I’m in New Zealand, here for the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. Things I have bought since arriving in New Zealand (not counting bottles of wine in Duty Free): Codral, Robitussin, Fortacold Throat Lozenges. In other words, I am really sick.
Yesterday this contributed to the farce at my first event, an hour-long on-stage interview with Peter Ho Davies. I was trying to carry on so many tissues, lozenges, and other appendages of illness, as well as books and notes, that I kept dropping everything backstage. The sound guys couldn’t get the headset mike to stay on my head (apparently, my ears are too small), so at the last minute gave me a lapel mike with the power pack hastily clipped onto my skirt. Just as Peter and I were striding onto stage, the power pack clanged to the floor: I had to retreat backstage to be reconnected, while Peter wandered on alone. The audience seemed torn between laughing and clapping.
Once I’d run onto stage and sat down, the power pack now in my lap, and arranged my vast array of accessories on the low table, I was quite flustered, managing to bumble half the introduction. My throat was so croaky, I was probably unintelligible anyway.
Luckily Peter was extremely articulate and generous, talking away while I guzzled my green tea, stuffed lozenges in my mouth, and squinted stupidly into the audience trying to identify question askers. We talked about his novel, The Welsh Girl, and his two story collections. He’s really a fantastic writer and a very nice person. He also seems very dedicated to his students at the University of Michigan.
This topic, by the way, led to an exchange in the lobby after the event, an exchange that pretty much summarizes my glorious returns home to attend literary events. While Peter was signing books, I was lurking nearby, with various members of the audience wandering over to tell me I did very well Despite Everything. One man came up to ask whether I thought Peter would give up teaching if he had loads of money, and I said no, I suspected he wouldn’t because he seemed to like it so much, and that he seemed to have a really great attitude towards student work and, unlike me, doesn’t resent the time it takes away from his work.
Man: Do you teach at a university too?
Man: Oh, are you a writer?
Me: Ah … yes.
I mean, he could have read that in the program while he was waiting for me to bumble my way onto stage. This reminds me of last year at the festival, when I was talking with an audience member about Pico Iyer, and mentioned that I’d just interviewed him. The audience member said: I knew I’d seen your name somewhere – you write for the Listener!
Indeed I do.
I also found out last night that my second novel, Hibiscus Coast, from which I was planning to read at an event today, is being reprinted right now, and that the festival book seller could only get her hands on one copy.
Now I must go and get ready, buy ginger tea and more tissues, and gather my thoughts for my morning event: these thoughts appear to have been sprinkled over the Pacific on my flight over. At least I haven’t bumped into anyone who wants to box my ears yet, but there are still three days of the festival to go.