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G B Ralph, Author

Featherston Booktown Karukatea Festival 2022

I was in Aotearoa New Zealand’s only Booktown over the weekend for the seventh Featherston Booktown Karukatea Festival which featured 50 events, 100 presenters, and 18 booksellers.

Author panel in the Royal Hotel's Joy Cowley Room

Stories Off the Beaten Track

After driving through some truly wild weather, we arrived in time to catch “Stories Off the Beaten Track” in the Joy Cowley Room at the Royal Hotel:

Featherston Booktown Karukatea Festival 2022 - Festival Event

Stories Off the Beaten Track

Writers who live and work in country towns and rural areas have generated acclaimed and well-loved literature over many decades in Aotearoa New Zealand. Why is this? Do rural and regional writers have a different perspective on life? Do solitude and nature inspire literary productivity – or is it the people you meet?

Short story master Owen Marshall (South Canterbury) joins debut author Kat Maxwell (Manawatū) and local writers Don Farmer and Christine Daniell (Wairarapa) to talk about their inspiration — the characters and yarns that could only come from outside the cities — and how they wrangle them onto the page. Chaired by Mary McCallum.

It was a fascinating discussion, touching on what it means to write in more remote areas away from the big cities, what draws these authors to write, what inspires them, and how darkness impacts on their writing.

I jotted down a few comments or thoughts which stood out to me from each of the speakers:

Owen Marshall

  • “Writing enables you to interrogate life.”
  • His impetus to write came from a love of reading other people’s writing.
  • “People are the most important things in our lives.” Readers come to stories pre-programmed to look for people.
  • Characterisation is essential. External source of characterisation: observing, assessing, looking for motivation, etc. Internal source is your own psyche – you’ve never murdered someone with an axe, but you want to write it, so draw on the time when you felt closest to losing control.
  • “Writing is an investigation of the business of living.”

Kat Maxwell

  • The stories of her whānau (family) have been passed down from her tīpuna (ancestors) through waiata (song) and tā moko (tattoo), but so many of these stories have been lost.
  • Growing up rurally and in small towns, you have to be resourceful. Telling stories was a good way to keep the siblings, cousins and children entertained. Kat had told so many stories so many times that she started mixing up the various aunties and nannies in her retellings. She had to write them down to keep the stories straight. Writing down helps to pass on the stories.
  • “Writing sorts you out, organises you.”

Don Farmer

  • Loves to spin a yarn. Draws his tales from his life, including four years working in a hotel and forty years in journalism.
  • Commented on how it can be very easy to be overwhelmed by darkness from life and the news, etc. It weighs you down. He strives to take people away from all that for a spell, to lift readers’ moods, have a laugh, take a lighter look, take the Mickey.
  • Always has an ear out for an interesting comment, thought, way of speaking. One example Don gave was someone he knew who had a unique way of speaking – a lovely man with no malicious intent, but who not only swore a lot, but had a unique way of inserting the swear words into the middle of words e.g. regarding crossing the Remutaka Range: “… there we were, going over the Remu-f**king-takas…”

Christine Daniell

  • Travelled though Europe for a few years with a friend after university. Christine noted how places so close geographically had such distinct flavours. Wanted to come back and capture New Zealand’s distinct flavours in her writing.
  • In interviewing people, she doesn’t use a tape recorder, wants the interviewee to be relaxed, to open up naturally and speak honestly.
  • So many people don’t realise how interesting their lives have been and still are. “Every person is interesting.”

The Royal Hotel, Featherston

The Royal Hotel, Featherston

After the talk, we had a fabulous lunch next door at the Royal Hotel‘s restaurant, Brac & Bow. I enjoyed some pork belly and a local beer, which gave me the sustenance to plan our route for the afternoon!

Featherston’s many book shops

Featherston Booktown map

We perused Featherston’s many book shops then made our way to Anzac Hall which hosted the stalls of even more booksellers as well as author signing tables.

Featherston's main street

Next year’s festival

It’s definitely worth checking out next year’s festival – if you’re in Wellington or the lower North Island, you have no excuse! But it’s bound to be very popular once again so be sure to get in early to secure tickets (you can jump on their mailing list to be notified – sign up form at the bottom of the Featherston Booktown home page).

I was there at the festival last year too, and look forward to going again in 2023. Until then, I’d love to hear from you if you’ve enjoyed any literary events recently, either online or in person – drop me a message!

Featherston Booktown Karukatea Festival 2022 sign
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