Anticipated highlights #3 – AWRF 2013

Cover: Life after LifeThe last of my anticipated highlights is also one of the last sessions of the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. It’s a panel made up of two authors I know and admire, and two I have never read. By this stage of the programme difficult choices have been made, bargains have been struck with colleagues and panic that you’re going to miss an author you really want to see starts to set in.

This is why writers festival panels are a great invention. Festival-goers can cram a viewing of several writers into one session time, they can see unfamiliar writers (always good for the For Later list), check up on old favourites,  and the speakers change before concentration can flag.

What the writers choose to read is another great thing about panels – for this one they will “read selections from their work that reference the repeating of history”. This is the only time I will get to see Kate Atkinson and Charlotte Grimshaw, both writers I really like. I’ve seen them before so traded their main sessions for writers I hadn’t, but  the way history tends to repeat is fundamental to their work, so their choices should be very interesting.

Cover: WulfHamish Clayton’s Wulf features terrifying old Te Rauparaha – the possibility of his history repeating itself  is not an inviting prospect – but of course Clayton doesn’t have to read a published work; it could be something to add to the much later/eagerly awaited list.

Tanya Moir studied at Christchurch’s very own Hagley Writers’ Institute and has moved from straight historical fiction in La Rochelle’s Road, her first novel, to a mix of contemporary and historical elements in Anticipation, her latest. Both books have very well reviewed, which sometimes influences me and sometimes doesn’t.

Do reviews influence you?

Emerging at Wellington Writers and Readers Week 2012

Being an ’emerging’ writer is an interesting thing to be. What is the criterion for emerging? Is it that you are young? Not Cover of The Rehearsalaccording to one questioner at the New Zealand’s Emerging Writers session  at Wellington Writers and Readers 2012. Slightly unkindly, he observed that Eleanor Catton, Hamish Clayton and Craig Cliff didn’t look particularly young to him, causing each panellist to ‘fess up their age. All under 40, which might be a sign that they are young, because I’m not sure anyone who is not would announce their age from the stage of the Embassy.

Can a writer still be emerging when they have won prizes?  That would exclude Catton, whose debut novel The rehearsal won the New Zealand Book Award for Best First Book of Fiction, and Craig Cliff, who won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best First Book Award for A man melting.

Perhaps writers are still emerging when they have only written one book so far. So how did these writers begin to emerge?

Catton wanted to break the convention of the coming-of-age novel – the idea that there is some sort of arrival into adulthood.

Clayton had an urge to write but nothing to say so he went to university, thinking that if you want to be a decent writer you need to be well-read. (If only it was that easy, I thought to myself). He discovered that you do have to be very patient for overnight success.

Cliff found that a 21-year-old man alone in a room writing a novel is never a good idea. A few years later he tried again, and it still wasn’t a good idea. Then he thought of trying the short story form, where a first draft can be finished in the first blast of inspiration.

All three are now working on novels set in the past, a departure for Catton and Cliff, but not for Clayton whose first novelCover of Wulf Wulf is about early 19th century New Zealand, its explorers and that fascinating and terrifying character Te Rauparaha.

Clayton and Catton saw some problems with the talk around Historical Fiction. For Clayton it is limiting; faithfulness in the rendering of time and place is not the point.   Catton sees the problem as the present foisting onto Historical Fiction the things we are most  preoccupied with now, resulting in works that exist only to confirm what we already know.

Craig is reading a lot (The story of a New Zealand River was mentioned) and using the part everyone reads in The Count of Monte Cristo as a model for the book he is working on, leaving out the bits everyone skips.

This was all very interesting as I don’t read much Historical Fiction. The last book I read in the genre was Wolf Hall, which led to some heated debates. I loved it, but others dismissed it out of hand because of its modern voice.  Any dedicated H.F. readers out there with an opinion?