Summer Holiday Activities

All ages are welcome at these activities. sessions are FREE, and they don’t require bookings (unless mentioned otherwise)! Join in from Tuesday 9 January 2018.

No-Sew Cushion Creation

Using cut material and a number of knots – create a super-cute ‘no sew’ cushion. Use it at home, or give it as a present!
Find out where and when these sessions are on: No-Sew Cushion Creation

Make a Pin Wheel Fan

Create a spinning fan to cool you off this summer by using simple materials like straws, paper, scissors, and pins.
Find out where and when these sessions are on: Make a Pin Wheel Fan

Summer Reading Photo Booth

Love reading and taking photos? Bring along your own device and take pics of yourself in our summer-themed photo booth. All ages welcome.
Find out where and when these sessions are on: Summer Reading Photo Booth

3D Printing Demo

Drop in and have a look at how 3D printing works.
Find out where and when these sessions are on: 3D Printing Demo

Bee-Bots

Help your Bee-Bots find their way around a map using entry-level coding.
Find out where and when these sessions are on: Bee-Bots

Create a Lion Note Holder

Use a special quilling tool and lots of bright craft materials to create your own super cute lion note holder. Library staff will help you with your creation. All craft material sourced from the MAKE Company. Free, but bookings are essential – phone 9417923.  For ages 5 to 12 years.
Find out where and when these sessions are on: Create a Lion Note Holder

Treasure in the Libraries

Come along to a taonga (treasure) themed school holiday session and discover what cool things are hidden in your library. Enjoy storytelling, go on a scavenger hunt to discover treasuers, and then get crafty and make a treasure box to take home. Free, but bookings are essential – phone 9417923.  For ages 5 to 12 years.
Find out where and when these sessions are on: Treasure in the Libraries

SEE ALSO: Summertime Reading Club

On until Friday 19 January 2018!

 

It’s Margaret Mahy Playground’s 2nd Birthday!

The Margaret Mahy Family Playground opened on 22 December 2015.

Three mornings a week I bike past it, on the corner of Manchester and Armagh Streets. The Park was once part of the Elsie Locke Playground, while the new expanded area was named after Margaret Mahy, one of Canterbury’s most-loved authors.

Portrait of Margaret Mahy by Glenda Randerson
Portrait of Margaret Mahy by Glenda Randerson. Flickr CCL-2012-07-24

Part of the Government’s Recovery Plan following the earthquakes of 2010/11, the playpark is the largest playground in the Southern Hemisphere. Its designers won a New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects Award of Excellence for 2017.

Known for her rainbow coloured wig, her love of children and magic, Margaret Mahy’s books are all about empowerment through exploration and imagination. The park’s activities reflect her philosophy, encouraging children to take safe risks in their development.

Margaret Mahy Playground, November 2017.
Margaret Mahy Playground, November 2017.

There is always activity there. From grandparents taking little ones out for the morning, to larger groups of children in the afternoon, there is something for everyone to play on. There is water play too – great for hot days. The playground offers opportunities for children to take safe risks to promote development and well-being. This explains the “screams of terror and excitement” reported by The Press. The playground is safe for all ages, with lots of safety matting, and sports sun shades too, after this question was raised with the community after opening.

I also see many walking through – there is a pathway into town along the River Avon (Ōtākaro), which borders the park. It is well-lit at night, as is the playground for late night visitors.

My favourite to play on? The tunnel slides on the bank!

Stories at the Margaret Mahy Family Playground
Under 5s storytelling session, Margaret Mahy Family Playground, Thursday 3 February 2016. Flickr 2016-02-03-photo_3263

The Mobile Library will be at the Margaret Mahy Playground on Tuesdays in January 2018 – the 9th, 16th, 23rd, and 30th.

Have yourself a very library Christmas

Get yourself into the festive season with these free Christmas Crafts and Activities at your libraries:

Pohutukawa and music notes

Make your own Popsicle Stick decorations – Mon 18 to Fri 22 Dec

Find out when and where

Recycle and Repurposed Christmas Craft at South Library – Mon 18 to Fri 22 Dec

Join us for Christmas craft. Recycled papers and cardboard as well as pens, crayons and other recycled materials will be provided to be re-purposed for Christmas decorations and gifts.
11am to 2pm from Monday 18 December to Friday 22 December.

Family Christmas Storytimes at Linwood Library – Thurs 21 Dec

Linwood Library would like to celebrate the Christmas season by having a special family Christmas Storytimes on Thursday 21 December 2017 from 5.30- 6.30 pm.

A Library Christmas Carol at South Library  – Thurs 21 Dec

A library Christmas Carol. Bring the whole family for a relaxed evening of Dickens’ Christmas Carol and songs and live music! Outside South library bring a rug and cushion. Thurs 21 December 6pm to 7pm.

Check also:

The World’s Best David Walliams

David Walliams came into the Christchurch Boys High auditorium through the crowd – a real rock star entrance.  And in kid books circles (and tv entertainment ones) he really is that level of famous. There were about 700 kids and 400 adults here to see Mr Walliams.

Rachael King, WORD Christchurch literary director asked him about the 20 million books he has sold – “All bought and burnt by Simon Cowell”, he said. David had the audience in the palm of his hand from the get go, with stories, heaps of audience participation, and his trademark naughty wit. Even the obligatory Australia diss – The World’s Worst Children?:

Well, I’ve just been in Australia and met a lot of the children …

He read us the tragic tale of Windy Mindy whose farting into wind instruments leads to a galactic end.

The kids in the audience served up stories about why their siblings are so bad. One answer had the crowd in stitches (beautifully conveyed in this tweet):

CoverBad Dad is his latest bestseller, and tells the story of Frank, whose Dad is a banger driver who ends up in jail after being a getaway driver. David read for us a rather splendid excerpt about how one might get the dreadful medical condition Bottom Freeze (including cryogenically freezing your bottom for posterity). 

CoverDavid’s favourite of his own books is Gangsta Granny (my kid’s fave too), and it came from listening to his own Gran’s stories about the Blitz:

Every old person has a story to tell.

He read Gangsta Granny’s famous naked yoga scene (and see Tony Ross’s brilliant illustration came up on the big screen). David gave a big shoutout to his illustrators Tony Ross and Quentin Blake – both in their 80s.

Walliams explained a bit about why he loves a villain:

Without Voldemort, Harry Potter would just be having a lovely day at school.

Burt, the Ratburger villain, was inspired by a contestant in Britain’s got talent who ate cockroaches. Ergh. Miss Trunchbull (from Roald Dahl’s Matilda) is one of his fave villains. It’s that combo of funny and evil,  and who wouldn’t want to be a villain (for a day).

We got to see sneak preview clips of Ratburger (Walliams himself is unrecognisable as the grotty villain), and Grandpa’s Great Escape (Jennifer Saunders is the Matron in that, and veteran actor Tom Courtenay is Grandpa.) He is that rarest of beasts – an author who gets to see his creations come to life first hand, because he stars in the adaptations.

David admits he was a reluctant reader. He went to the library with his family every couple of weeks, and would pick books on the solar system, space travel, and dinosaurs. And then he discovered Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It got him into reading, and to writing.

Roald Dahl is his “gold standard”. When he visited Dahl’s Gypsy Cottage and met his widow, she said kids still ring the doorbell and ask to meet the author. David has visited the Roald Dahl Story Museum and looked at the handwritten manuscripts. He clearly loved the writing set up of Roald Dahl – sitting in armchair, a picture of his much-missed daughter nearby, with a big ball of rolled up choccie wrappers to add to, and a telephone (to put a sly bet on the gee gees).

And David loves his fan mail, and who wouldn’t when kids are so honest:

Little Britain fans – he thinks the funniest thing he’s ever written is this:

10 lucky kids got to ask a question, and got a fab box set of Walliams’ books. A ripper of a prize I reckon. Thanks to David Walliams, WORD Christchurch, HarperCollins New Zealand, Merivale Paper Plus, and the crew involved in the event – and to everyone who came along, you rocked and made it a fun whānau night. It was especially awesome to get to get your book signed and a picture taken. Ka rawe!

Best book covers 2017 – My pick of New Zealand’s finest

It’s one of the pleasures as the year ends to slow down and smell the roses – or, in this case, stop and appreciate the book covers. Join me as I judge New Zealand books by their covers.

Christchurch Art Gallery

Gold medal winner for 2017 is our own Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu. It’s not a parochial choice. They’ve produced a standout series of publications to add to their award-winning output.

Aberhart starts here (by senior curator Dr Lara Strongman with Laurence Aberhart) is the companion book to the exhibition (on until 6 February 2018 – don’t miss it).  The striking cover cleverly matches Aberhart’s photo with the title added to the building as if it were graffiti, or a business name (in that attractive and distinctive typeface used in the exhibition). The text and the photos have been given room to breathe on the page. It’s a beautiful book with a kind of stately gravitas.

A more raucous beauty is Say something! Jacqueline Fahey by curator Felicity Milburn with Allie Eagle, Julia Holden, Bronwyn Labrum, Lana Lopesi, Zoe Roland and Julia Waite. Again, both words and images are placed to perfection on the page, with zingy pops of colour. The exhibition is on until 11 March 2018.

Christchurch Art Gallery have also made some rather stunning “Little Books” – (Birds, Sea, Flowers, Black – highlighting taonga from their collection. The covers are gorgeous, and the books have coloured page edges, foil, and ribbons to mark your page. Swoon.

The publication Bulletin always has outstanding covers to match its great content and striking internal visuals.  The colour scheme and Ann Shelton’s art on the cover of the latest issue are a visual symphony. B.189 had The Ramones on the cover!

Credit for this great mahi also goes to:

  • The students from the graphic design department at the Ilam School of Fine Arts who do the design on Bulletin;
  • Lecturer Aaron Beehre who is art director for Bulletin and who also designed the Little Books;
  • Photographer John Collie;
  • Designer Peter Bray who worked on the Aberhart and Fahey books.

Find books published by Christchurch Art Gallery in our collection.

Special mention

Illustrator Giselle Clarkson has had a phenomenal year.  Her art is full of life and fun. She created the much-shared biccies and slices taxonomy in Annual 2. Giselle does brilliant work in The Sapling, school journals – in all sorts of places and on wide range of topics (her natural history comics are fab). Kei runga noa atu – I would love to see a whole book by Giselle!

Here are some of 2017’s best covers:

Illustrators and artists

I particularly like the timeless quality of the first three covers. The historical tourist poster vibe of Maria McMillan’s The Sky Flier is quite striking too.

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Black and white and photographic

Photos are always a popular way of attracting a reader. I love the energy in Victor Rodger’s Black Faggot, showing the play in performance. and see that sense of motion and action in Floating Islander, Oxygen, and The Treaty on the Ground. In contrast see the stillness of Elspeth Sandys’ portrait, and the calm library depicted on the cover of The Expatriates.

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Colour

Magenta, lavender, pinky-purple – New Zealand book covers this year showed a bit of trend towards the pink side. I for one love it.  (Update: Spinoff books mentions book covers in their Second annual Spinoff Review of Books literary awards and picks the cover of Baby by Annaleese Jochems designed by Keely O’Shannessy as best cover).

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Te Reo Māori

Original NZ books in te reo Māori, and also translations of classics. It’s grand to see te reo front and centre.

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Aotearoa’s first bookface cover?

Tom Scott might be the first author to do a sort of #bookface cover. Well, technically, more #illustrationface – either way it’s a great cover.

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Cute as heck

Finally, let’s place together two critters that ought not be proximate. They are both so phenomenally cute …

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Browse more covers of  New Zealand books published in 2017

International “Best Book Covers” lists

Best book covers of previous years

For more on local book covers and design, see the PANZ Book Design Awards.

Watch this space: Lindsay Chan maps Christchurch street art

The bare walls of our busted city are a canvas for something beautiful. Since the earthquakes, a lot of us think: “Christchurch street art is ka rawe”. Here’s a mere sample of what is happening right now:

Detail of Yikes’ Alice art on the wall of Alice Cinemas, 22 November 2017.
  • You can vote on Facebook for which Enliven places street mural you’d like painted on the side of the Ibis Christchurch. Voting closes Monday 27 November, so get in quick.
  • Superlot 9 is opening on 2 December at 122 Lichfield Street and is going to have street art bedecking giant spraycans.
  • Fiksate Gallery in New Brighton has an exhibition of street art, illustration and urban contemporary art on until 17 December.
  • YMCA Christchurch in association with PAINT (Pushing Art in New Zealand Trust) presents Street Prints Otautahi 2017. Large scale murals will be painted in the central city, New Brighton and Lyttelton, plus there’s a range of events and activities for all ages between 21 December and 29 December.

Street art can be ephemeral, as murals are painted over, blocked out, or the building canvas demolished. But there is a particular little leap of happiness in the heart when you spot something happening. It’s a buzz. Our street art is tied up with memories and possibilities, and with hope. I spoke to Lindsay Chan who since 2015 has been playing an important role documenting Ōtautahi’s street art and facilitating new artworks via the website Watch this space:

Why do you think Christchurch has become such a street art hub?

Christchurch always had talented muralists and graffiti artists, but it was the earthquakes that brought their talents to the forefront. The city became a blank canvas with empty buildings and buildings waiting to be torn down. George Shaw from Oi! YOU together with the Canterbury Museum and then the YMCA brought in internationally renowned artists to paint large-scale murals across the CBD. Combined with the amazing local talent and visiting international artists keen to make the most of the post earthquake landscape, Christchurch started making a name for itself in the international street art scene. Did you know it has its own chapter dedicated to Christchurch in Lonely Planet’s first ever street art dedicated guidebook, Street Art ?

Art by Flox - Spectrum Street Art Festival, YMCA. December 2015. Flickr IMG_1889
Art by Flox – Spectrum Street Art Festival, YMCA. December 2015. Flickr IMG_1889

How did Watch this Space get started?

When I moved to Christchurch a few years ago, I went on one of Frocks on Bikes free bike tours. That day they showed us around the different street art works. I was surprised to see all this amazing art work in the very city that I live in and bike through all the time. The bike leaders pointed out so many different art works that I had never noticed. I asked Connie, the leader from Frocks on Bikes, how she had decided the route, and she said it was actually quite a lot of work because none of the information was centralized. It was scattered across individual newspaper articles and maps were often incomplete and not kept up to date. Not to mention, Frocks on Bikes is a group of volunteers, so I thought it was a bit crazy that she ended up having to go through various newspaper articles and websites to decide a route and find out the details of each artist and work.

I work in geospatial information systems (GIS). We make maps and visualize data. We take number data and put them into an easy to understand format, usually into maps. I’m always looking for ways to learn new skills and thought this could be a great opportunity to put my skill set to use with something I’m really interested in – street art and create a resource that can be used now by the city and as a legacy item once the city is fully rebuilt.

What does your role involve day-to-day?

Well, my “real” job is working as a geospatial analyst at the Department of Conservation (DOC). I do Watch This Space stuff outside my regular work hours and have gotten others involved too because we think it’s something the city and the visitors to the city need. We are now a charitable trust and have five trustees who are a big help with sharing the day-to-day duties.

Day-to-day, we try to keep up to date with where the latest murals and graffiti are coming up in town and share that through our website and social media so other people can know about it too. We take photos, research the artists, chase down funding, and meet with all kinds of different people to try and convince them that the graffiti and murals in Christchurch are truly amazing and something that the city needs to make space for in “new” Christchurch.

Do you have any favourite artworks in town?

That’s a hard one Donna. I have many favourites. One of the things that draws me to graffiti and murals is the stories behind each of these. I like the paste up of Tony Fomison and the tags that cover it. This one is located on the corner of Manchester and High. The paste up was put up after the earthquakes as part of Christchurch Art Gallery’s Outer Spaces project, but they put it over a tag. Later that artist came back to mark his territory and tagged over the paste up. I think it’s a great dialogue between outdoor and indoor art and the different forms of art that exist in Christchurch.

No! Tony Fomison. Image supplied.
No! Tony Fomison. Image supplied.

My other favourite was a portrait of Ikarus by Wongi . It was on the corner of Manchester and Welles. I like how graffiti is something friends go out to do together. I think it’s even cooler that Wongi did a portrait of one of his good friends and the works around it give it a nice touch too. It shows that a lot of different artists had been out to that spot.

Ikarus by Wongi Wilson. Image supplied.

How can Christchurch people and visitors help grow Watch this space? What are the features of the website they can use?

We want Watch This Space to be a project for the people by the people. The website is set up so people can contribute their own street art images, so if you see something new come up, take a photo and send it in. If you notice a building getting torn down or an art work getting covered up, take a photo and send it in. If you’ve taken photos pre-earthquake, send it in. Watch This Space can only cover so much ground, so please, we’d love to add your images to the map. The best way for this project to be sustainable is if the community gets involved, and we’ve created some easy to use tools so you can.

Other than mapping and creating and accurate, up to date resource, we also want to support paid opportunities for artists. If you’d like to get a mural commissioned, we can connect you with the right artist.

You can also donate to our project to help cover developer fees, writing articles, and just our general time we put into this to make it happen.

How do you work with artists and building owners to activate walls with art?

We have steadily been building ties with the local artists as we add their works to the map and write about them in our blog. People around town are starting to come across our resource and contact us from time to time for help connecting with artists. We recently helped ChristchurchNZ in their search for wall space for the David Kidwell mural on the corner of Lichfield and High as well as helping Christchurch City Council find artists for the Enliven places street mural project.

Mr G at work on his portrait of David Kidwell, October 2017.
Mr G at work on his portrait of David Kidwell, October 2017.

Artists can fill out this expression of interest form on our website, and businesses or local organisations who want to commission a mural can fill out a form, where we’ll help to connect them with a local artist.

There’s a lot that happens before we actually see the mural on the wall, which many people don’t see or understand. That’s where we can step in and help make it easier on both parties.

I think one of the great strengths of Watch this Space is that you also list the artworks that are no longer viewable, whether they are on buildings that have been demolished, or sites that have been built up. Do you have a sense of the work having a role to play in our history?

I think it’s extremely important to follow street art as it gets decommissioned. Many people see the beauty of street art as being ephemeral. I agree that is an aspect that contributes to its beauty, but art isn’t just about beauty. Throughout history, art has been used as a form of expression and commentary on the current climate. Graffiti, murals, and street art are a record of what our city is, what it was, and what it could be.

Take for example Daek Williams’s mural that used to be on the corner of Colombo and Peterborough Street. He made that for the Rise festival, and the mural is based on his impression of the residents of the Red Zone and how they stayed and did not leave Christchurch.

Home is Where the Heart is by Daek William. Image supplied.
Home is Where the Heart is by Daek William. Image supplied.

Dcypher’s mural on the side of the Roxx climbing gym on Waltham Road is the artist’s interpretation of Christchurch’s urban landscape prior to the earthquakes. Following street art as it gets covered up and torn down is also preserving piece of history and the memories individuals attach to different works.

Dcypher art on Roxx/Clip n Climb. Image supplied.

Do you use libraries?

I went to the library a lot as a kid. I read a lot growing up.

What are you reading/watching/listening to now?

CoverI have to admit, I’ve been watching the Marvel series on Netflix. I used to love reading as a kid, but when I entered high school, there was so much required reading and analysis and essays about what we were reading, I haven’t been able to get back into it. I recently heard an interview by the author of Nevermoor on RadioNZ. It reminded me of the Harry Potter series, which I was a big fan of growing up. Nevermoor sounds pretty awesome. I might have to go check that out..

Watch this space …

From Friday 24 November, we’re starting to guide tours on Fridays and Saturdays for the rest of the summer. They will go from 11am to 12:30pm, at a cost of $25 per person. Proceeds from the tour will go back into Watch This Space to help cover developer fees, the interviews and editorials on our blog, and be put aside to commission a mural in the future. Find out more and book your tour.

Looking at street art on Madras Street. Image supplied.
Looking at street art on Madras Street. Image supplied.

Watch this space and Christchurch street art

More

Hui-ā-iwi and the 20th anniversary of the Ngāi Tahu Deed of Settlement

Today at Tuahiwi Marae, Ngāi Tūāhuriri are hosting the biennial festival Hui-ā-Iwi 2017, and Ngāi Tahu are coming together to reconnect and celebrate. Live streaming of Hui-ā-Iwi will begin with the pōwhiri at 12pm today (Friday 24 November).

2017 is a significant year. Twenty years ago – on 21 November 1997 – Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and the Crown signed the Ngāi Tahu Deed of Settlement at Takahanga Marae in Kaikōura. This was followed by the passing of the Ngāi Tahu Claim Settlement Act into law 29 September 1998. Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu reports: “The Deed was signed by then Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu Kaiwhakahaere, Charlie Crofts, and the then Prime Minister Jim Bolger.”

Here is some video footage of that important day:

Kōrero on Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu website highlights what the settlement meant to Ngāi Tahu whānau.

Te Kerēme

Te Kerēme is a selective index to the Ngāi Tahu claim. It provides volume and page number references to material from the Ngāi Tahu Māori Trust Board Claim before the Waitangi Tribunal which is held in the Ngā Pounamu Māori Centre at Central Library Manchester. Material indexed includes: iwi, hapū, marae, individual people, organisations, places and events.

Find out more

 

Edward Aubrey and the Battle of Beersheba

The First World War Battle of Beersheba was fought in Palestine 100 years ago.

Our digital collection includes the diary of Edward Aubrey. He served from 10 February 1916 to 19 February 1919. He served with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, 19th Reinforcements, New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade. Edward took part in the Battle of Beersheba, and was wounded on 5 November 1917. Part of his left leg was amputated.

Edward Herbert Aubrey : Soldier's diary CCL-Aubrey-1917-109
Edward Herbert Aubrey : Soldier’s diary CCL-Aubrey-1917-109

From his diary entries 4 and 5 November, and 12 and 13 November:

1917 November 4 Sun
Releived [sic] 6th MR.
heavy casualties here today
1917 November 5 Mon
Wounded 12-30 mid day

1917 November 12 Mon
Operated on again to have tubes put in my leg & knee fixed up a little
1917 November 13 Tues
Another operation on Nov 19th to have my leg off

Edward Aubrey spent the rest of the war in medical care in Egypt and Britain. He came back to New Zealand after the war and went farming in the Omarama area, on land won in a ballot as part of a Returned Soldiers’ initiative.

Read Edward Aubrey’s diary online

More about the Battle of Beersheba

WW100

Visit our page on WW100 – New Zealand’s First World War centenary commemorations

Win tickets to NZSO concert Rachmaninov with Joyce Yang – Tues 31 October

Rachmaninov with Joyce Yang is a New Zealand Symphony Orchestra concert at the Horncastle Arena on Tuesday 31 October. Pianist Joyce Yang will perform Sergei Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor. This concerto is notable for its difficulty and:

demands an extraordinary technical virtuosity and an ability to realise the poetry at the heart of this lush and layered score.

Conducted by Edo de Waart, Joyce is In her debut NZSO performance, she will also play Rachmaninov’s Vocalise and Symphonic Dances.

Thanks to the NZSO we have two double passes to give away to library members!

Use this form to enter our NZSO competition and be in to win a double pass to the Rachmaninov concert. Entries close 5pm on Monday 23 October and winners will be drawn and announced on Tuesday 24 October.

 

Yeah! Noir!: Craig Sisterson and the Ngaio Marsh Awards

Craig Sisterson is a writer and reviewer, and a fan of great crime writing. He’s the force behind the Ngaio Marsh Awards celebrating New Zealand crime writing, starting the Awards in 2010 and now serving as the judging convenor for the prizes.

Read our interview with Craig where he talks Kiwi crime, #yeahnoir, the Ngaio Marsh Awards, and libraries.

This year, you can join in as Scorpio Books and WORD Christchurch present The Great Lit Quiz & Ngaio Marsh Awards!
To celebrate NZ Bookshop Day, put together a team of book enthusiasts for a quiz of crime novels and other genres! All tickets gain entry to the invitation-only Ngaio Marsh Awards cocktail party, where the winners will be announced. Hosted by crime writers Paul Cleave and Vanda Symon.
The Bone Line wine and nibbles provided.
Saturday, 28 October, 5.30pm Ngaio Marsh Awards; 7pm Great Lit Quiz
$80 per table (up to 5 players) by emailing rsvp@scorpiobooks.co.nz

Past and present Ngaio judges – Mike Ripley, Ayo Onatade, and Craig Sisterson. Image supplied.

Like the Ngaio Marsh Awards on Facebook

See our listing of previous winners and finalists:

Craig Sisterson

How did the idea for the Ngaio Marsh Awards come to you?

It was a culmination of a lot of little things. I’d started reading a lot while backpacking through Latin America for six months, picking up dozens of novels from hostel book exchanges and the like to pass the time on 24-hour bus rides in Argentina and Chile. The hostels tended to have plenty of ‘popular fiction’ (crime, romance, sci-fi, action thrillers etc), and I gravitated towards the crime novels, having loved mystery tales since I was a kid devouring The Hardy Boys adventures when I was at Richmond Primary School in Nelson.

Then when I was in Canada I went along to an Arthur Ellis Awards event at the Vancouver Public Library (a crime author panel where the finalists for their national crime writing awards were also announced). I met some really cool Canadian crime writers, including the great William Deverell, and had a really good chat with him afterwards about recognising and celebrating quality writing, and how the crime genre was much deeper nowadays than the stereotype of old-fashioned mysteries, potboilers, and airport thrillers.

As an aside, I spoke with the Canadians about the state of New Zealand crime writing (they were curious), and even lamented that other than Dame Ngaio and Paul Thomas’s series, and one-offs from the likes of Simon Snow, Nigel Latta, and Michael Laws, we didn’t seem to have as many crime writers as you’d expect for a country that has some really great writers (Oscar-nominated screenwriters, Man Booker listees, fabulous children’s authors, great longform journalists, etc). Or at least we didn’t have many ongoing series or crime writers putting out multiple books. It’s embarrassing to look back on that discussion now, because NZ does have a greater crime writing history than I knew about at that time, but perhaps the fact I was a keen reader who still wasn’t aware of that was telling too?

When I returned to New Zealand in October 2008, I popped into the Papatoetoe Library my first weekend to keep feeding my reading habit. By chance, a couple of crime novels on the recently returned shelf caught my eye. I picked them up, was taken by the backcover blurbs, and was surprised to read they were set in New Zealand: Cemetery Lake by Paul Cleave and The Ringmaster by Vanda Symon. Not only were they modern NZ crime novels, but each was from an author who’d published more than one novel!

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I read them both that weekend, before I started my new job at a legal magazine (I was a lawyer before my overseas adventures). Both were terrific, really top quality stuff. Great characters and writing, coupled with page-turning action and suspense. And both books were as good if not better than many of big-name international bestsellers I’d been reading on my Latin American journey.

So my thoughts about the state of NZ crime writing began to shift. Then my new boss asked if I’d read any good books lately, as a review for our magazine hadn’t come in before deadline. So I wrote reviews of Cleave and Symon’s books, and took off from there. Soon afterwards I was reviewing crime fiction for Australian magazine Good Reading, as well as some other publications. I reviewed a few dozen crime novels for them over the next year, including Kiwi authors like Cleave, Symon, Lindy Kelly, Neil Cross, and Paddy Richardson. The Kiwi crime novels stood up really well against the well-known international stuff, and I started thinking ‘why aren’t we talking about our crime writers more?’ On top of that, I realised that while Canada, Australia, the UK, the USA, and many other countries had crime writing awards, New Zealand didn’t. Our popular fiction writers were unlikely to be listed for the NZ Book Awards, but at least our romance, sci-fi and fantasy authors had their own associations and awards. So did our children’s authors.

Our crime writers did not. That kept niggling at me the more reviews and features I wrote about the genre, and when I raised the possibility of a New Zealand crime writing award with authors, publishers, reviewers, and others in the book industry, pretty much everyone thought it was a great idea in principle. There was a gap between principle and putting it into practice though. And in the end I just got to the ‘ah bugger it, I’ll just start them myself then’ stage. By then I had lots of contacts in New Zealand and overseas, and called on various people for advice. Crime Writers Canada and the Australian Crime Writers Association were very generous and shared with me how their awards started, evolved, and were run. I cherry-picked various things to create our own awards.

Founding judge Graham Beattie, 3x winner Paul Cleave, founder Craig Sisterson, 2012 winner Neil Cross, 3x finalist Ben Sanders, Ruth Todd, Australian crime writer Michael Robotham, and 3x finalist Vanda Symon. Image supplied.

How hard was it to set up a literary prize?

How long is a piece of string?, as my mother would say. It’s really hard to answer your question. Looking back it all seemed to go quite smoothly, though that could be my rose-tinted glasses! At the time there were plenty of bumps in the road, for sure, but we just rolled with the punches, adapted, and kept on going (how many cliches can I fit in a paragraph?). We were creating something new, so there was no blueprint (other than advice from overseas peers), so if something wasn’t working or went wrong, I just changed it.

My core concern was to make sure that the awards had a good level of credibility, even if we weren’t offering the winner a big amount of prize money. I just really wanted the awards to be sustainable, not a one-off, and to have some ‘heft’, for want of a better term.

That was achieved (I think) thanks to the really top-notch judges we’ve had from the beginning, and the support of WORD Christchurch. We have a large judging panel for the Best Crime Novel prize; seven judges from New Zealand and overseas. All are crime fiction experts, so we had people who were connoisseurs of the genre and read an awful lot, weighing up the quality of our local crime tales. In the first years we had the likes of legendary British reviewer Mike Ripley (who was the Daily Telegraph’s crime reviewer for 17 years), Vice President of Crime Writers Canada Lou Allin, and doyen of the Kiwi books scene Graham Beattie on the panel.

More recently Janet Rudolph (editor of Mystery Readers International), J Kingston Pierce of Kirkus reviews, top Australian crime reviewer Karen Chisholm, and award-winning Icelandic crime writer Yrsa Sigurdardottir have served on the judging panel.

These people may not be household names, but they are extremely highly regarded within the global crime writing world, and their involvement has given the Ngaios a lot of credibility on the global stage. They read a massive amount of crime fiction, from the biggest names to new authors and many in between, and when they say our Kiwi authors are world class, that carries a lot of weight.

The other main pillar of the Ngaios from the beginning was the involvement of what is now WORD Christchurch. I wanted a cool event for our first ever Ngaio Marsh Awards presentation in 2010, and Ruth Todd and Morrin Rout of the Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival really came to the party. They were so supportive, and planned a terrific event for the Saturday night of their festival, which even included the Court Jesters doing an improv murder mystery, before the inaugural winner would be announced. The festival also put up some prize money for the winner (adding to the handcrafted trophy created by sculptor Gina Ferguson and selection of Ngaio Marsh books donated by HarperCollins, Dame Ngaio’s publisher). As Dame Ngaio was a Cantabrian herself, it was a perfect fit.

CoverThen the September earthquakes struck, the festival was cancelled, and our event postponed. Not the greatest start! But Ruth and Morrin continued to be so supportive, even as they were dealing with all the property damage and other concerns. We had offers from other festivals to hold an event in other cities, but stuck with Christchurch. We had a cool one-off event in a temporary venue that November, where the pseudonymous Alix Bosco won the inaugural prize for Cut and Run (fittingly, an author whose identity was then a mystery won our first-ever Kiwi mystery writing prize).

I get a lot of credit for starting the awards, but in truth there have been so many people involved, and it is the mana of those people that have made the awards what it is. Along with our authors, judges, and the libraries who’ve come on board with our Murder in the Library series that started in 2015, I’d like to give a nod to Marianne Hargreaves and Rachael King of WORD Christchurch, who’ve done amazing things and had to deal with me flitting about all over the world and not being the easiest to work with. Because of all those great people it hasn’t seemed all that difficult to set up and run a literary prize, even if there have been difficult moments.

Paul Cleave wins the Ngaio Marsh Award, 2015. Image supplied.
Paul Cleave wins the Ngaio Marsh Award, 2015. Image supplied.

What is it about Aotearoa that make us bat above our weight in the crime writing stakes?

Hmm… I think we have some great writers, across all different styles of storytelling. So our talented crime writers are just part of that wider group of great authors. (Seriously, whatever type of stories take your fancy, you can find great Kiwi books; compelling, page-turning, thought-provoking tales. Give some of our authors a go, whatever genre you love.)

In terms of crime writing in particular, I think our Kiwi authors often have a willingness to push the boundaries of the genre. Check out Adam Christopher‘s Ray Electromatic series that’s pure 1960s LA noir, just with a robot detective, or some of our literary-crime crossovers like Tanya Moir’s The Legend of Winstone Blackhat and Fiona Sussman’s The last time we spoke, or Paul Cleave’s latest A killer harvest which you’d call magic realism if he was a literary author. And that’s just a few examples.

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Our authors certainly don’t feel constrained by the traditional tropes of the crime genre. Many of our Kiwi crime novels also have a great, subversive sense of humour, even the tales that are dark and serious. Many of our authors also have a good touch for landscapes, whether countryside or urban. But in the end, even if many people think of crime fiction as being primarily plot-focused, the best crime fiction often comes down to character – and our Kiwi authors have created some really terrific crime characters!

Can you suggest 3 titles that epitomise #yeahnoir for readers who haven’t tried Kiwi crime?

Just three? Sheesh, that’s tough. I’d probably give you a different answer depending on what day, or time of day, you asked me, but here goes. Oh, I’ll leave aside all our terrific Ngaio Marsh Awards winners, other than to say you can’t go wrong with picking a crime novel to try from Paul Cleave, Paul Thomas, Alix Bosco, Ray Berard, Neil Cross, and Liam McIlvanney.

Instead, I’m going to choose three other books that are really great, and very ‘Kiwi’ crime reads:

CoverBound Vanda Symon: the fourth tale in a really terrific series starring young Dunedin detective Sam Shephard. A successful businessman is murdered during a brutal home invasion, with his wife tied up and left to watch. Sam’s colleagues zero in on two local crims who’ve been on the police hit list for a while, but she’s not sure it’s so cut-and-dried. Sam is a terrific crime character, and the whole series is great, but I particularly like this instalment. Vanda Symon has a nice balance of plot, character, and setting, creating a page-turner with plenty of character depth. Sam has that maverick, trouble-with-superiors essence of crime fiction top cops like Harry Bosch (Michael Connelly) and John Rebus (Ian Rankin), but as a younger woman she layers in plenty of freshness too. There’s a great sense of humour in these books, and Sam is a fierce southern lass who’s her own woman.

CoverHunting Blind Paddy Richardson: like her fellow southern crime queen, Richardson has written several really terrific crime novels, but unlike Symon she has focused on standalones rather than series books. Hunting Blind is a great place to start, a chilling thriller which centres on Stephanie, a psychiatrist whose sister vanished from a lakeside picnic seventeen years ago, fracturing the family and community. Then a new patient tells an eerily similar story, causing Stephanie to reexamine her sister’s disappearance, and sending her on a dangerous and emotional journey around the South Island, searching for long-hidden answers. This is a really terrific novel that was a Ngaio’s finalist in 2011 and really wowed our international panel. Richardson is a master at crafting layered characters who resonate with the reader, and delivers a terrific flavour of the south.

The Sound of her voice Nathan Blackwell: a superb tale from a new author who’s recently joined the #yeahnoir ranks (the Twitter hashtag for NZ crime fiction created by Steph Soper of the NZ Book Council). Blackwell is the pseudonym for a former Auckland detective who was involved in covert operations and investigated very serious real-life crimes. Whoever he is, he’s certainly hit the ground running in the crime fiction world, with a belter of a debut. Detective Matt Buchanan is burnt out, worn down by a succession of tough cases, and haunted by the unsolved disappearance of a young girl years before. Some fresh leads give him hope, but also threaten to draw him across lines that shouldn’t be crossed. Blackwell showcases the courage of Kiwi crime writers in tackling tough issues, giving readers a dark, authentic insight into the stresses the police face.

What do you think about libraries?

In short, libraries are bloody awesome!

I was a sports-loving kid growing up in Nelson, but I also loved spending time in my school and local public library. I discovered so many wonderful authors and books thanks to the librarians, and they cemented my lifelong love of reading. Libraries are so vital to communities, providing information and entertainment, cultivating learning, bringing people together. They’re egalitarian and democratic, opening up doors for anyone regardless of your background or means. Yeah, I think they’re pretty cool.

More about Craig, Ngaio Marsh, and the Ngaio Marsh Awards

Ngaio Marsh photographed during the 1940s
Ngaio Marsh photographed during the 1940s : “Ngaio in the spotlight” CCL PhotoCD 17, IMG0038