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.

AWF16tusiata
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.

AWF16beneba
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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Another country? Mainlanders discussing overselves – Auckland Writers Festival 2016

I am bordering on late when I arrive at a packed out Upper NZI Room at the Aotea Centre for a session that, as a South Islander, I feel duty-bound to attend.

I’m pointed in the direction of of a clutch of empty seats near the back by one of the friendly festival ushers/helpers.

This session dares to ask – is the South Island, home to 23% of New Zealanders, another country? Is there something distinctive and different about hailing from the Mainland?

Joe Bennett, Fiona Farrell and Brian Turner
Joe Bennett, Fiona Farrell and Brian Turner (Image supplied)

Ready to answer these, and similarly not-that-serious questions are Christchurch writer Fiona Farrell, Otagoan, poet, and former sportsman Brian Turner, and transplanted Banks Peninsula raconteur, dog enthusiast and columnist Joe Bennett.

Radio New Zealand presenter (and non-Mainlander) Jesse Mulligan is in charge of wrangling this trio and extracting what wisdom he could on the topic of Te Waipounamu.

As a dyed in the wool Cantabrian myself the notion that the South Island might be considered sufficiently “different” and “special” from the rest of New Zealand to warrant it’s own hour of discussion was in itself a little off-putting. We’re the normal ones by which the rest of the country may be judged, thanks – I said to myself in a way that somewhat alarmingly reinforced the stereotype, and caused me to peer out from behind my metaphorical eyepatch. But I am not alone. When Mulligan asks who in the crowd was a Mainlander, a sea of arms waved in unison. No red and black stripey scarves were seen, nor are any couches set alight, but early days…

Yes, it seems that this corner of the Aotea Centre was packed to the gunwales with South Islanders. Here we had all converged…to hear us discuss ourselves. But perhaps if you’re a Mainlander who lives in Auckland, the chances to gather like this are rare? Kia kaha, my southern brothers and sisters, kia kaha.

Each representative of The Other Big Island is asked to read something that speaks to their identity as a South Islander.

Cover of The villa at the edge of the empireFarrell chooses a poignant passage from her book The Villa at the Edge of the Empire about solastalgia, the feeling of distress caused by the loss of a familiar landscape or environment. My one Cantabrian eye moistens noticeably.

Turner chooses to read several things by different authors including Margaret Atwood and Ronald Wright. I can’t remember the exact details but the theme seems to be that of the rural landscape being irretrieveably altered and damaged in the name of “progress”. What definitely sticks with me was how he describes himself as “a cussett sort of a coot”, because who, outside of a Larry McMurtry novel, talks that way? Splendid.

Bennett is rather less lyrical in his description of Turner who claims to sometimes call “my pet rock”. Certainly the difference between the two men is stark – Bennett all rambunctious energy, Turner barely moving and thoughtful. Mulligan, to his credit, manages almost to reign Bennett in at times, which is generally the best you can hope for, in my experience.

Bennett’s reading is of a very brief passage from a Owen Marshall short story “Cabernet Sauvignon with my brother”, which he chooses for a very specific description of dryness that he feels really perfectly captures that place.

I love the accumulated heat of the Canterbury autumn. When you rest on the ground you can feel the sustained warmth coming up into your body, and there are pools of dust like talcum powder along the roads. It’s not the mock tropicality of the Far North, but the real New Zealand summer. It dries the flat of your tongue if you dare to breathe through your mouth. After spending the vacation working on the coast, I was happy to be back in Canterbury.

Mulligan then asks a questioned designed to provoke, “why don’t you move to Auckland?”

Cover of Into the wider world: A back country miscellanyThe answers were vary in the degree to which they take the question seriously. Turner, with some earnestness observes that he needs wide open spaces and “the sounds of silence that aren’t silence”.

Farrell quips that she “probably couldn’t afford it” (A ha! An Auckland property market joke – they’re easy… but they’re still funny), and Bennett says it has never crossed his mind and points out how wrongheaded, presumptuous and arrogant the question is in the first place.

Discussion moves on to the portrayal of the South Island in the media and Bennett claims that the northern-driven media are often patronising and fall back on the trope of the South Island as “a visitable theme park of prejudice”. Cripes.

Farrell, recalls with dismay how, after reviewing the covers of a weekly publication that may also be a sponsor of the festival so shall not be named, *cough* The Listener *cough*, for the year 2013, found that 25 were about food, and Christchurch didn’t feature once. You can almost but not quite, hear the “tsking” from the audience.

Farrell also paints an interesting picture when discussion of a South Island personality comes up when she says that the myth of two old codgers meandering down a country road discussing cheese really is a myth – they’ve likely sold their farms to foreign interests and are incredibly wealthy, meanwhile the majority of the rivers have been left unswimmable. And yet, we should fight to try and keep some part of this myth of wide open spaces, and bucolic beauty alive and real.

In the end, did we learn anything about what it is to be a South Islander from this session? Maybe the northerners in attendance did? It was certainly entertaining enough to hear the conversation, though I couldn’t help thinking, since all the panelists were of a different generation from me, that what being a Mainlander means to them, might be quite different to what it means to a part-Māori Gen Xer from Linwood. But maybe that’s a different discussion again?

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Ben Brown – Matariki poetry workshop for teens at Shirley Library

Join poet Ben Brown for a young adult poetry writing workshop on Sunday 12 June from 1pm to 3pm at Shirley Library.

If you are aged between 12 and 15, come and join us for a Matariki themed workshop with Lyttelton poet, Ben Brown. You’ll be reflecting on memories and crafting those memories into poetry.

You can book at Shirley Library or ring 9417923 to reserve a spot.

All you need to bring is something to write on (it can be pen and paper, or a tablet/laptop – whatever suits best).

Ben Brown

More about Ben Brown

Ben writes children’s books, non-fiction and short stories for children and adults. Born in Motueka, he has been a tobacco farm labourer, tractor driver and market gardener. Since 1992, he has been a publisher and writer, collaborating with his wife, illustrator Helen Taylor. Many of Brown’s books have a strong New Zealand nature background.

Info from Ben Brown’s profile on the New Zealand Book Council website.

Making literary fiction exciting: Michel Faber – Auckland Writers Festival 2016

Michel Faber
Michel Faber (Image supplied)

Michel Faber’s novels defy easy categorisation. He has written in genres as varied as historical fiction (his novel The crimson petal and the white, is set in Victorian London), horror, and science fiction.

Born in the Netherlands, Faber’s family moved to Australia when he was 7 years old, and he describes himself as something of an outsider, an alien, an outlier. He now lives in Scotland, which for a migraine sufferer, has a much more overcast and hospitable environment.

When he sat down to talk at the Auckland Writers Festival with Kiwi writer Paula Morris about his work (and life), I was woefully unprepared for how raw and heartbreaking the conversation would become.

Cover of The book of strange new thingsThis unexpected poignancy was largely due to his discussion of the loss of his wife Eva, who died in 2014 from cancer. Her diagnosis was made while he was writing his latest (and what he claims will be his last) novel, The book of strange new things, and he admitted that her illness had an affect on how the book developed. The novel has a dystopian, futuristic setting, with a pastor sent to a far-off planet to minister to the indigenous population there. He is separated from his wife and themes of love and loss permeate the tale.

Although the setting is sci-fi one, this Faber says, is just “the furniture”, and to some degree is there for the entertainment aspect. At its heart the story is about human beings, faith and love. Though he lost his faith himself when he was 11, he still feels that religion has a purpose for being and he’s interested in what it gives to people.

Religion is intrinsically ridiculous but there is a reason that people have needed it.

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, Flickr File Reference: 2016-05-15-IMG_1939

Regarding the adaptations of his books for the screen, he was very happy with The Crimson Petal and the White,  and on such good terms with the star Romola Garai that he stayed at her house at one point when they needed to be in London for treatment for Eva. He’s even happier with the film version of Under the Skin, starring Scarlett Johansson.

His feeling regarding literary fiction is that it should be interesting and entertaining as well and that’s what he tries to achieve with this books. There’s a risk, he says, that literary authors will write for the entertainment of other literary authors thus forcing ordinary readers towards entertaining but not very good fiction, that doesn’t give them anything of depth.

He doesn’t want people to regret, after several hundred pages, reading his books – “how pointless is that?”

There is actually nothing worse than a really dull work of literary fiction.

Shortly after the session started, a member of staff appeared carrying a pair of red women’s ankle boots. They were placed next to Faber’s chair, he uttered a quick thank you and carried on with what he was saying. Later on as Paula Morris asked him about what Faber would be working on in the future, since no more novels were in the pipeline, he talked about the projects that involved his wife and explained the mystery of the red boots.

His next projects will be working on Eva’s unfinished short stories as well as writing a biography of her life, not for publication, but for the family. As for the boots, he was taking them to parts of the world to which she had never gone and taking pictures of them in contexts in which he thought she’d be happy…

Then he read several poems from a new book called “Undying” (due out in July) which deals with Eva’s illness, her death, and the grieving process. And this was when everyone started crying. In particular, the poem “You were ugly” which describes the physical changes to Eva’s appearance in illness is brutally honest and heartbreaking with its revelation that after death those changes are forgotten, that her beauty returns. Even Paula Morris was seen to be dabbing her eyes after that one.

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Front lines: Michael Grant – Auckland Writers Festival 2016

Michael Grant is the author of some 150+ books, including the very popular young adult Gone series. He also co-wrote the Animorphs books with his wife, Katherine Applegate.

Michael Grant
Michael Grant (Image supplied)

At the Auckland Writers Festival last week he sat down with Kiwi young adult author Jane Higgins to discuss his books, how he comes up with his ideas, and his approach to writing. He spoke with a good deal of humour, to an audience that was a little younger than most at the festival, and had an easy, affable manner (and dimples, which I am rather fond of on a person).

Cover of Front linesHis latest book, Front Lines, the first in a trilogy, is set during WWII but with one key fact changed – a US Supreme Court decision means that women may be drafted to fight in the war.

In some ways a war setting is one that suits Grant well as he was raised in a military family with a dad who was a “lifer”. Despite this background, he has no love of guns, having misfired one in his youth, which left him having to explain to the downstairs neighbour why there was suddenly a hole in his ceiling. He’s sworn off having a gun in the house ever since. These days his only interaction with firearms are for research – viewing WWII training films on YouTube, for instance.

Research for books also forms the foundation of his holiday plans – his upcoming trip to Europe might not be what the younger members of the family were hoping for when he announced – “Kids, we’re going to Buchenwald*!”

He has a strong interest in history which he described as “the backstory of the human race” and he compared trying to view current events without this as akin to watching the most recent Marvel movie and not understanding why Iron Man and Captain America are fighting. You need the backstory of these characters to understand their motivations.

MIchael Grant at the signing desk
MIchael Grant at the signing desk, Flickr File Reference: 2016-05-14-DSC00950

Grant admits to being a horrible workaholic, typically writing two books a year, and he becomes agitated and irritated when he’s not working – to the extent that he felt a little out of sorts taking a few days off to be part of a literary festival.

This compulsion probably explains his attitude towards the notion of “writers’ block” –

Writers’ block is self-pitying nonsense for lazy writers… If you just keep going, you tend, in the end, to get somewhere.

 

When the discussion turned towards the Gone series, a young man in the row in front of me did a double fist pump, which gives you an idea of how popular those books have been.

When asked about his inspirations for the series which features a world suddenly without adults and which the survivors live under a dome, Grant is keen to point out that he wrote the first book before Stephen King’s “Under the dome” came out (so no, he wasn’t copying that idea). Rather the inspiration for the books came from the TV show Lost, and Robinson Crusoe, both of which he believes to be riffs on the biblical tale of the expulsion of humanity from the Garden of Eden.

Festival bookshop - Michael Grant
Books by Michael Grant at the festival bookshop, Flickr File Reference: 2016-05-12-DSC00894

Fans of the Gone series may be interested to know that he is planning, not a sequel exactly, but another novel set four years down the track in the same universe, in which some old characters may appear.

As a writer of fiction for young adults, he does his best to keep the language clean, but not for the reasons you might think. He doesn’t have a problem with swearing, and doesn’t think young people doing it is something to be concerned about, rather the lack of bad language in his books is for the benefit of… librarians.

Grant likes librarians (in a former life he was a law librarian), and doesn’t want them to get “wrath of God” grief (presumably from parents and school boards?) for stocking his books in their libraries.

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*Buchenwald was the site of a concentration camp in Germany.

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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First full day of festivalling – Auckland Writers Festival 2016

It was full steam ahead with all things literary today as we, your festival angels, attended sessions, took frantic notes, felt our brains get bigger, and tried to process it all.

Listen to our audio wrap up of our day in “festivalling” and what we’re looking forward to on Saturday.

AWF16

(8 mins, 10 sec)

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Introducing your Auckland Writers Festival 2016 angels

Good morning, Charlie (and also people not named Charlie)!

This week the Auckland Writers Festival 2016 begins (10-15 May) and again Christchurch City Libraries is sending a crack team of librarians up to the Big Smoke to absorb, experience and share the excitement of being in the midst of great writers of all kinds.

AWF Angels
Your AWF Angels, Roberta, Masha and Moata, are armed with bookish knowledge

Myself, Masha and Roberta will be your festival “angels” blogging, tweeting, snapping and interviewing our way through the fest beginning on Thursday 12 May and wrapping up on Sunday 15 May. So keep an eye here on the blog or the #awf16 hashtag if you want to stay updated on the festival comings and goings.

There are some extraordinary writers taking part in the festival this year from 81 year-old feminist legend, Gloria Steinem to Man Booker prize winner Marlon James and literary darling Hanya Yanagihara. For fans of smash bestseller (and soon to be released movie) The Girl on The Train, the presence of author Paula Hawkins is sure to raise some interest. Not to mention there being a raft of talented local writers of all stripes attending.

You can find out more by checking out the full festival programme.

What we’re looking forward to at Auckland Writers Festival 2016

Masha, Roberta and I share our picks for what’s good at this year’s event.

Masha

Masha

The author I am most looking forward to seeing is Liz Pichon, the creator of the amusing and very likeable character Tom Gates. Not only does Liz write every page of Tom’s story by hand, she also draws them  – doodling is as important part of her narative as is writing. Hopefully she will teach Auckland’s audience how to doodle and eat caramel wafers at the same time. Very important for future pacifists!

Liz is not the only super-all-in-one-author at the festival. Edward Carey also illustrates his own stories, though his ones are much more darker, eccentric and peculiar. His award-winning young adult Iremonger trilogy has been praised highly by many writers for its truly innovative and unusual imagination.

The rest of the authors that I’m going to see at the festival are all ramblers on the dark side (but another kind of dark): John Boyne with his World War II inspired young adult novels (The boy in the striped pyjamas, The boy at the top of the mountain), this years Man Booker Prize winner Marlon James with A brief history of seven killings (so dark I stopped reading after the first few chapters) and Paula Hawkins with last year’s domestic thriller hit The girl on the train. But please, do not fear! The vibe at the Aotea centre is so uplifiting, I can already see myself floating through the festival days with a big grin on my face, unwrapping each chocolate like it’s the last one!

Moata

MoataI adored The Goodies when I was kid so I would be lying if I said being in the presence of one Mr Bill Oddie isn’t looking like being a highlight for me. As well known for his conservation work and bird-watching as he is for his comedy (and music), it will be interesting to hear what he has to say.

As a science enthuisiast I’m also really looking forward to a session by Janna Levin. She is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Barnard College of Columbia University and has the inside word on all that recent hub-bub about the discovery of gravitational waves resulting from black holes crashing into one another. I expect her Gravitational Sensations session will be heady stuff. I hope I understand some of it!

Levin also features in my other top pick for the festival, The State of America, a session that couldn’t be any more timely, what with the eyes of the world turning towards the US presidential race – and widening at what they see there. Levin, with legendary feminist writer Gloria Steinem (I was gutted to miss out on tickets to her solo session but at least I can get to this one) and historical novelist, essayist and critic Thomas Mallon are set to discus and unpack their homeland (chaired by Guyon Espiner). I’m secretly hoping it’s equal parts brainy and scathing.

Roberta

RobertaBest I give you three short quotes to whet your appetite:

  • Jeanette Winterson on writing and creativity: “Nothing kills creativity like dinginess… the small damp confines of the mediocre,…the compromising and the settling.” (Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit)
  • Jane Smiley on how we love our children in different ways: “Who you are shapes how you are loved”. “You didn’t love us equally” said Debbie. “We loved you individually” answered her father. (Early Warning)
  • Vivian Gornick on her relationship with her best friend Leonard “We share the politics of damage. Our subject is the unlived life.” (The Odd Woman and the City)

These sentiments seem true to me. I have lived these things: the creative crises, the sibling rivalry and the bonds of best friends. And yet I could not have explained them better – or even half as well. So, Auckland here I come, ready to have my eyes opened, my brain prodded and my heart filled. Ready to be amazed.

Indeed. We’re all ready to be amazed. Please do come along and be amazed with us.

*Late edit: More tickets for An evening with Gloria Steinem became available, so I’m going after all!

The Family Tree rant

early warningThis is a rant about books – usually family sagas – in which the relationships between characters cannot be understood without reference to comprehensive family trees. These tables or lists of characters are usually found near the front of the book, but occasionally (and perversely) are only discovered right at the back, by which time you have worked yourself up into quite a frothy.

Not a fan.

And don’t judge me until you have read all three of Pulitzer prize-winning author Jane Smiley’s latest trilogy on the Langdon family: Some Luck; Early Warning and Golden Age. Using the fictional and fascinating  Langdon family to walk us through a century of American history, Smiley tests my family tree tolerance to its very limits.

The Lord of the RingsResearch indicates that 9 important characters per novel is about all most of us can tolerate. Yet Tolkien created a whopping 923 characters in The Lord of The Rings series, and readers have been very forgiving. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, on the other hand, has copped a fair bit of criticism for a character list that stretches to 80 plus 2 accompanying family trees. Smiley’s Langdons – a reasonably fertile lot, grow from a cast of 45 in Just Luck, to 72 in Early Warning and a 105 by the final book Golden Age. I’ve no complaint with Smiley’s writing, it is brilliant, so what exactly is my problem?

  • I find it tiresome to have to flick back to the family tree whenever a new character is mentioned. A mere 30 or so pages from the end of Early Warning a new character, previously unmentioned, was not clarified in the text which meant that even at that late stage in my reading, I was still at the mercy of the family tree.
  • Vital characters – like best friends, crucial business colleagues, lovers, illegitimate children and live-in partners don’t make the family tree cut, necessitating paging back to reread bits of the book to remember who’s who.
  • I harbour a suspicion that good writing should not need to use devices like this, and would instead be able to make clear the relationships within the text of the story.

Wolf HallYet I read, with relish, all three of the books in this Smiley’s most recent trilogy – and have ended up knowing more about the Langdon’s than I do about my own family. And what fascinating, likeable, human characters the Langdons are, and how well Smiley plucks at the lute strings of family ties.

Jane Smiley is presenting at Auckland Writers Festival this year, and is in Christchurch on Monday 9 May thanks to WORD Christchurch. Maybe fortune will smile, and I will get stuck in a lift with her. Do you have any literary questions that you would like me to ask this great author, for I fear that left to my own devices I will just break down and sob:

Why? Why? Why?

Confessions of a Jane Smiley groupie

I’m a great fan of Jane Smiley. I came across her in the late 90s when I read Moo and was impressed by her ability to write about issues confronting contemporary humanity – in this case how agribusiness was impacting on academia – with a quick wit and a writer’s eye that can spot hypocrisy at a hundred paces.

I followed up with Good Faith in which good natured real estate agent, Joe Stratford, gets seduced by the rich pickings of the US property boom and becomes a wheeler dealer par excellence. I was hooked.

Cover of A thousand acresJane Smiley spoke at the Great Hall at the Arts Centre when she visited Christchurch to promote her 1998 historical novel The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton and I was there in the front row. Smiley shows her range in this novel by writing about American history as competently as she does contemporary issues. And, I mustn’t forget to mention, Smiley was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for A Thousand Acres.

Jane Smiley is an author to watch. She doesn’t flinch from the big themes and her penmanship would make many fellow authors want to throw down their laptops in a fit of chagrin and take up a nice, easy career in brain surgery.

When I was offered the opportunity to see her WORD Christchurch talk at the newly reopened Christchurch Art Gallery on Monday 9 May, I jumped at the chance. I’ll make sure I get there early and I get a spot in the front row again. I’m a Jane Smiley groupie and I’m not ashamed to shout it to the world!