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10 Featherston Booktown events you shouldn't miss

By India 18 Apr 2019

I’m the type of person who reads the programme of every international literary festival as soon as it comes out, regardless of whether I have any hope of attending, so believe me when I say that next month’s Featherston Booktown Festival is going to be world-class.

This is the festival’s fifth year but its first since Featherston was inducted into the International Organisation of Book Towns, joining 21 other small towns around the world where the written word reigns supreme.

There are more than 60 events scheduled, so you’ll want to spend some serious time poring over the programme yourself. Here, though, are 10 things I’m holding out for.


Featherston Booktown credit Pete Monk Photo credit: Pete Monk

1. Telling Stories with Words & Pictures: How to Write & Plan Your Own Picturebook with Gavin Bishop (Saturday, 11 May, 10.30–11.30am, the Royal Hotel, koha)

When I was a child, in the ’80s, Gavin Bishop was a personal hero of mine, mainly because he named the main character in The Horror of Hickory Bay – gasp! – India Brown. Bishop is now in his 70s and bringing joy to a new generation of children. At this event, he’ll talk us through the process of creating his 2017 book Aotearoa: The Story of New Zealand.

2. So You Want to Get Published? with Mary McCallum, Sophie Siers, Kevin Chapman & Claire Murdoch (Saturday, 11 May, 10.30–11.30am, Kiwi Hall, $15)

I love the self-helpy name of this event. Being an aspiring author does sometimes feel like a psychological affliction, doesn’t it? If the thought of shopping your precious manuscript around to agents and publishers makes you want to tear out your hair, relax – these industry pros are here to help.

3. A demonstration of a printing press by Cheryl Gallaway (Saturday, 11 May, 3–4pm and Sunday, 12 May, 10.30–11.30am, Loco Coffee & Books, koha)

Yes, I’m a nerd. But the invention of the printing press was one of the most important events in human history; without it, the last half a millennium would have looked very different. How often do you get to see something that significant with your own eyes (and actually have a turn using it yourself)?

Tayi Tibble Fierce Girl Poets Featherston Booktown 2019
Tayi Tibble

4. Fierce Girl Poets with Rebecca Hawkes, Freya Daly-Sadgrove, Kate Camp, Ellen Rodda and Tayi Tibble (Saturday, 11 May, 6–7pm, the Royal Hotel, $15)

It’s become cool, of late, to sniffily observe that poetry has … become cool. As if that were a bad thing! Anyway, if coolness bothers you, blame poets like these five women. I hate to namecheck just one – they’re all brilliant – but these Freya Daly-Sadgrove lines have been etched on my brain ever since I first read them: "it’s not exactly a problem that you don’t love me / it’s just surprising : look at me / I’m startlingly lovely". FIERCE.

5. Harry Potter Quiz run by the Featherston Library (Saturday, 11 May, 6–7pm, Featherston School Hall, $10)

There are only 60 places available for this event, and they’ll fill up quicker than you can say “Wingardium Leviosa”. So if you’re a Potterhead, stop what you’re doing and email [email protected] immediately to book your team of six. (Then come back and read the rest of this post, please.) Snacks will be provided, fancy dress is encouraged, and it’s not just for kids, of course.

6. Late Night Lit with Ashleigh Young, Kirsten McDougall, Mary McCallum, Tayi Tibble and Sam Duckor-Jones (Saturday, 11 May, 10–11pm, Tarureka Estate, $15)

Nothing makes us bookish types swoon like the mention of a literary salon. Staying up all night, chicly discussing literature and philosophy, possibly in fluent French? Oui, s’il vous plaît. This after-hours event is your chance to live the dream – plus, there’s a cash bar, if you want to really get your Hemingway on.

Megan Dunn credit Tabitha Arthur Whos on the Couch. Featherston Booktown 2019
Megan Dunn
Photo credit: Tabitha Arthur

7. Who’s on the Couch?: Megan Dunn on Bookshops and Mermaids with Noelle McCarthy (Sunday, 12 May, 9.30–10.15am, Royal Hotel, $15)

Megan Dunn is the author of Tinderbox, one of my top three books of 2017 (Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders and The Idiot by Elif Batuman, if you’re wondering). She's currently working on a book about professional mermaids. Noelle McCarthy is a very cool journalist whom I idolise. (Please don’t tell her.) So this event is a big deal for me, and it should be for you too.

8. Parenting: Telling Tales (or) Telling Tales with Bran Gnanalingam, Emily Writes and Catherine Robertson (Sunday, 12 May, 10.30–11.30am, Featherston RSA, $15)

Once upon a time, the clever, erudite, inventive writers in this festival were children who spent half their time reading and the other half daydreaming. On Mothers Day, fittingly, these three writer-parents will discuss storytelling and the role it plays in childhood.

Chris Tse Photo by Rebecca McMillan Featherston Booktown 2019
Chris Tse
Photo credit: Rebecca McMillan

9. Queer Writing with Pip Adam, Chris Tse, Rebecca Hawkes, Robin Peace and Jackson Nieuwland (Chair) (Sunday, 12 May, noon–1pm, Royal Hotel, $15)

Queer writers have always been a vital part of New Zealand’s literary scene, but their queerness hasn’t always been focused on, discussed or celebrated by the wider public. Here, five writers who are themselves producing some of our country’s most exciting work at the moment discuss the present and future of queer writing.

10. “A Room of One’s Own”: Mother's Day Afternoon Tea with Joy Cowley, Emily Writes, Dame Fiona Kidman, Leah McFall & Kate De Goldi (Chair) (Sunday, 12 May, 3–4.30pm, Tarureka Estate, $35)

Is your mum an advertiser-created Motherhood Machine, fuelled only by hand cream and miniature soaps and pedicure vouchers? Or is she, in fact, a fully formed human being who would welcome the chance to spend Mother’s Day listening to five talented women discussing creativity? Yeah, I thought so. (Also, if you book a table for eight, you get a complimentary bottle of bubbly. Some ladies-who-lunch clichés should be allowed to stand.)

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