The next Whanganui Literary Festival is September/October 2021. Festival Trustee Airini Beautrais checked in from lockdown.
1. How has lockdown been for you and your family generally?
It has been surprisingly fun. The boys and I have been staying with my parents and my brother so it has been an extended family experience. We have spent a lot of time outside making fires, going for bike rides, hunting for mushrooms, and have done lots of creative stuff.
2. Have there been any particular challenges?
Trying to concentrate on work has been hard. I have been worried about other people who are struggling. I've had to help students adjust to learning online. My grandmother is in hospital and we can't go and see her.
3. What have you been reading during lockdown?
I have been reading my dad's book collection! I read Stiff: The curious lives of human cadavers, by Mary Roach. It was written in the early 2000s and was very interesting and entertaining. I really enjoy reading popular science. I read The Doors of Perception, by Aldous Huxley, which didn't convince me taking psychedelics would be a good idea, but was interesting from a historical perspective. I'm partway through Vanity Fair, but I'm finding it hard going! I'm also reading a new poetry book by Hinemoana Baker, Funkhaus.
4. Any favourites you could recommend and why?
I would recommend Hinemoana Baker for anyone who is into poetry. Hinemoana is also a talented musician and songwriter and this lyrical quality comes across in her work. Also, VUP has a free Home Reader you can download from their website, with work by a wide range of authors. It's a good sampler of contemporary NZ writing. I have a story in there too.
5. Have you balanced reading with watching Netflix or do you prefer reading?
We don't have Netflix but I have watched some Harry Potter movies with the kids. I'm actually not a very good reader because I'm too restless. I usually read at breakfast time and lunch time. Other recreational activities have been exercising, sewing, crochet, and preserving fruit from mum and dad's 150 tree orchard. And having online dress up parties.
6. Have you been reading news and getting a bigger picture?
I've taken the Ministry of Health advice to only check one news source once a day. Until recently, I've tuned into the 1pm announcements. I go to the RNZ website or listen to the radio for news. Yes, I'm worried for people who are on their own, particularly the elderly, single parents and people with mental illness, who may not be getting the support they need. I'm also worried for people in abusive home environments. And it must be a hard time for homeless people.
7. Have you found this lockdown a productive time for writing or not? Can you divulge anything about what you are working on?
Well, I finally did a little bit of writing today! I am planning out some long-form essays. Today's writing was a brainstorm on the intersections between environmentalism, feminism and the puritan religious tradition — very thorny and fascinating, as these have all been significant threads in my life. I am also working with an editor on a book of short stories. It's been a 10-year project and it's exciting to see it in the final stages. I haven't got a confirmed title yet, but keep an eye out for it later in the year (I hope) from Victoria University Press.