Nanogirl: Cooking with Science! – WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Dr Michelle Dickinson wants everyone, everywhere to enjoy a meaningful relationship with STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics).

She introduced her book and her mission to a sold-out crowd of kids and whānau. If you missed her on Sunday, get ready for Nanogirl Live! “Out of this World!” – a Live Science Spectacular on at the Isaac Theatre Royal on Saturday 17 November 2018. Her bus is Paul McCartney’s old tour bus rigged out in a science-focused fashion, and it will be coming to Christchurch in a Hercules plane. There’s also a TV show Nanogirl and the Imaginauts coming soon to the TVNZ app HeiHei.

Michelle explained her mission  – “teaching kids to have fun experiences with different technology”. Her nanotechnology career has involved cool jobs such as designing concept cars that will tap you on the shoulder if there is a cyclist behind you, and know if you are feeling a bit bleak and make your commute home go past the beach. She also helped devise a 6 nanometre wide coating for iPhones to protect the screen.

Then she talked about her new book The Kitchen Science Cookbook. It came from the idea that you can sneak science into a recipe book:

Home is where the learning is probably more powerful.

The book took three years of experimenting, and a determination that the recipes be achievable for all families, using what is in the kitchen.  After shopping it to publishers who wanted to skimp on production values (she wanted the ribbon/bookmark in her book), she made the decision to self publish. Michelle used Facebook to solicit recipe testers. People were keen as.  A Kickstarter campaign raised the necessary money ($85,462). Her father in law took the photos.

10,000 books have been sold already, and for each one sold, one goes to a needy family or school and there is a connection to organisations like Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and Pillars (for families with parents in prison).

Next up, it was kitchen science ahoy – and kids got to head up on stage to be part of the experiments. Can crushers, unicorn noodles, edible earthworms, chicken in a cup, centrifugal force – it was brilliant to watch, and kids had their hands in the air, desperate to get up on stage and do some kitchen science.

Photos from Nanogirl! Cooking with science

Nanogirl: Cooking with Science
Nanogirl: Cooking with Science<

The question from the audience were the tops:

How long have you been a scientist?
I have been a scientist since I was 8.

What is your absolute fave experiment?
Ones where I blow things up, like the 66 gallon drum crush.

And my personal fave:

Can you please come to my birthday?

Yup, Nanogirl is a rock star.

Postscript:
My scientist made marbled milk this afternoon.
Marbled milk experiment from The Kitchen Science Cookbook

The Kitchen Science Cookbook

Motherhood – Emily Writes & Hollie McNish: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

There was a welcome number of baby bumps and wee ones in the audience for the WORD Christchurch session on Motherhood with Kiwi blogger and The Spinoff Parents editor Emily Writes – who has recently launched her second book on parenting – Is It Bedtime Yet?  – and British superstar poet Hollie McNish, known for her poetry and writings on the lesser talked about aspects of pregnancy, birth and parenting, collated in Nobody Told Me.

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Emily Writes and Hollie McNish, at WORD Christchurch, September 2018

When Emily wasn’t sure whether to sit or stand to start off the session with a reading from her book, moderator Catherine Robertson jokingly suggested she just pretend that the audience are all in bed and that Emily is reading to us at our bedside. By the size of the sold-out audience, it’s evident even adults love being read to.

CoverIn the anthology Is It Bedtime Yet? Emily has edited together different perspectives of parenthood, be they single parenting, parenting from a Māori perspective, parenting a child with a disability or learning needs, older mothers, queer parents conceiving, stay-at-home dads and more. The variety of experiences shows that there are so many versions of normal parenting. Emily has said there is a danger in a single story or narrative of parenting so by sharing multiple variations of parenting it fosters empathy and the reassurance that actually, we’re doing it okay. Here, mothers are both equally ordinary and extraordinary.

This is most certainly not an advice book – just personal situations, reflections or a snippet in time on a parenting continuum. You can dip into the book anywhere – there are 50 short vignettes with half of them written by Emily herself and interspersed throughout the book. The stories range from poignant to the comedic. In interviews for this book, Emily has said: “We are all so different in the way we parent but that can be a thing that unites us.” She hopes these stories “make us change just a little bit in our day-to-day interaction with each other as parents – or to parents.”

The personal stories shared in Is It Bedtime Yet? are from both never before published writers as well as established authors, some of whom also regularly write for the The Spinoff Parents website. Humorous highlights from the book include musings on “competi-parents” – even those unwittingly being competitive without meaning to; the myth of the magical creature known as ‘the relaxed mother’; the anti-glitter brigade and the realisation that we’re not just mothers, we’re sudden experts in palaeontology to our dinosaur mad kids. The confessions chapter was especially funny! And after reading one dad’s vasectomy story, I will never see The Wiggles the same again!

CoverThere are plenty of WTF? moments in parenting shared in the book. And there’s no holding back on the use of the F word but unfortunately for the parents contributing, there’s not a lot of the Zzzzz word (which may have something to do with the former?) Ironically it was Emily’s lack of sleep after having babies that meant she had plenty of time (albiet in the wee hours) to write and we are benefiting from that with her books like Rants in the Dark: From one tired mama to another. “I’ve always been someone who writes to work out my feelings.” She hopes her books are like “a friend in the dark” as they offer realistic views of parenting versus idealistic notions. Judging by the 15,000+ emails she says she got right after her initial sleep-deprived parenting post (“I am grateful, now f*** off!”) went viral in 2015, there’s a few friends out there in the dark indeed. One mother in the audience said perhaps if she had been given books like Emily’s when she had her babies – instead of just Gina Ford parenting books – then she might have been a lot better off.

There’s one chapter which is just a literal recording of what Emily says to her wee son one day, starting from 5:00am. We don’t get to hear the child’s replies but the one-sided conversation of “put your shoes on” is oh so familiar. I read this transcription to my young son and he thought it was hilarious and spot-on, just change a few words and it could be any parent repetitively saying the same basic instructions to their kid and then amplifying their pleas with hollow threats.

There’s a few piss-takes in the book too and Emily read to the audience her humorous chapter on parenting styles. Move over ‘helicopter parenting’ and make way for the ‘cucumber’ style of parenting which consists of just giving your kid the only food they’ll happily eat. In this case, cucumber! Someone needs to invent a word for laughter crying because there was a lot of it coming from both the audience and guest speakers. In fact, before doing her reading, poet Hollie McNish shared her bemusement at Emily’s cucumber parenting description since she herself has pictures of her own child sharing a pram with a whole cucumber. (My first child too was so obsessed with cucumber to the point that he can be seen wielding one in the birth photos of his sibling). But Emily has ultimately decided on the style of parenting she got from growing up with the Cub Scout motto of ‘We will do our best’ – not ‘do THE best’ she clarifies – just YOUR best! And as Emily inscribed in her book at the author signing afterwards, “Hang in there!” – perhaps that’s a parenting style too?

HOLLIE McNISH

CoverRight on the back of National Poetry Day last week, we were privileged to have British poet Hollie McNish appearing at the festival at several sessions, including this one. Hollie writes of the shared unspoken experiences of pregnancy and motherhood and read a poem from her book on these themes, Nobody Told Me. The poem, Megatron, was inspired by her first post-birth date-night where her then partner took her to see the movie Transformers and after they had argued about who was the best Transformer, she realised she had become the ultimate transformer herself after giving birth – rib cages moving, hips widening, breasts becoming milk machines. Hollie only read one poem in this session and I would have loved to have heard more. Hollie became well-known for her poem about the stigma of breastfeeding in public, entitled Embarrassed, which got quite a reaction when it was published – both positive thanks as well as hate mail. Hollie wondered where this hate came from in the world – literally – so she checked the analytics on her website and saw a lot of abuse came from the United States – especially places like Texas where in fact, she discovered, there is a secret breastfeeding club of mothers too embarrassed to breastfeed in public or face religious vilification.

Watch the well-directed video for Hollie’s poem Embarrassed:

Hollie has noticed, while touring, that it is easier to be a parent in Europe in places like Sweden or France and that a lot of urban design isn’t made with parenting in mind (eg. don’t put sweets at the checkout counter!) Hollie was jealous that in France mothers get a year’s worth of free physiotherapy to help them regain their pelvic floor strength after birth. Hollie joked that she was doing her pelvic Kegel exercises “right now” in her chair on stage. Hollie and Emily are very open about ‘taboo’ subjects and they touched on things we don’t talk enough about like post-birth prolapse, sex after birth or even resorting to using our children’s nappies for ourselves in dire moments. It was perhaps apt that I accidentally pulled out my ticket for the WORD ‘Mortification’ show instead of my ‘Motherhood’ ticket when I went to enter the session. Sometimes society makes us feels as if these two go hand in hand but Hollie’s point is, they absolutely shouldn’t! Hollie wondered if people found pregnant women or breastfeeding confronting, in part, because people – like her grandparents – “could finally see I had sex.” In her grandmother’s day she said women weren’t allowed to talk about their vaginas or bleeding and sometimes didn’t even know where they had given birth from.

Regarding the disdain directed at mothers, likewise, Emily said that after giving birth she suddenly felt unwelcome in places she used to go, like cafes. Emily suggested we need to do away with the ‘half-human’ view of babies – and that we should view children as active members of society instead of waiting until they are fully-formed or until they become “tax-paying units” to consider them of equal worth in society. She also questioned the double-standard that happens when a guy goes out-and-about with a baby and onlookers are full of praise for what a wonderful dad he is whereas a mother with children is looked at in worry for when her kids might be an annoying disturbance. However, Is it Bedtime Yet? honours dads as well with their perspectives and author Brannavan Gnanalingam joined the session to read his chapter about dads not just being seen as ‘the babysitter.’

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Brannavan Gnanalingam, Catherine Robertson, Emily Writes and Hollie McNish having a laugh.

Q & A

In answer to the moderator’s question to the authors: “If you can change one thing … ” Emily joked/not joked: “Smash the patriarchy and destroy capitalism” – there was plenty of applause at this rally cry (although my spellchecker changed ‘applause’ to ‘applesauce,’ appropriate for parents perhaps). Brannavan wished there was more information given to parents from the start and Hollie specified “more government money into care and support for parents.” Lucky for New Zealand, they concurred, that we have a current government sympathetic to parents. (In fact, at the book launch for Is it Bedtime Yet? in Auckland, Emily said it was heartening to see a certain Prime Minister had popped in with her new baby).

A question from the audience followed on from this theme: “How do we get the government to change?” or as rephrased: “How am I going to go back to work to afford avocados?” For some, becoming a mother immediately politicises them and they become an instant activist wanting to fight for change but as their children grow, their priorities for what they want to fight for the most also changes – eg. do you give stretched energies to supporting midwives or supporting teachers? How do we get traction when needs change as our children grow? Emily said that the only way we can make change is to make heaps of noise! “Protest, hikoi, engage in conscious-raising – talk to people around you about what’s important to you” – like publicly praising why teachers need a raise or the importance of midwives (who saved her life) and just generally “combat bullshit.” Emily closed the session impassioned: “We need to be noisy and use our voice!” At this, there was enough applause from the audience to wake a baby!

Special thanks to the the Christchurch Art Gallery for offering free ‘babysitting’ (aka a kid’s art workshop) –  while parents were attending this Motherhood session at WORD. More of this kind of thoughtfulness for parents in society is needed! Check out the art gallery’s monthly Parent & Baby tours (Prams welcome). 


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Diana Wichtel – Driving to Treblinka: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

CoverI must admit I have not yet read Driving to Treblinka, but I am on the long list of library customers who have reserved it to read. I have, however, read all The Listener articles that were the precursors for this book.

The moderator for this session was Philip Matthews, former colleague of Diana Wichtel, but now writing for The Press. He opened the session with some lines from Leonard Cohen’s First We Take Manhattan: “It’s Father’s Day and everybody’s wounded.”

Matthews suggested that Driving to Treblinka was a contribution to world history, but Wichtel demurred. She said that her father’s side of her personal history had remained in silence with a lot unsaid for many years until she reached a certain age. She was spurred by one of her daughters and a niece who said she must find where her father was buried.

When Wichtel was asked to provide a memoir piece and recipe for a book called Mixed Blessings, she was reluctant, but eventually wrote a piece. This was another spur to start researching the life of her father who was a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust by jumping from a train bound for the Nazi death camp, Treblinka. He was sheltered by partisans for the rest of the war. He ended up emigrating to Vancouver, Canada, where he met her Kiwi mother who was on her OE and ended up working at her father’s business.

Diana Wichtel. Image supplied.
Diana Wichtel. Image supplied.

When Wichtel was 13, her family migrated to New Zealand. The children believed that their father was to follow them after tying up the loose ends of their lives in Vancouver. He never did and she discovered her parents’ marriage had been disintegrating. As fate would have it, her mother met another man in Auckland who was also from Vancouver. He became Wichtel’s stepfather. When Wichtel was 19, her actual father became ill, but she could not afford to return to Canada to see him.

But once Wichtel’s own children had grown up, she was freed to follow the impetus to research her family’s Jewish heritage with her father as the pivotal identity. Wichtel was approached by Mary Varnham of Awa Press and, over four years, with some welcome assistance from her Grimshaw Sargeson Fellowship, she researched and wrote Driving to Treblinka.

Wichtel realised that from the outset the book had to be a personal story. She reasoned that if she was exposing her family, she had to expose herself. She stresses to the audience that it is her story and her version of the family’s history as honestly as she can portray it. She found that when she committed to writing the book, many of her own memories were recalled that she had imagined were lost to her.

When she interviewed Daniel Mendelsohn, author of The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, he told her that “you have to open the door to the past, knowing you won’t shut it again.” And while working on the book, she felt that she had entered “the stream of history” which unkindly spat her out once her book was published. Worried about her wider family’s reception of her book, Wichtel had three months of anxiety after publication, but then realised to her delight that the family welcomed the book and were pleased she had written it.

Matthews joked that she had been a pioneer of what is now called “dark tourism” and she recounted some of the uncomfortable feelings she had experienced in Poland and in Israel. On a guided tour of Treblinka, she felt it was wrong that there was a cafe on the site. At Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, she saw a guide, himself a survivor, posing for pictures with school children. Another guide was adamant this was not allowed, but Wichtel felt that if the man had survived the Holocaust, then he should be the judge of its appropriateness. She encountered contentious displays of pre-war Jewish life in Krakow and she felt that it airbrushed the anti-semitism that had been present in Poland before and during World War Two. She joked that many people referred to this display area as “Jewrassic Park”.

She read an extract entitled “Snowing in Vancouver” about the last times she had spent with her father in 1964 before migrating to New Zealand at age 13.

Wichtel said the chapter called “Shouting at the Newspaper” was all too relevant with the many falsehoods being spread in the media about Jewish society, Jewish culture and the Holocaust and also the rise of the far-right in Europe and America.

She moved me to free the moths from my wallet. To paraphrase Jane Eyre: “Reader, I bought the book.”

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Horse tales – Soraya Nicholas and Stacy Gregg: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Today I sat amongst a crowd of young girls, clutching their favourite horsey books – some even with their riding helmets on – to listen to Stacy Gregg and Soraya Nicholas telling Horse Tales at WORD Christchurch. I expected to enjoy myself, but I didn’t expect to feel myself brought to tears!

Stacy Gregg and Soraya Nicholas. Image supplied.
Stacy Gregg and Soraya Nicholas. Image supplied.

Stacy, in her wonderful, silver stiletto boots, told us the moving story of Princess Haya, the girl behind her first based-on-a-true-story book, The Princess and the Foal. Stacy had been in the middle of writing the Pony Club Rivals series when she saw a newspaper story about Princess Haya of Jordan, president of the International Federation for Equestrian Sports, and knew that she had to write about this courageous, gutsy girl. At first she had thought of adding her as a character in the series she was writing, and tucked the newspaper clipping away to refer back to. But as she thought about the Princess, she soon realised that Haya needed to have her own book. And so The Princess and the Foal came to be.

I first read Stacy Gregg’s books years ago, beginning with Mystic and the Midnight ride, which I gave to Miss Missy for Christmas. And I enjoyed reading the Pony Club Secrets series along with her, as I added each new book to her shelf. I hadn’t gotten round to reading all the more recent books, but believe me, as soon as I get home, I’ll be raiding her Stacy Gregg shelf, and reading The Princess and the Foal.

Princess Haya is the daughter of the Lion of Jordan, whose mother was killed in a helicopter crash when Haya was just 3 years old. And of course the little girl didn’t really understand what had happened, and thought that it was all her fault. She had lost her mother, and her father was too busy ruling his country to be able to spend much time with her, but he saw how sad and lonely she was becoming, and gave her a new-born motherless foal for her 6th birthday. And Princess Haya’s life found new meaning. By the age of 13, she was riding at international level, and she went on to become an Olympic show jumper.

I can’t wait to read it! I can’t wait for The Fire Stallion to come out either! (It’s on order already, so you can place a hold).

I’m also exited to read Soraya Nicholas’ Starlight Stables books. Although at 15, Miss Missy may be getting a bit old for these stories, I know that a few years ago, she would have just loved them! Soraya, also in shiny metallic shoes* – gold this time! — loved reading pony stories as a kid, and read the authors I read, like the Pullein-Thompson sisters, and dreamed of one day writing the kinds of books she loved to read. Just as much as the exciting excerpts from her books, I enjoyed hearing of her determination to become an author, even though people sometimes laughed at her dream. “Dream big” she told all those horse- and book-mad girls. Don’t let people who lack faith in you stop you from going after your biggest dreams.

What could be a better message than that?

*These two authors are definitely the most stylish of children’s authors, as Kate De Goldi said in her introduction.

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Gavin Bishop: Aotearoa – WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

I first knew Gavin Bishop not as a children’s author and illustrator, but as one of the art teachers at my high school. Although he’s been writing children’s books for years, it wasn’t until my son was a toddler that I started to take notice of his books. The first one that made me sit up and pay attention was The House that Jack Built which so beautifully blends together that traditional tale with the Kiwi setting. But it wasn’t till I read Diana Noonan’s Quaky Cat, post-earthquake, when Gavin Bishop’s hauntingly beautiful illustrations of my ruined city – of the Cathedral, which had still been standing when the book was written, but now was hardly more than a pile of rubble – brought tears to my eyes, and I added his works to my “favourites” list.

Gavin Bishop Aotearoa. Image supplied.
Gavin Bishop Aotearoa. Image supplied.

So it was very exciting to have the chance to listen to him talking about his latest books, Aotearoa: the Story of New Zealand, Margaret Mahy Book of the Year (and winner of the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction) and the soon to be released Cook’s Cook: The Cook Who Cooked for Captain Cook.

It was amazing to get a glimpse of the way that Aotearoa was created (the book, that is). He told us how his publisher suggested the idea to him, of a great big picture book about the history of New Zealand, covering 65 million years in 64 pages, and how excited he was to work on it, wishing he’d come up with the idea himself. And then of the 2am moment of panic, when he realised that this book was four times bigger (in size alone, not to mention the scope of it) than a normal picture book, and he had only a year to do it in

I really enjoyed seeing the carefully detailed planning pages, with the art work and text carefully drawn in, and then the finished paintings, so beautiful and oddly empty without their accompanying text. Despite all that care, there were times when he didn’t leave quite enough room for the text, but thanks to the wonders of Photoshop, the designer was able to nudge bits of artwork over to make room. Bishop and the designer had quite the debate over the cover artwork. He created at least eight different versions of the art work, and had wanted to include a rainbow, but the designer didn’t agree.

Bishop spent many hours researching for this book (hardly surprising, 65 million years is a lot to cover!) and out of that research emerged another story, which became Cook’s Cook. We’ve all heard of Captain Cook, of course, but I’d never given any thought to the practicalities of the voyage. Did you know that there were 94 men aboard the Endeavour, a ship built for just 16! And of course all those men had to be fed. It was a one-handed Scottish cook, by the name of John Thompson who cooked and fed them all, on Pease Porridge and all manner of curious meats. I can’t wait for this book to arrive at the library, so I can read it!! It’s in the catalogue already, though, so you can go ahead and place a hold on it (you’ll be right after me in the queue!)

Yaba Badoe – Fire Stars, and Witches: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Yaba Badoe opens the talk with a reading from the first chapter of her book, A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars:

“There’s only one thing makes any sense when I wake from my dream. I’m a stranger and shouldn’t be here. Should my luck run out, a black-booted someone could step on me and crush me, as if I’m worth less than an ant. This i know for a fact. And yet once or twice a week, the dream seizes me and shakes me about.”

This quote highlights the central theme of belonging and the dangers of not belonging that were present in both Badoe’s book, but also the conversation on the day.

Yaba Badoe. Image supplied
Yaba Badoe. Image supplied

Badoe appeared in conversation with the insightful Sionainn Byrnes who is a PhD candidate in the English Department at the University of Canterbury. Byrnes’ expertise in the area of magical realism – the genre of Badoe’s writing – was an amazing addition to the conversation as she facilitated the conversation superbly.

One of the first questions asked by Byrnes was about the subject of origins. This is a central theme of the book and one that is highlighted in the opening passages that was read at the beginning of the talk. Badoe discussed the way that Sante’s – the main character in the book – origin is related to her sense of self, her feelings of being a stranger, and that a large part of the narrative of the story pertains to Sante’s quest to understand her origins to understand her reoccurring dreams.

A big part of this narrative theme surrounding origin and belonging is the way in which the book positions the struggles of refugees and migrants as all the main characters fit into one of these categories. Badoe expands from this narrative theme to discuss the issue of migration in the contemporary world. Badoe herself was born in Ghana, educated in Britain, and in her own words, spends a lot of her life “going back and forth between Europe and Ghana”. Here, the connection between her own life and experience as an African migrant is deeply connected to the narrative of her work. She also outlined an interesting position on migration that posited that “the whole world is made of migrants”; and understanding of migration that is particularly pertinent in the midst of the migration crisis in various places around the world. The narrative of her book and this conversation is a very poignant narrative, reminding its readers that migrants are people deserving of respect and integrity.

At the end of the talk there was a brief discussion of Badoe’s film, The Witches of Gambaga, that was screened the day before as part of WORD Christchurch Festival. This short conversation explored the continued belief of witchcraft in regions of Northern Ghana. In this instance, Badoe and Byrnes briefly discusses the challenges of respecting deeply held beliefs and superstitious while challenging the socio-economic systems that underpin them; in the case patriarchal values appear to underpin the continued belief in witchcraft in Ghana.

Sionainn Byrnes was a great facilitator who asked interesting questions that were simultaneously challenging and fair. She did a fantastic job maintaining the conversation. Badoe’s own experience was insightful and beautifully simple at times. This was best summed up by Badoe’s response to Byrnes’ question regarding the categorisation of her book as ‘Magical Realism’:

“I just like to tell stories”

Understated and superb.

A Place to Stand – WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

What distinguishes a great festival session from a good one? I think I can answer that after my session to-day: A Place to Stand.

Karin Altenberg and Amy Head. Image supplied.
Karin Altenberg and Amy Head. Image supplied.

A small, sell-out session with Swedish author Karin Altenberg and New Zealand writer Amy Head, this exploration of the importance of Place punched way above its weight, and reminded me what a great event should be like:

  • First up a great session needs a really good interviewer, and Liz Grant was the best interviewer of this festival for me. With extensive knowledge about the books of both the authors (teetering perilously on very high chairs on either side of her), she was very good. Well done Liz.
  • A great session should engage you, there should be no mind wandering and fidgeting. We were all riveted.
  • You can judge a good session on the quality of the questions it provokes at the end, and this session came up trumps there as well.
  • You are sorry when a great session ends.
  • Hours later you are still thinking about it, wishing there had been more time. Mulling over questions you would have liked to ask.
  • You want to buy both the books!

Both Karin and Amy revealed their Turangawaewae (Place to stand). Karin’s is a small rocky outcrop off the West Coast of Sweden (it’s not even on a map) where her parents own a simple hut. Near there is a footprint shape in the rocks where, when Karin places her foot in it, she feels absolutely connected. Amy’s place is on the West Coast of New Zealand just outside Westport, a place of isolation and risk, it is “not a passive place” according to Amy.

CoverThey both always wanted to be writers but came at it from very different directions – Karin through landscape architecture (because writing wasn’t considered the done thing to do where she grew up). She never did any creative writing courses and tends to start all her writing from the landscape which she then peoples with characters and lets their story unfold. This is how her novel Island of Wings, which is set on St Kilda’s near the Outer Hebrides, unfolded. Karin also did the best reading from a book in the entire festival. A powerful passage beautifully read.

CoverAmy came to writing through her research on addiction, using the resources of the Salvation Army to find out more about the Rotoroa Home for Inebriates. Amy never thought she could be a writer, she had to go through a slow personal transition from reading to writing. She is a thoughtful young woman who considered all her answers very carefully. In the writing of Rotoroa she took the unusual step of combining a real-life person with fictionalised characters, and setting the whole story in the 1950s – a period of time long before she was born.

This was a very meaningful session for me, as I myself have a strong sense of place. I shall be thinking about it for some time to come.

And that is the highest praise I can give any festival event.

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Embracing Te Reo: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Jeanette King, Hana O’Regan (head manager of Oranga at Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu), lecturer Hēmi Kelly and writer/broadcaster Miriama Kamo gathered early on Sunday morning to kōrero about one of our official languages, te reo Māori.

All agreed that there has been a positive shift in the last few years towards te reo, a gathering of momentum or fruition from the hard work from the past decades. There has been a nationwide increase in enrolments of those learning te reo Māori, and presence in the media has been increasing, with reporters all the way up to our Prime Minister using te reo on TV and radio. Exciting times!

Miriama was keen to capitalise on this goodwill by starting to teach our history properly in schools to understand what we as a country have gotten wrong or right, to understand who we are and where we come from through an historical perspective. For her pronunciation is a key place to start: “For me I love to hear people trying, even if you get it wrong your heart’s in the right place. This is our official language! We should be owning it, wanting to speak it.” This is especially important for those with a Māori name: “If you don’t pronounce my name properly it’s not really my name, is it?” Something close to my heart as someone whose name is also frequently mispronounced.

Hana thought promoting te reo as a normal part of our community is an important step in getting over our fear of bilingualism or multilingualism. We’re all still caught up in the historical narrative that learning more than one language compromises our ability to use our first tongue, or that te reo isn’t useful, which isn’t supported by the evidence at all: we’re actually doing our children a disservice by raising them monolingual. “Bilingualism is a benefit to everyone — it doesn’t matter what language it is, but the positive impact is compounded [with te reo] because it’s connected with our history and the land.” Hēmi agreed, pointing out that as New Zealanders none of us are that far removed from te reo Māori as we are surrounded by Māori place names and kupu that are in common usage.

When Jeanette asked about those who feel hesitant to learn and speak te reo due to worrying about appropriating yet another aspect of Māori culture, Hana shook her head. “I can’t even comprehend a negative reaction to someone learning to speak Māori. Every person who uses te reo is actually showing not just respect but is doing their bit to make sure this important part of our heritage is still around.” In fact as more people learn te reo and we hear more around us, the easier and quicker it will be to learn, and the easier it will be to find teachers who can teach te reo. The struggle to find qualified teachers is one major obstacle for immediately making te reo Māori compulsory in schools, so a graduated approach is recommended. Making sure all graduating teachers have a certain proficiency would be a good first step.

It takes a short time to demolish a house but it takes a lot longer to built it — Christchurch knows this! It takes longer to reconstruct something that has been destroyed. Don’t get disappointed by the first hurdle, or pot hole or road block. Good things take time and Aotearoa is worth it. — Hana O’Regan

This goes also for those struggling to learn te reo — just because you’re not amazingly fluent straight away doesn’t mean you should give up! Every bit you learn is helping those around you as well as yourself. Hēmi: “Everybody in this room is a change agent.”

To help you make a start, here’s one kupu from Hēmi Kelly’s A Māori Word a Day:

hua (n) product, result, outcome, benefit, gain.

He nui ngā hua o te mōhio ki ngā reo e rua. There are a lot of benefits in being bilingual.

Mā te mahi ngātahi e kitea ai ngā hua. Through working together, the results will be seen.

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Follow our coverage of WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Go YA – WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Go YA brought together three writers for young adults – Juno Dawson, Whiti Hereaka, and Yaba Badoe – to read from their novels.

CoverFirst to read was Juno Dawson whose latest novel Clean is a confronting depiction of heroin addiction and withdrawal as told by a teenage socialite, Lexi Volkov. Paula Morris described Clean as being about “the lure of self-destruction” and the teenage pressure “of being something they’re not”. She compared Lexi’s narrative to that of real-world figures in the media who struggled with addiction such as Peaches Geldof.

Paula Morris had previously warned the audience that there would be some swearing and Juno Dawson jokingly referred to Clean as “degenerate filth” before beginning her reading. Lexi’s choice of language as she lashes out at the world challenged the 12+ rating given to this ‘family’ event. Lexi speaks directly to the reader, sharing her every thought and feeling. As a result, it was a performative reading. Juno Dawson rolled her eyes, pouted, and screeched, as she read from the opening chapter in which Lexi – waking from a night of partying and heroin in a car – realises that her brother is admitting her to a rehabilitation clinic away from the familiar lights of London.

Our second reader was Yaba Badoe whose novel, A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars, was described as an “exploration of our rich inheritance of myth and legend, pain and love”. A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars is a magical realist novel about a young girl, Sante, whose family attempted to migrate from Africa to Europe by sea but were killed when the ship was purposefully sunk. Sante, washed ashore in a chest laden with treasure, is rescued by Mama Rose and becomes part of her travelling circus. She yearns to know more about her family’s story. Yaba Badoe read from a later passage in the book in which Mama Rose begins to tell Sante about her origins. Like Clean, A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars, has serious themes, this time human trafficking and migration. As Sante recalls seeing brown bodies washed up on a beach and herself being thrown aboard as an infant, it’s hard not to recall the images of the body of Alan Kurdi, a young victim of the refugee crisis and human trafficking. Yaba Badoe spoke more on magical realism and migration during ‘Yaba Badoe: Fire, Stars and Witches’.

Cover“History is moulded by the those who tell it” Paula Morris told the audience before Whiti Hereaka took the stage. She read from her newest novel Legacy which is about the experiences of the Māori Contingent during World War One and where their stories sit in that ANZAC narrative that strongly permeates New Zealand culture. The protagonist of Legacy, Riki, is drawn to the idea of enlisting in the army. Each generation of his family has enlisted and his mother shares with him stories of his great-great-grandfather who fought in Egypt in World War One as part of the Māori Contingent. Whiti Hereaka’s reading highlighted the theme of legacy as Riki ruminates on his likeness to this legendary family figure and the repetition of the war through its commemoration. The reading ended with a cliff-hanger as Riki read a text revealing why his girlfriend has been avoiding him and stepped straight into the path of a bus on Lambton Quay.

This drew a big gasp from the audience and started off question time with a request to know if Riki survives. Whiti Hereaka cheekily held the cover up and plugged the UBS stall in the foyer for those who needed to know what happened next.

There wasn’t much time for questions. The first question asked the authors how they created their characters. Juno Dawson remarked that she “sometimes has to spend more time devising the character” but sometimes they come to her fully fledged, like Lexi did. Yaba Badoe similarly remarked about Sante: “Once she came to me, it was really fun writing her. I loved her company.” Whiti Hereaka admitted that she’s a “bit of a creeper” and sits at the back of the bus with her headphones in, but not listening to anything, to eavesdrop on the conversations. It’s great way to capture the voice of young people and pick up new slang. Juno Dawson commented that voice is the most powerful part of a character development and once you have that voice and you can firmly say that your character wouldn’t say or do something, you know you’ve got it. In this way characters are like “imaginary friends” or “voices in your head”, she laughed.

The second question from audience was about writing for adults versus young adults. Yaba Badoe told the audience that her editor defines YA as “12 to 120”, that it’s writing for anyone and everyone. She remarked that YA is a “marketing term” and novels such as Catcher in the Rye and Jane Eyre, generally put in the basic of (adult) ‘classics’, could be considered YA. Sadly, we ran out of time to continue unpacking this question. What is (or isn’t) YA was the subject of a university course I took so I was a little disappointed not to be able to hear more about the authors’ thoughts on it. However, if these selections of readings are anything to go by, YA isn’t afraid to tackle complex topics and is about discovering your voice and place in this often-difficult world. I would highly recommend picking up these authors’ books and giving YA a Go.

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Alicia Harbison-Price

“Everything else is just filler” Sex and Death Salon: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Host Victor Rodger warned that this session was going to be dirty and lowbrow. I intend to make this blog as dirty and lowbrow as the editors will let me! Featuring poets Tayi Tibble and Chris Tse, and authors Stacy Gregg and Emily Writes, this was a no holds barred, late night sessions about things you might not want to mention at the dinner table. Or if you do mention them you might there might be awkward questions and emergency visits to Urban Dictionary.

Stacy pointed out that after sex and death everything else is just filler. Which is a little tricky for her given that she writes books aimed at children, therefore she has to feature death. Her subject is horses and she feels little frustrated that horses are often associated with sex. Jilly Cooper has a lot to answer for…

Emily brought the house down with a reading of *that* review of The Legend of Tarzan, explaining that she had just stopped breastfeeding when she wrote it and how a low tolerance for alcohol. Frankly, given the deliciousness of Alexander Skarsgård I think it a masterly and appropriate hymn to the male form.

Chris also brought the house down with his wonderful poem ‘Fun until it gets weird’ about playing Cards Against Humanity with your mum and aunties and having to explain bukake to them (do not Google this on a work computer). And then writing a poem about the experience that your family ask you to read out at Christmas. However, Chris also reminded us that we shouldn’t put older people in a box – they’ve been round the block themselves a few times. He also revealed that he felt dragging up took him most out of his comfort zone, and that his drag name is Angela Merkin, which I love!

Tayi read us her gorgeous poem ‘Johnsonville Cindy Crawford’, about the realities of growing up with an attractive mother, and remembering playing Tomb Raider, with Lara Croft and her big triangular boobs. If she could go back in time she would like to 1975 to take part in the Land March.

I don’t know if this session quite explored sex and death and taboo quite as much as I anticipated – death didn’t really get a look in, not even a petite mort. However, I do know that I laughed a lot, heard some great writing, discovered some cool people, and was rather envious of Stacy’s silver boots.

Follow our coverage of WORD Christchurch Festival 2018