Many miles from a wintry New Zealand, last week I interviewed Damien Wilkins in Menton, France. This is the place where Katherine Mansfield Fellows get to reside and write for a year, as part of New Zealand's greatest literary prize.
The short conversation in this sound file took place in the very old cemetery overlooking the bay at Menton. It was 10am, a clear, blue morning. We were on a terrace near to the grave of William Webb Ellis, who as a schoolboy first “picked up the ball and ran with it, thus originating the distinctive feature of the Rugby game”. There's a well-trod path to this marble slab. At the end of the recording, you can hear the crunch of gravel underfoot, as another tourist clambered to visit the site.
Why do the recording here? Well, I like the edgy irony of literary giants juxtaposed with sporting myths and folklore, especially in this case where the ne plus ultra of NZ writing and rugby past and present collide in one place. There is something bizarre in this art/sport moment.
Also, on a more personal note, I was tutor at Rugby School in Warwickshire, England for more than a year in the early 90s. So it's good to close the loop on that William Webb Ellis story, having kicked the ball around as a teenager for hours on end, on the very hallowed turf where the game was founded by him in 1823.
Back in Menton in 2008, just the other day, Damien was very clear in his comments. There is another file I'll post up here from him soon, too.