After WORD – an interview with Rachael King, literary director of WORD Christchurch

Cori L. Sanders did a splendid job coordinating a team of volunteers at the recent WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Here she interviews WORD’s literary director Rachael King.

Rachael King

Congratulations on the amazing success of the recent WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival.  Putting together a literary festival seems a massive undertaking. How long did it take you to plan and execute?

Each festival takes a year to plan, although some foundation work is done in the preceding year as well. This year we had a fantastic and very hard working team led by Executive Director Marianne Hargreaves. My job is to plan what the festival will look like – everyone else makes it happen!

The festival featured 80 events and over 150 writers and speakers.   How did you put the programme together?  Or to reprise the title of one of the festival events: Where do you get your ideas from?  (Did you brainstorm with a committee or were these ideas all your own?)

I do call for input of ideas from our board of trustees, who are all avid readers, and from my Twitter followers who are a clued-up bunch, but mostly the ideas come from reading books, reading coverage of books on the internet, checking upcoming publishing schedules (and publishers sometimes pitch their authors to me), and generally thinking about the issues and themes that the world is concerned with. What moves people? What troubles them? What do they want to know more about?

Outside of my work hours I am constantly thinking about the programme and can get lost for days down the rabbit hole of the internet following ideas. We also work closely with the Melbourne and Brisbane Writers’ Festivals as well as Sydney’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas, so we send each other ideas.

James Dann and How to start a magazine panel
James Dann, Debbie Stoller, Duncan Greive, and Luke Wood. How to start a magazine panel. Flickr 2016-08-28-IMG_5849

How did you hear about these various authors/speakers, and how did you decide which ones to invite over?

All different ways, but here are some examples. The Canadian writers (Ivan Coyote, Elizabeth Hay and Sheila Watt-Cloutier) came to me through Hal Wake, the director of the Vancouver Writers Festival, which I attended in October last year. I saw that Tim Flannery had a book out on climate change, which was a topic I wanted to cover; his partner Kate Holden came highly recommended to me by another writer.

I found Caitlin Doughty via Twitter, where she was tweeting macabre things that appealed to me, which led me to her website where to my delight I discovered she had recently published a book. Then I saw her speak at the Sydney Writers’ Festival last year and that sealed the deal. Ali Cobby Eckermann and Elisa Washuta came through the Christchurch Sister Cities programme – both writers were recommended to me by literary people in Adelaide and Seattle respectively.

Alok Jha was recommended to me by someone who had seen him in person in the UK. John Freeman I met in Auckland last year, then again in Vancouver and New York. He was coming out for the Melbourne Writers Festival so I extended the invitation to Christchurch.

Caitlin Doughty
Caitlin Doughty Flickr 2016-08-28-IMG_5873

Did you start with a theme in mind or did the theme emerge later?

You send out hundreds of invitations and hope that some will stick. In this case, the ones that were sticking started revolving around two common themes – the planet and its people. Nearly all the writers who had accepted my invitation write about quite political things, whether it is the environment, gender, human rights, sexual politics, life and death. I decided to declare the Planet & its People as the official theme because I knew it would appeal to people who care about what is happening in the world right now.

The festival ranged over a myriad of topics like climate change, water, feminism, sex, positive death-acceptance, true crime, LGBT issues, poetry, migrants’ voices, war stories, inclusive cities, and political cartoons.  How did you know what topics would appeal to a general audience?  What combination and balance were you looking to achieve?

These are topics that engaged people care about. I was looking for a combination and balance of thought-provoking, challenging, enlightening, uplifting and entertaining.

Do your literary interests span all these different genres, topics, and cultural hot buttons?  Did you read all the books featured?

I wish I could say I read books by all 150 speakers at the festival but alas no, I didn’t have the time! My personal tastes run to literary fiction and personal essays mostly, but I can still appreciate a topic and trust my sources, and I always make sure the speaker is engaging foremost.

You’ll notice I managed to smuggle my musical tastes in there as well, with the Flying Nun celebration night and Hollie Fullbrook from Tiny Ruins, and also included comics, performance poetry, live storytelling, journalism and TV writing, so WORD is no longer just about books.

Hollie Fullbrook "Tiny Ruins" at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala
Hollie Fullbrook “Tiny Ruins” at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala. Flickr 2016-08-26-IMG_5777

Some authors were interviewed on stage; others took to the stage by themselves; and yet others were part of a panel. How did you decide which format would best showcase each author’s talents?

A lot of it was led by the writers themselves. It is a big ask to get someone to prepare an address, so many authors prefer the ‘in conversation’ format. It is good to have a mixture of both, so I always ask which format the writers prefer.

Panels are a good way to make sure an international author has more than one opportunity to be on stage; and with local writers, they are a good way to include as many writers as possible, and to cover some interesting topics beyond ‘tell us about your book’.

How did you decide who would chair each panel or interview each author?

I attend a lot of writers’ festivals and am always paying close attention to the chairs! In many cases a good chair person is as important as the speaker people have come to see. Chairing takes a certain set of skills – confidence to carry the responsibility, but also the confidence to take a back seat and not dominate.

Chairing a panel is a kind of mediation as well, where it’s essential that you allow everyone on the panel to get their word across, and be prepared for conflict. Managing audience questions is another skill! I also look for chairs who can go with the flow of conversation rather than rigidly over prepare and stick to their questions no matter what. As far as who to match with whom: instinct.

What guided your decision-making regarding workshop topics and the people who would run them?

I wanted a range of topics, and we certainly had that: fiction, song-writing, the business of publishing, memoir, indigenous storytelling. They arose from looking at who was coming and who had experience teaching. The workshops were all very popular, so we will definitely look at adding more next time – and as Tracy Farr’s fiction workshop and Scott Pack’s How to Perfect Your Submission workshop sold out so quickly, will look at more fiction workshops next time and another about getting published. The Taku Kupu Ki Te Ao workshop had three teachers in addition to the facilitator, and by all accounts they got as much out of it as the students!

What gave you the idea to launch the immensely successful new events like Oratory on the Ōtākaro, and the New Regent Pop-Up Festival?

The Ōtākaro walk was conceived in consultation with Ngāi Tahu who are a great supporter of the festival. We are keen to regularly feature Ngāi Tahu speakers and stories. Look out for more walks at future festivals!

The Pop-Up was inspired by a combination of things – wanting to expand the fringe programme which creates accessible events in interesting spaces; wanting to include as many Christchurch writers in the programme as we could; and my visit to the Lit Crawls in Seattle and San Francisco last year. The organisers are keen for us to become part of the Lit Crawl family but there is already a LitCrawl (note different spelling!) in Wellington and we don’t want to detract from that. But the New Regent Street space was an excellent way to test the waters for this kind of event, and I hope it will become a regular feature of future festivals. It added so much character to the festival.

New Regent Street Pop-up
New Regent Street Pop-Up Festival Flickr 2016-08-25-IMG_5751

Any kinks you want to iron out for next festival or any things you want to redress?

Yes, but I’m keeping those to myself as they kinks mostly happened behind the scenes and we need to maintain the image of a swan gliding across a still lake while its legs work furiously below the surface!

What were the personal highlights of this festival for you?

Oh, so many! I’m not supposed to have favourites, and as I was behind the scenes, I missed much of the festival. But I will say I was pretty proud to have Ivan Coyote and Caitlin Doughty, and the Hear My Voice event and Flying Nun event gave me goosebumps. I thought the Stars are on Fire showcase went perfectly (but I am biased), and hearing Tiny Ruins debut a beautiful new song just about had me in tears!

What are the perks of being the festival’s literary director?

Meeting interesting writers! Championing books, especially New Zealand books. Getting to travel to other festivals and to collaborate with them as well. I get a lot of free books, which is a big bonus of course.

What ideas have already sparked for the next festival?

As it’s two years away, I’ll be reissuing invitations to some people who couldn’t make it this time around. But look out! We have an amazing line-up in the planning for our Autumn Season in May, in partnership with Auckland Writers Festival, and will also have a programme of events within the Christchurch Arts Festival next year.

What do you do when you’re not planning literary festivals?

I should be writing books! But the festival takes up too much of my headspace at the moment, so I’ll say I like walking and reading, spending time with my kids. And I have recently taken up horse-riding after a 25 year gap, so that is my current obsession.

Thank you very much, Rachael, for your time, and congratulations once again on the success of the festival!

The Stars are on fire gala
The Stars are on fire gala. WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Friday 26 August 2016. Caitlin Doughty, Steve Hely, Hollie Fullbrook, Ivan Coyote, Tusiata Avia, Sir Tipene O’Regan and Stephen Daisley.Flickr 2016-08-26-IMG_5778

Read more of the libraries’ WORD 2016 coverage.

Are you a Wonderful Relic?

Time You Let me In
You read (and write) poetry

Are you a Wonderful Relic? I am. But how do I know? I first came upon the term in one of Johnny Moore’s columns in The Press (Friday 19th August 2016). He had the following to say:

I pay myself less in my business by generating an income elsewhere – writing for the wider Fairfax audience on the Stuff platform and for those wonderful relics who keep the whole boat afloat by continuing to buy and read the physical paper.

As I was sitting up in bed at the time – sipping my morning tea and paging through said newspaper (to which I subscribe), I think we can safely say that I am a Wonderful Relic. And I love it, so much better than being an Old Age Pensioner, a Gold Card holder or a University of the Third Age wannabe.

But don’t assume you have to be old to be a Wonderful Relic. Some people are born that way – and a lot of us seem to end up working in libraries. Check your Wonderful Relic status in this little quiz:

  • Art Jornal Courage
    You keep an art journal

    You subscribe to a newspaper or a magazine (1 to 2 points)

  • You also buy books (1 point per book)
  • You go to Literary Festivals like WORD Christchurch (1 point)
  • You belong to a book group (1 point per group)
  • You read poetry (1), write poetry (1), read your poems in public (off the scale Wonderful Relic – allocate yourself as many points as you like.)
  • You keep a paper diary (1), you keep a journal (1), you draw in both of them (off the scale Wonderful Relic – see above)
  • You love stationery shops – after libraries, they are your favourite places (1 point each)

And it’s not that you disdain the use of eResources, you can download eBooks using OverDrive, use PressReader, take courses on Lynda.com and play around on Photoshop with the best of them. But when push comes to shove, at heart Wonderful Relics are aesthetes – we like things to look good, we are tactile in our approach to life and that may be where technology falls short for us.

This morning I heard, yet again, the dull thud of my morning paper hitting the front door. I remembered Johnny Moore and his reference to Wonderful Relics keeping the whole publishing industry afloat and as I took my first sip of tea I thought, it’s OK Johnny because like all the other Wonderful Relics:  I will go down with this ship!

Book Group
You belong to a book group

 

Fun Palaces – Saturday 1 and Sunday 2 October 2016

Celebrate art, science and creativity at this year’s Fun Palaces festival! All activities are fun, free and suitable for all ages. Central Library Peterborough will be a Fun Palace from 10am to 2pm on the weekend of Saturday 1 and Sunday 2 October (it’s the middle weekend of the school holidays).

Fun Palaces

Here’s the schedule for Fun Palaces 2016:

Saturday 1 October

Fabriko Electronic Sticker Fun Palace

Make a card, paper critter or a fan that will light up with a special electronic circuit you make with stickers, batteries and LEDs! Both days, 10am – 2pm

Spider Phobia Demonstration

Who’s afraid of spiders? Don’t miss out on this experience to have Virtual Spiders creep and crawl all over a desk and up your arms! Both days, 10am – 2pm

Nao Robots

A HUGE success last year! Swing by and interact with these incredible humanoid robots! Both days, 10am – 12pm

Nao Robots - Fun Palaces at Central Library Peterborough

Interactive Trampoline Gaming

Come alone and have a try of the world’s first interactive, digital gaming system designed for a trampoline. Saturday 10am – 2pm

Springfree

Quiver Augmented Reality

Experience the exciting world of Augmented Reality! Colour in images the ‘old school’ way and then watch them come to life using Quiver! This is a magical and engaging 3D experience. Saturday 10am – 12pm

MineCraft

Get imaginative and create your own Fun Palace through MineCraft. Work on your own or with friends to create the MOST fun environment you can think of! Only 20 computers available. Saturday 10 – 11.15am and 11.30am – 12.45pm

HTC VIVE

Experience a 360-degree virtual world! This is the very latest in augmented reality technology. Both days, 12 – 2pm

Sunday 2 October

Fabriko Electronic Sticker Fun Palace

Make a card, paper critter or a fan that will light up with a special electronic circuit you make with stickers, batteries and LEDs! Both days, 10am – 2pm

Spider Phobia Demonstration

Who’s afraid of spiders? Don’t miss out on this experience to have Virtual Spiders creep and crawl all over a desk and up your arms! Both days, 10am – 2pm

Virtual spiders - Fun Palaces, Central Library Peterborough

Nao Robots

A HUGE success last year! Swing by and interact with these incredible humanoid robots! Both days, 10am – 12pm

HTC VIVE

Experience a 360-degree virtual world! This is the very latest in augmented reality technology. Both days, 12 – 2pm

Bee-Bots!

Come and learn about Robot technology by having a play with these cute little guys! Sunday 10.30 – 11.30am and 1 – 2pm

3D Printing Demonstration

What’s all the hype about 3D printing? Come in and see yourself during a live demonstration. Learn a little about how these cool machines work, what we use and other facts about this exciting technology. Sunday 11am – 1pm
Fun Palaces at Central Library Peterborough

Kitchen Science Lab – Solar Oven

Build your very own solar oven and harness the power of the sun to cook yourself a wee treat. Sunday 12 – 2pm

Start Making! An interview about zines with Alice Bush of Christchurch Zinefest

Christchurch Zinefest 2016 is happening on Sunday 18 September, 11am to 5pm at Space Academy / Kadett (371 St Asaph Street). I spoke to one of the Zinefest organisers, Alice Bush –  a graphic design student at University of Canterbury. She’s been making zines for four years. As well as going to Christchurch Zinefests, Alice went to Wellington Zinefest last year.

Zinefest at Darkroom, St Asaph Street
Zinefest 2014 at Darkroom, St Asaph Street Flickr 2014-10-18-IMG_2732

Tips for Zinemakers

Don’t feel intimidated by what is out there already!

Start making,  not worry too much about what you’re making. Know that it will be accepted in a community. I think that all zines are valid – no matter how hi-fi or lo-fi they are.

Fave topics?

At the moment, I’m really into Riot grrrl feminist type stuff.  What she said by UC Femsoc is a great feminist zine. Filmme Fatales from Melbourne is another great read.

I always love a good funny zine as well, batshit weird … I saw a zine in New York dissecting Home Depot as an art store. There was one at Wellington Zinefest called “Sock review”, which was pretty awesome.

I like zines because they can be anything that you want them to be, no matter how weird your idea is.

Zine culture in Christchurch

There is Zinefest once a year, but that’s about the only event we have at the moment. The zine culture has been laying low, and the Zine Library that was in the Darkroom disappeared last year. I’m trying to build up the culture a bit more, getting people involved and doing more stuff.

Zinefest at Darkroom, St Asaph Street
Zinefest 2014 at Darkroom, St Asaph Street. Flickr 2014-10-18-IMG_2731

Space Academy has started having zine nights. The culture is there, but it is not as big as in Auckland and Wellington. It’s hard to do creative stuff in Christchurch when everything goes into rebuilding.

Zines and the Internet

People used to make fanzines and send them to their friends, now fan-culture has moved on to the internet and there’s not really any need for zines in that culture anymore. It’s interesting to see zines or digizines on sites like Issuu. It is for magazines, but I’ve seen tons of zines up there.

I’ve been reading this article by Bryce Galloway. He’s been involved in zines for a long time.  In the early 2000s it started being closed off, and away from the outside world and the Australian and American zines. It’s good when people put their stuff up on the web, because then everyone can see it. You’re getting your work out there to everyone.

Zines and libraries

I visited the Wellington zine collection when I was there. Zines have always been away from the mainstream way of publishing, and it is interesting that they are now in that context of the library.

Zines have been made since the 1920s. They started with sci fi, fanzines, and poetry. I’ve been trying to track down things from that era, most of it is in America. So it’d be great if the zines we make now will last to influence and encourage aspiring zinemakers in the future. I’m all for archiving things and making sure that things last.

I want zines to last as a form.

More about zines

Zinefest at Darkroom, St Asaph Street

Zinefest at Darkroom, St Asaph Street. Saturday 18 October 2014. Flickr 2014-10-18-IMG_2726

Sex, & Sex, drugs & Rock n roll, & rock n roll – WORD Christchurch

IMG_5797Warning: as the title indicates, there may be some adult content in this post.

There is nothing like being ushered into a writers festival session with the question”Sex, drugs, and rock n roll?” It feels very non-cardigany!

This was a bit of an ongoing theme of my WORD Christchurch experience. First up, on Thursday evening I went to the launch of new erotic magazine Aotearotica at the New Regent Street pop-up.

Melanie McKerchar
Aotearotica at G+A Creative. Readers/Performers: Isabelle McNeur, Jodi Sh. Doff, Melanie McKerchar, and Laura Borrowdale. New Regent St popup festival.WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Flickr 2016-08-25-IMG_5746

The readings were fabulously varied in their saucy flavours. After an intro by Aotearotica editor Laura Borrowdale, Melanie read a sexy jewel from Anaïs Nin, Isabelle shared her honest raw love tales, and Jodi Sh. Doff told a story about a verrrry seductive subway ride.

By the way, if you can write or draw, Aotearotica is looking for submissions for Volume Two.

After the sex, the Sex, Drugs & Rock n Roll. This session featured more of the middle vice. Bianca Zander, Jodi Wright, and Kate Holden with Charlotte Graham (who was a very clued up chair). Charlotte wondered why sex, drugs and rock n roll books have such appeal? Taboo and rite of passage were two suggestions.

Panel for Sex, Drugs, and rock n roll
Panel for Sex, Drugs, and rock n roll: Charlotte Graham, Kate Holden, Bianca Zander, Jodi Wright. Flickr 2016-08-27-IMG_5808

Kate read stories about drugs before she became an addict – but while she was using, she read fantasy books. As heroin took hold in Australian in the 1990s, it appealed to soft, dreamy types because when the world is a bit abrasive “opiates are a great softener of that feeling”. She also explained how “anthropologically fascinating” brothels are – incredibly moving, compulsively interesting.

Kate’s memoir In my skin shows how important her family is, and she made a good point:

Family doesn’t get written about much in junkie memoirs.

Now that her memoir’s film rights have sold, everyone is re-reading and they are impressed all over again.

Jodi Wright - Sex, Drugs, and rock n roll
Jodi Wright, Flickr 2016-08-27-IMG_5800

CoverJodi couldn’t remember enough to write a memoir, so used her experience as the basis of a novel. She tried to find out what caused her addiction, going to psychiatrists to find the inciting incident: “What I needed to do was get unstuck”:

The story is what I have.

CoverBianca “always wanted to write a great rock n roll novel … I don’t think this is it”. It’s elusive trying to capture the spirit of rock n roll in words. Her book The Predictions was inspired by a story about an ashram kid, parented by the whole group, who went looking for his mum in a crowd. She thought about those kids without a solid foundation, unmoored out there in the world.

Two  points I took away from this session:

  • Good “Sex, drugs, and rock n roll” novels and memoirs take away the feeling of other, and make us think “us”.
  • Men are often feted for doing/writing this kind of stuff, and yet women get demonised. Hmmm.

And finally the rock n roll. I went to the Flying Nun In love with these times session at Blue Smoke. It was a joy. Russell Brown was our MC and on stage were Roger Shepherd, Graeme Downes, Jay Clarkson, Bruce Russell, and Hollie Fullbrook (Tiny Ruins). There were plenty of Flying Nun alumni in the audience which definitely added to the flavour. Roger Shepherd’s book is not just a great tale about a music scene, it’s a pretty powerful look into Christchurch’s history too.

Highlights? Jay Clarkson playing Spooky, and her perspectives on being a young mum and muso. Graeme Downes’ new song Dunedin Spleen (and his general loucheness and academic nous). Russell Brown’s super knowledgeable MCing and questions. The lugubrious Bruce Russell. This was something special.

More Sex, Drugs, and rock n roll

More WORD Christchurch

My WORD – Anne on the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival

Ever since WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival ended on Sunday I’ve felt rather sad and a little lost. When I’ve been to other literature festivals I’ve been enthused, happy and have absolutely gorged myself on as many sessions as possible. Then they ended and that was that. WORD was different to that and also, for me, significantly different to previous WORD festivals. Let me try and explain how.

For me, WORD 2016 was like having my best friend visit for a full on weekend of anecdotes, reminiscence, political discussion and culture. Now they’ve gone back home and I miss them.

The main sessions which stood out for me were those related to feminism, short stories and storytelling. The sheer numbers attending the feminist sessions from Dame Fiona Kidman, Helene Wong, Debbie Stoller, Tara Moss and Barbara Brookes was heartwarming.

Book sale stand, WORD Christchurch
Books for sale at The Piano. Flickr 2016-08-24-IMG_2459

However, the absolute highlight of the festival, for me was the oral storytelling of Ivan Coyote. It is a rare thing to find oral storytelling events in literature festivals. It is, as the saying goes, “as rare as hen’s teeth” to find storytelling for adult audiences. But WORD programmed this to audiences who lapped it all up and hungrily asked for more. Oral storytelling is the one thing above all that I’ve missed since moving to New Zealand from the UK over 7 years ago. I hadn’t come across Ivan Coyote before, so my choice of their sessions was purely guided by the words “storyteller and raconteur”. My punt paid off as these sessions were fantastic. Like most storytelling events, they were just too short and that’s a great criticism to have!

So now, I have a few more books and collections on my shelves just like an album of photos to remember the weekend. Until the next time, WORD.

Ask A Mortician: Caitlin Doughty – WORD Christchurch

If Caitlin Doughty had her way, we’d all be dealing with death very differently. Mortician and author of Smoke Gets In Your Eyes she believes we have become too distanced from caring for our dead. Less than 100 years ago, that was what people did, they cared for their own dead. A sold-out Concert Hall audience at The Piano was ready to be convinced.

Caitlin_Doughty_in_red_evergreen_background
Caitlin Doughty. Image supplied

This was one of those events that barely needed a co-presenter. Not that he did any harm, but the forcefield of Caitlin’s presentation was so dynamic that I believe it would have been better to just give her a podium and free rein. She is just bursting with life, engaging, articulate and with the Best Hair At The Festival (a hitherto unexploited literary category.)

Our current means of dealing with the dead is 99% money driven. We have bought into the juggernaut that is the funeral business. In particular Doughty has the embalming business in her cross hairs. Nowadays she believes most embalming is completely unnecessary, expensive and results in corpses that do not even look like the deceased. Yet we continue with this practice – and I use that ‘we’ intentionally – apparently New Zealand ranks second in the world after the States in embalming statistics.

Not only is this bad for our pockets, but Doughty does not believe it has done our grieving process any favours either. Take children, for example. Doughty herself had a traumatic first encounter with death when she was about eight years old. No one spoke her through it and the spectre of death haunted her for ages. She jokingly refers to her relationship with death as the longest relationship of her life.

Smoke Gets in Your EyesHow did it all start? Straight out of a Medieval History degree she ‘tricked’ her way into employment in a funeral home where she was lucky enough to be given opportunities to do all aspects of the work, like scrape bones out of ovens, fetch bodies from where they had died under bridges and deal with grieving family members. She remembers (and how could a girl ever forget) at the age of 22 being left alone in the morgue to shave her first corpse. She feared she would get this horribly wrong with her wee pink razor and lashings of shaving cream. But bodies she says are just people, only a lot easier to deal with.

What are the alternatives to the expensive over-professionalised approach to death we are currently saddled with? The first hurdle to get over is to believe that the dead body is beautiful just as it is and that there is a sacred quality to caring for the dead.  Everyone deserves ‘a good death’ but to get that you need to think about your own death and you need to talk about death to your family members. A good death is not going to happen all by itself.

The second hurdle is to become better informed about alternatives. Like initiatives to develop the composting of bodies, where instead of burning corpses, they are allowed to rot in an enhanced composting environment and so turn into soil in 6-8 weeks. There is also alkaline hydrolysis which flash decomposes the body and finally there is conservation burial where burials happen in endangered land and conservation areas.

Question time. Oh dear. First two not too bad – we got the afterlife question. Nada for her, said Doughty. She sees her life as a film reel that just runs out eventually and flaps about for a bit before it goes still. God forbid that the afterlife should be peopled by everyone she has ever known – all those dead people lining up to meet her at the Pearly Gates, thanks but no thanks. We got a question on hospital deaths, a euthanasia query and a formaldehyde question (look it up on Google lady!) Then the mic fell into the hands of a man who rambled all over the terrain, couldn’t get to a question, and just at the point when you want to trample over other patrons heads and wrench the mic out of his hand to ask your own perfect question, Doughty somehow managed to wrest a possible interpretation from his ramblings out of him.

As for my question, it might not be perfect, but I could have spat it out in nine words:

“Has being a mortician ever affected your love life?”

I believe she would have loved it!

Caitlin Doughty and Marcus Elliott
Caitlin Doughty and Marcus Elliott

See our photos from the Caitlin Doughty session.

More WORD Christchurch

The Right to be Cold – WORD Christchurch

As a fellow introvert I find Sheila Watt-Cloutier incredible, going from interpreter/nurse at the Ungava Hospital to International Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, among other things. Here’s someone who won’t need Tara Moss’s book Speaking Out as she has already been speaking out for decades via various platforms, successfully raising awareness of Inuit and global issues (and as she points out, the two are interlinked). Hers is a voice we need to hear more of.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier. Image supplied.
Sheila Watt-Cloutier. Image supplied.

So who are the Inuit?

The Inuit people are spread over four countries — Greenland, Canada, Alaska (US), and Siberian Russia. They total 165,000 all at the top of the world, most very far away from each other (not helped by the current airline routes). The same language is spoken with different dialects, the same food is eaten, the same legends, the same hunting practices, the same songs. The same people.

The motivation behind The Right to be Cold

Watt-Cloutier spent her first ten years in the Arctic in Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, which is located in Northern Quebec (Canada). She grew up in a very close knit family, raised by her mother and grandmother, travelling by dog-sled, and maintaining a close connection to the local environment and community. After leaving for school age ten and returning almost a decade later, the stark changes wrought in those few years propelled her onto a more political platform.

I felt a sense of responsibility to write the book from a personal narrative, through the experiences of those graphic changes, because I can still remember those more traditional times. It wasn’t generations ago, it was in my lifetime, things have changed very rapidly. I wrote it from a place of trying to connect all these pieces of how we had come from such a powerful, independent culture, strong and valuable, to the addiction, violence and abuse problems we deal with today. I wanted to put into context these wounds, to piece together what has happened in our family systems, societies, and communities.

The disappearance of the dog teams

It wasn’t until I was an adult starting to work in politics that stories began to come out. It was such a shameful time, the wounds were so deep that the men in our communities didn’t talk about that era. There was a time in history when the authorities of the day decided (supposedly for health and safety reasons) to remove the dogs. Thousands were shot and killed, families would come in from outpost camps to barter only to have their dogs shot and therefore their transport removed… It was a great trauma.

How did this affect the Inuit communities?

The dog slaughters and the demolition of the sealing industry changed the way hunters could provide for their families. They began to turn to rifles, ammunition, and motorised boats rather than traditional hunting practices, but the loss of the cultural tradition of hunting plus the degradation of the ice through climate change have caused a lot of damage to their sense of worthiness, integrity, identity.

Traditionally Inuit hunters are calm, reflective, inclusive, wise people. While Western impressions of hunters are often as aggressive men with rifles, hunting in the Arctic leaves no room for anger; any foolish decisions place yourself and your family in jeopardy in such a harsh environment. By losing that identity as proficient provider the hunters have begun to act out, passing their hurt on to women and children through violence. To circumvent that cycle of abuse Watt-Cloutier feels it is important to reclaim and understand their history. By reconnecting with their culture and past hopefully some will regain a sense of place in the community.

Cover of The Right to be ColdIf I could just help one person alleviate part of the burden that they carry, then I will have accomplished what I set out to do.

I haven’t really delved into the more environmental part of the talk because there was a lot of information packed into that one-hour session, but I highly recommending reading her book The Right to be Cold to learn more about how we can make this a better planet for everyone, not just the polar bears.

WORD Christchurch

 

Adventures in Publishing – WORD Christchurch

Eat. Sleep. Read. Scott Pack’s t-shirt made a nice statement and I felt an immediate affinity. Eloquently introduced by Tracy Farr author of The Life and loves of Lena Gaunt, this could well turn out to be one of my favourite sessions.  Scott Pack could quite easily give up his day job and become a stand-up comic, a lovely British self deprecating humour always wins me over.

ScottPack1
Scott Pack. Image supplied

Changing the title of the talk to How to accidentally become a publisher: A story in 10 books is a crowd-winning way to lead us through his career in publishing.  It turns out that Scott Pack is a bit of a risk taker who surprisingly listens to Radio New Zealand, (but more about that later). The  books he uses are varied and prove a clever way to describe career highlights.

Blood Sweat and Tea by Tom Reynolds

Scott Pack left Waterstones where he had worked for about 10 years and became involved in The Friday Project.  Ebooks have taken off by this point and bloggers were also starting to make their mark. Tom Reynolds had been writing a very popular blog about his life as an ambulance driver, so The Friday Project were the first publishers to turn digital on its head and publish a digital format ie a blog into a print format book.  It became a best seller, and as we know the rest is history as there are now any number of blogs becoming books.

White Noise by Don De Lillo

9780330291088White Noise was used to highlight the National Radio story. Scott Pack suffers from tinnitus and finds it much harder to get rid of the white noise sound when it is quiet at night. After trial and error he came upon the solution of listening to Radio New Zealand, which gave him something good to listen to but because it wasn’t necessarily British or local he could also go to sleep and not get too caught up in the interviews as he would with a British made programme. This led to his next book The Life and loves a Lena Gaunt by Tracy Farr. He heard it read on Radio New Zealand, loved it, contacted Tracy and ended up publishing her along with Fiona Kidman and Damian Wilkins all in the space of about 5 months.

The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki

The Wisdom of Crowds was a nice lead into one of Scott Pack’s latest venture Unbound – kickstarter (or crowdsourcing)  for books.  The curators of the site put up a chapter of a book that has been submitted by a writer that they think shows some merit.  As a reader you get to like a book and give the amount of money that you think it is worth to the kickstarter or crowdsourcing site.  If the book raises enough money it is published and you get your name in the back of the book.  Authors can also offer other means for you to support them – a chef for example who is trying to get his/her book published could  (for a price) to come to your house and cook  you dinner.

Lastly he talked about and area that he is obviously passionate about.  He is on the hunt for lost, forgotten or out of print books.  The Iron Chariot by Stein Riverton was apparently the 2nd best Norwegian crime novel of all time. (Why 2nd best no one seems to know) but it is long out of print and  has now been translated. Scandinavian crime is still a ‘thing’ and he hopes it will sell well.

Plenty of food for thought, this was a great session for aspiring writers…and I think there were a few in the audience, but it was also highly entertaining and informative for those of us who just love books and enjoy listening to someone who shares their enthusiasm.

WORD Christchurch

Donald Vs Hillary – Is it really that simple? – WORD Christchurch

The last day of the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival featured a balanced and illuminating discussion on The State of America – the USA’s venomous series of electoral struggles.

One would think that any discussion on the scrap for supremacy between Trump and Clinton would be over pretty quick: Trump’s obviously nuts! There goes that! Thanks for coming! But, believe it or not, it’s not that simple. Or so we were told by three very learned and wise humans who took the stage to give us some context on the whole quagmire. They were: historian Peter S. Field, political scientist Amy Fletcher, and TV writer and novelist Steve Hely (who helped produce American Dad! and 30 Rock).

Here is a surprising sample of what seemed to be the consensus of the multi-partisan panel:

First, it was argued Hillary has been given a markedly easier ride from the media.

After all, Trump is so scandalous and acrid that he distracts us with the kind of entertainment befitting of The Real Housewives of Auckland. But, all his antics have overshadowed what so many Americans are concerned about – Hillary’s alleged (arguably law breaking) ineptitude as Secretary of State (no, not a normal secretary, rather, senior official overseeing national security).

PeterField
Peter Field. Image supplied.

That cute local rag the New York Times claims as Secretary of State, Hillary used her unprotected home PC for sending and receiving highly sensitive material pertaining to national security (you know, as you do). This is kind of problematic, cos’ her private server is much easier hacked, putting thousands at risk – Americans take that kind of thing rather seriously … Further, such material should have been automatically archived for the purposes of governmental transparency, accountability and future reference.

So, these are apparently very serious, and apparently justified allegations. Yet generally overlooked by world media. So, while we all think the decision is pretty obvious, for lots of Americans the whole choice is a bit perplexing.

There was also another speculation – “is this the end of both (Republican and Democrat) parties?” Are we going to see genuine multi-party competition in the USA? With this, the discussion turned quickly to the widespread concern among Republicans that Trump’s’ damaging the party beyond repair, with Peter S. Field mooting “Trump is a sign of the end of the Republican Party”. But then, Dr Fletcher pointed out that lots of republican voters loved seeing Trump take down Jeb Bush, “whos a rich, establishment Republican”, who “never gets told what to do”, but got severely told. By Trump! Supposedly, rugged, liberty loving Republicans rejoiced at this public hanging, despite other party faithful freaking out about a future with the same Trump who gave lots of money to Democrat campaigns in the recent past – conflict of interest? In any case, it’d be cool to see the end of the two party electoral monopolization stifling American democracy.

It was a treat getting to hear from learned American citizens regarding their election. The only thing good about the whole thing is that I don’t have to make that decision.

WORD Christchurch