Book cover of ANZACPhotographer Laurence Aberhart‘s latest work is ANZAC, a collection of 70 photographs of NZ and Australian war memorials. Laurence,  Jock Phillips (who wrote the introduction to ANZAC) and Christchurch Art Gallery director Jenny Harper discussed the evolving relationship between the community and its war memorials, the changing attitudes to the memorials between the First and Second World Wars and individual monuments and sculptors as part of the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival.

The relationship between the community and its memorials was a constant theme of the discussion and in a broader way, Laurence’s book. Jock said they “made claims to be timeless monuments…[but] the way they are treated and meanings they have change dramatically over time.” When they were erected there was an “intense relationship between the community and the memorial”, but over time they fell into disrepair as communities developed and moved around them.  Laurence said that the disappearance of some memorials showed that “nothing is permanent. It can all go in an instant.”

Jock explained that all local memorials to World War One were community funded and there was a tension between wanting to create something meaningful and sombre and wanting to create something useful in memory of the fallen. After World War Two, the government offered a subsidy for memorials that also served a practical purpose, hence the proliferation of War Memorial community halls, swimming pools and play grounds.

Laurence Aberhart: Remembering ANZAC

Jock Phillips and Jenny Harper admire a Laurence Aberhart photograph.

Laurence illustrated the session with beautiful photographs from ANZAC illustrating some of the more remarkable war memorials including:

  • A solitary solider standing guard over the now vanished hamlet of Rongahere.
  • The Mercer solider standing atop a turret of a 1860’s Land Wars gun ship.
  • Robert Hosie’s lone soldier standing on Otago Peninsula looking out on the Pacific.
  • Christchurch sculptor William Trethewey’s Kaiapoi war memorial is considered one of the best, and attendees were encouraged to visit it. Trethewey, one of the few New Zealand memorial scupltors, also designed the Cenotaph in Cathedral Square and the Captain Cook statue in Victoria Square.

The session closed with a quote that appears on several war memorials:

“From little towns in a far land we came,
To save our honour and a world aflame.
By little towns in a far land we sleep,
And trust the world we won for you to keep.”

Rudyard Kipling

 

Laurence Aberhart and Jock Phillips

Laurence Aberhart and Jock Phillips

ANZAC Day - Heathcote War Memorial [190-?] Christchurch City Libraries, CCL Gimblett Collection, Gimblett-0018

Anzac Day – Heathcote War Memorial  Gimblett-0018

 

Book cover of The Thirteenth TaleWas anyone else frustrated that the ghost was always really just the Janitor in Scooby-Doo? Diane Setterfield, author of gothic suspense books The Thirteenth Tale and Bellman & Black was. Today in her own writing she feels that she is doing injustice to real human experience if she explains all the spooky stuff away in the end.

Diane, Rosetta Allan, author of New Zealand Victorian ghost story Purgatory and Coral Atkinson, author of Lyttelton interwar spiritualism story Passing Through joined Liam McIlvanney to discuss all things historically ghostly as part of WORD Christchurch.

Real-life events inspired Rosetta and Coral to tackle historical subjects. Coral grew up surrounded by her father’s collection of historic swords and today feels that things from the past help her to write about it. She gathers photos, archival sources and objects from the era she is writing  to illuminate scenes and eras, sometimes basing scenes from her novels on old photographs. Coral is ever trying to avoid the ‘rock in the river’ when it comes to using all this historical detail though. All the authors agreed that historical accuracy shouldn’t take readers out of the story, but needs to be seamlessly worked in.

Book cover of PurgatoryRosetta’s novel, Purgatory, was based on a piece of family history she first heard from her father, notorious for his tall-tales. When she found out the story was true, Rosetta was inspired to start work on Purgatory. During a visit to the site of the murders, Rosetta felt he presence of John and so he became the ‘hero’ of the story.

Condensing significant historical events into personal stories was a challenge that faced all the authors. Diane finds it helpful to come at big events “slightly slant-ways” and Rosetta always wants to “find the personal story” in larger things. Coral is mindful that her characters “represent hundreds of thousands of other people” and wanted to show that things “go on and on” with disasters and tragedies, they are not just forgotten once the era has ended.Book cover of Passing Through

The authors finished by citing some influential writers:

Beyond the veil: Historical ghost stories

Coral Atkinson, Rosetta Allen, and Diane Setterfield.

The Civilian Logo“The Civilian is not a force for good.” Ben Uffindell, founder of The Civilian website, was very clear in his discussion with Steve Braunias that The Civilian isn’t trying to push an agenda or change the world. Steve introduced Ben as a “much loathed and somewhat loved enfant” to a crowd of WORD Christchurch attendees on Saturday night. Steve talked about his enjoyment of Ben’s work, but also his fear that Ben would “be heralded by one and all as Mr Fun-Times”.

Ben’s place on the political spectrum was an early topic of discussion: “It’s not about staying impartial, everyone has opinions…I try to be friends with everyone, which doesn’t work out at all.” Throughout his life he has held the breadth of political views so sees “why people believe what they believe.” Although he doesn’t know where he stands on the political spectrum anymore. “I’m trying to be the devil’s advocate.” He aims to “create chaos on the page” and “people will take from it what they want.” He has had people from different ends of the political spectrum interpret his articles according to their own views and beliefs: “Satire’s supposed to challenge us, but no, it doesn’t. People use it to reinforce their own ideas.”

The discussion covered various topics:

  • The Colin Craig lawsuit. Steve said that Ben “handled that with breathtaking aplomb.”
  • Free speech: Ben believes that “to be as open as possible is good for our discourse.” He worries that “People get far too concerned about things that are said and not enough about things that actually happen.”
  • Bertrand Russell: “Far be it for me to argue with Bertrand Russell, though it’s a lot easier now that he’s dead.”
  • The Canterbury earthquakes: “It had to move you and if it didn’t, you’re a bit soulless – sorry.”
  • His first parody: The Lord of the Rings while at Intermediate.
  • Other projects: A novel about lepers that he hopes to complete one day.

The most surprising quote of the night came when Ben claimed “I feel like the Pope.” He explained that he sees why things are funny, then has to try and communicate that information to the wider world. He did a good job on Saturday night.

I’d never heard of Anis Mojgani before, yet when I was looking through the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival programme the title of his session grabbed me: Fiercely Hopeful. It reminded me of one of my favourite quotes:

And I said to myself: That’s true, hope needs to be like barbed wire to keep out despair, hope must be a minefield. (Yehuda Amichai)

It’s a quote that’s been banging about in the back of my mind since the earthquake. In post-quake Christchurch, hope has to be fierce.

Anis is a two-time US National Poetry Slam Champion and winner of the International World Cup Poetry Slam. Promising, I thought, so I looked up one of Anis’s poems and read it through. It was one of his most acclaimed poems, Shake the Dust, and started with the line – this is for the fat girls. I was hooked. It’s a powerful, passionate poem written down; hearing it out loud was incredible.

This is for the two-year-olds who cannot be understood because they speak half-English and half-god. Shake the dust.

Anis had plenty of fans in the audience; fans whose excitement spilled over, fans who’d flown in from Auckland to see him, fans of all ages and genders. There were new fans who had first heard him read earlier in the festival and wanted more, old fans who had watched his poetry on YouTube over and over and wanted more. He performed Here I Am, This is how she makes me feel, Razi’s Lemon Tree, Galumph, My library has seventeen books, Shake the Dust and at the request of the audience, Come Closer.

He talked about Christchurch and the links between us and his home of New Orleans. Right now, from August 23rd to September 3rd, is the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina; Anis empathises with what Christchurch is going through in our own journey of survival and recovery. He mentioned a similar serendipitous note: his birthday is the 22nd of February,  a date carved in the history of our city. He spoke of the dark times that as humans we all go through, and how it always feels like we are the only ones to have ever felt this pain, how unlikely it seems that anyone else is suffering in the same way as we are suffering. He spoke of coming out the other end of the darkest times.

I am like you.
I too at times am filled with fear.
But like a hallway we must find the strength to walk through it.
Walk through this with me.
Walk through this with me.

(From ‘Come Closer’)

Anis loves words and it shows in his art. He is approachable, warm, magnetic, and at the signing table he asks your name like he genuinely wants to know you. He’s definitely an artist, and has a real skill for connecting with people. The book table completely sold out of his books.

After the session, still buzzing from the contagious passion of the audience and the vividness and generosity of his presence, I walked back through the city to the bus exchange and thought: this is a strange and difficult city we live in, but I am fiercely hopeful about our future here.

And questions are the only answers we need to know that we are alive as I am when I have the mind of a child
Asking, why is two plus three always equal to five?
Where do people go to when they die?
What made the beauty of the moon?
And the beauty of the sea?
Did that beauty make you?
Did that beauty make me?
Will that make me something?
Will I be something?
Am I something?

And the answer comes: already am, always was, and I still have time to be.

(From ‘Here I Am’)

If you’re interested in spoken-word or slam poetry check out:

WORD Christchurch

 

 

Karen Healey‘s first experience with Margaret Mahy came early, as a toddler.

There’s a photo of me — I must have been about 4 — reading A Lion in the Meadow, sitting on the toilet, wearing a raincoat and wellies. I’d obviously rushed in without bothering to take them off, but had made enough time to grab a book to read.

Cover of The CHangeoverIn contrast Elizabeth Knox first picked up The Changeover while working in a museum shop in her twenties. She had only recently started reading books for young adults again after a self-imposed diet of 19th century poets. (“I think Mahy would have got on very well with William Blake,” Knox adds.) The strong sense of family present in Mahy’s works, similar to those by Diana Wynne Jones, have made both writers firm favourites of hers.

Karen Healey:

I first read The Changeover when I was about 13 and it just blew my BRAINS out. I was so excited by this book, because Laura literally writes herself into being a heroine.

Laura’s strong, flawed character will be the core of the forthcoming Changeover movie, filmmaker Stuart McKenzie confirms. While some aspects of the book have necessarily been trimmed (including Sorry’s backstory and, much to my regret, librarian Chris Holly), McKenzie assures us that they have been pruned to allow better visibility of Laura and her story.

The film is set in post-earthquake Christchurch, updated from 1984. The transformation of the city echoes the various changeovers present in the book, from Laura’s physical change from child to adolescent to the changeover of the title.

Cover of Guardian of the DeadAnother strong character in the movie will be Carmody Braque, whose malevolent presence seeps through the book like the smell of peppermints — yet in the end the reader almost feels sorry for him. We get a glimpse of the person he might have been once, possibly someone quite similar to Laura. Healey admits to stealing the amoral nature of Carmody Braque, a character who decides his need to live overrides your freedom, for her first novel.

Braque is terrifying because you get the sense that he sees himself as quite reasonable. He turns up everywhere in various guises, whether as the patupaiarehe in Guardian of the Dead, or Laurel in Fire and Hemlock. In some ways they are utterly alien, yet there is the possibility in all of us to become another Braque. This role-reversal and exploration of the slipperiness of our sense of self is a theme throughout The Changeover, asking: When do we stop being ourselves?

The Great NZ Crime Debate and Ngaio Marsh AwardI confess to feeling a little weary sitting in my seat at 8pm, after a full day of thought-provoking sessions at WORD Christchurch. “You’ll have to take notes for me, I’m too tired,” I said to my neighbour, slumping over my bag.

Well, if I didn’t take notes it certainly wasn’t because I fell asleep, it was because I couldn’t possibly keep up with the fast-paced repartee and banter exhibited by all the debaters. Full marks to all contestants! Some may have lost the debate, but all were surprising, hilarious, bawdy, and full of snark and self-mockery. Joe Bennett was as always an entertaining MC, despite enduring much slander from both debating teams. (Who knew our Mayor had such a raunchy sense of humour?!)

Arguing the moot that crime doesn’t pay were lawyer Marcus Elliott, crime novelist Paul Cleave and amateur bank robber Meg Wolitzer.

The opposition put forward the idea that crime is profitable, headed by Mayor Lianne Dalziel (which seems a little worrying for Christchurch). Even more disturbingly, she had journalist Martin van Beynen at her side, with Timaru Police Notebook fan Steve Braunias bringing up the rear. As Marcus Elliott argued, if the government and the media are in cahoots, what hope is there for democracy? Luckily reason prevailed and crime was voted to not be worth the bother. Debate attendees are doubtless spreading peace and goodwill over the city even as I type.

Cover of Where the Dead Men GoAt the end we were privileged to hear the results of the 2014 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, winner being Otago lecturer and crime writer Liam McIlvanney for Where the Dead Men Go. A big congratulations to all the short-listed finalists, especially Liam McIlvanney, as well as a really big thank you to the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival organisers for creating such an entertaining event.

Book cover of The Were-nanaThe youngest readers weren’t forgotten in the WORD Christchurch festivities. On Saturday afternoon Read It Again! let five picture-book authors share their creations with an eager audience of three to eight year olds. Sheila Sinclair of Christchurch-institution The Children’s Bookshop chaired the session.

Melinda Szymanik read the NZ Post Children’s Choice award winner for 2009, The were-nana. Little sisters in the audience were positively gleeful at the morality tale!

Gavin Bishop brought a special guest: Teddy one-eye, author of an upcoming autobiography. Teddy one-eye was a dishevelled but very accomplished bear who taught himself to read over schoolboy Gavin’s shoulder. Gavin also shared the story behind Teddy’s tragic eye loss: as a youngster he admitted to his Grandma “I’ve swallowed one of teddy’s eyes.” “You’ll probably die.” was the reasurring reply. Happily, he’s survived long enough to read Stay awake, Bear!  to an attentive audience.

Charisma Rangipunga shared a song she sings to her children about a witch who lives in their wardrobe and tries to tempt them out of bed with lollies. Unfortunately for naughty children, the lollies turn out to be worms and the children are then forced to work in her dirty sock factory.

Book cover of Teddy one-eyeKristin Hersh read a story inspired by her son’s dislike of touring: Toby Snax. By the end of the story, lots of the kids in the audience would’ve been eager to head off for international adventures of their own.

Damon Young concluded the session with a continuum of ninja-knowledge and a rowdy reading of My Nanna is a Ninja, which he described as a “celebration of the fun of grandparents, the verve, the energy!”

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