An Update on the Feature Writing Course: A topic has been chosen

As I told you all in my previous post, I’ve registered for a Feature Writing Course with an online learning institution based in Cape Town, known as GetSmarter.

I’ll be honest with you: I hadn’t anticipated that it would be quite this demanding and this much work.

We are now reaching the end of Module 7 (there are 10 in total), and I feel like I have learned a lot. So far, we have learned what makes feature writing different from other forms of writing such as news reporting, how to develop feature story ideas, how to research the topic we have chosen, and how to conduct the interviews. We’ve also learned about the essential elements of feature articles and the language and structure to use. In the remaining modules, we’ll be looking at how to edit our writing for style and clarity, what journalistic ethics are, and finally, how to sell our writing (!).

A convoy of cart horses in Pinelands

Each Monday, a new Module is released online, and then the next batch of work starts: reading (and taking notes) on the comprehensive course notes, watching the online videos, reading the various articles referred to in the notes, completing the practice quiz, interacting on the discussion forums, and either reviewing the other participants’ assignments, or preparing to submit the next assignment and doing lots of research and writing.

It may not sound like much, but add it to the rest of your day, with assorted work deadlines, household chores and other urgent commitments on your to-do list, and you’ll find that good time management skills are essential! I feel like I’m back in school! And I take my hat off to those participants who are juggling study time with family commitments and 9-to-5 jobs!

For Module 4, you may recall, we were required to submit four newsworthy ideas for a feature article. We could focus on people who work in certain specific occupations (late-night, dangerous, glamorous and mobile), or people who belong to clubs or societies that engage in intriguing, off-beat or otherwise misunderstood recreational activities, pastimes or hobbies. In addition, we had to ‘nail down’ some willing interviewees in whatever topic area we chose.

This frisky little pony with the perky trot is cute Picadilly

Thank you to all of you who made such helpful suggestions! In the end, I picked these four possible topics:

  • the glamour – and some of the pitfalls – of wedding photography
  • the difficult and amazing work done by the Cart Horse Protection Association in Epping, Cape Town, especially the inspectors who respond to reports of abuse and neglect
  • the dangerous – but ecologically important – work done by a professional bee-keeper who also re-homes swarms from suburban gardens (you may remember Gerald the Bee Whisperer, who removed some wasp nests from our property this year)
  • the intricate art of making Temari balls (a local resident makes these) as a decidedly unusual but beautiful hobby.

And the one I chose? (You can probably guess from the photos…)

Well, wedding photography was my primary topic, but after receiving feedback from the other students and my convenor, I decided not to pursue this, even though I’d already lined up some willing interviewees – instead, I chose to learn more about the world of Cape Town’s cart horses.

I can tell you that is has been fascinating! I am so glad I decided on that topic.

Well turned-out horses, clean harnesses, colourful carts, friendly drivers – that’s the goal of the CHPA

When we first moved to Pinelands some years ago, the first thing I noticed were the many horse-and-carts that trotted up and down our streets every week. Pinelands is a fairly flat and level area, which makes it suitable terrain for horse-drawn carts – we had previously lived in the City Bowl, where you’re either going UP- or DOWN-hill. As a result, we weren’t accustomed to seeing them around.

I was initially delighted to see these cart horses – it made the area feel less like a urban cityscape and more like a rural village, which is, in some respect, how local residents do seem to feel about their neighbourhood. The longer I’ve lived here, the less I want to venture outside – “beyond the bridges” across the railway tracks and the larger roads that encircle Pinelands – and I believe that many residents feel similarly. More or more, we use local suppliers, local shops and local service providers. Luckily, almost everything is available here (which is reinforced by all the entries in the Pinelands directory), and besides, it feels good to support the locals.

But back to the horses: After my initial delight at seeing them, I began to pay more attention to them, and noticed, much to my dismay, that the horses were often in a poor condition, or they were being driven too fast and forced to canter on hard road surfaces while pulling overloaded carts, and the drivers often swerved dangerously into traffic without bothering to indicate.

So when I heard that there was in fact an Association that was specifically helping and supporting these horses and the community of cart horse owners and drivers, my curiosity was piqued.

Then, earlier this year, two intrepid adventurers arrived in Cape Town on horseback, having ridden (! – crazy, hey?) a distance of more than 2000 km from KwaZulu Natal, and I was part of an enthusiastic group of supporters who welcomed them to Pinelands and Oude Molen Eco Village. (I wrote about this exciting event on my blog.) Barry and Joe were using their mad adventure to raise funds for several horse charities, among them, the Cart Horse Protection Association of Cape Town.

And all of that is why I decided to approach the CHPA for the article I had to write for the Feature Writing Course. πŸ™‚

(More to follow…)

19 thoughts on “An Update on the Feature Writing Course: A topic has been chosen

  1. Looking forward to reading more about the CHPA – indeed it does sound interesting – although I am intrigued as to why you were put off the glamour & grime of the wedding photographer?? (…as that would have been humourous I’m sure!)
    Carry on the hard (and by the sounds of it) good work πŸ˜‰ x

    • Thank you, Al. It wasn’t an easy decision.

      Actually, I was more apprehensive about doing the CHPA story, because I knew (and know) so little about the environment and because I feel so strongly about animal abuse; having read some horrific stories in the newspapers about horses that have been literally beaten and tortured to death, I was – I admit – very fearful of venturing into an environment where such things might in fact happen. So I knew that, from an emotional point of view, it would be the more challenging topic to research. And that, paradoxically perhaps, is why I decided to go for it. I thought it might be a good learning opportunity. Does that make sense?

      • It sure does Reggie – the whole point of you doing this course is so that it challenges you creatively and spiritually. Although I still think it was a foolish decision to turn down my Eurovision Song Contest subject offer!!!!! Teehee πŸ˜‰ xx

  2. It’s a major difference between blogging and writing for mainstream media, isn’t it, Reggie?

    As a blogger you can write about any little thing that takes your fancy and be pleased if a few people share your interest.

    For mainstream media you need to come up with topics you think will interest large numbers of readers and first get your idea past the gatekeeper editors or publishers. If you don’t have a A list story, you need to write in an exceptional way to attract and hold readers.

    With most newspapers I work for laying off staff and making cuts all over the place, it’s a topic I was also planning to write about. Will tackle it as soon as I can get my ideas straight.

    Interesting project you’re undertaking. Good luck and I’ll follow your progress.

    • That is sooo true, Richard, and clearly spoken with the wisdom of inside knowledge. Your topic (newspapers laying off staff etc.) sounds very relevant to the publishing world right now; I also wonder what is going to happen with the mainstream printed media, given the growth of the internet and the spread of really well-written, informative articles being available online so readily, and for free, to boot.

      But with all your gadding about to the US and Holland and Australia and Iceland and all those other exotic destinations you’ve been taking us to, I’m not surprised you’ve had loads of other far more fascinating material to write about first. πŸ˜‰

  3. The pony carts are such a cool, quaint thing to have in your neighborhood. IF the horses are treated well, and you would think they would be because they are someone’s livelihood. Will you (or have you) taken a ride? I know this is going to be a great feature because I already can’t wait to read more!

    • Thank you, Sally – actually, no, I haven’t ridden on one of those carts before, but that is because they are usually used to transport scrap, building rubble and garden refuse – they aren’t passenger carts. A handful are used to transport fruit and vegetable around the neighbourhood, but I haven’t seen many of those. They aren’t designed for passengers – I think that none of them even have brakes!

  4. It sounds like a LOT OF WORK to me Reggie – well done for sticking to it. I’m a great fan of CHPA & have supported them for years. I first got to know about them when I spent a horrid year in Maitland when our organisation moved to tem0porary offices, and there were plenty of horses & carts in the streets – many of the horses in bad condition etc etc and that’s when I came oacross CHPA. They do magnificent work and deserve support. Hopefully this blog post will alert others to their existence.

    • Thank you, Alison. I didn’t know you had come across the CHPA before – interesting. I think that the lives of many of the cart horses have definitely improved since the association was first established in 1995.

  5. Hi Reggie,
    Apologies for my absence. I’m back from walking in Spain, and am busy trying to catch up with all the blogs I follow.

    I think you chose well – this is such an interesting topic. When I was in South Africa last year I saw horses and carts on the streets in and near both Johannesburg and Cape Town and thought they were so very “African” but didn’t stop to think how the horses were treated or wonder whether the buggies had brakes. I look forward to reading your article.

    • Thank you, Rosie. The research so far has been very interesting. I will write a few more posts about them as soon as I find the time.

      Well done on Walking the Camino! I look forward to reading some of your posts too. Bye for now.

  6. My hat’s off to you for doing this, Reggie! This takes a real commitment of time and energy. Glad you are learning a lot–and that some of it has been fascinating. Makes it worthwhile, doesn’t it?

  7. I am taking time to read up on horse associations here in Indiana and Kentucky having horse drawn carriage rides is a big deal in these states…as ALWAYS your words are inspiring. Applause.

  8. Pingback: Blog posts | Cart Horse Protection Association |

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