Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Going West / Reading / Killing Moon / Columnist Godfather

Going West

The view from my bed & breakfast in Titirangi

I was in Titirangi, West Auckland, on Saturday and Sunday for Going West Books and Writers Festival. It was a real contrast to Melbourne the previous weekend, with a lot of aspects being in Going West’s favour (see the view above).

I didn’t connect with any Canadian musicians this time, but I did meet a student who has recently moved to NZ from Nigeria who told me he’d heard of me before he came here (the Commonwealth Prize is a big deal over there, with Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche being a more recent overall winner) and even read a review of A Man Melting in a Nigerian newspaper. I’m not sure if this will ever be verified (the internet is silent in this instance), and it’s not likely anyone in Nigeria would by a copy… My Nigerian friend in Titirangi told me that he waited until he moved here, then borrowed a copy from his local library. Oh well.

My session, ‘Early Days Yet’, with Tanya Moir, author of the historical novel La Rochelle’s Road, went well. It was ably chaired by novelist Tina Shaw, who had clearly read and engaged with both books. Interestingly for me, Tina’s questions focussed on some stories I haven’t been asked to discuss often (if at all): ‘Oh! So Careless’, ‘Parisian Blue’ and ‘Fat Camp’. I had intended to read a section from ‘Oh! So Careless’ (which is one of the few stories I’ve yet to read from in public) but we kinda covered that passage in conversation, so I hastily chose a section toward the end of ‘Facing Galapagos’, which got a few laughs (hoorah!)

Recent Reading

I’m struggling to find the time to note down my reactions to the books I’ve been reading. I’m also conscious that a hastily dashed off and poorly thought through ‘response’ can and will be misinterpreted as a review by many. But here goes, hyper-speed styles:

Super Sad True Love StorySuper Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart – Similarities with Visit From the Goon Squad’s futuristic sections and Shteyngart’s previous novel, Absurdistan, which I really liked, but SSTLS isn’t as good as either of these. It never feels like much is at stake (despite the fact the US economy is imploding and martial law is breaking out). And I’ve never read a book where characters sweat so much (expect, perhaps, Absurdistan). Verdict: interesting but not engaging.

Classic Crimes of Passion (audiobook) – a short story anthology featuring Guy de Maupassant, Wilkie Collins, Louisa May Alcott and others. A strange wee collection. The approach to short fiction seems quite dated in these stories. One might call it pre-Chekovian. I think that was part of the charm… though I was glad to move on to something else when it finished.

TraitorTraitor by Stephen Daisley – A difficult novel to pin down because it floats through time in the fashion of memory. Another taciturn Kiwi male looking back, in the mould of The Hut Builder, but more poignant. Strangely felt more compelling during the NZ sections than those set in Turkey, despite my almost-meltdown when I visited the peninsula a couple of years ago.

New Yorker Fiction Podcasts – 52 stories in all (I think). Will be the subject of a separate post/arbitrary top 10 list.

ErewhonLots of books about NZ’s subantarctic islands (research for THE NOVEL). Seemed fitting to read during our cold snap. Might have to fill bathtub with ice during the summer months to finish the subantarctic section of my book.

Erewhon by Samuel Butler – I’ve tried starting this twice, but still haven’t made it past page 50. Back on the book shelf now.

The Call of the WildThe Call of the Wild by Jack London – I’m reading this on my iPad. First time reading an eBook in this way. Didn’t buy an iPad to be an e-reader and glad I didn’t coz the backlit screen can get a bit taxing. But it’s useful to have on hand for small bursts of reading. As for the book: the word ‘silly’ springs to mind. I prefer London’s The Sea Wolf, which I read earlier this year. Same themes, but with a human main character instead of a dog.

Nicholas NicklebyI’ve just started listening to Nicholas Nickleby on my iPod. The only other book by Dickens I have read is Great Expectations, which sort of put me off reading any more. But I’m loving Nickleby. Although I do tend to love the first 60 pages of older books – the hasty biographical sketches of the main character’s forebears, the dextrous narrator who can address the reader directly… but often find my enthusiasm wanes as the book proceeds, e.g. The Brothers Karamazov. Hopefully Dickens can keep it up for the next 28 hours of book-time.

Earworm of the month, or Getting ahead of myself

I’ve been listening to Pavement’s cover of Echo and the Bunnymen’s ‘Killing Moon’ (a.k.a. that song from Donnie Darko) a lot these past few weeks. What a fantastic five minutes and change.

I have been wilfully mis-singing the line, “So take him to the end of his temper” (around 3:40) as “So take him to the end of this tableau” because it fits better with THE NOVEL, which has a way of bringing things into its orbit and bending them to its will.

Mark this down as a song for the book’s playlist once it’s finished and ready to enter the world.

Invitation to a beheading

If my brief Going West summary above isn’t enough, you’ll be pleased to know I compare and contrast Melbourne and Going West festivals in whatever detail 500 words can afford in next fortnight’s column in the Dominion Post.

Which reminds me: one of the best sessions I attended at Going West featured columnists Deborah Cone-Hill and Jane Bowron, chaired by fellow columnist Steve Braunias. It was fascinating to watch three seasoned practitioners of THE COLUMN (the regular deadline means it can be just as imposing and obstreperous as THE NOVEL and even more interminable) discuss the craft.

At the cocktail party that evening, held to celebrate the announcement of a new writers residency in Maurice Shadboldt’s old house Titirangi, I had a delicious Turkish Delight cocktail and a brief chat with Mr Braunias (who was stubbornly drinking beer). He clearly didn’t recall our one minute conversation at the Auckland Writers Festival, but seemed interested in the fact I also wrote a column. In fact, the next day he told me via Twitter he’d been reading this very blog (he liked the stuff about birds, so that makes two of us!) and asked for a link to my columns.

One hesitates at such moments. Steve Braunias is New Zealand’s most famous columnist but he’s also famously acerbic. Giving him a link to my columns could end in so many terrible ways: sudden silence and a claim to not remember me the next time our paths cross; featuring in one of his own columns as a no-talent upstart (‘The Secret Diary of Cliff Craig’… oh, how it stings); or a joke at my expense he shares with his literary chums that somehow finds its way back to my ears…

But I sent the link (luckily only a handful of my columns appear on Stuff.co.nz, and not all of them are filed in the same place).

It’s not like the guy can’t Google.

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