My First Writers Festival

by Chelle Walmsley

writersMy sister drove us to Auckland from Hastings, with a stop in Taupo for Burger Fuel, where we shared two burgers between us. With a nudge from me, my sister chose the Bio Fuel. I’m appalling like that. If I can have my burgers and eat them, I will.

I love gimmicks. I’m a total sucker for them. PBJ is a fairly pointless acronym for peanut butter and jelly. Scratch that, it’s very clever. I’ve just realised there is no way I would have ordered a burger if it was called a peanut butter and jelly burger. That would be awful, right? What an appalling concept. Nobody in their right mind…

The PBJ burger is so very American. The viscous, sticky, sickly sauces contaminate everything that might have been good about the core ingredients, which are at least, to their credit, fresh. I bet your mouth is salivating. Is their no end to our perversity? I can’t say for certain myself that I wouldn’t eat another one.

Realising as we crept into Auckland City in rush hour traffic that we probably shouldn’t have stopped so long for lunch, we had to get comfortable with the idea that we might miss Irvine Welsh in interview. By the time we got to the Aotea Centre, we were grateful to catch the second half. Sometimes life is about managing expectations and not sweating the small stuff and… Ok, I’ll stop.

Even though we missed half of his first appearance at the festival, I came away feeling like our mad rush to get to the theatre, navigating some unreasonably steep streets, was entirely worth it. Welsh was totally unpretentious, as you might imagine if you know his work. He’s also a natural speaker and very entertaining.

I got to see more of Irvine Welsh the following day when he appeared with David Stevens (The Sum of Us), in a discussion, well steered by Dominic Curry, on ‘Book vs Film’. This was a presentation notable for Stevens’ refreshingly honest embrace of his lifestyle as an ‘artist’, with all its excesses and extravagance. I nearly didn’t go as it was a free event and by Saturday afternoon I was in desperate need of a rest. As it happens, I enjoyed this event more than anything else at the festival.

I had to be up at a most uncivilised hour to get to Trauma Narratives, with Adam Johnson. Pain is a curious thing. The more he talked of pain, the more I found my pain escalating. Johnson asked early on in his lecture: ‘Aren’t you glad you’re not in pain right now?’ I’m sorry, he lost me at that point. It feels strange to be saying this of a Pulitzer Prize winning author: it was a comment without a lot of insight.

I had managed very well on the road trip. My pain levels weren’t too bad. After 90 minutes, I was looking down at the floor, imagining myself splayed out in front of Johnson, prostrate at his feet. Anything for a little relief.

A highlight of the festival was Eleanor Catton’s interview with John Campbell. If possible, Campbell appeared even more animated than usual. He is clearly a fan of the Luminaries and his excitement over our ‘shining star’ (sorry) is highly contagious.

I still haven’t read The Luminaries. Honestly, it’s probably not really my sort of book and the length of it, I’m embarrassed to say, has been putting me off. I get absorbed by books until I reach the last page and I haven’t had the energy for that sort of commitment, lately.

We sort of wanted to hate Eleanor Catton. After all, we are New Zealanders and Catton is clearly extremely good at what she does. Disliking Eleanor Catton is as impossible as hating John Campbell. She’s so exceptional and now I have to read The Luminaries. Damn it.

Gender Divides was our last session, early on Sunday afternoon. I was a little anxious. I chose all of the events that my sister and I attended, so it felt a lot like when you ask someone to a movie and you’re not certain it is going to be to their taste.

Feminism can be a little dry, especially for someone like me who is always looking for the next joke. Thank goodness for Sandi Toksvig who is funny and entertaining and just what the event needed. Special mention should go to Jessica Jakley, who was interesting, engaging and enthusiastic about entrepreneurship. It’s not a topic I know anything about, business being the least interesting subject to me ON THE PLANET. Jakley did a great job championing entrepreneurship in the digital age. I genuinely enjoyed what she had to say.

I was, I have to admit, exhausted and sore. It was time to head home.

We had packed our bags and checked out beforehand, so we had no more business in Auckland. Leaving a city always holds a certain melancholy for me. I was excited when, coming into Auckland, I saw the first skyscraper. My sister likes the country and she has a young family, so she was excited to be going home.

As a person with disabilities, I judge travel by how little my disability gets in the way of my enjoyment of a trip. This was one of my easiest trips away. I’m not surprised. My youngest sister and I have been best friends forever. I have noticed it with certain friends who I have known and loved for a very long time; eventually you get to know a person enough that you don’t have to ask for help, it happens without you even noticing. You don’t feel like you have to bend over backwards to be grateful all the time because you both appreciate that each of you is receiving something from the other. The best people make it known that you have something to offer them. We talked for the entire trip to and from Auckland; the rest was gravy.

We got ‘drive thru’ McDonalds on our way home. We both had filet-o-fish burgers with fries. The squidgy bun, the plastic cheese, the square fish; it was all so soft and bland. Sometimes though, that’s just what is needed when you’re weary. It was so good. Tartare sauce is my everything


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