Monday, 18 May 2015

Auckland Writers Festival

Still readjusting to ordinary life after five wonderful days at the Auckland Writers Festival. Huge thanks to the AWF staff and volunteers who remained helpful, cheerful and unflappable in the face of endless questions and crowds, regardless of the time of day (or night). Thanks also to the bookshop staff, presiding over those enticing piles of new books, and to the tech staff who managed lights, sound and other fancy gear with techy confidence and cool.   

Highlights for me on my first ever AWF

  • Spotting other people poring over the programme from the moment of stepping onto the plane
  • The non-stop buzz of conversation and activity everywhere within the Aotea Centre
  • Sharing a table with complete strangers and striking up conversations within seconds (hint: all it takes is one or all of the following questions: What have you just been to see? How was it? What are you going to see next?
  • Bumping into people I knew, often quite unexpectedly (and not just Aucklanders); meeting people who had come from Whangarei, Hamilton, Rotorua and even Queenstown, just to be there for the weekend; getting to meet writer friends and make some new ones
  • Finding time to catch the Billy Apple exhibition and Lisa Reihana video installation at the Art Gallery (I know, not the Festival, but just up the road). 

And that's without starting on the sessions...

  • Straight Talking at the opening NZ Listener Gala Night: eight lots of seven-minute treasure, starting with Amy Bloom's very funny account of what to do with her mother's ashes
  • Atul Gawande, his compassion and wisdom and common sense, his advice to a medical student about the things you can and can't fix
  • Haruki Murakami, his T-shirt and jokes about cats, his description of how he found his own unique style by writing in English and translating it back into Japanese, his story about spending four weeks in Oslo - so many fascinating stories (has someone asked him to spend four weeks in NZ??)
  • Margaret Pointer starting her talk by greeting us and the Niuean members of the audience in Niuean
  • Philip Ball, Atul Gawande, Charlotte Grimshaw and Xinran trying to find ways to change the world late on Sunday afternoon
  • C K Stead talking about living near Frank Sargeson and Janet Frame in Takapuna
  • And the work of some great chairs. I think being a chair must be even more challenging than being a presenter. You're addressing a range of people, from those who have come to hear their all-time favourite author to those who have never read of any of their work, and it's easy for audience members to be critical. I was especially impressed by Middlemore Hospital ICU specialist David Galler finishing his session by inviting Atul Gawande and the audience to toast those who work with the elderly, including the often underpaid and undervalued aged care workers.   

More highlights
Seeing bus-loads of students crowding out the Aotea Centre for the Schools Programme, and getting to meet and listen to Morris Gleitzman, Laurie Halse Anderson and Anthony Horowitz.

More thanks
To the parents, grandparents and caregivers who brought their kids in to Sunday's Family Day 
To the teachers and librarians who came up after my Schools Programme session to say how much they and their students had enjoyed it 
To the tech team in the Herald Theatre who believed that yes, I could manage the intercom in the green room, a hand-held mike, the clicker to move the slides on, and to not fall over any of the props scattered round the stage for that night's show 
To all the children who came up to get their programmes, books or bookmarks signed, or who lined up behind the mikes in the ASB Theatre to ask questions - something I would never have been brave enough to do at their age.

Favourite question 
All authors have people who have supported them - who would you like to thank? (what a thoughtful question from that young student! I loved being given this chance to publicly thank people who have helped and supported me.)

Not being able to see everything
Not seeing Carol Ann Duffy in particular (named as their favorite session by several people) 
And the friend who has asked me to come up to the AWF for the last few years, saying I would love it, being out of town for the weekend - but at least now I realise why she has always raved about it.  


  1. Pippa - did you see that Carol is one of the videos they have put up on the writers festival website.

    1. Yes and I've just listened to it - she has a very low-key, droll way of reading her poems - and the audience obviously loved it. Hoping to catch up on some of the other sessions I missed now too.

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