Where do you get your ideas from? WORD Christchurch

Audience question time at festivals can create some truly cringe-making moments. Turns out it is not that easy to ask an intelligent, succinct question. Most of the time what we really want to do is make a statement and leave the onus up to the other person to decode that into a question. Bit of a cheek really, expecting presenters/authors to both create and answer the questions that we have lurking somewhere in our subterranean minds.

The Art Gallery on a Saturday morning was where we all went for a bit of help with our ideas generation from four bright and beautiful young things: playwright and actress (Alice Canton), National Poetry Slam champ Mohamed Hassan, songwriter Hollie Fullbrook and cartoonist Toby Morris. Actually make that five beautiful young things – Poet Steven Toussaint asks the hard questions and he’s not that ancient himself.

Prize for worst question ever goes to Where do you get your ideas from? Steve asked them to explain

Why do you hate that question so much?

Alice

I steal ideas from everybody and I don’t really want people to know that. Although now you all do! I also hate the question because I fear some of my ideas will be considered superficial. Then I just want to wet myself and melt onto the floor to force the interviewer to move on to someone else.

Alice Canton. Image supplied
Alice Canton. Image supplied

Mohamed

The question is just too broad. I don’t have a secret stash of ideas, it’s not like I’m hiding my ideas in a place where they all have some sort of private life.

Mohamed Hassan. Image supplied
Mohamed Hassan. Image supplied

Hollie

I fear I will jinx my ideas if I reveal how I get them. It’s like the Sufi Centipede story. The centipede could dance beautifully until someone said: ‘How do you do that?’ And the centipede tried to explain. And could never again dance after that.

Hollie Fullbrook. Image supplied.
Hollie Fullbrook. Image supplied.

Toby

I take big topics that resonate with me and make them more accessible by connecting them to my personal life. What I hate is when people ask me What pen do you use? Like it’s the pen that is being creative!

Toby Morris. Image supplied.
Toby Morris. Image supplied.

What do you do when inspiration is scarce?

Alice

I go to other shows and I steal ideas!

Mohamed

I can’t write when I am comfortable, I suppose I have to get out of my comfort zone. I explore.

Hollie

I try to associate with people who believe in me.

Are there ideas that are too explicit or personal and you will never explore?

Alice

Ideas that are too explicit just don’t interest me.

Hollie

I hide in my songs – I give the difficult, personal, explicit, political, awkward stuff to other characters! In this way I shroud the real situation.

Mohamed

I don’t like it when things become aggressively confessional. There are some things I will never write about. Sometimes I think people reveal too much.

At what point do you decide to let go of an idea because it really just isn’t up to much?

Amy

I cling on for way too long, I take bad ideas to full term. That seems to be how I learn.

Hollie

I abort bad ideas very quickly. I know they are bad when I start having to try too hard.

Toby

Looming deadlines make me give up on them.

So there you have it – out of the mouths of babes. And let it not be said that we weren’t fast learners, because the quality of the questions from the floor at the end of the event was of a very high standard!

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2050 – WORD Christchurch

Contemplating what condition the world will be in midway through this century seems a bit premature. But, in the grand narrative of history, the halfway point of the 21st century its not too far away – 35 years. So it is a tad irresponsible to push such ponderings into the back of our minds, given the ecological problems we face.

So, to help us consider our foreseeable circumstances in 2050, the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival composed a panel of masterminds to discuss some implications. Chaired by Kim Hill, environmental scientist Tim Flannery, environmental policy pro Dr Bronwyn Hayward, legal expert Mai Chen and indigenous rights advocate Sheila Watt-Cloutier discussed the relationship between environmental issues, indigenous rights, ethnic diversity and citizenship.

The way these issues connect will become much more evident over the next 35 years, as our current refugee/migration crisis will be exacerbated by burgeoning climate change migration. Basically, as seas rise and ice melts – ruining homes and food procurement – people will have to find somewhere else to make a home.

Sheila discussed the fact that indigenous peoples are often the least responsible for climate change, but also the least well equipped to adapt to the circumstances it foists upon their way of life – a life which is almost totally contingent on a very intimate relationship with healthy ecosystems.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier. Image supplied.
Sheila Watt-Cloutier. Image supplied.

Within their own regions, these small populations are often at the behest of larger non-indigenous populations and market forces. Therefore, they have little say in how environmental issues are tackled.  

Mai Chen added to this by highlighting the increasing number of displaced indigenous people groups who must escape environmental crisis, but can’t achieve citizenship in other countries very easily. This is a bit painful, given developed countries are often the largest CO2 emitters and responsible for driving environmental degradation, but also have a strange reluctancy to receive new migrants affected by environmental crisis.   

Mai Chen. Image supplied.
Mai Chen. Image supplied.

Relatedly, Dr Hayward underscored the way in which developed and developing countries are obsessed with economic growth. And this growth is usually achieved via resource intensive economic activity. Basically, we must wean ourselves off the growth model and scale back our consumer economies. Which sounds painful!

Bronwyn Hayward. Image supplied.
Bronwyn Hayward. Image supplied.

Scientist Tim Flannery had SOME good news!

He noted that in the last two years carbon emissions had stabilized, and although this wasn’t cause to get back into our SUVs, it could mark the beginning of a downward trend in CO2 emissions! He attributes this to new technologies, as renewable energy sources (wind etc) are attracting more investment than fossil fuels, and such technologies are seeing increasing utilization.

Tim Flannery. Photo by Damien Pleming. Image supplied.
Tim Flannery. Photo by Damien Pleming. Image supplied.

That being said, the worst case scenario still looms.

CoverCover

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WORD Christchurch

No Sex Please, We’re Teenagers — WORD Christchurch

Should there be sex in young adult fiction? A resounding yes, according to panellists Karen Healey, Ted Dawe and Frances Young. Sex is a major part of many people’s lives and therefore it will turn up in fiction whether or not you’ve identified it as an important theme in your writing. How it is portrayed, positively or negatively, is another matter — Healey emphasised her wish for sex-positive teen fiction, getting rid of the shame that settles on us in adolescence.  Dawe meanwhile was concerned that Harry Potter is leading a movement away from realistic, warts-and-all depictions of young men. (He obviously hasn’t read the testosterone-fueled mess that is Order of the Phoenix.)

No Sex Please We're Teenagers
Frances Young, Ted Dawe, Karen Healey and Mandy Hager.

The role of pornography in teen sexuality

Young cited various statistics linking increasingly violent pornography with sexual violence against women. If teens are discovering sex via violent porn, does this then influence their relationships and sexual experiences in the future? With pornography being increasingly accessible online, and society and media supporting the objectification of women, are we grooming our children into becoming sex offenders? Young considers this a public health crisis which needs to be addressed.

Frances Young. Image supplied
Frances Young. Image supplied

Differences between publishing in NZ/Australia vs. publishing in the US?

Karen Healey. Image supplied
Karen Healey. Image supplied

Healey mentions a saucy scene in While We Run which received a very positive response from her Australian editors, and some careful notes on her manuscript from her American publishers. (‘Do you have to use the word “unzip”?’) Her debut novel Guardian of the Dead was also initially written for an adult audience, and had to be altered to suit a teenage audience. The sex was cut but the violence was allowed to stay.

The Into the River controversy

Ted Dawe. Image supplied
Ted Dawe. Image supplied

Several panellists brought up the “dubious consent” of a particular sex scene (borderline rape) in Into the River, and the lack of any reprisals or sense of wrongdoing in the novel. Dawe said he dislikes being compelled to write a counter-argument into the text as that’s “proselytising” rather than fiction writing. He suggested his books are primers for teens just beginning to have sexual relationships, an accurate reflection of first-time messy unglamorous sex. What a scary thought.

Sex is a controversial topic but makes for fascinating discussion. Were you at the session? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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WORD Christchurch

True Crime – WORD Christchurch

Betrayal is in the journalist toolkit. You’ve got your notebook, you’ve got your recorder and you’ve got your sense of betrayal. — Steve Braunias

Given that crime fiction is one of the more well-thumbed genres in the library, I’m not surprised that true crime is equally popular.   Whether it’s because we’re attracted to extreme circumstances, because we’re appalled by violence inflicted on the innocent, or because of our voyeuristic tendencies — all theories floated by at the True Crime session — the only sure thing is that the trials of Teina Pora, Mark Lundy and David Bain were all avidly followed and judged by many.

Steve Braunias. Image supplied
Steve Braunias. Image supplied

Is the role of media in true crime positive or negative?

Steve Braunias asserted that crime is now under-reported, with many potentially high-profile trials going unnoticed due to a lack of journalists dedicated to the subject. Media can be helpful in uncovering critical evidence, specifically in identifying Teina Pora’s foetal-alcohol disorder in the Pora trials, according to Tim McKinnel. Both mentioned the disconnect between what is actually happening in the courtroom compared with what is reported the next day. People can also form completely different opinions based on the same evidence (e.g. did David or Robin Bain do it?). (Post your theories in the comments.)

Tim McKinnel. Image supplied
Tim McKinnel. Image supplied

Do you have faith in the jury and police system?

McKinnel voted yes to the jury, as it is more democratic than any alternative, but found the police variable. He prefers to make judgements based on individual officers rather than judge the police force as a profession.

Braunias agreed less enthusiastically, mentioning a number of trials where he considered the jury’s verdict led by spite, ignorance and/or hysteria.

Jarrod GIlbert WORDphoto
Jarrod GIlbert. Image supplied.

Other highlights:

  • Jarrod Gilbert reading from Scene of the Crime, in which Braunias makes a sometimes boring and lengthy murder trial vivid and interesting. I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the Jailhouse Snitch, an almost stereotypical character who seems to have popped up on more than one occasion.
  • Braunias describing the faces of various professions. McKinnel has a cop face — guarded, concealed hurt; Gilbert sports an academic face; and Braunias himself, of course, a journalist’s: shrewd, rat-like and optimistic.
  • Braunias’s impressions of David Lundy. Not very likeable as a human being, not a good man, guilty regardless of whether or not he committed the murders. I have no opinion on his culpability or otherwise, but it did remind me of a blog post I re-read recently by author Shannon Hale, on the myth of the innocent victim. It’s uncomfortable to think that bad men can be innocent of the crime they’ve been accused of, just as we will rack our brains for reasons why violent crime might happen to an otherwise upstanding young woman, because we can’t possibly just blame the perpetrator and leave it at that. (But I digress.)

The session ended on a relatively positive note, with Gilbert mentioning the decrease in crime in New Zealand despite impressions to the contrary. Hopefully soon the most violent crime in the country will be limited to Paul Cleave‘s latest novel.

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Read In Dark Places The Confessions of Teina Pora and An Ex-cop’s Fight for Justice which features Tim McKinnel.

WORD Christchurch

A Literary Life: John Freeman – WORD Christchurch

This event got off to a good start – interviewer Paula Morris dropped all her notes on the floor but said it didn’t matter anyway as she had managed to flush her specs down the loo of the Air New Zealand flight from Auckland the night before. John Freeman guffawed. And we were off!

IMG_0148
John Freeman and Roberta.

It’s National Poetry Day  and they both read a favourite poem. Freeman’s was one that he had first seen on a train in the New York subway. It is by Tracy Kay Smith who is a young writer and a Pulitzer Prize winner. Freeman (former Granta Editor and currently owner of his own literary journal Freeman’s) says of her writing: ‘when you read her work, you start to think that this is the only way those words could be arranged’. He loves poetry and writes it himself. It started as a way to get dates, but the poems were bad and he suffered the simultaneous rejection of his poetry and himself!

Here are three things you might not know about John Freeman:

  • He is a middle child – ‘the overlooked one’.
  • He went to Quaker schools and a Quaker campus. He holds their ideals in high esteem – especially their anti-war stance.
  • When he can’t sleep he watches drag racing videos on YouTube!

He calls himself ‘a professional child athlete’ who really only started reading in earnest in his late teens. And what did he read? Three hugely formative novels were: Neville Shute’s On the Beach; George Orwell’s 1984 and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

As for what he wants for his new venture Freeman’s, he is very clear that he wants it to be about the stories that we tell each other, as opposed to being yet another journal about the act of writing. He is constantly astounded by the number of young writers (many of whom he lectures) who want to write and earn money from writing but won’t subscribe to a journal – arguably the best starting point for any aspiring writer. ‘For the price of a few beers …’ he says wistfully ‘they could invest in their own future’.

It was a great session, relaxed and densely packed with new ideas and lovely words. Time to get my copies of Freeman’s signed. And let the truth be known, this was not the first time I had met John Freeman. Six years ago at Auckland Writers Festival in 2010 when he was the editor of the prestigious Granta literary magazine, I bought a Granta as a gift for a friend. He’d just been berated by a festival goer for using bad language, so without hesitation, when he signed my copy he wrote: ‘To Allison, All the best (insert rude word) morons love this book, hope you do too.’

Till next time John Freeman!

Read books by John Freeman in our collection.

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The Stars are on Fire – WORD Christchurch

It was the first time I’ve been in the reopened Isaac Theatre Royal. My partner said the last thing he saw there was Public Enemy. I don’t know what I had been to – but we were back, and very happy to be at this WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival gala event.

WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala - Isaac Theatre Royal
WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala – Isaac Theatre Royal

WORD Literary Director Rachael King kicked off proceedings with a sense of the festival’s themes and the good news that ticket sales have already busted all records.

Then it was time for broadcaster Kim Hill to introduce the “marvellous array” of performers. She regretted not being previously advertised host John Campbell, but hey Kim we love you (and your broadcasting live from Christchurch today with WORD guest makes us love you all the more).

First up we had Sir Tipene O’Regan with the oldest of the Polynesian creation stories.

All stories of creation start in the dark.

We learned about the places and landmarks of Te Waipounamu (the South Island) in an informative – and really entertaining – journey. There was an element of pride in our place as coming from the first marriage of the first son. Yes, we are “sanctimoniously senior”.

Sir Tipene O'Regan at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala
Sir Tipene O’Regan at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala

Caitlin Doughty has done more than 1000 cremations. She got us to put our hands up if we are getting cremated. Around 70% choose that option. In the United States, it’s more like 50%, while Japan has a percentage around 99.99%.

Caitlin took us on a “What to expect when you’re expecting to be cremated”. Not the gold standard simulation that you can experience in China, where you actually go on the crematory ride and feel the imaginary flames but … Audience member Cathy got to be “Cathy the Corpse” and we went along with her ride in her “alternative container”. There is a cone of flame, the temperature goes up to 815 degrees Celsius and that’s applied for around 45 minutes.

The rest of Caitlin’s speech included “flaming skull”, “glowing red bones” and “cremulator”.

Stephen Daisley won big at the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. His speech had the  flummoxed feeling you’d expect when someone has been writing for a long time and finds the reviews (which he read out)  a bit staggering.

Stephen Daisley at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala
Stephen Daisley at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala

Tusiata Avia performed two poems from her new collection Fale Aitu | Spirit House.
It was made use of the idea of Aranui – the great path:

I am an Aranui girl.

Her second poem built on the repetition of “my body” and was utterly hypnotic:

My body is not an apology.

It was an powerful and absorbing perfomance.

Tusiata Avia at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala
Tusiata Avia at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala

Steve Hely told a good yarn from his book The Wonder Trail True Stories From Los Angeles to the End of the World. He talks about the landscape of a particularly barren place in Chile, and a 7 hour bus trip with mine workers, and the one woman on the bus puts on a movie – Austenland. Why, why, why? And he amusingly considers why the heck someone might play that particular movie to a bunch of blokes.

Ivan E. Coyote. Oh Ivan. I think everyone fell in love with you. I did, “full on smitten”. We were as taken with them, as they were with the fabulous lineup of  “butch femmes” from the Yukon. I confidentally predict a flurry of ticket purchases for the rest of Ivan’s festival appearances.

Ivan Coyote at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala
Ivan Coyote at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala

Hollie Fullbrook aka Tiny Ruins soothed the savage breast with a new song about a bus trip with someone just out of prison, a song about being under the same cover.

Hollie Fullbrook "Tiny Ruins" at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala
Hollie Fullbrook “Tiny Ruins” at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala

Take a bow, stars.
The Stars are on fire gala

See our photos from the Gala.

More sessions featuring the Gala Guests

Sir Tipene O’Regan appears in:
Kōrero Pūrakau : Ngāi Tahu Storytelling, Sat 27 Aug, 3.15pm
Read books by Sir Tipene in our collection.

Caitlin Doughty is appearing in:
Embracing Death, Sat 27 Aug, 9.30am
Ask a Mortician: Caitlin Doughty, Sun 28 Aug, 2pm
The Nerd Degree, Sun 28 Aug, 5pm
Read books by Caitlin in our collection.

Stephen Daisley is appearing in:
Writing War Stories, Sat 27 Aug, 3.15pm
Coming Rain, Sun 28 Aug, 11am
Read books by Stephen in our collection.

Tusiata Avia is appearing in:
Hear My Voice, Sat 27 Aug, 5.30pm
Spirit House/ Unity, Sun 28 Aug, 2pm
Read books by Tusiata in our collection.

Steve Hely is appearing in:
How to be a Writer: Steve Hely, Sat 27 Aug, 3.30pm
The Great NZ Crime Debate, Sat 27 Aug, 7.30pm
The State of America, Sun 28 Aug, 12.30pm
Read books by Steve in our collection.

Ivan E. Coyote is appearing in:
Taku Kupu Ki Te Ao: My Word to the World, Sat 27 Aug, 1-4pm
Hear My Voice, Sat 27 Aug, 5.30pm
The Storyteller: Ivan E. Coyote, Sun 28 Aug, 11am
Read books by Ivan in our collection.

Hollie Fullbrook is appearing in:
Workshop: Songwriting with Hollie Fullbrook, Sat 27 Aug, 9.30am
Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?, Sat 27 Aug, 12.30pm
In Love With These Times, Sat 27 Aug, 7.30pm
Find music by Hollie in our collection.

WORD Christchurch

Reading favourites – WORD Christchurch

Is there anything so satisfying as introducing someone to a book that you love? In librarianship it certainly falls under the categories of both personal passion and professional responsibility (see our own Staff Pickles for examples). And the Reading Favourites session at WORD Christchurch yesterday had a similar vibe – of reading enthusiasts, well, enthusing.

Renowned New Zealand children’s author, David Hill; editrix of Tell you what, and comparative literature PhD, Jolisa Gracewood; and author and founder of the New Zealand Society of Authors, Paula Morris, all took the stage to wax lyrical about their favourite New Zealand reading. Poet Chris Tse was also supposed to be part of this panel but was unable to attend due to illness. A shame, and it would have been good to have another, and yes I’m going to say it, younger voice in the mix but it was still definitely a session worth attending regardless.

Things kicked off in a jovial manner with Paula relating the ridiculous predicament of having flushed her reading glasses down the toilet and having to make do with some hastily bought, budget ones.

And then, because it’s National Poetry day, each read a short poem, Jolisa and David both choosing pieces from well-worn copies of 100 New Zealand Poems edited by Bill Manhire. This is a collection that Jolisa called “subversive” due to its lack of attribution of the poems unless… you refer to the index, a device that perhaps forces the reader to engage with the poem on its own merits.

I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve already forgotten the name of the 4 line poem that Jolisa recited, but do clearly remember that I liked it, and can accurately report that David Hill’s choice was The Adorable Thing about Mozart by Elizabeth Smither.

Paula Morris encouraged us all to read some other piece of poetry for ourselves, preferably out loud (or possibly in public), reflecting that “…you can do anything in Christchurch these days…”

Well not quite, but surely, on a wild and wet winter day a verse or two of Hone Tuwhare, either whispered or shouted at the sky wouldn’t be considered too transgressive?

Cover of Wednesday's childrenJolisa’s first choice of favourites was Wednesday’s children by Robin Hyde. Her copy of this novel about a woman who wins the lottery and “lives as she pleases” has its own story. It was bought here in Christchurch at a library book sale and still retains its borrowing slip, and cards in a pocket at the back. Initially it went unread (by her) for quite some time and it wasn’t until a boyfriend of Jolisa’s started reading it and really enjoyed it that it came back onto her radar – a unexpected surprise of a read.

Wednesday’s children set in the 1930s and is about women, women on welfare, and women with children – all things that are as relevant now as they ever were. Though sadly it is no longer in print (so get a reserve on a library copy if you fancy trying it).

cover of From the cutting room of Barney KettleDavid Hill’s first choice was much more current, namely last year’s From the cutting room of Barney Kettle by Kate De Goldi. David admitted it made him both weep and laugh and said that De Goldi’s writing was “crystalline” and sharp. Moreover the adults in it are depicted as “fallible, real human beings and not caricatures”. He said he was “honoured to be thrashed by her in the children’s book awards”.

Jolisa’s second choice for favourite read was by another Christchurch author, this time Margaret Mahy, and her young adult novel The Tricksters.

Cover of The trickstersSet in the general vicinity of Lyttelton Harbour, Jolisa went into movie trailer voiceover mode describing its tagline as “The Christmas it all fell apart…”. It’s a story about a family and an earth-shattering revelation but it also has elements of the supernatural. Even as a confessed rationalist she still enjoys books that “ask you to take on faith that there are other worlds…” which is something we have in common. I can’t abide notions of magic or “woo” in real life yet find this not only permissible but desirable in fiction.

This book too, is sadly out of print, but Jolisa’s hope is that with the film of The Changeover (based on Mahy’s novel) being made, other “adjacent” Mahy young adult fiction will receive renewed interest. (If we’re casting votes, may I also suggest The Catalogue of the Universe and Memory? Please and thank you.)

Cover of Going westDavid Hill’s second choice was Maurice Gee’s Going West. He described Gee as very “modest” and the least “show-off” writer he knows, and described a tension between his quiet style and the quite shocking events that unfold. In fact, he’s so good that “I’m not even jealous”. Happily Going West is still in print, and via someone in the audience, who presumably has the inside line on things Gee, we learned that there will be a new young adult novel out in February 2017.

Digressions were common (and welcome – at least by me) throughout the session, and Paula Morris’s reflection that Gee’s novels being set in Henderson, where she grew up, meant something led into the question of whether or not New Zealand writers should include New Zealand place names in their work. What if it’s jarring or too “foreign” for non-Kiwi readers? Apparently these are questions that publishers want to know the answers to, as David Hill has been asked this himself.

I liked Paula Morris’s sarcastic remark on this that readers would surely be completely bewildered – “I thought this was happening in London… but apparently it’s Taihape…”

Well, quite.

David Hill went as far as throwing the question to audience member Ted Dawe aka “another author who beat me in the children’s book awards”, who said that he didn’t like to be too specific about anything in his books, but even so the US version of Into the river has a 130 word glossary, providing meanings for every Māori word used, for instance.

Cover of The book of famePaula Morris also picked two favourites, the first being The book of fame by Lloyd Jones, a really funny book that nevertheless got sneering reviews in the UK but which “everyone I’ve ever recommended it to has really loved it”.

She also recommended Māori boy by Witi Ihimaera which, as a memoir, is necessarily “full of lies” but is “searingly honest” as well.

The session veered off at the end towards discussing the eternal question of why people don’t read more New Zealand fiction. Kiwi authors do well with children’s books but somehow this doesn’t translate to adult readers.

Jolisa suggested that being forced to read something at high school in an “eat your veges – this is good for you” kind of way could harden a reader against particular writers, and I must admit I still bristle at the suggestion I read any Janet Frame again, ever. So I think there may be some truth in that.

Paula Morris in particular highlighted some of the odd “prejudices” that create barriers to people reading New Zealand fiction – the notion that it’s all doom and gloom, “man alone” stuff when that’s demonstrably not the case. Would reading one depressing British author put you off reading British authors for life? So why does that seem to apply with local literature?

I couldn’t help thinking that this is very similar to the problem of representation and diversity in media generally. We’re used to what we’re used to and what we’re used to is a particular kind of voice. In movies this has typically been male and white and probably American. But things are slowly changing. Kiwi films are going gangbusters at the box office, ones with indigenous faces and voices, even. And there was a time when a nightly Kiwi soap opera was a risky proposition rather than an institution. Perhaps the next Ghostbusters reboot or Hunt for the Wilderpeople* of New Zealand fiction is just around the corner?

Here’s hoping. In the meantime, we’ve all got some favourites to try.

More WORD Christchurch

*Technically the Hunt for the Wilderpeople of New Zealand fiction is Wild pork and Watercress, but you get my meaning.

Shelf Life: C.K Stead – WORD Christchurch

The last time I heard CK Stead was a few years ago at the Auckland Writers Festival. He was interviewed with his daughter Charlotte Grimshaw and they played off each other nicely. I didn’t really enjoy this latest session where C.K Stead was interviewed by Paul Millar, and in hindsight I was probably not the best person to be writing this blog, because a) I haven’t read the book Shelf Life b) I am not the most literary person c) I was not reading New Zealand literature in the 50s and 60s and  d) I haven’t studied New Zealand Literature.  If you fulfilled all or at least some of the above criteria then it was probably entertaining. I didn’t get the jokes and I didn’t always know who they were talking about.

Perhaps because Paul Millar has an academic background there was quite a lot of talk about the early days in the English Department at the Auckland University.  All of our luminaries feature, all referred to by their last names – Gee, Shadbolt, Duggan. Fairburn, Baxter and Curnow.(As an aside I always find this last name things a bit odd – do we do it with women?)  The North Shore seemed a hotbed of literary genius, and references were made to the odd feud and disagreement.  It must have been intense.  Curnow and Stead lived in the same street and over the years critiqued each others work via their respective letterboxes.

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Things jumped around a bit, from University days to travel, opinions on food, (yes, likes it) euthanasia, (would be good to have a pill especially if dementia hit)  how and when he writes, (keeps office hours)  and favourite places, (Auckland then London).  A question was asked about women writers as they didn’t exactly feature.  Janet Frame was a good friend and he preferred Marilyn Duckworth to her sister Fleur Adcock, I’m unsure as to why.

It would be interesting to hear other opinions on this session.  I found it bitsy and not particularly illuminating.  I suspect others will have enjoyed it much more than me as they would have had more appreciation of the authors and characters of this important time of our literary history.

Find books by C. K. Stead in our collection.

WORD Christchurch

An Hour with Dame Fiona Kidman – WORD Christchurch

CoverFiona Kidman’s latest book All Day at the Movies explores what it means to be a woman in New Zealand. It’s an episodic novel  set over six decades. She explores where families were at and where they are going now.

Family is important to me as an only child I was often an observer looking in on families.

But she also says “I try not to put  my family into books”.

This novel was inspired by the sight of abandoned tobacco kilns.  Her father grew tobacco in KeriKeri and the memories of the Nicotiana scent drew her to setting her central character in the tobacco field of Motueka. The novel features a lot of pregnancies – as Owen Marshall observes, some more welcome than others.  One of her characters doesn’t know who her father is.

Fiona acknowledges pregnancy is a huge issue in women’s lives. She is an adoptive mother herself, and  acknowledges adoption was not handled well in the past.  Recently her novels are set around a central historical character – but in this novel she wanted to say something about politics, how decisions made in Wellington affect people’s lives.

Fiona has always been a political animal. She was part of the 1981 Springbok tour movement as explored in her novel Beside the Dark Pool. Exploring the social context her characters inhabit over the decades gives her a vehicle to say something about how Wellington decisions affect their lives.

Dame Fiona Kidman in interview with Own Marshall
Dame Fiona Kidman in interview with Owen Marshall

Looking at her characters as they deal with illegitimacy, estrangement, and abuse you may think she has a negative view of life and of men. But she says “I love men”. There are at least 5 positive men in the book, even though it may not seem that men come out well.

“I have had a lucky life” one of her characters says in the novel (and she observes it of her own life) which ends on an optimistic note. She looks at the circumstances of her characters and why things happen without making judgments. Authentic characters are important – how real people deal with things and how it affects them in 20, 30, 40 years time. Her characters become very real to her – they stand at the kitchen bench and come for rides with her in the car. By the time she sits down to write a novel they have their own voice which has to be listened to. Sometimes she is ready to let them go after a novel, and sometimes they don’t want to go away and reappear in another form like her character Jessie Sandal from Songs of the Violet Café.

Fiona has always been a feminist writer as is evident in  A breed of Women. She sees herself not as a woman’s writer but a writer writing for women. She first thought of herself as a writer as a 22-year-old in the 1960s. It was in an era when it was embarrassing to be pregnant. She had worked at Rotorua Library and moved to Rotorua High School library when she married her husband who also worked there. When she got pregnant, students remarked “Got her up the duff eh Sir!”, leading to a request for her to leave the school. Such were the expectations of the era.

She left and started writing – submitting a play for a competition. Her play evoked the comment that it must have been written by the dirtiest minded young woman in New Zealand.

I felt I did know stuff about being a woman that a middle-aged man in Wellington seemed not to know.

Fiona often struggled with expectations:

What am I doing sitting at the kitchen table, buying the kids clothes not preserving hundreds of jars and doing this.

She worked as a secretary of PEN and the NZ Book Council and hoped to help authors think of writing as working.

Her favourite genre is short stories but they don’t sell a lot of books and she loves poetry but working in other genres is necessary. She made as much money working in television in a month as writing in a couple of years.

  • Through working in television, she learnt to see as you would through the camera
  • through radio work she learn to listen especially to the silences
  • through journalism she learnt to ask questions

All have been useful in her writing work.  Poetry is not so much thinking about the audience more spontaneous.

Unsuitable Friends signed Signed by Fiona Kidman
Signed after all these years

Read more about Fiona Kidman from her official websiteThe Academy of New Zealand Literature, The New Zealand Book Council, and  Penguin Press.

Find books by Fiona Kidman in our collection.

WORD Christchurch

Migrant voices and a chat with Dr Ibrahim – WORD Christchurch

Migrant Voices was yet another epic, stimulating event at this year’s WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival.

Chaired by journalist Donna Miles-Mojab, the citizens of Christchurch and others from abroad sat and listened closely to first hand accounts from individuals who have made perilous and nerve shattering journeys away from conflict zones, to what is now their home – New Zealand.

It was a treat to be listening to such compelling narratives while sitting within The Chamber of the newly and beautifully designed  The Piano.

Donna Miles-Mojab. Image supplied.
Donna Miles-Mojab. Image supplied.

Somalian national Dr Hassam Ibrahim, and Afghan national Abbas Nazari spoke of their manifold hardships leaving the places their families knew, to eventually arrive via boats, planes, trucks and on foot, to New Zealand’s shores, to be faced with radically different surroundings and cultural sensibilities.

They spoke of their New Zealand experience with great gratitude but also lamented leaving their homelands for a place where they may not always be understood as people. It’s not every day that you get the privilege of hearing first hand accounts such as these. It’s staggering to think that RIGHT NOW over 3.2 million desperate humans are seeking asylum throughout the earth! Forced to leave homes, friends and familiar environments to make huge transitions abroad.

Double the Quota” campaigner Murdoch Stephens made the case for New Zealand to lift its refugee quota, and discussed the many positive economic and cultural impacts of resettling refugees in New Zealand. It was a compelling case – given that “NZ’s refugee quota has not grown since 1987”, which is pretty lame in contrast to our Australian cousins who “currently take more than three times as many quota refugees and asylum seekers as NZ per capita”.

Murdoch Stephen. Image supplied.
Murdoch Stephen. Image supplied.

AFTERWARDS, I was lucky enough to snag a bit of a chat to Dr Ibrahim regarding the crisis of Middle Eastern and North African Migration, which has surged in the wake of the Arab Spring, the Syrian conflict and a wave of various clashes – including the on-going civil war in his homeland, Somalia. Right now, Somalia is a failed state – meaning that Somalia has no functioning government control, it is unable to protect and control its territory, and insurgent/militia groups hold most of the authority throughout its regions.

Questions to Dr Ibrahim

I’ve recently read in various publications that the Middle East has basically taken no asylum seekers or refugees. Is this true? If so, why?

Yes, this it true. If you look at the political nature of these countries (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the UAE), they are all [hereditary] monarchies. “They are very reluctant to let in migrants because they may upset the [family] power structures. Look at their human rights track records, they are not liberal democracies like the ones in the West. They do not uphold human rights. So people are reluctant to go there.”

What drives all this, is it a religious issue? Is it ethno-sectarianism, or something else?

No, it’s not religious, while I’m sympathetic to the Palestinians, I don’t think that Israel’s agenda is the result of their Jewish religion. There are geo-political issues here. Other factors at play. Various countries (such as Saudi Arabia and Israel) have historical foreign policy agreements with America [which were cultivated during the cold war especially]. Therefore, countries in the Middle East are suspicious of one another and the people groups within them. If you look at history, at the time of the Prophet Mohammed and shortly after, Ethiopian Jews, Ethiopian Christians, Middle Eastern Christians and Muslims prayed together in the same spaces, the same centres of worship and shared the same geographical regions. Peacefully.

Tony Blair and George Bush didn’t enter Iraq for religious reasons either.

So it’s external forces, colonization and broader international relations which are the drivers?

Yes.

Forgive the naïve question, but do you think that piece and stability will be achieved in the [Somali] region anytime soon?

No, there are too many external forces [at play]. Ethiopia, Italy, the USA and Saudi Arabia have vested interests in the region which result from their stake in the region. They have strong preferences for which people they want in power [in Somalia], what kind of government they want, and what kind economy they want, therefore, they try to manipulate things. Which makes securing stability complicated.

Also, you have forces from within Somalia’s neighbouring countries – Kenya and Ethiopia – who are receiving lots of money for fighting Al Shabaab….

So there is almost like an anti-insurrection/terrorism economy, as its in their (Kenya’s/Ethiopias) interests to have an unstable Somalia?

Yes, for this they get money for their military and aid.

WORD Christchurch