by Ralph McAllister

Great times at the Auckland Writer’s Festival

It was a wonderful day last week when I attended the Auckland Writers Festival and had the huge pleasure of listening and meeting two of my favourite authors, John Boyne (left above) and Markus Zusak (right).

Each spent an hour enthralling capacity audiences of over 2000 readers with their stories about their latest works, Bridge of Clay and A Ladder to the Sky.

It is no secret that both were my Best of the Year novels in 2018.

What did surprise me was the skill, the wit, the erudition of these men and their modesty.

Offers not taken up!

I suggested to Zusak that if he got sick of writing he could have a career as an actor.

I offered Boyne a beer at his signing session.

Both overtures were rejected, gently.

But Boyne did say in his blog later that he had never had a beer placed in front of him at a signing before!

The other frisson came as I realised that all the people milling around in the foyers were there, not for a football match, but because of books, because of reading.

Auckland was again responsible for this yearly event which now ranks as one of the world’s best.

Fascists in England not treated well

Meanwhile, two fictions emanating from real life.

After the Party by Cressida Connolly takes us to the world of Our Leader in 30’s England.

After the PartyPhyllis has returned from overseas and is adjusting to life with her family.

Her sisters (shades of the Mitfords) invite her to a summer camp of the Great Britain First movement. Our Leader is, of course, Oswald Mosley. Sorry, Sir Oswald Mosley.

When the war began, collaborators or seeming sympathisers were not treated too kindly by the British government.

The subsequent catastrophes which befall Phyllis are described in painful bewilderment by her older self.

Beautifully written this is at once a social history of the times and a rattling good story.

Highly recommended.

Survival in Revolutionary France

LittleLittle by Edward Carey is told in the first person by the woman who became Madame Tussaud. It is a gripping story of survival in revolutionary Paris of the eighteenth century.

Marie grows up learning about drawing, anatomy, wax and people. She survives, despite the daily evidence of horror and chaos in the streets.

Try to obtain the beautifully presented hardback edition with its superb illustrations, a joy to hold and admire.

Years ago I lived for a while in the apartment above Madame Tussaud’s in Amsterdam.

Walking through the dimly lit deserted museum after a night out was fun, as we said goodnight to Hitler and Pope John and others who took our inebriated fancy.

What memories!