Wellington LitCrawl is different from any other reader & writer event I’ve ever attended before. In venues spread throughout the city, writers participate in quick-fire events for a traveling audience who are excited to learn about the hidden workings of our brains.
The festival encompasses two key components – the LitCrawl proper, which is a mad dash around the CBD on the Saturday night. Three streams of events featuring national and international authors of all genres and backgrounds are spread throughout bookstores, bars, event spaces, and cafes. Events are free to attend (Koha encouraged), and there’s a fab after-party where everyone can get drunk.
There’s also the LitCrawl Extended, which is a series of ticketed events stretching from Thursday-Sunday and enable patrons to experience writers outside of the madness of the main crawl.
The programme is a varied mix of literary and genre, diverse voices, the sublime and the vulgar, the seasoned writers and the emerging voices. It offers the audience a taste a writers they might not have heard of, as well as putting them up close and personal with their favourite voices.
I flew down to Wellington on Thursday night, and was collected by my lovely friend Emma to stay with her family. We had pizza and drank our way through a couple of bottles of wine, and I went to bed far too late considering the crazy weekend that lay ahead.
I navigated my way through Wellington’s bus system to a far-away suburb to meet the brilliant Elizabeth Heritage, who is my publicist. It was so cool to finally meet her in person! We had a great chat about books and feminism and my plans for 2019, and we ate lasagne and slices from the bakery next door to her house. I will definitely be back to visit next time I’m in Wellington, because not only is Elizabeth awesome, but that bakery is LEGIT.
After that I went into the city, had coffee with my friend and first ever flatmate Juliet, then met up with another friend Shane so we could go to the writing sexy workshop put on by Melody Thomas (creator and host of sex podcast BANG!) and Laura Borrowdale (editor of Aotearotica, NZ’s erotic literary journal). Despite poor Laura’s plane being late (she arrived halfway through the workshop), this was so much fun and it was great reading out terrible erotica excerpts and rewriting them to be actually sexy.
After the workshop, Shane and I headed to a party where there was a beautiful cat with a smushy face and a lion’s mane (Also some cool people, but I mainly remember the cat). I crashed about 11PM and went back to Emma’s to try and get some sleep before Saturday’s chaos begins.
Today is main crawl day! I’m nervous because I’m involved in two back-to-back crawl events and one of them, I haven’t met with the other participants or planned anything. I get nervous speaking in front of people, and I need structure and a sense of to feel calm and nail the delivery, so this was stressing me out. We agreed to meet after one of the daytime events, but they didn’t find me and I didn’t have their phone numbers, so that didn’t happen and I spent most of the day worrying about it.
Turns out everything was fine and the event was awesome, but first – I went to things!
The F Word: Lizzie Marvelly. Lizzie is known as a musician who regularly tours the world, but she’s also a regular HeraldNZ columnist and author of The F Word: Growing Up Feminist in New Zealand. In conversation with Angela Meyer, Lizzie spoke about her experiences of becoming a feminist, of attending NZ’s most prestigious high school, of body image issues and mental health and just other awesome stuff. I enjoyed Lizzie’s personal stories, and definitely plan on picking up her book, but the content was Feminist 101, so I can’t say I learned anything new.
Emily Writes + (girl)friends. I adore Emily’s honest and hilarious writing on parenting and feminism and life, so I wanted to see her in the flesh talking about female friendship. Honestly, this wasn’t my favourite event of the weekend. Because all five speakers were close friends and a lot of their pieces referred to each other, I felt a bit like I was eavesdropping on a conversation, rather than part of it.
Of Mermaids and Mermen. Art critic and author Megan Dunn is writing a book about real-life mermaids and mermen. In this hilarious and utterly fascinating public lecture, she detailed the lives of famous mermaids, what exactly they do, and how you might become a merperson yourself.
All too soon it was time for me to primp and preen for the main crawl. I met Emma for a delicious Turkish dinner, then we made our way to my first event.
Crip the Lit: The Great Debate
Robyn Hunt and Trish Harris are two Wellington writers who are helping to raise the profile of disabled writers across New Zealand. Their Crip the Lit panel has been a popular event the last two years in the crawl. This year they decided to change things up and set up a literary debate. This year’s moot – There’s no such thing as a disabled writer. We are all just writers.
I was First Speaker on the affirmative team. Knowing that we were likely to lose, I opted for an irreverent debating style. As we arrived at the beautiful hotel where the debate would be held and I saw the room fill up with dozens and soon over a hundred people, the old nerves crept up.
It went well! I had to speak too fast because the time limit was strict, but people laughed and even though we did lose, it was so much fun. What an amazing event with so many good points made on both sides.
Our debate was recorded and broadcast on Wellington Access Radio on December 3, the International Day of Disabled People. You can listen to the broadcast here.
Killed Off with Annaleese Jochems and Elisabeth Knox
When the programme came out and I saw I’d be on a panel talking about killing off characters, I maaaaay have done a little Snoopy dance. This felt particularly relevant because I’d just released The Castle of Wind and Whispers, and a beloved character dies in that book. (I’m mean. I’m sorry).
My other two panelists – Elizabeth Knox and Annaleese Jochems – come from the literary end of the spectrum – so when I prepared some talking points I knew that I wanted to offer something unique from the genre camp. I spoke a lot about the heavy influence of the gothic in my work, and about the challenges of working in a fantasy world where it’s possible the dead can return to life. I also spoke about refrigerator women, and how I felt guilty because I have one in my book The Sunken.
Highlights for me was hearing Annaleese describe how she ‘meatified’ a male character prior to his death, in order to disengage the reader from his life, and Elizabeth reading out a laundry list of every person she’d killed off in her books. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak about something I’m passionate about – the idea of death culture and death ritual, and how through history the responsibility for this has passed from the female to male sphere.
After this event, I went for a drink with a friend. We intended to head to the after-party but by this stage I was well and truly done. Bed was calling.
On Sunday I went to Fidels for breakfast (OMG breakfast burrito and salted caramel hot chocolate). I gave a two-hour workshop on self-publishing, and it was heaps of fun. I loved the room I was given with a HUGE screen for my cat memes, and people asked intelligent questions and I answered them without saying BEZOS IS OUR GOD ALL HAIL MIGHTY BEZOS, so that was good.
For lunch, Emma took me to a pizza joint called Tommy Millions, and I had what might be described as the best slice of pizza I’ve ever had. Can’t confirm, but it might be possible. After pizza, we made our own frozen yogurts. I don’t know what Eleanor Shellstrop was complaining about – frozen yogurt is brilliant.
Sunday evening, Emma’s lovely family made me a roast dinner, then we headed down to the Dead Ladies Show – a salon-style event where not-dead women celebrate the dead women who have influenced them. The acts ranged from hilarious to heart-wrenching, and I came away with new women heroines to look up. I especially loved host Penny Ashton’s poem to her grandmother, and Jessie Bray Sharpin’s talk on a kiwi adventuress, Constance Barnicoat.
I also came away full of dessert, because the lovely proprietor allowed Emma and I to bring in dessert from Midnight Express across the road. There’s nothing like drinking gin and enjoying baked cheesecake while learning about awesome dead ladies.
I had a ride to the airport in the morning with poet/comedian/performer/host/TV presenter/celebrant Penny Ashton, who is awesome people and kindly gave me her guest pass to the Koru lounge, so I got an epic breakfast and to hear about some of her work – which is so my kind of thing I’m probably gonna be front row at all her shows from now on.
After a short flight back to Auckland and a longer bus ride, I eventually got home to husbands and cats and my own bed. I believe I slept for 83 years.
Thank you LitCrawl, and Wellington, and all the writers and readers I met. Whether I’m involved as a writer again (please? It was so much fun) or just as an audience member, I’ll be back next year for sure.
Photographers: Vanessa Rushton Photography and Fergus Haywood.