It’s a well known fact that I have many literary heroes. Some of my biggest ones are New Zealand authors, the top three I would have to say are Frank Sargeson, Janet Frame and Keri Hulme. Obviously it is now too late for me to ever get the opportunity to tell the first two how much their writing influenced me, and to be honest, I never in my wildest dreams imagined I’d get to meet Keri Hulme. She just always seemed like one of those far away mystical authors who I could imagine, but never actually, for real get to meet!
Well, guess who came to the Christchurch Writer’s Festival this year? I was so ridiculously excited, and then the website gave me grief when I tried to book tickets, so I gave up and figured I’d just go along on the day and try my luck. Which I did, and I was lucky enough to get a front row seat. There were three authors – Keri, Hinemoana Baker, and Gerry Te Kapa Coates. They were all amazing. I was so impressed with Hinemoana’s reading! Her poetry is just stunning, she is such an impressive speaker and singer and so very engaging. Gerry’s work was also incredible. I loved listening to them speak about their backgrounds, their writing and there is really nothing quite like hearing an author reading their own work.
But I won’t lie. I was there for Keri. When she got up to speak, it was obvious that it didn’t come naturally to her. She shook and took a while to warm up and I just felt so connected to her. I first read The Bone People in New Zealand Literature 1 way back in 2003. I remember when I got it, along with a long list of other books which I would need to read that summer. It was the last one I read, and I would go outside and sit on my back porch with my coffee and just read while the girls were in school.
I never expected it to grab me in the way that it did. I’d never bothered to read NZ literature before this. As a “bad girl” student in high school, if I was asked to read a book for class by a teacher, you could bet that was a sure way to turn me off it immediately. I missed out on reading a lot of great books because of my desire to be the ultimate rebellious teenager. The Bone People kept me riveted from start to finish. I related so much to the writing, and the story and the entire feel of it.
It was so nostalgic and so tragically, beautifully what it means to be a New Zealander. I laughed and I cried – I REALLY cried, and I was really sorry when it was over. That book is one of those life changing reads for me. It encapsulated my New Zealand, in a deeply profound and dramatised way and I connected so strongly to her writing style. In the same way that I feel connected to Janet Frame’s and Frank Sargeson’s, all of whom were introduced to me over the same time period. I read them when I most needed to. They changed my life and the way I felt about my own connections as a writer, and a New Zealander.
I took my copy along with me in the hopes that there might be some way to get her to sign it. I actually didn’t think it would be possible. I thought that they would just speak for the hour, there would be a few questions and then it would be over. But the end came and when the speaker said there would be book signings, I could have peed my pants! I bought Stonefish too, and Koiwi, Koiwi by Hinemoana Baker. I took my books with me and approached the desk, and was third in line instantly. It was really surreal to be honest. I know that’s probably silly, but there she was, just sitting right in front of me, alive and stunning and a little nervous and signing books and I just thought “this woman wrote a book that defined who I am, without her ever knowing me – that changed my life and made me feel my own experiences as a New Zealander through someone else’s words. This book made me feel less alone.” And I started freaking out!
Ollie and the girls came in and found me, and I was trying to calm myself down and just relax and remember that she’s a human, and I’m a human and that if I cried, I was going to look like a total WEIRDO and freak the poor woman out! And then suddenly there we were, face to face and I’m looking at her and shaking like a leaf and babbling like a total dork!
She was very kind and I think a little surprised by my adulation. I kept saying things like “The Bone People changed my life. I can’t believe I’m really meeting you! I’m shaking! I had all these thoughtful things I’ve always wanted to say to you and now they’re gone!” She signed my books and gave me her email address and told me to contact her. I almost burst into ridiculous tears right then and there. It was one of the most incredibly awesome moments of my life and I came over all hot and turned bright scarlet and tried so hard to be a normal human being. All the time going “you’re one of my biggest inspirations, you’re the reason I write too!” She said all the right things and was just the most lovely woman ever!
Unfortunately, I was so overwhelmed and starstruck, that by the time I got to meet Hinemoana, I was a complete trainwreck! There was a lot I wanted to say to her as well, but I only really managed “Your reading was so beautiful. I love your work. Thank you so much for signing my book for me!” Before I hurtled out the door and almost ran through the park screaming! Ollie and the girls were all concerned about the redness! “Are you okay? You’re bright red all down the back of your neck! And behind your ears!” He said, concern all over his face. And there I was, overcome with emotion, dying of the heat (why did I put my coat on before I lined up?) And raving “I JUST MET KERI HULME AND SHE GAVE ME HER EMAIL!!!!! DID THAT JUST HAPPEN? I’M GOING TO DIE NOW OKAY?!”
As you can see, I didn’t die. Here I am, trying my hardest to look normal and not like a complete freakazoid, with Keri Hulme!
Unfortunately, as you can see, I did not quite manage to look like a normal person. I’m pulling my special face. The one I reserve for those times when I’m trying to be serious and grown up. I need to stop pulling that face. It’s not working for me.
I wonder if this ever gets any easier. Somehow I doubt it. But oh! It was so worth it!