Michael Robotham – The psychology of crime

Michael Robotham is full of stories. He had a crowd enraptured at South Learning Centre last night with his tales of crime, psychology, writing, and the Ozarks.

He is now a best-selling, award-winning writer, but started out as a journalist. Later he was a successful ghost writer, working on 15 autobiographies (including Ginger Spice, Rolf Harris, and Lulu – he turned down Bryan Ferry though!)

Michael started writing his first novel The suspect when he had some time off between ghostwriting memoirs by Lulu and Rolf Harris. There was a bidding war – he had arrived with a bang. When it was published, he sent a copy to his Mum. After a while, she still hadn’t read it and told him “I had three library books to get through”.  She won a Friends of the Library Award for that commitment to libraries. Her review of his first book? “It took me a while to get into and then I did”.

Michael and author Paul Cleave
Michael Robotham and Paul Cleave. Flickr 2015-08-26-IMG_8920

Michael talked about his road to becoming a writer, and his literary parent Ray Bradbury, as told here in Ray Bradbury is my ‘Father’.

He also shared stories about his dealings with Oz’s most wanted crim Raymond John Denning, It is a ripper of a tale and was sparked his fascination with the psychology of crime.

Michael told us about time with psychologist Paul Britton (who was the basis for the fictional character Cracker played by Robbie Coltrane). This was the man who went to Fred and Rosemary West’s house and when they found bodies in the garden said “they’re in the garden because the house is full”. Very creepy stuff.

His books all have a factual basis. The spark for his latest book Close your eyes was the murder of Janet Brown in Somerset. Life and Death was inspired by a man who escaped from prison the day before he was due to be released – and was never seen again.

I try so hard to write fiction that reads like fact.

Audience
Michael Robotham talk at South Learning Centre. Wednesday 26 August 2015. Flickr 2015-08-26-IMG_8919

Michael told us about his trip to the Ozark Mountains, scouting for a location for Life or Death. The locals were less than friendly. A burly Ozarkian Sheriff sparked good lines like someone being “dumber than shit on a biscuit”.

Not only did we get most excellent anecdotes, Michael also shared some writing tips. Find your own way. Do just enough research so the premise works, don’t let your research dominate.

Michael has just gained a new gang of Christchurch fans.

Michael Robotham and Dennis
Michael Robotham and my Dad.  Flickr 2015-08-26-IMG_8922

Search our catalogue for Michael Robotham.

Cover of Close your eyes Cover of Watching you Cover of Say you're sorry Cover of Life or death Cover of The suspect

New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults 2015

Last night was one of the most important dates on the New Zealand children’s literature calendar: the night when the winners of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults for 2015 were announced and celebrated.

We are thrilled to join in congratulating these great authors and their fantastic books:

Margaret Mahy Book of the Year and Young Adult Book Award

Singing home the whale by Mandy Hager

Picture Book Award

Jim’s letters by Glyn Harper and Jenny Cooper

Junior Fiction Award

Monkey boy by Donovan Bixley

Non-fiction Award

Mōtītī Blue and the oil spill by Debbie McCauley

Best First Book

Māori art for kids by Julie Noanoa and Norm Heke

Maori Language Award

Ngā kī Sacha Cotter and Joshua Morgan, translated by Kawata Teepa

Cover of Singing Home The Whale Cover of Jim's Letters Cover of Monkey Boy Cover of Motiti Blue and the Oil Spill Cover of Maori Art for Kids Cover of Nga Ki

Children’s Choice Award Winners

This year children were given the opportunity to choose the finalists as well as casting the vote for the winners.  Nearly 16,000 votes were cast and these are the winners:

Picture Book

The Anzac puppy by Peter Millett & Trish Bowles

Junior Fiction

The island of lost horses by Stacy Gregg

Non-Fiction

The letterbox cat & other poems by Paula Green & Myles Lawford

Young Adult Fiction

Night vision by Ella West

Cover of The Anzac Puppy Cover of The Island of Lost Horses Cover of The letterbox cat & Other Poems Cover of Night Vision

Have you read any of these books? Do you agree with the judges’ choices?

Warm patrons of literature

It seems that in the early days of our city’s European history, it was very much the fashion for visiting luminaries to make a progression through the country, stopping at every town to meet the locals and be wined and dined.

NPG Ax18230; Anthony Trollope by London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company
Anthony Trollope by London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company, albumen carte-de-visite, 1870s NPG Ax18230 © National Portrait Gallery, London CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Anthony Trollope, who turns 200 this year, was one such celebrity, and passed through New Zealand in August 1872. He notes in a book about his travels that he visited every county and province except Hawke’s Bay. You can trace his journey through the country in Papers Past, a treasure-trove of archived newspapers dating from 1839 to 1948, although there is surprisingly little in the press about his visit to Christchurch – he seems to have arrived and left our city without much fuss at all. This is in contrast to some of his other appearances: he “and wife” attended the Queen’s Birthday Ball in Wellington; was the subject of a great deal of heated discussion around who was paying for his visit, and whether this payment was impacting politically on his writing; and disappointed Dunedinites by failing to attend a celebration of the anniversary of Sir Walter Scott, at which he had promised to speak.

The disappointment seems to have gone both ways, however. The book he wrote while here (rather creatively named Australia and New Zealand) is tucked away in our archives, but we have a copy of AH Reed’s book about Mr Trollope’s visit in the Aotearoa New Zealand Centre at Central Library Manchester. It’s full of pronouncements on our wee country, mostly political, and some quite scathing. Trollope described the trip from Waimate to Christchurch as being “an uninteresting journey as far as scenery is concerned”; advised “no young lady to go out to any colony either to get a husband, or to be a governess, or to win her bread after any so-called lady-like fashion”; and noted that the greatest fault of New Zealanders was that they were excessively keen on blowing their own trumpets, and that if the New Zealander “would blow his own trumpet somewhat less loudly, the music would gain in its effect upon the world at large”. Despite this, he did manage to redeem himself somewhat by complimenting us on our reading – while speaking at a banquet in his honour at the Northern Club he noted that ” … his own works, and those of other leading writers, were in every house he entered ..” and that there were “… more warm patrons of literature in the colonies in proportion to population, than in Great Britain.”

Reed’s book is well worth a read, if only to find a reason to feel self-defensively patriotic. And if you don’t feel like a bit of flag-waving, there’s always Trollope’s fabulous works of fiction to pick up and enjoy.

Cover of The Warden Cover of Barchester Towers Cover of Phineas Finn Cover of The Way We Live Now

Florence Nightingale, 1820 – 1910

Having been in hospital recently has given me pause to consider how amazing the nurses are and how dedicated they must be to work at times arduous hours and to deal with tasks which are not always pleasant. And let’s face it, at times they observe the deterioration and loss of a patient they may have nursed for a while. That must be hard, yet they are always so cheery and ready to make you as comfortable as they can and almost always with a warm smile.

I work as a library assistant and find it  hard and feel quite sad when we have to put what has been a great book to rest. So I figure in comparison I must be a bit of a wuss.

Cover of Florence Nightingale: The Lady with the LampI remember in school being taught about the early days of nursing and the role that Florence Nightingale played in that. Florence is very well known for her contribution in the Crimean War. Don’t be fooled though: this “Lady of the Lamp”, as she was often referred to, was so much more than a committed nurse, teacher and carer of those injured during wartime. This I only recently discovered when, on my discharge from hospital, I decided to read about Florence, and I am so pleased I did.

Let me share with you a little of what I have discovered. In doing so I hope you will be inspired to check out one of the many books we have about Florence at Christchurch City Libraries and discover for yourselves what an incredibly strong woman she was, very talented and a fantastic role model for all women.

Cover of The Story of Florence Nightingale Cover of A Winter on the Nile Cover of Florence Nightingale Cover of No Place for Ladies

Florence was born in Italy in 1820 and was named after the city in which she was born. Unusually for women of that era Florence was well educated. Her father, who was her tutor, saw her potential and tutored her, amongst other things, in languages, maths and history.

Florence’s talents included an understanding of politics, ability in maths and statistics.  She was a prolific writer and could be described as a trailblazer in her endeavours to improve the lot of prostitutes to prevent them gaining a criminal record.  She was also committed to improving health conditions for the people of India.

Cover of Letters from EgyptAt age 29 Florence travelled to Egypt. As a talented writer she wrote many descriptive letters to her family about her adventures. These letters have been published in Letters from Egypt: A Journey on the Nile 1849-1850, selected and introduced by Anthony Sattin. A wonderful Arabian Nights adventure and beautifully illustrated throughout, this book is an enjoyable read. Florence’s description of her travels is captivating: she takes one on the journey with her . This book is just one of several items we have to offer for you to read and gain insight into a very capable  and strong-willed woman. Do enjoy her story.

High-rise: J. G. Ballard’s vertical zoo

Cover of High riseI have to confess that the only reason I picked up J. G. Ballard’s 1975 novel of inevitable social decline in a well-to-do apartment block was because I’d read an article about the movie version due out later this year starring Tom Hiddleston.

I’d watch Tom Hiddleston in anything, so I figured I’d read the book before the movie comes out. And in my own mind I think I was already imagining an action movie with a British Bruce Willis before I even cracked the cover of the book. Which was a bit silly, really. Having read J. G. Ballard before I should have realised he is not Michael Crichton. His books, though they may have action, are not the “novel as screenplay” blockbuster variety. They are rather more harrowing than that.

High-rise follows three main protagonists, all of whom live in a new high-rise apartment block in London which is populated by nice, reasonably well off types – studio technicians and air hostesses, tax consultants, dentists, book reviewers, and doctors. The children are clean and well-fed, the furnishings are aggressively tasteful.

Naturally we should expect things to take a turn for the worse, but Ballard lets us know from the very first sentence where this is all going –

Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.

Which is possibly one of the best opening lines of a novel I’ve ever read but if you’ve got better ones I’m sure you’ll share them in the comments.

Robert Laing is a divorced doctor and med school academic who lives in the middle sector of the building, on the 25th floor. The other two main characters are Anthony Royal, the architect of the high-rise who lives in a penthouse on the 40th, and Richard Wilder a documentary filmmaker who lives with his wife and two sons on a lower floor. They each represent one of the social strata that the apartment block separates into once “hostilities” begin. I suspect the names “Royal” and “Wilder” are not accidents.

Needless to say dog-barbeques are far from the worst thing that occurs within confines of the apartment building over several months. As often happens in dystopian fiction society recreates itself, evolving and changing, with barbarism becoming the lingua franca. It’s Mad Max made of concrete.

Without knowing it, he had constructed a gigantic vertical zoo, its hundreds of cages stacked above each other. All the events of the past few months made sense if one realised that these brilliant and exotic creatures had learned to open the doors.

Cover of Lord of the FliesOr perhaps High-rise is an urban Lord of the Flies but instead of being marooned the inhabitants of the island simply refuse to leave. In this respect the book reminded me of Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted in which wannabe novelists are “trapped” in a theatre as part of a writers’ retreat. They can leave any time they like but won’t, even as food becomes scarce. They all become monstrous in pursuit of survival… and the great story that will make them bestselling authors.

In the high-rise survival is down to luck, tribal alliances, force of will, or as Wilder discovers –  actually being the fittest.

…the higher up the building he climbed, the worse the physical condition of the residents – hours on the gymnasium exercycles had equipped them for no more than hours on the gymnasium exercycles.

That passage was the closest I came to a laugh during the book, and it came in the form of a wry chuckle. The problem with Ballard is much the same issue I have with Palahniuk actually – none of his characters are especially likeable.

Some authors can take an unsympathetic character and let you live in their skin to the extent that their likeability isn’t important – you empathise with them regardless. You care what happens to them despite their flaws. In High-rise I felt like everyone was a brutal lunatic and I wanted to be rid of them as soon as possible. In the end I just wanted the book to be over so I could share my headspace with normal non-dog-eating individuals.

The saving grace of the book, for me at least, was a small section at the back, an interview with the author. As anyone who’s read the book, or seen the film of Empire of the Sun will know, Ballard’s family were living in Shanghai during WWII when the Japanese invaded and he spent several years in an internment camp. In the interview he reveals how this experience of observing a society shaken to pieces influenced him, and which ultimately comes out in High-rise. –

I suppose one of the things I took from my wartime experiences was that reality was a stage set. The reality that you took for granted – the comfortable day-to-day life, school, the home where one lives, the familiar street and all the rest of it, the trips to the swimming pool and the cinema – was just a stage set. They could be dismantled overnight, which they literally were when the Japanese occupied Shanghai and turned our lives upside down.

Though the writing is elegant and sharp I can’t say that I actually enjoyed High-rise. It remains to be seen whether the film version will “Hollywood-ise” the novel to make it more palatable to a broader audience who might actually like to see Tom Hiddleston climbing elevator shafts in a singlet. I for one would welcome it.

Close your eyes – Michael Robotham is coming to Christchurch

Cover of Close your eyesChristchurch crime fiction fans are in for a treat when Michael Robotham, one of the best crime writers working, visits on Wednesday 26 AugustHe’s coming to Christchurch with his latest book, Close Your Eyes, but he’s got an impressive back list. His books Shatter and Lost won the Ned Kelly Award for Australia’s Crime Novel of the Year – good old Australia – a Crime Novel Award named after a criminal.

Shatter and The Night Ferry were shortlisted for the Crime Writer’s Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award; Say You’re Sorry and Life and Death made it to the shortlist for the Crime Writer’s Golden Dagger Award. We’ll have to wait until September to see if Life and Death wins.

I always like a crime writer who started as a journalist. Even better if they started as a cadet rather than doing a post-graduate degree in Journalism (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It’s just that writers who have had to distill the facts of a story into a small space jostling with lots of other stories know how to grab your interest. And I fondly imagine cadets learning their craft by having their copy scrutinised by cynical hard-bitten reporters squinting through the smoke from the fag permanently attached to their lips. Probably an image that was way out of date when Michael Robotham was working on evening newspapers. If it was ever true. Perhaps I’ll ask him when he comes to Christchurch. I also have a question about going to school in Gungadai.

Event details

An evening with Michael Robotham
Wednesday 26 August 6pm to 7.30pm
South Library
Free event, complimentary tickets can be picked up from South Library or Paper Plus Northlands Mall. Books will be available for purchase courtesy of Paper Plus. For more info or to reserve tickets please call Kathryn Hartley Ph: 03 941 6649 or email:kathryn.hartley@ccc.govt.nz

Michael Robotham: ghosting and crime Michael on Saturday Morning with Kim Hill, Radio New Zealand National, 15 August.

Hear Graham Beattie’s review of Close your eyes on Nine to Noon, Radio New Zealand National, 12 August.

Cover of Life or Death Cover of Watching you Cover of Say you're sorry Cover of Bombproof Cover of Lost

Quick Questions with Suki Kim

Cover of Without you, there is no usSuki Kim is coming to Christchurch on Sunday 30 August as part of the WORD Christchurch Shifting Points of View events in the Christchurch Arts Festival. Her topic: On North Korea: Inventing the Truth and she’s in conversation with Paula Morris. She answered our quick questions:

What are you looking forward to doing in Christchurch?

I have never been to New Zealand. All I know about Christchurch is the earthquake of 2011. So I am sad that I did not get to see the city before that, but I am also looking forward to seeing how a city recovers from such a horrific natural disaster.

What do you think about libraries?

Essential for one’s soul. With the rise of eBooks and online magazines, I do not know how libraries will transform, which worries me. But I still love going to libraries, the smell of books, and finding quiet nooks where one could hide.

What would be your “desert island book”?

Cover of Jane EyreJane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

Share a surprising fact about yourself.

I don’t know how to ride bicycles or drive cars or swim … every year they make my New Year’s resolution.

More about Suki Kim

Budgie Manor – Community Read of Magpie Hall

Part One of our Community Read of Magpie Hall by Rachael King was tea and tales (and cake) on Friday morning.

Part Two on Friday evening was a night of improv and laughs. South Library was the venue, and there was a good-sized crowd.

Community Read audience

We had a nice introduction from Rachael, Councillor Phil Clearwater, and Libraries Manager Carolyn Robertson.

Then it was onto the comedy. The two improvvers were very clever, making good use of some props, wordplay, and guest appearances from the audience. Magpie Hall became Budgie Manor in a variety of fast and furious skits, and roars from the audience peppered the show.

Improv - Community Read

The night ended with some book prizes being given out, and book signings.
Rachael King signs copies

Plus a little more cake.
Cake

See our photos of the Community Read events and Magpie Hall displays.

Morbid, grotesque, exhilarating: Magpie Hall by Rachael King

This morning a good-sized crowd was treated to book chat, tea and tales with award-winning author Rachael King – 11am to 12pm at South Library, Friday 7 August. Oh, and a Magpie Hall cake.

Rachael and cake - Community Read of Magpie Hall by Rachael KingAudience - Community Read of Magpie Hall by Rachael King

It was a cracker of a session. Rachael talked us through the journey to Magpie Hall and illustrated the tale with pictures and photos. She described researching a novel as a bit like “Alice falling down the rabbit hole” – and this session was our glimpse into the rabbit hole and the “accumulation of images, ideas, and themes” that made Magpie Hall:

  • Sailor tattoos
  • Circus freaks
  • Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads …

Taxidermy

Female taxidermists piqued Rachael’s curiosity – these two in particular:

Claire Third – Lyttelton taxidermist – see her in this CTV doco

Julia DeVille – taxidermist jeweller

The Dead Zoo

These places inspired Rachael – animal dioramas, slimy things pickled in jars: “Morbid, grotesque, and somehow exhilarating”.

Tattooing

Someone with a lot of tattoos was called a collector.

In the late 1900s, the aristocracy took to tattooing. Even royals got inked.

Victorian literature

The influence of books like Northanger Abbey and Wuthering Heights is part of the soul of Magpie Hall. In its intertextuality, it is “a novel about the Gothic novel itself”.

If you are familiar with Victorian Gothic, you might pick up the references. Rachael talked of:

laying Easter eggs in the book for readers.

On writing

Rachael wanted to write a booky mystery. It was a very organic process. After doing a lot of research, in 2008 she didn’t write for two months – then suddenly the whole thing came together in my head”.

Community Read of Magpie Hall by Rachael King

Rachael read two excerpts – one rather terrifying encounter with a ghost at a window, and one about the skinning of a tiger.

What next?

Look for Cafe Continental in Rachael’s upcoming work.

The Cafe Continental [between 1906 and 1909]  Opened on 1 Sept. 1906, this was a 43-bedroom private hotel opposite Cave Rock on the Esplanade with tearooms on the ground floor. On 13 June 1909 it was extensively damaged by fire and never replaced  View more information  File Reference CCL Photo Collection 22, Img01266

The Cafe Continental [between 1906 and 1909] CCL Photo Collection 22, Img01266

The audience asked some good questions, and we all went away sated.


Photos from the event and display at South Library.

If you missed this morning’s event – or if you want some more Magpie Hall – come along to tonight’s event at South Library from 7.30pm to 9pm (Friday 7 August). Join an improvised comedy team as they improvise themes from Magpie Hall. See you there!

Bonjour, Ciao, Buenos Días!

A few years ago we had the chance to spend two weeks in a friend’s very basic cottage in the Bourgogne. The opportunity of pretending to be French or at least pretending to live there? Heck, yes. The house had no electricity and a few inside/outside issues. One being the hornet community that had recently crowned a new Queen and were very busy making babies and a new home on the gnarled antique beam above our bed in the attic. What was wrong with some nice fresh air circulating round the nest, boys?

The sole tap and loo being outside was nothing like as big a problem as Queenie and the crew turned out to be. One of them managed to get their revenge and stung me rather painfully in the armpit. Fair do. The local volunteer fire brigade who came in their shiny brass helmets and 2CV Citreon truck (Ooh la la) had removed the nest and its occupants, but failed to rid us of some very confused boyos.

Undeterred, we gave our all in the name of science; we tested the quality of the products of local pâtisseries and boulangeries and caused a bit of GBH to the ears of the local populace with truly awful French pronunciation and grammar. Bliss. Two weeks was enough for the waistline but not for the soul.

Cover of Driving over LemonsSo then of course the “Why don’t we up sticks and move to France/Spain/Italy” mood took over. I mean, plenty of people have done it. Chris Stewart for one. Chris was briefly the drummer for Genesis in its infancy, but his Dad said there was no future in the band and he needed to get a real job and possibly a haircut too. He didn’t listen to his old Dad and being an itchy-footed sort of bloke he travelled, developing his drumming skills in a circus, learning the guitar, and working, amongst other jobs, as assistant pig man.

This turned out to be his epiphany: he loved farming! Decided Seville in Spain would be a good place for a guitar playing, agriculture loving young man and his girlfriend. Driving Over Lemons and A Parrot in the Pepper Tree are his first two books on their life in Spain and to my mind the best. We get to know the area, the lifestyle of the locals, mostly farmers, the history and the poverty of the surrounding area and Chris and Ana’s endeavours to survive and make the farm work financially.

Jamie Ivey and wife Tanya had the let’s ups sticks etc moment… while holidaying in France, enjoying some lovely Rosé. They believed they could see an opportunity to set up a small wine bar selling only Rosé wines. Now those of us who have read Peter Mayle‘s A Year in Provence will know that the French excel at bureaucracy and their civil servants can thwart the best of us. Starting with Extremely Pale Rosé I have followed their trials and tribulations from my armchair.

Cover of Vroom by the SeaPeter Moore makes me green with envy. In Vroom by the Sea, Pete, an Australian, tootles around Sicily, Sardinia and the Amalfi Coast on Marcello, an orange with white “go fast stripes” Vespa 1972 Rally 200. We’re most of us suckers for nostalgia; the Italians, it turns out, are no different and love Marcello. On a scooter there are no barriers to stopping and chatting to the locals, smelling the garlic, the sea, experiencing life. Another one for the bucket list.

Working, as I am so fortunate to do, in most of Christchurch’s libraries, I get to see a lot of travel books. I find it so hard to go past them if the cover/blurb looks remotely interesting. Do you travel vicariously as I do? From your armchair with a good book? Or have you broken free once, twice or altogether?