The Girl Before : JP Delaney

Have you ever wanted to unclutter your life? Jane wants to start life over; a clean slate. Emma, the girl before, wants to be rid of not just “the clutter from our past…but the stuff we carry around inside our heads.”

Like a lesson on the Japanese art of tidying, the house at 1 Folgate Street offers just that. But does it come at a price?

Image supplied

The architect of this minimalist house, Edward Monkford, has strict rules for his tenants. 1 Folgate Street is a perfection of minimalist architecture; not one personal item may be on view to detract from the intention of this “sentient” house, programmed to respond to its occupants’ daily needs.

This is a great psychological thriller of repetition compulsion (a term coined by Freud). But who is acting out the sexual psychodrama?

Like pentimenti (parchments written over), Jane relates her tale over the Emma’s, discovering first Emma’s tragic death, then the similarities between them. Not the least being their physical resemblance.

But who is the reliable narrator? Jane? or Emma? And who killed Emma? Was it Edward, whose wife, too, looked like Emma and Jane, and also died tragically. Was it suicide? Or was it someone else…

The Girl Before is the first book under the pseudonym JP Delaney, used by Anthony Capella. This story had me riveted, addicted, then spectacularly surprised by its conclusion.

Pop your sleuth hat on these school holidays to keep up with the kids and enjoy this psychological thriller.

The Girl Before
by JP Delaney
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781786480286

Haere ra, John (and Fred)

Yet another Kiwi icon passes. But his legend will live on.

John Clarke is someone many of us remember. For me it was as Fred Dagg, singing the immortal song “If it weren’t for your gumboots” played on National Radio storytime. For others it was his incredible skits on farming life and economics.

In later life in Australia, Clarke tried to shed the Fred Dagg persona. He made an indelible mark there with his scathing and incredibly intelligent political satire.

Also claimed by the Manawatu, Clarke was the voice of Wal Footrot in Murrray Ball’s Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tale. I’d go as far to say John Clarke was Wal Footrot.

He died doing what he loved. And I bet his sharp wit never deserted him.

We didn’t know how lucky we were.

Find out more:

What are your favourite John Clarke memories?

War of the Worlds: The Massacre of Mankind

“Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.” H. G. Wells (1898), The War of the Worlds.

The year is 1921. Britain has recovered from the Martian Attacks of 1907. Yet it is a Britain much changed.

Highly acclaimed hard Science Fiction novellist Stephen Baxter (The Long Earth, Manifold: Time, Voyage, The Time Ships) was head hunted by H.G. Wells’ estate to write The Massacre of Mankind : THE official sequel to War of the Worlds.

Cover of The Massacre of mankind

Immortalised in Wells’ narrative (1898), Orson Welles’ radio show (1938), Jeff Wayne’s stage show (1978) and several movies, these are big boots to fill with high expectations from purists of the genre. Easy when you’re the next Arthur C. Clarke?

I think Stephen Baxter does an incredible job. He switches things up using a several personal accounts; all minor characters from the original. His text reflects Wells’ Victorian idiom and his story of a second invasion connects seamlessly with the original narrative.

Baxter has fun messing with history in this story. He credibly suggests how the Martian incident could have changed Britain forever. In Baxter’s world Lloyd George and Churchill play second fiddle to a Martian War hero named Marvin. England has discomfortingly aligned itself with Germany and adapted Martian technology to protect itself from the possibility of a second attack.

Has Britain learned enough to repel a second invasion? Or have the Martians learned enough to succeed this time?

This is so good that at times I could hear the voice of the narrator from the Jeff Wayne version while reading it.

Weeooo weeooo wee ooooh….

“We seem to be young, in a very old Galaxy. We’re like kids tiptoeing through a ruined mansion.”   Stephen Baxter

The Massacre of Mankind
by Stephen Baxter
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781473629158

Further reading

Murray Ball finds a Slice of Heaven

It is with great sadness that I write a tribute to one of New Zealand’s best cartoonists.

Murray Ball (26 January 1939 – 12 March 2017) was from my home town, Feilding. Stanway I’m pretty sure, or at least Halcombe. Proud as punch they are – because he also made the All Blacks.

Murray Ball with two characters from Footrot Flats. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP-Portraits of New Zealanders-Ball, Murray-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23111673
Murray Ball with two characters from Footrot Flats. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP-Portraits of New Zealanders-Ball, Murray-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23111673

Murray Ball was someone who made us laugh, love, dream, and curse the Nor’ Wester. He brought great characters to life in Wal, The Dog, Horse, Cooch, Cheeky Hobson, and many others besides.

I’ve always been into comics. Footrot Flats is a love I share with my Dad. I remember collecting the annuals to add to our collection. We all went to the movie. A friend of mine walked down the aisle to “Slice of Heaven.” Lol.

Murray’s cartoons and characters addressed pivotal moments and issues in our history – the Springbok Tour coming to mind – rugby being very close to Ball’s heart. I still have the clipping from the Manawatu Evening Standard, when the Dog wrote in to say he was hanging up his All Black Jersey.

See ya mate. Love from Fee and The Dog.

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Local author Jane Seaford : The Insides of Banana Skins

CoverI’ve read a few authors on counter culture: Jack Kerouac, James Baldwin, W.S. Burroughs, Irvine Welsh but The Insides of Banana Skins is more like Marianne Faithfull’s account of life on the wall …

Jane Seaford (Lyttelton, Dead is Dead and other stories) tells a story of a group of young naive women and men who live together, exploring the freedom of late 1960s London. Camden, actually.

Chapters flick between characters’ first experiences of relationships and sex, alcohol, smoking and drugs, work and study, and living in squalour. Oh the joys of flatting. Sukey, Minnie, Jaz and their friends find moments of epiphany and a sense of community in good times and bad.

But then a string of really bad things happen…

From their innocence as new arrivals to some hair raising moments with the people they meet, this book is a taste of the seedier side of freedom.

Most charming and original are the afterwords that end some chapters, asides from the character looking back on this chapter of their life. Life is after all, a mirror. Or as the narrator puts it:

Sukey often framed events as if they were the result of conscious purpose…after all, memory was more ordered than experience. (p.182)

Enjoy!

Lucy Dillon – All I Ever Wanted

Cover of All I ever wantedCaitlin and Eva have something and nothing in common. They’ve both lost their husbands. While Eva is the poised, business-like widow of a celebrity actor, Caitlin is a free spirit who dropped out of university to have a child, and is seperated from Eva’s brother, Patrick.

When Patrick volunteers Eva’s pristine, designer house for fortnightly visits between Patrick and his children Joel and Nancy, Eva is forced out of her comfort zone of grief and into facing her future without Mick, her famous husband.

Nancy, only four, is carrying a secret. Unable to speak since the separation, Nancy thinks it was her wish that made her father go away…

All I Ever Wanted tells the story of how this family is broken apart, then brought together by a common goal: to get Nancy to speak again,

Lucy Dillon writes with an eye for physical detail and emotional nuance, she skillfully relates the feeling of a parent unable to help their child, the frustration of a couple unable to communicate and the pain of Eva’s childllessness. She notes the personality traits that make us unique, and the ways in which we understand and misunderstand one another.

I was swept up in the often moving journey of her characters. A little gushy towards the end (I’m not normally a romance reader) this is a powerfully written book.

All I ever wanted
by Lucy Dillon
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781444796049

Dragon Springs Road – Janie Chang

Cover of Dragon Springs RoadDragon Springs Road by Janie Chang has as many layers as a Chinese puzzle. This beautifully painted tale is a saga containing a mystery, with elements of romance, fantasy, fairy tale and Chinese spiritualism. The story is set against the dramatic backdrop of the 1911 Chinese Revolution; the last reign of the Xing Dynasty.

Jialing is a young hun xue (mixed breed) girl abandoned by her mother. The other word used to describe her isn’t very nice. Jialing’s mother was Chinese, her father British. Her plight highlights the status of women and those of mixed race in a changing society. Women at this time were regarded as property, with little options for independence.

Grandmother Yang, the Matriarch of a well respected family, takes Jialing in as a Bond Servant. She is property of the family until she can buy her freedom. Unfortunately for Jialing, her options as an adult are limited. Although educated, discrimination against her Eurasian appearance makes her almost unemployable.

When a family finds itself in financial difficulty, even wives can be sold; or as servants, or worse, into brothels. Jialing can only hope to be a mistress or a prostitute, unless she is lucky. Aided and protected by a Fox Spirit, Jialing attempts to find a home, friendship, her mother, independence and love.

Janie Chang is also the author of Three Souls.

This is the perfect book to read during Lunar New Year!

Dragon Springs Road
by Janie Chang
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780062388957

Lunar New Year events

All about China

The Beano Annual 2017

CoverDid you read comics when you were young?

I’m English and grew up on this one. If you enjoyed The Beano in your younger years, or are young now, you’ll get a laugh out of this annual. Many of the classic characters are still there – such as Dennis the Menace (and his dog Gnasher), The Bash Street Kids, Bananaman, Roger the Dodger and Minnie the Minx.

The old favourites look ever so slightly different, as some have been drawn by new artists. The stories are up to date with modern technology, media and language, but the essence of the old Beano remains.

Christchurch City Libraries also hold a really interesting History of The Beano which tells how Gnasher first arrived (then mysteriously disappears) in Beanotown. A must for purists.

CoverAnd did you know, you can also view the latest weekly issues of The Beano on PressReader? The last three months are available – just sign in with your library card number and password.

I also discovered Blimey! a blog on British comics.

Enjoy!

Salman Rushdie: Storytelling as Scheherazade

I love reading Salman Rushdie. He weaves the most colourful and beautiful stories, with a little magic shining through like gold threads. Transporting the reader to different cultures, countries and times, his stories often address current issues through the medium of fantasy.

Cover of Two years eight months and twenty eight nightsTwo Years Eight Months & Twenty Eight Nights is a fabulous tale of a War of the Worlds. If you can do the maths, this adds up to 1,001 nights in the Arabian Nights legends. The gates between  Earth and Peristan (Fairyland) have reopened after thousands of years. Mischievous Jinn (Genies as we know them) are messing with human lives in terrible ways, in order to subjugate humans, or ultimately destroy us.

Rushdie adopts the role of Scheherazade, unfolding many stories like the Chinese box sent to poison the King of Qaf. Dark Jinn, creatures of fire, visit curses on mankind – rising curses to make people float above the atmosphere, crushing curses to kill us with gravity, infectious diseases and open attacks.

But Humankind have someone on their side. The Princess of Peristan, Aasmaan Peri; Skyfairy the Lightning Princess. Naming herself Dunia (The World), she fell in love with a human; the philosopher Ibn Rushd, the last time the gates were open. Dunia becomes mother to a race of humans who are part Jinn and part human, with latent powers waiting to be whispered into action to save the human race.

Ibn Rushd was a philosopher in ancient times. He really did have a feud with Ghazali of Iran (a champion of Islam). Ibn Rushd, an Aristotelian rationalist, believed in a kinder God and a less fanatical faith. Salman Rushdie’s father changed the family name to Rushdie to align himself with Rushd and his arguments against Islamic literal interpretation of the Koran.

This is the first book of Rushdie’s that I have really noticed an undercurrent of parable, between the fantasy story and the world of today. Rushdie’s narrator writes from a future Earth a thousand years after this historic battle: without religion, discrimination and war; making clear that the world has no use for “murderous gangs of ignoramuses (whose aim) is “forbidding things.”

Further reading

David Bowie : The Man Who Stole the World DVD

On 10 January 2016 David Bowie died, leaving us his last album, Blackstar. The world as we knew it changed forever.

The Man Who Stole The World DVD is a tribute to the man “who stole the world and put it in a better place”, according to the narrator. The short documentary, the first to be released since his death, covers David Bowie’s life and music, looking at what made his albums so ground breaking; changing people’s perceptions of themselves, music and society.

I was worried, as a huge fan, that it would be corny and sensational. It isn’t. This is a moving account of the man’s life and incredible creativity. The DVD includes interviews with people who had a business or personal relationship with him, such as English DJ Paul Gambaccini and former NME photographer, Kevin Cummins. Some of the footage is new, and some you may have seen before.

Merry Christmas, David Bowie Fans

Christmas Tree, Central Library Manchester (Angel made by Kelly Davies)
Christmas Tree, Central Library Manchester (Angel made by Kelly Davies)

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