Tickets are on sale now for the country’s newest, and quirkiest, writers festival, to be held in Ōhakune in March. And even if you can’t make it, you can still be involved by donating to its crowdfunding campaign!
A pony ride with a popular children’s author, a literary waterfall walk, poets on bikes and a venue like something out of Twin Peaks: this doesn’t sound like the average writers festival. But then the first ever Ruapehu Writers Festival, which will be held in Ōhakune on 17–20 March, is not an average writers festival.
Locals and visitors alike will be able to enjoy a long weekend of events celebrating reading and writing – including readings, panel discussions, workshops, sessions for children and a poetry slam. It will feature around 40 New Zealand writers, from the well-known to the up-and-coming. Tickets and season passes are on sale now, and a you can help by supporting its Boosted crowdfunding campaign, which runs until the end of February.
The idea for the festival came out of conversations between Anna Jackson, a poet and Associate Professor of English literature at Victoria University, and her husband, Simon Edmonds, who runs Tuatua café on Wellington’s waterfront. Anna and Simon live part time at Rangataua, next door to Ōhakune: Simon has come here to ski since he was a child. I don't ski, but I read and write, and for me Ōhakune is at its best in the summer. We thought it would be brilliant to bring writers and readers together here in the middle of the North Island, in the summer, when we could go on walks and talk about books in a relaxed way with readers from the region and from around New Zealand.”
Joining Simon and Anna on the organising committee is Helen Rickerby, a poet and publisher, who runs Seraph Press and JAAM literary magazine. She says, “It’s going to be a bit different from other festivals – more informal, very friendly, and we’ll have a lot more writers in discussion with each other, rather than having sessions with just one writer at a time. I’m particularly looking forward to hearing Martin Edmond, one of my favourite non-fiction writers, who grew up in Ōhakune, in a session with local historian Merrilyn George. I’ve heard rumours that they might let us in on some lesser-known stories of the town.”
Other topics for discussion sessions include the Desert Road, point of view, and working with myth in poetry and fiction. There will be some sessions for children too: a pony ride with popular author Stacy Gregg, and poetry and song with Paula Green, and Laughton and Jenny Pattrick. Other well-known writers at the festival include Elizabeth Knox, who is giving the Festival Lecture on Friday Night, Emily Perkins, James Brown, Fiona Farrell, Nicky Pellegrino, Harry Ricketts, and Fiona Kidman. Local writers are also being included, such as novelist and Taumarunui High School teacher Antony Millen. Anna says that they had no trouble finding writers to come to the festival. “Everyone was so enthusiastic. There are at least twice as many writers we would have loved to have included if we had the space.”
“It has been really important to involve the local community,” says Simon, “and everyone we have talked to in the region has been so excited and keen to be a part of it. One of the first people we met with was Johnny Greene, the head of English at Ruapehu College in Ōkahune. He emphasised how great this will be for his students – bringing books and reading to life for them, and introducing them to New Zealand writers – some of them will be studied by the students beforehand. As part of the festival, performance poets Carrie Rudzinski and Ken Arkind will be running a slam poetry workshop for the students, and we hope some of them will come along and compete in the poetry slam on Saturday night.”
The festival will be based at the Powderhorn Chateau, at Ōhakune Junction. Helen says, “It’s going to be a great venue. We’re using a conference room and a restaurant area, both of which have amazing decks to relax on between sessions. Being in an alpine town, the hotel has log walls, which reminds me of the hotel in Twin Peaks – though a lot less creepy!”
The festival also has two sessions: Small Town Shadows and Poets Who Cycle, in a charming historic hall at Horopito. There’ll be a free shuttle there and back from the Powderhorn, but keen cyclists have the option of hiring a bike and riding back over the Old Coach Road cycle track.
Tickets are on sale now on eventfinda.co.nz, or via ruapehuwritersfestival.nz, with early bird season passes costing only $110 and individual sessions at only $14. Concessions are also available.
The organisers have kept ticket prices low to encourage as many people to come as possible, but hope others will invest in the festival by donating to their crowdfunding campaign through Boosted (the Arts Foundation’s crowdfunding platform). While the festival has some funding from Creative NZ and ticket sales, the additional funding will help pay for accommodation and travel for the participating writers, who are generously donating their time. Because Boosted contributions are eligible for a tax credit, donors will get 33 cents back from every dollar they donate.
After the festival is over, Anna and Simon won’t have time to relax – Anna is the recipient of the 2016 Katherine Mansfield Fellowship, and in April they will be heading over to Menton in France for three months. While there, Anna will be working on a new collection of poetry, with the working title of ‘Pasture and Flock’, fresh with inspiration from the festival.