Richard not Richards

I watched the news this morning and was sad to hear that British actress Wendy Richard, aka Miss Brahms, aka Pauline Fowler had finally lost her battle with cancer.

I briefly met Ms Richard in the late nineties when I lived in West London. She and her partner lived nearby and frequented a tiny pub near the Edgeware Road that I and my boyfriend used to drink at. The locals had mentioned that she often popped in but never when I was there, always the day before or earlier in the evening, so it turned out that ours paths only crossed once. I was introduced briefly and she seemed very friendly. I remember she smoked her cigarette in one of those long holders and that I thought it very un-Pauline Fowler-like but very theatrical.

Richard also had a keen sense of humour. Apparently on an earlier occasion she’d offered to take my boyfriend’s football kit to work with her (ie the set of Eastenders) and give it a star turn in the laundrette washers. This wit is also evident in the title of her 2000 autobiography Wendy Richard — no ‘S’ : my life story. Richard was frequently and mistakenly referred to as “Richards” with an “s” (something our Prime Minister could probably sympathise with) and, I get the sense that she was sick of correcting people. So what else would you call your autobiography then?

Not another damn Heathcliff

It was with a heavy heart that I discovered there is to be yet another blimming Wuthering Heights film! This time with Aussie Abbie Cornish as Cathy and German born, Irish-raised Michael Fassbender as Heathcliff.

While I’d be forced to admit there has yet to be a “definitive” ( a wonderfully pretentious word eh?) screen treatment of Wuthering Heights, think Juliette Binoche’s wandering accent in Kosminsky’s 1992 effort or the tragic fakery of the Yorkshire moors in the Olivier/Oberon 1939 version, I do wish film producers would leave dear old Emily and her gothic masterpiece alone. Really the poor woman must be spinning in her grave.

Is it the “global economic crisis” that spurs desperate producers to these acts of monumental cinematic cruelty, the lure of an easy buck? Sequel mania has already evolved in an attempt to counter the decline in movie going, but alas it also seems to be re-make the classics season. I probably fall into the costume drama demographic i.e. librarian/female/of a certain age but while Jane Austen’s novels have the lightness and wit to translate well on the screen, Em’s tale of Cathy and Heathcliff”s jealous, all-consuming love always seems a tad lame. No one wearing a wig and a “”Trouble at t’ Mill” Yorkshire accent can pull off seething, destructive passion with conviction although Ralph Fiennes came pretty darn close, shame about Binoche though.

Finally, and excuse my apoplolectic spluttering (don’t worry it wipes off) worse is yet to come with a 2010 biopic on the Brontës called…duh-duh-duh Brontë. Now this is not unprecedented, the Brontë girls got the Hollywood treatment in 1946 with Devotion which saw Emily and Charlotte vying for the love of the Reverend Arthur Nicholls, I mean hey why let the truth stand in the way of a good story!! So what next? Will Nicholls be portrayed as a Hugh Hefner love guru with the Brontës as the playgirls of Haworth Parsonage banging out novels to attract his attention? Durrr…Just read the books!

Crimes in Foreign Climes

Two different crime series  show the seamy or not so-seamy of life in other places. The latest Alexander McCall Smith confirms that this writer is turning into a parody of himself. The detective aspects of his novels have decreased as the series has worn on, whilst the domestic dramas have flourished. Increasingly, I feel like one of Catherine Cookson’s devotees. Not only am I finding myself immersed in the  cloying family dramas of Mma Makutsi and Mma Ramotswe, but I eagerly await each new N0.1 Detective Agency Novel; hoping that it will be an improvement on the last. However, my faith is rewarded with disappointment.

In the latest Tea Time for the Traditionally Built the usual cliches exist: the references to Botswana’s achievements (with very little mention of AIDS or poverty), the well worn humour; the references to the fecklessness of the apprentices, the loyalty of her husband, the secretarial college etc, etc. This is a series that has worn out its welcome and one longs for a drug-crazed gang of Zulus to lay waste to the good and oh-so-boring inhabitants of Zebra Drive. Continue reading

Titular weirdness

Could this be the most strangely titled book published in Britain in 2008?
Could this be the most strangely titled book published in Britain in 2008?

You’ve got to give it to the British, they do excel in the area of naming oddities.  Poor folks by the name of Winterbottom, towns with names like Felldownhead and Giggleswick and the like, it’s all highly amusing.  So why should it be any different when it comes to book titles?

Bookseller magazine has just announced their shortlist for strangest book titles published in Britain in the previous year.  The six shortlisted titles are –

  • Baboon metaphysics
  • Curbside Consultation of the Colon
  • The Large Sieve and its Applications
  • Strip and Knit with Style
  • Techniques for Corrosion Monitoring
  • The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-milligram Containers of Fromage Frais

I have to admit that compared with some of the crazy titles picked out by Joycie and Donna (more here) in earlier posts, I don’t really find these to be standout examples (though for the life of me I’m having trouble coming to grips with that last one).  Maybe my “strangeness meter” is just set higher than most people’s, who knows?

Anyway, a winner will be announced on 27 March and will be decided by internet voting.  To vote for your favourite go to Bookseller Magazine’s website.  For more on this year’s competition read the story in The Telegraph.

Any suggestions of weird but wonderful titles that you’ve come across?

Words on wheels

I hope this isnt how theyre getting around...
I hope this isn't how they're getting around...

What’s more got more pizzazz than a set of chrome rims and a pop-off valve…and a vocabulary to boot?  Why it’s Words on Wheels of course.  While it may be fun to imagine that this involves  five of this country’s bright writing talents cruising down Bealey Ave performing selected readings out of passenger side windows this isn’t exactly what goes on. 

Instead David Geary, Anna Mackenzie, Janet Charman, Steve Braunias, and Vanda Symon will be criss-crossing the South Island, travelling to towns big and small, talking and reading to the gathered masses.

I love seeing and hearing authors in the flesh, particularly when they read their own work as you get a real sense of how they think it should be read.  Where do they put their emphasis?  How emotively do they read a particular passage?  Sometimes you find humour or added layers with an author reading.

Christchurch City Libraries is proud to host the only Christchurch stop on the 2009 Word on Wheels itinerary.  The above authors will be at the Central Library at 2pm on Monday 2 March.  This is a completely free event and no booking is required (though if you want a comfy seat you might want to come early).

The interior of the Central library is a car-free zone and we promise the only burnouts or thrown beer bottles will be fictional ones.

Let the right one in

I sometimes go through “phases” as relates to my chosen reading material.  Sometimes I’m all about non-fiction, with popular science titles or historical works being the flavour of the month but just at the moment I’m in what I’d call a “vampire phase”.  I’ve recently been devouring (sorry) Charlaine Harris’ South Vampire series, after sampling a dose of Sunshine and currently I am supping of the irresistibly creepy Let the right one in* by Swede John Ajvide Lindqvist.

My curiosity was piqued by reviews of the film.  Coming out as it did around the time of the phenomenally successful Twilight, comparisons were unavoidable.  David Farrier, of TV3 reviewed the film and said that it was “actually worth watching” since unlike Twilight, “the book isn’t rubbish”.  Encouraged by this I decided to give it a go.

One of the common themes within vampire fiction is that of loneliness and isolation.  Let the right one in is no different but the execution is very deftly done.  There’s something in the portrayal of the damaged, socially distant characters, combined with descriptions of icy Swedish settings that makes you feel a little cold even in a New Zealand summer.  So there’s something undeniably sweet about two people making a connection amongst all this loneliness.  It’s just a little unfortunate that one of them is a petite vampire named Eli and the other is a bullied, outcast boy named Oskar.

I’m only half-way through the book, so I don’t know yet how it ends.  Unlike many more formulaic treatments of vampire/ human relationships I have no idea where it might go (but I suspect somewhere dark, awful, and beautiful).  It’s not a book for the squeamish, with some fairly gruesome and disturbing content but it has an elegiac tone you don’t often get from your average Stephen King (not that I consider Mr King average).  So if you’re looking for something a little different from your run-of-the-mill fang-tastic potboiler, Let the right one in might be just the thing.

*The title comes from a Morrissey song and the need that vampires have to be “invited” before they can enter the domicile of their “victim”.  Makes you think twice about the Avon lady, don’t it?

Wonderfully weird or just plain wack?

Is it just my imagination or does New Zealand have an unnatural love for outré foods?

For example this year’s Wildfoods Festival in Hokitika is shaping up to be a doozy with delicacies such as the poetically named “pig parts” prepared I might add in a medley of styles, worm dukkah, wasp larvae ice-cream, testi stew and the pièce de résistance Viagra cookies. Yum yum I hear you all shout.  Now the haggis and mealie puddings on offer do sound delish but I’d personally pass (or pass out) on the huhu grubs. I’d also rather have a deep fried Mars bar than a deep fried locust any day of the week.

But for all you wild food and offal eaters out there, you don’t need to buy a $30 ticket  and travel to the West Coast to eat horrendous food when with a bit of good Kiwi ingenuity and a handy-dandy cookbook from your local library you can rustle up your own exotic grub (grub! funny pun right?…maybe not then…)

Go wild! : Monteith’s wild foods cookbook has all manner of disgustingness within its covers. If you fancy chowing down on marinated possum or fern fronds, then this most certainly is the book for you. 

Meanwhile intrepid restauranteurs Steve Logan and Al Brown travel to the far corners of New Zealand to bring mouthwatering bunny recipes and tasty eel nibbles to an eager audience in Hunger for the wild.

If you want, and I can’t really think why you would when after all we have Pak n Save, “to reconnect with the land, rediscover survival techniques and hunting methods” then UK authors Guy Grieve and Thomasina Miers can tell you how in The wild gourmets: adventures in food and freedom. 

New Zealand pig hunter magazine can also give some useful hints for bagging your own ferral oinker and notably features a different hunter proudly draped in dead pig on its cover every month. 

Finally vegetarians shouldn’t despair as Dennis Cotter brings some edible plant recipes from the wilds of Eire in the tweely named Wild garlic, gooseberries and me.

Just one thing while you are whipping up your Fear Factor feast, don’t leave any traces of your culinary achievements within the pages of a Christchurch City Libraries cookbook, squished huhu grubs or whitebait cupcake crumbs will bring down the awesome wrath of a librarian. Shudder…

Commonwealth Writers Prize nominations announced

This year’s Commonwealth Writers Prize is being hosted here in New Zealand.  In 2007 a Kiwi author was triumphant with Lloyd Jones’ Mister Pip coming up trumps.  Will this be repeated in 2009 to the delight of the home crowd?  Who knows?

The New Zealand authors who feature in the shortlist are Paula Morris for Forbidden Cities (Best book), Mo Zhi Hong for the young adult novel The year of the Shanghai shark and Bridget van de Zijpp for Misconduct (both nominated in the Best First Book category).

My money would be on Aravind Adiga to win something given his double nomination.  His debut White Tiger has already picked up the Man Booker and is nominated again for Best First Book, and his second offering Between the Assassinations is up for Best Book.  It’s good to be Aravind, I think.

The award winners will be announced in May as part of the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival.

Necrology – February 2 to February 20, 2009

Necrology – a list of notable people who have died recently. Now a regular feature on our blog.

  • Ted Bracey, 1936-2009
    Well known New Zealand artist and art educator
  • Blossom Dearie, 1926-2009
    Jazz singer and pianist, one of the great interpreters of American song in the post-war era
  • Hugh Leonard, 1926-2009
    Pugnacious playwright who led the post-war Irish dramatic revival and relished literary battles
  • Ian Prior, 1923-2009
    Distinguished New Zealand epidemiologist whose life work was dedicated to the improvement of public health. Also a collecor and patron of the arts
  • Edward Upward, 1903-2009
    Gifted writer admired by Auden and Isherwood but whose early promise remained unfulfilled

The most popular nude guy in Hollywood

He’s featureless, naked, and holding a sword. If it weren’t for the fact that he’s plated in 24-karat gold and just over a foot tall, he’d be the stuff of nightmares but as the emblem of the Academy Awards, Oscar is the guy that everyone wants.

I’ve always enjoyed watching the Oscars, especially the extravagances of the red carpet, but I’d never really thought about the behind-the-scenes dramas that must play out when you’re putting on the most watched awards show in the world. The egos alone must be hell to juggle. Maybe Oscar is a nightmare after all?

I do like a bit of a Hollywood exposé so I’ve really enjoyed dipping into The big show: High times and dirty dealings backstage at the academy awards. In it author Steve Pond gives an insider’s view of the Oscars, behind the glamour and velvet curtains, with candid backstage photos of some of the film industries biggest names. There’s quite a bit of swearing and a lot of concern over the visibility of nipples (both Julianne Moore’s and Jamie Lee Curtis’s get a mention) among other things and when I watch this year’s ceremony (on Monday 23 February, NZ time), I think I’ll be wondering about all the Academy staffers running around frenetically backstage trying to keep the Oscar beast in check…