But I’m reading Fantasy novels and worse (despite my carefully nurtured prejudiced convictions) I’m really getting into some of it. How the heck did that happen? I mean, Lord of the Rings was a once read and never watched. I gave it a go though and never got round to reading Harry Potter and don’t feel the need.
Enough! You get the drift I am not a fan, so how is it that the cover of Ben Aaronovitch‘s fantasy novel Rivers of London was constantly appearing either at the returns desk or on the shelves at different libraries and became a siren call? Great cover obviously, and the blurb on the back suggested humour and magic, contemporary and a mystery. So I gave in, read it and loved it.
Here’s a taster of the start. PC Peter Grant a probationary constable, looking likely for a placement in the Case Progression Unit (shuffling paper, not real copper work) is guarding a murder scene on a cold London night. His fellow PC Lesley – supposedly guarding the other side of the square – has gone for coffees when a strange looking geezer sidles up to Peter whispering that he knows whodunnit. Something about him makes Peter pretty sure he’s a ghost and when he vanishes at the sight of Lesley with the coffees he knows he’s onto it.
The next night he’s back in his own time, to see if there’s any further signs of spooks. No ghost but he does meet his future boss, Inspector Nightingale the last Wizard in England. Don’t be put off by the wizard bit, Aaronovitch makes the magic stuff seem perfectly normal and the upper Echelons of the Force use Nightingale and Peter when necessary but no-one’s allowed to use the M…. word. Rivers is written with lovely satirical wit and great imagination. Highly recommended.
Again with humour, and a suitably bizarre idea of a future, post apocalyptic world is Jasper Fforde‘s Shades of Grey. We of the here and now are “those who went before” and the leadership’s cunning plans including “great leaps backward” leaves this colourtocracy carless except for a Model A, severely short of spoons and with acronyms forbidden.
But there’s more rules of course and your status is defined by being able to see the higher end of a particular colour spectrum, purple denotes a higher social standing. Our hero Eddie Russett (sees red) has been banished to High Saffron due to a variety of misdemeanours. Depending on the results of his upcoming colour test though, he is destined to marry Violet.
But then he meets Jane, a Grey and with her smarts and attitude. It dawns on him that all is not as well as he thinks in a world he considers just and fair and has never questioned. A highly entertaining read. Ever since I read this I’ve been checking to see where the very slow to follow up Mr Fforde is with the sequel. He’s left a whole lot of us waiting impatiently for a good follow up to an original that’s got a nice tight plot, is cleverly satirical and laugh out loud. I may even read it again. In fact I know I will.
Remarkable Birds Mark Avery
We share the earth with more than 10,000 species of birds, so here is your chance to find out everything you didn’t know about the avian world: a fascinating compendium showcasing the extraordinary wonders of birds, illuminated with exquisite ornithological illustrations, prints, and drawings.
I am Brian Wilson : a memoir Brian Wilson Good Vibrations : My Life as a Beach Boy Mike Love
I’m showing my age by vividly remember going to the Beach Boys at QEII. These two excellent memoirs tell the story of the Beach Boys from opposite perspective. According to the Rolling Stone, both of these books are a must and sure to be good argument-starters.
Footnotes trom the world’s greatest bookstores Bob Eckstein
A collection of seventy-five of the most cherished bookstores from around the world featuring evocative paintings by Eckstein and paired with colourful anecdotes about each shop. Each store has is quirks, charms and legendary stories with legendary patrons.
Celebrate Everything Darcy Miller
Just in time for the Christmas bash, Celebrate Everything is bursting with advice, inspiration, ideas, crafty projects, and recipes. Darcy Miller, the founder and editorial director of Martha Stewart Weddings—and one of the world’s most influential celebrations experts—provides the ultimate compilation of party ideas and resource lists to help people plan their parties from beginning to end. Personally it all looks a bit much for me, but I enjoy looking at the pictures and fantasizing that I could ever find the energy to create such gatherings!
The Secret Lives of Colour Kassia St Clair
If you love colour and you love history then this could be the ideal book. Take the colour Dutch Orange for example…
The House of Orange are proof that personal branding isn’t new. In portrait after portrait, its members are gilded in shades of orange.
The colour flashed in front of my eyes … Bright, impossible, impudent, becoming, life giving, like all the lights and the birds and the fish in the world together, a colour of China and Peru but not the West – a shocking colour, pure and undiluted.
The Seven Good Years Etgar Keret (Dan’s pick)
The best autobiography I’ve ever and am ever likely to read!
Lab Girl: A Story of Trees, Science and Love Hope Jaren (Alison’s pick)
It is an awesome biography about a woman who loves trees, and her science-soulmate assistant Bill who used to live in a hole. They’re both incredible stranger-than-fiction characters, both passionate about science, both with a few tips about how to be very, very poor and still manage to run a lab. Stories of plants echo events in her own life – growth and roots, pollination and sex, endurance and survival. This one’s inspiring, fascinating and very well written.
Black Lotus Shogun Orchestra (Music) (Dan’s pick)
Such groove & feel, almost reminiscent of Mulatu Astatke.
45 Years (Film) (Robyn’s pick)
Ultra-jumbo sized box of tissues required but worth the pain.
Orange is the New Black (TV series) (Robyn’s pick)
Came late to it but love it – highly addictive. Great performances, great stories, Piper is mad annoying but perhaps that’s quite accurate. And she’s in the background more as the series progresses.
The Vet’s daughter Barbara Comyns (Joyce’s pick)
Written in the 1950s this slim volume is domestic, sinister and soaked in sadness. Alice is the vet’s daughter and a very unhappy creature. As her life takes turn after turn for the worst she literally starts to untether. Weird but wonderful.
My struggle Book Three: Boyhood Karl Ove Knausgaard (Robyn’s pick)
This is my best book of the year so far, just as Book One, A death in the Family, and Book Two, A Man in Love were my best books of the year I read them in. I have to be on holiday to read them because once you start you cannot stop. I am not a man and I am not Norwegian and I am not a genius (and I think I’m a lot nicer person than Karl) but I have felt every emotion he describes, I just wouldn’t be able to express my feelings with such incredible skill.
American Gods Neil Gaiman (Bronwyn’s pick)
Re-re-reading this fabulous tale in preparation for the upcoming TV miniseries (so I can be all showy-offy when it’s on …)
Speak Louisa Hall (Joyce’s pick)
Humanity’s relationship with technology is told through a variety of narrators in this complex but gripping novel. Alan Turing, a Seventeenth century pilgrim girl, a robot and a variety of imagined scientists narrate their hopes and dreams of connection to the past, present and each other. Poetic and profound I so much wanted Mary Bradford travelling across the waves to her new life in the Americas to be real. Beautiful.
The Broken Earth series N K Jemisin (Alison’s pick)
The Obelisk Gate because it was a stunning sequel to The Fifth Season, delving deeper into the way this fantasy world works (or doesn’t work, as the case may be, as this world is intrinsically broken) full of tragedy, hidden histories, desperate grasps at survival, and utterly fantastic powerful women.
What books have you loved this year? The following lists bring together the cream of the crop of 2016’s books – from the picks of our staff and customers, to the lists published by magazines, newspapers and booksellers. Have your say!
All of these were highly readable with characterisation and sense of time and place uppermost. I know we are doing “best of the year” so we don’t want negativity but I’d love to see these domestic unease thrillers that dominate the mystery genre now start to fade away. That Girl on the train is responsible for huge numbers of imitations.
There are several books which were my favourites of the year. In no particular order they are:
Rivers Of London Ben Aaronovitch
It turned me from being a rigid non-fantasy reader into a fan of Mr Aaronovitch at least. I like the British humour permeating and ridiculously he makes all the magic seem quite natural.
Bone Clocks David Mitchell
Again fantasy! Very clever writing that hung together well and kept me to the end.
The Invoice Jonas Karlsson
I loved the quirkiness but the slight hint of “is this our new reality”.
Shades of Grey Jasper Fforde
Futuristic with delightful humour and a great storyline. Mr Fforde has kept fans of this book waiting for several years but is promising the sequel in 2017. I do hope he delivers.
We are the ants Shaun David Hutchinson
It’s raw, emotional, harrowing, and very funny. Henry Denton has been given the power to stop the end of the world by aliens who casually and randomly abduct him. But is the world worth saving? His boyfriend committed suicide last year, his dad left with no reason, his brother has dropped out of college after knocking up his girlfriend, and his grandmother is losing her mind to Alzheimer’s. The he meets Diego, but is 144 days long enough to decide if the world deserves to be saved? Perfect for fans of Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle. Henry’s voice is real and relatable and very in your face from the start; and there’s just the right amount of weird for entertainment.
Buzz D’s pick
The Peculiar life of a lonely postman Denis Theriault
Book written almost entirely in haiku, both the modern shorter version and the ancient 7 line format. A beautiful translation from the French, easy to read and inspired me to write a few haiku of my own.
I loved all her books I have read so far – I couldn’t put any of them down. My Brilliant Friend, the first in the Neapolitan trilogy, weaves the stories of two women, best friends but with very different destinies. Her voice is so direct and compelling, often violent, making her stories strange but insightful. I’m totally obsessed by Elena Ferrante.
An impossible decision – so I simply have to nominate two titles as they both warrant being my absolute favourites of the year so far.
Best selling author, Elizabeth Strout is an old favourite – who couldn’t adore Olive Kitteridge – so I took My Name Is Lucy Barton out with some trepidation and a slight expectancy of being disappointed. But I wasn’t. Her latest novel is what I call ‘one of those little big books.’ it’s A5 size and only 191 pages long, but boy, does it ever pack a punch.
Lucy’s very ill in hospital and her estranged, no-nonsense, mother comes to visit … in the hushed room of the hospital the family’s past comes tumbling out. Little by little, we discover how the past has affected the whole family and particularly Lucy – who is now married and a mother of two daughters.
As a reader, I felt I should have been somewhat distressed by some of the revelations but, quite amazingly, I wasn’t. Somehow this wonderful author draws everything together with compassion, empathy and understanding.
And right at the other end of the scale – a huge rollicking rollercoaster of a read. Mount! by Jilly Cooper sees this author totally back on form. This latest novel is equal to the hilarious delight of the very first title in the series – Riders – with all the old favourites back between the pages. The dialogue is supremely funny and the plot rollicks along.
It’s totally audacious, raucous and quite simply a hugely great read about the upper crust horsey world in England. This is a book that you can totally wallow in. Five Stars for sure (and I defy any woman not to instantly fall in lust with Rupert Campbell Black).
The Black Widow Daniel Silva
I enjoyed this book because although it is a fiction it really hits the mark on what has happened recently in Paris and other parts of Europe. Israel comes into the picture with the wonderful mysterious character Gabriel Allon. This book is an easy read, clips along at a good pace I couldn’t put it down. Thoroughly recommend.
2016 has seen the publication of a bunch of great and interesting New Zealand books, with plenty of strikingly attractive covers. Here are my picks for New Zealand’s best book covers of the year:
Number one is Mansfield and me: A graphic memoir by Sarah Laing, published by Victoria University Press. The cover, as drawn by Sarah, is a thing of beauty. It also draws you into the compelling counterpointing of Sarah and Katherine Mansfield – the very heart of the book.
Here’s what Sarah had to say about her cover design:
It’s quite a different proposition designing your own book cover as opposed to designing for others. I had a couple of other options but it was pretty easy to settle on the one I liked the most. I took Mansfield’s profile from a famous 1915 photograph, and tried to draw my own to match it. I wanted to echo the vase/profile illusion, and also to have us facing each other, when, in so much of the book, our stories run in parallel. Later in the book, Katherine and I share a cup of coffee, and I used to print from my coffee cup as a motif in the background.
Well, for my second book, I asked Elliot Elam to draw me a picture, though I didn’t know what the picture should be … Maybe more importantly, a stranger is picked out of the anonymous crowd and made knowable. Without getting too lofty… in a way that’s what I wanted to do with this book of essays: attempt an impression of things that otherwise would have rushed by.
Ashleigh Young [my editor] has a friend called Russell Kleyn who is a really great photographer and she set me up with him. I had quite a different idea; I have quite a funny portrait of myself and I wanted a really Dorian Gray thing, where there was a portrait of me holding a dorky portrait of myself, but it actually didn’t turn out that well.
He saw this yellow raincoat in this weird attic I was living in and he just wanted to take a few photos of that, so it was kind of a random shot. But I really like the way it turned out and that it obscures my face. What I told him was that I kind of wanted [it to have] an Yvonne Todd vibe about it – feminine but also a bit creepy and off.
Fergus Barrowman, VUP publishers comments on the triple victory:
The books make the covers (that is, if the books weren’t great and successful no one would be noticing the covers); all three were ferociously art-directed by the authors with only gentle pressure from the publisher.
So my three picks for best book covers also happen to be books I loved inside and out. They also are all published by Victoria University Press. So I think I can officially say it – VUP gives good cover. They have cannily produced postcards to show off them fine looking jackets. Next stop, VUP badges and tshirts??
A Christchurch book that deserves a special mention is a picture book produced by C1Espresso, and edited by owners Sam and Fleur Crofskey. Let’s take a walk looks at Christchurch places before and after the earthquakes. It was written by Nicole Phillipson, and the exquisite illustrations are by Hannah Beehre. The design and layout – with all its fascinating fold outs – is by Alec Bathgate & Tahlia Briggs.
The cover of the Gecko annual is a zingy orange red with a dash of gold on the cover. But it’s the contents that are a symphony of beaut design work. Have a look at Kim’s blog post for some pics from inside the annual. It’s a stunner.
These words had the audience in laughter at the Best (& Worst) Children’s Books of 2016 evening held Wednesday 23rd November, hosted by the Canterbury Literacy Association and Christchurch City Libraries. One of the speakers at the event, Jane Boniface from Heaton Normal Intermediate, perfectly illustrated a best/worst children’s book when she read this proclamation aloud as the punchline 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. 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.
The aforementioned 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.
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.
Margaret Mahy’s young adult novel, The Changeover was already several years old when I first picked up a worn copy in my high school library at the age of 15.
I was so taken with it that even before I had finished reading it I was re-imagining it in my head as a movie.
In that peculiarly obsessive way that teenage girls sometimes are about their favourite things my mania lead me to imagined locations and camera angles, and I had a very long list of songs to be included in the soundtrack. Most of which, upon reflection, were terrible.
When Margaret Mahy died in 2012, I felt moved to write a heartfelt blog post about how important her writing, and this book in particular, had been to me.
A couple of years later at a WORD Christchurch panel discussion on The Changeover, I learned that a film of the book was in development and felt conflicted in that way that book fans often do. Because how could that film ever live up to the book, or indeed my own imaginary movie of it?
Stuart McKenzie is, with his wife Miranda Harcourt, co-director of that film which recently finished shooting here in Christchurch.
Perhaps not fully understanding the degree of my fangirl obsession, he agreed to answer some questions about what their version of Mahy’s story will look like.
Margaret Mahy wrote a number of terrific books for young adults – what made you want to film The Changeover particularly?
We felt The Changeover was really cinematic. It’s a supernatural thriller about a troubled teenager who’s got to change over and become a witch in order to save her little brother from an evil spirit. So, it’s got a great central conflict! And its genre is very clear — yet at the same time it puts this compelling twist on it by feeling very naturalistic.
Its themes of love, loss, sacrifice and change are primal. Laura Chant feels like a real person — she struggles with herself and her kind of dispossessed place in the world, but she’s got big dreams. In other words, she’s a complex and powerful heroine who our audience can really identify with!
Another thing that made the book feel so cinematic for us was Christchurch. We updated Margaret’s story to contemporary, post-earthquake Christchurch. For us, the brokenness and reconstruction of Christchurch is like a visual metaphor for Laura’s own damage and subsequent transformation.
The book (and Margaret Mahy herself) are very beloved, by me and many others. Does that place extra pressure on you to do a good job with the film?
All along we’ve wanted to make something Margaret would love: raw and lyrical, tender and tough and true. We wanted to keep the story feeling very contemporary, as the book itself was when it was first published in 1984. Like Margaret, we wanted to find the magic in the real world, not drift away into fantasy.
We were lucky to have Margaret’s blessing from the start. Before she died, she read and loved an early draft of the screenplay. So that was a great feeling to carry through the development of the project and into the shoot itself. She really encouraged us to find the spirit of the story and not be bound by the literal form of the book. We had this quote in mind by the great French film director Jean Renoir, “What interests me in adaptation isn’t the possibility of revealing the original in a film version, but the reaction of the film maker to the original work.”
I guess you could think of the book and the film as two reflecting worlds — much in the same way that Laura herself discovers the connectedness between two powerful realities — magic and the everyday — and finding in fact that they’re really one and the same.
Margaret was always clear that Laura’s changeover into a witch is a metaphor for her becoming a young woman, an active journey to embrace her own creative power. And Laura’s story itself is a metaphor for the challenges we all face in our lives and the changeovers we all have to go on in order to grow.
Oh yeah, back to the question about doing a good job… Yes, we really feel that! And we’ve still got a lot of work to do in post-production. Helps to have great people to work with, which we have.
On the one hand The Changeover, if you’re familiar with Christchurch, is very recognisably placed here, on the other hand it’s also very vague about where it’s set. The name of the city is never mentioned. The suburbs and street names in it are all made up. Christchurch is certainly its spiritual home, but you could make a very good argument that it’s not a story that needs to be specifically told here, and yet you are telling it here. What made you want to shoot here rather than in Auckland or “Wellywood”?
As you say, Christchurch is the “spiritual home” of The Changeover and we always wanted to make it here. I was born and bred in Christchurch and spent my early teenage years in Bishopdale which Margaret calls Gardendale in the book.
The Changeover was welcomed to Christchurch by Ngai Tahu in a moving whakatau — as a production we felt hugely embraced by Christchurch, the people, the Council, the environment itself.
Miranda and I were determined to film in Christchurch because its flat vistas give the film a unique look. Cinematographer Andrew Stroud and Production Designer Iain Aitken helped us reflect the everyday and often unexpected beauty of the place.
Christchurch also allowed us to explore the division between social worlds which is a key feature of The Changeover. Laura comes from a solo-parent family struggling to make ends meet. By contrast, Sorensen Carlisle lives in an architect-designed home with fine art on the walls and a sense of history and sophistication. The developing romance between Laura and Sorensen means first differentiating and then bridging these two worlds.
Mahy herself described The Changeover as having a lot of folk tale elements – there are “evil” step-parents and an enchanted brother, for instance – but also that “the city is simultaneously a mythological forest”. Will your film retain those suggestions of a modern day fairy tale?
Yes it does and that is in the very DNA of the story. At heart The Changeover is an emotionally powerful female rite-of-passage keyed into a primal fairy tale tradition. It’s true that those fairy tale elements are more overt in Margaret’s novel.
We wanted the film to feel very contemporary and naturalistic so in our story the fairy tale nature is felt rather than seen. We often thought about Bruno Bettelheim’s groundbreaking study on fairy tale called The Uses of Enchantment. He says, “This is exactly the message that fairy tales get across to the child in manifold form: that a struggle against severe difficulties in life is unavoidable, is an intrinsic part of human existence — but that if one does not shy away, but steadfastly meets unexpected and often unjust hardships, one masters all obstacles and at the end emerges victorious.” That is something we experience through Laura in The Changeover.
In terms of characters, it strikes me that Sorensen Carlisle, at least how he’s written in the book, is something of a contradictory figure – dangerous yet vulnerable, jovial yet dark, aloof yet intense – that must present some challenges when it comes to casting. How difficult was it to find someone who can be all those things in a convincing way?
We had great casting agents in NZ and in the UK. We looked long and hard to cast this film. When we auditioned young UK actor Nick Galitzine we knew we had found our mysterious and compelling Sorensen Carlisle. And Nick and Erana James who plays Laura Chant have a powerful chemistry together. We have always said that this intensity is our special effect!
Reading the book as a teenager it was incredibly important to me that Laura was of mixed racial heritage both in a personal sense, as it was quite unusual to read about someone like me as the heroine of a novel, but also in that it marks her as being different and something of an outsider, which I think adds to her story. I’m really pleased that you’ve cast a part-Māori actress in the role. Was that always the plan?
This was totally important to us too. We love how in the book Laura is part-Maori but Margaret Mahy doesn’t make a big thing about that, it’s simply part of the unique world of the story which in fact helps make it feel universal. It’s true that Laura being part-Maori means that by her very nature she finds herself between two worlds. That’s the journey Laura is on — to open herself to new worlds, new experience.
We looked for many years for our Laura Chant — and we kept coming back to Erana James who we had met early on in our process. Of course, financiers want to cast someone in a central role like this who already has a profile. Erana hadn’t acted in a film before so she was unknown in NZ let alone internationally. But with the support of the NZ Film Commission we made a “tone reel” last year with Erana playing Laura. She was fantastic in it — and the international people involved in the project — like our sales agent and even Tim Spall or Melanie Lynskey — could immediately see that this young woman had something special.
Could you hope for a better villain than Timothy Spall?
You are so right! But what drew us to Tim in the first place is that he could reveal the humanity in Carmody Braque. It’s this which makes him such a powerful adversary for Laura — because there is something of Braque in Laura herself. A desire to live more fully and expand her horizons.
We are so lucky to have Timothy Spall in The Changeover. He is mesmerising. I think Margaret Mahy would have been thrilled!
It’s clear from his answers that Stuart McKenzie is as much a fan of The Changeover as I am, so I feel much more relaxed about the movie adaptation now.
In addition to the film coming out late next year, McKenzie says there will also be a movie tie-in reprint of the (currently out of print) book. So roll on 2017!
Christchurch City Libraries blog hosts a series of regular podcasts from New Zealand’s only specialist human rights radio show Speak up – Kōrerotia. This show is created by Sally Carlton.
This episode discusses issues around access to bathroom and toilet facilities such as –
bathrooms for transgender people, people with health conditions and people with restrictions placed on their bathroom usage by their workplaces
social and health consequences of not being able to access bathrooms
The panel for this show includes host Sally Carlton, Brian Poole (Crohn’s & Colitis New Zealand), Olivia Clark (University of Canterbury Law graduate), Anne Nicholson (Qtopia) and Lisel O’Dwyer (Flinders University in Adelaide).
It’s out. The longlist for New Zealand’s most prestigious book award. Plenty of options here for reading over the summer months. A shortlist for the awards will be announced in March next year and the winners in May.
The Dunedin Sound: Some Disenchanted Evening by Ian Chapman is a uniquely archival book celebrating the music known as the ‘Dunedin Sound.’ Predominantly pictorial, it is a plethora of personal photographs and memorabilia which, in the words of Graeme Downes from The Verlaines, ‘is a testament to a bunch of people desperate to create something in any way they could. And that something is pretty darn special.’
Kicked off by Chris Knox, “with the inimitable punk-infused force that was The Enemy in the late 1970s, it was carried to the world throughout the 1980s (and beyond) in true seat-of-the-pants style by the Flying Nun record label. Nobody could have foreseen the huge impact and lasting legacy that a pool of young songwriters and musicians from unfashionable Dunedin would create” says author Dr Ian Chapman.
Their feats are revisited within these pages which include stories and select discographies of an array of bands, critiques, and reminiscences from band members, fans and those in the music scene including Records Records shop-owner Roy Colbert, Gary Steel, Simon Grigg, drummer John Collie (writing about album cover art), Natasha Griffiths (who casually mentions her classmate David Bain and tells a funny story about what her older brother Shayne Carter did to her teddy-bear on stage) and Jeff Harford – who describes the music as “seed-rich pods cast to the wind.”
After Chapman put out an appeal for photographs for The Dunedin Sound, he got excited by the quality of the images coming to light, the majority of which had never been seen publicly.
The notion of preserving visual history began steering the book in an even more pictorial direction, to the point where the text has ended up supporting the images rather than vice versa. However, this in no way lessens the wonderful efforts of those luminaries whom I have invited to make written contributions to the book. Outlining their own personal stories and engagements with the Dunedin Sound, these pieces offer a variety of perspectives and experiences.
Some contributors, like music critic Gary Steel, actually question and contest the mythologising of the Dunedin Sound, which gives the book more depth. Also included in the book is a priceless pull-out poster, a labour-of-love by The Bats’ Robert Scott, ‘Sound of Dunedin’, which provides a comprehensively charted timeline of the bands playing in Dunedin in 1977–1992, when the Dunedin Sound was born. This chart makes it evident how impossible it was to include all the bands in the book. Chapman highlights 17 acts and while critics may say some bands are left out while others are given much prominence, the main character throughout is the Dunedin Sound, albeit “nebulous” and ill-defined.
The Dunedin Sound – published by David Bateman – has high production values (despite some low-fi source images) and is in full-colour. It contains, as Ian Chapman, says:
The many photographs that have lain unseen for decades, the beautifully crafted posters that once adorned walls and bollards around the university and wider Dunedin, only to be torn down and thrown away, bar a precious few kept by those with more foresight than most — in these images, the pioneering, non-conforming and rebellious ethos of the Dunedin Sound can be seen.
This sentiment is echoed in the introduction when he explains why he particularly chose this cover image of Chris Knox to encapsulate that ethos.
For our Cantabrian readers, it would be remiss not to note that it was the Christchurch-based Flying Nun music label that helped a lot of the Dunedin Sound really take off. And many performed at The Gladstone that was once on the corner of Durham and Peterborough Streets. A number of the musicians are settled in Christchurch these days, working within the art and music sectors such as Bruce Russell, Paul Kean, John Collie, John Kelcher and David Pine (who has been instrumental in setting up the newly formed Flying Nun Foundation archive).
With its hardback cover, The Dunedin Sound feels substantive, yet the short and varied writings accompanying the images make it easy to dip into anywhere rather than having to follow a chronologically written history. It feels intimate – the personal ephemera are wee treasures (irreverent notes, earnest letters, album art, hand-written set lists, magazine clippings) and the private and behind-the-scenes photos are refreshing in an age of self-aware snaps and selfies. Here, the boxes of old family photos have been nostalgically dusted off – only the ‘family’ is the Dunedin music scene. A great gift for fans of New Zealand music, this book is for anyone who was there, anyone who wishes they were or who wonders what they missed.
Several others have been working on related books including one by Graeme Downes. Alan Holt is writing a book about the history of Flying Nun Records; Graeme Jefferies memoir Time Flowing Backwards is due out April 2017 and Needles & Plastic: A Flying Nun Discography 1981-1988 (2016) by Matthew Goody and Sean Elliot is out now.
Martin Phillipps (The Chills) at the book launch gig of The Dunedin Sound, 17 November 2016 at The University of Otago (Photo: John Collie)
Graeme Downes (The Verlaines) at the book launch gig of The Dunedin Sound, 17 November 2016 at The University of Otago (Photo: John Collie)
Martin Phillipps (The Chills) and Graeme Downes (The Verlaines) performing at the book launch of The Dunedin Sound, 17 November 2016 at The University of Otago. (Photo: John Collie)
Find books about the Dunedin Sound in our collection