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'Auckland Readers & Writers Festival' by Mary Hickey  

It was a great experience, I laughed, I cried, I was moved, energised and thoroughly engaged but also totally overwhelmed by the end.   I think I would like to be a writer!!

There were good speakers and not so good speakers, good chairs of sessions and not so good chairs and that made a difference to some of the speakers.  Big personalities, little personalities and the outstanding one for me was Jeanette Winterson.   Just brilliant.

The venue was good.  The large (ASB) theatre fine for all the ticketed speakers and the smaller rooms for the non-ticketed events worked well.  On the Friday the queues were just enormous and many people couldn't get into free events but we found on the Saturday we only had to queue for half an hour or so.  I hadn't expected to see quite so many people there, but it was well organised, a few coffee bars and light food available, and lots of little cafes etc. open in the area.

We chose well for sessions and here's a brief summation.

Friday:   Jane Smiley interviewed by Paula Morris.  A Life's Work.

Jane Smiley – great to listen to, and a personality which shone through whilst she talked.  A serially married woman with three children, and two step children.  A love and respect of horses and she felt that both children and horses are born with unique qualities - when nurtured this take them through their lives.  She just has to write.  A great researcher who researches just in time as she writes – continually stopping if she wants to find out something more about the subject or person. 

The influence of Shakespeare was profound particularly in ‘A Thousand Acres.’  She loves her characters - doesn't always know where they are going, but can play God and kill them off if she falls out of love with them!  (She's agnostic).  Says Iowa shaped her life and that lots happens there.  A knitter of soy products, and was wearing a top she had knitted.  She was lively, bright and extremely engaging with the chair and the audience.  She was promoting the ‘Last Hundred Years’ trilogy published last year – an investigation of American identity.  I just loved the way she talked of relationships amongst family members, and the way people say - “you know what she's like; etc.” - the stuff of which myths about people are made. (I could just hear my mother and her three sisters talking about each other).   Must read.

Hanya Yanagihara interviewed by Anne Kenenedy.  Life Lessons

A very unusual, maybe asexual woman writing about different sorts of friendship – this novel about the friendship of 4 men full of abuse, misery and unusual arrangements. 

Unfortunately the chair wasn't as good and ummed and aahed considerably throughout – not nearly as comfortable as Hanya.  The audience was attentive and interested.  She had been a magazine editor, and currently out of work and relies on having groups of friends around her.  Single and always has been, so it seems most of her friends are too. 

Her other novel had been about a doctor who abused patients.  Does lots of research before writing and was a really fascinating speaker.  She said very firmly and with conviction that she was the only person who could have written this story.

This idea actually came through with all writers – a real calling to write and a sense of destiny.  Therefore the courage to give up other parts of their life in order to do so.  The discipline required daily to produce the number of words necessary to finish a book was touched on by nearly all.

Paula Hawkins with Nicky Pellegrino  Girl on the Train

Paula seemed extremely nervous at first, fiddling with her hands and then smoothing her trousers and generally looking ill at ease, but Nicky Pellegrino was an excellent interviewer who got her talking. 

A financial journalist who was approached by an editor to write a book which she did it didn’t succeed.  She then wrote a couple of ‘chick lits’ under pseudonym of Amy Silver.  She's from Zimbabwe, single and likely to remain so. Just slightly awkward, and amazed at the success of the ‘Girl on the Train.’  She  borrowed money from her parents to allow her to write.  Obviously fascinated by flawed characters, but said not based on herself. 

She too felt she was destined to write and really enjoyed the way the story unfolded. She agreed it could have had a different ending, and that was part of the excitement of writing mysteries arising from the command you have over the characters. Researches the psychological aspects and said the idea first came when she arrived from Zimbabwe, knew no one and used to watch people through windows living what she thought were fulfilling and rewarding lives.


The art of the short story.

Damian Wilkins stood in for Bill Manhire and Elizabeth McCracken with Sue Orr as chair.

A great session.  Both read from their favourite short story, McCracken's was The Jockey – pithy and very clever juxtaposing the protagonist, the jockey and his horse.  Damian's was My Last Story by Janet Frame.  Both talked why they liked the story, the way in which stories are crafted and the often very obscure endings of a short story.  Good stuff and good audience participation.  They also read from their own work.

A meeting of minds.

Philosopher Julian Baggini and Hirini Kaa - exchanging their views of Western and Maori Philosophy.  I enjoyed it immensely although it may have been improved with a stronger voice to argue more.  They were two gentlemen listening to each other's point of view, and Baggini in particular not challenging the connection with land and sea of the Maori and other indigenous populations.  Hirini Kaa is an Anglican minister as well as lecturer at Auckland University and they were both good to listen to.

The Great Kiwi Classic Face Off.

Rachel Barrowman (Maurice Gee), Mary Paul (Robin Hyde), John Smythe (Bruce Mason) and John Weir (James K Baxter) with Rosabel Tan. A fascinating session and I managed to sit in the front row – not all the VIPs turned up so thought I'd give it a go!!

John Weir was just astounding with his knowledge of J K Baxter and was the most marvellous speaker.  He spoke of Baxter's friendships and he went to his funeral along with 800 of his other best friends.  One had escaped from prison, two had converted a car and people came from far and wide and he made him a most engaging personality. 

I hadn't heard about Robin Hyde - a flawed but exceptional woman, and Mary Paul spoke well.  John Smythe promoted Bruce Mason well, but Rachel Barrowman is clearly a very withdrawn personality and looked as if she would have liked to be anywhere else in the world!  It was a robust and good session and luckily we weren't asked to vote for which writer had written the classic NZ story.  Much discussion about what constituted a classic, and I learned much about all the writers.


Power Tales, Thomas Mallon interviewed by Tim Wilson 

I just have to read some of Thomas Mallon's work.  He was just terrific, and so was Tim Wilson whose knowledge of American politics and the way Washington worked was most enlightening.  Just how the author manages to blend politics and the historical backgrounds into fiction is extraordinary. 

He is a self-confessed gay republican with a wonderful array of friends and acquaintances.  His research skills are exceptional and lots of lovely little bits of knowledge about all sorts of characters from Jacqueline Kennedy's smokers teeth to Alice Roosevelt. He talked lots about Nancy and Ronald Reagan, and was a accomplished mimic – you really would have thought it was Ronald Reagan talking.  A very sharp wit and although republican, absolutely appalled by Donald Trump.  A fascinating speaker – very engaging.


The Gap of Time;  Jeanette Winterson

Absolutely outstanding.  She was on stage by herself but with incredible effects – music and sounds.

Her love of words and Shakespeare was just beautiful and her delivery and timing was superb.  She has worked in theatre which was obvious.  She was funny, moving and I was absolutely taken with her performance (as anyone there would have been). Her abandonment as a child influenced her work and her comments about her adopted mother were as written in ‘Orange is not the Only Fruit.’  No sense of anything now but a fulfilling life doing what she chooses. The new book ‘The Gap of Time’  was based on ‘The Winter's Tale’ with jealousy, revenge etc. and the central character Perdita.

The way she re wrote it into her work was astounding, and her characters based on Shakespeare's characters with changed gender and relationships were very clever. Again, I will simply have to read the book.  It's hard to describe but the standing ovation at the end said it all. I came away totally exhausted!

The Immortal Way Jean-Christophe Rufin interviewed by Geraint Martin.

A former ambassador in Senegal and founder of Medecin San Frontiers said after returning to Paris he needed to rethink his life from being a very public figure to an ordinary citizen. 

He hadn't heard of the Camino but once he did he decided to walk it. He learned the history (well the myth of St James, and retold his version well).  He did not think of himself as a pilgrim initially, but said that as he was greeted by everyone as “Hi Pilgrim,” he must have been!  He was amusing and spoke of the common conversations with fellow pilgrims, of blisters and of the snorers, but also of walking by himself, staying in a tent and living a very frugal life. 

His English was good but like many pilgrims didn't speak Spanish and took the more northern route to try and avoid the crowds.  He told a lovely story of crossing one of the borders in Spain into Galacia I think, and there was a man who was walking about 1km ahead of him.  He waited and when Jean-Christophe caught him up took him by the hand and both leaped over the drawn line in the path. 

His wife met him shortly before Santiago and he was disappointed in the cathedral and service, and the number of people etc, as tourists were sitting, and they were at the back, but he said what he had learned was it was that not the getting there but the “way” was what mattered.




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