Wayne Macauley at Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2013

Cover: Blueprints for a Barbed Wire CanoeWayne Macauley was one of my festival discoveries at the 2013 Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. I read  Blueprints for a Barbed-Wire Canoe  in preparation for attending his session (now that’s conscientious festival-going). It reminded me of Colm Tóibín and for me there can be no higher praise. They don’t share subject matter or style, but they both manage to be spellbinding without being showy.

Blueprints is Macauley’s first novel. In it the suburban dream of owning your own home goes very wrong very quickly. Macauley’s description of the physical decay of a model housing estate resonated very strongly with me, in my second year of living in the east of Christchurch.

It’s on Year 12 reading lists in Australia, which is great if you want the kids to read an exemplary prose stylist, but could be a fail if you want them to aspire to home ownership in the suburbs.

Year 12 is when Macauley’s own life changed; a ‘drop-dead gorgeous’ teacher got the class to read Joyce, Hamlet, Voss and The Waste Land. Now his work may be changing the lives of the kids who read him.

In his sessions at Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, it became evident that Macauley is a deep thinker, looking at things most of us take for granted and taking our ideas about them just a little bit further.

In Blueprints for a Barbed-Wire Canoe it’s the suburban dream. In The Cook it’s the service industry and the jobs that have replaced manufacturing. Is this good? In Caravan Story it’s the desirability of the arts in society. How many writers and artists do we need?

It’s a big ask for a reader to question things more deeply than they would in an ordinary narrative. But in the hands of a writer as skilled as Macauley it’s a very rewarding undertaking. The man has written an entire book without using one comma.

Before the Rain – Colm Toibin

It was sunny when I went into the Aotea Centre and raining in great torrential sheets when I came out. It was such a Colm Toibinshock because I had been in a cocoon in the ASB Theatre totally absorbed in Colm Toibin and Thomas Keneally.

Words and ideas poured out of Colm Toibin. We heard the portrait of the writer as an artist whose sentences are brushstrokes. Those sentences had been influenced by Hemingway’s style which made a huge impact on the teenage Colm. He talked about readers finding the feeling between and behind the words.

Jane Austen and Henry James have influenced him with their depictions of young women characters whom people disregard – Fanny Price in Mansfield Park and Catherine Slope in Washington Square. He wanted to be writing about that sort of character in an Irish setting and so the person of Eilish in Brooklyn emerged.

He rejects writing for a particular audience or being labelled  gay, Irish etc. “Writing is an obliteration of self to write about another self”. Talking about the challenges of writing he said that bringing the story along versus writing the detail which engages the reader’s imagination and emotion is always “a game of time and a game of texture, playing off one against the other”

Although he is not often living there he talked of the importance of home – the town of Enniscorthy and the Wexford area – in his life. And throughout the session ran a lovely strain of humour

  • “there are only six fine days a year in Ireland and they all occur in this book (Brooklyn)”
  • Talking of being invited to the White House for St Patrick’s Day last year he said the Americans thought about who to invite – Irish religious (in disgrace), Irish bankers and economists(in disgrace), Irish politicians (also in disgrace) that just left Them (Irish artists).

This was a wonderful session that made me want to go away and read every book Colm Toibin has every written.

Stop that tenoring Colm Toibin, you’re a bass

cover of BrooklynNews – Colm Toibin is a bass and not afraid to burst into song as festival goers found out at the opening last night. He said he did it to “break the monotony of the reading”. We talked a bit more about his venture into singing when he joined a choir in New York, and how his experiences there may be the nucleus of a new novel. But a word of warning. I went into a technological death spin with the recording and Richard was only able to salvage a flavour.

A brief summary is that he was intrigued by the experience of a new vocal identity and he also had been listening to an American singer Lorraine Hunt Lieberson who changed from a soprano to a mezzo soprano during her career, so he is writing about a woman who joins a choir and finds her voice changing.

His experiences do appear in his novels. A classic is the two cats who live on top of the dresser in the Blackwater Lightship. Garrick and Charlie are based on two cats he observed while staying in a house in Newfoundland. He admits to being a little bit of a people watcher and some scenes will stay in his mind and perhaps appear in his writing.

I asked the library question, and the Wexford Library of his teenage years provided a place where he could read widely and explore literature with the help of two kindly librarians, friends of his aunt, who made him feel special and welcome.

If you haven’t already, explore the writing of this lovely, humorous man whose writing is delightful.

A sad state of affairs

It has been so long since I have written anything for this Blog that I had forgotten my password and user name! Perhaps the reason I haven’t been writing is I have been too busy trying to plough my way through books that I should have tossed after the first chapter.  My sorry tale starts with me embarking on my winter holiday with two books.

I thought that Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín would be a great holiday read.  I really enjoyed the Blackwater lightship and this new book was a promising story about  a young Irish girl making her way to America on her own.  I was wrong.  I finished the book, but probably only because it was short.  Nothing happened!  Well nothing very interesting. Girl leaves Ireland, goes to Brooklyn, works in a shop, lives in a boarding house, meets man, goes back to Ireland, meets another man, goes back to Brooklyn, and …. that’s it!

So then I started on a favourite authors’ new book.  T Coraghessan Boyle wrote a fantastic novel about a pack of crazy hippies moving to Alaska to form a commune. Drop City was a great story, funny and full of surprises.  So it was with baited breath that I started The Women, about Frank Lloyd Wright (famous architect and renowned womaniser.  I was promised a story blazing ” with his trademark wit and invention”.  There was a huge possibility for intrigue, murder, passion and insight into this famous man and the women in his life.  Alas, I found none of this, and ditched the book about a third of the way through.  Again nothing really happened, I gained no insight into any of the characters, and they all seemed dull and one dimensional.  It was with a heavy heart that I finished my holiday.  I hadn’t had those long hours of basking in the joy of knowing I could totally engross myself in a great story.  Instead I had to actually leave the house and do things.  What a let down

However things have looked up.  I have begun the Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews,  and it’s looking like a keeper.  Perhaps I should have another holiday?