Morbid, grotesque, exhilarating: Magpie Hall by Rachael King

This morning a good-sized crowd was treated to book chat, tea and tales with award-winning author Rachael King – 11am to 12pm at South Library, Friday 7 August. Oh, and a Magpie Hall cake.

Rachael and cake - Community Read of Magpie Hall by Rachael KingAudience - Community Read of Magpie Hall by Rachael King

It was a cracker of a session. Rachael talked us through the journey to Magpie Hall and illustrated the tale with pictures and photos. She described researching a novel as a bit like “Alice falling down the rabbit hole” – and this session was our glimpse into the rabbit hole and the “accumulation of images, ideas, and themes” that made Magpie Hall:

  • Sailor tattoos
  • Circus freaks
  • Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads …

Taxidermy

Female taxidermists piqued Rachael’s curiosity – these two in particular:

Claire Third – Lyttelton taxidermist – see her in this CTV doco

Julia DeVille – taxidermist jeweller

The Dead Zoo

These places inspired Rachael – animal dioramas, slimy things pickled in jars: “Morbid, grotesque, and somehow exhilarating”.

Tattooing

Someone with a lot of tattoos was called a collector.

In the late 1900s, the aristocracy took to tattooing. Even royals got inked.

Victorian literature

The influence of books like Northanger Abbey and Wuthering Heights is part of the soul of Magpie Hall. In its intertextuality, it is “a novel about the Gothic novel itself”.

If you are familiar with Victorian Gothic, you might pick up the references. Rachael talked of:

laying Easter eggs in the book for readers.

On writing

Rachael wanted to write a booky mystery. It was a very organic process. After doing a lot of research, in 2008 she didn’t write for two months – then suddenly the whole thing came together in my head”.

Community Read of Magpie Hall by Rachael King

Rachael read two excerpts – one rather terrifying encounter with a ghost at a window, and one about the skinning of a tiger.

What next?

Look for Cafe Continental in Rachael’s upcoming work.

The Cafe Continental [between 1906 and 1909]  Opened on 1 Sept. 1906, this was a 43-bedroom private hotel opposite Cave Rock on the Esplanade with tearooms on the ground floor. On 13 June 1909 it was extensively damaged by fire and never replaced  View more information  File Reference CCL Photo Collection 22, Img01266

The Cafe Continental [between 1906 and 1909] CCL Photo Collection 22, Img01266

The audience asked some good questions, and we all went away sated.


Photos from the event and display at South Library.

If you missed this morning’s event – or if you want some more Magpie Hall – come along to tonight’s event at South Library from 7.30pm to 9pm (Friday 7 August). Join an improvised comedy team as they improvise themes from Magpie Hall. See you there!

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