You learn a lot at a festival – and not just about the authors either. For starters you learn which of your colleagues can pack away two Eggs Benedict at breakfast and who is the really fleet-of-foot team mate who gets lost in a crowded room if you take your eyes off her for even a second. But it is also true that you discover a whole slew of writers you’d never even heard of before. My reading “find” of this Auckland Writers and Readers Festival has to be Charlotte Wood.
Charlotte Wood is a rising star of Australian fiction. I attended the festival event “An Hour with Charlotte Wood” having read only one of her books: Animal People. Suffice it to say that I will now be reading all her novels. She is one very observant, highly intelligent lady. What I noticed in particular is that she thinks carefully before answering any question put to her. She does not do glib.
Animal People takes one of the characters (Stephen) from her previous novel The Children and follows him over a single day in his life. Wood found using this twenty-four hour time span a useful device which she likened to a “mini ticking bomb”. Stephen is like a 39 year old adolescent. You know the type, you will have dated them, you may even have married one. He has family issues – it’s not that he is estranged from his family, but he is evasive. The big question for Stephen is:
Stephen has an awful day in which he sets out to break-up with his lovely girlfriend. His whole day degenerates into a series of “trapped and escaping” events. He seems to be in some kind of crisis:
He’s having a meltdown – an internal collapse that no-one else can see.
Maybe this doesn’t sound like fun to you, but in Wood’s hands it is. She is so perceptive and so humourous. I left the event and quickly bought The Children, stood in the long signing queue and gushed when I got to her: “You are my find of the fest. I loved Animal People and I want to love this book too!”
“No pressure then” she said, signing with a flourish and a smile.