Seven writers on the sessions they’re most looking forward to at Auckland Writers Festival

Seven writers on the sessions they’re most looking forward to at Auckland Writers Festival

Auckland Writers Festival opens with the Ockham Book Awards this Wednesday 15th May, and, after Thursday’s Gala Evening, the packed programme will be in full swing!

If anyone knows the ins and outs of the Auckland Writers Festival, it’s writers! Kete spoke to seven writers on the programme for their tips, asking them about the sessions they are appearing in, and which other authors from Aotearoa they’re most excited to see in action. Read on to see what they said.

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Nalini Singh

I'm on the Fantasy and Romantasy Unwrapped panel, which I'm sure will be so much fun. Then I'll be chairing a session with fantasy novelist Samantha Shannon, talking in depth about her work - I'm so looking forward to hearing Samantha's thoughts on myriad topics, from her writing journey (she was published at 21!), to her thoughts on sapphic literature.

Two panels featuring local authors have particularly caught my interest. The first is the Otherhood panel, which features a number of writers talking about their experience of life without children/what that means in our current society. The second is the Crime Writing, Page, Screen and Moving Between discussion — it's exciting to see NZ books being taken to the screen!


Roimata Smail

I'm doing a workshop on Saturday 18 May 10am-11am called Te Tiriti 101. Think of the session as a back-fill of basic knowledge that unfortunately, most New Zealanders didn't get the opportunity to learn growing up or even now as adults.

It’ll show that the Treaty is not hard to understand once you know the basic facts. The audience will also get a sense of what it might have felt like for tangata whenua as for this workshop I will adapt an experiential exercise that I typically do with organisations and schools around the country.

There are two sessions that caught my eye that are also on 18 May after my session.

I'm really interested to see what Rob Mokaraka presents because I have heard a lot about his play addressing mental health with his one man theatre kaupapa, Shot Bro – confessions of a depressed bullet.  I know he’s performed it around the country. 

Hopefully I’ll get to his session to tautoko because I think he's had an amazing impact by turning a hopeless moment into a hopeful experience for thousands of New Zealanders who have seen him perform.

I'd also love to see the session by Troy Kingi because it would be an amazing experience to see a song crafted live in an hour by one of our top musicians.

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Giselle Clarkson

On Saturday I'll be part of the super exciting Pukapuka Adventures programme. Brilliant cartoonist Toby Morris and I will be battling it out on stage at the Illustrator Showdown. MC Marianne Infante will be taking suggestions from the audience as Toby and I furiously draw whatever it is they say we must draw — live!

I can't wait to catch Liv Sisson talking about Fungi of Aotearoa, and The Art of the Short Story with Patricia Grace, Airini Beautrais, Emma Hislop and Lauren Groff.

I highly recommend that families check out Michel Mulipola's comic drawing workshop, and Cotter and Morgan's Dazzlehands Disco is guaranteed to be a blast!


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Gavin Strawhan

I’ve got a couple of things going on during the festival.  On Friday 17 May I’m on a panel: Crime Writing: Page, Screen and Moving Between with Michael Bennett and Paul Cleave talking about crime fiction and drama. And on Sunday 19 May I’m running a workshop called: Writing Dialogue That Doesn’t Suck — hopefully the title is self explanatory! 

The programme, phew, is full on. So spoilt for choice. Sadly the session I’d most like to get to overlaps with one of mine! The Long View with Ann Patchett, Patricia Grace and Bonnie Garmus is of particular interest to an elderly baby novelist like me.

I reckon the hour with Troy Kingi (A Waiata in an Hour) will be an hour well spent.

And of particular interest to me is the session on Māori Speculative Fiction — which also overlaps with my session, damn it. 

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Anna Smaill

I'm thrilled to be taking part in three quite different sessions in the festival. I'll be discussing writing dystopian fiction in an increasingly dystopian political landscape with Tīhema Baker and Celeste Ng on Saturday 18, 2.30pm. Then I'll be talking about grief in fiction with romesh dissanayake on Sunday at 1pm, chaired by the magnificent Elizabeth Knox. I'm also presenting a masterclass on editing tips and techniques on Saturday 18 at 5pm.

I'm really looking forward to attending We Can Be on Other Planets: Māori Speculative Fiction, Steph Matuku,  Sascha Stronach and Tīhema Baker. I'm fascinated by the power of speculative fiction and the uses it can be put to, and keen to hear more about this form through an ao Māori lens.

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Tīhema Baker

I'm in two sessions: Grave New World: Writing Dystopia Today and We Can Be on Other Planets: Māori Speculative Fiction. The first is a discussion about writing dystopia in our current reality, which seems closer than ever to a dystopia itself. The second is going to be fun — a kōrero about the possibilities of writing and reading Māori in other times and spaces.

I think The Fight for Indigenous Rights is a critically important session. The panel includes Jade Kake, author of Checkerboard Hill, and will be chaired by Murdoch Stephens, author of Down From Upland and founding editor of my own publisher Lawrence & Gibson. This kaupapa has to be one of, if not, the biggest issue facing our country right now. The fight for indigenous rights is one that can't be fought alone — it's more important than ever for allies to understand how they can be most effective in that fight.

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Tim Tipene

The name of my session in the Upper Primary Sessions is Pouākai, haere mai! Taniwha, kia kaha!

It centres around my Pipi and Pou series which features two cousins who can shapeshift. The boy, Pou, can change into a fierce taniwha and the girl, Pipi, into a mighty Pōuakai, eagle. They are also joined by their Nan, who guides the pair in their roles as kaitiaki, guardians and protectors of the natural world. Together the whānau have adventures where they meet various monsters. I will be sharing with the audience the inspiration behind Pipi and Pou, and how we can all be superheroes.

Plus, I’m very excited readers will be able to jump into the Pipi and Pou world via a digital walking trail.

I am looking forward to listening to Giselle Clarkson and Jason Gunn who will both be joining me in the Upper Primary Sessions.

Auckland Writers Festival runs from 14 to 19 May

For information and tickets visit