Taking Form, with Mariko Tamaki, Kerry Ann Lee, Courtney Sina Meredith and Sarah Laing

Taking Form was a discussion between four writers who have dabbled with different artistic forms. Mariko Tamaki’s work includes graphic novels, Kerry Ann Lee is also a visual artist, Courtney Sina Meredith a musician, and Sarah Laing a graphic designer.

courtney sina meredithThe idea of being a writer and someone creative was a key idea in Taking Form.In reference to Miranda July’s talk on Wednesday, Laing begins the conversation with the idea of “origin stories”, stories about our own origins as writers. Meredith describes how she was a “creative unicorn” as a child and that it was hard to stay different when transitioning into the real world. Her need to create was just a necessity that she “consciously felt since I (she) was a child”.

Laing then poses the question of whether writers have good memories or simply pay attention and therefore notice things that others don’t. Lee talks about how she, like many writers, has a second job: teaching at the design school. She beautifully describes how crossing from this job to her more creative mind is like going into a field, collecting objects and putting them into her pockets. Inevitably, however, she must “cross fields and come back to it”, it being reality. Nevertheless, when she comes back she also now has these new tokens in her pockets, tokens that will allow her to produce more creative work.tamaki

Tamaki both agrees with and develops this idea; it’s good to talk to others and discover but also good to be able to go away to this field and be alone. She describes being creative as a fragile “tenuous space”. This leads to the four talking about how,when writing, even one little disruption can be a giant disturbance; Tamaki says with a smile, “I don’t think writers should have to take out the garbage”.

Meredith also has an interesting take on the nature of writing and states that she, as a writer, has to “live three times more than anyone else”; writers have to live a moment, describe that moment, then condense that moment into a creative piece. To her, writing and being creative is like another world. She talks about how going to law school was like a different universe where she had to separate two worlds: one world that focused on certainties while her creative voice and voice was more uncertain.

They end with a discussion on collaboration, including how the idea of something as ‘yours’ is complex, and briefly delve into what happens when collaboration goes wrong and ideas are taken without credit, a situation that is not often talked about. Nevertheless, Tamaki asserts that it is important to “unclench a little”, to let other people into what you’re doing and to have faith in the power of what you have to create.

The four mainly talked about what it means to be a writer and I was a little disappointed since the description promised “a conversation about letting a story find its form”; there was little talk about these different kinds of art. I would have enjoyed a greater discussion about how these creatives incorporate different forms into their writing. Nevertheless, the four were all poignant and entertaining. Laing was an excellent chair, who offered up questions for discussion but also let the others speak freely, allowing them to give a greater insight into what it means to be a writer.

Attended and reviewed by Emma Shi


Gala Opening: Fighting Talk, feat Mariko Tamaki, Etger Keret, Robert Dessaix, Sally Gardner

Paul Diamond opened Fighting Talk with a mihi, which spoke of the death of Ranginui Walker, then Chris Price set the scene with a brief introduction of the writers. The format was like a True stories told live’ format, but all of our writers had prepared speeches – in a couple of cases this meant the immediacy of the story-telling was lost, but all of the topics raised were fascinating.

tamakiThe stories began with one from Mariko Tamaki (right), a Canadian cartoonist who spoke about linguistics and the use of speech to refer to gender. Etger Keret, an Israeli short story writer, was up next, telling us a story about a terrifying taxi ride. Essayist Robert Dessaix had us just short of rolling in the aisles with his talk about how babies were made (and how gossip ruins family reputations). Children’s novelist Sally Gardner’s lexical ability had us all agape in awe, and Courtney Sina Meredith told a powerful story about race and identity to round it off.

What you want from an official opening event is to be set up mentally for what is to come, and this certainly delivered that. None of these authors were well-known to me, and each engaged a different part of my brain, making them well worth seeing.

Mariko Tamaki has her solo session on Sunday, and I am really looking forward to it. Tonight she reflected on how annoyed she was when an older man approached her after a keynote speech and criticised how she delivered it – and what she should have said. She is curious about why people think that things they find annoying – such as ‘verbal fry’ and ‘uptalk’ – should be banned. She briefly alluded to Debbie Cameron, a linguist, as a fantastic person to read, on the topic of speaking.

I agree that telling somebody how to talk “is telling them what to say” – and certainly we saw tonight that each speaker had a palette of speaking styles at their disposal. If I am ever policed on my verbal presence I will definitely use her take-away line,”I didn’t ask, so don’t tell me how to talk.”

pp_etgar_keretEtgar Keret’s son asked him to Google something one night recently. “What is that son?” “I want you to Google a place that nobody kills each other.” “I’m not going to do that son, because it doesn’t exist.” “But grandma says it might be New Zealand.” He is concerned about fighting, as living in Israel, his son will be conscripted to the Israeli Army when he reaches his 18th Birthday. Keret read a piece out about a taxi ride, where the driver was erratic and angry, and yelled at Keret’s then 3-year-old son for “breaking” the taxi. The driver had been spoiling for a fight, but it took the wisdom of a 3-year-old to help ease tensions.

dessaixRobert Dessaix (right) was hilarious, telling a story about how as a 5-year-old, he told his 6-year-old female neighbour where children came from. She pressed him on it, saying it was ‘disgusting’, then asking him where all other living things came from, until she got to Jesus. Dessaix said, “He came from an egg; an Easter Egg, everyone knows that.” As news tends to do in small neighbourhoods, his neighbour told her friend, who told hers, who told her piano teacher, who happened to be a nun. The Dessaix family were ostracised for weeks, until the aunty of his neighbour brought them a pop-up toaster in apology.

Dessaix will be speaking tonight about the Famous Five, and between his engaging voice and conspiratorial air, and the fact he will be talking about my childhood favourite series, I cannot wait .

sally_gardnerSally Gardner (left) is dyslexic, and is a spokesperson for dyslexia in the UK. She told us about her trip around the South Island prior to coming to the festival, which led into a wonderful talk about the failure of the education system, particularly in the UK. She said, “The Educational system seems to want rows of conifer trees – when the world needs these different thinkers. There is no nation without imagination – many of our modern geniuses – Bill Gates, Steve Jobs – were dyslexic. The time has come to celebrate the diversity of our children. It doesn’t matter how we spell words, it matters what we say.”

Sally is doing her solo event tomorrow at the Embassy, which I have deemed unmissable. She writes for kids of all ages, from picture books up to junior fiction, and YA.

courtney sina meredithCourtney Sina Meredith jumped through several instances in her life where she has been made rudely aware of her race. She realised at school, as an 8-year-old, while giving a speech in front of the assembly, that she was one of five brown faces at the school. “I started to notice who gets to speak and who doesn’t,” she said. As a 12-year-old, she called out an intermediate school teacher for being racist regarding Australian Aboriginals. And as a 21-year old, in her third year of a law degree, her friends created a petition to keep “weirdos and minorities” out of law school. She left soon after, to complete a BA and work in the arts. She says, “I have no idea how to keep my soul inside of my skin.”

The gala opening presented many moments to remember, and plenty of moments to delve further into; you can see our review of Etgar Keret’s session here, and we will soon have a report about Mariko’s first panel session. While I am posting this at the halfway mark, I am by no means writered out. There is still so much to see and learn from to come.

A last remark, courtesy of Courtney Sina Meredith, who will appear tomorrow at Debating New Zealand:
“People will break themselves against you and it’s your life’s work to keep going, regardless.”

Attended and reviewed by Sarah Forster and Elizabeth Heritage

Gala Opening: Fighting Talk
with Mariko Tamaki, Etger Keret, Robert Dessaix, Sally Gardner and Courtney Sina Meredith
Thursday 10 March, NZ Festival Writer’s Week