The Art of the Novel

It’s 8:15 on Sunday morning and there’s already a queue of at least thirty people waiting to get into the free ‘Art of the Novel’ session. It’s not due to start till 9am and by the time I’m half way through my coffee the line stretches round the corner and out of sight. The room seated 350 people and it looked pretty full by the time everyone was sitting down!

I sat between a very serious aspiring novelist and a group of younger chattier aspiring novelists. The men behind me were also deep in a conversation about writing and almost everyone had note pads.

Enter our three novelists. Stephanie Johnson from New Zealand, Emily St John Mandel from Canada, and from England came David Mitchell, wearing a pair of bright pink stripey socks, so I was immediately taken with him. His work is amazing too, of course, but the socks!

Cover of Station Eleven Cover of The Writing Class Cover of The Bone Clocks

The session was roughly broken up in to three parts, the ‘pre-writing’ stage, the writing itself, and then the editing and publishing stage.

“Research is great procrastination,” Stephanie Johnson said, as the three of them talked about building up their knowledge before (or just as often, during) their writing. For her latest novel, Station Eleven, Emily spent a lot of time on survivalist forums, which was fascinating, but a little scary.

David Mitchell’s ideas for his next book circle around his head like planes in a holding pattern, waiting to come down. He seems to have a very organised mind, or at least his mental organisation system resembles a kind of organised chaos. Whenever he finds a second hand book he thinks might be useful for one circling plane or another he’ll buy it and store it away, with a bookshelf put aside for each potential novel.

David and Emily both agreed that they would get so sick of working on old novels that the thought of starting a new one was terribly exciting! The new ideas can get very flirty and pushy, so it’s a matter of keeping them under control while you slog through the final days of your current project.

Some great bits of writing advice came out of the session:

About letting ideas sit and stew:

“You do need composting time. It’s good to have at least a part time job that forces you out into the world to pretend to be a normal.” – Stephanie Johnson

“I have to write the novel itself to figure out where the novel is going… it’s an incredibly inefficient way to write a book really.” – Emily St John Mandel

About fear, and challenging yourself by stepping outside your comfort zone:

“I want to know that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew this time.” – David Mitchell

“I try not to think about the audience when I’m writing. Which audience member would I pick anyway? I write the kind of thing I want to read.” – Emily St John Mandel

“When you’re really writing and it’s going well, the experience shouldn’t be too different to reading, or knitting.” – Stephanie Johnson

On editing:

“Sometimes I retype my entire draft, or read it all aloud. A ‘random page edit’ is a great way to pick up mistakes, print out and pick up page 3, 250, 180, whatever, and you’ll find all sorts of errors that you won’t notice if you read your story in order.” – Emily St John Mandel

“I don’t try to make it perfect the first time, that first draft is just about bringing a thing into existance.” – David Mitchell

On writing odious characters:

“When we’re being odious ourselves, remember, we self justify. Have your villains do the same.” – David Mitchell

“No one is one hundred percent odious all of the time, or if they are, they came by it honestly.” – Emily St John Mandel

By ten o’clock it was clear that the audience would have stayed much longer but it was time to move on, or rather, move out into the signing queues for some quick one-on-one writing advice.

For the writers among us, do you have any writing advice to share?

Lyttelton Harbour Festival of Lights 2015

The Lyttelton Harbour Festival of Lights is an annual event of lights, music and fun celebrating the Lyttelton community, Matariki, the Māori New Year and the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.

The Festival runs over nine days from 13 to 21 June, and this year boasts two stages active throughout the night, on London Street and at Albion Square. The programme features a parade, masquerade balls, music, waiata, food and wine, live poetry performances, art exhibitions, and, of course, fireworks.

Festival of Lights

Highlights of the 2015 programme of events [4.4 MB PDF] include:

Lyttelton Festival of lightsSaturday 13 June

  • Mask and headgear making workshop at Lyttelton Farmers Market, 10am-1pm
  • Matariki 2015 at Albion Square, 11am-1pm
  • DJ Missy G at the Porthole Bar, 8.30pm
  • Toque guitar duo at Civil and Naval, 9pm

Sunday 14 June

  • Afternoon Jam at the Porthole Bar, 3.30pm

Monday 15 June

  • Astro Dome by Science Alive at Lyttelton Primary School, Voelas Road campus, 4-7pm
  • ¡No Siesta Fiesta! at Freemans Deck, 7pm: Spanish and South American music

Tuesday 16 June

  • Lyttelton Bingo-tini at The Lyttelton Club, 6pm till late: Bingo, Martinis, and prizes galore

Wednesday 17 June

  • A Night with a Future Star at the Porthole Bar, 8pm

Thursday 18 June

  • Children’s stories and craft after dark at Lyttelton Library, 6.30-7.30pm
  • Celebrating Lyttelton Writers at Freemans Dining Room and Bar, 7-8pm
  • Josh Rennie-Hynes at the Porthole Bar, 8pm
  • Graham James at the Wunderbar, 8pm

Friday 19 June – Street Party

  • Lyttelton Soup Kitchen at The Lyttelton Club, 5pm till late
  • “We are a Tribe. We come by land and sea and air, travelling through time and space” parade, 6pm
  • The Lyttelton Port of Christchurch Fireworks display, 7.30pm
  • Visit the beautifully restored church of St Saviour’s at Holy Trinity, 6.30-9pm, including a 20-minute selection of musical pieces performed by The Cathedral Grammar Combined Choir from 8pm
  • Sexy Animals at the Wunderbar, 8.30pm
  • DJ Willie Styles at the Porthole Bar, 10pm
  • Kitchen Collective at Civil and Naval, 10pm-2am

Saturday 20 June

  • A Feast of Strangers at Naval Point Yacht Club (for Lyttelton Harbour Timebank members), 6.30pm
  • Lyttelton Masquerade Ball at The Lyttelton Club, 7pm
  • Labyrinth Masquerade Ball at the Wunderbar, 8.30pm
  • DJ at the Porthole Bar, 8.30pm

Sunday 21 June

  • Mathoms and Art Market at Diamond Harbour Hall, 2-5pm
  • Carmel Courtney Trio at Freemans Deck, 3pm
  • Mid-Winter Swim at Naval Point Yacht Club, 3.30pm
  • Afternoon Jam at the Porthole Bar, 3.30pm
  • Alliance Française Music Festival at the Wunderbar, 6pm
  • Festival Poetry Session @ Lyttelton Coffee Co., 8-10pm

Lyttelton links

The following resources are helpful for Lyttelton visitors and locals:

Lyttelton from Purau, 1852, CCL PhotoCD 4, IMG0079
Lyttelton from Purau, 1852, CCL PhotoCD 4, IMG0079

Previous Lyttelton Festivals of Lights

The 2015 Festival is the eleventh time the Festival has been held. Read our post about the 2014 Festival and our interview with Wendy Everingham about the 2007 Festival of Lights.