Check out these eBooks from OverDrive to read over summer, something from all genres.
Read the book before you see the film/TV series, or read the source material afterwards for all the added backstories and characters (that you can absorb at your own pace)?
It’s a tricky one and the answer really depends on your own personal tastes and inclinations. Either way, here is the latest crop of works of literature that are getting a makeover for the screen.
If you’re a “read the book first” sort, you’d better get cracking before you miss –
- Alias Grace – Canadian 6 part series directed by Sarah Polley, featuring Anna Paquin and a cameo from author Margaret Atwood. Based on the true story of a young housemaid, Grace Marks, who became embroiled in a double-murder, this series is only available on Netflix and is a rivetting watch.
- IT – I was terrified by this book in the nineties (and the subsequent mini-series adaptation). The current film splits the tale of a group of kids fighting a malevolent entity that often takes the form of an evil clown into two films – the sequel is due in 2019.
- Murder on the Orient Express – The Agatha Christie classic gets another film outing (the 1974 version earned Ingrid Bergman an Oscar) and with a fairly impressive cast including the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, and Michelle Pfeiffer, with Kenneth Brannagh (who also directs) as the moustachioed Belgian sleuth, Hercule Poirot. The original novel was published in 1934, so avoiding spoilers might prove difficult.
- The Mountain Between Us – Kate Winslet and Idris Elba’s charter plane crashes into a mountain and that’s not the end of the drama. Based on the novel by Charles Martin.
- The Lost City of Z – Author David Grann’s hunt for famed explorer Percy Fawcett’s expedition in the Amazon has Charlie Hunnam as the missing Fawcett, with Sienna Miller as his wife and Robert Pattinson as another member of the expedition.
- Thank You for your Service – Biographical war drama based on the book by Washington Post journalist David Finkel. The film follows several soldiers after their return from deployment in Iraq and their struggles with PTSD and the psychological trauma of war.
- Red Sparrow – The movie of the adventure spy novel by Jason Matthews has Jennifer Lawrence in the leading role as elite Russian agent Dominika Egorova (think Marvel’s Black Widow).
- A Wrinkle in Time – Partly filmed in New Zealand, starring Oprah and directed by Ava DuVernay (of Twelve years a slave), this sci-fi film is based on the much beloved first novel of a young adult series by Madeleine L’Engle.
- Chaos walking: The Knife of Never Letting Go – Another young adult sci-fi series adaptation, this time of Patrick Ness’s widely acclaimed dystopian novel. Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland are set to star.
- Dune – Frank Herbert’s epic sci-fi saga gets another go-around (after the 1984 film directed by David Lynch, and two miniseries’ in the early 2000s) this time with Arrival director Denis Villeneuve at the helm.
- Break My Heart 1,000 Times – Bella Thorne will star in this “supernatural romantic thriller” based on Daniel Water’s young adult novel set in world where people can see ghosts.
- Guernsey (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society) – Mary Ann Shaffer’s 2008 bestseller set on the island of Guernsey during WWII was filmed earlier this year, with Downton Abbey stars Lily James and Jessica Brown Findlay in the cast and Mike Newell directing.
- Ready Player One – Ernest Cline’s dystopian future/Virtual Reality/geek nostalgia-fest novel follows Wade Watts as he attempts to find an ‘easter egg’ that will bestow on him a fortune. Directed by Steven Spielberg, expect to see this everywhere in March 2018.
- Peter Rabbit – A new animated version of Beatrix Potter’s classic tale of an adventurous bunny is due in early 2018, with voices provided by the likes of Rose Byrne, James Corden and Sam Neill.
On the radar
With the end of the Game of Thrones TV series on the distant horizon, Patrick Rothfuss is being mentioned as the next George R. R. Martin. Probably because they both have beards and neither have actually finished writing all the books in their respective series’. Lin-Manuel Miranda of super-musical, Hamilton, is producing the series for Showtime based on the first 2 novels of the as yet unfinished Kingkiller Chronicles fantasy trilogy.
Craig Sisterson is a writer and reviewer, and a fan of great crime writing. He’s the force behind the Ngaio Marsh Awards celebrating New Zealand crime writing, starting the Awards in 2010 and now serving as the judging convenor for the prizes.
Read our interview with Craig where he talks Kiwi crime, #yeahnoir, the Ngaio Marsh Awards, and libraries.
This year, you can join in as Scorpio Books and WORD Christchurch present The Great Lit Quiz & Ngaio Marsh Awards!
To celebrate NZ Bookshop Day, put together a team of book enthusiasts for a quiz of crime novels and other genres! All tickets gain entry to the invitation-only Ngaio Marsh Awards cocktail party, where the winners will be announced. Hosted by crime writers Paul Cleave and Vanda Symon.
The Bone Line wine and nibbles provided.
Saturday, 28 October, 5.30pm Ngaio Marsh Awards; 7pm Great Lit Quiz
$80 per table (up to 5 players) by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Like the Ngaio Marsh Awards on Facebook
See our listing of previous winners and finalists:
- Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel
- Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel (first awarded 2016)
- Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Non Fiction (2017 is the first year of this award)
How did the idea for the Ngaio Marsh Awards come to you?
It was a culmination of a lot of little things. I’d started reading a lot while backpacking through Latin America for six months, picking up dozens of novels from hostel book exchanges and the like to pass the time on 24-hour bus rides in Argentina and Chile. The hostels tended to have plenty of ‘popular fiction’ (crime, romance, sci-fi, action thrillers etc), and I gravitated towards the crime novels, having loved mystery tales since I was a kid devouring The Hardy Boys adventures when I was at Richmond Primary School in Nelson.
Then when I was in Canada I went along to an Arthur Ellis Awards event at the Vancouver Public Library (a crime author panel where the finalists for their national crime writing awards were also announced). I met some really cool Canadian crime writers, including the great William Deverell, and had a really good chat with him afterwards about recognising and celebrating quality writing, and how the crime genre was much deeper nowadays than the stereotype of old-fashioned mysteries, potboilers, and airport thrillers.
As an aside, I spoke with the Canadians about the state of New Zealand crime writing (they were curious), and even lamented that other than Dame Ngaio and Paul Thomas’s series, and one-offs from the likes of Simon Snow, Nigel Latta, and Michael Laws, we didn’t seem to have as many crime writers as you’d expect for a country that has some really great writers (Oscar-nominated screenwriters, Man Booker listees, fabulous children’s authors, great longform journalists, etc). Or at least we didn’t have many ongoing series or crime writers putting out multiple books. It’s embarrassing to look back on that discussion now, because NZ does have a greater crime writing history than I knew about at that time, but perhaps the fact I was a keen reader who still wasn’t aware of that was telling too?
When I returned to New Zealand in October 2008, I popped into the Papatoetoe Library my first weekend to keep feeding my reading habit. By chance, a couple of crime novels on the recently returned shelf caught my eye. I picked them up, was taken by the backcover blurbs, and was surprised to read they were set in New Zealand: Cemetery Lake by Paul Cleave and The Ringmaster by Vanda Symon. Not only were they modern NZ crime novels, but each was from an author who’d published more than one novel!
I read them both that weekend, before I started my new job at a legal magazine (I was a lawyer before my overseas adventures). Both were terrific, really top quality stuff. Great characters and writing, coupled with page-turning action and suspense. And both books were as good if not better than many of big-name international bestsellers I’d been reading on my Latin American journey.
So my thoughts about the state of NZ crime writing began to shift. Then my new boss asked if I’d read any good books lately, as a review for our magazine hadn’t come in before deadline. So I wrote reviews of Cleave and Symon’s books, and took off from there. Soon afterwards I was reviewing crime fiction for Australian magazine Good Reading, as well as some other publications. I reviewed a few dozen crime novels for them over the next year, including Kiwi authors like Cleave, Symon, Lindy Kelly, Neil Cross, and Paddy Richardson. The Kiwi crime novels stood up really well against the well-known international stuff, and I started thinking ‘why aren’t we talking about our crime writers more?’ On top of that, I realised that while Canada, Australia, the UK, the USA, and many other countries had crime writing awards, New Zealand didn’t. Our popular fiction writers were unlikely to be listed for the NZ Book Awards, but at least our romance, sci-fi and fantasy authors had their own associations and awards. So did our children’s authors.
Our crime writers did not. That kept niggling at me the more reviews and features I wrote about the genre, and when I raised the possibility of a New Zealand crime writing award with authors, publishers, reviewers, and others in the book industry, pretty much everyone thought it was a great idea in principle. There was a gap between principle and putting it into practice though. And in the end I just got to the ‘ah bugger it, I’ll just start them myself then’ stage. By then I had lots of contacts in New Zealand and overseas, and called on various people for advice. Crime Writers Canada and the Australian Crime Writers Association were very generous and shared with me how their awards started, evolved, and were run. I cherry-picked various things to create our own awards.
How hard was it to set up a literary prize?
How long is a piece of string?, as my mother would say. It’s really hard to answer your question. Looking back it all seemed to go quite smoothly, though that could be my rose-tinted glasses! At the time there were plenty of bumps in the road, for sure, but we just rolled with the punches, adapted, and kept on going (how many cliches can I fit in a paragraph?). We were creating something new, so there was no blueprint (other than advice from overseas peers), so if something wasn’t working or went wrong, I just changed it.
My core concern was to make sure that the awards had a good level of credibility, even if we weren’t offering the winner a big amount of prize money. I just really wanted the awards to be sustainable, not a one-off, and to have some ‘heft’, for want of a better term.
That was achieved (I think) thanks to the really top-notch judges we’ve had from the beginning, and the support of WORD Christchurch. We have a large judging panel for the Best Crime Novel prize; seven judges from New Zealand and overseas. All are crime fiction experts, so we had people who were connoisseurs of the genre and read an awful lot, weighing up the quality of our local crime tales. In the first years we had the likes of legendary British reviewer Mike Ripley (who was the Daily Telegraph’s crime reviewer for 17 years), Vice President of Crime Writers Canada Lou Allin, and doyen of the Kiwi books scene Graham Beattie on the panel.
More recently Janet Rudolph (editor of Mystery Readers International), J Kingston Pierce of Kirkus reviews, top Australian crime reviewer Karen Chisholm, and award-winning Icelandic crime writer Yrsa Sigurdardottir have served on the judging panel.
These people may not be household names, but they are extremely highly regarded within the global crime writing world, and their involvement has given the Ngaios a lot of credibility on the global stage. They read a massive amount of crime fiction, from the biggest names to new authors and many in between, and when they say our Kiwi authors are world class, that carries a lot of weight.
The other main pillar of the Ngaios from the beginning was the involvement of what is now WORD Christchurch. I wanted a cool event for our first ever Ngaio Marsh Awards presentation in 2010, and Ruth Todd and Morrin Rout of the Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival really came to the party. They were so supportive, and planned a terrific event for the Saturday night of their festival, which even included the Court Jesters doing an improv murder mystery, before the inaugural winner would be announced. The festival also put up some prize money for the winner (adding to the handcrafted trophy created by sculptor Gina Ferguson and selection of Ngaio Marsh books donated by HarperCollins, Dame Ngaio’s publisher). As Dame Ngaio was a Cantabrian herself, it was a perfect fit.
Then the September earthquakes struck, the festival was cancelled, and our event postponed. Not the greatest start! But Ruth and Morrin continued to be so supportive, even as they were dealing with all the property damage and other concerns. We had offers from other festivals to hold an event in other cities, but stuck with Christchurch. We had a cool one-off event in a temporary venue that November, where the pseudonymous Alix Bosco won the inaugural prize for Cut and Run (fittingly, an author whose identity was then a mystery won our first-ever Kiwi mystery writing prize).
I get a lot of credit for starting the awards, but in truth there have been so many people involved, and it is the mana of those people that have made the awards what it is. Along with our authors, judges, and the libraries who’ve come on board with our Murder in the Library series that started in 2015, I’d like to give a nod to Marianne Hargreaves and Rachael King of WORD Christchurch, who’ve done amazing things and had to deal with me flitting about all over the world and not being the easiest to work with. Because of all those great people it hasn’t seemed all that difficult to set up and run a literary prize, even if there have been difficult moments.
What is it about Aotearoa that make us bat above our weight in the crime writing stakes?
Hmm… I think we have some great writers, across all different styles of storytelling. So our talented crime writers are just part of that wider group of great authors. (Seriously, whatever type of stories take your fancy, you can find great Kiwi books; compelling, page-turning, thought-provoking tales. Give some of our authors a go, whatever genre you love.)
In terms of crime writing in particular, I think our Kiwi authors often have a willingness to push the boundaries of the genre. Check out Adam Christopher‘s Ray Electromatic series that’s pure 1960s LA noir, just with a robot detective, or some of our literary-crime crossovers like Tanya Moir’s The Legend of Winstone Blackhat and Fiona Sussman’s The last time we spoke, or Paul Cleave’s latest A killer harvest which you’d call magic realism if he was a literary author. And that’s just a few examples.
Our authors certainly don’t feel constrained by the traditional tropes of the crime genre. Many of our Kiwi crime novels also have a great, subversive sense of humour, even the tales that are dark and serious. Many of our authors also have a good touch for landscapes, whether countryside or urban. But in the end, even if many people think of crime fiction as being primarily plot-focused, the best crime fiction often comes down to character – and our Kiwi authors have created some really terrific crime characters!
Can you suggest 3 titles that epitomise #yeahnoir for readers who haven’t tried Kiwi crime?
Just three? Sheesh, that’s tough. I’d probably give you a different answer depending on what day, or time of day, you asked me, but here goes. Oh, I’ll leave aside all our terrific Ngaio Marsh Awards winners, other than to say you can’t go wrong with picking a crime novel to try from Paul Cleave, Paul Thomas, Alix Bosco, Ray Berard, Neil Cross, and Liam McIlvanney.
Instead, I’m going to choose three other books that are really great, and very ‘Kiwi’ crime reads:
Bound Vanda Symon: the fourth tale in a really terrific series starring young Dunedin detective Sam Shephard. A successful businessman is murdered during a brutal home invasion, with his wife tied up and left to watch. Sam’s colleagues zero in on two local crims who’ve been on the police hit list for a while, but she’s not sure it’s so cut-and-dried. Sam is a terrific crime character, and the whole series is great, but I particularly like this instalment. Vanda Symon has a nice balance of plot, character, and setting, creating a page-turner with plenty of character depth. Sam has that maverick, trouble-with-superiors essence of crime fiction top cops like Harry Bosch (Michael Connelly) and John Rebus (Ian Rankin), but as a younger woman she layers in plenty of freshness too. There’s a great sense of humour in these books, and Sam is a fierce southern lass who’s her own woman.
Hunting Blind Paddy Richardson: like her fellow southern crime queen, Richardson has written several really terrific crime novels, but unlike Symon she has focused on standalones rather than series books. Hunting Blind is a great place to start, a chilling thriller which centres on Stephanie, a psychiatrist whose sister vanished from a lakeside picnic seventeen years ago, fracturing the family and community. Then a new patient tells an eerily similar story, causing Stephanie to reexamine her sister’s disappearance, and sending her on a dangerous and emotional journey around the South Island, searching for long-hidden answers. This is a really terrific novel that was a Ngaio’s finalist in 2011 and really wowed our international panel. Richardson is a master at crafting layered characters who resonate with the reader, and delivers a terrific flavour of the south.
The Sound of her voice Nathan Blackwell: a superb tale from a new author who’s recently joined the #yeahnoir ranks (the Twitter hashtag for NZ crime fiction created by Steph Soper of the NZ Book Council). Blackwell is the pseudonym for a former Auckland detective who was involved in covert operations and investigated very serious real-life crimes. Whoever he is, he’s certainly hit the ground running in the crime fiction world, with a belter of a debut. Detective Matt Buchanan is burnt out, worn down by a succession of tough cases, and haunted by the unsolved disappearance of a young girl years before. Some fresh leads give him hope, but also threaten to draw him across lines that shouldn’t be crossed. Blackwell showcases the courage of Kiwi crime writers in tackling tough issues, giving readers a dark, authentic insight into the stresses the police face.
What do you think about libraries?
In short, libraries are bloody awesome!
I was a sports-loving kid growing up in Nelson, but I also loved spending time in my school and local public library. I discovered so many wonderful authors and books thanks to the librarians, and they cemented my lifelong love of reading. Libraries are so vital to communities, providing information and entertainment, cultivating learning, bringing people together. They’re egalitarian and democratic, opening up doors for anyone regardless of your background or means. Yeah, I think they’re pretty cool.
More about Craig, Ngaio Marsh, and the Ngaio Marsh Awards
- Craig’s blog Crime Watch
- Our page on the Ngaio Marsh Awards
- Our page about Ngaio Marsh
- Author Stella Duffy at the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season 2017 talking about finishing Ngaio Marsh’s book Money in the Morgue
Friend Request is the debut novel of Laura Marshall.
When I read the blurb about this book, I wanted to read it.
“Louise receives a Facebook friend request from Maria Weston.”
“Maria Weston wants to be friends.
But Maria Weston’s dead.
Ohh, talk about goose bumps!
The novel follows Louise a woman with a troubled teenage past that has caught up with her. Can she face her past and come clean? She has a lot to lose, her son for one.
The narration is skilfully split between the present day (2016) and the past (1989) as we learn about what happened to Maria 25 years ago.
This psychological thriller has themes of social media, bullying, teenage & middle age angst and dealing with choices made in the past.
I found Louise realistic as a paranoid single Mum, but found her only reasonably likeable. I’m sure I would have found the book rather gripping if I had connected with Louise, but I ended up finding it rather flat with the ending slow and transparent.
I still think if you like psychological thrillers, like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, or Lisa Jewell’s Then She Was Gone you should give it a try. Maybe you’ll connect with Louise and find it the gripping modern mystery it could be.
by Laura Marshall
Published by Hachette New Zealand
Outreach Library Assistant
Chelsea Sedoti’s debut young adult novel, The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett, has been selected as the featured title for millions of readers around the world to read at the same time beginning Thursday, October 12 and concluding October 26. This title is also available as an eAudiobook.
Popular girl Lizzie Lovett’s disappearance is the only fascinating mystery her sleepy town has ever had.
Hawthorn has her own theory about Lizzie’s disappearance. And what better way to collect evidence than to immerse herself in Lizzie’s life? Like getting a job at the diner where Lizzie worked and hanging out with Lizzie’s boyfriend. After all, it’s not as if he killed her – or did he?
Told with a unique voice that is both hilarious and heart-wrenching, Hawthorn’s quest for proof may uncover the greatest truth is within herself.
Samuel Hawley is a very violent man. I say this because he will still hurt someone if they in any way harm his adored 12 year old daughter Loo. But to be fair to the man, his extreme villainy and violence were conducted in his past. A past which becomes more and more important as the story progresses.
Samuel and Loo have returned to Olympus, Massachusetts, the home of Loo’s late mother. They’re trialling settling in one place after a lifetime of changing motel rooms and schools for Loo.
Loo, it must be said, is one tough customer and deals with her problems a bit like her old man. She is aware her Grandmother lives in Olympus but is warned to have nothing to do with her by Samuel. This is the only person apart from her Dad who knew her late Mum well and she is desperate to know more about her.
Loo finds herself going through the few things left of her Mother, a photo and toiletries, for clues of her Mum. These have been set up shrine-like, by Samuel in every motel they have holed up in. Its been a peripatetic lifestyle and has made Loo tough and self sufficient but she is still struggling with school, socialising and wanting to know more about her Mum. She is growing up and starting to question Samuel’s past. He is constantly aware that it could come back to haunt him, wants to stay and give Loo a steady life, but he can’t stop looking over his shoulder.
There is a lot of going back and forth in time in this story. How did Samuel end up with 12 bullet hole scars in his body? 12 Bullet holes and still alive?! Some history! Why does he carry a small armoury in his truck? Could his way of life as a young man and the death of her daughter be why Loo’s Grandmother is so determined to have nothing to do with them?
I found Samuel’s surviving 12 bullets slightly implausible. A good read but not one that gripped me.
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
by Hannah Tinti
Published by Hachette New Zealand
I’m an avid reader of thrillers. I read both ‘stand-alone’ novels but also the increasingly popular format of a primary character that features in a series of books.
I am particularly keen – once I have found a character I can empathise with – to read them all, but the main proviso has to be that I read them in the correct order! So, it was with some trepidation that I read “Persons Unknown” as it quickly became apparent that I wasn’t starting off with a new series – Missing, Presumed had already been published featuring the main character Manon Bradshaw.
Most of the time though, even if you start out of sequence it doesn’t really matter as authors have a tendency to hark back to previous cases or anecdotal information that brings you up-to-date on past relationships and any prior connections through historical cases.
I had just started the first chapter when serendipity arrived in the guise of a library borrower wanting a reserve placed on the same book. The customer started telling me what a great book the first one had been and how she was looking forward to receiving/reading this next one. Well, you can’t get a higher recommendation than that! Actually, you can, as when I went to check out the first book Missing, Presumed I found every copy was out on loan!
Persons Unknown has a contemporary UK setting with several well-defined characters investigating a murder in Cambridgeshire which in turn leads back to the ‘wheeling and dealing’, bribery and corruption of high finance in London with its attendant pimps, high-class prostitutes and assorted recreational drugs adding inducements to major players in these corrupt dealings.
As if all of the above were not intricately woven into the complicated plot, Susie Steiner also manages to integrate a number of social issues via her main protagonist, Manon, a middle-aged woman who has adopted a pre-teen black kid but still wants to experience motherhood first-hand and meet, if not Mr Right, then at least Mr ‘I’m happy to be with you whatever the circumstances’.
Manon’s professional and personal life implode when both her adopted son, Fly and her sister, Ellie, are found to have known the murder victim and become police suspects themselves.
This is very much a character-driven novel – Manon’s personal and professional problems, hopes and fears resonate with the reader and you want her to succeed — not only in solving the case but also salvaging her precarious relationship with Fly, who is experiencing racial and institutional injustices and will no doubt be defined by these hugely negative experiences.
After such a riveting read I’m now going to go back to when it all began a few years earlier…
by Susie Steiner
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
Forget the Bucket list, Rhiannon Lewis has a Kill List.
- The guy who squashes her groceries.
- The man that cuts her off every morning when she crosses the road.
- The colleague who takes credit for her work. And uses joke forms of her name.
- The creeps that proposition her on the way home from the pub/while walking her dog.
- The girl who bullied her at school.
- The girl who shagged her partner after the staff Christmas do.
- The café assistant who still hasn’t made your order while you shifted your car (I threw that one in).
Rhiannon isn’t paranoid; she hates everybody. Well, everybody except her dog, Tink. Of course she has issues. The only survivor of a mass murderer, Rhiannon finds it hard to feel emotion. But she does feel a thrill when she gives a sexual predator a taste of his own medicine…
I love the subtitle. Related as Rhiannon’s diary, we read Sweet Pea as if we are voyeurs ourselves. Private and incriminating, it is a brutally honest account of all the things that push our buttons, and a liberating way of dealing with them – murder!
I don’t usually read mysteries, but this is both funny and brutal. Skuse, previously an author for children and young adults, lets it rip with similes to rip your sides – her wit alone will cut you to shreds.
This is one for the closet psychopath (I’m making a list of my own).
The novel follows another unfortunate 19th century orphan girl looking for her place in the world, but she’s a good deal “spunkier” and prone to violence than Miss Eyre. In fact, she’s rather more modern than Jane Eyre in a number of ways (sex, swearing, self-defense etc.)
Jane Steele’s life is a mirror to Eyre’s in many ways from attendance at an abominable boarding school to securing a place as governess in a home that harbours secrets. Although the deaths are always justified after a fashion, the bodies do start to pile up and a worryingly perceptive policeman may just be onto her.
Author Lyndsay Faye is a fan of Charlotte Brontë’s novel and in the historical afterword reveals that it was the author’s scathing rebuff to her critics in the preface to the second edition of Jane Eyre that partly inspired her to write the novel, in particular the quote, “Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion”.
And so she’s succeeded in creating an unconventional heroine imbued with more than a little “self-wrongedness”. Jane (Steele, that is), doubts herself, her worth and her goodness constantly but loves fiercely and loyally… much like that other Jane.
There’s a good deal of mystery in the story from Jane’s mystery inheritance to the traumatic past of her young charge and the plot gallops along like a runaway horse making it a fairly riveting page-turner, and… Reader, I devoured it.
So if ladies in corsets (who also carry knives in their skirts) sounds your thing then I’d highly recommend Jane Steele for your next wet weekend.
Stella Duffy: writer, playwright, actor, improviser, founder and co-director of Fun Palaces, and general multi-tasker extraordinaire. How, asks interviewer Liz Grant, does she have the energy?
I like working, and I know I’m really lucky to be able to do it — my parents both left school at 14, had very hard working lives, the only time off my dad had was when he was shot down in World War II and became a POW — so when artists talk about how it’s such hard work, and they have to suffer, it makes me want to punch them. What’s hard work is raising seven children like my mother, or being a brilliant man with no opportunities like my dad. I work really hard at my job, but it’s not hard work. I know I’m fortunate to be able to do it.
Duffy’s family history is fascinating — like all families it is complex and messy. While researching she discovered a great-grandmother who had given birth in Holloway prison. The reason for her spell inside? Manslaughter; “I didn’t realise the baby was so ill,” she said in court, “and neither did my (12-year old) daughter.” She worked from 9pm-6am every night (“charring” is the occupation given, scare quotes intentional), providing for her children so that she could be home to get them ready for school, only to lose a child and be imprisoned while pregnant with the next. It’s a far cry from Downton Abbey, that’s for sure, and can be seen in the hard working lives of the families in Duffy’s London Lies Beneath.
“There’s no place like home”
Probably the most interesting for me was the talk of home/not home, how once you move away from the place you grew up you effectively lose it — always missing home, but when you visit it has changed without you. This really resonated as someone who grew up in a small town but now lives in a city, with family across New Zealand as well as far away in Europe, who has lived overseas and now feels the tug of home/not-home wherever I am.
Christchurch in particular has that double-layered effect, walking down streets that have changed beyond measure in only a few years. In cities such as London and Rome the juxtaposition of past and present is even more noticeable, everything built on and around and between the layers of its own history. Duffy loves being swallowed up by such a vast, full and vibrant city, being “a small fish in a very big pond”, keeping the taniwha in the Thames fed with Kiwi accents and secrets:
She shook her head.
He smiled as he said, It’s homesick, of course, but the Thames is too busy and it can’t get by the ships for fear of being seen and lauded and brought ashore for our pleasure again. It doesn’t like to be looked at, not directly. And it’s bigger, much bigger now, grown full on the secrets we tell to the water. That taniwha lives off our whispers, eating up the fears and tears we tell over the side of a bridge. It’s grown fat on what we hide from in the dark, beneath the bedclothes. There’s no getting away from it either, it will follow you along the Effra or the Neckinger as easy as it rides the tide from Tilbury to Teddington.
— London Lies Beneath, Stella Duffy
When I first read about Money in the Morgue I was under the impression that Duffy was simply finishing an already mostly-completed manuscript, but no: Dame Ngaio Marsh only left three sketchy chapters with some rough notes and no ideas of whodunnit, where it was done or how. Helpful!
Duffy talked a little about how to recreate the tone of Marsh’s writing without the less desirable -isms that permeate 30s era novels (how to make it seem as if it were written in that time but not of that time, if you see what I mean). The answer? Steal a few of Marsh’s writing tics. “Alleyn rubbed his nose.” “His ascetic monk’s face.” “His long, elegant fingers.” Perhaps we’ll see some of New Zealand’s “primordial landscape”, too. All jokes aside, Duffy is careful to avoid any sense of pastiche or mockery in her writing, being an avid admirer of Marsh’s work.
I look forward to reading Money in the Morgue when it’s published in May 2018, and in the meantime reading Duffy’s recent thriller, The Hidden Room. If you’re interested in learning more about the historical setting of London Lies Beneath, Duffy recommends Round About a Pound a Week, written in 1913 by the trade unionist, Fabian and feminist Maud Pember Reeves. If you’re new to Ngaio Marsh’s writing then she recommends starting with Died in the Wool, a country house mystery set on a high country sheep station in New Zealand.