Here we are to relate all the thrills and spills of the opening night of the Auckland Writer and Readers Festival
Joyce: Kim Hill sashayed in looking leggy and dangerous, killer heels and swivel hips. Witi was resplendent in velvet and Junot, well he was the epitome of the literary rock star, effortlessly cool, mmmmm… I feel a little breathless. Over to you Philip, dish the dirt baby!!
Philip: All I can say is that Kim looked like a predatory femme fatale she slunk across the stage in way that Sharon Stone might do.
Joyce: Kim asked some great questions, and Sarah Hall had to dig a bit deeper for answers. I enjoyed Hall’s thoughts on regional writing and how the landscape makes us, in particular the grittiness and violence of the northern marches making for tenacious, self-reliant and durable Northern folk. She was also fascinating on the subject of women and violence, posing the question “Can women make soldiers, good soldiers”. The answer is of course obvious, just think G.I. Jane!
Philip: Do you mean Demi Moore there, Joyce?
Joyce: Yes she was well-hard. Sarah Hall got fiesty at one point when heckled by a member of the audience, she reminded them she was a Northern lass…Fight, fight, fight. Some sections of the audience also got ants in the nana-pants over a time overrun with Sarah Hall. New Zealand ended up, I fear, looking a smidgen provincial, and the audience impatient and boorish. Kim Hill was scandalised “how extraordinary” she murmured (no doubt with a skillfully arched brow).
Philip: This was a pity in that it brought a sour note to the proceedings. Even though Kim did go on a bit long (40 minutes when it should have been 20) it shouldn’t have mattered in that it was all very interesting and, as we aren’t necessarily going to see these people again and when there’s a big crowd they may as well get their money’s worth. It meant the other writers were rushed through.
Joyce: Witi was amazing, Richard thought he was “impish” and that is exactly the word, playful, self-effacing and charming; a boy, a son, a man and an iconic NZ writer all rolled into one. He talked movingly about his Father’s fear of death and of his Father’s role as the family gravedigger, burying his own dead children, Witi asked “What happens when the digger dies?”. He told us “loving my Father in his autumn years has been my greatest gift as a son”
Philip: He was great and what a professional. He even sang a beautiful song in Maori. He is so unaffected and unafraid of revealing his emotions in an honest and very touching way. No sense at all that he might think it uncool and that is refreshing these days.
Joyce: Diaz seemed appalled by the rudeness of the audience: “some shit” he said in amazement. He talked about the macho culture prevalent in the Dominican Republic and the challenges of writing. He’d envisaged some cartoon or comic strip passages in his Pulitzer winning novel The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao but realised he’d “written cheques his talent couldn’t cash, I sucked and couldn’t make it work”.
Philip: He was more like a rock star than a conventional novelist and the passge he read was very funny but it had a sadness about it. How well he was able to inhabit the persona of a 14 year old schoolgirl too.
Joyce: Coetzee left me cold, he never cracked a smile throughout the duration of the opening and there were some incredibly funny moments both intentional and otherwise (see The Woman in the front row). His reading was excellent however, perfectly nuanced and delivered in an incredibly plummy voice.
Philip: I actually didn’t mind him. I think he is not a performer at all. He is not someone who gives interviews readily nor does he do a lot of performing at festivals and book events: I guess he is a writer who just lets the work speak for itself. The bit he read – from his latest novel – was quite funny in an understated droll way and it dealt with an older man attracted to a young woman in a laundromat, which could easily have a creepy edge to it but it didn’t.
After Coetzee, that was it and the very big crowd trooped out and there was a lot of schmoozing in the foyer and we saw the likes of Maggie Barry and a lot of local celebs who came out for this one event.