Tuesday, May 21, 2013


What a weekend. The Auckland Writers and Readers Festival outdid itself this year. There were big crowds. Events seemed well patronised. I went to three. And they were all terrific.

Friday night was a wee feast of YA writers. Paula Morris, Kate De Goldi, Libba Bray and Patrick Ness. They were seated at the table next to ours. I felt like a 16 year old fan girl. Each author read from a recent work.I found it fascinating on (at least) two levels. Fascinating to hear the work they read, fascinating to hear them read their work. I left feeling jealous of their opportunity to read their work aloud to an appreciative audience. Afterwards I queued to have my copy of 'A Monster Call's signed by the author. Big ups to the very generous Mr Ness who has a formidable memory. I was impressed, which was great because...

...on Saturday I went to Patrick Ness's session chaired by Kate De Goldi. He read from his new adult title The Crane Wife (It sounded good. I bought it). Then Kate and Patrick had the most interesting discussion. Well, Kate had done her homework and made smart prompts and Patrick, prompted, said very very interesting things. He talked about how goodness in a character isn't necessarily boring. "Goodness writes white," he said, (quoting Henry de Montherlant) and then disagreed and went on to demonstrate how the way good characters respond to different circumstances and events is just as interesting as how other characters react. He went on to reveal the complexity of other characters in the book and what inspired and informed them (including his own personality). He talked about the nature of story, and truth. About how we are always the stars of our own stories and when we describe events and experiences we talk from our own perspective which doesn't make our 'story' any less truthful, just a different truth compared with any other person telling the story of that same event or experience. He talked about the frustration of being asked about how he balances fact with fantasy in his stories. 'Balance' isn't the task at hand. Creating a story/ a truth that compels a reader to believe in what they read is what he aims for. No balancing required.

Someone in the audience asked him whether he thought of writing happier endings for his teen audience and Ness spoke of reading enough writing from teens themselves that demonstrated the depth of their fears, worries, sadnesses and depression. For teens their emotions are big and all encompassing. They are everything. Fail to acknowledge the depth of their feelings, resist addressing the issues important to them and they won't trust you or your writing. I liked that. Ness also talked about having a soundtrack for each book - Peter Gabriel's Mercy Street was the song associated with 'A Monster Calls' (sorry I can't recall the songs for the other books). There was more. He was very generous. And he was generous too when the session was over. After, getting The Crane Wife signed, I asked a bit more about the truth of the teen experience and what makes a book YA. I wanted to hug him when he said he believes children are self limiting and will just stop reading if they don't like or aren't ready for a particular story. This has been my philosophy all along.

There seemed to be a bit of a Kate De Goldi thread to my weekend as she was also part of the session I attended on Sunday: a talk on Dealing with Dementia between Kate and Helena Popovic, a doctor specialising in improving brain function. Both speakers have parents with dementia. They spoke about the realities of caring for someone with this degenerative condition. Popovic spoke of the benefits of light and nature for sufferers. Of keeping up social interactions and providing opportunities for those with dementia to feel like needed members of their community. She warned of not letting beliefs and misunderstandings about the condition influence interactions. Beliefs and misunderstandings can become self fulfilling prophecies. She wanted to ban the phrase 'senior moment'. Older folk are not necessarily more forgetful than younger folk but we become more conscious of how much we can't recall and talk ourselves into a decline. The doctor also talked about preventive measures. There were three key things. 1) Regular physical activity. 2) Social interaction is also important for cognitive health and 3) mental exercise. Its not enough to do crosswords or sudoku. We should provide ourselves with new mental challenges (De Goldi talked about brushing her teeth with her other hand) and learn new things. All good stuff. Both women expressed the difficulties of having to be carers of loved ones in cognitive decline. It was sobering and understandably emotional stuff.

Kudos to the organisers. I think the weekend was well run. There were plenty of interesting things on offer and plenty of happy looking punters. My only brickbat? It would be great if New Zealand writers/illustrators of children's and YA fiction and non-fiction got the chance to speak and read at these events sometimes. We also have interesting things to say to adult audiences. And in view of the fact that many adults buy and read YA and yes, gasp, children's books too, they would probably be pretty happy with hearing it read at such events as well.


Old Kitty said...

What an amazing weekend! I like that one event talked about YA and the other about older people and dementia and really both are about how both groups are cared for and the best we may all do for them (and us!).

Thanks for sharing! Take care

Jane Bloomfield said...

I am definitely attending the ARWF next year and I agree whole hardheartedly with your last paragraph Melinda.