The Freedom Papers: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Four people seated in leather chairs on the stage. From left to right, Lloyd Jones, Yaba Badoe, Juno Dawson, and Nick Barley.

Nick Barley – Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival – introduces the topic by sharing a story of how he came to commission authors to write essays on what freedom means to them. The essence of this captured in his state that the purpose of this is “to think about not only a word, freedom… and why literary conversations matter”. From here, the three authors on stage with Barley speak in turn about what freedom means to them.

Yaba Badoe, Lloyd Jones, and Juno Dawson. Image supplied.

Yaba Badoe spoke first. She spoke about a kind of national freedom drawing on the independence of Ghana as her example. But within this, she discussed the challenges that such national freedom brings. She spoke about how there were all these grand ideas as to what a new Ghana was going to look like and how independence in Ghana would lead to the creation of a “heaven on Earth” free from British colonial rule. However, in this instance, reality did no meet the expectations and she warned about the challenges associated with dreams of freedom and the reality of these desires.

Juno Dawson spoke next. Dawson spoke about freedom of speech. However, she was more interested in the consequences that can result from freedom of speech. Simply put by herself:

“Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences.”

To her, freedom of speech does not protect people from the fallout or consequences of the “stupid things” that they say, and that people have a right to react. She drew on her own personal experience with transphobic remarks in regards to her transitioning in the public eye. The issue here was with the way people expressed surprise or derision in the way she did not accept such abuse but instead chose to protect herself through various means leading to some people claiming that she, herself, was against free speech. This is of course not the case, simply that people need to be aware that people should expect consequences for the things that they say.

Dawson also talked about how freedoms that have already been acquired should not be taken for granted: 

“Freedoms can be rolled back… often hard won, and can be taken away”. 

Most notably, the ongoing issues with reproductive rights in the United States is an issue where this can be seen.

Last to speak was New Zealand’s own Lloyd Jones. Jones took a much more skeptical approach to freedom. He talked about how it has become a politically loaded term, often used to justify certain actions that would appear to be in contradiction with freedom as a concept – he spoke here of how ‘freedom’ is used within the context of American politics, most notably American foreign policy – and how the “word has been debased” due to this. He painted a rather graphic image of what he thinks when he hears the word freedom:

When you say freedom, I just see a pile of bodies with an American flag waving on top”.

Jones used this to launch into a conversation about “the freedom to do the wrong thing” and how we see this freedom practices all to often. An example he used in the New Zealand context is the continued pollution of the waterways that occurs due the ever expanding industrial agriculture we have in New Zealand. He summed up his ideas through this statement:

The freedom to do the wrong thing is not a freedom worth having”.

Jones provided a timely and skeptical engagement with a concept so often taken for granted as being unequivocally positive.

Following this, there was a brief conversation discussing the way that freedom as a concept is present within the authors’ works.

Barley, Badoe, Dawson, and Jones all had dynamic personalities that bounced off each other in an entertaining manner. Often humorously as the four speakers engaged in conversation with each other. It was an entertaining and informative event with three different and, at times, contradictory ideas pertaining to freedom discussed. All the while, the conversation was very well facilitated by the eloquent Nick Barley.

A pleasure of an event that provided much to think about within literature and more.

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Orphans, Immigrants, and Identity – Lloyd Jones: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

CoverAt the lovely Piano venue in Christchurch, Lloyd Jones, one of New Zealand’s most successful writers (author of the Man Booker Prize nominated Mr Pip), sat down for a fascinating interview with broadcaster John Campbell.

Campbell set up the session with a great introduction. He gave the audience an insight into Jones’ latest offering The Cage. Campbell described it as ‘a willfully shocking book… confronting and tough’. No surprises here, as Jones is an author who has never shied away from the brutally honest and even harrowing (Mr Pip had me virtually traumatised for a week, and the movie was probably the most distressing piece of cinema I have ever seen).

Jones explained that The Cage was inspired by his own experience of witnessing the arrival of Syrian refugees in Budapest. He described the sight as harrowing with clusters of families squeezed onto cardboard rafts, and women trying to sweep their small spaces as if to preserve their last vestige of dignity. The Cage was written to stress the importance of having a voice and a conscience when faced with tragedy.

Lloyd Jones. Image supplied.
Lloyd Jones. Image supplied.

Jones never tells readers where ‘the strangers’ in the novel are, or where they have come from. He is a strong believer that ‘readers complete a novel’  joining the dots themselves… reading their own circumstances. Jones recalled a book signing for Mr Pip where a young girl asked him if Matilda returned to the island. Jones gave the somewhat disappointing but honest response that he didn’t know, ‘what do you think?’. After a moment, the girl smiled and said ‘Yes’. Campbell concurred that he believed she did too – without a doubt – but not without an admonishment later that Jones ‘did write the bloody book’.

CoverAlong with eleven novels, Jones has written short stories, and non fiction including an incredibly powerful autobiography A History of Silence. Endearingly, he shared that he walks the places his characters walk – he walked the orphan museum just like Matilda, and ‘Matilda loved Dickens because the author did’.

Jones commented that people often describe his books as all being very different from each other, but really they are all similar in their exploration of the theme of identity. Orphans also play a big role in Jones writing because, as he observed, ‘my family specialised in them’. Jones’ mother was given away at the age of four, while Jones father went through a series of foster homes after the death of his mother. ‘One does not look back if not taught to look back’ observed Jones.

His history of silence was just that – ‘There was no history… my parents never never spoke about it’. Jones also spoke movingly about discovering the story of his wife’s ancestors (which involved a tragic drowning) from an old man. The same man witnessed the mass shooting of Jewish women and children during the Second World War – the women instructed to lift their babies above their heads to be killed first, then the mothers killed after. “It’s amazing how landscape hides sins” said Jones. Visiting the site later, he would never have known, the world would never have known, had it not been for that man bearing witness:

If we ignore what is happening we are complicit – you cannot un-know something.

The session ended with audience questions but the closing one in particular seemed such a fitting way to end of the session. One audience member asked Jones if he had faith in humanity, to which he replied:

Definitely – every person in this room will have done something wonderful, and every person will have also done something they are not proud of. I do believe though that we still need a set of core values.

While Jones never seeks to give us answers in his books, or indeed pretend for one moment that he has the answers, his writing always manages to do just this – somehow help us to discover core values and what it means to be human.

Lloyd Jones at WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Lloyd Jones: In Conversation Friday 31 August 1pm

The Freedom Papers Sunday 2 September 1pm
Edinburgh Festival director Nick Barley speaks to three of the international writers from The Freedom Papers collection – Yaba BadoeLloyd Jones and Juno Dawson – about what freedom means to them.

Quick Questions with Lloyd Jones – WORD Christchurch

CoverWe are asking quick questions of writers and thinkers coming to the WORD Christchurch Festival 2018 (Wednesday 29 August to Sunday 2 September).

Lloyd Jones is one of New Zealand’s most internationally successful contemporary writers. He has published essays and children’s books as well as adult fiction but his best-known work is the phenomenally successful novel, Mister Pip. The Cage is his most recent novel.

Lloyd Jones. Image supplied.
Lloyd Jones. Image supplied.

What are you looking forward to doing in Christchurch?

I’ll be at the writers festival, but if I have a chance I will go for a wander in lovely Hagley Park.

What do you think about libraries?

The question betrays a concern about the place of libraries – and books – and their decline in our community.  Less than a decade ago, few would have questioned the place of libraries. The sad and unavoidable fact is book-reading has lost its centrality to our culture. In NZ, few people read. Literature is marginalised in the school curriculum. Few teachers read. Fewer still are able to argue for the place of literature in the lives of anyone let alone young people. But to answer the question, I love libraries – at least those ones still with books on their shelves.  I’ve always thought that, collectively, all the libraries in the world offer a repository for Human kind’s thinking aloud.

What would be your desert island book?

One with blank pages or the collected works of Shakespeare.

Share a surprising fact about yourself.

I used to have hair.

Lloyd Jones’ sessions at WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Lloyd Jones in conversation with John Campbell Friday 31 August 1pm

The Freedom Papers Sunday 2 September 1pm

Tough Stuff: WORD Christchurch

Tough stuff brought together a team who have dealt with raw and challenging subjects in different ways. Film maker Gaylene Preston produced the recently screened Christchurch earthquake TV drama Hope & Wire; Rebecca Macfie wrote on the Pike River mine explosion; and Lloyd Jones has written on tough themes. Their panel was ably chaired by Finlay Macdonald.

Tough stuff panel
Lloyd Jones, Rebecca Macfie, Gaylene Preston and Finlay Macdonald

Rebecca Macfie talked about writing Tragedy at Pike River Mine. It was tough because of the subject matter, but also for grieving families and community so much was at stake. Rebecca had to cope with earthquakes too:

Gaylene Preston spoke about her documentary War stories our mothers never told us. During filming, her mother revealed a wartime affair. At the premiere, her Mum held her hand and said “Don’t let the lights come up”. But the crowd was warm, and hugged Gaylene’s mother out of the theatre. After a panadol and a glass of champagne, her Mum was the star of the after party.

Gaylene Preston: Tough stuff
Gaylene Preston

Lloyd Jones told a couple of stories in which he used true stories and the moral dilemmas involved. “Please don’t write about my testicles” his son said after a hospital incident. Lloyd also used the story of a friend’s Auschwitz survivor mother’s robbery in an article in the Dominion Post. This was not the tough stuff of writing, conveying nothing and stillness is the hardest:

High coloured moments are easy.

Lloyd Jones: Tough Stuff
Lloyd Jones

Lloyd observed that one of the tough and key things about writing narrative is how you manage time.
Gaylene is “attracted to the gap in the story” and later she said “the best place to stand is the gap”.

The discussion moved to the Canterbury earthquakes. Lloyd said:

This was a city that forgot what it sat on. … Time suddenly had a smell.

Rebecca spoke of “a brilliant rediscovery of the power of reporting … everydayness suddenly became news”.

When Hope and Wire was first mooted, Rebecca had objected to Gaylene: “It is too soon and you didn’t live here”. Auckland’s “quake fatigue” was picked over, and the balance between being an outsider and an advocate.

The panel agreed it is important the Christchurch story is claimed nationally, or it is just a thing that belongs to Christchurch. People have an “incredibly primal need to tell their story when they have endured something”.

Lloyd Jones: WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival

WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival kicks off on 27 August. We’ve asked three quick questions of festival guests:

Lloyd Jones

Cover of BloodclotWhat (or who) are you most looking forward to at WORD Christchurch?

Looking forward to Tusiata Avia and Five NZ poets. The highlight of any festival for me is hearing poets do their thing.

What do you think about libraries?

Libraries are sacred places. Used to be, that is. Their de-commissioning and the absence of books from the shelves is a disaster. A row of screens a barren look. I know, I know, they are a portal in to other worlds. So are books. But with books we have tangible evidence of the magic contained within. What will catch the eye of the first-time visitor to the library in the future? A screen or a book? That is the wonderful thing about the libraries that I happen to cherish. You enter a special place, your eye falls on something new and exciting and away you go on an unexpected journey. I was taken to the Lower Hutt library at a very age, and when I crossed that threshold there was no doubt that I was entering sacred space. The kids books were down one end. After a happy hour I’d look for my mother in the biography section a mile away at the other end of the library. Along the way I would pass shelves of books that I knew were not for me just then but I knew would would be part of my future journeying.

Share a surprising fact about yourself.

A surprising fact about myself? Well, this may come as a surprise. It may even sound a touch immodest. But, I won the gold for the 1500 metres at the Tokyo Olympics. I was eight years old at the time, and so it was hard to get the word out and about.

Cover of A history of silence Cover of Mister Pip Cover of jHand me down world

Lloyd Jones catches up to history

Cover of A history of silenceWhat is the best result for a writer when they talk?
That everyone wants to read your book, if they haven’t already. By that count, Lloyd Jones’ talk last night was a big winner.  Everyone who went to The Press Christchurch Writers Festival event at the Christchurch Arts Festival will be gagging to get a copy.

“I’m not fresh from the premiere of Mister Pip – I’m exhausted” said Lloyd as Morrin Rout introduced him and the crowd applauded.  But he wasn’t talking about that popular book, he was speaking about “a book I never anticipated ever writing” – his memoir A history of silence. I liked his definition of a memoir as “reoccupying the lived life”.

His first reading was about his early struggles with speech, and a time he saw artist Martin Creed struggle to deliver a speech. He discovered that “the presentation of self was a performance”.

Lloyd admitted the Christchurch earthquakes were the trigger for writing this book. The “wilful forgetting” and “misunderstood foundations” of our city were echoed in his family. The earthquake gave him a language. The dismantling and reassembling of the city’s heritage became a useful metaphor for dismantling (and reassembling) himself.

What happens if one is deconstructed?

When he visited Christchurch after the quakes, Lloyd was wearing his “novelist hat”:

Writers, seagulls, and hawks come from the same predatory tribe.

He visited the Basilica and the Bridge of Remembrance:

I discovered the beauty of the city through its destruction.

Lloyd confessed that he used to find Christchurch annoying. Its sense of history didn’t fit with him – part of his heritage was to be disdainful of heritage. He came from a family and a place where history had no visibility.

He explained a lot about the complicated and emotionally-charged heritage so integral to his tale.  His mother had been shaped by rejection and adoption.  She had a  “strange purpose” and would drive into Wellington from the Hutt – with him in the car – so they could sit and observe her estranged mother.
Lloyd Jones

Lloyd discovered more about his elusive grandmother in a court transcript from a divorce trial. He established contact with the family of his grandfather, visited the farmhouse where his mother was probably conceived. It was, he said, like “catching up to history”. He sat in his grandfather’s chair, and watched a home movie. It was an “act of magic” to see his grandfather on screen, a ghost getting out of a Buick. In an emotional coda Lloyd revealed members of that other family were in the audience.

How did he write this jigsaw of a book? He said the key to writing any book is finding the voice and the language – and in this memoir it required a very interior language. “Faults may appear haphazard but they are never random'” – the words of a geologist applied also to the mysterious behaviour of his mother.

Of all the interesting, emotional, and thoughtful stuff Lloyd said, the thing that resonated with me most was the most simple:

Nothing is lost.

Lloyd Jones

Lloyd Jones, I am ready to be heartbroken

Photo of Lloyd JonesLloyd Jones is talking about A history of silence, his memoir, on Wednesday 11 September.  This is a Press Christchurch Writers Festival event at the Christchurch Arts Festival. I’m going and hopefully will see plenty of you are too.  Why? Because Lloyd is one of New Zealand’s top writers. And also because has written about us Christchurchy people and our earthquake experiences as well as himself.  Text Publishing says:

A History of Silence is a book about a country and a broken landscape. It’s about the devastation in Christchurch, after the 2011 earthquake. It’s about how easily we erase stories we find inconvenient.

Cover of Mister PipLloyd is also in the news as the movie version of his popular Mister Pip (starring Hugh Laurie) is about to hit cinemas.

I didn’t know we had an interview with him!

Do you have a nickname and if so what is it?
As a kid I was known as ‘Jones the bag of bones’!
What was your most embarrassing moment?
There are too many to remember. Covering Philip Rush’s Cook Strait swim as a reporter, and eating by mistake his bananas and biscuits rates highly.

I’d recommend also reading a pair of excellent recent interviews in The Age and The Press.

More Lloydia

PS The title of this post derives from a favourite song (by Camera Obscura) Lloyd, I’m ready to be heartbroken which is an answer song to Lloyd Cole’s Are you ready to be heartbroken? A whole lotta Lloyd.

Kathy Reichs, Lloyd Jones and a full on literary lineup for Christchurch in September

Geez Wayne, if you are a Christchurch book lover September is your month!!! Crime writing superstar and forensic anthropologist Dr Kathy Reichs is here on 23 September. Book now, you don’t want to miss this one. Search our catalogue for her books, and we also have Bones on DVD (the TV series she produces starring the hardcase Temperance Brennan).

Cover of Bones are forever Cover of Flash and bones Cover of Code

And over at the Christchurch Arts Festival there is more writing and thinking to savour:

Search our catalogue for works by festival presenters and performers. Get yourself warmed up for a literary September.

Cover of Get off the grassCover of The Broken BookCover of From the big bang to GodCover of The fall of lightCover of With bold needle and threadCover of How to look at a painting

Search our catalogue for:

Mister Pip wins again

Mister PipMister Pip by Lloyd Jones is a literary juggernaut. Instead of basking in the glow of critical acclaim, it has scooped up yet another prize – the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize.

The purse is a tidy US$30,000, split between the non-fiction and fiction winners.

See also our literary prizes pages for more critical successes.