Next year the Whanganui Literary Festival will bring authors and readers together again. In the meantime, New Zealand authors share their lockdown experiences.

Dame Fiona Kidman and playwright Albert Belz were guest speakers at the Whanganui Literary Festival 2019. They shared some experiences of the Covid-19 lockdown with the Whanganui Literary Festival Trust committee.

Dame Fiona Kidman
Six months ago, as I strolled beneath Whanganui's gorgeous blooming cherry trees, it was impossible to imagine a world so changed. The first day of lockdown coincided with my 80th birthday and, as it happened, with the 80th anniversary of Michael Joseph Savage's death. What a night to be born. I felt a bit gloomy on the day as I had been expecting a full complement of family from all over the world. But I told myself to get on with things. They promised a great day next year as they all phoned and Skyped in. I am fortunate to have loving friends, great neighbours and some local family who have shopped for me, delivering it at careful distance. I know I am much more fortunate than many.

Dame Fiona Kidman
Dame Fiona Kidman

So what have I been doing since then? A fair bit of reading, not as much writing as I would like, although I have had some small newspaper commissions and I have enjoyed those. There is online mentoring as well, and those contacts are a pleasure. I wake very early in the mornings, around five, and this last week I have been opening my curtains and enjoying the spectacle of Comet Swan that is in our skies. It is like a big green plane coming in to land over Cook Strait, with a bright iridescent light. After about 10 minutes it begins to move away. I make a cup of tea, read for a while, have another snooze. I am reading Kirsty Gunn's novel Caroline's Bikini and before that, I read the second installment of Witi Ihimaera's memoirs Native Son. He has been a friend for many years and it's been fascinating to learn more than I ever imagined I knew about him.
A long-tailed cuckoo took up residence in my olive trees for three days, feasting on ripening fruit and, if there are things to love in this altered world, it is the bird life that is teeming around Wellington. It is astonishing how quickly nature is reasserting itself, a portent for a more hopeful future perhaps.


Albert Belz
1. How has lockdown been for you and your family generally?
I returned to NZ from Australia to sit out C19. My partner is a frontline worker while I take immunosuppressant medication, so we're not able to be together at this time, which is difficult. Although as the Covid playing field seems to be evening out here and in Australia, I'm looking forward to seeing her again. In the mean-time it has been nice to be with my NZ whanau.

2. Any particular challenges?
Shopping was the most difficult [thing] and learning to plan ahead, which is difficult for an impulse-buyer like myself.

3. What have you been reading during lockdown?
I read a trashy Wilbur Smith novel ... It was great! Other than that, work hasn't slowed down for me as I am finishing my Masters paper, filling out production apps and writing for TV.

4. Any favourite books you could recommend?
I enjoy reading works that allow me the opportunity to switch my brain off for a bit. Hence big, epic, adventury, "save the princess" kinda stuff that Wilbur Smith does so well.

5. Have you balanced reading with watching Netflix or do you prefer reading?
I prefer watching Netflix. I work in film and television, and am a slow reader. So give me a screen with some big, bad, bold images populated with interesting characters making interesting decisions any day of the week.

6. Have you been reading news and getting a bigger socio/economic picture?
I just think how lucky we are to have a centre-left government in power at this moment in history. Leadership where the culture of "us" takes precedence over the more conservative culture of "me" (what's in it for me?) that we see on the right. Watching a right-wing America sink out of greed, and its policies of economy over humanity summarises everything that's wrong about humanity.

7. Have you found this lockdown a productive time for writing or not?
Absolutely productive. A more selfish part of me will sigh with a hint of regret upon going into level 2 on Thursday. But can't wait for travel restrictions to Australia to be lifted so I can be with my partner again.