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What is it about Rebusfontein and King Louis VIII?

On the subject of fictional worlds: I’d like to introduce you to “Rebusfontein”. Rebusfontein (pronounced rhéá-booz-fonteyn) is an Afrikaans name meaning Rebus Fountain. In South Africa, which is partly semi-arid, many inland place names end in words that have to do with water – fountain, dam, river, stream, etc. A rebus is a word and picture puzzle. So, when reading about the town where one of the followers of this blog, “Tannie Frannie” (Auntie Frannie), lives, I should have known that there’s something different about Rebusfontein. 

When a recent post from Auntie Frannie referred to an event that seemed highly unlikely, I checked and discovered that Rebusfontein does not exist, other than on the Internet. The catch is that Rebusfontein is said to be the home town of many different people who each write about it on their blogs and reference a kind of common abstract construct. I can only guess what this place is like from their accounts – Rebusfontein sounds like a quiet, quaint, artsy, rural town which is like the historical villages Matjiesfontein, Jagersfontein or Barberton in South Africa.

Rebusfontein is a place where many South Africans might like to live since it is quite idyllic. Recently, the bloggers wrote about Barnum’s Circus coming to town and one of the inhabitants being part of the show for her spectacularly long leg hair. It’s called “Una Goes to the Circus”.

These people are not online gamers who spend their days in fantasy kingdoms and adopt different avatars to live out their adventures in virtual worlds. They are adults who seem to delight in this singular insider joke they have created. They reveal their real identities online, some more obscured than others, but the place where they say they live isn’t real.

Is Rebusfontein a running in-joke? No, not all of it. It is also a writing challenge. The story about “Una” and her indestructible leg hair is part of a challenge to write stories in Afrikaans, called “Lay Your Egg”, set by one of this circle of bloggers. Different bloggers embroider stories about Rebusfontein, the latest being “Problems at the Festive Table at Rebusfontein”.

The “Lê-Jou-Eier” (Lay Your Egg) logo

They each add on bits of the story in the same decidedly quirky style. The challenge has been going for about two years, but the bloggers write about Rebusfontein outside of the challenge as well. It is in such idiomatic, informal and humorous Afrikaans that I have not attempted to translate it. Too many words do not have an English equivalent.

But I figure, if they keep going this way, they are going to to end up with book of stories about Rebusfontein, like an Afrikaans version of Night Vale. I wonder who came up with the idea first? And I wonder why they keep doing it and how long it will last? And I wonder if they personally know each other?

It’s a Thing

The literary term for this activity, carried out by more than three people, is Collaborative Storytelling, also known as books by Fiction Writing Collectives, Collaborative Writing or Folding Stories Creation. It’s actually an old practice, dating back to the Renaissance. Thanks to interlinked blogs and platforms, and online gaming, collaborative fiction, which used to be only possible through successive printed works or sequels, is now possible for all budding writers who are online.

The Rebusfontein friends host theirs on their own blogs and the story thread on a site called Fresh.inlinkz, but there are other platforms that come and go. It is unfortunate that author rights are always problematic with collaborative fiction, and it is almost impossible to make money off online stories (take the plaforms Protagonize and Ficly, both of which are still online but have, after many years, closed down for new contributions).

One of the most famous works of collective fiction is A Million Penguins, hosted by Penguin  Books and De Montford University, which closed down in 2007 after 1030 pages had been created, nearly 1500 individuals contributed to the writing and editing, 75000 people visited the site and it had more than 280,000 page views (which for 2007 is amazing). You can read it here – be patient, this stuff is more than ten years old and sitting in an archive. The link to the printable version is dead – but seriously, it is very strange to read. It never made it into print, but there is a massive research report about it.

The trick is to create a seamless narrative, in which the settings, characters and writing style are consistent despite being by different authors. And this particular creation, Rebusfontein, is. How that happened, with disparate people, who knows?

A collaboration of writers

The characters in this story (the bloggers) have names as strange as the place: “Bondels”, meaning bundles; “Una” of course; “Kameel” (camel), “Toortsie” (untranslatable) and “Broodina” (something like female loaf of bread). I was almost grateful that not many people would discover Rebusfontein because it is unapologetically subversive. At the recent benighted festive table, South African celebrity, Nataniël, caused Kim Kardashian’s bum to deflate. And there was the incident with Henry VIII and his little cleaver. And Hitler’s dog. Say no more, nudge nudge.

For these people, all talented writers, their Rebusfontein may turn into a proper fictional world if they keep it up. Reading about it, for a moment I found myself wishing to visit there, it sounded so real.

15 comments on “What is it about Rebusfontein and King Louis VIII?

  1. Om deur jou genoem te word op so ‘n vleiende manier, is vir al die inwoners van Rebusfontein ‘n geweldige eer! In antwoord op jou vrae: HesterLeyNel van Dis Ekke en Vuurvliegie van LekkerVurig is die intellektuele dryfkragte, terwyl Una van Una se gedagtes ons almal met haar besondere menslikheid saamsnoer. Van die bloggers het mekaar al ontmoet en dit is elke keer ‘n fees! Dis net moeilik omdat ons oor die hele Suid-Afrika versprei is. Jy weet jy is hoogs welkom om op Rebusfontein te kom kuier, ne? Iemand wat ons as “talented writers” bestempel, sal as geagte eregas op die hande gedra word…

  2. Wow, impressive all this information. We are plain ladies and sometimes gentlemen who just want to write in Afrikaans and also enjoying making up all kinds of imaginary stories.

  3. Wow, I have come flying in from Rebusfontein to say thank you for some perspective on our virtual community and the space we ‘live’ in! Our blog comunity sprung serendipitously from challenges “Lê jou eier” and inLinkz – Hester Dis Ekke the mastermind. There are two e-books telling of our first escapades on her blog. We enjoyed the adventures so much a virtual tour through South Africa followed. As the tour came to an end in the middle of South Africa, we where quite lost. In comes Rebusfontein an imaginary town on the very spot where our previous tour ended! Here we resurrect characters from previous adventures as we wish. We can do anything we please! Hence Henry VIII, Mr Barnaum and such. We are all over SA and one member resides in New Zealand and the other in Dubai. Most members are from Gauteng and Western Cape. KZN and Limpopo are also represented. Welcome to our world. House number 18 Towerin Street, Rebusfontein is available. Best wishes Vuurvliegie aka Firefly. PS “Toorts” means flashlight and believe me, our blogfriend Toorts is a lighthouse. 😉

  4. Well I am so surprised to see that our fun town gets attention. I am also one of the inhabitants of Rhebusfontein. I can tell you that the writing about all the things we do there is the best medicine. We laugh all the time. I dont know why this works so well but it does. I do not know all the participants although we tend to understand each other. Thank you for this wonderful writing.

  5. Delightful to read about Rebusfontein on your blog! The more we write about our little imaginery town, the more real it becomes. I love going there!

  6. Dear Firefly – delighted to find out Rebusfontein is even more real that I had thought! I shall go and look for those two e-books. Writers from all over, you say – that’s fantastic! Well done. By the way, I am talking to my estate agent about 18 Towerin Street. I do hope I can afford it. I had in mind to hang my great-grandmother’s “volstruisveerkandelaar” (ostrich feather chandelier to our non-Afrikaans readers) there since it is too heavy for the wooden ceilings of Canadian houses. My estate agent says she wants a photo – now what do I do? Watch this space. Lovely to hear from all the Rebusfonteiners and sorry, Toorts, for forgetting what your name means. (Waar’s my woordeboek?!) Greetings from the True North.

  7. Your volstruisveerkandelaar wil fit and Towerin 18 will be as sturdy as you want. In Rebusfontein anything is possible. Whatever you wish your dream space to be, that is what you move into. No estate agents required. 💐📚✏

  8. Those mad people from that town in the middle of nowhere!
    I don’t get enough time to visit there too often… but I have in the past taken part in a previous challenge!
    This post of yours reminds me of unfinished business… so… mark my words, Nellie Visagie is soon going on a grand tour of Rubusfontein… spending a few nights celebrating her honeymoon there!
    OH, if you’re wondering about Nellie… just ask the good folk of the town… they’ll point you in the necessary direction…
    Cool to have found you…

  9. PS – I’m enjoying what I see of your blog! Overwhelming but instructive.
    PPS – I have a few collections of short stories available… 😉 hope they find a way into your review process! 🙂

  10. No problem. A Toorts is a torch. 😁 We LOVE the fantasy world that we made for ourselves.

  11. I am delighted in reading this, became a member of the Towerinne recently and love this group of wonderful authors. I am living in Qazaqstan, so I think the two of us can talk about cold. It started snowing Friday,
    Little bit. Yesterday more. Today -1 degrees Celsius, feeling like -21. I can offer to translate yours if you move to house number 18 in Rebusfontein. We will be neighbours. I am from South Africa, here for three years, then we will move back home.

  12. I also live in Rebusfontein. I am the minimalistic nature lover photographer, always trying to throw a spanner in the the works and disrupting the story with my fictional character, Broodina Barber. Wonderful to be part of such a special group of bloggers. It just does something for the soul to be able to escape to a fictional place and writing a lot of nonsense at times. Glad you found us and wrote this good article.

  13. How wonderful to read your blog about Rebusfontein, we enjoy ourselves tremendously.

  14. I so enjoyed the ‘Seven Circumstances’ post. What a great idea to have a book published!

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