WORD: How to be a Writer, with Steve Hely

Event_How-to-be-a-Writer-Steve-HelySteve Hely is a comedic writer from the USA. He has written for many great TV shows, and his TV writing and how he got into this was the focus of the first part of this talk. First up, Hely apologises to all those in the audience who thought this was about how to be a writer, and takes the blame for the odd title (it was meant to be named after his novel How I Became a Famous Novelist.’

I’ll admit I was struggling by this point of the day. I really ought to have had a coffee before going into this session, but due to a quick turn-around, that was too hard. My miasma of tiredness wasn’t helped by the in-crowd angle Toby Manhire took during part of this interview. I have been enjoying each of the USA writers’ views on Trump and American politics however, and I’d recommend going along to The State Of America at 12.30pm here at The Piano.

Hely’s writing credits include the David Letterman Show, American Dad, 30 Rock, and Veep. He has also published the title named earlier, plus travel book The Wonder Trail. He wanted to be a TV writer from very young, and deliberately went to Harvard (after some of his favourite writers) so he could work at the Harvard Lampoon magazine. After college, he pitched his writing to Letterman, didn’t hear anything for months, moved to LA in the meantime, then to New York when he got the job.

The writing process for Letterman: “You got there and were told what the pitch was for that day. You’d pick a topic then you’d write jokes for it, then write some skits for the opening set piece.  You were in a box writing on your typewriter.” When he moved to comedy writing though, it became more collaborative – TV writers are aware that 1 + 1 = more than 2.The style of the writing room depends on the personality of the show-runner. “Sometimes they touch everything themselves, sometimes they delegate and let others deal with it.”

Hely was dubious about the idea of a US version of The Office, but by the time he came in as a writer it was through to its 7th season: there ended up being around 250 episodes of US The Office, compared to about 12 in the UK. In this writing group, writers were often transitioned to become actors, quite deliberately – to give them a sense of what they are doing.

They moved on then to talk about his books. Hely says, “It is helpful as a writer to be able to split your personality into different characters.” One of the reasons he wanted to be a novelist was to be invited to literary festivals. The theme of How I became a famous novelist was how much you could get away with, when pretending to be a writer. “I wanted to explore the line between being genuine and being a poser.” Hely also wanted to explore the difference between mass-market and literary fiction – he is interested in who we give literary awards to, and why.

While on hiatus from TV writing, he took a trip around Central and South America. He had pitched this to publishers before leaving, and when he was part-way through his agent sold the book: so then he had to write it. “I like to break my routine by travelling, and talking to strangers, and working out a new country. New Zealand has a culture of this, but I have encountered a lot of Americans who have never considered travelling. “

Trump

Hely attended the Republican Convention: “It was so tin pot, cheap, dictatorial, fascist and I hated to see it in the United States. Donald Trump is barf – US got so disgusted with the political system that they threw Trump up. Those who weren’t part of the the machine threw this up.” The only funny part of it was when Ted Cruz – “another despicable individual” – refused to endorse Trump. But as soon as Trump started talking he thought “No. We need to shut this down.”

One of the audience members asked whether it was getting harder to write political satire, given Trump is doing this himself? “The fact satire is being outpaced by reality is a problem.” It is, he says, hard to make fun of this guy who changes his mind at every turn. “I don’t subscribe to the idea that comedy’s job is to change people’s minds. The real value of it is making you feel less insane. It’s helpful to make people understand they aren’t alone.”

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

How to be a Writer, with Steve Hely

Steve Hely is also at:

The State of America, Sun 28 Aug, 12.30pm

 

WORD: Bloomsbury South, by Peter Simpson, interviewed by Paul Millar

cv_bloomsbury_southThe publication of Bloomsbury South is an important event for the arts community of Christchurch. It tied together the many artistic genres and people who were based in Christchurch from 1933-53.

Peter Millar led an interesting hour of questions and reflections with the author, Peter Simpson. Millar described the book as “a beautiful object in its own right”. This comment arose from the way that images, headings and original documents have been used to create a superb reading of this period in the artistic history of New Zealand. He described it as a book which gives equal weight to text and images.

Peter Simpson recalled the time 15 years ago when he first realised the connections between the creative blossoming in Bloomsbury, London post-WW1 and what happened in Christchurch. In the intervening years he has written about many of the artists as individuals, but it was a much grander idea to bring them together in this book. He talked us through the chapters and grouping these in pre-war, war, and post-war. Then the different genres became a focus within these chapters. “Once I settled on this plan, I stuck to it”.

Simpson talked to us about the importance of a physical space for these artists to meet. 97 Cambridge Terrace was owned by artist Sydney Lough Thompson, but he rented out studio rooms to the arts community. This provided an intellectual, political and artistic home for an ever widening group.

Institutions such as the Caxton Press and the University provided support for the group. The Depression also played a pivotal part in developing an awareness of the struggles many New Zealanders faced. While most of the artists came from middle class homes, it was as Special Constables, recruited from the university, that they met the desperate face of real people. Certainly, Denis Glover’s biographer felt that the experience had a profound effect on Glover. Paul Millar likened this to the creative response generated post-quake in Christchurch. As the depression was a catalyst for the Bloomsbury South group, so the Christchurch earthquakes have provided an urgency in artistic response.

Ursula  Bethell’s role as a Mother Superior to the young male writers was a discovery which surprised Simpson. The general thought was that she ceased writing in 1934 and her influence stopped. His meticulous reading of the private correspondence of the artists, allowed him to trace connections and influences. Some, like Angus to Lilburn, wrote 2 or 3 times a week across the same city. He found this an invaluable resource and one which still offers unfound insights.

There was so much to celebrate in this event. Peter Simpson was the right man to write this book with an already extensive knowledge of these artists as individuals. But it was his vision to draw them together in these pages, and engage us in this story. He gave credit to his publisher, Auckland University Press, and in particular to Katrina Duncan, who superbly married text and image.

I had my copy of Bloomsbury South to be signed and when asked by my seat mate what I thought, I replied that I loved every page. I found him with a copy at the after match. ” I was tossing up, but your comments convinced me”. I know he will not be disappointed.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Bloomsbury South, by Peter Simpson, interviewed by Paul Millar

Bloomsbury South: The arts in Christchurch 1933-53
by Peter Simpson
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408480

WORD: The Margaret Mahy Lecture, given by David Levithan

This was a really special experience. I will move mountains to come to all future Margaret Mahy lectures. I’ll admit that the concept of a named lecture often gives me doubts, but I have read Levithan, and I knew I did not want to miss what he had to say.

Kate De Goldi gave the introduction, saying ever since his first novel Boy Meets Boy, “he has energetically reimagined queer experience.” Levithan has now written, edited, and anthologised more than 20 books. “He has peopled the YA stage with self-aware, thoughtful, engaged teenagers.” The highlight of his books for De Goldi is the concept that we are at our best in relationship to one another: change comes only from connectivity. As well as writing his own books, he is a publisher and editorial director at Scholastic US.

Event_Margaret-Mahy-Memorial-Lecture-David-Levithan-1He opened his talk by speaking briefly to the Orlando shooting: “What do we do in response? We raise our voices not singing, but shouting. Not shouting, but telling stories. We must look for people who don’t get to speak, and make their stories part of the collective story.”

Levithan re-read Margaret Mahy’s Memory in preparation for this talk. He was delighted to find that it is still as profound as he remembered it. He took us through one paragraph, about Johnny five years after his sister’s death, which expertly delves into the teenage mind, the mind in hurt and pain and turmoil, which manifests in indifference to his self. He says:

It’s ridiculous to think you can go through the world indifferent to it. I don’t believe in the word ‘apolitical’: if you are absenting yourself, that is a political act. That will make you feel hollow. The cure that literature can offer – the hope that we can give, is empathy. That is the panacaea. Literature can teach you that other people are people too. That is why we become so invested in telling the stories of others alongside ours. We believe in sharing other voices. That, to us, feels like engagement. The device of a book is to take you into that other world.

From the phrase from Memory: ‘It was disconcerting for Johnny that imaginary things can grow, as lucid as if they were true.’

Levithan seized here on the notion of ‘proper imagination.’ The power of the imagination can make things become real. Levithan wrote Boy Meets Boy as an editor, this was the book he wanted to exist. “Before this, all gay characters in novels were under a threat. To make this book shouldn’t have been a radical notion: but it was. And that was why it was important. The characters in the book weren’t defined by who they loved. That space in the pages made it feel like that space existed in the world. That effect, that is what a book can do.”

He carried on – I was typing more or less verbatim: “When you are reading a book, you are bringing yourself into the book. That is a powerful thing – understanding your empathy toward the people. That’s why our literature lives, and breathes, and grows.”

The next sentence: ‘He had always been the victim of stories, not only others but his own as well.’

Levithan says, “I didn’t grow up seeing myself in literature. The way to change this is to write. It is ignorance and indifference to think that stories aren’t at war all around you. We don’t have control of others’ stories, but as those things go wrong, we have control of our own stories.”

Every person Levithan has met since being in Christchurch has told him where they were when the earthquakes happened. This is a way of people gaining control over their own stories: it didn’t only happen to us, it was part of our story.

“Writers of YA literature need to include as many stories as possible. There is a benefit in that YA literature doesn’t need to overthrow eons of history – it has only existed for around 50 years. YA authors need to keep an ear out for stories that aren’t being told. That is part of their mission.” He noted that this isn’t something YA authors do in isolation: they get power through it, but they are nothing without the bloggers, the librarians, the teachers, overcoming condescension against YA literature. “We just need to not care if the cricics are condescending. We understand the power our words have.”

You Give Them Words
Levithan gives a lot of anti-censorship talks, and been on a lot of anti-censorship panels. He has heard stories of writers being pulled into a principal’s office and told ‘you can’t read your book here, or I’ll lose my job.’ His response is: “What is the point of keeping your job if you aren’t going to do your job.” He doesn’t know a teacher who went into teaching without wanting to teach kids things: librarians want to put books into kids’ hands. Parents want to teach their children. “Why do we have to keep fighting for things that are clearly basic equality?”

This part of the narration is abridged, and I sincerely hope that this will be published in full one day. Here is part of his talk called ‘You Give them Words.’

You are here for the inquisitive and the ignored. You are here because of your passion for people: to give them words… the truth is electricity to power them. You know that some of them struggle to rise against the power of their own thoughts. Some only feel their own isolation. Words can take you out of the band that believes in closed borders and closed minds. You give them words to know that all human beings were created equal. You give them words to show them the context. To bring out the meaning. If they do not know who they are, you give them words.

By learning the ways other people have told stories, you learn to tell your own. By telling our own, we become free. You have chosen this path not because it is easy, but because it matters. Thank you for leading us to the truth. Thank you for encouraging when you are not obligated to encourage.

Levithan went on to say: “The important thing is the readers. I am baffled when people talk about books as their own entity. As long asa book matters to a reader, it doesn’t matter where it is in relation to other books. The book is written to matter to a reader: no matter their age. That is what we pour into the book. We need this wonderful conspiracy of teachers, writers, readers etc – to give these kids don’t have access to the books they need.

Jane Higgins asked Levithan a question from the audience about hope in YA literature. He says, “Most YA authors have an ability to change things: the stories don’t have to reflect that hope, it’s not a requirement. I find more hope in a book where it tells you the way out of a problem: most will point towards how to make things better.” Even when things look bleak, you trust the reader to see the larger world and see how to stop the ultimate ending happening. You are hoping the reader gets angry, rather than giving up. His example was M T Anderson’s Feed, which is “scarily prophetic about our dependence on technology.”

I hope you have gained a flavour of this session, through my use of Levithan’s words. Please do read his books, and do your best to see him when he appears again tomorrow.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Margaret Mahy Lecture
9.30am – 10.30am, Saturday 27 August

Boy Meets Boy
by David Levithan
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9780007533039

Two Boys Kissing
by David Levithan
Text Publishing
9781922147486

most recent:
You Know me Well
by Nina Lacour and David Levithan
Text Publishing
9781925355529

 

 

 

WORD: Busted – feminism and Pop Culture, with Debbie Stoller and Charlotte Graham

Event_Busted-Feminism-and-Pop-CultureSome days are better than others for being a feminist. Today, so far, is a good day.

I started my WORD Saturday with Busted; Charlotte Graham interviewing Debbie Stoller, editor in chief of US feminist magazine Bust. The art gallery theatre was full of people – mostly women – I assume mostly feminists – keen to hear her talk.

Bust magazine has recently celebrated its 100th issue. Stoller says they were often not sure there would even be a next issue. “There’s not a lot of money in feminism, and I often do feel like I’m in the feminism business … We have to pull ourselves up by our bra straps every day.” Funding is a constant issue. Selling ads on the website doesn’t work; Bust has to be supported by readers subscribing to the print magazine in order to survive. “Hopefully print will come back like vinyl.”

Stoller spoke about the way in which women raised on feminism “felt like we were trying to cut our way through the jungle” in terms of finding a way forward in life. “Bridget Jones’ Diary was a revelation, the way it depicted the life of a single 30yo woman.” She and her colleagues started Bust because they wanted to create a mainstream women’s magazine that didn’t make women hate themselves. “Men’s mags were about the pleasure and the power of being male”, so where were the magazines that made women feel good?

Stoller is also known for re-embracing traditionally feminine arts such as knitting, and has written a series of ‘Stitch & Bitch’ books. She says “Martha Stewart is one of my three top feminists” (the other two being Madonna and Courtney Love). Domestic art can be something you do for yourself. But why, as women, when we read about Martha Stewart, do we immediately put pressure on ourselves to do that too? There’s this presentation of perfection followed by a feeling that we have to achieve that too. Is there an equivalent in male culture, asks Stoller? And if not, why not?

Stoller spoke about the ways that, even though young women these days are not reading as many magazines, they’re still getting the same messages of body hatred and the pressure to perform constant perfection from social media: “No one instagrams how well their toenail polish matches the cat vomit”. She spoke about the way feminism in the 1970s classed housework as drudgery, but then women got into the workforce and found that a lot of that was drudgery too. The difference is that paid work is more highly valued, both in terms of money and appreciation. But with Pinterest etc., “private work becomes public”, and can transform domestic work into something publicly and immediately appreciated by others. “I feel that I should have a Pinterest-worthy life.”

Stoller says that the issue of feminism and choice is very difficult. If a women chooses to, for example, surgically enhance her breasts or shave her vulva, is that a feminist action? Stoller pointed out that “women can make choices that help sustain sexism too”, and that “it can makes you feel better in a sexist society to just go along” with the prevailing mode. Just because it’s a woman making the choice doesn’t necessarily make it a feminist action.

The thing that struck me most was when Stoller said “always question how things are assigned value and importance”. She pointed out that things that come out of male culture (like sports) tend to be immediately valued, whereas those that come from female culture (like fashion) are constantly put down. “Why is playing soccer so much more important than being a weaver?”

Stoller pointed to the abuse US actor Lesley Jones has recently received as an example of the sexism and racism still active in our society. “It’s a really important moment … Solutions start with awareness and acknowledging of the problems … Mainstream media is site of change and power now, not politics.” She has hope that the world can change for the better.

I’m finding that that hope, tempered with pragmatism, is emerging as a common theme across WORD Christchurch 2016 – particularly in the 2050 session yesterday discussing climate chaos. We should have hope for the future, contingent upon us all pitching in to help to make that change happen. Something for us all to consider.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

Busted: Feminism and Pop Culture
Debbie Stoller interviewed by Charlotte Graham

Debbie Stoller will also appear in:
The Sunday Fringe – How to Start a Magazine, Sun 28 Aug, 10am

 

 

WORD: The Stars Are On Fire, with Tipene O’Regan, Caitlin Doughty, Stephen Daisley, Tusiata Avia, Steve Hely, Ivan E. Coyote and Hollie Fullbrook

Festival Director Rachael King opened this fsampler event to rapturous applause, speaking about the theme of the festival – how can we look after the planet and its people. This was followed by Kim Hill, who was suffering from the condition (not uncommon) of not being John Campbell (who was meant to do the introductions). She managed to find a quirky fact about each performer to announce them, and in no way was inferior to the great Campbell – and I prefer her voice, anyway.

The first performer was Sir Tipene O’Regan. It was an honour to hear one of the first Polynesian creation myths from such a legendary Ngai Tahu figure. His telling included humour, and felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience to savour. “First there was nothing, and then there were darks. All sorts of darks.”

The second performer was Caitlin Doughty, who took us through the routine of cremation. Caitlin is an undertaker, and runs a crematorium. She first got a sense of how many in the audience were intending to be cremated – about 50%, which she says is about average for New Zealand. I now know that it takes about 2 hours to burn a body (at around 815 degrees celcius) to the stage that it is ready to be placed in the Cremulator to be turned to ashes.

Next up was Stephen Daisley, who talked a little about emotions and family. He then, slightly bafflingly, treated us to a sample of an excellent review that Owen Marshall did of Coming Rain on The Spinoff. Daisley seems to me like somebody who can’t quite believe his talent is finally being acknowledged, so I’m happy to see him finding his space in the literary community.

Tusiata Avia performed two poems next: first, one from her new collection Fale Aitu | Spirit House, then one called ‘My body’. I have seen Avia perform many times, and each time I am newly grateful that she shares her talent with us. She is a dynamic reader, who knows how to play her audiences, and how to lose them in the beauty of her language.

Steve Hely was up next: he is an award-winning comic writer for TV shows in the US, including The Office. He talked about a bus trip he took through the Atacama in Chile. Most of the men on the bus were Coal Miners, heading home after long periods away: the attendant on the bus though chose Austenland, as the DVD to help take away some of the boredom. It does seem an odd choice, and I think Hely may have hit the nail on the head when he decided the attendant chose it solely to annoy the miners, who wouldn’t have had a hope of understanding it.

The absolute stand-out for everybody in the audience tonight, I think, was Ivan E. Coyote. They were such a stunning storyteller, that in telling about the females that they were influenced by while growing up made everybody in the audience feel they wanted to have known these great women of the Yukon. Elizabeth Heritage will be reviewing their solo event on Sunday.

The final performer was the talented Hollie Fullbrook aka Tiny Ruins. She also sang about a bus journey, and the space between individual experience.

I now want to see each and every one of these people in action again. Judging from Twitter, the near to sold-out audience was all with me. Get ready for another ticket sales spike, WORD!

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Caitlin Doughty is appearing in:
Embracing Death, Sat 27 Aug, 9.30am
Ask a Mortician: Caitlin Doughty, Sun 28 Aug, 2pm
The Nerd Degree, Sun 28 Aug, 5pm

Stephen Daisley is appearing in:
Writing War Stories, Sat 27 Aug, 3.15pm
Coming Rain, Sun 28 Aug, 11am

Tusiata Avia is appearing in:
Hear My Voice, Sat 27 Aug, 5.30pm
Spirit House/ Unity, Sun 28 Aug, 2pm

Steve Hely is appearing in:
How to be a Writer: Steve Hely, Sat 27 Aug, 3.30pm
The Great NZ Crime Debate, Sat 27 Aug, 7.30pm
The State of America, Sun 28 Aug, 12.30pm

Ivan E. Coyote is appearing in:
Taku Kupu Ki Te Ao: My Word to the World, Sat 27 Aug, 1-4pm
Hear My Voice, Sat 27 Aug, 5.30pm
The Storyteller: Ivan E. Coyote, Sun 28 Aug, 11am

Hollie Fullbrook is appearing in:
Workshop: Songwriting with Hollie Fullbrook, Sat 27 Aug, 9.30am
Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?, Sat 27 Aug, 12.30pm
In Love With These Times, Sat 27 Aug, 7.30pm

 

 

WORD: The Power of Poetry: Dr Paul Millar with CK Stead, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Ali Cobby Eckerman, Fiona Kidman and Bill Manhire

While it was raining and bleak out in the street
We had wonderful words to finish the week.

So National Poetry Day saw five craftspeople read and discuss their poetry, in this, the second poetry-focused event of today. Dr Paul Millar from the University of Canterbury had cleverly selected a number of poems to introduce the guests.Auden was read to introduce CK Stead, because Stead has a great love of Auden.

Stead shared some of his tasks as Poet Laureate and the guidelines that come with such a commission. WW100 was written for the Navy on the 100th anniversary of WW1. He read a series of beautiful vignettes; each a glimpse of some aspect of war. They were very visual and included Mansfield reflecting on the loss of her brother, ‘Gallipoli’, ‘Passchendaele’ and ‘In Memorium’. This final poem was for his Great Uncle.

We then moved to the more lyrical poetry of Selina Tusitala Marsh. ‘Eviction Notice 113’ was written on the death of her mother and links the family home to her mother, as gradually one becomes the other. Her reading was rhythmic and musical and urgent. It really made the words come to life, truly put them in orbit. Her next offering was the poem she was commissioned to write for Queen Elizabeth. We had the conditions, the guidelines, the performance and the response. It was a very clever way to use words, to unite 53 Commonwealth nations.

Ali Cobby Eckerman is an Australian poet who weaves her Aboriginal experiences into her poems. Meeting her removed son at 18, her own Mother at 35. This was gritty writing, raw and difficult. ‘I Can’t stop Drinking’ says much about how experiences shape us, and the danger of judging on appearances. “…don’t judge too hard, cos you don’t know what sorrows we are nursing.”

Fiona Kidman took us to her childhood memories of country living, ‘living at the end of Darwin road’. The landscape plays a big part in her poetry. She reflected on the Irishness of her Dad and her memories of Christmas.

Finally Bill Manhire launched us into a list of all the things we had as kids in the 1950’s. It was brilliant and I just itched to rush off and create a visual. I loved his quote from Emily Dickinson about poetry, “a prolonged hesitation between sound and sense”. He also shared a poem commissioned for the war memorial services. ‘Known Unto God’ brought the Somme experience to the current time, and finished with a young girl in the Mediterranean.

It was a powerful hour of wondrous words. I was reminded of the importance of spoken poetry, rather than my silent personal reading.

We ventured back out to the dark, wet streets with a song of words in our hearts to keep us warm.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

(ed’s note: books to come. Possibly also pictures.)

 

WORD: Canadian Tales – Elizabeth Hay

Happy National Poetry Day everyone!

I chose this session because it featured a writer called Elizabeth H. I know that sounds odd – narcissistic even – but I’ve discovered many interesting writers (and people generally) just by following the sound of my own name. And, when there are so many interesting-looking sessions to choose from, it seems as good a way as any other to discover something new.

Canadian Tales – Canadian novelist and short story writer Elizabeth Hay interviewed by Vancouver Writers Festival Director Hal Wake – was a lovely way to start my WORD 2016. It was a friendly session filled with quiet good humour.

Acknowledging that today is National Poetry Day, Hay and Wake both read some poetry to begin with: George Oppen and Raymond Carver respectively. Hay says she reads poetry first thing most mornings, because it stimulates her writing mind: “Reading something to which you respond loosens the imagination … The best moments in writing are when you’re self-forgetful”. Hay says she’s been reading Ted Hughes’ The Birthday Letters, and that the “raw, fresh, vigorous language” gives her energy. The way Hay figures out what she wants to write, she says, is she lies on the bed and thinks about what matters most to her, and the answer comes.

There was much discussion of politics. At one point Wake wryly asked “How many people in this theatre have seen a picture of our Prime Minister with his shirt off?” Many hands were raised – an audience member commented that in Aotearoa we’re “suffering from a bad case of Prime Minister envy”.

Elizabeth_HayHay (above) said “I love political stories … You get to see the characters unfold on the big screen. For me, [Canadian Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau is a character in my life … The reason I have time for Justin is the hope that he might become more than he appears to be: it is a novelist’s hope for a character. In narrative, one of most exciting things is when character finds they’re more capable than they thought they were.” Hay observes that it’s very satisfying for humans to observe people getting better at things.

Hay worked as a radio journalist for many years before becoming a professional writer. In 2007, she won the prestigious Giller Prize. Hay says: “It gave me a bigger readership and such a wonderful holiday from envy for a whole year … although by the end of the year I’d developed a serious allergy to myself, and had to employ my favourite word in the English language, which is ‘no’.” On the topic of literary awards generally, Hay said “All writers and all publishers need to be vaccinated against the awards season”.

cv_his_whole_lifeIt was interesting to hear Hay speak about being a Canadian writer writing both in and about Canada, especially in the context of the discussions we often have about the nature, place and fate of New Zealand writing. Hay says she regrets not having managed to convince her children that Canada is an interesting place to spend their lives (although her daughter does now live in Canada). She spoke about the resistance she gets from her publishers for writing specifically Canadian books: “I think Canadians are more interested in reading Canadian stories than publishers realise … In Canada, people appreciate books that give them their country.”

Hay had a quiet but warm presence, and there was a rush at the end of the session to buy her book and join the long signing queue. Hearing her read from her book was a real treat. Onwards to the rest of WORD Christchurch!

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

Canadian Tales – Elizabeth Hay, interviewed by Hal Wake

His Whole Life
by Elizabeth Hay
Published by Maclehose Press
ISBN 9780857055460

Other sessions featuring Elizabeth Hay:

About a Boy, Sat 27 Aug, 1.45pm

The Autumn Season of WORD: An amazing week of top notch events

The Autumn WORD festival in Christchurch was an amazing week.

helen mcdonaldWe started on Tuesday 12 May, with Helen Macdonald (right) and Steve Braunias in conversation. They were both in their element and had the audience enthralled, very glad that they had come out on a cold night. Those that had not read H is for Hawk were very quick to purchase it afterwards, to get the full story.

I could have listened to Nick Davies for hours, this session really gave us an insight into the British media world and how corrupt it was. This was the event that saw many people say to me how much their friends would have enjoyed it, if they had come along.

pp_steve_brauniasSteve Braunias’ Madmen event, in conversation with Philip Matthews on the Wednesday night, was in the restored Heritage Hotel, in a wonderful intimate restaurant/bar. It was a great setting which made you feel as though you were sitting with a large group of friends, enjoying a wonderful conversation.

I attended the event featuring David Walliams on the Thursday night, and regretted that I had not purchased extra tickets in the first week for my boys (due to it selling out so fast). It was a full audience, and David had everyone eating out of his hands. It was great to see parents and children queuing for an hour and a half (on a Thursday night!) to get a personal word and signature from David. The Original Children’s Bookshop was selling at this event, and the parents and their children were purchasing steadily, filling the gaps in their collections.

cv_buy_me_the_skyThe next event on Thursday night, was Xinran, who has been to Christchurch before, and always an enjoyable author to listen to. She opens our eyes to what is going on in China, and on this trip, she was talking about the one-child policy and how that is affecting the families and children of today. The way she illustrates her points to her audience is incredibly powerful. This was not a full audience but sales for her books were very strong, with Buy me the Sky the most popular, and steady sales for her previous books.

To finish the week off, on Sunday night, we were at the Court theatre in a converted shed in Addington for the event featuring David Mitchell, chaired by Rachael King. This was the first time this venue had been used for a WORD festival event, and I hope that it is used again. David and Rachael had a wonderful conversation, and the audience all felt a part of it. IMG_2664With no time restraints, they continued on past the scheduled finish time, and it was fantastic. David Mitchell is an amazing author who already had a lot of fans in Christchurch, gathering many more on this trip to New Zealand.

Book sales for the week of the events were very strong. Customers wanted to read the books in advance of attending the festival, so sales were steady from the time of the announcement of the Autumn Season.

By Pene Whitty
Manager, UBS Canterbury

The Margaret Mahy Lecture, by Elizabeth Knox – WORD Festival, Sun 31 August

Margaret Mahy Memorial Lecture, by Elizabeth Knox
An Unreal House Filled with Real Storms

I am a pretty gregarious person. I approach people at events; I call people on the phone. (When left on my own for more than a few hours, I go mad and start serenading my pet rats.) I am a natural networker, and literary events like writers festivals are like catnip to me: I get to talk to other readers, to meet authors I’ve read and discover others I’d like to read, to buy books and get them freshly signed. Having a media pass is even better − I get to interview people, hobnob with celebrities, and tune my curious book-reviewing brain to live events. My usual festival MO is to constantly make myself available for interesting conversations.

When Elizabeth Knox’s lecture ended, I did none of these things. I couldn’t wait to get out of the room. I saw many people I knew, who I enjoy conversing with, but I approached none of them. I headed straight outside into the calming Christchurch cold and towards the cardboard cathedral.

I didn’t know what to think. It was just before 11 in the morning on a Sunday and my mind was in whirring turmoil. What had I just experienced? Some kind of profound and disruptive event of the mind. I wasn’t ready to be around other people, wasn’t ready to discuss the experience we’d all just had. I couldn’t even put it into words in my own head. And why was I striding so desperately towards the cathedral? I am an atheist, and have never, from my compulsory-Catholicism childhood onwards, viewed houses of worship as places of consolation.

Perhaps it was that Knox had spoken so matter-of-factly about experiencing the presence of god in her own life; doing what she had credited Mahy with; “making the supernatural natural”. Perhaps it was because, when Kate De Goldi came back onstage to do the end-of-event wrap-up, she suggested that, rather than ask questions, the audience just file silently out, as from a church. We did. Many of us had been crying.

Either way, I was stymied. It was a Sunday morning and the cathedral was being used for its primary purpose: there was a service on, and I didn’t want to join in. So I walked around outside, touched the cardboard, admired the stark, fresh lines of the architecture, and listened to the singing − borrowed sounds of beauty and calm.

I thought about Knox, about her talking about the experience Mahy had had on her as a reader: “she opened up a room in New Zealand literature that I wanted to hang out in”. And I thought about how the same is true of my discovery of Knox. I was living in England and feeling a bit distanced from New Zealandness. One day in a bookshop I discovered a book that had been written by a fellow Kiwi called Elizabeth: The Vintner’s Luck. I bought and read it.

It was so strange, almost uncomfortable. Was it literary fiction? Fantasy? Paranormal slash? (One of my favourite Knox quotes is a tweet she once sent: “I am a genre-tunneling monster!”) Was it New Zealand literature? It wasn’t set in Aotearoa and it didn’t have that NZ lit feel at all. But in that book I met something, someone, that has stayed with me ever since. Knox opened up a room for me in New Zealand literature that I value enormously. I revisit it whenever I need to be prodded in the mind, pushed off my comfortable perch and forced to fly. Knox’s writing reminds me that the world is strange and that I can be better in it. Ehara koe i a ia, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Knox’s inaugural Margaret Mahy Memorial Lecture, entitled ‘An Unreal House Filled With Real Storms’, will be coming to national radio soon, and Knox promises to publish it as prose as well. Make sure you go there.

by Elizabeth Heritage, Freelance writer and publisher

www.elizabethheritage.co.nz

A Novel Relationship and The Stars are Out Tonight, at WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers festival, Friday 29 August

Sarah Jane Barnett is a poet, creative writing tutor, and reviewer from Wellington. Matt Bialostocki is a writer, photographer, and bookseller from Wellington. Together they went to a full day of festival events at the WORD Writers’ & Readers Festival 2014 in Christchurch. After each of the sessions they recorded their conversation. This is what was said in their final two sessions.

A Novel Relationship
Friday, 29 August 4pm
Owen Marshall and Laurence Fearnley discuss their new novels, and their experience working with editor Anna Rogers, with Chris Moore.

M: I think we need to open by telling everyone that Rogers said of split WORD-Author_OwenMarshallinfinitives, ‘mercifully, the world has decided we can boldly go, which has made everything so much easier’.
S: She was fascinating, and the close relationship between the two writers and their editor was clear.
M: They were funny, too.
S: Did you not expect that?
M: Well, Fearnley said that she gets nervous about being edited to the point where it can ruin her Christmas. She did say, ‘I once received an email saying I’d used the word “just” 146 times’.
S: What stuck out for me was when Rogers said her editing should be invisible, and that she ‘helps the writer say what they want to say, the best way they can’—
M: And that the best writers were always the ones that valued the editing process. Both Marshall and Fearnley saw it as a positive application to their work.
WORD-Author_AnnaRogersS: It seems we were lucky to hear from her—that there are fewer full-time working editors in New Zealand.
M: While Rogers (left) wants to be invisible, she did say it was noticeable when editing is skipped in the book-making process.
S: I like that, the ‘book-making process’. They did see themselves as a team, the writer and editor. Both Marshall and Fearnley said the editing process helped them see the ‘blind spots’ in their own writing; Marshall said he appreciated an editor with expertise who could ‘interrogate’ his work. Fearnley talked about how there would be parts of her novel that would niggle at her, but that she was resistant to revise because of the domino effect on the novel. A good editor saw those parts too.
M: Towards the end of the session Marshall read us an excerpt from his novel, Carnival Sky, and Fearnley read us a section from an untitled book that’s due out later on in the year.
S: Do you know what that is?
M: I’m not sure. It’s about Quinn, a young artist, and it’s set in fictional Wellington. Something to look forward to!

The Stars are out Tonight
Friday, 29 August 7.30pm
John Campbell introduces Eleanor Catton, Diane Setterfield, Damon Young, NoViolet Bulawayo, Anis Mojgani, Meg Wolitzer, Kristin Hersh. The sold out session was held in the Transitional/Cardboard Cathedral. (all names link to the authors’ other sessions)

S: Holy shit! I mean—can I swear? That was incredible.
M: John Campbell closed with ‘I can’t think of any event in the world that would have been like this’.
S: It’s 10pm.
M: Time to go home.