Lower NZI Room/Aotea Centre
Saturday, March 16 (3.00pm)
For this Auckland Writers Festival event Stephen Stratford was the chair, or at least the man in the chair facilitating – flicking questions over in his quirky way to Steve Braunias (NZ Herald writer, ex columnist for The Listener, Sunday Star Times and Metro and author of, most recently, MadMen) and David Slack (speech writer, radio panellist, “Mouth for Hire” and Metro columnist).
And if they had similar stances on satire’s role in New Zealand and their right to do it there were a few differences in approach. For a start, Braunias must put together his Secret Diary Of… column each week. He said it was helpful using that diary device, it mean the first word was always ‘Monday’ and he, therefore, was never staring at the symbolic – often soul-destroying – blank page. He always had his first word ready. ‘Monday’. There every week to meet him.
The diary is put together – most usually – overnight on a Thursday. He’ll start it around 7pm and work through the night. He’ll find his target, shape the idea and then craft it, line by line, across a three- or five-hour stint. Longer when needed. And then the following morning to add to it and look over it before sending off for its Saturday arrival.
But this middle-distance run is something Braunias is trained in and has continued training for across a couple of decades now as regular columnist for a handful of publications.
Slack, on the other hand, has monthly deadlines. So he prefers a bit-by-bit approach. He too must find a mark – someone to pick on or pick at, and attach (even if only thinly) reason for it being that person’s turn. His fake obituaries play with irony and sarcasm and require some knowledge of the person from the reader.
Outside of the technical approach the pair shared stories of hate-mail, even reading examples and then there were examples from the work.
Two gifted writers at, pardon the hackneyed expression, the top of their game. And as usual with a Writers Festival session it could have been longer, there wasn’t enough time for questions and you left the room simultaneously daunted and inspired.
It concluded with Braunias receiving a Nigel Cox Memorial award – and he seemed quite genuinely baffled, flabbergasted and rather thrilled. It was a nice-enough way to end a talk that you felt could (and should) be ongoing. These two are doing some of the best work in the country right now, serving up humour and entertainment, it bristles in and around ugly truths.
Slack pointed to Braunias as the master, a point well backed up with the announcement of a literary award.
I could have sat and heard them speak for a week. No chance though, we were of course herded out on the dot.