Obliging Catton wins hearts of fans

Part of the audience.
Part of the audience.
The Luminaries author Eleanor Catton speaks to a sell-out audience at Toitu Otago Settlers Museum...
The Luminaries author Eleanor Catton speaks to a sell-out audience at Toitu Otago Settlers Museum on Saturday. Photos by Gerard O'Brien.

''Sweet and approachable'' was how one fan described Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton after she signed a copy of The Luminaries at the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival.

On Saturday night, Catton appeared in conversation with journalist Finlay Macdonald at Toitu Otago Settlers Museum, after which she signed copies of the book and chatted with readers.

Cara Moffat, of Dunedin, said she had learnt more about the author in the conversation with Mr Macdonald, and was particularly interested in Catton's view of the role of the novel.

The story line of The Luminaries had kept her guessing. It captured the essence of its time and place, and the characters were strong. Catton (28) was ''sweet and approachable'' when Mrs Moffat and friend Gemma Stratton took their books for signing.

Olivia McPherson, a Dunedin student, had just bought a copy of Catton's first book, The Rehearsal, which she had signed.

Ms McPherson had been immersed in The Luminaries, saying she read the second half of the doorstop book in just two days.

She had been fascinated by not knowing just how the plot would come together.

Ken McKenzie, of Timaru, said he had not yet read The Luminaries, but his wife ''devoured'' it. Catton's intelligence and maturity shone in her discussion with Mr Macdonald, Mr McKenzie said.

Kathryn Palmer, of Dunedin, declared she was one of the ''early readers'' of The Luminaries, before it became a sensation. She had felt ''bereft'' when she finished to book, which she praised for its structured layers, and intelligence.

In the question-and-answer part of the evening, Catton was asked whether she had had to develop a thick skin since becoming a celebrated writer.

She said the social media site Twitter could be a ''bummer'', as readers sometimes targeted her with criticisms of the book. While people were free to dislike her work, they did not have the right to be rude just because she was well known.

She also reflected on her own well-publicised comment about ''men over about 45'', who she felt had been unfairly critical of her work.

Admitting those comments had been ''slightly ungracious'', she acknowledged many older men had given valuable feedback and support that helped her write the novel.

She reflected on a highly critical review of her novel by the author C.K. Stead. Mr Macdonald quipped that if she had only been referring to C.K. Stead, she might as well have said ''men over 105''.

Catton believed there needed to be more constructive public spaces to debate issues.

She acknowledged a few factual errors in the highly detailed novel, which made the book a source of ''pedant fodder''.

She was ''bored'' by the snobbery around ''literary fiction'', and viewed The Luminaries as a genre novel. She pointed out that great classic novels, like those by Jane Austen, and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, were genre, romance and science fiction, respectively.

• Read ODT books editor Helen Speirs' interview with Eleanor Catton in this weekend's Magazine section.

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