared messages and emails while we all worked frantically to finish our current novels for entry into a competition run by Penguin SA. None of us made the shortlist, but we won something more precious – we started our own small writing group to share readings and critiques once a month on the novels we were each busy writing. We called our group Writing Buddies.
In 2011, before my sister left the country to live in Australia, she made a scrapbook for her eldest daughter’s 30th birthday, commemorating my niece’s first thirty years. Because time was short, my sister needed assistance so my middle niece and I helped her to compile it. It was fun despite the bittersweet looming of her departure. Those last few days before she flew, we enjoyed several happy bonding sessions, celebrating the milestones in my oldest niece’s life.
My sister’s departure prompted my focus to shift to the wider world. In November 2011, after my third novel had been with Penguin SA for eleven months, I received the most encouraging rejection letter ever, and within two weeks I had self-published that novel on Amazon. Into my scrapbook went another page!
Around the same time I suggested to our Writing Buddies group that we should start a joint blog to get our names “out there” beyond the local confines of both Writing Buddies and the SAWC.
Early in 2012 I took my first holiday to Australia, visiting my sister after she had been in her new country for only six months. A piece I wrote while there had its debut on our new blog, Scribbling Scribes, and in due course the Scribes got a double page in my scrapbook.
A mid-year weekend writing retreat on a friend’s farm got its own page, as did another writing retreat with the same friend early in 2013, during which I completed the first draft of my next novel.
That original scrapbook has now almost doubled in size, but despite not having added a new page for several years, my scrapbooking hands haven’t been idle.
In 2014, while on my second visit to my sister in Australia, I was once again roped in to work on a scrapbook for her middle daughter’s 30th. The older niece had worked on it with her mother during her earlier visit to Australia, and together with my sister and my youngest niece, we completed it. My sister and I took it to New Zealand where my second niece had now moved with her husband, to give to her.
A few months after that, I began the harrowing process of getting myself to Australia, and both my writing and my scrapbooking fell far down my priority list. I still hadn’t done a page for my second novel which had been live on Amazon for almost two years by now, and my final weekend away with the SAWC didn’t get done either. With all my scrapbooking materials pared down and packed in a box, I knew it would be a while before I got around to any of it.
Mid-2015 found me in Australia, living in my sister’s house. A year later I finished and published my third novel, but the scrapbook remained in a box in her garage with all my other treasures for another two years.
A year ago I finally got a permanent job, moved into a cottage and unpacked all my stuff. My youngest niece, now married, was building a house with her husband. Because their house was in the area where my sister lives, and far away from the rental in which my niece and her husband lived at the time, they couldn’t track the progress of their build as often as we could. My sister decided that we should take photographs of every stage of the build and put together a scrapbook for them.
With all my boxes unpacked and loads of photographs finally at hand, I spread all my scrapbooking stuff out on my dining table, where it remained for several months.
What my sister didn’t know was that since June last year, I had already begun compiling a secret scrapbook for her 60th birthday in February this year. As far as she knew, I had started doing a scrapbook of my cats. Yes, my cats. That was the decoy album so that if my sister popped in unexpectedly, hers went into the ottoman. And if my niece dropped by to visit, the pages I was doing for hers likewise went into the ottoman. My sister and I managed to complete the house album for my niece and her husband in time for Christmas last year.
It was exciting putting together my sister’s 60th album. My three nieces and I sourced photos, images from childhood, pictures of family and friends and, mixed with a healthy dollop of love, we crammed it all into a scrapbook.
What my youngest niece didn’t know was that while we were doing her mother’s scrapbook, her mother was doing one for her. My youngest niece’s 30th birthday was coming up in March, and I was helping my sister, together with my other two nieces overseas – one in New Zealand and one in South Africa – to compile a scrapbook for her.
Last month, we presented my sister with her album, and a week later we gave my niece hers. At last we could be open and chat freely after all the months of subterfuge. No more secret scrapbooks!
My dining table is still covered with scrapbooking stuff. I love scrapbooking, and I think it’s time for me to catch up on those last few pages that still need to be done. And then I need to dust off the whiteboard and create some fresh images for the novel I’m currently writing…