After WORD

WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival (27—31 August 2014) was a little beauty, living up to my high level of anticipation and expectation.

Rachael King (Literary Director), Marianne Hargreaves (Executive Director), the Festival Trust and everyone involved created an engaging, entertaining, and distinctive festival that celebrated words in all their forms. I particularly loved the streams of non-traditional words — music, comics, indie publishing — running through the festival.

Appropriately, the festival spoke again and again, in small and large ways, to the situation of Christchurch — rebuilding itself after the devastating earthquakes that started on 4 September 2010 — and celebrated the city. Several sessions filled the Transitional Cathedral (aka the Cardboard Cathedral), including the launch of a book on the cathedral itself; there were sessions on rebuilding cities after disaster, on writing ‘the tough stuff’, and a session specifically on the Christchurch rebuild.

The four days I spent in Christchurch for the festival were the longest I’ve ever spent there — I’ve only ever passed through before, on the way to somewhere else, or flown in for meetings. It was difficult not to feel like a gawking rubbernecker, walking the streets of a CBD where something like 80% of the buildings have been demolished as a result of the earthquakes. Is it unseemly or insulting, or diminishing the experience of people living in Christchurch, to say that the city felt exciting and full of promise and rich with what might be? Well, it did feel that way; I found it beautiful, and exhilarating — ruin lust in action? — even though I know that for so many people in Christchurch, they just want a city that works, a house and schools and shops that work.

But back to the festival. I’m not going to write too much about it, because other people have done that so beautifully. So I’ll point you in their direction, and give just the slightest of recaps of my experience.

Christchurch City Libraries have done a mammoth job, before, during and after the festival. They posted answers from festival guests to three questions in the lead up to the festival; they’ve written posts on pretty much each and every session at the festival (see their WORD Chch tagged posts); they tweeted up a storm, and compiled Storifies each day of the festival; and they were there on the ground, being wonderful (hi Donna!), being present. Hooray for libraries.

On their blog, Donna from Christchurch City Libraries posted a lovely write-up of our Sunday Fringe session, The Novel and the Theremin.  She said:

This was one of my favourite sessions at WORD – two engaging speakers, a keen crowd, a  dollop of fantastic music  – and we all got to have a play on the theremin at the end. Bravo!

The Physics Room was a beautiful space for the Sunday Fringe sessions. It’s a gallery space, high up — maybe fifth floor? — in the old post office building, which seemed to be one of the highest remaining (functional) buildings in that part of the city.

Booksellers NZ blog featured selected sessions in their WORD chch tagged posts.

Some favourite sessions for me? Kicking off the festival in the PechaKucha Night lineup at the transitional Cathedral on Thursday was wonderful — stay tuned for links to that when talks are up. Kristin Hersh and Hanna (aka Aldous) Harding talking Lyrical Writing in the Sunday Fringe programme was extraordinary, moving and funny, and sensitively chaired by Rachel Morton from RDU fm. Dylan Horrocks is a writer/cartoonist/creator who I’ve kept missing at other festivals, but finally caught in session at WORD Chch. Anis Mojgani, slam poet and lovely chap, was fantastic; see him, read him, YouTube him. Reading Favourites, with Kate de Goldi, Sarah Laing and Carl Nixon, was excellent. Luke Harding had the sort of frighteningly-quick mind that dead-impresses me, and he was funny and clever. Meg Wolitzer was as funny and sharp and American as her writing.

I got to meet and talk with a bunch of local(ish) writers/creators I’ve long admired (Sarah Laing, Dylan Horrocks, Laurence Fearnley, Kate de GoldiAnna Rogers, Tina Makareti, Dave Graney), some new-to-me local and international writers (Harding, Mojgani, NoViolet Bulawayo, Nic Low), and a long-time idol (Kristin Hersh).

I recommend reading Sarah Laing on meeting your idols:

This weekend I also met Kristen Hersh, who I love, and whose music was the soundtrack to the movie of my early-twenties life. She was very gracious, but again I felt as though I had constructed a relationship with someone that had nothing to do with the person sitting in front of me – the rather shy, awkward person who had way too many crazy fans offloading on her.

Yep. That. (But substitute ‘early-thirties life’ for me)

I missed — because it was on at the same time as my Sunday session — Elizabeth Knox delivering the inaugural Margaret Mahy LectureAn Unreal House Filled with Real Storms. By all accounts, it was remarkable, and very moving. It was recorded by Radio New Zealand, and will be broadcast sometime, hopefully soon, and Elizabeth has said she’ll publish it as prose, too. As a taste, see the posts on the Booksellers NZ blog and the Christchurch City Libraries blog.

There’s also this lovely piece by Giovanni Tiso, ‘Make my words worth something’: the Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival, in The Pantograph Punch.

For some light relief, here’s me confessing to the soundtrack of my life in a piece that ran in the Sunday Star-Times on the morning of our Sunday Fringe session.

And now, after several busy months with not much writing done, I’m planning to go reasonably quiet for a while as I re-immerse myself in the novel-in-progress. Ta ta for now.

Links, more information

WORD Christchurch 2014 website

Christchurch City Libraries blogs tagged with WORD Christchurch

Booksellers NZ blogs tagged with WORD Christchurch

Giovanni Tiso on WORD Christchurch in The Pantograph Punch

Sarah Laing on WORD Christchurch in LET ME BE FRANK

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