The great pleasure of attending a writers' festival is that you never know what's going to pop up and delight you.

So it was with Saturday's late-afternoon session at the Auckland Writers Festival, with Rhys Darby, a comedian whose humour has always left me a little unamused. But, with the collaboration of astute host Tim Wilson, Darby had the audience - and me - roaring with laughter through much of his hour on stage.

Much more relaxed than he often comes across on screen, Darby was both full of bravado and self-deprecation as he told how he came to write his "loosely autobiographical'' book, This way to Spaceship, boasting that the only time he can switch off his comedy brain was when he was talking to his wife.

Wilson asked him if he ever worried about becoming an inflated parody of himself, to which he replied: "I always have been and now it's a good fit.''


Darby watched a lot of war movies when he was a teenager and joined the army after leaving school, thinking he'd be going behind lines to rescue POWs. Then he realised he'd joined the NZ Army. So he honed his skills by impersonating his commanding officers - eventually, under orders, to their faces. They (he said) thought he was hilarious.

Darby raised cheers when he said "creativity is more important than sport'', and said he'd never take parts in Hollywood which required him to speak like an American. Finally Wilson asked him to show some of his finest dance moves to the song Rhythm Is a Dancer; and he brought the house down with a seamless blend of chicken "feed'', delivery boy and James Bond on skis moves. Very likeable.

Hong Kong-based Malay economist Chandran Nair was in Darby's audience, hopefully getting a laugh after delivering a worrisome message in his packed-out Michael King Memorial Lecture earlier in the day. His lecture Consumptionomics started with some shouting from an audience member when NBR boss Nevil Gibson made the introduction. Couldn't quite hear all the exact word but delivered with a lot of anger, mirrored during the Q & A section by a lot of shouting and Gibson ordering the miscreant's microphone be turned off.

Nair explained that as a Malay, he'd been born in an "intellectual colony as a subservient''. He railed against Asian countries being told by western financial systems to spend large during the 2008 recession "to balance the global economises''.

His position is too complex to outline here (read the book) but the fact is, he said, by 2050 there will 5 billion Asian people and their countries will simply have to reject the western models of relentless consumption because the earth cannot take it and all of those people need food, sanitation, housing and education more than they need aniPhone (made with Chinese slave labour) or a car.

"Car ownership is not a human right,'' he said. "When I say that in the US they think I am Taliban.''

Britsh crime writer Peter James attracted a modest but keen crowd to start the day off but he was interesting. James started off writing paranormal thrillers but switched to crime novels and Brighton Detective Roy Grace in 2001. He has sold millions of books , and researches police procedural by befriending cops who have revealed their world to him over the past decade.

He likes to take a large vodka martini and a fag in the evening before writing until midnight, and takes his revenge on anyone who "pisses him off'' in real life by transplanting them into one of his books, in a morgue wearing a toe tag.

Irish children's book illustrator Oliver Jeffers did a great session with Dylan Horrocks, with a pleasing mumber of very young kids in the audience including a good proportion of boys. Jeffers drew, explaining in a highly entertaining narrative how and what he was creating before Horrocks joined him in a drawing duo. He gave a copy of his book The Hueys to a child in the audience who wore the best jumper - but then she told him she already had it.

British writer A.D. Miller (Andy), who was the Moscow correspondent for the Economist, spoke about the real politiks underpinning his Booker shortlisted novel Snowdrops with blogger Stephen Stratford. Snowdrops features a British lawyer, Nick Platt, who undergoes a "moral decline'' as he chooses to turn a blind eye in the "no-questions-asked'' environment of Moscow, and Russia at large.

What a spooky, shifty world where no one can be trusted. Miller said a Russian poll of who was most mistrusted by the people voted the police the most criminal group. Criminals came second.