Favourite reads from favourite authors: WORD Christchurch

Sydney Bridge Upside DownTwo of my favourite things about literary festivals are: to hear authors read from books, and to find out what their best loved reads are. Reading Favourites was a WORD event that ticked both those boxes for me.

The three authors were Kate de Goldi, Sarah Laing and Carl Nixon and they were asked to name their two favourite New Zealand books. Guy Somerset hosted this event, which he wistfully billed as being: “like an Uber Book Group without the wine or cake.”

Kate de Goldi chose:

Sydney Bridge Up-side Down by David Ballantyne, a book about which she confesses to be somewhat evangelical. Published in 1968, it is a book that “keeps finding its readers”. It was, according to de Goldi, way ahead of its time.

Kate’s second choice was Welcome to the South Seas by Gregory O’Brien, a book de Goldi classifies as Creative Non-Fiction. It is a book that awakens the child in you, that grandparents buy for their grandchildren and end up keeping for themselves. It has the artwork asking you the questions.

Cover of HicksvilleSarah Laing:

Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks topped Laing’s favourites list. She has read this graphic novel several times and never tires of its multi layered approach. With each reading she seems to uncover more and more.

Sarah’s second choice was From the Earth’s End – The Best of New Zealand Comics. Sarah reminded us that after the war, 47 comic titles were published every month in New Zealand alone and that libraries are the guardians of much of this early material.

Carl Nixon:

The Day Hemingway DiedCarl’s first choice was The Day Hemingway Died by Owen Marshall. It was the first book (at 18 years of age) that Carl remembers wanting to read as if he had discovered it all by himself. It has a very distinct tone, is the perfect illustration of character foibles and is laugh-out-loud funny – all at the same time.

Carl’s second choice was Gifted by Patrick Evans. He read a wonderful extract from this book about the meeting between Sargeson and Janet Frame, two people who never really understood one another at all, according to Carl. This book never received the attention that it deserved and Carl hopes that we will rectify that by getting out there and doing it justice.

This was a well presented, varied event in which the participants gave us a peek into their best-loved books. And, to top it all, it was free. That is correct, there were a number of free events at the festival, and the calibre of all events is very, very high. So, in two years time, even if the budget is tight and penury looms (and I do so hope this will not be the case), you can still tart yourself up, hitch a ride down to the Fest and recharge those tired old book-loving batteries.

See you there in 2016!

There were four in the bed and the little one said …

The four in the coffee shop – Jolisa Gracewood, Tim Wilson, Laurence Fearnley and Carl Nixon.

From huts to heaven at The Press Christchurch Writers Festival was a close-up-and-personal event at the YMCA. The writers all met up at the next door coffee shop for a relaxed chat before the start, and that kind of set the tone. Inside the cosy venue, the stage  was crowded with big chairs and individual craning mikes and a precariously perched pot of yellow bulbs right over Laurence’s head. Jolisa joked that they looked like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young about to break into harmony. But no, the three New Zealand writers, with Jolisa as the Chair, were there to discuss novel writing in New Zealand to-day.

Carl Nixon kicked off with a reading from his new and yet to be published historical romance The Virgin and the Whale. Tim quipped: “It’ll sell better if you re-title it The Virgin’s in the Mail” but Carl is a brave man and just kept reading. Set in “Mansfield” (another name for Christchurch Carl freely admits), the narrator has a chatty, almost flippant tone which Carl hopes will help to lighten the book in the way that Kiwi authors are always being encouraged to do. The reading was warmly received – good luck with the rest of it Carl! Of all the writers it is Carl who has so far had the most success in getting some interest going in the publication of his books overseas.

Tim Wilson has been away from New Zealand for six years working as TV New Zealand’s US correspondent. He said coming back home was like returning to paradise – visually restful, clean and nice smelling. He read from a short story of his called Coming and Going which tackles the topic of Kiwis returning home after periods away, agreeing with Jolisa that it is people who get in the way of returning and resettling. As for the oft proffered advice that New Zealand writers need to lighten up and write for a more international audience, he quoted Tim Parks who said:

Writers write for the whole world, it is readers who are parochial.

Then it was the turn of the little one, who did not say “Roll Over”. In fact Laurence Fearnley is the most prolific of the three authors with eight books published and rolling over is so not what she does. “I only ever write for myself” she said. To Laurence writing is magical, looking at the book you have published in your hand, well – you come over all tingly. There is no better feeling. She read a very moving passage from her latest prizewinning novel The Hut Builder.

So far none of Laurence’s books has been published overseas (and this is a crying shame – trust me). She gets told that they are too New Zealand and, she believes, possibly too sad. Everyone wants jolly and Laurence does not really do jolly.

I start writing a book and I try to do a happy book and happy characters. But then something goes wrong.

Question time brought out an interesting crop, amongst them the issue of multiculturalism in Pakeha writing which was carefully considered by all three authors. The general consensus was that it would be a terrible strain for the writers to have central characters as Maori just because they don’t really know what that feels like and it would be so easy to get it wrong.

The final question came from a woman who confessed she’d not read any of their books but …

Quick as, Tim interjected:

You only have to buy them. You don’t have to read them!

And that’s the end of the Fest for me. It has been great!