Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, day 1

May 24, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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This is taking me ages to write up, but I better do it soon because I didn’t take many notes (because when I did I felt like I was at work, so I stopped) and I’m in danger of forgetting if I don’t. Overall this year’s festival was really enjoyable, and I’m not sure why that is. Certainly all the writing advice that was given out wasn’t anything new to someone like me, who spends a lot of time procrastinating reading about writing online – write what you love, write what you want to read, read a lot, take notice of the world around you, etc. Despite that I still feel like I got a lot out of it.

Friday, May 13

Climbing the Mango Trees – an hour with Madhur Jaffrey.


Madhur Jaffrey is a very interesting woman. You can argue that her cooking is not real Indian cooking, but that didn’t stop me from buying her new cookbook. She’s a very engaging speaker, and she’s had one of those fascinating lives that you can see happened because she took opportunities when they came up rather than shy away from them because she had no experience in whatever it was. She got to know Merchant and Ivory when they were just starting out making films, and one of them volunteered her for a cooking class when she couldn’t actually cook (well, she could feed herself, but she wasn’t cooking a lot). Instead of telling them that she couldn’t cook, she just rang her mum and got her to send over some recipes, and the rest is history. Just goes to show that while it is who you know as well as what you know, it’s also about being brave enough to say yes instead of no.

An hour with Laurence Fearnley, Emma Neale and Charlotte Randall

This session was a last-minute switch from the science-based session I was going to attend – sometimes when I’m in a restaurant and I can’t decide what I want, I wait until the waiter gets there and then whatever comes out of my mouth when they ask me what I want is obviously subconsciously what I really want. The same principle applies to this session, in that this was what came out when I was exchanging my multi-pass ticket for real tickets. I had no idea who any of these authors were, let alone read any of their books, but I actually found this session really enjoyable. All three authors had recently written books with male protagonists, and the discussion centred on those books (The Hut Builder, Fosterling, and Hokitika Town). The most interesting part of the hour was the question time; they were asked how they felt writing historicals, since The Hut Builder and Hokitika Town are both historical (you do just enough to make the setting authentic, get about 90% there and make the rest up. There is a limit as to how much research you can do, and since the characters aren’t real it’s a little silly to expect that everything they do will be real). To my amusement, they were asked about being female and writing from the male perspective, to which their main answers were that writing males gives you some distance, that you don’t have when writing a female; writing a male prevents you from putting too much of yourself into a character; and that if you’re writing historicals and want to explore particular things you have no choice but to write a male, since women were prevented from doing so many things that having a female protagonist would be almost impossible. Charlotte Randall was asked about the voice of her character, which was very distinctive, and “grammatically loose”, let’s say – the questioner asked her if she was ever afraid that writing a character with such a quirky voice would put people off buying the book, to which she said that no, she’d never thought about it, she wrote him how she wanted to and didn’t worry about it. She said that to her, a story without a distinctive voice isn’t really a story, and that voice is what she looks for when she reads. This was the first time that the “write what you want to write” theme came up.

Short and Sweet – Claire Keegan, Tina Makereti and Sue Orr

Short story panel. I’d enjoyed the short story panel a couple of years ago, and this one was OK but the facilitator wasn’t that good, and really Claire Keegan alone made this one for me. Irish to the bone, she has banshee-long red hair and a completely unapologetic air about her, and what she read of one of her short stories was so bloody haunting that I had to go out and buy both of her short story collections (Antarctica and Walk the Blue Fields). She was the only one of the three writers who wasn’t trying to write a novel, saying that she’d never managed to finish one and that she was really quite happy to continue with shorts. If my shorts were as amazing as hers then I wouldn’t bother writing novels either. She had an hour to herself on the Saturday, but she was on at the same time as Paula Morris so I had to give her a miss. I’m sure it was fascinating though.

And that’s the end of Friday’s sessions. Saturday was quite a big day so I’ll write that up separately.

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4 Comments »

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  1. Your comments about Claire Keegan intrigued me enough to look up her work. Her story ‘Foster’ is online. It’s quite lovely. I’m going to order her collections. More and more, I’m growing to prefer short stories over novels because I think it takes more skill to write a well done short story.

    • I’m reading Walk the Blue Fields right now, because the short she read from is in that collection. I’m really enjoying it so far.
      I think it takes more skill to write a well done short story.
      I agree completely. Every word matters in a short story. Not so in a novel.

    • I’m reading Walk the Blue Fields right now, because the short she read from is in that collection. I’m really enjoying it so far.

      I think it takes more skill to write a well done short story.

      I agree completely. Every word matters in a short story. Not so in a novel.

  2. Your comments about Claire Keegan intrigued me enough to look up her work. Her story ‘Foster’ is online. It’s quite lovely. I’m going to order her collections. More and more, I’m growing to prefer short stories over novels because I think it takes more skill to write a well done short story.


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