Auckland Writers & Readers Festival: Behind the stage

By Camilla Havmoller

It has been a hectic five months leading up to the seventh Auckland Writers & Readers Festival, says Festival Director Jill Rawnsley.

However, after the continuous four-day event opened its doors to the public last Thursday, she now feels she can start to relax somewhat as the festival takes on a life of its own.

The preparations, she explains, had already started with the previous year's one-day event, as it was used to 'test' the new venue - the Aotea Centre.

In order to meet the larger budget due to the costs of funding the bigger venue, a considerable amount of time and effort went into applying for grants in addition to getting sponsors on board.

For this year's festival, the festival team has also worked closely with the organisers for the Sydney Writer's Festival in order to attract as many prominent international speakers to Auckland as possible.

The aim, Rawnsley continues, is to get to a point where the public associates the month of May with the Auckland Writers & Readers festival in the same way people think it is 'film festival time' in July.

The initiative for the festival initially came from writers Peter Wells and Stephanie Johnson, now the creative directors for the festival, when they independently complained to a shared editor that Auckland really should have a writers festival.

The editor brought the two together and, after getting major sponsors on board and sticking to a firm vision for the festival, the first event was realised in 1999. They were all blown away by the embracing response from the audience - 5000 tickets sold.

This year's festival sees 25 international and 120 local speakers together serving up a smorgasbord of sessions and onstage panel discussions across science, history, fiction, lifestyle, biographical, political, stage play and TV script writing.

Among the speakers are internationally renown authors such as Lionel Shriver (We should talk about Kevin), Joanne Harris (Chocolat), Richard Ford (Pulitzer Prize-winner), Richard E.Grant (The Wah-Wah Diaries: The Making of a Film), Kate Grenville (The Secret River) and Tim Winton (Dirt Music, The Turning).

The festival is also an opportunity to bring people across the industry together, both nationally and internationally. On the initiative of Creative New Zealand, a number of international festival directors and agents have been invited in order to create exposure and, potentially, overseas opportunities for New Zealand writers.

Because of the demand and enthusiasm, the festival has again become an annual event this year after previously having been bi-annual. Rawnsley confirms that 9,500 advance tickets have already been sold and door sales are predicted to add an additional 20 percent to that amount.

And this year, thanks to the capacity of the new venue, the organisers are particularly pleased to confidently say there is a seat for everyone who wants to attend any session of the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival.

The festival ends Sunday night 27th May. For more information on the programme, see

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