Sunday 15th May, 2011
So with some sadness, it's my last day in Auckland. To have the opportunity to meet and listen to so many inspiring writers had really invigorated me, and this morning was set to be no different. I had picked two last events to attend, and they would prove to be, for me, the most powerful.
Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish was born and raised in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. Working and studying hard, as happily married man and father of seven, he grew to be a successful and respected fertility doctor based in the Gerner Institute at the Sheba hospital in Tel Aviv. In 2009, tragedy struck. His wife died of undiagnosed leukaemia, and three months later, two of his daughters and a niece were killed when a missile hit their bedroom during an Israeli incursion. A third daughter was killed when a second missile hit. A fourth daughter was left bleeding profusely, desperately injured. In the melee, Abuelaish managed to call ambulances and even spoke heart-rending words to a TV journalist live on Channel 10 in Tel Aviv, as he cried for help. A more sad tale, I have yet to hear.
Yet through all this, Abuelaish has managed to overcome. To overcome his pain and his loss to write “I Shall Not Hate”, “a necessary lesson against hatred and revenge.” (Elie Wiesel). Sitting through this hour-long discussion of his book, hosted by New Zealand Herald editor Tim Murphy, I was transfixed. Eloquent, and able to cut to the very heart of the matter of what it is to not only survive, but rebuild, Abuelaish described the days after the loss of a significant part of his family, the road to recovery and his feelings on the placement of blame for his suffering:
“I shall not use the same weapons as them, I will not. I will not fire bullets, I will send love.”
Not a dry eye in the house. The question and answer session was filled with kind welcomes from the Kiwis, and the sort of sensible, unabashed discussion of world issues that you want to hear at book events. Phenomenal.
Half an hour later, I was downstairs waiting for the second of my long-awaited events: Graphic Novels, Comics and Cartoons. Hosted by award winning cartoonist Adrian Kinnaird, fellow artists Ant Sang, Chris Slane, and Dylan Horrocks were joined by writer and comic book doctoral scholar Karen Healey in a fascinating discussion of their working processes, the industry and the future for the industry worldwide.
Ant Sang kindly took us, a keen audience comprising somewhat of comic geeks and art enthusiasts, through his latest graphic novel, “Shaolin Burning”, and it was a delight. Using a variety of cinematographic narrative models to base his planning around, all gloriously screened for us in fine detail on two big screens either side of the stage, we traced the interactions of his key protagonists through to the finished product. I could see more than a few adult men getting boyishly enthused by this, and predicted a huge line at the signing stall for this friendly, down-to-earth man with a passion for homebrewed comics. Sang even stated that if he ever had the chance again, he’d return to his roots by photocopying and hand-stapling his independent work. At this point, those adult men just about died and went to comics heaven.
Part graphic novel, part illustrated history, the whole book is rendered in glorious watercolours, and is based on the diaries of Elliott’s grandfather, Corporal Cyril Elliott. Filled with photographs, factual documents, and a desire to stick to the truth, the book is a thing of beauty, and hearing how Slane organised his work using a spreadsheet to keep track of things illustrated (see what I did there) how easy it is for artists now to blend the painting skills of old with the logistical tools of today.
(Mother interrupts again... as in life...to say that Offspringette was deeply moved to experience her first ANZAC Day in New Zealand this year, dawn to dusk memorials)
An institution in New Zealand, Dylan Horrocks’ seminal graphic novel “Hicksville” has practically become part of the literary canon here, and his descriptions of life as an artist in the male-led world of DC Comics were witty, insightful and more than connected with Healey’s version of events as the co-founder of Girl-wonder.org, a site dedicated to the promotion of the female role in the comic book world. The two had a wonderful discussion of the inner workings of the decision making process surrounding Batgirl and her various demises. The audience were loving it and so were the speakers, a great discussion, asking questions that needed to be asked. Well done to all involved, I count it as my favourite event – purely for selfish reasons though (dovegreyreader can attest to my comic book passion)!
After the event finished, I bumped into Matt who had been at the comics talk too, and eventually Deborah, who introduced me to some of her New Zealand book world colleagues. I had a good yarn with a good few people. That seems to be the way things go at AWRF, lots of people having a good ol’ gossipy chinwag about books. Really great to see so much discussion going on, and it is clear that the Kiwis really do love to talk about what they’re reading.
We left Matt with a flatload of dubious gaming sorts, lassoed Diane for the return journey, and headed back to the Bay and Napier after a quick tea stop, full of joy at a weekend well spent. Deb, I don’t know how she did it – survived on muesli bars and adrenaline mostly. I would like to thank the gods of fast food for providing me with the calories I needed to get through the day. I would like to thank Dovegreyreader (thanks mumsie!) for arranging the press pass through AWRF, and to all the organisers and publicists for helping me get around such a well set-up and managed event.
From start to finish, world class.
(and mother's thanks to daughter for making me feel as if I have been sitting right next to you enjoying all this too x)