A Zest for Life: Petina Gappah at #AWF16

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‘Thanks for coming out, especially on a Sunday when you should really be in church. You’re all going to hell.’

pp_petina_zappahPetina Gappah exudes warmth, intelligence, fun and an almost childlike enthusiasm for learning and striving to achieve. I have to start at the finish by saying that my most anticipated book is now her forthcoming tale about Scottish explorer David Livingstone who died in Zambia, trying to discover the source of the Nile. Gappah is telling the story of the men and women who carried his body for 9 months (dried and smoked … “like biltong”) across Africa, towards the coast. I can’t wait for the book and I know I’m not alone – the entire (packed) room collectively hummed “mmmmmmm!”.

Bianca Zander was a formal chair – reading studiously from her notes. They were excellent questions but the conversation did feel a little stiff, particularly with such a joyous and funny guest to talk to. However, an aside.

cv_the_book_of_memoryGappah read from The Book of Memory, the story of an albino woman prisoner. The reading revealed that humour we’d seen in her from the outset, and the gift of rich dialogue and voice. For Gappah, her protagonist was always going to be albino because she set out to discuss race without talking about it – she is someone white without the privilege of being white, she is black without the identity of a black person. But over the years she took to write the novel, “all of that got lost, and in the end, Albinism was a way of showing that the family had a reason to think that there was a curse at play”.

Like many writers, Gappah suffered from anxiety of anticipation of the kind of criticism that says that a writer can only write from experience. “But I remembered that writing is an act of imagination and once I remembered that I was able to write this very interesting character”. The prison in which the character is stuck is an imagined space, but based on the largest high security prison in Zimbabwe that also contains within it the largest women’s prison. The place is, therefore, a very strange mix of offences (women are imprisoned for abortion, for example). Gappah had the opportunity to visit the prison but if she did, the government would have made her sign an agreement that would mean she could never write it. So she chose the version living in her imagination and formed from other pieces of information she gathered.

Being a high-flying trade lawyer in Geneva did come in handy, however, as the novel evolves as narrative of evidence to be used in a case of appeal. “I restrained what legal language I gave the character though – I didn’t want it to be a lawyerly book”. “And my secret passion is to be a historian anyway”, she laughs.

Petina Gappah is one of those extraordinarily talented people who you can’t envy – she is so generous and open that to be envious would feel like you were moving farther away from a person who you should really try to aspire to be more like. Writing time is early morning, before work, with the evening dedicated to revising the morning’s word count. Petina can survive on 5 – 6 hours sleep (she notes, not as good as Margaret Thatcher who got by on 4 hours – “I think that’s why she was so grumpy”) and she admires the Graeme Greene method of writing 500 words a day, meaning you can achieve a novel in three months – “and he meant exactly 500 words – he’d stop mid-sentence!”

cv_an_elegy_for_easterlyGappah discovered reading in 1980 (she was born in 1971) when her family moved to a place in Rhodesia where there were three libraries (her early schooling was extremely basic – “we had nothing”). She read all of the books in the children’s section, and thinks she read about 500 of Enid Blyton’s novels “but not Noddy, that was just a bridge too far”. Thomas Hardy is a particular influence and the kind of writer she wished she had spent more time aspiring to be before she published An Elegy for Easterly.

The kind of writer that Petina Gappah is not, is one that can write episodes of violence and physical destruction. “For me, I want to leave that to the readers imagination. I have respect for the writers, like Marlon James, who can go to that place, but I just can’t do it”. When she was young she read a book called Let’s go to play at Adam’s, which ‘I just can’t get out of my head and I wish I had never read it’. It is the story of a group of kids who kidnap the babysitter and do atrocious things to them. There are two things Petina will never read aloud and that is a death scene and a birth scene – both difficult to write, and almost impossible for her to revisit.

Alongside her avid reading was always avid writing. Since the age of 11, Gappah has been starting (not often finishing) stories. When she was first published, age 37, she was overcome with imposter syndrome, and with the (to her) unexpected  success of her book of short stories An Elegy for Easterly (“meant to be just a little thing that came out before The Book of Memory which was the one that people were really excited about”) came an anxiety that she was going to be truly found out when her novel finally came.”But I would rather have my neuroses than be one of those writers who thinks everything they do is the shit!” I really love this woman.

A consequence of her success is her labeling as a ‘Zimbabwean writer’ or the ‘voice of Zimbabwe’. A problematic categorising that we see in many writers of colour – the anthropologisation of their talents. Gappah in no way wants to be seen as a spokesperson for Zimbabwe or for Africa – of course that would be impossible. Perhaps even more frustrating is that the labeling defines the kinds of conversations about her work. She praised Zander for asking her questions about craft and background and research. Gappah is so obviously a talented writer – it feels ludicrous that the urge to pin her down to anthropological contexts is so often the urge that wins out.

We learn toward the end of the hour that Gappah has left her job: “I handed in my resignation soon after the staff party last December – the wine just wasn’t up to standard”. “I want to do what the white students do – I want to take a gap year”. Gappah put her brothers and sisters through university when her father was unable to, so she is now looking forward to time for herself.

In answer to an audience question – “What would you have wanted adults to have done for your 11-year-old self to encourage you as a writer”, she explained that nobody knew what being a writer meant when she was a child, for there were no black women writers from Zimbabwe until 1988. The best gift, she said, “is to encourage them to play with their writing. Encourage them to keep a journal. With my son we write a story about our holiday and then bury it in the garden to dig up the next year and remember. This is the gift we can give our children – the gift of play and record and remembering”.

Reviewed by Claire Mabey

Books: 
An Elegy for Easterly, published by Faber & Faber, ISBN 9780571246946
The Book of Memory, published by Faber & Faber, ISBN 9780571249626

Jeanette Winterson: Gap of Time at #AWF16

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jeanette_wintersonHouse lights are down and Cyndi Lauper’s Time after Time is playing. For a small moment I let myself wonder if Jeanette Winterson is going to do an interpretive dance. A guy with an iPad is two rows in front of me and if he is planning on filming the entire thing on that it’s really going to aggravate me. The crowd starts to froth away as the song runs right through. But as it comes to the end, there’s a hush … and Jeanette Winterson walks on stage. Uproar, applause. Rock star.

The voice of an actor begins, reciting Shakespeare. Jeanette is standing on stage, listening. ‘Nothing. Nothing is the key word in that piece – A Winter’s Tale is a post-Freudian play 300 years before Freud, because the motivation for the action is a damaged past and a superstitious mind. Why? What was Shakespeare trying to tell us?’ Finally, she speaks!

cv_the_gap_of_timeThe Gap of Time is Jeanette’s (I’m feeling over-familiar, I’ll just call her Jeanette) “cover” of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. It’s one of his late plays and, as Jeanette tells us, offers us forgiveness in a way unprecedented for Shakespeare, with three generations of women appearing on stage together at the end, alive.

‘In the atom smasher of the writer’s mind, autobiography and imagination collide’. The hour is full of quotes like this – clarity and enthusiasm trip off her tongue in a session format full of theatre, choreography and texture.

At the centre of A Winter’s Tale is an abandoned child – and for Jeanette this central figure of a castaway lingered in the back of her mind, ready for reworking into a story of her own abandonment and subsequent self-discovery. But, ‘a story has to work,’ so the fun of recontextualisation starts with making King Leontes a Banker (giving him ‘the power to devastate lives’), Bohemia becomes New Orleans, and the structure is inverted so that the discovery of the abandoned baby begins the story.

‘Remember that in Shakespeare’s time, London was a new city and half of the population were under 20’. The theatre was a place to pack the most into a precarious lifespan, it was for everyone and it was entertainment as much as it was an expression for the ‘dreaming part – the unsaid things that are inside’.

Jeanette then sets out to entertain us with a reading from the novel with sound effect, dramatic pause and a musical interlude. It’s a dark and stormy night, there’s guns, cars, grief and a baby is discovered. The two most striking images for me were a description of forgiveness ‘like a tiger –we know that it exists but it’s only rarely seen up close and wild’ and ‘Grief is living with someone who is no longer there’.

My only criticism of the session is that I wanted more discussion and analysis from Jeanette – the reading revealed her relationship with theatre and with the offering up of storytelling as an act between actor and audience. At the conclusion, the applause was fervent and generous. But question time offered up more of the real gold – note the answers are more or less what she said, but not exact quotes!

Question: How did you have the courage to re-write Shakespeare, and how did you do it?

Shakespeare was an entrepreneur who loved language. Finding the language to fit the meaning and the feeling is what it’s about – that’s the job and the fun of being a writer. ‘It’s a lie detector test’ – the act of finding the language challenges you – you’re being forced to tell the truth. Shakespeare’s big vocabulary is a clue – it’s an expansion of thought, unlike the ‘karate chop syntax of the daily news’ or the fatuous feeling of a soap opera, Shakespeare was constantly working to express the complexity of daily life. You need language to deal with the huge volcano inside yourself – you need it to be free. Shakespeare is like going back to place of invitation – it’s a gift and you should accept it.

The time is ticking, too fast. Next question: Does the book contain the revelation of where Perdita is from?

‘You mean you want a spoiler?!’ Did your mother never finish stories, are you in a panic? Don’t worry, I understand – my mother used to read me Jane Eyre and in her version, Jane Eyre ran off and got married and did missionary work. . . But yes, the book ties it all up and only veers of slightly at the end. ‘That’s why we have end pages in a book – the blank pages is where the story goes.’

Two minutes to go … next Question: The baby is talked of as a blessing but do you need to have regret to have forgiveness?

Babies are always a blessing. The next generation shapes the future and if only we can continue the species long enough we might one day get it right. The Tempest came after the The Winter’s Tale and finally Shakespeare produced a father deserving of his daughter – Prospero allows his daughter to go forward.

Argh. Time is so up. Final question: How do you feel about hearing the different voices reading your book in the audio version?

I love it – it comes to life as a collaboration and a community.  Shakespeare worked in collaborative world – with actors and audiences there was always room for revision and invention. That’s what the pleasure is – the voices and the power of the language. And even when we come across a production that isn’t very good and we need to leave at half time – the text is always there. There’s no need for regret or disappointment because there will always be another production coming along – the best thing to do is immerse yourself in it.  Literature is the thing that doesn’t fracture under intense pressure. When you’re broken you lose your words, your ability to express the feeling and the thinking. Going to the theatre, reading, is like taking ‘homeopathic dilutions’ of language that affect you later – it is inside you and that is all we have in the end.

Time is utterly up. ‘But I want to leave you with this. Language and Love.’

Standing ovation. Nobody wants to leave. ‘You’re very kind but you have to leave’, she says. OK Jeanette, anything you say, but come back soon please!

Reviewed by Claire Mabey

Books:
The Gap of Time, published by Hogarth, ISBN 9781781090305
Oranges are not the Only Fruit, published by Vintage, ISBN 9780099598183
Many Many More…

 

 

 

 

 

Spirit House, Foreign Soil: Maxine Beneba Clarke and Tusiata Avia at #AWF16

Tusiata Avia gives the best housekeeping spiel, setting the tone for one of the most gentle and respectful conversations between two powerful writers I’ve heard, she told us that if our phones went off we’d have to buy lunch for everyone else in the room.
 A spirit of community clung to this conversation. Which is weird because at one crucial point, Tusiata asked ‘where are all the brown faces in this room? Auckland is the biggest Polynesian city in the world… just saying’. Tusiata Avia and Maxine Beneba Clarke are both brilliant writers – the readings that they gently prodded each other to give throughout the session left us all softly gasping, such was their power. But just being a great poet, memoirist, essayist isn’t what defines them most of the time – it’s their brown skin. And this gets complicated.

Tusiata Avia says that something grates inside her everytime she is described as a Samoan poet or a poet of Polynesian decent, or any other iteration of that kind. And for Maxine, it’s the idea that this pigeon-holing needs to happen before there can be an engagement with her work that’s problematic. However, as this issue is rolled around over the hour, I think they strike what it is that truly defines their work in a way that could never define a writer who is missing the threads of heritage that follow these two writers around. And it’s something entirely magical – it’s voices.

Maxine Beneba Clarke has written in many voices – Jamaican, Sudanese, Australian, New Orleans, patois… and this is a result of writing the black diaspora. Tusiata read the poem ‘Vasanga’ to perfectly illustrate this point: The voice of a missionary and the voice of Samoan children attempting to ‘learn’ the precise ways of English pronunciation … funny, outrageous, important to hear.

Beneba Clarke says that she is comfortable in some voices more than others – she can call on the voices of her grandparents for some characters, but for those that are further from her own experiences, she creates distance. For example, the voice of a Sri Lankan asylum seeker in her volume of short stories is told in the third person and that character is accessed by the author through a secondary character who feels closer to her own knowledge and therefore allows the author a comfortable place to tell the story.

This discussion returned to the problem of “othering” – ‘it really pisses me off sometimes’, says Avia. Beneba Clarke experienced baffling criticism from those who couldn’t get past the location and culture of one of her stories about a white woman and a Ugandan man – ‘it was the story of an abusive relationship’, but all they could discuss was the setting ‘which is not the story’.

Both writers draw upon family, history and the discovery of heritage stories. Beneba Clarke described her research trip to the UK during which she visited the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool. You really had to be there for the reading of Demerara Sugar – her poem describing the impact of that journey, forever redefining Penny Road for everyone in the room.

The two writers were so generous and understanding of one another – Beneba Clarke next pressed Avia to talk about the way she threads her heritage and her present together (we all must watch Wild Dogs Under My Skirt. Avia talked about the idea of channeling – of having an inherent knowing in her DNA that aided what she discovered about Samoa’s pre-Christian stories from here, and from there. Her reading of ‘Covenant’ was astonishing. The poem’s central image is that of brother and sister ‘grafted’ together by their pajama buttons, chest to chest. That poem will ‘follow me around’ just in the way that Beneba Clarke’s work has been following Avia.

The Hate Race is Beneba Clarke’s forthcoming memoir that addresses the broader issue of race relations in Australia – what it means to be a brown person in white Australia. The purpose, Avia said, ‘is to bring these things out of the dark and into where the light can touch them. Even when it’s painful and unattractive’.

Both writers have mirror poems that describe the difficulty of finding words to tell those stories: ‘I cannot write a poem about Gaza’ (Avia) and ‘What are you going to say?’ (Beneba Clark, on the Westgate Mall Siege in Nairobi). Please go and buy these books – read these poems out loud.

Question time saw a Scouse voice tell the poets that he’s proud to define himself as a Queer Poet and might not they feel proud to be defined, too, because they’ll be easier to find for those coming behind them who need role models? Both said yes – they’re proud of their heritage and it’s important to have a community of people who are also proud to identify with you. But the problem of being defined above all else remains: ‘You are pigeonholed in a white establishment. You’ll go to festivals and you’ll be with an indigenous poet and the topic will be writing the other. It’s good to be proud, but there are wider implications at work.’

Tusiata Avia pinned the issue down, for me, when she said ‘people who only have one voice inside them – who don’t have multiple voices inside their head, following them around – struggle to read other voices. They jar and then that other voice becomes ‘lesser’’. This discussion proved how very wrong that is – all of the voices in this room were rich, powerful, and needed to be heard.

Reviewed by Claire Mabey

The Narrative of History: John Boyne at #AWF16

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 Guy Somerset tricked us at the beginning. His introduction depicted a rather arrogant writer (the man is right next to you Guy… awkward much?) … but, relief, he was reading from John Boyne’s satirical sketch based on his experience of … Continue reading

The Odd Woman and the City: Vivian Gornick at #AWF16

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‘That was the best thing, ever. It is so good to be reminded why we go to these things’ said my companion amid the fiercely appreciative clapping at the end of Vivian Gornick’s hour talking with Jolisa Gracewood.

vivian-gornick-body-image-1432301445Feminist, memoirist, journalist, novelist, walker, and owner of wonderful cheekbones, Vivian Gornick (picture above by Mitchell Bach) was captivating, strong and reassuring – rather sweetly assisting Gracewood at one point when she became (charmingly) overwhelmed by the possibilities of their discussion (‘my brain is going in five different directions right now!’).

cv_the_odd_woman_and_the_cityThe hour revolved around Gornick’s latest memoir The Odd Woman and the City, described as ‘part paen and part elegy’. Fifty per cent of New York’s households are single occupancy, and the majority of those households are occupied by women, we learned. Oh to be a woman and to live alone, in a city like New York. Listening to Vivian Gornick is like listening to your best inner feminist self, winning the argument over the worst. Gornick says that the feminist revolution is the ‘longest revolution in history’ and ‘every fifty years we are called something different – ‘new’, ‘free’, ‘liberated’, backhanded descriptions…’

Gracewood asked who is ‘the odd’ woman – good question. For Gornick, her ‘odd woman’ was inspired by George Gissing’s 1890s book called The Odd Woman, in which, Gornick says, she saw herself in Gissing’s descriptions of the early feminist movement. You become the odd woman, she says, when you recognise that you can’t not long for equality.

The other primary characters in Gornick’s book are best friend Leonard and the city of New York. Leonard is the fictionalised version of a very real friend of Gornick’s – a gay man also searching for equality. In their friendship, said Gornick, she sees the paradigm for modern life. The question of writing your life came up several times across the session. In the case of Leonard, Gornick said she knew that the real Leonard was pretty OK with how he was represented because he asked her “can I audition for the role of Leonard?”Alongside this friendship is Gornick’s relationship with the city, which she describes as constantly presenting episodes of theatre (in big cities that is, and no, Auckland does not count – we’re more like California here), always reinventing itself but always remaining the same – ‘It’s the crowds, the blissful anonymity of the people at eye level that are the same. (I don’t look up or I’d wanna kill myself – the buildings look like they’re warring with each other)’.

One of the more moving parts of the hour was when Gornick described the way her relationship with New York shifted after 9/11. She described the loss of nostalgia ‘stunning beyond stunning’ – she was feeling as though she was walking through a devastated landscape. And the only way she found to understand her devastation was to read European novels by women who had experienced war (namely Natalia Ginsberg and Elizabeth Bowen). These stories soothed her because they were ‘looking past the history, beyond the bleakness to tell it like it really was, without sentimentality or nostalgia’. And that is clearly what Gornick prides herself on in her own writing – the ability to tell the hard truths.

cv_fierce_attachmentsGracewood brought the discussion to Fierce Attachments, Gornick’s first memoir about her relationship with her mother and with the woman who lived next door. Both women were widowed but one became a professional mourner and the other ‘the whore of Babylon’ – and Gornick ‘was embroiled between them’. This in-between-ness seems to have defined Gornick for a large part of her life – the struggle to justify herself to herself. Her epiphany came, she said, in her 30s, when she realised that ‘the princess was always after the pea, not the prince’ and the feminist movement came upon her.

Gornick’s mind comes up with striking images – on her discovery of the power of applying her mind to writing she said ‘an image had taken shape in my mind and the sentences were trying to fill that space’ … ‘a rectangle opened up inside my body, clearing space, with myself in the middle wanting to clarify and be clarified’. With that discovery she found joy, safety, peace and understanding. ‘And then I got divorced’.

Question time was hampered by a lack of roving microphone but the best of the lot was: ‘Is Hilary Clinton a feminist?’ Her answer: ‘NO!’ ‘She’s a politician through and through’. Gornick said that Bernie Sanders is important as a provocateur and that Trump is truly dangerous – the hope is that Clinton will get it but only because she’s not Trump.

Gracewood finished the session off with a final question, about Gornick’s idea of the twin persona involved in the writing of a memoir. A vital concept in non-fiction is that you have to pull from yourself the person telling the story and that your narrator contains the tone, the structure. You have to be both sides of the question in non-fiction – you have to find your own part in the conflict so that you have a narrative.

Gornick’s double selves have served her well. And the self on stage today was truly inspiring. What a woman.

Reviewed by Claire Mabey

Vivian Gornick will also appear in the free event Tell It Slant, Saturday 14 May 2016, alongside Steven Toussaint, Stephen Braunias, Chris Price and Joan Fleming

Books:
The Odd Woman and the City, published by Nero, ISBN 9781863958141
Fierce Attachments, published by Daunt Books, ISBN 9781907970658

Joy Cowley: A Joyful Life, with John Allen

Joy Cowley is truly a living legend, and it was a privilege to be at this final event of NZ
Festival Writer’s Week. John Allen is himself a great speaker, and it was wonderful to hear the obvious admiration in his voice as he spoke with Cowley about her life and career to date.

Allen had a chat with one of Joy Cowley’s friends before coming to interview her, and she described her friend thus: “When I think of Joy, I think of Yoda: he is old, he is wise, he is strong, he is serene, he has seen it all, done everything, and loves it all.” Is this how Joy Cowley sees herself, asked Allen.

yoda

Cowley says, “I’m a very big container filled with stuff that’s come from other people, other places. There’s something within me that wants to process what people have given me. I relate to the world most strongly as a mother. But as far as looking in the mirror; as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing there.”

Cowley’s early life was covered briefly in her autobiography from 2010, Navigation: A Memoir. She has long been a risk-taker, she rode motorbikes, and was one of the first female Tiger Moth pilot in the country. There were frequent references throughout the chat to Cowley’s enjoyment of life on the wild side. She bungy-jumped to celebrate her 65th birthday, and got a tattoo to celebrate her 70th.

pingAllen wondered about her early reading life. “I was slow to come to reading,” Joy said, “My parents moved around a lot when I was young, I had been to 5 different schools by the age of 7.” At that stage in school, kids were taught reading by phonetics, which made no sense to her. The first book she remembers reading by herself was a picture book called Ping – a marvellous adventure of a duck. “And I finished it and started it again, and the story was the same. This was the first time I’d encountered the constancy of print.”

Her family were great storytellers, but of course stories changed as they grew. “The stability of story is very important, especially if you are from a muddly home, as I am.” When she was about 9, she started telling stories to her sisters, using universal stories but changing the details. These stories were always about powerful children, who could do anything. “I made these into our stories.” Cowley later noted that she wasn’t young as a child – she was the eldest, the responsible one, while her parents were often ill and unpredictable.

pp_joy_cowleyPowerless kids empower themselves through stories, says Cowley. “It’s very important that kids are made powerful. In their stories children may solve adults’ problems, but adults can’t solve children’s problems.” To give a child a positive, empowering world in a story is very important.

Cowley uses her lived experience in her fiction. “Fiction writers are dealing with reality, but taking it to another level. They are deconstructing and reconstructing the ingredients of their stories, and pouring them out, making something new.”

After a brief discussion of Cowley’s adult novels, the discussion moved on to young writers using writing as therapy – as Cowley herself did. “You go deep when you are writing. If it is bleak, good – write it, but not for children.” She is concerned by the bleakness in many YA novels. You can empathise, but not sympathise.

Dreams are a recurring theme in Cowley’s writing. “They are important to me, mainly because I remember my dreams. Sometimes they are just the muddle of the day, but then there are messages that take you home to yourself.” There was also a longer discussion about spirituality, and the place of religion in Cowley’s life.

If fascinates Allen that her books have travelled so well around the world, despite their clear kiwi character. Cowley says, “I like to see a strong sense of place in any book. It is important to see where the character is and what the child is doing there. “

As a child, Cowley read so many stories giving children serious messages about being good and responsible. “I used to wish I could be twins so one could be good and one could be bad. There are stories by adults that place adult expectation on children. But my first duty to a reader is to entertain.

“I work with children who are reluctant readers. No one can be tense when they are laughing.”

Her road to publication wasn’t exactly straight-forward. She says, “My writing was always invisible to me. I had no idea of how to evaluate my writing. I didn’t know until I got some feedback, how to begin.” The person who she owes her breakthrough to was Monty Holcroft, who edited The Listener when her first story was accepted – he asked her how many times she had reworked her stories. “Being a writer is one thing, but learning to be an editor is another. I still need a good editor to work on my manuscripts. I very easily go into self-doubt.”

cv_snake_and_lizardAllen wondered about her eponymous characters snake and lizard – are they Cowley and her husband Terry Coles? “Yes” she says, “I firmly believe that friendship is not made of sameness, but the accommodation of differences.” They married in mid-life, which was the right time for them – and now they are a unit. In Snake and Lizard, Terry is represented by snake and Joy is represented by Lizard. Joy Cowley and Gavin Bishop are currently working on a third in the series, to be called Helper and Helper, which she then read an excerpt from.

In contrast to Sally Gardner about the UK education system, Joy Cowley loves the kiwi education system. New Zealanders are in the top 10 in the world in many different areas, because our education system encourages individual potential. There issomething in the New Zealand character that will give anything a go, and that will persist.

cv_road_to_ratenburgTake heed, Elizabeth Heritage – Joy Cowley loves rats! The Road to Ratenburg is her next Gecko Press publication, about some rats that are made homeless. A bit like Pilgrim’s Progress, apparently – but for rats.

This was a fantastic look into the mind of a legend. I was second in the signing queue, with my well-loved copy of Just One More. It will be Cowley’s 80th birthday this year, and to celebrate this, everybody who attended received a greeting card from Gecko Press, featuring a print of one of Gavin Bishop’s illustrations for the next Snake & Lizard book.

Attended and reviewed by Sarah Forster
NB: I have just gone to Nielsen to find something by Joy Cowley, and come up with 1480 hits for her author name. Now that is a publishing backlist!

Booksellers NZ has been privileged to attend and report on twenty-five world-class events over the last four days. I’d like to give a huge shout-out to Elizabeth Heritage, who bore a full load beginning last Tuesday with Henry Marsh; to Sarah McMullan, whose account of the Robert Dessaix event was fantastic, and to Emma Shi, who attended the more poetry-focused events on the programme. Thank-you also to Kathryn Carmody and Claire Mabey, for being amazing organisers; and to the Radio NZ bloggers, Charlotte Graham and Ellen Falconer, who did an incredible blow-by-blow account of all the activities of the weekend.

Now we have the Auckland Writer’s Festival to look forward to!