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Dawn Garisch

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Working With Your Life Stories: a workshop on writing a memoir

“here I am once again,
disguised as myself”
– from “About Death and Other Things”, a poem by Aleksandar Ristovic

Writing is a way of getting to know who you are, what you are feeling and how you relate to people and the planet. Writing memoir focuses this project on the themes or motifs in one’s own life. We each have a life motif that is more or less unconscious. Yet a distinctive and evolving pattern binds our journey from birth to death into a whole coherent piece.

Imagination is an extraordinary tool. In this workshop we will reclaim imagination as a means to release ourselves into awe and creativity, connectedness and purpose, awareness and pleasure. Through becoming conscious of and engaging with the images that shape our time on earth, we will discover ways to live more creatively, as well as finding refreshing approaches to put our personal stories down on the page.

Beginner writers are welcome.

Course details

Venue: Zwaanswyk, Cape Town
Dates: 27th – 31st May 2013
Times: 09:00 – 13:00 every day
Fee: R1500

To Book

A deposit of R500 secures your place.

What to bring

Unlined, ring-bound A4 notebook and pen
A cushion and a blanket or rug.
Two objects from the period of your life that you want to write about – one that represents something you loved about it, and one that represents something you disliked about that time.

Tea, coffee and snacks are provided.


“I found Dawn Garisch’s memoir-writing course extremely useful and helpful: she provided a structure that held all of us would-be memoirists firmly to our task, while at the same time helping us to get in touch with our senses, our fears, our dreams, our stories. The image that comes to mind is of holding tight to the golden thread that will allow us to go down to the depths and emerge again, unscathed though not unchanged. The sense of community and support that is born of twenty-odd people meeting daily for four days to address themselves to such a deeply individual task was also one of the unexpected pleasures of the experience. I would heartily recommend this course.” – Athalie Crawford

“This course helped me to break through the block created by my own diffidence and reluctance, enabling me to find and become confident in the thread I must pursue in order to be true to myself. Dawn created an atmosphere of trust in which the participants felt free to go as far as they wished on this journey into memory and onto the page. The structure of the course was well thought out and effective, both day by day and as a whole. An unusual, highly effective and striking aspect of Dawn’s facilitative work is her insistence that writing, memory and creativity are not simply to be found in the ‘head’, but are lodged in and distributed through the ‘memory’ to be discovered in the body itself. The course was enlightening, stimulating, moving and fun.” – John Carwright

“Dawn’s memoir writing workshop was a finely crafted and facilitated process that encouraged and enabled us to write. My creativity was stimulated by her use of poetry and prose, her listening and sensing exercises, her considerable knowledge and experience of the act of writing, and her easy manner when it came to holding and guiding the group and the process. In short: an excellent and productive experience!” – Judy Bekker

“The evaluations from your students indicate that many felt they benefitted greatly from your facilitation and encouragement to draw on their own inner resources to spark their writing, and that through this they gained knowledge about themselves and insights that were highly enriching to the writing process. They were given some methodology and tools and felt supported and enabled to be self-reliant in their work. Although this made others used to a more didactic approach insecure at first, they adapted to it and acknowledged its value.” – Feedback from UCT Summer School 2012

Short Biography

Dawn Garisch has had five novels and a collection of poetry published, a short play and short film produced, and has written for television, magazines and newspapers. Three of her novels have been published in the UK.

In 2010 Trespass was shortlisted for the Commonwealth prize in Africa, and in 2011 her poem “Miracle” won the EU Sol Plaatjie Poetry Award.

A non-fiction work Eloquent Body was published by Modjaji in March.

She runs workshops on writing and creative method, is a practising medical doctor and lives in Cape Town.

Working with your Life Stories – a Workshop on Writing Memoir

Writing is a way of getting to know who you are, what you are feeling and how you relate. Writing memoir focuses this on the themes in one’s life – the evolving pattern that binds our journey from birth to death into a whole coherent piece.

In this workshop we will engage with the images that shape our lives, as well as finding refreshing ways of putting our personal stories down on the page.

Venue: The Forge, Kalk Bay
Cost: R1100 for 5 mornings.
Dates: 2nd – 6th March 2011


Workshop on: Working With Your Life Images

It seems that anyone can learn about character development and plot points, but no-one can teach you how to write. I am interested in the process whereby a writer (or any artist) arrives at content. With this in mind, here is a flier for a workshop:

Working with your Life Images
facilitated by Dawn Garisch

“Ask not what the image means, ask what it wants.”
- James Hillman, Jungian analyst

The premise of this workshop is that we each have a life motif that is more or less unconscious. A motif is a distinctive idea, or theme. It derives from music and literature and other art forms, where the writer or artist elaborates on and develops a central theme.

We live both the rational and symbolic aspects of our lives concurrently, with reason held in higher regard than the non-rational. Yet the difficulties we repeatedly encounter in relationships, illness, injury, employment, finance and creativity, are frequently and maddeningly resistant to logic. In this workshop, we will identify the central symbols and images that underlie and drive our lives. Conjoined to our beliefs, motivations, resistances, addictions, desires, faiths, criticisms and confidence (or lack thereof) are powerful symbol/images. While these remain hidden and static, they can play havoc; if they are acknowledged and engaged with, they can refresh and rekindle us.

Through paying attention to early and recurrent dreams, early favoured stories and poignant memories, life changing events, chronic illness, and stuck patterns, we can regain the symbols that form and inform the foundation upon which we live and out of which we create. Instead of using our rational minds to critique, diagnose and incise, we will tangentially approach the images that arrive by means of imagination, exploring this impulse through the non-rational. Using movement, writing, drawing, clay sculpture, collage, story-telling, sound and visualisation, we will aid those images – resident but dormant within our life motifs – to emerge and evolve.

Imagination is an extraordinary tool. We tend to use it to constrain ourselves through fear, self-deception and false assumptions, thereby preventing ourselves from finding out who we are and what we are doing on this earth. Commerce and social constructs use images to manipulate and to control us. In this workshop we will reclaim imagination as a means to release ourselves into awe and creativity, connectedness and purpose, awareness and pleasure. Through becoming conscious of and engaging with the images that shape our lives, we will engender ways to live a flesh-out, creative and fully-fledged life.

This workshop can be helpful to anyone who feels the need to refresh his or her life force or creative projects. Although this is a group process, much of the work will be done individually. Anyone can benefit regardless of skills, training or experience.

Venue: The Forge, Windsor Road, Kalk Bay. Parking at the bottom of Boyes drive.

June 18th – 20th Friday night, 7pm – 10pm, Saturday, 9am to 5pm, Sunday 10am to 3.30pm

Cost: R900. The workshop is limited to 12 people. A deposit of R450 secures your place.


Dawn Garisch has had five novels, poetry and adult literacy books published. Her latest novel, Trespass, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth prize in Africa. She has had a short film produced, and has written for newspapers, magazines and for television. She has run workshops on creativity at Dakini and the Mother City Book Fair.

Currently she is working on a non-fiction book which examines the two legs of her working life – writing and doctoring. It explores how science and art perceive the world and the truth, what the body has to do with this, and how the tools required to develop a creative project are also essential for living life creatively.

* * *

Slow but I get there

For two years running I have made the same New Year’s resolution – to resuscitate my page on BookSA, and make good use of the incredible forum available to writers and the reading public of South Africa. Is seventeen months on too late?

I must confess anxiety at finally taking this step. One of the things that has prevented me from using this service is my fear that it will gobble up what little time I have to write. Even responding to emails feels too much at times, and I can’t go near facebook, even though my son has pasted my image there.

So, while my energy is up and running, here’s hats off to the BookSA team, and to the impressively stimulating and satisfying fare that South African authors and publishers are bringing to the table.

Flash fiction for contemporary multitaskers with short attention spans

South African flash fiction queen, Liesl Jobson, turned me on to the medium. Here is what she says about flash:

As haiku is to poetry, so flash fiction is to the short story: condensed, tight, tiny. Flash fiction has been fostered by internet technology, where a computer screen enables one to read some 400 words at a time without scrolling down or clicking away.

My first flash piece was published in the web based journal Flashquake in their winter of 2005/2006.


He digs a hole:
I am of the earth, I understand its substance. In dreams I have a pebble in my mouth; a stone lies under my head. I know the way in: my muscles drive into the substratum; sunlight spills in to fill the gap. Again and again, stave and spill, widening the breach. The rhythm of labourers, the heart, of sex and drums. I could fit in there now, I could curl up in the dusty cup and let them bury me, the sods jarring my jelly flesh, soil sifting into cavities. That is how the wives of great men used to die, sealed into tombs with the sacred corpse, their breath stopped by the rising earth.

more . . .