Courage Day is celebrated on the 15th November. When I initially saw ‘Courage Day’ on the list of impending key dates, the first thing to pop in my head was the scene from the Return of the King where Sam heaves Frodo up on to his shoulders and staggers up the slopes of Mount Doom towards the exploding crater. Great. Literature is full of courageous deeds. But turns out, Courage Day is really a celebration of courage displayed by those on the other end of the pen – writers who defend the human right to free speech – as well as those who are oppressed, killed or imprisoned for their work. Writing can be a dangerous business indeed.
In fact, Courage Day is the New Zealand term for what is known globally as the ‘International Day of the Imprisoned Writer.’ The New Zealand Society of Authors, which is affiliated to PEN, named the event jointly after James Courage and his grandmother Sarah Courage. Read more about the history of Courage Day on our website. Courage Day is held on the 15th November each year, as has been the case since 1981.
Whilst many throughout history have turned to writing to express their views (however outrageous), Courage Day honours writers who have been outspoken about social or human rights issues and in doing so have placed their own personal safety or freedom at great risk. Courage Day encourages us to consider the politics surrounding freedom of speech and expression.
Contentious hot topics indeed.
History and current events show us that not all governments support free speech, and across time there have been some hiccups. When we read books by authors who have been penalised for their words, our world is expanded as we become aware of issues, and even atrocities, that we might not otherwise have fully realised. This would not be possible were it not for the fortitude of a very few who would risk their livelihood.
So here is a short list of books and the authors behind them who have been persecuted for expressing their views. Some have been imprisoned, forced into labour, or expelled from their countries and a lucky few have simply had their books burned.
Books by Persecuted Writers
Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago contained criticisms of the Bolshevik party. For this he was threatened with expulsion from the USSR. Due to this unfortunate threat, he turned down a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958.
The Satanic Verses resulted in a fatwa (ruling) being issued against Rushdie for “insulting Islam.” In a horrifying twist, the following occurred. Several bookshops in the UK stocking his book were firebombed; his Japanese translator was assassinated; his Italian translator stabbed (escaped, with injury) and his Norwegian publisher shot (survived, injured). An alarming display of extremism.
Mikhail’s anti-war sentiments manifested in her journalism, poetry, and in her book ‘Diary of a Wave,’ all of which were banned in Iraq. She was warned by authorities that her life would be at risk should she continue publishing anti-war messages, and so she fled Iraq, claiming asylum in the US. The Beekeeper of Sinjar is her latest offering about endurance and hope against the backdrop of ISIS extremism. No doubt the authorities would disapprove.
J.M. Coetzee is a South African author and Nobel laureate whose novels contain anti-apartheid sentiments. His novel In the Heart of the Country was consequently banned in apartheid South Africa.
Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in 1962 for conspiring to overthrow South Africa’s apartheid government. His book Conversations With Myself contains notes and diary entries from his subsequent 27 year stint in prison.
Wild Swans by Jung Chang has been banned in China since its publication in 1991. It details life under the rule of Mao’s Communist party.
Oscar Wilde was imprisoned in the 1890s, after evidence of his homosexuality was brought before the courts. His poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol was written about his experience of prison.
“The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.”
What exactly are we afraid of? The books that a country decides to ban are less a reflection on the author than on the system or society which banishes them.
Censorship is another contentious issue, and over time many books have been banned for a wealth of reasons. This has happened in New Zealand too. It could be that they challenged the moral or political ideologies of the time, or were considered too outrageous or offensive for public consumption.
Personally, discovering that a book is part of a banned books list merely increases my determination to get my hands on a copy. Like when my parents tried to stop me from reading scary books as a kid. Ha, cause that worked…
Here are some previously banned or restricted books that are now available to borrow at Christchurch City Libraries.
Lee Child has just released his 23rd Jack Reacher book – Past Tense – and I can hardly wait to get my hands on it. The only thing that could possibly be better, is attending ‘An Evening with Lee Child’ – but you also won’t be surprised to hear that this WORD Christchurch event is already sold out. With a drawcard like bestselling author Lee Child having a chat with local author Paul Cleave – it’s no wonder! There was much seat bouncing and skiting to anyone who would listen when I heard that I would be going to see the creator of the Jack Reacher series in the flesh. It is almost like being in the same room as the great man himself – and who wouldn’t want to be up close and personal with someone like Jack?
Lee Child is one of an elite group of authors of whose work I have read in its entirety – and eagerly anticipate his next offering. This doesn’t sound like too big of a deal, I agree; but I am actually one of those librarians who don’t read many books. Blame the alluring pull of technology, being time-poor and feeling like it is taking my work home with me. But for another tale about Jack, I will always make an exception.
With 23 books under his belt and more than 40 short story anthologies, Lee Child has been giving his imagination and typing skills a serious work out over the last 21 years. His books have been bestsellers and he’s sold well over 100 million of them all over the world. From a librarian’s point of view I can honestly say that they are rarely back in the library long enough to actually get shelved.
Now I can see how this is a wee bit like teasing you all given that the event is actually sold out – but don’t despair. You can put your name on the waitlist according to the WORD Christchurch website – so you might be in with a chance! I on the other hand will be there with bells on and will let you know what you missed from the comfort of your lounge room – so watch this space!
This WORD session was hosted by David Higgins, Upoko of Moeraki Rūnanga, with kōrero by the book’s editors Helen Brown (Ngāi Tahu) and Takerei Norton (Ngāi Tahu), and by book contributors Robyn Walsh (Ngāi Tahu) and Mike Stevens (Ngāi Tahu).
The book emerged from the work of the Ngāi Tahu Archives team on Kā Huru Manu, the amazing Ngāi Tahu digital atlas. While collecting and recording places names around Te Waipounamu, the research team realised they were also discovering the names and stories of people who were the very heart of Ngāi Tahu whakapapa. This book is intended to be the first of a series born out of the work of the atlas, and a second volume is already in process.
The individual biographies in Tāngata Ngāi Tahu cover 200 years of Ngāi Tahu whānau history, producing a ‘tribal family album’ of stories and images. Editor Helen Brown talked about how among the stories of the ordinary, often household names in te iwi, have been revealed the extraordinary lives of so many Ngāi Tahu people.
The book has been arranged by person/name, which Helen said gives a more nuanced history than a book based on themes or a more traditional history book arrangement, perhaps in alphabetical or chronological order. The order of the book does invoke a back-and-forth journey across time, with people from the 1800s to more recent times spread at random throughout the book. The effect embraces serendipity, with a mix of stunning, historical black-and-white photographs between more modern colour images drawing the reader into the rich history within.
Each biography had a limit of 1000 words, and editing to this limit Helen described as often excruciating. “Whole books are needed,” she said. Perhaps for individual whānau this book will plant the seed to pick up the stories and expand on them for their own tīpuna?
The biographies have been written by a team of writers, whose writing experience in this context Helen described as ranging from gathering the purely anecdotal to more academic pursuits. We were lucky to have some of the writers present in the team of speakers at the WORD event, and each speaker featured an individual from the book, giving the audience a summary of their whakapapa and life.
Robyn Walsh talked about her mother Dorothy Te Mahana Walsh of Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Kahungunu decent, a leader heavily involved in the ‘hui hopping’ during the Waitangi Tribunal Hearings and a keen performer who travelled to San Francisco supporting the Te Māori exhibition. Robyn concluded “we need and must remember these histories and people.”
Others spoken about on the day were Amiria Puhirere – a stunning figure standing in her full-length korowai in the photo on page 86, she was a prominent leader and renowned weaver who lived at Ōnukū on the Akaroa Harbour; Trevor Hapi Howse – a major part of the research team that led the long work for Ngāi Tahu Te Kerēme/the Ngāi Tahu Waitangi Claim and a key figure in the Kā Huru Manu project; and William Te Paro Spencer – a seafaring kaumātua and muttonbirder, described as “proudly and strongly Ngāi Tahu” and “very much a Bluff local but wordly with it”.
As mentioned above, one of the strong features of the book are the photographs, many of which are from iwi archives and other private collections, and often have not been published or displayed outside the embrace of whānau before. It is clear that it is something special these photos are being shared not only with iwi whānui but with the whole country, and such a personal act of whakawhanaungatanga is to be valued and cherished.
Although the prime audience for the book is Ngāi Tahu tāngata there has been huge interest in it since media company The Spinoff published an article about Mere Harper, who helped setup the Plunket organisation. The audience has since become national and international, with a strong focus on the book’s contribution to the historical narrative of Aotearoa.
Funnyman Rhys Darby has teamed up with Scholastic in a fun new fiction series for kids. He talked to Christchurch City Libraries about his debut children’s book and reading interests, his passion for cryptozoology and his connections to Christchurch.
Darby joins other comedians like David Walliams and Australian Peter Helliar who have written children’s books. By Darby’s own admission, he has childlike sensibilities and this lends itself well to his writing.
“Loaded with unmistakably quirky and random Rhys humour, 12-year-old Buttons McGinty pens top secret scribbles in a collection of extraordinary notebooks, as he and his friends enter a universe unlike any they’ve seen before. Buttons has been shipped off to Ranktwerp Island Education Fortress for Gifted Lame Unruly Minors, a.k.a. R.I.E.F.G.L.U.M., a boarding school on a remote island, somewhere in the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand and Antarctica. His parents are missing under strange circumstances and there are bogus baddies and a burly bigfoot on the prowl.” (Scholastic press release)
Darby says the main character, a flame-haired 12-year-old, is a young spirited version of himself and that he used to dream about going on adventures as a kid but back then he could only go on such adventures in his head – lucky he had a big imagination. Darby’s three years spent in the army from the age of 17 also comes through in his children’s book with his use of Morse code and the military-like operations going on in the story. Darby describes the setting as like “an Alcatraz for kids.”
Who is the book for?
Darby kept his two young sons in mind (ages 8 and 12) when writing his book. He says he wrote it for anyone with a sense of humour. “It’s for reluctant readers or for fans of my work” and what’s more, he adds, “I wrote it to amuse myself – it had to be fun for me to do it.” It’s hard not to read the book without hearing his distinctive comedic voice in your head, making it feel as if he were reading it to you.
Aside from a bit of Morse code, the book is full of funny asides, drawings, lists, maps and speech bubbles. Darby says that breaking up writing like this makes reading easier and more appealing. The story is written with a sense of immediacy. Button’s journal writing addresses the reader and makes you feel as if you are there figuring out the mystery alongside him.
Rhys Darby’s interest in cryptozoology is evident in the book when a mysterious caged creature is snuck onto the island. He describes cryptozoology as “things unclassified by science that people don’t think exists – a pseudoscience.” “I’m a fan of the unknown,” he says and he co-hosts a long-running podcast on cryptozoology called The Cryptid Factor with the likes of wry Kiwi documentarian David Farrier.
Rhys, why cryptozoology? What sparked your interest and do you have any favourite creatures?
“You’re opening a can of worms asking about my interest in this but yes, ‘hairy humanoids’ like the Yeti, the Sasquatch and other upright walking things that seem to be human which aren’t human, like the Australian Yowie and also including human reptilian creatures and sea serpents like the Loch Ness monster.”
“I remember reading when I was a kid an Usborne book called Monsters, seeing that in the library – Pakuranga Library – and one of my favourites featured all the creatures that may exist and sparked my interest in the unknown. We haven’t solved all the things on the planet that need to be solved.”
What role did libraries play in your life?
“I was a big library goer, mum would let me choose 5 books – it was a ritual. It was a safe quiet place. I remember going to my school library at Elm Park Primary and getting obsessed with car magazines.”
When we spoke Rhys was planning to visit his old primary school to read to the kids there.
The Buttons character in your book is named after your mate Leon ‘Buttons’ Kirckbeck (from your projects the Cryptid Factor and Short Poppies)? Tell us more about the name ‘Buttons’ you chose?
“‘Buttons’ sort of alludes to someone who is very good at knowing how to push the buttons, being a bit of a tech whiz or having a knack for machinery – like in the movie Gravity when Sandra Bullock is trapped but just knows how to go in and tinker with things to save herself.”
Rhys, your children’s book is mainly available through Australasian distribution and there are a number of ‘down under’ references and slang in the book. You’ve got a great line in your book about Buttons trusting someone “as much as you trust a cheap pair of jandals.” What made you choose to ‘keep it local’ in your book?
“Since I have international pull I am in a position to keep and draw attention to our unique Kiwi ‘voice’ – like Taika Waititi does. Wouldn’t it be great if like, in the same way we accept the English world of Harry Potter, that we just accept things and it became like that on the other side of the world?”
Rhys has even managed to retain his kiwiness in the recent Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as the voice of a villain called Hypno-Potamus).
“I trust him about as much as I trust a cheap pair of jandals” – quote from Buttons McGinty.
(Rhys obviously loves jandals – so much so he wrote a song about them!)
What did you learn from writing your first children’s book?
“To keep the humour coming in and not so much fantasy or action and also to keep it light so it’s not too dark, like the territory that Roald Dahl and Lewis Carroll get into.”
Obviously Book 2 is underway since Book 1 ends on a cliff-hanger and loose ends – and you hope to write up to 4-5 in the series once you see how this goes. What about a film adaptation?
“My dream would be that maybe the book series would get made into a movie and when I’m writing it I imagine it and am visualising it all.”
You’re so multi-talented… What drives you and motivates you?
“I have a creative brain and get bored easily if I’m not doing something creative and I enjoy entertaining.”
Is there nothing you won’t take up or try out? Conversely, what’s something you want to try your hand at – if you could wave a magic wand and just do it, what might it be?
“Nothing too dangerous like jumping out of a plane since I’ve got kids now and I don’t know when my luck will run out. I’ve had the opportunity to climb Mt Kilimanjaro – for charity – and ‘nearly died’. I was so sick so although I’ve since been asked to Everest, I’ve turned it down. But if I could wave a wand, I’d like to go back in time and be an explorer – like being in Cairo exploring tombs in the 1920s, just doing archaeological digs. And also I’d like to visit the Victorian days in England – like the gloomy time period of Jack the Ripper and perhaps solve the riddle of what happened.”
You’re already really interesting and diverse, but can you tell us something about yourself that we might not know?
Rhys (age 44): “Well, I like to skateboard. I have eight skateboards and got Tony Hawk to sign my son’s skateboard when I was working with him.”
What are you currently reading?
“I’m the sort of person with a stack of books on the bedside and read bits here and there but currently The Explorer’s Guildby Kevin Costner the actor (and Jon Baird) – it’s part novel/part graphic novel. It’s set around WWI and it’s a bit of a tome – it’s not an easy read but I like the idea of it. (A worthy but challenging read).
We know you like Spike Milligan and, as well as the non-fiction you’ve mentioned, what else did you read as a kid?
“I wasn’t a great reader when I was a kid but I did enjoy graphic novels like TinTin(because he was an adventurer) and Asterix – funny and involved time and I learnt about Romans ruling.”
You must be a fun dad! What are your children’s current favourite reads or things you like to read to them?
Rhys Darby spent some formative years living and studying in Christchurch. He attended the University of Canterbury, trained at Burnham Military Camp and did his early performances as a comedy duo in Lyttelton.
In your earlier autobiographical book This Way to Spaceship, you tell a funny story about being in the 1996 Christchurch Christmas Parade dressed as Mr. Blubby, a mascot to help advertise some sickly jelly concoction, but kids threw the jelly drinks at you and tipped you over. What other memories do you have from your time here?
“Christchurch was a time of awakening for me. I had my first girlfriend there, I had my first comedy gig there and went to Burnham Military Camp. I like going back to the places I remember and finding new places, visiting the park and visiting Canterbury University and also Lyttelton where I started with my friend Grant (Lobban) and my performing began (Rhysently Granted).”
Talking to Rhys Darby is a delight and a volley of conversation that can go in any direction. One thing that struck me was his way of thinking. “Just imagine” he says often or “I could imagine…” As you can imagine, he’s effusive and full of spark and creativity and his enthusiasm is refreshing and contagious. Rhys Darby certainly has cross-generational appeal. I have been looking forward to this book being published for a while, as both a children’s librarian and a parent of children in the target age group. I was already a fan of his comedy since his Flight of the Conchords days, but now I have children who enjoy his work too, in projects like Jumanji and Thunderbirds Are Go! With a children’s book in the mix, he’s growing a new fan base.
Darby’s first book is a winner! Borrow it, buy it, gift it! We look forward to finding out what happens next in Darby’s daring adventures in Book 2!
A large audience heard how Bishop spent several years researching for the book, which he says he really enjoyed, but was overwhelmed by the information he found.
One thing that struck him was the number of books that contradicted each other.
His challenge was how to find his own unique angle on the Endeavour story. As he looked through the names of the crew on the boat and their occupations, he began to wonder about the lesser-known members on board and was particularly struck by their curiously one-handed cook, John Thompson.
The story of the crew’s journey is told through food “as a point of context,” explains Bishop, with the cook as narrator. And, as his publisher Julia Marshall from Gecko Press notes “you can tell so many different stories through food—everything is here: culture, class, adventure, humour and much more.”
The Endeavour was originally the collier Earl of Pembroke and was designed for a crew of just 16 but when it sailed as the Endeavour it had 94 crew on board, packed in like sardines. And the meals were prepared on the mess deck where 74 men slept!
The cooking process on the Endeavour seemed to involve throwing everything together in a pot or bag and boiling it. Bishop says the meat became so rank that it was towed in a net behind the boat to soften it up and every second day was a vegetarian day consisting of Pease Porridge. To avoid scurvy, the cook served up stinky German cabbage. But all was not awful for the men, as it was noted how much booze was aboard the ship.
The book contains a little story about each of the countries the Endeavour visited and explains some of the names of the recipes featured such as Poor Knights Pudding, Stingray Soup, Kangaroo Stew, Dog and Breadfruit Stew and Albatross Stew “which you wouldn’t get away with today.” There were goats, dogs, pigs, sheep, cats and chickens on board. And when the ship crossed the equator everyone aboard, including the cats, were apparently tied to a chair and dipped into the water 3 times in an equator crossing ritual.
Bishop told his audience that there are two stories about the Endeavour that you won’t find anywhere else except in his book. One was told by Pete Beech, whose family was there in Picton when the Endeavour came with Cook, and tells the story of how a Māori woman was tricked into giving her taonga away for a bag of sugar. And the second story comes from an obscure poem that mentions a slave named Dalton on board who was a servant of botanist Joseph Banks. Like the Endeavour, not a centimetre of space in Bishop’s book was wasted, he says, and even the endpapers are full of illustrated facts.
At the book launch, Gecko Press were also celebrating 10 years of working with Bishop, starting with his collaboration for Joy Cowley in illustrating their successful Snake & Lizard. Marshall said what a treat it is working with Bishop: “Gavin is a true artist and very knowledgeable.” Gavin’s other book published in the past year is the illustratively stunning Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story.
Join international award-winning writer and illustrator Gavin Bishop and invited guests as we explore the Our Painted Stories exhibition and have a conversation about how seeing ourselves and our city in children’s literature helps grow a sense of identity. Wednesday 24th October 5:30-6:30pm Tūranga
Free, no bookings required Created in partnership with the Painted Stories Trust.
While visiting Tūranga, Gavin was delighted to discover a picture of his family on our Discovery Wall that even he didn’t have a copy of.
It is auspicious that just as Gavin Bishop was the first author to have a book launched at the old central library, he is also the first author to launch a book in the new library, Tūranga, 36 years later.
Katherine Mansfield was born as Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp on the 14th of October 1888, into a prominent family in Wellington. Her father, Harold Beauchamp, became the chairman of the Bank of New Zealand (then, curiously enough, owned by New Zealanders). He had been born in Australia, but moved to New Zealand with his family when he was three years old. At the age of 65, he was made a knight of the realm. Katherine’s mother was Annie Beauchamp, whose brother would marry the daughter of Richard Seddon, former Prime Minister of New Zealand. This marriage wove the Beauchamp family into New Zealand’s prominent social circles.
When Katherine was five, her family moved from Thorndon to the then country suburb of Karori for health reasons. Katherine spent the happiest years of her childhood in Karori. Her short story Prelude published in 1918, was inspired by her memories of this happy time.
Mansfield’s first published her short stories in 1900 in a society magazine called New Zealand Graphic and Ladies Journal.
Mansfield expressed a feeling of alienation in her journals. She became disillusioned with New Zealand because of her observations of Māori being repressed by the Pakeha settlers. This is probably why Māori characters are often portrayed in a positive light in a story such as How Pearl Button Was Kidnapped, first published in 1912.
At age fifteen, Mansfield moved to London to attend school there. When she returned to New Zealand, aged nineteen, she began to write short stories prolifically. She was determined to become a professional writer and returned to London at the age of 21.
Financially, Mansfield was sustained by an annual allowance from her father of one hundred pounds. But Mansfield was a woman ahead of her time and led an unconventional lifestyle, being bisexual and becoming pregnant while unmarried. Her mother was horrified and raced over to London (well, as quickly as you could race in 1909) where she dispatched Katherine to Bad Wörishofen, a spa town in Bavaria. Mansfield miscarried soon after arriving in Bad Wörishofen and, to compound her woes, her mother cut Katherine out of her will.
However, her stay in Germany was to enhance Mansfield’s writing career. Here she first encountered the works of Anton Chekhov, who is considered to be among the greatest writers of short fiction in history. Her experiences of Germany produced the stories which became her first published collection In a German Pension published in 1911.
Mansfield was profoundly affected by the death of her younger brother, Leslie Beauchamp, who was killed fighting in France in 1915. “Chummie”, as the family called him, had been very close to Katherine in their childhood. Perhaps mindful of this shadow of mortality, Mansfield wrote prolifically from 1916 onwards.
This was to prove prescient as Mansfield was diagnosed with tuberculosis in December 1917. In order to lessen the effects of her disease, Mansfield went abroad to Europe, staying in France and then Italy. During this time she published two more collections, Bliss and Other Stories (1920) then The Garden Party and Other Stories (1922).
Katherine Mansfield spent the latter part of her life seeking unorthodox treatments for her tuberculosis, but, unfortunately, she died on the 9th of January, 1923 from a pulmonary haemorrhage. Mansfield left a lot of unpublished stories behind, but her former husband, the editor, John Middleton Murry, took it upon himself to gather and publish several posthumous collections of her work.
Mansfield’s legacy is writ large in the New Zealand literary landscape. Our most prestigious literary residency is the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship which all the big knobs of Kiwi literature have enjoyed since it was inaugurated in 1970. Many a grand poobah of Kiwi writing has resided for six months in Menton, France, at the Villa Isola Bella, enjoying the freedom of writing without the financial pressure of the everyday world. Katherine Mansfield lived and wrote at the Villa Isola Bella in the latter years of her life.
I hate to end on a slightly sour note, but I wonder in New Zealand where we have had several highly talented short story writers like Mansfield, Frank Sargeson and Owen Marshall, why the short story writer seems to be regarded somehow as a lesser being and not taken seriously until they publish a novel. We have let the novel become the Olympus to which all writers should aspire. Some writers like Mansfield clearly felt their talent lies in writing the shorter form fiction. Living, as she did, far away from the claustrophobic literary milieu of New Zealand, clearly Mansfield never felt any pressure to write a novel but she produced a myriad of smaller literary treasures.
No Holds, No Waitlist for Historical Fantasy eBook as Christchurch City Libraries Joins Largest Digital Book Club
You can enjoy Katherine Locke’s The Girl with the Red Balloon eBook for two weeks with no waitlist.
Christchurch City Libraries’ members can join thousands of readers worldwide in the largest global digital book club, Big Library Read. From Monday 1 October to Monday 15 October, booklovers can borrow, read and discuss award-winning author Katherine Locke’s The Girl with the Red Balloon eBook with no waitlists or holds by visiting http://christchurch.overdrive.com or downloading the Libby app. More than 19,000 libraries and schools around the world are participating.
Big Library Read is facilitated by OverDrive, the leading platform for eBooks, and eAudiobooks. It is available in more than 90 percent of public libraries in the U.S. and Canada. The Girl with the Red Balloon was chosen by a popular vote of readers and librarians.
“I grew up on family stories and to me, they were as powerful, transformative and magical as the fiction I read in books,” states Locke. “I hope you enjoy the story and, more importantly, I hope you swipe to the last page thinking about your family stories, the magic of your own story, and the magic of storytelling.”
The Girl with the Red Balloon tells the story of sixteen-year-old Ellie Baum who accidentally time-travels via red balloon to 1988 East Berlin and becomes caught up in a conspiracy of history and magic. She meets members of an underground guild in East Berlin who use balloons and magic to help people escape over the Wall — but even to the balloon makers, Ellie’s time travel is a mystery. When it becomes clear that someone is using dark magic to change history, Ellie must risk everything — including her only way home—to stop the process.
Big Library Read is an international reading program that simultaneously connects millions of readers around the world with an eBook through public libraries. The Girl with the Red Balloon is the 17th selection of this program which began in 2013 and takes place three times per year. The free program runs for two weeks and all you need is a Christchurch City Libraries card to get started. The Girl with the Red Balloon can be read on all major computers and devices, including iPhone®, iPad®, Android™ phones and tablets and Chromebook™ without waitlists or holds. The title will automatically expire at the end of the lending period, and there are no late fees.
I’m still recovering, weeks later, from the season 2, final episode, final scene of The Handmaid’s Tale. It had both my husband and I screaming “NO!” at the television.
Not usually a great fan of movies or television made from great books, this depiction of The Handmaid’s Tale was produced with the author of the book being consulted and directing the story arcs and character development and it is one of the best adaptations of a book I’ve watched.
I read this stunning book by one of my all time favourite authors, Margaret Atwood, years ago. It set me on a path to dystopian books with women as the protagonists. Women throughout history have borne the brunt of societal ignorance, discrimination and violence, either directly or indirectly. In dystopian fiction, there are several great books where women fight against the system, lead the change that is needed to free themselves and those around them or uncover the truths behind a regime that is hell bent on holding onto power.
I wrote about Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed in an earlier blog. It’s a great example of putting women’s stories front and centre. It’s interesting when I put this list together, how much of the control and evil perpetrated on the heroes in these books is around contraception and rights over their own bodies. Here’s a quick list of others well worth checking out:
When she woke by Hillary Jordan: A fundamentalist right wing agenda is spreading through America, forcing those who commit crimes to be ‘Chromed’ their skin changing colour to fit a particular crime. Hannah finds her skin turned red to punish her for an abortion she had after an affair with a high ranking official. How she finds her way in the world and seeks refuge is at the core of this story.
The Power by Naomi Alderman: What if women suddenly became the stronger more deadly sex, able to inflict pain and even death by just a touch and there was a sudden shift in power? How does this change both society and the women and men in it?
The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch: In the near future, the earth has become a radioactive battleground and Humans live above the earth on a platform called the CIEL. The character Joan, is reminiscent of Joan of Arc and when she is turned into a martyr by the forces waging war – there are astonishing consequences.
Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall: This is a great story about a woman trying to escape a totalitarian state that enforces contraception and other restrictions on women. Sister has heard of a mythical commune of women who have fled and sets out to join them.
Wool by Hugh Howey: Another devastated world, and this time the few remaining people alive are in many leveled underground silos. Jules is one of the young women living in a silo, it’s all she’s ever known. But her curiosity leads her to discover the truth may be a lot different than what she has been told.
Red Clocks by Leni Zumas: In a small Oregon town, several women are coping with the fallout of strict government rules around contraception, abortion and believing ‘every life is sacred’. They find themselves thrust together in a modern day witch hunt and a struggle to survive.
I found it interesting how many of these books are American and how many of the new ones seem to be commenting on the present government policies and alluding to the rise of the right wing agenda around women’s rights and the states’ intervention into their lives.
I seem to come back to this topic in my fiction reading time and again. It may seem a little depressing, but the women are strong, determined and more than often triumph and this is why I like the genre.
During the chaos of dashing between WORD sessions, writer and co-editor Laurence Fearnley kindly agreed to sit down with me and answer a few questions about her new anthology To the Mountains and other works.
What brought you to writing about mountaineering?
My parents used to do a lot of climbing in Scotland and Wales after the war [before moving to Christchurch]. We spent a lot of weekends tramping — dad went on a couple of expeditions to the Himalayas, my brother was a keen climber… When I was doing research for my novel The Hut Builder I read a lot of Alpine Club articles and ended up with boxes and boxes of material, so I thought it would be quite nice to do something with that. There hadn’t been an anthology of mountain writing since Ray Knox’s A Thousand Mountains Shining in the 80s, so it seemed a good time. I hadn’t really kept up to date with modern mountaineering writing but [co-editor] Paul Hersey edited the Alpine Journal and is a climber, so he had that sort of knowledge.
You researched a lot in the Hocken Collection. What was that like?
They have full archives from the Alpine Club, which was established in 1891. It’s interesting because they allowed women to join as members right from the start, compared to others like the Canterbury Mountaineering Club which didn’t allow women in until the 1980s. I got material from those archives and also from notebooks, journals, and letters that individuals have donated to the collection. It’s an amazing archival record, it’s incredible. It does taper off from the 1970s/80s onwards so it would be great if people continued to donate to the collection, if this could be our central repository of mountain writing.
A lot of voices chosen for this anthology aren’t those most people would associate with alpine writing — usually we only hear from those at the cutting edge of mountaineering.
That’s the sad thing because that’s how you get the same old voices coming through, if they’re not disrupted by allowing different voices. Mountains are a big part of our sporting identity, it would be nice if it was seen as something families do, not just rugged individuals. There are so many reasons why people go into the mountains — photography, art, for somewhere quiet and restful, to admire the beauty… The public perception of conquest [of the Alps] doesn’t really hold true, it’s not necessarily a motivation for most people.
At the same time a lot of the 1930s Canterbury Mountaineering Club articles are of trips in the Port Hills because it was difficult to get good transport to the Alps — they might only be able to get into the mountains once or twice a year but they were very fit. It was a class orientated sport, particularly in the early days. It’s interesting when the boundaries start breaking down between the upper middle class mountaineers and the working class mountain guides. Guides weren’t allowed in the Alpine Club because they were professionals.
Which doesn’t give credit to the fact that the guides were doing a lot of the work putting up tents, cutting steps, carrying the equipment…
Yes, you get someone like Dora De Beer on an expedition overseas in China, they walked 400 miles before they even got to the mountain, it was a real Victorian expedition. They would expect shelter from whatever was available, from monasteries to embassies, just take over their house. She was an amazing woman — during the 30s just before the war she would drive from London through Holland, Germany and Switzerland to get to Italy, on her own a lot of the time. Her diaries are from 1936-37, a lot of her entries are things like “Very inconvenienced getting across the border,” such a sense of imperious entitlement with no mention of the political climate. People like her were so curious and enthusiastic, in New Zealand they’d set off on horseback across Otira to the West Coast, just loving the absolute freedom of being out of that rigid society. They thought it was a great hoot.
Some of my favourite parts of the book are letters from the 1800s, there were some really funny excerpts. You must have had a lot of fun finding these in the Hocken collection. Do you have any favourites?
The ones I liked were the quieter, reflective pieces, people going back later in life and just enjoying being in the outdoors with their friends. I guess Jill Tremain had a big impact on me as a kid when she did the [1971 traverse of the Southern Alps] with Graeme Dingle — I can remember it being on the radio, there was a lot of controversy about them sharing a tent as she wasn’t married. From her letters she seemed to have such a generous outlook on life.
Voices I like least would be the 1970s slightly macho hard men stuff, that’s not a voice that appeals to me but quite a big part of the literature of the time. When you compare those writers with Aat Vervoorn, so reflective and spiritual, learning from the landscape… The ones who enjoy being in the space rather than needing to prove themselves or get a reputation, those would be the voices I like.
What are you currently working on?
I’m two-thirds of the way through a novel looking at landscape through scent and identity, under the umbrella narrative of a woman who loses her job when the university Humanities department is done away with. That one will be coming out next year. I’m also looking at doing an anthology of New Zealand women mountaineers. This will be more historical, it will be worthwhile to have a chronology of women mountaineers as there are so many of them.
What are you reading at the moment?
Just read a couple of books that I reviewed for Landfall, one called Oxygen by [New Zealand freediver) William Trubridge — not a book I’d necessarily be drawn to but interesting to see just how determined and focussed he has to be. The other is a beautiful book about hunting called Dark Forest Deep Water by Richard Fall, which would normally be something that turns me off but hearing him reflecting on why he hunts and the emotional journeys of hunting… It’s a great book, I’d really recommend it.
Thanks Laurence for a lovely interview, and I look forward to reading your next books!
There are few things I enjoy as much as a true tale of shame and embarrassment told by a gifted spinner of yarns. Even better if the story in question doesn’t have me as its protagonist, though this isn’t compulsory. In fact, many’s the time I’ve found myself in some ridiculous predicament only to think “ah well, at least this’ll make a good story”.
Such was the basis, I suspect, of Robin Robertson‘s 2003 anthology Mortification: Writers’ Stories of their Public Shame, a book that grew out of his work in publishing that required him to travel the country talking with writers. He discovered both a rich vein of mortifying stories, and certain one-upmanship in storytelling (I have certainly experienced this myself, and the phrase “you think that’s bad…” is usually in the mix).
In this WORD Christchurch Festival session Robertson revived Mortification in a live format. It’s one thing writing an embarrassing anecdote down for publication – is it better or worse to have to read it in front of an audience? It’s hard to know if the writers involved are Robertson’s victims, or simply masochists but they all acquitted themselves with dignity… or at least as much as could reasonably be mustered. Which in the case of Jarrod Gilbert (whom we’ll get to later) wasn’t much.
The session kicked off with a pre-recorded yarn from Irvine Welsh who, due to a family bereavement, was unable to attend in person. While I’m sure it would have been even more entertaining to hear Welsh tell his appalling tale of gastric misadventure and horrifying toilet facilities in person, I didn’t feel let down by his absence at all. Talking down the barrel of a cellphone camera, Welsh was devastatingly matter of fact in describing his attempts to “get away” with his unexpected befoulment, believing that he had done so… only to have his shame revealed by the unfortunate arrival of a group of pub-crawling Glaswegians. Welsh admitted that he is no stranger to public shame or the subsequent “crumbling down effect when your face collapses”, saying:
I’ve become really inured to the kind of embarrassment that really f***s up other people.
Apparently if you’re mortified often enough it sort of stops bothering you.
Paula Morris, respected writer and mainstay of the New Zealand literary scene, might beg to differ. She offered up, not a single, horrifying tale, but a thousand small humiliations instead, ranging from critical underwear failure at an operatic recital to childhood trauma via angry goat. Shorts that inexplicably opened during a speech. The shame of being at a signing table where noone wants your signature. Repeatedly being mistaken for poet Paula Green. And most significantly, her failed attempt at guiding a blind woman and her dog between London tube stations. It was a hard act to follow Welsh, but Morris can hold her head up high… in shame.
Steve Braunias told a clever and complex tale set during a period of unemployment, when his lodgings were less than salubrious. Braunias is a great storyteller – you don’t quite see the punchline coming, even as the clues of it are laid out carefully as he goes along, the slightly dopey loser persona he adopts adding to the comedic effect. The audience were in stitches. And yet… to me it felt very much like carefully crafted humorous story… that didn’t really happen. Which is fine as far as humorous stories go, but there’s something about the vulnerability of a true story, told by the person it happened to that is far more affecting. Being clever isn’t the point. Being shamefacedly honest is. Call me cynical, if you will, but I struggle to believe that Steve Braunias did, in fact, give Helen Clark fleas at a classical guitar concert.
On the other hand, I didn’t have any trouble believing that Megan Dunn (author of Tinderbox) attended a mermaid class in Florida, nor that she was not particularly gifted in the art of mermaiding. Synchronised swimmers aside, who would be? One of the reasons I believe this story is that Megan Dunn is currently writing a nonfiction book about mermaids (the pretend adult woman kind, not the mythical creature kind – no, I didn’t know there were different kinds either) and because if you’re going to invent a story that involves shimmying into a lycra mermaid “tail” it’s not going to be orange. Still, I felt like the actual mortification levels in this story were comparatively low because “failing to be sufficiently mermaidy” just isn’t that embarrassing. Fascinating, yes. A topic you’d rather didn’t come up round the Christmas dinner table? Not so much.
Finally, Dr. Jarrod Gilbert, award-winning author, University of Canterbury lecturer and, according to Braunias, “the thinking man’s drinking man” shared an inspiring* tale of bloody-minded determination vs good sense, reason and dignity (but who needs them anyway?). As is often the case with tales of humiliation it began with guys egging each other on – a friend simply said that Gilbert couldn’t run a marathon in 3.5 hours. So rather than let his friend be right about something, Gilbert endeavoured to do just that. What resulted was hallucinatory levels of physical and mental pain, and a impromptu bowel movement – Gilbert walking to the centre of the stage and adopting a crouching posture so as to paint a more vivid image in our minds (that wasn’t really necessary). This took place on the Sumner Causeway, or as Gilbert described it, “possibly the most exposed piece of geography on Earth”.
But there’s a happy ending! Gilbert achieved his marathon goal (thereby disproving his friend’s assertion) with less than 2 minutes to spare… admitting “it’s very difficult for me to describe just how little satisfaction that gave me”. It’s almost as if a person shouldn’t undertake a massively time-consuming and difficult task just to prove a point wasn’t in great need of being made.
Though saying that, it’s probably not in the spirit of the evening to try and extract a moral from any of these stories. Then again, “beware inopportune Glaswegians” does have a certain ring to it.