Do chicks dig time lords?

I have no idea how I found this book. I was just sitting at the computer looking for a book. Now the book I was looking for didn’t have anything to do with chicks, digging or time lords, but there it was.

And I wanted it.

I have been often told, that one should never judge a book by its cover. I did. The psychic paper, the scarf and the key to the Tardis all said ‘read me’. And maybe the title Chicks dig time lords: A celebration of Doctor Who by the women who love it.

I quite like time lords, so I was curious. I knew Verity Lambert liked time lords, and I wasn’t surprised to learn that Carole Barrowman did too. But a whole book written by chicks who dig time lords was a surprise. They all had different reasons for liking them and they all quite possibly had favourites.

While Doctor Who is off air, the Doctor is hopefully repairing his Tardis and maybe even getting its chameleon circuit to work. I think I could help him out. Not because I can run in high heels and mini-skirt. I can’t. I could get his Tardis fixed.

Cover of An unofficial guide companions fifty years of doctor who assistantsHe probably can’t travel back through time and space to arrive outside the Tardis repair shop on Gallifrey, but he could go to the planet-sized library which contains every book ever written and get a book on how to repair a Tardis. That’s where I come in. I have a library card which isn’t valid for all libraries in time and space, but since when do small details like that stop the Doctor and his companions?

I do know how libraries are organised and I know how to ask the right questions. If the library has a copy of a Tardis repair manual, I could find it with the help of the Librarian. If the Tardis materializes within the library, we won’t need to borrow the repair manual, but if he does borrow it, the Doctor will be able to keep it for ages, then travel back in time and return it on time. How cool would that be?

Do you dig time lords?

Dare I ask, which one?

While you are waiting for the return of Doctor Who, why not borrow a DVD featuring your favourite Doctor.

Anna Smaill – from a writing musician to a musical writer

Meeting Anna Smaill is almost like a scene from a modern James Bond movie. Hurrying up the stairs of Aotea Centre, she is not aware that I am following right behind her. Once inside the lobby, she reaches for her phone. Before I can say hello, the phone in my pocket starts to ring. Anna slowly turns around, puzzled, still holding her phone close to her ear. We find ourselves in an awkward moment. We don’t know what to do with our hands – greet each other or turn off the phones. Looking at each other, we burst out laughing, leaving the phones to echo around the lobby.

Cover of The Violinist in SpringEven though Anna published her debut novel The Chimes at the beginning of this year, she is definitely not a new name in New Zealand literary landscape. Her poetry featured in Best New Zealand Poems in 2002 and 2005, as well as numerous journals and magazines, before it found a permanent home in her first collection of poetry Violinist in spring (2006). Despite her dedicated academic pursuits – Masters in English Literature (Auckland University), Masters in Creative Writing (IIML, Victoria University of Wellington) and a PhD (University College London) – she never felt entirely suited for academic world. Most of all, she enjoys writing fiction. “It’s because it draws on all parts of me and it’s fun.” She quickly adds how “really really hard” it sometimes is.

The ChimesHer musical background has evidently marked not only her poetry but also her prose. Themes and style of The Chimes, dystopian novel set in alternative England, stem from the idea of music as an overpowering and navigating force of reality. An immense musical instrument, the Carillon, controls lives of remaining population. Brainwashing happens regularly with Matins, which tells “Onestory” – the only acceptable truth about the “Allbreaking”, the fatal discord, that broke with the past (now refered to as a “blasphony”) and established the present order. This is followed by violent erasing of – not only personal but collective memory as well – at Vespers with the Chimes. Among “memoryloss”, people who have suffered incurable damage, and “prentisses”, workforce which helps maintain the functioning of this complex musical tyranny, run by the Order, are outcasts. They forge for the “Lady”, a metal substance out of which the Carillon is made, and hold on to their “objectmemories”, the only remnants of their previous lives and selves. These enable them to trigger and nurture their personal memories.

The main character of the story, Simon, is a young orphan, who joins the pact of outcasts and soon realizes he possesses a special talent, that might change everything. With its unique style, which draws from the music, myriads of themes, relevant to a present day, and a clever narrative this work holds a reader in a grasp of perplexity and amazement until the very end.

I met up with Anna at Auckland Writers Festival to talk about her work, her life and The Chimes – of course.

Lives of people in The Chimes basically depend on their memories. What are your first memories of books, reading or libraries?

We used to go religiously to the library on Friday nights with my family. But I used to go to the library every day on my own after school as well, so it was almost like a second home for me. On Friday night we actually got the books out and we had a big red sack that we filled with books. I remember coming home and feeling reassured and excited. It was a bit like coming home from a supermarket after you just bought enough food for the week – only that I had enough reading material for a week. I was a total bookworm. Also, my family didn’t have a television.

Cover of TintinWe, children, were really lucky as our parents read to us a lot. I do remember the frustration before learning to read. I was trying to get my sister to read out Tintin comics for me. I also remember wishing to escape to my room to be able to read in peace during children’s parties. I found reading much more exciting.

Libraries are – just like museums and galleries – treasurers of collective memory. What is your opinion on cutting down library fundings, which is becoming a real fashion all around the world?

It’s a worrying development. People have a right to access literature. I do see it as a worrying sign. Although here in New Zealand libraries are so much part of the community, they are used by a broad section of the community and they feel very vital. In the UK, it didn’t feel like they were being that well used. There is more time to go to the library, here in New Zealand. In UK people are time-poor.

What has brought you to writing? Where does the need to write stem from? Is it just the fear of letting memories slip away, as you mentioned in a post on your web page, or are there any other inner motives and impulses?

The first impulse is the sense of time going past. It’s almost having the experience of pathos in the moment, having feeling of something happening that is already gone. I’ve always had very acutely this feeling of things being transient and ephemeral and I wanted to capture them.

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Creative nonficion

Cover of A million little piecesHave you heard of the term “Creative Nonfiction“? The only so-called creative nonfiction that I was aware of was the books that over the years have been discredited for “creatively”  bending the facts. The likes of James Frey who was selected for Oprah Winfrey’s monthly bookclub one day and exposed the next for fabricating his criminal record and rehab experiences. Or Margaret Jones who published a memoir of her childhood in LA’s gangland only to be later discredited.

The Library handily lists these titles as “imaginary biography” but we don’t take them off the shelves. More recently – and perhaps more seriously – the young cook Belle Gibson (of the Whole Pantry fame) was outed as making up her illness which led her to claim that her recipes had cured her of cancer.  So, creative license has always been a less than savoury aspect of nonfiction.

What I hadn’t realised is that Creative Nonfiction is now becoming an actual genre. Editor/ author Lee Gutkind describes Creative nonfiction as “dramatic, true stories that use scene, dialogue and close, detailed descriptions – techniques usually employed by poets and fiction writers.”

Now you could be forgiven if like me you think that many aspects of nonfiction have always had a creative bent – think of biographies, travel stories, memoirs.  These will often use dialogue, have a story that explains an event rather than just straight facts and will include the author’s opinion and ideas as opposed to a straight text book or news item which, theoretically at least, sticks to the facts.

I wonder if there a need for a name/genre for those easy to read, entertaining and informing books that have always graced our shelves. Do we need courses to teach prospective writers how to be more creatively nonfiction-like, or are we able to work out the differences for ourselves?

Cover of Irritable Hearts Cover of The Fault Line Cover of The Fly Trap