Is it worth moving a book from an insanely long For Later shelf to a Holds list? Yes if it’s Geoff Dyer, who is such a great writer he can make you read a book about a film you’ve never seen. In this case even more worth it because the book is The Girls and it’s a re-imagining of the perennially fascinating Manson cult.
Alan Hollinghurst needs to be getting on with writing his own books, not reading and opining about other people’s, but he liked The Return and so did Julian Barnes, who knows what he’s talking about, so that might be worth a go.
If you have a touching belief in writers knowing what’s good and you need to add to your For Later shelf (and who doesn’t?) you might also try:
I remember reading Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking as a child, and thinking what a wonderful, exciting life this nine-year-old girl had. With no adults to tell her what to do, a pet monkey and horse who lived in her house, and two good friends who lived right next door with whom she could have adventures every day, this girl – to my young brain, at least – was living the dream.
Now, I know that reading books as a child is different from reading books as an adult – I’m sure lots of us have had fond memories of a childhood favourite, re-read it as an adult, and been bitterly disappointed by the experience. However, I have just read the Lauren Child-illustrated version of Pippi Longstocking, and I am very pleased to announce that this was not the case. It is still just as magical a read as ever, whether you are re-reading it as an adult, sharing it with your own child or grandchild at bedtime, or discovering it for the first time as a nine-year-old.
There are eleven chapters in this book, each of which is a story in itself. With titles such as ‘Pippi is a thing-searcher and ends up in a fight’, ‘Pippi plays tag with the police’, and ‘Pippi dances with burglars’, you know right from the start that there will be plenty of action, trouble-making, and laughter, and you are not disappointed. With very little regard for social expectations, Pippi says what she thinks, does what she wants, and goes where she pleases, causing confusion for the adults around her, and delighting the neighbourhood children … and the reader. She does not feel bound to do things the conventional way, and I enjoyed reading about her unique attempts at baking, her creative attitude to schoolwork, and the tales she tells of her adventures with her father. These are not necessarily true tales, but since ‘[her] mamma is an angel and [her] pappa is king of the natives … how can you expect her always to tell the truth?’
Although Lindgren first wrote about Pippi seventy years ago, the story has not dated, and Tiina Nunally’s translation and Child’s illustrations ensure that it is just as much fun for children in 2017 as it was in 1945, when it was first published. A friend’s six-year-old daughter was reading this book at the same time as I was, and the fact she was so excited to share with me her favourite parts of the story speaks volumes about how this story has endured over the years.
Lauren Child’s illustrations are absolutely fantastic, and really help to bring Pippi to life. Through her customary collage style of art, Child captures Pippi’s cheeky nature, and you cannot help but smile at the colourful interpretations of the events taking place. This particular edition of this book is just begging to be shared with young readers, and will ensure that Pippi’s adventures are enjoyed by children (and their adults) for years to come.
While 2016 was taking its final victims, one smaller obituary caught my eye amidst the many articles on the passing of Carrie Fisher and George Michael. The obituary was for Richard Adams, author of Watership Down. At 96, we certainly could not say that Adam’s rich life was cut short, but to lose him at the same time as Carrie Fisher hit me a little hard.
Why? Because I think I can safely say that if Star Wars was the major film influence of my childhood (why yes, I am of an age that I saw Episode Four at the movies) Watership Down was my literary guiding star.
Like a perhaps-not-surprising number of librarians, I have a literary tattoo. Two rabbits make a small circle on the inside of my right wrist. Those familiar with the beautiful and terrifying movie adaptation of Watership Down might recognise them as the Black Rabbit of Inlé and El-ahrairah, the dominant figures of the amazing mythology Adams created for his rabbits.
I first read Watership Down when I was seven – it was the first “grown-up” novel I read. My Mum was reading it to me chapter by chapter at bedtime and I got impatient, wanting to know what happened next – one chapter each night just wasn’t enough! Therein started a lifelong love affair (and a tendency to read under the blankets by torchlight).
I became passionate about all things rabbit. I suspect this actually began earlier (I had a family of soft-toy rabbits), but this was about real rabbits, with real rabbit behaviours, and sometimes brutal realities.
I soaked up information about rabbits like a sponge, reading every book on the subject my local library had to offer. My poor parents also became the subjects of an intense campaign for pet rabbits. They managed to hold out for five years (pretty impressive as I was using every emotionally manipulative, devious and ceaseless tactic in my young arsenal). I’ve had pet rabbits pretty much ever since, save for a couple of gaps of a few years.
One of my most treasured childhood birthday presents was an illustrated hardcover edition of the book, full of beautiful watercolours and pen-and-ink sketches. It still has pride of place on my bookshelf, not least because I think my parents went to some trouble to acquire it. I also still have a cassette tape of the movie soundtrack – no videos in those days, let alone DVDs – though it’s a little stretched and wobbly now from endless hours of playing.
When I lost count sometime in my early teens, I had read Watership Down well over one hundred times. I could quote large sections by heart. I can still pretty much tell the wonderful rabbit creation story off the top of my head.
All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.
But when I look back over all the years of reading this book, what really stands out to me is the different things I learned at the various ages I dipped into it.
At seven I learned not only about rabbits, the English countryside, and its flora and fauna; I also gained – at a rather young age – an introduction to some quite complex philosophical ideas about the cyclical, amoral (as opposed to moral or immoral) nature of life and death: that there are no “goodies” and “badies” in the natural world of predators and prey.
In my early teens I became fascinated by the way the warrens represented different political systems, from the complaisant, bloated monarchy of Sandleford and the fatalistic puppet-state of Cowslip’s warren, to the brutal dictatorship of Efrafa and the idealistic Utopian society of the new warren on the Downs. What Adams portrays so well through his rabbits is how the human spirit reacts in each of these situations.
In my late teens I discovered Joseph Campbell and Karl Jung – and the hero-myths of El-ahrairah, scattered though the book, took on new meaning. Adams took Jungian ideas of the hero-myth and turned them on their head to suit his rabbits. El-ahrairah is not the young battling hero so common in human mythology, but is instead the Trickster figure (as is of course Br’er Rabbit) – often distrusted in our myths but who else would a prey animal look to, than a hero who always manages to fool his nemesis and live to run another day?
Since then I have visited Watership Down every year or so like an old friend, each time being drawn in and delighted anew by the sheer level of detail in Adams’ descriptions and his slightly old-fashioned, thoughtful style of conversing with his readers.
And yes, I still can’t listen to Bright Eyes, or read the end of the book, without sniffling a little.
Goodbye Mr Adams. Thank you for lightening a long car journey for your daughters by telling them a story about an adventuring band of rabbits, and going on to discover your writer’s voice at 55. You crafted a story that has shaped my life.
It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses. “You needn’t worry about them,” said his companion. “They’ll be alright – and thousands like them.”
The Best (& Worst) Children’s Books of 2016 evening was held on Wednesday 23rd November, hosted by the Canterbury Literacy Association and Christchurch City Libraries. The books showcased at the event covered the spectrum of wondrous and picturesque, funny and gross, through to beautiful and poignant – including sobering reminders of the realities of social problems facing children today.
In light of changing times, be they due to earthquakes or bookstores closing, it is heartening to see supporters of children’s literature and literacy continue to come together as a community to celebrate and reaffirm their shared joy of children’s books.
Highlights from the annual Best (& Worst) event, attended by over 70 people, were primary students from several schools speaking about their current favourite books. Alongside this youth voice was book-talking from Mary Sangster (The Original Children’s Bookshop) and even some impromptu book-singing with the audience spurred on by Lynette Griffiths, Families Outreach at Christchurch City Libraries, as part of her picture book discussion.
Best Children’s Books of 2016 as selected by Mary Sangster, The Original Children’s Bookshop
Circle by Jeannie Baker follows the godwit’s incredible flight over awe-inspiring scenes as above such beautiful landmarks as the Great Barrier Reef and China’s breathtaking cityscapes.
The Night Gardener by Terry Fan. One day, William discovers that the tree outside his window has been sculpted into a wise owl. More topiaries appear, each one more beautiful. Soon, William’s gray little town is full of color and life. And though the mysterious night gardener disappears as suddenly as he appeared, William—and his town—are changed forever. With breathtaking illustrations and spare, sweet text, this book is about enjoying the beauty of nature.
Younger and older fiction
Olive of Groves and the Great Slurp of Time by Katrina Nannestad. Starting off in 1857 at Mrs Groves’ Boarding School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers, this story goes backwards and forwards in time after Olive is invited to go time-travelling by a strange visitor. Disturbing things start to happen at Groves as a result. Mary felt there was a nice use of language and reckons boys would like it just as well as girls. Time travel books for children in 2016 seem to be popular.
The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon. Subhi’s imagination is as big as the ocean and wide as the sky, but his world is much smaller: he’s spent his whole life in an immigration detention centre. The Bone Sparrow is a powerful, heartbreaking, sometimes funny and ultimately uplifting hymn to freedom and love.
Lonesome When You Go by Saradha Koirala. Paige plays bass in high school rock band Vox Pop in the tense build-up to the Rockfest competition. This novel, published in New Zealand, is about practising solo, performing like a rockstar and how contributing your best self to something can create a force much greater than the sum of its parts.
Dear Charlie by N.D. Nomes. Recommended for older high school students. Sixteen year old Sam is picking up the pieces after the school shooting that his brother Charlie committed. Yet as Sam desperately tries to hang on to the memories he has of his brother, the media storm surrounding their family threatens to destroy everything. And Sam has to question all he thought he knew about life, death, right and wrong. “Absolutely fantastic.” says Mary.
Best Picture Books of 2016 as selected by Lynette Griffiths, Families Outreach for Christchurch City Libraries
Lynette has been a librarian for all her working life and is passionate about both illustrations and words. “I’m always looking for a resource that creates a surprise and smile to its reader, be that young or old.” She says that what makes a good picture book in her world is: “One that takes me out of my comfort zone; one that pushes boundaries; something I might not of seen or heard before; something familiar but different; something that can cover all ages and something that makes me go WOW!”
Armstrong: The adventurous journey of a mouse to the moonby Torben Kuhlmann – Kuhlmann’s picture book transports readers to the moon and beyond! Here, dreams are determined only by the size of your imagination and the biggest innovators are the smallest of all. The book ends with a brief non-fiction history of human space travel from Galileo’s observations concerning the nature of the universe to man’s first steps on the moon. Lynnette loved the superb clever illustrations and says there’s so much information that it is nearly non-fiction.
Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers. A lyrical picture book about a little girl who sails her raft ‘across a sea of words’ to arrive at the house of a small boy. There she invites him to come away with her on an adventure where they can journey through ‘forests of fairy tales’, ‘across mountains of make-believe’ and ‘sleep in clouds of song.’
Older Fiction and Young Adult Reads of 2016 as selected by Jane Boniface, Heaton Normal Intermediate School
Jane has a wealth of knowledge of intermediate age and young adult great reads for tweens and teens. Jane is well-recognised by the National Library and School Library Association (SLANZA) in her position as the Learning Resource Centre Manager at Heaton Normal Intermediate School. She is a leading light at the school in promoting the culture of reading and provides a variety of seminars for classes in the skills required in today’s use of libraries and accessing information.
Jane’s 4 ‘Best Books’, in her own amusing made-up categories, were:
Best laugh-out-loud read-aloud with short chapters: Charlie & the War Against the Grannies by Alan Brough. Charlie just wants a paper round but he has to battle for it against the local hostile grannies already doing it. Fans of David Walliams would enjoy this funny story set downunder. Bite-sized chapters make for an easy read. “This book is not for the erudite or sophisticated reader” says Jane, “it includes how to say ‘fart’ in 10 different languages.”
Most poignant tear-jerker where one character must be a dog: When Friendship Followed Me Home by Paul Griffin. Like a The Fault in Our Stars for 12-year-olds. Ben, always an outsider, is led into a deep friendship with Halley, who is being treated for cancer, by the special dog he and his adoptive mother take in. “It is well-written, about humanity and themes of friendship and love. It is beautiful versus morose,” says Mary. “If you liked Wonder you’ll like this.”
Book with the most potential to spark the most meaningful enquiry questions: Gorilla Dawn by Gill Lewis. Deep in the heart of the African jungle, a baby gorilla is captured by a group of rebel soldiers. Two children also imprisoned in the rebels’ camp. When they learn that the gorilla is destined to be sold into captivity, they swear to return it to the wild before it’s too late. But the consequences of getting caught are too terrible to think about. Will the bond between the gorilla and the children give them the courage they need to escape? Jane says: “Thought-provoking and disturbing,” It covers the not much heard about mining of coltan, used for mobile phones, and incorporates child slavery and child soldiers, climate change and gorilla habitats being destroyed. Uniquely told from different points-of-view: of both the children and the baby gorilla.
Best/Worstbook: Remade by Alex Scarrow. Leon and his sister have moved to London from New York and are struggling to settle into their new school when rumours of an unidentified virus in Africa fills the news. They witness people turning to liquid before their eyes and run for their lives. Great for reluctant intermediate readers.Jane Boniface perfectly illustrated a best/worst children’s book when she read this proclamation aloud from a passage in Remade. Although the novel, filled to the brim with gory details of a virus on the loose liquefying people, wasn’t her cup of tea, she said it was a real hit with the intermediate age boys at her school who clambered to read it after she told them it was “disgusting, grizzly and grotesque.”
What turns a cringe-worthy story into a ‘best’ book is that it encourages the love and pleasure of reading for a certain kind of reading interest and shows that while reading tastes are subjective, the right book for the right person at the right time is what matters.
This Best/Worst evening was a opportunity for these students to hone their book reviewing and book-talking skills in a nurturing environment.
Teachers, librarians, parents, booksellers, writers and illustrators cater for a wide variety of children’s tastes, interests and needs and for all types of readers (from the enthusiastic to the reluctant). The audience will have taken away a lot of new and varied book suggestions, not to mention some great book prizes in the book raffle draw. And if you want to hear about the couple of ‘worst’ books chosen, you’ll have to come next time. Chatham House Rules and all that.
Speaking of reading…
Holiday Reading List 2016 Launch
The evening also saw the launch of Christchurch City Libraries 2016 Holiday Reading List for kids. Categories include picture books, younger & older fiction, young adult and non-fiction.
Summertime Reading Club 2016 / 2017 Announced
At this event, Christchurch City Libraries also announced their annual Summertime Reading Club competition for 2016 / 2017 – this summer it will be a passport of reading activities to complete to be in to win some fabulous prizes.
Thanks to the Canterbury Literacy Association for their organising of this annual event. The purpose of the New Zealand Literacy Association is to encourage literacy learning.
The Atomic Weight of Love is the debut novel of Elizabeth J. Church and I hope we see a lot more books from her. This book is an ideal Christmas present. It appeals to a wide audience and will make a great holiday read and is not without a little racy love interest.
Meridian has won a place at the University of Chicago where she studies ornithology working towards a graduate degree and eventual doctorate. Just as her wings are opening and she starts to glimpse new horizons she falls in love with a college professor two decades older than herself and her wings are clipped.
It is written in a memoir style following Meridian as a woman growing up in the 1940s through the fifties and sixties into the seventies and the emergence of women’s liberation. You will find yourself reflecting at times how so much has changed yet still remains the same.
Meri marries Alden and follows him to Los Alamos where she attempts to fit into the group of ex-academic wives she meets there. It is the era when a wife is expected to follow their husband and make the best of it. She struggles to be a good wife while salvaging something of her studies by continuing to study Crows, having left her graduate study dreams behind her.
The novel’s dual strands, the place of women with the emergence of the women’s liberation movement, and the atomic bomb with its resulting anti-war Vietnam and Korean war movements, almost splits it characters by gender over its two themes.
Some of the characters could do with more development – they feel a little clichéd. It seems women have little to say on war in this novel and men little say on the home front. Even for the times this feels a little stretched. She skims over the women who Meridian meets in Los Alamos except her best friend Belle, a strong woman who urges her not to minimise herself yet when it comes to the crunch still tells her to stay in her marriage and try to make it work.
That being said bird studies draw amusing parallels between human and bird society. Each section of the novel starts with an ornithological reference “A Parliament of Owls”, “A Deceit of Lapwings, “A Murder of Crows”. When Meridian meets Clay, a young hippie ex-marine about two decades younger than her, it seems they are about to repeat past mistakes. Her husband seems not to understand her sacrifice while her lover urges her to soar again.
There are a number of excellent resources available if you’d like to learn more about the 1881 invasion of the Parihaka settlement by Government forces, the aftermath and ongoing legacy of this event. Whether you want something that’s suitable for children, a fictional account or well-researched history on the topic, our library collection has got you covered.
This pair of children’s books written by Jennifer Beck and illustrated Lindy Fisher, with the Teo Reo translation done by Kawata Teepa. They look at what happened at Parihaka through the frame of a school speech contest.
I really like that they are companion volumes, with the same beautiful illustrations, and that the Gunpowder Plot and the climactic day at Parihaka both 5th November are compared and contrasted. The murderous intent of those who wanted, in their anger and frustration, to blow up the Houses of Parliament is juxtaposed with the calm and dignified passive resistance of the people of Parihaka. Simple but hugely powerful, these two books are a great introduction to a hugely important New Zealand historical event and hanging it off an event in British history creates another level of interest.
Written in 2011, this novel weaves fact and fiction together to tell the story of Erenora, a young woman living in Parihaka at the times of the invasion and land confiscation. It is also told from the perspective of a retired teacher, who is researching his whanau and comes across Erenora’s story.
Because of the two stories, and points of view changing, it can be a little tricky to get your head around at times, but I think it’s worth persevering. Erenora’s journey to the South Island in search of her husband, who has been taken prisoner after the massacre is a touching and descriptive and I learnt a lot about how life was for both Māori and Pakehā in those early years of our nation.
It certainly paints a brutal picture of the events of Parihaka and allowed me to get a sense of the injustice and upheaval during this not so proud part of our past.
This book can be found in both the Nga Pounamu Māori collection and in Young Adult, so recommended to YA readers looking for books for NCEA reading as well.
Parihaka is paradoxically one of the most shameful episodes and one of the most remarkable and enduring stories in New Zealand’s colonial history.
This ground-breaking publication brings together art, poetry and waiata from the past 100 years. It features over 100 artworks that explores the legacy of Parihaka and its leaders, Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi. It draws on teachings and sayings of Te Whiti and Tohu, in Māori and English, many of which have been previously unpublished and are here now reproduced in full. Artists include Shane Cotton, Tama Iti, Tim Finn (with that classic song), Tony Fomison, Colin McCahon and Ralph Hotere to name a few.
This is a collaboration between City Gallery, Wellington from their 2000-01 exhibition, The Trustees of Parihaka Pā and Victoria University Press.
Originally published in 1975, journalist and historian Dick Scott broke new ground with Ask that Mountain. This book draws on official papers, settler manuscripts and oral histories to give the first complete account of what took place at Parihaka. This illustrated seminal work was named by the Sunday Star Times in 1995 as one of the 10 most important books published in New Zealand.
This will not be an easy read as events are recounted. There is violence and oppression but ultimately it is a compelling story of an important event in New Zealand’s past.
I have let quotes from the author do all the talking with this title.
“It is about the forgotten stories, blind spots and hidden corners that I encountered in the history-making about the Crown’s 1881 invasion of Parihaka Pā, a non-violent settlement in Taranaki. This invasion is one of the most troubling, significant and well-known events in the short shared history of Māori and Pākehā, yet is easily overlooked.” -Rachel Buchanan.
“The story of Parihaka did not end with the 1881 invasion or the 1907 deaths of its two leaders – Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi. It is difficult, impossible even, to find the place to put the final full stop to the story of this place, or the stories of many of Aotearoa New Zealand’s other trouble spots. Our world is saturated with the unfinished past, and yet it is so easy to be blind to it all, to pretend that the past is not really there at all and none of these disturbing things really happened. Open your eyes! Come with me on a road trip into the present past.” -Rachel Buchanan.
“After growing up in Taranaki, doing a Phd on Parihaka and now writing a book, I know a lot about the place but I’ve still got a lot to learn. Parihaka is a story that got under my skin I guess when I was a school-kid, but my biggest inspiration was the big art show at City Gallery in 2000-2001. It was awe-inspiring and I wanted to know more about a place that could inspire so much passion. Now, nine years later, I think I understand!” –Rachel Buchanan
Kelvin Day brings together eleven distinguished academics and historians who provide fresh and engaging insights into this turbulent period, much sourced from previously overlooked material, and a remarkable collection of photographs and illustrations. It includes the chapter A new kind of resistance: Parihaka and the struggle for peace by Historian Hazel Riseborough.
“People need to know what happened at Parihaka”, according to Kaumatua Rangikotuku Rukuwai.
This was the main motivation behind Dr Danny Keenan’s decision to write a book about the life of its prophet Te Whiti o Rongomai.
Inspired by his chats with Rangikotuku (Te Whiti’s great grandson) and his wife Ngaraiti over cups of tea at their New Plymouth home, Keenan revived the idea he had for the book back in the early 2000s. The book documents the roles both Te Whiti and fellow prophet Tohu Kākahi played in the creating the reputation of Parihaka as a place of peace.
The book details the events leading up to the invasion of 1881 and the arrest and imprisonment of the two men and is peppered with drawings from the time period, photographs, both old and new and accounts from people there at the time, and memories of whanau. It also traces the life of Te Whiti from Ngā Motu, where he was born, to his settling at Parihaka and his evolving sense of the injustices and disempowerment Māori experienced and his response to these.
This is a fascinating perspective of Parihaka. Author Danny Keenan has ancestral connections to Parihaka and the interviews he did with descendants whose oral histories of the injustices, shed a unique light on a history.
Congratulations on the amazing success of the recent WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Putting together a literary festival seems a massive undertaking. How long did it take you to plan and execute?
Each festival takes a year to plan, although some foundation work is done in the preceding year as well. This year we had a fantastic and very hard working team led by Executive Director Marianne Hargreaves. My job is to plan what the festival will look like – everyone else makes it happen!
The festival featured 80 events and over 150 writers and speakers. How did you put the programme together? Or to reprise the title of one of the festival events: Where do you get your ideas from? (Did you brainstorm with a committee or were these ideas all your own?)
I do call for input of ideas from our board of trustees, who are all avid readers, and from my Twitter followers who are a clued-up bunch, but mostly the ideas come from reading books, reading coverage of books on the internet, checking upcoming publishing schedules (and publishers sometimes pitch their authors to me), and generally thinking about the issues and themes that the world is concerned with. What moves people? What troubles them? What do they want to know more about?
Outside of my work hours I am constantly thinking about the programme and can get lost for days down the rabbit hole of the internet following ideas. We also work closely with the Melbourne and Brisbane Writers’ Festivals as well as Sydney’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas, so we send each other ideas.
How did you hear about these various authors/speakers, and how did you decide which ones to invite over?
All different ways, but here are some examples. The Canadian writers (Ivan Coyote, Elizabeth Hay and Sheila Watt-Cloutier) came to me through Hal Wake, the director of the Vancouver Writers Festival, which I attended in October last year. I saw that Tim Flannery had a book out on climate change, which was a topic I wanted to cover; his partner Kate Holden came highly recommended to me by another writer.
I found Caitlin Doughty via Twitter, where she was tweeting macabre things that appealed to me, which led me to her website where to my delight I discovered she had recently published a book. Then I saw her speak at the Sydney Writers’ Festival last year and that sealed the deal. Ali Cobby Eckermann and Elisa Washuta came through the Christchurch Sister Cities programme – both writers were recommended to me by literary people in Adelaide and Seattle respectively.
Alok Jha was recommended to me by someone who had seen him in person in the UK. John Freeman I met in Auckland last year, then again in Vancouver and New York. He was coming out for the Melbourne Writers Festival so I extended the invitation to Christchurch.
Did you start with a theme in mind or did the theme emerge later?
You send out hundreds of invitations and hope that some will stick. In this case, the ones that were sticking started revolving around two common themes – the planet and its people. Nearly all the writers who had accepted my invitation write about quite political things, whether it is the environment, gender, human rights, sexual politics, life and death. I decided to declare the Planet & its People as the official theme because I knew it would appeal to people who care about what is happening in the world right now.
The festival ranged over a myriad of topics like climate change, water, feminism, sex, positive death-acceptance, true crime, LGBT issues, poetry, migrants’ voices, war stories, inclusive cities, and political cartoons. How did you know what topics would appeal to a general audience? What combination and balance were you looking to achieve?
These are topics that engaged people care about. I was looking for a combination and balance of thought-provoking, challenging, enlightening, uplifting and entertaining.
Do your literary interests span all these different genres, topics, and cultural hot buttons? Did you read all the books featured?
I wish I could say I read books by all 150 speakers at the festival but alas no, I didn’t have the time! My personal tastes run to literary fiction and personal essays mostly, but I can still appreciate a topic and trust my sources, and I always make sure the speaker is engaging foremost.
You’ll notice I managed to smuggle my musical tastes in there as well, with the Flying Nun celebration night and Hollie Fullbrook from Tiny Ruins, and also included comics, performance poetry, live storytelling, journalism and TV writing, so WORD is no longer just about books.
Some authors were interviewed on stage; others took to the stage by themselves; and yet others were part of a panel. How did you decide which format would best showcase each author’s talents?
A lot of it was led by the writers themselves. It is a big ask to get someone to prepare an address, so many authors prefer the ‘in conversation’ format. It is good to have a mixture of both, so I always ask which format the writers prefer.
Panels are a good way to make sure an international author has more than one opportunity to be on stage; and with local writers, they are a good way to include as many writers as possible, and to cover some interesting topics beyond ‘tell us about your book’.
How did you decide who would chair each panel or interview each author?
I attend a lot of writers’ festivals and am always paying close attention to the chairs! In many cases a good chair person is as important as the speaker people have come to see. Chairing takes a certain set of skills – confidence to carry the responsibility, but also the confidence to take a back seat and not dominate.
Chairing a panel is a kind of mediation as well, where it’s essential that you allow everyone on the panel to get their word across, and be prepared for conflict. Managing audience questions is another skill! I also look for chairs who can go with the flow of conversation rather than rigidly over prepare and stick to their questions no matter what. As far as who to match with whom: instinct.
What guided your decision-making regarding workshop topics and the people who would run them?
I wanted a range of topics, and we certainly had that: fiction, song-writing, the business of publishing, memoir, indigenous storytelling. They arose from looking at who was coming and who had experience teaching. The workshops were all very popular, so we will definitely look at adding more next time – and as Tracy Farr’s fiction workshop and Scott Pack’s How to Perfect Your Submission workshop sold out so quickly, will look at more fiction workshops next time and another about getting published. The Taku Kupu Ki Te Ao workshop had three teachers in addition to the facilitator, and by all accounts they got as much out of it as the students!
What gave you the idea to launch the immensely successful new events like Oratory on the Ōtākaro, and the New Regent Pop-Up Festival?
The Ōtākaro walk was conceived in consultation with Ngāi Tahu who are a great supporter of the festival. We are keen to regularly feature Ngāi Tahu speakers and stories. Look out for more walks at future festivals!
The Pop-Up was inspired by a combination of things – wanting to expand the fringe programme which creates accessible events in interesting spaces; wanting to include as many Christchurch writers in the programme as we could; and my visit to the Lit Crawls in Seattle and San Francisco last year. The organisers are keen for us to become part of the Lit Crawl family but there is already a LitCrawl (note different spelling!) in Wellington and we don’t want to detract from that. But the New Regent Street space was an excellent way to test the waters for this kind of event, and I hope it will become a regular feature of future festivals. It added so much character to the festival.
Any kinks you want to iron out for next festival or any things you want to redress?
Yes, but I’m keeping those to myself as they kinks mostly happened behind the scenes and we need to maintain the image of a swan gliding across a still lake while its legs work furiously below the surface!
What were the personal highlights of this festival for you?
Oh, so many! I’m not supposed to have favourites, and as I was behind the scenes, I missed much of the festival. But I will say I was pretty proud to have Ivan Coyote and Caitlin Doughty, and the Hear My Voice event and Flying Nun event gave me goosebumps. I thought the Stars are on Fire showcase went perfectly (but I am biased), and hearing Tiny Ruins debut a beautiful new song just about had me in tears!
What are the perks of being the festival’s literary director?
Meeting interesting writers! Championing books, especially New Zealand books. Getting to travel to other festivals and to collaborate with them as well. I get a lot of free books, which is a big bonus of course.
What ideas have already sparked for the next festival?
As it’s two years away, I’ll be reissuing invitations to some people who couldn’t make it this time around. But look out! We have an amazing line-up in the planning for our Autumn Season in May, in partnership with Auckland Writers Festival, and will also have a programme of events within the Christchurch Arts Festival next year.
What do you do when you’re not planning literary festivals?
I should be writing books! But the festival takes up too much of my headspace at the moment, so I’ll say I like walking and reading, spending time with my kids. And I have recently taken up horse-riding after a 25 year gap, so that is my current obsession.
Thank you very much, Rachael, for your time, and congratulations once again on the success of the festival!
Historical fiction is beaut and I read LOADS of it!
I find that it’s an opportunity for talented writers to explore a tiny part of history and expand on it in a way that keeps within the spirit of the times. With the added bonus of hindsight, they might get into some areas that perhaps weren’t fully described by contemporary historians in factual writings.
There’s another side to historical fiction too, and this is the tendency to lean towards topics & settings centred on ladies holding court in the drawing room or the Upstairs-Downstairs type narrative full of posh English aristocrats, much like the recently popular Downton Abbey or Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall which has had the tele treatment.
There’s nothing wrong with these stories, some of them are written beautifully and they sure make good TV fodder, but my concern is that we may be boxing the term “historical fiction” into these aristocratic themes and subsequently some other great works about the “historical common people” are not reaching audiences that would love them. So let’s get into the gritty side of what I like to call (for lack of a better term) Historical Fiction of the Masses.
In Gould’s Book of Fish he delves deeply into the corruption, lunacy and brutality of the penal system of transportation to Van Diemen’s Land in the 17th/18th centuries. This is a history not often told in its full brutal reality by history’s keepers, until quite recently when shame around the perceived “convict stain” was turned around and many people began speaking with pride of their convicted and transported ancestors.
There’s another very accomplished and award winning Tasmanian author who writes good “Historical Fiction of the Masses” – Rohan Wilson. His two titles – The Roving Party and To Name Those Lost are full of grit and reality and are based on real points of history, and the characters based on real people.
And there’s other great international titles in this vein too, The Revenant by Michael Punke is a survivalist story set in the 19th century Rocky Mountains frontier and has recently achieved a lot of attention with Leonardo Dicaprio claiming his first Oscar for his role as the main character.
The North Water by Ian McGuire dealing with life on a whaling ship in the North Sea & the ship’s morally corrupt crew was long-listed for this year’s Man Booker Prize
There’s a huge depth of writing in this style and a new title piqued my interest after I heard an interview with the author Eowyn Ivey on Radio New Zealand.
Her book is titled To the Bright Edge of the World and during her interview she expressed her admiration for minimalist writers such as Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy. She even said that one of her best-loved books was Gould’s Book of Fish by Flanagan – how could you resist!? Her book is written as diary entries and other correspondence amongst a group travelling through the wilds of frozen Alaska, their families & their descendants. It’s brutal, realistic and believable with strong engaging characters, a weight of mysticism and a deep plot – all the elements for a fine example of Historical Fiction of the Masses!
Go get some titles like these and get reading! Ma Te Wa.
Recently I braved the heaviest rain of winter to attend the WORD Writer’s Workshop “Teaching the Monster to Speak” hosted by the energetic Tracy Farr.
Tracy, who was born across the ditch but who we’ll claim as a Kiwi as she’s lived in Wellington for the past 20 years, wrote The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt in 2013 and received accolades for creating characters so real they could walk off the page. Tracy started her second novel and was determined to achieve the same rich characterization. She investigated her writing process so she could replicate it. The twenty or so other workshop attendees and I were fortunate enough to be able to share her wisdom.
To make truly original, realistic characters, Tracy advises authors to stitch them together, physically and psychologically. To extend the Frankenstein metaphor further, she suggests splicing character traits and collecting body parts. Take your mother’s dark eyes, your cousin’s dress sense (or lack of), your colleague’s habit of giving you compliment sandwiches and your dentist’s squint, and you’re on the way to making your Monster. Tuck away images or sayings specific to your Monster into a real or virtual folder via Pinterest or Scrivener. Make mood boards and observe, collect and record “whatever buzzes”. Place your Monster into a setting and move it around so it can start to take on a life of its own.
The idea is to transform/invent/disguise people you know to create your characters. Tracy says “be aware of when you’re copying and when you’re creating” and encouraged us to do a writing exercise every day. She assured us that, if we do this, something (or someone) will turn up.
Tracy Farr’s new novel, The Hope Fault, is due for release by the Freemantle Press next year. Make sure you keep an eye out for it – an eye, his ear, your brother’s obsession with drones, the butcher’s stutter, the purple coat you saw at Farmers… Make it real then make it strange. Happy stitching!
His motivation for writing his virals trilogy – still can’t bear to call them vampires – was his daughter Iris who was then something like 9 years old. A prodigious reader she had taken a look at his previous novels Mary and O’Neil and The Summer Guest and pronounced them boring and wanted to read a book about a girl who saved the world! Each day they would cycle around Houston and talk about what would be in such a book. Through this process he lost his inner critic.
Iris has an audiographic memory (like a photographic memory but for sound) she would always know what chapter they where up to when returning to a book. She had lots of suggestions – there would be a girl with red hair like her and she named the characters. There was only one rule about what would be in the book – it had to be interesting. After a while he realised his current novel wasn’t going so well and he had 30 pages of notes so he thought he’d write the first chapter and see if it went anywhere – and here we are ten years later with the last volume of the trilogy.
An English professor at Rice University, his only rule for Iris at college is don’t take any creative writing courses I can do that. Now publishing her own work it looks like dad has successfully taught her the family business although I don’t know who taught who …
Why vamps? They are the most interesting out of the four monsters in human form: Frankenstein, werewolves, vampires and zombies. Although I wonder if he forgot about yeti, and Karen was putting a great case for old-fashioned fairies. He excuses himself saying those other Vampire stories were not on his radar, at the time Twilight had only just come out.
At the heart of the vampire noir is the premise that immortality is a terrible state to reassure us that we would rather be human than live forever. He takes vamps and puts them into a new narrative and that’s what makes it interesting. Vamps but with a twist – you’ve always got to bring something else in to make it interesting like a road trip and a viral epidemic. He was inspired by a couple of B grade movies one called Near Dark directed by the talented Kathryn Bigelow. It blended to the western narrative of a drifters story also Magic Johnson had just come out and there was the AIDs epidemic.
Justin’s not averse to a bit of vampire seduction but in a different way, a seduction utilising rhetoric. Fanning as the charismatic narrator, Fanning sitting around for all those years in a library reading books using language to seduce Amy. A rhetorical seduction to make us feel sympathy with him.
On characters and community
Since you are running for your life what is the one thing you would carry with you? In most cases people would carry someone else, therefore you have a love story and bonds of community.
Survival is not sufficient. We read end of the world stories for reassurance and resurrection is an important part of that.
You need survivors to have hope for their children. You think what does it mean to have a child? A child is a deal you make with the future.
Describing the novels as an apocalyptic western road trip, part of the inspiration for The Passage trilogy was the depressing world events at the time. Hurricane Katrina had just hit, G.W. Bush had been re-elected and a second less known Hurricane Rita had triggered an evacuation of Houston which he found himself in the midst of.
One morning stuck on the motorway at 2 am going nowhere in a massive traffic jam watching the fuel gauge go down he did the maths and decided they weren’t going to make it out and made a u-turn and headed back home. Luckily the main force of the hurricane hit further off than predicted.
He is interested in the response of community to disasters like the Christchurch earthquake how community survives. Community is a social lifeboat with a group of mostly good people who are resilient.
“The vampires can’t see themselves in the mirror and after a certain age that is the case with everybody”.
On making things creepy
I look to nature things that creep me out like fish why do they all turn the same way like that? Crickets how they can jump so much further than their body length, the virals are like bugs in hives.
He deliberately doesn’t describe the virals too much leaving it to you to bring the things that scare you to your picture of them. Everyone’s picture of a viral would be different. That’s why movies can be disappointing and on that topic he has sold the film rights but it may be a TV show will eventuate. TV shows are now where the story is at not so many special effects.