Children’s authors at The Press Christchurch Writers Festival

The Press Christchurch Writers Festival has something for everyone, including children (or possibly just your inner child).  Internationally renowned children’s writers, Steve Cole (Britain) and Richard Newsome (Australia) are in Christchurch next week for the writer’s festival and are also helping us launch our new blog for children, the Christchurch Kids Blog.

Steve Cole is best known as the author of the tremendously popular Astrosaurs series, as well as the Cows in Action series, and his new series Slime Squad.  He’s also written for older children, including several Doctor Who books.  Steve’s sense of humour and the subject of his books (including dinosaurs in space and slimy monsters living in a rubbish dump) makes him very popular with boys aged between 6 and 10.

Richard Newsome is an Australian author who burst onto the scene last year when his first book, The Billionaire’s Curse, won the Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing.  He has since released the second book in the Billionaire Trilogy, The Emerald Casket.  His books are packed with action, adventure, mystery and intrigue, and his characters are strong.

If you would like to meet Steve Cole or Richard Newsome and hear them talk about their books, come along to the launch of our Christchurch Kids Blog on Wednesday 8 September, from 7-8pm in Central Library.  It’s a free event and no bookings are required.

A Writer’s Other Life

The anticipation is building for The Press Christchurch Writers Festival! Can you feel it? CAN YOU FEEL IT??

I’ll be front and centre at one of the festival’s highlights– Hot off the Press on Friday 10 September. One of the four authors reading from ‘some of the best new books around’ for this event will be Wellington-based author Craig Cliff.

I’ve started reading Cliff’s debut short story collection A Man Melting: Short Stories. (Love it so far! I’m a sucker for well written short stories with resolutions that don’t leave me depressed!) But before I even got to the first story, I found myself pondering the bio. One sentence in particular:

These days [Cliff] lives on Wellington’s south coast and works for the government.

Works for the government?

Yes, yes, it’s no challenge to find info online about Cliff: that he’s won the Katherine Mansfield Award in the Novice Section, that his works are published in numerous literary magazines, that he tried writing a million words in one year. But what about this work reference?

I tend to think of writers as solitary individuals slaving away before antiquated computers in stuffy attics all day, every day. (An egregious assumption, I’m sure.) So, a question remains for writers who don’t write full-time:

What do you do in your other lives?

One Day Short Story Competition – What a blast!

I’ve done it! I’ve achieved the impossible. I’ve written a short story in one day and, let me tell you, that’s no small achievement.

Sunday dawned grey and damp. Not the most auspicious start to the 2010 NZ Society of Authors’ One-Day Short Story Competition but at least there was no temptation to head for the beach or spend time in the garden.

I had an early start. My daughter and her elaborate project had to be at the Science Fair at 7.30am so the first part of the day was spent dragging her out of bed, feeding her, finding her shoes and bundling her in the car. I had to start work at 9.30am so my very dear significant other made the trip into the Christchurch Art Gallery to pick up my short story instructions and texted them through to me at 10.15am.

And here is the crunch!  The story had to be no longer than 1500 words and include the phrase “Wanda fell from the tram and remembered nothing else until …”

My mind went into hyperdrive. Who was Wanda? What sort of parent calls a child ‘Wanda’? A fish is called Wanda. And what was this Wanda doing on the tram? Who travels on the Christchurch tram apart from holiday makers? Diners? Is the tram in Christchurch anyway? Is it on another planet? Could the tram be an alternative to the Hogwart’s express? And she fell. Did she fall or was she pushed?

I finished work at 1.00pm and raced home. I put my hands to the keyboard at 1.25pm. I knew I had to get the manuscript in printed form back to the Gallery by 5.00pm which meant leaving home at 4.00pm. Three hours and 5 minutes. Eeek!

Now you might think I’m making excuses giving you all these details of my hectic day, but I do feel there needs to be some explanation as to why I wrote possibly the worst short story since human beings started scratching in the dust with sticks. I’m not kidding. It was awful. The words flew out of my mind and I didn’t have time to censor them. The time rocketed past. My partner banged on the door at 4.40pm.

“No,” I cried. “I can’t do it. It’s too awful! I give up.”

He wasn’t hearing a word of it. “Finish it off,” he said. “I’ll turn the car around.”

We rocketed through the town at a determined pace. I flew through the Gallery doors with three minutes to spare. The lovely folk from the Society of Authors very calmly took my manuscript and wished me luck. Sweet of them!

The winners will be announced at the presentation at the Town Hall Conference Room on Saturday 11 September at 7.00pm as part of  The Press Christchurch Writers’ Festival. I’ll be there! I’m looking forward to hearing the good stories written by fellow writers. The experience has been great fun and I feel proud to be part of this event. I’ve cut my speed writing teeth and am already sharpening my pencil for next year’s competition. I think I’ll book my annual leave now.

Victoria’s Challenge: Vampires

coverI’ve decided to “throw my fishing net over the huge amount of a variety of New Titles we are receiving daily.” My next choice was:

Seth Grahame-Smith Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

After I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula  at the age of 15 I never thought I would be so scared by another vampire novel in my life, but here it comes again in the form of Lincoln’s secret diaries detailing his life as a stalker of vampires.

As a boy, Abraham Lincoln loses his mother to the undead (actually he is witnessing the whole thing!) and swears lifelong vengeance, so he adopts the axe that he hides inside his signature long black coat to use it for vampire hunting. The thrilling part of this newly emerged vampire novel is that the fictitious elements are  intricately interwoven into real life history of American Civil War period and while reading, most times, it’s hard to separate the fiction world from reality.

Christchurch Crime Wave

Duh, not a real crime wave but oodles of mystery and thriller writers from all across the globe, here in Christchurch … yes … really … woo-hoo. I’ll be at The Press Christchurch Writers Festival to marvel at the twisted, tortured minds of these crime-peddling  scribes.

The line-up includes:
CoverSimon Kernick, specialising in high-octane thriller, his latest bestseller The last ten seconds is some crazy voodoo, believe me.  I read it in only two  sittings without blinking, barely breathing and compulsively turning page after page. Could be mind-control or maybe darn good writing? I need to know, and blog-readers I will find out.

Neil Cross, now living here in Godzone, this British ex-pat excels at twisty-turney, dark psychological novels. Neil’s thriller Burial is in the running  for the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel and he is also promoting his latest title Captured. Mr Cross is nothing if not versatile; having written an exquisite memoir Heartland, a Man Booker long-listed novel Always the sun and scriptwriting the BBC’s Spooks series. Someone told me he is funny too, so c’mon Neil make me laugh.

Liam McIlvanney holds the Stuart Chair in Scottish Studies at Otago University and spends most of his time introducing youthful kiwis to the extremely dubious pleasures of Rabbie Burns, James Hogg and Sir Walter Scott.  Liam is also the author of All the colours of the town, a richly textured thriller exploring the long shadow of Scots-Irish sectarianism. Ayrshire born, he is appearing in conversation with Iggy McGovern and will be chatting about something close to my own heart: the boozy, conflicted and violent Scots.

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The Press Christchurch Writers Festival – Here I come!

CoverI too have been lucky enough to be selected to attend the Press Christchurch Writers Festival. I’ve even changed my gravatar. I’m going to see one of my favourite authors – Barbara Trapidospeaking about her latest novel Sex and Stravinsky. It reminded me a little of her Travelling hornplayer in its style where coincidences abound in the run-up to the finish. Trapido also features in Good stories.

If you want to know more about Barbara Trapido, try British Council: Contemporary Writers  for a profile. This gives biographical information and critique her books up to Frankie and Stankie so is a bit outdated. Or best of all check out Trapido’s writing room on The Guardian’s website.

Is anyone else hoping to catch Barbara at The Press Christchurch Writers Festival?

The Festival Bug

CoverThere is a bug doing the rounds and I have got it again. No worries though, because this is The Festival Bug and it is a good bug –  strikes once, lasts forever and engenders feelings of terrific euphoria. What is more, you can get it too!

This time it is The Press Christchurch Writers Festival that has me all a-twitter. I learnt that I was to be part of the library team covering this event whilst sitting in a hot, dark, funky little internet cafe in Durban with a backdrop of blaring township rap.

In the mood to celebrate my good news, I bounced out of the cafe and straight up to Musgrave Centre where I sat myself down with a cappuccino and my best holiday read – the latest Barbara Trapido novel – Sex and Stravinsky. Famous for her first book Brother of the More Famous Jack, I cannot wait to meet this author at the Christchurch Festival.  We grew up in the same city, lived in the same suburb, attended the same University and studied in the same faculty. Then she went on to become rich and famous. Say No More.

It was then that I was struck by how often I have read books in the places where they are set. And we are not talking Lonely Planet travel guides here either, but books like The Bone People by Keri Hulme which I read while on holiday at Okarito and The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett,  read in the atmosphere of Norwich Cathedral.  A large part of Sex and Stravinsky is set in Durban and I had a clear view  from the coffee shop of the very escalator that  is mentioned on page 148 in the book. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. I am curious to know if any of you have experienced this with books and how it affected you?

The festival has a great line-up and Atlantic: The Biography of an Ocean by Simon Winchester is also high on my list. In the spirit of reading books on-site  I asked Greg how he felt about a little Atlantic cruise, with me on deck sipping G&T’s whilst paging through Winchester’s book. His look said it all. I am lucky apparently, but not that lucky!

Go Fish goes large at the New Zealand Post Book Awards

Here are the winners from tonight’s New Zealand Post Book Awards ceremony, congratulations to the authors and the publishers and all those involved:

CoverIllustrated non-fiction winner: Go Fish: Recipes and stories from the New Zealand Coast by Al Brown, Random House NZ is the night’s big success – winning the People’s Choice Award and the Illustrated non-fiction category.

The other double winner is General non-fiction winner: Encircled Lands: Te Urewera, 1820-1921 by Judith Binney, Bridget Williams Books which took out the prestigious Book of the Year award.

Find out more about the finalists and winners of the best first book awards.

Thanks to those livetweeting the event including and for all the up to date information.

New Zealand Post Book Awards – winners announced tonight

Tonight is the big night in New Zealand’s literary calendar – the New Zealand Post Book Awards awards ceremony.

If you want to get all the gossip and hot of the press awards news, Noel from the New Zealand Book Council will be live tweeting from the event via

Here are the finalists in the running:

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