Talking with Sarah Hall

Sarah HallWell as you can see, we are all relishing the chance to interview authors here at the Festival.

I was impressed by Sarah Hall. She’s young, smart, environmentally aware and in our interview we discussed her new novel, history, the writing process, libraries and IRA training.  With a dash of British sci fi.

My hour with Mo Hayder

RitualFirst day of the Auckland Writer and Readers festival and for me, was accompanied by my first ever author interview. Aahhhh! Scary yes, but did I ever strike it lucky, Oh yeah baby!! I got to interview Mo Hayder, an author famed for her horrifically, violent book titles but in person funny, friendly, self-effacing and incredibly tolerant of a certain librarian masquerading as a newshound.

Just off the plane after the hideous longhaul from the UK, Mo looked fresh as a daisy and while claiming jet lag was still infinitly smarter than your average bear. She talked in depth about women and the crime genre and her future plans for the Caffrey series but more of that later…

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Books on the box: a conversation

A conversation between 2 librarians on their first session at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival Books on the Box (a panel discussion about TV book programmes, featuring Hamish Keith, Hermione Lee and Colin Hogg, and chaired by Noelle McCarthy).

Donna: Well that was a riproaring and fighting start. What was your favourite bit?

Joyce: Noelle’s shoes – her two tone shoezies were fab (editors note: they were pink and gold and very high) but the vibrant green earrings were plain wrong.

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Ready to rumba with the writers and readers

We are all checked in and Auckland beckons. No-one spotted any authors on the plane but it was good to see a big festival banner over the motorway – and Joyce got a text to say Mo Hayder was chatting away on breakfast tv. So it really is the season of the writer and reader in the City of Sails.

We’ve got interviews with authors today, it’s a good chance to catch up with them before the onslaught – so look out over the next few days and see who we manage to snare.

Auckland Writers and Readers tomorrow

I feel a certain amount of enthusiastic anticipation and an equal amount of trepidation about going up to the Festival in Auckland tomorrow: the former because the chance to hear and see some of the big names and the latter because I am not sure whether my blogs will be stream of consciousness ramblings or something approaching journalism. There’s also the fear that you might ask a wrong question at a session and risk a withering putdown or, just as bad, a kindly rebuff.

Whatever – I am looking forward to hearing Booker winner Anne Enright, Booker nominee Peter Ho Davies (whose novel “The Welsh girl” I’d thoroughly recommend, Michael Pollan, Luke Davies, John Gray (whose controversy rating is always high – the temptation to ask him a question about Mars and Venus and see if he knows there’s another John Gray is quite strong but I wouldn’t dare do it), and so many others. Let’s hope we’ll all be writing something blog visitors will want to read and enjoy

Countdown on to festival

This time tomorrow I’ll be at the Aotea Centre in Auckland picking up a media pass for the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. It’s been a busy time arranging interviews and working with publicists and it’s going to be a fascinating taste of the literary world. It is always an experience meeting writers and finding out a little of how they go about their work, and hearing them read their own work is usually a real treat.

Brief wondrous lifeI’m really looking forward to meeting Junot Diaz – it’ll be on either Friday morning or Saturday. If it’s Saturday it will be after he’s been on Kim Hill’s show, so I hope he’s not been grilled to exhaustion.

Thomas Kohnstamm will also be interesting – especially after the ruckus over his latest book, but I am also making time to see lots of the New Zealand talent. But who will the hidden gem of the festival be? There will be media darlings and headline writers, but often there are some who fly a bit beneath the radar who surprise and delight… Here’s hoping!

Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2008

AWRFAuckland is counting down the days, minutes if not seconds not only in fevered anticipation of the Writer and Readers Festival 2008 but more importantly the arrival of the Christchurch City Libraries “Cream of the South” festival review crew. No event is safe from us; we’ll be diving under the bookcovers to get to the real stories, reporting back from the sessions and interviewing a vertiable galaxy of stars!!

I’m looking forward to having a wee chat with Mo Hayder and John Burnside. Mo is often touted as being unsurpassed in her ability to find horror in everyday things, hopefully not my interview, and is promoting her latest novel Ritual.

John Burnside is one of Scotland’s finest poets, novelists and recently published his first volume of memoirs A lie about my father. We’re from the same part of the world so I’m keen to catch up with his news and views on the Scottish literary scene, plus discuss his latest novel Glister.

If you are a big Mo Hayder or John Burnside fan get in quick and post any burning questions you’d like to be asked on our handy library blog. 

Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2008 – 14-18 May

Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2008It barely seems like a year ago since we started this blog … but it must be, because next week the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival for 2008 kicks off. We launched the blog there last year by bringing you all the literary action of the 2007 festival.

This year we are heading back with an expanded team of contributors to bring you interviews, report backs on sessions, and an idea of all the literary flavours of Auckland.

To whet your appetite, take a look at our interview with festival director Jill Rawnsley, our page on authors at the festival and the Festival’s pages.

Young StalinAs a fan of a good biography, I’m particularly looking forward to the sessions focusing on biographies and memoirs. Simon Sebag Montefiore has explored the life of Young Stalin and Hermione Lee who has written about intriguing characters like Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton. I’m also keen to hear from Sarah Hall after having been thoroughly captivated by her novel The Carhullan Army.

Other sessions on my must see list: Addicted to the Dark brings together Duncan Sarkies, Luke Davies and Heather O’Neill with Festival creative director Stephanie Johnson chairing the session. “Like any good drug, dark literature makes you laugh and cry, makes you fly and pulls you down”.

History and the Novel chaired by Fiona Kidman: “War and Peace is perhaps the greatest historical novel of all time. Was Hardy also an historical novelist? Why is the term faintly pejorative when these great works aim to eviscerate the past?” Simon Montefiore, Luke Davies and Sarah Hall make up the panel.

We need to talk about Lionel

The more shallow in the audience might have been anxious to check out Lionel Shriver’s appearance after she so boldly went into print in Vogue about how she is routinely mistaken for being years young than she is. She certainly did have a very youthful appearance, but the truly literary among us were interested in her work, not her appearance.

Shriver’s break-out book, There’s something about Kevin, made her an ‘overnight’ success after seven earlier novels and twenty years in the business, but she’s not bitter. She knows it is a business and that critical acclaim does not affect the bottom line and observed that the achievement later rather than sooner was more pleasing to her in terms of narrative structure. The success of Kevin transformed her life, not always for the better, as she became an instant expert on school shootings, pursued for comment after the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech.

Would-be writers might take heart from her story, as Shriver lost her agent after they disagreed about Kevin and she schlepped it round 15 or 20 others before a small American publishing house took it on, then she had to send it to 30 publishers in the U.K. “I was bookstore poison”.

Her latest novel, The post-birthday world, has parallel stories; what happens if you kiss someone whio is not your husband and what happens if you don’t? “What are the impications of whom we love?” is the question Shriver is out to answer in this book, a subject she has looked at before in Double fault, her novel about two tennis pros and what happens to their relationship when one goes up the rankings and one goes down.

Shriver seemed very serious on opening night but she was definitely not without humour in this session, although as she said herself “In my experience, love isn’t comic”.

On the Ground in Auckland

Straight off the plane, down a Queen Street that looks like a war zone due to the extensive road works. I am in the Aotea Centre and have already been chatting to a helpful Festival organiser, in the distinctive black and avocado festival colours.

The first session starts in half an hour with Talking the Talk and the British speaker Matthew Collings is nearby talking to festival staff.

After delving into art speak, I will leap into another favourite genre – Historical Fiction. In Butterflies and Blue Smoke, Deborah Challinor, Rachael King and Jenny Pattrick will talk about their writing and the sources of inspiration for their stories and characters.

On the “star spotting” front, I have seen Te Radar and novelist (and Festival creative director) Stephanie Johnson.

Tomorrow I will be meeting Canadian poet Shane Koyczan. I have been listening to him on this jukebox and it is utterly compelling, helped by his deliciously rich accent.

More to come …