Sometimes we have to bless public transport.
After staggering out of several sessions a day at this year’s Writers Week, driving home was not an option.
“Staggering”, I hasten to add, because of the intoxication of the successive quality events, the beer came later.
And the winners were….
The most sober moments came at the beginning of the week when several hundred people turned out at 9 am on a Saturday to hear Rebecca Macfie outline some of the problems and revelations she encountered as she was writing TRAGEDY AT PIKE RIVER MINE.
Macfie is a senior writer on The Listener and, together with former Sunday Star editor Cate Brett, an old friend and colleague, they contributed a discussion of the highest journalistic quality.
The litany of obfuscation, the proliferation of mistakes, the sheer absence of safety and accountability measures, all these were explored without hysteria or witch hunting.
It made one deeply grateful to know that there are still some journalists working in New Zealand committed to truth and its revelations.
The pity being that Pike River was the tragic topic under the microscope.
Two Catton sessions
Eleanor Catton offered two sessions.
One a New Zealand Book Council Lecture on Change in Fiction.The other a discussion with her young witty and erudite English editor Max Porter.
The first was formal and ranged from examination of various Shakesperian characters to a somewhat less than enchanted scrutiny of the eminent critic Harold Bloom’s views
Midwives or Meddlers was a gem.
The bond established between Catton and Porter was obvious from their opening banter. He talked much more than she did, initially, but we were in no way frustrated as she interviewed him, and he related in a most amusing way the trials and tribulations of editing.
A wonderful session.
The joys of a festival is that you often “discover” writers.
Terry Castle was a new name to me, though she has been a critic of some august magazines, including the London Review of Books.
She was witty and laughed a lot and Harry Ricketts drew some profundities from this most engaging of people.
Jack Lasenby reads Terry Castle but it was his own work that was discussed with Kate De Goldi.
This was another example of the thinking that has gone in to the choice of interviewer. De Goldi gently drew personal reminiscences from the father of children’s novels in New Zealand and he demonstrated his ever present skill at captivating an audience reading aloud a story from Uncle Trev.
Finally another old man of letters,Tom Keneally.
Guy Somerset did the honours this time, allowing Keneally full rein as he talked about his books old and new, the total seems to be 50 so far, though more are promised from this stunningly prolific and exciting novelist.
We could have listened to him for hours, the session all too brief, but crammed with observations about politics and writing and his grandchildren.
Asked how he would like to be remembered, he had no hesitation in saying, first as a grandfather, second a writer.
All this leaves little space for the sublime playing of our NZSO at two lunchtime concerts when they revealed aspects of both the Sibelius and Shostakovitch 5th symphonies which, in fifty years of listening, I had not heard.
Who said live concerts were on the way out?
The generously filled auditorium gave the lie to that prediction.
Let us have more of these middle of the day serious music performances.
But not just yet.
Give us time to recover from a surfeit of brilliance.