Sunday, May 16, 2010

Notes on a festival

The Auckland Writers & Readers Festival is my favourite time of year. It must be a surreal experience for authors to have to face the public so intimately, writing being such a private and solitary endeavour. I wonder if authors resolve, in addition to bettering their craft, to become better readers (out loud) of their work. Do they practice? Do they ever get a friend to coach them? Do they record their voice and play it back? 

Thomas Keneally & Anne Salmond with Kim Hill
To be honest, I attended this because I'm a Kim Hill fan. Bring her back to talkback television, I say. Thomas Keneally, most famously the author of Schindler's Ark, was a lovely grandfatherly figure and a most enthusiastic speaker. He once got so carried away with some wonderful one-liners that he forgot Kim's original question and apologized, to which Kim said that her question wasn't nearly as interesting as Keneally's answer. Anne Salmond came across as a historian with a heart of gold who has humanity at the heart of her research.

An Hour With Charlotte Grimshaw
Just hours before attending this, I read Grimshaw's short story from Opportunity about a novelist who is interviewed onstage at a writers festival and reads a piece of revenge fiction to her ex-lover who is in the audience. What a fantasy! Haha. Grimshaw's description of the festival atmosphere, obviously based on the real one, stayed with me throughout my experience at this festival. Paula Morris chaired this session and she always has a fabulous sense of humour, though at times Grimshaw did not really pick up on Morris' banter. Grimshaw struck me as a reserved speaker; possibly because she feels she has to protect the other famous writers in her family? One thing she said that resonated with me was her utter confidence in her ability and validity as a writer - I can identify with this wholly as an artist. Apparently writers (like artists) are often angsty about whether they've made the right decision in becoming a writer. Not Grimshaw - she may have doubts about the merits of a certain piece she's working on, but she never wonders if she should be doing something else (like going back to law). Go girl.

An Evening With William Dalrymple
He is known as a travel writer, but I don't think that description fits. His latest book Nine Lives tells the real stories of nine individuals living in India (where Dalrymple lives, too) and how they have each undertaken very different spiritual paths. Somebody in the audience asked Dalrymple if he thinks the innate spirituality of India is corroding due to economic expansion and materialism. Dalrymple responded by saying that Westerners often romanticize India as a very spiritual place, but it is and always has been, even in Buddha's time, a very materialistic environment. He went on to say that there is value in both Western and Eastern religions, that one is not more spiritually superior to the other. Yes.

Sarah Thornton, author of Seven Days In The Art World
An audience member asked Thornton whether she liked the art world or thought that it was not a wholesome environment to be in. I thought this question brought up the fact that Thornton's book, in being so careful not to judge, does not satisfy the reader's natural need for the writer to take a stand. Is that why I see this book as some sort of literary candy, lightweight and uncontentious? Well, I think there is room for such a book about the art world. I certainly enjoyed reading it; though, being an artist myself and therefore part of the circus that is the art world, some of it cut too close to the bone for me (which is okay). Anyway, Thornton's response to the question put to her was that she is happily ambivalent about the art world. There was also an interesting discussion with chair Linda Tyler about why women artists are still not pulling in the big bucks as well as their male counterparts. Thornton feels that women artists are far less interested in the marketing aspect of their work than male artists. For eg, she had to work twice as hard in getting interviews with the women for her book; they seem to be more suspicious than men of the media. Motherhood, obviously, is also a major factor in holding women back from their careers: not just because of the time spent on mothering (Thornton is a mother herself) but also the fragmentation of identity that comes with being a mother.

Related post: Last year's festival 

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