The last day of the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival

IMG_07186pm on Sunday night and I am in my hotel room looking forward to the trip home tomorrow.  Auckland has been itself in that it has rained and shined, sometimes all at once. I have marvelled at all the people and the beautiful old stone buildings. The festival has been a whirlwind of facts, figures, stories, discussions, a bit of famous author watching and endless cups of coffee.  There has been no time for shopping and barely time to eat. All in all very satisfying indeed.

Today I started off with a visit to the 1920s through to the 1950s with Rosemary Mcleod and The Secret life of aprons. A lovely hour spent looking at her slides of aprons she has known, from the beautiful to the downright odd. It was a lovely slice of New Zealand domestic history which was very much appreciated by the audience.Rosemary’s droll wit was perfect for the occasion. The Art Gallery was looking great, and I had time for a quick trawl around the contemporary art exhibition, with a quiet nod to Jacqueline Fahey’s piece that I could look at with new understanding having heard her speak on Thursday. I also loved the huge hand-made flowers created by Choi Jeong Hwa that hung in the atrium seemingly opening and closing at will.

IMG_0721Next up was a free session, Fifty Shades of WTF. I was to be disappointed, it would seem the fifty shades phenomena has reached the festival and it was full half and hour before it started.

What the Internet is doing to you with the author Aleks Krotoski was often way over my head, but she was an author with a mind like a steel trap who could probably have talked all day. Her interviewer Toby Manhire only needed to ask a couple of questions and away she went! Her basic premise was that the Internet isn’t doing anything, it is what we are doing to each other that is the issue. The Internet will not destroy and neither will it revolutionise, it is just a thing….we are still communicating, the means are different but not what we are talking about. She touched on cyber-addiction and whether there is such a thing (there isn’t apparently), romance on the Internet, and is the Internet capable of serendipity. That’s where I lost her.  The book sounds very readable, and if she writes like she talks it will be entertaining and full of information.

Lastly I toddled along to Faction, a bit of a silly choice as it was about the film The Red house which I haven’t seen, however Annie Goldson and the Alyx Duncan who made the film did a great job breaking down what it was all about.  Alyx used her father and step mother in the film, it started out as a documentary about their lives that didn’t work out and ended up with them acting themselves, but to a script that included some aspects that were true and some that were fictional.  I enjoyed the session and hopefully the library will be able to get the DVD once it comes out.

Thank you Auckland for providing such a great festival. 13,000 people was the last tally that I heard had attended the festival, which is amazing, and certainly warms a librarian’s heart.  To all those authors who spend hours writing, usually in quiet isolation,  I thank you for coming out and sharing your craft, your beliefs and passions.

Life goes on: Kate Atkinson

A highlight of the festival was always going to be Kate Atkinson. I have heard her speak before so I knew that I would have an entertaining evening with plenty of laughs. Now that I had of course reached the giddy heights of interviewing some authors I was very interested in watching the wonderful Ramona Koval wield her formidable interviewing skills.  Perhaps I could learn a thing or two! (or three or four …)

Kate started off by reading an excerpt from her latest book Life after life. Her lilting English accent that so fitted the context made the book really come alive for me.  I wish she should read the book when it comes out in audio.

Kate’s process of writing is an intense one. She described how when she is writing a book she becomes distant from family and friends, she has conversations but finds herself thinking about the book and the characters rather than listening. She holds the book in her head at all times. When she describes her characters they sound like real people, and I suspect while she is in this process that to her they are.

Ramona asked Kate why she is so attached to writing about the Blitz. Kate was born in 1951, she had just missed the war but it was still talked about. 58 days and nights of relentless bombing led her to think about how this must have changed people, to make them think differently about life and death and to maybe get things into perspective. Although our earthquakes were nothing like the blitz her thoughts resonated with me as I thought about how we in Christchurch have changed. Earthquakes are now part of our DNA!

She did a huge amount of research and immersed herself in the stories of war, right down to playing only music from this era, watching endless films and newsreels of the time. She wanted to portray not just facts of this time, but the feelings and emotions.  I think she succeeded brilliantly. My mother went through the Blitz and I know that it affected her for the rest of her life.

Ramona had the ability as an interviewer to take the conversation all over the place without it feeling disjointed. After talking about the Blitz they somehow ended up talking about creative writing classes, of which Kate is not a fan. She feels strongly that writing is something you do on your own, it is isolated and individual and you have to learn to be your own critic. All the fiction writers I have heard at the festival have said more or less the same thing. Interesting considering the recent proliferation of creative writing courses in this country.

Kate has a new book beginning to form in her head and feels that she hasn’t finished with the whole theme of war yet, and no,  Jackson Brodie is not coming back in the short term.  Kate said he is off on a cruise somewhere – a long cruise.

First day in Auckland

IMG_0707Finding  our way from the hotel to the Aotea Centre,  I am struck like probably all Christchurch people are by the amount of pedestrians, cars and general business of a city. I am almost pining for a few road cones!

We collect our tickets from the box office and sit down to work out the plan of attack , only to witness the arrival of a posse of quadbikes and to be deafened by the sound of chainsaws!  Yes, in the middle of Aotea Square we so-called literary festival goers were witnessing the true heartland of New Zealand –  The Ultimate Rural Challenge for the young farmer of the year, quite a contrast you could say!

They certainly were beating us on the noise scale as the Aotea Centre was pretty quiet today with just a few late stragglers looking for tickets, but tonight that should all change with the New Zealand Listener Gala Night where the glamorous and maybe the famous will come out to hear eight writers present a seven minute story inspired by the theme of An Open Book. I am expecting an entertaining if slightly less physically daunting night than the young farmers, who might be out ploughing Mt Smart stadium for all I know.

Tomorrow is a busy day with Rachel interviewing Jackie Kay and Fleur Adcock and Robyn and I doing a tag team interview with Wayne McCauley in between attending Everlasting feasts, Monied worlds, Remarkable Women and Boys at War. Phew.

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“Soon is partly a novel about story-telling, about fiction and about art”: an interview with Charlotte Grimshaw

Jane interviewed New Zealand author Charlotte Grimshaw who will be speaking at the The Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. Steve Braunias will be talking with Charlotte and her father C.K. Stead about how power plays out in their fictional landscapes.

Charlotte Grimshaw is a New Zealand author of five books and two short story collections. She has been the recipient of many awards and also writes a monthly column for Metro.

Soon is her latest book, a follow on from the Night Book with Simon Lampton now on a summer break at the Prime Minister’s holiday home. He is negotiating the  fallout from his affair, tricky family machinations, corruption and a crumbling mental state. A parallel fantasy story told to the Prime Minister’s son by his wife Roza introduces an uncomfortable story about a character called “Soon” which has uncanny parallels to the dramas that are developing in the lives of the adults present.

When I finished Soon it felt like there was more to come.  Are you planning a third book in this series?

I’m now writing a sequel to Soon. Many people have said to me they want to know what happens next – particularly since the book ends on a bit of a cliff-hanger – so I decided I wanted to know too.

If there is to be a third book do you think we might hear more from Dr Lampton’s rather rebellious daughter, I found her quite intriguing and enjoyed the relationship she had with her father.

Of all the women in the novel, Dr Lampton’s rebellious daughter is the one whose personality is closest to mine. I’ve drawn on my own memories of being a teenager. It’s not a self-portrait, but I have a lot of sympathy for her struggles. She is bound to resurface somewhere, either in the next novel or in a subsequent one.

I was intrigued that I wanted Simon Lampton to succeed in his deception about Arthur Weeks’ death (even if it was accidental). Was it your intention for readers to have this sort of reaction?

I’m very pleased that you wanted Simon to succeed in his deception about Weeks’s death. I hope this means I’ve created a character for whom a reader can have empathy, as he gets himself into more and more trouble.

How did Roza’s fantasy story that she tells to her son Jonnie develop, was it something you planned or did it evolve as the novel was written?

Soon is partly a novel about story-telling, about fiction and about art. The fantasy story is a commentary and a satire on the main action, and Roza is, in comic terms, an anarchic artist. I had two statements in mind when I wrote the novel: 1) Ford’s line, “It is not intellectually good enough to be apolitical” and 2) The Woody Allen line, “The artist creates his own moral universe.”

The novel explores those ideas, which are not necessarily contradictory. As for the fantasy story, I had it all in my head, because I told my younger son a continuous Soon story from when he was three years old to when he turned ten, every day, often for up to an hour a day. It was exhausting, but rewarding. I have used only a fraction of seven years of Soon in the novel. The way the story started was exactly as it happens in the first chapter of the book. Having said all that I should add that the character of Roza is nothing like me. She is an entirely invented person, different from me in many many ways.

I would say in general that we love to hate our politicians. Certainly the ones we meet in The Night book and Soon are rather unpleasant.  Are they an indication of what you think about politicians?

I don’t hate politicians generally, although some are quite hateable as individuals. When I wrote The Night Book and Soon I partly had in mind the relationship between Albert Speer and Adolf Hitler. To put it briefly, Speer was a technocrat, and fairly apolitical, and he fell in with a group of politicians who led him very much astray.

We are always interested to know what part libraries have played in writers lives?

Libraries are vital and indispensable and should be preserved at all costs. I’ve used libraries since I was a child, and all my children have always had huge benefit from libraries.  Having said that, all writers wish people would buy their books rather than say they’re waiting for a copy at the library.

Do you believe that in order to write you need to read?  Is there anything you have read lately that you would recommend to our customers?

You can’t be a writer without reading all the time. In fact if anyone says they’re a writer but they don’t read much, you can tell straight away they won’t be any good. Lately I’ve reread The Untouchable by John Banville, Inside Hitler’s Bunker by Joachim Fest and I’m about to read Canada by Richard Ford.

I see that you are speaking alongside your father at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival about how power plays out in your fiction. Does power come from money and status or is this too simplistic?

My book is about political power in New Zealand, which can be achieved without too much money, (unlike in the U.S., say.) My father’s book is more about money and power, in that it’s about banking.

Are you planning to go to any of the sessions at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival and if so, what are you looking forward to?

I’ll be going to as many festival sessions as I can.

Best regards,

Thank you Charlotte for giving such interesting answers. We are getting to as many festival sessions as we can too, only days away now …