Life goes on: Kate Atkinson

A highlight of the festival was always going to be Kate Atkinson. I have heard her speak before so I knew that I would have an entertaining evening with plenty of laughs. Now that I had of course reached the giddy heights of interviewing some authors I was very interested in watching the wonderful Ramona Koval wield her formidable interviewing skills.  Perhaps I could learn a thing or two! (or three or four …)

Kate started off by reading an excerpt from her latest book Life after life. Her lilting English accent that so fitted the context made the book really come alive for me.  I wish she should read the book when it comes out in audio.

Kate’s process of writing is an intense one. She described how when she is writing a book she becomes distant from family and friends, she has conversations but finds herself thinking about the book and the characters rather than listening. She holds the book in her head at all times. When she describes her characters they sound like real people, and I suspect while she is in this process that to her they are.

Ramona asked Kate why she is so attached to writing about the Blitz. Kate was born in 1951, she had just missed the war but it was still talked about. 58 days and nights of relentless bombing led her to think about how this must have changed people, to make them think differently about life and death and to maybe get things into perspective. Although our earthquakes were nothing like the blitz her thoughts resonated with me as I thought about how we in Christchurch have changed. Earthquakes are now part of our DNA!

She did a huge amount of research and immersed herself in the stories of war, right down to playing only music from this era, watching endless films and newsreels of the time. She wanted to portray not just facts of this time, but the feelings and emotions.  I think she succeeded brilliantly. My mother went through the Blitz and I know that it affected her for the rest of her life.

Ramona had the ability as an interviewer to take the conversation all over the place without it feeling disjointed. After talking about the Blitz they somehow ended up talking about creative writing classes, of which Kate is not a fan. She feels strongly that writing is something you do on your own, it is isolated and individual and you have to learn to be your own critic. All the fiction writers I have heard at the festival have said more or less the same thing. Interesting considering the recent proliferation of creative writing courses in this country.

Kate has a new book beginning to form in her head and feels that she hasn’t finished with the whole theme of war yet, and no,  Jackson Brodie is not coming back in the short term.  Kate said he is off on a cruise somewhere – a long cruise.

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?

Jackson Brodie: the shirtless detective

Alright, you lot:  hands up who missed Wednesday night’s screening of Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories?

Really?  Sorry to hear that – you missed a treat. Even without the above-referenced (and much-mentioned-in-reviews) shirtlessness, it was a GREAT adaptation of the first of the Jackson Brodie series. I’ve read the books, so was pretty prepared for the story to be quite full in terms of characters and plots, but my family hadn’t read any, and still coped remarkably well with the large number of missing/murdered/misunderstood girls and young women in Brodie’s life.

I thought the script and casting and characterisation were all pretty much spot on, and there were never any moments where I thought: Hang on, THAT’s not what happened in the book …  And I will definitely be tuning in next week for book number two: One Good Turn.

So that’s MY 5 minute lightning-fast take on Case Histories, the TV series – what’s yours?

When will there be good news?

When will there be good news? I wonder when Kate Atkinson wrote this book that she had any idea that this phrase would be on everyones lips? Thankfully I didn’t read this book last year after hearing her at the Christchurch Readers and Writers festival, but saved it for a good weekend read when I needed a little bit of escapism from all the doom and gloom. What I love about fiction is that fact that I can go from the brutal reality of the The Wasted Vigil (see previous post) to a gritty but somewhat more cheerful story from Kate Atkinson, who specialises in great eccentric characters and gripping drama with a good dash of humour.

Reggie, a plucky sixteen year old steals the show, managing to overshadow the familiar and somewhat complex Jackson Brodie who we have met in previous outings. Reggie is an orphan with a precocious wit and a predisposition to solving crime, who I hope we will meet again, alongside Louise Marlow, a world weary detective with ongoing feelings for Jackson Brodie, and the man himself, who manages to spend part of the book in a coma, after a train crash, but still has a brooding effect on everyone he encounters. (But not while he’s in the coma of course!)

You could say the general theme of the book is loss, and how to keep going, and the initial chapters relay the story of a young girl who is the only remaining survivor after her mother, brother and sister are brutally murdered. Escapism you say? Thankfully, we discover that the young girl is now a doctor who, with her husband and baby boy, generally manages to get on with life, (with the support of the ever helpful Reggie who is her nanny), until the murderer is released after 30 years in jail, and her sudden and strange disappearance gets everyone on the hop.

There is a certain predictability in how the story unfolds, which personally I find somewhat comforting, but enough of a twist to keep you on your toes. I’m looking forward to Atkinson’s next outing, that according to TimesOnline will feature two female characters, Gloria and Louise, at a murder mystery weekend. I’m sure they will be the usual quirky and interesting characters that Kate Atkinson (and I) love.

Apologies to Kate Atkinson fans

Kate Atkinson
Kate Atkinson

As you can tell by the number of posts during the Writers festival, it was pretty busy.  This is my excuse for why, somehow, unbelievably, we seem to have missed out on posting anything about Kate Atkinson’s session.  This is a shame, because those who went really enjoyed it.

The session was scarily chaired by Lynn Freeman from The Arts on Sunday Radio Programme, (her warnings about what she would do to anyone whose phone went off during the session was enough to get me rifling through my bag to double recheck that my phone was off). However she asked some really good questions and kept the mainly female audience in strict control.  We all knew exactly where we stood thank you very much!

Kate Atkinson read a chapter from her new book When will there be good news.  I thoroughly enjoyed sitting back and being read to, but I did hear murmurings about not coming to a session to spend half of it listening to a chapter of a book that they had already read!  Others however …

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