Women out of water
Sally Cranswick is a writer and workshop facilitator with a special interest in life-writing and memoir.
She recently wrote a story in a day for her mother, Elizabeth, about a woman who won the lottery. The Constantia author says her mum is her “honest reader and cheerleader and she loved the story”.
Putting her debut collection of nine stories together for her recently released book, Women Out of Water, was not as quick, or easy.
Cranswick has a Master’s degree in creative writing from the Department of English Literary Studies at UCT, but she started writing one of the stories, Trade, as her final dissertation for her Bachelor of Arts in creative and media writing from Middlesex University England. Cranswick says Trade was a very difficult story to tell.
“It’s about the trade in women, and I needed to find a way to tell an unbearable story, so when that story became too intense, I allowed Luca to drift into her mind and reference an old Romanian fairy tale from her past, which correlated in many ways with her present. Although the exact location of this story is imaginary, I was lucky enough to receive help from people local to the region from their London embassies. They directed me to some wonderful cultural references that I could use to authenticate in the story.”
The title of her book references the idiom “fish out of water’, and the collection is about women, out of their own environment and far from home – strangers in a strange land – and coping the best they can under these circumstances, she says.
Cranswick was born in Berkshire, England. She was a features writer and columnist for various London magazines and before that she worked as a singer full time in England and Southeast Asia.
“I was with an originals jazz/funk band and an acoustic duo – but that feels like a very long time ago now,” she says.
Cranswick has travelled and lived in many countries around the world – which shows in her writing. She came to South Africa in 2006 and doesn’t see herself leaving. “I think the people make it a very special place and there’s a wonderful sense of community.”
At the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown she started running a free online creative-writing workshop for over-60s using the Zoom conferencing app.
It was inspired by her mother, who is over 70 and living on her own, as a good way to take people’s minds off the frustrations of the pandemic. “Initially, it was supposed to be for the 21 days of lockdown, but we had so much fun we decided to keep going and three of those original groups are still going now.”
Cranswick also facilitates freelance memoir and life-writing short story courses at the centre for extra-mural studies at UCT.
She has a five-week course starting at the end of August on writing your life story for the UCT Centre for Extra Mural Studies.
She also hosts a Telling Stories Workshop for the School of Courage and Confidence, as well as a personal development course for domestic workers and unemployed women. They meet as a group at different locations in Cape Town, when Covid regulations allow, and she sets a spoken story prompt such as “my proudest moment”, “my ancestors”, “the time I met…”, or “a song that reminds me of my teenage years”.
“We all tell a true-life story to that same prompt and it’s incredible to see what long-forgotten memories we conjure up. It’s also an incredible way to connect with people and to be supportive and share our experiences,” says Cranswick.
“Memory triggers… I’d like to research this further, the restorative power of it.”
Cranswick says she is a follower of Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, who advocates for “Morning Pages”, three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning, which for Cranswick means 5am, something she says she is very strict about. She will come back and work during the day and sometimes in the evening.
Her ideas usually come when she wakes but sometimes when she’s walking her dog in the forest or from a word or an abstract idea in the shower.
As for procrastination? “In the words of one of my students, you write and then leave it to percolate,” she smiles.
She says her mentor was the late poet and professor Stephen Watson, her Master’s degree supervisor at UCT, who taught her that one word can transform the emotion of a whole page.
As for her students, she sees herself as a facilitator of their creativity. “It’s a lot of fun and there are so many ideas that come from it. People often write from creative curiosity, or they have a story to tell. Some people have never written before, others are published writers or are poets. Writing short memoir pieces and short stories is a great practice, especially in these Covid 19 times of fractured concentration.”