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.

Petina Gappah
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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Things that you learn about yourself at a festival – Auckland Writers Festival 2016

Mother TongueYou’d be forgiven for believing that what you learn at a festival is all about writers and readers and books. But, truth is, you learn a whole heap of other stuff too – like yourself. You learn a lot about yourself.

Here’s what I learnt:

  • I cannot pack light – I even pack “what if” stationery.
  • I’m really good at taking notes in the dark. My “blind” notes are superior to those written in the harsh light of fluorescence. It is a minor and little-recognised talent.
  • Big haired people will traverse entire auditoriums to sit right in front of me, thereby affording me the opportunity to write poisonous little asides in my notebook – in the pitch dark.
  • At a festival, I can attend events all day, contribute to an audio recording at night, and then blog well after midnight. All this on a diet of caffeine, darling little ginger friands and Japanese noodles from the outlet across the road, that is: nothing green and crunchy passes my lips. This is not the me most of you know. There is, admittedly, a lot more in the way of colourful language while I’m doing it. But it can be done.

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    Masha, Moata and Roberta: late at night – still blogging to be done!
  • But one of my main festival joys is being regifted the beauty of the English language. At festivals, I am reawakened to an abundance of words that I have just stopped using. I am jolted out of my language laziness and fall in love with words all over again. Not all these words are that rare, but they are heard less and less nowadays, words like this:

All languages change: new vocabulary is created and many wonderfully evocative words fall out of use. But what can I do to stem the dumbing down of English? For starters I can be on Red Alert for the beauty and specificity of our wonderful language.

And that is the gift of Auckland Festival to me.

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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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Gloria Steinem: Encouraging trouble-makers – Auckland Writers Festival 2016

Whatever your political leanings or beliefs about feminism, there is no denying that Gloria Steinem’s life has been an extraordinary one.

Cover of My life on the roadAt the Auckland Writers Festival recently she discussed her beliefs, hopes for the future, and life’s journey as encompassed in her memoir My life on the road.

The audience was full of feminists of all ages. Teenagers to grandmothers, gathered to hear what she had to say. And as it turned out, to talk to each other about it afterwards. By far, of the all the sessions I attended at this year’s festival, this was the one that had the most noticeable sense of community about it, even as disagreements occured – but more on that later.

I arrived early, and was treated to an unexpected glimpse of the woman herself – off to the side in a roped off area in the balcony concourse of Aotea Centre – Gloria Steinem was addressing a small crowd in some kind of reception hosted by the US Embassy.

Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem addresses a small gathering organised by the US Embassy, Auckland Writers Festival 2016, Flickr File Reference: 2016-05-14-DSC00954

Later when she walked out on stage to sit down with Nick Barley, The director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, there were a higher than average number of “whoops” from the crowd, which led me to wonder if the Americans in the audience might be responsible, and sure enough, Steinem herself confirmed that the mayor of Los Angeles was in attendance.

Given the incredible life that Steinem has had, it’s difficult to recap that here and this session, even with it running slightly over time, was never going to be long enough.

But here are just a few things that stood out for me the most –

Steinem reading out the dedication from her book which is to the English doctor who provided her with an abortion when she was 22 years old, had just broken off her engagement, and was en route to India. It was illegal at the time and the doctor made her swear to secrecy. This is not a topic that women often discuss this openly and plainly and for that reason alone it made an impression.

Her discovery in India of “talking circles” and the realisation that the ability to talk about terrible experiences is transformative.

All movements start this way, with consciousness raising groups – now we call them book clubs…

Gloria Steinem at the signing desk
Gloria Steinem at the signing desk, Auckland Writers Festival, Flickr File Reference: 2016-05-13-DSC00942

Her mild (I can’t believe it’s only mild) annoyance that, in her eighties,  she’s still described by people as an ex-bunny because of the 1963 exposé she wrote on conditions for the women working at the Playboy Clubs. She was a journalist and went undercover for a time as a bunny in order to reveal shocking practices like telling women that they were required to undergo an gynaecological exam in order to serve liquor in New York State.

At my advanced age people still introduce me as an ex-bunny. It has been a blight in some ways… People say “What does she know? She was a bunny”.

Her thoughts regarding feminism and the trans community.

Anything that blows up the gender binary is a good thing… It’s fundamentally the right thing because it’s dispensing with false categories.

On the younger generation of feminists, and the concerns that some mothers have that their daughters aren’t sufficiently well educated about feminism.

Women say to me with some alarm, “my daughter doesn’t know who you are!”

But does she know who she is? Because that’s the whole point.

As you would expect there were some really challenging questions from the audience covering topics as broad as decriminalising prostitution, if feminism is supportive enough of women in non-Western countries with different cultural norms, how to promote feminism at your high school (answer: find something that’s sexist and unfair and fight to fix it) and abortion law in New Zealand (over which there was some confusion and disagreement in the audience, but is, as one woman asserted, covered by the Crimes Act 1961.) One woman read out a question which she had rather appropriately written on the back of her birth control prescription!

But probably the best part was that Steinem threw the mic open, not just to questions, but to women wanting to make announcements for upcoming events and “troublemaking meetings”. She also encouraged everyone, as they left, to talk to two or three other people and to try and make connections. Because, I suppose, this is how movements that aren’t just book clubs happen.

No doubt there was a lot of talking and making of connections in the book-signing queue after the session as it was so long it nearly made it out the door and into Aotea Square. An hour later Steinem was still signing.

Signing queue for Gloria Steinem
Signing queue for Gloria Steinem, Auckland Writers Festival, Flickr File Reference: 2016-05-14-DSC00957

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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.

Jean-Christophe Rufin: Walking your way to happiness – Auckland Writers Festival 2016

Two thousand people packed the ASB theatre at the Auckland Writers Festival on Sunday to hear Jean-Christophe Rufin (co-founder of Doctors Without Borders and former French Ambassador to Senegal) talk about walking.

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Jean-Christophe Rufin, Image supplied

He loped on stage – tall, slim and packed to the gills with a kind of laconic Gallic charm. They are rare these men, but I have met one or two in my life, and what distinguishes them is their seamless fusion of Science and the Arts. When praised for his phenomenal CV he shrugged and said:

I am a doctor who writes, that is all.

Being the French Ambassador in Senegal is a bit like being the Queen in the British Isles. When his three year ambassadorial stint in Senegal ended, he found himself without all the trappings of a very high profile job. He had a reduced social status, no social calender, no servants and no idea what to do next. His life seemed to have become very pared down. In a fit of pique he thought to himself, so I will pare it right down. I will walk. I will walk a long way. I will walk the Santiago de Compostela. And you should try never to have that thought he said, because once you do it is like a virus, it will never let you go, you are entirely at its mercy.

The Santiago PilgrimageBut first you must pack your bag. That backpack will be your world. At the start everyone has huge bags. The weight of the bag represents your fear. Some people pack several raincoats. They are afraid of rain. Some people pack much water. They are afraid of thirst. What you pack in your bag will tell you a lot about yourself. When asked what he was afraid of on the walk, he jokingly replied – the snores of my fellow travellers.

But, one week from the end of the Pilgrimage, when he met up with his wife (they wanted to walk the last part together), he looked at their two bags. Hers was massive – packed full of beauty products and accessories. His was tiny. He had walked off his fears.

What do people talk about when they meet up as pilgrims on the Compostela? There are three main questions that get asked:

  • Where did you start The Way?
  • When did you start?
  • And most importantly: How are your feet? You meet people, and you love them, and it all starts with the feet.

That is all. No one ever asks: Who are you? What do you do? These questions are superfluous on the Pilgrimage. But sore feet will be lifted on to the table and viewed by all, like they were the maps of the soul.

And of course, he shrugged, he would love us to read his book – The Santiago Pilgrimage.

But he is adamant. You can gain no real benefit from reading about walking the Santiago. You have to do it. One painful step at a time, until you fall in love with the world again, and you find that you are happy.

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Tell it slant – Steve Braunias, Joan Fleming, Vivian Gornick and Chris Price at the Auckland Writers Festival 2016

How best to tell one’s truth? Inspired by Emily Dickinson’s “tell all the truth but tell it slant”, deft writers Steve Braunias (NZ), Joan Fleming (NZ), Vivian Gornick (US), and Chris Price (NZ) read extracts from their work to show us the many and varied ways in which this can be done.

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Four Writers Read, Image supplied

Steve Braunias is like a jugular heat-seeking missile, and in his reading extract he had the NZ Green Party in his sights. Acutely observant, witty and irreverent, here’s some of his slanty truths:

Eleanor Catton: “from whose pages, it must be said, one does not come away clutching one’s sides in laughter.”

Metiria Turei: “one of the smartest people in the room, then someone gave her a ukulele. There followed the longest 4 minutes of my life.”

failed Love PoemsPoet Joan Fleming‘s writing is like “a shudder of light” in the dark venue. Erotic poetry like this is hard to listen to in a packed room shoulder-to-shoulder with complete strangers. But she read achingly beautifully from her book Failed Love Poems.

Vivian Gornick who read from her book The Odd Woman and the City has had many loves in her life and talks of herself as a person for whom “lovemaking was sublime, but it was not where I lived.” Friendship plays a much greater role, and her interactions with her friend Leonard bring out the best in her writing: “We share the politics of damage … our subject is the unlived life.”

Beside HerselfChris Price is also a New Zealand poet. She drew the short straw in terms of the line-up, as one of the features of AWF is that events follow in rapid succession and you have to queue to gain entry to some of them. Several patrons had to leave while Chris was reading. It must have been very distracting. And it was their loss, here is a quote from a poem about cross-dressing:

After raiding your wardrobe, I feel so much more myself

Great stuff.

All these authors can write and read and speak and connect. The 45 minutes duration of these reading sessions just passes in a flash.

Now to elbow my way to the front of the queue for the next event!

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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.

JohnBoyne
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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“Herstory” in history – Barbara Brookes at Auckland Writers Festival 2016

Three of my favourite things came together at the festival this morning: art, books and networking! Barbara Brookes was giving a presentation on her beautiful book A History of New Zealand Women at the Auckland Art Gallery and I had a message for her.

Meeting up with Barbara Brookes
Meeting up with Barbara Brookes

When I booked a taxi from my home to the airport on Thursday morning (many long blogs ago), my taxi driver, Frank, was a chatty man – and when he heard I was off to Auckland Writers Festival, he said I should go say hello to his sister for him – her name is Barbara Brookes he said. What are the odds? So here I am doing my networking thing, Frank, hope you get to read this blog!

A History of New Zealand Women is a truly beautiful book. It is a book to own. Barbara spent 35 years researching it. She saw the writing of it as part of her personal journey through life. As she said: Some women are into slow cooking, I’m into slow writing!

A History of New Zealand WomenIt is a multi-layered book, and certain myths crash landed very early on:
Myth number 1: That Pakeha brought an improved way of life for women. Wrong. In fact Māori women who married English men lost their traditional rights, even their landownership rights and became completely subservient to their English husbands.
Myth number 2: That the arrival of the English meant more opportunities for Māori women. Wrong. What represented opportunity for English women, a new life in New Zealand, meant dispossession in many cases for Māori women.

So how did we all get to be on more or less the same page as women? Take your pick: childbirth, abortion, the fight against introduced diseases, two World Wars, the introduction of women into the workforce, the shared love of shopping and independence from the restrictions of marriage as the only way up and out, the rise of feminism, the fight for equal rights and equal pay, birth control. These were the bonds. And they were strong.

Many of the old problems are much reduced or gone. But this is life we are talking about, and new problems have come along to take their place. Like the over-sexualisation of young women and even children, domestic violence, and the one Brookes believes is the most worrying: the decline in importance of the male breadwinner and its effect on family dynamics, and the loss of quality family time as a result of the many freedoms that we all now enjoy.

Just when it was getting really quite depressing, I got chatting to a beautiful young woman in the signing queue who said: I’m one of the young women everyone seems so worried about, but we do know about the over-sexualisation of young women, and we know about the dangers of programmes like The Bachelor, but we are also strong, we are also aware.

It was like the baton had been passed on. There is a whole new wave of young women out there. The future is in their strong hands.

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