Festival delivers sassy, refreshing peach mule of a day

book signing
Audrey Niffenegger signs for Rachael King

If festivals are all about drinking in new experiences, then the top of today’s literary cocktail list is the peach mule. Peach because today really was one out of the box, and mule because I walked half the city – but more of that later.

The programme really did have all the ingredients of this sassy and refreshing namesake. An effervescent Audrey Niffenegger fired up a big audience in her session, which would make her the ginger beer. The zesty sprig of mint was delivered in the form of Emily Perkins. The ice was the logic and intellectual rigour of ethical philosopher Peter Singer and financial journalist Rod Oram. The the shot of alcohol came (of course) from the poets, particularly Geoff Cochrane, whose latest work is titled The worm in the tequila.

Strictly speaking a peach mule has peach vodka, but the overall result was spot on – complex, subtle, moreish – just the right match for another stunning Wellington day. I’ll post in more detail on each session a bit later, but here are some of Wednesday’s highlights:

  • Emily Perkins shared how hard it was to let go of some pieces of writing that just weren’t working – yet how liberating. Kind of like a break up, she said. “You still want to go back and read the old boyfriends postcards”. She also read an intriguing excerpt of her next book, and told us she was allergic to the “illuminating ending”.
  • Peter Singer‘s succinct description of the current global situation: “We’ve got ourselves snookered. We’re not doomed but in a new fix that will test our capacity to make long-term decisions.”
  • A great crowd were enthralled by the wit of Audrey Niffenegger, whose novel The time traveller’s wife had such massive success. “I pranced through the experience like Bambi,” she said. Her next book will be The chinchilla girl, about a 9-year-old who is completely covered in hair.
  • Derek Johns, author and literary agent, was a bricklayer’s mate in New Zealand back in the day.
  • A great range of topics and styles from the poets. Glyn Maxwell’s delivery was energetic and lively, while Kevin Connolly shared a poem about Great Aunt Olive, who used to put out.  Kate Camp was beguiling and wise (You can’t listen with your tongue). Geoff Cochrane shared his love of The Embassy Theatre: “No more readings in stripy circus tents.” Ian Wedde remembered his dad and the “inexhaustible fragrance” of linseed oil bottled on Adelaide Road.
  • Wonderfully comfortable seats at the theatre – my particular thanks to the friends of Christine Massey for their generosity.
  • The mule part of the story was walking around central Wellington snapping photos on a whistle-stop tour of The Revolt of the Mannequins. A lively changing story in the shop windows of downtown, with a sniper, am inspector and a cast of dozens.
  • And yes, a peach mule with Kris who’s also blogging the festival.

Remember, there are images on flickr photostream and your comments are welcome at any time.

I went to The Garden Show and all I got was this ninja garden tool

I’m just resting my feet after a pretty full day at the Ellerslie International Flower Show . If you are planning to go I can say that it seemed to be pretty relaxed, no major queues and lots of effort into keeping people happy – places to sit, places to eat, lots of shade – as well of course as the offerings on show.

It is my first time at Ellerslie so I can’t compare it to last year but I did like the Sculpture Garden which meanders under the pine trees by Victoria and Albert Lakes and includes statues in the lake itself. Of the garden displays I saw, I really enjoyed the modern efforts such as The last laugh by Andy Ellis and Danny Kamo and Finding Solace in the Sky by Cameron McLean, Desmond Stock and Gareth Ford. The last laugh has been awarded Gold and Finding Solace Silver.

Nature and sustainability were to the fore in many displays. Sustainability with Style from Soil and Health Canterbury and The Good Gardeners Association caught my eye. The Student Designers section was a delight with the winner being The Labyrinth by Katie Hilford.

In my experience, garden shows are good for buying plants and tools and accessories that you find yourself persuaded to buy by spruiking salespersons – the ratchet loppers and pruners are a classic example. The best thing I ever got was a Japanese gardening tool that looks like something out of a Ninja’s arsenal. I still have it and it is invaluable for weeding and planting. This time I’m ashamed to say no gardening gizmos but fudge and cheap merino gear!

Other things I really liked were Craig Pocock’s 0800 POOL HIRE garden using dumpsters and mini skips, Bush Telly, Carl Pickens, Te Waipounamu Garden and City Self sufficiency with Lynda Hallinan.

Around town shops have been decorating their windows. I love the window display at Smiths Bookshop in New Regent Street.

Once the excitement is over there is time to go back to our libraries at your leisure and explore our wonderful gardening resources which will surely feed your inspiration. Books, DVDs and magazines on landscaping, growing, using and visiting gardens to delight.  Associated with Ellerslie is a programme of garden tours. If you can’t make the tours you can still savour many famous gardens through our library resources

Bargain hunters should turn up to the big plant sell off on Sunday at the end of the show.

Are you going to Ellerslie this year – do you have any particular displays you are keen to see?

Inspiring words entry #2

My second entry in the NZ Post  competition at http://www.inspiringwords.co.nz/. I’ll be posting a few entries this week – why not have a go yourself?

That joke summer
go on clouds pig
fly home.

Wednesday @ the festival

Today’s schedule of our coverage at the New Zealand Post Writers and Readers Week:

Please send questions and comments through – we’d love to hear from you!

Another way to find a good book

The Ultimate teen book guideReading book reviews is part of my daily routine, as I work in the team that selects stock for the Library Network.  (And yes, it is a great job!)  I need to be up to date with new titles and any trends in the publishing world, and reviewing journals enable  me to try to keep one step ahead.  

One of my favourite journals  is Good Reading.  Easy and interesting to read, it is published in Australia,  and includes most books that you will find in our bookshops.

What I enjoy most about Good Reading  is the input from readers who send in reviews.  As you can imagine the recommendations are eclectic and far-reaching, and give me an idea of what titles might become very popular, as well as and opportunity to find something for myself!

Good reading is also online, and the web page has links to a free e-newsletter, a blog and access to book titles that include reviews, first chapters and reading notes.  You can also subscribe to the magazine.

The library subscribes to other reviewing journals such as Booksellerand Publishers weekly, and like Good Reading, can also be borrowed.  Our Web pages are also full of ideas for finding great books.

Adventurous wanderings: the meaty matter of the contemporary novel

Writers on stageA literary map with a glossary would have been handy – that was how much ground was covered in the official opening session of the New Zealand Post Writers and Readers Week. I took more than 1000 words of keyboard shorthand notes while listening to Neil Cross, Gil Adamson, Kamila Shamsie and Audrey Niffenegger. Words like tropes and encultured flowed through my ears. None of the notes are much use, because as Neil Cross said: “It’s difficult to articulate without sounding like an arsehole”.

No-one fell into that category – quite the opposite. Kate de Goldi was super prepared and the conversation flowed easily. So what does the modern novel offer writers?

Gil Adamson said fun and the enjoyment of writing.  The Outlander, her first novel, was originally a poem spurred by an image of a young woman in black running as fast as she can. It became a ten-year process. “So it was a journey?,” chair Kate de Goldi asked. “No, it was a trial.” The fun came in writing the book sequentially, the discovery of the story along the way.

Neil Cross, who writes scripts and suspense thrillers, said the form changed depending on “who yelled at me on the phone last night”.

Scripts are constrained by the fact that you are spending other people’s money, he said, and the logistics of whether something can be filmed or not.

“In novel land, you can do whatever you like. I like to write so that reading becomes invisible. So people never have to get to the end of a sentence and go back and re-read.” He was still lost in Henry James, 25 years on.

Audrey Niffenegger said the novel was a “super practical” choice for what she was doing. The highest value was in originality – the form followed her creative need. Novels were also low cost and do-it-yourself. For Niffenegger novel school or writing classes were no use. Some of the audience winced.

Kamila Shamsie said the novel as a colonial form was not an issue, but the fact that she grew up reading novels in English about everywhere except where she grew up – Karachi – was. For her language was at the heart of the novel.

“I love plasticine words, anagrams, the sounds of words backwards. It’s a weirdness. You can extend it to your novels and pretend that there’s a reason for it.”

But genre was the casualty of the night – especially literary fiction. Audrey Niffenegger fired the first shot:

“Literary fiction is a genre called miscellaneous,” she said.

Neil Cross joined the attack:

“Literary fiction is fiction where if you don’t enjoy it, the author can say it’s your fault.”

Niffenegger again: “Wouldn’t it be neat if there was a bookstore arranged by grooviness? What if categories disappeared and you had to look at a different part of the bookstore? You might like it.”

Cross started nailing the lid on the coffin when he shared how he had tried to get publishers to visit real bookstores. They “almost detonated with terror”. Adamson didn’t like the literary label either, but wasn’t as harsh, saying that form was “a bit of a mosh pit”.

The discussion turned to place, and settings authors use. Cross wants readers to have a physical reaction to his books – just one more chapter before bed. To him all landscapes were psychological.

Nifennegger did “total immersion” cemetery research to help her graveyard setting be authentic and counterbalance the fantastical aspects of her novel. Shamsie got a sense of wild west freedom writing about the “extraordinary symphony” of Karachi in Cartography.

This was an unusual opening in that there were no readings – usually a staple at this kind of event. Yet somehow this made me more intrigued – I think I’ll read these authors with different eyes now I can see further through the forest of labels.

Overall it was an enthralling start, a brainful of adventurous wanderings. It was technical at times, but there was a singular clarity too: write the book you want to write.