Jean-Christophe Rufin, author of The Santiago Pilgrimage, has spent the last week wowing the crowds (and by crowds, we mean really enormous ones) at the Auckland Writers’ Festival and the Sydney Writers’ Festival.
Festival season has well and truly begun, especially if you happen to be in Australia or New Zealand, who tend to be roughly twelve hours ahead of the pack for most things. Jean-Christophe Rufin, writer, diplomat and founder of Médecins Sans Frontières, visited both countries earlier this month to discuss, amongst many other things, his latest book, The Santiago Pilgrimage, which is about – you’ve guessed it – his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in 2011.
Following the first leg of his tour in New Zealand, his publicist Gemma sent this glowing report:
“Jean-Christophe Rufin’s visit to New Zealand as a guest of the Auckland Writers Festival was a tremendous success and he was a huge hit with both Festival attendees and patrons.
He spoke at a sold out Border Debate, which also featured Yossi Alpher, Emma Sky and was chaired by Julian Baggini. It addressed questions around refuges, conflict, borders and possible solutions, delivering the audience an engaging and thought-provoking experience.
His in-conversation event at the Auckland Writer’s Festival, based around The Santiago Pilgrimage, was attended by 1400 people, who were held transfixed by his descriptions of walking the trail and in fits of laughter at the many comedic moments along the way. The Festival bookstall sold all their copies of the book, such was the demand and size of his signing queue afterwards. Had a travel agent being parked outside the door no doubt they could have sold countless trips to Spain, as many people commented on how keen they were to attempt it themselves after hearing Jean-Christophe talk so eloquently about the experience.
Jean-Christophe also gave a reading as part of a session with three other authors, all of whom read for 10 minutes, and he appeared on national radio and TV programmes, as well as being interviewed for print media. In between that packed schedule, he also managed to find some time to explore Auckland and hopefully will come back one today to attempt some of the walking trails New Zealand has to offer.”
Then it was off to Australia and the Sydney Writers’ Festival, where, according to our spies (and his Australian publicist, Jordan), he took part in five sold-out sessions, including one that had to be added at the last minute due to high demand.
His first event was a sold-out “in conversation” event with Gloria Steinem and Ali Cobby Eckermann entitled “On the Road”. In Jordan’s words: “It was a lively and engaging discussion and despite the vastly different backgrounds of the authors, there were a number of experiences they had in common that brought the conversation together.”
Jean-Christophe’s first Australian event on The Santiago Pilgrimage was a sell-out talk with a thoroughly charmed crowd of 250 people hanging on his every word. Then he gave a solo session the next day which resulted in a signing queue of over thirty minutes. People even continued to line up to have their copies signed in the dark after the venue lights were automatically switched off at 6pm.
In addition to his Sydney festival events, he also gave a talk at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne and a number of media interviews, including an appearance on ABC’s Q&A program. This is one of Australia’s leading political and current affairs programs and, on this occasion, included a panel of Kate Tempest, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Julian Baggini, Emma Sky, and of course Jean-Christophe Rufin. Fielding questions from the audience, the subjects discussed included free will, free speech and freedom of religion with the conversation sparking widespread debate in the Australian press and on social media.
So, a hugely successful tour in short – and should any pilgrims on the camino spot any Australians or New Zealanders along the way, we have a pretty good idea of who might have inspired them to be there…