What wild and wonderful creature would you be?

H is for HawkHelen Macdonald, the author of H is for Hawk, would be a goshawk.

She knew this from the age of nine, when after a visit to the zoo with her parents, they had to peel her fat little fingers from the wire of the birdcage and carry her sobbing home. She did not want to leave the birds.

After the sudden death of her father, she took off into a remote area of England with only her newly purchased goshawk, Mabel, for company. In last night’s WORD Christchurch event she took us through her year. And what a year it was – solitary, quite mad, running in the wild with her bird, eating bird-catch and stale pancakes, covered in mud and scratches and passing her time observing Mabel and playing games with her.

Her book covers all of this. Her take on grief:

Grief is love with nowhere to go

Her references to a seminal book The Goshawk by T. H. White – a deeply disturbed man whom Helen at times felt she might be turning into, and her take on falconry. Halfway through I began to wonder what wild animal I would most identify with and like to be. I started with the Big Five – nononononono, then I tried the Little Five – no, horse NO ostrich – maybe … but no.

Throughout Helen Macdonald was a joy to listen to and I was second in line to have my copy of her book signed. When I got to the signing table (and in typical Roberta style), I heard my mouth asking Helen: When will I know what my signature animal is? I am beginning to fear it is a Scottish Terrier.

She looked up, moved her head from side to side like a focussing hawk, stared down her suddenly beakish-looking nose and said: A Scottish Terrier would be good.

And that is why I love Literary Festivals, you enter the venue as a jaded library assistant and you leave as a Scottish Terrier being hunted down by a hawk!

The goshawk and the scottish terrier.

The stories of the One Child Policy: An interview with Xinran

XinranThis week I was lucky enough to be able to interview the lovely Xinran, who is in Christchurch for WORD Christchurch’s Autumn Season (her session is on Thursday 14 May), and will be in Auckland for the Auckland Writers Festival later this week. We weren’t able to meet in person, but Xinran graciously offered to answer a few questions through email.

Buy Me The Sky comes out soon, I can’t wait to hear you talk about it when I see you in Auckland. Could you tell us a little about what sets this book apart from your others?

Cover of 'Buy Me The Sky' by Xinran. They are the stories of the first generation of One Child Policy.

In the last three decades, under the One Child Policy, China has prevented 400 million people from coming into this world, buying FOUR years for the world population to reach 6 billion. According to China’s sixth census in Oct 2014, by 2020 there will be 30 million more males than females among the age group of 20 to 45 year olds in China. More than 150,000 Western families have adopted Chinese orphans, mainly girls, since 1991. By 2014 China raised nearly 140 million ‘Suns’ or ‘Little Emperors’ since the 1980s.

‘Buy Me the Sky’ would help readers to see how those Chinese single child families live with those questions:
– ‘Is the mother keeping her child as a pet, or is the child keeping her parents as slaves, to be at her beck and call with every wave of her hand?!
– Is One Child Policy much more powerful than any kind of the beliefs rooted in culture, religion, education, and living environments?
– They all belong to the first generation of the One Child Policy, they have completely different views on China, the world, and the concept of a quality life because of their family backgrounds, living conditions, and their pursuit of different ideals. But is there any point they could agree with their family elders after their long march under One Child Policy?

You’ve dedicated so much to sharing stories of hardship. Would you encourage other people who have lived through very hard times to write down or otherwise share their experiences? Do you have any advice for people who want to do this?

None should forget the past, we also should know how to forgive it if the past has made us suffer a lot as mine. Any kind of past is the roots of our today and future, sharing it with others by our respect mind and honest writing, can be a heartfelt gift to our family and children.

You’ve written a lot of non-fiction, so what made you decide to write your fictional novel Miss Chopsticks?

Cover of 'Miss Chopsticks' by XinranIn fact, three sisters in the book are real, they all have their sisters too, I thought their stories could help my readers to see how China has been transformed from poor to rich by those kind of countryside uneducated women in three generations. Therefore  I ‘made up’ a mother for them, the book become ‘’fiction’’.

Did libraries play a part in your life when you were growing up? How about now?

I grow up in Beijing, the capital of China. It was full of “grandma stories” and over 700 years traditional streets. Now, it has become a very modern city , huge, crowed and very colourful, with its ‘unique pollution’  both by money and air.

You mention Chinese children adopted to New Zealanders a few times, especially in your book Message From An Unknown Chinese Mother. Is there any special message you would like to give these children?

 Yes, as always! The first of all, believe me about this, your Chinese mother never forgot you since you started ‘talking’ with her in her tummy. You have a life because of her love and bravery!
Secondly, great thanks to your New Zealand family, they have offered you the most beautiful country to you life, enjoy it with your passion and cars to it for your adoptive family.

The last, I hope you could join my charity ‘The Mothers Bridge of Love’ MBL for helping some poor and disabled kids who are still struggling in rural China. They need books to read and friends to visit them, as we all do! xiexie