Friday, September 05, 2008

Writers Festival Part 2

There were several sessions of the writers festival yesterday, but I was at work, and only went to one event in the evening. Today, however, it began in earnest and I had the day off.

After one day I am feeling sated already, and wondering how I'll cope with two more days. The Christchurch Public Library has a whole team to cover events on their blog. Here, there is only me.

I finished the day riding the bus home, pondering on the purpose of Writers' Festivals. Really, from the publishers' point of view, I'd say that it is to sell books. And it is the publishers after all who sponsor most of the writers. The audience of course may hope for something else. But what can be achieved in one hour sessions?

I remember at high school taking part in public speaking contests and thinking that a five to ten minute speech was an awfully long time to fill. Now though I come away wondering what can really be said in an hour - or less for many of the writers, as only the keynote speakers get a whole hour to themselves. The sessions each get a title which suggests that some Big Question will be answered. For instance, sisters Elizabeth and Sarah Knox gave a session entitled Creating Worlds and a blurb that suggested that the discussion would centre around just how fantasy worlds are created. Another panel of writers promoting their first novels had the title "It's Not About Me, Or Is It" and supposedly centred around discussion of the extent to which first novels are or are not autobiographical.

Certainly these topics were touched on - rather fleetingly towards the end, in the case of the second one. In the end though, I think what it comes down to is that each session could be promoted as "a bunch of writers talk about their books", "another bunch of writers talk about their books" and so on.

I intended of course to take lots of notes and wow you all with my brilliant distillation of the wisdom of the writers I listened to. Isn't that what we are all hungry for? As much of the world as we can get, as fast as we can get it. That's why there are titles such as "1000 Books to Read Before You Die". Maybe we would be better off trying to absorb far less quantity, more deeply.

One of the afternoon sessions was with Robert Fisk. He has spent 30 years or so as a journalist in the Middle East. His books on the book stall were massively thick. What could he possibly say to condense that into an hour, and how much of that could I remember and condense here?

As an attempt at convincing the public to buy his books, however, I'm sure it was massively successful. Especially as I have no doubt that in his case the four weeks access I would get by borrowing them from the library is not going to be enough. There were about 300 tickets sold to this session, and it was a spillover from tomorrow's session which was sold out - it looked as if the room would hold about 500 if full, which makes about 800 altogether.

I have more to say - and yes, I will probably even report specifics - but I think I rather need an early night tonight, or I will be exhausted by the end of the weekend.

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