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Here's what Volunteer Rupert Watson has been up to during lockdown

How are you spending your time during lock-down?

Wanted to sort my book midden but instead got lost in it.

Have you read any good books lately?

Where to start. Finished densely rewarding biographies of Clement Attlee and Jesus, by John Bew and A N Wilson respectively. Left Hilary Mantel until later but a Philippa Gregory in Tudor times led to a massive bio of Elizabeth 1 whose marital negotiations are still a blueprint for diplomats, and whose advisers, the Cecil duo, wrote the script for the first Yes Minister, though with more at stake. For sure, Shakespeare was no singularity – they all spoke and thought like that back then.

But the highlights were finding a heap of tattered paperbacks filched from various Featherston bookshops and literary rubbish bins before Lockup. Starting with Beryl Bainbridge’s loving novel of Dr Johnson “According to Queeney”; then a 1990s overview and attack on ‘Scientism’ by Bryan Appleyard, “Understanding the Present”; followed by an unexpected gem, though dark in stuff, “Last Waltz in Vienna” by George Clare (Klaar) on the history and extinction of his family, through the 1800s to 1942. A young Austrian Jew he was fortunate to escape in 1939 and join the British Army.

One I never expected to find was “No Fretful Sleeper,” the biography of Bill Pearson, the undemonstrative West Coaster and author of NZ’s iconic novel that no one has read lately but may again when fashions change – “Coal Flat”. Doors opened to my university days and later, with wonderful stories, not always flattering, about people Pearson knew well – Janet Frame, Frank Sargeson, Pita Sharples, J K Baxter and many more.

Stringing the Time together was my re-discovery of favourite fictional Arkady Renko, stoic Soviet Investigator created by American Martin Cruz Smith. I am on a mission to collect all 9 Renko novels, from the Bering Sea ice fields to waterfront Havana. Couple still to go. To my delight there is no Renko fan club on Facebook so I’ve got him all to myself.

Have you listened to any good podcasts or music?

Not a podcast person but my son in London is pushing me towards Dan Carlin and Hard-Core History. They go on for hours. So does RNZ Concert thankfully.

If you could have your own Mad Hatters tea party, catered for by the Featherston Booktown Country Tea and Cakes volunteers, which writers would you invite and what would you most like to eat?

I wouldn’t invite any. Writers are terrible people. Scones wouldn’t have a chance. Jam and cream please.

Do you have a favourite author or genre at the moment?

Dipping into Anne Salmond’s Cannibal Dog again and Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore. I think James Cook would have been disconcerted at his 200th anniversary (“is that all?”) but somewhat reassured by the 250th.

In a perfect world who would you most like to hear speak at the next Featherston Booktown?

Bernie Griffen and Reb Fountain to play and sing their songs. But not together.

Pico Iyer and Teju Cole beamed in to think out loud about where next for cross-cultural travel writing, and life in general.

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