Carey sure knows a lot about Golding

CoverWilliam Golding’s Lord of the Flies is one of those books that has always filled me with a deep disquiet.  If I tell you I don’t like it, you will assume I think it isn’t any good.  But that’s not true – I think it’s brilliant.  It’s just not very nice.

It is, however, pivotal in the work of many of today’s most famous pop culture writers and creative artists:  with everything from Stephen King, to Lost, to Terminator, Mad Max and Zombieland being descendents of Lord of the Flies, it can be argued that in some ways all modern post-apocalyptic writing and cinema has derived from Golding’s dark view of humanity. 

John Carey, author of  the recently published William Golding: the man who wrote Lord of the Flies: a life, is an accomplished speaker, and despite the fact that he began quietly, in an auditorium overflowing with rambunctious teens, he had them mesmerised within minutes.  Much of the information should be familiar to those who have even a passing acquaintance with the book and the author, but there were a few surprises even for Carey, he said, as he began to research using Golding’s extensive collection of diaries and papers.  Marion got to have a chat with him this afternoon, and no doubt she will shed much light on both Carey and Golding, but there were one or two things that stood out for me from this morning’s session.

Firstly, that as a teacher, Golding would use what he described as a “measure of experimental science” in his teaching, in essence using the students as illustrations of his own theories about the nature of humanity and the darkness within.  Carey described a particular incident where Golding packed up all the boys and carted them all out to a local landmark, and basically set them against each other in a war-strategy type of situation, only intervening eventually when it became clear that someone was going to be killed.  He also apparently would frequently stir up his classes and deliberately antagonise them so as to observe their behaviour.

The other point I hadn’t heard before was that Golding’s final published work differs significantly from his initial submitted manuscript; this due to his fiercely agnostic editor, who insisted on removing all obvious traces of religious symbolism and deeper spiritual meaning.  From being a quite clear tale of hope and spiritual strength in the face of adversity, it was transformed into a book whose message was that ignorance and terror invent religion, and that only bad can come of anything spiritual.  Later in his life, Golding very much regretted ‘giving in’ to Monteith’s demands, but Carey makes the argument that without this interference, Lord of the Flies would not have become the enduring piece of literary success that it is today.

A fascinating session, and I am very much looking forward both to reading Marion’s interview, and to the Michael King Memorial Lecture on Sunday, which promises an adult slant on Golding’s life and work.

David Levithan loves libraries, and we love David Levithan

Interview in progress

So much to say and so little space! This morning’s session with David Levithan, award-winning author, accomplished editor, star of (festival) stage and (YouTube) screen was a delight and a joy from start to finish.  So much so that I am going to make you wait while I sort it all out in my head before I write.

In the meantime, however, here’s a snippet of what David had to say in his interview this afternoon, both about libraries (he’s a fan), and also about what he’s currently reading, which we thought you might enjoy hearing because it turns out he’s just finished Ruined, and is currently enjoying Forbidden Cities, both by our very own Paula Morris.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can with more of the interview;  we will also be covering David’s session with Paula on Sunday.  In the meantime, sit back and enjoy listening to David confirming what we all know – libraries are cool, and important, and we love them!

Age Is No Barrier


This has been an eventful day – up the SkyTower (my chosen venue to prepare for the William Dalrymple interview), a walk to Lionel  Shriver’s hotel so that I know where to go tomorrow and 45 minutes with  David Levithan reading from two of his books:  Will Grayson, Will Grayson and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. What strikes me after just three Festival events is how multi-talented writers are. Not only is Levithan a writer of renown, but he is also a lively speaker and a kind man who responded to the questions from the young audience with sensitivity.

Truth to tell, it was hard to ignore the audience attending this event as the group immediately in front of us was made up of thirteen beautifully kitted out young students who arrived late, fussed terribly about who they were going to sit next to, took giggling to a whole new level – to the point where their teacher who had given up glaring at them actually (and I never thought I would see this) threw a book at them – well a notepad, but still.
They were responsive to the point of irritation yet it was clear to me that were loving every minute of Levithan’s racy dialogue and sexuality. When he read from Will Grayson, Will Grayson, they mimed the tender scene with the shoulder massage. They knew the book alright.

And here’s the thing, although Levithan’s books are classified as Young Adult he freely admits that he does not write with that specific age group in mind and instead sees age as a continuum. This made me feel much better about the fact that I am now determined to read some of his works – and we all know how old I am.

A strange thing is happening to me at the festival – doors that had remained resolutely closed, like children’s and young adult fiction are swinging wide open and refreshing blasts of newness are blowing my mind. The next bastion to fall will be Zombie books but I’m still holding firm on that. I’ll leave it there as Bronwyn will be giving you more detailed coverage of this event and the interview that she is having with Levithan even as I tap away at the keyboard in my room.

Anna Mackenzie on writing as a career

coverNew Zealand writer Anna Mackenzie enthralled a packed room at the festival this morning. Her schools session was attended by an enthusiastic, engaged and attentive audience – who asked some fantastic questions.

You could tell they enjoyed it by the fact they all groaned when she said question time was up.
One fellow had been listening to talkback – he introduced his question by saying long-time reader, first-time question asker. Another quoted Shakespeare. One asked if the plants on stage were real, another how to handle criticism.

Mackenzie handled it all well and shared all the ins and outs and challenges of writing as a career. A great session, with a talented Kiwi author. The schools programme is very impressive, and the honest and enthusiasm of the presenters will impress these aspiring writers, and that can only mean good things for the future.

Mackenzie’s new book, Ebony hill, has just been released.

No nodding off, it’s bad for TV: The Good Word debate

Jennifer Ward-LealandIt was difficult to sum up the experience in our short audio wrap up, but amongst all the audience instructions, goodie bags (mine had a Collins New Zealand dictionary, a DVD and a TVNZ7 notebook) and photo opportunities The Good Word Debate was an interesting one : Off the shelf and into the hard drive: the book is dead.

Arguments for the book being dead  – put by Finlay Macdonald, Gordon McLauchlan and Jennifer Ward Lealand:

  • the top-heavy, wasteful economy of scale of publishing is dying, contributing to the literary landfill
  • It’s environmentally friendlier to use digital versions
  • Changing the publishing industry will bring readers and writers closer together
  • Being cheaper to produce, authors will earn more
  • More access to back-lists
  • The book is a sacred object – devotees will barricade themselves in libraries and read Proust until the vandals arrive.

Arguments against, argued by Emily Perkins, Bill Hastings and Steve Braunias stacked up like this:

  • New media doesn’t replace old media
  • Books warm a room – if they’re not there, will curious visitors go through your fridge instead?
  • E-book devices are harder to hide under the bed – so long as people need tittilation there will be books
  • Naysayers were proving the mind is dead, not the book
  • That e-book is still fundamental to book
  • Books help with social intercourse, and get people together

On the night, the audience went with the negative team, so the book is not dead. For my money, the logic and the strongest arguments were with the affirmative. The format will eventually change, diversify, morph. So here’s the water-cooler topic for today – is the book dead – or is it just terminally ill?

Over the bridge and to the court! – Image of the week

Supreme Court and Victoria Street bridge, Christchurch. [ca. 1921]

Supreme Court and Victoria Street bridge, Christchurch

Do you have photos of Christchurch buildings? We love donations. Contact us

Also contact us if you have any further information on any of the images. Want to see more? You can browse our collection here.

Wednesday @ the festival: Delights, debate and more

After an early start and a landing at Auckland Airport that was a little like being on the inside of a giant caterpillar, the team has had its first chance to savour the literary offerings at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival.

Bronwyn enjoyed High Tea, Roberta went to a schools session with Des Hunt, Marion explored local book offerings, and Richard interviewed Charlie Dark and Te Radar.

We also attended the TVNZ7 Good Word debate, filmed live at St Matthew in the City. Where, according to host Te Radar,  ‘literary warriors unsheath swords of verbosity’. The moot? Off the shelf and into the hard drive: the book is dead.  Finlay Macdonald, Gordon McLauchlan and Jennifer Ward Lealand argued the affirmative, while Emily Perkins, Steve Braunias, and Bill Hastings took the negative. The teams got stuck into the topic and hammered it out – the book lovers eventually coming out on top by audience vote. The debate will screen on TVNZ 7 in October.

Today the festival has a full day of programming followed by the official opening gala.

Celebrating Failure: My time with Te Radar

Te RadarI meet Te Radar at St Matthew in the City during rehearsal for the Good Word debate. He’s a man of the moment – with a prime-time Sunday night slot on TV One, and touring a new show, Eating the Dog, as part of the international comedy festival. I suggest to him that he’s managed what few comics ever do – a leap into mainstream media.

“That’s always what I wanted to do – more so than stand-up in a way. Stand-up was a gateway to hosting something. It’s really nice to have been given probably the premier slot on television in New Zealand – it doesn’t get any better and more wholesome than seven o’clock on a Sunday night. Not probably the slot I thought I would have ended up in.”

The show and his profile has brought him popularity with a hugley diverse audience – but he gets particular attention from older women. As a case in point, he can now pack the library at Taupo.

“It was myself and Dave Armstrong and it was literally a record crowd …  I was doing a schools show after that and a contingent of them trouped over there, with their shining faces and their grey hair; their mature demeanour – it was fantastic.”

Part of his appeal is his fragility, his willingness to give things a go and fail. Sometimes miserably.

I’ve always said that celebrating failure is really important. My entire career has been built on failure. I went off to university to do law, and that failed. Really badly. Various things have failed along the way and you always pull positives from it. I become concerned sometimes that we don’t celebrate it enough and allow people to realise that they can fail – that failure is actually a positive option.

Eating the Dog, Te Radar’s new stand-up show celebrates some of New Zealand’s most spectacular and regrettable failures.

They’re ones that I’ve looked and and thought – these people have had a go at something and it all fell apart. Even though the outcomes are very tragic – I look at the Wairau massacre, or the Wairau incident as some people call it – I like to think of it as the Wairau misunderstanding. The story behind it is mad.

Lorraine – the very first aerial casualty. A wonderful story – but he dies.

I mention that we have photos of that incident in our collection, so our conversation naturally turns to libraries.

Libraries have been part of my life ever since I was a kid. I’ve got a real big thing for libraries, I’m a passionate supporter of them. It’s probably best summed up in a photograph that I saw in a mining museum in the north of England. There was a photograph of all of the men of the town in their Sunday best, standing outside the workingmen’s library that they’d just set up. The sense of pride and achievement – working class men who couldn’t afford to buy the books now had something, and they could get the learning that up until that time that had been denied them.

They’re a powerful thing libraries, and whenever I see moves by councils to make them very user-pays I think it so short-sighted. You’re actually weakening a very important part of society [the people] who can go and get access to all of that information.

When he wrote for the Herald, the column that drew by far the greatest response was one about the closure of the Cambridge High School library and turning it into a computer centre so kids could go on the internet.

“There’s an enormous amount of information on the internet – but it’s a different kind of accessing of information. I’m a ferocious consumer of information off the internet – but you do get the sense you’re consuming it in a very shallow kind of way.

There’s nothing like going to a library and finding a book. The debate tonight is in many ways about the future of what we consider to be a book. The changes there and how they’ll affect libraries are going to be really fascinating. If you can have a book and it’s an e-book and you can just click on a button and immediately access more information – that will be fascinating. But where it will leave the traditional concept of a library, with dusty tomes on a shelf that no-one’s taken out for years …

We need to maintain the physical book, because all of the technology’s great until the power goes out, or there’s a corruption of it. All of these people taking thousands of photographs that are never printed out … they’re stuck as zeroes and ones in media formats that are being outdated every day…

Having said that, I’ve been using a lot of the Turnbull Library resources – Puke Ariki, for example. Te Ara – fantastic. For what I do, [they’re] just absolutely brilliant – the fact that I can go online and access the photographic archives that are there in the Turnbull Library through Timeframes – that is a priceless treasure.

But there are barriers – primarily cost, he says.

I would love to have printed a book about all of the stories in my show with all the beautiful photographs – it’s impossible. Unless I was to get an enormous grant from somewhere I can’t afford those images.

Archived television footage is simply not an option.

In the Off the Radar TV series the archive footage was taken out – it was too expensive – hundreds of dollars a second. To me there’s something not right about that. That archive is a treasure for everybody.

In the future those are some of the questions that need to be faced, that whole concept of user pays and locking up these treasures. I’m quite passionate about that.

Time overtook us and we had to cut our interview a little short. My attempt to record our reconvened discussion went awry, a digital failure meant I forgot to press a button and the beautiful second version of our discussion was lost in the improvised make-up room housed in the crypt of St Matthew in the City.

So what do you think? Should our archives be open and accessible and available for re-use? Should we sting commercial operators quite so much? Are libraries and archives distancing themselves too much from the real world – or are we just naturally protective of the treasures of the past?