10am, 12 September: Take That!
Stephanie Johnson has her finger in many literary pies, co-founding the Auckland Writers’ Festival and writing numerous novels, short stories, poetry and screenplays. So it is that she has many a yarn to tell about the institutions within the writing world, and the characters that inhabit it. Today, Stephanie took the stage alongside Harry Ricketts to discuss her latest novel, The Writers’ Festival, which is a sequel to her 2013 novel, The Writing Class. What unfolded was something hilarious and penetrative.
It seems Johnson’s latest book has conspicuous parallels to the local, real life festival scene. Ricketts and Johnson had us in giggle-fits describing writerly antics on the festival run. There are writers who refuse to breathe the same oxygen as their fellow authors, let alone sit at the same stage (in real life, Johnson found cookbook authors and historians to be among the worst for this). There are moments of ‘cultural cringe’ as a character, returning from New York, beats more experienced locals to assume a job in festival organisation. Johnson tells us about festival politics, the obstructive trepidation of festival sponsors when a Chinese dissident is set to attend as a speaker. These things spill from life into fiction and back again.
Johnson tells Ricketts about the importance of performance as a writer, and the privileges of being young and pretty in the industry. There was also some discussion, in question time, about heckling from audiences at festivals, which again drew some wonderful anecdotes.
12 noon, 12 September: What Lies Beneath
Elspeth Sandys is a novelist and short-story and script writer, whose novel, River Lines, was long-listed for the Orange Prize. At noon she spoke with Murray Gray about her 2014 memoir, (as distinct from autobiography, she stresses) What Lies Beneath’ She tells us that people become writers so that they can live out alternative lives. She speaks about the nature of memory, its lapses, and suggests a non-linear description of time.
Her quest is to flesh out the characters of her birth-parents. She describes her discovery that her mother (who, at one point, she imagines was a ballerina) is a very different, and rather stronger, woman than she had depicted. Asked whether the process of writing this was cathartic, Sandys replies that she had already processed much of her life issues through her fiction novels. But she says it was ‘surprising’, insofar as her memoir was accepted for publication, and in that people were interested in her memories.
It is not so surprising, hearing her read a couple of excerpts from her memoir. Her writing is lush and transportive. I’m keen to get my paws on a copy.
Now for a lunch break… when I will probably spend far too much money on books!
Events reviewed by Elizabeth Morton for Booksellers NZ