Auckland Writers & Readers Festival 2013: Eleanor Catton

The Auckland Writers & Readers Festival 2013 starts today! Over 150 writers from New Zealand and around the world will take the stage across five days, to celebrate and promote literacy, reading, writing and ideas in Auckland.

We spoke to the New Zealand novelist and rising start Eleanor Catton about her involvement in the festival this year about what she has planned for her second novel THE LUMINARIES, which will be published this year....

I can’t think of a time in my life when I didn’t want to be a writer. As a child I wrote constantly and very secretively, always labelling my stories with boring-sounding file names so nobody in my family would open them. My first novel THE REHEARSAL came out in 2008, and my second novel THE LUMINARIES is coming out later this year. I also teach; I’ve just moved to Auckland to take up a job lecturing in creative writing at Manukau Institute of Technology.

Eleanor Catton

Image by Robert Catto

What is your favourite style of writing?

I’m a fairly eclectic reader. I love so many kinds of writing for very different reasons and in very different ways. At the moment, my area of interest is novels published around the turn of the 20th century—say from the 1890s to the 1920s. I also love children’s literature and vintage crime.

Describe THE REHEARSAL in three different words....

Theatrical gender experiment.

What can we expect in THE LUMINARIES?

The novel is set during the West Coast gold rush in the middle 1860s. It has a kind of astrological skeleton—the action of the book is patterned on star positions and astrological archetypes—but that aspect is chiefly architectural: really it’s a mystery story, in the Victorian style.

Tell us a bit about what the ‘Character + Plot’ workshop you’ll be running at the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival…

I’ve always been taken with the old adage that in literary fiction, plot only exists to illuminate character, whereas in genre fiction, characters only exist to further the plot. I thought it would be fun to design a workshop around that idea. We’ll be talking about plotting and characterisation, and the degree to which they depend on one another in the context of a novel or a story.

Is this the first time you’ve been involved in the festival?

I’ve only appeared at the Auckland Writers & Readers festival once before: in 2009, when THE REHEARSAL was first published. I’m really excited to be involved again.

What else will you be attending throughout the festival?

I’m looking forward to hearing Patrick Ness, Kate Atkinson, Scarlett Thomas and Carlos Ruiz Zafon. But I’m also looking forward to chancing upon writers from NZ and overseas whose work I don’t yet know. The best part of a writer’s festival is making discoveries, and being surprised.

What are your top three tips for aspiring young writers?

1. Read as much as you can.
2. Remember you’re an initiate, not an expert. This will always be true.
3. Experiment with a range of forms before you settle. Imitation comes before invention: the braver and more wide-ranging your imitations, the better your inventions will be.