In his first public appearance for 10 years - since he promised himself "never again" on his 70th birthday - Maurice Gee delighted as the festival's first Honoured New Zealand Writer.

In discussion with publisher Geoff Walker, Gee said of his more elderly characters: "Old people have a kind of fullness that young people don't have," not necessarily wisdom, but experience and an awareness of death.

"They haven't stopped living, but can be living intensely at the same time."

The hour - and with it, the entire festival - ended on a poignant note with Gee saying he can no longer write fiction; his words are "just not coming alive".


But after 30 novels, he is "absolutely at ease" with this: "I have a sense of completion."

Cue a heartfelt standing ovation from the audience - it was us rather than Gee who had received the greater honour.

Spoken word artist Lemon Andersen, in his late 30s, had sad dog-eyes and an intense demeanour to match his story as the Brooklyn-raised son of heroin addicts who both died of Aids by the time he was 15.

The highlights were his recitations: fast and theatrical with great flow, shading and story-telling.

"Rap culture was too busy selling records and they forgot how to speak," he said, of why he was attracted to poetry.