Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 08 – Day Two

An Hour With JM Coetzee

This was my one “duty” session: he is such a prominent author, and has never been to New Zealand, so I had the sense I should go. I wish I had not: it was a lecture, no questions from the audience, no questions from or discussion with Witi Ihimaera, who was "chairing" the session (in reality, he had to simply sit idly by). And what did we get? A lecture on censorship, primarily the result of his looking at the notes of the censorship committee set up in South Africa to decide if his work could be published. His take? While there one or two inappropriate elements in his books, they were so fantastic that they ought not be censored. He then read two passages from his earlier works, the ones that were so great that the South African government would not interfere with their publication: these readings sent me to sleep.

Reading With A Torch Under the Blankets After Lights-Out

I went because Elizabeth Knox was on the bill, along with Kate di Goldi and Bernard Beckett. Kate (I call her Kate, not because I’ve met her, but it is like I have) is too much a kids and young adults author to be of much interest to me, and I had never heard of Beckett. Unfortunately, Knox decided her visit to France had to take precedence over the festival.

While there was a little discussion of reading under the blankets, it didn’t go very far: Beckett was not that keen on reading as a kid, and Kate didn’t need to read under the blankets, reading at all times was the norm, an important one for her (like me) because it formed much of her social life. She said something that I don’t think I had ever realized about myself – despite reading a lot, as a kid, I didn’t have others to talk books with (I still have vivid memories of talking the previous night’s TV shows with my classmates on the school bus, but not books). They (and I) had a very similar sort of reading trajectory – kids serial books, then books more for teens (Beckett name checked the same authors I would – Helen McInnes, Alistair McLean and co) along with a bunch of randoms that really got them going as readers.

Most of the talk was about writing for the young adult market: I think I am with Beckett, who explains that he goes to various functions involving YA authors but when he is asked who is favourite YA authors are, says he doesn’t actually read YA fiction because “I am not 15”. I think the most interesting aspect of this part of the talk was the inadequacies of definitions of YA, although I did like their notion of it being a matter of perspective. A teen novel will be nostalgic about childhood but completely unaware of adulthood, speculating about it maybe. Even though the same teen and experiences might be in an adult novel, the perspective will have switched to someone who has been there and done that.

“You Know You’re Done With A Story…”

This session was about the short story, and featured three authors who started with short stories and have written, or are writing, a novel: Peter Ho Davies, Anne Enright and Sarah Laing. The last is a completely new name to me, despite the fact she grew up in Palmerston North before moving to New York and back to Auckland. To be honest, I don’t know that a whole lot came out of this session for me: each author read some or all of one story, Kate Camp talked to them about various things, Sarah seemed a little less at ease about participating but her stories actually sounded the most interesting, so much so that I bought her book Coming Up Roses and had her sign it. No conversations this time – I’d say the whole notion of having fans come get her sign things is still quite new to her, which was kind of sweet.

An Hour With Luke Davies

This hour made me so glad that I had snuck away at lunch time and bought Candy at the 30% off sale at Dymocks. He read from it and showed a clip from the movie - it sounds like a fascinating book, one which draws heavily on his own experience while immersed in the world of addiction. Weird shit happened. He was pretty open about this, but I was curious as to the timing: he is not your typical junkie, in that he was an English teacher for at least some of the time he was having his troubles and, four years after escaping the net, was able to process those experiences into what appears to be some fine fiction. He is now in LA, trying to work as a script-writer, with two other novels to his name. While Speed of Sound is of little interest to me, I am interested in his “forgotten second novel, it has had hundreds of readers”, Isabelle the Navigator.

In the evening, I had a sort of continuation of the Festival, in that I went to an Italian restaurant, one in which the tables were very close together, and found myself seated to people who’d been at the Festival – in fact, I rather believe that one of them had been given an hour to talk about himself.

But later on, I was well away from books: up to the Kings Arms for an HDU gig, a band which hardly uses lyrics at all (although more now than in the past). Great stuff.

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1 Comments:

Blogger owens valley tomatohead said...

Sorry to hear that the Coetzee session was such a dud.

What a day you had, though, with HDU in the evening.

8:11 AM  

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