Our sincere thanks to the New Zealand Post Writers and Readers Week organisers and media team for allowing us to be at this media conference. We appreciate it very much.
This is the full 25-minute conference. You’ll hear Neil and Amanda talk about being happy to be back together again, learn about the clothes Neil used in ‘that’ interview in the bath, hear about why Neil keeps in touch with fans so much, how he’s ‘banging the drum for libraries’, the duo’s own artistic collaboration, the writing process and more. Oh and yes, the wedding dress question.
There is some background noise and clicks and bumps and water being poured and even Amanda opening a mint. Enjoy!
Gaiman is an ardent library lover, and is about to be honorary chair of American National Library Week. Even in depressiony, recessiony times, he says, your library is still there …
Listen to Neil here:
Neil is in New Zealand with his rock star girlfriend, the genius Amanda Palmer who is touring New Zealand. She is playing at Al’s Bar in Christchurch on Tuesday 16 March. You’ve gotta love a woman who sings about Oasis, Guitar Hero and Leeds United, looks super hot at the Golden Globes – and graces the cover of Friday’s Press supplement!
Amanda is also working on a record called Amanda Palmer Down Under in which she’ll sing Oz and NZ related songs and collaborations.
Brilliant sunshine at the start of the day but by the time I surfaced enough to notice newcomers appeared to be wearing raincoats and carrying umbrellas it was indeed raining. It didn’t really matter because the Embassy Theatre has everything a festival-goer might need – coffee at the start of the day, wine at the end, a nice line in sandwiches and very lovely toilets.
The day began at 9.30 with a typical arts festival audience, the sort of people who come with the crossword neatly excised from the paper so they can diligently apply themselves during lulls in proceedings and who chatter in the queue about how much time being a friend of the opera takes (not too much apparently).
Geoff Dyer began the day in conversation with Emily Perkins and set a high standard of urbanity and wit. Do these guys learn it at University along with their accents? If Dyer were a website Perkins thought his tags would be travel, sex and ruins but that it was too early for the last two so they concentrated on travel. Coming from a family who preferred staying home and concreting the driveway to holidays Dyer travels but takes his habits with him wherever he is – around India with a kettle.
Glyn Maxwell was up next, a poet who has challenged the genre definitions by working as a novelist and playwright because if he only wrote poetry he would deal with it as many other have, “with a mixture of terror and booze.”
Then Geoff Dyer was back, joined by Philip Hoare to discuss the slippery question of creative non-fiction. As a young man in 1980s London, Hoare was obsessed with the equally decadent 1920s, and with Stephen Tennant, who straddled the two eras. He began with a biography of Tennant but when his birth to death biography of Noel Coward exhumed long-buried feuds to be worked out through him he became exhausted. It seemed objectivity was impossible and that it was more emotionally honest to put himself in the picture. Leviathan,or The Whale, Hoare’s latest book, combines personal memoir, a cause, research and literature and he admitted that this subject cannot leave him; he was in Kaikoura yesterday and was disarmingly enthusiastic about the experience.
And that was just the morning’s authors.
Some themes of the (half) day-
Genre busting, defying, and challenging – Geoff Dyer, Phillip Hoare and Glyn Maxwell aren’t sticking to biography, or fiction, or non-fiction, or poetry or anything other than what the subject demands.
World War One – Dyer, Hoare and Maxwell all had grandfathers who fought in the war and all talked about how the eclectic re-invention of history can tell us more than mere chronology.
Tone, structure and form are still important. For Dyer and Hoare, practitioners of the elusive genre known as creative non-fiction, it’s more difficult to structure without chronological scaffolding, things have to be arranged, distilled and edited until they become clear. For Maxwell the free verse poets like Plath and Hughes could only break free of pentameter and form because they knew a lot about formal verse.
Last night Dawkins spoke to a packed auditorium of 2,500 (apparently a last ticket sold on Trade Me yesterday for $132 – though I know of at least one student who snuck in for free). It was an audience of mainly supporters – Dawkins received a standing ovation at the end – and there was almost nothing in the way of heckling. Outside there were a few protestors and the handing out of a “special” edition of the Origin of Species with a “Creationist” introduction.
Dawkins was amusing and informative covering chemistry, biology, plate tectonics, and even tried answering a question on quantum physics before good-humouredly admitting defeat. His subject was the chance events that brought us here; from living in a universe in which planets exist, from the chance event that allowed life to begin on Earth, to the good luck of each of our ancestors surviving and having offspring, to the chance meeting of the particular sperm and egg that made us.
He then suggested that our desire to want to give gratitude for our good luck was an evolutionary hang over from the time our ancestors lived in small social groups and kept account of who owed who what before the invention of money. Thus, feeling gratitude was a good way of remembering who was nice and who was not. Being able to do this improved the fitness of individuals as they would “do better” in their dealings with others and pass on their “gratitude” genes to their offspring.
Although, Dawkins was speaking about his book the Greatest Show on Earth much of the audience were there to hear his views purported in the more controversial The God Delusion. Yet his answer on how to reverse the apparent decline in rational thinking and belief in omnipotent beings was: more religious education! But an education that teaches about all the different world religions and philosophies rather than one that indoctrinates into a particular version.
Despite Dawkins desire to educate the young, I was particularly struck by the advanced age of the audience, there were some university students, many middle-aged, and a surprisingly (to me anyway) large number of older adults too. What was missing were the younger generation – it seemed no one had thought to bring along their interested teenager (Perhaps there are no interested teenagers). Yet, Dawkins would be a wonderful and easy introduction for a bright teen to evolution, rational argument and how scientists think. Some other good titles for the teen (or adult) who just might be interested in science:
That was a two-part question from the floor at last night’s New Zealand Post Writers and Readers Week session with ethical philospher Peter Singer.
The answer? Yes and no.
Yes, Dawkins fails – he eats meat. And even though the equally rationalist Peter Singer had directly asked Dawkins to stop – and taken him to Blossom, one of the best vegan restaurants in the world to prove he could eat well as a vegan – Dawkins has not changed his mind. Singer said he regretted that, but couldn’t condemn Dawkins for it.
The packed out Embassy Theatre audience – many of whom had seen Dawkins the previous night – listened attentively and enthusiastically to this heavy discussion. Singer laid out many of his arguments in a clear and calm manner – but that didn’t stop some of them being quite challenging.
But however radical Singers’ ideas, you have to give the man credit for living his ideals – about a quarter of his income is given away and he seemed genuine in his efforts to think of others in all he does. Any situation, approached from an ethical perspective, should give equal consideration to the interests of all those affected and Singer seems to back up thought with deed. He described himself as a “preference utilitarian”. That is he seeks satisfaction of preferences and to minimise denial of preferences
One questioner asked if his friend Tom was right to be giving up non-essential air travel. Others asked why you’d end the life of a cabbage over that of a chicken, and whether it was better to be a depressed human or a happy pig (or something like that).
And that’s the trouble isn’t it? We want simple answers based on a series of keywords. Singer’s session proved we’re a long way from that yet.
Doesn’t midnight give you wonderful dreams my love
Dive in water fly close to boiling rain clouds
Be not hopeless of mood,
The sky burns on,
It shall go dark.
Receive that simple sunrise,
A rare letter home
I like Tim Burton‘s style. Big Fish is one of my all time favourite films. And even though I’m not a big fan of musicals, I could appreciate the grim artistry of Sweeney Todd. That’s the thing about Tim Burton – some of his movies may not be that great overall (I cringed at his remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), but you have to respect the guy for his bold vision. So when I heard Tim Burton was taking Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland and making it his own, I was looking forward to seeing the result.
But then I read a bad review. Correction: it wasn’t bad, it was scathing.
[Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is] the kind of film that you don’t just dislike or even hate, but one that your body physically rejects like a dodgy organ transplant. (from review)
Suddenly I wasn’t in such a hurry to get to the cinema. And it got me thinking about the power of reviews. What someone says about a film/book/album (or anything else one may have an opinion on for that matter) can greatly influence your own interest in that thing. I’m not just talking about the reviews you read in the paper or online or hear on the radio or TV either. The trusted opinion of a friend is likely to be even more persuasive than that of an unknown critic.
What books or films or music have you got into because of a good review? What have you avoided because of a bad review?
No matter if the review is good or bad, though, it is still publicity. And as the saying goes: “Any publicity is good publicity”. Indeed, Tim Burton may make money out of me yet. Call it morbid curiosity, but part of me still wants to see Alice in Wonderland just to know what everyone is complaining about. There is also another part of me that wants the opportunity to make up my own mind. While others may not have liked the film, I might love it. By choosing not to watch the movie, I could be missing out on something potentially wonderful (excuse the pun).
Which leads me to a very important question: What have you read/watched/listened to and enjoyed even though you were advised against it? Or absolutely despised, while everyone else raved?
Have you seen Alice in Wonderland yet? If so, what did you think? Is it worth paying a small fortune to see in 3D at the cinema, or should I wait until it comes out on DVD, or steer clear of it altogether?