I am sitting in the second row at the Gala Opening Event of the Auckland Writers Festival 2015. The line up of authors is impressive. They each have 7 minutes to tell a true story about themselves, based on the topic of Straight Talking. Once the charming and witty Alan Cumming got his minor protest heard about being required to talk “straight”, he delivered a lesson in standing up to people as he reminisced about his interaction with director Stanley Kubrik in the film Eyes Wide Shut. He spoke back to the great man, and seemed to win his respect.
Michele A’Court, comic turned writer, was as funny as you would expect her to be. She explained that the fastest way to get somewhere is by walking in a straight line: therefore, the same should be true for conversations. Her straight talking involved a hilarious story about trying to get to a small town Australian town for the birth of her first grandchild.
Peter FitzSimons, a man also known to us in other pursuits – he was an Australian rugby player – gave an energetic, and well-received, reminder of what it was like to face All Black greats like Buck Shelford and Inga the winger charging at you on the green fields of Eden Park over two decades ago. The passionate way he engaged the audience suggested it could have been yesterday, and maybe it was, in his storytellers’ mind.
Nic Low (left), author of Arms Race and a new name to me, told us his story of becoming a writer, which included a touch of what he termed fraudessence. He talked about a writer needing a balance of skill, work, and ego, and I think, on reflection, that this balance is crucial.
Aroha Harris used as a prop, her impressive ta moko extending from her hand to her elbow. A story in itself. She spoke of being the victim of straight talking from strangers about what she had done to herself (they thought of this as a disfigurement), and why.
Continuing in the theme of third-party uninvited straight talking, Australian writer, Helen Garner, talked about repeatedly being reminded, through the action of others, of her age (she is 71).
Amy Bloom (right), from the USA, told us a very funny story about her parents, their deaths, the sharing of cremated remains and a straight-talking (and pragmatic) pair of sisters; one of whom was Amy herself. It’s a happy ending, and one which even Amy thinks her mother will be pleased with.
When Booker winner Ben Okri took the stage as the final speaker he continued the theme of parental love and loss. You could have heard a pin drop in the ASB theatre as he told us the story of receiving a phone call to say his devoted mother had passed. A phone call that he never expected, that turned that day into the worst day of his life, but also the most transcendent.
Wow, what a night. Some many great stories, so many great thoughts, and wonderful storytellers. This evening was clearly to whet the appetite for the three days ahead: it worked for me, I’m now very hungry and keen for more.
Reviewed by Gillian Whalley Torckler
All of these authors are doing events over the next three days, at the Auckland Writer’s Festival. Go and join the literary fun!