My Journey As A Writer: Patricia Devenish

My Journey As A Writer: Patricia Devenish 

I was born and grew up in Hillbrow, Johannesburg. I matriculated at Jeppe Girls’ High school. I have a BA degree from Wits, a BA Hons degree from Unisa (English) and a teaching diploma from Johannesburg College of Education.

Patricia with her family and husband Prof  Goerge Edwin Devenish, lawyer by profession.

I have a Licentiate in Speech and Drama from Trinity College, London and a diploma in production from the Associated Drama Board in London. I spent a year at the Rose Bruford College of Dramatic Art doing a course in drama education for qualified teachers in 1968/1969. 
My teaching career has been a rich one in that I have taught from Grade 1 to matric (not all subjects, of course) and have taught at four different teacher training colleges, each one corresponding to a different racial group. I had two years as a tutor in English at the University of the Western Cape. Since 1990 I have been involved in Special Education at the Open Air School as a teacher. For the last five years, I have been responsible for the school library.
I have always written, ever since I could hold a pencil. But these childish poems and stories were written on scraps of paper and school exercise books and were lost.

I do remember the first poem I wrote when I was nine, entitled “Winter.” I know I had trouble with the metre of the last line. Then I did not know what metre was. I just knew it didn’t sound right. My dad kept this poem for years. I also won second prize in a short story competition when I was twelve and this was published in a children’s magazine.

As a teacher, I wrote plays whenever my class needed a play (I must have written twenty Nativity plays in my life) or a choral verse poem whenever they needed one, but alas, these too have been lost. I found that I was able to get my pupils to write creatively both poetry and prose and I feel that my strength lies in my teaching rather than my own writing.
I started writing seriously quite late in life when I met Felicity Keats. One day in 2003 the psychologist at The Open Air School where I was teaching English and History, showed me some poems written by one of the Grade 10 learners, Lungile Myeni. I was impressed by these poems and felt we should try and get them published. 

I had heard that Felicity published children’s work. I contacted her and arrangements were made for Lungile to join the Trevean Junior Writing Club. With financial help obtained by Felicity, Lungile’s anthology entitled “Let Me Be Me” was published in 2004. Sadly, Lungile passed away in 2014 after a life-time battle with cancer, after obtaining a Master’s degree in Psychology.

I was anxious to start a writing club at Open Air and so underwent training to become a mentor.

In 2005 I started the Vulumoya Dancing Pencils Writing Club at the Open Air School. This is a school for physically challenged learners, but it is an academic school and we follow the same curriculum as the main-stream schools. I ran this club for five years and during this time I edited six anthologies written by the children and one teenage novel written by a Grade 9 learner, all published by umSinsi Press.

Writing has proved therapeutic for many of the children. One of our learners, Zwanani, was seriously injured in a motor car accident in which she lost her mother. Confined to a wheelchair, she became depressed. But writing about this in a fictional way helped in the healing process and restoration of self-confidence. Another learner, Siyanda, a young man from deep rural KZN came to the school with a very limited knowledge of English. 
After writing for the first time he said to me, “This is nonsense. It means nothing.” 
I replied, “I disagree. You have a poem here. The words may look like nonsense but you have definite rhythm here. Let’s work on it.” So together we worked on creating a simple poem based on a rhythm of tapping and clapping. 

This encouraged Siyanda to work hard in English. Until he matriculated Siyanda was enthusiastic member of Vulumoya, writing several poems for the anthologies and keeping an English dictionary always tucked into the side of his wheel chair. 
In 2016 one of our matric students Lwanda Ntikinca submitted a poem for the Douglas Livingstone Poetry competition. His poem although, not a prize winning one, is to be published in the anthology of poems submitted this year.

This poem also appears in Vulumoya’s latest anthology “A Place my Heart Desires”
I had joined the adult writing club started by Felicity at Trevean. She taught me to write short stories which were published in the club’s anthologies. With her encouragement, I wrote a children’s novel published in 2006 entitled, “The Christmas Angel and the little Christmas Tree.” 

I took over running this club in 2010 to allow Felicity to concentrate on developing clubs in the rural areas.
In 2011 one of my short stories, “The Turning Point” received a ‘Highly commended’ award in the annual national short story competition of the Writer’s Circle.
In 2006 I presented a paper at an International Librarian’s Conference in Lisbon. My paper was entitled “Creating a Book Culture in a Special Needs school library with specific reference to visually impaired learners.” Needless to say Dancing Pencils was given space in this paper and I presented a copy of our first Vulumoya Anthology to various librarians from all over the world. 

I will always acknowledge my debt to Felicity as a mentor and will always be grateful for her encouragement.

Patricia Devenish with Ayanda Hlabisa during Dancing Pencils  press briefing preparation for March 2017, outside UmSinsi Press house.

Felicity’s strength as a teacher and mentor lies in her simple and yet effective way of helping writers tap into the right brain, releasing the creative spirit that lies within us all. Creating an atmosphere which is comfortable and relaxing, assuring the writers that whatever they write is right and with a few deep breaths and a simple prompt or two, the creative juices begin to flow and the pencils begin to dance.

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Felicity Keats


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