I’m possessed by Joe Hill

Cover of Heart shaped boxHeart Shaped Box by Joe Hill has been republished in a 10th anniversary edition.

You’d expect someone who grew up inhaling Stephen King stories to emulate him. Millions of us grew up reading King and elements of his stories are part of the soundtracks of our lives.

The same can be said of Joe Hill, aka Joseph King (son of Stephen). While very much writing in his own voice, you can tell some of those stories have rubbed off on him, too.

The character of Craddock, the man haunting the Dead Man’s Suit, reminds me of the terrifying Gypsy from Thinner, or the unearthly proprietor from Needful Things. Somehow Hill read my mind and his character fits my imagined embodiment of these two haunting characters.

Judas Coyne is the epitome of a gothic rock star. Some would think of Marilyn Manson, but I can see Alice Cooper in him. His journey along the ‘night road’ is one of self-realisation, his sexploitation of female fans redeemed by his love of dogs.

Hill shares his father’s feel for music – slipping lyrics into the text of this story, just like in IT and The Body (filmed as Stand by me), as a couple of examples.

Vehicles are prominent in Hill’s stories too – this one features a Mustang and a scary old pick-up with glaring headlights. Anyone remember Christine?

Hill’s stories carry his own strong sense of humour, suspense and irony, while gripping you in the headlights of his very chilling tales.

“…acid. I had a good memory once. I was in the chess club at junior high.”

“You were? That’s a hell of a thought.”

“What? The idea that I was in the chess club?”

“I guess. It seems so…geeky.”

“Yeah. But I used severed fingers for pieces.”

I read Heart Shaped Box in four days. That’s the best praise I can ever give. Hill’s writing style wasn’t ‘easy’ – it was gripping and exciting. This book possessed me until I had found out what would happen to Judas Coyne and Georgia/Marybeth.

Let this story haunt you. And yes the title was influenced by Nirvana.

“Nirvana’s ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ is, it seems to me, a song by a man who felt trapped by his own fame, increasingly frantic to escape the prison cell of being loved.”

.

Cover of The firemanThe Fireman

If you’re a Twin Peaks fan, you’ll pronounce this “fear man”, lol.

The Fireman is a good example of Hill’s versatility – it’s very different from the ghost story above.

This is an apocalypse story, along the lines of The Stand. In this book the spore, ‘dragonscale’, is the main protagonist.

Dragonscale presents as a black tattoo with highlights of fire, the victim eventually combusting, taking all that surrounds with them.

Disease was a favourite theme of one of the masters of horror, Edgar Allen Poe.

I’m not sure which is more disturbing; the spontaneous combustion, or Hill’s obsession with Mary Poppins. The character of Harper plays Mary to the Fireman’s Dick Van Dyke.

The plot of The Fireman becomes a compelling race for survival: will Harper live to give birth to her baby? Will she be terminated by the Combustion Squads, bent on cleansing the population from the scourge? Or will her husband get to her first, to make her fulfill their suicide pact?

Cover of Locke & KeyLocke & Key

Hill is perhaps best known for his early graphic novels, the Locke and Key series.

Set in New England, these stories focus on the Locke family, who can open doors between worlds. Locke and Key are great stories, beautifully rendered by artist Gabriel Rodriguez.

I’m hooked. I’m going to read NOS4R2 next.

Cover of NOS - 4R2NOS-4R2

NOS-4R2, a clever title, crosses between worlds in a classic car (this time a Silver Wraith); it’s driver, Charles Manx, a serial killer full of evil intent to abduct and corrupt children. One child, Victoria McQueen, survives, gaining supernormal powers from her encounter. Charles has never forgotten the one that got away…

It’s such a relief to know that when Stephen King passes through the door to the next world, this one is in Joe Hills’ hands.

Poet Kaveh Akbar is no sheep in wolf’s clothing – WORD Christchurch

Kaveh Akbar is more of a shepherd than a wolf. The internationally acclaimed Iranian-American poet not only produces amazing thought-provoking poetry, but nurtures other poets to achieve their full potential too. So it was a perfect date for us to be hosting him at Tūranga, the flagship of the future. We are all about helping our citizens to access all they need to reach for the top.

Hosted by local poet Erik Kennedy, this event was held in the brand spanking new Tautoru / TSB Space, and brought to us by WORD Christchurch in association with LitCrawl Wellington. View photos of Kaveh Akbar and Erik Kennedy event.

Mr Akbar is a really nice guy. Humble and quietly spoken (though this changes when he reads) Kaveh kept thanking us for coming. When reading, Kaveh is animated, moving with the lilting rhythm of his words, his voice rising with the swell of emotion and experience.

An Iranian-American, he sees his poetry as:

“the membrane between myself and the divine…a new idiom for ancient binaries.”

Binaries such as solitude and community, decay and rebirth, literature and culture.

Kaveh has been posting interviews with poets making waves on DiveDapper; a website he created as a platform for exposure, promotion and connection. It has become a community, bringing poets and enthusiasts together worldwide. The list of poets on this website is impressive! Akbar sees this as a way to “push (his gratitude) outwards.” He further demonstrated this by reading two poems by New Zealand poet Helen Heath.

CoverKaveh’s book of poetry Calling a Wolf a Wolf was released to much acclaim this year. In it, Kaveh addresses difficult themes from addiction to desire; his poetry refreshing in a way that feels uplifting rather than downbeat.

Akbar’s work shares a sense of lessons learned and experience shared, as opposed to a self-indulgent train wreck. In all, there is a theme of hunger: for the physical sensation of being alive. Akbar’s poems grabbed me at first taste. Alliteration, onomatopoeia and themes of life, death and longing fill his poems. Addiction is portrayed as a kind of death; “a void to fill in wellness”. The poetry came from a need to fill the gap left after he became sober: “my entire life up to that point was predicated on the pursuit of this or that narcotic experience.” All this brings to mind a Persian poet who celebrated the wine and song of life, yet without the cautionary tale: Omar Khayyam.

In the light of current politics, Kaveh asserts that the ‘utility’ of poetry ‘forces us to slow down our metabolism of language’. A useful antidote to doublespeak, perhaps. He makes it sound like a science. And in fact it is.

Kaveh Akbar
Kaveh Akbar in conversation with Erik Kennedy. WORD Christchurch event. Tautoru / TSB Space, Hapori | Community, Level 1, Tūranga, Tuesday 6 November 2018. Flickr 2018-November-6-IMG_1984

Although he now only speaks a few words of Farsi these days, Akbar sees feeling as a ‘universal language,’ one that we all understand. The purpose of poetry, he says, is as Homer put it – to ‘delight and instruct.’  So often, we leave out the delight, loving to lecture others on the way of things. Pre-sobriety, Akbar the poet painted himself as the hero of his works; a ‘gloriously misunderstood scumbag.’ A way of being, he says, that’s insufferable (I’ve dated guys like that).

‘So you’re the sobriquet of the School of Delight?’ quips Eric Kennedy. Sobriquet. Oh clever. Thus begins a new Golden Age in Poetry. The interview website DiveDapper came from Kaveh’s hunger for dialogue with other poets while going through recovery. It’s a way to share experience with others – ‘a vast expanse of empathetic resources.’

The internet has meant that ‘the age of coy diminishment of one’s passions is over’…it is now an age of ‘unabashed zeal.’ Eric:  Zeal Land!”

Kaveh read a number of wonderful poems from Calling a Wolf a Wolf. I love the titles – so real but imaginative. He really does have a way with words:

The last word goes to Mr Akbar:

“Poetry is the best thing that exists in the universe.”

More about Kaveh Akbar

Kaveh has been published by the New Yorker, The New York Times, Best American Poetry 2018 and The Guardian:

Poems

The Great WORD Debate : uproariously entertaining – WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Irreverently silly, relentlessly roasting and just a little bit real, the Great WORD Debaters had a sold out audience in stitches at The Piano Concert Chamber on Saturday night.

Blurring those lines again (you know the ones, fact and fiction), the speakers entertained with anecdotes, shaggy dog stories, impressions and some pretty solid arguments.

Adventure being the theme of the festival, the topic of debate left everything to the imagination:

That we should be free to choose our own adventure.

The M.C. for the evening was larger-than-life Joe Bennett, who had those of us who thought we were worn out sitting up in our seats, introducing:

Team for the Affirmative: Paula Morris, Tom Scott and Daniel Mallory (AJ Finn).

Team for the Negative: Michele A’Court, David Slack and Denise Mina.

Paula Morris, herself an international woman of mystery, opened proceedings with a wry, witty and clean (which is more than I can say for some) argument in favor of choosing to live an adventurous life, and the value of being free to choose said adventures. Playing the straight-woman, her stern jokes were all the more funny as she suggested that the team for the negative would rather be tucked up in bed with a cup of tea.

The Great WORD Debate. Image supplied.
The Great WORD Debate. Image supplied.

Michele A’Court, as leader of the opposition, fired back with hilarious and strong arguments in favour of letting our adventures choose us. Perhaps Michelle went to Charlotte Grimshaw as her point hinged on the existential question that perhaps it’s not the grand plan, but the surprises that make our lives big, rich and entertaining. Michele herself has lived a “daring, high-risk” life at the hands of her publishers.

Michele embellished her case with such colourful examples as oysters having no grit, a WORD Festival with no books (horrors!) and the clincher that

“Careful planning did not produce Jacinda Ardern’s baby.”

The fabulously received and recently iconized (it happened last night) Tom Scott set the bar for impressions, invoking Sir Rob Muldoon in a way that was so spooky I would have had goosebumps if I wasn’t laughing so hard. However he then lowered the tone, telling stories about Sir Edmund Hillary and others that, if true, would make your grandmother blush. In fact I’m sure I saw some. (I’m not sure I would choose some of the adventures Tom was suggesting.)

Next up David Slack who was of the opinion that if choice was the issue, we should be free to choose not to have adventures, as one can just as easily have them safely at home. David cited the perils of hiring cowboys to do renovations, striking fear into the heart of every Cantabrian. The third person from Feilding besides me and Tom Scott, David’s list of adventurous activities include a good cheese scone and putting Feilding in your rear view mirror. Lol.

But it’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye. Things got a little bit real when M.C. Joe Bennett ribbed Dan Mallory that after his huge success (Dan/AJ’s book, The Woman in the Window is the biggest seller in the world right now), it would be all downhill from here.

Dan’s argument completely kicked this to the kerb with a (literally) mind-blowing and incredibly brave tale of his battle with depression; choosing to take the risk of ECT treatment. The fact that the highly successful author saw this as an adventure was testament to his determination to choose how to define it.

Lastly, the delightful Denise Mina, who based her whole argument on a professional life of being thrown in at the deep end; using this evening as an example. Mina reiterated her team’s point that one doesn’t need to choose wild adventures to the Great Wall of China so that you can bore your friends and relatives to death with photos. Instead life can come at you, she said, observing that it might be naively adventurous to invite a Glaswegian to a friendly argument.

If you want an adventure, says Mina, come to Glasgow and eat the food.

Traditionally a draw, last night’s Great WORD Debate had a clear winner; the side for the affirmative. We like clear winners here.

Follow our coverage of WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Philip Hoare – Hunting for Moby-Dick and The Sea, The Sea: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Oh ye! Whose eyeballs are vexed and tired

Feast them on the wideness of the sea.

(Keats)

I love the Sea and books about the Sea. Thrillingly rough and washing up over carparks or velvet-smooth, there is something at once wild and calming about its compelling expanse.

Although I swim until March, Philip Hoare is a man who swims in the ocean every day (at 4.30am), no matter where in the world he may be, or whatever the season. He was not to be deterred by Canterbury’s spring temperatures, which swung from ‘damp and drizzly’ (Melville) to very welcome sparkly sunshine within a day.

Hosting a workshop and documentary on the classic Moby-Dick and speaking at WORD Christchurch Festival about the inspiration for his books, Philip shared his wonder of the ocean with the redoubtable Kim Hill for a large audience.

Risingtidefallingstar is Hoare’s latest book. Following a common thread this WORD Festival, in Risingtide Philip also blurs the lines between fact and fiction in an alliterative tidal flow that combines the mystical with tales of experience; taking the reader on a journey to discover how the ocean has influenced human life, literature, art, and essentially, ourselves.

To signpost this journey back to our primal selves, Hoare refers to many wonderful works of art and literature inspired by the Ocean itself. Shakespeare’s Tempest, Spenser’s Faerie Queen, the works of Shelley and of course the master of high sea adventure, Herman Melville; absorbed all and more of these, including the Bible.

At times in human story the Ocean is appears to be a metaphor for Nature’s evil. But in doing so it raises the question of, “Can Nature be evil?” turning the spotlight on perhaps the true villain, man:

“Humans have become disconnected from the natural world”

“Our vocabulary, speech, has distanced us.”

Here Hoare apologises for not speaking Whale. (We later discover that Waitaha can speak whale. That’s another story.)

What struck me was how similar to humans whales can be, not just physically (our bone structures are very similar). But maybe more evolved as they stuck to their path, and weren’t distracted by dreams of land (like the little Mermaid, to her doom). Whales define themselves by each other, says Hoare; like family, and are never alone.

Humans are defined by our larger culture, Philip himself relating poignantly to the death of iconic David Bowie, whose loss was felt worldwide, while he was writing this book. Bowie is, of course, the Falling Star.

We return to the subject of swimming. Whilst in Canterbury, Philip has taken a dip at Sumner Beach, and in Akaroa. He’s heading north to sunny Nelson next. The ritual of swimming is for Hoare a meditation, made more sensual by being done in darkness. In times gone by, Monks meditated in the sea, immersed in its timelessness.

“Why do you do it?” Asks a relentlessly funny Kim Hill.

“To leave it all behind,” replies Philip, “the Earth, earthly problems, gravity itself.”

“But you could die.”

“That’s part of the charm.”

“I’m reborn!”

exclaims Philip excitedly.

Go Girls and Boys! Barbara Else instils a love of reading at the Margaret Mahy Memorial Lecture: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Barbara Else, author of Go Girl! – a Who’s who of adventurous Kiwi women, (make that a Storybook of Epic NZ Women), written for young readers – shared some of her own magic tricks on inspiring readers young and old. She followed in the footsteps of another author we knew and cherished; the colourful Margaret Mahy.

Barbara Else. Image supplied.
Barbara Else. Image supplied.

CoverBarbara is a great believer in that whatever will inspire a child (or an adult) to read, is a good place to start. Trends suggest that a lot of young readers prefer non-fiction, hence the idea for Go! Girls. Yet this is cleverly disguised as a story book, much like you might hide good vegetables in the mince.

According to National Library, there are few people in New Zealand reading for pleasure (i.e.stories) in the 21st Century. They are responding with a project to entice Kiwis back to the ‘stillness, escapism and replenishment’ of reading fiction and fantasy.

Barbara couldn’t stress enough the importance of reading to children, which in turn becomes an individual pleasure as the child grows up. From the stillness and reassurance of developing listening skills in a mother’s lap (which stimulates brain networks, we were told by a member of the audience), Barbara’s stories are aimed at giving agency to the child protagonist, a voice that affirms their experience of the world. The glow of hope at the end gives the child the courage to imagine for themselves.

It’s important to carry on reading as an adult, remembering that our experience is shared, and a way to escape into considering the big issues, while reading of others’ journeys.

Non-fiction stories help young people to contemplate their own place in the world, says Barbara, fostering their own imaginations to dream beyond the real and everyday, into the future.

Barbara touched on the importance of women in story, citing Fiona Kidman as helping it to dawn on her that using male protagonists was a default for authors. While strong female characters, ‘defending themselves from oppression’ are a feature of Else’s books, characters such as Jasper in The Travelling Restaurant; a vulnerable male lead who uses his wits to care for others, was received with overwhelming interest by boys and girls.

“Each story demands its own audience. I can’t tell the audience what to think.”

Barbara describes the process as an alchemy;

“to challenge, provoke and reassure, as a mother’s voice would do.”

Pure magic.

“Reading stories to children gives them a voice.”

Charlotte Grimshaw: I and I and existentialism: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Blurring the lines between fact and fiction is a way of life for Charlotte Grimshaw. Growing up in father C.K. Stead’s orbit, Charlotte’s world was one where every facet of life could be fictionalised.

Cover of MazarineCharlotte spoke at WORD Christchurch Festival 2018 with Kate de Goldi about her latest novel, Mazarine, in which she explores the evolution of the shattered self; through the story of a woman trying to find her adult daughter, missing in Europe, ultimately finding her own sense of being.

There is a large element of psychoanalysis in Mazarine, a sense of personal experience within the narrative. The character of Francis is ethereal, almost non-existent in her family unit: adopted, ignored, her feelings unvalidated.

Francis keeps asking for validation of her existence throughout the book, her character lacking a sense of reality as her past has no narrative. This is a common human condition, asserts Grimshaw.

Mazarine, the ‘other mother’ whose son has gone missing with Francis’ daughter, is the blue butterfly to Francis’ brown female. (The male Mazarine gets the colour.)

Yet Charlotte was determined to avoid ‘selfie fiction” – meandering existentialism with no plot – writing instead a page-turner; successful in hooking this reader with “what happens next?” Grimshaw writes a compelling mystery that crosses the world, with an essential motif – a tattoo.

When asked of her inspiration for the story, Charlotte remembers an incident that drove the beginning (a suicide at West Ham railway station – Julian Assange’s lawyer) but not how circumstance took her there. Is she visited by a Muse? Charlotte suggests it might be aliens…

At the time of writing, the U.S. appeared to be on the brink of electing a female President (Hilary Clinton). Charlotte saw this as a possible zeitgeist. (Instead, the U.S elected a ‘narcissist gorilla’, she says; in whose world women exist only as handmaidens, plastic effigies of themselves; beautiful, young and never fat.)

Accordingly, the characters in Mazarine are strong females; Inez, the adoptive mother who will not speak to Francis, always refusing to acknowledge her feelings is ‘a towering black hole.’ Mazarine, significantly the first female friend Francis has found outside her family, is the Yin to Inez’ Yan. Francis’ father is the handmaiden, cowtowing to Inez’ dominant emotions and perception.

A wonderful session made all the more interesting by Kate de Goldi’s eloquent questioning and deep analysis.

“Therapy is a truth excavator” – Kate de G.

Kate de Goldi talks macro vs microcosm with Charlotte Grimshaw at WORD Christchurch

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Curiosities : Paula Morris and Tina Makereti: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

CoverMy next adventure was waiting for me at The Piano; a port in a storm after The Hunt for Moby-Dick at the Christchurch Art Gallery.

Curiosity is the seed of adventure. For Dr Paula Morris and Tina Makereti it has led to historically sensitive, lyrical works of fiction based on both fact and social myth.

Paula (Ngāti Wai) is the author of Rangatira, winner of the 2012 NZ Post Book Awards and Nga Kupu Maori Book Awards. False River is her new collection of short stories; topical as Dr Morris will be the Pacific Region Judge for the 2018 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

Well-travelled, Paula teaches creative writing at the University of Auckland and has appeared at festivals and conferences worldwide. She is the founder of The Academy of New Zealand Literature.

Introduced by Nic Low (Ngāti Tuahiri), our two curious writers treated the audience at the Heartland Chamber to readings from their works.

Paula read from both Rangatira, and False River, Tina from her new book, The Imaginary Lives of James Poneke, for an audience full of writers, if question time was anything to go by.

False River is an unusual collection of contemporary stories in that some are fiction and some are non-fiction; blurring the lines between story and fact. This can be said of historical fiction also; where it may only be possible to imagine the world of our ancestors, based on myth or archaeological evidence.

CoverTina Makereti (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Te Ati Awa, Ngāti Rangatahi), also a PhD and winner of the New Zealand Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing (2009) to name just one of her accolades, is the author of Where the Rekohu Bone Sings, a lilting and moving tale of cultural conflict, place and belonging told through characters that are between Moriori, Maori and Pakeha cultures.

In Tina’s experience, fiction based on a real person involves letting go of reality. The historical figure is a flat image to be turned into narrative.

Something like performing your identity on stage? asks Nic. There’s a pause as Tina contemplates this. Exactly that!

For me it’s more playing the New Zealander, having to say, “Fush and Chups.” But the character of James Poneke (in The Imaginary Lives) realizes that in ‘dancing’ for the Europeans (letting them exhibit him), he has been complicit in perpetuating their sense of ‘other.’

Both writers teach creative writing. Any advice?

Tina : Just do it. Tell your own story, get it out in the world. There’s no guarantee but there is no one else to tell it. So much remains to be written.

Paula : We must do all we can. You can’t complain the field (of writers) is sparse if you haven’t sewn the seeds. Write the book you want to write : engage with language and tell your experience, your world view.

Lastly Nic asked how the two authors found material for their books; did they ‘plonk’ elements of their lives into their stories?

Tina : I prefer to call it artfully interwoven.

Paula actively purloins anecdotes and overheard scenes from her daily experience, using them to create scenes or characters.

Nic : “Your friends have to be careful”

Paula : “My enemies have to be more careful”

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Follow our coverage of WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Desert Woman – Robyn Davidson keynote: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Welcomed with a mihi by Corban Te Aika from Ngai Tāhu, we were then invited to fill our boots with adventure by WORD Christchurch literary director Rachael King,  the tone was suitably set for our WORD Christchurch Festival journey, beginning with an author who embodies the spirit of adventure: Robyn Davidson.

In 1977 Robyn trekked across the Australian desert with four camels and a dog for company; becoming world famous at the age of twenty-seven. The articles she wrote of her experience, for National Geographic, and The Times, formed the basis of her first book, Tracks. Robyn’s incredible story of survival in the desert remains a best seller, and was made into a film in 2013.

In the sold-out Philip Carter Family Concert Hall at The Piano, Robyn relived her 1700 km journey for an enthralled audience, accompanied by images by Rick Smolan.

Rick was sent by National Geographic to chronicle her adventures, meeting her three times during the nine month journey. The collaboration was uneasy at first. Although she needed the sponsorship, Robyn wasn’t keen to stage pictures re-enacting the story for a magazine audience, and she wasn’t willing to share her time alone in the desert.

Robyn felt “objectified” by the constant clicking, her depiction in the shots as a ‘Vogue model” and became increasingly aware that Rick was falling in love with her.

Raised on a cattle farm in Queensland, Davidson had a natural affinity with animals and later studied zoology. She spent two years working with camels before she felt ready to take on the unforgiving Australian desert.

Davidson practiced trekking with an Aboriginal guide, learning how to find water. She became interested in nomadic peoples, becoming something of an advocate for aboriginal land rights. The interest around the Tracks story led to a career as an explorer and writer.

“You are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be.”

Robyn conveyed some great messages to the crowd, empowering us with the idea that if a twenty seven year old Robyn, who was “terrified of everything’ could cross the desert, then “anyone can do anything.” She spoke of how we need to push through the boundaries of family, society and our own inner voices to command our own fate – to find a “better, larger way of being.”

The experience changed Robyn. When alone in the “singing desert” (i.e. not hounded by tourists and photographers) Robyn felt a sense of connectedness with everything.

“When all is connected, the boundary of the self expands.”

Therefore Robyn didn’t really feel alone in the wilderness, except when faced with life-threatening challenges such as an empty well or runaway camels. Even in the face of certain death, Robyn’s stoic sense of bravery came to the fore:

“I might have died, but we’re all gonna do that anyway.”

A master of understatement!

“The rest is sheer tenacity.”

Robyn later joined Indian nomads on migration in 1990-2, publishing this experience in Desert Places, and writing another collection including Tibetan nomads No fixed address.

Travelling Light, published in 1993 covers a decade of doing without “life’s little props,” including a trek across the U.S.A. on a Harley Davidson. Way to go!

Robyn Davidson at WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Adventurous Keynote: Robyn Davidson Wednesday 29 August 7.30pm SOLD OUT

Saving the Future: Interview with Ant Sang

Ant Sang, self portrait.Ant Sang is one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed cartoonists and graphic novelists.

His best-selling graphic novel, Shaolin Burning, won an Honour Award at the 2012 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards. He’ll be appearing in Ant Sang: Dharma Punk with Tracy Farr, Saturday 1 September, as part of WORD Christchurch Festival 2018.

Welcome to Christchurch, Ant!

Graphic novels are very popular here across all age groups, as are animated series and films. New Zealand artists compete well in this genre. Can you say why you think the comic strip and cartoon has remained a popular genre?

I think cartoons are naturally appealing to people, from a young age.

And with the breadth of work being produced in the comic form there really is something for everyone; from easy-to-read comics for younger readers, experimental ‘alternative’ comics, Japanese horror and romance manga, superheroes and so much more.

As a kid I read Monster Fun, The Beano and Judge Dredd. What early cartoonists and artists appealed to you as a young person?

I read so many comics when I was young. Asterix, Tintin, Footrot Flats, Beano, Tarzan, Uncle Scrooge, Richie Rich; anything i could get my hands on really!

Cover of Shaolin Burning by Ant SangI enjoyed the clear black and white plates of Shaolin Burning, not to mention the great plot and strong characters. It appeals to those (like me) who don’t like too much text, or are reading graphic novels for the first time.

Was Shaolin Burning your interpretation of a folktale, or a myth of your own creation?

Thanks. Shaolin Burning was a retelling of kung fu myths and Chinese history, interwoven with my own original characters. I really liked the idea of creating characters who were written out of history, but who might have interacted with famous kung fu personalities such as Wing Chun.

Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas is a standout as your first foray in colour comics. How did you make this transition and how did you find it as a medium?

I loved working in colour for Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas. I’ve worked with colour previously in my illustration and comic projects, but never on the scale of this book. To make it visually interesting I wanted to use different colour palettes for different locations and times of day so that there was a sense of a varied landscape and a long passage of time throughout the book.

The Dharma Punks, Shaolin Burning and Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas feature strong female characters. How did you develop Helen’s character?

Helen was created by my co-author Michael Bennett, who originally wrote the story as film script. As we developed the graphic novel, Helen did evolve; for instance in the original script she was married, and a few years older. But at the heart of it, it’s always been a story about a young woman finding herself and her place (or time) in the world.

Not just action-adventure, your comics address strong themes. In Helen we touch on disability, environmental destruction, state control and domestic violence, to name a few. Were these issues part of Michael Bennett’s original script idea, or did they develop as you responded to it?

A lot of these were very much a part of Michael’s script, though we did emphasise the environmental issue as we developed the script into comic form. Originally the collapse of civilisation was more mysterious and wasn’t fully explained, and Helen wasn’t an environmental activist.

These things became clearer as we collaborated on the comic and dug deeper as to Helen’s motivations and character. That’s something I really love about collaborating with other creatives; the process of pushing our work into new and undiscovered directions.

How do you think zine culture and comic strip writing could be better nurtured and preserved in New Zealand?

I think there’s already so much great work being produced here in New Zealand. Back when I started, it was all about using photocopiers to make and self-publish mini-comics, but now there’s a huge amount of great work being produced as webcomics.

Do you have any advice tor people planning to run a comic or ‘zine workshop?

I’ve been teaching comics at MIT here in Auckland for the last two years, and I think it’s a good idea to give participants an environment where they can create in a hands-on way. For short workshops, I like to focus on one topic and let participants get into it.

Lastly, we all loved Bro’ Town. Can we hope to see more of your series animated? (Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas would make a great film!)

The Naked Samoans have been busy writing a bro’Town feature script, and I really hope it goes into development. It’d be great to get together with the bro’Town crew again. As for my other projects, I’d love to see them all adapted into films. I’m currently making an animated kung fu short film about the young woman Wing Chun, so that’s a start.

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When the man you love lives in a bush: Intrepid romance, humour and travel

Just in case you wondered, How to Fall in Love With A Man Who Lives in A Bush is not set in he wilds of Africa and the protagonist is certainly no Jane Goodall.

An engaging and entertaining journey of self realization across the turbulent oceans of the earth, How to fall in Love is a story of boy meets girl.

No wait, dirty boy meets very clean girl.

This is a true story; of how Emmy, a Swedish actress and author, met her partner, Viv; a Canadian who was travelling, surviving on odd jobs and living rough – yes, in a bush.

It’s kismet – fate – as they sit together on a park bench in Austria; Julia looks into his eyes, and falls for Ben’s sense of humour (that and the size of him!).

Yet the two are very different people:

Ben : You live your life so…safely. I’ve seen how you never take any risks.

Julia: And that’s news? I told you the very first time we were on the Donausinel: that I don’t like surprises…

I’m actually so sick of the myth that adventurous people are somehow better than the rest of us. That you’re only worthy of attention if you’ve swum naked in the Ganges or stroked a dolphin. “Oh look at me! I’m covered in mud at a music festival where there are no toilets. I’m so cool!” (p.107).

Will the two find a middle ground?

Julia’s stay at home, safe character is hilarious in the wild:

I’m going camping. I’ve never been camping before. I’m an indoor person. Nothing makes me more nervous than a sunny, cloudless day, because I know I should be outside, doing the kind of thing outdoorsy people do…The closest I’ve come to being a nature person was when I hiked in the Lainzer Tiergarten one time. I tried to impress (Rebecca and Jesus-Jakob) with my knowledge of nature but almost managed to kill (them) by mistaking lily-of-the-valley for wild garlic. (pp176-7).

Emmy Abrahamson’s first book for adults is laugh out loud funny and not sickly romantic at all. (Julia can’t even kiss Ben at first, until he’s cleaned his teeth.)

My kind of romance.

How to fall in love with a man who lives in a bush
by Emmy Abrahamson
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN:9780008222338

Further reading