Living a creative life

2009-02-13 00:00

Well-knowN musician in the city, Ronel Wood, has branched out into a new venture with a children’s book appropriately titled The Story Tree, published by Justdone Publishers.

She has written two other Purple Zebra Readers for schools published by Shuter and Shooter: Vulani! and Fish Feathers and a Fable. Not content to write only in English, the multifaceted Wood translated the two schoolbooks into Afrikaans, her mother tongue, and also did the illustrations for The Story Tree.

Wood attributes her many talents to the time she spent growing up in the Free State. As a sickly child unable to attend school until later in life, Wood lay in her bed, listening to seven singles played for her by her caregiver Susanna.

“I grew up with the Andrew Sisters, Bing Crosby, Vera Lynn and classical records my late father loved playing on the old gramophone,” Wood remembers.

“Stories, of course, were a huge part of my day, as my parents read to me every night before I went to sleep. Good books were just everywhere in the house.”

Wood’s love of drawing was also encouraged by her father. His leg was amputated when he was in his early thirties because of cancer and he took to oil painting.

“I still get a ‘high’ when I smell turps and paints,” Wood laughs. “He always asked my opinion about his work, and that made me feel very important.”

Wood describes The Story Tree as just pure fun and fantasy.

“It contains seven stories that just popped into my head and shouted for attention,” she says. “Adults seem to enjoy them as well, and they giggle at the ridiculous drawings that I did as I wrote the stories. I couldn’t believe it when the publishers accepted the drawings but now I see that they are absolutely essential, as they make everyone feel that they can draw too.”

In the many years that Wood has taught music and music appreciation to children in the city, she has always encouraged creativity in each individual. She believes that everything is possible if you are truly enthusiastic. Wood hopes that The Story Tree will inspire teachers, parents and children to write their own books and illustrate them.

“There is a story lurking in every person and some people have many,” she says.

“Keeping them trapped inside the head causes discomfort. Writing is a wonderful therapy.”

The school reader Fish Feathers and a Fable contains well-researched stories about the San people, dolphins, whale-sharks, and honey birds. Wood created these stories to engender a love and sense of wonder about the environment, especially of trees, in children.

Vulani! is based on a musical production Wood did with children at the Hexagon Theatre. It’s about the last tree on the planet, and how it is saved at the eleventh hour by a young Bushman who helps spread the tree’s seeds for future generations.

Although Wood’s days of full-time teaching are over, she still does remedial music at a school for handicapped children and facilitates the Russell Girls choir which is growing in its success. Last year they cut a CD and performed with Gcina Mhlophe at the Playhouse in Durban.

The choir often sings at the monthly Sunset Soirees which Wood hosts with Megan de Beyer. The choir has also been well received at the Tatham Gallery’s lunch-time concerts.

Wood is adamant though that her love for all things creative comes from not having much formal training in music, art or writing.

She feels that “our children are too structured and boxed-in through their education generally. Their spirit is often deprived of wings. And I really believe that because of my unstructured childhood, I’ve been able to express myself freely, just as I am.”

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