At the 2011 Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, I attended a fascinating session (chaired very ably by Carole Beu), listening to three women writers from the south who have published books in the last year – all with the theme of outsiders.
Carole entreated the audience to believe that Laurence Fearnley, Charlotte Randall and Emma Neale are some of the best writers in the world, and to go out and tell everybody else the same thing. She is certain that they will all feature in upcoming book awards this year.
All three authors are approachable, likeable and intelligent speakers. Laurence Fearnley’s book The Hut Builder is about Boden, a small town butcher’s son who also writes poetry. He’s an introverted character who tagged along with a group of people he knew from school and constructed a tramping hut in the mountains near Mt Cook in the 1950s. Near the end of the trip, he climbed to the summit of Mt Cook with famous mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary.
Laurence donned a black beanie to help set the scene when reading an excerpt from the book, where young Boden sees the Mackenzie Basin in winter for the first time. He sees the dog with him leaping through snow ‘like a dolphin surfing waves’ and ‘walking on a field of stars’ and is moved to compose his first poem in his head.
Charlotte Randall is witty and forthright. She showed a photo of the Canterbury Gold Escort, taken at 9am 4th December 1865. Uniformed and armed men who rode on horseback, escorting gold from the West Coast to Canterbury. This photo was her inspiration for Hokitika Town, set in 1865, and tells the story of Halfie, a mixed race Maori/Pakeha boy who tells his story in a strange patois that he has picked up from the multi-national inhabitants of the goldfields.
Emma Neale has precise, clear diction and told the story of Boo, the 7ft tall ‘man’ covered in a pelt ‘like the feathers on a Golden Retriever’s tail’ who was discovered in a forest. He is the main protagonist in her latest novel Fosterling. She writes beautifully and there were many examples of metaphorical brilliance, my favourite being ‘he watched a wood pigeon that had a breast as stout as a cream jug’.
All three writers preferred to twist their non-fiction research to fit the story that they wanted to tell. Laurence Fearnley said that she always began her work with a single image in her mind, and went from there. Charlotte Randall said she only writes about what interests her, and that that changes all the time. Emma Neale has young children and is particularly affected by the thought of them going out into the world, and coping on their own.
So wish I had been there to listen to these three talk about their writing, it sounds like a fantastic session. And I love the last paragraph of this post, about the motivation for their work.