Writ­ers cel­e­brate city at fes­ti­val

Auckland City Harbour News - - News - By Heather McCracken

Perched among vol­ca­noes and squashed be­tween two harbours – Auck­land is the dra­matic set­ting for hun­dreds of nov­els.

What a shame many of us don’t read them, says writer Stephanie John­son.

“Auck­land is a fan­tas­tic city, it’s cos­mopoli­tan, it’s the place where peo­ple come to seek their for­tune,” she says.

“In all the teach­ing I do I’m amazed at all the stu­dents who don’t read New Zealan­ders,” she says.

“Amer­i­cans love to read about them­selves, but New Zealan­ders don’t seem to re­ally want to.”

The sixth-gen­er­a­tion Auck­lan­der talks about her home town dur­ing a panel dis­cus­sion on Auck­land­ness at the Writ­ers and Read­ers Fes­ti­val on May 16.

She’s joined by Derek Hansen, whose latest novel Re­mem­ber Me is set in 1950s Pon­sonby, and Paula Mor­ris, whose book Hibis­cus Coast ranges from Auck­land to Wark­worth.

Ms John­son, also a fes­ti­val di­rec­tor, has writ­ten more than a dozen nov­els and set sev­eral in Auck­land.

Her new book Swim­mer’s Rope, due out in Novem­ber, is based in the city be­tween 1908 and 1972.

But she says it’s hard for writ­ers keen to pub­lish ovseas to base their work here.

“It’s very hard to get books pub­lished over­seas that are set in New Zealand,” she says.

“Some New Zealand writ­ers won’t set their books in New Zealand any more.”

But she hopes the tide is turn­ing for lo­cal writ­ing, with the suc­cess of books like Lloyd Jones’ Booker Prizenom­i­nated Mis­ter Pip.

And a new gen­er­a­tion of younger writ­ers aren’t as ret­i­cent in talk­ing them­selves up, she says.

Ms John­son was once told off by a pub­lisher for telling a jour­nal­ist her new book was prob­a­bly a “load of crap”.

“We were brought up that way, but I think the next gen­er­a­tion don’t seem to be as self-ef­fac­ing as we were.”

West Auck­land poet Paula Green will host the Auck­land­ness ses­sion at the fes­ti­val.

She says the city is “hugely im­por­tant” to her writ­ing.

“I live on the fringe of the city on the west coast so that kind of sets me up for the right state for writ­ing,” she says.

“There is an Auck­land that’s pre­sented south of the Bom­bays some­times that’s quite cliched and stereo­typed, but writ­ing brings up so many dif­fer­ent Auck­lands.

“You can’t sim­ply view Auck­land in terms of glass build­ings or wealth be­cause there is so much more, and that’s what I love about liv­ing here.

“And I think we’ve got many writ­ers who re­flect that di­ver­sity.”

The Auck­land Writ­ers and Read­ers Fes­ti­val is held from May 14 to 18 at the Aotea Cen­tre.

In­ter­na­tional guests in­clude Booker Prize win­ners Anne En­right and JM Coet­zee. Poet lau­re­ate Michelle Leg­gott and Auck­land writ­ers Tessa Duder and Witi Ihi­maera are among New Zealan­ders fea­tured.

For de­tails and tick­ets, see www.writ­ers­fes­ti­val.co.nz.

Proud Auck­lan­der: Writer Stephanie John­son cel­e­brates her Auck­land­ness at the Writ­ers and Read­ers Fes­ti­val next month.

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