I recently found out that Featherston, a small town situated in South Wairapara, was holding a Book festival. As my sister Jo, recently relocated to the area, it seemed rude not to visit and soak up the booky atmosphere!
It turns out, Featherston is a Booktown: home to an annual festival celebrating everything to do with books, writers and reading. The festival includes writing workshops, poetry readings, talks by authors and illustrators, theatre performances and a book fair featuring stalls with rare and second hand books.
I was prepared to do an 8 hour drive to get to this part of New Zealand, as the line up sounded so good. I arrived in time to hear the first speaker, Dame (just call me) Joy, Cowley, one of New Zealand's most beloved children's writers.
Now in her late 80's, Joy has written over a 1,000 published works. She was extremely generous with her information and knowledge to a room full of writers. She talked about early experiences at school such as being given the strap for her interpretation of a fairy tale (after the class were invited to do so). Fortunately, another teacher who was passionate about writing and reading helped Joy along on her writing journey. With his support and encouragement, she was able to put the negative experience behind her and forge ahead gaining traction as a writer.
As a mother of four children, Joy had to balance family life with writing but it didn't stop her and despite having a full on timetable she even helped children classed as reluctant readers. Joy took the time to interview each child, gleaning out information about what was going on in their lives. Turning the interviews into stories she presented them back to the children as small zines. Her face lit up as she asked the question of her audience,
"What child doesn't want to read about his or her own life?"
What an absolute treat for a writer to meet such an icon within the New Zealand writing community. It was well worth the 8 hour drive (two of which were in the dark/fog early morning). If this is all I came for, it would have been worth it!
My sister Jo and I went to the infamous, fish and chip supper (opening evening) in which we were entertained by the very charismatic and charming writer Witi Ihimaera. He reflected on an experience he'd had as a new writer in the very hall we were sitting in, many years ago. Only two people had turned up for his authors talk. As his mother had always told him to treat his audience with respect regardless of how many people were in it, he'd given his speech.
As I looked around at the sold out event it was a great reminder to keep going as a writer despite road blocks, challenges and small audiences. He touched on being rejected by publishers, one in particular telling him that "Maori don't read". Fortunately, the rejection letters didn't stop him from forging a pathway through doubt and negativity and proving them very wrong.
I have to mention at this point, that another writer had sprinkled glitter all over Witi so as he gave his talk he was physically sparkling as well as emotionally!
On Saturday, I attended a talk by another well known New Zealand author. Patricia Grace talked about her experience as a Maori female writer as well as her experience of the adaptation of her book Cousins into a film. I learnt that script editors want to see verbs rather than adjectives in film scripts. It was interesting to learn of the different skill set script writers work with as opposed to novelists.
Patricia also told the audience that seeing her book played out on screen, gave her the rare opportunity as a writer to see her characters explore other options. For example, in her book, Makareta is a nurse, but in the film, she's a lawyer. Patricia liked the change of occupation and said it made more sense. Given there was a time span of 24 years between the book being written and it being made into a film, there was plenty of time for this author to reflect on her work.
Late Saturday Afternoon:
Self publishing has come a long way since it first became 'a thing'. As a self published author myself, I was really keen to attend the Navigating Self Publishing workshop with Dave MacManus from The CopyPress in sunny Nelson. He was joined by local author Denver Grenell who has recently started his own journey into writing and self publishing. The two of them lead a lively and interactive discussion, assisted by the experiences from the audience, in ideas to promote and distribute books. Dave was very generous with his time, gifting half an hour private 1-1 sessions, which Jo and I took advantage of. We were thrilled with the extra help and advice.
To finish off the festival, Jo and I rolled up our sleeves and did a hands on papermaking class with Rob Kennedy Paper. It'd been years since I tried my hand (very unsuccessfully) with paper making. Rob is a highly experienced paper maker who was well prepared for our session. Despite the session taking place outside (Featherston is famous for its wind!) we enjoyed getting our hands on the paper frames and learning some secrets from a Master Papermaker.
One great tip from Rob was why serious papermakers get a better result than hobbyists. The secret being, the choice of beaters. Hobbyists tend to use second hand blenders which results in ripped paper. Whereas someone serious about creating handmade paper would favour a Hollander Beater which produces a much better end result.
Places of interest I visited whilst in the South Wairapara:
Mr Feathers Den lots of oddities and scrumptious items
For the Love of Books (my books are in this gorgeous local shop now!!!)
Everest Cafe - delicious plant based coffee (not always easy to find)
The Old Courthouse Art Gallery currently has a book themed art exhibition
Blackwell and Sons (oh be still my beating heart) - I want a bike and a cape from this shop!
Mrs Blackwell's Village Book Shop a divine booky experience
Country Traders - I could have spent the day here the imported antique furniture is divine.
The Clareville Bakery - oh lalalalalalala I can't begin to describe their food!!!
Perry's Mart - random collection of old items
What I learnt about the Wairapara
The wind is so strong it actually blows you down the street (I did a little run as I was propelled down the street). Locals post questions on the local facebook page such as:
"Has anyone has spotted my recycling bin?"
The responses are priceless such as this one:
"Have you tried the local pub? I saw one tucked in the doorway."
They have the most interesting of characters who share more of their lives with you than you actually require. They have a strong sense of community and are extremely welcoming.
Cows live on the front lawns (of all the things I've seen in West Auckland, this is not one of them).