Skip to main content

Staff and crew of the New Zealand International Arts Festival prepare for 24 days of events in Wellington.By the time Fish­Head’s April issue hits shelves, read­ers may be nurs­ing some­thing of a deep-think­ing hangover. The capital’s bien­ni­al New Zea­l­and Fest­iv­al wound up earli­er this month, offer­ing events across a wide artist­ic breadth; but it’s hard to ima­gine any pro­gramme top­ping the embar­rass­ment of riches put togeth­er by the coordin­at­ors of the 2014 Writers Week.

An under­ly­ing theme to this year’s events was the ever-blur­ring bound­ary between truth and fic­tion. Flaubert’s Par­rot author Juli­an Barnes once sug­ges­ted that “books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren’t”. Numer­ous excep­tions may prove his rule, but there’s cer­tainly some­thing there: books can form a space where messy col­lec­tions of notions are parsed into tidy stor­ies, though it’s the canny read­er who can pick which is the less pernicious.

Viewed in that light, the 2014 Writers Week was some­thing approach­ing a sur­viv­al guide to the early 21st cen­tury. Here was luminary home­com­ing queen Elean­or Cat­ton, offer­ing a dis­cus­sion of the role of the edit­or in shap­ing works of fic­tion, togeth­er with her Luminar­ies co-edit­or Max Port­er; deliv­er­ing the New Zea­l­and Book Coun­cil lec­ture, on the prin­ciple of ‘change’ in fic­tion; and speak­ing to The Luminar­ies’ astro­lo­gic­al influ­ences at the Carter Obser­vat­ory along­side poet Robert Sul­li­van and astro­phys­ics writer Mar­cus Chown.

Catton’s appear­ances alone could’ve served as a course in the finer points of fact, fic­tion, ver­ity and eso­ter­ica; but there was much more on offer besides. Tragedy at Pike River Mine author Rebecca Macfie spoke to that work as well as her cov­er­age of the Christ­ch­urch earth­quake, a timely explor­a­tion of the dis­rupt­ive prin­ciple as it’s applied most dev­ast­at­ingly in real lives. Oth­er authors shared their own admir­able grasp of big stor­ies: Mar­garet Mac­Mil­lan, author of the Samuel John­son Prize-win­ning Peace­makers, spoke to the uses and abuses of his­tory, and Chinese-Brit­ish author Jung Chang spoke on her research into Empress Dow­ager Cixi, one of China’s most influ­en­tial recent rulers. Out­side the Writers Week pur­view, act­or Denis O’Hare – recently seen on Amer­ic­an Hor­ror Story as a tongue­less ghost – delivered a one-man riff on viol­ence built around Homer’s Ili­ad.

As much scru­tiny again was paid to the busi­ness of craft­ing fact and fic­tion alike, with dis­cus­sions on the hero­ic shad­ow-work of lit­er­ary trans­la­tion from Vic­tor­ia University’s Marco Sonzogni; design and com­mu­nic­a­tion from Pol­ish mas­ters Daniel and Aleksandra Miz­ielińsky; play­writ­ing from his­tory with Hone Kouka and oth­ers; and a pan­el dis­cus­sion of copy­right, TPPA (Trans-Pacific Part­ner­ship Agree­ment) and what these issues mean to writers and read­ers. Surely after such a line-up – whose finer points we’ve barely touched on – the only appro­pri­ate response is an urge to explore (or make) some words for yourself.


April Book Recommandations

Dappled Annie and the Tigrish: Mary McCal­lum (illus­trated by Annie Hay­ward), Gecko Press

Loc­al imprint Gecko Press is blow­ing up on the kid-lit scene with good reas­on: pub­lish­er Julia Mar­shall recently chat­ted about Wel­ling­ton in this very magazine, and the house’s latest release is this work of magic­al real­ism in the tra­di­tion of New Zealand’s best children’s writing.


Kei Reira Ngā Weri­weri: Maurice Sendak, Huia Press

Huia’s trans­la­tion of Sendak’s beloved children’s book saw a live read­ing at the former Down­stage in this year’s Writers Week. The story’s lyr­ic flour­ish is only enhanced by the lov­ing trans­la­tion into rhythmic te reo Māori. Vis­it to down­load a free MP3 of its Where the Wild Things Are te reo translation.

Tom Goulter

Tom is FishHead's book columnist. A Master's degree in Creative Writing from Victoria's International Institute of Modern Letters launched Goulter on the life of an itinerant man of letters, wandering the fractious United states in search of.. whatever it was Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper were after, probably. Instead of getting shot by rednecks (yet), he returned to Wellington, where he essays semi-regularly into popular culture, psycho-geography, underground film-making, and the uncanny in all its myriad forms. Not a day goes by that he does not wish Manners Street still had Crystal city on it.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.