Let Love In – WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

It’s not really a festival until you have your mettle tested by an event that you chose to blog on only to find that it ticks only some of your boxes, scrapes its nails down the walls of your brain in other ways, and it all happens after a ferocious argument with a car guard because your car has been completely parked in while he stood and watched it happening.

That event this festival is Let Love In with Michele A’Court and Soraya M. Lane. In my hugely flustered state I arrived filled with Assumptions (very non PC, we’re not supposed to make those any more) and Expectations (they are still OK). I assumed there would be no men in the audience – I was almost correct, there were three. My expectation was that this event would be light-hearted and entertaining, and it was – but with more of a feminist slant than I expected or wanted.

Soraya Lane and Michele A'Court. Image supplied.
Soraya Lane and Michele A’Court. Image supplied.

CoverRomance writing is a huge market and Soraya candidly confessed that she makes very good money out of it from novels like Hearts of Resistance (2018). In the United States alone at any one point in time there are 29 million readers of Romance and 35% of all fiction written in the States belongs in that genre. Both authors felt very strongly that when men put down Romance fiction writers they are simultaneously putting down all those readers as well.

Soraya gets a lot of positive feedback from readers – mainly older women who urge her to write faster as they are running out of time to hear more of her stories about women of their generation. I was developing such a head of steam by that stage that I found this vaguely ageist. In her novels Soraya is a fan of flawed characters who show development over the span of the story. Nothing wrong with that. She has a talent for dangling the “happy ever after” carrot after she has “twisted the romance knife in even deeper”.

CoverMichele has just published a book on 42 contemporary New Zealand love stories in How We Met (2018). These stories are not only about how couples met and fell in love, but also about how they have stayed together. Even though all the couples denied still being romantic, it was clear that they still were, only in different ways from when they were in the first flush of new love. Michele found that couples who fell in love sometimes remembered it very differently, but in the act of talking about it, they often managed to recreate that feeling all over again. Her book underscores that there are many different ways of loving.

At last someone said something positive about men – Michele confessed that many of the men that she interviewed were very proud of sustaining relationships, it was every bit as important to them as it was to the women. And both Soraya and Michele said that men also read their books, maybe not many, but it is a start.

By then I had calmed down a bit. And I very nearly asked a question: What did they think of the title of this event “Let Love In”? The “let” implying that we have some kind of control over falling in love. It’s never been like that for me. It’s just come barrelling in uninvited. But I missed the opportunity and my moment passed.

Ah well, my mamma she told me There’ll Be Days Like This!

Quick Questions with Michèle A’Court – 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).

Winner of Female Comedian of the Decade in 2010, Michèle A’Court is a stand-up comedian, writer and social commentator. She has written two books: Stuff I Forgot To Tell My Daughter (2015) and How We Met (2018).

Michèle A’Court. Image supplied.
Michèle A’Court. Image supplied.

What are you looking forward to doing in Christchurch?

Hanging out with writers and the people who read their books. Writers are delightful people – they love words and they love wine, which are two of my Top Five Favourite Things. And people who read have curious minds and excellent manners. Also hoping for clear skies and crisp days.

What do you think about libraries?

Every time I walk into a library, I feel like I’m rich. You can have anything you want without having to worry about how much it costs.

CoverWhat would be your desert island book?

Everything ever written by Joan Didion – essays, memoir, fiction. I love the way she uses words, the way she sees the world, and captures particular moments in modern history.

Share a surprising fact about yourself.

I own a selection of Minnie Mouse ears – daywear, formal, Christmas and other special occasions. I fully accept that not everyone will find this fact surprising.

Michèle A’Court’s sessions at WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Tom Scott: Drawn out Saturday 1 September 11.30am

Let love in Saturday 1 September 2.30pm

The Great WORD Debate Saturday 1 September 8pm SOLD OUT

WORD Christchurch Festival 2018: Having coffee with my author friends!

WORD Christchurch Festival 2018 gives me the perfect opportunity to amp up my author-spotting skills, and at the same time think back on my coffee connections with four authors. Because I have friends who write. They are not quite the imaginary friends of my childhood, but as friends go, they are far more real to me than I will ever be to them.

The fantasy coffee friends: Every Saturday morning, after my swim, I meet up with  Michéle A’Court and her husband Jeremy Elwood at a Rangiora café. They’re not really there, but when I read their back page column in the magazine section of the Christchurch Press, I feel so close to them. It is as if they include me in their dialogue, I feel as if I’m a good friend. I’ll need to rein myself in when I attend A’Court’s WORD discussion Let Love In. A stand-up comic, her two books (Stuff I Forgot to Tell My Daughter and How We Met) are just as entertaining as her shows are.

Michele A’Court. Image supplied.

The Book Club coffee friend: Although I’ve never met Catherine Chidgey in person, she feels like a member of my Book Club. We’ve read all of her books, but favour most highly an early novel of hers: In A Fishbone Church. I read that novel in 2001 just after we arrived in New Zealand, and was mightily impressed with it. Chidgey is now 17 years older and wiser (as are we all), so her WORD event Transformations seems very appropriately titled to me. And her latest novel The Beat of the Pendulum (A Found Story) builds on her daily interactions and snippets that have come her way. I love this – it feels like the kind of novel you could write sitting in your favourite café.

Catherine Chidgey. Image supplied.

The breakfast in bed tea-drinking friend: Tom Scott and I meet most days in my home where, over a cup of rooibos tea, I look forward to his interpretation of New Zealand and World events in his cartoons which often feature in the Christchurch Press (to which I still subscribe). He can be wickedly funny and, on occasion, the next day there will be letters of complaint to the Editor. I bet this makes him so happy. I’m looking forward to his WORD event Drawn Out. Here is a man who can write, talk and draw. But “Can He Dance?” is the next big question.

Tom Scott. Image supplied.

The real-time coffee catch-up friend: I have actually enjoyed a coffee catch-up with Laurence Fearnley – at WORD 2012. We chatted for ages about the importance of Place, Belonging and of course Reading and Writing. You can read that interview. At WORD 2018, unfortunately I  have to miss her event because of a programming clash. Also, Fearnley’s event To The Mountains is on mountain writing in New Zealand. Not such a mountain person here. I do hope one of my more outdoorsy friends will pick up where I left off and track down this lovely lady and have a coffee with her for me!

To the mountains. Image supplied.

My Yet-To-Be Coffee Writing Friends: I’d love to chat over a coffee with Chessie Henry, Jonathan Drori and Robyn Davidson, but the joy of my outlook is that it doesn’t actually have to happen. We can meet up for a virtual coffee, at a café of their choice, on any day in the year. They can join my small, but growing, group of imaginary friends – who write!

Chessie Henry. Image supplied.
Jonathan Drori. Image supplied.
Robyn Davidson. Image supplied.

Follow our WORD Christchurch Festival 2018 coverage, and read the WORD authors.

How we met: The ways great love begins by Michele A’Court

How We Met has a pretty simple concept – Michele A’Court (feminist-comedian-badass) interviews a bunch of enduring Kiwi couples about how they met. There’s all sorts in there, lots of missed opportunities and first date mishaps, disapproving parents and friends, coincidences and romance.

The stories themselves are, of course, wonderful – Michele captures them on paper in a way that makes you feel that you’re sitting across from the couple with a cuppa – but what makes the book so special is the larger idea behind these stories. The ‘how we met’ story, Michele reckons, serves a greater purpose than just letting someone know the juicy details of how it all went down. Recalling that story provides an opportunity to really engage in the feeling, the same connection, spark, joy, that they felt way back when. Further, it seems that revisiting these feelings in tangible ways helps to keep a long-lasting, enduring relationship fresh and exciting.

So How We Met is a collection of glorious, real-life stories from Kiwi couples, but it’s also a reflection on relationships in general – the common and also totally unique experiences, difficult and glorious, of living life with your ‘one in particular’.

The thing I liked most about this book was how accessible and relatable it felt. Many of these stories are so intimate, so personal, so full of ‘in-jokes’ and ‘you had to be there’ moments, that it would be easy for the reader to feel a little removed from the action. But Michele tells them in such a comfortable way – I could tell because, as I was reading, I was finding something on nearly every page that I wanted to read aloud to my partner.

CoverMany of these relationships started at a similar time, although there are exceptions to that, of course. A happy and perhaps unintentional result of this means that the book reads a little bit like a snapshot of life for young people in New Zealand in the 70s and 80s. I loved this aspect of the book – it made me think of my parents, the stories I have heard from them (over and over) about how they met. And of course, New Zealand being very small, there were places and even people described in the book that, by a degree or two of separation, I had a connection to.

I also enjoyed the practical elements weaved through the book – the science behind the way our brains make memories, made accessible to non-science-brained folks like me. The list of relationship advice from these couples towards the end, too, felt totally sensible and not at all far-fetched (as those kinds of lists can sometimes be).

Michele is in Ōtautahi next Tuesday 15 May, interviewing the magnificent Robert Webb (of Peep Show and That Mitchell and Webb Look fame), with thanks to WORD Christchurch and the Auckland Writers Festival. Robert Webb’s book How Not To Be A Boy was in my top 3 reads last year. It’s remarkable and funny and challenging, and this event will be really special.

TL;DR: This is a sweet, generous and intelligent book. I recommend it – especially if you’re looking for something cozy, curled up on a winter afternoon.

How we met
by Michèle A’Court
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9781775540939

Ray
Upper Riccarton Library