Monday 18 May 2015

Auckland Writers Festival

Still readjusting to ordinary life after five wonderful days at the Auckland Writers Festival. Huge thanks to the AWF staff and volunteers who remained helpful, cheerful and unflappable in the face of endless questions and crowds, regardless of the time of day (or night). Thanks also to the bookshop staff, presiding over those enticing piles of new books, and to the tech staff who managed lights, sound and other fancy gear with techy confidence and cool.   

Highlights for me on my first ever AWF

  • Spotting other people poring over the programme from the moment of stepping onto the plane
  • The non-stop buzz of conversation and activity everywhere within the Aotea Centre
  • Sharing a table with complete strangers and striking up conversations within seconds (hint: all it takes is one or all of the following questions: What have you just been to see? How was it? What are you going to see next?
  • Bumping into people I knew, often quite unexpectedly (and not just Aucklanders); meeting people who had come from Whangarei, Hamilton, Rotorua and even Queenstown, just to be there for the weekend; getting to meet writer friends and make some new ones
  • Finding time to catch the Billy Apple exhibition and Lisa Reihana video installation at the Art Gallery (I know, not the Festival, but just up the road). 

And that's without starting on the sessions...

  • Straight Talking at the opening NZ Listener Gala Night: eight lots of seven-minute treasure, starting with Amy Bloom's very funny account of what to do with her mother's ashes
  • Atul Gawande, his compassion and wisdom and common sense, his advice to a medical student about the things you can and can't fix
  • Haruki Murakami, his T-shirt and jokes about cats, his description of how he found his own unique style by writing in English and translating it back into Japanese, his story about spending four weeks in Oslo - so many fascinating stories (has someone asked him to spend four weeks in NZ??)
  • Margaret Pointer starting her talk by greeting us and the Niuean members of the audience in Niuean
  • Philip Ball, Atul Gawande, Charlotte Grimshaw and Xinran trying to find ways to change the world late on Sunday afternoon
  • C K Stead talking about living near Frank Sargeson and Janet Frame in Takapuna
  • And the work of some great chairs. I think being a chair must be even more challenging than being a presenter. You're addressing a range of people, from those who have come to hear their all-time favourite author to those who have never read of any of their work, and it's easy for audience members to be critical. I was especially impressed by Middlemore Hospital ICU specialist David Galler finishing his session by inviting Atul Gawande and the audience to toast those who work with the elderly, including the often underpaid and undervalued aged care workers.   

More highlights
Seeing bus-loads of students crowding out the Aotea Centre for the Schools Programme, and getting to meet and listen to Morris Gleitzman, Laurie Halse Anderson and Anthony Horowitz.

More thanks
To the parents, grandparents and caregivers who brought their kids in to Sunday's Family Day 
To the teachers and librarians who came up after my Schools Programme session to say how much they and their students had enjoyed it 
To the tech team in the Herald Theatre who believed that yes, I could manage the intercom in the green room, a hand-held mike, the clicker to move the slides on, and to not fall over any of the props scattered round the stage for that night's show 
To all the children who came up to get their programmes, books or bookmarks signed, or who lined up behind the mikes in the ASB Theatre to ask questions - something I would never have been brave enough to do at their age.

Favourite question 
All authors have people who have supported them - who would you like to thank? (what a thoughtful question from that young student! I loved being given this chance to publicly thank people who have helped and supported me.)

Not being able to see everything
Not seeing Carol Ann Duffy in particular (named as their favorite session by several people) 
And the friend who has asked me to come up to the AWF for the last few years, saying I would love it, being out of town for the weekend - but at least now I realise why she has always raved about it.  

Wednesday 6 May 2015

School visits and questions

I love doing school visits, especially for the questions I get asked. I often promise the students that if they ask me a question I've never been asked before, I'll write it down - one of the reasons for doing that (I don’t tell them!) is to give me some thinking time! Some questions come up frequently, but a new one can still stump me.

So thanks to students at a number of schools recently for these intriguing questions:
Do you like chocolate cake? (not an entirely random question, based on my book The great chocolate cake bake off)

Did you personally know the lighthouse family? (from the book Lighthouse family)

Do you plan on being an author forever?
And a similar one: do you think you will keep writing forever?

Do you have any relatives who were in the war? Have you got anything of theirs, like medals?

Did any nurses die in world war one?

Were the Turkish trenches the same as the Anzac ones?

If you could go back and stop the Anzac troops invading Gallipoli, would you?
(Answer seems obvious, but then led to an interesting discussion on the "butterfly effect")

What was your favourite part of going to Gallipoli? What was the worst part? What new foods did you try? Would you go back?

Have you ever met an Anzac?

What is your favourite colour?
What is your favourite country that you've been to?

Have you ever tried bully beef?
(I said no and I didn’t think the sort they ate back then would have been very nice, but that I had an excuse not ever to try it, or anything similar, because I'm vegetarian.)
Next question:
Why are you vegetarian?

I especially like writery questions like these:

What is the hardest book you have written?
Which is the book you have enjoyed writing the most?
What is your biggest responsibility as a writer?
What is your favourite topic for writing about?
Do you have any goals for yourself?
What do you do for writer's block?
How do you make up your characters? Is there a character like you in any of your books?
Do you do the covers of your books? Have you ever had a cover you don't like?

And this must be one of my all-time favourite questions:
Have you ever inspired any children to read?