Tea and scones

CoverWednesday afternoon’s High Tea at the Crowne Plaza may very well be the only festival session where the audience feels it has just as much to contribute in the way of expertise and advice as the panel does. 

Hosted very ably by Lauraine Jacobs, and featuring Tui Flower, Julie Biuso and Julie Le Clerc, it was a wonderful session of foodie talk, childhood memories and discussion of the future of home baking in New Zealand, all presented over tables laden with scones, club sandwiches, savouries, and a delicious louise cake.  Oh, and four different types of tea.

After the initial introductions, Tui was quick to set us straight – what we were enjoying was actually Afternoon Tea, and NOT High Tea, a completely different meal.  Memories of old-fashioned social events were shared, as well as a request to think kindly of those amazing women of the past who produced delicious baking and treats for their families, often on coal ranges, with no modern appliances and nowhere near the range of ingredients available today. 

Julie B recalled Baking Day (Tuesdays and Thursdays) as being the best days of the week.  I thought she also said that Monday was Sheep Washing Day, but looking back at my notes, I now wonder if she may have actually said Sheet Washing, an entirely different activity.  If anyone out there can clarify this, I would be eternally grateful! 

Julie L talked about how baking and food are a fabulous way to build relationships, mentioning childhood neighbours from Croatia being taught English by her mother through the sharing of food and recipes.  There was much talk of love, and warmth, and family, and how those who bake do it for the love of those they are baking for. 

When talk turned to the future, mention was made of a new trend in the US for guests to arrive bearing boxed cookies instead of a bottle of wine; and Lauraine said she thought that playgroups and bookclubs were possibly the heirs to the ‘afternoon tea’ social scene of decades gone by.  Scones were declared to be the new muffins, and tips given on how to inspire your children to learn to bake, with Tui commenting, “The only way to learn to bake is to bake”, and Julie B adding, “Yes, and you have to be able to say, To hell with the mess”.

When the floor was opened up to discussion, many of the audience waded in with their opinions on everything from pectin-sugar to sticky meringues, and as I rolled out the door, replete with cucumber and salmon sandwiches, fierce and animated (and warm) debate was still going on in every corner of the room.

Not in Kansas Now

CoverStumbling out on to Queen Street in a daze of shopping signs and people I’m joining Roberta in that small town feeling.

I visited the Women’s Bookshop which is a lovely example of how important the selection of books is to making a good shop. It’s very small and plain style wise but great stock. They’re publicising the Fifty Fifty Women at the moment. A little further down the road and I’m at Cook the Books. Great name and lovely looking shop but I was a little disappointed. The latest cookbooks were lovingly displayed but there weren’t all those wonderful cookbooks that have been published over the years. I think Books for Cooks in Melbourne has spoilt me, not to mention the fabulous selection of cooking books and food writing at Christchurch City Libraries. Still the shop assistants were talking to punters about recipes they had tried from different books.

Now I’m back in my room reflecting on “travel broadens the mind”.  Air New Zealand is supporting New Zealand Music Month and their Kia Ora magazine is highlighting that plus it had some lovely cheese recipes from Martin Bosley. I can also tell you that making a naked (body painted)  in flight safety video with Gin Wigmore on the soundtrack certainly gets the punters attention.

Perspiration follows inspiration …

‘The heights achieved by great men, were not attained in a sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling bravely in the night.’

Charlie Dark’s mother used to say that to him – and it’s something he’s taken to heart. It’s also something that he passes on to young people that he works with – the message that there’s no such thing as overnight success, and it takes hard work to get anywhere.  And if you needed any more reason to consider Charlie Dark an all-round role model, the marathon-runner used to be a librarian.

Have a listen to this short excerpt: [2:02 2Mb .MP3]

NZ Post Book Awards – Young Adult Nominations

CoverThere are five Young Adult titles shortlisted for the NZ Post Book Awards. Tonight I will be on a panel discussing them at the opening of the new Te Tai Tamariki premises in Victoria Street.  It seems trite to say the standard is very high, obviously they wouldn’t have been nominated if they weren’t excellent books! Suffice to say, after reading all five, I didn’t have a sense of one particular book as being a clear favourite for the top spot. Each one has its own star appeal. But I think it would be hard to overlook Mandy Hager’s The Crossing and Tanya Roxborogh’s Banquo’s Son for emotional punch.

The Crossing is described on the cover by Margaret Mahy as “1984 for teenagers”. Conceptually it is a brilliant dystopian sci-fi fantasy. The survivors of an ocean liner that has grounded on a tropical island during a world-wide plague outbreak have gradually enslaved the locals. They prey upon them for new slaves and their plague-free blood. It is an appalling vision of what a powerful elite can achieve when morality is thrown out the window. The hero, young Maryam, is the equivalent of Winston Smith – she gradually realises that being one of the privileged chosen is a two-edged sword. And she decides not to stay around to be slowly bled to death.

To be honest  I didn’t find the comparison to 1984 to be particularly relevant when trying to convey to someone else the emotional climate of the story. It is far more like The Handmaid’s Tale than Orwell’s great classic. And it does read like a winner – not surprisingly, because Mandy Hager has already won the LIANZA Esther Glen Award for fiction in 2008 for her novel Smashed.

CoverYesterday, I was privileged to hear Tanya Roxborogh speaking at Avonside Girls’ School about her novel Banquo’s Son. I had intended reading it anyway, but started unenthusiastically with the thought: I have to read five books by … so I had better get moving … My plan was to read a chapter or two, then switch to the Lee Child on my bedside table that constitutes my real reading pleasure. But I found pretty quickly that I didn’t want to put Banquo’s Son down. Like Tanya I had taught Macbeth for years in the classroom and always wondered how Banquo’s children got to be the rulers of Scotland, when the play ends with Malcolm and Donalbain (the dead king’s sons) firmly back in the running. Tanya explores the “what if” raised by the Scottish play and introduces us to a Fleance any mother would be proud to call her own.

She mentioned in her talk that the young man’s face on the cover is not the perfect Fleance she imagined in her dream of him. But I don’t think there were razor blades in medieval Scotland, let alone hot showers and deodorant. It’s a great cover image and it manages to convey the dark elements of the narrative. Although, not a tragedy – in the strictest sense, it is a tale full of sound and fury. Plenty of action for boys and a strong romantic thread for lovers of that genre. It is the first of a trilogy, the next is about to go to print.

So in conclusion, the world of YA literature in New Zealand has plenty to write home about. Although I wondered whether one of these two novels might be the eventual winner, the one that kept me up late on a Saturday night turning pages as quickly as I could, was End of the Alphabet by Fleur Beale. It is a deceptively simple tale of Ruby Yarrow, who decides one day after talking with her friend, that she is not going to be a doormat anymore. If you want to find out more, I recommend you get a copy … it’s not surprising that Fleur’s book is so readable because she is also a past LIANZA Esther Glen Award winner: Juno of Taris in 2009.

But of course, half the fun of literary competitions for readers is trying to guess the winner and I am sure you will have your views on who it should be. I am content to wait and see.

Falling in love with language and words again: Charlie Dark interview part one

He’s a musician, poet, teacher, remixer, runner, he’s sponsored by Nike and the British Council, has been Arsenal’s poet in residence, and he’s here to inspire young people to love language, love reading and get writing.

He is Charlie Dark, and if my brief chat with him was anything to go by, he’s exceptional at it. Listen to this inspiring interview, and if you know a young person, pass it on!

He talks about his workshops, his ‘graffiti’ approach to poetry, transferable skills learnt through performance, his failed rap career, Shakespeare as the first MC, and how he tries to inspire young people with his work. [10min 40sec, 10Mb]

Never Smile at a Crocodile

CoverI chose my first festival event using the time-honoured technique of stabbing at the page with my eyes screwed shut. That’s how I ended up with a ticket for –Des Hunt and his book The Crocodile Nest. I like the fact that I don’t know anything about either the author or his books. I t makes me feel like an intrepid adventurer as I stride out on safari across Aotea Square to The Edge.

This turns out to have been a very good choice of event. Packed to the rafters with young people who give you real hope for the future, I sat next to a young man so bedecked with achievement badges that even if he dropped out right here and now he would probably still qualify as an Alpha Male.

Des Hunt is a great presenter and must have been a terrific teacher. He had that audience in the palm of his hand and they loved him. With eye-catching graphics, touches of magic, a science experiment and his sharp sense of humour, Des elucidated for us what made a good piece of writing.

I swear I could write a book after all his advice, but will instead make do with practicing on you dear bloggers and blogettes. He has what sounds like a really appealing story in The Crocodile Nest – adventure, nature, a bit of technology and a happy ending  but admits that the book that challenged him most was Whale Pot Bay whose main character was a girl and therefore challenging by her very nature.

I emerged from the packed venue humming you know what and with a big crocodile grin on my face. My first Festival event – we have lift-off!

Points of Puzzlement

CoverWith the library move to WiFi, I’ve heard around the network (and I do get around), that in the future we’ll all be approaching customers at their exact “point of puzzlement”. This trip to the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival looks set to provide me with just the dry run that I need.

It all started at Christchurch Airport with self check-in where I was descended upon by a lovely lady who had graduated top of her class in Point of Puzzlement Training which will from here on in be referred to as POP. I was the customer she had been waiting for since 6am and she went way beyond the call of duty. I became her POP Patsy and I can now self check in using three different methods, in several foreign languages and in a state of emergency.

After directing me to cafes all over the airport, I made my escape to the second POP person where you offload your bags. She came from the take no prisoners school of POP and was not going to peak too early in the day with her smiles.

My third POP moment came when Richard advanced on us in the departure lounge but that was mainly because it was the first time I’d seen his new hairdo. Say No More!

Now here in Auckland – Yippee and acting all small townish . I got connected to broadband all by myself and am sitting here in my hotel room all flushed with excitement. Here’s some library reads to get you into the vibe – Alain de Botton and The Art of Travel, Anita Brookner and Hotel du Lac and a new one that I can’t think of right now, but is about a man who spends a lot of time in airports – it has been made into a film. That is your test question for the day.

Over and Out.

Move over Zac Power, here comes Space Scout and Battle Boy

Battle BoyIf your children are obsessed with the Zac Power books you need to read this!  There are two new series that have just started  that are perfect for those children (particularly boys) who love Zac Power and we’ve just got the first few books in the series.

Battle Boy is a new series of books, written by Charlie Carter, about BB005 (whose real name is Napoleon) who gets sent back in time to spy on some of the greatest battles in history.  Equipped with some cool gadgets and top-secret information, Napoleon must go back in time and set the record straight.  If your children like spy stories, history stories or adventure stories these books are for them.

Space Scout is another new series that’s written by the author behind Zac Power, H. Badger (or H.I. Larry as we know her).  The books are about Kip Kirby and his co-pilot, Finbar, who are scouting the universe for a new Earth that they can call home.  Like the Zac Power books, there are lots of cool diagrams and gadgets throughout the book.  Kip and Finbar journey to weird planets and meet all sorts of weird alien creatures.   There’s also a really cool Space Scout website to check out so you can find out some more information about the books and play games.

You can borrow the first few books in both series from your local library now.  I’m sure your children will love you for it!

And it’s raining

So here we are in Auckland. 

And it’s raining.

But that’s okay, because we have successfully navigated the taxi ride, the airport check-in, the flight, the landing, the baggage claim, the other taxi ride and the hotel arrival.   We have explored the room service menu, the tv channels, the mini-bar and the information pack.  We have tried all the buttons and switches in the bathroom, and animated the broadband.  We are ready to go.

First up for me, a ladies afternoon tea – High Tea, in fact, with four of New Zealand’s top foodies.  I will have to put my ladys’ clothes on for this one, while the others will be variously interviewing/blogging/hanging around the foyer.  And this evening we are all off to the Good Word Debate, from where we will do our first official podcast.  Too, too exciting!

Only low point of the trip so far – sighting a huge box of ‘goodie bags’ at Reception, only to find that they are for the ‘real stars’, and not us lowly bloggers.  Sigh.  I wonder if I could pass myself off as William Dalrymple or Charlie Higson …