WORD festival a success before it starts

PHILIP MATTHEWS
Last updated 05:00 27/08/2014
Eleanor Catton

LEADING WRITER: Eleanor Catton will be in town this week for the WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival.

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Word Christchurch

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When you have an inside view of an arts festival, you realise that the planning takes months, even years. For those outside, the excitement or anticipation is condensed into weeks.

Either way, the best feeling is when all of that build-up ends and the thing finally starts. The people behind the WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival, especially literary director Rachael King and executive director Marianne Hargreaves, will be feeling pretty good today.

Four days of events begin tonight with the launch of Andrew Barrie's book about architect Shigeru Ban and the transitional cathedral. Ban himself will be present.

That is a natural place to start for a festival that has its own story to tell about recovery, rebirth and the support of the Christchurch community for local forms of expression.

After the earthquakes cancelled two planned festivals, the organisers came back with a smaller festival in Hagley Park in 2012. That was a success but ticket sales for 2014 have already surpassed 2012 numbers before a single word has been spoken.

Some events have sold out in advance. Friday's The Stars Are Out Tonight event at the transitional cathedral is one of them. That event is hosted by John Campbell and acts like a tapas selection of the festival's leading writers - NoViolet Bulawayo, Eleanor Catton, Kristin Hersh, Anis Mojgani, Diane Setterfield, Meg Wolitzer and Damon Young.

While all the tickets for that event have gone, you can still see the writers individually, although Catton and Bulawayo's events are selling fast.

If you miss out on Catton, or feel you have read or heard enough about The Luminaries to last a few lifetimes, you could check out a truly one-off event at the same time. That is journalist and satirist Steve Braunias in conversation with Ben Uffindell, founder of The Civilian website and the Civilian Party.

Thursday's PechaKucha night has also sold out, as has Wolitzer's fiction workshop.

Tickets are also going quickly for two ridiculously topical sessions.

One is an event with Guardian foreign correspondent Luke Harding, who has written books about contemporary Russia, WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden. The other is an event with Harding, Dirty Politics author Nicky Hager and Australian writer Richard King, chaired by The Press editor Joanna Norris.

Other events might have slipped beneath the radar but are just as worthy: Science communicator Michael Corballis on wandering minds. Novelist Elizabeth Knox delivering the very first Margaret Mahy Memorial Lecture. Bronwyn Hayward and Max Rashbrooke talking about inequality with broadcaster Wallace Chapman. Novelist Lloyd Jones, journalist Rebecca Macfie and film-maker Gaylene Preston talking about the depiction of tough subjects, including our earthquakes. Or architectural communicator Reed Kroloff bringing experience from New Orleans and Detroit to a discussion about how cities can regenerate.

How apt. With its events situated around Latimer Square and Madras St, the WORD Writers & Readers Festival is doing its own small bit for cultural regeneration.

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