NZ Literature’s Premier Father & Daughter Act…

…this was the way that Steve Braunias, chair of ‘Our Monied World’ introduced his two guests, CK Stead & Charlotte Grimshaw. And indeed they probably are.

Apparently this was their first ever double-act event; there was lively chat, a bit of mutual appreciation, a few tit-bits about growing up in the Stead household and a cute story about the young Charlotte engaging in a staring-match with the very much older James K Baxter. And of course there was money, class, politics and whether the character of David Hallwright in Soon is based on John Key. Apparently not, although there was an acknowledgement that some of the similarities are there.

There is a sequel to Soon in the pipeline but this time looking more closely at the media. Steve Braunias looked a bit uncomfortable at this point…

Auckland Writers & Readers Festival

I guess somewhere in the definition of what a blog is all about the word regular appears. Hmmm, I err more on the irregular side of regular. My defence is that I’m too busy reading to add to all the cyber-noise. I’m sticking to that.
However, I have been lured back to the blogosphere by all the events at this year’s Auckland Writers & Readers Festival. Must be the largest gathering of NZ writers since the Frankfurt Book Fair last October, in fact.
Starting with a hiss and roar the festival opened last night with True Stories Told Live. Eight writers, eight stories, lots of fun. They were all good, but particular highlights include Jackie Kay’s search for identity, Selina Marsh’s poetic offering and Shehan Karunatilaka’s tale of boarding school hell.
Today I headed off to hear Jarrod Gilbert on the subject of gang culture in New Zealand. Sounded good, all that talk of hard-living and violent times. I snuck in a bit late surprised to see the author wearing a beret. I wondered what the patched up gang members thought of that. A few confused minutes later I realised that Gilbert had been cancelled and replaced with Edward Rutherford talking about his new book Paris. This was momentarily disappointing but Rutherford was charming and discursive. His topics ranged from the extreme importance of inbreeding to literary tourism to the diplomatic skills required to navigate the new publishing environment. And of course there was lots of Paris; Shakespeare & Company, Jim Morrison and Montmartre. It was rather nice to be whisked away to Europe for a bit.

Next stop Our Monied World with CK Stead and Charlotte Grimshaw.

A Short P.S. to the Frankfurt Book Fair

In a (somewhat belated) final note to the Frankfurt Book Fair and all the Guest of Honour hoo-ha, I thought it was worth highlighting one of the quirkiest events that took place. In a sort of literary anthropomorphic tale of coals to Newcastle, Joy Cowley visited the Berlin zoo to read Old Tuatara and Snake and Lizard to the (reportedly) oldest living tuatara in the world, who hangs out at the zoo. He looks a little non-plussed himself, but everyone else certainly appears to have had a good time.

And all in all I think that everyone had a good time throughout the whole thing. I certainly did – the fact that it’s been over a month since my last blog posting hints at just how exhausting it was too. And I’m eternally grateful to UNESCO and the Publishers Association who helped to cover my costs, which meant I was able to get there in the first place.

So, good luck to Brazil (Guest of Honour country in 2013) – they have a hard act to follow.

We Just Did It And It Was Quite Good

“We just did it and it was quite good” – Tanea Heke, Project Director at today’s handover ceremony where New Zealand passed on the Guest of Honour role to Brazil.

Cos Play, Stories, Vampires. And more.

It’s the weekend and the public are allowed to roam the halles of the Frankfurt Book Fair. This brings a different vibe to the place; more casual, less intense, bigger crowds. Bit weirder too. This last bit is thanks to the hobbits, elves, avatars, ghosts and general other freaky creatures seen about the place. They are all set to participate in the great Cos Play competition. No, I didn’t know much about this either. But for further information go here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosplay.

In between the Cos Play extravaganzas the interest in New Zealand is still there and the Pavilion is jam-packed. At around 2pm this afternoon the escalators heading that way were put on hold in an attempt to ensure everybody’s safety. I can only imagine it getting busier as the afternoon wore on – particularly with Richard Taylor appearing late afternoon. But by this time I had returned to the Publishers Association stand which has seen a dramatic increase in interest in New Zealand books from the general public. There is a great tradition in Frankfurt of publishers selling their books at a knockdown rate on the final weekend and so there were lines of enthusiastic Germans queuing up to see what bargains could be had.

The writers programme continues to roll on throughout the weekend. Today’s opening session is a lively discussion on the various forms of Maori storytelling featuring Karl Johnston, Robert Sullivan, James Rickard, Paul Tapsell and Joe Harawira. The session covered a lot of territory in just under an hour including the link between Maori myth and truth, the story as a vehicle of love and finding identity through stories. As it continued, the audience also got the message that Maori stories are told through words but also through ta moko, carving and weaving. What was most pronounced though was the concern around young Maori, particularly urban Maori and how they have lost their way into the stories that have the ability to allow them to make sense of their lives.

As somebody who has actively avoided vampire novels, it was with some trepidation that I sat down to hear paranormal romance writer Nalini Singh talk about her books. Of which there are many, all with a fantastical and often vamipirical bent. They sell in huge quantities (especially in Germany and the US) and she certainly had a strong fan base in the audience today. The books sound like fun, especially the series set in New York where the city is run by an archangel who uses vampires as servants. In the end though I’m not sure I’ll get round to reading any of them – I just can’t do the willing suspension of disbelief required for all the alpha wolves, changelings, shape-shifters, vampires and angels. But clearly I was in the minority today. Nalini herself was so sweet and enthusiastic that if I ever do decide to read a paranormal romance it will definitely be one of hers.

Paul Cleave and Catherine Robertson were headlining under the banner New Zealand Humour in Translation. They didn’t have time to get much into the translation side of things (as the moderator pointed out, you could run a whole conference on that) but they did have time to read from and chat about their work in a general way. I was particularly drawn to Paul Cleave’s dark comedy and enjoyed his scatological humour. Unexpected and quite welcome amongst some of the bloodier scenes in his books.

And owing to technical incompetence on my part, photos of the PANZ party still to come. Sigh.

Frankfurt On Friday

At the risk of sounding predictable, today was, of course, another busy day in Frankfurt. The Publishers Association stand was filled with the quiet murmuring of international rights being sold and there are lots of smiley, happy publishers. They are even more bleary-eyed than yesterday, but most definitely smiley too. So, Frankfurt 2013 appears to have done what it said it would do for New Zealand; increased the profile of our writers and writing, got more people interested in reading our books and sold more of those books into international markets.

From tomorrow on the buying and selling starts to slow down as publishers & agents head home and the doors are opened to Frankfurters interested in browsing the Halles. And there are likely to be large numbers of those who will be interested in visiting the New Zealand Pavilion to check out the multi-media show and dip into the rolling programme of NZ writers. Today, there were around 1,000 visitors an hour heading into the Pavilion. It’s anticipated that when the public arrive this figure will increase quite significantly. It’s hard to see how they’ll squeeze everyone in – there could be some further unplanned paddling going on.

The trickiest thing for me about being in Frankfurt is that I can’t stop feeling like I should be some where other than where I am. This can make it tricky to relax into enjoying anything at all as I am in a permanent state of anxiety in case I miss something just a bit better in the next Halle. So today I concentrated very hard on relaxing into some of the writers’ panels. It is easy with a writer like Joy Cowley to do this. I liked a lot of what she said. That the best illustrators of her work are really her co-authors. That there are some limits to the anthropomorphic possibilities of New Zealand animals. That she once studied quantum physics. That you can get away with a lot in your writing for children if you inject a bit of humour. But I especially liked it when she said that “we grow old like onions and as you peel away the layers there is a green shoot of childhood in the middle.”

The session called Urban Sprawl was a bit grittier and featured three novelists who have responded to the idea of the city in their work; Alan Duff, Carl Nixon and Chad Taylor. Chad Taylor noted that “the city is a character in all of my novels” and it was with a tinge of regret that he also pointed out that many cities are becoming too expensive for writers to live in these days. This led to a further discussion around the economics of being a writer – particularly in a small country. Carl Nixon admitted that although his new novel is set in Christchurch he called the city something else for purely commercial reasons – it may be more likely to be picked up by an international publisher if it has a less specific setting. Meanwhile Alan Duff was very clear about the fact that there are no cities in New Zealand he would recommend anyone visiting. It was refreshing to hear the panel respond honestly to the questions although it could be that the NZ Tourist Board won’t feel that way.

Literary cross-dresser Alix Bosco/Greg McGee and the multi-talented Anthony McCarten talked about their ability to engage in the writer’s equivalent of a mashup. The point being that to make a living you needed to be able to mix it up a bit in terms of what you can turn your hand to. As Greg McGee pointed out ‘writers block is only for writers who don’t have a big enough mortgage.’

And then it was time for the Publishers Association annual stand party. Around 500 people turned up to drink New Zealand wine and celebrate everything that has been achieved at the Fair to date. Photos to follow tomorrow.

And So It Goes On

It’s day something. I forget which. Let’s just say it’s been a few.

Being in the Frankfurt Messe makes me think I may be caught up in a kind of publishing time-slip where the days merge into one and the only noise is a kind of humming and thrumming of business being done. I can’t make out sentences, just words like ‘augmented reality’ and ‘Android’ and ‘EPUB 3′ as I wander round the Book Fair (I know, I know, I should be over this by now) awed by the scale of the thing. But in a venue offering non-stop shuttles to take you from one place to another, you know you’re somewhere a bit bigger than The Cloud. And as I have Frankfurt feet, I’m very grateful to those shuttles.

The Pavilion continues to draw oohs and aahs from the crowds drifting in and out and it’s fabulous to see a bit of Book Council material in the audio-visual display. Go here for the original material – http://www.bookcouncil.org.nz/Readers/Introduction/Fast-Fives-from-the-Festival.htm. And just as an aside there are some great writers’ interviews further down the page there, too. But I digress.

Back to the Pavilion. Today brought more events, panels, chats, readings etc. featuring all sorts of writers including Linda Olsson, C.K. Stead, Kate De Goldi, Hamish Clayton, Paul Cleave, Justin Paton, Bronwyn Hayward, and a celebration of the life of Margaret Mahy – a worthy tribute indeed. There’s a bit of a distraction from the audio playing on the main stage, but it comes and goes and it’s possible to tune out when the writers are doing their bit.

The Pavilion is impressive but has not been without mishap – given the layout and the lighting its perilously easy for distracted visitors to slip off the walkway and into the (shallow) water which surrounds it. It’s a very small drop so relatively low-risk. However, a reliable source did confirm yesterday that there have been two full immersions and six minor derailments (one featuring luggage and stilettos) to date. Today’s attendants have torches.

Meanwhile on the Publishers Association stand things have ticked along nicely. The morning got off to a sedate start as bleary-eyed publishers arrived following a night of stand parties, big dinners and general carousing. This is of course, an integral part of clinching the deal. Apparently. And then all of a sudden in that time-slip sort of way, it was 5pm and time for the next networking opportunity at the Australian Publishers Association stand party. And so it goes on.

It’s All On

Day 1 Official of the Frankfurt Book Fair is a jam-packed affair as many many people speaking many many languages duck and dive their way through negotiations and deals in Halle 8, where the NZ Publishers Association has its stand. The morning starts with an official breakfast and welcome where Chris Finlayson congratulates those who pulled off the feat of bringing it altogether. It was a feat that included new carpet being laid on the stand at some unearthly hour the previous night. There is also lots of chatter about Bill English’s speech the night before – some of it positive, some of it not so much.

Day 1 Official also sees the launch of the writers’ programme in the Pavilion. The first event is a panel (Jenny Bornholdt, Joy Cowley and Dylan Horrocks) discussing the merits of the School Journal and how it kick-started, more or less single-handedly, New Zealand’s writing and illustration for children. A hothouse for children’s literature, the School Journal ran literary boot camps and nurtured burgeoning talent at a time when there were no creative writing courses. Even today it’s one of the few literary magazines in New Zealand (the only one?) that commissions work from writers. There is something rather moving about being reminded of the humble origins of some of New Zealand’s most brilliant children’s writers and illustrators.

The theme continues in the next event, with Brian Falkner and Kate De Goldi discussing fiction for young adults. Other sessions during the day cover such diverse subjects as narrative in New Zealand fiction, fantastical fiction and the seduction of research.

The panel discussion venue is fluid: events flow directly from one to the next; writers hop on and off the stage; the sessions are generally bite-sized; audiences come and go at random moments. This isn’t your usual literature festival – it’s essentially a rights fair, so everything is managed a bit differently.

One writer was particularly pleased when an audience member noted their surprise at the absence of hobbits from her talk. Perhaps something is happening to change how New Zealand is seen in the world.

It’s All On (Almost)

There was a distinct air of counting down to blast-off surrounding the Frankfurt Book Fair today. The morning involved further unpacking of boxes at the Publishers Association stand, a tussle over wifi access and some signage issues. But these were minor irritations and in the end things fell into place.

The Pavilion blessing was held at 12.30pm, the opening ceremony kicked off at 5pm, and tomorrow sees the Book Fair open for business. This means that the mainly empty and slightly eerie very long hallways of the Book Fair building will be gone; instead it will be filled with the chatter of publishers, literary agents and New Zealand writers. Writers tend not to darken the doors of the Book Fair generally but an exception is made for Guest of Honour writers. Which is why around 60 New Zealand writers will appear at events in the Pavilion over the coming days.

The blessing all went smoothly and those attending were treated to the spectacular display in the Pavilion. The words of Janet Frame and C.K.Stead sit neatly alongside Maori creation stories as images, sounds and text bounce around the space, projected onto massive screens.

The opening ceremony is the formal bit which officially sees the Book Fair, well, opened. With a hammer banged down on a lecturn no less; a tradition that has been part of Book Fair history since the early days. But before that could happen there needed to be some speeches. Seven speeches. Happily the ones in German had simultaneous translation which helped a bit. New Zealand was represented by Bill Manhire, Joy Cowley and Deputy Prime Minister, Bill English. The Germans were represented by a roll-call of equally important people but with names and job titles probably too long to go into here. But suffice to say that some good points were well made, including on the value of independent bookshops, intellectual property rights, the importance of children’s books, censorship, the NZ education system and book pricing.

And when that was all over it was back to the pavilion for further cultural offerings. Including NZ wine, of course. New Zealand knows how to put on a good party and the drinking and chatting was going strong for some time to come.

As mentioned above, tomorrow the writer’s talks begin at the Pavilion. These include discussions and readings by Joy Cowley, Dylan Horrocks, Jenny Bornholdt, Sarah Quigley, Philip Temple, Paula Morris etc etc. I could go on, but you can download the programme for yourself and read it at your leisure here – http://www.nzatfrankfurt.govt.nz/events.

It’s All Go

Today was set up day for the New Zealand Publisher’s Association stand in Halle 8 at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The Book Fair officially opens tomorrow evening (that’s 9 October for those, like me who find all the time-shifting stuff a bit tricky) at 5pm. Today was a day of organising though: boxes were unpacked, international travel adaptors sourced, coffee drunk (some Allpress wouldn’t have gone amiss) and many pegs were put into many holes. The peg thing is a design feature of the stand, in case you were wondering.

And demonstrating how great it all looks is Fergus Barrowman from Victoria University Press.

The stand is the place where NZ publishers show off their wares, sell rights for their books and generally mix and mingle with the great and the good of the international publishing world. At 9am this morning however it looked a bit more like a building site. Happily by 5pm it was in pretty good shape and just about ready to present the best of NZ publishing to the world. By tomorrow afternoon it will be totally tip-top and ready for action.

I had heard rumours that the Book Fair is vast, but it was hard to really grasp the scale of the thing until I saw it up close. There are many halls where much activity takes place. There are venues and cafes and bars and conferences. And because NZ is Guest of Honour this year, there is also a wider cultural programme where other NZ talent is shown off in and around the city. For more info on everything, visit the NZ at Frankfurt website here – www.nzatfrankfurt.govt.nz.

As somebody who enjoys a rather more sedentary life all the lifting and carrying, the walking from place to place (as I said, the Book Fair is like, really big) and the general buzz and activity was fun. But also just a bit exhausting. And the fair hasn’t even opened yet. I may need to develop a bit more stamina to get through the days ahead.