On the way to Sydney, we stopped in Auckland

David MitchellIn a packed session at the 2011 Auckland Writers and Readers Festival Nicola Legat (publisher at Random House, Festival trustee) spoke with three regional winners of the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize. You can read some background information about these writers and the Prize itself in a previous blog of mine. These writers are on their way to the Sydney Writers Festival for the announcement of the overall winner of the prize.

Aminatta Forna (whose mother incidentally lives in New Zealand) was born in Sierra Leone, and raised in the UK. She won the Best Book category for the Africa region of the Prize with The Memory Of Love. This novel, about love and war, is set in Sierra Leone, and in her deep radio-quality voice, she read us an excerpt. She has well-crafted turns of phrase – “leaning across her frame like an old woman at the garden gate” (a child using a bamboo(!) walking frame). One of the protagonists is Kai, a young doctor in a hospital that is severely underfunded, coping with shortages of what we would call essentials, with equanimity  – “scalpel poised like a conductor when the generator fails, waiting for the lights to go back on”, and of proceeding with operations with no anaesthesia available, tying patients to the bed, giving them a twisted sheet to bite from until they faint from pain – whew. Continue reading