WORD Christchurch 2018: Spoilt for choice – Roberta’s Picks

It’s the first law of any truly great literary festival that you’ll almost certainly wish you could be in two places at once. That’s because just about everything you really want to see (or do) will probably be on the same day (quite often at exactly the same time) and in completely different venues. And WORD Christchurch 2018 is no exception to this rule.

It’s a hard life, but programme in one hand, good coffee in the other, here are some of the tricky festival choices I have made – grouped like this: Something Old; Something New; Something Borrowed and Something Blue:

Drawn OutSomething Old: I choose Catherine Chidgey: Transformations (Friday 31st August) because reading In a Fishbone Church seventeen years ago was when I first started to love New Zealand writing, and Chidgey has never let me down since then. She’ll be chatting to Morrin Rout about how she brings her own life to her writing. Tom Scott’s: Drawn Out (Saturday 1st September) is another choice of mine that stretches back to my early New Zealand days when I would laugh out loud at a Tom Scott cartoon over my cappuccino and huge muffin in the food court next to the old Farmer’s in Central Christchurch. I was such a lonely immigrant then. Thanks for the laughs Tom!

Something New: I just can’t go past The Witches of Gambaga (Friday 31st August). This is a documentary by Yaba Badoe  about a group of women ostracised as witches in Northern Ghana. I know nothing about witches or Ghana, and it all seems worlds apart from the venue at the Art Gallery in Christchurch, but how magical is that? Also new to me is my festival hot favourite Around the World in 80 Trees (Friday 31st August) by Jonathon Drori. I love trees. Were I a tree I would hope to be a tall, straight, slim-waisted Nikau Palm throwing my arms up in the air at the sheer joy of living. Please let me not be tempted to reveal this weirdness at this event!

Jonathan Drori
Author Jonathan Drori. Image supplied.

The Diary of a BooksellerSomething Borrowed: For me this is all about learning from other peoples’ experiences. My two picks are The Diary of a Bookseller (Saturday 1st September) by Shaun Bythell – he’s young, he’s Scottish and in this day and age he sells books. No Brainer! And Explosive Archaeology (Sunday 2nd September) in which a poet, a curator, a novelist and an academic discuss the underappreciated artists they love. I’m bound to learn something off-the-wall here.

How we met

Something Blue: And finally some luuuuurve. My pick is Let Love In (Saturday 1st September). Catherine Robertson and Michèle A’Court both write about love, but from very different perspectives (romance or quirky realism). But in the end it all comes down to our fondness for our own love stories – question time should be a blast. I feel warm and fuzzy already!

And of course in any respectable festival day there’ll be the little side forays into interesting cafés. Maybe I’ll take in a 20 minute lecture from Cabinet of Curiosities, and I’ll certainly loiter in the Piano foyer to get that magic feeling of reconnecting with my literary tribe again. No secret handshake required. Just see you there!

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Of humans and gods elemental

I’m a committed reader and I do read fairly widely and there’s one particular thing that I love when it comes to fiction; I love stories that blend and blur the lines between reality and mythology. The kind of thing where the lives of men and meddling gods coexist and the environment holds some physical form.

There’s loads of examples of this throughout literature – the Greeks and Romans loved to tell these types of stories, and those stories continue to be told in our own time – think of John Banville’s ‘The Infinities’ and ‘Fifteen Dogs’ by Andre Alexis . In both books the Classical Gods get involved in the modern life of humanity (and canines). And more recently there’s been ‘American Gods’ by Neil Gaiman, and ‘Good Omens’ a joint effort between Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett. Both of which will be getting the screen treatment very soon!

Cover of The infinites Cover of Fifteen dogsCover of American GodsCover of Good omens

But what about the more elemental gods, the older gods, gods of the earth, environment, and the supernatural world…?

Cover of FlamesI’ve just finished reading ‘Flames’ by Robbie Arnott – a young Tasmanian author with some serious talent! He’s been writing for some years now and has a string of awards following in his wake, and he’s a very welcome addition to the burgeoning Tasmanian writers scene, a scene which includes the rural romances of Rachael Treasure, the gritty historic fiction of Rohan Wilson, and the Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan. I’m a Tasmanian myself so I do enjoy keeping up with what’s coming out of the beautiful isle, but I wasn’t really prepared for how good ‘Flames’ was going to be! It feels as you read it as if the land of lutruwita (the indigenous name for Tasmania) is itself telling the story and we are the privileged few who get to gain some insider knowledge.

It centres on two young people just after the death of their mother, which itself acts as a catalyst for all that follows. The brother is steadfast and pragmatic and wants to protect his sister so decides to build her a coffin, to which her response is to flee into the wilderness of the South West where she discovers a supernatural aspect to the world around her, and to herself and also to her family. Meanwhile the brother mounts a search to find his sister. On the journey we meet characters that are both at one with the natural world and still finding and settling into their place in it. We meet their father, we learn more about the family’s background, and other characters each of who are portrayed perfectly to outline their purpose in the narrative.

Robbie Arnott’s use of language is poetic and evocative of times past, of the smell of earth, the feel of wind, and the heat of fire. The narrative moves organically from one character to the next, shifting perspectives and fleshing out the magic of the story as it progresses. His descriptions of Tasmania (and you can rely on this ex-pat to confirm) are stunningly accurate and establish a very strong sense of place – you can smell eucalyptus burning, hear the rush of the waves onto the rocks, and you can feel the semi-decayed earth under your feet as you negotiate the wombat burrows.

So; beautiful language, strong sense of place, great characters with depth and purpose, and an engrossing story line – it’s ticked all the boxes for me!

Cover of The buried giantAnd ‘Flames’ is not the only book to achieve this balance between the real, the myth, the supernatural. ‘The Buried Giant’ by Kazuo Ishaguro is the tale of an ageing couple on a medieval pilgrimage with their purpose obscured by a think fog affecting memories, or there’s the outstanding series ‘The Tale of Shikanoko’ by Lian Hearn where we follow a journey of growth within a fantastical Edo-era Japan that has such imagination and rooted in strong mythology and where the everyday is touched with magic both light and dark. As is fellow Tasmanian Richard Flanagan’s great piece of surrealist historical fiction ‘Gould’s Book of Fish – a novel in twelve fish’ which I’m sure was both inspiration and license for Robbie Arnott to create this work, ‘Flames’.

And if you like this particular sub-genre then there’s plenty of films and tele series’ that are similar. You could have a look at ‘The Kettering Incident’, Tasmania’s own supernatural, David-Lynch-esque, tele series. It’s brilliant, dark, a bit creepy, and it’ll show you some places and environments very like those Robbie Arnott has depicted in ‘Flames’.

Enjoy your reading,

^DevilStateDan

When the man you love lives in a bush: Intrepid romance, humour and travel

Just in case you wondered, How to Fall in Love With A Man Who Lives in A Bush is not set in he wilds of Africa and the protagonist is certainly no Jane Goodall.

An engaging and entertaining journey of self realization across the turbulent oceans of the earth, How to fall in Love is a story of boy meets girl.

No wait, dirty boy meets very clean girl.

This is a true story; of how Emmy, a Swedish actress and author, met her partner, Viv; a Canadian who was travelling, surviving on odd jobs and living rough – yes, in a bush.

It’s kismet – fate – as they sit together on a park bench in Austria; Julia looks into his eyes, and falls for Ben’s sense of humour (that and the size of him!).

Yet the two are very different people:

Ben : You live your life so…safely. I’ve seen how you never take any risks.

Julia: And that’s news? I told you the very first time we were on the Donausinel: that I don’t like surprises…

I’m actually so sick of the myth that adventurous people are somehow better than the rest of us. That you’re only worthy of attention if you’ve swum naked in the Ganges or stroked a dolphin. “Oh look at me! I’m covered in mud at a music festival where there are no toilets. I’m so cool!” (p.107).

Will the two find a middle ground?

Julia’s stay at home, safe character is hilarious in the wild:

I’m going camping. I’ve never been camping before. I’m an indoor person. Nothing makes me more nervous than a sunny, cloudless day, because I know I should be outside, doing the kind of thing outdoorsy people do…The closest I’ve come to being a nature person was when I hiked in the Lainzer Tiergarten one time. I tried to impress (Rebecca and Jesus-Jakob) with my knowledge of nature but almost managed to kill (them) by mistaking lily-of-the-valley for wild garlic. (pp176-7).

Emmy Abrahamson’s first book for adults is laugh out loud funny and not sickly romantic at all. (Julia can’t even kiss Ben at first, until he’s cleaned his teeth.)

My kind of romance.

How to fall in love with a man who lives in a bush
by Emmy Abrahamson
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN:9780008222338

Further reading

WORD things to get excited about: Mark’s picks of the 2018 festival

The WORD Festival is arriving in Christchurch (29 August to 2 September) in a celebration of all things literary. There will be something for everyone with events ranging from the silly to the profound with over 120 authors, and close to 100 events across 30 venues. Below is just a tantalising taste of what this wonderful event has to offer, so feel free to explore the WORD Christchurch Festival programme in full.

So pull up a chair, get yourself a drink, and get ready to explore the wonderful world of the WORD.

Picks of WORD Christchurch 2018

The Politics of fiction (Saturday 1 September 4-5pm, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū)

Brannavan Gnanalingam, Pip Adam, and Rajorshi Chakraborti. Image supplied.

There will be certain pieces of fiction that hold special places in the hearts of literature fans, and one of the reasons could be for political reasons. Join Ockham award winning author Pip Adam, with fellow authors Rajorshi Chakraborti, and Brannavan Gnanalingam in conversation with Julie Hill as they discuss the very topic of the politics of fiction looking at the way fiction can be more than mere entertainment, but can serve a role in helping create empathy and change perspectives.

Yaba Badoe: Fire, Stars and Witches (Saturday 1 September 2.30-3.30pm, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū)

Magical Realism is a beautiful genre of literature with narratives that can displace time and space or use magic as a metaphorical device through which to tell fantastic story rich in cultural relevance. A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars author Yaba Badoe is a great international author of the genre of magical realism in addition to being an accomplished filmmaker and will be in discussion with University of Canterbury PhD candidate Sionainn Byrnes. This talk promises to explore issues surrounding women in Africa in addition to magical realist fiction itself.

Laurie Winkless: Science and the City (Saturday 1 September 4-5pm, Phillip Carter Family Concert Hall)

A topic that should be at the heart of all Christchurch locals. Following the tragedy that was the Christchurch Earthquakes, everyone – bar none – has had an opinion on how the rebuild has progressed and what should have been done. Laurie Winkless, author of Science and the City, will provide specialised knowledge on the subject that is well informed through studies of cities from all over the world and explore the scientific considerations of cities.

New Regent Street Pop-Up Festival (Thursday 30 August, 6-7.20pm, New Regent Street)

A glorious event for young and old. The New Regent Street Pop-Up Festival is my favourite event from Word Festival’s prior, and it’s free! This event will bring world class talent to New Regent Street in multiple pop-up events as the street is turned into a festival celebrating the literary form. The New Regent Street Pop-Up Festival will make you wish New Regent street was like this everyday.

David Neiwert: Alt-America (Thursday 30 August 6-7pm, Philip Carter Family Concert Hall)

David Neiwert. Image supplied.

American journalist David Neiwert will be talking about his book Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Time of Trump, in an attempt to explain what is actually happening in the American political landscape at present. What promises to be a great and informative event, David Neiwert will historicise the rise of this seemingly overnight political phenomena to the 1990s as he discusses his work in tracking and following the far-right in American politics for multiple decades.

Ted Chiang: Arrival (Sunday 2 September 2.45-3.45pm. Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū)

The Science Fiction Author of Story of Your Life, which was adapted into the film Arrival, Ted Chiang will be in conversation with science fiction and fantasy author Karen Healey. Expect and interesting and philosophical conversation from this thought provoking and awarding winning author.

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