An open book: New Zealand Listener Gala Night

Carol Hirschfeld is the perfect host for the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival Gala evening. She has a great turn of phrase, looks wonderful and has a passion for books, what more could you need? In her introduction she mentioned that there are over 12,000 people attending this years festival, up on last year and if you combine that with the 3000 school children that have been entertained over the last few days, then that is a lot of people enjoying books!

Each writer was given the task of telling a story around the theme of An Open Book. As you can well imagine everyone took a different angle, some very literal, others had a more tenuous link to the theme, but all were moving as well as entertaining.

I was impressed by these writers, solitary people at times I imagine, thrown into the limelight, alone on the stage recounting some really quite personal stories.They didn’t falter, they made us laugh – usually at their expense, and kept our attention. To be told a story as an adult is very powerful.  When do we ever have the opportunity to just sit and listen with no input, no nodding of heads or vague encouraging comments needed, no need to offer feedback or praise? What an indulgent pleasure.

Novelist Shehan Karunatilaka could well be a hit at this festival. He was born in Sri Lanka, but spent his teenage years at the prestigious Wanganui Collegiate. His story revolved around finding an adult magazine (of the sort we don’t have at the library) and although the pictures held some allure, he also found a story about Sting and the band the Police. This started him on a journey of reading, the library became a place of refuge from some of the bigotry he experienced at school but also a place where he could learn – everything!  Sadly I found his book Chinaman not to my liking,  (a book based around cricket was always going to have an uphill battle to win my favour), but I don’t think this will be a deterrent for festival goers. Jackie Kay was also very engaging so look out for Rachel’s interview of her tomorrow.

So, we have had a tantalising taste of things to come, and a free copy of the Listener which was a bit of a bonus so let it begin!

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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