Saturday, May 26, 2007

An Hour with Pico Iyer

We had the perfect chair in Kapka Kassabova. She and our author have remarkably similar backgrounds. Born in one country, educated in another, now living in yet another place, and both travelling the globe regularly. Citizens of the world.

Or you could put it another way, as he once described himself, "I'm a global village on two legs".

Pico Iyer is , of course, one of the world's most respected and widely admired travel writers and having heard him articulate some of his experiences under the skilful probing of Kapa Kassabova one can easily understand how he has earned this reputation. He is a superb storyteller, he must be a joy to interview, he is certainly a joy to listen to. He had his large audience totally captivated.
On the subject of audience both Pico and Kapka expressed astonishment at the huge audience that turned out for a 9.30am Saturday event. There were several hundred in the audience.

Pico Iyer went on to say he had attended a Writers Festival in New York recently where the events were held in college classrooms and often auidiences comprised fewer than 10 persons.

I must say that having been to many Festivals over the years - in Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Edinburgh, Wellington and Toronto - the audiences in Auckland this year are as large as I've seen anywhere. Wonderful to see people queued up and jostling to get into the auditoriums!

It says much for both the authors present and for the superb organisation and marketing carried out by the Festival organisers.

An Hour with Tim Winton

Out of one session and straight back into the next. An even bigger crowd this time with the ground floor stalls area filled to capacity the Festival organisers were forced to open the upstairs area. My guess is there would have been 1200 people present.

Tim Winton came on stage in his trademark tee shirt and jeans. He is a great Australian author, indeed for my money he is one of the world's great contemporary fiction writers in English.

Again another superb choice of Chair.

This time it was Festival Co-Creative Director Stephanie Johnson. I guess there is something really appropriate about an author interviewing an author.
It certainly worked well in this instance. She had done her research and had obviously very recently re-read the three titles she told us they were going to discuss:

Cloudstreet 1991
The Riders 1994
The Turning 2004

And so followed an hour of thoughtful, often humorous musings and discussion. The thing that so impressed me was Winton's ponderings about his characters, he talks of these people, (and remember between these three titles there are probably 200 different characters), as if they are real, as if he had been talking to them yesterday.
And I loved the following he threw in at one stage following a discussion on religion, "Australia, the most secular place on the globe. If the US President goes to church no one takes any notice but if the Australian Prime Minister goes to chruch people start phoning".
He treated us to one reading, the first three pages from the title story in The Turning, and what a treat it was too. Perfect.

At one point he was talking about two of the most wonderful experiences available, experiences that have the power to transport oneself anywhere, these experiences were reading and writing, and then he threw in this gem, "reading is eternally being in the present tense".
Winton is a totally grounded man, a family man, a modest man, a man who turns down honorary doctorships, a man with a truly huge writing talent and it was a great privilege for a bunch of Kiwis to spend an hour with this great Aussie.
Congratulations to the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival for persuading him to join us for a few days, I know it is always difficult, nigh impossible to get him away from his beloved Western Australia and its rugged coast.
Go to the Wikipeia website and have a look at the long long list of his publishing and all the Awards he has won. And then, if you haven't already done so buy and read Cloudstreet which I wrote about here last week.Or any of his other titles. The Turning, his latest book, is a collection of short stories so if this is your preferred genre then start with that one.

As we left the auditorium Penguin NZ's publisher Geoff Walker commented to us, you feel like jumping up and yelling yahoos like you were at a rock concert. Yes I agree Geoff, Tim Winton is a star, in fact he even looks something like a rock star from the 70's.

We salute you Tim Winton. Thanks for coming over here mate.
And now I had better get back to the Aotea Centre!
More tomorrow if I get a chance although with the schedule I have on Sunday it may be Monday before my next Festival report. I'll see how I go.
Of course it there was a free wireless broadband internet connection available at the Aotea Centre (as there should be at every world class convention centre!) then I could report directly from there.


Anonymous said...

As a South Islander I cannot begin to tell you how much I appreciate your blogging of the Auckland Readers Festival. As an occasional blogger myself I know how much work is involved in providing hyperlinks etc.not to mention all the writing.
Thanks again and keep up the great work, your blog is a joy.

Anonymous said...

I have been trying to find out what wifi would cost in the Aotea Centre - the first offer - $150 per login per day floored me. I just couldnt imagine how a public space like the aotea Centre could even think about this kind of number.

The subseqently came back with a more modest proposal - $700 a day for unliited access for anyone who cared to use it - so if we were to think about that for next year , it wuld be $2500.
So a year to find a sponsor - or mayby by then - sanity will have prevailed and the city council will have figured out a broadband strategy which gavce all their civic centres public internet acess.
By the way they have made a great start with Auckland city Library .
so think about it - across the road in the Library you can have free internet acess - while in aucklans main cultural centre it will cost peole like the Writers Festival $700 a day - feels like something we should be having a longer conversation about!
keep up the good work Mr Beattie , sir - you are a credit to the "man of letters' trade!

Harvey's Blog said...

Agree with every word Graham. If I could photograph the way Tim Winton writes I'd be in heaven.