The history of you and yours

MatarikiAt this time of year there’s an urge to go into what I like to call “hibernation mode”.  This involves hunkering down at home on frosty nights with books or DVDs.  Believe it or not my Māori ancestors did just the same, but instead of modern amusements they turned to things such as craftwork, storytelling, waiata, and whakapapa to wile away the long winter nights.  Matariki, Māori new year, is a time to explore some of those traditions again.

In particular whakapapa was and is an important part of Māori culture (though the drive to trace and record one’s forbears is not limited to those with Māori ancestry).  For those who are interested in learning how to use library resources to trace whakapapa I will be giving a series of presentations on this topic over the month of June (see our schedule of Matariki events for dates and times).  The first session is on 4 June at Waitikiri Learning Centre so book your place now if you think you’d like to explore your Māori family history. (Warning: whakapapa/genealogy research is highly addictive)

Otherwise consider checking out these titles –

Or have a gander at our whakapapa and family history pages on the library website.


My favourite author

Gold by Dan RhodesHere’s a question for you – Who’s your favourite contemporary author?
Who do you rush out and buy/or put a hold on – in the sure knowledge that their genius is going to work for you?

Mine is Dan Rhodes. I’ve only mentioned him here once before, as he wrote about the underrated virtue of brevity in fiction.

I picked up his first book Anthropology and a hundred other stories off a book shelf in the central library – totally a case of judging a book by its cover (small, powder blue, stick figure). It looked cute, and it was – 101 stories of 101 words. It could be gimmicky, but the stories were so clever and bittersweet I became a Dan Fan.

MisadventuresSince then, he has written another book of stories, and two novels. The latest is Gold which has a background of pub quizzes (hooray!).  His web site is a good insight into his wit and drollery.

Looking at his literary recommendations I was spooked to find he name checks two of my other favourite books namely Misadventures by Sylvia Smith and The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills. What is the common thread that links these authors? Humour, humanity, a sense of the ridiculous, dryness, ingenuity, idiosyncracy, beauty … (and sized at around the 200 page mark).

Check out his web site and the pretend pub quiz where you can win pot noodles and a copy of his latest book (I scored 7/10 – how’d you go?).

Avast there ye swabs!

hornGrowing up in an age where there were precious few teenage novels, what could an avaricious male reader devour in those tender years? Well, I and many others, loved the Hornblower novels of C.S Forester. Our love was increased by the stirring film with Gregory Peck and James Robertson Justice.

Now following the T.V. series all the novels have been re-issued in a handsome package and after nearly thirty years I’m loving them once more. Much of the technical stuff still goes over my head and maybe they could benefit from one of those maps that tell us where a mizzen mast or for’castle is situated (but your fingers would only get sore from flipping backwards and forwards!).

The main character is a far more complex character than I remember and the French far more perfidious, but the books are as gripping as ever.  All have a helpful  number to indicate what order in which to read them and they’re far more readable than the works of such pale imitators as Patrick O’ Brian or Bernard Cornwell; the latter providing a useful introduction to each of the novels. 

Star of Roman poetry

Those lucky enough to have learnt Latin at school might remember Catullus with affection. Or possibly not. Somehow he seemed a bit livelier than some of the other poets whose work we slaved over and slaughtered in our translations.

Helen Dunmore uses his poems to retell the story of his love affair with the glamorous older woman who used the pseudonym Lesbia in Counting the Stars.

Dunmore sets her scene well, effortlessly moving from the slums of Rome to its high society, and the story is a compelling one as Clodia Pulcher, Catullus’ Lesbia, is supected of killing her husband.

Was it an accident or was it murder? And what about the death of Lesbia’s pet sparrow, immortalised by Catullus in two poems?

The story takes a while to get going, which may be understandable given it is based on poems thousands of years old, but once Dunmore moves on to the deaths it picks up momentum and becomes positively exciting. And it just might inspire a return to the poems themselves.

RIP Sydney Pollack

CinemaIf you had asked me who Sydney Pollack was a week ago I probably would have muttered something about him possibly having something to do with movies.  As is so often the case, it’s only when someone passes away that the extent of their contribution over a long and successful career becomes known to the wider public.

Sydney Pollack was an acclaimed director. His two best known and critically acclaimed films ‘Out of Africa’ and ‘The way we were’ are deserving of the title “classic”.  In addition Pollack acted in numerous films over the years in everything from Kubrick’s ‘Eyes wide shut’ to Woody Allen’s ‘Husbands and Wives’ to sitcoms like ‘Frasier’ and had, what I like to think was a rather avuncular persona in his onscreen roles.

In 2005 he provided the preface for friend Anthony Minghella’s book Minghella on Minghella as Pollack had produced several of his films. Sadly Minghella also passed away earlier this year, he too succumbing to cancer.

Sydney Pollack died in Los Angeles on 26 May surrounded by family. He was 73 years old.

The Press Christchurch Writers’ Festival

September 5 to 7 sees more than 60 NZ and international writers in Christchurch for The Press Christchurch Writers’ Festival.

Some big names have been confirmed: British journalist and author Robert Fisk, authors Xinran Xue and Kate Atkinson.

Robert Fisk is a British journalist renowned for his intelligent coverage of events in Northern Ireland and Lebanon. 

JollyKate Atkinson came to fame with the success of her deliciously engaging novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, which won the prestigious Whitbread Book of the Year Award in 1995, overcoming stalwarts such as Salman Rushdie.

Xinran Xue is a writer as well as a journalist and broadcaster. Her talk show led to the publication of her critically acclaimed book The Good Women of China  in which she compiled stories from her listeners. 

Bookings will open at Ticketek on July 16 and the full programme will be released then.

Centenary of Bond creator’s birth

BondIan Fleming would have reached the venerable age of 100 on the 28th May; instead his final mission was in 1964, when his heavy smoking, skirt-chasing and boozy lifestyle finally caught up with him and stilled the old ticker. Not a bad way to go some might say and the Bond series which he himself referred to as “trivial piffle” also made him a very rich chap indeed, $2.8 million US from the thirteen Bond titles alone.

Commander James Bond, CMG, RNVR is best known now through the twenty-one Bond movies and we’ve had the lot; the blond Bond, butch Bond, Scots, Irish, Welsh, Australian and English Bonds. The film character has seen a new interpretation with each incarnation but the novels have a more static version of the Bond that Fleming first envisaged. Fleming considered Bond to be ” an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happen…a cardboard dummy” but others like Kingsley Amis have waxed lyrical on the theme of Bond’s “fine natural physique…ravaged countenance, dark and brooding in expression” and George Grella said “James Bond is the Renaissance man…lover, warrior, connoisseur. He lives the dreams of countless drab people, his gun ready, his honor intact, his morals loose: the hero of our anxiety-ridden mythless age”

So if you’re feeling drab and want to live the life of a Renaissance man, lover, warrior or connoisseur this could be the perfect time to escape into the wonderful world of Bond, James Bond. 

Knitting and fiction, a great combination

DomiknitrixOver recent years the fact that you are a knitter is no longer a shameful admission. Gone are the days of feeling like Mary no life if you spend your hours cosily sitting in front of the television knitting that new fluffy angora jumper.

Knitting books are bought by the dozen by the library, and new titles are pounced upon with glee. Being an avid knitter myself I have always found the whole knitting process quietly therapeutic. Lately you may have noticed that fiction writers have jumped upon the knitting bandwagon. These books generally revolve around a knitting group providing an outlet for woman to share their lives, and their passion for craft.

The knitting circle by Ann Hood finds Mary Baxter, a mother who has recently lost her child, unable to pursue the activities that used to be her primary source of comfort. She takes up knitting and joins a knitting circle in her hometown  – not knowing that it will change her life.

Young Adult books have also joined the trend, with the series Chicks with sticks by Elizabeth Lenhard, about 4 friends who form a knitting club and support each other through the perils of growing up.

Not to be left out, Picture books for younger children are also starting to feature knitting. The scarves by Daniela Bunge is about a child who brings separated grandparents back together by knitting them scarves and inviting them to ice skate on a frozen lake.

Knitting in all these stories is seen as a way of healing, of bringing people together and also hopefully, creating something gorgeous

Queens – The enduring fascination of Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots

ElizabethBack in October last year, I posted about Elizabeth I. The fascination continues. This week on TV One are TWO Elizabeth dramas – The Virgin Queen stars Anne-Marie Duff, and Elizabeth I stars Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons and is being replayed (Friday 30 May and Saturday 31 May – TV One).

There is another new historical fiction work too – The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir on the travails of the young Elizabeth. Weir was known as a non-fiction writer (on subjects such as Mary, Queen of Scots and Eleanor of Aquitaine as well as Elizabeth herself) until her novel Innocent Traitor (about Elizabeth’s cousin Lady Jane Grey).

Also hot hot hot at the moment is Phillipa Gregory’s latest The Other Queen – on Elizabeth’s cousin Mary, Queen of Scots.

Mary Queen of Scots Mary is one of the great romantic heroines of history, and one with endless allure. I remember in the 80s hearing the song “To France” by Mike Oldfield, all about the lovely Queen of Scots.

Even now a new movie on Mary is in production (with Scarlett Johansson as Mary – in the 1500s again after “The Other Boleyn Girl”). I was more interested by the screenwriter – Jimmy McGovern of “Cracker” fame.

Mary’s life was filled with drama. Tall, beautiful intelligent and vivacious, she became Queen of Scotland when only 6 or 7 days old, she went to France as a 5 year old to live in the French court (she was pledged as the bride of the Dauphin), and later became Queen of France, she married Lord Darnley who was murdered,  married the wild Bothwell,  was the focus of Catholic plots – and the bane of her English cousin’s life, finally executed on Elizabeth’s orders after years spent in captivity.

And yet in a strange way she ended up the victor in the lifelong conflict with Elizabeth. The Virgin Queen of course died without a child to succeed her, and Mary’s son James, ended up the first Stuart King – ruler of Scotland and England.

Margaret Mahy reads from Prince Caspian

Prince CaspianMargaret Mahy is reading from Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis at Borders, Sunday 25 May, 1pm at Borders Christchurch:
This is your rare chance to see Margaret Mahy reading live, from the bestselling book, which has just been made a major motion picture: The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian – the second instalment to The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe.

See our Margaret Mahy pages and our backgrounder to The Chronicles of Narnia.