Saturday, May 14, 2011

Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, Post #1

My Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2011 (#AWRF) so far has been great.  The out-of-town festival participants are all being put up in The Langham, which you must pronounce with a plum in your mouth and the pinky finger on your tea drinking hand extended. So the pampering began last night when Marisa and I arrived around 9.30pm.

This morning I attenedd the Publishing Panel at 10am, which was chaired by ex-Penguin NZ big kahuna Geoff Walker, and featured Nikki Christer (Random House Australia), Tom Mayer (Norton, US), Alvina Land (Little Brown, US) and Alexis Washam (Random House US).  As you might expect the hour was focussed on the future of publishing: paper vs electronic books, self-publishing vs traditional publishing houses, the author's responsibilities when it comes to self-promotion. In all, the mood was optimistic: the book will endure, the paper-based book will endure (though the proportion of print and eBooks will clearly change), and there are new opportunities out there for writers and publishers (and readers) that have been opened up by technology.  As an example, Tom Mayer spoke about publishers willing to 'publish' 15-20,000 word pieces of non-fiction as stand alone eBooks, which would have otherwise only had the option of being published in magazines and/or extended/padded out into a 'book-length' book.

Alvina Ling suggested that it wasn't just writers who needed to be on Twitter and Facebook and everything else; that editors also need to be "a brand" to help attract talent and forge links in the publishing world (it's no coincidence that Alvina has a blog).

Tom Mayer said that writers had to make their own luck, and gave the example of the tireless Emily Perkins: "She doesn't just sit around writing books!" (Cue uneasy laughter).

Speaking of uneasy, the otherwise stellar Q&A session was derailed by the final question from the floor: "You mentioned how hard it is to get your books read as a new writer and how you have to be innovative and persistent [I'm paraphrasing slightly], so my question is: will you please read my book about reality TV shows and growing up the child of a holocaust survivor."


Next up for me was Inside Stories at 11.30am. Frances Walsh, author of Inside Stories: A History of the New Zealand Housewife 1890-1975 spoke with chair, Anna Miles, for half an hour about the book, domesticity and women's magazines more generally for half an hour. Then, the floor was opened for questions with a full 30 minutes left to run. This could have been a recipe for disaster but thankfully it wasn't. In fact, the erudite questions from the audience were probably better than those posed by the chair, ranging from birth control, Maori, politics, design and culminating in the best question of the session: 'You [Frances Walsh]' have said you tried to avoid nostalgia with this book, but if you could take a gap year in any one of the years in your time period, when would you choose and why?"  To which Walsh replied: 1895, and she'd work on Day Break magazine...

Walsh should be commended for being able to field every one of the wide ranging questions in an engaging and informative way, as, I guess, should Anna Miles for running the risk of handing the show over to the audience.

Up next it was my session with Hamish Clayton and Tina Makereti called "Emerging Writers", which was chaired by Iain Sharpe.  We took turns reading for about 8 mins each, then chatted about how we got here and where to next ("the difficult second album").

For the trainspotters: I read from 'The Spirit of Rainbow Gorge' and brought some levity to proceedings after Hamish and Tina were poetic and powerful.

Come question time, there was a good split of questions from the auidence: each of us got a question directed at us.  Mine started off rocky when the audience member called me Cliff, and by the time I'd formulated a response to the possible racism inherent in on line in my reading, it wasn't really worth correcting her. But be warned Aucklanders, if you call me Cliff tomorrow, I may start singing 'Living Doll' and you don't want that!

I've just been to the session on Antarctica with Jane Ussher and Steve Braunias, and it's time to head to The Best of the Best NZ Poems. Will write about those (and more) in due course.

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