Sunday, 1 July 2012

Two writers

One of the good things about living in Wellington is that there are so many interesting literary or book-related events (as well as so many wonderful bookshops, libraries and of course cafes.) Book launches, poetry readings, talks by visiting or local authors, panel discussions, Book Council events, meetings of various writers' groups - and that's without the big events like Readers and Writers Week or the Book Award ceremonies.

I'm on the committee of the NZSA Wellington branch, and one of our jobs is to line up speakers for our two-monthly meetings. Last week, we heard from two writers: Gigi Fenster and Catherine Robertson. (Gigi and Catherine first met each other at a short story writing course in 2005.) .

Gigi Fenster lives and works in Wellington and has an MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University. She has been published in a variety of literary journals, including Sport and Hue and Cry. Her first novel, The Intentions Book, was published by VUP earlier this year.

Gigi said that rather than talking about the "chaotic and unplanned" process of writing her novel, she would talk about some of the reactions to it since its publication in April, in particular a description of it as "New Zealand's first Jewish novel".  This had led her to ponder on whether there is such a thing as Jewish literature, and if so, what it consists of and how it is defined.  Gigi listed some of the titles - both expected and surprising - referred to in Jason Diamond's 2011 article on The 50 most essential works of Jewish fiction of the last 100 years.

She talked about her own reaction to having her book defined in this way, and how she thinks it affects her personally as well as the book.

Catherine Robertson’s debut novel, The Sweet Second Life of Darrell Kincaid (Random House, 2011), spent 21 weeks on the NZ bestseller list, including at number one. This book and her second novel, The Not So Perfect Life of Mo Lawrence, are both being published in German as well.

Catherine related how her manuscript for The Sweet Second Life of Darrell Kincaid came back with a request for it to be "much, MUCH funnier", and how her sense of humour and the love of jokes and puns that makes her writing so entertaining goes right back to her childhood. (Her grandad was obviously a great fan of humorous radio shows and comic actors.) She listed some of her favourite authors and books when she was growing up: Gerald Durrell's My family and other animals, The young visiters by Daisy Ashford, Clive James, Nancy Mitford, Stella Gibbons, P G Wodehouse.

Catherine talked about her journey to being a published author and finding an agent, and said that although her work seems to be stuck with the label "chick lit", she prefers "humorous contemporary women’s fiction". She also talked about her process of writing (in "rolling drafts") and compared writing a funny line to "making home-made custard." You have to "write for long enough", just as you have to keep stirring and stirring "until finally the custard comes right".

It's always fascinating to hear other writers talk about their work, how they got to where they are now and how they approach the job of writing.

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