Going to the Auckland Writers’ Festival is a chance to reboot/reboost in the company of other readers and writers. This year’s programme is so very enticing, and if I had the stamina and time I would be there all day every day as is my usual habit.
This year I don’t have the stamina sadly and am in that selfish time-hungry state of writing a big book where trips into the city are both drains and topples.
However I caught up with a few sessions yesterday and I am glad I did. First up Geoff Walker steered a warm and lively conversation with the authors of two books I have recently adored: Sarah Laing (Mansfield and Me) and Adam Dudding (My Father’s Island). Perfect chair that drew a fabulous mix of confession and ideas on writing memoirs.
Secondly and most importantly I went to hear Anne Enright in conversation with Kate De Goldi. I have just been on a month-long road trip in Ireland where I read Irish fiction, poetry and history and came home with a rucksack of books to read.There was something rather extraordinary letting the writing overlap with the landscape, the weather, the people and vice versa. It was an extraordinary experience. I loved hearing Anne read, and I loved the excursions into the specifics of her books, but I hungered for a conversation that roved wider into life, writing, books, Ireland, Irish writers. I was going to ask a question at the end on what books of poetry or fiction she thought I should have had in the hire car. Luckily it came out of someone else’s question and was chuffed that I have her favourites ready and waiting, bar one or two. I have to say I went to the best bookshop in the world in Dublin! How does Ireland sustain so many fabulous bookshops?
Meanwhile I wavered between home/bed or Teju Cole and opted for the latter because I loved Open City and reviewed Know and Strange Things for SST last year. I loved it to the hilt! I came out of Teju’s session filled with the joy of writing, books and being alive. Some writers you admire, some writers challenge you, some writers confound you. Some writers deliver awkward and unsettling disconnections, others a suite of nourishing connections. With Teju it was the latter. Uplifting. Utterly uplifting. Teju makes it very clear, with such honeyed fluency, why books matter in this endangered world.
Here are some of the gold nuggets I gleaned – I won’t put quotes as may not be exact:
Description shifts something that is in the world. Description shifts us as no longer simply passive recipients of the text but as active participants.
Writing Open City, I could not tailor it for a market as I could not imagine that market. It gave me utter freedom. (I adore this sense of freedom to write what one wants, craves)
I write every book as though it is going to be my last.
How do you become ‘you’ inside your work? That’s my voice – that’s interesting. That’s who I turned out to be.
On reviewing (this is my raison d’etre on this blog!!!!): I am writing an account of what I love. I’m an enthusiast. I give an account, so that if you don’t already love it, you might have a chance to. (he is not drawn to negative criticism)
All terrain retains some ghostly memory of the things they have endured.
Any great city is a burial ground for people who have largely been forgotten. (the dispossessed)
( I loved hearing the drone tweets written Post 9/11 where he took the first line of a classic book and then introduced bombs and devastation. Like Teju said, both funny and cripplingly serious.)
(He talked about the pleasure of writing / reading work that ultimately consoles as well as unsettles.)
Theory is like haute couture – you laugh at it now and five years later it hits the streets.
I am fond of Iceland, Switzerland and new Zealand as they are diametrically opposed to what I know.
This sequence of severed quotes barely touch upon the joy of being there. It was over in a flash.