May 16, 2014

Auckland Writers Festival 2014: NZ Listener Gala Night

The buzz went up, the lights came down, and Anne O'Brien emerged from the wings of the ASB Theatre to welcome us, do the Opening Night honours, and, with a turn of phrase I quite liked, wish that we all might "travel lighter and richer" over the next four days, before leaving the lectern to Carol Hirschfeld, our presenter for the evening.

And then, it happened. There was Carol, happily reciting her rosary of adjectives  -- "enticing", "surprising", "provocative" -- when all of a sudden she up and telescoped into a little Carol a tenth the size. It was just like Alice in Wonderland and the "Eat me" cake. I was so surprised I lost track of the adjectives, which, impressively, were still coming, and just stared.

True story.

Well, all right. After a moment, I realised what had happened. From my seat up in the balcony, I had been watching not Carol, but her huge, true-to-life image on the large screen, so true-to-life I hadn't consciously registered that it was an image. And as I sat there, lulled by Carol's impeccably modulated tones, my eyes had idly slid down and encountered the real Carol, a thumbnail in comparison.

"True Stories Told Live: Truth and Lies" was the evening's theme: eight writers from the Festival line-up, one after the other under the stage lights (and on the big screen), each with a story to tell. There was a lot of joshing from the writers about the true-false dichotomy, although every reader present, if they thought about it, could have told you that to make such distinctions, in literature, is to fool oneself.

The first story was told by the Nigerian "word and graphic artist" Inua Ellams, and it was about the end of a story -- the time a girlfriend broke up with him. "Three months from now, we're going to laugh about this", were the bravely spoken words, but the next day "I was all runs and cold". The doctor, putting away her stethoscope, said to him, "There's nothing physically wrong. What's been happening with you?"

"I said, 'Breaking up with my girlfriend.' She said 'Oh! It's heartbreak!'"

Marti Friedlander came darkly out and huskily announced,  "So many stories to tell at my age -- obviously!" Her bottom line on truth and lies was  "They tell you not to tell lies, but I've told them all my life and they were fantastic, actually!"

Huw Lewis-Jones, an action-lover whose books are on explorers, Everest expeditions, polar regions and so forth, had a notable line when he referred what the taxi driver had said to him on his way in, when he was feeling nervous: "You'll be all right, mate, just talk about Hobbits!"

A.M. Homes had a story from her book The Mistress's Daughter, in which she described what happened when her biological father unexpectedly appeared in her life, thirty years or so after her birth. "Tell me a llittle about you," she had asked him. What he came up with was  "I'm not circumsised".

Irvine Welsh's eyes glinted as he told the story of an evil, over-steroided cat named Twinkle, set, surprisingly, in Illinois, and with a surprise ending.

Sarah-Kate Lynch was even more surprising. Why do they give her books such awful covers? How are we to guess that she wields such wicked humour? This is a woman who dreamed of killing Bono (I've dreamed of him going and living in some far off place where there are no media whatsoever, but never of killing him) and says she felt bad for him, and for half of Africa.  

(credit Graham Clarke)
After the sorbet interlude of a sad musing on family and place from Yasmine El Rashidi, the feast swept to its finale with a shaggy-dog story set in Tuscany from that grand raconteur Alexander McCall Smith, involving his unplanned use of a bulldozer to get from Pisa, where his flight from Scotland had landed, to Montalcino, his vacation destination.

"It's  a very good way to see the country- it's slow and lets you look about. And the bits you don't like you can remove!"

A bright and auspicious start to AWF 2014!

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 23:00


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