Back-to-back greatness at the Auckland Writers Festival

Herman Koch, Image supplied

Were you to go by the publicity mugshot of Herman Koch, you could be forgiven for thinking that he looks like a cool, severe, Nordic man – sad and distant.

But nothing could be further from the truth. He is in fact warm, self-deprecating, humorous and oh so patient with his presenter (who was having one of those days where she just couldn’t stop talking, or even finish her sentences) and he, bless him, is not an interrupter.

The DinnerI felt an instant bond with him: he can’t memorise lines easily, he never re-reads books and he uses the things he knows very well from his private life in his story-telling and writing. Tick, tick, tick. What he does do very well in his writing is to create characters in his books (such as The Dinner) who play around with issues that are often treated in a black and white way – like Autism, homosexuality, politics and prejudice against foreigners.

Even when I have created characters who are unsympathetic, I still try to love them.

I am going to stick my neck out here and say that his next book, from which he read an excerpt, Dear Mister M (yet to be released), is going to be very popular and may end up on my 2016 Best Reads list.

Jane Smiley, Image supplied
Jane Smiley, Image supplied

Straight after Koch’s event, came Jane Smiley. She is every bit as lovely and open-faced in person as she is in her promotional photo. There are so many reasons why I would feel a bond with this author: I love her books, we share a period of time in history as we are exactly the same age, and she is a slow but competent knitter (She was wearing a top that she had knitted out of soya bean wool). She was gifted an excellent presenter, and the whole event rocketed along in a very pleasing manner. Oh, and Smiley can interrupt.

Here are a couple of Smiley gems:

  • “The first step for a writer is reading”
  • “What drives me is curiosity”
  • “A writer is a gossip at heart”

In contrast with Koch, Smiley is a re-reader and does not draw from her personal life in her writing, nor does she try to love all the characters she creates. The final words however go to Koch – and although he was describing a character here, the quote could just as easily apply to writers:

Everyone can learn the steps, but not everyone can dance.

Here we have two authors who can do both – just not necessarily with one another!

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Science Snippets – Sounds Sensational!

Each week during term time (except the first and last week) the team from Science Alive bring their Science Snippets sessions into our libraries. Excellent Science Alive educators lead children through interactive activities to stimulate their interest in science, and there is something to take home every week! There is a different theme for each session and this coming week from Monday 16 May it’s Sounds Sensational.

You are sure to learn all about sound and do some fun experiments. Here are some great nonfiction books that we have in the library if you want to learn more about sound:

Here are some stories about sound and hearing to read too:

We also have some fantastic eResources with heaps of information about sound and hearing. Check these out:

  • World Book: Inventions and DIscoveries – a search for ‘sound’ gives you information about inventions that have helped to capture sound (microphones) and make sound (keyboards).
  • Britannica Library Kids – a search for ‘sound’ gives you information about sound, with different levels of information for different ages.
  • World Book Kids – a search for ‘sound’ gives you some basic information about sound, along with some suggestions for other topics you might like to look at for more information.

For more information about Science Alive’s Science Snippets check out Science Alive on our website.

Samoan Language Week – Vaiaso o le Gagana Samoa 2016

Tālofa. Samoan Language Week 2016 will take place from 29 May to 4 June. Here at Christchurch City Libraries we are celebrating with storytimes in Samoan and a computer session.

Talofa banner

Samoan language resources

Find more information about Samoan Language Week and Samoan language on:

Posters and flyers

Samoan Language Week Samoan Language Week

Samoan songs

Watch our wonderful colleagues Tai Sila and Jan-Hai Te Ratana perform some short Samoan songs:

Sit down


The Colour song

Colouring in

Download our Samoan Language Week colouring in page.

Malo talofa colouring in


Setting the Kiwi murder scene – Steve Braunias at the Auckland Writers Festival 2016

Steve Braunias has a very specific take on what makes New Zealand murders quintessentially Kiwi. And it all comes down to setting in his opinion.

The Scene of the CrimeMost of us have a stage-set notion of the perfect murder scene: cold, dark, with driving rain and a gothic castle in the background. Not so says Braunias, most Kiwi bad stuff goes down in the dullest of suburban settings: dreary, dull, ordinariness is where it’s at.

And he has evidence to support this: he peers over fences, peeps through windows and generally finds fascination in the homes of the many murder victims and perpetrators he has followed. Like Ron, who at 82 has served his time and is back living in the same house in which horrific abuse of his daughter took place. Braunias can tell you that Ron’s home has no bookcase and one red and one blue gingham tea towell hanging on the washing line. You feel you already know that place.

And he is very taken up wth the Mark Lundy case. From his description, I can picture that home now: the daisy bush outside the window, the coffee mug on the draining board, the huge king size bed in the small bedroom, the single sock hanging on the washing line. The blood stains on the carpet. And it is that very ordinairiness that sucks us in.

Steve Braunias, Image supplied

In question time a brilliant query was lobbed Steve’s way: New Zealand has almost no serial killers. Why not? Even Australia has them. Braunias was very impressed with this question and you could almost hear the cogs whirring: Is there another book in this?

Finally: “Murder illuminates the lives we lead” according to Braunias – and in New Zealand, he maintains, most of us are living narrow, pinched, ordinary lives. The contrast between the brutal act of murder and the banal settings in which the murders take place is in fact who we are.

So, in the same way that you should always wear clean undies in case of a car crash, you should also keep your house full of books and eye-catching decor – just in case!

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True tales of the festival – Auckland Writers Festival 2016

And we’re off!

With the schools programme portion of the Auckland Writers Festival wrapping up today, the public programme has now kicked off and my fellow festival-goer Roberta and I attended the gala event, True Stories Told Live: Altered States.

Jeanette Winterson and Roberta
Jeanette Winterson and Roberta, CCL Flickr File Reference: 2016-05-12-DSC00929

The concept is a simple one. Gather a clutch of writers, give them a lose theme to work to, and let them have 7 minutes in which to weave a story but one that is true and personal. In keeping with the “Read the world” tagline of the festival it was an international set of authors – Carmen Aguirre, Pettina Gappah, Tusiata Avia, Peter Garrett, Joe Bennett, Herman Koch, Vivian Gornick and Jeanette Winterson – each with an entirely different take on the theme, different message, different style, and different sensibility.

They were all excellent though for my money Carmen Aguirre kept me hooked and Jeanette Winterson was heartfelt and humorous, but a nod must also go to Festival Director Anne O’Brien who set the scene beautifully by telling the audience just how important literature is and that “literate citizens build better worlds”. It’s not just about literature either, it’s about literacy too. Stirring words which were very enthusiastically received.

Roberta and I retired to our accommodations following the performance and had a chat about our faves and our picks for tomorrow which proves to be a day jam-packed with excellent author sessions.

Listen to part 1 (4 mins 29 sec)

Listen to part 2 (5 mins 9 sec)

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