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

Non-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 https://christchurch.bibliocommons.com/search?&t=smart&search_category=keyword&q=orenda%20boyden 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.

Challenge Confessions

O.K. it’s confession time. I have been an abject failure at meeting my reading challenges for 2014.

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: Cover for Sydney

  • 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.

  • A book with a blue cover – Middlemarch by George Eliot. Double cheat. Also June A Year in Reading – read that classic you have never read.
  • A book that is more than ten years old – Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger.  Double cheat –  January A Year in Reading – a book that was published in the year you were born.
  • A book that became a movie – Mary Poppins. Actually a triple cheat. There are no depths to which I will not stoop.

What challenges will I fail in 2015 I wonder? Should  I make not reading Ulysses an annual non-event?

Morning tea for forty three: WORD Christchurch

IMG_1922
Diane Setterfield, Eleanor Catton and Roberta Smith

I had tea with Eleanor Catton and Diane Setterfield on Saturday morning at WORD. Well, myself and about forty other Book Discussion Scheme members, that is.

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?

Bellman and blackDiane (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.

The LuminariesEleanor: 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!

What books are you reading now?

Eleanor: The Golden Bough – A Study in Magic and Religion

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?

We need new names: WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival

We need new namesZimbabwe came as close as it is ever likely to get, in having one of its daughters win the Man Booker Prize, when in 2013, NoViolet Bulawayo was shortlisted for her first novel We Need New Names.

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.

NoViolet Bulawayo

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 Things Fall ApartChinua 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.

It is a book with a forcefield all of its own. When I went to place it on my shelves, first I put it between The Lord of the Flies and Things Fall Apart. No, not there. Then I tried it between The Lower River and Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs To-night. No not there either. Finally I placed it between The Grass is Singing and Cry the Beloved Country. Two classics. And that is where it belongs.

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.

 

CHAMPIONS! New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults 2014

Parents, caregivers, aunties, uncles, nanas, grandads, kids  … we are all looking for great books to read, and have read to us. And the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults brings together a bunch of brilliant books.

Read the article Vasanti Unka’s The Boring Book wins the New Zealand Post Margaret Mahy Book of the Year for a rundown of the awards ceremony on Monday 23 June.

The full list of winners of the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults is:

Cover of The Boring Book Cover of The Beginner's guide to hunting and fishing Dunger Joy Cowley (Winner) Cover of Mortal fire Cover of A necklace of souls Cover of The Three Bears Cover of Bugs

New Zealand Post Margaret Mahy Book of the Year and winner of Best Picture Book category: Prizes: $7,500 for the New Zealand Post Margaret Mahy Book of the Year and $7,500 for Best Picture Book The Boring Book by Vasanti Unka (Penguin Group (NZ), Puffin)

Best Non-Fiction: Prize $7,500: The Beginner’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing in New Zealand by Paul Adamson (Random House New Zealand)

Junior Fiction: Prize $7,500: Dunger by Joy Cowley (Gecko Press)

Best Young Adult Fiction: Prize $7,500: Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox (Gecko Press)

Best First Book: Prize $2,000: A Necklace of Souls by R L Stedman (Harper Collins Publishers (NZ), HarperVoyager)

Children’s Choice: Prize $2,000: The Three Bears…Sort Of by Yvonne Morrison and Donovan Bixley (Scholastic New Zealand)

Honour award: Prize $500: Bugs by Whiti Hereaka (Huia Publishers)

Māori Language award: Prize $1,000 (announced on 8 April) Taka Ki Ro Wai by Keri Kaa and Martin D Page (Tania&Martin)

 

Our own wonderful librarian Zac Harding was a judge, along with Ant Sang and Barbara Else.

Challenged by the challenges

Well, it’s nearly half way through the year and I’m in a terrible mess with my challenges.

Cover of The KillsReading seven books off the Guardian’s List of Best Books of 2013 went swimmingly until I reached number seven: The Kills. It’s 1002 pages long. What was I thinking?

Reading Bingo is also shaping up to be a bit of a bust – I’ve got five squares crossed off my 25 square grid. And it’s May!

I actually cheated  and chose Mary Poppins for both Reading Bingo – “A book that became a movie” and A Year in Reading“In March read a book that has been made into a movie”. Tragic, but needs must. Now I feel the need to repeat (yes, hysteria is creeping in here) – it’s May and I did not re-read a favourite book from childhood in April. Would Mary Poppins do for that as well?

The only challenge I’m doing O.K. on is reading the 2013 Man Booker shortlist. One of my book clubs thought this would be a good idea so we could then decide if The Luminaries deserved to win.

Cover of We Need New NamesSo far we’ve read We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo and Harvest by Jim Crace. Both books I never would have picked up left to my own narrow devices so perhaps challenges are good for something other than driving me crazy. Both very good books in different ways – how do the Man Booker judges ever decide which is best? Next up is The Testament of Mary – this was the shortest book on the list so of course it had to be the only one I’d already read.

If I was a Man Booker judge what would I think? Actually I’d think “what was I thinking when I took this on?”. I’d have to put aside my opinion that Colm Tóibín is a stone-cold genius because Jim Crace probably is too if Harvest is anything to go by. I’d have to fight my impulse to give the prize to NoViolet Bulawayo for having the best pen-name in the world. Crace has said that Harvest will be his last book. We Need New Names was Bulawayo’s first. The Luminaries is 832 pages long, The Testament of Mary 81. How to compare?

Actually I’ve just realised We Need New Names crosses off  a sixth square for Reading Bingo – “A book set on a different continent”. Things are looking up.

 

 

 

 

Book Rage

Everyone knows about Road Rage – where all other drivers are idiots, your blood pressure soars, you discover swear words you weren’t aware you knew and, when you glance in the rear view mirror to glare at another driver, you don’t recognise the face looking back at you.

But you may be less familiar with Book Rage. Some of the symptoms are similar, but it usually happens at a book club, surrounded by friends, eating delicious nibbly things, sipping wine and doing what you love best – talking about books. And then WHAM, out of the blue, Book Rage flares up.

I’ve belonged to reading groups most of my adult life and here are four of the books that nearly tore those groups asunder:

  • Cover of The SlapThe Slap (Christos Tsiolkas). You don’t know who you are as a parent until someone else slaps your child. At a barbie. The discussion might start out civilised, but child rearing practices can divide even loving couples, never mind a group of ladies only loosely linked by their love of books. Be warned, it could turn ugly.
  • Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen). No one saw this coming, but in retrospect, books about animals do run the risk of degenerating into  emotionally charged “cruelty to animals” accusations. These are always taken personally. You may not get offered a second glass of wine.
  • Fifty Shades of Grey (E. L. James). This was a particularly tricky one for me as I had already taken a vow not to even touch the book. So this book was already causing me significant stress in the workplace. When it showed up at my book group, I launched into a vitriolic attack on it – even though I had not read it, and never ever would. This stance neatly divides people  into those who believe you can’t have an opinion on something you haven’t tried, and the rest of the thinking world.
  • Cover of The Grass Is SingingThe Grass is Singing (Doris Lessing). Most Book Rage starts like this. One person (in this case me) puts a book she loves into the club. Someone in the group responds with comments like: “I never knew any Rhodesians like that” or: “This book is rubbish“.  Next thing I hear myself saying: “Well, you’re wrong” and recklessly amping it up to – “You’re all wrong“. Then I stomped out of the room to the toilet where I tearfully felt I would have to leave any book group that did not appreciate a Nobel Prize winning author. When I looked in the mirror, I saw staring back at me a person I barely recognised. A horrible book snob. I returned to the group. They gave me a cupcake and a coffee. I took Doris Lessing out of the club. We never spoke of it again.

How about you? Do you have any books that have have caused harsh words to be said, that have cut deep beneath the veneer of  civilised behaviour, that have lost you friends?

A book that maybe made you learn something about yourself?