Thursday, 29 March 2012

W&R 2012 - the final post.

After the ‘Last Real Book Readers' session, it seemed like a good idea to sign up to Twitter. Others in my class were following various book industry folk, and I felt left out. It seemed the most common factor in all of their followings was Helen Heath from VUP. The advantage of following her meant my budget of $40 for W&R sessions wasn’t stupid – she was at the majority of sessions and reading her tweets made me feel like I was in the audience. So for that, Helen, I thank you! And if you like Twitter, find me - @kimaya__m.

The next session I headed to was Germaine Greer on her 2007 novel, 'Shakespeare’s Wife'. It was a very last minute decision to attend this session, and we did have to wait in line for a while to get the tickets. Totally worth it. The Embassy was packed out for the session, and I found it nice that people wanted to hear about Germaine’s first love – English Literature. She did her PhD at Cambridge on Shakespeare’s early comedies, for those that didn’t know. Linda Hardy from Victoria University was in conversation with her, and they worked very well together I felt.

Stunning lady.
(c) Writers and Readers website. 
Being super excited about listening to Germaine, I didn’t take notes again. Sigh. The main quote I remember from here that really intrigued me was “his plays are enough, he doesn't have to be a good man too.” She talked a lot of her fellow Cambridge scholars, including Stephen Greenblatt). Her main reason behind talking about him was that he pushes for Shakespeare to be a great man in general, as well as the greatest playwright this world has seen. However, Germaine destroys all these boundaries by asking the questions no one ever thinks to ask – did he really just leave his family to find his wealth? How did Anne Hathaway survive with the children alone? She must have had help – where did it come from? Did she have her own fortune?
By asking the questions and pushing these barriers, Germaine shows she’s not only a hugely significant feminist voice of the 20th Century, but also an extremely intelligent woman (not that she isn't without Shakespeare) with an incredibly strong way of making history shiver in its boots – simply by questioning it.

The last session I made it to was Harry Ricketts in conversation with Ingrid Horrocks, who also launched ‘Just Then’ at the launch on the Saturday. Ingrid had definitely prepared and knew exactly how to make this session flow. The session was called ‘Strange Meetings’ – named for Harry’s 2010 biography of World War I poets. I picked up a copy of this the day it came into the store – having studied WWI poets in sixth form at school, I picked up a passion for the subject. The book includes real meetings that happened between poets, as well as imagined ones created by Harry to create a stunning cross between fiction and non-fiction. The research and imagination that Harry put in to writing this book is really amazing.

Harry and 'Strange Meetings'.
(c) Writers and Readers Website
Biographies and autobiographies are easily my favourite genre of writing, there’s just something about that person allowing you to share their life that I just love. Harry said of them “the best biographies are when it seems the biographer is being haunted by the subject.” He is well known for his biography of Kipling and said he did the book because he felt he was growing up at the end of the ‘Kipling World’, being the 1940-50’s period. There’s always got to be a love-hate relationship going on with your subject, otherwise you’ll, apparently, just grow to hate them. And there are definitely things to love and hate when it comes to Kipling.

With ‘Strange Meetings’, it apparently took Harry three years to figure out the structure of the final product. As I mentioned, there are real meetings and imagined ones; one of the imagined ones is between Edward Thomas and Wilfred Owen. Harry said it’s very likely that Thomas met Owen as they were at the same training camp, and so he wrote three versions of what may have happened – one that is likely, one less likely and one that is even less likely than the previous two but would’ve been the best scenario. The book is so well written, and after reading one in particular, I had to put it down for a little while due to its mildly depressing nature. But totally stunning book, if you're into the subject, I highly recommend looking in to it.

Harry is also known widely as a poet, and an audience member asked how he gets his poems to their final standard. His answer? “I just fiddle around with them…Muck around for ages. I have no idea where a poem is going to go when I start it.” I found that simply great – I’m sure no writer knows what they expect out of a piece when it starts, and that’s definitely the way things should be written. For example, when I started this blog I had no idea how it would go, or where I wanted it to go. Hopefully somewhere great in the end. As this session did; I walked out, headed straight for the signing desk and had Harry sign my copy of ‘Strange Meetings’. After prompting him my name, he looked up, remembered who I was and we had a nice chat. Still getting my network on. Excellent.

And then it all comes back to twitter - After Harry finished I tweeted: "Harry Ricketts: Making non-fiction writing and poetry look easy since (insert date here.)" It's true.
But then Helen tweeted this when W&R week finished: "Merging #writersandreadersnz themes: Writers help us find ourselves in the past & in universal stories. Just Write." I think Helen's is probably better than mine. She definitely summed up W&R Week 2012 super well in 140 characters.
My sweet collection from W&R 2012.
Writers and Readers Week 2012 was easily a highlight of the first few months of this year. It started, for me, through a chance meeting at some work drinks, which led to attending my first session, and things just snowballed from there. I feel this year is going to go well.

Watch this space.

Friday, 23 March 2012

W&R: part the second.

Lucky for me, when I bought my ticket to Emerging Writers, I also picked one up for ‘Are We the Last Real Book Readers?’ We’d been told about this session in class, it’s a very interesting time to be in the publishing world with the digital age of books clipping our heels.The panel was chaired by Radio NZ’s Kathryn Ryan – her opening speech mainly consisted of how she loves the smell of books, I do too, but not enough to say it more than once; nonetheless, she was definitely a fine choice for the role.

(c) Writers and Readers website. 
L-R Fergus Barrowman, Tilly Lloyd & Denise Mina. 
First to speak from the panel was Tilly Lloyd, manager and co-owner of Unity Books. Coming from a book background myself, I understand the damage digital resources are doing for a lot of independent bookstores, but it’s most excellent that Unity is still going strong. It’s hard to imagine a Wellington without it. However, I won’t lie, I didn’t start taking notes until Fergus Barrowman, the publisher at Victoria University Press, started talking – not because Tilly wasn’t interesting, but because I completely forgot I had my notebook in my bag. I do believe she said that books would become like horses – taken over by cars and trucks, but still around and definitely not obsolete. But apologies Tilly, and if anyone remembers points from her, please comment!

Oh, and Fergus then decided to tell us that an article he read said that if we had an industrial breakdown, there wouldn't be enough horses in the world to breed us back to the numbers the world had in WWI. So that’s interesting, huh?
Anyway, I found it super interesting that Fergus uses his ipad for all of his manuscript assessments – I find reading on a screen way too hard after a while. But as he said, and this has stuck with me, digital resources are “good enough” for most people. They don’t have to be excellent yet, because perfection in e-reading doesn’t quite exist, it just has to be good enough. Like most things in our lives. Fergus also noted that VUP had seen a drop in their non-fiction sales. This he said, and I agree with, is due to people not wanting the entire story in non-fiction. They want to drop in and out of the story for small snippets of what they need to know. As a student, I totally relate to this – for essays, I’m all about google books and doing a simple ctrl+f to find the keywords I need. But this isn’t to say I don’t still buy and read non-fiction. It’s easily my favourite genre of new books being produced, especially a good biography.
Her latest book,
if you're in to crime.

Last on the panel was Scottish crime writer Denise Mina. Heard of her? I hadn’t. But, bro, she was excellent. According to some statistics she had, the majority of authors in Britain make around £6000 a year, while there are five authors in Scotland that make over £100k a year (and I totally assume she’s one of them). She talked a lot about how the industry’s changing so you don’t need agents or publishers. When she first met her agent, she bought a new jumper from the 2nd-hand store for the occasion, and couldn’t understand them because apparently all British agents talk with no vowels in their words. But the point is anyone can be a publisher without the scary middle man - just write a novel, make it in to e-format and sell it for $1 on Amazon. One thing – she hates Amazon. Man, I mean, she is not a fan. The main thing I gained from her was we must crush Amazon if it the last thing we do.

However, I did pick up one more interesting point from her. Denise talked about (I feel she said she got it from Ian Rankin...) books becoming much like vinyl. Nowadays when you buy a record, like I still do, it comes with a code to download the digital file for free. She believes this is what will happen with books, which I’m pretty ok with. I haven’t acquired an e-reader yet, and don’t think I will unless I get an awesome job where they give me one, or I go travelling. And I’d much rather buy the real pretty book that can sit on my shelf and have the digital file for free, than just buy it boringly off the internet and not have anything physical to hold.

Now this was supposed to be the last post about W&R, however this post has become longer than the first one already, and I still have two more sessions to write about. Soooo, there will be a third. And it will be excellent. It’ll be about Shakespeare and WWI poets. Yus.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Writers and Readers 2012: Part one.

After reading Craig Cliff's blog post about his own writers and readers week experience, I felt compelled to write a one myself. It's a wee bit of rambling, hope ya'll survive. I'll appreciate it. And give you a high five.

I’ve been living in Wellington for going on five years, and I’ve never actually partaken in Writers and Readers week before. I’m rather ashamed of this fact, I work in a bookstore (vicbooks, check it out) and consider myself an avid reader. I will leave this down to the natural assumption made by the majority of students in Wellington that things will just be expensive. Alas, it was a mere $10 a session for students to attend most W&R events this year, (I’m still a student, doing Whiteria’s publishing course) and I limited myself to four sessions due to studylink refusing to give me free money.

I may or may not have slightly forgotten that W&R had started until Saturday afternoon when a friend of mine said she was going to Germaine Greer’s town hall talk. So I bought a ticket for the next session that afternoon – NZ’s Emerging Writers aka Eleanor Catton, Hamish Clayton and Craig Cliff, chaired by Harry Ricketts. Shamefully having only heard of Hamish beforehand, I had no idea what to expect and am stoked I didn’t. Eleanor made me insanely jealous of what she has already achieved by her age, and Craig’s humour and obvious talent for short stories didn’t help boost my ego either. Not to say Hamish isn’t without his merits – Wulf is really amazing and I’ve been reading it ever since he signed my copy that day. That didn't sound very enthusiastic... Apologies, I really am loving the book.
 Somebody's holding attention well.
(from NZ's Festival's facebook page (c) Robert Catto.)
The three of them had such knowledge behind them; it’s hard to believe they’ve all only published one book. Each also read a passage, or story in Craig’s case, from their books. I was really impressed by each of their public speaking skills, and their banter between one another. However, the talk of historical fiction really sparked up my interest – as a history major I’m still hugely interested in the relationship between what has been and the way people create their own piece of history with it, be it a novel, art, or film. I had a great chat to Eleanor about the current novel she’s working on that night (read on). The main things about Historical fiction that stuck with me were the notions that "historical fiction is simply re-enforcing known historical facts", and that the novel doesn't have to be accurate. According to this panel, that's not the point of it - it's contemporary fiction. And  they're right, it definitely is just contemporary fiction. But after four years of writing essays this idea totally flipped me. I'm all about accuracy, and I do believe hist. fict. authors do try and make their work as close to the truth as possible, while still telling a great story. No one wants to be 'that guy' that takes all their historical knowledge from novels and becomes completely misinformed. Just something to think about. As a side note, the session actually ended with an awkward question about whether they were considered ‘young writers’ – apparently none of them looked young or something.

Harry reading 'Arty Bees' at the launch.
(from NZ's Festival's facebook page
(c) Robert Catto)
That night VUP hosted a publishers’ party that doubled as the launch for Harry Ricketts’ latest poetry collection ‘Just Then’. I went along with some of the people from my course, and spent a lot of the night pointing out people I recognised and letting them know who they were. I fangirl-ed out several times with various authors and industry folk, hopefully that stayed pretty well hidden... Like I said earlier, I talked to Eleanor about her new book, a historical novel - the whole concept and the research she's done in to it just blew my mind. So impressed. I went home with a signed copy of Harry’s stunning biography of Rudyard Kipling, and a feeling of great achievement and gratitude toward everyone at the party that took the time (and had the patience) to talk to me, the publishing student, that just walked up to them and starting ranting about something or the other – networking at its best I feel.

This is the end of part one. Because I'm watching Game of Thrones. Part two will come… soon. Much like I keep hearing winter is. I'm hilarious.
P.S. I hope it doesn't look like I just stole all the images from Craig's post - they just worked so well!

Monday, 19 March 2012

My Green Bookshelves, take one.

Growing up our bookshelves were green. They took up the majority of a wall in the rumpus room downstairs, and I often remember my Dad standing in front of them, figuring out what he would read next. As I grew older, I would go to my Dad and ask him what I should read. He’d take me downstairs, and, seemingly at random, pluck something off the shelf. But he was always right. The first ‘adult’ book I remember him giving me was Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan. This easily became, and still is, one of my favourite books. When I had finished and I went to give it back to him, he refused to take it. This still continues, and is the reason my own (now blue) bookshelf is becoming rather full.
I thank my parents, especially Dad, for my love of books, and for being the main reason I’m choosing to study towards a career in publishing.

This isn't my blue bookshelf, but I wish sometimes that is was.

This blog will probably be full of ramblings, but hopefully some interesting things will filter through. But, hey, I figured that's ok, I live by Ray Bradbury's words when it comes to writing: "Write only what you love, and love what you write. The word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for."