August 2019 Newsletter

What a whirlwind life has been since our best yet Featherston Booktown Festival in May 2019 – where we had 65 presenters and over 70 events, wonderful feedback from our booksellers and presenters (many have asked to come back in 2020), pretty well every event was full and sold out and over 6,000 very happy and engaged attendees.

We’ve visited the Auckland Writers Festival (where everyone was talking about Featherston Booktown!) and Wigtown, the Scottish Booktown. I’m keen to share some of the ideas we have seen and heard with you. Featherston Booktown is on a mission to make Featherston and the Wairarapa region a vibrant place for writers and poets, book lovers, residents and visitors. We want to inspire you with the written and spoken word often – not just over the Featherston Booktown Festival weekend! 

Thank you for your support of Featherston Booktown – as a sponsor, volunteer, funder, baker, tea and coffee maker, raffle seller, visitor, promoter or venue manager. You are truly awesome and we deeply appreciate you and your commitment to Featherston Booktown and the promotion of books, writing and ideas in the Wairarapa and Wellington Region.

Here’s some news for you…


Mary BiggsOperations Manager, Featherston Booktown 2020

Wigtown - the Scottish Booktown


Travelling to Wigtown, the Scottish Booktown, is a bit of a mission if you are in an unfamiliar manual rental car and navigating small country lanes with high hedgerows. Wigtown is in the south-west corner of Scotland, in the Dumfries and Galloway region. 

Peter Biggs, our intrepid Chair of Featherston Booktown, and his ever-faithful sidekick, Mary, drove three hours from Edinburgh to meet the Scottish Booktown organisers and to find out how they produce and manage a ten-day, 200 events Festival programme each year in the UK Autumn.  


Like Featherston, Wigtown has small venues, but they attract over 14,000 visitors during their ten-day Festival. 45 per cent of visitors come from the region, while 55 per cent visit from the rest of the UK, with the average stay per visitor being four days. 

We met the Chair of the Board, a board trustee and founding member, the Festival and Artistic Directors separately and we wandered into Shaun Bythell’s shop – the largest second-hand book shop in Scotland. Shaun wrote The Diary of a Bookseller and visited Featherston in August last year. Shaun has fond memories of visiting Featherston and fishing for trout in the Wairarapa and would love to visit Featherston Booktown again soon. The Wigtown Booktown team responded positively to our suggestion of establishing a close relationship with them, including sharing information and ideas - and the possibility of a writer’s exchange.

Featherston Booktown’s partnership with Clunes Booktown in Australia: Update


Featherston Booktown continues to deepen its strong relationship with our cousins from across the ditch from Clunes Booktown in Victoria, Australia. Peter Biggs represented Featherston Booktown at the Clunes Booktown Festival 4-5 May and a 13-strong Clunes Booktown delegation came to the Featherston Booktown Festival a week later. The first-ever Trans-Tasman Booktown Board meeting took place in Featherston over the Featherston Booktown Festival weekend, where we discussed options and formats for future Booktown Festivals, exchanged ideas, learnings and insights, committed to a regular Australia/New Zealand writers and interns exchange, and drafted a memorandum of understanding which includes regular Trans-Tasman Board meetings.

Announcing the Featherston Booktown’s Residency


We are thrilled to announce that Featherston Booktown has established a Residency to provide space for writers to think, develop ideas and create new work. The idea of a writer’s residency in Featherston was inspired by Featherston Booktown’s “dream”: the world talking about and drawn to Featherston as a place which celebrates the artefact of the book and is a haven for writers and those who love books.

The residency is open to all writers, living in New Zealand, regardless of literary genre. The residency also welcomes applications from arts administrators – in particular, event/festival directors and programmers who need solitude and time to focus on a specific project.

The residency is for one continuous month during the New Zealand winter (June/July/August) and is based in the charming self-contained and secluded Cook’s Loft on the grounds of Te Puhi, the home of Mary and Peter Biggs, just outside Featherston, 50 minutes’ drive north of Wellington.

( A weekly stipend will also be paid.


The Featherston Booktown Residency will be calling for applications for 2020 soon.

Joy Cowley up for another award!


We’re thrilled to announce that Joy Cowley is a Finalist in the 2019 Mind Body Spirit Literary Awards.


The near capacity audience at the historic Kiwi Hall venue at Featherston Booktown’s 2019 event: Veil Over the Light, will not be surprised to hear that one of New Zealand’s well-loved writers and our esteemed patron, Joy Cowley, is a finalist in this year’s Ashton Wylie Mind Body Spirit Literary Awards’ Book category for her non-fiction work Veil Over Light, published by FitzBec Publishers.

She joins four other authors from New Zealand writing about wide-ranging issues such as global ethics, living cooperatively, mystical and shamanic practise and Māori healing wisdom. 


The awards are unique in the country for their encouragement of writing in the Mind, Body, Spirit genre and were established in 1999 thanks to a bequest from the late businessman, Ashton Wylie.

The winners will be announced at a ceremony at The Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, Westhaven Marina, in Auckland on Friday, 16 August 2019. Fingers, knees and toes crossed for a win for Joy and Michael Fitzsimons, the publisher! 

Upcoming Events


Grab your diary and pop these not-to-be-missed dates in your calendar:

AUGUST 23: Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day 2019 in Featherston (Poetry Central)


Featherston will be abuzz with poets on Friday, 23 August 2019 as our six bookshops join to celebrate Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day 2019. There will be events on from one end of the town to the other during the day and into the evening.

Leading up to the day, Featherston Booktown has invited Poetry Ambassador David Merritt to stay in residence for a week to perform, busk, talk in schools, handprint his poetry and generally make Featherston his home. He will be in the town from 10-16 August. David’s busking takes the form of setting up a table and printing words on paper (with stamps), then using paper and card from maybe recycled banana boxes, he creates zines of poetry. And he is probably likely to be busking in and out of the town’s bookshops. We will have his “Poetry Brick” on display too at the Featherston library for you to explore.


On the day, at Loco Bookshop, Kate Mead will be hosting Featherston poet, Simon Fleck, who was born into “The Troubles” of Northern Ireland in the 70's and came to New Zealand nearly twenty years ago. He started writing poetry and other works as a means of understanding the qualities that unite humankind as opposed to separating it.

Between 2:00pm and 3:00pm Dave and Patsy Adams, the owners of Featherston’s newest bookshop, The Dickensian Bookshop, will be reading a selection of classical poetry, both Victorian and Modern, including Keats, Dylan Thomas, Shelley and Wordsworth.

Robert McLean, another Featherstonian, is a widely published poet, short story writer, reviewer, and critic. Robert has five published books of poetry and his Enduring Love: Collected Poems will be published by Cold Hub Press later this year. He was heralded at Featherston Booktown this year and last year with the launch of two books he edited and introduced: Dan Davin’s A Field Officer’s Notebook, which Robert compiled from Davin’s previously unpublished wartime poetry, and From Cairo to Casino, a previously unpublished memoir by Davin of his friend and polymath, Paddy Costello. He will be reading poems from his latest book, Figure and Ground, along with new work at Messines Bookshop: Military History from 10:00am.

At For The Love of Books at 3:00pm Phillip Scott has been invited by owner Jennifer Grey to talk about and read from his book, Lines of Sight, a book of verse accompanying his own photos taken from around New Zealand. According to Jennifer, “the images aren't generally your typical landscape photos but are more aimed at capturing "kiwi-ness" (for want of a better word)”.

For those who prefer a quiet read, the Featherston Ferret will have words written on its walls. (Poetry, woven of music, of time, of New Zealand).

To cap the day, Featherston Booktown invites you to a not-to-be-missed Poetry Reading event at the Royal Hotel on Friday 23 August from 7:00-9:00pm.   

In front of a roaring fire, on this Friday night deep in winter, Featherston Booktown will introduce emerging poets, established poets and poets soon to be published, all keen to share their work with you.

Do you fancy having a moment in the spotlight as well?  We’d love to hear from you too, so please let us know ( by Friday 16 August.

Our lively line-up of poets include Martinborough and Wellington poet and publisher at Mākaro Press, Mary McCallum; Wellington poet Tim Grgec and locals Burton Silver, Zac Keiller-Hawkins, and Greg Stokes who will sing his lyrics. 

Mary McCallum will read from her debut collection of poems, XYZ of Happiness. According to Paula Green, an award-winning poet herself, Mary’s book “is like an alphabet of moods that draw upon the weather, love, life, death and family. She writes with an inviting mix of warmth and attentiveness, acute observations of the physical world and an ear tuned to the musicality of the line”.

   Snapping off the ends of beans is like lips
   popping, a pork cookbook is the best place
   to find that picture of you and your mum
   at Taupō one summer, a turkey too late
   in the oven can make a grandmother
   cry with hunger (…)

from Things they don’t tell you on Food TV, by Mary McCallum, 'XYZ of Happiness' (Mākaro Press, 2018)

SEPTEMBER 14: Goobledegook Book Launch Party

Below is an invitation from Featherston's own Joy Cowley

What: A book-launching party for all the family

Where: The Anzac Hall, 62 Bell Street, Featherston

When: 14 September 2.00pm–4.00pm

Featherston Booktown and Gecko Press are having a party to launch Joy Cowley’s Gobbledegook Book for children, illustrated by Giselle Clarkson.

Joy will tell stories, Giselle will talk about her illustrations, and Julia Marshall of Gecko Press will tell children how a book is made. There will be a book signing followed by a scrumptious afternoon tea made by Featherston’s Lionesses.

This Featherston Booktown party is free and fun for all ages.  

Children, please bring your parents, grandparents, and any other old children in your family.

SEPTEMBER 22: An afternoon tea where Featherston Booktown thanks and 
provides feedback to our generous volunteers and supporters


You are warmly invited to our annual afternoon tea party where the Board of the Featherston Booktown Trust thanks our volunteers and supporters for your amazing generosity before, during and after the 2019 Featherston Booktown Festival. We’ll feed back to you about how the Festival went and hear from you about how we could make the Festival even better and more successful. We shall also outline our proposed full-year programme of events and reveal our draft thinking for the 2020 Featherston Booktown Festival programme.

When: Sunday 22 September from 3:30pm-5:00pm

Where: The Kiwi Hall, 62 Bell Street, Featherston

Please save the date – more details will follow

Featherston Bookshop Spotlight

You’ll be sure of a very warm welcome and a great coffee while browsing an eclectic collection of second-hand books at Loco Coffee and Books, one of Featherston Booktown’s six bookshops.  


What else is happening in our creative Wairarapa valley?


The Miracle Room

Andrew Ross, Exhibition opening: Friday 2nd August, 7:00pm-9:00pm

Masterton born Andrew Ross's exquisite photographs explore the usually unseen, ignored, overlooked, or hard-to-access locations. For The Miracle Room he has turned his lens on Featherston's dark recesses and viewers will be treated to some of the towns best kept secrets.  You are invited to attend the opening night event and to come to the exhibition.


Greytown Heritage Trust

Historian and outdoors enthusiast, Chris Maclean, talking on “A Way with Words” – exploring a lifetime of writing and publishing and what has happened to books in the last 50 years. Date and venue: Sunday August 4 at the home of Juliet and Ed Cook, 57 Wood Street Greytown at 3:00pm. As afternoon tea will be provided and space is limited, please RSVP promptly to


Community of Cool

The ninth spring festival of Jazz in Martinborough will see its main acts return to the newly refurbished Martinborough Town Hall. The big band sound will test out the new acoustics of the hall to the fullest, Jan Preston will share tales of her wild life with pianos and The Zak Pack will serve up timeless classics from the great American Songbook. In between these great acts, you can check out the 30+ free gigs held in local cafes, wine bars, and restaurants in our community of cool.


Martinborough Music Festival

The third annual Martinborough Music Festival, including four chamber music concerts over three days, takes place at the end of September in the newly refurbished Martinborough Town Hall, featuring some of New Zealand’s finest classical musicians: Michael Houstoun (Piano), Jenny Wollerman (Soprano), Wilma Smith (Violin/Viola), Vesa-Matti Leppänen (Violin), Yuka Eguchi (Violin), Christopher Moore (Viola), Matthias Balzat (Cello), Ken Ichinose (Cello) with Amy Brookman (Violin) and Alan Molina (Violin)


Wairarapa Word: a free and friendly way to meet other writers, since 2012. 

Coming up:
1 September - Paddy Richardson 
6 October - Environment & Te Ao Māori with Rawiri (Ra) Smith 
12 October - Writing workshop with Pip Adam (in Masterton) - info to come
3 November - Tour of Outdoor Poems (in Masterton) with Chris Daniell
1 December - End of Year Gathering

For information, and to volunteer, contact Almo's Books, open daily, 06 379 7103.



Creativity takes centre stage at the Kokomai Creative Festival, a ten-day dance, theatre, art and music festival held throughout the Wairarapa from 10-19 October 2019. 

Kokomai presents world-class events of all genres from music, film and visual arts to theatre and comedy. There will be exciting things happening across the region - workshops, events and performances at heaps of Wairarapa locations. There's something to entertain everyone.

Keep an eye on the festival's website for news.