05 May 2011

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!)


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.


Kay McKenzie Cooke said...

Excellent review Tim. Your workshop was a real eye opener to the talent in Southland (let's hope some of it stays and doesn't leave ...)and to just how many genres and sub-genres there are in Spec. Fic. I think fabulation ... I'd actually forgotten that term; though I racked my brain as hard as I could, I couldn't remember it; so am glad you mentioned it again ... and meta-fiction interested me the most. I found the all-too short time down in Invercargill refreshing and energising, as well as hugely encouraging (so much talent in the south!) Bravo Rebecca Amunsden and Hamish Wyatt et al (and the Dan Davin Foundation.

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Kay! And I second those "Bravos".

If fabulation and meta-fiction are your bag, have you ever read anything by Donald Barthelme or Kelly Link? I think you might like them.

Tim Jones said...

(And il maestro himself, Jorge Luis Borges)

Clarice said...

I had to have a little giggle when I saw the "tyranny of distance" comment there; I can't help but hear Neil Finn singing in my head whenever I see those words strung together in that fashion. <3

But I'm glad to see you had a good time down here, because I know personally that I had a wonderful time at the workshop -- and I'm pretty damned sure everyone else did too! I love the energy of these things, it's so inspiring. (...and I say that as I sit here procrastinating on teh interwebz instead of actually *writing* something. Er.) So, thank you for coming back down South and sharing your knowledge with us. Like you said, it's easy to feel sundered from the rest of the country when you live down here, so...having the lifeline thrown to us every so often is wonderful. Thank you for being part of it. <3

Tim Jones said...

Thanks so much, Clarice! I don't know that it was the most tightly run workshop I've ever done, but I thought the energy there was really good - and IMO it's what happens *after* the workshop that's the most important thing.

Speaking of which, how did the Chapter I meeting on Sunday go - did you get some new people?

Claire said...

"Tightly run" could go either way, I think; I would think herding authors of any level, even if they're all within the same broad genre, would be rather like herding cats. XD The people I spoke to during and after were certainly having a good time, though!

We had Dave turn up; I'm hoping that a couple more may come next month and that it was just too short notice. It can be hard to turn up to things like that, I know -- at least in a workshop you can *try* for some degree of blendy-inny-ness -- but like you say...it's isolated down here. Writing's a lonely business. I'm fortunate in that I've always had other writers to play with online, but nothing quite beats sitting around a warm room with cupcakes and words and laughing with people who know how it is, to have this *need* to let the words come as they will. Or won't, as the case might be! <3

Bec said...

Hi Tim
Thanks again for your comments. You might be interested to know that I sent your blog link (and the others too) to the Foundation Trustees and also a features writer at the Times. He happens to write the occasional editorial and I believe today's may be his handy work - he has quoted your blog :)

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Claire and Bec!

Bec, I'm guessing that the feature writer's initials may be MF? - just a wild punt. The editorial Bec is referring to is here: http://bit.ly/j5NMA9.

(I hope people get his point! In my experience, people - not least I - are very prone to taking things literally.)

Catherine said...

I wish I could have been there - it's not the "tyranny of distance" that's afflicting Christchurch at the moment so much as the tyranny of the cordons, and the lack of any good venues for pretty much anything.
Hopefully something will be fixed up in time for a Writers Festival in 2012 (and maybe you will be invited!)

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Catherine - and such an invitation would be very welcome, and in fact the 10th anniversary of my previous invitation.

But I may get a chance to test out the range of possible Christchurch venues before then ... he said mysteriously.