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.

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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.

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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.

 Find out more

(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).

New Books – 29 June

Hi readers, some treats this week:

Cover of What happened, Miss Simone

This biography caught my eye – the authorised story of Nina Simone.

What Happened, Miss Simone? is inspired by a documentary. Music journalist Alan Light (The Holy or Unbroken : Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley and the unlikely ascent of Hallelujah, and Lets Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain) draws on Nina’s diaries, rare interviews and her daughter’s memories to tell the story of the ‘real’ Miss Simone’ – a classically trained pianist, civil rights activist and one of the greatest artists of the last century. Did you know she rang David Bowie often? His cover of Wild is The Wind is one of my favourites.

Cover of The switchNext up, some Sci-fi. The Switch is Justina Robson’s twelfth book. She’s won two Arthur C. Clarke awards and been nominated for many others. GoodReads is calling this one ‘ground breaking.’

Harmony is a ‘perfect’ society. To maintain this illusion, the defective are ‘dealt with’ (eradicated). Nico and Twostar are two tough cookies from the slums. They are survivors. Can they overcome Nico being sentenced to death for murder, or the loss of his mind?

Cover of The river singsThe River Sings is Sandra Leigh Price’s second book. An historical novel, it has been awarded the Women’s Weekly Book Club Great Read seal of approval.

The River Sings follows the fortunes of Eglantine, from mysterious beginnings in London to her father’s transportation to the Australian colonies for pick-pocketing. Eglantine must live by her wits and follow his footsteps if she is to survive.

Cover of Lies the mushroom pickers toldIn Lies the Mushroom Pickers Told, by Tom Phelan, journalist Patrick Bracken returns to the village of his childhood in Gohen, Ireland. He’s come back to investigate two deaths that occurred when he was a child. Patrick knows the deaths weren’t accidental, the legal ruling, because he and his best friend were witnesses…

Happy Birthday James K. Baxter!

Hokitika Bill, Hokitika Bill. I remember chanting this poem aloud at Primary School.

Poet James K. Baxter was born in Dunedin on 29 June 1926. His parents were thinkers – his father Archibald was a conscientious objector and Millicent, his mother had been to College in Sydney.

The dichotomy of social order was represented by his family – his maternal grandfather was Māori, his paternal grandfather was Scots. This fed his mind with the differences and similarities between Clans and Tribes.

Baxter began writing poetry from age seven. His work is said to have become technically accomplished by the time he was a teenager.

Beyond the Palisade was published in 1944 – Baxter’s first year of University at Otago, to great acclaim. Influenced by Dylan Thomas, as was Janet Frame at the time, Baxter was part of the Wellington Group of writers. Fellows included W.H. Oliver and Alistair Te Ariki Campbell.

Cover of O Jerusalem: James K. Baxter : An Intimate MemoirIn 1968 Baxter was told in a dream to go to Jerusalem (Hiruharama), a settlement on the Whanganui River. He worked with the poor, and spoke out against a social order that sanctions poverty.

Baxter’s canon of works is astronomical, and well worth a read. We also have his novel – Horse.

Check out our James K. Baxter display in the reference room at Central Library Manchester.

Further reading

Jane Goodall sows seeds of hope

Jane Goodall
Conservationist and author Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall is coming to Christchurch!

This is the chance of a lifetime to hear the hero of many; a champion for animals in Africa.

Goodall is known for her work to save Chimpanzees. She has done this by living with them and sharing information about their plight with the rest of the world. Like Jacques Cousteau and Sir David Attenborough she is one of the early pioneers of conservation.

In her new book, Seeds of Hope, Jane champions the cause of plants. A spiritual call to humankind to avert the looming crisis in nature, backed with scientific authority. Jane reminds us that all animals are reliant on the delicate balance of flora and fauna, at risk from factory farming, destruction of habitats and genetic engineering.

Incredibly decorated, (thirty three awards at last count), Dame Jane’s accolades include the Order of the Golden Ark (1980) for World Wildlife Conservation, The Encyclopaedia Brittannica Award (1989) for Excellence on the Dissemination of Learning for the Benefit of Mankind), the Rainforest Alliance Champion Award (1993), the Commander of the Order or the British Empire (1995) and the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science (2003) to name a few.

Sadly, An Evening With Jane Goodall, at the beautifully restored Isaac Theatre, has sold out. However, Seeds of Hope is available in several formats from Christchurch City Libraries.

New Books – 23 June

Hi there, some great looking titles in the box this week.

CoverKatey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy, Futurama, Married with Children) has written an autobiography! Grace Notes tells the story of Sagal’s amazing and challenging life (not the least having a baby, told as a series of essays. Christina Applegate hails the memoir as “a beautiful poem…you will be transported…and healed.” Follow Katey Sagal on Twitter @KateySagal

CoverWildlife enthusiasts will love this biography The Durrells of Corfu. Those who loved reading Gerald Durrell’s stories of the exotic island and equally exotic pets will enjoy this. The author, Michael Haag, was family friend of Lawrence Durrell, Gerald’s father. The book includes photographs, excerpts from stories and an epilogue on Lawrence Durrell’s writing.

CoverClive Cussler’s new book Nighthawk is the 14th installment of the Numa Files (National Underwater and Marine Agency Foundation). A highly advanced spaceship disappears over the South Pacific. Kurt Austin and NUMA scramble to find it, and its unstable cargo before other nations can discover it. Great reviews. Keep track of his series with Fantastic Fiction.

CoverThe Other Hoffmann Sister by Ben Fergusson, is an Historic novel about a German family, set in Southwest Africa. When her sister Marguerite later goes missing after their return to Berlin, the mystery haunts Ingrid, but her search is interrupted by the onset of World
War I. His second novel, the story is described at atmospheric, accurate, elegant and engrossing.

CoverA Dog’s Way Home is another novel from W. Bruce Cameron, author of A Dog’s Purpose (recently on film). There are many wonderful tales of great animal journeys. In this story, Lucas has to give the dog he found as a puppy, as pitbulls are banned in Denver. Yet the bond between Bella and Lucas is so strong that Bella attempts a journey of 400 miles across Colorado wilderness.

CoverFamiliar Things is a bit of a gem. South-Korean writer Hwang Sok-Yong, is being hailed as ‘the most powerful voice in Asia’ (Kenzaburo Oe), this book as a ‘great political book’ (Critiques Libres).  Flower Island is a landfill, home to the poor who have been driven out of the city. Yet against the stark backdrop of reality, Ancient Spirits are about to reveal themselves…

Themis Files : Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

Waking Gods is the much awaited sequel to Sleeping Giants, Sylvain Neuvel’s first novel of the Themis Files series.

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OMG. After reading The Massacre of Mankind, Stephen Baxter’s sequel to H.G Wells’ War of The Worlds, this is too good to be true!

Once again, London is visited by Aliens. A whacking great Robot, piloted by almost-human beings. Except for their legs. They bend backwards. And their DNA…

Is it here to attack or protect us?  Or is it dissatisfied with the election? While the reader ponders this question, twelve more appear in the world’s major cities.

In Sleeping Giants we are introduced to a giant female figure, scattered in parts all over the earth. A machine, full of deadly possibilites. Our intrepid hero Dr Rose Franklin’s mission is to retrieve it – her – Themis; assemble her and learn how she works.

The Themis Files are written as a series of reports. Characters are interviewed, recorded or write in their personal logs, while the reader observes and absorbs the information, much as an invading intelligence might.

Neuvel has created some great characters here. In the partnership of the pilots, Kara Resnik and Vincent Couture, he reverses the roles. Kara’s character is a tough cookie, army-trained, who hits first, and wisecracks later. Vincent, scared of heights, self-doubting, is her voice of reason.

Rose Franklin is the scientist who first discovers Themis, falling into a hole and discovering a giant hand, glowing with an unearthly green light. Then there is Eugene, his unnamed Benefactor, and the consultant “Mr Burns”. The leaders of this enterprise aren’t quite what they seem.

Waking Gods introduces a new character, Eva (named after another famous robot or two). But that’s all I’m giving away.

Imaginative, unique and very human, this sequel was worth waiting for. I can see room for more. You’ll laugh, cry and be on the edge of your seat waiting for the Robots to move…

More Robots

New books for June

I love unpacking the new books from their boxes. These are my picks from the new book box:

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Dead Writers in Rehab is the second novel by British author Paul Basset Davies; also a writer for stage, radio, television and film. Protagonist Foster James wakes up in what he thinks is rehab. After a therapy session with several writers who are dead (Hunter S. Thompson, for example), he’s not so sure…

Inheriting Edith by Zoe Fishman, is the story of Maggie, a maid in New York, who is left a house by one of her clients. She also inherits Edith, her former employer’s eighty-two year old mother. Erin Duffy recommends this as a book “you’ll want to devour in one sitting.”

John Grisham’s new offering Camino Island features the daring theft of five manuscripts belonging to F.Scott Fitzgerald’s novels. If you were a struggling writer, could you resist the offer to work with a historic manuscript, even if its origins are murky?

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Spaceman of Bohemia is the first novel by Jaroslav Kalfar. Highly recommended by Darin Strauss and Lisa McInerney, this is the story of Bohemian astronaut Jakub Prochazka’s ascent and personal journey through Space. With only an Arachnoid for company Jakub comes to terms with his relationships while he tries to find a way back home to his loved ones.

Tengoku, by Rae D. Magdon, is the story of a Japanese girl, Aozora Kaede, who runs away from her noble family, with only her wolf, Rin, for company. She is hired as a Yojimbo (bodyguard) for a young female Samurai, Homura Imari. The two share an adventure to replace Imari’s missing hand, confront Aozura’s past, and save the Empire of Akatsuki Teikoku from evil.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is a prequel to Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. It’s set a century-ish before Game of Thrones, when the Targaryens are still in power… Featuring Ser Duncan the Tall, and his young Squire, Egg – who is really Aegon Targaryen. With illustrations!

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The Walworth Beauty is a new release from Man Booker Prize shortlisted Michele Roberts. The Independent newspaper is hailing her as “one of Britain’s best novelists.” The Times goes further to describe her as descended from Monet, Debussy and Woolf. The novel follows two characters linked by the search for human connection, but separated by time.

I love the title of this one. (The Last Person to Call Me) Sweet Pea (Ended Up Dead) is a first adult novel by C.J Skuse, known for her writing for children and young adults. Rhiannon appears to be normal, living a normal life. She lives with her boyfriend and her dog, normal. She hates her job, normal. She is making a kill list, normal. Wait what?! The driver who cuts her off every morning. The guy who bruises her apples at the supermarket. Is this underestimated girl going to get away with murder?

80 years old : Citizens’ War Memorial (Cathedral Square)

The Citizens’ War Memorial is still there, hidden behind the cordon.

Citizens' War Memorial
Citizen’s War Memorial. 2007. Flickr File reference CCL-2013-01-15-DSC05887

The Citizens’ War Memorial has stood outside the  Christchurch Anglican Cathedral for eighty years. She survived the earthquakes of 2010/2011 undamaged.

On 9 June 1937 the statue was unveiled by Colonel S.C.P. Nicholls, after a service by Anglican Archbishop Julius.

Originally modelled in clay by local artist William Trethewey, the moulds for the statue were sent to England to be cast in bronze by A.B Burton.

There are six figures in the statue.

Seated with outstretched arms is a figure representing the Mothers of the Empire in an attitude of grief for her lost sons.

St George, in armour, is on the right, facing the Cathedral. He represents valour and protection. On the other side is Youth, holding a torch.

Above St George is Peace, who holds an olive Branch and a dove. Next to her is Justice, who is blindfolded and carries a set of scales, a symbol of balance.

The Angel at the top (my Dad’s favourite) is breaking a sword. She was to be called Victory, but it was decided not to name her.

Peek through the fence surrounding Christchurch Cathedral at this wonderful statue. It’s still there amongst the weeds…

Further information