We are asking four quick questions of writers and thinkers coming to the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival on from 24 to 28 August. First up, it’s Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh, award-winning Auckland-based Pacific poet and scholar. She recently performed for the Queen as the 2016 Commonwealth Poet.
What are you looking forward to doing in Christchurch?
I look forward to jogging around the city to see resilience in action and get my feet earthed long the Avon River! Also, catching up with Festival participants, soaking up the creative energies of others, writing in my hotel room, enjoying the air.
What do you think about libraries?
I love libraries (and librarians – especially school ones because they are my key contact people when I visit schools to perform and run workshops) and I especially love the relatively recent development of turning them into active, brimming social spaces (we’ve got a cafe in the Auckland City library) with noisy and quiet areas!
What would be your “desert island book”?
No island is a desert, there were always people there before us! Plus, I read buffet-style with commonly 5 on the go, so, at the moment my 5 must have’s are Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now, Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour, Austin Kleon’s Black Out Writing journal, the latest Chimurenga journal (picked up in Cape Town – amaaazing!) and Cherie Barford’s most excellent poetry collection, Entangled Islands.
Share a surprising fact about yourself.
I got caught in an arm bar during this morning’s MMA sparring session and am filled with thoughts of revenge!
If you like trees then Hagley Park probably rates as one of your favourite “Go-To” places, just as it is mine. With 164 hectares to wonder around in, and 5000 trees in Hagley Park and the Botanic Gardens there is always something new to see and enjoy, regardless of the weather, and it’s never crowded despite the 1 million plus annual visitors. On a sunny afternoon it can be very restful just to sit and watch the people go past ….
One of the best sights in Canterbury is when the blossom trees on Harper Avenue burst into flower – roll on Spring! The daffodils! Then there’s the Heritage Rose Garden (which I finally found near the hospital) as well as the main rose garden which is a joy to nose and eye alike. And don’t forget the conservatories – they’ve been repaired and re-opened for a while now, so if you haven’t ventured into Cuningham House (or the other four Houses) post-quake, then it really is time to take a wonder through.
With KidsFest and the school holidays upon us, the Botanic Gardens are running a Planet Gnome promotion – the Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre will give you a passport and all you need to know to join in.
Botanic D’Lights on 3-7 August for the second year running – I didn’t go last year, and kicked myself for it, because it sounded amazing, and so much fun. The event listingdescribes it as:
this five-night winter spectacle engages NZ’s leading lighting artists, designers and creative thinkers. When darkness falls, you’ll explore an illuminated pathway which turns the Gardens’ vast collection of plants and grand conservatories into a glittering winter wonderland. All to the beat of exciting soundscapes and special performances.
So looking forward to it! Note to self: bring hat, coat, gloves, torch and cash for hot drinks and food as well as the gold coin donation for the Children’s Garden renewal project. See you there!
McLeans Mansion is front page news in today’s copy of The Press (7 July 2016). This slightly spooky architectural jewel (also known as Holly Lea) has an interesting history:
The Mansion was a departure from the accustomed work of the architects, England Brothers, and it was an unusual design among Christchurch’s large homes — when built it was reputed to be the largest wooden residence in New Zealand. The most remarkable thing about the Mansion is surely that it was built for a 78 year-old bachelor and that it was used as a private residence for only 13 years.
In 1899, 78-year old bachelor and former Waikakahi runholder, Allan McLean (1822-1907), employed Robert West England (1863-1908) as architect for a Jacobean-style, three-storeyed wooden house of 53 rooms. It was completed in 1900 and McLean named it Holly Lea. At 23,000 square feet, it was probably the largest wooden residence in New Zealand. It was used as a private home for only 13 years. Over the years it has been a home (until 1955) for genteel women down on their luck, unable to be accommodated with women of a lower socio-economic background as it was felt the two groups would not get on; a dental nurses’ hostel; a Salvation Army rest home; leased for a time by the St Vincent de Paul Society. In 2005 it became the home of Academy New Zealand, Christchurch, a private training establishment offering entry level vocational training.
It’s out. The programme for Ōtautahi’s own literary festival, WORD Christchurch. And oh, it is chock full of goodies for anyone wanting to open their brains and fill them with bright, shiny ideas for a few days (25-28 August).
The festival programme is a refreshingly broad one that takes in the full scope of that which might fall under the umbrella of “literature”. There’s bound to be something on the schedule to tempt. Here’s my very cut-down wishlist (the full un-expurgated version is exhaustive and exhausting).
Picks of WORD Christchurch 2016
C1 Book Launch: Let’s take a walk (Wednesday 24 August 6pm)C1 Espresso is one of my favourite post-quake places in town and owners Sam and Fleur Crofskey have been positively flabbergasting in their ability to imagine and innovate anything from a front counter clad in Lego to curly fries whizzing past diners in Lanson tubes. So why wouldn’t they also be publishing a book about the aftermath of the quakes? This session is a) free and b) in close proximity to aforementioned curly fries.
How are we doing, Christchurch? (Friday 26 August 11.15am – 12.15pm) If there’s one thing that Christchurch people have grown a taste for it’s talking about ourselves and our post-quake lives. This session will have Sam Crofskey of C1, Robyn Wallace of He Oranga Pounamu, Katie Pickles author of Christchurch Ruptures, Ciaran Fox of All Right? and Bronwyn Hayward. It’s another free event and I’m thinking it’ll make for a good chat to listen in on.
Reading favourites (Friday 26 August 2.15 – 3.15pm) Everybody’s got reading favourites and so do writers. Will Chris Tse, David Hill and Jolisa Gracewood treasure the same Kiwi literature that I do? Only one way to find out. Yet another free event, chaired by novelist and Academy of New Zealand Literature setter-upper Paula Morris.
No sex please, we’re teenagers (Friday 26 August 5.15 – 6.15pm) Anyone who was fascinated by the “yes it’s censored-no it’s not-yes it is” controversy surrounding Ted Dawe’s YA novel Into the River will want to pull up a pew at this one. Also discussing the vagaries of writing sex for teenage readers are international bestseller David Levithan, and sexual therapist Frances Young. Chaired by YA author Mandy Hager.
The Stars are on Fire (Friday 26 August 7.30 – 8.45pm) Seven writers take turns telling tales of burning passions in the Isaac Theatre Royal. Also John Campbell is there, probably being effusive. That’ll do me.
Read it again! Picture book readings (Saturday 27 August 1 – 1.30pm) As the parent of a toddler I’m always keen to have someone else take a turn with the picture book reading, or to find new books that spark young imaginations. Another free event with readings from Kiwi authors David Hill, and Mary Cowen and Lynne McAra.
Busted: Feminism and Pop Culture (Saturday 27 August 11am – 12pm) Things I’m into – feminism, pop culture. This really is a no-brainer for me as co-founder and editor of Bust magazine, Debbie Stoller talks all things lady with Charlotte Graham.
Cities of Tomorrow: A better life? (Saturday 27 August 5 – 6.15pm) City-building is never far from my mind these days and it’s not even my area of expertise but it is for Barnaby Bennett, Marie-Anne Gobert, Mark Todd and Cécile Maisonneuve. Kim Hill will be leading the discussion.
The Spinoff After Dark (Saturday 27 August 10 – 11pm) Modern media website, The Spinoff has become my go-to for news, opinion, and entertainment in the last year or so. I expect a rollicking good time at C1 with The Spinoff crew of Duncan Greive, Alex Casey, Toby Manhire and a nominally in charge Steve Braunias. Also, is the name of this session a “Peach Pit After Dark, Beverley Hills 90210” allusion? I like to imagine so…
The State of America (Sunday 28 August 12.30pm – 1.30pm) I went to a similar, identically titled in fact, session at the Auckland Writers Festival. How will this one compare? I’m looking forward to finding out. With three Americans historian Peter S. Field, political scientist Amy Fletcher, and TV writer and novelist Steve Hely there should be a good mix of perspective with journalist Paula Penfold probing for answers on the confusing world of US politics.
The Nerd Degree (Sunday 28 August 5 – 6pm) It’s a podcast. It’s a nerdy pop culture quiz game. It’s humorous and improvised and I do love it and it’s part of the festival. Nerds battle nerds, in this case Brendon Bennetts, ITV science correspondent Alok Jha, YA author Karen Healey, cult film director Andrew Todd and mortician Caitlin Doughty.
There’s actually a heap more things but I’ll probably be lucky to manage these. What are your picks for the festival?
The most lauded Australian drama of the last year, this bold, superbly acted debut from acclaimed theatre director Simon Stone reimagines Ibsen’s The Wild Duck in a contemporary small town.
Based on Welsh novelist Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith, this outrageous and lusciously erotic thriller from the director of Oldboy transposes a Victorian tale of sex, duplicity and madness to 1930s Japanese-occupied Korea.
A plane crash, government corruption and nuclear warheads are just some of the ingredients for this taut Danish docu-drama, set in the aftermath of the Cold War. Based on a book by the award-winning journalist Poul Brink.
This incredibly moving and fascinating doco takes us into the interior life of autistic Owen Suskind, and explores how his love of Disney animated features gave him the tools as a child to communicate with the world. Based on the book by Ron Suskind.
Not your conventional biopic, this enthralling dramatic exploration of the legacy of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda conjures up a fiction in which he is pursued into political exile by an incompetent detective played by Gael García Bernal.
Vanessa Gould’s fond and fascinating documentary introduces us to the unseen women and men responsible for crafting the obituaries of the New York Times.
A Quiet Passion
Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle and Keith Carradine star in Terence Davies’ lively, witty and ultimately intensely moving dramatisation of the sheltered life of 19th-century New England poet Emily Dickinson.
In Alison Maclean’s vibrant screen adaptation of Eleanor Catton’s debut novel, a first-year acting student (James Rolleston) channels the real-life experience of his girlfriend’s family into art and sets off a moral minefield.
“Terence Davies’s Sunset Song is a movie with a catch or sob in its singing voice: a beautifully made and deeply felt adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s 1932 novel of rural Scotland.” — Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
Kitty and her whānau are in Ōtautahi for a while, visiting their granny who lives in New Brighton. Her husband and son Tama are now living in a housebus and Christchurch is the first stop in their plan to visit places and be location free. Her co-author Kirsten is a dance teacher and has a Fine Arts degree – as Kitty says “she works fulltime, she’s got 3 kids, she’s a major overachiever!”
Tell us a bit about the special Storytimes / Wā Kōrero you are doing at New Brighton Library on Tuesday 5 July.
I will do our three – they are really fun to read:
Karahehe (Animals) – animal noises
Kanohi (My face) – everyone can play along with finding parts of face
Kākahu (Getting dressed) – play with pretending to get dressed up
I will also do a selection of my faves. I am a huge fan of reading aloud. One favourite is Taniwha taniwha by Robyn Kahukiwa which she wrote for her moko (grandchildren). I will also do a couple of waiata. Tama and I go along to the one at New Brighton Library so I know how it rolls and I know what not to do!
What gave you the idea of doing bilingual books?
Kirsten and I both had pepi at the same time – Mihi is only about four months younger than Tama. We were both on maternity leave at the same time, and we’re cousins. We live around the corner from each other; we are really close – then we had babies and we needed to really reconnect with our reo ourselves. We thought what better time to do it than with our own pepi – they are learning to speak, we’re learning to speak. But what happened is we couldn’t find many resources. There’s not enough, and there’s not enough beautiful resources. There’s not enough durable, chewable books that we can share with our pepi after you’ve used every one at the library and you’re getting the same ones out again. We just saw that there was a lack.
We had the same idea. She started drawing, and I started researching text. We’d probably still be doing that now if it wasn’t for the support of Te Pūtahitanga. They gave us startup money to publish our pukapuka.
What role does the library play for you and your whānau?
The library in Dunedin to us is quite important to our lives. Libraries are integral. We had a lovely email from a whānau who had found the Kanohi book at their local library. They sent us a photograph of their daughter and she had the same hat on that’s in the book. Because it’s in the pukapuka that she got from the library she’s wanting to wear this hat all the time.
Libraries are really important so that those resources get to the whānau. For us going to the library and getting the books out from the Māori section is important – we’re really proud to be contributing to that section to make sure it has more resources and whānau find new things there. You can never have too many books.
Are there any books or resources you’d recommend if you want your tamaraki and whānau to be bilingual?
Māori made easy by Scotty Morrison. Thirty minutes a day, sort of like a prescription.
What next for you and Reo Pepi?
We are inspired by our tamariki again. They are just reaching for new concepts and we’re just following what they do. Kirsten has completed the illustrations for a second set of three pukapuka. The second set should be ready to go for the new educational year in February:
Kaute / Counting – illustrated with toys from the rooms of our tamariki
Ngā Tae / Colours – illustrated with insects
Kai / Food – illustrated with tamariki enjoying kai (market testing unanimously picked kai as the third topic!)
After that there will be a third set of 3 books. We are looking into additional resources like posters and wall charts.
We’re going to the IBBY International Congress in August. We are going to have a stall there. It’s majorly exciting – we’ll be going to Joy Cowley’s 80th birthday at Auckland Library!
If you are flying to Auckland or elsewhere, you might spot Kitty and Kirsten’s Reo Pepi mentioned in the latest Air New Zealand Kia ora magazine!
I’ve just found a new way to add to the ever-increasing list of book titles that I have great difficulty getting around to reading but have kept on my ‘For Later’ shelf in BiblioCommons. The cliché ‘better late than never’ springs to mind.
My shelf currently stands at a very respectable 17 (I’m sure there are people out there in ‘Library land’ openly gobsmacked at this paltry total BUT I have just had a cull. I was completely ruthless and it took only 2 minutes to cut it back from 27 to 17.
Oh the internal debating and agonising I didn’t put myself through! Most of these tomes have been on my ‘For Later’ shelf for an eternity and have either been recommended to me via colleagues and customers or I have read a favourable review in a magazine or newspaper and placed it onto the shelf before I forget the title. Then I forget to look at the shelf and pick my next read from it – well nobody’s perfect!
Now I have another method by which I can add to this list – on the front page of the Christchurch City Libraries website right at the bottom of the page is a link called Books. This takes you to New in Books, Staff Picks, On Order and then Recent Comments.
Recent Comments deals with any comments or reviews of books from newspapers, library borrowers and library staff. In a steady flow, these brief comments automatically move from one book to the next book that has been recently reviewed. Clicking on the cover will bring up a synopsis of the story line, publisher details followed by the heading OPINION where all the reviews appear.
Sometimes a certain sentence within a review personally resonates and is all that is needed to push you from apathy to action. Before you realise it, you’ve clicked on the book cover and are placing a hold OR adding to your ‘For Later’ Shelf. If inclined you can even give the book a star rating.
Anyone out there enjoying the freedom of reviewing the books they read or feeling that they would like to give it a whirl?
Freerange Press is a small cooperative, which means that I get to wear many hats, though my main role is that of editor. As I love books, languages, reading and writing, working as the editor is my favourite part of the job. This entails working with people’s words on several levels: the big picture stuff (a cohesive book or well-structured essay that facilitates the reader’s experience) through to the small, finicky details such as apostrophes and the right choice of word. I also project manage the books through to publication, deal with all of the various contributors (from designers through to sponsors), organise events, do media, sales and admin.
Was there a lightbulb moment that led to Don’t dream it’s over?
After the release of our last multi-author book Once in a Lifetime: City-building after Disaster in Christchurch, Giovanni Tiso (who is one of the other editors for Don’t Dream It’s Over) attended a conference on journalism and came to us with the idea that a similar approach to Once in a Lifetime – where different voices and perspectives are presented on an important topic in a single book – was needed to look at the challenges and opportunities facing journalism. We all agreed!
What do you see as the core purpose of journalism?
For me, journalism’s core purpose is keeping the public informed – through gathering news, the subsequent analysis of that news and bringing important stories or elements of culture into the public sphere. An informed public is essential to an effective democracy and to the notion of consent being attributed to decisions made by those in government.
You’ve got a stellar lineup of contributors – how do you about getting these people on board and managing such a large bunch of writers?
It was a combination of a public call-out and approaching people we really wanted to have on the book. Sarah Illingworth and Giovanni Tiso both work in journalism circles, so they had some really good ideas regarding potential contributors. Barnaby Bennett and myself also brainstormed. Then we explained the project and approached people – many signed on. I think that the number of them indicates the need to examine journalism and the timely nature of the publication.
Can you give some examples of journalism and news sites that are dealing well with the evolving media landscape – who is swimming, who is sinking?
I think sites like Pantograph Punch, which has great arts and culture content, and The Spinoff have responded to the challenging times and are both producing great writing, including long reads, by fantastic contributors. I think that mainstream media and traditional outlets are struggling and the quality of their journalism overall has slipped for a number of reasons. As revenue is limited, they have let lots of experienced staff go, which has emptied out the profession (and in turn the journalism that the public has access to), so they turn to clickbait and such to garner attention amidst the noise. There is more content, but less diversity (some genres are really struggling).
What IS the future of the media landscape in New Zealand?
This is the question that book seeks to explore – there are many responses and points of view on this. Many of the contributors have strong ideas about where it needs to go and what it needs to do – the difficulties lie more around the ‘how’, or more specifically, how we pay for it. As a society we need to look at what we value in journalism, and seek to address these challenges.
Can you tell us a bit about your Pledgeme campaign – can people still contribute?
As making books in New Zealand is expensive, and as we wish to pay everyone (at least a little) for their work, we are crowdfunding to help get us over the line with our cash flow for printing. Our target is $11,500 (budget breakdown is included on our campaign page). We have lots of great rewards too. You can contribute until 2 July.
What do you think about libraries?
Libraries are extremely important to our communities – they are reservoirs of knowledge, and the keepers of memories and the ways we express ourselves. Most importantly, they are cultural hubs that are available and open to all, for free.
What are you reading/watching/listening to?
I have been reading the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante – such wonderful writing and translations. I have also just finished Silencing Science by Shaun Hendy – one of the great BWB Texts.