I went to Whanganui because I wished to connect and reconnect. For fifteen years, I lived in Whanganui in my imagination, captivated by stories along the Whanganui River, from Taumarunui to the sea. The events of Redeeming Brother Murrihy take place during the month of October 2004. I revisited the hub of Conrad’s journey at the start of this October, in 2017, drawn by the preliminary events of the this year’s Whanganui Literary Festival.

In 2013, I met Christodolous Moisa in Whanganui. He was one of the first to review Redeeming Brother Murrihy. I returned the favour, reviewing his first novel, The Hour of the Grey WolfThis weekend, I had the pleasure of supporting Chris as he launched his sequel, Wolves in Dogs’ Clothing. Read the quotes on the back carefully …. 😉

Christodolous Moisa & Airini Beautrais – Whanganui Literary Festival 2017

I was very interested in meeting Airini Beautrais. Chris ensured everyone in attendance knew what Harry Ricketts had said about her new publication: “If you only buy one book of poems this year, buy this one!” I didn’t need Harry Rickets to tell me to buy Flow: Whanganui River Poems. Airini read two poems from her collection. I look forward to reading about the awa, including poems referencing the Taumarunui environs: Manunui, Ongarue, Kakahi …

“Did you imagine I’d go wide as this?
Lap up your streets?
The lumpen stopbanks easy to dismiss;
where water meets
tarmac is where things really start to flow.
I waste whatever’s lying low,
rip up your pontoons, wharves, unmoor your boats.
My ample stomach swiftly bloats
with free and flash,
treasure and trash
whatever I work loose, whatever floats.”

from “Flood” by Airini Beautrais

Joan Rosier-Jones, Geyelene Holly, Antony Millen – Whanganui Literary Festival 2015

I reconnected with Joan Rosier-Jones and Gayelene Holly, the drivers behind Tangerine Publication. Joan read from her latest book, Doing it My Way , the memoir of Egyptian, Elhamy Elzayat. Both ladies were as welcoming and gracious as I remember when I met them during the 2015 festival. This night, we also listened to readings by Marion Rainforth, Rhona Vickoce, and Alan Burnett.

View of the Whanganui River from The Red Lion

I was invited to attend another event the next morning at the Red Lion. An ecclectic collection of writers gathered over coffees, overlooking the awa and the city on the opposing bank. I was delighted to reconnect with Dick and Wendy Ward, formerly of the Taumarunui Writers Group. Wendy introduced me to the congregation and invited me to speak, which I did with enthusiasm. Never pass an opportunity to plug!

Antony Millen & Christodolous Moisa – Whanganui Literary Festival 2017

Even after sharing a drink the night before, Chris and I chatted some more over coffee and took some publicity shots together. We’ve become friends online with mutual interests in both literary and readership matters. It was good to finally have a chance to get to know each other better in person.

Watt Fountain, Whanganui 2017

Between and after events, I took a few snaps of city sites. The Watt Fountain caught my eye as Marion Rainforth had shared her book about it at the event Friday night. I revisited two other sites of signifcance to Conrad’s search:

St Mary’s Church, Whanganui 2017

“The church is set on top of a small rise a few meters above street level. The building itself is grey and not overly large-looking from the outside. It reminds me of the church in Taumarunui in its strange angular features, and I wonder if the same architect has been involved. But this church is more symmetrical-looking with triangle facades around each side. The peaks of these point to a lotus-shaped cone atop which sits a cross.”

from Redeeming Brother Murrihy, Chapter 8

Whanganui 2017

“I cross the street and walk down in front of a large brick building. Directly above me, a dim purple light emanates from one of the windows on the top story. There is only one door on this side of the building but no sign of an establishment of any kind. I try the door, but it is locked and there is no-one around showing any interest in this corner. I walk back around to the Ridgeway Street side to find another unmarked door. This one opens at my push and the bass grows louder as I step inside.”

from Redeeming Brother Murrihy, Chapter 12

Whanganui 2017

Of course, as it does through most of the book, it was raining in Whanganui in October.

The Whanganui Literary Festival has many more events planned over the next week, including appearances by CK Stead, Adam Dudding, Sarah Laing, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Fiona Farrell, Nick Bollinger, Kate De Goldi, and reappearances by Joan Rosier-Jones, Airini Beautrais, and Christodolous Moisa. Find more details here.

Antony Millen along the Whanganui River. Photo: Christodolous Moisa

Kia kaha, Whanganui.

Read 7 Reasons Why You Should Read Redeeming Brother Murrihy.

Antony Millen is a Nova Scotian living and writing in Taumarunui, New Zealand. He is the author of three novels: Redeeming Brother Murrihy, Te Kauhanga and The Chain.

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