Playing gaily with your ukulele

The ukulele revolution has swept New Zealand.

From touring orchestras, to neighbourhood groups, to schools the ukulele is the instrument of choice for many.

During NZ Music Month the St Michael’s School Ukulele Orchestra and Choir will be performing at Central Library Tuam  on Friday 24 May 24 at 12.30pm.

Albert Wendt – A celebration and a fitting end to the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2013

Search catalogueThe final session of the 2013 Auckland Readers and Writers Festival celebrated the life and work of poet, novelist, writer, teacher, academic and artist, Albert Wendt. Robert Sullivan spoke to this gifted and charismatic author who received a warm reception from his attentive audience.

Albert Wendt has been fundamental in shaping the contemporary literature of the Pacific. In his work he confronts racism in New Zealand, speaks openly about the effects of colonial upheaval on his people and incorporates Samoan storytelling and rhythms of language into Western form. He says his novels have to work when he reads them aloud. If they don’t work, he rewrites.

His novel Sons for the Return Home, the story of a Samoan man and his Western girlfriend, was written forty years ago and has become a seminal text. Leaves of the Banyan Tree took the author over 15 years to write and has been well received around the world. His poetry is some of the most engaging and memorable work produced in this country.

Wendt is a very visual writer. When he spoke, he told us of the black beauty of the lava beds of Samoa, the sun setting over  a circle of white stones where the two oceans meet, and the black star shape of the flying fox bat as it sails overhead. It is no surprise he’s turned to painting in recent years. He says, ‘I love the tactile feeling of the paint. I can get into the zone and stay there.’

Albert Wendt at AWRF 2013Witi Ihimaera, Bill Manhire and Selina Tusitala Marsh read excerpts from Wendt’s work and the audience was treated to performances by the author’s granddaughter, talented opera singer Isabella Moore, and by the Kila Kokonut Krew.

It was a wonderful and fitting end to the celebration of literature that has been AWRF 2013. In her conclusion, organiser Anne O’Brien said 13,000 people had attended the sessions this year which is a 25% increase on last year. She thanked Albert and his peers, the writers from New Zealand and around the world, who came and made the event so worthwhile, and the audience who engaged with the authors and supported the vision of New Zealand’s largest literary festival.

Plans are already underway for the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2014. Do try and get here if you can.

Transitional Christchurch – in Auckland

Search catalogueChristchurch: A Transitional City Part IV is that rather fabulous looking book bound in brown paper. It documents Christchurch’s transitional projects, street art, and pop-ups. Architectural designer Barnaby Bennett presented the session. I found it difficult, not because of anything lacking in him but because the session was really aimed at Aucklanders. As Barnaby observed: “You could put anyone from Christchurch up here and they could talk about it eloquently.”

There were a lot of questions and discussion on Christchurch “Crisischurch”: CERA, Christchurch City Council, Gerry Brownle, Ngai Tahu …

Barnaby showed slides of things like the Pallet Pavilion, the Think Differently book exchange (the fridge), street art featuring bandaids, and even our own Central Library Peterborough got a look in.

I thought Barnaby’s observation that “Temporary things stay much longer and start to inscribe patterns of behaviour” was a valid one. We have certainly seen that happening. He mentioned that “things go into a liquid state before they start freezing” and that these transitional things are “crystallising”.

A challenging session and one that brought out to me that all of New Zealand needs to get a clue about what is happening in Christchurch. As Barnaby said,  game playing in Auckland is based on what has been gotten away with in Christchurch.

He ended by saying:

Christchurch has brought out to me the lack of solidarity in New Zealand.

Jackie Kay – ‘What you can survive makes you stronger’

Red Dust Road by Jackie KayOne of the highlights of the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2013 for me has been discovering the work of British author Jackie Kay. How did I manage to live so long and not come across this woman? She is a multi-award winning poet, short story writer, memoirist and novelist. She writes for children. She’s also one of the most endearing, funny, exuberant people I have come across. When she walks in a room, the energy lifts. You can’t help but be drawn to her bright smile and her genuine warmth.

Jackie Kay’s writing contains the bittersweet wisdom of someone who’s faced big challenges in their life. She was born to a Scottish mother and a Nigerian father then adopted by a white couple with Communist Party affiliations. In 1960s Glasgow this was unusual to say the least. This, together with her candid sexuality, means she’s faced prejudice from many quarters. Throughout it all, she’s stood by what she believes in. Jackie Kay is one amazing woman.

Her latest collection of sJackie Kay at AWRF 2013hort stories, Reality, Reality is brilliant. You’ve just got to read it. I bought it off the stand at the Festival and wolfed it down. The title story introduces a woman who performs daily cook-offs against imaginary competitors to the blinking red eye of her security alarm. At her session, Kay read from ‘Those are not my clothes’, a tragically funny story of an elderly woman in rest home. The author says she’s drawn to older women characters because their stories tend to disappear under the radar.

When I spoke to Jackie Kay, she told me she was on her way down to Christchurch on a kind of pilgrimage. Her adoptive parents met in Christchurch at the Coffee Pot above the Communist Party Bookshop. She was looking forward to finding the street they lived in which has apparently just been released from behind the Red Zone. In addition, her old neighbour from Glasgow is a psychologist and is now living in our fair city.

If you see Jackie, make her welcome. You’ll be very pleased you did.

It’s (pretty) easy being green

Back to the land at CCLWhy is a Writer’s Festival like a box of chocolates? Because there’s something inside for everyone.

Today I saw Tony Murrell, from Radio Live’s garden programme, host a lively session with The Gardener magazine editor Lynda Hallinan and sustainable gardening writer Janet Luke. All three are highly regarded gardening experts. They’re passionate about plants and their enthusiasm was infectious. I’ve never seen the microphone passed to so many people so quickly. It seemed everyone in the audience had a question to ask or a comment to add.

Tony Murrell has noticed a huge resurgence in interest in growing food at home in recent years. He laments the fact that many of today’s gardeners have lost the skills needed to grow veges successfully and have to spend money on re-education, tools, catalogues, fertilisers, etc. This results in expensive crop of perpetual spinach, lettuce and tomatoes which people get bored with and ‘turn back into camellia hedging’.

His panelists disagree. “It’s not all about money, Tony,” said Janet. “You are such an Aucklander!”

Linda said, “Don’t spend anything! Don’t build raised beds, don’t hire a garden designer, don’t buy a tonne of compost. Just buy a spade, dig a hole and plant things.” She believes gardening journalism has made it sound difficult and it’s not. “It’s natural. Plants grow and produce fruit because they are fulfilling their biological function. People think it’s harder than it is.”

Some sustainable gardening tips:

  • Lasagne your compost heap
  • Pile fallen leaves into a black polythene bag, tie it off, punch a few holes in it and store behind your garden shed for a year. It makes great compost.
  • If your plants look great above the soil but have nothing beneath, your garden has too much nitrogen and not enough potassium.
  • Janet Luke and Lynda Hallinan at AWRF 2013Blue flowers attract bees. Plant rosemary and borage to help pollination.
  • Chop out the middle of your lemon tree and prune to a vase shape.
  • Avoid systemetic sprays – they hurt bees.

If you’d like to know more, visit your library and check out Linda Hallinan’s Back to the land and Janet Luke’s Green Urban Living. They’ll give you plenty of helpful advice on how to get your garden doing what comes naturally.

The Joy of Art – The Brilliance of Pat Hanly

Hanly at Christchurch City Libraries“People are too new here and nature absorbs them.” Pat Hanly

This afternoon I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Ron Brownson, Senior Curator of New Zealand and Pacific Art at Auckland Art Gallery, about the work of artist Pat Hanly.

The talk was given in celebration of the publication Hanly, edited by Gregory O’Brien, which is arguably one of the best art books published this decade. Ron Brownson believes this book is ‘better than a TV programme, it is better than a TV series. It is a mini capsule of excitement.’

Ron Brownson at AWRF 2013Ron Brownson is a charismatic speaker. He quickly engaged his audience and treated us to a feast of Hanly’s paintings blown up on slides to the size of the gallery wall. He said, ‘If you’re going to have colour, you’re going to have a glut of colour’ and that was certainly what this art-starved Cantabrian needed. Vibrant blues, reds, greens and yellows filled the space, engaging the senses and lifting the spirit, as Brownson took us through the major series of Hanly’s art.

Auckland Art Gallery has just been bequeathed one of Hanly’s Showgirl Paintings and the curators are anxiously awaiting its arrival on New Zealand soil. It is a work ‘delicious in its sensuality’ containing the figure of a dancing girl which is Chimera-like in spirt. It will be a great addition to the Auckland Gallery collection.

Gil Hanly at AWRF 2013No man is an island, not even a painter, and it was wonderful to see Pat Hanly’s wife, Gil, taking photos for the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. She added some interesting background information to the talk, in one instance filling us in on the events that led up to the painting Fire at Mt Eden. Warring gangs in the neighbourhood set fire to a house close to the Hanly home and the family watched as the flames leapt into the night. Although Hanly’s works are abstracted, they are of this world.

Some people say they don’t understand Hanly and Brownson believes he knows why:

‘They don’t understand about joy and happiness. (Hanly’s) painting is full of joy. It enjoys living.

Scarlett Thomas – Tapping into Creative Writing

The End of Mr Y at CCLScarlett Thomas teaches Creative Writing at Kent University in England.  She has written eight novels including Our Tragic Universe and The End of Mr Y which was longlisted for the Orange Prize.

Who better to write a book about how to write?

Her latest work, Monkeys with Typewriters, is a guide to creative writing and contains Scarlett Thomas’ best advice. In conversation with Paula Morris, she said this is the book she wishes had been available when she started out.

The title comes from the Infinite Monkey Theorem which puts forward the proposition that a monkey, hitting keys at random on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time, could almost surely type the complete works of Shakespeare. Let’s just say it’s a long shot. According to Thomas there’s a one in 15 billion chance of a monkey typing the word banana, but this isn’t the point. The point is that it’s the words on the page that matter because they are the story. What was going on in the writer’s mind or life when s/he wrote them is irrelevant.

Scarlett Thomas at AWRF 2013A couple of writing tips:

1. Make the task seem manageable. The Hound of the Baskervilles is a short novel of 60,000 words. Break that down into 3,000 words a day and you’ve written a novel in 20 days – doesn’t seem so hard now, does it?

2. The only thing that drives characters are desires and objectives. Like people they act for a reason. Find the one key driver that is a superobjective for your character, it could be the need for comfort/control/balance/fame/popularity, and you have the beginnings of a believable character.

Some authors moan about the difficulties of being a writer. Thomas believes this is because they haven’t worked at Pizza Hut. Her advice for discontented writers? “Do some rubbish jobs so you appreciate how wonderful being a writer really is.”

Christchurch – this week in history (20 May – 26 May)

May 20, 1861
Gold discovered in Gabriels Gully, Otago. As with other discoveries, the ensuing gold rush depleted the city of its more adventurous young men.
May 21, 1866
City Council abandons the vital city drainage scheme because of its financial state. A huge shipment of pipes which had just arrived from England had to be sold off. This guaranteed Christchurch’s reputation as New Zealand’s most polluted and unhealthy city for another 20 years. It is interesting to compare the transport cost of these pipes from Glasgow to Lyttelton – £882 – with the cost from Lyttelton by lighter and cart to Christchurch – £400!
May 22, 1868
William Rolleston becomes the fourth (and last) Superintendent of Canterbury. The 4 superintendents have been remembered in the names of the city’s “four avenues”, previously called the Town Belts.
May 22, 1989
First significant rainfall in 22 months breaks drought in Canterbury.
May 23, 1861
Fire destroys brewery and shops in Cashel Street.
May 23, 1960
Tsunami (tidal wave) causes water level range of nearly 6 metres in 2 hours at Lyttelton.
May 23, 1968
Visit by Duke of Edinburgh.
May 25, 1861
“Christchurch Press” appears. The first editor was ex-Superintendent James FitzGerald, a bitter opponent of the proposed Lyttelton-Christchurch railway tunnel. He and supporters began the paper to air their views.
May 25, 1903
Statue of Queen Victoria unveiled in Market Square, and the area is renamed Victoria Square.
May 25, 1969
First pair of one-way streets (Lichfield and St Asaph Streets) in operation. With traffic signals eventually controlled by a computer, this was the beginning of New Zealand’s first area traffic control scheme.
May 26, 1859
Public Library begins as the Mechanics Institute in Town Hall.
  • More May events in our Christchurch chronology.