Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries, Brussels

Last night was one of those extraordinary nights spent with good people while doing marvelous things.

I had wandered over to Brussels in time to meet Lynette after work.  We met up with New Zealand artist, Wendy Leach and together we walked to Irma's house, where New Zealand photographer, Jacque Gilbert, was arriving fresh from her Amsterdam world.

I cannot begin to describe how lovely it was to find myself sitting there with these women, glasses of wine in hand, food on the table ... just talking.  It was one of those magical moments you experience sometimes, one of those ones where you think about pinching yourself to see if it's real.

But that was only the beginning.  We had come together because we were attending a literary event at the bookshop called Passa Porta.  I had never heard of it before last night but their event was impossible to resist.  Lynette had written, telling us all that she had booked tickets to an event with Eleanor Catton.  The writer who convincingly won the Man Booker Prize in 2013 with her book The Luminaries.  Annelies Verbeke, a Flemish writer, was to interview Eleanor.

We arrived at the shop and the room was already quite full.  I'm sure there were more than 100 people there. And then it began and honestly, sometimes I was close to the point of tears.  Before photography, writing was my great big passion.  I still write but somehow it slipped into the background as photography strode to the forefront in my life.

Last night, there I was, listening to Eleanor and Annelies talk while delighting in the way she was willing to kind of crack open her novel ... revealing her motivations, ideas, goals, and more.

I loved her 832 page novel, The Luminaries, for so many reasons.  It was set in New Zealand but more than that, on the west coast of the South Island in a town I've loved since I was a teenager.  My cousins came from Hokitika. It was a small town with a wild savage beauty back then.  The Tasman Sea still comes roaring across from Australia crashing in on the shore there.  And a few miles inland you can see the powerful outline of the Southern Alps rising up, appearing to trap you between the wild coast and the mountains.

I returned to Hokitika in 2012 and it had changed, so much.  So little, and so much.  The road through the alps to the east coast is a highway these days ... a rugged New Zealand highway but still, simpler to cross than it was back in 1866.  The year Eleanor Catton's novel opens ... goldrush days in that wild place.

She read the opening scene to us before Annelies began with her questions.  The audience became completely silent.  The room was still as she read.  Annelies asked some superb questions and Eleanor answered them, fully, completely.  To the point where I will reread the book because I understand how she intended we use the astrological information.  And while she was clear on the fact that it's not important to understanding the story, it does add another layer or ten to the complexity of the story.

There was a question time and an invitation to stay for the book signing.  New Zealand wine was handed out, courtesy of the New Zealand Embassy.

I'm not really a creature who wants my books signed by authors.  BUT I did want to talk with Eleanor, to tell her how much I had enjoyed both the book and the evening.

I started my university degree in 1998 because I needed to earn two papers before I could apply for Bill Manhire's creative writing course ... way back then.  I lost my way, stayed on at university and never did apply for the course.

Listening to Eleanor brought everything back.  Those days on Stewart Island, a writing workshop with Patricia Grace.  The Otago University's summer writing schools.  Those days of writing.  And so I bought a second copy of the book and waited my turn in the queue.  Somehow, despite the intensity of the interview she had just come through, Eleanor made time to really talk with every person who approached her. 

It turned out that we were wearing the same greenstone necklace.  The same hook.  I explained I had needed some of 'home' to bring back to Europe, to wear close to me, and that it came from a place just along the road from Hokitika. 

Today I wrote, over on Facebook,  that I found Eleanor Catton to be intelligent, gracious, patient, humble ... and you know, everything good.  I didn't exaggerate. If you get the chance to hear her speak, I recommend you do it.

Lynette (on the left in the photograph below), the woman who made it all possible because I would have missed this without her, gave me her camera and I took a series of photographs. 

But you see ...?

I Think I Have Stories to Tell Tonight ...

I'm almost sure I have things to say ...

I was accepted by the NYC gallery, as one of their photographers but I couldn't afford them.  There was a lot of money involved and, in the end, it seemed more about money than art.  I would have loved working with them but by the time Gert and I reached the end of the contract, it was clear.  And so very over.

Today a client ... a friend, the lines often blur, sent me a pdf of the book she's been writing.  It's full of my photographs from that time when I was working with her, having some of the most excellent adventures and wandering the world, photographing so many friendly and talented artists.

So I'm excited about that.

And I won a prize today.  Last Friday, I almost couldn't breathe for stress because I was two weeks behind on my rather intensive marketing course.  I sat here at the computer, Saturday, Sunday ... Monday, and mostly caught up.  And somewhere along the way, I posted news of my one-day photography workshop for women.  It sold out in 12 hours. So I won the prize that I had taken no notice of last week.  I was 'that' far behind.  I shared the winning with Chris, the one we all knew would win.

I transcribed two Genova interviews this afternoon, then wrote them up as short pieces for a most exciting new Ligurian website launching soon.  Photos were sent.   And now for the rest.  These were the shortest interviews.

It's been slightly manic of late.  Life is humming.  I'm attending a Māori hāngi in the months ahead.  Photos and stories shall surely be posted because I can see how that event might become one of those big old delicious stories, out there on Flanders Fields.

There's talk of Norway and a favourite friend at the end of summer.  Lots of photography.  And I'm organising a series of 5-day workshops in Genova.  If you have ever wanted to work with me then this is the one because I have a truly superb group of Genoese people willing to work with me.  However my webpage is still under construction.  It's all there, just not the 'Buy' button nor dates.  I'm currently looking at July, earlier if there's time for anyone to be interested, then September, October, November.

However, I will get that under control in the days ahead.

Amy Turn Sharp is one of the poets I love best and she has finally published her first collection.  I wrote. I have ordered.  News of that will follow.  Kay McKenzie Cooke is another favourite poet.  She has also published a new book.  I want to get there too.  And Ren Powell is writing and will publish again, I'm sure of it.

Life is good.  It's slightly surreal.  I'm busy.  I'm babysitting Miss 9 for this week-long crocus vacation, and sure enough, there are some little yellow beauties out there in the garden.  And in-between everything else, I'm reading my way through a most excellent book ... the Man Booker prize-winning book, The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton.  I shall be sad when it comes to an end.