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Auckland Writers Festival 2019

Auckland Writers Festival 2019

By Alexander Bisley

I’ve been up from Wellington for 11 of the last 13 years to cover the Auckland Writers Festival.

Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy comes across as an affable guy. Promoting his autobiography Let’s Go, Tweedy is engaging discussing being in recovery for addiction, the support of his wife (ten years his senior), and his creative process. He has a delightful story about working with Mavis Staples and Bob Dylan. Tweedy closes his appearance by performing four of his emotional songs, kicking off with classic ‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart’. I see his point that melody is more important than lyrics, but couplets like this help: “I’d always thought that if I held you tightly/You'd always love me like you did back then.”

Jeff Tweedy

John J Campbell chaired Shayne P Carter’s Dead People I Have Known session with super enthusiasm. The Dimmer frontman’s humour came through. “Humour is important for survival full-stop wouldn’t you say? If you didn't laugh, you'd cry; comedy is tragedy etc. It's a great comfort, a relief, and, probably, a defence. Buckle up where you can man! All my favourite comedians were/are generally troubled people. Funny that. I come from a family with an excellent absurdist sense of humour,” Carter once told me. Campbell read a passage from Carter’s autobiography about how rockstars get the girls. “I ached with envy reading that,” Campbell gushed. “You should,” Carter quipped.

Vincent O’Malley (The Great War for New Zealand) gave an interesting talk on Aotearoa’s formative New Zealand Wars during the nineteenth century, such as the Waikato raupatu (confiscation). Two thirds of the British Army’s soldiers were (mostly) illiterate Irishmen; Ireland had faced similar military oppression from the English. Like me, O’Malley got no opportunity to learn these histories at school. He’s passionate that all rangatahi (young people), both Maori and Pakeha, get that opportunity today. I tautoko (agree) with O’Malley that the March mosque massacre was not “the end of our innocence”.

Jacinda Ardern, smoothly interviewed by Toby Manhire, delivered genuine stardust and substance to a sold-out Aotea Centre at 830 am Sunday. NZ’s PM was funny, grounded, insightful, earnest and charismatic. The Morrinsville daughter of a cop started police training in her twenties. She was classy discussing her opponent in the surprising 2017 election. “I have huge respect for Bill English. It was good, clean fight.” Ardern was amusing talking about how confidant Annette King kept trying to set her up with dates.

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