May 17, 2012

AWRF 2012: Maurice Gee, inaugural Honoured New Zealand Writer

Laura from Leys Institute Library tells us about this most special of the Festival Special Events. The New Zealand Honoured Writer is an initiative conceived to celebrate New Zealand's most accomplished writers, their body of work and the immense contribution they have made to the literary landscape of New Zealand.

What a treat it was to hear much-loved author Maurice Gee speak on Sunday night, and what a lovely way it was to end this year’s Writers and Readers festival. The normally event-shy Gee said he would have declined the invitation to appear had it not been for the request to be the festival’s inaugural ‘Honoured NZ Writer’. A gracious and humble man, Gee felt it would have been “churlish” to decline, and how thrilled the audience was that he didn’t.

As a keen children’s and young adult book reader, I was nervous at first that interviewer Geoff Walker might focus on Gee’s adult fiction work, but the session managed to cover a great cross-section of the master writer’s material, from Under the Mountain to Live Bodies, The Half Men of O and Plumb. It certainly made you realise what a great force Gee has been in New Zealand literature.

We were treated to a reading from The Prowler (entertained chuckles rang throughout the crowd), as well as a piece of unpublished memoir about Gee’s own introduction to reading as a young boy. We heard how he fell in love with Dickens, and began to write his own stories after becoming acquainted with the world of one Oliver Twist.

But what stuck with me from the session was something Gee said early on about the themes of his books for children and young adults – that of the creek and the kitchen. Gee talked about how he never could seem, in his writing, to get away from the small town in which he grew up and the things that surrounded him in his childhood. He told of an encounter he had when he was small, when out walking with his mother and brother by the creek that was his frequent playground. They came across a swagman bathing himself in the river. His mother stopped and turned her small group around, but there was enough time for Gee to notice the man’s stare and to realise that there had been something about the encounter that he had not understood. The eerie encounter was to become a scene in The Fat Man, but the creek features in another way in all of Gee’s stories for younger people: the creek, he said, came to stand for danger, and the haven that was his household kitchen growing up, for safety. They were always there in his stories – the creek and the kitchen, the dark and the light.

Such is Gee’s touch, turning the simple into the riveting. Sadly Gee said he had put down his fiction-writing pen (for he still writes by hand in exercise books), and had turned to memoir, more for his own entertainment than for publishing purposes. He had no sense of loss about the end of his fiction writing days, as his final words for the evening show: “I look back on 30 or so novels and think, ‘That’s ok’.”

Sunday evening’s session was insightful and entertaining. The standing ovation Gee received certainly showed I was not the only one who thought it a fitting tribute for one of our literary legends.

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 03:00


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