So whilst I'm off playing in Fowey at the du Maurier Literary Festival ...and can I say that this festival just gets better and better, a really great and varied line up this year, I'm sending you all off on a trip to the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival in the company of Offspringette. She's petite and she walks very fast so I hope you can all keep sight of her and keep up.
Auckland Writers and Readers Festival: Blog Journal
Thursday 12th May, 2011
Leaving Hawke’s Bay on a warm and sunny afternoon, I had high hopes for our escape from the country. Nestled into the soft leathery expansive front seat of the car being piloted by one of New Zealand’s most fascinating children’s authors, Deborah Burnside, I felt sure that this, dear readers, was going to be a winner.
In the back, also nestled, amongst carefully wrapped parcels of chicken sandwiches complimented by a home grown avocado relish, was Diane Hebley, a long-standing member of New Zealand’s literary community and a proponent of writing for young people.
The conversation flowed in all directions, and as we made our way along the Thermal Explorer Highway, some 400km of chipseal road, I got the sense that I was on rather an intellectual road trip. Even the toilet breaks felt learned.
At Taupo, Deb suggested we took the opportunity to see the Huka Falls in daylight, and what a massively fast and aggressive-moving body of water it was. Standing on the bridge overlooking the Falls, I was reminded of the time I’d spent visiting the Kayaker in Canada, and how he might laugh at these and say “Pffft. Easy!” I wouldn’t find it easy, I’d find it terrifying. But that is why he goes down rivers and I skate up mountains.
Arriving in Auckland to the centrally-placed apartment Deborah and her husband Robert rent for their talented computer animation student son Matthew, I was struck by how clever Auckland feels. All these tall buildings, polished and clean and full of brains. Oh, and how much I wanted to dive bomb off the balcony into the lengths pool four floors below my feet.
Charging up my iPod Touch (a tracking device provided by dovegreyreader), now containing the AWRF ‘app’, a handy portable way to follow the programme of events (I still carried the paper one with me anyway), I hit the hay, to the sounds of the Auckland student body whooping it up on what must have been another discount drinks night.
The question is, is AWRF ready for the Offspringette?
Friday 13th May, 2011
Friday dawned early for me as I spent the night tracking the progress of a friend across the Pacific on said iPod. Very exciting and interesting that I can do all these things with this device, but incredibly sleep depriving for one who is interested in everything. With a busy first day of the festival ahead, it was tough luck for me, as Deborah knocked on my door at the strike of 7am to enquire regarding a cup of tea.
I should let you know at this point that I met Deborah and discovered her incredible story at roller derby. I say this because it was exactly the roller derby that led to our slow aching progress to the Aotea Centre. Deborah has damaged her knee, and I too am carrying an injury, from this game of female stock car racing on rollerskates. Proudly we strode with our war wounds, discussing the events we might like to see.
After a brief visit to pick up tickets and write my own access all areas pass, our first stop was the festival’s first morning event in the main theatre: a talk by Carolyn Burke on her Edith Piaf biography, “No Regrets”. On a stage decked out with palms, carefully thought out lighting and a bronze and orange colour scheme with a big screen behind her to broadcast to the masses, Burke embarked on transporting us back to Piaf’s era, full of the sound of street song, and smoky Champs-Elysees caberet.
Tracking the rise and fall and rise and end of one France’s most colourful musical characters, the presentation we were treated to, a mix of readings, sounds and finally video, left me with the feeling that Burke had really fallen in love with this project. And it was clear by the size of the signings queue and the busy throng around her book at the festival stall, that this had rubbed off on the audicence. Bravo. First event down, success!
(Mother interrupts here to say to daughter, do you remember we saw Edith Piaf's grave in Pere Lechaise cemetery on that trip to Paris...or were you too busy looking for Jim Morrison??)
Deborah and Diane then travelled to see Madhur Jaffery’s talk on Climbing The Mango Trees and I wish I’d been with them as apparently it was fantastic and they could have listened to her all day. Jaffrey’s compelling voice came out not only in her readings but also in her conversation with writer Alexa Johnston. I know of Jaffery from her cookery work, but she has led quite the life, and I’m sure anyone interested would find her book a great read.
I took the time between events to get a feel for the festival as it geared up for the weekend. Two large bookstalls on the upper and lower levels, coffee stands, seated areas, free wi-fi (yes!), and generally very friendly people everywhere. Especially near the outside cafe, which I felt was a little too pricey for my tastes, hence my needing to duck out to procure cheap and faster alternatives.
Then it was straight back into a session in the lower room with three of New Zealand’s South Island female writers: Laurence Fearnley (The Hut Builder), Emma Neale (Fosterling) and Charlotte Randall (Hokitika Town). The discussion centred around the male characters central to the plot in each novel, and the ways in which the authors set about bringing out their individual motivations. Fearnley’s reading of Boden stood out for me, a shy young butcher from a small 1940’s Central Otago town who goes on to become a famous poet was enthralling, as she wore a warm hat to set the scene during a snowy section of the story. Very interesting discussion followed, and I’d urge you to check out each book to find out more.
With a couple of hours to spare I sat and took in my surroundings again, now changed with an increased frequency of human motion, hubbub and general literary enthusiasm for all things papery and wordy. I supposed my dear mum would have been in heaven right now, and I was too in a way. I haven’t felt intellectually nourished in this way since I came to New Zealand.
Despite being the perfect candidate for many roles, I have struggled to find work here. This trip has been a journey of the mind and soul for me. After finishing a teacher training course on a high, it left me burning for adventure – and progress – and I really feel that I have, in this beautiful place, been allowed to achieve all my goals incredibly quickly, except…the job. Sitting in the comfy leather chairs in the Aotea’s lobby, I realised that I’m actually a citizen of the world at the moment, and that’s a pretty envious position. I could go anywhere, do anything, and I want to. Help me out, world?
We finished the afternoon off with An Hour With Gail Jones, an Australian author who has a wonderful sweet voice that compels you to listen to whatever it is she has to say. And what she has to say is quite simply fantastic in its scope and breadth. How that woman manages to describe a single second in time in such detail is beyond me, and we listened, enthralled. Her most recent book Five Bells describes the intertwining movements of 4 (or maybe 5) characters on a single day at Sydney’s Circular Quay and from the reading Jones gave, you’re in for a powerful read.
Capping off the day in style, I chased after Deb as she confidently strode through lines of traffic waving her crutch as an excuse to get through to a sandwich bar on the other side of the street. We had nary 10 minutes before the next presentation, and her suggestions to the sandwich maker went unheeded, causing much hilarity when she tried to suggest he speed up.
Taking said sandwiches under cover of handbag into the main theatre (dovegreyreader would surely approve), we sat at the back and munched our way through a Kim Hill (NZ radio personality) hosted discussion with New York Times Science Editor Barbara Strauch on “Secrets Of The Brain”. It was laugh out loud (or splutter sandwich out loud for us) funny, and we learned that the key to our brain’s survival was exercise.
Justly proud of ourselves, we marched all the way home, where I promptly passed out early, leaving Deborah and Matt to take a trip to the theatre. I did however take the opportunity to quaff down some pumpkin soup that was laid on for me. She’s taught that boy well.