Wellington on a good day. The sun is shining on Lauris Edmonds’ “world headquarters of the verb'” and there is not a breath of wind. The enviably in-shape Courtenay Place street person is looking great in his loincloth, well dressed middle aged people with proper haircuts are assuring each other in the Te Papa shop that “we’ve just got time to duck into Kirk’s” and Audrey Niffenegger is my first NZ Post Writers and Readers Week outing.
I can report that the stage’s greenery and flower arrangements are of Ellerslie standard, that there are more men than at Christchurch festivals, fewer than Auckland and that the crowd is generally younger than at either. But that could just be Audrey’s audience. She does have red hair but I was not able to shriek “who are you wearing” nor ask any fatuous questions about Vivienne Westwood and The Queen. This is Wellington after all.
So, all about Audrey. She collects taxidermy, skeletons and vintage clothes, she’s a cat lover, she’s a trained typographer and she used the phrase “Killer Diller” to describe something she thought would be really good. So far so fabulous.
As a child Niffenegger thought she would write and illustrate books because that’s what children think books are, and she thought The Time Traveller’s wife would be a graphic novel “for about 45 minutes”. The success of that novel allowed her to have her 14 year labour of love The Three Incestuous Sisters, previously published in editions of ten hand set and hand bound books that ended up in specialist libraries, published commercially.
Her Fearful Symmetry is Niffenegger’s latest book, exhaustively researched and set in Highgate Cemetery, where she serves as a tour guide and where she wants to be buried (this piece of information was in answer to a question from the audience, not volunteered apropos of nothing you will be relieved to hear).
Highgate is the smartest of the seven cemeteries built on what was then the outskirts of London to ease the pressure on churchyards when the groundwater began to be contaminated by the build-up of bodies. Many famous people are buried there; Karl Marx, Christina Rossetti, George Eliot and Douglas Adams among them. Being British and upright Victorians, the authorities didn’t cheat like the fiendish French who reburied celebrities in Paris’ Pere Lachaise to encourage people to be buried there.
But that’s probably enough about cemeteries. Her Fearful Symmetry is an engrossing ghost story, a creepy twins story and a love story. Now Niffenegger is working on a novel about a girl with hypertrichosis, a novel whose characters escaped from a short story.
And I’m off to Don McGlashan.