‘578,000 square metres of floor space, 7,000 exhibitors and around 286,000 visitors and there we were, the guests from the little country at the bottom of the world.
‘Our pavilion was simply beautiful, the stars and moon lighting up the darkness and the reflection of the water creating strong images of New Zealand. The huge screens with constantly changing projected images, combined with the cultural presentations, dance and song, also told and celebrated our stories. Over five days, the festival's readings, panel discussions and interviews demonstrated the wide diversity now established in our writing in terms of genre, content and the cultural backgrounds and experiences which inspire our stories.
‘It was wonderful to hear our writers reading or being interviewed at the various publishers’ stands. Wonderful, too, that during the weekend when the Book Messe was open to the public, there were long, long queues outside. On a personal basis I was happy to come home with a contract for my latest book, but on a wider scale I feel sure we made our mark and that this will have positive consequences for both our country and writers.’
‘The first: I’m taking the lift, alone, to hotel fifth floor. At floor 3 it stops, doors open, and there, exposed, is a kapa haka group in full practice, with spears, tongues and rolling eyes. Lift doors close and I go on up to the fifth. It would have made a great scene in a movie. “Did I see that, or was I hallucinating?”
‘The second: dinner with my London publisher, Christopher MacLehose and his small team in a local restaurant; at an adjoining table, fifteen or twenty Scandinavian publishers and writers. First one set (Danes perhaps) spring up and burst in to song. After a suitable pause it’s the Swedes, the Finns, the Norwegians – and so on. Until finally a group of Italians at a table in the corner are driven to respond to the challenge, and sing some Verdi, rather well. At our table novelist Norbert Gstrein says Germans don’t do that anymore, because singing in groups in public brings painful recollections of the Nazis.’