May 20, 2010

AWRF 2010 - Emily Perkins and Damien Wilkins

Simon tells us about his next appointment at AWRF 2010 -- but neglects to say if he sampled the wares of the coffee cart first.

Coming to this event after the more harrowing morning topic of "forgotten victims in a post 9/11 world" made it feel like light relief. It was also heavy on interesting discussion, with two New Zealand authors discussing their vocation with passionate candour. 

Chair Fergus Barrowman began by comparing the similar career arcs of Emily Perkins and Damien Wilkins. Both had studied at Victoria University, and both authors had enjoyed early critical success; Perkins with her shorts collection Not her Real Name (1996) and Wilkins withThe Miserables (1993).  Both were now teachers, and both had recently put out what were being hailed as career highs; Perkins' Novel About my Wife and Wilkins' Somebody Loves Us All

Barrowman then posed that elusive question: when did you KNOW ....?

Emily Perkins. Perkins said she had first become cognizant of what she felt (despite technical imperfections) was her own artistic "voice" whilst doing Bill Manhire's undergraduate Creative Writing Course. Wilkins was a little more self-effacing. He spoke of the shame he harboured for his early attempts at at writing, thus not daring to enrol in a writing course that would encourage exposing works in progress to one's classmates. However, he was struck by a comment a teacher had written on one of his essays, complimenting the "rhythms" of his prose. This was the small kernel of positivity Wilkins needed to suspect that perhaps he too HAD something. 

Damien Wilkins. Both authors spoke positively of the role teaching English plays in their own work. Perkins found it rejuvenating, and Wilkins said he felt excited to be hearing new voices in an embryonic state, the originality of ideas often shining through technical flaws. 

An even more elusive question: What is literature FOR....? 

Perkins said her reasons for writing were always evolving, but that presently she was more interested in writing something that produced sensation as it was being read in the moment, rather than writing something that was "significant."As a reader, she was not bothered by weak endings if taken on a journey throughout. In fact, she contended, sometimes the misshapenness of a novel could be a strength. Wilkins felt that while it could not be argued that writing improved the author's life, (thus debunking the notion of writing as effective catharsis for author) what it did produce was a piece of work that was FOR someone - FOR a reader.

As for the process of writing, whatever the previous novel's strengths, "there wasn't a guild," maintained Perkins. One wanted to do something different once one's strengths had become habitual. A new novel was always a chance to "repudiate" the previous one she joked. Wilkins contended that the distance between a well established writer and a beginner was in fact very small. 

Both authors then read segments of their work to an attentive audience, and Barrowman wound up by noting an increase in "garrulous speech" in current New Zealand fiction, (as demonstraed by the dialogue-heavy passages in Wilkins's latest novel), and a moving on from the archetypal lonely misunderstood NZ narrator to something more social.

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 02:30
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