my idiosyncratic Sunday hot spots at the Going West Literary Festival

Not sure where the poetry is in this, but just wanted to share some favourite moments from the Sunday sessions at the Going West Literary Festival (after all, I am an honourary Westie!).

What I love about this festival is you sit in the hall with a whole bunch of other readers for the whole day and you never know quite what will be up next (sure, there is a programme, but thanks to Murrray Gray, the sessions take you to regions and zones and conversations you may have never experienced before. I like that!).

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1. First up, the first time I have ever cried at a Writer’s Festival. Corinne Bridge-Opie was in conversation with Max Cryer as she has just published her memoir on her life as an opera singer. The conversation was full of fascinating anecdote and interrupted with opera tracks. She was married to New Zealand tenor, Ramon Opie. I loved the story about the white chiffon dress she bought to wear when she sang at Convent garden (I think?) with its flowing sash that you could sling down down the back or wrap about the neck to look more glamorous. There was a white chiffon flower on the shoulder to hide the stitching, but just before she was to go a stage with the other girls the assistant to the most-important-man in the building came and snipped it off. He always wore a white gardenia and would not be upstaged.

It was when the tracks played that I became undone. We heard the crackling recording of the aria sung at her wedding and the crackling recording of Corinne and Ramon singing together. On each occasion she would be mouthing the words, her face transfixed with joy and love, and every pore of her body was hijacked back to this moment in time. To sit on stage and listen to the love of your life (he has since passed away) sing with you must have been strange. As some one in the audience, it was breathtaking.

Here is her blog.

2. Sarah Laing talked about the visual, dream narrative in her book The Fall of Light with Dylan Horrocks. In my view, reviewers just didn’t get this sequence. It is like a novella within a novel -so you have to read it visually. Buried within the pomegranate seed (with its visual appeal and luminous symbolism) are the secrets to architectural wonders. You get to see shelves and shelves of the buildings that grew out of the seeds, and you see Rudy with his hand against the glass about to dissolve through the barrier into the room with the woman growing out of the wood like a tree. Sarah said she had tried to write Rudy’s dreams into the narrative but it didn’t work. By using her pen and water-colours, Sarah ‘wanted to infuse the book with a sense of unreality, to unsettle the narrative prose.’ For me, that is exactly what happens as you read the entwined narratives. ‘My hand slips out of the reality more than the language part of my brain does,’ she said.

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And on blogging, ‘I can show you my crossings out and my false steps.’ In a nice follow-on from Corinne, Sarah said she had fantasies of being an opera singer, a fortune teller, a psychic and a gymnast when she was a girl. ‘To be a writer, is a good fit for all these fantasies, of what my life might be.’ In the spirit of the festival, Dylan and Sarah produced a great conversation.

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3. Science fiction writer, Phillip Mann was in conversation with David Larson. It was the first time Phillip had ever been at a festival onstage (you would never have known!). He came up with my favourite anecdote. He was sitting at his typewriter when his wee daughter came and sat on his lap and asked what he was doing. ‘Writing a book,’ he said. ‘Can I write a book?’ she asked. So he got a fresh page and she began to tap and thump until all the keys went into a big clump (remember those old fashioned typewriters!). ‘What does it say?’ she asked. ‘It says Once upon in a deep dark forest there lived a little girl,’ he said. Her eyes filled with story-book wonder. He removed the page and said, ‘Here is your book.’ Gorgeous!   His blog here.

4. As Philip was describing the most terrible alien in his book, The Disenchantment of Paradise, a creature with acute psychic powers, a ladder of light flickered across the black back drop behind him. (almost like the ladder on Sarah’s book cover). Loved it!

5. Hearing Anne Kennedy and Charlotte Grimshaw read fiction aloud for decent chunks of time from two novels that I have loved. It just brings the exquisite craft of their sentences to a new level.

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6. Cathy Downes’s updated performance: Talking of Katherine Mansfield. This is an extraordinary performance that is deeply moving. And to hear Cathy recite ‘The Doll’s House’ — the story came alive on stage like a real thing. I was feeling absolutely sapped of energy having ben at the festival all weekend but the moment she started I was on the edge of my seat. Magnificent!

Thanks Murray Gray, Naomi McCleary and the Going West Trust team. It was a very good festival indeed. Thank you. Pity so few Auckland writers and publishers made the journey out west, but there were some great audiences.

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