I would have liked a bit more time in New Zealand. I passed briefly through Auckland (two nights) for a reading that ended up being cancelled due to the shop owner's illness, though I did get into a few bookstores to sign stock. Most of my time was spent in the hotel, putting the finishing touches on the Philip Roth review.
My arrival in Christchurch, which is on the southern island (Auckland is on the northern) was dramatic and last minute - a fog rolled into Auckland airport resulting in a three hour delay of my flight. As a result, I dashed into my panel 15 minutes late (and no copy of my book handy) but it ended up going off quite nicely, and you can see on the blog of novelist Rachael King, who was the panel moderator and the newest FOTEV Down Under. (Rachael also recommended Emma Darwin's blog on writing, which is something we've been reading with interest ever since.) The panel was called "It's Not About Me - Or Is It?" and had to do with the autobiographical nature of first novels. I was joined by my travel pal Anya Ulinich, Maxine Altiero and Christine Luenens. Great fun, and all over too soon.
Christchurch was a good deal colder than Auckland or Melbourne - bring warm coats and sweaters was the advice - and yes, there's an actual church, and it's right in the center of town:
I was also quite taken with the ovesized chess board, though I never quite worked up the stones to ask for a go:
There was a second panel at Christchurch about - wait for it - blogs and blogging! But it was moderated by New Zealand Listener editor Guy Somerset, who kept the discussion lively, and who shared his love of Roth with me in the Green Room (which was actually green). In fact, it was his mention of the last line of Sabbath's Theater, which we agreed was the best Roth closing ever, that prompted its recent inclusion here. Rachael came along as a panelist on this one (her blog is called The Sound of Butterflies), and we were joined by Donna Robertson who edits the Christchurch Library Blog. And Graham Beattie, New Zealand's preeminent book blogger, was in the audience and joined in at the end. (He should have been on stage by all rights but apparently there had been a scheduling snafu.)
I also did a live interview with Radio New Zealand, consumed many more Flat Whites and spent part of my free day in the Christchurch Gondola, which takes you up for a commanding view of the area:
Indeed, roads like this one made me wish I'd brought my bicycle as well as my warm clothes:
I was especially struck by the warmth and enthusiasm of the audiences - panels here actually cost money, so everyone sitting in the audience had forked over 15 bucks to hear us yammer on. And the book tables were always crowded, and the signing booths well attended. It was clear to me that there is a serious literary sensibility, and I was delighted to have been a part of it. It was also fun to briefly compare master class notes with Melbourne alum Lloyd Jones, who did a solo hour onstage in Christchurch (impressive and terrifying).
By the way, my first attempt to make my own Flat White this morning ended in mushy, bland disaster. Making the milk thick and creamy is harder than it looks.