How to survive the end of the world : Defender by GX Todd

I’ve sometimes wondered what life would be like if all I had left were the boots on my feet…

With recommendations from Lee Child and John Connolly, Defender is British author GX Todd ‘s extraordinary debut novel.

Defender is set in a dystopian future where most humans have succumbed to a disease that makes people crazy – hearing voices that tell them to kill others and then themselves.

In the first book of a four-part Voices series, Defender sets the scene as protagonists Lacey – young, cheeky but calculating and Pilgrim – tough on the outside but with a seriously soft heart – meet for the first time.

In Defender, Todd sets up the relationship of Lacey and Pilgrim, who she only knows as “Boy Scout.” Pilgrim’s character is world weary. He reminds me of Bruce Willis. Perhaps this is because he was The Last Boy Scout but I’m already imagining the movie.

Lacey is desperate to find people. But not so desperate that she doesn’t use her wits. Or the shotgun she’s very competent with.

Not at all stupid, Lacey is a young woman to be reckoned with. Pilgrim would do well to listen to her instincts. She soon finds that the escape and community she had hoped for will not be easily won: not all survivors want community; many want power.

Pilgrim dispatches these human predators with expertise. Pilgrim just keeps moving. Wary, he keeps to himself. He relies on his wits, avoiding others who could slow him down or worse.  He hasn’t counted on picking up two women and a cat in the first few chapters.

He keeps the Voice in his head to himself as well.

Over a glass of lemonade Lacey cleverly tricks Pilgrim into taking her away from the home town she’s been stuck in for seven years.

Some of the content in this book is brutal: it’s a brutal world – yet Todd conveys characters’ suffering with sympathy; the brutality is integral to the plot. Yet there is a layer of female self-awareness in the text. GX Todd writes with feeling without being sentimental. She writes with a mastery of language: her physical, descriptive passages are so well written that they aren’t flowery or wordy, but give the reader a clear perception of events:

(Pilgrim) eased lower into the seat, his eyes heavy-lidded. “Get off the highway at the next off-ramp…and don’t stop for anybody.” He sank down, down into the seat’s foamy embrace, until he was encased on all sides, as if lying in a plush, slumberous coffin.” (p. 130)

Chapters alternate between the points of view of the two main characters, often replaying a scene from each character’s point of view. Until the lines become crossed…

This book brings to mind Stephen King’s The Stand ; a classic post apocalyptic battle of good vs evil. In this story there is also a man collecting people he deems special to master plan…

It Defender also makes me think of Bird Box – another great dystopian story in which most of the world have not only been driven murderously crazy, but also blind…

Dystopia : a community or society that is undesirable or frightening …

Defender
by G. X. Todd
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781472233097

Ada Lovelace Day 2017: Celebrating New Zealand women in science!

It’s that time of year again – when we celebrate Women in Science! Today (Tuesday 10 October 2017 ) is Ada Lovelace Day. Its aim is to celebrate women in science, technology, engineering and maths.

This year I’m featuring pioneers of science in New Zealand. From the nation’s very beginnings, these women classified and preserved our unique flora and fauna, made incredible discoveries, and improved the health and wellbeing of future New Zealanders.

Conservation: Pérrine Moncrieff (1893-1979)

From left; Perrine Moncrieff, Mr Martin, Mrs Claasen, Mr Gourlay, Mr Osborne (?).. Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand :Photographs relating to Perrine Moncrieff. Ref: PAColl-3295-1-10. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22428306
From left; Perrine Moncrieff, Mr Martin, Mrs Claasen, Mr Gourlay, Mr Osborne (?).. Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand :Photographs relating to Perrine Moncrieff. Ref: PAColl-3295-1-10. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. https://natlib.govt.nz//records/22428306

Pérrine Moncrieff came from the United Kingdom after World War One to settle in Nelson. With skill in art and an interest in bird life, she devised a pocket guide; New Zealand Birds and How to Identify Them (1925). In the preface she wrote,

“…it is to be regretted that, despite the fact that Man cannot replace them, the appalling destruction of our unique native birds and forest continues to this day.”

(from New Zealand Scientists : Pioneer Women: Ellen Blackwell (1864-1952) : Pérrine Moncrieff (1893-1979) : Muriel Bell (1898-1974) : Betty Batham (1917-1974) : Trends in their life and science. 1989: Women Into Science Education. Perrine Moncreiff, p.2.)

Moncrieff wrote articles on bird migration, protection, the endangered South Island Robin, and reaction of animals to the Murchison Earthquake (1929).

In 1932 Pérrine was appointed the first female President of the Royal Australasian Ornithological Union. She lobbied for the conservation of birds, forests and soil against gold mining and milling; successfully establishing the Abel Tasman National Park in 1942.

In 1974 Pérrine was awarded the Order of Oranje-Nassau by the Netherlands. Abel Tasman, who first discovered New Zealand, was from Holland, and the Dutch had sponsored the park. In 1975 she was honoured as Commander of the British Empire, but sadly she wasn’t recognised by the scientific community.

Read:

Robin Hodge. Moncrieff, Pérrine, first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 4, 1998, and updated online in October, 2001. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4m57/moncrieff-perrine (accessed 9 October 2017)

Botany: Ellen Blackwell (1864-1952)

R. K. Dell. 'Blackwell, Ellen Wright', first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 3, 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3b37/blackwell-ellen-wright (accessed 9 October 2017)
R. K. Dell. ‘Blackwell, Ellen Wright’, first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 3, 1996. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3b37/blackwell-ellen-wright (accessed 9 October 2017)

Ellen Blackwell lived in New Zealand long enough to collaborate with Robert Laing on the book; Plants of New Zealand. She travelled the country with Robert and her brother Frank, researching and photographing native plants, later writing a large part of the text for their book.

As well as describing the pine, palm and lily families of New Zealand flora, Blackwell’s readable style included snippets of local culture and legend:

“The reader was given advice on the preparation of the bracken rhizome for eating, the suitability of matai wood for ballroom floors, how to use nikau palm in the construction of huts and supplejack for ropes and baskets.” (Ibid. Ellen Blackwell p.3.)

Plants of New Zealand refuted some previously held ideas on the Lancewood species as well as the nature of mangroves.  She identified that their ‘shoots’ were actually aerial roots.

Ellen’s large part in the creation of the book was largely ignored and although some went in to bat for her, she was uncomfortable with publicity and distanced herself from the controversy.

Read:

R. K. Dell. Blackwell, Ellen Wright, first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 3, 1996. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3b37/blackwell-ellen-wright (accessed 9 October 2017)

Nutrition : Muriel Bell (1898-1974)

Hocken Snapshop (29th Aug 2017). Bell, Dr. Muriel Emma. In Website Hocken Snapshop. Retrieved 9th Oct 2017 12:41, from http://hocken.recollect.co.nz/nodes/view/30481
Hocken Snapshop (29th Aug 2017). Bell, Dr. Muriel Emma. In Website Hocken Snapshop. Retrieved 9th Oct 2017 12:41, from http://hocken.recollect.co.nz/nodes/view/30481

Muriel Bell, born in Murchison, is known for starting the programme for Free Milk in Schools in 1937.

Muriel studied medicine at Otago University and stayed on to research human metabolism, gaining a doctorate in 1928. She became a lecturer there in 1935. In 1940 she was appointed Director of the Medical Research Council’s Nutrition Research Department, and Nutritionist to the Department of Health.

During World War Two, when there were food shortages, Muriel consulted on diet and low cost meals. She found a source of Vitamin D in fish oil, and devised a rosehip syrup to supplement Vitamin C for children.

Muriel also discovered, when implementing the free milk in schools programme, that exposure to the sun destroyed vitamin C and riboflavin (vitamin B2) in milk. Covered trucks were then used to deliver it. She discovered that iodine is linked to healthy thyroid function, and that it isn’t present in New Zealand soil. So she introduced iodised salt.

She found a link between fluorine and healthy teeth, campaigning for it to be added to tap water, and researched links between cholesterol and heart disease.

In 1952 Muriel was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, and in 1959 she was made a Commander of the British Empire. She also wrote for the New Zealand Listener on nutrition for many years.

Read:

Philippa Mein Smith. Bell, Muriel Emma, first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 4, 1998, and updated online in June, 2012. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4b21/bell-muriel-emma (accessed 9 October 2017)

Marine Biology: Elizabeth Batham (1917-1974)

Elizabeth Joan Batham. Ormsby, Mary Louise, 1947- :Negatives of portraits used in "Herstory '84". Ref: 1/4-110043-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23155427
Elizabeth Joan Batham. Ormsby, Mary Louise, 1947- :Negatives of portraits used in “Herstory ’84”. Ref: 1/4-110043-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. https://natlib.govt.nz/records/23155427

Elizabeth Batham was born in Dunedin. Interested in the sea and its biology from childhood, she was an accomplished artist and photographer at school. She studied plankton and sea life in Otago Harbour for a Bachelor of Science in botany and zoology at Otago University.

After gaining a Ph.D on sea anemones at Cambridge in England, Batham took up the first role of Director at the Portobello Marine Biological Station in Otago, turning it into the highly respected research facility it is today; offering international study and courses for school students.

In 1962 Elizabeth was made one of only five female Fellows of The Royal Society of New Zealand. She was so dedicated that she would row to work when the ferry wasn’t working, and would dive for so long she often ran out of air.

Politics, administration and a male team of scientists, threatened by a female boss, made it difficult for Batham to manage the growing facility at Portobello. In 1974 she left to study at Victoria University of Wellington.

Betty sadly disappeared while diving in Seatoun.

Read:

John Jillett. Batham, Elizabeth Joan, first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 5, 2000. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5b13/batham-elizabeth-joan (accessed 9 October 2017)

Paleontology: Joan Wiffen (1922-2009)

Joan Wiffen is my hero. In 1975 she found New Zealand’s first ever dinosaur bone.

Like many of us, Joan fossicked for shells and ammonites in sea cliffs as a child. After taking geology night classes Joan learned that the geology of north west Hawke’s Bay made it possible to find reptile bones, although no one had found any. Yet.

Joan concentrated her searches around the Mangahoua Stream northwest of Napier. Her first major find was a vertebra from a theropod – a carnivorous dinosaur that walked on its hind legs 65 million years ago.

Buried in sandstone rocks in treacherous cold water, were dinosaur fossils from both carnivores and herbivores.

Joan found more theropods, a sauropod (a titanosaur : a huge, herbivorous long necked dinosaur), a hypsilophodont (a small bi-ped), an ankylosaur (like an armadillo), an aquatic, air breathing mosasaur, plesiosaurs (like the loch ness monster) and a flying pterosaur.

Ankylosauria, collected Mangahouanga Stream, New Zealand. Purchased 2014 (tbc). CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Te Papa (S.045836)
Ankylosauria, collected Mangahouanga Stream, New Zealand. Purchased 2014 (tbc). CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Te Papa (S.045836)

Wiffen experimented with new techniques which yielded great results. Her collections are held at GNS Science in Lower Hutt. Some have been lent to the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa.

Joan Wiffen was awarded a Commander of the British Empire, the Science and Technology Bronze Medal and and Honorary DSc from Massey University in 1994. In 1995 she was honoured with Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In 2004, she was awarded the Morris Skinner Award from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

She continued dinosaur hunting until her death at the age of 87.

Read:

Heritage scientist timeline – Joan Wiffen.

Further reading

Fresh out of the box: 9 October

Hi folks! Here are books that have just hit the shelves that you might want to check out.

Seriously Funny and other Oxymorons – This book has a great cover, a take on Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” Blotto and Twinks author Simon Brett looks at hilarious contradictions in media.

Deception Point – a new Dan Brown featuring Rachel Sexton and a rare object found in the Arctic Circle…

Cover of The Astronomy BookThe Astronomy Book caught my interest as I’ve been doing sciencey stuff – researching women in science for Ada Lovelace Day (10 October). This is an adult book in excellent format that answers the questions that keep us awake at night.

Two Steps Forward by husband and wife team Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist is a fictional story of two very different people journeying to Cluny, France, to walk the El Camino – a well known place of pilgrimage. Each must come to terms with their past. Funny and romantic.

Cats in Art by well known anthropologist and zoologist Desmond Morris traces cats through the history of art, noting classic images in a way not unlike sharing pets on the internet. Charming, different and wonderful.

Cover of Small wondersMy favourite? A Small Wonders book!

“Have you ever thought that a bunch of broccoli or parsley would look like a forest? The art of making objects resemble something else is often called ‘Mitate’ or ‘likening.”

So says Tatsua Tanaka, author of Small Wonders.

Begun as a daily post that went viral on Instagram, Tastsua Tanaka sets out the coolest tiny dioramas ever seen in his new book, all taken from his Miniature Calendar site.

Joyce Carol Oates: The Word Master

Cover of The Doll masterThe Doll Master is the latest offering from Joyce Carol Oates (aged 79!).  And she’s as fresh as ever.

Highly recommended by Gillian Flynn, The Doll Master is a riveting collection of thrillingly sinister stories from the dark side of life.

All is not as it appears. Each protagonist has a secret. Each story has a twist.

In the title story, a boy collects dolls after the death of his cousin. But as he collects more, it becomes apparent that his obsession is unhealthy. What does it have to do with a series of child abductions? And who is the ‘friend’ that urges him on?

Oates uses the medium of mystery to cleverly and eloquently reflect very current social issues, from very different walks of life.

‘Soldier’ plays with our sympathies while looking at the sides taken after a mixed race (accidental?) shooting. Receiving death threats from some, yet heralded for bravery by others, Brendan Shrank maintains his innocence. But why did he pick up his Uncle’s gun that day?

‘Gun Accident’ takes a fine-toothed comb to a shocking home invasion, in which a young man is shot. But what secret does Hanna hold? Why has she never spoken about what really happened that night? Why is she paralysed with anxiety when she revisits the scene, twenty years later?

‘Equatorial’ had me thinking of Vonnegut‘s Galapagos. I just couldn’t get him out of my head. But it fits, in this whacky story of a woman convinced that her husband is trying to kill her. Is it all in her (pounding) head? Oates draws parallels between the lengths will they be driven to and the fight for ultimate survival. Only the fittest will prevail…

‘Big Momma’ addresses the problems of working single parents, poverty, runaways, body image and abduction (but boy with a twist!). Where is the Clovis’ mother? And who or what is Big Momma?

I love the fluent and easy way Joyce Carol Oates writes, the (conspiratorial) asides she whispers in brackets to the voyeuristic reader. Oates wields a lovely turn of phrase;

A single high window overlooks, at a little distance, the rough waters of the Atlantic that appear in the moonlight like shaken foil.

She avoids bad language, (barring ‘Gun Accident’) and is not wordy, except in the more literary Edgar Allen Poe influenced ‘Mystery Inc.’ In this Who’s Who of mystery writers, invoking The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, Oates narration becomes more classically sinister; her protagonist a predatory bookseller, intent on adding to his empire by foul means.But again, a twist: “Charles” entertains the idea of being partners with his mark, Aaron Neuhaus. Will he change his murderous mind? Or has Neuhaus become suspicious?

The six stories in The Doll Master are a good length, almost novellas. Although I’m not a mystery reader, I was riveted to each twisted little tale, and couldn’t put this book down.

I had to find out what would happen… Did he, or didn’t he? Will she or won’t she? Is it HIM?

Read on if you DARE!

Find out more

Sleeps Standing / Moetū by Witi Ihimaera

“E hoa, ka whawhaitonu mātou, ake, ake, ake!”

“Friend, I shall fight against you for ever, for ever!”

Sleeps Standing / Moetū (Witi Ihimaera and Hēmi Kelly)

CoverKia ora readers. What a coup for Te wiki o te Reo Māori this book is.

A bilingual text in Māori and English, Sleeps Standing / Moetū is written by Witi Ihimaera (Te Whānau a Kai, Te Aitanga a Mahaki, Rongowhakaata, Tuhoe, Whakatōhea, Ngāti Porou) and translated into Te Reo Māori by Hēmi Kelly (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Tahu-Ngāti Whaoa).

Sleeps Standing / Moetū tells the story of the last battle of the Waikato Wars; the Battle of Ōrākau, 30 March to 2 April 1864. Most New Zealanders know this story as Rewi’s Last Stand, immortalised in two films in the early twentieth century, and the later novel by A.W.Reed.

At Orākau on the banks of the Pūniu River in the Waikato, 300 Māori, defended the pa – an agreed place of safety – against 1700 armed British Soldiers, commanded by Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron.

A third of the defenders were women and children.

They came from the allied tribes of Waikato, Raukawa, Tuhoe, Taranaki, Kahungunu, and Ngati Porou to aid Ngāti Maniapoto, the Tangata Whenua (people of the land). They were led by the great nationalist leader Rewi Manga Maniapoto.

Acknowledging with respect the primary right of Maniapoto to tell this history, a fact that has often been been “trampled all over by historians” (p.87), Witi tells the tale from the point of view of an ancestor of his own Gisborne iwi of Rongowhakaata.

Descended from the great Chief Ruharuhi Rukupō, Moetū whakaaraara (the one who sleeps standing and sounds the alarm), came with other iwi to aid Ngāti Maniapoto against the British.

Many allies were prevented from gaining the pa by the British. The remaining 300 were cut off from water, food and ammunition while facing formidable odds – the British had big guns, they had peach stones and taiaha.

The philosophy of the allied Maori defenders was that if they were to die, it would be in battle. “It came as a forlorn hope with us; no one expected to escape, nor did we desire to; were we not all the children of one parent? Therefore, we all wished to die together.” Hiti Te Paerata, Ngati Te Koihera. p.12).

They lived and died by the warrior’s code; defending the land for future generations:

“Me mate te tangata, me mate mō te whenua.

The warrior’s death is to die for the land.” p.13.

Many question the presence of women and children. The character of Rua Papa explains this on p.87. Rangitira (or royal) families ‘travelled together, a sovereign with his court, wife or hoa rangatira and children. If there was a battle, the rangitira families would always be in it, leading from the front. You never saw them sitting on their horses watching from a nearby hillside.” (p.87)

Governor Grey promoted his war as ‘defensive,”  persuading Aucklanders to fear invasion and brutal murder.

The truth was the reverse. A prayer book found recently and traced back to Ruapekapeka Marae suggests that during the attack on this pa, the inhabitants had been at Sunday prayer.

As a nation, we have set a date to commemorate the New Zealand Land Wars, beginning 28 October 2017. This decision came directly from submissions to the government about the Battle of Ōrākau. This book acknowledges this decision.

A celebration of the bravery and tenacity of Maori, this wonderful book collects haka, waiata, personal accounts, photographs and maps, as well as Witi’s novella. The story is written in Te Reo Māori on the left page and English on the right, enabling the reader to choose to learn from the translated text.

Bilingual Māori language materials

Shifting Points of View : Fail Safe / Fail Better

One thing Fail Safe Fail Better did not do was fail to deliver. Six speakers gave candid, entertaining and unique accounts of both personal and professional failures in their lives.

Clementine Ford, Victor Rodger, and Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel at WORD Christchurch, Friday 1 September 2017

Not at all negative, the evening was filled with magic. Glenn Colquhoun invoked ghosts of poets past on the walls of the Christchurch Art Centre’s Great Hall and filled the empty space with poetry (Denis Glover’s The Magpies) and song: his own composition of the ill lucked couple in the poem calling to each other.

While Glenn suggested that sometimes words can fail, he didn’t fail at his task; reciting his performance from memory. I thought you were in great voice, Glenn, as was Witi Ihimaera, who as well as getting the audience to sing in rounds (we failed!) and telling us an alternative fairytale (The Ugly Princess) told us all that his incredible success was all somehow a glorious accident…

Witi’s new book, Sleeps Standing / Moetu, is by no means a failure. Written in bilingual form with Hemi Kelly, it is an outstanding account of the Battle of Orakau, during the New Zealand Land Wars. Witi does however claim to have failed along the way; the Trowenna Sea was not a huge success.

Victor Rodger regaled us with the fact that failure is in the eye of the beholder. Or is it that you can’t please everyone all the time? A hugely successful playwright (2017 Writer in Residence Victoria University, 2012 Pacific Artist in Residence at the MacMillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies, 2009 Ursula Bethell Creative Writing Resident, Canterbury University), Victor’s use of another well-known F-Word in his work fails to impress the one person he wants to be proud of him – his Mother.

The nature of failure follows a pattern; as we say, when one door closes, another opens. Each lost opportunity leads to another, or a different path in life. A higher lesson in there, perhaps, on freedom and predestination.

This was an idea shared by Christchurch Mayor, Lianne Dalziel. Sometimes the timing just isn’t right; the universe has other plans. Our first shot at life and love may be an opportunity to reflect and refine. For her this manifested in a burn-out at Parliament after an exhausting inquiry into the Health Sector, which led to her standing down from Parliament. This left her in a good position to carry Christchurch through its transformation and rebirth.

These experiences are not without wounds. We’ve all been hit by failure, but it’s the resilience we gain that makes us stronger, says Hana O’Regan, Kai Tahu. It’s all in the way you look at it?

A champion of Te Reo, Hana turns life lessons into “rivers of words” writing her way through the experience to the learning on the other side. Each experience brings a lesson, says Hana; they turn up to say, we’ve been through this before, and we can get through it again.

Lastly, and certainly not least, Clementine Ford. Clementine shared a story of mislead youth and heartbreak. This lead us to two realisations: one: life isn’t a John Hughes movie (Pretty in Pink,The Breakfast Club), two: success is not marrying a wanker. Lol.

Fight Like A Girl author Clementine demonstrated her greatest weapon, her wit, in abundance; the lesson in her story being to hold your head high and laugh in the face of crushing (public) rejection.

Glenn Colquhoun, Witi Ihimaera (and Clementine Ford chasing offspring) WORD Christchurch Fail Safe Fail Better, Friday 1 September 2017

Some of the stories shared here were so candid that I chose not to share them. Those gems were for our ears only.

My failures? Well, I started the evening keeping to the theme. On a rainy spring night, I failed to find a car park close to the venue (ah the fun of driving around the CBD in circles) and didn’t make the venue on time. Miraculously the event started late. And the rest? Well thats Witi, Glenn and I…

Find out more

Shifting Points of View: Fail Safe Fail Better

The first session of WORD Christchurch’s Shifting Points of View sessions at the Christchurch Arts Festival is Fail Safe, Fail Better with Witi Ihimaera, Lianne Dalziel, Clementine Ford, Hana O’Regan, Glenn Colquhoun and Victor Rodger. It is on at the Great Hall in the Christchurch Arts Centre, this Friday 1 September, 7.30pm.

Failure. It’s a great theme. When children learn by it, we call it exploration.

Margaret Mahy once said that her publisher would ask her to rewrite her stories up to eleven times.

The panel will bare their souls; sharing their failures, successes and how the lessons they bring have shaped their lives.

Its okay to fail. Buddhism suggests we take the lesson, learn, and evolve towards a higher truth.

Try this for an exercise in freedom. Think you’re a failure at art? Take a piece of brown paper and screw it up into a ball. Freeing, or what? Tear out the rough shape of the leaf by hand. Decorate your leaf with a crayon. You can colour with dye and a paintbrush, or leave natural. Display your leaves around the room!

Come along to the Great Hall at Christchurch Arts Centre on Friday; reflect on life and how the struggle to survive can spark the creative mind.

WORD Christchurch tweets

Remembering our most colourful author: Margaret Mahy

23 July marks the 5th anniversary of the passing of one of Christchurch’s most famous locals, Margaret Mahy.

Image result for margaret mahy glenda randerson
Portrait of Margaret Mahy by Glenda Randerson Christchurch City Libraries

One of New Zealand’s most prolific writers for children and young adults, Margaret’s writing has touched lives over many generations. Her stories and poems are full of magic and fun with a moral tale in the weaving.

Many of her tales have been brought to the the screen. The Changeover, filmed locally, will be released on film on 28 September 2017.

It’s hard to pick a favourite. Down the Back of the Chair comes to mind, followed closely by The Great White Man Eating Shark. Kaitangata Twitch and Maddigan’s Quest are a great stories for Young Adults, both made into TV Series.

Cover of Down the back of the chair Cover of The great white man-eating shark Cover of Kaitangata Twitch

Margaret Mahy has been an inspiration to writers. She established a retreat for authors in Governor’s Bay, and in her video A Tall Long Faced Tale she tells how publishers would often ask her to rewrite a story up to eleven times! Take note.

The Margaret Mahy Family Playground on 177 Armagh Street won an NZILA Award of Excellence for 2017.

I was lucky enough to meet Margaret at the 100th anniversary of the New Zealand School Journal. There she was, in her famous rainbow wig, for all the world holding court at the National Library of Wellington. She signed my journal. I’ll never forget it.

More information:

Use your library card number and password to access articles on Margaret Mahy:

Opera: Carmen at the Isaac Theatre Royal

Opening night at the beautifully restored Isaac Theatre Royal. The talk of the excited crowd dies down to murmurs as the lights dim. Light glitters from gilded panels. The open stage begins to fill with the cast, who stare heroically at the audience, then walk off to leave the lead character exposed.

Carmen, by Georges Bizet, is an Opera in four acts. It’s a passionate story, centred around Gypsy Siren come Revolutionary, Carmen. Her wily seduction of the Soldier Don Jose and the love triangle created when she spurns him for the compelling Toreador, Escamillo, raises passions that run out of control.

Carmen with chorus members
Carmen with chorus members. Image credit: Marty Melville

Directed by Opera Queensland’s Artistic Director Lindy Hume, (Lucia di Lammermoor, Rigoletto and La cenerentola), the themes of immorality and the murder of the main character broke new ground in theatre, making the Opera controversial after its release in 1875.

The cast of Carmen are incredible. Relaxed and natural in their roles, they deliver a heartfelt and convincing performance. Don Jose (Tom Randle) has a powerful voice with which to express his pain (like a knife in the heart). His duets with Michaela (Emma Pearson) are exquisite.

Micaela (Emma Pearson)’s pleas with Don Jose to save his life from ruin are delivered with such feeling that I was moved by her performance. Her voice brought the role to life with powerful strength.

Escamillo (James Clayton) has a beautiful voice. It flows naturally, like honey. I would have heard him more (he performs in Handel’s Messiah later in the year).

And Carmen (Nina Surguladze). Wow. She gave an incredible performance. Her voice filled the theatre, as did her personality. Nina has performed on the most famous stages in the world. Her Carmen was cheeky, strong heroic; her movements around the stage as graceful as her control over her voice, teasing us with soft notes, and inflaming us with her passionate mezzo soprano.

The supporting cast must not be forgotten. All great actors, their wonderful voices swelled the theatre with rousing performances of Amour and Toreador. Special mention to Kiwis Amelia Perry (Frasquita) and Kristin Darragh (Mercedes), Carmen’s companions. I loved their voices, and they brought more character to the stage.

Carmen
Clever staging at the Isaac Theatre Royal

Production Designer Dan Potra’s staging is clever and innovative. Moving panels create or take away space, ultimately leaving the lead characters, Carmen and Don Jose trapped.

The chorus and Escamillo take performances beyond the stage, singing shadowed behind the stage wall. Lights appear in a strangely jagged wall to create a mountain hillside, clever lighting (Matthew Marshall) creates swirling clouds from dry ice.

Lastly a hat’s off to the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Francesco Pasqualletti and Oliver von Dohnanyi. and It was thrilling to hear Toreador played live. Great job.

Favourite scenes? The whole cast singing ‘L’amour est un oiseau rebelle‘ in Act I. The dancing scene in Act II:  Carmen is completely in control; the women creating a whirlwind around the circle of sheepish, lustful men.

Gypsies
Gypsies. Image credit: Marty Melville.

And the Death Scene. Best Death Ever! The crowd gasped as Don Jose fired his gun (filled with very loud blanks), then gasped again as Carmen slid down the wall, leaving a trail of blood. Especially entertaining as we all knew it was coming.

Footnote: My library colleague Rose O’Neill asked one of the Isaac’s friendly staff about The Ghost. It was thought that he had gone after the Quakes. Then after restoration he was seen behind the stage…

Ceiling dome, Isaac Theatre Royal.

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(The last person to call me) Sweet Pea (ended up dead) by C. J. Skuse

CoverEver thought of getting your own back on people who burst your bubble?

Forget the Bucket list, Rhiannon Lewis has a Kill List.

  1. The guy who squashes her groceries.
  2. The man that cuts her off every morning when she crosses the road.
  3. The colleague who takes credit for her work. And uses joke forms of her name.
  4. The creeps that proposition her on the way home from the pub/while walking her dog.
  5. The girl who bullied her at school.
  6. The girl who shagged her partner after the staff Christmas do.
  7. The café assistant who still hasn’t made your order while you shifted your car (I threw that one in).

Dexter meets Big Driver in this slightly sexy passive-aggressive tale of an unlikely vigilante killer. (Some call this genre Murder Porn.)

Rhiannon isn’t paranoid; she hates everybody. Well, everybody except her dog, Tink. Of course she has issues. The only survivor of a mass murderer, Rhiannon finds it hard to feel emotion. But she does feel a thrill when she gives a sexual predator a taste of his own medicine…

I love the subtitle. Related as Rhiannon’s diary, we read Sweet Pea as if we are voyeurs ourselves. Private and incriminating, it is a brutally honest account of all the things that push our buttons, and a liberating way of dealing with them – murder!

I don’t usually read mysteries, but this is both funny and brutal. Skuse, previously an author for children and young adults, lets it rip with similes to rip your sides – her wit alone will cut you to shreds.

This is one for the closet psychopath (I’m making a list of my own).