Wayne Macauley was one of my festival discoveries at the 2013 Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. I read Blueprints for a Barbed-Wire Canoe in preparation for attending his session (now that’s conscientious festival-going). It reminded me of Colm Tóibín and for me there can be no higher praise. They don’t share subject matter or style, but they both manage to be spellbinding without being showy.
Blueprints is Macauley’s first novel. In it the suburban dream of owning your own home goes very wrong very quickly. Macauley’s description of the physical decay of a model housing estate resonated very strongly with me, in my second year of living in the east of Christchurch.
It’s on Year 12 reading lists in Australia, which is great if you want the kids to read an exemplary prose stylist, but could be a fail if you want them to aspire to home ownership in the suburbs.
Year 12 is when Macauley’s own life changed; a ‘drop-dead gorgeous’ teacher got the class to read Joyce, Hamlet, Voss and The Waste Land. Now his work may be changing the lives of the kids who read him.
In his sessions at Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, it became evident that Macauley is a deep thinker, looking at things most of us take for granted and taking our ideas about them just a little bit further.
In Blueprints for a Barbed-Wire Canoe it’s the suburban dream. In The Cook it’s the service industry and the jobs that have replaced manufacturing. Is this good? In Caravan Story it’s the desirability of the arts in society. How many writers and artists do we need?
It’s a big ask for a reader to question things more deeply than they would in an ordinary narrative. But in the hands of a writer as skilled as Macauley it’s a very rewarding undertaking. The man has written an entire book without using one comma.
Sadly, the refrain when I said that we were meeting with Wayne Macauley was – “who”? Four weeks ago I fell into the same category, but two books later and with a signed copy of his short story collection Other Stories I am a convert.
Robyn and I made our way to the rather flash Langham Hotel and waited somewhat nervously in the lobby for our allotted half hour of his time. I was busy looking at the restaurant beside us, full of people gainfully making their way through tiered plates full of gorgeous morsels when we spotted Wayne Macaulay coming out of the lift and pounced! I hope he wasn’t too taken aback.
Robyn launched in with a question about his unique writing style. There are few if any commas, no speech marks and a rollicking sense of wanting to keep reading – fast. She was curious as to how this style developed. It turns out that Wayne is a true craftsman. His writing gets worked and then reworked, he hones it down gradually until you get the sense he is completely satisfied. Two and a half years seemed to be the average time to produce a book and he makes use of copious notes and journals that he has compiled while working on the outlines of the story.
I asked Wayne if he knew the ending of his book The Cook before he started. I was quite taken aback when he said he did, probably because the ending came as such a surprise that I couldn’t imagine how he could have just dreamed it up. However having already decided on the endings to his books Wayne feels that this gives him the impetus to keep the story moving forward. His other skill is to stretch believability.
He was happy to hear that I had read Caravan story feeling quite comfortable with the premise that a group of artists, writers and actors could all be uplifted from their homes and transported to the country. It wasn’t until I was half way through the book that I suddenly thought – wait a minute – people wouldn’t really let that happen? It turned out that this was just the reaction he was wanting, as her termed it the “unreality in reality”. I felt quite proud that I was the ideal reader!
The half hour was over before we knew it, which was a shame because you get the sense that Wayne Macauley has a lot to say. We had touched on Arts funding, urban sprawl, the foodie culture and pop idol reality TV. Wayne talked about aiming high and having a low boredom threshold and that to be a good writer he, as well as the reader need to be stimulated by what he is writing about.
I wanted to discuss how New Zealanders seem to have little knowledge of Australian writers, and if it was the same in reverse for Australians, but our time was up, so that will just have to wait until next time!
There are good and bad aspects about going to the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. The good is reading all the new authors that you haven’t read before, and the bad is, reading all the new authors that you haven’t read before! My pile is growing daily and I do wonder how I will get through it all.
On the good side I have recently finished The Cook by Wayne Macauley. I started off feeling a bit ho-hum, as no actual dialogue and sparse use of commas and full stops took a bit of getting used to, but then suddenly I was racing along, no longer aware of the writing style but fully immersed in what turned out to be a compulsive page turner with a ending that left me gasping. One reviewer describes it like
falling into a bail of barbed wire in the dark and fighting to get out till morning. The more I struggled, the more it got under my skin.
As the title indicates it is a book about food and the foodie culture, but then ventures into corruption, excess, money, and how to butcher a lamb. Not for the squeamish.
Wayne Macauley will be speaking about his writing in one session. He is also presenting a workshop on the short story. There will also be a free event called Food for thought with Wayne and the following authors reading from work that “celebrates or scorns these foodie times”: