Brilliant sunshine at the start of the day but by the time I surfaced enough to notice newcomers appeared to be wearing raincoats and carrying umbrellas it was indeed raining. It didn’t really matter because the Embassy Theatre has everything a festival-goer might need – coffee at the start of the day, wine at the end, a nice line in sandwiches and very lovely toilets.
The day began at 9.30 with a typical arts festival audience, the sort of people who come with the crossword neatly excised from the paper so they can diligently apply themselves during lulls in proceedings and who chatter in the queue about how much time being a friend of the opera takes (not too much apparently).
Geoff Dyer began the day in conversation with Emily Perkins and set a high standard of urbanity and wit. Do these guys learn it at University along with their accents? If Dyer were a website Perkins thought his tags would be travel, sex and ruins but that it was too early for the last two so they concentrated on travel. Coming from a family who preferred staying home and concreting the driveway to holidays Dyer travels but takes his habits with him wherever he is – around India with a kettle.
Glyn Maxwell was up next, a poet who has challenged the genre definitions by working as a novelist and playwright because if he only wrote poetry he would deal with it as many other have, “with a mixture of terror and booze.”
Then Geoff Dyer was back, joined by Philip Hoare to discuss the slippery question of creative non-fiction. As a young man in 1980s London, Hoare was obsessed with the equally decadent 1920s, and with Stephen Tennant, who straddled the two eras. He began with a biography of Tennant but when his birth to death biography of Noel Coward exhumed long-buried feuds to be worked out through him he became exhausted. It seemed objectivity was impossible and that it was more emotionally honest to put himself in the picture. Leviathan,or The Whale, Hoare’s latest book, combines personal memoir, a cause, research and literature and he admitted that this subject cannot leave him; he was in Kaikoura yesterday and was disarmingly enthusiastic about the experience.
And that was just the morning’s authors.
Some themes of the (half) day-
- Genre busting, defying, and challenging – Geoff Dyer, Phillip Hoare and Glyn Maxwell aren’t sticking to biography, or fiction, or non-fiction, or poetry or anything other than what the subject demands.
- World War One – Dyer, Hoare and Maxwell all had grandfathers who fought in the war and all talked about how the eclectic re-invention of history can tell us more than mere chronology.
- Tone, structure and form are still important. For Dyer and Hoare, practitioners of the elusive genre known as creative non-fiction, it’s more difficult to structure without chronological scaffolding, things have to be arranged, distilled and edited until they become clear. For Maxwell the free verse poets like Plath and Hughes could only break free of pentameter and form because they knew a lot about formal verse.
- Key word – eclectic