Wonderful things – an AWRF session with David Veart

You only get one go at life – you might as well do something you love …

Festivals, like life, are all about choices.  Should I turn left or right; become a librarian or an astronaut; eat sushi or icecream; stay for this session or head to that …

Today, I stayed.  It was a tough choice: I had thought I would catch Emily Rodda, but I will also be seeing her tomorrow, and given that I spent a large part of my pre-teen years thinking I would be a famous Egyptologist in the manner of Howard Carter (without the vengeful mummy curses, obviously), I figured a bit of a look-in at the Schools Programme session with New Zealand’s very own answer to Indiana Jones might be interesting.  This last-minute change of plan thing can be fraught with peril sometimes, particularly if you haven’t read the book, but today I scored bigtime.

When he was 10 years old, David Veart got sick, and ended up having to stay in bed for three months – as often happened in those days.  In the end, all he could do was read, so he did, and eventually there was nothing left to read.  Then one day his father appeared with a book.  David showed us a picture of the front of that book, and believe me, looking at that cover kids these days would have to be pretty desperate to even consider it … Called Gods, Graves and Scholars: the story of archaeology, it was exactly what it seemed to be.  The chapter that set the tone for the rest of David’s life (with a couple of detours through lawyering and teaching) was the now-famous story of Howard Carter and the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun.  I remember reading that story myself – Lord Carnarvon and Carter, the poor Egyptian village, the steps down into the rubble, clearing away the layers, and finally breaking through to find a wall, Carnarvon’s impatient question – Well, can you see anything? And Carter’s eventual, spine-tingling reply, “Yes, wonderful things!”

The difference between David Veart and, say, me is that I thought I knew that you simply can’t be an archaeologist in New Zealand.  We are too young.  And everything cool has been found.  Not true, says David: New Zealand is also full of ‘wonderful things’.  And he spent the rest of the session telling us about the wonderful things.  There was a funny and clever story in the middle of the session about a guy called William Rathje, who uses traditional archaeology methods and theories to study modern society (ie. rubbish dumps and other people’s wheelie bins), and some talk about how much of archaeology is “sitting, looking and thinking”.

It wasn’t so much a slideshow of stuff, however, as a truly inspiring way of thinking about our land, and our responsibilities.  Using a series of photos as an illustration of how modern-day archaeology works (with enough technological toys to keep the innovators as well as the traditionalists happy), David took us through the steps and in the process left me, at least, with one of those perspective shifts that are truly the best result of unexpected choices made:

We’re the last ones – we who came to New Zealand have travelled further than anyone else, later than anyone else, to the last place on earth that could be settled.  And because of this, we are the only ones on earth who can still find and study the first ones, our first people …

You never know what’s under your feet.

A winner of a session for me, and all because I chose to just sit still.  I hope the kids got as much out of it as I did!

Number ones, number twos, and horribly educational stories

Book-signing with Eoin Colfer
Eoin (and Oliver Jeffers in the background) signing books

The auditorium is full, the lights are dim, there’s an amazing hanging giant electric blue artwork above the stage, and a goodie bag on every seat.  JUST like a fashion show, if the audience all wore the same thing, and actually SHOWED their excitement.  This first session of the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival Schools Programme is a standout success for these kids already.  And when, with very little fanfare, the star wanders out on stage and starts talking, our joy is complete.

Eoin Colfer (“It’s pronounced Owen” – more on this later during the interview that will follow the session) is a master storyteller, not just on paper, but also on stage, and it quickly becomes clear that he’s here to tell stories.  If you are searching for deep and mysterious nuggets of truth about the multi-layered complexities of the craft of writing, you are out of luck.  If, instead, you want to hear “horrible educational stories” about families, teenagers, revenge, big and little brothers, and poos and wees (can I write this in a blog? yes, I can – it’s Festival-week), you are in for the time of your life.

If you still needed an excuse to listen to this session, you could say that Mr Colfer is answering that most awful of all questions, Where do you get your inspiration?  By the time he’s halfway through his first story, however, no-one cares why he’s talking, they just don’t want him to stop.  The row in front of me is full of 9 year old boys (I know because Eoin asked if there were any 9 year olds here, and they all leaped about wildly waving their arms, as if being 9 was something particularly difficult that only they had successfully achieved), and they are spellbound.

We get to hear about Eoin’s own family first – he utters a warning:  this first story is set in a horrible time in the history of the world – the 1970’s.  There’s a frightening tale involving the lack of that device known to us as a TV Remote Control, four older brothers armed with a variety of missiles, and one baby brother whose only purpose in the world was to lie on the floor and change the channel every time something was thrown at him. Then more stories about the three youngest ones (he’s second of five boys) – described as three little gollums who seemed to spend their entire childhood dressed in nothing but an assortment of undies, unable to use any words but nouns, and who SEEM to have been so unbearable to live with that Eoin said the only way he’s coped with it all is to become a writer so he could put them all in stories and then kill each of them off in unspeakable ways, at least once a year for each brother. The eldest brother gets a kinder mention – he is the inspiration for Eoin’s most famous creation evil boy genius Artemis Fowl, and is apparently okay with this.

There are popsicles and boogers, number ones and number twos, attics and ambushes, a description (from the years spent as a teacher) of boys being “anti-learning ninjas”, a tale about a visit to a French urinal involving volcanoes, astroturf, aliens and an elderly French gentleman, and finally the audience questions. A mixed bag this time for questions, but some of the highlights for me were these:

  • the final Artemis book – possible name (in order to sell as many copies as possible, you understand) to be called Artemis Fowl and the philosopher’s goblet of azkhaban, and to be set in Phoenix at twilight.
  • a crime series for grown-ups, following on from the success of Plugged (which I loved, go find it in the library please – adults only, mind you)
  • new kids’ series called WARP – Witness Anonymous Relocation Programme, involving the use of time travel to hide witnesses to crimes – like the FBI, but much cooler
  • Eoin’s inspirations – great time to be a reader, H Potter, Hunger Games (roar of approval from the bloodthirsty audience here), not Twilight (another roar of approval – interesting …), but also older stuff – Mark Twain etc
  • One book to rule them all?  has to be The Princess Bride (I tell you, could this man be any greater?)

And his final words –

 don’t ever restrict yourself by saying you will only read one type of book, but instead read whenever and wherever and whatever you can because it can only make you much more smarter.

The first day of school

Kids queueing in the foyer AWRF2012Day One of the Schools Programme at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, and I am sitting in the foyer of the Aotea Centre, watching small groups of damp schoolchildren come hurtling through the door.

There’s something about rain and the way it interacts with young brains that makes this particularly enjoyable, not least because I have no responsibility over getting thousands of kids and their minders seated and quiet and keeping them there.

The walk up Queen Street this morning was both odd and enjoyable – I have SUCH a bad case of CBD envy, and last year’s fear of tall buildings and rumbly traffic noises is completely gone, thank goodness. It’s also a real treat to see so many people all in one place and all going about their business.

The twitter wall is back at the Festival (we’ll try to keep an eye on this and post some of the more memorable tweets that might come through, or you can follow them yourself #AWRF2012), and I am also watching the booksale table get some good patronage, which is lovely to see. All over the building, kids are collecting in long lines for the big stuff, and in tiny workshops for the lucky few.

In a few minutes I am off to a sellout session with Eoin Colfer, whom I talked a bit about in yesterday’s blog, followed by an interview with Eoin, then a session featuring either Aussie fantasy writer Emily Rodda, or New Zealand’s answer to Indiana Jones, David Veart. This is just a five minute write-up, and they are calling the kids into the auditorium, so I’ll be off now, and will see you all on the other side!

‘If I had a Tardis, I’d go to the Maori Community Centre’ – Cool stuff for NZ Music Month #4

Cover There are some choice New Zealand music books. One  notable recent titles is Blue Smoke: The Lost Dawn of New Zealand Popular Music, 1918-1964 by Chris Bourke. It won Book of the year in the 2011 New Zealand Post Book Awards.

Blue Smoke delves into the days of the dance-band. In an interview in The Listener, Bourke talks about this time:

‘There are these guys I just wish I’d seen,” Bourke says of the musicians he’s brought to life. “There are so many of them that I missed out on.”  It’s a wish the reader comes to share, thanks not only to Bourke’s evocation of the various musical scenes, but also to the many archive pictures he tracked down for the book, from Walter Smith’s Jazz Band in 1927 to Ans Westra’s 1962 photographs of dancers at Auckland’s Maori Community Centre (“If I had a Tardis, I’d go to the Maori Community Centre,” says Bourke).


Search our catalogue for:

More NZ Music Month stuff:

To Auckland, with love

CoverThe Auckland Writers and Readers Festival is nearing kick-offf time. There’s been a bit of a hoo ha about Michael Hastings cancelling his visit, but this is a mere hiccup in the scheme of things as more tickets have been released in response to heavy demand.

Roberta is looking forward to hearing A.D. Miller talk about Snowdrops, and the new Russia it explores:

a land of hedonism and desperation, corruption and kindness, magical dachas and debauched nightclubs; a place where secrets – and corpses – come to light only when the deep snows start to thaw …

CoverThere is lots more to come from the Festival. Gird your literary loins!