AWF: New Zealand Listener Gala Night, with Alan Cumming, Peter Fitzsimons, Michele A’Court and more

AWF_logoI 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 aspp_michele_acourt 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.

pp_nic_lowNic 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).

pp_amy_bloomAmy 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!

Book Review: Gallipoli, by Peter Fitzsimons

Available now in bookshops nationwide.cv_gallipoli_fitz

Peter Fitzsimons’ Gallipoli is very Australia-centric. This is one of most intriguing aspects of the book.

It does not try to suggest that only Australians fought at Gallipoli, but the flavour, the perspective, and the prose all have an Aussie accent and use of words − sometimes stark and brutal, other times colourful − that could only be from one country and one time.

There have, of course, been many books written about this failed military adventure, but this is not just “another Gallipoli book”. It is a fascinating, highly informative book, with deep emotive characteristics. The latter is something Fitzsimons is famous for. His other books, such as Kokoda, describe events now etched deeply into Australia’s culture.
Gallipoli is a lengthy tome, at 824 pages, including notes, references, bibliography and index. This may seem overlong. But Fitzsimons puts the landings at Anzac Cover and Cape Hellas and the subsequent eight months of bitterness, into the deep context of the politics that surrounded the ill-fated campaign; including the failure of the British and French navies to break past the Turkish guns lining each side of the Dardanelles, immediately prior to the campaign. He captures the historic context of Turkey as the Ottoman Empire is failing. The politics from the British, Australian and Turkish perspective are woven into the story, in relation to each significant point in the book. Thus, Churchill gets a bad rap, and Kitchener’s refusal to order the right type of high explosives, is one cause of his eventual downfall.

Of course, all of the familiar Gallipoli stories are covered. Did the landings take place at the right place? Probably not, if one of the simple maps included in the book is accepted. The “burial truce”, when Turks and Anzac worked together to bury their mountains of dead is another example of a familiar story. Although these and similar events are basically familiar, Fitzsimons adds considerable detail, often omitted from other accounts.

The oft-told story of the withdrawal of the ANZAC, Indian and British Forces from ANZAC Cove is an intriguing example of the added detail that Fitzsimons has brought to bear from his obviously extensive research, using archives, battlefield reports, and personal diaries and letters from every level of the combatant armies – from Turkish and Anzac privates to Imperial generals, politicians and journalists. The intensively detailed planning by Lieutenant-Colonel Cyril Brudenell White, one of the few officers that gets a good rap throughout the book, is illuminating to read, and the fact that it was so carefully and successfully followed by the evacuating armies is astounding.

There are many personal accounts and human touches from both sides of no-man’s land woven into the overall narrative. And the epilogue traces many of the characters, both ANZAC and Turk, beyond the Gallipoli experience to their respective post-war fates.
This may be an Aussie-centric book, but it adds to the overall understanding of what, why and how the Gallipoli campaign was fought and how the ANZAC legend was created.

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould

by Peter Fitzsimons
Published by Random House
ISBN 9781741666595