The Quotable Auckland Writers Festival

Here are some of favourite quotes which I managed to write down during the Auckland Writers Festival. I was struggling to rank them in a list from best to awesome, but you can judge them according to your own taste and preference.

“Reality is a bit more than we think it is.” Ben Okri

“The only limit with your story is imagination.” David Walliams

“If people read their authors, it’s their richness.” Ben Okri

“My stories are always unpredictable to myself” Haruki Murakami

“You feel like a magician when you write.” David Walliams

“I’m writing books for my people, not for my country.” Haruki Murakami

“Good thing is that people are writing books about what we’re doing wrong.” Charlotte Grimshaw

“I like the audience to have their view of the songs.” Hollie Fullbrook

“It is important to try and inspire those ones who don’t read, to read.” David Walliams

“Truth can hurt, but not knowing can hurt more.” Alan Cumming

“Curiosity is willingness to step in somebody else’s shoes.” Atul Gawande

“We don’t love our past enough to bring it into our present.” Aroha Harris

“History is one of the most powerful colonizing tools available. Especially if you are writing it from your point of view as a hero.” Aroha Harris

“More knowledge from parents to children.” Xinran

“We are in an age, when a move from home is a mythic experience.” Anna Smaill

“Everyone has an amazing story to tell.” David Walliams

“Remain yourself. Your experience is the most interesting. Be what you are.” Alan Cumming

“Hearts get broken over the breakfast table.” Anton Chekhov (only present in spirit and quoted by Hollie Fullbrook).

“You should always have a picture of a 100% boy, even when you have 78% husband.” Haruki Murakami

What I realized transcribing these quotes is that some of them are deeply embedded in the context of writer’s work or their life experience. But what makes them so beautiful is their universality. Everyone can interpret them in their own way.

8 reasons to visit Writers Festivals

It is hard to believe that my three days of booky awesomeness are over. Being part of the library team visiting Auckland Writers Festival, it felt like living in a bubble of joy and excitement for a few days. When I felt it couldn’t get better, it did!

Here is a list of reasons why you – I believe you must be a passionate reader, if you have come across this blog – should not miss out on the next booky event:  AWF

  1. An inspiring amount of people come to the same place to listen and talk about books, reading and writing. It is amazing to be part of such passionate and versatile crowd that vibrates in chords of harmony.
  2. A day at the festival exists of librarian’s favourite things: listening to authors, reading, writing, sleeping and eating. OK, I admit – buying books as well.
  3. Patient queues. Never in my life have I experienced such patient and polite queue-ers! Queues start to form 45 minutes before the event. It is great to see people connecting and conversing about books and sessions they’ve seen. Queuing is a great way to catch up with the content of sessions you were not able to attend or just to meet lovely people (It is also a perfect time to tweet or post on Facebook as audience is not allowed to use the devices during some of the sessions).
  4. Kids. Excited kids. Kids excited about books. Tons of them! As a librarian I started to feel hopeful about this planet’s future when I saw hundreds and hundreds of kids and their parents pouring into the festival venue to listen to their favourite authors and patiently queueing for more than 2 hours (!) to get their books signed. Never mind parents spending their wages to buy their little ones more books! Certainly a memory to hold on to, it will come handy next time I have my dark day.
  5. Extremely patient and helpful staff. Working in public service myself, I deeply admire these people’s patience and friendliness. I imagine there were moments, when – if being one of them – I would have happily hid in the toilets and pretended I’m not there.
  6. Paper bags! Paper bags at the book sellers. My level of serotonin increased by double, when I realized those paper bags people are carrying around contain newly bought books. That’s the way to go, people!
  7. Law of attraction. Being in the same place as so many other people you admire and are there to listen too, seems to attract some sort of good energy. One moment, they are on the stage, next moment, they are in the crowd and you can be sitting right next to them. Law of attraction surely does the magic during the festival. I must have been destined to meet Xinran. First, I was sitting next to her on the plane to Auckland and also bumped into her after the festival in the restaurant. She left me speechless – her genuineness and humbleness are admirable. She hugged me before saying goodbye. It felt so natural.
  8. Last but most obvious reason – authors. Amazing humble giants! You don’t have to read all of their books to see how amazing they are. You can just listen and let yourself be charmed. Again. And again. And again …

Locked and loaded for the Zombie Apocalypse

Cover of Zombie SurvivalIt’s Zombie Awareness Month. Do you know where your cricket bat/lawnmower/blunt object of choice is?

No, but seriously, it IS zombie awareness month. What’s more, it’s nearly over and I haven’t even revised my evacuation plan or topped up the first aid kit in case of the Zombie Apocalypse. I deserve to get my brains munched, frankly.

But fear not! For your library is practically overflowing with zombie-related reading and viewing. So here are my picks of the best of the shambling undead.

Watch

Better check out some fight sequences and bone up on your best zombie combat moves –

  • The Walking Dead – We’re between seasons with everyone’s favourite zombie horror TV series, but why not got back and rewatch the first season before Rick went feral and facial hair took over his face? You know, back when the post-apocalyptic world was a kinder, gentler, better groomed place.
  • Warm BodiesCover of Warm bodies – A zombie as a romantic lead? Seems a bit unlikely but that’s the premise of this film starring Nicholas Hoult of TV show Skins.
  • World War Z – Where the zombies are fast and really good at climbing, the little monkeys. But are they a match for Brad Pitt in “action” mode? Well, they give it a good try at least…
  • I am Legend – Not technically zombies because they’re not dead (much like the ones in World War Z) but if you spend time quibbling about such distinctions during the apocalypse you’ll likely become someone’s afternoon tea, so just enjoy the ride (and make note of Will Smith’s survival skills and strategies).
  • Shaun of the dead (we’ve got this as a double-DVD combo with Hot Fuzz). Just the rom-zom-com to lighten the mood a touch.

Read

Board up the windows and hunker down with some reading material –

Make

No actual zombies around just at the moment? Make your own with the following crafty titles –

I think you’ll agree that’s plenty to be getting on with, but if you’ve got an hot tips for zombie reading or preparedness please do make suggestions.

History’s Shadow and the Life Beyond

How do you make the past come alive? How do you make the future real? Two reading sessions at the Auckland Writers Festival brought authors together to see how they answered these questions.

History shapes our behaviour, our culture, our landscape and stories. Four authors took the stage to showcase work that uses recent history as a backdrop for their novels and poetry.

Airini Beautrais, from New Zealand, was up first with a collection of poems from her unique Cover of 'Dear Neil Roberts' by Airini Beautraisperspective on life. She is interested in what parts of history we (as a culture, as individuals) remember, and why we remember events the way that we do, and the difference in remembering events that support the state and those that go against it. She wrote about Neil Roberts, a ‘punk rock anarchist’ and suicide bomber who detonated a bomb at the Wanganui Police Computer Centre in 1982. She was deeply discomforted by this story which led her to keep examining it through her poetry book Dear Neil Roberts.

Cover of The Impossible Knife of MemoryLaurie Halse Anderson, highly acclaimed young adult author from the United States, read from her latest book The Impossible Knife of Memory. Laurie had been speaking at the schools programme earlier in the week and praised the high quality and thoughtful questions that she’d received from New Zealand teenagers.

“We stumbled through those years badly,” she said, speaking about her father’s post traumatic stress and alcoholism after he returned from World War II, specifically the horrors of Dachau. She drew on these experiences when she found out that there were over 22 million living veterans in the United States, and The Impossible Knife of Memory explores what effects war and trauma can have on a family. She also drew inspiration from the Odyssey, saying that “the story of veterans coming home has been part of our culture as long as we have been making love or war.”

She read three sections, two from the point of view of a veteran and one from his teenage daughter, Hayley. “There is a bit of a love story for Hayley,” she explained, before reading. “Hope is the only thing that balances life out for anybody.”

Cover of 'In the light of what we know'Next up was Zia Haider Rahman, from Bangladesh, reading from his debut book In the Light of What We Know which is a fantastic title. He began by reading quotes from the beginning that set the tone for a story of exile and loss, then carried on with readings from his complex, glorious novel. It’s a story that sets out of explore the past decade, including the war in Afghanistan, and pulls together stories from all over the world: Kabul, London, New York, Islamabad, Oxford, Princeton, and Sylhet, covering such a broad range of subjects from love, philosophy, identity, finance, mathematics, cognitive science, to literature, and war.

Cover of 'Shifting Colours'Finally we had Fiona Sussman from South Africa, reading from her debut novel Shifting Colours. Fiona trained as a doctor, and helped set up the Auckland Charity Hospital. Shifting Colours is set in South Africa during apartheid and late twentieth century Britain, and the section she read sets up the scene for a heart-rending decision that a mother has to make about the life of her daughter.

Later on in the festival, we took a sharp step forward in time as another four great writers stepped up to talk about their visions of the future. They’re not easy futures, many of them are disquieting, but all show fantastic imagination.

Cover of 'MiStory'Philip Temple, another Kiwi author, got things started. Phillip has won a range of awards and writes extensively over fiction and non fiction. He read from his new book MiStory, his tenth novel. Set in Dunedin in the near future, it’s bleak, and it presses how important it is that we do something to save ourselves now. The book tackles climate change, dire economic circumstances, pandemics, government surveillance and more. It sounds like a great story, told in diary form, of an ordinary Kiwi bloke trying to make sense of his damaged world.

Cover of 'The Chimes'Anna Smaill published her first novel The Chimes to great acclaim and excellent reviews. Set in future London, in a time where people have lost language and memory, this novel tells the story of the main character Simon piecing his life together.

Anna had studied music and is a skilled violinist, and her familiarity with music came through in the lyrical way her story is put together. It’s also one of the most gorgeous covers I’ve seen this festival!

Cover of 'The Disestablishment of Paradise'Next we took a journey through time and into space, with sci-fi star Phillip Mann as he read from his first book since 1996, The Disestablishment of Paradise (with the charming subtitle ‘A novel in five parts plus documents‘.) It’s described as an ecological sci-fi thriller, set on Paradise, which is a “very nice planet… but visitors are very disturbed by it.”

“Paradise,” Phillip said, as he set the scene for his reading “is going rogue.”

Cover of 'Station Eleven'And finally one of my favourite new discoveries from this festival, Emily St John Mandel read from Station Eleven, her literary, post-apocalyptic, Shakespeare-studded, not-quite-horror. Not-quite-anything, really, as the novel refuses to fall neatly into any one genre. Twenty years after a strain of the flu wipes out most of the human population, we join a band of travelling Shakespearian actors and musicians as they tour from one pocket of humanity to the next.

Read:

Satirists at large – Steve Braunias and David Slack

Writer and editor Stephen Stratford (@stephenstra) (blogging at Quote Unquote) joined two of Aotearoa’s top satirists to discuss satirical writing at the Auckland Writers Festival. The aforementioned satirists:

And what a sharp-witted triumvirate they were.  Stephen kicked off with a great potted history of satire – Juvenal, Jonathan Swift, Private Eye, The Thick of it – into New Zealand’s own history – John Clarke,  A week of it – McPhail, Gadsby, A. K. Grant, Chris McVeigh (in the audience apparently).

He riffs a bit more:

Steve Braunias is the finest satirist Mount Maunganui has ever produced.

And not only that:

Fielding is the epicentre of New Zealand satire.

Steve Braunias explains his Secret Diairies. They have an inbuilt narrative:

I regard them rather pretentiously as motifs.

How do they choose their victims? David Slack says you don’t punch down, you punch up:

Who’s asking for it? Who apart from John Key?

Discussion turns to left wing /right wing satire, and Braunias wryly imagines:

Bomber Bradbury but with nuance and jokes, or Chris Trotter with a laugh track.

Cover of Madmen Cover of Smoking in Antarctica Cover of Fish of the week Cover of Civilisation

How do people respond to having the mickey taken? Unexpectedly well sometimes. David Slack ended up getting some work from Gareth Morgan:

Sometimes satire is a sort of LinkedIn thing.

and at the Beehive:

Every minister’s office is full of cartoons of themself.

We gained insight into writing satire. Steve spoke of:

long slow lugubrious magic … I don’t have a first draft, every line is written one line after the other.

There were SO MANY cracking anecdotes in this session – complaining letters from Judith Collin’s family, a tattoo of Paul Holmes,  upsetting Julian Assange, giving it but not being able to take it …

And as a finale, a well-deserved award for Steve:

Top stuff, satirists. As you were.

Ben Okri: “Reality is a bit more than what we think it is.”

“4am is a good sport.” says Ben Okri apropos Murakami’s no alarm clock early risings. “I have my best dreams at 4am,” he adds.

Time stretches and brims over the edges of yet another unforgettable afternoon at Auckland Writers Festival. This time the magician is Ben Okri, author of eight novels as well as collections of poetry, short stories and essays. He has won many international prizes, including the Man Booker Prize for The Famished Road in 1991. His work has been translated into over 20 languages. Okri is often described as one of Africa’s leading writers. He was born in Nigeria but lives in London. And if you are still wondering – he gets up between 7 and 8.

Cover of The Famished Road      Cover of Starbook     In Arcadia     Infinite Riches

He is in New Zealand to talk about his work and latest book The Age of Magic. Each book explores a particular universe, he believes, and his last one talks about evil and fame, but also – like most of his books – the reality, which resonates magic in its deeper tissue.

The latest book nests many silences, pauses, gaps, spaces. The book as a page-turning machine is not Ben’s notion. Books are about the mood, the internal journey:

“Reading is not about the book, it is about reader’s mind, mood, heart, history.”

Ben talks about the leitmotiv of his work – comprehension of reality and relativity of what we perceive as real. Unexplainable coincidences, perceptions of each other, time as emotional construct, evanescence of dreams, (in)capability of our senses, configuration of reality through our consciousness – what intrigues him in life, finds a form and a voice in his work.

His writing is often associated with magical realism, but Okri prefers to avoid this categorisation. “What you find in One Hundred Years of Solitude, you will never find in my novels.” When a possible connection between his works and the world of myth is suggested from a listener in the audience, his reaction is dubious yet indicative: “I love those myths where bird turns into a fish – that’s how I want to write.” But he is more interested in the quiet magic of life itself and he describes his work as “extraordinary things, happening on the page with internal logic.”

First page of The Age of Magic with dedication and signature
First page of Okri’s latest book – with his own dedication and signature!

Ben is convinced that reality is a bit more than we think and while (con)figuring it, we are not employing all the senses we could. Our relationship with reality works like a boomerang effect: what we put out, seems to come back.

Our perception and understanding of reality stems from what we are taught in early years. “We teach our children, what reality is. When you’re young you just see, what you see, you are not told, what reality is.” Ben refers to endless childhood afternoons, when time did not yet exist and reminds us how time slows down, when we are in special emotional states: “Time runs differently if you are on your way to the dentist or if you are about to meet your loved one.” It bends, stretches and expands according to our emotions.

Ben generously stretches the time of his session – he steps to the edge of the stage and amplifies the magic that we have just bathed in – he thanks us. His gratefulness to be in Aotearoa shines from his face:

“New Zealand is myth-infested land. Stories pop up everywhere.”

I could not agree more, Ben!

If you like stretching time by reading long novels, check out Ben’s Man Booker Prize Winner The Famished Road, Songs of Enchantment and Infinite Riches.  If you prefer something shorter, go for Tales of Freedom. And if you are a poetry junkie, make sure to read some of Ben’s poems on his website.

Family Matters at the Auckland Writers Festival

One reason I think family history is so important is how strongly it can connect us with recent events. It’s quite a human way of making history personal; somehow it’s easier (and perhaps a little narcissistically so) to feel a connection to something, a war, a diaspora, if that’s part of the story of where you came from.

Family Matters was a sold out session at the Auckland Writers Festival that welcomed the audience into a troubled past, made so real, and so close, by two incredible authors and the stories of their families’ survival.

Cover of 'Give us this day'Helena Wiśniewska Brow is the daughter of one of the Polish evacuees who came to New Zealand in 1944, and her book Give Us This Day: A Memoir of Family and Exile tells her father’s story alongside her own as she tries to find meaning from this exile.

Daniel Mendelsohn has won international awards for his book with this chilling title of The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, which tells Daniel’s story of uncovering the true story of the six family members that were lost during the Holocaust. While he was growing up, his older family members did not talk much about their lost relatives, and over the years his curiosity grew stronger and stronger about this ‘submerged continent’ of his own family mystery.

Cover of 'The Lost: a search for six of six million'The two books run parallel to each other, though the stories of their families during the Second World War are very different.

Daniel spoke of the danger that true events get buried under statistics and clichés as time passes. The horrors of the Holocaust are difficult to comprehend, but to try and understand them by looking only at the numbers is wrong. To understand, Daniel wanted to find the true, specific stories of both the victims and the survivors.

“We have an ethical duty to restore to these people their own specificity.”

Daniel feels allergic to symbols, because “no one is symbolisable.” So many people died in so many different ways; the stories of one concentration camp cannot represent them all. He felt it was vitally important not to let these stories slip away, and as he interviewed the twelve surviving members of the town his family came from, he felt the pieces of his family’s puzzle begin to fall into place, and the lost members seemed to reanimate.

“Stories. There isn’t enough paper in the world to tell our stories.”

Food was such a vital part of many of these stories. Food is culture, culture is food. Helena told of her father’s escape from Poland, through forced labour in Siberia to refugee camps in Iran and finally to Wellington. Starvation was always present. By the time they reached Iran they had some food, and in New Zealand they were getting three meals a day, but starvation had rewired their brains, and the kids still hoarded bread under their beds, and raided food from nearby farms.

One survivor made Daniel wait an hour and a half in the middle of her interview while she cooked him a traditional dish:

“No one will ever cook this kind of food after I’m dead.”

At the end of the session there was some time for questions. One audience member asked the authors to describe the places and the cultures their families had come from before the war. “We were the first multiculturals,” Daniel said, telling us that his grandfather spoke seven languages, but this wasn’t unusual as there was such a vibrant, diverse cultural richness before the war.

After a long moment of thought, Helena summed it up in one simple, devastating sentence:

“For my father it was paradise, and now it’s gone.”