Let Love In – WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

It’s not really a festival until you have your mettle tested by an event that you chose to blog on only to find that it ticks only some of your boxes, scrapes its nails down the walls of your brain in other ways, and it all happens after a ferocious argument with a car guard because your car has been completely parked in while he stood and watched it happening.

That event this festival is Let Love In with Michele A’Court and Soraya M. Lane. In my hugely flustered state I arrived filled with Assumptions (very non PC, we’re not supposed to make those any more) and Expectations (they are still OK). I assumed there would be no men in the audience – I was almost correct, there were three. My expectation was that this event would be light-hearted and entertaining, and it was – but with more of a feminist slant than I expected or wanted.

Soraya Lane and Michele A'Court. Image supplied.
Soraya Lane and Michele A’Court. Image supplied.

CoverRomance writing is a huge market and Soraya candidly confessed that she makes very good money out of it from novels like Hearts of Resistance (2018). In the United States alone at any one point in time there are 29 million readers of Romance and 35% of all fiction written in the States belongs in that genre. Both authors felt very strongly that when men put down Romance fiction writers they are simultaneously putting down all those readers as well.

Soraya gets a lot of positive feedback from readers – mainly older women who urge her to write faster as they are running out of time to hear more of her stories about women of their generation. I was developing such a head of steam by that stage that I found this vaguely ageist. In her novels Soraya is a fan of flawed characters who show development over the span of the story. Nothing wrong with that. She has a talent for dangling the “happy ever after” carrot after she has “twisted the romance knife in even deeper”.

CoverMichele has just published a book on 42 contemporary New Zealand love stories in How We Met (2018). These stories are not only about how couples met and fell in love, but also about how they have stayed together. Even though all the couples denied still being romantic, it was clear that they still were, only in different ways from when they were in the first flush of new love. Michele found that couples who fell in love sometimes remembered it very differently, but in the act of talking about it, they often managed to recreate that feeling all over again. Her book underscores that there are many different ways of loving.

At last someone said something positive about men – Michele confessed that many of the men that she interviewed were very proud of sustaining relationships, it was every bit as important to them as it was to the women. And both Soraya and Michele said that men also read their books, maybe not many, but it is a start.

By then I had calmed down a bit. And I very nearly asked a question: What did they think of the title of this event “Let Love In”? The “let” implying that we have some kind of control over falling in love. It’s never been like that for me. It’s just come barrelling in uninvited. But I missed the opportunity and my moment passed.

Ah well, my mamma she told me There’ll Be Days Like This!

Quick Questions with Nicky Pellegrino – WORD Christchurch

CoverWe are asking quick questions of writers and thinkers coming to the WORD Christchurch Festival 2018 (Wednesday 29 August to Sunday 2 September).

Nicky Pellegrino is the author of 10 best-selling novels. She juggles writing fiction with a career as a journalist, regularly contributing to magazines including the Listener and the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly.

Nicky Pellegrino. Image supplied.
Nicky Pellegrino. Image supplied.

What are you looking forward to doing in Christchurch?

I’m hoping I’ll find time for a walk in the Botanic Gardens. And to eat a lot of delicious things.

What do you think about libraries?

They were my lifeline when I was a kid and my best friends were books.

What would be your desert island book?

To The Bright Edge Of The World by Eowyn Ivey because it would remind me how it felt to be cold.

To the Bright Edge of the World

Share a surprising fact about yourself.

I can touch my nose with my tongue.

Nicky Pellegrino’s sessions at WORD Christchurch Festival 2018:

High tea and Tales Thursday 30 August 2pm

When the man you love lives in a bush: Intrepid romance, humour and travel

Just in case you wondered, How to Fall in Love With A Man Who Lives in A Bush is not set in he wilds of Africa and the protagonist is certainly no Jane Goodall.

An engaging and entertaining journey of self realization across the turbulent oceans of the earth, How to fall in Love is a story of boy meets girl.

No wait, dirty boy meets very clean girl.

This is a true story; of how Emmy, a Swedish actress and author, met her partner, Viv; a Canadian who was travelling, surviving on odd jobs and living rough – yes, in a bush.

It’s kismet – fate – as they sit together on a park bench in Austria; Julia looks into his eyes, and falls for Ben’s sense of humour (that and the size of him!).

Yet the two are very different people:

Ben : You live your life so…safely. I’ve seen how you never take any risks.

Julia: And that’s news? I told you the very first time we were on the Donausinel: that I don’t like surprises…

I’m actually so sick of the myth that adventurous people are somehow better than the rest of us. That you’re only worthy of attention if you’ve swum naked in the Ganges or stroked a dolphin. “Oh look at me! I’m covered in mud at a music festival where there are no toilets. I’m so cool!” (p.107).

Will the two find a middle ground?

Julia’s stay at home, safe character is hilarious in the wild:

I’m going camping. I’ve never been camping before. I’m an indoor person. Nothing makes me more nervous than a sunny, cloudless day, because I know I should be outside, doing the kind of thing outdoorsy people do…The closest I’ve come to being a nature person was when I hiked in the Lainzer Tiergarten one time. I tried to impress (Rebecca and Jesus-Jakob) with my knowledge of nature but almost managed to kill (them) by mistaking lily-of-the-valley for wild garlic. (pp176-7).

Emmy Abrahamson’s first book for adults is laugh out loud funny and not sickly romantic at all. (Julia can’t even kiss Ben at first, until he’s cleaned his teeth.)

My kind of romance.

How to fall in love with a man who lives in a bush
by Emmy Abrahamson
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN:9780008222338

Further reading

Reading many lives

With regards to the quote above, if one were of a sardonic frame of mind one might point out that at the rate at which Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin kills off his characters a thousand lives might be an understatement. Nevertheless the basic premise stands. Reading allows anyone the chance to “inhabit” a great many people and characters.

This is never more true than when you’re reading a book of short stories. Though you may become attached to a character, the next protagonist is probably only a few page turns away. Sometimes this is a relief. Sometimes it leaves you wanting more.

Recently I’ve found myself reading books that work with the theme of many lives but in very different ways.

Cover of deleted scenes for lovers by Tracey SlaughterDeleted scenes for lovers by Tracey Slaughter. I think her surname is appropriate because she killed parts of my soul with this book (in a good way). Her short stories are set in New Zealand, but a rather grimy, rundown one. The stories, with exception of the last one which is a novella, are short and sometimes brutal vignettes from the lives of damaged and lost people. You’ll want to set aside time between each one. This is not a book to rush through. The writing is incisive and brilliant and made me feel a lot of things, some of them against my will.

Cover of Meet cuteMeet cute is rather anodyne by comparison. It’s a collection of young adult short stories, all by different writers and all featuring the “how they met” story of two characters. As with any collection like this some authors and characters resonate more than others, and while the bulk of the stories have a contemporary romance kind of vibe there are a couple of sci-fi/fantasy genre tales too. Most, though not all, of the stories are about straight couples – one of the unexpected joys of the book is that you don’t know when you’re introduced to the main character whether their story will be a boy-meets-girl or a girl-meets-girl one – I found it was fun to try and guess in the first page or so.

He rau mahara: To remember the journey of our Ngāi Tahu soldiers: From the pā to the battlefields of the Great War is completely different again – a nonfiction title produced by Ngāi Tahu’s whakapapa unit about the iwi’s First World War soldiers. It’s a beautifully put together book, filled with photographs of soldiers with names you might recognise – Nortons, Pōhios and Skerretts. Nearly two thirds of the book is dedicated to a profile of every Ngāi Tahu soldier who took part in the Great War, with the first part of the book featuring a sample of stories of soldiers, war, and their families. A gorgeous and poignant memorial to South Island soldiers and their whānau, and the lives they lived.

OverDrive Big Library Read – Cowboy Pride

OverDrive’s Big Library Read, the world’s largest digital book club, is back for July. This story has something for everyone – whether romance is your thing, or perhaps you like the Wild West, or even if you’re a Jane Austen fan. That’s right; we have a version of Jane Austen’s much loved Pride and Prejudice, set in Wild West Wyoming – Cowboy Pride by Lacy Williams.

From 9 to 23 July, Christchurch City Libraries users can borrow the eBook with no wait lists or holds. Join the Big Library Read by visiting Christchurch City Libraries OverDrive or by downloading the Libby app. Big Library Read is facilitated by OverDrive, our leading platform for eBooks and eAudiobooks.

“Everyone knows a rancher in possession of a large spread needs a wife.”

First impressions count. Liza Bennett has two missions in life: keep the family’s shop afloat, and ensure her shy sister finds love. Sparks fly when she meets rancher Rob Darcy at a town dance, but when she overhears him insult her, she vows to put the man out of her mind. Rob Darcy is instantly attracted to the vivacious Liza but a lack of social graces and the promise he’s keeping ruin his chances of winning her.

Once jilted, Janie Bennett is appropriately gun-shy of falling in love again. But she doesn’t seem to be able to help herself when she meets charming Nathan Bingley. Bingley desperately wants a wife and family of his own. Can he trust that Janie returns his feelings?

When Janie is injured in a spring storm, she and Liza are sequestered on Nathan’s ranch. Hearts and emotions get tangled, but will first impressions prove true, or false?

Parents, romance, and friendship drama: New contemporary teen fiction

Here are three romance-driven YA novels from different (American) perspectives, all recently published:

American Panda by Gloria Chao

Cover of American PandaGermaphobe Mei is a liar — lying about dropping dance, lying about being in contact with her disowned brother, and lying about dating someone who is Japanese. But most of all she’s lying about intending to become a doctor. As her secrets pile up, Mei has to find a way to confront her parents with her own needs instead of conforming to all of their strict Taiwanese traditions.

Overbearing Asian parents can be a bit of a trope in YA novels but Chao portrays Taiwanese families of varying levels of attachment to tradition, helping Mei to see that some rules might need to be broken. While Mei really struggles with her family there is also a lot of humour (especially in the phone messages left by relatives) and her developing relationship with Darren is very sweet. I’d recommend it to fans of Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I Loved Before as it has a similar cosy hot chocolate vibe even when it’s dealing with serious issues.

Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann

Cover of Let's Talk About LoveAfter being dumped by her girlfriend for being asexual, Alice throws all her energy into her part-time job at the library and ignoring parental pressure to study law — but when Takumi starts working there too she finds herself somewhat distracted by his good looks. With friendship drama, therapy, and a million missed phone calls from her family, will Alice ever get her act together enough to articulate her own feelings?

I have to confess that I found this a frustrating read — no one behaves well, but especially not Alice, who totally ignores anything that isn’t movies and crappy food and things that score highly on her Cute Chart. Half the time she complains about her wealthy family paying for her rent and education, and the other half she’s surprised and upset when they don’t. Having said that, asexual main characters are still rare enough for this book to be valuable, and others may enjoy Alice’s burgeoning romance with Takumi more than I did.

Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi

Cover of Emergency ContactPenny and Sam are both looking for escape — Penny fleeing her mother to go to university, and Sam fleeing pretty much everything. When Penny discovers Sam having what he thinks is a heart attack she rescues him and they exchange contact details, leading to a friendship via text as Penny pursues her dream of becoming a writer and Sam attempts to become a film-maker, with personal complications along the way.

Not a very compelling summary but this is probably my favourite of the three, similar in feel and content to Eleanor and Park. Penny and Sam are both awkward, creative individuals dealing with difficult backgrounds — Penny with her anger towards her flaky mother, Sam with his checked-out parents and newly pregnant ex-girlfriend — but despite this there is a lot of humour in their exchanges, with many funny moments. If you’re a fan of Rainbow Rowell then I’d add this one to your to-read pile.

Film Festival fever

CoverIt’s been a famine and now it is a feast. Two really good Press Christchurch Writers Festival events in the last two weeks and more to come, tickets booked for the Arts Festival and last night the opening of the Film Festival.

The theatres were full at 8.15pm for that show-offy Palme d’Or winning The Tree of Life, which officially opened the festival, but a small and select audience was there at 6 for a little gem of a documentary.

Guilty Pleasures was an affectionate look at those pieces of pink perfection –  Mills and Boon novels. There’s one sold every four seconds somewhere in the world  and the film followed some of the product’s more far-flung fans.

Hiroko, from Japan, was so transfixed by the ball-room dancing of Dana and Savannah, the protagonists of one M&B novel, that she spent huge amounts of money learning how to quick-step. Shumita perused piles of titles in the Number 3 Library in Delhi, a shop so full of books it resembled a pink cave, and that wasn’t counting the chest high stacks on the pavement outside.

For those of you who think anyone can write a Mills and Boon novel, Roger has news for you. He writes under the pseudonym Gill Sanderson and would never feature a hero named Roger, or a hero with red hair. So now you know.

If you do think you’ve got what it takes to be a successful romance writer, there’s lots of help out there. The titles are works of art in themselves; try Love writing, or Heart and Craft, or a subject search under Love Stories – Authorship.

And on the subject of Guilty Pleasures – what’s your favourite Mills and Boon? Go on, you know you’ve read at least one in your life – Share!