Sitting in their English teacher's office, seven McAuley High School girls are discussing their favourite books.

Aged 15 to 17, the girls appreciate stories with strong characters and tales that take them out of their everyday lives and make them think about what it's like to be someone or somewhere else; their favourite genres run the gamut from romance to science fiction.

The talk turns to non-fiction and poetry - Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar has made them think a lot about second-wave feminism and the rise and rise of spoken word poetry has fostered a greater interest, for some of them, in written verse.

To hear them speak so enthusiastically about reading and writing makes McAuley's head of English, Sarah Frost, very pleased, but she knows they'll have a lot more to discuss by the end of this week.


Miss Frost is taking 30 of her students to the Auckland Writers Festival Schools' Programme where they'll meet and listen to international and local writers. They'll be among 6000 youngsters at the festival's schools' component.

The section is now so popular it's increased from two to three days, allowing extra author talks and workshops for primary, intermediate and secondary school students.

The McAuley girls are especially keen to hear about how writers got their start and soak up any tips they offer.

They'll hear from authors such as Irish writer John Boyne, who wrote The Boy in Striped Pyjamas; Briton Liz Pichon, the woman behind the multimillion-copy bestselling Tom Gates books, and American Michael Grant who'll introduce a genre-bending series, Frontline, which reimagines World War II with girl soldiers.

Spoken-word performer Maxine Beneba Clarke presents; British philosopher Julian Baggini will talk about why philosophy might appeal and Kiwi expat Jonathan Gil Harris will have students falling in love with Shakespeare.

Edward Carey will talk about his acclaimed Ironmonger trilogy and the relationship between writing characters and drawing them.

Some of New Zealand's best-known children's and young adult writing talent - theatre company Indian Ink's Jacob Rajan, the multi-award winning Kate De Goldi, chart-topping country and blues singer Tami Neilson, author-illustrator Donovan Bixley, poet Tusiata Avia and much-loved author and painter Bob Kerr - will be there, too.

Students will also take home free books produced, for the first time, by the festival.

It includes an illustration by US writer and illustrator Carey, short stories by Vincent O'Sullivan, de Goldi and Denis Wright, and a selection of poems by Avia.

There's an extra bonus for McAuley, Mangere and Tangaroa College students. Selected students from the three schools will be mentored by local writers Avia and Paula Morris to develop their creative writing skills.

Festival dates

Tomorrow night:

The Auckland Writers Festival begins with the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards at the Auckland Town Hall.

Wednesday: The Border Debate, Auckland Town Hall, 8pm.

Thursday: Very New Zealand Murders, free public lecture where In the Scene of the Crime journalist Steve Braunias re-examines 12 headline-making cases.

Friday - Sunday, May 15: Author talks, workshops and special events.