An invitation to the tower

A writer’s life. It’s not all ivory towers or garrets with gloves. Sometimes you have to hang out on building sites with hot chips and the right amount of ketchup and this is called research or perhaps preparation.

Liz Breslin
Liz Breslin
Research is an excellent excuse for most things. But I needed absolutely no excuse to drive out to the site to eat hot chips with Jillian Sullivan because this was genuine actual preparation for me interviewing her for the Dunedin Readers & Writers Festival this weekend. We’re talking about the walks that the heart takes, so it was apposite to be meeting with her at the heart of things. Here she is building a house with her son, here she tells me the tale of a route up the mountain face we see from under the shade cloth, here are notes on a napkin from our talks about the talk we’ll have.

Last time I caught up with Jillian, we were staying out at her Oturehua straw bale house during our "rail:lines" tour of the Otago Central Rail Trail. We were me and Annabel and Laura and we’d just done a poem show in the Oturehua Hall to more than 132% of the Oturehua population, with Ken’s expert lighting-rigging illuminating our faces. We were about to adjourn to the pub across the road when we saw Laura getting into the Tesla.

Jillian Sullivan PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Jillian Sullivan PHOTO: SUPPLIED

I had read about Teslas but never actually seen one (belonging more to the garret than the towers as I do). Less than two minutes later, Jillian, and I, and Jillian’s mum’s casserole dish were sharing the back seat, doing magic quiet revs along the main street of Oturehua. I bring this up now because I’m aware that the name of Jillian’s session is "Walking the Heartland" and not "Very Short Adventures in a Tesla with a precious casserole dish and Laura and Liz". Because even though the personal is crucial in committing yourself to authentic writing work, also, it’s not all about me. Over the salty bits and that one chip with a brown edge that nobody ever wants at the bottom of the pottle of the hot chips we talk about all the things that the conversation could, though, be about. Caring, family, the middle of rivers, environmental tensions, books.

It’s reassuring, being among writers, and readers, how much, and how many things come back to books. To what is written. A writers and readers festival is a great coming together of those of us who care to validate our worlds that way. As a reader, books have moved me, changed me, saved me. Dramatic, but true.

To be part of the conversation at all is a privilege, I know. Slides me along the scale from garret to tower. So as part of the privilege, as well as not talking about the Tesla, I’m hoping to get along to as many other, and as wide a diversity of sessions, as I can. I’m hoping to get to listen.

The festival

"Walking the Heartland": Liz Breslin talks to Jillian Sullivan about wanderings in the Ida Valley, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, today, 4pm-5pm.

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