Nic Low: WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival

WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival kicks off on 27 August. We’ve asked three quick questions of festival guests:

Nic Low – author and artist

Cover of Peace, power, and politicsWhat (or who) are you most looking forward to at WORD Christchurch?

I grew up in Christchurch in the 80s. I have great memories of my parents taking us to Peace Group in a church hall. We’d paint anti-nuclear banners and learn protest songs (accompanied, badly, on a ukulele) and have a damn good time. So what I’m most looking forward to is the People Power session with Nicky Hager and Maire Leadbeater, talking about the history of New Zealand’s nuclear free movement. I live in Australia and travel overseas a fair bit, and I often talk about our nuclear-free status as an example of Why New Zealand Is Awesome. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of about being a kiwi. It’s also one of the reasons why my stories in Arms Race are about mischievous political shenanigans.

What do you think about libraries?

I’m obsessed! As a kid I probably borrowed and read 75% of the books in the kids and YA sections of the Christchurch Public Library. I lived in libraries while doing both undergrad and postgrad. The 11th floor of the UC library is my favourite: having a view of mountains while being surrounded by books remains a lifelong goal. In Melbourne I do my daily writing beneath the State Library of Victoria’s magnificent vaulted dome. And in 2012-2013 I created my own library – hundreds of books packed into six hand-made travelling cases that transform into book cases – and toured them 2000km across India by train. That project was a roving writers festival called The Bookwallah, and you can learn more about it during the opening Pecha Kucha night.

Cover of Arms RaceShare a surprising fact about yourself.

A lot of my ideas for short stories seem to come from … tramping trips. There’s something about being in the mountains, often with my brother Tim, that gets the imagination going.The closing story in Arms Race, ‘The Culler’, came from a mid-winter trip into the Lewis Pass back country. There’d been heavy snow – the Lewis Pass road was snowed in for two weeks – and the beech forest had been shattered. The tracks were impassable with fallen limbs. We spent five or six days wading in the rivers instead, and along the way we stayed in a tiny hand-hewn shelter called Slaty Creek Hut.

The ground outside was a boneyard of deer jaws and teeth. Sitting by the fire, my brother and I got talking about the cullers and hunters who escaped society to live and work from huts like this after WWII. We chatted about the mountain radio service, and imagined what it’d be like living in total frozen isolation, and getting news reports about major world events. What would it be like spending your days hunting among the moonscapes of the Alps, then getting word that the Americans had put a man on the moon? What if you actually met a party of Americans in those mountains, carrying a flag and a movie camera … ?

Now I know how much tramping seems to fire my imagination, my second book is all about the mountains. It’s an imaginative history of the Southern Alps, told through eight crossings of the mountains on foot. It’s called Eight Passes and it’s out with Text in 2016.

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