What do young love and literary magazines have in common?

Why would one read a literary magazine in the time when novels are still the hottest form on the scene? Because reading a literary magazine is like being young and ready to fall in love every day fresh. You can pick up the read you fancy, and if you realize you made a wrong judgement, you can very easily let it go, because – guess what? There is another one waiting for you when you turn the page. No hard feelings, no strings attached!

Takahē is a New Zealand literary magazine published in Christchurch and has been on the scene since 1989. Its core repertoire consists of short stories, poetry and art by New Zealand writers and artists, and often extends to essays, interviews and book reviews. The magazine is a good starting point for emerging literary talents and offers a place for their first public appearance along with established writers.

Takahē is published twice a year in a print form (in April and December) and as an online issue in August.

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Takahē, April’s issue 2016 – the literary bounty

One of the prevailing themes of April 2016’s issue is motherhood, or the biological and relational obstacles preventing motherhood. Lucy-Jane Walsh (These Things Happen) brings a fresh insight into a life of a young woman who cannot have a child but forms an unusual friendship with someone else’s (at the same time it cleverly captures the nuances of the craziness and obsessiveness of modern parenthood). Suvi Mahonen in Little White Crescent dives into details of medical checks and scans of a pregnant future mother, while much more darker side of deficient pregnancy comes to life in Meagan France’s Grace.

The other topic that floats up to the surface is – of course – love, or various forms of love and its cousins (David Hill’s On Special, Melanie Dixon’s The Cottage, Sarah Penwarden’s Mirror Ball, Rupa Maitra’s Eve).

The second topic that recurs is writing (The Celtic Gift by Juliana Feaver and Kate Mahoney’s Flight from New York).

As far as the dating goes, I would definitely revisit Nathan Bennett’s Washed Up (only Birdling’s Flat can inspire such weird yet beautiful story about the relationship you don’t come across very often), Melanie Dixon’s The Cottage (with a witty perspective on a rather sad ending of a romantic weekend), Michael Botur’s This is God’s House (complex and unusual relationship narrated in dynamic slang and persvasive style) and Bev Wood’s Ode to Gallipoli (lyrical meditation on peace with an elusive narrator).

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Takahe offers a good balance of poetry, short stories, essays and book reviews.

What can offer a better shelter to love than poetry? In this issue it comes hand in hand with its ancient partner – death. Under the mindful study of surrounding the pain of passing reveals itself (The Hospice Room by Robert McLean, Rachel Smith’s Light and Shade) and so does singularity of existence through proximity of death (Sarah Penwarden’s poems). How presence and absence are both immanent to love is evoked by Julie Barry in You are now not. Iain Britton’s verses from Calling go further and transcend into cyclical time: binding with ancestors in order to stand, singing in order to weave people together, emerge past and present.

Love can be destructive as well. Venus fails to pursue her artistic calling because she makes the same mistake again – i.e. falls in love (Jenny Powell’s Marlene Dietrich in Gore for the Gold Guitar Awards). The answer to her problem is hiding in sea snails – as Kirstie McKinnon points out they will teach us about letting go.

More existential orientated poems will explain why it is always good to keep your passport on you – or begin at the end (Frieda Paz in Road, map, direction, begin), otherwise you might end up stuck on the bridge  – like a subject in Julie Barry’s Preposition of place. Liang Yujing offers a new metaphor for life – heavy school bags on young pupils and big black mouth of a primary school devouring them. Can we escape? No, as Mary Cresswell proves in her poems, adequately pairing themes of artistic and existential crisis (or blocks) with old troubadour’s poetry forms. But as Julie Barry points out in her Grapefruit, the weight of humanity is too much for one and only branch we live on anyway. And this is not all, I am leaving other joyful jewels for yourself to discover!

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One of Lisa Walker’s jewellery pieces. She is displaying her work at the Christchurch Art Gallery until April 2017.

 

Takahē regularly offers essays on art and latest book reviews. April’s issue will be of a special interest to Christchurch readers, as it brings to focus Lisa Walker’s revolutionary jewellery (written by curator Felicity Milburn), which can also be seen as an exhibition in Christchurch Art Gallery – Te Puna o Waiwhetu until the 2nd April 2017.

Being a wonderful relic means I still thrive every Saturday morning when I browse through the good old printed paper while sipping the first morning coffee. These days, I am paring this ritual with an early evening one which includes wine and Takahē. Both combinations are perfect and correspond well to each other. I urge you to try them both.

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Fiona Farrell and her healing gift to Christchurch

There is no greater gift a writer could give to their own people than a story. Fiona Farrell’s book  The villa at the edge of the empire was nominated as one of the best non-fiction books of the year (NZ Book Awards) – a nomination which is entirely and unquestionably deserved. But The Villa is much more than magnificently and subtly narrated story about the Christchurch earthquakes. It is a precious tribute to the Christchurch community, its individuals and every human being ever affected by an earthquake.

Talking to Fiona is as much a pleasure as reading her books. I was very lucky to spend a rainy afternoon with her, talking about earthquakes, writing and other things that make us human.

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“Trying to make something beautiful, coherent and logical … felt necessary.” Fiona Farrell about writing of her book The villa at the edge of the empire.

 

It will be 6 years on Sunday since the 2010 earthquake. The rebuilding of the city is still going on and it’s proving to be much longer process than anyone imagined. It is almost impossible to describe how long it takes to rebuild a city to anyone, who has not experienced the aftermath.

It wasn’t just one quake. It has been ongoing. We are about to 15,000 aftershocks, each one a minor earthquake. It is such a long drawn out process. It’s not like a war, which has an ending. It has its own timetable, its own agenda and that’s a very, very, long time, beyond human comprehension.

That reminds me of the ending of The Villa, which I find very beautiful. You end it from an assuring, wider, almost cosmic perspective, which works really calmingly after a read, that can possibly be unsettling for many.

Getting that angle on human behaviour is essential. At any one time, when you’re a human being, you have to believe that everything that you do, think and say is quite important, while on the other hand living with the certainty that everything you do, think and say in the great scheme of things is completely irrelevant. You have to hold both realities in your head. For me, this was a habit of thinking that I got into as a child. I had quite an unhappy family and one of the ways I used to cope with it when I was little, was to lie in my bed and think of myself just going up, through the ceiling, until it was all really really tiny. That’s how I handled it as a child. So it’s not some kind of adult philosophy, but an instinctive way. I think everyone has ways of handling unhappiness and finding techniques for survival.

The narrative in The Villa starts very wide, dives deep into the history, with comparisons between Berlin and Christchurch. After that, it nicely narrows and focuses on Christchurch and later on to Avon Loop. I really like the way narration flows from a wide perspective into something smaller.

When I’m writing I often think it’s like making a film, where you use close up and wide angle, and move between the two.

Avon Loop View, 11 August 2007
Avon Loop View, 11 August 2007, Kete Christchurch, by Cecil (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 NZ)

I think it also works very well for people who have experienced the earthquake in Christchurch and everything that followed, but also for people who haven’t had this experience because it gives a reader space to move. I was wondering when you realized while writing that you need to take an outside perspective of what’s happening in Christchurch and visit L’Aquila in Italy. Was that a conscious decision? Continue reading

Netta Egoz – the woman behind Christchurch’s PechaKucha Nights

The next PechaKucha night is on this Thursday 25 August,  part of the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival and the speakers include WORD guests. Some sessions are:

  • AJ Fitzwater // Science Fiction and Fantasy Author // Mary Sue vs Strong Female Character
  • Debbie Stoller // BUST Magazine founder & Stitch ‘n Bitch author // The Handmade’s Tale: Why Knitting is a Feminist Issue
  • Caitlin Doughty // Progressive Mortician // Our Corpses, Ourselves
  • Alok Jha // Science writer // on how the world could end.

I caught up with Netta Egoz, a PechaKucha Night (PKN) organizer, and no ordinary woman. On the contrary. She IS a supergirl. One can not believe all the things she fits in her day. Besides being a full-time lawyer,  she’s involved in many other projects, like Te Pūtahi – Christchurch Centre for Architecture and City-Making, Project Lyttelton and Social Enterprise Network Ōtautahi. Her legal background, coupled with her passion for creative industries, the Christchurch rebuild, social initiatives, and genuine wish for better and fairer world makes her a rare and precious find. Her skills are well sought after in the city like Christchurch.

We talked about PechaKucha, city-making, law, libraries and the essential components of a successful morning.

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Netta Egoz. Image supplied.

You are a solicitor in the day and you are involved in many community projects in your spare time. Your professional and private interests seem very diverse. How do they relate to each other?

They still belong to two separate worlds. A lot of people that I meet outside my work ask me if I am an artist. It is a well-kept secret that I am actually a commercial lawyer. For a long time I felt like I was leading a double life, but pretty quickly I realized I wanted to bring those two worlds together. So that’s why I moved to a private sector in my professional career.

I previously worked at community law, which I thought would be a good way of having a middle ground. But the reality is that community law doesn’t interact with creative sector, it interacts with people with very high unmet legal needs and often the creativity or arts are luxury for these people. But by being a commercial lawyer I am able to do a lot more work with creative industries. From a business perspective, it is quite smart. There are not many lawyers, who work in this area, so I have a great client base. My work is more interesting because I am helping people, who are doing creative things.

My special area is social enterprise so I work a lot with charities, non-profit organizations and creative industries. I am helping them find the ways to become self-sufficient and be commercial entities as well as creating a common social good. On the other end I do a lot of board governance work, which allows me to be a lawyer for creatives.

I imagine your skills, knowledge and interests are highly valuable, there are not many people like you in Christchurch.

I am not aware of many lawyers who are involved in creative industries. There are a few, who will work pro bono for various creative entities and there are a few who will sit on boards, but I am not aware of any, who runs creative projects like I do, or yet still keep a full-time commercial legal job.

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“The reality is, Christchurch has so much to offer to young creatives. Because we can be so much more important in the city like Christchurch.” Netta Egoz. Image supplied.

These are two very different worlds. Creative people often do not have time, energy or knowledge to dive into legal issues.

Yes, even more so with commercial law. It’s often seen as very dry. I have resisted commercial law for a long time because it didn’t seem like the type of law a creative person would do. But increasingly I realized that’s where my strength is and that’s actually where a lot of creative entities need help. Right through the university I never thought I would be a lawyer, let alone a commercial lawyer. I was always interested in grassroots community, creative movements. I have been running creative events for 10 years now and practicing as a lawyer for 3 years, so my initial engagement was in arts. It’s something that has carried through with me and I’ve managed to still retain it.

Let’s talk about one of your creative projects now, PechaKucha. When did you first come across it and how come you decided to organize it here in Christchurch?

PKN has been running in Christchurch for almost nine years and I have been organizing it for three, maybe three and a half years. So PKN transcends me. I first heard about it just before the earthquake – it has an unusual name that sticks in your mind. The first one I went to was the one directly after the quakes and it was one of the few creative events of this type. There was definitely a hole in our city as far as events go. We have lost a lot of them after the quakes. PKN has grown a lot in Christchurch since then as there was a real need for it and it became a real cornerstone of what the Christchurch creative community does.

The first time I got involved was in 2011, when I presented at PKN, volume 12. It was about a project I was doing with my employer at the time, the White Elephant Trust. I was working with Architecture for Humanity on a city youth venue and I was asked to present. I loved it so much, that I decided to volunteer and I stayed with them right through the university. After living overseas, I came back to Christchurch for the job interview and the day I arrived back someone offered me to be PKN city organizer. I thought wow, you just don’t get handed a torch like that! Everything fell into place that day, I was given a key to my passion and also to my home in Lyttelton. For so long I was feeling very lost and I felt I needed to move on from Christchurch. But the reality is Christchurch has so much to offer to young creatives. Because we can be so much more important in the city like Christchurch.

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It seems to me that PKN in Christchurch is in some way at the core of the rebuild activity. It follows what is happening and reopening in the central city.

I am definitely biased here, but I think we are very important for the social rebuild. Firstly, there’s continuity – we existed before the quakes, right through the earthquakes and onwards. There’s reliability – it happens four times a year, and the format is the same: 20 seconds for 20 slides. So you know what you’re getting. It’s eclectic, the speakers are always different, they provide surprises and new information, the venues and themes are always different. We mix people, we had people from Earthquake Recovery talking what they are doing, ordinary residents of Christchurch talking about a small idea they had, artists announcing big projects … It’s a great mix, everyone is on the same stage at the same level, what they have to share is just as important whether it is coming from the government, established creative institutions or just residents of Christchurch who have an idea or a story. It’s a mix of introducing new projects, providing information, telling a fictional story, performances …

So it’s got quite an egalitarian nature.

I hope so. I know PKN as a global institution gets compared to TEDx, I think one of the big points of difference is that PKN is more from the bottom up. As organizers, we have some curation, but very limited. It’s about people approaching us to perform. No matter who you are, you are given the exact same time on stage, exact same introduction, and exact same treatment. I think it is quite egalitarian in that sense.

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The audience of the last PKN in Christchurch, held at Christchurch Art Gallery. Image supplied.

So everyone gets the same format, but this format seems very hard. It sounds very simple: 20 seconds for each of the 20 images, but that demands almost special skills. Do you have any tips on how to perform as best as possible? Continue reading

Petina Gappah on the elusive nature of writers’ satisfaction – at Auckland Writers Festival

“Thank you for coming today, when you should all be in church. You will all go to hell.”

This is how Petina Gappah charms the audience at Auckland Writers Festival right at the start of her Sunday session. And than she just keeps the jokes coming.

This Zimbabwean born author has, until recently, had an impressive career in international law in Geneva, while being an award winning writer and a single mother at the same time. She says she hasn’t slept since she had her son, which was 12 years ago. “But I am not as efficient as Margaret Thatcher,” she adds.

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Petina Gappah – writer, translator, single mother and lawyer. (Image supplied)

Looking at her work, that’s hard to believe. Her first published book, An Elegy for Easterly, is a collection of short stories and has won, among other awards, the Guardian First Book award in 2009. Even though it was labelled by her publisher as “the voice of Zimbabwe”, Petina does not feel comfortable talking on behalf of a whole Zimbabwe, never mind the whole of Africa. She feels that labelling writers as “coloured” comes with expectations of what they should write about.

And what does Petina write about? Corruption, hypocrisy, abuse of power, exploitation, memory, love, loss and – superstition. While her collections of short stories bring a multitude of voices of modern Zimbabwe, the story in her first novel, The Book of Memory, is a monologue narrated by an albino woman, who was sold off as a child by her parents and ended up in a maximum security prison in Harare for murdering her adoptive father. She is prompted by her lawyer to write down her memories, her story as she remembers  it – so Memory finds herself writing for her life – both literally and metaphorically.

Cover of An elegy for easterly
The winner of Guardian First Book award in 2009.

Even though Petina has been writing since she was 11, it took her 6 years to finish the story of Memory. As it was her second published work, it put her under a lot of pressure. As usual expectations were huge. When asked about how she overcame this “second novelitis” crisis (term coined by Bianca Zander), Petina laughs: “Who says I  got over it?” But she manages to see the crisis of confidence in a more complex way: “The beauty of being a writer is the elusive nature of satisfaction. I always want to develop as a writer, to always be in  battle with myself.”

After the great success of The Book of Memory and after her son “took himself to boarding school” she decided to hand in her  notice at work so she could dedicate more time to writing and exploring. “I want to take a gap year. That thing kids do before the university.”

Cover of The book of memory

I am with you, Petina! Let that gap year roll into another and another and another …

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Quotable Auckland Writers Festival 2016

Author quote postcards at Auckland Writers Festival 2016
Author quote postcards at Auckland Writers Festival 2016

Quotes are one of those serendipitous things, that infest every festival session. You forget to expect them, until they poke out of the conversation, like fireworks, showing off their intelligence, wit and subtlety with a style and a good measure of flamboyance.

Here are some of the top quotes of this year’s Auckland Writers Festival – hand picked by festival angels Moata, Roberta and myself:

Laughter is crucial – it’s like an orgasm of the mind. // Gloria Steinem

Even if love is not going to save anyone, we keep on doing it. It has no result in culture that is so result orientated. // Hanya Yanagihara

If one dream dies, I’m going to dream another dream and I’m going to dream it bigger. // Pettina Gappah

The trouble with a book is that you never know what’s in it until it’s too late. // Jeanette Winterson quoting her mother

My endings might be sad, but I like to think of them as authentic endings. // John Boyne

I’ve had the kind of happy childhood that’s so damaging to a writer. // Thomas Mallon

Janna Levin, Thomas Mallon and Gloria Steinem
Janna Levin, Thomas Mallon and Gloria Steinem (Image supplied)

In the story “The Princess and the Pea”,  I never wanted to be the princess. I wanted to be the pea – writing helped me do that. //  Vivian Gornick

Characters of children’s books need to be rebels. // Edward Carey

If you don’t understand the book, read it again. If you still don’t understand it, read again. If you still don’t understand it, throw it away. // David Eggleton on importance of understanding a book when writing a book review

Most opinions are just emotions in fancy dress. // Joe Bennett

Assumptions are the mother of all stuff-ups. // Helene Wong

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Carmen Aguirre, Tusiata Avia, Joe Bennett, Pettina Gappah, Peter Garrett, Vivian Gornick, Herman Koch and Jeanette Winterson. (Image supplied)

I have a brain tumour. I experience many unfamiliar and unreal moments. I am frequently unfamiliar even to myself. // Tusiata Avia

I could never see the distinction between Science and Art. Medicine is art to me. // Jean-Christophe Rufin

Creativity is a kind of anchoring. It is a lie detector which prevents us from living life in a blur. // Jeanette Winterson

Fancy some more? Read other blogs from Auckland Writers Festival and find your own favourite quote!

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Tusiata Avia and Maxine Beneba Clarke on friendship and reading beyond the colour – Auckland Writers Festival 2016

Do you remember the excitement of finding a true friend in high school days? When you were lost but then found yourself by finding a friend? When you realized there is someone else out there, who likes the same weird books as you do, listens to the same music and shares the same humour and passion for so many other exciting things? The one you could talk to late into the night and (nearly) never run out of things to say? And when you did, it was nice and comfortable to just be quiet. Together.

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Tusiata Avia (Image supplied)

I came across such friendship at this year’s Auckland Writers Festival. Though it revealed to me on the stage, it was clearly not staged. Christchurch born poet Tusiata Avia and Maxine Beneba Clarke, Australian poet and writer, were like two shy girls, who have gathered in their hideaway, somewhere far from the adult’s world, to share their most precious and beloved sweets with each other. Sitting behind the coffee table on the stage, they were begging each other to read another poem. And another. And another – almost forgetting about the presence of the audience.

There was something truthful and playful in their relationship, in this game of exchanging tiny little gems. In the era of authorship and general egocentrism, it is very rare to see such genuine friendship amongst authors. Most of the time, we read about one single author, we listen to her or him speak on the stage about their work. So having two minds and hearts tripping on each other with such sincerity was really refreshing.

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Maxine Beneba Clarke (Image supplied)

Maxine and Tusiata read poems from their award-winning books. There was a big stack of them on the table, with stationery stickers in various places, marking pages populated by voices that wanted to be heard. Gifts that Maxine laid on the table included her newly released poetry collection Carrying the World, a collection of short stories Foreign soil and three other collections of poetry. Tusiata brought along her Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, Bloodclot and freshly launched Fale Aitu | Spirit House, all poetry collections as well.

Voices captured in their work are voices of diaspora. Many different voices, who speak many different Englishes. But for Maxine as well as Tusiata the main reason why these voices need to be heard and their stories told lays in the human experience and not in the cultural aspects these voices bring with them. So they are both getting a bit tired of culturally and racially focused receptions of their work, when their intention is to show something universal, something human. “It is not a great position to be in,” says Tusiata. “If you are a ‘writer of colour’ you are pigeonholed at the beginning of every presentation. People need to identify you before they engage with your work.”But at the same time, she confesses, that identification is unavoidable, as “poetry is so personal and our personal paths are about where we are from.”

Cover of wild dogs undermy skirt  Cover of Fale aitu -  spirit house

They are not the only ones raising their concern about the biased reception of work from ‘writers of colour’. During the Sunday session titled The Diversity debate, Marlon James declared, half jokingly, half serious, that he will not be attending any sessions about diversity any more. Pettina Gappah earlier that afternoon talked about the burden that sort of labelling gives to ‘coloured writers’: “This label comes with expectations of what you talk about in your work.”

I could feel myself being challenged after each of the sessions. They made me think of myself as a reader and my own reception of work written by ‘writers of colour’. And they also made me wonder, if true friendship happens, when we look at the world above and beyond pigeonholes of colour, sex, race, ability, language, culture, age and socio-economic status. According to Maxine’s inscription in my copy of her book, that may as well be true. “From my heart to yours”, it says.

Which, when read again, it could also sound like a tutorial on how to read.

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Marlon James – the author who just comes in and is cool – Auckland Writers Festival 2016

When asked about how does it feel writing a new book, Marlon James does not hide the dread of writing vocation: “It’s like a childbirth. You think, how the hell did I end up here again! Was it not bad enough the last time?”

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Marlon James (image supplied)

Last years Man Booker Prize winner is a guest of this year’s Auckland Writers Festival. His book, A brief history of seven killings, stretches not-so-briefly over 600 pages, opening questions of power, class and race with diversity. It features a plethora of voices: deceased, witnesses, killers, drug dealers, journalists and reporters, detectives, FBI and CIA agents, beauty queens, members of parliament and also Keith Richard’s drug dealer. It is an exploration of Jamaica before and after the attempted murder of Bob Marley.

Why the shooting of Bob Marley? Because the year 1976 was an exclamation point of social and political instability and general fear in Jamaica. The shooting, Marlon explains, was highly relational not just to Marley’s life, but to life of all Jamaicans – if they can shoot Marley, they can shoot anybody. Marlon turned this moment into a storytelling device, that navigated him through the exploration of “10 different Jamaicas”.

He finds writing hard work and it demands a lot of discipline, but there is nothing else he could do. During the process of  writing, his characters surprise him but also disappoint him. They become human and he often finds himself saying: “I didn’t see that coming!” The only voice he was not interested in, while writing A brief history of seven killings, was his own. It soon became clear that only one voice won’t do either. There had to be more of them, they had to be three-dimensional and authentic. Like the journalist. “He’s such a bad writer, he writes like I did in high school,” Marlon adds, keeping the amount of humour nicely balanced through out the session.

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Marlon at the signing table.

But how do characters arise? Where do they come from? Some of them support different points of view, others come to existence because of demands of the plot, or emotional credibility of the story. “But some of them just have to come in and be cool,”

seven killingsThat’s where beauty and creative power lies in the novel, in the polyphony of voices. It is this that makes the novel Marlon’s favourite literary form. The novel has also been a place of escape. As a fiction it offers the possibility to explore forbidden things – and there is quite a few of them in his novel: “You have to risk going too far. Discomfort happens all the time.” Rather than talking about love, he risks pornography.”I don’t do love, I am a literary fiction author” he sums up, grinning.

If you tried reading Marlon’s book and didn’t like it, there is a great chance you would like Marlon himself. No matter the size of the stage he finds himself on, he is relaxed, communicative with the crowd, witty and amazingly well read. He just … comes in and is cool.

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The authenticity and secret obsessions of John Boyne – Auckland Writers Festival 2016

Did you know that John Boyne is obsessed with stationery? And that Ireland has such remarkable literary tradition because of Guinness? No, me neither. But it is all true. It wasn’t only me who heard it, there was probably 200 other souls at John’s second session of the day. The first one was sold out, of course.

John is one of those authors, who knew they wanted to be a writer since they were little. Many people laughed at him then, but – no one is laughing now! Reading and writing were integral parts of his childhood.

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It took John Boyne a long time to get over anger and write about the Catholic priesthood in Ireland.(image supplied)

Besides publishing nine novels for adults and five for young readers, John has always been writing short stories and published one collection. His work has been translated to 48 languages and the story of young friendship in holocaust, The boy in the striped pyjamas, was turned into a film. The list of awards and nominations is endless. When he speaks he addresses everyone. He radiates openness and sincerity.

His work captures two groups of voices: voices from very young people and voices from old people (and not many in between). He prefers to use different prepositions when describing his work: he writes ABOUT children and ABOUT adults, and not FOR them. His books classified as books for young readers are stories about children, who find themselves in the adult situation. John doesn’t believe in classifying literature by the age of a reader: these are modern, booksellers terms, he says. What is important is that story is told, not how it is labelled.

history  boy in stripped    boy mountain   absolutist

He considers himself as a happy person. So why so many scenes of dreadful sadness and even worse – sad endings? “My endings might be sad, but I like to think of them as authentic endings.” And so are his characters. Their complexity comes to surface in the challenging conflicts and difficult life situations they find themselves in. Like Father Yates, the protagonist in A history of loneliness. Its theme of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in Ireland occupied most of the session. But complicity of such issues can only be addressed justifiably in art.

His advice to writers? Don’t take reviews personally. Don’t believe the good ones and don’t believe the bad ones. And if you meet a reviewer, who has been brutal with your work, shower them with kindness and praise – it will make them feel really bad!

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Auckland Writers Festival – how to do it on the cheap

One thing I absolutely love about Auckland Writers Festival is the atmosphere. The whole space, the plaza and Aotea Centre breathe together with the events! It is a festival in true meaning of the word. It doesn’t take much to soak up this atmosphere, you can just park yourself comfortably in one of the couches and be present.

Here are a few tips on how to do the whole festival thing with minimal financial input (ignoring the costs of travel and accommodation):

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Emergency poet Deborah Alma will diagnose you and prescribe – a poem.

Visit the emergency poet. For the last three days of the festival, an ambulance has been parked in front of the venue. Emergency poet Deborah Alma can asses your state and prescribe the right medicine, which is – a poem! Her 10 minute one-to-one consultation sessions are booked out, but she has an extensive collection of pre-mixed medications ready to heal you. I diagnosed myself with severe indecisiveness. I got a little red pill. Inside of it was a role of tiny piece of paper with Mary Oliver‘s (note the surname!) verse: “Tell me, what will you do with your one wild and precious life?” (I’ll take it to the Writers Festival, I answered to Mary, and I was cured!)

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Deborah’s pharmacy.

Attend free sessions. There is plenty of very well-themed and diversely crafted free sessions on offer right throughout the weekend. Be it a debate, a reading, a discussion or a workshop-like event, you just have to bring your open mind and get in a queue.

Talk to a stranger, you might find a book mate. Standing in a queue is a perfect time to find out what else is going on at the festival and to update yourself on sessions you missed out. I never imagined it would be so easy to start a conversation!

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Reassuring piles of books.

Browse through the book stalls and catch glimpses of authors at the signing. Book prices are reasonable, so you can always buy one and get it signed by the author. Most of authors are very approachable, so you might get a chance of a chat!

Watch the fashion show roll out in front of your eyes. I would need an extra day at the festival just to sit in the corner of the foyer and watch the spontaneous fashion procession go by. It is so mesmerizing, it almost feels like being on another planet: diversity of styles, unpredictability of combinations, colours and materials is just divine. I wish my mum could see it!

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Find your own truth captured on one of the cards.

Look out for freebies. Make sure you sniff around properly. This year organizers printed out cards with authors quotes, which you might find lying around on the tables, and also a small charming booklet of stories and illustrations, some of them made especially for the festival.

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Different kinds of adulthoods – Hanya Yanagihara and Paula Hawkins at the Auckland Writers Festival 2016

There has been a few bewitching moments in my saga of getting to this year’s Auckland Writers Festival and it seems like the magic hasn’t ceased. On the contrary, it revealed its presence the moment I walked into Aotea Centre, buzzing with electric atmosphere and a lot of funky dressed cats of eclectic ages.

While waiting on my first session, I struck up a conversation with a girl sitting across the table. I normally wouldn’t do that. But a part of this festival are also booky chats with random strangers. Bubbling with excitement. There is so much you want to say. To a stranger.

It turns out that Anita, my random stranger, threw out TV a couple of months ago and now she reads much more. She has no family, no children, she is independent. She lives a different kind of adulthood. We talk about it. How we are trapped in the idea of a certain path we need to take, when we are adults. How and with whom we are supposed to live. I like her. I tell her I am attending Hanya Yanagihara session. She likes the sound of it and buys the ticket.

Hanya
Hanya Yanagihara, her book is a homage to friendship. Image supplied.

It turns out that Hanya Yanagihara, the author of the most talked book of the year, A little life, also leads a different life of an adult and this experience reflects greatly in her book. Her main characters don’t fit into the model of the nuclear family, the institution of modern age, and don’t or are not able to follow the American dream of success. Instead they nurture friendship, which in Hanya’s opinion is as important as marriage or parenthood, because its nature is expansive and opened.

Paula Hawkins
Paula Hawkins, author of last year’s hit The girl on the train. Image supplied.

Just half an hour later the same stage is taken by quite a different kind of presence: Paula Hawkins, the author of last years domestic noir hit, The girl on the train. Quite shy and rather taciturn about herself, Paula also lives a different kind of adulthood.

Despite not being a mother, her very clear understanding of motherhood but also the natural impossibility of motherhood finds articulation in the voices of her female characters. Train journeys in her story are actually glimpses into the variety of adulthoods.

But ina little life awf16dependence girl on the train awf16does not come without a price. Both Hanya’s and Paula’s writing processes were also mentally and emotionally extremely demanding. Hanya wrote her book in 18 month, writing every single evening and weekend while maintaining her usual job as an editor. Paula had to finish her story in 6 month and to be able to do that, she had to borrow money of her father to bridge that gap of financial instability. One can feel the angst and struggle they both went through to get their work finished.

Sounds frightening and painful? Yes! But stories need to be told. For Hanya the need was urgent and very personal. Was it worth it? Yes! Absolutely. The work of art should change how you see the world and your place in it.

I left sessions somehow grounded and wondered if I did not overestimate the role of magic in this saga. Maybe I should just blame it on the geist of our time. And what a time it is! After all, it’s not an era of a room of one’s own (as Virginia Woolf would put it), but much bigger and still expanding.

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