This year’s Hugo Award for best novel goes to Book three of The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. Books one and two, The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate respectively, are both previous winners of the award. This also makes N.K. Jemisin the first author to win three Hugo Awards for best novel in a row as well as making The Broken Earth the only trilogy in which all three novels are best novel winners (the closest to doing so previously was Kim Stanley Robinson‘s Mars Trilogy with two wins and a finalist position).
Essentially, this is the reward for best piece of non-fiction related to the world of science fiction and fantasy and understandably, recently deceased Ursula Le Guin, now six time winner of the Hugo Award and Science Fiction royalty, is the winner of this category. ‘No Time to Spare’ is a collection of Le Guin’s musings on various subjects from the mundane to the philosophical.
The best graphic novel of the year is the sequel to 2017’s winner: ‘Monstress Vol. 2’. Monstress is an apocalyptic steampunk fable notable for its exceptional artwork (with artist Sana Takeda also winning this year’s award for Best Professional Artist) and interesting world building.
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Wonder Woman, screenplay by Allan Heinberg, story by Zack Snyder & Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs, directed by Patty Jenkins (DC Films / Warner Brothers).
What essentially amounts to the award for best film, Wonder Woman takes the cake for its adaptation of the DC Comic hero in a film that captures the essence of this year’s Hugo Awards winners.
Each year, ahead of the announcement, a Read Aloud Day takes place, and some nominated authors and illustrators head on tour around the country to speak to primary and secondary school children about their work, to share insights about their process, and spark a new generation of writers and artists. This year, students in Canterbury got to hear from the following speakers: Fleur Beale, Sophie Siers, Suzanne Main, Joanna Grochowicz, Alison Ballance, and Gavin Bishop. The events were presented by: New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults in association with WORD Christchurch and Harcourts Gold.
A dramatic teen-view of the Christchurch earthquakes. Lyla is at the mall when the big quake strikes. Having lost touch with her friends and family, she finds her way home through a crumpled city. The long days and weeks that follow bring new challenges, and Lyla works with others to help with the clean-up and opening their home to those in need. A vivid insight into terrifying events and the impact on those who experienced them.
This story will be close to home for Cantabrian readers, but Fleur Beale gave an unlikely introduction to her book by advising some people in the audience not to read it! She offered this word of warning for anyone for whom the earthquakes are still a difficult memory. She said she had to do a lot of research for a story about the earthquakes to be believable to her readers so she collected real stories from people she knew about what had happened to them during the quakes and incorporated them into her book.
“There’s nothing like real life for putting into a book… but you still have to make it work to fit into a story.”
Beale’s advice for young writers:
“Be prepared to murder your darlings” was her advice. By this she explained that you have to be willing to let go of some of your work in the editing and redrafting process. She says its traumatic but necessary to bin stuff. For this you need to let your writing sit a while and come back to it. With an established writing career spanning over 40 books, you can trust her word on it.
The enthralling and harrowing true story of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition, with evocative photographs, and illustrations by Sarah Lippett. An exciting story following the ill-fated Scott expedition to the South Pole. Scott’s team battles storms, killer whales, extreme cold, and a changing frozen landscape, even before they get off the boat. The reader can almost feel the cold and gnawing frostbite in this riveting reimagining of the horrors that this group of brave and resilient men endured as they battled the elements to follow their dreams and their leader.
Christchurch City Libraries were fortunate to host Joanna in the libraries last year. Her book contains well-researched and compellingly told tragedies set in inhumane places and recount the resilient, perseverance and curiosity in human endeavours.
Joanna was a hit with the audience of school children and brought the historic subject of lesser known yet interesting characters from Scott’s South Pole expedition to life, such as the photographer and the chef. Herbert Ponting who had the important job of keeping a visual record of their Antarctic journeys. In one riveting story, an encounter with killer whales nearly stranded him on the ice.
Thomas Clifford, the expedition chef, had to cook 3 meals a day for 25 men for a year – without fresh food like fruit, vegetable or usual meats like chicken. Instead he served penguin and seal, which horrified the children in the audience and would be illegal today. But they need a fresh source of meat to get vitamin C to avoid scurvy. Reports tell us that “seal liver curry was a favourite among the men”.
When Michael overhears some men plotting to kidnap a student at his school, he and Elvis decide they must prevent the crime, even if it is his sworn enemy Angus who is the victim. A series of misadventures and wild assumptions see them zipping across town by bike, staking out the school painters and breaking a few rules. This fast-paced romp will keep the reader wondering until the very end.
When Suzanne Main described her childhood devoid of technological devices like the internet and smartphones – and gasp – no ‘Fortnite’ – there was a sound of shock and horror from a good portion of the audience. And what’s more, she says “TV was only in black and white!” So, for entertainment, she read and read and read. Authors like Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl were favourites and she laments that there wasn’t a lot of New Zealand writing back then. She loved to read so much that she barricaded herself in her room to avoid siblings interrupting her.
If she loved reading so much, why did it take her so long to become a writer she wondered? She said school back in her day didn’t put emphasis on creativity but rather getting the right answers so she focused on maths which was ‘black and white’ whereas writing is neither right or wrong. Suzanne has been an accountant most of her career but about 10 years ago she realised the desire to be a writer was buried deep inside her. She joked that it is a bad thing to be creative if you’re accountant – and such a sense of humour is a feature of her stories too.
She says as a child she was held back by shyness, being timid and a lack of confidence. By sharing this with the audience, she hopes that others who feel like she did won’t let it hold them back:
“Creative writing is like putting a tiny piece of yourself in the world for people to judge and criticise, which is hard for shy people. My fear was that I would suck” but, she advised the students in the audience, “you have to risk being rubbish when you are trying something new. Put aside your fear of not being good – you’ll become good if you put in the time and effort and determination even if you’re not good at it. Something you’re not good at today, you might be in the future.”
A gentle story about a sad little girl and the horse she bonds with, which will sit with the reader long after it is finished. Sensitive pastel illustrations work well with the text, setting the emotional tone, and reflecting the themes of patience and grief. Layered with meaning, the story deals with complex emotions in a thoughtful way, giving readers a sense of hope that life will get better.
Sophie advised aspiring writers of the old adage to place your stories in an environment you know well, to help create more authentic stories. For her, this is the farm with her many animals, such as the horse that features in her story about dealing with grief, The Gift Horse. She talked about the reasoning behind writing a sad story. When something has happened to you, reading other stories about similar situations can help you understand your feelings. On the other hand, if you haven’t had a particular bad thing happen to you, maybe it has happened to someone you know or might happen to you in the future so it fosters empathy and understanding by reading about it.
Sophie has also recently published another book Dear Donald Trump that takes Trump’s idea of building a wall and translates it into the bedroom of two brothers in New Zealand who aren’t happy sharing a room. Letters to Trump from the younger brother debating the merits of the wall fill the book as the “great idea” of a separating wall is revealed to be not so great after all. This book makes a great read-aloud to school children and generates conversation about conflict. It is a lovely use of a topical political discussion translated into domestic family life.
Author and illustrator Sophie Siers engaging with readers, alongside a collection of her books, most notable her series about Allis the tractor.
From the cold waters of Stewart Island to the warm tropics of the Pacific, New Zealand’s great white sharks are tracked by scientists seeking answers about these magnificent ocean predators. In this book, vivid descriptions and plentiful photographs capture the excitement, demands and rewards of tagging and tracking great white sharks. They demonstrate how a career in science can lead to all sorts of adventures, and how sharks and the marine environment deserve our respect and protection.
Alison Ballance is a zoologist, diver and wildlife documentary maker. She has written 29 books and dived with 14 kinds of sharks. She even has a shark named after her from Stewart Island. She says that electronic tagging has revolutionised mankind’s understanding of sharks. She says that electronic tagging has revolutionised mankind’s understanding of sharks. She showed us a map of ocean waters with the travel lines showing where specific sharks have travelled. There are websites you can track individual sharks on their journeys. Despite advanced technology, she says that there are still many questions left unanswered about sharks. Perhaps the next generation will find out more answers? Certainly many children have a fascination with sharks, as the audience’s keen questions about her team’s close calls with sharks proved.
And the winner is….
Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story written and illustrated by Gavin Bishop, published by Puffin, Penguin Random House, honoured as the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year (it also won the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction).
This wonderfully bold and abundant book, large in format and scope, takes us from Aotearoa’s prehistory to the modern day with stories of the people, places and events that have shaped us. The dramatic and detailed illustrations, with taha Māori integrated throughout, are complemented by minimal text providing context and inspiration to find out more. A book for every home, school and library.
Known for Mrs McGinty, The House that Jack Built and original stories and retellings of Māori myths, this accomplished author and illustrator nonetheless felt panic set in once he accepted the publisher’s challenge to produce an illustrated 64-page history of Aotearoa. Since he couldn’t include everything, he realised that “this book will be about as much as I leave out as what we put in.”
“We were told a skewed impression of the history of Aotearoa at school”
he says, and Bishop’s work in this book helps rectify the misinformation he was given in his childhood. He talks about the importance of his work being checked by historians and Māori language experts. Māori brought with them their idea of the creation of the world, so Bishop covers Māori myths and legends in the book as well.
Researching other topics ranging from the influenza epidemic to WWI animals, Bishop was constantly astounded and overwhelmed by what he learnt in his research. In creating this book, he says:
“it made me think about where we have come from and where we might be going.”
Before and after: Gavin Bishop’s showed the audience how his illustrations take shape.
The New Zealand Book Awards Trust have teamed up again with HELL Pizza to encourage school-age children to read more. Their reading programme runs through schools and libraries nationwide. Christchurch City Libraries is again offering this reading challenge reward system.
“From sharks and dawn raids to earthquakes, kidnap plots, Jean Batten and the familiar chaos that is kids at breakfast time, their range is diverse. But they all share the magical ability to transport, inform and delight, says convenor of judges, Jeannie Skinner. “These books, fiction and non-fiction, help us try on different lives, see the world through another’s eyes, and be inspired by stories of our past, present, and possible futures.”
The judges say the real strength of the shortlist is the range of vividly drawn and memorable characters who encounter challenges, both physical and mental. They were also delighted by the richly authentic voices, which reflect the unique New Zealand landscape, vernacular and humour, with convincingly drawn family and peer dynamics. Powerful settings of imagined futures, whether dystopian, inter-planetary or steampunk, add variety and wild imagination to the vibrant mix. (Read the judges’ full comments).
Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction Finalists
The authentic voices of young New Zealanders are heard loud and clear in the Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Junior Fiction shortlist. Whether in the past or present, drama or comedy, the judges found the characters to be warm and vividly real, as they face challenges and negotiate relationships.
Copyright Licensing NZ Award for Young Adult Fiction Finalists
The Copyright Licensing NZ Award for Young Adult Fiction was another exceptionally strong field this year, with themes of survival against the odds, challenges and mental health issues. Most importantly, the judges say, the authors in this category all nailed the voice of their young adult characters “in these well-written and deftly plotted books”.
The judges were excited to see such a bountiful number of high calibre nominations for the Elsie Locke Non-Fiction Award and they say the finalists shine with the authors’ expertise and passion for their subjects. “These non-fiction books take sometimes complex subjects and distil the essence, clearly and honestly, for their young audience to show what makes our world so interesting, wonderful, and various.”
Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for Te Reo Māori Finalists
The entries in the Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for books written entirely in te reo Māori were described as ‘Ahakoa he iti he pounamu’ …they were “precious like greenstone”, and the judges praised both the content and the quality of the language used.
Hineahuone, Xoë Hall, translated by Sian Montgomery-Neutze (TeacherTalk)
An integral part of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults is the HELL Reading Challenge, now in its fifth year. It has been hugely successful in getting kids reading and enjoying the pleasure of stories (and pizza). Kids can pick up their reading challenge cards at Christchurch City Libraries (open until December 2018).
Book event blog posts have a formula: introducing the author, setting the scene and then a chronological or thematic account of the literary chit-chat. But I’m feeling rebellious, so no entrée, no mains and straight to dessert. What is Francis Spufford going to serve up next on the fiction front?
He is currently working on a new novel (hurrah!) set in South London and starting in the year 1944 when a German V2 rocket fell on a branch of Woolworths in New Cross killing 168 people. Each chapter is set in a different year, so far he has got to 1949, and the volume and diversity of research has been hugely challenging. To date he has had to get his head around the intricacies of lino printing, 1970s reel-to-reel technology, what working on a suicide prevention helpline would be like, Nazi skinheads and being a female backing singer in Los Angeles in 1979…whew!
Asked about his late-in-life move into fiction, Francis Spufford replied that as an academic teaching creative writing, at Goldsmiths University of London, he felt ashamed giving advice and guidance on writing fiction without have dipped his own pen in the fiction ink.
He set himself an ambitious agenda for his first novel as he wanted to include: “a duel, a rooftop chase, a trial scene, a love story, bone-crunching violence, rude sex, a mystery and jokes” plus set it in the 18th Century New York and with at least a nod and a wink towards the language and style of the new 18th Century novel. “A mass of incompatible pleasures now but quite in keeping with the period” where “serious intentions and low pleasures could be stuck in together”. It did involve compromise and became essentially a 21st Century novel in an 18th Century manner but one which allows the reader to feel a sense of time travel but without the style being too verbally off-putting.
Setting the novel in historic New York was also important to him as he was drawn to the satisfying reversal of the city past and present:
The sheer tininess of the place then — some 7,000 people — versus the densely populated urban craziness of today.
The fact old New York was parochial versus its current cosmopolitan outlook.
That it was pious, Protestant, and ethnically limited compared with today’s predominantly secular and ethnically complex society.
Mr Smith, the mysterious central character, is a city-slicker — a London sophisticate travelling to the small and provincial New York “a Jane Austen sized village”. This New York is highly politicised and on surface level patriotically Royalist but the reader is aware that change is coming and that British influence is waning.
Francis Spufford was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about early US history, his retention of information researched some time ago but instantly recalled was enviable! He drew parallels between early New York and the US today saying “paranoia about tyranny has featured throughout its history” but he also lamented the topicality of his novel. He hadn’t anticipated Donald Trump and the focus on modern America’s paranoia and darkness.
Francis Spufford also spoke about his Christian faith and the process of writing Unapologetic — his response to Dawkins’ God Delusion. His aim he said “was to write a book that wouldn’t convert but would make belief recognisable to the reader” that faith was not “superstition or madness but meeting some human need”. He was anxious about creating a backlash as he wrote it not as “a good-tempered argument between faith and atheism” but in a more pugnacious attempt to show “that religion didn’t belong in a zoo of weird things but was a human norm”.
This was a bookishly warm and entertaining hour and if you haven’t read Francis Spufford, pull finger and get on with it!
Pop! Bang! That’s what happened – literally – when a group of New Zealand children’s authors and illustrators presented inspiring talks to hundreds of Canterbury school children, just ahead of the announcement of the 2017 winners of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.
Several of the nominated authors and illustrators toured the country speaking to school children about their work and craft. Hosted in conjunction with WORD Christchurch, they addressed primary and intermediate students who came from across Canterbury to hear them speak at St. Margaret’s College. They talked about what it takes to be a writer and/or illustrator and what keeps them inspired and shared their working processes, all with the aim of sparking readers and the next generation of writers and illustrators. We share some of the highlights here.
Session One: Tania Roxborogh, Leonie Agnew and David Elliot
“Any change for good is powered by fury and passion to make the world a better place” says Tania Roxborogh, and this idea is a driving force behind the story in her book about the Bastion Point occupation for Scholastic’s My New Zealand Story series, told from a child’s point of view.
Through the process of researching and writing this book, Roxborogh was reminded that: “Retelling history is never straightforward” because “people lie, self-edit, and mis-remember” and that “people remember different things.” She added that there is also the problem of bias in New Zealand media – from the right wing as well as the left wing – which she had to take into consideration when researching for this book.
When Roxborogh visited Bastion Point to help her find her point of view for the story, she found herself humbled, prompting her to ask: “What right do I even have to tell this story?” She realised, however, that regardless of who she was, the story of the protesters was a story worth telling.
Roxborogh teaches English and Drama at a Canterbury high school and has written over 50 books.
Snark – Being a true history of the expedition that discovered the Snark and the Jabberwock … and its tragic aftermath.
Elliot’s illustrated book was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, and the Jabberwock and his presentation of museum-like artefacts and the stories he told about them would have had some in the audience wondering if his tale of the mission to discover the snark was true or not.
Elliot says he spent time living in a cottage inside Edinburgh Zoo and you have to wonder if this influenced his work illustrating weird and wonderous creatures.
For The Impossible Boy, Agnew asked: “What if a kid believes in something so much that his faith in it makes it real?” like Peter Pan’s belief in fairies, and on the flipside, “if you were an imaginary friend, what if you discovered you weren’t real?”
Agnew recommended using a little bit of non-fiction to make your fiction more real. In this case, she used the war-torn streets of Beirut in Lebanon as the inspiration for her setting of the story.
Various authors at the event talked about the hard parts of writing, when you feel like quitting or at least taking a break. Writing can take time! Agnew wrote 100 drafts of her book over 6 to 8 years. She says if you’re stuck, consider what Einstein said: You don’t solve a problem by looking at it in the same way, try looking at things from a new angle.
Agnew fits writing into her job as a primary school teacher by getting up at 5:30am to write before the school day starts. What inspired her to become a writer? Agnew “grew up in a house full of books” and her dad was a journalist who writes non-fiction, but really, she says, she “just wanted to do it.”
In the first session with Tania Roxborogh, Leonie Agnew and David Elliot I felt an overall theme of the elusive – of capturing the elusive writing spark, capturing the Snark, and elusive invisible friends. Another theme that came through for me was the theme of imagination: imagine if someone was trying to take your land, imagine wondrous creatures and lands, imagine how an imaginary friend would feel if they discovered they weren’t real. Imagine.
Session Two: Des Hunt, Jenny Cooper and Simon Pollard
Des Hunt has a love of adventure stories, science, New Zealand animals and he combines all of these into his stories. Sunken Forest was inspired by a real life summer camp he went on when he was 15 at Lake Waikaremoana, a trip that was memorable partly for sparking his interest in geology. The lake was formed during an earthquake landslide that drowned the forest. Standing tree trunks eerily remain there underwater today. Also trapped there are eels which can’t make their way back to sea to migrate to the Pacific islands to lay eggs. Unable to leave, they grow exponentially large.
In Sunken Forest, one such eel befriends Matt, who is sent to boot camp after his father, a boy racer, is sentenced to prison. At camp, Matt has to deal with bullies and getting the blame for things he didn’t do.
In his talk, Des Hunt totally engaged his audience from beginning to end, by which time he had them on the edge of their seats. He cleverly demonstrated the idea of building tension in a story by blowing up a balloon… about to burst at any moment. How do you really build tension in a story? He says: Add conflict and injustice, a disaster and… Pop!… an explosive climax.
While many of those who spoke at the event started writing or drawing as early as their primary school years, surprisingly Des only published his first fiction book when he was about 50 years old but has since written heaps of books. His passion for writing is now so strong that he can’t imagine doing anything else and he hopes to be an author until he dies. This is good news for my young son who was so inspired by Des Hunt’s presentation he immediately went and read Sunken Forest, despite never having independently read a chapter book without pictures in it before. Des certainly inspired him reader to take his reading engagement to a higher level.
It was fantastic to see instant booktalking success in action! Des tours schools doing writing workshops so see if your school can be added to his schedule.
She especially does a lot of research for illustrating the war stories, hiring models and WWI artefacts and taking hundreds of photos to draw from so she could get the details correct. The war stories she works on are “hard to illustrate because they are so sad” but equally she says, they are “really satisfying.” She added: “Sometimes the hardest and most challenging things you work on were the most rewarding.”
This was a sentiment shared by several of the speakers. Getting to a finished product takes times and many drafts! She tries 6 – 10 layouts before she has a rough drawing and after that, a finished painting may take up to 6 hours.
Pollard is a spider expert, lecturing as an adjunct professor at the University of Canterbury and he has been working with spiders for 30 to 40 years. He is interested in telling stories about what spiders get up to and recently worked with WETA Workshop on the impressive display of oversized bugs for the Bug Lab show at Te Papa Museum.
Pollard is an engaging speaker and really brings bugs to life. He told stories (complete with eek-inducing pictures) about the jewel wasp that immobilises and enslaves a cockroach so it can use it as a living nursery, laying its eggs in it to hatch. Ingenious, but gross. We also heard about the clever Japanese honey bees that kill their enemy, the Japanese hornet, by gathering together in a ball around one and quivering – the heat of their buzzing wings stops the wasp from secreting their signal for more wasps to attack them.
Then there’s the insect that looks like a spider, but isn’t, just to scare off predators. After learning all these fun facts, we were left marvelling at the magic of the natural world.
Primary and intermediate students from all over Christchurch lined up to ask lots of questions of the authors and illustrators after they spoke. Here are their inquisitive questions, and answers aimed at inspiring young readers, writers and artists.
What were some of your favourite books (growing up and now) and what writers would you recommend?
An integral part of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults is the HELL Reading Challenge, now in its fourth year. It has been hugely successful in getting kids reading and enjoying the pleasure of stories (and pizza). Kids can pick up their reading challenge cards at Christchurch City Libraries (until December 2017).
Flash in the Pan is a popular night that brings together flash fiction writers. Challenge your ideas of fiction with flash readings and award presentations. This experimental form of brevity that links traditional narrative while pushing on boundaries of poetry and dialogue.
And in keeping with the season of Matariki, this is the first year that Flash in the Pan will feature te reo — Tania Roxborogh and Teoti Jardine will read stories in Te Reo Māori.
“Characters burst off the pages, delighting us at every turn,” say the judges of this year’s New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. They have selected 35 finalists for the 2017 awards, out of 152 submissions.
“This year’s shortlist reminds us that books are powerful vehicles for helping children make sense of their world and gain a better understanding of themselves and others. At times the vividly descriptive writing was brutal and heart-breaking, providing moving portrayals of life through the eyes of children and teenagers. All finalist titles are convincing in their realism, skilfully laced with honour and honesty throughout,” says convenor of judges Pam Jones. Many of the books submitted dealt with serious issues. “War featured highly, alongside other topical themes like teenage pregnancy, surveillance, abuse, homelessness, racial tensions and bullying. Coming-of-age stories and characters that are living with extended family members highlighted the meaning of family and love,” Pam Jones says.
The awards are administered by the New Zealand Book Council on behalf of the New Zealand Book Awards Trust. The final award winners will be announced 14th August 2017.
A special Kia Ora to Canterbury finalists:
Gavin Bishop – illustrator, Helper and Helper – Junior Fiction
Jenny Cooper (Amberley), Gladys Goes to War – Illustration
Simon Pollard, The Genius of Bugs – Non-Fiction
Tania Roxborogh, My New Zealand Story: Bastion Point – Junior Fiction
The Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction finalists will capture the imagination of every young reader, either immersing them in another world or reality, giving them a problem or mystery to solve or causing a laugh-out-loud response to witty conversations. “We’re pleased to see these books feature an equal mix of strong male and female characters from different races, ethnicities and backgrounds,” say the judges.
The judges enjoyed delving into the world of teenagers via the books entered for the Copyright Licensing NZ Award for Young Adult Fiction. “We immersed ourselves in the issues that plague young people—family, school pressures, relationship woes, sexuality and the looming adult world. Authors are not afraid to explore dark themes, but also to inject humour when it’s needed.”
An integral part of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults is the HELL Reading Challenge, now in its fourth year. It has been hugely successful in getting kids reading and enjoying the pleasure of stories (and pizza). Kids can pick up their reading challenge cards at Christchurch City Libraries (open until December 2017).
Meet a finalist…
Come see bug genius Simon Pollard at South Library during KidsFest Do you like bugs? They may be small, they may be creepy, but bugs have super-sized powers! Join Simon Pollard, author of the wicked new book The Genius of Bugs, as he takes you into the world of the everyday and the extraordinary, the grotesque and the mysterious, with bug tales, facts and figures that showcase insect ingenuity and reveal astounding bug behaviour. Be entertained and amazed and bring your best bug questions. Ages 7-13.
When: Tuesday, 11 July, 10.30-11.30am Venue: South Library, Colombo St Price: FREE
Organised by WORD Christchurch
BIRD + YOUNG sounds like a firm purveying fancy jewellery. But for Hera Lindsay Bird (poet) and Ashleigh Young (poet, writer, editor), it is words and ideas that are the things they are making and selling. This WORD Christchurch event at the Christchurch Art Gallery auditorium was introduced by WORD’s programme director Rachael King and chaired by Amy Marr, the Visitor Programmes Coordinator of the Art Gallery.
Hera Lindsay Bird is a poet whose works have pretty much gone viral – you might have read the one about Monica from Friends, and that Keats one – everywhere, BAM! Ashleigh Young is a poet and writer who recently became the first New Zealander to win Yale University’s Windham-Campbell Prize, worth US$165,000 (NZ$230,000), for her collection of raw, real, beautifully honest essays, Can you tolerate this? Their books are both on the shortlist for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.
It was a soggy evening, but that didn’t deter the crowd. It was full to the gunnels.
How do they get time to write when they work full time (Hera at Unity Books, Ashleigh at Victoria University Press)? It ain’t easy, but great employers help. Hera gets a paid day off each week. Ashleigh’s boss has offered time off for writing, while keeping her job open.
What followed was a discussion that ranged widely – from influences, to the IIML, sexy stuff, humour, and processes – with a good amount of Q&A time (surprise fact: lots of questions asked by men). Here’s some of the things we learned:
Ashleigh edited Hera Lindsay Bird’s book which she said required barely a single change. She read the manuscript on the floor, weeping and cackling.
Hera enjoys reading crime fiction, humour, and heaps of poetry. She’s currently reading the Adrian Mole books by Sue Townsend.
Ashleigh has lots of self help books concealed on her Kindle.
Ashleigh said she can’t remember not wanting to write (but always knew she’s need a day job to pay the bills)
Hera’s parents had star charts – not for good behaviour but for writing, and she would get paid to write poems. She wondered if her Coromandel hippy parents fancied her as the next Laura Ranger (remember Laura’s Poems?)
Hera feels the support of her family and knows that even if she writes something explicit, her Dad will be chill with it.
Everyone knows you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, right? But we do, of course. I mean, when you’re browsing the library shelves, it’s the cover that attracts you to a book, isn’t it? I’ve heard that you’re supposed to read to page 90 (!) of a book before you decide if you should read it, but I sure don’t have time for that!
So anyway, when I saw Resistance is Futile the other day, I was sure this was just the book for me. Anyone who’s read my blog posts before will know that I’m a bit of a Star Trek nerd (just a wee bit!) so I was really excited to read this geeky love story with a Trek reference in the title. It looked like it was going to be the perfect read.
But I was wrong. It wasn’t that the story wasn’t any good–I enjoyed it well enough–it just wasn’t what the cover had lead me to believe. I was expecting a kind of Rosie Project-ish story, but with a geek-girl protagonist and a few Star Trek references thrown in. But what I got, was an X-Files-ish murder-mystery-come-alien-romance story. There was not so much as a single “Beam me up, Scotty” or “Live long and prosper” to be had. I think there might have been a vague reference to the Prime Directive on page 265. Maybe. Or maybe I’m just clutching at straws.
Of course, sometimes it’s the other way around.
When I read the blurb of The Round House by Louise Erdrich (“A mother is brutally raped by a man on the North Dakota reservation where she lives… Traumatized and afraid, she takes to her bed and refuses to talk to anyone – including the police…”) I groaned inwardly. “Who chooses these books anyway?” I grumbled. But it was for book club, so I had to at least attempt to read it. Grudgingly I began…
…and instead of the abhorrent, disturbing tale I was expecting, I discovered an arresting, thought provoking story of a young man’s search for justice for his mother. Although the story was often upsetting, it was not gratuitous. I learnt fascinating and shocking things about life on a Native American reservation. I was amazed that Erdrich, a (then) 57 year old woman, could create a teenage-boy-character so utterly believable and real as Joe. I laughed at the oddball characters of his extended family. And I cried as the conclusion approached, knowing, without knowing, what was about to happen.
And… I reveled in Joe’s love of Star Trek! Both for its own sake, and because it was so unexpected! Joe and his friends idolised the super-strong, fully-functional android Data; they wanted to be Worf, the Klingon warrior* (they were also Star Wars fans, of course–but I forgave them). A few chapters in, I suddenly realised that each chapter shared its title with an episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation (yes, I am that much of a Trekkie that I know the titles of the episodes, and I only had to check the synopsis of a couple of them to be sure what they were about). I then had a sudden desire to watch all those episodes, and analyse the connections with each chapter. In fact, I found myself wanting to write whole essays on this book. Back in the dim reaches of history, I actually did a degree in English. I was even invited to do Honours (though I didn’t, for reasons which I’ve now forgotten). I loved studying, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a book since that I so wanted to write academic essays about. The more I think about it, the more I think this book deserves the “Missbeecrafty Best Book” award. I’m sure that’s almost as prestigious as the American National Book Award for Fiction which it actually won in 2012.
Literary prize winning books aren’t for everyone, I know, but don’t judge this book on its prize-winning-ness. And don’t judge it on it’s Trekkie-ness! If you’re not a Star Trek fan, don’t worry, I’ve read a bunch of reviews, and hardly anyone else seems to have even noticed it, and they still loved it. And don’t judge it by its cover, either!