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To the Islands by Anne Schuster
with Erica Coetzee

To the Islands, published by Tiber Tree Press in September 2014, is available from bookshops at R240 and also directly from the authors. Enquire here.

To the Islands is a practical guide for writers – beginners and seasoned explorers alike.

Discover five imaginary islands that lie waiting for you in the sea of creativity, each with an itinerary specially devised to lead you on writing adventures. Sail to the Island of Wu-Wei, where writing is effortless. Follow your creative intuition around the Island of Wuzhi and write spontaneously on the Island of Ziran. Visit the Island of Xin to write from the body and explore creative tension on the Island of Yin-Yang.

There are many approaches to 'learning' creative writing. The approach that underpins this workbook is inspired by practice. It is founded on the idea that what writers need most is to write. Writers find their feet by writing. They tune their voices by writing. To write frequently and with abandon allows you to explore the palettes and scenery of your creative universe. It is through writing that you discover your own islands.

Using poetry and prose, the 25 excursions in this workbook will encourage you to experiment and cultivate a writing habit, even if you only have half an hour a day to spare.

Based on a course designed by acclaimed writing facilitator Anne Schuster, To The Islands is an invaluable sourcebook for individuals, for writing groups and for facilitators of creative learning processes.

Review by Karin Schimke in the Cape Times:

Writing is a fairly accessible form of expression and most people with a basic education can write. They may not write well enough to entertain or inform others, or be published, but they can string sentences together well enough to let off some of the steam that collects in the head sometimes. Not all writing, after all, is public or needs to be published. Sometimes writing just needs to be writ.

“You don’t need a writing project,” writes Schuster about half way through this book. She suggests that, like Joan Didion, people may write simply to find out what they’re thinking, what they’re looking at, what they see and what it means.

But, no matter how strong the compulsion, many people hesitate to begin writing, as though it is a hallowed occupation for which practitioners received a licence at birth.

For thousands of South Africans (including hundreds of female prisoners, farm workers and refugees), Schuster has facilitated the uneven and often threatening space between wishing to write and having written. And while Schuster’s name might not be generally known, many accomplished South African authors have passed through her hands at some point, including Margie Orford (now known in several countries for her South African crime novels), Máire Fisher (who recently released Birdseye to general acclaim); Shaida Ali (winner of the prestigious University of Johannesburg debut prize for her first book Not A Fairytale), and Tracey Farren (whose award-winning book Whiplash is being turned into a movie).

To be clear: Schuster – herself a published author – does not help people to publish. She helps people to begin and to continue the practise of writing. The publication of To The Islands is a noteworthy event for South African writers, but it is also a poignant one, as it arrives just as Schuster stops running her workshops and courses in order to concentrate on her own writing.

Through the publication of this book, her gentle and encouraging wisdom will have a further geographic reach than Cape Town, which is the city she is best known in.

Books on writing are a dime a dozen in the USA, where the appetite for them appears to be enormous. From Stephen King’s On Writing, to Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write; from Peter Elbow to Natalie Goldberg, South African writers who write regularly and with a sense of purpose, have always had to fish far across the Atlantic to find guidance.

Schuster fills a gaping hole in the South African market, but she is not plugging it with it with any old rubbish. Her vast experience as a coach and facilitator, together with her own experience as an author and publisher, means that her material is meticulously chosen and carefully arranged. Her co-writer Erica Coetzee is a specialist in the development of learning materials and has worked extensively with local and international non-governmental organisations. Their combined talents make this a richly useful workbook.

To The Islands is, as its title states, a workbook, and has a workbook feel to it with its tight and logical internal structure, its lay-out and the use of white space on the pages.

Using principles of Taoist philosophy, Schuster imagines her workbook as an expedition “to the islands”, each of the five islands (each in its own chapter) representing an approach to both the attitude towards and practise of writing.

She explores some of the theory of creativity and writing, but mainly provides ample opportunity for practise and for writing in different forms. The idea is that whether the writer is an absolute beginner, a slightly more skilled writer, or a professional writer working on a new project, the guidance will allow them to write effortlessly and often.

The book can be used in several ways – regularly over a period of five weeks, or more casually whenever the writer is able. And this is where Schuster’s methods are particularly useful: while one might have a vague idea of what needs to be written, or the outline of a project, you may not know where to begin each time you sit down. Creative writing is, quite often, like being stranded in the middle of an ocean with no view to land or landmarks, and no floating device to hang on to. To The Islands provides land to swim towards and territory to explore.

As with all creative arts, writing promotes enquiry and contemplation and I have a liberal view of such things: everyone should have the right to practise any form of it whether they are “good” by outside standards or not. This right to write – or paint, or dance, or sculpt – does not pre-suppose a dutifully adoring audience cheering on the mere effort. Public acceptance and even acclaim requires a lot more direct and perhaps even cerebral engagement with the art and craft of creative endeavour by the creator than mere experimentation. But without useful starting points, much creativity can sink away. These Schuster provides abundantly in this well-produced and aesthetically appealing book.

Schuster has done excellent and valuable work in Cape Town in the past fifteen years. To The Islands reflects her intelligent and intense engagement with creative processes and what allows them to happen most easily.

Review by Pnina Fenster in Glamour:

Get that writing dream going!

Do you harbour a secret dream of writing?

Are you already writing, but feeling stuck?

Do you simply want to explore your creativity and self-expression?

Whatever your response, your experience will surely be enriched by To the Islands, a Creative Writing Workbook.

Anne Schuster, the masterly mind behind this beautifully designed guide, is a highly regarded novelist and a renowned and respected facilitator, who has coached scores of authors, encouraging their expansion from vague initial concepts to polished published works. And while there are quite a few books on writing, this one is quite unique in its approach: each of the five chapters represents an island named after an aspect of Taoist philosophy, from Wu-Wei, the Island of Effortless Doing, to Yin-Yang, the Island of Creative Tension. All are packed with effective exercises, inspiring advice, expressive prompts and even breathing techniques.

Erica Coetzee, one of Anne’s students, assisted in putting it all together (look out for her wonderfully lyrical writing in the guide!), and the final result is a treasure to read and to work with, whether you intend exploring this luminous and inviting world of imaginary landscapes on your own or as part of a writers’ circle.

Past participants on the course have this to say:

I have grown as a creative writer and have become a lot more confident with my creative self.

– Dr Lulu Gwagwa, development planner

Several of the exercises led me to writing scenes or having new ideas for my current writing project.

– Shaida Ali, author of Not a Fairy Tale and Lessons in Husbandry

I managed to do so much writing in just five weeks. There were days when I just went on and on until my fingers felt numb.

– Vuyiseka Dubula, writer and activist

If you’re planning on a creative excursion, make this book the very first item you pack in your rucksack.

– Máire Fisher, author of Birdseye

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About the Authors

Anne Schuster

Anne Schuster holds an MPhil degree in Language and Literature Education from the University of Cape Town (UCT). She has been facilitating creative writing workshops since 1999 when she started Women’s Writing Workshops, which has grown into a vibrant community of women writers, many of whom are now published authors. She has published collections of writing from Women’s Writing Workshops, including A Woman Sits Down to Write, Women Flashing and Writing the Self. Anne has run courses for the UCT Summer School, the District Six Museum, teachers from Western Cape schools through the Centre for the Book, the Women on Farms Project, the African Gender Institute and the Footprints project with women in Pollsmoor Prison. She has been involved in a life-writing project with women refugees from various countries in Africa and published a collection of their writing in Living on the Fence. Her poetry and short stories are found in a number of collections. She has written two novels. The last, Foolish Delusions, was published in 2005 by Jacana, and was translated into German and published by Kalliope in 2008.

Erica Coetzee

Erica Coetzee holds an MA in Philosophy from Stellenbosch University in South Africa. She has worked with many local and international non-governmental organisations, specialising in the development of learning materials. She has researched and written materials on a broad range of topics relating to democracy, human rights, development and social transformation. Her work has taken a variety of formats, from academic and popular books to comics, training manuals, scripts, educational exhibits and e-learning applications. Erica has participated in several creative writing workshops and retreats run by Anne Schuster.


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