Writers Festivals: A Field Guide

The 2021 Auckland Writers Festival kicks off today. As authors, aspiring writers, readers, and hangers-on brush off their lanyards and gather their notebooks and pencils, it’s worth revisiting a post I wrote a few years ago.

They’re a funny lot, these festival-goers. It’s worth the admission price just to sit outside the venues and people watch. So as I gird my loins for a wordy weekend, I thought I would re-share my handy “Festival-Goer Field Guide.” This should be sent to every single attendee, along with the programme.

1. The Festival Virgin. Sidles into each venue looking awkward. Holds his festival programme upside down as he wanders aimlessly from room to room. Beware looking too friendly or you will be targeted and asked endless questions such as “Which way to the loos/coffee machines/famous authors?”, “Are the books free?” and “Where the f#!*k am I?”

2. The Book Clubber. Travels in packs, usually purple and predominantly female. Enthusiastic. Often spotted carrying takeaway coffee. Most commonly heard call: “Why wasn’t Jodi Picoult invited?”

3. The Middle-Aged Shrieker. Invariably female. Closely related to the Book Clubber, but louder and less knowledgeable. Calls out to other shriekers (invariably called “Meredith” or “Judith”) across foyers and crowded seminar rooms. Shrill.

4. The Book Snob. Thinks everyone at the festival is stupid, with the possible exception of the most obscure author in the programme (and himself, of course). Sits in auditoriums with legs crossed and fingers steepled under the chin, scowling. Often dressed in corduroy. Most commonly heard call (Usually flung in the direction of the Book Clubber): “Because she can’t fecking write.”

5. The Lothario. Only attends in the (usually vain) hope of getting laid. Smells nice. Doesn’t read. Mating call: “Wanna make like a book and leave with me?”

6. The “Published” Author. Has self-published two science fiction novellas on Amazon and made $2 (Mum bought them both). Had a poem published in last year’s online alumni newsletter. Nods knowingly at everything. Stands at venue doors and hands out business cards until moved along by ushers. Harmless.

7. The Published Author. Rarely seen, but trails greatness (and wannabe writers begging for autographs) in her wake.

8. The Memoir Writer. Usually elderly, female, and earnest. Harmless unless you are seated next to her and make the mistake of asking about her latest writing project.

9. The Grumpy Bastard. Always allocated the seat next to you. Harrumphs and glares at the slightest scratch of a pen or rustle of paper. Leaves early.

10. The Endless Question Asker. Often has personal hygiene issues. Most commonly heard call: “But if I could just clarify that last point…”

11. The Monopoliser. Similar to (and often in the company of) the Endless Question Asker, but insists on outlining the plot of her latest novel-in-progress as well as asking questions. Moults dandruff.

12. The Over-Laugher. Has the peculiar ability to be the last person still laughing way after the joke is over. Ingratiating. Painful.

13. The Mmm-mmm-er. Closely related to the Over-Laugher but more annoying. Feels the need to nod sagely and “mmm-mmm” at every salient point. Often spotted in woolly jumpers, socks and sandals.

14. The Professional Festival-Goer. Basically, a festival groupie. Barely have the placards and book stands been dismantled than he’s diving into a taxi to the airport and his next festival destination. Often seen in polyester shellsuit and peak cap branded with whichever city he finds himself in.

15. The Over-Subscriber. Has signed up for everything she possibly can and has only five-second gaps between fixtures. Glimpsed for only seconds at a time as she rushes madly from one workshop to the next. Elusive.

16. The Bore. Distant relation of the Book Snob. Beware. Will try to corner you in the lift / auditorium / loo and insist on outlining his theories on literary existentialism / North Korea / Why Jodi Picoult is crap / his hangnails. Avoid at all costs.

17. The Volunteer. Predominantly female, easily identified by Festival T-shirt, comfortable shoes and fanny pack. Often knowledgeable. Sometimes helpful. Ubiquitous (except when you need one).

18. The Friend of the Festival. Closely related to the Professional Festival-Goer. Found in the front rows. Smug. Most commonly heard call: “I’m better/richer/more well-read than you”.

19. The Festival Coffee Nook Dweller. Sets up home here for the duration and does not move, except to attend talks and pee. Wired. (It’s the caffeine.)

20. The Kindle Addict. Strolls blithely by the book stalls with a wry smile. Can be seen furiously downloading a book after every author talk. Most commonly heard call: “What do you mean, you prefer to turn the pages? That is so five years ago.”

Which are you?

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