All for one and one for all

coverNow that my fingernails have grown back to a reasonable length, after being bitten to the quick, I feel calm yet also excited about attending the 2011 Auckland Writers And Readers Festival.

The reason why my fingers have constantly been in my mouth lately is because I’m a complete newbie to blogging, podcasting, interviewing with a digital recorder, and uploading to flickr (the thought of finding my way round in the Big Smoke is a little daunting too).

I need these essential skills to be able to feed back information from the festival to our blog, so initially I foresaw a mountain of techie stuff ahead of me to learn, and only a tired little earthquake brain to pack it into.

Happily, it hasn’t proved as difficult to master as I thought, and I can now calm down and look forward to the action. Feel the fear and do it anyway!

I’ll be covering sessions with New Zealand and international authors, and have been determinedly working my way through a toppling pile of required reading, with Shostakovich playing in the background (Sarah Quigley’s new novel The Conductor, published this week, is about the Russian composer).

As the junior musketeer in the library team, I am very excited to be given this opportunity to listen to world-class authors amidst a vibrant festival vibe. Thank goodness the other two are old hands at this, and will ensure that you, dear reader, will be able to make sense of my missives.

Southern women write about southern men

logoA trio of writers from the South Island are set to take to the stage at the 2011 Auckland Writers and Readers Festival to talk about their recently published books which all have the connecting theme of  ‘outsiders’.

Charlotte Randall is a novelist whose first book Dead Sea Fruit (1995) won the Reed Fiction Award and Best First Book Award in the South East Asia/Pacific section of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Her second novel The Curative and fourth novel What Happen then Mr Bones? were runners-up in the fiction section of the Montana Book Awards (2001 & 2005 respectively). Her latest novel – Hokitika Town – is about a boy called Halfie and is set during the gold rush in 1865 Hokitika.

Emma Neal is a poet and prose writer who has had writing published extensively and was the inaugural recipient of the New Zealand Society of Authors Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature in 2008.  Her new novel Fosterling  is about a young man found unconscious in a remote forest, who is seven-foot tall and hairy!

Laurence Fearnley is an author and curator who has written extensively on New Zealand craft artists and has received many awards and grants for her work. Her seventh novel The Hut Builder focuses on a southern small town (Fairlie) and its most famous inhabitant – the butcher/poet who climbed to the summit of Mt Cook with Edmund Hillary.

All three novels have male protagonists, so I’m keen to listen to the authors talk about their work, and hear if they had any difficulties writing from a male point of view.  Also, the stereotypical image of a southern man revolves around beer, horses, dogs and countryside found in the Southern Alps – a far cry from downtown Auckland, mate! I have no doubt that they will offer a wholly more sensitive image – of men living in interesting times.

Poetry personified? I’ll drink to that!

coverWhat do you call a gathering of New Zealand poetry rock stars (a.k.a. Poet Laureates)? A diligence of describers? A ponderance of poets? A promise of perfection?

There have been many notable poets to have held the post of Poet Laureate (including the late Hone Tuwhare, 1999-2001), so having the opportunity to hear four past and the present Poet Laureate perform together is a rare delight indeed.

At the 2011 Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, we’ll be treated to well-crafted words from Bill Manhire (inaugural Poet Laureate 1997-1999), Elizabeth Smither (2001-2003), Jenny Bornholdt (2005-2007), Michele Leggott (2008-2009) and Cilla McQueen. Brian Turner, who held the post from 2003-2005 is presently overseas.

The Office of Poet Laureate has been in existence since at least 1389 when Geoffrey Chaucer was titled thus and granted an annual allowance of money and wine. The salary has varied over time, but alcohol is still traditionally included.

John Dryden in the 1670s had a pension of 300 pounds and a ‘butt’ of canary wine – equivalent today to 477 litres of sherry. One would need to drink 1.3 litres/day in order to get through the annual stipend – conducive to either incoherent ramblings or inspired genius!

New Zealand’s Poet Laureate Award was established by Te Mata Winery in 1996, its centenary year. From 2007 the Award has been administered by the National Library of NZ. The Award is selected biennially and as a distinct improvement from a butt of canary wine, the Poet Laureate is awarded with a tokotoko (carved walking stick) for ceremonial use, as well as a stipend of Te Mata wine.

A Poet Laureate’s drafts, podcasts, readings, online and published works are preserved in National Library’s Digital Heritage archive, and in collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Villafication – Why you should own a villa

Recently I moved into a classic villa with a symmetrical front like a child’s drawing – door in the middle and windows either side. The windows are original and as expected, the sash cords are non existent – I need to use wood offcuts as props in order to keep them open. The central hall is a delight. I can spread my arms out wide and touch each side with my fingertips – a luxury of space. It lends a formal air to what is essentially a working class cottage, and entices you on to the rest of the house. Each room is probably quite small, but the lofty ceiling height creates a sense of scale. When people visit, the first thing they do is look up – I can understand now why ceiling roses and cornices were used to add another layer of decoration. The kitchen and bathroom are quite tragic, but the wonderful thing about villas are their adaptability – they are quite simple boxes that can accommodate endless makeovers.

Christchurch City Libraries have a new book in their collection called Villa by Patrick Reynolds (photography) and Jeremy Hansen/Jeremy Salmond (text). It is a coffee table book that could almost serve as a table in its own right. Often I’ll skim over the introduction in these type of photo heavy books in order to get to the pretty pictures quicker, but this one is definately worth reading. It explains simply why people have a fascination with and fondness for these old houses. It has home truths (yes, they’re old and cold and don’t usually get a lot of sun), but also exhalts in their simple beauty and the reasons why they continue to be loved (they are usually close to the city centre, are of enduring construction that can be brought back from the brink of death, remind us of simpler times). Most of all, the book reinforced my instinct upon first viewing my property – it looked and felt like a home not a house, and what could be better than that to retreat to at the end of a working day?