Jet-fragged and happy
I got back on Sunday from the Perth Writer’s Festival and Webstock in Wellington, New Zealand and spent the last two days with that terrible poisoned feeling of being out of time.
I love the description of jet lag in Pattern Recognition: “that her mortal soul is leagues behind her, being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical down the vanished wake of the plane that brought her here, hundreds of thousands of feet above the Atlantic. Souls can’t move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage.”
But I reckon it’s not actually the soul, it’s the tiny bug that regulates your bodyclock, the cicada of circadian rhythm, desperately buzzing across foreign seas in the wake of jet planes to try to catch up.
New Zealand was stunningly beautiful and New Zealanders are, as new friend Louise von Randow (thanks Adam!) points out, both “friendly AND dark”. That’s an awesome combination.
I got into Wellington a few days early which allowed me lots of time to freak out about my speech to the fiercely smart and techy Webstock audience on the Thursday, but also to meet up with Twitter friends.
Specifically: brilliant author and funny, lovely human being, Elizabeth Knox who threw a dinner party with wonderful people in her house in the hills and just extraordinary food. (I’m with Elizabeth’s teen son, the fish salad thing we had is absolutely the best thing ever).
And @theremina aka Meredith Yayanos, one of the editors of Coilhouse Magazine and all-round doll. We spent hours and hours and hours talking intriguing crap about feminist bondage and Internet stalkers and retro moviehouses and weird lovelinesses in the world which make our brains happy, including our mutual (for me, online only) friends and general hero-guys who make the world a better and more interesting place, William Gibson and Warren Ellis.
She also took me down to the Weta shop, (attached to Weta studios, where her partner works, currently in lockdown on The Hobbit), where I was tempted to buy many cool things from steampunk guns to Tintin rockets but managed to escape with credit card (barely) intact.
Webstock was the most organised, friendly and kick-ass conference event I’ve been to, from the line-up of speakers to the ingenious name-tags (Your name is on BOTH sides and it also doubles as an info booklet including a map, programme schedule and useful hints – can everyone do this from now on please?).
It was kinda an overload of brilliant people, from the staff, Jo Eaton, Mike Forbes and Ludwig Wendzich in particular, to cool attendees (just please, don’t tell me the best-man story again) to the speakers.
I got to hang out most with Scott Hanselman, who interviewed me for his podcast, Michael B Johnson from Pixar and Matt Inman-aka The Oatmeal aka another hero-guy – as well as Jeremy Keith, Gabriella Coleman, Estelle Weyl, Dana Chisnell, Erin Kissane (not enough) Jared Spool, Jessica Hische, the hilarious Amy Hoy, Derek Handley (who is going to space, the bastard!) and, later, Wilson Miner and Laura Brunow Miner.
(Forgive me, I’m not going to link all their names, the full list of speakers is here http://www.webstock.org.nz/12/speakers/)
It’s interesting that the conference is purportedly aimed at tech people because it was more of a put-a-collection-of-fascinating-people-in-one-room-tech-and-culture-and-what-tech-does-to-culture-conference.
Sure, there were more tech heavy talks (I missed most of the first day cos, did I mention, I was freaking out about my speech and redoing my slides four million and three times), but a lot of the speeches were, more inspiringly, about ZOMG, have you seen this cool stuff in the world?. Storytelling cropped up quite a lot, which fitted in niftily with mine.
My personal favourites were Wilson Miner‘s beautiful and riveting talk about the world re-shaping itself to accommodate technology with its hypnotic imagery of highways and traffic and cities fundamentally evolving to fit the car, Jeremy Keith‘s terrifying insight into how algorithms are running the world and how we’re really going to be in trouble when the algorithms start writing other algorithms, Gabriella Coleman‘s deep investigations into Anonymous, Amy Hoy‘s very, very funny talk about happiness and slug-bashing, Michael B Johnson‘s inner workings of Pixar and storytelling, Jessica Hische‘s gorgeous design talk which ran 20 minutes overlong and no-one noticed, Scott Hanselman‘s incredibly-useful-productivity-tools (noted) and Matt Inman‘s crying-with-laughter story of how he turned silly polls on “how many cannibals your body would feed” for his online dating business into a world-dominating cartoon empire, mwahahahaha!
The speeches will all be going up online over the next few weeks – watch the Webstock blog for updates.
(Love this gayroller pic from TheOatmeal’s post on “what it means when you say literally“)
After all the stressing, my talk on reality inspiring fiction went absolutely fine, in part, thanks to the good people of Webstock hilariously fulfilling my ridiculous tour-rider which demanded green M&Ms, a live octopus, a District-9 prawn arm from local SFX company Weta and meth-amphetamine, although, admittedly, as this photo by Jeremy Keith shows, they only provided images of the latter three.
And this is why we need teleporters.
Also so I can hang out more with all the awesome people I got to hang out with who are now half a planet away.
I flew up to Auckland and on to Waiheke an island 45 minutes away by ferry, to stay in a beach house offered up by total strangers, Karl and Louise, who have become great friends.
Did TONS of writing, including getting a new comics proposal in to Vertigo and lots of words on my novel, swam in the ocean, had lunch on ridiculously beautiful wine farms and got to hang out a little with Karl and Louise von Randow and their kids, Mia and Arthur, Webstockers Matt and Catherine Buchanan, and Laura and Wilson Miner who came over for the day. By the end, I was plotting ways to stay and import my family.
On the last night, I managed to spill a very good New Zealand red on my laptop and kill it utterly. Utterly. Three technicians on three continents shook their heads sadly when I presented it to them as a you-can-totally-fix-this-right?
I also managed to aggravate my repetitive strain injury and I’ve realised I just need to bite the bullet in future and travel with my whole ergonomic set-up, external keyboard, mouse, laptop stand (which also would have saved my Mac from the liquid damage).
Then, to my cicada’s distress, after it had just settled (nuzzling into my shoulder, tapping its time-resolving proboscis into my spine and from there into my central nervous system) I set off again, seven and a bit hours flying to Perth, across several more timezones.
The Perth Writer’s Festival covers the wordy bits, in a crazily beautiful setting at the university of Western Australia with lots of trees and beautiful old buildings and peacocks and ravens, but it’s all part of a grand arts festival including film, sculpture, photography, music etc.
The highlights were Germaine Greer, the incredible inflating and deflating red lily sculpture, very cool panels (I got to appear with Jo Nesbø and Michael Robotham!) and again, hanging out with lovely people.
Too many to name, actually, but I spent the most time with deadly nice first lieutenant to the festival organiser, Kathy Johnston, who took us out for dinner at a friend’s restaurant in the coolest part of town, the scarily smart Glen Duncan, Shona Martyn, my new publisher at HarperCollins Australia, who is wonderfully insane in the most rock ‘n’ roll way AND has the best shoes, Theresa at HC, who is just cool, Jane Finemore, queen of organising and pain-meds for my repetitive strain-induced shoulder injury, Christine Farmer at HC, Stephen Romei, Jennifer Byrne, Michael Robotham, Felicity and Mick Young (thanks again for missioning to get me a loan laptop!), Paul Ham, Cate Kennedy, Lara Morgan, Angelo Loukakis, Nigel Brennan, William McInnes, Carole Wilkinson, Helen Merrick and Frané Lessac, who sent me home with half a dozen of the kids’ books she’d illustrated – and a whole bunch of other cool authors various, awesome booksellers and nice people who came along. (Sorry Zoo City sold out at the official festival bookstore!)
Again, sorry no links, but here’s the festival attendees list: http://www.perthfestival.com.au/en/What%27s-on/Perth-Writers-Festival/Browse-the-program-by-author/
It was fantastic to be on a variety of panels that didn’t pigeonhole writers. I got to talk imagined worlds on a speculative fiction panel, creepy real-life research and accidental crime-writing on a thriller panel and strength in adversity contrasting fiction vs quite devastating memoir.
I did get very tired of hearing South African crime horror stories which everyone seemed incredibly eager to tell me and actually three of us nearly got mugged trying to find a bar at 11pm by two dodgy young (white*) guys, where one crossed the road to ask for a light, AS his friend lit up under the tree. It was all fine ultimately, but they were definitely trying it on.
(When I was telling my cab driver about this two nights later after dinner at the most astonishing Thai restaurant with Jane and Christine, he first insisted that they had to be aboriginal or Asian and when I stuck to my story that they were white, reassured me that we were probably in no danger. If they were white, they would have just been blowing off steam. Ah, racism. It’s everywhere).
I also met a very cool, very talented young woman called Hannah, who came along to the three hour writing workshop I did, who needs to stop messing around and finish her novel. I know this because I have that t-shirt, because I messed around on Moxyland for four years, and it’s not a good or useful t-shirt. The words are only worth something when you manage to get them OUT of your head.
And now that I’m back home and my cicada seems to have caught up again, I’m hopefully getting a new machine any day now and have started seeing a physio to fix the stupid self-induced RSI damage, I’ll be chained to the (external, ergonomically set-up) keyboard. Doing the important stuff. Getting the damn words out in to the world. One slightly pained keystroke at a time.