Secrets, spies, and free speech – WORD Christchurch

Secrets, spies, and free speech was stunningly topical, and the chair and panellists were knowledgeable and articulate, and pretty funny to boot (I actually got sore cheeks). Discussion ranged around ideas of surveillance, free speech, state control, spying and shutting down debate.

Luke Harding is a Guardian reporter who was written on Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency; Nicky Hager is headline news for his investigative work in Dirty Politics; and Richard King’s book On Offence argues that free speech is meaningless unless it includes the freedom to offend. Joanna Norris, editor of The Press chaired the session – most appropriately as she is also the chair of the Media Freedom Committee.

Luke Harding

Luke is concerned about mass surveillance and how information is “all being hoovered up and analysed. The rise of authoritarian states has seen state actors trolling individuals, armies of cyber bloggers causing people to retreat and exit from the conversation.

Edward Snowden gave his information to responsible journalists. He is an epochal figure, part of the “biggest, most important story of the 21st century”. Working on this story was fraught. There were incidents of mysterious workers laying down cables outside his work and home, and occasions where the text on his screen would mysteriously delete.

Of the famous laptop smashing incident, Luke said it was “half Stasi, half pantomime”.

Richard King

Richard King had plenty to say about the Australian situation, and bigotry. He reckons “bad speech” should be allowed but we should “call out the bigots and haters”. Beware “the great steambath of censoriousness”:

On questions of principles, slopes are always slippery.

King was a master of pithy and revealing observations”

Julian Assange is the tiny elephant in the room.

The claim that something is offensive is taken as an argument in itself.

Nicky Hager

Nicky Hager classed himself as a moderate in the surveillance debate, seeing the need for monitoring those who could hurt people. At the same time he thinks society’s fear about surveillance is insidious.

He said of leaks: “There is nothing special about a leak being illegal … people are going to feel intruded upon”. Most material didn’t meet the public interest; he stripped out names from some of the source material before publishing it.

We have a government that was faking; manufacturing a sense of friendly, “she’ll be right …”

while major New Zealand corporates were paying to have opponents – including those in public health – smeared.

Politics is so much easier for your side by destroying opposition. It is really East Germany.

He was sharp and funny, explaining the process of how Dirty Politics came to be. Meetings in parks, and an initial plan to tweet out whole blast of information (Whaledump being in the news again today of course).  His source’s motivation is simple:

Whale Oil is a bastard and let’s do him over … he’s a prick”.

Luke Harding, Richard King, Nicky Hager: Secrets, spies and free speech
Luke Harding, Richard King, Nicky Hager: Secrets, spies and free speech

Cover of On offence Cover of Dirty Politics Cover of The Snowden Files

The Luminary: Eleanor Catton – WORD Christchurch

Cover of The LuminariesFiction is one of the places we can go to experience real closure.

WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival was a place for hometown heroes and heroines as well as international stars. Eleanor Catton was one of the highlights of The Stars are out tonight. She read from The Luminaries in a piece that included my favourite quote (page 502 Luminaries nerds): ‘I suppose that to know a thing is to see it from all sides’.

On Saturday 30 August, Eleanor was in conversation with Kate De Goldi in front of a packed Cardboard Cathedral. Here are some of the quotable quotes from this interesting session:

Diane Setterfield, Eleanor Catton, and Roberta at WORD Christchurch

Dark and Chilling – Northern lights

WORD-Web-Event-DARKCHILLINGThe lovely criminal duo of  Yrsa Sigurdardottir (go on do have a try…ỨR-suh SIG-ur-dar-daughter..easy!) and Liam McIlvanney chatted with Crime Watch blogger Craig Sisterson.

Liam McIlvanney was scheduled to appear in the 2010 Press Christchurch Writers Festival but the Darfield Earthquake put the kibosh on that. Four years later he has published the second in his Gerry Conway trilogy Where the dead men go and recently won the 2014 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel.

The panel talked at length about the importance of setting in crime fiction. Liam uses Glasgow, the crime capital of Western Europe, as his backdrop and believes Scotland’s history of dour Calvinism has developed into a dark obsession with sin. Scotland’s complex relationship with England particularly prior to devolved power has also allowed crime writers to pose politicised questions about wider society without the necessity of providing answers.

Yrsa acknowledged Iceland’s unforgiving climate lends itself to the idea, if not the reality, of murder. With no real crime to speak of in the Iceland she has to work hard to make her fictional crimes seem authentic and uses social and political context “to add meat to the bone”. Yrsa also plunders Iceland’s long-standing fascination with the supernatural to great and creepy affect.

Cover of Where the dead men goAsked about memorable early reading experiences, Yrsa admitted to being fascinated by her father’s textbook on gruesome infectious diseases. Horrific but enthralling. Liam’s rather more pedestrian fare included Ray Bradbury and Robert Louis Stevenson. Current crime reading included Sophie Hannah for Yrsa while Liam mentioned David Whish-Wilson and Peter Temple, who he credited as the best crime writer in the English language.

Both Liam and Yrsa hold down day jobs; Yrsa is an engineer working in hydro-electric generation while Liam holds the Stuart Chair in Scottish Studies at Otago University, an academic occupation which could be viewed as “boring and nerdy” but which allows him time to write about evil and achieve cathartic release.

Not particularly dark or chilling but instead a rather cosy and engaging peek at the craft of crime writing.

WORD Christchurch:

That was then, but this is now: 4 September 2010 / 4 September 2014

A look at a couple of sites affected by the 4 September 2010 earthquake, and what they look like now.

Corner of Victoria Street and Bealey Avenue

Daily Bagel and Covent Fruit Centre 4 September 2010, Victoria Street, Christchurch.
Daily Bagel and Covent Fruit Centre 4 September 2010, Victoria Street, Christchurch. Kete Christchurch.

Carlton Butchery building, Victoria Street

Here’s how the same site looks today: 4 September 2014.

Knox Church – corner of Bealey Avenue and Victoria Street

Knox Church - 4 September 2010.
Knox Church – 4 September 2010. Kete Christchurch
Knox Church, Victoria Street
Knox Church, corner of Bealey Avenue and Victoria Street – Thursday 4 September 2014.

See the set of images Knox Church earthquake impact – Kete Christchurch.

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Favourite reads from favourite authors: WORD Christchurch

Sydney Bridge Upside DownTwo of my favourite things about literary festivals are: to hear authors read from books, and to find out what their best loved reads are. Reading Favourites was a WORD event that ticked both those boxes for me.

The three authors were Kate de Goldi, Sarah Laing and Carl Nixon and they were asked to name their two favourite New Zealand books. Guy Somerset hosted this event, which he wistfully billed as being: “like an Uber Book Group without the wine or cake.”

Kate de Goldi chose:

Sydney Bridge Up-side Down by David Ballantyne, a book about which she confesses to be somewhat evangelical. Published in 1968, it is a book that “keeps finding its readers”. It was, according to de Goldi, way ahead of its time.

Kate’s second choice was Welcome to the South Seas by Gregory O’Brien, a book de Goldi classifies as Creative Non-Fiction. It is a book that awakens the child in you, that grandparents buy for their grandchildren and end up keeping for themselves. It has the artwork asking you the questions.

Cover of HicksvilleSarah Laing:

Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks topped Laing’s favourites list. She has read this graphic novel several times and never tires of its multi layered approach. With each reading she seems to uncover more and more.

Sarah’s second choice was From the Earth’s End – The Best of New Zealand Comics. Sarah reminded us that after the war, 47 comic titles were published every month in New Zealand alone and that libraries are the guardians of much of this early material.

Carl Nixon:

The Day Hemingway DiedCarl’s first choice was The Day Hemingway Died by Owen Marshall. It was the first book (at 18 years of age) that Carl remembers wanting to read as if he had discovered it all by himself. It has a very distinct tone, is the perfect illustration of character foibles and is laugh-out-loud funny – all at the same time.

Carl’s second choice was Gifted by Patrick Evans. He read a wonderful extract from this book about the meeting between Sargeson and Janet Frame, two people who never really understood one another at all, according to Carl. This book never received the attention that it deserved and Carl hopes that we will rectify that by getting out there and doing it justice.

This was a well presented, varied event in which the participants gave us a peek into their best-loved books. And, to top it all, it was free. That is correct, there were a number of free events at the festival, and the calibre of all events is very, very high. So, in two years time, even if the budget is tight and penury looms (and I do so hope this will not be the case), you can still tart yourself up, hitch a ride down to the Fest and recharge those tired old book-loving batteries.

See you there in 2016!

Four years ago: 4 September 2010

Then, and now. It is strange how things blur, what you forget, and what you remember.

It was shake, awake, get out, fear, and heck, is everyone ok? And wow, there is the chimney all over the backyard.

This is what I saw shortly after 4.35am, after the 7.1 earthquake on 4 September 2010. Victoria Street, Christchurch.

The same spot on Victoria Street is now home to a lineup of the new Christchurch – Smash Palace, etc.

This blog proved to be a handy place from which to share information. Our first library blog post on 4 September 2010:

Christchurch experienced a major earthquake this morning 4.35am, Saturday 4 September 2010 …

Our book chat switched into Civil Defence, community information, library info, and ideas to look after the kids. (see our September 2010 posts).

Oh, and portaloo hugging.

In the days to come, there was so much to see and discover.  We entered into a new shocking and aftershocking world.

Of all the post September quake-related sights, one I will alway remember is a moment of rare delicacy, when the worker used his machinery to lift a chandelier, which he then passed to the owner. All of us watching cheered.

Demolition of Robertsons Bakery. Chandelier is being removed from Shrimpton Radcliffe Interior Design. 8 September 2010. Kete Christchurch.
Demolition of Robertsons Bakery. Chandelier is being removed from Shrimpton Radcliffe Interior Design. 8 September 2010. Kete Christchurch.

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