Writer profiles

We’ve been adding writer profiles to our guide to The Press Christchurch Writers Festival. Here are some of the latest additions

A taste for Sweden

The girl with the dragon tattoo
The girl with the dragon tattoo

The girl with the dragon tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The girl in the title is only one of several colourfully drawn characters in this translation of the runaway Swedish novel. I am generally not a fan of the mystery novel but every now and then one catches my eye and this one is right up there on my list of accidental but incredibly worthwhile reads.

I found no reference to sauna or Abba but herring and Nokia did get a passing mention. Unusually, archival research, an Australian sheep station and obscure biblical references combine to guarantee a pace to rival a Scandinavian sleigh ride.

The deaths, though grisly, end up being incidental to the story which ranges from corporate fraud, financial journalism, computer hacking to incredibly clever in-depth investigation and deep, dark family secrets. There are many characters in the Vanger family whom you would not care to meet but the central character Blomkvist (don’t ask me how to pronounce that) is someone I could spend time with, especially if I wanted a doggedly determined friend with benefits who spent two months in prison rather than discredit Millenium (his left-wing magazine renowned for uncovering the misdeeds of the corporate world.

Lisbeth Salander is the girl with several tattoos who becomes Blomkvist’s unlikely but powerful ally (in more ways than one!) in uncovering information where no-one has uncovered it before and revealing that the power of knowledge is often tempered by your gender and situation in life.

The book is the first in a series called Millennium– the next titles are The Girl Who Played With Fire”, (2006, UK release Jan 2009) and “Castles in the Sky” (2007, working title, UK release Jan 2010). Tragically the author died suddenly after finishing the third novel but had several more planned.

If, like me, you’re tempted to learn Swedish before the translations are published, and are keen to see the movies (currently in production) without reading the subtitles, look no further than our Swedish language resources

Single use books?

I have an interest in clutter. Decluttering actually, making my life and surroundings as efficient and stress free as possible. One principle that makes this easier is eliminating single use objects from my life.  You know the ones, the juicer that takes up half your kitchen cupboards, the ham stand that comes out once a year for Christmas Dinner, the lilo you used three summer holidays ago or the Uroclub.

This got me thinking about books that are single-use. Books you use at one time and then they earn a permanent spot on your bookshelf for perpetuity.

I can think of a couple that I’ve got in my book shelf –

  • Workbooks for courses
  • Self help books for a particular stage of your life
  • University Textbooks
  • Instructional books for a particular hobby
  • Books you received as gag presents
  • Travel guides from a long-forgotten-but-still-on-the-Visa -trip

But some other books seem to surpass their original functionality. We read them, pass them onto friends, refer to them, quote from them and dip into them time and again. I’ve luckily got a significant number of them on my shelf too –

So what other ones can we think of? Do single use books deserve a place on the bookshelf?

Some things I have been listening to

Those of you in Auckland and Wellington are lucky to have the chance to see Beach House this weekend.  I’ve been listening to the second album from this Baltimore band a lot over the past week and it has quickly become one of my favourites.  Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally create lush, dreamy pop just perfect for wintry nights.   Of course I like my pop to sound from another time, and Beach House make their keyboards, fuzzy guitars and harpsichords sound other-worldly.  Legrand’s vocals are warm and hazy at times reminiscent of Nico, at others a drugged Debbie Harry.  The lyrical subject matter is the stuff of all good pop – romance, unrequited love, lonesomeness, etc.  The result is an assured and fully realised sound, which I think you will like if you are a fan of Cat Power or Isobel Campbell.  Incidentally, Legrand is the niece of Michel Legrand, the composer of many a hallucinogenic French film soundtrack.  Maybe it is something in the genes. Continue reading

Book Review: Atoms, dinosaurs and DNA: 68 great New Zealand scientists

Atoms, dinosaurs and DNA
Atoms, dinosaurs and DNA

What motivates a person to become a scientist? That’s one of the questions answered in Atoms, dinosaurs and DNA: 68 great New Zealand scientists. Conservationist Don Merton, for example, learnt as a child that goldfinch chicks could be raised successfully by his grandmother’s canary. This discovery proved exceptionally useful when he became involved in the preservation of the Chatham Islands only remaining breeding pair of Black Robins. Eggs were successfully removed from the nest and raised by the Chatham Island Tomtits. Now there are about 250 Chatham Island Black Robins which is a major achievement.

I wouldn’t normally choose to read a book about scientists, but the format – a single page devoted to each scientist, and filled with nice pictures – I thought that I could probably cope. If you want in depth-information then this is not the book for you, as the profiles on each scientist are short. However, they do contain the relevant information about major achievements, as well as information you may not get in other books or articles, including childhood experiences and motivations to enter the world of the obsession and passion for a particular subject.

The photographs and illustrations are a nice addition to the book, with some of the early botanists showing a remarkable skill as artists in their own right. I found this is a good book to dip into, and being well presented and easy to read was certainly a help.

Co-author Rebecca Priestley is speaking at the Christchurch Readers and Writers Festival and you can see her at the session titled ‘Why does the earth move?’ Her profile, alongside other authors and information about the festival is on our festival homepage..

Live life to the Max and find out who’s hiding with Gecko Press

Maxs wagon
Max's wagon

I’ve been lucky enough recently to look at some new books by Gecko Press who, according to their website, “translate and publish award-winning, curiously good children’s books from around the world”.

So far I agree with their tagline. I took three books home to share with a picture book aficionado – my lovely Lucy who is 2½ and helped me with the product testing. Max’s Wagon and Max’s Bath both by Barbro Lindgren. These gorgeous children’s books were first published in Swedish in 1986, but they have a timeless simplicity that will make them classic children’s books.

There is so much to Max’s experiences that a toddler can relate to. I shared both of these books with my 2 ½ yr old and at the end of the first one she said what a good story it was and both of the Max books have become favourites at bedtimes. From a parent’s point of view, the simple storylines with a recognisable, repeated pattern will help with a child’s reading development and predictive skills. I enjoyed sharing these books with Lucy almost as much she enjoyed having them read to her. 

Both the author and illustrator are celebrated and well-loved both in Sweden and abroad. Barbro Lindgren also did the charming Benny books.

Max’s Wagon by Barbro Lindgren, illus. Eva Eriksson 978-1-877467-04-2 (Hbk) RRP $14.95
Max’s Bath by Barbro Lindgren, illus. Eva Eriksson 978-1-877467-04-2 (Hbk) RRP $14.95
Continue reading

“You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive”

Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes

With these immortal words the public were introduced to the most famous of double acts: that of Mr Sherlock Holmes and Dr John H. Watson. They remain as popular as ever with the Victorian setting enhancing rather than diminishing their appeal.

 Since their appearance in 1887, they have been portrayed by formidable actors. Many swear by Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, although the latter’s portayal of Watson as a bumbling, aged idiot has its critics.

A more impressive couple on Granada TV were Jeremy Brett with firstly, David Burke and then Edward Hardwicke. Unfortunately, Brett became too obsessed with the role and along with the demands of work made him severely ill. The need to shoot around his later absences made some of the later TV episodes disappointing and confusing. However, it must be stressed that they are still more than watchable.

The definitve pair  has to be (and I will brook no opposition) …

Continue reading

The Press Writers Festival 2008

I’ve been trying to decide what to go to in the Press Writers Festival. At mostly $15 a pop the sessions seem a bit pricey, so I am going to limit myself to three. Another I will definitely go to (and not just because it is free) is Francis Spufford. Anyone who can describe the process of learning to read thus: “Twenty-six years since the furze of black marks between the covers of “The Hobbit” grew lucid and released a dragon.”, The Child that Books Built, p. 4, has to be worth hearing.


I am currently enjoying his Backroom Boys; the secret return of the British boffin.

Another author I hope to hear is Australian Marion Halligan. She is an excellent writer and her two recent forays in the mystery genre, The Apricot Colonel (love the pun) and Murder on the Apricot Coast are a delight.

I am sure that Xinran is an excellent writer and will be well worth hearing, but it does seem that every book festival since Wild Swans was published in 1991 has featured a Chinese writer on the Cultural Revolution and its effects. Professor Paul Clark of Auckland University evidently has similar feelings. Interviewed in the New Zealand Listener recently he describes his own book The Chinese Cultural revolution: a history as “… my anti-Wild Swans book.” (New Zealand Listener 23 August 2008, p.28-29).

The Joy of Giving – Cruel book choices

Oranges are not the only fruit
Oranges are not the only fruit

Did you Outrageous Fortune watchers out there spot the book Loretta gave Casey for her birthday? Oranges are not the only fruit by Jeanette Winterson. It’s a compelling story of a young girl from an evangelist family and her lesbian relationship. After Casey’s sapphic scandal, it is a cutting choice.

Can you think of other examples where the giving of books are a weapon? There’s always the healthy living book for someone on the porky side, or the anger management book for someone with a fiery temper.

Clutter clinic
Clutter clinic

For me the cruellest gift would be a copy of The Clutter Clinic. I got it out of the library to see if I could get some advice on how to overhaul my over-stuffed bijou flat. It’s all the rage on tv at the moment too with the show The Big Stuff (I’ve only seen the ads – scary scary).

I didn’t like this book – the photos seem to show a room and then it tidied up a bit. Plus it felt like everything needs to be hidden in boxes (not such a bad idea). And the author said you can’t have any collections. That was the final blow. You can’t tell a librarian not to have collections.

What’s the meanest book you’ve ever been given/or given someone?

The Press Christchurch Writers Festival 2008

From September 4th to 7th, Christchurch City Libraries will be ‘getting between the covers’ at The Press Christchurch Writers Festival.

We’ve been doing a bit of prep work – chatting to people like festival programme director Morrin Rout and senior writer at The Press Mike Crean.

You can also read author profiles on our guide to the festival. Keep an eye on the guide and the blog  … there’s lots more to come.