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:
Have just finished reading The Chimes. After is a different place.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
I 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… 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.
About 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 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.
Our 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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
Most delectable: The hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse – Julie Humby
Most Imaginative: Frankenstein – Kiri Te Wake
Check out his sewn up mouth!
Funniest: The Tale of Peter Rabbit – Kiri Te Wake
Best in Show: Sconehenge – Hugh Wall
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).
A Year in Reading started out well; January, February and March have ticks beside them. But then things went to pieces. By April I was trying to make Mary Poppins do double duty – as a book that has been made into a movie (already checked off in March) and a re-read from childhood. Cheating on my reading challenges – that’s what it came to.
There were some books I did read, but not in the month assigned to them:
A book from another country – Sydney by Delia Falconer. (I think Australia counts as another country).
An award winner – Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín (actually it’s only been nominated for the Costa so far, but if there is any justice in the world it will win every literary prize going in 2015.) Cheating again – it’s a slippery slope.
Reading Bingo was marginally better, but again with the cheating.
Morrin Rout hosted the event, armed with a long list of questions submitted by BDS convenors. I loved that the event kicked off with a chat about hairstyles – just like every book club I have ever belonged to! Diane’s was described as “artfully tousled” and Morrin’s as “strangely thatched.” Eleanor, her beautiful sleek long locks flowing down each side of her face, just smiled enigmatically.
Here’s how it went:
How has your background and upbringing influenced your writing?
Diane said she was the first person in her family to go to university. She had been a voracious reader as a child, but her family was unschooled. She always keeps her mother in mind as her sole reader. This gives her books a wide readership range.
Eleanor comes from a family of readers – there was no TV in her home. She credits her brother’s reaction to a short story she wrote when she was 7 or 8 years old with her writing rule: always to see your work as your detractors might see it.
How do you get into the minds of people who are not your age, gender or nationality?
Diane (The Thirteenth Tale and Bellman and Black): It helps if you are a shy, quiet observer. Observation and listening make up seventy-five percent of the work. Always stretch a bit beyond what you believe you are capable of. The rest is a kind of magic.
The Luminaries is such a complex novel, how on earth did it come about?
Eleanor: I knew I wanted to write a historic novel about the West Coast gold rush (1864-1867). Overall it took me five years, and there were long periods of incubation in that time. I found a wonderful website called Solarium where you can see the exact position of the planets and the sun, moon and stars for any date in the past. For two weeks I studied the skies over Hokitika for the three year period in which I was was interested. In particular, I noticed Mercury (which represents trickery and deceit). So in a way, the story had been constellated for me. But it was a real headache to write and I have many, many folders in my computer under the heading Luminaries!
Where did you get your ideas for these two books? What were your influences?
Diane: The Bellman and Black book began from listening to the radio (BBC Desert Island Discs, to be precise!) The radio is where all good books should start, in my opinion! Then I wanted to write a ghost story where a really robust character is haunted, but set it somewhere unscary. So the question becomes – is he mad or is he haunted? I was also fascinated by the vast London emporiums of mourning paraphernalia. Oh, and I always knew, from way back, that I would write about a character called William Bellman.
Eleanor: Jung got me thinking about Astrology.
At what point in the writing of your book did you know what the title would be?
Eleanor: Right at the very start of the book I knew it would be called The Luminaries.
Diane: I only worked out the title right at the end!
At this point I had a balancing meltdown with my muffin, my coffee, my notepad and pen and I missed Diane’s answer. If any reader who was at this event can remember Diane’s answer, or indeed can add any more information to this blog, just comment below!
Because of the small number of invited guests (thanks Book Discussion Scheme), I felt more connected to these two authors than I would have done in a large packed venue. And, as a result, I feel inspired to read both The Luminaries and Bellman and Black. You can’t say better than that now can you?
I loved this book long before I read it, I concede maybe for all the wrong reasons.
I loved the author’s name – even if you do nothing else, say the word Bulawayo several times. Let it roll off your tongue, a slight stress on the “way” syllable, feel its roundness roll out like the Matopos Boulders that, as a tourist in Zimbabwe, you would most certainly visit. Beautiful.
I loved the title. It is a book in which names are very important.The names of characters, like Prophet Revelation Bitchington Mborro; Paradise, the squatter camp; DestroyedMichigan for Detroit; Bastard and Godknows who are Darling‘s friends. In politically volatile Africa, even the names of streets and buildings can change almost overnight. To this day, my Durban taxi trips require some verbal fancy footwork: If I say “Can you take me to Aliwal Street”, the driver will answer : “Do you mean Samora Machel?” If I ask for Samora Machel Avenue, he will always reply: “Oh, Aliwal Street”. But we get there in the end.
I also loved the book cover, so funky, so bright, so youthful. Because, NoViolet Bulawayo, born in Zimbabwe, is young and this is her first novel and it is quite brilliant.
And then I read it.
It is a book of two halves, the first part set in the euphemistically named Paradise, a squatter camp in Zimbabwe. The second half is set in America where Darling, the main character, has been taken by her Aunt – with the promise of a better life.
As with all fiction, there is what is happens and there is how what happens is described. Many awful things happen. Do you want to read about a botched attempted abortion with a wire coat hanger on a young girl impregnated by her grandfather? No you do not. Do you want to read about the words Blak Power smeared in faeces on the bathroom mirror of a house that has been broken into? No you do not. Do you want to read about a lonely father, estranged from his daughter, dying of AIDS in a shack in Paradise? Probably not. But read it you will, because it is beautifully written and finely observed and has nuggets of joy and laughter and empathy the likes of which you may not have beheld for a very long time.
For me it is mainly a book about leaving a place where you were born, your homeland, and making a life in a new place and all the excitement and yearning that accompanies this migration. The fullness of lack is contrasted with the emptiness of abundance. For make no mistake, people left and are leaving Zimbabwe:
Look at them leaving in droves, arm in arm with loss and lost. Look at them leaving in droves.
And then there is the writing. Interspersed with staccato juvenile backchat, there are long repeated sentences whose Biblical cadence make you feel those passages could be sung. Her writing has few conjunctions and she favours repeated words for emphasis. She has killer similes and metaphors and for all the sadness of the subject matter, you will laugh. She is doing something different with English and you should read it to see what you think. As the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart) is quoted as saying:
Let no one be fooled by the fact that we may write in English, for we intend to do unheard of things with it.
But I have saved the best till last. NoViolet Bulawayo is appearing at the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival in Christchurch this weekend. Sure you can read the reviews, of course I recommend you read the book, but you could actually meet her and hear her speak.
Writing comets like this do not often traverse our skies.