Bookworms were spoilt for choice at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival last weekend. So many seminars, panel discussions, events and lectures – so little time (and a tight budget).
I wished I had booked earlier, as I missed out on Eleanor Catton’s three-hour workshop on Character and Plot. As an aspiring novelist, I was keen to learn more about “strategies for creating compelling characters and surprising plots, and examining the relationship between character and plot in our own work”. It is an area I have become interested in since reading Stephen King’s “On Writing” which makes a convincing argument for creating a couple of magnificent characters who will take ownership of the plot with the author acting as a disciplined and solitary scribe.
If I lived in Auckland, I would have gone to the NZ Listener Gala Night True Stories told live. There I was the next morning, waiting to meet up with friends, with a total stranger regaling me with her enjoyment of the hilarious seven-minute stories of a number of the festival’s most famous guest writers. It was 16 hours too late to tell me that the event was “not to be missed”.
I did make it to “Remarkable Women” chaired by the remarkable, informed and gracious Jolisa Gracewood. She had a formidable task, as “arts and café society queen” Meme Churton warmed to her topic (herself), leaving little space for artist and autobiographer Jacqueline Fahey and academic Aorewa McLeod to enter the discussion. I would have liked to have known more about quirky Jacqueline’s thoughts on managing creativity, hard artistic work, child-rearing and her marriage to renowned psychiatrist Fraser MacDonald.
Aorewa McLeod, through no fault of her own (there was so little air space left) offered up rare, articulate and erudite gems. Hers is the autobiography I am most keen to read. She managed to position herself in an historical period of social change. She described some of the challenges of being lesbian (not “gay”, she was quick to point out) during more judgmental periods of our history. While some of the issues she faced were directly related to her sexual orientation, some of the family relationship issues she touched on were universal. Gay or not, it seems that most of us cope with some level of dysfunction in our families. Aorewa’s humility and warmth, paradoxically, put her literary talent into brilliant focus.
All three writers had unusual – and remarkable – lives. (Isn’t every woman’s life unusual and remarkable, though, if you dig just a little?) All three had spent time as university lecturers. All three seemed to agree that the person who had the courage to point out the source of the family’s dysfunction generally found themselves on the wrong side of the entire family forever more. All three revealed to a packed auditorium what I considered to be quite private moments and reflections on intimate relationships. Perhaps that was what was most remarkable – the willingness to put in print experiences that most of us share only with close friends.
Unity Books and Women’s Bookshop had massive displays of books for sale. I was unable to pick up a copy of Gerald Hensley’s latest book for Iggy, but went away with a purchase for myself – Kate Atkinson’s “Life after Life”, recommended by one of the bookshop staff as having good book club potential. But first I must finish “Eva Luna”, a book I have had for years, by Chilean writer Isabel Allende.