The Art of the Novel

It’s 8:15 on Sunday morning and there’s already a queue of at least thirty people waiting to get into the free ‘Art of the Novel’ session. It’s not due to start till 9am and by the time I’m half way through my coffee the line stretches round the corner and out of sight. The room seated 350 people and it looked pretty full by the time everyone was sitting down!

I sat between a very serious aspiring novelist and a group of younger chattier aspiring novelists. The men behind me were also deep in a conversation about writing and almost everyone had note pads.

Enter our three novelists. Stephanie Johnson from New Zealand, Emily St John Mandel from Canada, and from England came David Mitchell, wearing a pair of bright pink stripey socks, so I was immediately taken with him. His work is amazing too, of course, but the socks!

Cover of Station Eleven Cover of The Writing Class Cover of The Bone Clocks

The session was roughly broken up in to three parts, the ‘pre-writing’ stage, the writing itself, and then the editing and publishing stage.

“Research is great procrastination,” Stephanie Johnson said, as the three of them talked about building up their knowledge before (or just as often, during) their writing. For her latest novel, Station Eleven, Emily spent a lot of time on survivalist forums, which was fascinating, but a little scary.

David Mitchell’s ideas for his next book circle around his head like planes in a holding pattern, waiting to come down. He seems to have a very organised mind, or at least his mental organisation system resembles a kind of organised chaos. Whenever he finds a second hand book he thinks might be useful for one circling plane or another he’ll buy it and store it away, with a bookshelf put aside for each potential novel.

David and Emily both agreed that they would get so sick of working on old novels that the thought of starting a new one was terribly exciting! The new ideas can get very flirty and pushy, so it’s a matter of keeping them under control while you slog through the final days of your current project.

Some great bits of writing advice came out of the session:

About letting ideas sit and stew:

“You do need composting time. It’s good to have at least a part time job that forces you out into the world to pretend to be a normal.” – Stephanie Johnson

“I have to write the novel itself to figure out where the novel is going… it’s an incredibly inefficient way to write a book really.” – Emily St John Mandel

About fear, and challenging yourself by stepping outside your comfort zone:

“I want to know that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew this time.” – David Mitchell

“I try not to think about the audience when I’m writing. Which audience member would I pick anyway? I write the kind of thing I want to read.” – Emily St John Mandel

“When you’re really writing and it’s going well, the experience shouldn’t be too different to reading, or knitting.” – Stephanie Johnson

On editing:

“Sometimes I retype my entire draft, or read it all aloud. A ‘random page edit’ is a great way to pick up mistakes, print out and pick up page 3, 250, 180, whatever, and you’ll find all sorts of errors that you won’t notice if you read your story in order.” – Emily St John Mandel

“I don’t try to make it perfect the first time, that first draft is just about bringing a thing into existance.” – David Mitchell

On writing odious characters:

“When we’re being odious ourselves, remember, we self justify. Have your villains do the same.” – David Mitchell

“No one is one hundred percent odious all of the time, or if they are, they came by it honestly.” – Emily St John Mandel

By ten o’clock it was clear that the audience would have stayed much longer but it was time to move on, or rather, move out into the signing queues for some quick one-on-one writing advice.

For the writers among us, do you have any writing advice to share?

Lyttelton Harbour Festival of Lights 2015

The Lyttelton Harbour Festival of Lights is an annual event of lights, music and fun celebrating the Lyttelton community, Matariki, the Māori New Year and the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.

The Festival runs over nine days from 13 to 21 June, and this year boasts two stages active throughout the night, on London Street and at Albion Square. The programme features a parade, masquerade balls, music, waiata, food and wine, live poetry performances, art exhibitions, and, of course, fireworks.

Festival of Lights

Highlights of the 2015 programme of events [4.4 MB PDF] include:

Lyttelton Festival of lightsSaturday 13 June

  • Mask and headgear making workshop at Lyttelton Farmers Market, 10am-1pm
  • Matariki 2015 at Albion Square, 11am-1pm
  • DJ Missy G at the Porthole Bar, 8.30pm
  • Toque guitar duo at Civil and Naval, 9pm

Sunday 14 June

  • Afternoon Jam at the Porthole Bar, 3.30pm

Monday 15 June

  • Astro Dome by Science Alive at Lyttelton Primary School, Voelas Road campus, 4-7pm
  • ¡No Siesta Fiesta! at Freemans Deck, 7pm: Spanish and South American music

Tuesday 16 June

  • Lyttelton Bingo-tini at The Lyttelton Club, 6pm till late: Bingo, Martinis, and prizes galore

Wednesday 17 June

  • A Night with a Future Star at the Porthole Bar, 8pm

Thursday 18 June

  • Children’s stories and craft after dark at Lyttelton Library, 6.30-7.30pm
  • Celebrating Lyttelton Writers at Freemans Dining Room and Bar, 7-8pm
  • Josh Rennie-Hynes at the Porthole Bar, 8pm
  • Graham James at the Wunderbar, 8pm

Friday 19 June – Street Party

  • Lyttelton Soup Kitchen at The Lyttelton Club, 5pm till late
  • “We are a Tribe. We come by land and sea and air, travelling through time and space” parade, 6pm
  • The Lyttelton Port of Christchurch Fireworks display, 7.30pm
  • Visit the beautifully restored church of St Saviour’s at Holy Trinity, 6.30-9pm, including a 20-minute selection of musical pieces performed by The Cathedral Grammar Combined Choir from 8pm
  • Sexy Animals at the Wunderbar, 8.30pm
  • DJ Willie Styles at the Porthole Bar, 10pm
  • Kitchen Collective at Civil and Naval, 10pm-2am

Saturday 20 June

  • A Feast of Strangers at Naval Point Yacht Club (for Lyttelton Harbour Timebank members), 6.30pm
  • Lyttelton Masquerade Ball at The Lyttelton Club, 7pm
  • Labyrinth Masquerade Ball at the Wunderbar, 8.30pm
  • DJ at the Porthole Bar, 8.30pm

Sunday 21 June

  • Mathoms and Art Market at Diamond Harbour Hall, 2-5pm
  • Carmel Courtney Trio at Freemans Deck, 3pm
  • Mid-Winter Swim at Naval Point Yacht Club, 3.30pm
  • Afternoon Jam at the Porthole Bar, 3.30pm
  • Alliance Française Music Festival at the Wunderbar, 6pm
  • Festival Poetry Session @ Lyttelton Coffee Co., 8-10pm

Lyttelton links

The following resources are helpful for Lyttelton visitors and locals:

Lyttelton from Purau, 1852, CCL PhotoCD 4, IMG0079
Lyttelton from Purau, 1852, CCL PhotoCD 4, IMG0079

Previous Lyttelton Festivals of Lights

The 2015 Festival is the eleventh time the Festival has been held. Read our post about the 2014 Festival and our interview with Wendy Everingham about the 2007 Festival of Lights.

Seeing and hearing Philip Ball

Cover of Invisible: The dangerous allure of the unseenDr Philip Ball, who gave a talk in Christchurch last week, has an intimidating CV that includes working in an editorial role at Nature magazine for 20 years, an impressive clutch of awards, and an academic background that includes an undergraduate degree in Chemistry and a PhD in Physics. So no slouch in the brains department, then.

He writes columns for a range of publications, as well as books about science and technology but placed within the wider cultural context. It’s science but it’s the literature of science, the art of science, and the myth of science all rolled up into one multi-disciplinary ball. His books also have really tantalising, curiousity-piquing titles like –

His talk on Friday Invisibility: a cultural history drew on ideas found in his latest book, Invisible: The dangerous allure of the unseen. I was interested in this right away as “invisibility” is my favoured super-power. No Adamantium claws for me, thanks. Being invisible presents so many opportunities for mischief.

It turns out, that this idea is sort of what the talk was about, as Ball addressed the audience directly at the beginning and asked:

“If you had the power of invisibility what would you do with it?”

We were then told that if our minds went straight to “power, wealth or sex” then we shouldn’t feel too bad, as that’s very much in keeping with the rest of humanity as far back as Plato (and further). Invisibility, we were told, is not a technical problem but a moral one.

Cover of The RepublicIn The Republic Plato uses the story of The ring of Gyges to illustrate the dangers of unfettered power. Like the One Ring of Middle Earth, this piece of jewellery bestows invisibility upon the wearer. Gyges, a humble shepherd, uses this power to seduce the queen and kill the reigning king and becomes “like a god among men” because unfortunately, invisibility corrupts.

Invisibility, it seems, isn’t necessarily a super power that you would want to have. Right, so I might have to go with super strength or metal claws, after all.

And yet people have been questing after this ability for as long as we have had the idea of it.

Modern technologies involving meta-materials, that can redirect light, are one possible route towards a “cloaking technology” but this is some way from true invisibility. Camouflage is one thing, completely disappearing is quite another.

Much of Ball’s talk leapt deftly from science to magic and back again, highlighting the similarities in purpose of the two and how they sometimes walk along side by side. For instance, in the 19th century there was a resurgence in interest in things spiritual, séances, spirit mediums and unseen forces, at the same time that invisible forces like x-rays were being discovered.

Ball argued that the notion of being able to communicate with another unseen being via the spiritual “ether”, made it much easier for people to accept the technological equivalent of communicating with someone at a distance via radiowaves.

Cover of The Invisible ManBall also made some allusions to literature, pointing out that H G Wells’ The invisible man is essentially a rewriting of the Gyges myth but using science instead of magic. As such, instead of the protagonist becoming god-like, his “power” is a curse. In order to be invisible he has to be naked so he suffers the cold and sore feet. He is no king. Modern invisibility still corrupts the soul but it also belittles.

It was a fascinating talk that covered everything from bizarrely painted “dazzle” warships of the First World War to Harry Potter to Star Trek and back again and illustrated the importance of magic and myth in the context of technology.

“Myth is no blueprint for the engineer. It’s more important than that.”

More Philip Ball –

The Christchurch Marathon

Central Library Peterborough will be a tad more athletic than usual on Sunday, 31 May as the annual Christchurch Marathon takes place. The library is on the marathon route, at the beginning of the course as runners make their way from the Cathedral Square start towards Hagley park, and at the end of the race as they head back to The Square for the big finish.

The route of the Christchurch marathon has changed in recent years due to the earthquakes. It started in 1981 as the same course run during the 1974 Commonwealth Games, the one that saw Brit, Ian Thompson run the second fastest marathon of all time, (2 hrs, 9 mins, 12 secs). Forty years later this is still the fastest marathon ever run in New Zealand and the Christchurch Marathon continues to have a reputation as a “fast and flat” course.

Central Library Peterborough will be open as usual on Sunday but access from the street will be pedestrian only until 2pm. Library visitors will need to park further away than usual and walk to the library (but at least it won’t be 26 miles, so that’s something to be thankful for).

About the Christchurch Marathon

World Wide Knit in Public Day – Saturday 13 June 2015

Ahoy knitters! We are hosting a World Wide Knit in Public event at Central Library Peterborough on Saturday 13 June 10am to 12pm. There will be tea and coffee and some biscuits to sustain you.

This event will be held in conjunction with Knit world (just down the street a bit at 189 Peterborough Street) and they are supplying a couple of secret prizes on the day too.

Daleks do not knit!

Daleks do not knit! World Wide Knit In Public Day at Shirley Library, 14 June 2014.  Flickr: CCL-2014-06-14-WWKIPDay-ShirleyLibrary-DSC_4494.JPG

The library caters to all your knitters and crocheters:

Cover of Woolly woofers Cover of More monster knits Cover of Knit your own kama sutra Cover of Vingtage knits for him and her Cover of Jane Austen knits Cover of Knit Wear Love

Kids’ writing heroes at the Auckland Writers Festival

Did you ever wish to meet your favourite author when you were little? Did you get a chance? What did you say or ask? When I was a keen young reader, all my favourite authors were already dead. Except one.

I was lucky enough to meet her once. She was talking to the teachers in the foyer after the school visit, drinking coffee and smoking her cigarette. I was hiding behind the corner, gathering my courage and waiting for the best moment to come. All I could find at that moment was a small piece of paper. I decided it will do. Finally, I approached the table and asked her for an autograph. Her cold eyes pierced through the smoke between us and straight through me. A torrent of telling-off followed from her mouth. It must have been wrong question or wrong timing. According to her, it was the size of the paper. Only later on I learned she was writing children’s books but did not like children. It took me ten years to re-establish this fractured reader-writer relationship.

I am pretty sure none of the young visitors to Auckland Writers Festival had an experience like that! Children and their parents had a chance to listen and see some of the best authors in the world. Besides some big-name-sessions on Saturday and a family-focused day on Sunday, the school programme featured some great names during the week, including great American YA author Laurie Halse Anderson, a former comedian Natalie Haynes, performing poet Grace Taylor, New Zealand YA author Bernard Beckett, sci-fi YA debut writer Rachael Craw, singer and songwriter Hollie Fullbrook and cartoonist and creator of graphic novels, Ant Sang.

DSC_0073I could not believe my eyes when I stepped into the ASB Theatre on Saturday morning, before the David Walliams session. The place was like an anthill – little excited readers wriggling everywhere! When it was time for questions, their hands shut up in the air and I was afraid a couple of them might jump off the balcony, on which we were seated. After the show the excitement followed in the queue. I have never ever seen so many patient children in my life – some of them were queuing for more than two hours to get their books signed by David. No arguments, no rows, just very excited faces.

An afternoon session with Morris Gleitzman, Australia’s most celebrated writer for children and young adults, followed. On Sunday, after Captain Underpants/Dav Pilkey revealed a few of his drawing tricks, I walked into the foyer of Herald Theatre, where the family Sunday sessions were taking place, and caught an illustrator Raymond McGrath surrounded by a group of children. They were deeply focused on their work, illustrating and drawing monsters. Donovan Bixley, an illustrator and graphic novels author, was signing his books on the other side of the room. I mingled in the crowd to find a few keen young readers, who shared their impressions of the festival and their ideas about books.

PICT0020 PICT0019

Donovan Bixley, top, and Raymond McGrath, bottom, working their magic with the little ones at Auckland Writers Festival.

First, I talked to a very young lady, Ava, who at the age of six already knows a true value of poetry as she came to listen to Jenny Palmer present her A Little ABC book. Jenny’s session was not the only one Ava attended. Donovan Bixley was pretty entertaining, talking about Young Jimmy, the hero of his comic hit Monkey Boy, and Zak Waipara presented his work on Maori myths. Ava was not shy about sharing what she is reading to her mummy at the moment: The brave kitten (Holly Webb) and How to train your dragon (Cressida Cowell). She usually gets books from her favourite Waiheke Library, which I visited next day and decided with no doubt it’s my favourite as well.

Sitting in the corner and reading a graphic novel was Kea. He is a quiet one, but there is something smart about his face. He tells me his favourite books are – I should have guessed – graphic novels, because “they’re cool” – I should have guessed that as well! He has seen quite a few authors during the festival, but his favourite is – you have probably guessed – Donovan Bixley. I wonder what he would be writing about, if he would be a famous author. With no hesitation, he answers: “Action stories, with lots of heroes!”

I catch Cooper and Ruby just before they whiz back in the theatre to see Trish Gribben and Judy Millar present their pop-up book Swell. After seeing David Walliams, Dav Pilkey, Morris Gleitzman, Jenny Palmer, Zak Waipara and Donovan Bixley, they both agree that David Walliams was the funniest and Dav Pilkey was exciting because he draw pictures and talked about his early childhood. Cooper found Zak’s session very interesting because it was all about Māori myths. If he was a famous author, Cooper’s stories would be full of action, ghosts and pirates. Ruby would write funny stories, like Roald Dahl or David Walliams.

Our time is up and I let children return to the next session. While I’m leaving the foyer, I ponder who of them would be my favourite writer. I decide it would probably be Ruby. And I am absolutely sure, she would not tell me off, if I asked her for an autograph.

Te Kupu o te Wiki – The Word of the Week

Kia ora. To celebrate Te Reo Māori we are publishing kupu (words).

Kīwaha (colloquialism)

Kua aua atu te wā.
Long time, no see.

Kupu (word)

taringa
ear

He tangata taringa kore ia!
He/She has no ears!

Watch video of someone pronouncing this kupu.
Maori

This week in Christchurch history (25 to 31 May)

25 May 1861
“Christchurch Press” appears. The first editor was ex-Superintendent James FitzGerald, a bitter opponent of the proposed Lyttelton-Christchurch railway tunnel. He and supporters began the paper to air their views.

25 May 1903
Statue of Queen Victoria unveiled in Market Square, and the area is renamed Victoria Square.

Queen Victoria statue, 2007. Flickr: CCL-2013-01-15-DSC05886
Queen Victoria statue, 2007. Flickr: CCL-2013-01-15-DSC05886

25 May 1969
First pair of one-way streets (Lichfield and St Asaph Streets) in operation. With traffic signals eventually controlled by a computer, this was the beginning of New Zealand’s first area traffic control scheme.

26 May 1859
Public Library begins as the Mechanics Institute in Town Hall.

 

28 May 1840
Major Bunbury on HMS “Herald” visits Akaroa collecting signatures of Maori chiefs for the Treaty of Waitangi.

28 May 1955
First parking meters installed.

29 May 1967
Opening of the new Bank of New Zealand building in Cathedral Square.

30 May 1874
First rugby match played.

More May events in the Christchurch chronology: a timeline of Christchurch events in chronological order from pre-European times to 1989.

Pasifika newspapers now online

The digi-boffins at National Library of New Zealand have been hard at work adding even more great historical newspapers to their Papers Past resource, and just in time for Samoan Language Week they’ve made some historical Pasifika newspapers available.

The recently added Samoan material is from the following newspapers and years –

Advertisement, Samoa Times and South Sea Gazette, Volume 2, Issue 65, 28 December 1878, Page 1
Advertisement, Samoa Times and South Sea Gazette, Volume 2, Issue 65, 28 December 1878, Page 1

They’ve also added a bunch of other new material including a few more years’ worth of Canterbury’s Sun newspaper which now covers 1914-1920.

Read more about what appears in the Samoan papers (including Robert Louis Stevenson’s birthday party and the Samoan equivalent of “Game of Thrones”) in this fascinating blog post from the National Library website.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Captain Underpants!

Captain Underpants is one of the most popular book characters for kids and his books are hardly ever on the library shelves.His hilarious adventures have kids laughing out loud. On Sunday morning at the Auckland Writers Festival, I joined hundreds of Captain Underpants – both young and old – to listen to his creator Dav Pilkey talk about his books.

Cover of Captain Underpants Cover of Dav Pilkey Cover of Captain Underpants Cover of Ricky Ricotta

Here are 10 things you may not know about Dav Pilkey and Captain Underpants:

  1. Dav Pilkey was a super happy kid because he could do what he liked all the time…until he started school. School wiped the smile off his face because he found it really hard.
  2. He has ADHD and dyslexia but he hasn’t let this stop him from doing what he loves the most – writing and drawing comics.
  3. His teacher gave him the idea for Captain Underpants when she used the world ‘underwear’ and all the kids in his class cracked up laughing. He discovered that underwear is very powerful. He drew his first picture of Captain Underpants that day.
  4. That same teacher told him he couldn’t spend the rest of his life making ‘silly comic books’. He proved her wrong!
  5. He likes to be close to nature and loves kayaking.
  6. He has a pet giant beetle called Megalon.
  7. He writes his books in a cave.
  8. He has written two more Ricky Ricotta books because he pinky-swore to a kid a signing that he would finish the series.
  9. The Adventures of Dog Man, written by George and Harold in kindergarten, is coming out next year. This will be Dav’s 60th book!
  10. There is a new Captain Underpants book coming in August – Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinksalot. In this book we get to meet the adult versions of George and Harold.

Dav Pilkey’s presentation was full of action, thrills and laffs and was one of my favourite sessions of the Auckland Writers Festival.

Come and meet Dav Pilkey in Christchurch!

You too could meet Dav Pilkey in Christchurch this weekend. Dav is going to be talking and signing books at Fendalton School this Saturday 23 May from 12 to 1pm. If you would like to go along you’ll need a ticket, which can be collected from The Children’s Bookshop.