Full Of The Warm South*

 
As I reported in March, I was delighted to be invited to take part in the Readers And Writers Alive! Festival in Invercargill on Friday 29 and Saturday 30 April.

And the whole thing couldn’t have gone better. The weather was fine and warm – I was wishing I had packed shorts and jandals, not long-sleeved shirts and jackets. The Festival organisers, and behind them the Dan Davin Literary Foundation and the Invercargill Licensing Trust, do a great job of looking after both presenters and participants, none more so than event organiser Rebecca Amundsen, backed up by Foundation chair Hamesh Wyatt and the helpful & friendly Invercargill Public Library staff.

Arriving just before lunch, I spent Friday afternoon walking the same paths I used to take as a child forty years ago, until the heat of the sun got too much for me and I retreated indoors for wi-fi and poetry preparation.

The Friday evening poetry reading involved four poets: in reading order, Kay McKenzie Cooke, Lynley Dear, myself and Joanna Preston.

The crowd was small, due to a triple threat of competing attractions, none of which had been scheduled when the workshop schedule was planned: the Royal Wedding, the Highlanders vs Blues game, and the Breakers’ deciding final against the Taipans. But the audience appeared to enjoy it, just as I enjoyed hearing all the poets and taking a good number of my own Southland poems for a spin. Afterwards, we headed out to Waxy’s for a highly entertaining dinner.

On Saturday the 30th, I ran a workshop called “Writing Different Worlds” with twenty participants, including Kay and Joanna, which covered the range of speculative fiction: science fiction, fantasy, horror, and those more elusive beasts such as fabulation, magical realism and metafiction. One participant came up with a great example of metafiction (fiction about fiction) as her response to a writing exercise. Participants ranged in age from 14 to a considerable number of multiples of 14.

Two things struck me about this workshop. The first was the talent and enthusiasm of the writers present, which shone through in the results of the two writing exercises I set and also in the many questions and comments that people made. Most people got the chance to read out the work they had done during the exercises. The overall quality of work was high, but even better, I twice had one of those intake-of-breath moments when, within a few sentences of hearing new work by a writer I’d never met before, I realised that they were – or had the potential to be – really, really good. That doesn’t happen often, and it’s a great feeling when it does.

The second thing was the sense of isolation many of the writers expressed. I remember feeling isolated when I lived in Dunedin and was just starting to take writing seriously; in Invercargill, three hours’ further down the line, the feeling of being cut off from the “main centres” of New Zealand writing activity is even stronger. The Festival plays a valuable part in countering this tyranny of distance, but there is room for a lot more to be done.

Full many a rose is born to blush unseen
And waste its sweetness on the desert air

… or so said Thomas Gray. There are roses indeed blooming in Southland; it would be a great pity if their sweetness went to waste.

Kay McKenzie Cooke and Joanna Preston have both blogged about the good time they had at the weekend (it was a pity I couldn’t stay for Joanna’s workshop: despite all the mischief she had threatened, she was an exemplary participant in mine!)

UPDATE

Workshop participant Claire has also posted her report of the workshop, and it sounds like she enjoyed it too.

*Tip o’ the hat to John Keats for the title, via Dennis McEldowney.

A Mainland Double: Tales For Canterbury and the Readers And Writers Alive! Festival

 
Tales For Canterbury

In just over a month since the Christchurch earthquake of 22 February, editors Cassie Hart and Anna Caro have done an amazing job of pulling together Tales for Canterbury, a fundraising anthology to benefit the victims of the earthquake, with all proceeds going to the New Zealand Red Cross Earthquake Appeal.

Tales for Canterbury is now available for pre-order as an ebook (in pdf, mobi, and epub format) and as a paperback – I’ve just ordered my paperback copy. It should be published in April, so you won’t have long to wait for it.

There’s a blog detailing the progress of the anthology, and if you’re not sure whether you’d like one, you might want to check out the list of contributors. There are a few names there you might know – Neil Gaiman, for example; not to mention Janis Freegard, Gwyneth Jones, Jay Lake, Helen Lowe, Tina Makereti, Juliet Marillier, Jeff Vandermeer, Sean Williams, and many, many more fine writers. I am honoured to have a story in such company.

Readers And Writers Alive! Festival (Invercargill)

I lived in Southland between the ages of four and sixteen, and though that’s, well, several years ago now, I have written a lot of poetry about and set in Southland, and have even set a science fiction story in Gore.

So it has always been a private ambition of mine to take part in a Southland literary event, and I’m delighted to say that this ambition is about to be realised. I’m going to be a participant in the Readers and Writers Alive! programme of the Southland Arts Festival 2011, organised by the Dan Davin Literary Foundation, for whom Helen Lowe is currently running writing workshops.

I’m taking part in two events: a poetry reading featuring Joanna Preston, Kay McKenzie Cooke and Lynley Dear on Friday 29 April; and a writing workshop the following day. For that, I’ll remove my poet’s beret and put on my SF writer’s battered propellor beanie to run a workshop on “Writing Different Worlds”. I have to return to Wellington that night, so I’m unfortunately going to miss Joanna’s poetry workshop the following day, which should be excellent.

Reading with friends, and with poets I admire; getting an extended time to run a spec fic writing workshop; and returning to the scene of my youthful (mis)deeds. It’s all good.