I love the Sea and books about the Sea. Thrillingly rough and washing up over carparks or velvet-smooth, there is something at once wild and calming about its compelling expanse.
Although I swim until March, Philip Hoare is a man who swims in the ocean every day (at 4.30am), no matter where in the world he may be, or whatever the season. He was not to be deterred by Canterbury’s spring temperatures, which swung from ‘damp and drizzly’ (Melville) to very welcome sparkly sunshine within a day.
Hosting a workshop and documentary on the classic Moby-Dick and speaking at WORD Christchurch Festival about the inspiration for his books, Philip shared his wonder of the ocean with the redoubtable Kim Hill for a large audience.
Risingtidefallingstar is Hoare’s latest book. Following a common thread this WORD Festival, in Risingtide Philip also blurs the lines between fact and fiction in an alliterative tidal flow that combines the mystical with tales of experience; taking the reader on a journey to discover how the ocean has influenced human life, literature, art, and essentially, ourselves.
To signpost this journey back to our primal selves, Hoare refers to many wonderful works of art and literature inspired by the Ocean itself. Shakespeare’s Tempest, Spenser’s Faerie Queen, the works of Shelley and of course the master of high sea adventure, Herman Melville; absorbed all and more of these, including the Bible.
At times in human story the Ocean is appears to be a metaphor for Nature’s evil. But in doing so it raises the question of, “Can Nature be evil?” turning the spotlight on perhaps the true villain, man:
“Humans have become disconnected from the natural world”
“Our vocabulary, speech, has distanced us.”
Here Hoare apologises for not speaking Whale. (We later discover that Waitaha can speak whale. That’s another story.)
What struck me was how similar to humans whales can be, not just physically (our bone structures are very similar). But maybe more evolved as they stuck to their path, and weren’t distracted by dreams of land (like the little Mermaid, to her doom). Whales define themselves by each other, says Hoare; like family, and are never alone.
Humans are defined by our larger culture, Philip himself relating poignantly to the death of iconic David Bowie, whose loss was felt worldwide, while he was writing this book. Bowie is, of course, the Falling Star.
We return to the subject of swimming. Whilst in Canterbury, Philip has taken a dip at Sumner Beach, and in Akaroa. He’s heading north to sunny Nelson next. The ritual of swimming is for Hoare a meditation, made more sensual by being done in darkness. In times gone by, Monks meditated in the sea, immersed in its timelessness.
“Why do you do it?” Asks a relentlessly funny Kim Hill.
“To leave it all behind,” replies Philip, “the Earth, earthly problems, gravity itself.”
It’s not really a festival until you have your mettle tested by an event that you chose to blog on only to find that it ticks only some of your boxes, scrapes its nails down the walls of your brain in other ways, and it all happens after a ferocious argument with a car guard because your car has been completely parked in while he stood and watched it happening.
That event this festival is Let Love In with Michele A’Court and Soraya M. Lane. In my hugely flustered state I arrived filled with Assumptions (very non PC, we’re not supposed to make those any more) and Expectations (they are still OK). I assumed there would be no men in the audience – I was almost correct, there were three. My expectation was that this event would be light-hearted and entertaining, and it was – but with more of a feminist slant than I expected or wanted.
Romance writing is a huge market and Soraya candidly confessed that she makes very good money out of it from novels like Hearts of Resistance (2018). In the United States alone at any one point in time there are 29 million readers of Romance and 35% of all fiction written in the States belongs in that genre. Both authors felt very strongly that when men put down Romance fiction writers they are simultaneously putting down all those readers as well.
Soraya gets a lot of positive feedback from readers – mainly older women who urge her to write faster as they are running out of time to hear more of her stories about women of their generation. I was developing such a head of steam by that stage that I found this vaguely ageist. In her novels Soraya is a fan of flawed characters who show development over the span of the story. Nothing wrong with that. She has a talent for dangling the “happy ever after” carrot after she has “twisted the romance knife in even deeper”.
Michele has just published a book on 42 contemporary New Zealand love stories in How We Met (2018). These stories are not only about how couples met and fell in love, but also about how they have stayed together. Even though all the couples denied still being romantic, it was clear that they still were, only in different ways from when they were in the first flush of new love. Michele found that couples who fell in love sometimes remembered it very differently, but in the act of talking about it, they often managed to recreate that feeling all over again. Her book underscores that there are many different ways of loving.
At last someone said something positive about men – Michele confessed that many of the men that she interviewed were very proud of sustaining relationships, it was every bit as important to them as it was to the women. And both Soraya and Michele said that men also read their books, maybe not many, but it is a start.
By then I had calmed down a bit. And I very nearly asked a question: What did they think of the title of this event “Let Love In”? The “let” implying that we have some kind of control over falling in love. It’s never been like that for me. It’s just come barrelling in uninvited. But I missed the opportunity and my moment passed.
Today at Christchurch’s The Piano, a packed out audience was treated to a hilarious hour with Shaun Bythell. His beloved Diary of a Bookseller charts a year in the life of the largest second hand bookshop in Scotland. It is one of the ultimate books about books, packed with stories of eccentric book buyers, sound book recommendations, and accounts of stock purchase trips to auction houses and estates. It also perfectly evokes life in a small rural town, namely Wigtown, a picturesque sounding location by the sea.
The session opened with a music video – not just any music video but one set in Bythell’s gorgeous shop, complete with staff vocals.
Brian Phillips was the perfect host, launching straight into the interview by simply allowing Shaun Bythell to be Shaun Bythell, letting the session flow along beautifully and naturally. Bythell read a passage from Orwell’s ‘Bookshop Memories’ in which he described bookshops as seemingly beacons for ‘certifiable lunatics’. Bythell assured the audience that things have ‘changed a little’ since Orwell’s time.
Lovers of ‘Diary of a Book Seller’ will already be aware that there is more than an edge of misanthropy to be detected in Bythell’s narrative – with barbed (though most probably very lifelike) observations of his customers, and reflections on the hardships that often come with owning a bookstore in the age of Amazon. This response will therefore have come as no surprise. Despite this though, there is an odd sensitivity about Bythell. There is a touching moment in his diaries when he describes the books he purchases from deceased estates
Going through the books of the person who has died affords an insight into who that person was, their interests and, to a degree, their personality’
Then conversely (or perhaps reassuringly depending on your viewpoint), five minutes after this we are back to comments such as
‘a whistling customer with a ponytail and what I can only assume was a hat he’d borrowed from a clown bought a copy of Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist, I suspect deliberately to undermine my faith in humanity and dampen my spirits further’.
How many customers have been offended by Bythell’s book? ‘Not enough’ Shaun replied, then more specifically – none so far as he knows, with the exception of ‘bum-bag Davies’. But really, says Bythell, all he has done is describe people’s behaviour – “if you’re rude – tough, don’t be rude and you won’t get into the book”. Shaun confessed that when he started writing the book, he was disappointed when his customers were not rude, “I needed material”.
Phillips then asked how his staff felt about his depictions of them, more specifically, Nicky – his proud bin foraging employee. Nicky, happily was fine with the book, even the narrative of the ‘bible battle’ (Nicky, a firm Jehovah’s witness would take great pleasure in putting Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’ in the fiction section, while Shaun would repay this gesture by putting the bible in fiction as well). Bythell shared that Nicky now has her dream job chopping down trees – she did not however ask for a reference. To be fair, said Bythell, I would have given her a glowing one.
This inevitably raised the subject of Bythell’s infamous reference for Sarah, an ex teenage employee, in which amongst other things, he observed that ‘she never, in the entire three years of her time here, did anything constructive… and was offensive and frequently violent to me” and in conclusion ‘was a valued member of staff and I have no hesitation in recommending her’. Bythell confirmed that he and Sarah are still good friends.
Phillips asked how Bythell’s leap into the book selling world came about. Shaun explained that in his twenties, he made a conscious decision not to pursue a career, which ‘became a career decision of its own’. He popped into the bookshop which was at that time owned by John, a man he had known for many years. “We were having a natter” said Shaun, “I was talking about how I was at a loose end and John said he wanted to retire… why didn’t I buy the bookshop off him?”. In response to Shaun’s observation that he had no money, John simply replied ‘That’s what banks are for’. And so Shaun bought the business knowing nothing about bookselling or running a business. Seventeen years later, added Shaun “I still don’t”.
Has he always been a keen reader? Shaun’s response was that yes, he was, then he added the universal truth that “as soon as you become a bookseller you stop reading”.
Shaun shared that his favourite part of being a bookseller is the buying, rather than the selling – nice as getting the money is. You soon learn to let go of your misconceptions, he says, as sometimes the most stately castle can offer nothing, while a small bungalow can hold some gems. ‘You never know what you are going to find’.
Shaun also shared some quirks about his shop which were missing from the video – including a miniature railway and broken kindle. The kindle has a plaque which reads ‘Shaun Bythell shot this’, the result of a tutorial on how to fix your kindle. Shaun described this as one of the most satisfying things he has ever done, and the most photographed thing in the shop.
There was a surprise revelation that Shaun has actually written another book ‘Tripe Advisor’ complete with Trip Advisor logo on its cover. This was in response to Shaun’s own trip advisor comment being taken down from the website, in which he described the shopowner as being “wonderfully fragrant”, amongst other generous claims. The book has had some fantastic contributions from Shaun’s Facebook followers too amongst them a review from ‘book hater’ bemoaning the fact that they hate books, and only came to the shop because they were advised there was a hunky Scottish bookseller there. They looked everywhere but only found ‘a curly headed ginger lady’. Actually, as Shaun will have no doubt heard many times, it is hard not to spot a similarity between Bythell and Bernard from Black Books – just replace the red curly hair with black, and just tone Bernard’s manner down a bit and you’re there.
How did Diary of a Book Seller come about? It was an idea that Shaun had had for a while but almost given up on when Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops came out in 2012. Happily for us, Shaun pursued his idea, deciding on a diary form instead. Shaun described the original diary as being along the lines of ‘today customer dropped book – farted’ and upon sending it to a literary agent was told that it needed more – well – writing.
Shaun also shared the exciting news that there is a sequel to Diary of a Bookseller on its way. It is written, he confirmed, and will probably be out next year. “To be honest though its just the same as the first one”‘ he added encouragingly. After such an entertaining hour with Shaun Bythell, I am only feeling all the more excited for Diary of a Bookseller 2 in spite of the hilarious deprecation of its talented writer.
Barbara Else, author of Go Girl! – a Who’s who of adventurous Kiwi women, (make that a Storybook of Epic NZ Women), written for young readers – shared some of her own magic tricks on inspiring readers young and old. She followed in the footsteps of another author we knew and cherished; the colourful Margaret Mahy.
Barbara is a great believer in that whatever will inspire a child (or an adult) to read, is a good place to start. Trends suggest that a lot of young readers prefer non-fiction, hence the idea for Go! Girls. Yet this is cleverly disguised as a story book, much like you might hide good vegetables in the mince.
According to National Library, there are few people in New Zealand reading for pleasure (i.e.stories) in the 21st Century. They are responding with a project to entice Kiwis back to the ‘stillness, escapism and replenishment’ of reading fiction and fantasy.
Barbara couldn’t stress enough the importance of reading to children, which in turn becomes an individual pleasure as the child grows up. From the stillness and reassurance of developing listening skills in a mother’s lap (which stimulates brain networks, we were told by a member of the audience), Barbara’s stories are aimed at giving agency to the child protagonist, a voice that affirms their experience of the world. The glow of hope at the end gives the child the courage to imagine for themselves.
It’s important to carry on reading as an adult, remembering that our experience is shared, and a way to escape into considering the big issues, while reading of others’ journeys.
Non-fiction stories help young people to contemplate their own place in the world, says Barbara, fostering their own imaginations to dream beyond the real and everyday, into the future.
Barbara touched on the importance of women in story, citing Fiona Kidman as helping it to dawn on her that using male protagonists was a default for authors. While strong female characters, ‘defending themselves from oppression’ are a feature of Else’s books, characters such as Jasper in The Travelling Restaurant; a vulnerable male lead who uses his wits to care for others, was received with overwhelming interest by boys and girls.
“Each story demands its own audience. I can’t tell the audience what to think.”
Barbara describes the process as an alchemy;
“to challenge, provoke and reassure, as a mother’s voice would do.”
Spring has arrived at last, and the sun is shining! But the final day of winter here in Christchurch was a cold and wet one, so it was nice to be holed up in the warm and welcoming Hell Fire Club in Lyttelton last night for an evening of performance poetry as part of the WORD Christchurch Festival.
We heard from three poets at the top of their game, expertly hosted by local Ciáran Fox, who kept things moving along in tag-team fashion.
First up was Michael Pedersen from Leith in Scotland, winner of a Robert Louis Stevenson award, amongst others, who kicked off with the title poem from his recent collection Oyster. Tall, wiry, and charismatic, with a mop-top haircut and mellifluous lilting Scottish brogue, he was the epitome of self-assured creativity and Celtic coolness. This was a tour de force in embodied performance. He was animated as he spoke, his body moving around to the rhythm of his poetry, bobbing up and down slightly, leaning forwards into the mic to emphasise certain syllables and cadences, as words tumbled out of him effortlessly.
After a short set, it was the turn of Dominic ‘Tourettes’ Hoey from Auckland to entertain us with his unique brand of kiwi slacker wordsmithing. He started with a few short poems written “in the car on the way here” read from scraps of paper that he tossed aside as if they were useless ephemera rather than carefully constructed one-liners from a literary master-craftsman. It wasn’t always clear where his conversational interjections ended and the poems began, as Hoey didn’t seem capable of saying anything that wasn’t charged with an undercurrent of unpretentious poetic meaning.
Before return sets from Pedersen and Hoey we heard all too briefly from a surprise guest, the incredible Omar Musa who gave us just one very powerful poem about his homeland re-imagined as “Un-Australia”.
Inevitably, one of the themes that emerged from all four poets who took the stage was the role of the arts in modern society, and the mood seemed gloomy and combative, but not without some upbeat moments. At one point, Ciáran invited us to imagine an empty stadium for a Crusaders game. “Where is everyone”, they would ask? “Down the road at the poetry reading” would come the reply. The audience loved it. We can only dream!
It’s a long time since I’ve been to see live poetry, but last night I was transfixed and entranced and based on the richness of the experience, I’m sure I will be going again very soon, and much more often. In fact, if the quality continues to remain this high, I can imagine becoming an obsessed regular.
It certainly was a rather star-studded affair on Friday night at the Isaac Theatre Royal for WORD Christchurch’s gala event. Everywhere a person turned there were famous faces about; Helen Clark striding past on the footpath out front, Michele A’Court queuing at the bar in the foyer, Georgina Beyer chatting in the row in front of me metres away from Ted Chiang in one direction and Juno Dawson in another. What fine company to be in of an evening.
Festival director Rachael King opened proceedings with a valiantly lengthy introduction in te reo Māori (with help, it turned out from Ngāi Tahu Māori language advocate and educator Hana O’Regan). She admitted that the programme she and her team and brought together was “unashamedly feminist” and challenging, exhorting the audience to “see one session a day that scares you”*.
From there MC John Campbell took the reins, confessing that he can be a difficult man to pin down, refusing as he does to reply to any kind of communications (phone calls, emails and the like), but that King is “as tenacious and unbowed as the city itself” and hence his appearance at this event.
I don’t know what John Campbell is like as a gift-giver (if his Christmas presents are rushed affairs or precisely wrapped and carefully considered) but his compliments… his compliments are like finely crafted jewels – cut and polished, thoroughly researched, and presented in a bespoke arrangement you’ll never have the like of again. Each writer, in their turn, was the recipient of John Campbell Compliments™ and I can’t imagine I’m the only one who felt jealous.
The usual pattern for these events is for each of seven writers to take seven minutes to read something or tell a story with the MC making introductions in between. But rather than disturb the flow like a “judderbar” in the evening, Campbell preferred to bring all the writers out in a line-up (like a literary beauty pageant), and introduce (and compliment) them in the beginning, making links and connections between them as he went on.
The overriding them between, he thought, was the shared struggle to be human. What I am and what I am not. The question we all ask.
First up was Ngāi Tahu storyteller Joseph Hullen who reflected on what it had been like growing up in Christchurch, and how his mother’s Ngāi Tahu whakapapa was barely visible in the city, with only a few places like Te Hepara Pai (Church of the Good Shepherd) on Ferry Road or Rehua Marae on Springfield Road that reflected any sense of a Māori presence or identity in the city. But things have changed and his hapu, Ngai Tuahūriri now have Matapopore, a organisation that is adding touches of his people’s identity into the fabric of Christchurch. The name of the new central library, Tūranga being a prime example of this, referencing as it does, the arrival place of Paikea the father of Ngāi Tahu’s eponymous ancestor, Tahu Pōtiki, and the knowledge he brought with him.
Scot, Robin Robertson took the stage next and brought a voice filled with menace and foreboding telling several dark tales in poem form, including one about a cat dying of cancer. His last piece, an invented Scots narrative about selkies, he dedicated to King, the author of Red Rocks, and children’s novel about the self-same mythic seal-creatures.
Robertson was followed by Yaba Badoe reading the opening chapter of her book A jigsaw of fire and stars. In it a baby is set adrift to escape a devastating event, bringing to mind mythic versions of the “floating foundling baby” like that of Moses, Maui, or even Superman.
Hollie McNish read some of her poetry and I found my eyes moistening as she spoke of her daughter in poems like “Wow”. The power of seeing a new, young person figuring out the world and their place in it conjures up powerful emotions for McNish, and secondhand, for me.
Wellingtonian novellist Rajorshi Chakraborti talked about the genesis of his book The man who would not see. It started out as what became “the book that could not be” – a nonfiction tale about the disappearance of his father’s sister. After hours and hours of research that led to a re-connection of estranged segments of his family it became apparent that publishing the book would damage that family connection. in the end, he says “the family member in me trumped the writer”. And so he repurposed and reshaped his research into a novel instead.
Whale-lover Philip Hoare read a couple of extracts from RisingTideFallingStar, stepping out from behind the podium and reading in a most kinetic way, gets his whole body into the reading, acting out certain actions and movements of the protagonist as he went. The language is sensuous and descriptive and you can nearly smell the salt air.
Finally Sonya Renee Taylor explains that there are two kinds of fear, fear of the unknown and fear of the dangerous. We should try not “the fog of the unknown” because there may well be nothing there to harm us. As the free-diver she met in the Bahamas, who dives down into the depths of the unknown, says “every metre is a tiny freedom”. Her poem about her mother’s belly made me cry again, but her “The body is not an apology” ends the night on a triumphant and defiant note.
What you really want from a session called “You write funny!” is for there to be writers and for them to be humorous. It’s pretty much right there in the title. You’re expecting to laugh a bit. And certainly this Friday night session at WORD Christcchurch Festival 2018 MCed by the affable Ray Shipley filled the bill.
The laughing, however, was expedited by Shipley’s careful, “kindly primary school teacher” style coaching, leading the audience through some “little titters” to start with, and eventually even, some good, old-fashioned cackling. “All laughs,” we were told “are valid and important“.
So that was a good place to start from.
The line-up of reading authors was largely unfamiliar to me but the feelings of amusement and genuine laughter (did the coaching and practice beforehand make for a better quality of chuckle?) weren’t. This is what funny sounds like.
First up was Erik Kennedy (author of poetry collection There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime) who read three poems all with a wry serve of humour, “You cannot teach creative writing”, “Get a pet with a longer live span than humans have”, and in between, a strange take on Christmas heavily influenced by the content of spam emails. I can’t really explain this poem except to say that it was simultaneously more AND less weird than it sounds.
Megan Dunn read excerpts from her book Tinderbox, about her time working at a Borders bookstore. Much of the time Dunn read with a sly, knowing smirk on her face… that was fully justified. Her tales of retail reminded me more than a little of my experiences working in libraries as well as the self-confessional style of David Sedaris, in particular the essay Santaland Diaries about his time working as a Christmas elf at Macy’s Department store.
It eventuates that I find both David Sedaris and Megan Dunn hilarious.
Dunn was followed by poet Chris Tse (author of poetry collection He’s so MASC) and his poem, Wasted, was a hit with the audience. Wasted is a treatise on the sort of men who don’t get drinks thrown in their faces nearly as often as they deserve. Though he admits there are few workable alternatives,
Only a monster would throw a bowl of chips in this economy.
Lastly Annaleese Jochems took the stage reading, from her book Baby, an exquisitely awkward scene of backyard fitness instruction that made me feel more squirmy than amused, but many people in the audience let loose their best cackles in response, so I might have been alone in that.
All in all, You write funny! gave my laughing muscles a good, solid workout.
Much like Juno Dawson’s fiction, this talk covered a wide range of topics, from her latest novel Clean — a realistic look at heroin addiction and withdrawal through the lens of its socialite heroine, Lexi Volkov — to her shared love of the Spice Girls with interviewer and fellow Young Adult author Karen Healey, to Doctor Who and Juno’s upcoming tie-in novel featuring the new reincarnation of the Doctor played by Jodie Whittaker.
Asked about the genesis of Clean, Juno talked about her own experience with drug education as a teen (similar to the sex education talk in Mean Girls), her stint travelling around teaching teachers how to deliver sex and drugs education, and her research into what leads people into addiction. From speaking to a range of participants in the 12 steps programme she found that what they all had in common was that they could trace the seeds of their addiction back to when they were in their early teens.
When I was a teenager people we knew were starting to experiment with drugs, and we couldn’t help but notice that they didn’t die. You take drugs and nothing happens, you don’t take them and immediately end up on the streets. That’s how you become addicted: it’s a slow process, addiction creeps up on you and you have this constant sense of unrealistic optimism, that you’re in control. You’ll think it’s fine until three or four years down the line when it’s not.
From drugs to girl power: What made the Spice Girls such a revelation for so many young people? “They were five ordinary girls who got out.” Rather than the refined, polished pop stars of today, the Spice Girls looked like the local girl gang scrounging for cigarettes outside the fish and chip shop. Aspirational but in a relatable way. Identifying as a presenting male fan of the Spice Girls wasn’t easy, however, and it was then that Juno began to opt out of the mainstream and gave up on the notion of being a boy.
What about the phenomenon of male authors being praised for writing about teen girls while female authors get sidelined? Juno had two responses, one being support for more platforms and publishing deals for authors from minority groups – “we need those voices, those are the people who’ll do it the best, who’ll have that authenticity” — but also as a writer the job is literally to imagine what it’s like to be other people. “Otherwise we’ll all be writing memoirs until the end of time.” A lot of the praise for male authors writing female protagonists also stems from the idea that those experiences are difficult for someone else to imagine, as opposed to the default of straight boyhood which anyone could identify with. “It’s frustrating when male authors are disproportionately praised… That said, a lot of the big names in YA are people like Judy Blume. I feel very privileged to write under the legacy of women like her.”
Speaking of identifying with the other, what’s it like writing about the alien, two-hearted traveller in a magic police box?
I always imagined myself (and still imagine myself) as the companion. The companions are the audience discovering the universe, the Doctor is actually the sidekick. The Doctor should always be a slightly unknown quantity. Fans [reading my book] will quickly recognise that Jodie Whittaker is still the Doctor, there’s no difference — it’s the same character as the thirteen men who have played this alien. If you can’t handle her being the Doctor then you’re going to struggle with the notion of fantasy as a genre.
Is it a Young Adult author’s responsibility to provide hope in their books?
Sometimes we react to triggers, but is it fear of tackling something, fear you might need to change something in your life? Or is it putting you in danger? Is reading this book going to damage you? You need to decide for yourself whether you’re just scared (in which case the book might help) or you’re in trouble and aren’t in a place to read it.
That said, Karen posited that addressing difficult topics in fiction can make it easier to discuss, Juno agreeing:
It provides just two of three degrees of separation so you can deal with real things in a safe space.
Helen entered the political arena in the time of the clamouring for a nuclear-free Pacific and was very much involved in New Zealand declaring itself nuclear-free, barring the USS Buchanan from entering NZ waters and splitting from ANZUS to forge our own independent political policy stance, also incurring the wrath of our Australian allies who remained subservient to US demands. (Thought: I wonder if Helen ever met Peter Garrett of Midnight Oil)
In 1987, Helen Clark became a Cabinet minister in the Fourth Labour Government, led by David Lange (1984–1989), Geoffrey Palmer (1989–1990) and Mike Moore (1990). As Minister of Health in 1989 she was instrumental in bringing in the Smokefree Act which brought about the tobacco lobby’s PR doing a “hatchet job” on her. But she is still proud of what she achieved as Minister of Health and Kiwis now breathe fresher air in bars and restaurants and other public places.
She regretted that her Employment Equity Bill was “killed by Bill Birch”. She feels that the Gender Pay Gap may have narrowed or closed if it had passed into law.
Helen Clark became the Leader of the Opposition on 1 December 1993. And in 1995, she met Nelson Mandela at a CHOGM conference which was held that year in Auckland. He told her that he really valued New Zealand’s opposition to apartheid and that the prisoners on Robben Island had cheered when they heard that the Hamilton game of the 1981 Springbok tour was cancelled due to protest actions.
Clark said she was inspired by many global women world leaders such as many in Latin America and Africa and “the two Marys” who had been Presidents of Ireland and made a powerful difference to Irish society.
And in 1999, Clark made New Zealand history when she became the first elected female Prime Minister.
Despite all her work and the work of others, Clark felt that, in New Zealand society, women were still under-represented at every political and business level. She felt we still had “a big issue” with sexual and gender-based violence and quoted the Women, Peace and security annual survey done by the University of Georgetown in Washington D.C. which placed New Zealand at 18th which Clark said was “just not good enough”. Iceland was Number One so they were obviously doing something very right for their women.
Clark had so much more to say in her hour onstage about Brash and pervasive racism; how climate change killed more women than men; how having a decent, warm home is a fundamental of a fair society; how media scrutiny of women leaders verged on the ridiculous; about Australia’s treatment and detention of refugees; about how the European so-called “Migration crisis” completely forgot about the past colonial spread of European powers into Africa, Asia, the Pacific and South America; how young women had more opportunities now than when she was a young woman to aspire to high levels of leadership in every sphere of society.
I must end with a quote that had all the audience, men included, laughing out loud. When Clark and Dalziel were discussing the “glass ceiling”, Clark quoted Laura Liswood, the Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders, who said that she never talked about the glass ceiling because she preferred to call it “a thick layer of men”.
I doubt there are many literary – or related – events where you have the author, one of their subjects and an audience made up of people who have been through many of the events described, to a greater or lesser extent, in the place where one of the events took place.
This was the setting for ‘Earthquakes and Family Ties’, a discussion about Chessie Henry’s new book We can make a life, which was also officially launched on Thursday night. Bronwyn Hayward was hosting and Chessie’s dad, Chris, was also part of a fascinating and moving conversation.
This was they first time that Chessie and Chris had talked about the book in public, [pause while I take a call from someone requesting this very book] a memoir of their family, their relationships, brushes with disasters, and a reflection on grief and loss in its many forms.
Chris is a GP and worked in Lyttelton a few years back before taking his family to Tokelau. Unfortunately Chessie and her brothers caught dengue fever and were very seriously ill – and Chris was pretty much the only doctor. Serious at the time, they now laugh about the experience, a powerful shared family memory.
The nucleus of the book is a conversation between Chessie and Chris that took place when they were driving down from Kaikōura in early 2017, where Chris is now based. In it Chris finally tells his story of the work he did as an early responder at the CTV building on 22nd February 2011, working to rescue those trapped. You can read an extract in The Spinoff, but tread carefully as it is a powerful story.
There are so many stories of that time, many that are still being uncovered and shared. It is so important to record these events, not just as history, but – as Chris says – as a practical response to disasters. We learned so many lessons and it’s crucial to record and share them.
Chris received a bravery award for his work at the CTV site. Yet doing so was confusing for him – he was glad to have this this difficult experience acknowledged, but he didn’t like being singled out and felt some kind of impostor syndrome. This huge event had, not surprisingly, a big effect on him. The conversation with Chessie forced him to open up and was like a dam bursting. Chris wasn’t okay. He was burnt out. But by acknowledging that and admitting vulnerability he was able to work through things.
I could easily write a lot more – about lost homes and Kaikōura, about advocating for rural GPs, and about the CTV families who spoke afterwards – reminding us that no one has been held responsible for the disaster. This was an incredible session. Kia ora Chessie, Chris and Bronwyn.