Friday, May 9, 2014

On literary festivals

Steve Braunias writes in the latest issue of Metro:
Everybody who is anybody in New Zealand literature will be appearing at the May 14-19 Auckland Writers Festival, but I’ve been classified a nobody. Blacklisted, unwanted, eminent non-fiction writer non grata – the festival will just have to stagger along without me. I understand that ticket sales are at an all-time high.
Fortunately I’m always welcome at festivals and various assorted literary events in the provinces, such as Wellington.

I feel Steve’s pain. I, too, have been blacklisted from Auckland this year, for only the second time in the festival’s 14 years. That’s all right – my view of literary festivals is akin  to Noel Coward’s line that “Television is for appearing on, not for looking at.” So, like Steve, I don’t attend literary festivals unless I am speaking.

As I will be later this month at Escape, a literary weekend for the off-year of the Tauranga Arts Festival, a very well-run event with big stars. On Saturday 31 May I will be in conversation for an hour on Saturday with Jo Crabb, author of the food memoir My Two Heavens, and on Sunday 1 June with Dame Fiona Kidman, author of truckloads of books. By way of preparation I have been rereading Fiona’s most recent seven or eight,  and was struck by this passage from her 2009 memoir Beside the Dark Pool, recounting a late-1970s PEN and Writers Guild delegation to the then Prime Minister Robert Muldoon:
His strands of remaining hair were like dark oil slicks on his head, his skin powdery grey. His grin quickly faded as we began our spiel. It was difficult to see why he had agreed to host the delegation as he clearly disliked [Ian] Cross and began to voice contempt for writers in general soon after our arrival. When the subject of advertising was raised, he appeared to inflate himself.
“What’s wrong with advertising?” he shouted. “I like advertising.”
Cross agreed that in terms of revenue it did have a place, but by then Muldoon was riding his own hobby-horse. “I like advertising because I get up and make a cup of tea and stretch my legs during the advertisements.” His finger stabbed the air.
This was hard to counter and besides, the Prime Minister of New Zealand was in full flight, armed guards at each elbow, as his voice rose higher and higher. “Don’t you lot come here telling me what’s good for me!” he yelled. “What this country needs is more exercise and more cups of tea, and how is it going to get that if there aren’t more advertisements on television?”

We will not see his like again. 


Fergus said...

Yeah nah. It's always nice to be asked to go on stage, but I don't understand why you wouldn't be happy to be there as a reader.

Stephen Stratford said...

I like the social aspect - catching up with other authors and editors, and even the occasional publisher, at night over a drink. But as a reader I'd rather be home reading.

Fergus said...

Your loss, Stephen. I don't know when we will next hear Irvine Welsh and Elizabeth Knox duetting on Fly Me to the Moon.

Daisy Rae said...

I'm ambivalent about these events too, Stephen. Great that they sell books, but why on earth do readers want to meet writers, who are mostly boring? Why do writers want to meet readers, who are mostly boring? I can understand book clubs, which are reader to reader, and what you say about writers catching up with - I suppose you mean drinking with - other writers, but not the rest of it.

Karen Craig said...

Festivals are a bit like panning for gold, swirl swirl, then all of a sudden -- a nugget. For me, that Jacques Roubaud reciting his sonnet "Life", written completely in binary code, was 24 carat. Reading it yourself could never compete. As an inveterate Raymond Queneau oddmirer, you should have been there.