Heritage: Historical Writing – WORD Christchurch Spring Festival 2020

The Heritage: Historical Writing event at WORD was a treat for fans of New Zealand historical fiction, non-fiction, and children's books alike. Featuring AJ Fitzwater and Joanna Orwin as they introduce their new books, 'No Man's Land' and 'Shifting Currents' respectively.

No Man's Land

Shifting Currents

They were also joined by Caroline Barron, who is the non-fiction winner of the New Zealand Heritage Literary Awards for her memoir 'Ripiro Beach: A Memoir of Life After Near Death'.

Ripiro Beach

The event kicked off with a mihi introduction, followed by the authors treating us to short readings from their books, and then some time for a Q and A section. The first question asked about the act of remembering, and what it means for the authors in the context of historical writing. AJ Fitzwater remarked that history was initially something they weren't particularly interested in.

"I never had much of an interest in history at high school ... It was the only class I fell asleep in"

They later realised that what they really needed was a connection to the past, which AJ found in women's history and queer history. They discovered the importance of "rebodying history", and want to revisit queer histories, as they have traditionally been expressed quite tragically and/or problematically, and instead wants to "retell them with joy".

Caroline Barron's response about the importance of memory in historical writing is a very personal one, as her memoir explores her family's past and her journey with discovering her whakapapa. 

"Memory is the facsimile of the the last time you thought that memory ... So much [of history] is unknowable ... Whakapapa is a lifelong journey."

Initially, Caroline explains, her book was intended to be a work of fiction, but the more she got into it, the more she realised it needed to be true. She further explains that the act of writing down her family's stories "has been helpful for processing personal history and historical trauma."

Joanna Orwin's response to what remembering the past means to her, in the context of historical writing, ties into writing historical fiction.

"Real history is about those on the outside ... [Historical fiction is] a form of remembering the past in a different way ... [It is important to] try to create, as authentically as possible, the people of the past."


The event finished off with other authors from the New Zealand Heritage Literary Awards reading excerpts from their prize-winning books, including John Newton for 'Llew Summer: Body and Soul (The Wily Publications Prize for Canterbury/West Coast Non-fiction), Sarah Ell with 'Lost Wonders: Vanished Creatures of Aotearoa' (Children's winner runner-up), and Peter Simpson with 'Colin McCahon: Volumes I and II (non-fiction runner-up). 

Llew Summers

Lost Wonders

Colin McCahon

All in all, it was a fascinating event that gave great insight into the author's thoughts and processes of historical writing, be it fiction or non-fiction, and it was lovely to hear parts of the books read by the authors themselves.

Heritage: Historical Writing– Photo Gallery

WORD Christchurch

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