Every year at the beginning of May, a whole lot of writers appear in Auckland. They're here for the Auckland Writers Festival, an event that has been going from strength to strength every year.
I'm not much for the literary type authors, I'm more of a genre girl. But for some reason this event draws me in every year. They manage to put together a schedule of events and authors that is both intriguing and innovative, and I actually like the non-fiction author talks more than the fiction authors (should I actually admit this? I might be accused of some kind of treason as an author).
For example one year I listened to Masha Gessen talk about her book on Putin. She's a Russian journalist, living in Russia, who wrote a largely unflattering book about the rise to power of her nation's leader. Another journalist who had similarly attacked Putin had been killed. She was risking her life by doing it, yet she wrote the book anyway, believing that the truth needed to be told. I was in awe of her confidence, and her belief that she needed to speak out, despite the risks.
The science talks are also fascinating. This year I listened to science writer Phillip Ball, who talked about his books on a variety of topics including colour in art, invisibility, curiosity and physics in Nazi Germany. It's always interesting to hear someone talk about topics I know nothing about, and in particular I was drawn to his work on invisibility – our fascination with being invisible, the myths that surround it, and the scientists who are trying to make it a reality. (Imagine that!)
I also attended a talk by Chinese author, Xinran, who talked about her book on the effect that the one-child policy has had on China. Surprisingly she didn't focus on the aspect of it that I was expecting – the fact that there are now significantly more men than women. What she did talk about was the way these single children have been over-protected, bound up in cotton wool, until some of them are rebelling, leaving their smothering parental surroundings and escaping to a new life. She talked of one young woman who didn't know how to cut spinach, because she'd never been allowed to use a knife growing up.
The reason I go into all these details is that I gained a huge amount of inspiration from each of these sessions, learning new things, making connections that I hadn't made earlier. At the risk of sounding cliched, I was expanding my mind, and it felt great.
If you've never been, and you live in Auckland, I recommend that you put it in your calendar for next year. You might be surprised at what you will learn. If you live somewhere else in the world, have a look around for a festival near you. It's well worth the time.