Monday, May 19, 2008


My congratulations to everyone concerned with the planning, organization and executing of this Festival. I have been to all of the AWR Festivals and for my money this was up there with the best.

Loads of really interesting authors, local and overseas and across all genres, most of whom were great presenters and agreeable folk; largely excellent Chairpersons, over 70 always helpful and pleasant volunteers, obliging publishers’ staff providing introductions to their authors, a superb bookshop staffed by knowledgeable booksellers, okay food and good coffee (if you asked for a double!) which has not always been the case in the past, and of course a great venue.

Here is my summary, based of course on the sessions I attended, sadly I couldn’t be at them all and I clearly missed one of two outstanding sessions.
Absolute highlight:
Hermione Lee’s Michael King Memorial Lecture.

Other memorable events
An Hour with Peter Ho Davies
Christine Fernyhough & Hamish Keith with Peter Wells
An Hour with Simon Montefiore
Pavolva with Everything
An Hour with Mo Hayder
An Hour with Michael Pollan

And some I missed but have had enthusiastic reports about:
Edith Wharton & the Young Stalin
An Hour with Michele Leggott

General comments:
In an ideal world one could wish for every session to follow the An Hour with…..format. In theory panels are a great idea but involving three or four authors in a worthwhile discussion in the space of an hour is a difficult thing to pull off and generally speaking these sessions were the least satisfactory of the events I attended.

Among the authors present there were five who either teach, or have taught creative writing – Peter Ho Davies, Paula Morris, Junot Diaz, Witi Ihimaera, and Mo Hayder. Some sort of record?
And I have just realised that Roger Hall used to teach playwrighting at Otago University for many years, another form of creative writing, so I'll add him to the list. Can anyone spot others I may have overlooked?

Nice to see a good sprinkling of Wellingtonians among the Chairpersons – among those I noted - Kim Hill, Fiona Kidman, Kate Camp, Harry Ricketts, Kate de Goldi, and Chris Price.

This Festival would not be possible without women! The entire Festival team is female, the eight strong Festival Trust board comprises seven women and one man, the audiences at the Festival were predominantly female, most of the 70+ volunteers working behind the scenes were women, all the booksellers on site were women,………………….

Wonderful to see a number of Book Groups/Clubs attending, I observed groups from Tauranga, Dunedin and the Far North but I suspect there were many others.

Authors/panelists should be on stage a few minutes before a session starts rather than come in to the dark auditorium.

What a thrill to see the Aotea Centre buzzing with a thousand or more people at any one time, booklovers all of them!

Bouquets & Brickbats:
Great chairmanship – Finlay Macdonald, Peter Wells, Kate Camp, Paula Morris, Lauraine Jacobs.

Festival organizers for having wi-fi Broadband available in the Aotea Centre, especially appreciated by bloggers like me who could whip out their laptops and report immediately after a session.

The venue – perfect having all events under one roof. Plenty of space, great facilities, even the coffee was good!
Christchurch City Library for great initiative - they had a team of four at the Festival and were reporting on their website throught their stay. Their website , sets the standard for NZ libraries.
I believe Plamerston North Library were also present but somehow I didn't manage to catch up with them.
Random House for the great author party to which media were also invited.
Harper Collins for the superb launch party for Tessa Duder's first adult fiction title, IS SHE STILL ALIVE?
Gil Hanly, ace photographer, she was everywhere.

The new format with sponsors & patrons recognised in a professional audio/visual way rather than having the Chairs having to do it.
And all those wonderful sponsors and patrons, corporate & individual without whom this Festival would not be possible.

The Auckland weather – brilliantly fine, calm days from Wednesday to Sunday.

The wonderful Festival bookshop - a joint venture between The Women's Bookshop and Unity Books Auckland. I have nothing but admiration for Carole and Carolyn, and their team, who did such a great job and even at the end of a 12 hour day managed to keep smiling!
The cost of weekday parking at the Aotea Centre. Perhaps some sort of season pass or concession rate could be negotiated in future years. After all both The Edge and Auckland City are listed among the major sponsors. It is ok for me on my Vespa but I know forking out $30+ a day was a hardship for some folk.

Ticket prices to Festival events – quite a lot of murmuring from the punters about this. Certainly the prices were higher than the NZ Post Writers & Readers Week last month in Wellington. I received the following e-mail from Festival goer Roger Hall on this subject:
Has anyone commented to you on the cost of admission this year which I think has gone up? Over $20 for a buy at the door ticket for a one hour session seems quite a lot to me and may have been a deterrent. Even if you booked in advance, and you attend only 10% of the 62 sessions on offer that's well over $100, perhaps beyond the reach of many people.
But a wonderful event again.
Those authors who took more than their fair share of time reading from their own work when part of a panel.

Those Chairpersons who thought they were the guest of honour rather than the author/s they were meant to be hosting.............

The long lines to get coffee, there was hardly enough time between sessions for we coffee addicts - let's ask Allpress to supply a second coffee cart next year.
Annie and I spent over $300 buying books from the Festival Bookshop (nice pile on each side of the bed), Annie spent $187 on tickets for the events she attended, and $52 on parking so it doesn't come cheap but my goodness what a stimulating and entertaining time we had. Things seem a little flat today............ Roll on the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival 2009 !!
And to read author, and Festival participant, Mary McCallum's take on the Festival visit her blog here. And Rachael King has her say here.... And Paula Morris too.
And for the Christchurch Public Libraries commentary link here.


Vanda Symon said...

The festival was fantastic with an amazing line up of authors. I agree with you about some of the chairing, particularly with the panels, which are always difficult, and resulted in some very laclustre sessions, which when you've forked out twenty bucks for an hour... Ticket prices were expensive, and for people like me who travelled a long way (Dunedin) after the cost of flights, and accommodation it made for an expensive weekend (Oh, and of course, book purchases.) Where was the concession rate, like last year? The daily Gold Pass prices needed to be a lot lower to make them attractive, and include the Lower NZI room sessions.
A comment to the organisers. Some of the best attended and very lively sessions were the non-fiction ones - Pavlova with everything was brilliant, and the two science sessions. A few more like that would be good for next year.
Great to meet you, Graham.

Anonymous said...

You are a gem Bookman. Thank you for going to so much trouble for your out of town readers like me who were unable to attend what has clearly been a wonderful Festival.

Anonymous said...

Just a grateful acknowledgement from one who could only attend a couple of sessions at this year's W&R Festival. It's been great - albeit a little sad, too - to be able to read about what I missed. So many thanks for keeping me up to date, Bookman Beattie!

Anonymous said...

It was a great Festival. I agree with your brickbat to those chairpersons who thought they were the star turn instead of the author.Some of them were quite unbelievable. I am too polite to name names but I think the organisers should have an evaluation on every chairperson and never use some of them again.

Anonymous said...

Of the 11 sessions I attended the two best chairs were you, Graham Beattie with those three women writers talking about the part the sea played in their books, and Lorraine Jacobs with the Pavlova panel.Most of the other panels did not work for me.So much depends on the direction of the chairperson.

Anonymous said...

You know its a bloody difficult job being a chair of sessions like these. I agree with the previous comment about you and Lauraine Jacobs even though you both came to the work with totally different approaches. You skilfully led the discussion but largely kept out of the way whereas Lauraine participated fully; like another panellist, and because of the subject, and her own expertise, that was spot on. You were both great in different ways.
Compare that though with Kapka Kassabova, (whose writing I admire by the way), with Anne Enright. She had a point to make and she was going to force it on both her author and her audience come what may. I thought it was awful.
And then there was Kim Hill. Gosh, she is we know the master of the interview, but she got it so wrong at the Listener opening night.People around me in the audience were getting very tetchy before one of thenm finally called out to remind Kim there were others on the stage.She botched it big time.
Another superb chair was Harry Ricketts with the two biogaphers from England.

Anonymous said...

To your list of great hosts I would add your good self, and also Linda Burgess, who was very funny and tolerant while doing her best to keep Steve Braunias, James Griffin and Tapu Misa under control.

Warmest, Joan

Anonymous said...

Personally I like chairpersons of whom you are not really even aware and you fit into that category Bookman. You didn't even introduce those three writers because, I assume, you made the reasonable assumption that we all knew who they were and what they had written, after all that stuff is all in the Festival booklet, why waste time restating it all.
Some of the introductions went on for 5 - 8 minutes, all time then not available to the author whom we have come to hear. While I agree with your favourable mention of the chair at the Michael Pollan session his introduction was far too long. Once seated and chatting he was fine but we didn't need to hear a review of every book the wonderful man had written in my view.

Anonymous said...

It's a great Blog, Graham. I'm new to it and now a regular. For those of us who couldn't make the festival, a good way to live vicariously!

Rachael King said...

A word about chairs. I think the problem here is the format, and I don't know whether that is the way the chairs are directed to act or whether they take it upon themselves. I dislike going to 'panels' that actually end up as three separate conversations (could be billed as "20 minutes each with Luke Davies, Sarah Hall and Simon Montefiore" for example, like mini "An hour with" sessions. Sometimes authors would be sitting on the stage for half an hour before they were even introduced properly. As a punter going to a panel discussion, I prefer a very quick introduction to all three, a conversation about the topic (which over the weekend often didn't even address the questions posed in the programme) with a sprinkling of quick readings amongst it all. The chair should mediate the discussion rather than stick rigidly to a list of questions. I also prefer that format as a panelist. The inorganic "prepare a talk on the subject" approach isn't fun for participants or audience in my opinion.

Having said all this, I understand what a huge job it is for a chair to get the balance just right, and I feel for them because if a session doesn't sparkle, it's always the chair that gets blamed! Of the eight sessions I went to, particularly good were Kate Camp, Carole Beu and Graham Beattie.

I just want to add my congrats to the organisers - eight sessions, not a dud amongst them. I too am joining the hoards of bloggers on the festival and will be adding my two cents soon.

Anonymous said...

Graham, in the downtime of the first post-festival day I checked out your blog. I feel utterly exhausted but rather high, as if having been to a 'marvellous party' (Noel Coward). It was very good reading your thoughts on the whole thing and I'm pleased you enjoyed the 'Hamish and Chrissie' panel.
So much work goes into being a good chair, not the least of it being that the work mustn't show. Of course both of my panellists were consummate talkers, so
my job was really just making connections and reining them in, if it looked like it was getting out of hand.
You also bring up various aspects in the Festival which could be
improved. We'll definitely look at all feedback and take it very
seriously as we obviously
want the Festival to go on getting better and better.
For myself, I had the strange experience of actually enjoying this Festival much more than I expected. Perhaps I am less nervous now it has got under way.
But my relish also arose from seeing Stephanie's and my ideal
realised - we had created a space in Ak and NZ's culture where ideas would be celebrated, debated and conveyed.
Also I was thrilled that the NZ sessions are starting to get
seriously big audiences.
All the best

Anonymous said...

Louise Wareham Leonard also teaches Creative Writing in Brisbane.
My moan is the cost of everything! Other than that I learnt a lot and enjoyed listening to such a versatile number of writers. Love your blog.

babeller said...

Ryan Knighton also teaches creative writing - and for my money Kim Hill redeemed herself with her excellent session with him.
Agree that panels are so often frustrating. They tease us with a sense of what we're not getting, rather than offer a taste of something good. But I guess the problem is knowing who is going to be any good as a panellist.
Agree also that Hermione Lee's Michael King lecture was superb - and I don't think it's a coincidence you have nominated this talk as your standout. Why not have more talks, especially from non-fiction writers?

Anonymous said...

G'day Mr Beattie.
Fional Farrell and Bernadette Hall teach at the writers' institute in Christchurch. Tusiata Avia, among others, tutors. Nice to meet you BTW and thanks for the plugs...


Anonymous said...

Creative writing - you certainly started something.. but I wonder if James Joyce, C Dickens and Leo Tolstoy ever taught Creative Writing?

Angela Soutar said...

As one of the volunteers I too had an immensely good time in a nerdy booklover, author worshipper way. A good book festival reflects the fascinating complexity and variety of life and 2008's did it again.
As to the price; compare it to a movie, rock concert, opera, just about any form of entertainment and it's not out of line. After all authors fees and the multitude of other necessities don't come cheap even though book trade workers and authors themselves generally don't earn much.
Compare it also to conference fees and expenses. As a librarian I recently attended a 2 and a 1/2 day S.I. conference for a very reasonable $150 plus airfares. Last year I attended a Wellington conference for $300.
And just a quick plug for the lone male bookseller on Saturday, Ross Lorimer, ever enthusiastic as always.