Saturday’s wrap-up

It’s been a busy day for the blogging team of Richard, Donna, Marion, Philip, Jane, Joyce, Bronwyn and Lucette. We’ve been to a huge range of events, with author talks, fiction and non-fiction, panel discussions, readings and poetry – plus a trip to Dame Ngaio Marsh’s house, with photos. We wrap all of that up in less than seven minutes in this audio.

Please feel free to post a comment and join us in conversation about writers, writing and reading – the more the merrier!

Playing god: An hour with Norman Doidge and Glenn Colquhoun

It is now official! I am a poetry convert, First Karlo Mila, and now Glenn Colquhoun. Both have moved me to tears and made me laugh – all in one hour. Wonderful.

Glenn Colquhoun was definitely the hero of this session for me – partly because he was the only one I could really hear. James Norcliffe was the chair, and alongside Norman Doidge had such a quiet tone of voice that I struggled to keep listening to what they were saying. Glenn however, had a great big New Zealand voice that made me sit up and pay attention.

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Going Without Guilt – travelling stories!

Just back from an hour and a quarter with the travel boys – Ben Hills, Lloyd Spencer Davis and Joe Bennett. I had high expectations of this session, having always wanted to BE a travel writer (in between being forensic pathologist, food critic and French diplomat), and it was most enjoyable.

Christopher Moore was a great chair, and even almost managed to keep (one of) the panellists under control. He asked lots of meaty questions, and I’m not sure there’s room here to do justice to even a couple, but I’ll try to summarize.

The first question was about why each of them had chosen to write travel books.

Joe: Poverty. And an inability to produce a novel.

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“I split language / to make poems burn”

Thanks to brilliant facilitation by Bill Manhire, the session “Conversation on Writing Poetry” was one I’m really glad I didn’t miss. The hush that came over the audience as Bernadette Hall prepared to read the first poem she felt really happy with was symptomatic of a general atmosphere of extreme respect which fitted well to Manhire’s interest in the public role of poetry and poets within their ‘tribe’ (the two other panel members, Brian Turner and Michele Leggott, have occupied or currently occupy the position of poet laureate).

The idea of reading and discussing the first poem you felt really happy with, leading to discussions of how each became a poet and when in their lives they first felt they could – or wanted to – call themselves a poet or writer, was perfect for a panel of such confident New Zealand writers. It did something else wonderful too: For me, at least, it created an almost interactive, at least very inclusive, situation, in which I was also lead to remember the first poem that I had felt proud of, my current feelings about writing and where I place myself in the strange and slowly unfolding process of becoming-a-true-poet. It is quite a skill to make an audience feel so included without any actual participation.

There isn’t enough space here to record all the beautiful “bright moments” that the poets shared from their lives …

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An hour with Robert Fisk

Crowd at Fisk
Crowd at Fisk

Being very important and busy blogging people, Joyce and I have 15 minutes between sessions. So this will be just a quick impression of An Hour with Robert Fisk:

  • Truth doesn’t have to be the casualty of war
  • If you see an atrocity why can’t you be angry?
  • Debased, neutral language is the death of journalism
  • Internet is increasingly being believed in but is increasingly unbelievable
  • Quoted Iman Ali: we are either all brothers in religion or brothers in humanity
  • Middle East should be swamped with Western tourists, not Western soldiers.
  • It is OK to be objective on the side of those who are suffering.
  • Journalists should not join the proscecution, and Fisk does not like journalists who are activists.
  • He neither has the internet or uses email.
  • Politicians either have journalists on side or don’t care what they say

The press seem to be representing the views of the people because …

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Fisk’s energy inspiring

This event was absolutely abuzz with people – several hundred piled into the Limes Room to hear Robert Fisk. They were not disappointed.

Among the revelations at the session was the fact that some years ago, librarians helped him “smuggle” the contents of the Sunday Express newspaper library of the 1920s to 40s – under cover of darkness – into his possession.

I managed to track him down afterwards. It wasn’t hard – he was the popular fellow signing books – to tell me the whole tale. Continue reading

Robert Fisk

Robert Fisk

What can I say about this one as he needs no introduction and he was the star attraction of the Festival with booked out sessions. In the chair was editor of The Press, Andrew Holden. He began with the old adage that “truth is the first casualty of war” which Fisk said ain’t necessarily so. It doesn’t have to be and he feels lucky enough to to work for a newspaper (The Independent) that allows him to tell the real story. He feels that a lot of journalists, especially in America, have a symbiotic relationship with power (watch Fox News and you’ll see that writ large!)

On a lighter note, he talked about his early years in journalism on a paper in Newcastle-on-Tyne. There he learned that cliches rule the day and then and how police were always “spreading their net” and “stepping up” a hunt and so on. Lots of laughter at some of this but I wonder how many journos in the audience hadn’t gone off to a “horror smash” and isn’t every public holiday weekend an excuse for “horror” on the roads and isn’t someone always “shocked” and aren’t all small children “toddlers.”

He was asked whether his writing style had changed over the years and whether his views had changed. He said his writing had become angrier and described the aftermath of a massacre in Palestine. Was he blinded by his anger?

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Toby Eady – son of, husband of, and agent in his own right

9 a.m. this morning and a session with literary agent Toby Eady talking to David Elworthy. Toby Eady is well known of course as being the son of Mary Wesley and the husband of Chinese writer Xinran.

A very English Englishman and to bring a note of appalling trivia to the processings, what is it about English chaps and socks? Recovering from Simon Sebag Montefiore’s standout socks at Auckland, it was hard here not to notice the bright red socks of Mr E. (and I was towards the back of the room too). Enough of this drivel, you might say…what we got in this session was a highly entertaining anecdotal gallop through the life and career of the gentleman in question.

He described his childhood as paradise and life in the very setting of his mother’s The Camomile Lawn certainly sounded idyllic. His mother’s own childhood had not been like this and was in fact quite bad. Her father had suffered hugely from his experiences in World War I and Mary said later she wished Pat Barker’s novel The ghost road had come out years back as she would then have been able to understand her father more. Mention here too of another excellent novel about the effect of war, Rachel Seifert’s Afterwards.

Her family had been deeply conventional but not particularly pleasant.

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Taking time to listen to interesting people

After a busy afternoon and evening I think I can sum up the experience as the pleasure of taking time out to sit and listen to interesting people. The sessions I have been to this afternoon provided me with plenty to think about  and the speakers  were entertaining in different ways. Hamish Keith – as Philip said – not as curmudgeonly as one had been lead to expect and  showing plenty of Native Wit with a lovely turn of phrase “imagining search parties being sent out from Wellington to look for a national culture” and New Zealand having a distinct cultural identity “rather like the Rakaia – many streams, one river”.  Glenn Colquhoun reading his poems and talking about how “we all want magic from doctors”.  He really is a most accessible poet and speaker and I think he’d be great to have as a doctor. He read from his collection Playing God which I’d really recommend.

The final fling of the evening was An Evening With Ngaio Marsh where her latest biographer Joanne Drayton and her former student and longtime friend Elric Hooper engaged in a lively session about her life and the book.  I’d have to say that like my colleagues I found the studded leather gloves a bit distracting, but Elric Hooper was just being Elric, I enjoyed him and he did contribute some interesting things as someone who knew Ngaio well, as much as anyone could know such a private person. It was clear from Elric and someone else from the audience who spoke, that Ngaio Marsh made a strong impression on their lives. Incidentally, the book doesn’t have an index! though it does have an extensive bibliography.  Also Joanne was perfectly able to hold her own so you had two articulate people having a really good discussion.

I began to read the book  last night and I liked the way it jumped straight in to Ngaio buying some exercise books and settling down to write her first detective novel. I hope it continues to be a good read because the physical reality of the book was a little disappointing – hardback(tick) but  no index (I like my bios with an index) and quite narrow margins on the page.

It was good to see the Great Hall full and all the sessions I have been to so far seemed well supported – Keep it up book lovers.

Why does the earth move?

Far more men than one usually sees at a writers festival session made it to this one, which fitted very nicely with Playing God, yesterday’s look at doctors as writers. In that session Norman Doidge and Glenn Colquhoun talked about the necessity to be very careful with metaphor; Doidge even set out on a trip to disprove the metaphor of the brain being “hard-wired”.

The scientists and science writers in today’s session had no such qualms about metaphor, in fact  they found metaphors and analogy to be very helpful in giving us ways to think about things that are too big for our brains. Hamish Campbell illustrated this very nicely when describing the oceanic crust and the continental crust as milk and cream – I always like a good food analogy.

Falling for science
Falling for science

Novelist Bernard Beckett is fascinated with the melding of story and science. How does story remain meaningful when the foundation it is based upon shifts? Darwin is the classic example but future advances in genetics and biology will play with our ideas of what humanity is.

In producing her anthology of New Zealand science writing Rebecca Priestley found good science is one thing but good writing about it is another. Many important scientific breakthroughs are described in prose that is boring, plodding or dense, but the writing that conveys the excitement of discovery is often written by scientists and almost always relies on metaphor.

Commendably anxious to get something in the actual subject of the session, Priestley read a description of an earthquake and consequent tsunami; the tsunami recogised by a sailor who had seen one before by its  “phosphorescent crest”, a phrase that proved to me that poetry and science are not so very far apart after all.