A bluffer's guide to the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival

by Guy Somerset / 16 May, 2013
Interviews, reviews, and everything you need to survive.
Aleks Krotoski


Aleks Krotoski (pictured right) - she's that hip new Polish poet, yes? Masha Gessen - I think I've got her novel on order from the library. Diego Marani - er, an economist? Wrong, wrong, wrong.

There are some 150 writers attending this year's Auckland Writers & Readers Festival and no one can be expected to be on top of them all. Here, however, to launch our comprehensive coverage of the festival, is a guide to nearly 40 of the writers, courtesy of the Listener's extensive archive (and free to read here by subscribers and non-subscribers alike). After you're done with this lot, you should be able to make a decent fist of any conversation you find yourself embroiled in in the foyer of the Aotea Centre, and may be able to initiate one or two yourself.

From tomorrow, Toby Manhire, Mark Broatch, Craig Ranapia and I will be blogging from as many festival sessions as is humanly possible, and we will also be posting short podcast interviews with writers, including Masha Gessen, who is, in fact, author of this biography of Vladimir Putin. (Although, who knows, she may have a novel in her - perhaps we should ask.)

Aleks Krotoski? Here you go? Diego Marani? He wrote this. Wish that got a better review from us, as I am chairing one of his sessions. Toby Manhire is chairing one of Krotoski's.

Max Hastings


Other Listener festival participants include editor Pamela Stirling, who is chairing a lunch with British military historian, columnist and former newspaper editor Max Hastings (pictured right). Here is Karl du Fresne's Q&A with Hastings (or if you've got more than two minutes), and this is a review of Hastings's book All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-1945.

Political columnist Jane Clifton will be in conversation with former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Don McKinnon (interviewed here by Guyon Espiner).

Listener science writer Rebecca Priestley will be discussing her acclaimed Mad on Radium: New Zealand in the Atomic Age (here being one of the many places it was acclaimed).

And food columnist Lauraine Jacobs (interviewed here) will be in talking about her memoir Everlasting Feast.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón


Among the writers appearing at the New Zealand Listener Gala Night are bestselling Spaniard Carlos Ruiz Zafon (pictured right, interviewed here, reviewed here by the woman interviewing him at the festival, Paula Morris), Scottish-Nigerian poet, novelist and memoirist Jackie Kay (interviewed here), novelist Stephanie Johnson (reviewed here) and poet and actor Peter Bland (interviewed here).

Friday's writers include painter and memoirist Jacqueline Fahey (interviewed here) and academic and pseudo-memoirist Aorewa McLeod (reviewed here).

Fleur Adcock (reviewed here, interviewed here by Diana Wichtel in 2010) is in conversation with fellow poet Bill Manhire (interviewed here).

First-time novelist John Sinclair (interviewed here, reviewed here) is one of the writers reading work evoking the East.

CK Stead (whose latest novel is reviewed here and latest poetry collection here) pairs up with his daughter novelist Charlotte Grimshaw (interviewed here, reviewed here).

British historian and travel writer William Dalrymple talks about Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan (reviewed here).

Anita Desai


Saturday starts with Indian novelist Anita Desai (pictured right, interviewed here).

This is Iain Sharp's interview with New Zealand Poet Laureate Ian Wedde about his latest collection, but Wedde is a man of many hats and on Saturday he will be talking about the subject of his 2009 book Bill Culbert: Making Light Work (about which Gregory Brien writes here).

Quinn Berentson will be discussing Moa: A History of Our Strangest Bird (about which Rebecca Priestley - her again - writes here).

John Newton will be reading from his latest poetry collection, Family Songbook (reviewed here).

You can spend an hour with novelist, biographer and much more besides  James McNeish, who'll be expanding on his memoir Touchstones (extracted here, reviewed here).

Ian Athfield is one of those talking about New Zealand's domestic architecture (and here's a Diana Wichtel interview with him).

Eleanor Catton


Eleanor Catton (pictured right) has a second novel imminent, but you'll have to make do with her talking about her first (and odd formating) by way of introduction to her appearance on a panel discussing playing with and manipulating time in fiction. Among the other panellists: young adult writer Karen Healey (interviewed here) and short-story writer Lawrence Patchett (interviewed here, reviewed here).

Sue Orr (interviewed here) is one of the fiction writers reading food-related work.

Kate Atkinson


If Anita Desai is at the top of the day, the writer at the tail is no less impressive: British novelist Kate Atkinson (pictured right, interviewed here, reviewed here). Her novel Life After Life is surely favourite to win this year's Women's Prize for Fiction. It would certainly be the readers' choice.

Keep an eye out, too, throughout Saturday for a tag-team play being written and read in real time by Arthur Meek, Pip Hall (interviewed here) and Victor Rodger (interviewed here). You can even contribute yourself.

On Sunday, theologian Sir Lloyd Geering delivers the Michael King Memorial Lecture. Geering is a regular reviewer of religion-related books in the Listener, including here on AC Grayling's "secular bible" and here on Richard Holloway's memoir.

Given how contentious their Anthology of New Zealand Literature has proven, you wouldn't want to miss its editors, Jane Stafford and Mark Williams. Here is an interview with them and here is a review of the book.

"Who are we and what defines us?" That's the theme of a reading that includes 2012 Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner Emma Martin (reviewed here and here's one of her stories) and Kirsten McDougall (reviewed here).

In Auckland Art Gallery, senior curator Ron Brownson will be talking about his late friend Pat Hanly (subject of a book reviewed here).

Dame Anne Salmond


Dame Anne Salmond (pictured right, interviewed here by Diana Wichtel) will be one of those discussing New Zealand identity in the 21st century. Or as the session title has it: "Who are ya?"

Hamish Clayton (interviewed here), author of the wonderful Wulf (reviewed here), will be among those reading work themed around history repeating itself. (And yes, of course, Kate Atkinson is one of the others.)

The day - and indeed the festival as a whole - concludes with a special event paying tribute to 2013 Honoured New Zealand Writer, Albert Wendt (interviewed here).

And that, as they say, is that.

Or, rather, a taste of just some of the writers and events you can expect during the festival.

A pretty wide taste, though.

Say what you like about the Listener, but we do get around.
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