Chatting to authors

Roberta interviews Kathy Lette. Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2012, Aotea Centre.  Flickr, CCL-AWRF-2012-05-11
With Kathy Lette. Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2012, Aotea Centre. Friday 11 May 2012, Flickr, CCL-AWRF-2012-05-11

I bet this has happened to you: you’re reading a great book and you think – gee, I’d really like to interview this author. I did that for years before the day came when I sat opposite my first real  live author – absolutely scared witless and thinking – be careful what you wish for!

Here’s the authors I’ve interviewed (click on their names to read the full interviews):

Lionel Shriver: A 15 year old girl who changes her name from Margaret Ann to Lionel – just to pique her father – is not someone to be toyed with. This was my first interview ever at my first ever Literary Festival. I walked with heavy boots to her hotel, but I floated back on a little cloud nine. That was when I realised that there was nothing to be scared of, because authors love librarians!

William Dalrymple: He didn’t sit still for one minute in this interview held on the top floor of an Auckland Hotel. I had to chase him around trying to keep up with him. I was already nervous (he is a famous travel writer of books like Nine Lives – in Search of the Sacred in Modern India), and my uncertainties around the technology involved in getting the whole thing recorded were greatly exacerbated by Dalrymple’s restlessness. I start hyperventilating just thinking about it.

Kathy Lette: This interview really was like chatting to a good friend over a coffee. What a blast! Irreverent, sexy, fun, OK maybe a bit flippant. But at least she sat still!

Andrew Miller: Forever endeared himself to me by being the only author I have ever interviewed who asked: “How are things in Christchurch?” We were just post earthquake and the gap between life in Christchurch and life in Auckland made me feel so sad. His best known work is Snowdrops, a debut novel that made the Booker Long List in 2011. He was a pleasure to interview.

Roberta and Jeffrey Eugenides, Flickr, CCL-AWRF-2012-05-12
With Jeffrey Eugenides, Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2012, Aotea Centre. Saturday 12 May 2012. Flickr, CCL-AWRF-2012-05-12

Jeffrey Eugenides: that is correct – the Pulitzer prizewinning author for his novel Middlesex. Terrifying to interview. Read right to the end and you will know why. The photo says it all really. 

John Lanchester: One of those interviews that never really had a lift-off point. I was chatting to him about his book Capital – which I had loved. His Publishing Agent sat with us throughout the interview. What did she think I would do to him?

Laurence Fearnley: I am a big fan of this Kiwi writer. We bonded over a coffee at one of the WORD festivals. She really thinks about her interview answers. She gives you her full attention. I am so fond of her.

Roberta with NoViolet  Bulawayo, Christchurch WORD Festival 2014,
With NoViolet Bulawayo, Christchurch WORD Festival 2014, 30 August 2014. Photo by Roberta Smith.

NoViolet Bulawayo: A young Zimbabwean author who was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2013 for her novel We Need New Names. We chatted for ages. I had to ruthlessly edit what had been recorded to get this interview down to a reasonable length. So young, yet so wise (her not me!)

There’s no doubt that interviewing is nerve-wracking – I felt my stress levels rise just writing this blog!  But I would not have missed these opportunities for anything. How about you? Do you have an author you would like to interview?

Rosie Belton: 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:

Rosie Belton

Cover of DeliciousWhat (or who) are you most looking forward to at WORD Christchurch?

I am really looking forward to meeting and hearing Ruth Reichl. I will be booking the event she shares with Nicky Pellegrino as I very much want to meet and hear Nicky again also. I have enjoyed Nicky’s writing very much. I will try  to attend the dinner event at Otahuna if I can possibly manage it!

What do you think about libraries?

Libraries are very special and important places for communities to have access to. I love visiting our closest Library with the grandchildren. Especially when the children and  grandchildren were very young, it was an important place for me to go where I could help them find and enjoy books and have a pleasant and warm space for me to sit while the children explored the book possibilities. I am a bit worried now about the amount of technology available in libraries and the noise it can create. I am also anxious about having less human assistance. You cannot beat a real live librarian!

Cover of Wild blackberriesShare a surprising fact about yourself.

I met my husband of 44 years when I was at intermediate school in Nelson. We met at violin class when we were both 12 years old.

Finlay Macdonald: 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:

Finlay Macdonald

What (or who) are you most looking forward to at WORD Christchurch?

Catching up with my mate Steve Braunias. Even though we live in the same city, we don’t see enough of each other.

What do you think about libraries?

 Salt of the earth, backbone of the nation … as long as there are libraries there is hope.

Share a surprising fact about yourself.

 I’m exactly the same age as John Key and Barack Obama (within months anyway).

Murdoch Stephens: 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:

Murdoch Stephens – editor-in-chief of Lawrence & Gibson

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

There are so many amazing speakers lined up. I’m most excisted about NZ non-fiction such as Marie Leadbeater in conversation with Nicky Hager and Barnaby Bennett’s chaired session of Free Range Press authors. That said, I’m looking forward to a last hurrah with outgoing NZ Listener Books and Culture editor Guy Somerset who is chairing our panel discussion and is on the ‘Reading Favourites’ panel. He’s been a big supporter of Lawrence & Gibson since his first review of Richard Meros’ On the conditions and possibilities of Helen Clark taking me as her Young Lover.

What do you think about libraries?

Libraries are an incredible oddity in that they exist as an institution for the idealistic and common good. The library is a rare common fund where money is no object as long as people are willing to share. This leads me to want to accept Jorges Luis Borges’ statement that he always imagined Paradise to be some kind of library.

Share a surprising fact about yourself.

Fact! My first name comes from my maternal grandmother. Surprise! My parents’ accountants won the right to choose that name after winning a round of poker.

Thomasin Sleigh: 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:

Thomasin Sleigh – writer

Cover of We need new namesWhat (or who) are you most looking forward to at WORD Christchurch?

I’m really looking forward to hearing NoViolet Bulawayo talk about her book We Need New Names, not only because it is a fantastic book, but also because my family is from Zimbabwe (and many are still there), so I’m very interested to hear her perspective on the political situation there and how she approached translating this into literature.

What do you think about libraries?

Well, I work at the National Library of New Zealand and am the daughter of a librarian, so you could say I’m pretty pro-library! Free and easy public access to information through libraries is essential for an informed, empowered, critical, and active citizenry.

Cover of Ad LibShare a surprising fact about yourself.

I have a strange distaste for melted or too-soft ice cream, especially when it is made into a kind of ice creamy soup/gloop in a bowl. Goody goody gumdrops is the worst. Arg! Take from this what you will.

Andrew Barrie: 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:

Cover of Cardboard CathedralWhat (or who) are you most looking forward to at WORD Christchurch?

Unfortunately I’m an out-of-towner, and so am only able to be in Christchurch for my WORD session with Shigeru Ban and the launch of my book, Shigeru Ban: Cardboard Cathedral.

However, I’ll catch renowned architectural critic Reed Kroloff as he passes through Auckland. I’d love to be able to attend the Rebuilding Christchurch session with the Freerange Press folk. Barnaby Bennett and his team are making a fantastic contribution not just to the thinking behind Christchurch’s reconstruction, but to New Zealand’s architecture culture.

What do you think about libraries?

I teach at a university – the University of Auckland – so in a library almost everyday. I love the atmosphere of libraries. They emit a strong sense of accumulated intellectual energy, and it’s great to be in the company of the humming minds tapping into it. For me, it’s like being in the generator room of a power station.

Share a surprising fact about yourself.

I’m married to an Anglican priest. As a frequent writer on both Japanese architecture and New Zealand architecture, and having a strong church background, writing a book about the Cardboard Cathedral was the perfect assignment for me!

Lianne Dalziel: 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:

Lianne Dalziel – Mayor of Christchurch

What (or who) are you most looking forward to at WORD Christchurch?

I’m really looking forward to winning the Great New Zealand Crime debate on 30 August!  I’m part of an amazing team, featuring Steve Braunias and Martin van Beynen.  The other team obviously won’t know what it is talking about when faced with our brilliant team!  The MC is the very clever and witty Joe Bennett, which will also be a highlight

What do you think about libraries?

A library is one of those core critical community assets, which not only connects us with the world of literature and information, but is also a place where people connect.  It is often the first place where new migrants go when they are looking to settle in to a new community.  Of course, there is also the free Wi-Fi on offer!

Share a surprising fact about yourself.

I believe my success in life was built on a foundation of a love of reading.  As a child, Mum would come in to my bedroom at night to turn off my light and once she left, I would switch on my torch and read under the blankets! I literally consumed books as a child, and I still do so when I get the chance.

Doc Drumheller: 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:

Doc Drumheller

Cover of The life and loves of Lena GauntWhat (or who) are you most looking forward to at WORD Christchurch?

I am involved in several shows that I am looking forward to: Survivor Poetry, The Catalyst Road Show, and Poetry for Lunch. I am very excited by the amount of poetry in this festival and a highlight for me will be: Anis Mojgani, a two time US slam champion. There are many other events like the Rising Voices poetry slam, and the Sunday Fringe that I look forward to as well. This festival has so many interesting events that will appeal to many people with different tastes and interests, from food writing, to comic books, and many free events for young people.

What do you think about libraries?

I love libraries and librarians, and spend a most of time in libraries either running poetry workshops or researching for writing projects. I have recently been involved in the free workshops for young writers, organised by All Right?, and the School for Young Writers. I worked with writers in the South Library, the Upper Riccarton Library, and the Aranui Library, to produce work for a chapbook to be launched in the festival. Each of these libraries are very modern and have great facilities for learning opportunities.

Share a surprising fact about yourself.

I am a very keen gardener, and enjoy pickling, and preserving food. One of my hobbies is self sufficiency.

Brannavan Gnanalingam: 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:

Brannavan Gnanalingam – writer

What (or who) are you most looking forward to at WORD Christchurch?

I’m most looking forward to seeing a bit of Christchurch. It’s a city I’m sorry to say, I haven’t spent much time in, but many of my favourite Kiwi musicians, writers, and artists have come from it. That and being able to see all of the writers.

What do you think about libraries?

My life would have been completely different if it wasn’t for my local library. I pillaged (though always returned my books on time) the Hutt City Library growing up. Mum would take me whenever I asked (which was usually weekly) and would wait patiently while I took my time. I wouldn’t be such a voracious reader, and therefore a writer, without the existence of libraries (and Mum’s patience). Libraries are crucial in modern societies, in ensuring literature doesn’t become, once again, the sole domain of those who can afford it.

Share a surprising fact about yourself.

The first thing I ever published was an acrostic poem about Richard Hadlee at the age of six in one of the Sunday newspapers. I assigned an adjective to each letter making up Hadlee’s name. In hindsight, it was probably an elegy as he had just retired. I suppose it’s a start?

Tania Roxborogh: 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:

Tania Roxborogh – writer

Cover of BirthrightWhat (or who) are you most looking forward to at WORD Christchurch?

 Fan-girling some of my favourite writers and getting to discuss my writing ups and downs with other writers in my genre.

What do you think about libraries?

They are my resting place. I have turned my daughter’s old bedroom into a library and I love spending time in it, looking around at all my books – MY books – one’s that I’ve read and I remember what I was doing, thinking, being, feeling when I read that particular book. I also love going to the Otago Uni library because it’s a place of action too – as it is for many school libraries. Libraries are my safe place.

Share a surprising fact about yourself.

I have my motorbike license. I rode a motorbike during my second and third year at uni. I still have my awesome helmet (but not the bike)