Sunday, 31 August 2008


Tomorrow sees the start of National Arbor Week, a celebration of trees and everything they mean to us. With its roots in Arbor Day, which was started in Nebraska in 1854, Arbour Week is now a well-known and well-loved feature on the local environmental calendar.

To plant a tree is an act of faith; faith in the unknown future; faith that the tree will grow to feed and shelter many generations to come. And nowhere is tree planting a more urgent undertaking than in South Africa.

For one thing, each South African produces three times more carbon emissions than the average Chinese, and we are five to ten times more carbon-intense than the US (Source: WWF). What a wake-up call! So we need trees to offset that heavy environmental footprint urgently.

Trees, of course, also provide food and beautify the environment, but here's something you didn't know.

Contrary to popular belief, trees in urban areas do not increase the likelihood of crime by providing cover for criminals. A series of scientific studies by the University of Illinois demonstrates that the opposite may, in fact, be true. Residents living in greener surroundings actually report lower levels of fear, fewer incivilities, and less violent behaviour.

The study also found that the greener a building’s surroundings, the fewer reported crimes. This is because vegetation has been shown to alleviate mental fatigue, one of the precursors to violent behaviour. Also, because green spaces are used more, there are “more eyes on the street”, which may deter would-be criminals from committing crimes. So, for all of their environmental benefits, it is important that we also recognise the value of green spaces in cultivating healthier, safer communities.

And, of course, there is a plethora of wonderful books about trees out there. Here's a small selection to explore:

In Search of Remarkable TreesThomas Pakenham
Jonathan Ball Publishers

Thomas Pakenham is no stranger to trees, having written Meetings with Remarkable Trees and Remarkable Trees of the World as well as this title.

His particular quarry is the rare, the giant, the very old, the extraordinary, or the simply beautiful, or those trees imbued with significance, written about by the great explorers of the past, or associated with magic, folklore, or ritual.

In the opening section he describes the extraordinary moments of drama and even danger, those moments of triumph when he stands in awe before a tree, connected by some primitive, atavistic bond. And it is these moment he shares with the reader through a collection of extraordinary photographs and beautifully-crafted text - a rare blend of botany and social history.

Field Guide to Trees of Southern Africa
Braam and Piet van Wyk

This field guide to the trees of Southern Africa covers approximately 900 of the species found in the region.

The trees are grouped into sections according to leaf shape, and each section is identified by a line drawing of the "leaf group". Each species is illustrated with photographs of the diagnostic tree parts, which may include flowers, fruit, bark, or a combination of these. Concise descriptions of each tree are written with an emphasis on identification, and the authors provide additional information on medicinal and other uses of the tree parts.

A must for the ardent tree lover.

Sappi Tree Spotting Series

Sappi Tree Spotting is the well-known, handy series of books written for the newcomer to the widely diverse regions in which trees occur in South Africa, as well as for the tree enthusiast. They feature an easy method of identification, and are so popular that they have been re-printed many times.

Best of all, the terminology used in these books is simple. After all, why use the word 'pubescent' to describe a tree when 'hairy' will do! And the focus is on looking for striking features, so a complex system of classification isn't necessary.

Great for anyone on a road trip through the country.

And, apart from catching up on your reading about trees, here's something really great you can do to celebrate Arbor Week.
If, like me, you simply can't squeeze another tree into your garden, log on to the Food and Trees for Africa web site ( and sponsor the planting of a tree in the name of a loved one, a lost pet or a favourite cause for around R85. FTFA will post a certificate to the sponsor or beneficiary confirming that the tree was planted, and that the world is a greener, safer, kinder, more beautiful place for it.

Take a leap of faith this Arbor Weel, plant or sponsor a tree - don't just dream of that green future!

Wednesday, 27 August 2008


Allaboutwriting has introduced a new course to help you unleash your inner writer. The Writers’ Circle Course is designed to stimulate natural creativity and to enable each aspirant writer to find his or her own individual voice, providing the skills needed to translate ideas into publishable manuscripts.
The course begins on 3 September, and the group will meet from 19:00 - 21:00 every Wednesday for 12 weeks until 19 November.
It will be facilitated by Jo-Anne Richards, a writer and lecturer in the Wits journalism department, and Richard Benyon, a television ad film writer. Jo-Anne's latest title, My Brother's Book, was released earlier this year, and Richard's credits include having managed the Isidingo writing team for three years, as well as having contributed 300 scripts to the series.
Participants will have access to these facilitators throughout the course via e-mail, and will be able to draw on their vast writing experience in order to develop their own work.
The course is open to anyone with a proposed writing project, even if it’s only the sketchiest idea at this stage. It will serve writers of fiction, non-fiction or even screenplays. It will cover everything from finding a voice to plotting a piece of writing from beginning to end.
Cost: R 4 800 per person
Contact: Trish on or 082 652 4643. A deposit of R2 400 is required on booking, and the balance of the course fee is due prior to the commencement of the course.

Thursday, 21 August 2008


While I was away communing with nature, debut writer Ceridwen Dovey scored a remarkable double. Her novel Blood Kin was awarded both the 2008 Sunday Times Fiction Prize and the 2007 University of Johannesburg Prize for Creative Writing.

Blood Kin is a shocking exploration of how banal evil can be and of how every one of us, at some stage in our lives, could be accused of being complicit.

"Ceridwen is a writer of exceptional talent and skill," says Alison Lowry, CEO of Penguin South Africa. "To have been awarded two literary prizes with this, her debut novel, is an achievement indeed."

The Sunday Times judges described Blood Kin as "brilliantly conceived and stylistically impeccable", high praise indeed from such an eminent panel. Tymon Smith, convener of the awards programme, said that it stood out as an example of the kind of writing, depth of research and originality that the awards are intended to acknowledge.

Shaun de Waal, one of the judges of the 2007 University of Johannesburg Prize for Creative Writing, praised Blood Kin as "an intriguing and stimulating novel in a ‘fabular’ style", saying that it was "good to see a young writer taking that option rather than the usual realism and
social commentary."

Dovey grew up in South Africa and Australia. She received a scholarship to study anthropology at Harvard University as an undergraduate, then moved to Cape Town for a couple of years to write this novel. She is currently working on a PhD in Anthropology at NYU in New York.