Books


Cover of Philosophy in the GardenIn the last three and a half years I’ve spent more time reading books on gardens than I ever did when I owned one. I’ve done even more thinking about gardens since attending the Philosophy in the Gardens session at WORD, where philosopher Damon Young talked about authors and their gardens.

Highlights included Jane Austen – lover of apricots and syringas, although one cynic in the audience was moved to ask “was she a gardener or a pointer?” A gardener it seems, along with George Orwell, Emily Dickinson, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Nietzsche, Voltaire and Colette. Even Proust, a man who barely left his cork-lined room, owned a bonsai or three.

And is Young a gardener? Yes, but not a good one. He claimed he could recite a list of the plants he has killed in much the same way as the warriors in The Iliad who, preparatory to killing a man, recite a list of those they have killed before. Ah, the perfectly placed classical reference – one of the things you go to a book festival for.

Virginia Woolf’s Garden was on my For Later list before the session, but according to Young it was Leonard Woolf who won the prizes. Now it’s to be joined by Philosophy in the Garden.

WORD Christchurch:

Cover of How to think about exerciseAt all the festivals I attend, I like to do a pin stab. That’s where I open the fold-out programme, close my eyes and make a jab at the page. Then I go to that event. No matter what. This year, my jab landed on Body and Mind – How to Think About Exercise which is the title of Damon Young’s latest book.

Well, let’s be frank here, I don’t usually have any problems thinking about exercise. But I had a sinking feeling this festival event would end up making me feel bad about not actually doing it. Still, a pact is a pact.

The audience was reassuringly normal looking. I had feared being sandwiched between gym jocks. Damon himself  looked suspiciously toned, but co-host Marcus Elliott had a suitably disarming presence. But thirty minutes into this one hour event Elliott was still introducing Damon and we were still nudging around the topic of Philosophy:

Philosophy has to make sense in the context of my life and there is a moral dimension to this. Debate about current moral issues is vital, but debate is not just talking about your prejudices.

So far so good, the word exercise hasn’t even been mentioned yet. Whew. But here it comes:

For too long we have broadly defined people as “bookish and ethereal”or “physical and dumb” This is plain bunkum in Damon’s opinion.This notion of dualism is in fact what stops us from flourishing. His book teases out the benefits of removing this duality and breaking down the insidious capture of the notion of fitness by the young and the beautiful (philosophically speaking, whatever beauty may be. But let’s not go there right now).

Put quite simply Damon encourages us to disentangle how we look from who we think we are – our character, in other words. Just find a form of exercise you like. And do it. Think about what you are doing and take pride in this enhancement of your sense of self.

At the end, I elbowed my way out of the room and to the front of the book selling queue. Down the steps and I was second in line at the book signing table. When I handed my little book across, I said to Damon: “I can’t believe I am buying a book on exercise and one with such an ugly cover as well!” He laughed and took the book and signed inside:

To Roberta,

May you not judge this book by its cover!

Damon.

 

WORD Christchurch:

 

 

 

 

WORD-Web-Event-HOWWEREMEMBERWriters and historians Anna Rogers, Paul Diamond and the totes delightful Harry Ricketts discussed the First World War, the individual stories of participants and the ways in which New Zealand has remembered, fabricated and re-imagined the events and legacy of the war.

Contributing essayists to How we remember. New Zealanders and the First World War Anna and Paul both related stories of individual Kiwis. Anna told the tale of Fanny Speedy, a Hawkes Bay nurse who saw over 4 years service in Egypt and Western Europe. Paul Diamond revealed the scandal of closet homosexual and “war shirker” Wanganui Mayor Charles E MacKay who in 1920 shot and wounded blackmailing poet Walter D’Arcy Cresswell. Yes, even more scandalous than Michael Laws!

Both writers subscribe to the view these individual vignettes can help illuminate the larger story of the war, the attitudes, fears and actions of the nation and wider world. Paul Diamond also praised Kirstie Ross and Kate Hunter’s book Holding on to home: New Zealand stories and objects of the First World War where “the objects unlock stories” both on the home and war front.

Paul Diamond drew interesting parallels between the First World War and the Canterbury/Christchurch earthquakes both with a vast diversity of experiences, attitudes and stories. Luckily for future historians these Canterbury memories and experiences have been handy-dandily captured in the UC CEISMIC digital archive. If only accessing primary sources for the First War World was so easy.

Harry Ricketts concluded by calling for controversy over the next four years of First World War focus. He and the panellists hoped for fresh eyes, new perspectives, and raw, not traditionally accepted and polished tales of the First World War. New stories and research that can help shape and evolve our understanding of warfare and its role in the history of New Zealand.

For more on the First World War:

  • Canterbury 100 – Telling the story and experiences of Canterbury people during the First World War.
  • WW100 New Zealand – The centenary of New Zealand’s participation in the First World War will be marked from 2014-2019 through commemorative events, projects and activities in all parts of the country
  • Christchurch City Libraries - First World War resources, events, booklists, postcards and links.
  • 100 Stories project at Monash University – The darker untold stories of returned  Australian soldiers and their families.

WORD Christchurch:

 

 

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know I was going to write comics. When I would read Tintin, even the individual panels seemed like a little window I wanted to climb inside. Creating my own comics is a way to climb in that window.

Journey to HicksvilleDylan Horrocks

Dylan Horrocks was born in 1966 and raised on a diet of Asterix, Tintin and Captain Marvel. He was part of the 80s zine revolution, photocopying his own comics at school and giving them away. Despite learning (to his surprise) that writing comics is not a high-paying profession, he moved to London with the intention of making his way in the European comics market. It was in London, pores full of smoke, that he began to write comics set in New Zealand.

Hicksville started off as a side project, emerging from the stories I was writing for Pickle. Eventually Pickle was swallowed into Hicksville and that became my main thing.

Given the option by his publisher to either finish off the Pickle series or bring out Hicksville as a graphic novel, Horrocks decided to publish Hicksville.

After working on something so carefully planned out (Cafe Underground), I wanted to do something I could just make up as I went along.

There is a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in —Leonard Cohen

As someone who is fascinated by concepts such as Jasper Fforde’s Well of Lost Plots, writing ephemera and the mystery of unfinished drafts, I was excited to discover Horrocks is a fellow fan of the unpolished product (which I might have guessed from his recent title Incomplete Works). There’s just something alluring about the idea of what might-have-been:

A finished novel is like a palimpsest where if you scrape it away you find all the different Incomplete Works — Dylan Horrocksversions, all the drafts and different endings the author gave up on.

It reminds me of an anecdote in The  Changeover session, where Karen Healey recounted the experience of re-reading her own work and discovering she’d accidentally created a time capsule of pre-quake Christchurch. Every written word is a moment captured in time. Sometimes it can be a thought that will ring just as true across several centuries, and sometimes it will be a mystery to be puzzled over by a future reader.

Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen

Titular Sam Zabel is in Christchurch for a conference when he is catapulted into a comic set on Mars. His adventures and attempts to make sense of himself make up the book soon to be published by Fantagraphics, and otherwise available on his website.

I just wanted to set up a situation that had plenty of potential for exploration. I wanted to ask: Does it matter ethically what we fantasise about? Do we bear a moral responsibility for our fantasies?

If you know the answer, please leave a comment and let me know!

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Diane Setterfield, Eleanor Catton and Roberta Smith

I had tea with Eleanor Catton and Diane Setterfield on Saturday morning at WORD. Well, myself and about forty other Book Discussion Scheme members, that is.

Morrin Rout hosted the event, armed with a long list of questions submitted by BDS convenors. I loved that the event kicked off with a chat about hairstyles – just like every book club I have ever belonged to! Diane’s was described as “artfully tousled” and Morrin’s as “strangely thatched.” Eleanor, her beautiful sleek long locks flowing down each side of her face, just smiled enigmatically.

Here’s how it went:

How has your background and upbringing influenced your writing?

Diane said she was the first person in her family to go to university. She had been a voracious reader as a child, but her family was unschooled. She always keeps her mother in mind as her sole reader. This gives her books a wide readership range.

Eleanor comes from a family of readers – there was no TV in her home. She credits her brother’s reaction to a short story she wrote when she was 7 or 8 years old with her writing rule: always to see your work as your detractors might see it.

How do you get into the minds of people who are not your age, gender or nationality?

Bellman and blackDiane (The Thirteenth Tale and Bellman and Black): It helps if you are a shy, quiet observer. Observation and listening make up seventy-five percent of the work. Always stretch a bit beyond what you believe you are capable of. The rest is a kind of magic.

The Luminaries is such a complex novel, how on earth did it come about?

Eleanor: I knew I wanted to write a historic novel about the West Coast gold rush (1864-1867). Overall it took me five years, and there were long periods of incubation in that time. I found a wonderful website called Solarium where you can see the exact position of the planets and the sun, moon and stars for any date in the past. For two weeks I studied the skies over Hokitika for the three year period in which I was was interested. In particular, I noticed Mercury (which represents trickery and deceit). So in a way, the story had been constellated for me. But it was a real headache to write and I have many, many folders in my computer under the heading Luminaries!

Where did you get your ideas for these two books?  What were your influences?

Diane: The Bellman and Black book began from listening to the radio (BBC Desert Island Discs, to be precise!) The radio is where all good books should start, in my opinion! Then I wanted to write a ghost story where a really robust character is haunted, but set it somewhere unscary. So the question becomes – is he mad or is he haunted? I was also fascinated by the vast London emporiums of mourning paraphernalia. Oh, and I always knew, from way back, that I would write about a character called William Bellman.

The LuminariesEleanor: Jung got me thinking about Astrology.

At what point in the writing of your book did you know what the title would be?

Eleanor: Right at the very start of the book I knew it would be called The Luminaries.

Diane: I only worked out the title right at the end!

What books are you reading now?

Eleanor: The Golden Bough – A Study in Magic and Religion

At this point I had a balancing meltdown with my muffin, my coffee, my notepad and pen and I missed Diane’s answer. If any reader who was at this event can remember Diane’s answer, or indeed can add any more information to this blog, just  comment below!

Because of the small number of invited guests (thanks Book Discussion Scheme), I felt more connected to these two authors than I would have done in a large packed venue. And, as a result,  I feel inspired  to read both The Luminaries and Bellman and Black. You can’t say better than that now can you?

September 1st is Random Acts of Kindness Day. I must confess to having a certain cynicism about these type of days. Surely every day should be a day of random kindness, just like every day should be Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Children’s Day.

Cover of Random Acts of Kindness by AnimalsPerhaps I should try to be more randomly kind and hope that days like this highlight that there are always opportunities to do something nice for someone else, be they a friend or a complete stranger. Even animals are doing it!

So I had a look at some of the suggestions on the RAK page, and wondered how the Library could help out.

I could bake for friends, neighbours, workmates (maybe not  strangers – they might be a bit suspicious!).

Flowers from my garden. Hmm, I might have to work on that one for next year as my garden is not up to much, so some flower gardening books might be useful, or maybe paper flowers would suffice.

I could volunteer; our webpages have plenty of suggestions.

Maybe I could make somethinganything

Make someone laugh, try out some magic tricks!

Take the neighbour’s dog for a walk, perhaps do some training while I’m at it?

Hold a themed party. Sounds like a lot of work, but these party books might give me some ideas.

Reading a story to a child. Now this I can do! These two titles have been suggested by our children’s selector: Oi Frog and Tge Tiny King.

Whatever you do as a random act of kindness on this day, or any other, the Library is sure to be able to help you out.

Cover of The Tiny King Cover of The Cut Flower Patch Cover of 101 Dog Tricks Kids Edition Cover of Cardboard Creatures Cover of A Good Baking Day

Carnival SkyIn all my years of reading and attending Literary Festivals, I have never once been in the same room as a writer and an editor. WORD event The Novel Relationship, with two writers and their editor in the same space at the same time, was therefore a must for me.

The event, “chaired and refereed” by Chris Moore seemed to promise, if not blood on the walls, at least a bit of bruising and the possibility of raised voices. I took my umpteenth coffee, got my pen and paper ready and settled in for the fray.

The two authors were Laurence Fearnley, whose writing I love: Butler’s Ringlet; Edwin and Matilda; The Hutbuilder. She has a new book The Reach, which will be available in September. And Owen Marshall, whose work I have yet to discover. The editor was Anna Rogers and if ever I write a book, I will want her to be the person to guide it to publication. She was great.

They all know one another, so the event got off to a smooth start.

Laurence Fearnley likes a soft edit:

I like an edit that takes into account pace and tone. I like to meander into my sentences. Then an abrupt sentence can happen. The pace needs to match the character progression. I like sentences that walk into the sentence. Anna is good at that with me.

Owen Marshall appreciates that Anna is a writer herself and that they can actually get together to discuss any possible changes.

Editors are the traffic cops of writing, but they can only suggest.

Anna feels that an editor’s job should be in the background:

I’ve done my job if I am not seen.

The tension really ratcheted up when they had to decide who would read first. It was that civil. But I love to hear authors read their own work and I was not disappointed with their renderings.

But my mind wandered just a teensy bit to Lionel Shriver who famously dumped her editor and friend of long standing after she had been disparaging about Shriver’s book We Need to talk About Kevin, ran off with her ex-editor’s husband, married him, found another editor and made a lot of money.

Try as we might (and there were questions about self-publishing and the isolation and smallness of the New Zealand market), this event remained resolutely sweet and fluffy. A little lambkins-frolicking of an occasion. Dare I say it – and any editor would get the machete out I am sure: It was a nice event.

More WORD stuff

 

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