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May 27, 2016

Auckland Writers Festival Photo of Gloria Steinem

A Feast for the Soul

Every May I go to the Auckland Writers Festival (AWF) along with thousands of others, many in aproximately the same age group as I! I am an addict. Of Writers Festivals generally but of the Auckland one in particular. This is because it is, without a doubt, one of the best in the world. This, its 16th year, broke all records, selling over 65,000 tickets. The entire Aotea Center from basement to the Gods was filled for six days with the buzz of people talking about books and their astonishingly talented and creative authors from all over the world, with New Zealand well represented. The hardest part was choosing which sessions to attend from the author interviews, workshops, and panel discussions featuring over 150 novelists, memoirists, translators, playwrights, poets, song writers, scientists, historians, children’s writers, critics, editors, and illustrators. The first three days were for 5000 enthusiastic school students who filled the Aotea Centre to hear these exciting speakers and presenters, and discover that it is possible to write for a job! (Let’s not tell them just yet what a very long and difficult journey that will be, nor that their chances of actually making enough to live on as a writer is remote!)

But it is not about making money, and it never was for artists. As the Auckland Writers Festival director, Anne O’Brien, commented at the conclusion of the festival, “We know that literate citizens live better lives and build better worlds and we’re delighted to have played our part in cultivating literacy in the country over the last six days… This has been the most astonishing six days. The laughter, energy, ideas, conversations, tears and joy from audience and writers alike has been remarkable… People travelled from around the country and across the world, and left inspired with stories of change, hope and a deeper understanding of the role they, as individuals, can play in the world.”

This year’s festival as always covered a wide range of topics, from the best literary fiction, to the “new” genre of ‘Domestic Noir’ to political and science writers. But the heart of this festival was the 1970s feminist. Not just one, but many. Of course the 82-year-old Gloria Steinem was the icon of icons (and yes, that is her photo taken at the AWF after 82 years on this earth. As one of the most influential and dedicated the feminists of all time, I doubt she has had much, if any, surgical help, either). She was closely followed by Jeanette Winterson, Susie Orbach and Vivian Gornick. I think all the questions asked of Gloria Steinem following her main packed-to-the-rafters session (2250 minds and souls, enchanted), were from young women from 14 to about 25 years, who were struggling to convince their female peers that feminism was still relevant and necessary. Gloria’s warmth and wisdom in answering their questions showed everyone just why she is an icon, and her session ended with her bringing together many young women who felt isolated in their beliefs so that they could go forward together to continue this long march. As we left the theatre, we passed the queue of people clutching old and new Steinem books for her to sign. There must have been a thousand at least, and how this octogenarian managed to smile, chat and sign the books of 1000+ excited people (mostly women, many young), without collapsing from exhaustion or her hand falling off I do not know. But I bet she stayed put until every last book had been signed. By the time she had completed her task, my friend Jan and I (friends and book lovers from the age of eleven) had probably returned to Jan’s home, eaten our snack, and were tucked up in bed, sound asleep.

I went to nineteen sessions and not one of them did I find anything less than riveting. Not one. But I will mention just one other particularly special session; a workshop with Jane Smiley on 13 Ways of Looking at The Novel. Her breakout novel A Thousand Acres about an Iowa farming family, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1992. Her latest is a trilogy of thick books that make up the Last Hundred Years: A Family Saga” also about a farming family and set in Iowa. It has a chapter for every year from 1920 to 2020. I have read up to the Year 2004. I have finished about twenty novels since then, but I pronmise I will get back to the 100 year saga soon and see what happens in 2020. The question is, will Trump still be in power? As Jane said when asked (many times!), even she coudn’t have imagined such a scenario when she recently wrote Book Three of her saga! But to return to her workshop; what a phenomenal teacher she is and what an intellectual, literary giant. Relaxed, engaging, and with a knowledge and analysis of literature that is mind-blowing, she is the creative writing teacher we all wish we could have. She obviously loves teaching as she still teaches a creative writing class, although I don’t suppose she needs the money. (Unlike most writers who definitely do need to teach, clean toilets and do whatever they can to keep a roof over their heads so they can keep writing for peanuts.)

The Novel (mine, that is!)

A Drop in the Ocean (an appropriate title given the money it will never bring into the Ogden coffers) is, I think I am pleased to say, in its “2nd printing” in both the US (1000 have flown) and Australia (300 have flown), after less than a month out in the world. This sounds better than it is, as the bookshops and retailers who have bought it can return it over the next year if they don’t sell it! If they do return it they get the full cost of the book refunded and the author or publisher pays 50 cents a book for the privilege of having it returned, as well as warehousing costs. And ‘hurt’ books (ie thumbed by bookstore customers, or slighty damaged in the post) are destroyed, as are surplus books that look like they will never find a home.

This is why you really must buy it immediately! (if you haven’t already, thank you), tell your friends (if you like it) and keep quiet if you don’t! If you love bookshops, order it from one of your favourites. This will be good for me as this encourages the bookshop to stock a few copies. In the US bookshops can order it from Ingram Publisher Services, in the UK and NZ from Baker & Taylor, in Australia from Dennis Jones & Associates. You can get it at all the online retailers as a print book or an e-book.

Reviews mean a great deal to an author; for example, Amazon promotes books with lots of reviews. So if you like it, please, please review it or even just give it a rating, on Amazon (preferably post your review on both Amazon US and Amazon UK), Goodreads, Fishpond and where-ever else you can. It is easy-peasy to do; a couple of sentences is fine, no need to write a newsletter!

Here’s how:
On Amazon.com (you can review anonymously, with a pseudonym, or your own name): Go to this link (http://www.amazon.com/Drop-Ocean-Novel-Jenni-Ogden/dp/1631520261?ie=UTF8&fpl=fresh&redirect=true&ref_=s9_simh_gw_g14_i1_r ), click on ‘customer reviews’ by the title. This will take you to the beginning of the customer reviews. Click on “Write a customer review.” Rate, write and save!

Same for Amazon.co.uk Here is their link (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Drop-Ocean-Jenni-Ogden/dp/1631520261/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1464322868&sr=1-1&keywords=Jenni+Ogden). It would be great if you would post your review on both Amazon sites, as they are separate sites in terms of their secret promotion algorithms etc .

Goodreads. You need to be a member to review here, but go on, join up! They don’t spam you and it is a great book site. Go to https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27037952-a-drop-in-the-ocean and under image of book cover click “Read” and a review form pops up. Ignore all the bits about what date you started, etc and just rate the book and write you review, click “save” and you’re done.

Book Review

Coming Rain
by Stephen Daisley

The AWF hosted the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards – New Zealand’s premier literary awards - for the first time this year. Stephen Daisley won the inaugural $50,000 Acorn Foundation Literary Prize. I was delighted, as although he is a New Zealander by birth, he has lived in the Australian outback for most of his adult life and his novel is set there. Daisley is (or was) a shearer. He is 60. This is his scond novel; his first won a major Australian literary award which few people seem to know about. Usually the NZ Book Award goes to a novel set in NZ and one often not as “accessible” to most of the reading public as is Coming Rain. This novel had only six Amazon customer reviews at the time he won the prize. He and his novel were both almost unknown. So good on the judges for not being influenced by anything other than the book.

The story is set in Western Australia’s outback in the 1950s. (We had a campervan trip through much of this country a few years ago, and his lyrical descriptions took me straight back there. It is achingly beautiful country with colours so vivid they seem impossible.) Daisley’s writing style where he frequently uses sentence fragments, evokes the spareness and harshness and beauty of the place and characters. There are two parallel story lines; the first is that of a lone dingo bitch, and seeing the world through her senses is the best part of the book. A young male dog links up with her as the story moves on. They see the other human characters, but are not seen in return. Painter and Lewis, old and young, both shearers and drifters, end up on an isolated farm for the shearing. The farmer has lost his wife and is already partly mad with grief, and his only daughter, whose large pack of sheep dogs and horses adore her, finds in young Lewis a much-needed friend and then lover. The relationships between these spare characters, each grappling with their own hard histories and devils are poignant, harsh, beautiful, brutal, and in the end horrifying. It is one of the most beautifuly written novels I have read in a long time, and it absolutely deserves this literary award.

Article of Possible Interest

My most recent Psychology Today post https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/trouble-in-mind/201605/we-need-talk-about-books is, believe it or not, about books!

So goodbye for another month with thanks for your support, and carry on conning some more mates or enemies into subscribing to my e-newsletter! http://www.jenniogden.com/newsletter.htm

Contact me: jenniogdenauthor@gmail.com