Innocence and Experience

This was a session where three writers were brought together to dicuss their novels under a theme supposedly common to all. The idea was that all three novels dealt with love in some form, whether it was parental love, erotic love, love of one’s country, etc. In the chair was Kate De Goldi who is familiar to Christchurch people. On a distinctly trivial and irrelevant note, I was racking my tired brain for who she reminded me of and then it came to me: the one and only Parklands Librarian, Annie McEntyre!

Now to get on with it before someone says get on with it.

The writers in question were Peter Ho Davies (“The Welsh girl”), Laurence Fearnley (“Edwin and Matilda”) and Peter Wells (“Lucky bastard’). Ihad already read Peter Ho Davies’ novel and finished reading the Peter Wells novel before breakfast this morning. After hearing Laurence Fearnley speak, I will definitely be reading her novel.

They started by reading an excerpt from their work. The Ho Davies bit didn’t feature the girl of the title but was centred on the young German who had met the girl and was talking about this and his past in Germany. A lovely bit of writing (and if you haven’t read this book, do try it as it is great). Laurence Fearnley read two bits from her novel, the first being a touching passage on the love between father and son. The second bit was a passage that could quite easily have gone wrong as a reading: it was about a 60 year old man (Edwin) putting on a condom preparatory to making love to the much younger Matilda. It was very funny in a gentle way and quite touching and shows that writing about sex in a novel doesn’t have to make you end up as a finalist in the Bad Sex Prize in the Literary Review. Peter Wells also had a rather touching and very truthful piece on the father and son at the meal table with the troubled relationship between them revealed in all its complicated awkwardness.

Peter Wells describes his book as being about silences, especially the one between the generation that came through WWII and the baby boomers who were generally antiwar. He also talked about that earlier generation as having existed when some words and concepts didn’t exist: no such thing as good old “self esteem” and no “post traumatic stress disorder” being diagnosed.

Laurence Fearnley said she wasn’t quite sure why most of the mothers in her fiction were so unsympathetic and her own mother has asked for her to create a nicer one in the future! Her passion for rural spaces comes out in her books and she said she found cities “too distracting.” Peter Wells, on the other hand, felt that rural spaces were places he passed through and city life was what he wanted.

Peter Ho Davies was by far the most polished speaker but, as in yesterday’s session, his sheer unstoppableness tended to lose me a bit. And he talks so fast! It’s not that he’s arrogant or even particularly annoying, I guess it’s more whose style appeals. Certainly the other two writers were less assured as speakers but their more hesitant less practised approach meant that they seemed to be working it out as they spoke. Ho Davies teaches a creative writing class and he seems to analyse the process a lot more.

There were very few questions at the end so I felt a duty bound sense to ask one: I asked how you wrote a novel set in an early period and make the period come alive without swamping it with period detail (as in those movies where the set decorator seems to come first and the scriptwriter second). Nobody seemed to understand this one so maybe it isn’t a problem!

I will be bashing out a blog with the redoubtable Joyce Fraser later today in which we give our impressions of the opening night from the readings to the ultra slinkiness of Kim Hill to problems with a mystery woman in the front row. And just to say that Auckland is buzzing at the moment, I was sorely disappointed by the DVD range in The Warehouse and discovered a strange audio/CD/DVD shop up the road which has the sort of material you see nowhere else. And I was impressed with Auckland Public Library which has an enviable amount of space.


One thought on “Innocence and Experience

  1. Donna 16 May 2008 / 4:28 pm

    Thanks Philip, a great sum up and I like your question. I really hate how some novels lay the period detail too thick, and you lose the story in all the description of costumes and room fittings, brand names etc

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