The Right to be Cold – WORD Christchurch

As a fellow introvert I find Sheila Watt-Cloutier incredible, going from interpreter/nurse at the Ungava Hospital to International Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, among other things. Here’s someone who won’t need Tara Moss’s book Speaking Out as she has already been speaking out for decades via various platforms, successfully raising awareness of Inuit and global issues (and as she points out, the two are interlinked). Hers is a voice we need to hear more of.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier. Image supplied.
Sheila Watt-Cloutier. Image supplied.

So who are the Inuit?

The Inuit people are spread over four countries — Greenland, Canada, Alaska (US), and Siberian Russia. They total 165,000 all at the top of the world, most very far away from each other (not helped by the current airline routes). The same language is spoken with different dialects, the same food is eaten, the same legends, the same hunting practices, the same songs. The same people.

The motivation behind The Right to be Cold

Watt-Cloutier spent her first ten years in the Arctic in Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, which is located in Northern Quebec (Canada). She grew up in a very close knit family, raised by her mother and grandmother, travelling by dog-sled, and maintaining a close connection to the local environment and community. After leaving for school age ten and returning almost a decade later, the stark changes wrought in those few years propelled her onto a more political platform.

I felt a sense of responsibility to write the book from a personal narrative, through the experiences of those graphic changes, because I can still remember those more traditional times. It wasn’t generations ago, it was in my lifetime, things have changed very rapidly. I wrote it from a place of trying to connect all these pieces of how we had come from such a powerful, independent culture, strong and valuable, to the addiction, violence and abuse problems we deal with today. I wanted to put into context these wounds, to piece together what has happened in our family systems, societies, and communities.

The disappearance of the dog teams

It wasn’t until I was an adult starting to work in politics that stories began to come out. It was such a shameful time, the wounds were so deep that the men in our communities didn’t talk about that era. There was a time in history when the authorities of the day decided (supposedly for health and safety reasons) to remove the dogs. Thousands were shot and killed, families would come in from outpost camps to barter only to have their dogs shot and therefore their transport removed… It was a great trauma.

How did this affect the Inuit communities?

The dog slaughters and the demolition of the sealing industry changed the way hunters could provide for their families. They began to turn to rifles, ammunition, and motorised boats rather than traditional hunting practices, but the loss of the cultural tradition of hunting plus the degradation of the ice through climate change have caused a lot of damage to their sense of worthiness, integrity, identity.

Traditionally Inuit hunters are calm, reflective, inclusive, wise people. While Western impressions of hunters are often as aggressive men with rifles, hunting in the Arctic leaves no room for anger; any foolish decisions place yourself and your family in jeopardy in such a harsh environment. By losing that identity as proficient provider the hunters have begun to act out, passing their hurt on to women and children through violence. To circumvent that cycle of abuse Watt-Cloutier feels it is important to reclaim and understand their history. By reconnecting with their culture and past hopefully some will regain a sense of place in the community.

Cover of The Right to be ColdIf I could just help one person alleviate part of the burden that they carry, then I will have accomplished what I set out to do.

I haven’t really delved into the more environmental part of the talk because there was a lot of information packed into that one-hour session, but I highly recommending reading her book The Right to be Cold to learn more about how we can make this a better planet for everyone, not just the polar bears.

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An hour with Nadia Hashimi – WORD Christchurch

The interviewer for this session was Marianne Elliott who had trained as a human rights lawyer.  She worked in the area of advocacy and communications and Afghanistan was one of the many places she has worked.  She recounts her time there in her book Zen under fire, and her experiences and empathy really helped make this session successful.

Nadia Hashimi. Image supplied.
Nadia Hashimi. Photo by Chris Carter. Image supplied.

Nadia Hashimi wants to portray the “heroic women of Afghanistan rising above it all”. The common portrayal is of an oppressed downtrodden group, meek and in the shadow of the men, hidden by the burka. Afghani women are a mystery, we start making our own assumptions aided by portrayals of the western armies going in to save them.

9780062411198Nadia Hashimi was born in the USA but weaves the stories of her family into her stories. Many have been refugees and her book When the Moon is Low portrays a refugee story and was published before the recent refugee crisis.  Ahead of her time on this issue, it had always been one that had affected her family and the people of Afghanistan.

She not only portrays women differently than the common view but her men too are often kind and romantic and opposed to brutal and paternalistic.  She described romance as being a huge part of Afghani culture.  Radio shows abound where people can call in anonymously and talk about their loves and relationships, she called it an obsession with romanticism and Bollywood movies are incredibly popular.

A House without windows describes the experience of Afghani women in prison.  For some it is a complete erosion of their freedoms, for others whose lives are incredibly brutal it is a welcome refuge, there is no one to bother and harass them, they are fed and may even be able to go to literacy classes.  The justice system is flawed and women are often imprisoned after false statements and for such crimes as running away from home.  Both women described the frustration of working in the justice arena, but also acknowledged that there are some amazing people working in this area who are slowly trying to bring about change.

A question was asked about how we can best support Afghani women. Sending money can be risky as corruption is rampant. She suggested supporting the arts, Afghani women’s writing projects and women’s crafts, we can also read their blogs, listen to their stories and realise that these women are strong and resilient.

WORD Christchurch

Donald Vs Hillary – Is it really that simple? – WORD Christchurch

The last day of the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival featured a balanced and illuminating discussion on The State of America – the USA’s venomous series of electoral struggles.

One would think that any discussion on the scrap for supremacy between Trump and Clinton would be over pretty quick: Trump’s obviously nuts! There goes that! Thanks for coming! But, believe it or not, it’s not that simple. Or so we were told by three very learned and wise humans who took the stage to give us some context on the whole quagmire. They were: historian Peter S. Field, political scientist Amy Fletcher, and TV writer and novelist Steve Hely (who helped produce American Dad! and 30 Rock).

Here is a surprising sample of what seemed to be the consensus of the multi-partisan panel:

First, it was argued Hillary has been given a markedly easier ride from the media.

After all, Trump is so scandalous and acrid that he distracts us with the kind of entertainment befitting of The Real Housewives of Auckland. But, all his antics have overshadowed what so many Americans are concerned about – Hillary’s alleged (arguably law breaking) ineptitude as Secretary of State (no, not a normal secretary, rather, senior official overseeing national security).

PeterField
Peter Field. Image supplied.

That cute local rag the New York Times claims as Secretary of State, Hillary used her unprotected home PC for sending and receiving highly sensitive material pertaining to national security (you know, as you do). This is kind of problematic, cos’ her private server is much easier hacked, putting thousands at risk – Americans take that kind of thing rather seriously … Further, such material should have been automatically archived for the purposes of governmental transparency, accountability and future reference.

So, these are apparently very serious, and apparently justified allegations. Yet generally overlooked by world media. So, while we all think the decision is pretty obvious, for lots of Americans the whole choice is a bit perplexing.

There was also another speculation – “is this the end of both (Republican and Democrat) parties?” Are we going to see genuine multi-party competition in the USA? With this, the discussion turned quickly to the widespread concern among Republicans that Trump’s’ damaging the party beyond repair, with Peter S. Field mooting “Trump is a sign of the end of the Republican Party”. But then, Dr Fletcher pointed out that lots of republican voters loved seeing Trump take down Jeb Bush, “whos a rich, establishment Republican”, who “never gets told what to do”, but got severely told. By Trump! Supposedly, rugged, liberty loving Republicans rejoiced at this public hanging, despite other party faithful freaking out about a future with the same Trump who gave lots of money to Democrat campaigns in the recent past – conflict of interest? In any case, it’d be cool to see the end of the two party electoral monopolization stifling American democracy.

It was a treat getting to hear from learned American citizens regarding their election. The only thing good about the whole thing is that I don’t have to make that decision.

WORD Christchurch

WORD Up – WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival

Oh boy what an awesome festival the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival is! Exciting in the extreme. I was drenched by the time I got to my first event; Poetry readings at Scorpio Books. A packed house, and great poetry. The winner, Danielle O’Halloran, gave a fantastic live performance.

Danielle O'Halloran at Scorpio Books
Danielle O’Halloran at Scorpio Books

Next up a change of shoes for a very rainy Oratory on the Ōtākaro / Avon, with Joseph Hullen (Ngāi Tahu,Ngāi Tūāhuriri)

The walk follows significant sites from Puari Pa, which stretched from the Hospital to Kilmore Street, reveals another cultural layer buried under Christchurch, literally. Remains of yupuna (ancestors) have been found in Cathedral Square, under the old Library (Gloucester Street), and under St Luke’s Church (Kilmore Street).

Oratory on the Ōtākaro, with Joseph Hullen, Ngai Tahu
Oratory on the Otakaro, with Joseph Hullen, Ngai Tahu

Ngāi Tahu are driving a project to restore, beautify and rebuild the river, which was choked with sediment post quakes. Native life, such as Inanga (Whitebait) and Tuna (Eel) are coming back to the Ōtākaro to thrive. The installation of 13 Whariki Manaaki; tiled patterns based on traditional weaving designs, “weaves a Ngāi Tahu narrative into the rebuild.” (Joseph Hullen)

Whariki Manaaki, Otakaro / Avon River, with Joseph Hullen, Ngai Tahu
Whariki Manaaki, Ōtākaro / Avon River, with Joseph Hullen, Ngai Tahu

Leaving the Red ZoneAfter a very welcome afternoon tea, it was time to go to the launch of Leaving the Red Zone, a collection of poems inspired by the Canterbury earthquakes. Joanna Preston’s poem, ‘Ministry of Sorrow’ was especially moving and powerful. Included is the poem, ‘Rebuild’ by one of the Library’s own poets, Greg O’Connell.

Feeling like festival flotsam, I made my way through the crowds of excited festival goers to The Power of Poetry. Featuring Bill Manhire, Selina Tusitala Marsh, C.K Stead, Fiona Kidman, and Ali Cobby Eckermann. Ali’s view from the Aboriginal culture was a poignant perspective, and I loved Selina’s repetition : t t t t t…d d d d …

L-R Fiona Kidman, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Selina Tusitala Marsh, C.K Stead, Paul Millar and Bill Manhire.
L-R Fiona Kidman, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Selina Tusitala Marsh, C.K Stead, Paul Millar and Bill Manhire.

WORD Christchurch

 

Grieving and Living: What Abi Taught Us – WORD Christchurch

Lucy Hone. Image supplied
Lucy Hone. Image supplied

‘Buy This Book’. I have never, in all the many blogs I have written started a blog with these three words.

Lucy Hone wrote What Abi Taught Us after the traumatic death of her 12 year old daughter Abi in a car accident. Abi left the house to go for a drive with family friends. And she never came back. How does one cope with a life event like this?

Standing alone centre stage, without even the use of the podium provided, Lucy Hone reached out to all of us to share her strategies for survival in the face of one of life’s crueller events.

She made us think about what resilience meant to us, that it is not a suit of armour that you don, but rather a way of leaning into pain and hardship that allows us to feel the emotion while continuing to function in our lives, which just carry right on.

She used her studies in Psychology and  qualifications in Resilience Psychology to work out what strategies we need to nurture our own mental health – even in the face of the unthinkable.  The three Determinants of Happiness are: 50% from your genetic start point ( the Mum and Dad stuff), 10% from outside influences (winning the lotto or surviving an earthquake) and 40% from our own thoughts and actions. And it is in that wriggle room of 40% that Hone has developed the five strategies that we all need:

What Abi Taught UsStrategy 1 – Choose where you focus your attention

We don’t have infinite processing capacity. Our brains can only manage 7 pieces of information at a time. Genetically (and understandably, for survival’s sake) we are hard-wired to notice the bad stuff. We need to practise noticing what is going well. People who have higher gratitude scores have better well-being. Lucy has a sign in her kitchen – a bright pink poster and on it the words: ACCEPT THE GOOD. She refers to it often.

Strategy 2 – Never Lose Hope

Lucy paid tribute to the building we were in – the brand new The Piano – as a concrete manifestation of hope for Christchurch. She stressed how important it is to recognise that we all have some big hopes and many smaller ones. When tragedy occurs, turn to your smaller hopes. Ask yourself: What am I hoping for now? It may be something very small. Go for that smaller hope.

Strategy 3 – Nurture Your Relationships

Good relationships are a great predictor of happiness. Be careful with your communications, even when you are in pain. It takes 5 positive interactions to cancel out one negative communication. The negative is unfortunately very powerful.

Strategy 4 – Ask yourself: Is this thing helping or harming me?

Lucy and her husband chose not to view the motor vehicle in which Abi lost her life. They asked themselves this question and the answer was No, this will not help. It is a very simple tool. It will help you get up out of bed, put one foot in front of the next and grieve and function at the same time.

Strategy 5 – Understand that struggle is a part of life

Sometimes we just have to be brave. Sometimes the happy FaceBook version of our life is so far from the truth. We have to allow ourselves to feel sad. Resilience Therapy understands that the bad stuff will happen – just don’t get stuck in one emotional state for too long. Try not to bottle it up. Lucy worried that she might cry in this presentation. Then she thought – So What. Crying is just crying. She grieves while simultaneously living.

Abi loved the book Allegiant from the Divergent Trilogy and had highlighted a passage from it. Lucy found this passage after Abi had died. She sees what she is doing as being like a line from that highlited quote, that she is making:

the slow walk towards a better life

There was not a dry eye in the Concert Hall at 12pm.

Thank you for talking to us Lucy.

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The Spinoff After Dark – WORD Christchurch

This late night event at C1 Espresso featuring talent from “New Media empire in the making” The Spinoff was shambolic – but in the best possible way.

Literary festivals are, out of necessity, highly organised affairs. Sessions start at certain times and time limits are fairly rigidly adhered to. People file in, file out. Signing table queues may snake and cause congestion but otherwise it’s all pretty orderly. Festivals like this are something of a logistical nightmare so structure is both expected and advised.

So this wasn’t really like that.

Duncan Greive and Giovanni Tiso - The Spinoff after dark
Duncan Greive and Giovanni Tiso – The Spinoff after dark. The Twitterati? Yeah nah.

Rather, The Spinoff After Dark had a “flying by the seat of the pants – did someone really let us do this?” feeling to it while at the same time being thoroughly WORD in its content. A bit like the heyday of Mediaworks, when Joanna Paul and Belinda Todd had the helm of Nightline. You knew it was all sort of related to the other serious, newsy output of TV3 – but it sure as heck didn’t feel like it.

Alex Casey, Duncan Greive and Joe Bennett - The Spinoff after dark
Alex Casey, Duncan Greive and Joe Bennett – The Spinoff after dark. Beware the chair lobber.

And if that hastily cobbled together comparison hasn’t fired your desire for things old and defunct the  “mini-interview of various festival performers” section of the evening included… Joe Bennett!

But to give credit to Bennett, his was actually my favourite of the quickfire “snackable content” interviews that Toby Manhire, Alex Casey and Duncan Greive tag-teamed on, if only for this marvellous interaction –

Alex Casey: *Describes local event that anyone who’s watched television or used the Internet in the last 10 years would know about* (in this case fundraising celebrity boxing match Fight for Life)

Joe Bennett: ….. *tumble weeds*

Bennett also shared an anecdote about the time that, in his role as English teacher at Christ’s College, he threw a chair at one of his students, coming distressing close to giving the lad a head injury – the head in question belonging to Leigh Hart aka That Guy.

This was a funny wee tale on its own told in the usual emphatic Bennett style but got funnier when my partner admitted during the drive home that he too had a chair thrown at him by an entirely different English teacher at a different Christchurch boys’ school.

Is this a thing, former schoolboys of Christchurch? Answers on a complaint form to the Ministry of Education.

Steve Hely - The Spinoff after dark
Steve Hely – The Spinoff after dark – he likes Max Key a lot.

Other interviewees included American humorist Steve Hely, author and literary bunfight starter Paula Morris (fave biscuits in descending order afghan, melting moments/yoyos, gingernuts), Festival director and author Rachael King, journalist Rebecca MacFie, blogger Giovanni Tiso and probably someone I’ve forgotten because by that stage it was quite late and my brain probably stopped retaining information.

The event also included lights that sometimes flickered and seemed to get more dim at random times, cleverly highlighting the “after dark” part of the event name, and an AMA (Ask Me Anything) portion during which Manhire read questions for himself and fellow Spinoffers harvested from Twitter, several of which were attributed to Guy Williams who clearly has too much time on his hands.

Toby Manhire, Alex Casey, Duncan Greive- The Spinoff after dark
Toby Manhire, Alex Casey, Duncan Greive – The Spinoff after dark. Toby answer 536 question from Guy Williams.

We learned exciting new things: that both Manhire and Casey do not like eggs (whaaaat?), that Manhire thinks he looks like Ben Whishaw (hmmmm), and that both Casey and Greive have had ghostwriting gigs that neither of them seem particularly ashamed of – Casey for Youtube star Jamie Curry (the trick to doing it quickly is to include lots and lots of photos – a device I have tried to employ in this very post), Greive for heatpump enthusiast/sportsman Dan Carter.

If this session sounds like it was a bit of an odd jumble of things, it certainly was – and a great time because of it. A++. Worth staying awake for.

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The Margaret Mahy Memorial Lecture: David Levithan — WORD Christchurch

Imaginary things, once properly imagined, will grow as powerful and lucid as if they were true. —Margaret Mahy, Memory

Growing up David Levithan didn’t see himself in literature, or if he did, it was with an undercurrent of unease — queer characters were often sidelined, or the subject of tragedy. Levithan seeks to address that with his engaging, often humorous stories of young love between boys, and he’s not alone, if the growing movement of We Need Diverse Books is anything to go by.

David Levithan. Image supplied
David Levithan. Image supplied

The cure that literature can offer, the panacea or the help that we can give, the hope that we can give, is empathy. It is the notion of a common humanity. It is the notion that another human being has so much more in common with you than difference with you.

Empathy becomes even more important when faced with today’s prevailing political winds, closing borders and minds as it blows. Fiction at its best provides other perspectives, other contexts for living. Levithan believes that inherent in Young Adult literature is a belief that there is an ability to change things, not just a diagnosis of a problem but providing the compass pointing the way out. Even bleak books such as M. T. Anderson’s Feed and Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War try to provoke action in readers where the characters themselves might despair.

The co-writing process — an exercise in trust

Cover of You Know Me WellLevithan is very non-monogamous literarily. Co-writing brings out something unexpected in his writing, and he approaches every collaboration with the spirit of experimentation. He always maintains his own chapters, honing his own character while having only limited control over the story. This can provide difficulties for his collaborators; Levithan recently discovered that Nina LaCour usually writes her books out of sequence, which made the chronological narrative of You Know Me Well a little challenging. Levithan publicly declared his intention to continue joining forces with other authors, his next release (The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily, co-written with Rachel Cohn) being released in October.

Making characters real

One of the biggest mistakes beginning writers can make is to think that conflict has to be Conflict with a capital C in order to be worthy of a story. Smaller conflicts can be just as compelling, such as fighting with your best friend. To make characters real, try writing out the thoughts of your characters, as flat characters don’t have thoughts. It’s important to establish what the main character is thinking even if this doesn’t make it into the final text.

Cover of Two Boys KissingTwo Boys Kissing

When asked to be part of an anthology about queer teens, Levithan decided to explore the dimension of history. Two Boys Kissing is therefore narrated by a Greek chorus of the gay men of the AIDS generation, of his uncle’s generation, while looking down on the generation below Levithan — the current gay teens with their (relative) freedom. The plot came from hearing about Matty Daley and Bobby Canciello, who’d just broken the Guinness World Record for Longest Continuous Kiss.

Why do you do what you do?

For the readers. The books aren’t important; it shouldn’t matter what book is better than the other. What authors want is not to win awards or earn money (although I’m sure they wouldn’t say no), but for their books to matter to a reader.

Sometimes teens need someone on the outside to help them work out what they’re feeling on the inside.

Not just teens, David Levithan, not just teens. Thanks for visiting Christchurch.

Suggested reading

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Water: Alok Jha – WORD Christchurch

How often do you think about water? Every now and again when you suspect the hot water cylinder might not manage another dishwasher load? Occasionally when you note how much a bottle of it costs at the dairy?

Alok Jha
Alok Jha (image supplied)

Journalist (and ITV science correspondent) Alok Jha suggests that we should all be paying a bit more attention to this miraculous and yet thoroughly prosaic substance. After all our planet is “a blob of water with a few dry patches”. It’s one of the most important things on our planet and all life relies on it. Worth more than a passing thought, once in a while, surely?

In order to turn us to his way of thinking he provides us with an background on the science of water. Had any of us considered, for instance, how the water on our planet actually got here?

I’m someone who considers herself to have a good imagination but I’d honestly never wondered this. Water just is. I think I’d assumed it had always just been here, but water is actually younger than our planet.

Cover of The water bookIt started in space in clouds of dust and gas from stars that have gone supernova. This is where our oxygen comes from. The hydrogen part of the equation originates with the Big Bang. Some molecules bash together with some grains of cosmic detritus and then some more and some more and if you follow that chain of events long enough you end up with chunks of ice – asteroids and comets that about 4 billion years ago bombarded our planet (only for about 500 million years – just a passing storm) and resulted in all the surface water we have on planet Earth. So next time you take a dip in the ocean or drink a glass of water, consider that that stuff used to be hurtling, frozen, through space.

Jha also pointed out some really interesting qualities that water has. Firstly that in solid form it floats on its liquid form. Hence icebergs. Most substances don’t behave this way. Usually the solid form is more dense and sinks. This is actually crucially important for life on Earth because if ice didn’t float then during an ice age all life would get killed off instead of some of it living on underneath the frozen surface where some liquid water remains.

The other important thing about water is surface tension. Water is sticky and loves sticking to itself too and this surface tension allows for certain biological processes, like a plant’s ability to, against the force of gravity, draw water upwards through very thin tubes, or the way our capillaries can transport our mostly watery blood around our bodies.

All these things we take for granted, most certainly at our peril.

Jha was at pains to point out that the quantity of water on our planet isn’t the issue. It’s essentially a closed system. The same amount of water moves through us, around the earth, into the atmosphere and so on. Rather it’s the quality at issue. Water that’s of the type that can sustain us is rather less common and becoming less so.

Polluting water is easy, unpolluting it? Well, that doesn’t happen much.

Jha’s talk involved things as varied as –

  • Cute photos of antarctic penguins and seals (cynical manipulation via cute animal appeal openly admitted to)
  • Official confirmation that drinking your own urine is “a bad idea”
  • A stomach churning illustration of why Jha was so seasick on his Antarctic voyage (see the horizon line in the photo below)
Alok Jha illustrates how seasickness happens
Alok Jha illustrates how seasickness happens, Flickr File Reference: 2016-08-26-IMG_2477

But the main idea was that the only way for us to take better care of our water resources is for a larger number of us to actually be more aware of them, of how much water we use and how vital it is for our survival. For us to all just stop taking it for granted.

Cover of 50 ways the world could endMore WORD Christchurch

 

No Sex Please, We’re Teenagers — WORD Christchurch

Should there be sex in young adult fiction? A resounding yes, according to panellists Karen Healey, Ted Dawe and Frances Young. Sex is a major part of many people’s lives and therefore it will turn up in fiction whether or not you’ve identified it as an important theme in your writing. How it is portrayed, positively or negatively, is another matter — Healey emphasised her wish for sex-positive teen fiction, getting rid of the shame that settles on us in adolescence.  Dawe meanwhile was concerned that Harry Potter is leading a movement away from realistic, warts-and-all depictions of young men. (He obviously hasn’t read the testosterone-fueled mess that is Order of the Phoenix.)

No Sex Please We're Teenagers
Frances Young, Ted Dawe, Karen Healey and Mandy Hager.

The role of pornography in teen sexuality

Young cited various statistics linking increasingly violent pornography with sexual violence against women. If teens are discovering sex via violent porn, does this then influence their relationships and sexual experiences in the future? With pornography being increasingly accessible online, and society and media supporting the objectification of women, are we grooming our children into becoming sex offenders? Young considers this a public health crisis which needs to be addressed.

Frances Young. Image supplied
Frances Young. Image supplied

Differences between publishing in NZ/Australia vs. publishing in the US?

Karen Healey. Image supplied
Karen Healey. Image supplied

Healey mentions a saucy scene in While We Run which received a very positive response from her Australian editors, and some careful notes on her manuscript from her American publishers. (‘Do you have to use the word “unzip”?’) Her debut novel Guardian of the Dead was also initially written for an adult audience, and had to be altered to suit a teenage audience. The sex was cut but the violence was allowed to stay.

The Into the River controversy

Ted Dawe. Image supplied
Ted Dawe. Image supplied

Several panellists brought up the “dubious consent” of a particular sex scene (borderline rape) in Into the River, and the lack of any reprisals or sense of wrongdoing in the novel. Dawe said he dislikes being compelled to write a counter-argument into the text as that’s “proselytising” rather than fiction writing. He suggested his books are primers for teens just beginning to have sexual relationships, an accurate reflection of first-time messy unglamorous sex. What a scary thought.

Sex is a controversial topic but makes for fascinating discussion. Were you at the session? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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True Crime – WORD Christchurch

Betrayal is in the journalist toolkit. You’ve got your notebook, you’ve got your recorder and you’ve got your sense of betrayal. — Steve Braunias

Given that crime fiction is one of the more well-thumbed genres in the library, I’m not surprised that true crime is equally popular.   Whether it’s because we’re attracted to extreme circumstances, because we’re appalled by violence inflicted on the innocent, or because of our voyeuristic tendencies — all theories floated by at the True Crime session — the only sure thing is that the trials of Teina Pora, Mark Lundy and David Bain were all avidly followed and judged by many.

Steve Braunias. Image supplied
Steve Braunias. Image supplied

Is the role of media in true crime positive or negative?

Steve Braunias asserted that crime is now under-reported, with many potentially high-profile trials going unnoticed due to a lack of journalists dedicated to the subject. Media can be helpful in uncovering critical evidence, specifically in identifying Teina Pora’s foetal-alcohol disorder in the Pora trials, according to Tim McKinnel. Both mentioned the disconnect between what is actually happening in the courtroom compared with what is reported the next day. People can also form completely different opinions based on the same evidence (e.g. did David or Robin Bain do it?). (Post your theories in the comments.)

Tim McKinnel. Image supplied
Tim McKinnel. Image supplied

Do you have faith in the jury and police system?

McKinnel voted yes to the jury, as it is more democratic than any alternative, but found the police variable. He prefers to make judgements based on individual officers rather than judge the police force as a profession.

Braunias agreed less enthusiastically, mentioning a number of trials where he considered the jury’s verdict led by spite, ignorance and/or hysteria.

Jarrod GIlbert WORDphoto
Jarrod GIlbert. Image supplied.

Other highlights:

  • Jarrod Gilbert reading from Scene of the Crime, in which Braunias makes a sometimes boring and lengthy murder trial vivid and interesting. I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the Jailhouse Snitch, an almost stereotypical character who seems to have popped up on more than one occasion.
  • Braunias describing the faces of various professions. McKinnel has a cop face — guarded, concealed hurt; Gilbert sports an academic face; and Braunias himself, of course, a journalist’s: shrewd, rat-like and optimistic.
  • Braunias’s impressions of David Lundy. Not very likeable as a human being, not a good man, guilty regardless of whether or not he committed the murders. I have no opinion on his culpability or otherwise, but it did remind me of a blog post I re-read recently by author Shannon Hale, on the myth of the innocent victim. It’s uncomfortable to think that bad men can be innocent of the crime they’ve been accused of, just as we will rack our brains for reasons why violent crime might happen to an otherwise upstanding young woman, because we can’t possibly just blame the perpetrator and leave it at that. (But I digress.)

The session ended on a relatively positive note, with Gilbert mentioning the decrease in crime in New Zealand despite impressions to the contrary. Hopefully soon the most violent crime in the country will be limited to Paul Cleave‘s latest novel.

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Read In Dark Places The Confessions of Teina Pora and An Ex-cop’s Fight for Justice which features Tim McKinnel.

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