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  • Published: 22 April 2015
  • ISBN: 9781775537991
  • Imprint: Random House New Zealand
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 352

The Writers' Festival

Wit, compassion and insight combine in this entertaining novel that explores the politics and human comedy behind writers’ festivals and the publishing industry.

Wit, compassion and insight combine in this entertaining novel that explores the politics and human comedy behind writers’ festivals and the publishing industry.

Writers’ festivals can be hotbeds of literary and romantic intrigue, and the Oceania is up there with the best of them. Rookie director Rae McKay, recently returned from New York, fears she has bitten off more than she can chew. Pressure comes not only from local and international writers but also from the prestigious Opus Book Award, which this year is being hosted by the festival. Add to that high-level diplomatic fallout surrounding a dissident Chinese writer, Rae’s slowly disintegrating private life and ongoing dramas involving much loved characters of The Writing Class, and the result is a wise and witty novel that explores the contemporary phenomenon of the public face of the writer.

This lively, stand-alone novel is as ‘intelligent, tender and funny’ as readers found The Writing Class.

'. . . a book that's sophisticated, witty and - best of all - generous in its attitudes to its characters. It's a love letter to reading and writing and things readers and writers share, especially the mutual effort to understand the world and the people in it.' - Paul Little, North & South on The Writing Class

  • Published: 22 April 2015
  • ISBN: 9781775537991
  • Imprint: Random House New Zealand
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 352

About the author

Stephanie Johnson

Stephanie Johnson is the author of several collections of poetry and of short stories, some plays and adaptations, and many fine novels. The New Zealand Listener commented that Stephanie Johnson is a writer of talent and distinction. Over the course of an award-winning career — during which she has written plays, poetry, short stories and novels — she has become a significant presence in the New Zealand literary landscape, a presence cemented and enhanced by her roles as critic and creative writing teacher.’ The Shag Incident won the Montana Deutz Medal for Fiction in 2003, and Belief was shortlisted for the same award. Stephanie has also won the Bruce Mason Playwrights Award and Katherine Mansfield Fellowship, and was the 2001 Literary Fellow at the University of Auckland. Many of her novels have been published in Australia, America and the United Kingdom. She co-founded the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival with Peter Wells in 1999.

The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature describes Johnson’s writing as ‘marked by a dry irony, a sharp-edged humour that focuses unerringly on the frailties and foolishness of her characters . . . There is compassion, though, and sensitivity in the development of complex situations’, and goes on to note that ‘a purposeful sense of . . . larger concerns balances Johnson’s precision with the small details of situation, character and voice that give veracity and colour’.

Her writing has been described as ‘skilful, insightful, witty’, displaying ‘a truly light touch’ (New Zealand Herald). Belief, which was shortlisted for the 2001 Montana Book Awards, was called by Sara Wilson in The Historical Novel Review (UK) ‘a powerful novel, unsentimental and unflinching in its portrayal of the potentially destructive power of love and faith’. In North & South, Warwick Roger wrote that Music from a Distant Room saw Johnson in ‘top form’— a novel which is ‘immensely satisfying, utterly believable’.

Reviewing The Open World in The New Zealand Listener, John McCrystal praised the ‘deftness of touch’ with which Johnson renders her characters: ‘it’s often no more than a little detail, such as the habitual movement of a muscle in a face that brings a character to life’. After commending the lightness with which she wears her obviously extensive research, he noted the care she takes with language — ‘Best of all is her feel for the elegance of the Victorian turn of phrase.’

Novels include: Crimes of Neglect (1992; short-listed for Wattie’s Book Awards 1993); The Heart’s Wild Surf (1996, and Dymock’s/Quote Unquote Readers’ Poll’s Best New Zealand Book 1996; published in the United States in 2003 as The Sailmaker’s Daughter); The Whistler (1998; third prize in the Montana New Zealand Book Awards 1999); Belief (2000; short-listed for the Montana New Zealand Book Awards 2001); The Shag Incident (2002;Deutz Medal for Fiction, Montana New Zealand Book Awards 2003); Music From A Distant Room (2004; long-listed 2009 Impac Prize, Dublin); John Tomb’s Head (2006; long-listed 2006 Impac Prize, Dublin); Swimmers’ Rope (2008; long-listed 2009 Impac Prize, Dublin); The Open World (2012); and The Writing Class (2013).

Short story collections include:The Glass Whittler (1989); All the Tenderness Left in the World (1993); and Drowned Sprat and Other Stories (2005).

Poetry collections include: The Bleeding Ballerina (1986) and Moody Bitch (2003).

Stage plays include: Accidental Phantasies; Folie a Deux; Strange Children; and Goodnight Nurse.

Also by Stephanie Johnson

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Praise for The Writers' Festival

Johnson gets so much so right . . . Along with Charlotte Grimshaw, Johnson is one of the best anatomisersof 21st-century Auckland . . . She's also a joyous advocate for writing and reading. You have to like that. . . It's a substantial book, emotionally as well as physically. Love hurts. The author excoriates yet sympathises with her cast. . . Does the book succeed? Oh, yes.

David Hill, NZ Listener

A couple of years ago, Stephanie Johnson wrote a highly entertaining novel about a writing class at an Auckland tertiary institution. It featured a wide cast of characters, some trenchant satire, a good deal of humanity and carried just a whiff of roman a clef. Her latest, The Writers' Festival, is the sequel (although it stands alone perfectly well). It features many of the same characters, a few new ones, even more trenchant and mischievous satire and the same sense that the author - herself the longserving (not to say suffering) director of the Auckland Writers' Festival - has created for herself the opportunity for some much-needed catharsis. . . Only a writer of Johnson's ability could keep so many narrative balls in the air with such deceptive ease. She once described the writing of fiction (when it is going well) as a form of legal hallucination, and her prose these days has that quality - the characters and reality she creates are completely believable despite the aura of farce flickering at the margins. . . She is just as generous to her peers in New Zealand letters here as she was in The Writing Class . . . There are some hilarious episodes. . . But there is also much poignancy. . . The uneasy nexus of art and commerce is always there . . . And although Johnson lives and breathes books, she is no mere sentimentalist: the place and importance of writers and writing in the digital world and in the brutal world we inhabit provide the ballast to all that entertaining sail.

John McCrystal, Weekend Herald

With new characters rubbing shoulders with those from The Writing Class, The Writer’s Festival is a fun read; one that made me go back and re-read The Writing Class because I wanted to, not because I needed to.

Sarah McMullan, Booksellers New Zealand's blog

It is a self-referential and celebratory novel – and bounded by the plight of a dissident Chinese writer, a device which nicely puts the chaotic hotbed of free literary emotions into perspective. A great read.

alysontheblog, https://alysontheblog.wordpress.com/

The festival reminds me of Ben Jonson’s great play Bartholomew Fair in which many strands are woven into the plot, where the swirl of activity represents social disorder. . . she has become increasingly sharp-eyed in observing fashions and increasingly assured in her technique. If she were not hidden in the Antipodes she would be mentioned along with Malcolm Bradbury, Thomas Sharpe or David Lodge as amusing, witty, satiric, yet a good read. . . Her books are clever, enjoyable mirrors of our time.

Bruce King, Journal of Postcolonial Writing

The inimitable Johnson follows up her superbly witty The Writing Class with this very entertaining sequel exploring territory she knows so well, as former director of the Auckland Writers' Festival. . . . Johnson appoints Rae McKay as her fictional AWF director and puts plenty of obstacles in her way: egos, politics, conficts of interest and corporate team-building bollocks. While farce is never too far away, it's also a generous, poignant triumph.

Linda Herrick, Weekend Herald

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