Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 08 – Day Three
An Hour With Anne Enright This was an interesting session, made so because the chair, Kapka Kassabova, seemed not to get things that the author saw as obvious in her work (such as its humour) and was a little pre-occupied with its bleakness and portrayal of women as “broken”. Enright did not see this at all, didn’t really see it as being much about gender politics at all, commenting (a) that men are often in exactly the same sort of place and (b) it was a line of questioning that male authors don’t face, they’re even celebrated for a bleakness of vision.
Enright’s take on her novel is that, yes, Veronica has things tough but at the end, she is re-made and is actually making her own choices – which is a good thing. I haven’t read it yet, but I don’t think Kassabova was buying this.
The novel has a certain reputation for being bleak and depressing, but Enright herself was very funny and the piece she read out from The Gathering itself was very funny, concerning what Veronica would do if she was giving three wishes. Here is my remembered paraphrase of some of what to do: The first thing to wish for is another three wishes, because you always waste your wishes on the wrong things, like Sophia Loren’s boobs, and find you’re burdened with silicone, so you then have to wish for her boobs back whenever they were fresh. So, you can use the second set of three wishes to get you roughly back to where you started.
I must read it, but am currently caught up in the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
Read to Me
This was a session in which four authors simply read extracts from their books. Mo Hayder and Louise Wareham Leonard (who?) didn’t do anything for me. Sarah Laing, on the other hand, had a wonderful short story from her collection called Freezer Burn in which Rachel gets her first job in a pie factory. Not a promising setting but she does wonders with it. Then we had Duncan Sarkies who read a very funny extract from his novel, Two Little Boys. Nige and Deano have been mates for years, but Deano has a new friend, Gavin, making Nige a bit jealous. He gets some revenge (in the scene we heard) by repeatedly flushing the toilet – a noise Gavin apparently can’t stand to hear at night. So, yes, it is quite literally toilet humour but actually funny.
An Hour With Mo Hayder
I don’t think I’ll be buying her books, but she tells an interesting story. One in particular was about a water hole, Bushman’s Hole, in the Kalahari desert, which is incredibly deep, with just a small hole in the ground, a narrow neck for about 150 feet but then a bulbous body (in which you could put the Eiffel Tower, if you so chose) and a tapering tail. Apparently people drown in this, they dive to the bottom and get stuck in its tail, can’t get back. One fellow, Deon Dreyer, did this 10 years ago. More recently, another fellow, Dave Shaw, was diving, actually found the first guy. Couldn’t bring him up, because diving so deep means a long slow ascent (9 hours!) even by himself, so he organized a rescue party. Problem was, on the return trip, he got snagged on the dead fellow, and that was the end of him. His diving companion, against all the rules, went after him but it was no use. He must have dislodged him, however, as he and the other, long-dead guy – they both burst to the surface. Full story here. This, apparently was what inspired her to have a police diver as a feature character in one of her novels.
I didn’t really get her explanation of what she was doing in her novels – something about showing people to live in circumstances they’re never going to experience.
An Hour With Michael Pollan This was my last session – Michael Pollan is a bit of a food-writing guru for these threatened times, so I thought I’d better go. His message is pretty simple, actually, and he makes no secret of its simplicity, even plays on it: eat food, not too much, mostly plants. Alternatively: never eat anything your grandmother would not recognize as food. His latest book, In Defence of Food, wants us to eat real stuff, not processed crap, not something planned by a nutritionist. Real food, preferably something you grow yourself, hence the focus on plants. He does eat meat, just not much: for the purposes of this book, he learnt how to kill a wild pig (I’m still wondering if the guy who took him out was just being kind when he said Pollan killed it) and turn it into edible products (of course, no pretension is involved in making sure they’re prosciutto). Best quote was from his dad, who couldn’t see any need for hunting once they’d invented the steakhouse.
Some Images From Earlier Sessions
Luke Davies (author of Candy etc):
Sarah Hall (author of The Electric Michelangelo, Carhullan Army and Haweswater)
Heather O'Neill (author of Lullabies for Little Criminals)
So, this was my very first Auckland Writers and Readers Festival: I am sure I will be back. It was a whole lot more fun than the Melbourne one I went to, where despite having a list of events a mile long, I didn’t actually go to anything. In a way, it was a nicer event than the Sydney one I went to last year, a bit more intimate, with all events in one of two rooms. In between, I could lounge around and visit the bookstores set up for the Festival, or wander into town. Coffee was in constant supply and in between events, one coffee girl in particular would entertain the space by singing and whistling.
In the evening I treated myself to something I should have had all along. I’d been in a backpackers in Parnell, but since I had an early start to catch my plane, I wanted to be somewhere on the Airbus route. Wotif came up with a marvelous $99 room, sorry Executive Apartment, at the Elliot Street Apartment Hotel – one block from the Festival, in an interesting old building that has been done up. The room was a great size, bed was huge, it had a full blown kitchen (not that I used it) and it was excellent value.