WORD Christchurch 2022: Humans of New Zealand

As I approach the entrance to The Chamber room at The Piano there's a wonderfully odd moment when a friendly WORD Christchurch volunteer gestures to the door and says "Humans event?" and I can now relax that I'll not be accidentally attending a "Guinea Pigs event" or possibly "Robot overlords event". Just a standard homosapiens literary event for me, thanks.

Kate De Goldi, Rebecca K. Reilly, Chloe Lane, and Sue Orr, The Piano
Kate De Goldi, Rebecca K. Reilly, Chloe Lane, and Sue Orr, The Piano, Friday 2 September 2022.

We're there to explore the work of three "smart and thoughtful" writers in the form of Rebecca K. Reilly, Chloe Lane, and Sue Orr, with Kate De Goldi in charge of questions and guiding the conversation.

De Goldi invites the writers to describe what their books are about, starting with Chloe Lane whose novel Arms and legs focuses on the character of Georgie, a woman in her 30s who is having an affair. The book looks at her "unravelling and realignment" and explores ideas about happiness and unhappiness and it's also a love letter to Florida, where Lane lived for some time.

Rebecca K. Reilly says that Greta & Valdin is about "how two people can have the same upbringing but don't really see it in the same way", as well as being about what you do with your life when you've had a breakdown and need to reassess.

Sue Orr describes the set-up of her novel, Loop tracks: in 1978 Charlie is pregnant and on a plane for Australia to get an abortion but the plane is delayed so she makes the decision to disembark and this decision, many years later, leads to a second chance at happiness.

Each author reads a brief passage from their book. Lane's is a description of the first time Georgie perceives the possibility of an affair. Reilly reads a funny, but later more revealing scene between Greta and her father. And Sue Orr reads from the very beginning of her book introducing Charlie and the predicament she finds herself in.

The discussion ranges far and wide touching on reasons for narrative choices but it doesn't flow naturally as I've seen it do in other sessions. Are these authors and their works just too different from each other to get a good synergy going? Are Kate De Goldi's questions, too penetrating, too intellectual? Some lines of questioning, like the detour to talk of Trump in Lane's Floridian-based book (there's a passing reference, once) don't really go anywhere interesting. But still, there are things to be learned like:

  • Lane included the Floridian practice of "prescribed burns" in her novel just because she finds it a really interesting topic - the hunting of Burmese pythons in Florida is another fascination that will pop up in a future work.
  • The story in Arms and Legs where the family come home to a house full of frogs really happened to her.
  • Orr had to do a sharp U-turn on her book when lockdowns kicked in and she added the lockdowns to her book.
  • Reilly's "punctilious attention" to what her characters wear and eat was because "when I wrote it I was extremely hungry and had not money and only one pair of shoes".
  • Sue Orr really has a thing for Australian actor, Ben Mendelsohn and was watching a lot of Netflix series Bloodline when she was writing Loop Tracks.

There's only time for a couple of audience questions, the first of which is a very specific one. Did Orr ever consider giving the character Jenna a terminal illness? The reply:

No terminal illnesses were considered in the making of this book.

A second question is about affairs and to be honest I'm not sure what the man asking it was trying to get at and I'm not sure anyone else was either.

Further reading

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