They say that every cloud has a silver lining, and thanks to my Covid-cancelled Auckland book launches I had a flight credit that I used to attend Wellington’s Verb Festival.
Coming from sleepy Port Chalmers, Wellington almost felt like a different country. The familiar scents of salt air and coal smoke were replaced with the aromas of restaurant food and aftershave. Restaurants were still busy after 9pm!
We had a 1.30am wake-up call on Saturday when a drunken maniac banged repeatedly on our block of motel units, asking to be let in and breaking a pane of glass in the process. (Despite his entreaties, we did not let him in.) We later woke at a more reasonable hour to get breakfast from Caffe L’Affare (superb) before meandering down Cuba Street, checking out favourite old haunts and discovering new ones.
We wandered through parliament to the National Library. As I waited for Jo Randerson’s show, ‘Secret Art Powers’, to begin, I read Brannavan Gnanalingam’s ‘Sprigs’. I had to close the book when I got to the final section, as continued reading would have endangered the integrity of my mascara. (I have now finished the book. It’s wonderful. Shout-out to Amma.)
Jo’s show soon had me laughing and joining her in both anger at the state of the world and hope that we can make things better. Jo beautifully and humourously articulated how creativity and inclusiveness benefit us all. I understand that Jo is writing a book, also called ‘Secret Art Powers’, and that her Verb show was one of many lectures / performances that she will deliver as she develops the content. If you get the chance to see another one of these shows – take it!
Afterwards I met writer Lil O’Brien on the library steps and discovered we went to the same school. (I have since bought her book, ‘Not That I’d Kiss A Girl’.)
Then I picked up a Carly Harris wrap dress from one of Wellington’s fancy recycle boutiques and donned it before heading to LitCrawl, only slightly embarrassing myself when the wrapping came partially undone during my pre-crawl dinner at Aunty Mena’s Vegetarian Restaurant.
First on the LitCrawl agenda was ‘The Art of The Short’ with Breton Dukes and Airini Beautrais at Ferret Bookshop. I have read both of their collections of short stories and they are both excellent. The writers read from their books and were asked a variety of questions about their writing process. They were asked if they feel a sense of responsibility when they write. Breton said that at times when he is in the flow, writing feels like a religious experience – completely free. Airini said that she is always conscious about how her work will be perceived and what it will say to people. I think I’m more on the Airini side myself – I have a growing awareness that what I put out into society has the potential to reinforce cultural ideas, and I want to be as conscious of what I’m putting out there as possible. After the session I introduced myself to fellow Dunedin writer Breton and inwardly congratulated myself on being so brave and on making two new literary connections in one day!
I had intended to go to ‘How to Have an Opinion’ but it was completely packed. Several hardy souls elected to stand outside on the pavement and listen from there, but I headed over to Meow to watch ‘Bad Diaries Salon’ with Penny Ashton, Rose Lu, Lil O’Brien and Kate Camp, who read extracts from their actual teenage diaries. We were sworn to secrecy as to the content of the diaries but I think it’s safe to reveal that they involved swearing, backstabbing, a medley, and a precocious teen diarist who could have walked straight out of High Fidelity. A fabulous session.
Then I went to ‘Fear Factor: Come into my Snake Box’, a session about writing and fear with Elizabeth Knox, Mohammed Hassan, Natalie Morrison and Himali McInnes. It was humid and sweaty in the tiny room in Pegasus Books. One by one attendees sank down and sat on the floor as the heat got too much for them. Advice about writing through fear included “you can always delete it” and “no one cares what you’re doing – no one else has any skin in the game.”
The LitCrawl after party at Meow didn’t have quite the debauched flavour I seem to recall it having when I last attended – though last time I went to LitCrawl I ended up in hospital on a drip with severe food poisoning (from a restaurant that has since closed), so perhaps my recollections are more fever dream than reality.
We awoke the next morning to one of the wonders of the natural world – Wellington’s infamous sideways rain. I caught up with my little brother at Midnight Espresso before going to see ‘Nothing To See’ at Meow with Pip Adam, where I bumped into my former IIML classmate Whiti Hereaka. I’m a big fan of Pip’s writing, and her podcast, but I think this is the first time I’ve seen her IRL. Pip talked about how creating a sense of ambiguity in your writing can enliven the page.
Then it was time to dash to the airport – my suitcase one dress (okay, two dresses) and several books heavier.
2023 Burns fellow Kathryn van Beek has an MA from Victoria University Wellington - Te Herenga Waka’s International Institute of Modern Letters. She is a winner of the Mindfood Short Story Competition and the Headland Prize. Her collection of short stories, Pet, is available as a podcast, and her work has also appeared in Overland, takahē, Newsroom, and the Sunday Star-Times. She lives in UNESCO City of Literature Ōtepoti Dunedin with her two rescue cats.