Geraldine Brooks and the Pulitzer Surprise!

The Secret ChordWhen Geraldine Brooks won the Pulitzer Prize for her first novel March in 2006, she had no idea that her book was even up for consideration. At home with her eight year old son, painting figurines, she did not even believe the first caller. Her little boy answered the door when a florist delivery came and said: “Mummy can’t come now, she is having a Pulitzer Surprise!”

And last night in Christchurch at a WORD Christchurch event, The People of the Book were out in full force to hear Pulitzer prizewinning author Geraldine Brooks chat about writing and her most recent novel The Secret Chord. There – in Rangi Ruru’s beautiful new theatre – sat a petite, young Geraldine Brooks and her interviewer, Morrin Rout (wearing it must be said, distractingly eye-catching brick pattern tights). Let the excitement begin!

MarchGeraldine was originally a journalist who worked in the Australasian Bureau of The Wall Street Journal – a job which taught her that you can’t write around what you don’t know. She admitted to a New Zealand connection for her front page story on our research into Climate Change and Methane Gases – with its catchy title: The Farting Sheep Story.

When she talks about writing, Brooks several times made mention of finding the void in a theme and filling it:

Historical fiction works best when you have some blanks to fill. The trick is to let the story tell you what you need to know.

people of the BookThe viewpoints of different women is often the way for Brooks to get a fresh view on an old story that we think we know. It is still so true that you can get to powerful men through the women in their lives and she ranks an afternoon tea with Ayatollah Khomeini’s wife Khadijeh as one of the most remarkable afternoons of her life.

On her latest book The Secret Chord, she said her interest became piqued when her son asked for classical harp lessons (she’d been hoping for the recorder) and that David appealed to her as a character because every single thing that life can fling at you seemed to happen to him. She was particularly interested in how women affected David and how they wielded power in subtle ways.

Best of all Geraldine Brooks would slot right into any one of my book groups, her reading tastes are so similar. She is currently enjoying The Chimes by Anna Smaill (2015 Man Booker Prize longlist); thinks that the best book she has ever read is Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (who won the Pulitzer Prize the year before her in 2005); is a big admirer of Hilary Mantel and can’t wait for her next book and (Geraldine was born in Sydney) she admires Tim Winton‘s writing as well.

I’d had an evening of minor mishaps prior to this event: a near miss at the restaurant where I was to meet my colleague (we sat waiting for one another in different parts of the venue). Then we held up the signing queue trying to get my photograph taken with this wonderful author – in the end the photo was out of focus. In the confusion, Geraldine misheard and signed the wrong name in the book. It took time for her to draw flowers over the mistake and insert the correct name (that copy is now valuable!). Finally I lost my car keys and had what felt like the entire theatre in an upheaval helping me look for them. You’d be forgiven for thinking “I wish I’d also gone to hear Geraldine Brooks – just not with them!”

But, I drove home on a high – so happy to be in the car, moving through my mundane surroundings to my precious home, and all the time thinking: I have met a Pulitzer Prize winner. I am so fortunate.

We have Geraldine Brooks’ works in book, eBook, and eAudiobook format.

You can also listen to Geraldine talk about The Secret Chord on RadioNZ.

Geraldine Brooks in Christchurch on 18 November – Toppling the hero…

Make sure not to miss this on Wednesday 18 November at 7.30pm – WORD Christchurch and Bookenz, in association with Hachette NZ, are proud to present an evening with Pulitzer prize-winning writer Geraldine Brooks, in conversation with Morrin Rout.

Cover of The Secret ChordHuman nature being what it is, we place certain personalities on pedestals only to vilify them on later occasions, normally when they have no right of response as they have departed the earthly world. Very rarely do we internalise why this situation arises, but usually the social barometer (public opinion) swings from left to right with alarming rapidity and then finally settles down somewhere in the ‘middle’ when a humane account i.e. their follies and their strengths make them more human.

Geraldine Brooks’ latest novel The Secret Chord based on the life of King David set 1000 BCE is a work of fiction, but reading it we have access to a creditably flawed and complex individual. His childhood is harsh but he survives it with an arrogance and self-belief system that is truly amazing. He is a tyrant and murderous despot who, having vast armies at his disposal, eventually becomes King.  He is loved as a figurehead by his subjects and his soldiers; yet his wives have reason to both love and fear him, and his children plot against him and betray him in their adulthood.

It’s a fantastic, hugely enjoyable epic story and lovers of historical fiction will probably race to get their copies.

Other works by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks can be found on our library shelves and on the library eBook and eAudiobook platforms (including our latest downloadable eAudiobook platform BorrowBox).

New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults 2015

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

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

Margaret Mahy Book of the Year and Young Adult Book Award

Singing home the whale by Mandy Hager

Picture Book Award

Jim’s letters by Glyn Harper and Jenny Cooper

Junior Fiction Award

Monkey boy by Donovan Bixley

Non-fiction Award

Mōtītī Blue and the oil spill by Debbie McCauley

Best First Book

Māori art for kids by Julie Noanoa and Norm Heke

Maori Language Award

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

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

Children’s Choice Award Winners

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

Picture Book

The Anzac puppy by Peter Millett & Trish Bowles

Junior Fiction

The island of lost horses by Stacy Gregg


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

Young Adult Fiction

Night vision by Ella West

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

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

New Zealand writer Anna Smaill is on the Man Booker Prize longlist

We’re all very excited to hear New Zealand author Anna Smaill is on the longlist for the Man Booker Prize for her book The Chimes. I’ve read it, and loved it. It’s a dystopia, yes, and also timeless and full of history, music and atmosphere:

You can hear Anna talk in Christchurch at a WORD Christchurch session Imaginary Cities, on Sunday 30 August along with Fiona Farrell, Anna Smaill, Hamish Clayton, and Hugh Nicholson  (chaired by Christchurch Art Gallery’s senior curator Lara Strongman). It’s part of a Shifting points of view season in the Christchurch Arts Festival.

Masha interviewed Anna at the Auckland Writers Festival – read her interview Anna Smaill – from a writing musician to a musical writer:

The first impulse is the sense of time going past. It’s almost having the experience of pathos in the moment, having feeling of something happening that is already gone. I’ve always had very acutely this feeling of things being transient and ephemeral and I wanted to capture them.

I definitely think the impulse to write first came from that. Of course it is also a way of working things out for me. Just to process my experiences, work out what I think about things. It always seemed a necessary thing to me. And also it’s a great entertainment.

And just the other day Anna answered some quick questions.

Best of luck, Anna.

Chatting to authors

Roberta interviews Kathy Lette. Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2012, Aotea Centre.  Flickr, CCL-AWRF-2012-05-11
With Kathy Lette. Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2012, Aotea Centre. Friday 11 May 2012, Flickr, CCL-AWRF-2012-05-11

I bet this has happened to you: you’re reading a great book and you think – gee, I’d really like to interview this author. I did that for years before the day came when I sat opposite my first real  live author – absolutely scared witless and thinking – be careful what you wish for!

Here’s the authors I’ve interviewed (click on their names to read the full interviews):

Lionel Shriver: A 15 year old girl who changes her name from Margaret Ann to Lionel – just to pique her father – is not someone to be toyed with. This was my first interview ever at my first ever Literary Festival. I walked with heavy boots to her hotel, but I floated back on a little cloud nine. That was when I realised that there was nothing to be scared of, because authors love librarians!

William Dalrymple: He didn’t sit still for one minute in this interview held on the top floor of an Auckland Hotel. I had to chase him around trying to keep up with him. I was already nervous (he is a famous travel writer of books like Nine Lives – in Search of the Sacred in Modern India), and my uncertainties around the technology involved in getting the whole thing recorded were greatly exacerbated by Dalrymple’s restlessness. I start hyperventilating just thinking about it.

Kathy Lette: This interview really was like chatting to a good friend over a coffee. What a blast! Irreverent, sexy, fun, OK maybe a bit flippant. But at least she sat still!

Andrew Miller: Forever endeared himself to me by being the only author I have ever interviewed who asked: “How are things in Christchurch?” We were just post earthquake and the gap between life in Christchurch and life in Auckland made me feel so sad. His best known work is Snowdrops, a debut novel that made the Booker Long List in 2011. He was a pleasure to interview.

Roberta and Jeffrey Eugenides, Flickr, CCL-AWRF-2012-05-12
With Jeffrey Eugenides, Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2012, Aotea Centre. Saturday 12 May 2012. Flickr, CCL-AWRF-2012-05-12

Jeffrey Eugenides: that is correct – the Pulitzer prizewinning author for his novel Middlesex. Terrifying to interview. Read right to the end and you will know why. The photo says it all really. 

John Lanchester: One of those interviews that never really had a lift-off point. I was chatting to him about his book Capital – which I had loved. His Publishing Agent sat with us throughout the interview. What did she think I would do to him?

Laurence Fearnley: I am a big fan of this Kiwi writer. We bonded over a coffee at one of the WORD festivals. She really thinks about her interview answers. She gives you her full attention. I am so fond of her.

Roberta with NoViolet  Bulawayo, Christchurch WORD Festival 2014,
With NoViolet Bulawayo, Christchurch WORD Festival 2014, 30 August 2014. Photo by Roberta Smith.

NoViolet Bulawayo: A young Zimbabwean author who was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2013 for her novel We Need New Names. We chatted for ages. I had to ruthlessly edit what had been recorded to get this interview down to a reasonable length. So young, yet so wise (her not me!)

There’s no doubt that interviewing is nerve-wracking – I felt my stress levels rise just writing this blog!  But I would not have missed these opportunities for anything. How about you? Do you have an author you would like to interview?

Honey, Hives and Hierarchy

I don’t believe I have ever read a fantasy book before, science fiction sure, but not fantasy.  After a long reading hiatus, I was perusing a list of books nominated for various recent awards to kick-start me into reading again.

Cover of The BeesI must confess it was the cover of The Bees by Laline Paull that hooked me in – embossed and golden. Only when I started reading did I notice ‘fantasy’ on the spine. I always think about witches, dragons and ‘far away lands’ when I think fantasy, so a book about a plucky and rather magical bee and the hive she lives in didn’t fit the narrow idea I had of the genre.

The book is a debut novel for Laline Paull, a playwright and screenwriter, and was shortlisted for the 2015 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, with judges calling it “an Animal Farm for the 21st century”.

We meet Flora 717 at her birth, fighting her way out of her hive cell.  She is of the worker class, destined to clean and tidy after others for her short life. But this wee worker is different. She speaks, unlike others of her class, and she has an intelligence that soon sees her crossing antennae with those in the hive of higher classes. As the seasons progress, changes in the hive bring on new challenges to both Flora and the hive.

As Flora’s tongue unrolled toward the head of nectar, tiny particles of orange pollen tingled against her fur. The taste of the nectar was so bright and the energy release so sudden that she almost fell off the flower head.

I didn’t think I’d find myself rooting for a humble bee, but I was willing her on to achieve, find joy, survive the horrors of wasp attack, disease and resentment from those who believed she was getting above her station.

Well written, tense in places and tender in others, it’s a great read. I recommend you add it to your list. Oh and it gave my husband and me an excuse to have silly pun duels. “Honey, I’m hiving trouble bee-lieving you.” “I shall wax lyrical.”


Spec’ Fic’ in Chch

Spec Fic… what‘s that? Spec Fic is short for Speculative Fiction and was first used by R.A Heinlein in 1953 in a Library Journal as an umbrella genre for fiction about “things that have not happened”: science fiction, fantasy, horror, and all the bits in between. Spec fic is alive and well and happening in Christchurch as last weekend’s Spec Fic meeting to celebrate local Sir Julius Vogel awardees testifies.

Cover of The Heir of Night by Helen LoweAbout fifty people gathered in the Fendalton Library boardroom to congratulate four Vogel award finalists, two of whom won in their category. Beaulah Pragg, herself a published author, introduced the session and multi-award winning Helen Lowe who spoke about the importance of the genres and the place of awards. Fantasy, she told us, is probably the oldest literary device for talking about reality, as the myths and folk tales of hundreds of human cultures attest. While writers write for the delight of storytelling and because the stories demand to be told awards can still be tremendously affirming to those who frequently work in some isolation. Moreover, events like this demonstrate the importance of the literary community supporting and celebrating one another.
Read Helen’s keynote on her blog.

The best of Twisty Christmas talesThe first finalist speaker was Shelley Chappell, who was short-listed for both best novella and for best new talent. Shelley has a PhD in Children’s and Young Adults’ Literature from Macquarie University in Sydney but writes for all age groups. Many of her YA titles are re-tellings of fairy stories, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rumpelstilkskin. Re-telling fairy tales, often with a twist, writing new ones, and exploring their development has become a fairly popular genre with several notable proponents such as J. R. R. Tolkien, Catherynne M. Valente and Jack Zipes.

Tim Stead has written a trilogy of book and seems well into the next trilogy. The ‘The Seventh Friend‘ was a finalist for Best Novel and have been warmly reviewed on Amazon. He was also a finalist for Best New Talent.

A.J. Fitzwater was the winner of the Best New Talent award, although she said that she’s been at it for five years so being called “new” was an odd thing to wrap her head around. She read us an excerpt from her latest story about to be published in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Issue 61 – “Long’s Confandabulous Clockwork Circus and Carnival, and Cats of Many Persuasions” which seems to have a ‘carni-punk’ setting so look out for that one. A. J. also spoke about her experiences at the prestigious Clarion Writers workshop last year where she underwent an intensive six weeks of tutoring and writing with top writers such as Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, Nora Jemisin, and Catherynne Valente.

Spec Fic displayOur final winner was Rebecca Fisher who won the prize for Best Fan Writing. Fan writing isn’t the same as fan fiction, but rather is awarded for blogging, interviewing, reviewing and other forms of writing about speculative fiction. She has a popular blog They’re All Fictional, guest blogs at various sites and is a top reviewer on Amazon so if you’re into the genres she’s one to follow.

Connecting with New Zealand genre authors and their work isn’t always easy, so events like this are really important. If you want to find out more about these great authors follow the links above and keep an eye on the Sir Julius Vogel Awards and the SFFANZ (for science fiction and fantasy) or other NZ book sites.

It’s the Children’s Choice in the 2015 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults

The New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are trying something new this year with an expanded Children’s Choice Awards. Children in schools from around the country have been given the opportunity to select their own list of finalists for the 2015 Children’s Choice Award.  More than 6,500 children and young adults from 106 schools from throughout the country have selected their own finalists from the 149 books submitted for the Awards  It’s an awesome opportunity and something that I wish I had had the chance to do when I was at school. I think it’s a great list and it’s good to see the difference between the children’s finalists and those of the judges.

Voting for the Children’s Choice is open now and closes on Friday, 31 July. This year there will be a winner in each category. We’ll be reviewing some of finalist books and interviewing some of the finalist authors here on the blog. Go and vote for your favourite book now.

Check out the finalist list for the 2015 Children’s Choice Award:

Picture Books

Junior Fiction


Young Adult Fiction

The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Awards 2015

The shortlist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Awards 2015 is here and there are some gems among them!

2015 shortlist

Find out more: Ten books shortlisted for 2015 Award.

Cover of Americanah Cover of Horses of God Cover of Harvest Cover of The Narrow Road Cover of Burial Rites Cover of Transatlantic Cover of Someone

This award is presented every year for a novel written in English or translated into English and is now in its 20th year. Nominations are submitted by libraries in major cities throughout the world and it’s fascinating to see what favourites other librarians have picked.

Christchurch City Libraries nominated three books:

  • The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton (and to prove we’re not just favouring our own, the list of other nominations comes from all around the world: Belgium, Canada, Croatia and the UK.)
  • Life After Life, Kate Atkinson (also nominated by libraries in Australia, Canada, Beijing, Ireland, Russia, UK, USA.)
  • The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt (also Austraia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, USA.)

Cover of The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton Cover of The Goldinch by Donna Tartt Cover of Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Other libraries in New Zealand getting in on the action nominated:

Cover of The Blind Man's Garden, by Nadeem Aslam Cover of The Last Days of the National Costume, by Anne Kennedy Cover of The Infinite Air by Fiona Kidman Cover of The Disestablishment of Paradise by Phillip Mann

It’s also really interesting to see what books are highly regarded by libraries all over the world.

  • And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini is hugely popular with nominations from Beijing, Tallin, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Russia, UK and the USA.
  • Canada is particularly taken with The Orenda, Joseph Boyden, with seven different Canadian nominations.
  • In Times of Fading Light, Eugen Ruge has been chosen by libraries in Hungary, Ireland and 4 nominations from Germany.
  • Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, with nominations from Canada, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, and the USA.
  • A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki, with nominations from Canada, Ireland, The Netherlands, and 4 from the USA.
  • And nominations for Ghana Must Go, Taiye Selasi, a tale about ‘the simple devastating ways in which families tear themselves apart’ come from Belgium, Germany, South Africa, and the UK.

Cover of And The Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini Cover of In Times of Fading Light, by Eugen Ruge Cover of Americanah Cover of A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki Cover of Ghana Must Go, by Taiye Selasi

The final winner will be announced on the 17 June. Watch the official International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award website for details. Do you have a favourite among the nominees?

Eating books – The Edible Book Competition at CPIT

Yesterday I got to judge my first literary prize. And eat the winner.  My fellow judges were a wise and witty crew –  Emily Spink – reporter at The Press, Sheila McBreen-Kerr of CPIT, and Joe Bennett – writer and columnist.

See our photos of the edible books.

We were mightily impressed with the entries.  Ingenious, humourous, adorable, creepy – they had it all. We browsed, and cogitated.  And here’s what we decided:

Best interpretation of a book: 50 shades of Grey, made by Sarah Chin
CPIT Edible Book Competition

This was my category to choose a winner for. 50 shades of grey cupcakes was a thing of beauty, each cupcake a different shade of grey, with a hint of manacles to subtly allude to the book’s naughtiness. It was also quite cool to be able to bestow a literary prize on E.L. James who I account a woman of taste.

Other winners:

Most delectable: The hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse – Julie Humby
CPIT Edible Book Competition

Most Imaginative: Frankenstein – Kiri Te Wake
CPIT Edible Book Competition

Check out his sewn up mouth!
CPIT Edible Book Competition

Funniest: The Tale of Peter Rabbit – Kiri Te Wake
CPIT Edible Book Competition

Best in Show: Sconehenge – Hugh Wall
CPIT Edible Book Competition

Everyone who came along got to vote too, and the People’s Choice was the seasonally appropriate and stunning Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse (yes, there is such a book – it is by Robert Rankin who I had the good fortune to meet at an Armageddon a few years ago).

Armageddon 2010

See our photos.

Thanks to:

  • The super clever entrants,
  • CPIT Library and the Food & Hospitality Department
  • Sponsors: Academy Books, Southern Hospitality.

Read CPIT’s blog post on the event.