Wrapped up New Zealand in a bit of a whirlwind, swinging through Christchurch and Wellington (and eating some white bait fritters). Then I zipped off to Brisbane, a stunningly beautiful city by any account. The book festival is wonderfully run and well organized, with a terrific range of authors – one of the best festivals I’ve attended. I had a great discussion with Lisa Unger – a terrific writer and person – and a panel on visual writing with Stephen M. Irwin (immensely talented Brisbane-based writer) and Louis Mowra (of Ice fame).And sneaking off between panels and speeches has provided plenty of fun, whether that’s riding the giant ferris (like the London Eye but not quite as big) or eating Moreton Bay Bug (mmmm…..bug). I’ve included a few pictures from the past couple days.
An amazing vibe here in Auckland. New Zealand feels familiar – sunny and laid back like California, but with its own incredible spin. I spent the day running all over the city, going up in the Sky Tower (the second largest building in the Southern Hemisphere), taking the ferry to historic Devonport, strolling through the shops in Queen Street, and checking out the amazing underwater shark, stingray, and penguin live displays at Kelly Tarlton’s. Tomorrow the book tour begins in earnest, with multiple radio and newspaper interviews, an appearance on Close Up, and speaking events at two libraries.
One of my favorite things about attending book festivals and touring in different countries is that there’s always a good amount of overlap with other authors. Books, for me, are one of the best ways to gain entry to a new culture, to understand a country and its quirks and history. I leave in a few days for New Zealand and Australia and in preparation for numerous panels and interviews and on-stage conversations, I’ve received over the past few weeks a steady stream of books written by the authors who will also be in attendance at the various events and venues. What’s cool is some of these are not books I would come across on my own, so I’m getting a view of a new cross-section of lives and voices – stuff I wouldn’t normally get to dip my hands into. Most of these books aren’t available in the US – must be ordered through amazon NZ or the like, but I can’t emphasize enough how stimulating it is to spend a few days reading books from countries I’m about to visit for the first time.
So…I read five books in the past couple days.
THE DEAD PATH by Stephen M. Irwin about a man who, after his wife’s tragic death, starts to see ghosts. Everywhere. He returns to his home in Australia to confront the woods that have always been a source of dark allure for him.
ICE by Louis Nowra, an incredible story that tells two parallel stories. One is a biography of Malcolm McEacharn, the man who towed an iceberg to early Sydney and introduced electricity to Melbourne (before becoming its Lord Mayor). McEacharn was obsessed with his first wife, and his tale of longing is interwoven with the present-tense story of the husband of McEacharn’s biographer, a woman who lies in a coma after a random attack. The husband has finished writing the biography as an homage to his wife, who like McEacharn’s first wife, remains frozen, suspended in time.
BLIND CONSCIENCE by Lateline journalist Margot O’Neill, which tells the incredible story of the people who fought to get the asylum seekers out of detention during the Howard government. It offers insight into the political struggles of a country – struggles which are at once distant and familiar.
SHOTS by Don Walker. This guy is a legendary songwriter and musician in Australia, and this memoir of his childhood and rise – his story, really – is told in half- to one-page “shots,” poetic riffs that are gorgeous and haunting and shot through with a wild Beatnik energy. I loved this book.
And finally…Lisa Unger’s DIE FOR YOU. Lisa will be a fellow American over at the Brisbane book festival. I’ve heard much about her (all of it good) and we’ll be sharing a stage at one point, so this was a good excuse to finally read her. It’s a great thriller, really focusing on family relationships and the ways they strain and break under incredible pressure. She’s a real talent.
Now I feel nicely read and ready to fly out to experience some of this firsthand.