An hour with Nadia Hashimi – WORD Christchurch

The interviewer for this session was Marianne Elliott who had trained as a human rights lawyer.  She worked in the area of advocacy and communications and Afghanistan was one of the many places she has worked.  She recounts her time there in her book Zen under fire, and her experiences and empathy really helped make this session successful.

Nadia Hashimi. Image supplied.
Nadia Hashimi. Photo by Chris Carter. Image supplied.

Nadia Hashimi wants to portray the “heroic women of Afghanistan rising above it all”. The common portrayal is of an oppressed downtrodden group, meek and in the shadow of the men, hidden by the burka. Afghani women are a mystery, we start making our own assumptions aided by portrayals of the western armies going in to save them.

9780062411198Nadia Hashimi was born in the USA but weaves the stories of her family into her stories. Many have been refugees and her book When the Moon is Low portrays a refugee story and was published before the recent refugee crisis.  Ahead of her time on this issue, it had always been one that had affected her family and the people of Afghanistan.

She not only portrays women differently than the common view but her men too are often kind and romantic and opposed to brutal and paternalistic.  She described romance as being a huge part of Afghani culture.  Radio shows abound where people can call in anonymously and talk about their loves and relationships, she called it an obsession with romanticism and Bollywood movies are incredibly popular.

A House without windows describes the experience of Afghani women in prison.  For some it is a complete erosion of their freedoms, for others whose lives are incredibly brutal it is a welcome refuge, there is no one to bother and harass them, they are fed and may even be able to go to literacy classes.  The justice system is flawed and women are often imprisoned after false statements and for such crimes as running away from home.  Both women described the frustration of working in the justice arena, but also acknowledged that there are some amazing people working in this area who are slowly trying to bring about change.

A question was asked about how we can best support Afghani women. Sending money can be risky as corruption is rampant. She suggested supporting the arts, Afghani women’s writing projects and women’s crafts, we can also read their blogs, listen to their stories and realise that these women are strong and resilient.

WORD Christchurch

Te Rerenga Kōrero – Ka pai hoki koe!

Kia ora. To encourage the use of Te Reo Māori Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Māori – The Māori Language Commission publish weekly Māori phrases that can be used to support or cheer someone on.

Ka pai hoki koe!
Good on you!

akina te reo rugby

WORD Up – WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival

Oh boy what an awesome festival the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival is! Exciting in the extreme. I was drenched by the time I got to my first event; Poetry readings at Scorpio Books. A packed house, and great poetry. The winner, Danielle O’Halloran, gave a fantastic live performance.

Danielle O'Halloran at Scorpio Books
Danielle O’Halloran at Scorpio Books

Next up a change of shoes for a very rainy Oratory on the Ōtākaro / Avon, with Joseph Hullen (Ngāi Tahu,Ngāi Tūāhuriri)

The walk follows significant sites from Puari Pa, which stretched from the Hospital to Kilmore Street, reveals another cultural layer buried under Christchurch, literally. Remains of yupuna (ancestors) have been found in Cathedral Square, under the old Library (Gloucester Street), and under St Luke’s Church (Kilmore Street).

Oratory on the Ōtākaro, with Joseph Hullen, Ngai Tahu
Oratory on the Otakaro, with Joseph Hullen, Ngai Tahu

Ngāi Tahu are driving a project to restore, beautify and rebuild the river, which was choked with sediment post quakes. Native life, such as Inanga (Whitebait) and Tuna (Eel) are coming back to the Ōtākaro to thrive. The installation of 13 Whariki Manaaki; tiled patterns based on traditional weaving designs, “weaves a Ngāi Tahu narrative into the rebuild.” (Joseph Hullen)

Whariki Manaaki, Otakaro / Avon River, with Joseph Hullen, Ngai Tahu
Whariki Manaaki, Ōtākaro / Avon River, with Joseph Hullen, Ngai Tahu

Leaving the Red ZoneAfter a very welcome afternoon tea, it was time to go to the launch of Leaving the Red Zone, a collection of poems inspired by the Canterbury earthquakes. Joanna Preston’s poem, ‘Ministry of Sorrow’ was especially moving and powerful. Included is the poem, ‘Rebuild’ by one of the Library’s own poets, Greg O’Connell.

Feeling like festival flotsam, I made my way through the crowds of excited festival goers to The Power of Poetry. Featuring Bill Manhire, Selina Tusitala Marsh, C.K Stead, Fiona Kidman, and Ali Cobby Eckermann. Ali’s view from the Aboriginal culture was a poignant perspective, and I loved Selina’s repetition : t t t t t…d d d d …

L-R Fiona Kidman, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Selina Tusitala Marsh, C.K Stead, Paul Millar and Bill Manhire.
L-R Fiona Kidman, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Selina Tusitala Marsh, C.K Stead, Paul Millar and Bill Manhire.

WORD Christchurch

 

The Stars are on Fire – WORD Christchurch

It was the first time I’ve been in the reopened Isaac Theatre Royal. My partner said the last thing he saw there was Public Enemy. I don’t know what I had been to – but we were back, and very happy to be at this WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival gala event.

WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala - Isaac Theatre Royal
WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala – Isaac Theatre Royal

WORD Literary Director Rachael King kicked off proceedings with a sense of the festival’s themes and the good news that ticket sales have already busted all records.

Then it was time for broadcaster Kim Hill to introduce the “marvellous array” of performers. She regretted not being previously advertised host John Campbell, but hey Kim we love you (and your broadcasting live from Christchurch today with WORD guest makes us love you all the more).

First up we had Sir Tipene O’Regan with the oldest of the Polynesian creation stories.

All stories of creation start in the dark.

We learned about the places and landmarks of Te Waipounamu (the South Island) in an informative – and really entertaining – journey. There was an element of pride in our place as coming from the first marriage of the first son. Yes, we are “sanctimoniously senior”.

Sir Tipene O'Regan at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala
Sir Tipene O’Regan at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala

Caitlin Doughty has done more than 1000 cremations. She got us to put our hands up if we are getting cremated. Around 70% choose that option. In the United States, it’s more like 50%, while Japan has a percentage around 99.99%.

Caitlin took us on a “What to expect when you’re expecting to be cremated”. Not the gold standard simulation that you can experience in China, where you actually go on the crematory ride and feel the imaginary flames but … Audience member Cathy got to be “Cathy the Corpse” and we went along with her ride in her “alternative container”. There is a cone of flame, the temperature goes up to 815 degrees Celsius and that’s applied for around 45 minutes.

The rest of Caitlin’s speech included “flaming skull”, “glowing red bones” and “cremulator”.

Stephen Daisley won big at the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. His speech had the  flummoxed feeling you’d expect when someone has been writing for a long time and finds the reviews (which he read out)  a bit staggering.

Stephen Daisley at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala
Stephen Daisley at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala

Tusiata Avia performed two poems from her new collection Fale Aitu | Spirit House.
It was made use of the idea of Aranui – the great path:

I am an Aranui girl.

Her second poem built on the repetition of “my body” and was utterly hypnotic:

My body is not an apology.

It was an powerful and absorbing perfomance.

Tusiata Avia at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala
Tusiata Avia at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala

Steve Hely told a good yarn from his book The Wonder Trail True Stories From Los Angeles to the End of the World. He talks about the landscape of a particularly barren place in Chile, and a 7 hour bus trip with mine workers, and the one woman on the bus puts on a movie – Austenland. Why, why, why? And he amusingly considers why the heck someone might play that particular movie to a bunch of blokes.

Ivan E. Coyote. Oh Ivan. I think everyone fell in love with you. I did, “full on smitten”. We were as taken with them, as they were with the fabulous lineup of  “butch femmes” from the Yukon. I confidentally predict a flurry of ticket purchases for the rest of Ivan’s festival appearances.

Ivan Coyote at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala
Ivan Coyote at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala

Hollie Fullbrook aka Tiny Ruins soothed the savage breast with a new song about a bus trip with someone just out of prison, a song about being under the same cover.

Hollie Fullbrook "Tiny Ruins" at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala
Hollie Fullbrook “Tiny Ruins” at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala

Take a bow, stars.
The Stars are on fire gala

See our photos from the Gala.

More sessions featuring the Gala Guests

Sir Tipene O’Regan appears in:
Kōrero Pūrakau : Ngāi Tahu Storytelling, Sat 27 Aug, 3.15pm
Read books by Sir Tipene in our collection.

Caitlin Doughty is appearing in:
Embracing Death, Sat 27 Aug, 9.30am
Ask a Mortician: Caitlin Doughty, Sun 28 Aug, 2pm
The Nerd Degree, Sun 28 Aug, 5pm
Read books by Caitlin in our collection.

Stephen Daisley is appearing in:
Writing War Stories, Sat 27 Aug, 3.15pm
Coming Rain, Sun 28 Aug, 11am
Read books by Stephen in our collection.

Tusiata Avia is appearing in:
Hear My Voice, Sat 27 Aug, 5.30pm
Spirit House/ Unity, Sun 28 Aug, 2pm
Read books by Tusiata in our collection.

Steve Hely is appearing in:
How to be a Writer: Steve Hely, Sat 27 Aug, 3.30pm
The Great NZ Crime Debate, Sat 27 Aug, 7.30pm
The State of America, Sun 28 Aug, 12.30pm
Read books by Steve in our collection.

Ivan E. Coyote is appearing in:
Taku Kupu Ki Te Ao: My Word to the World, Sat 27 Aug, 1-4pm
Hear My Voice, Sat 27 Aug, 5.30pm
The Storyteller: Ivan E. Coyote, Sun 28 Aug, 11am
Read books by Ivan in our collection.

Hollie Fullbrook is appearing in:
Workshop: Songwriting with Hollie Fullbrook, Sat 27 Aug, 9.30am
Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?, Sat 27 Aug, 12.30pm
In Love With These Times, Sat 27 Aug, 7.30pm
Find music by Hollie in our collection.

WORD Christchurch

Reading favourites – WORD Christchurch

Is there anything so satisfying as introducing someone to a book that you love? In librarianship it certainly falls under the categories of both personal passion and professional responsibility (see our own Staff Pickles for examples). And the Reading Favourites session at WORD Christchurch yesterday had a similar vibe – of reading enthusiasts, well, enthusing.

Renowned New Zealand children’s author, David Hill; editrix of Tell you what, and comparative literature PhD, Jolisa Gracewood; and author and founder of the Academy of New Zealand Literature, Paula Morris, all took the stage to wax lyrical about their favourite New Zealand reading. Poet Chris Tse was also supposed to be part of this panel but was unable to attend due to illness. A shame, and it would have been good to have another, and yes I’m going to say it, younger voice in the mix but it was still definitely a session worth attending regardless.

Things kicked off in a jovial manner with Paula relating the ridiculous predicament of having flushed her reading glasses down the toilet and having to make do with some hastily bought, budget ones.

And then, because it’s National Poetry day, each read a short poem, Jolisa and David both choosing pieces from well-worn copies of 100 New Zealand Poems edited by Bill Manhire. This is a collection that Jolisa called “subversive” due to its lack of attribution of the poems unless… you refer to the index, a device that perhaps forces the reader to engage with the poem on its own merits.

I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve already forgotten the name of the 4 line poem that Jolisa recited, but do clearly remember that I liked it, and can accurately report that David Hill’s choice was The Adorable Thing about Mozart by Elizabeth Smither.

Paula Morris encouraged us all to read some other piece of poetry for ourselves, preferably out loud (or possibly in public), reflecting that “…you can do anything in Christchurch these days…”

Well not quite, but surely, on a wild and wet winter day a verse or two of Hone Tuwhare, either whispered or shouted at the sky wouldn’t be considered too transgressive?

Cover of Wednesday's childrenJolisa’s first choice of favourites was Wednesday’s children by Robin Hyde. Her copy of this novel about a woman who wins the lottery and “lives as she pleases” has its own story. It was bought here in Christchurch at a library book sale and still retains its borrowing slip, and cards in a pocket at the back. Initially it went unread (by her) for quite some time and it wasn’t until a boyfriend of Jolisa’s started reading it and really enjoyed it that it came back onto her radar – a unexpected surprise of a read.

Wednesday’s children set in the 1930s and is about women, women on welfare, and women with children – all things that are as relevant now as they ever were. Though sadly it is no longer in print (so get a reserve on a library copy if you fancy trying it).

cover of From the cutting room of Barney KettleDavid Hill’s first choice was much more current, namely last year’s From the cutting room of Barney Kettle by Kate De Goldi. David admitted it made him both weep and laugh and said that De Goldi’s writing was “crystalline” and sharp. Moreover the adults in it are depicted as “fallible, real human beings and not caricatures”. He said he was “honoured to be thrashed by her in the children’s book awards”.

Jolisa’s second choice for favourite read was by another Christchurch author, this time Margaret Mahy, and her young adult novel The Tricksters.

Cover of The trickstersSet in the general vicinity of Lyttelton Harbour, Jolisa went into movie trailer voiceover mode describing its tagline as “The Christmas it all fell apart…”. It’s a story about a family and an earth-shattering revelation but it also has elements of the supernatural. Even as a confessed rationalist she still enjoys books that “ask you to take on faith that there are other worlds…” which is something we have in common. I can’t abide notions of magic or “woo” in real life yet find this not only permissible but desirable in fiction.

This book too, is sadly out of print, but Jolisa’s hope is that with the film of The Changeover (based on Mahy’s novel) being made, other “adjacent” Mahy young adult fiction will receive renewed interest. (If we’re casting votes, may I also suggest The Catalogue of the Universe and Memory? Please and thank you.)

Cover of Going westDavid Hill’s second choice was Maurice Gee’s Going West. He described Gee as very “modest” and the least “show-off” writer he knows, and described a tension between his quiet style and the quite shocking events that unfold. In fact, he’s so good that “I’m not even jealous”. Happily Going West is still in print, and via someone in the audience, who presumably has the inside line on things Gee, we learned that there will be a new young adult novel out in February 2017.

Digressions were common (and welcome – at least by me) throughout the session, and Paula Morris’s reflection that Gee’s novels being set in Henderson, where she grew up, meant something led into the question of whether or not New Zealand writers should include New Zealand place names in their work. What if it’s jarring or too “foreign” for non-Kiwi readers? Apparently these are questions that publishers want to know the answers to, as David Hill has been asked this himself.

I liked Paula Morris’s sarcastic remark on this that readers would surely be completely bewildered – “I thought this was happening in London… but apparently it’s Taihape…”

Well, quite.

David Hill went as far as throwing the question to audience member Ted Dawe aka “another author who beat me in the children’s book awards”, who said that he didn’t like to be too specific about anything in his books, but even so the US version of Into the river has a 130 word glossary, providing meanings for every Māori word used, for instance.

Cover of The book of famePaula Morris also picked two favourites, the first being The book of fame by Lloyd Jones, a really funny book that nevertheless got sneering reviews in the UK but which “everyone I’ve ever recommended it to has really loved it”.

She also recommended Māori boy by Witi Ihimaera which, as a memoir, is necessarily “full of lies” but is “searingly honest” as well.

The session veered off at the end towards discussing the eternal question of why people don’t read more New Zealand fiction. Kiwi authors do well with children’s books but somehow this doesn’t translate to adult readers.

Jolisa suggested that being forced to read something at high school in an “eat your veges – this is good for you” kind of way could harden a reader against particular writers, and I must admit I still bristle at the suggestion I read any Janet Frame again, ever. So I think there may be some truth in that.

Paula Morris in particular highlighted some of the odd “prejudices” that create barriers to people reading New Zealand fiction – the notion that it’s all doom and gloom, “man alone” stuff when that’s demonstrably not the case. Would reading one depressing British author put you off reading British authors for life? So why does that seem to apply with local literature?

I couldn’t help thinking that this is very similar to the problem of representation and diversity in media generally. We’re used to what we’re used to and what we’re used to is a particular kind of voice. In movies this has typically been male and white and probably American. But things are slowly changing. Kiwi films are going gangbusters at the box office, ones with indigenous faces and voices, even. And there was a time when a nightly Kiwi soap opera was a risky proposition rather than an institution. Perhaps the next Ghostbusters reboot or Hunt for the Wilderpeople* of New Zealand fiction is just around the corner?

Here’s hoping. In the meantime, we’ve all got some favourites to try.

More WORD Christchurch

*Technically the Hunt for the Wilderpeople of New Zealand fiction is Wild pork and Watercress, but you get my meaning.

Shelf Life: C.K Stead – WORD Christchurch

The last time I heard CK Stead was a few years ago at the Auckland Writers Festival. He was interviewed with his daughter Charlotte Grimshaw and they played off each other nicely. I didn’t really enjoy this latest session where C.K Stead was interviewed by Paul Millar, and in hindsight I was probably not the best person to be writing this blog, because a) I haven’t read the book Shelf Life b) I am not the most literary person c) I was not reading New Zealand literature in the 50s and 60s and  d) I haven’t studied New Zealand Literature.  If you fulfilled all or at least some of the above criteria then it was probably entertaining. I didn’t get the jokes and I didn’t always know who they were talking about.

Perhaps because Paul Millar has an academic background there was quite a lot of talk about the early days in the English Department at the Auckland University.  All of our luminaries feature, all referred to by their last names – Gee, Shadbolt, Duggan. Fairburn, Baxter and Curnow.(As an aside I always find this last name things a bit odd – do we do it with women?)  The North Shore seemed a hotbed of literary genius, and references were made to the odd feud and disagreement.  It must have been intense.  Curnow and Stead lived in the same street and over the years critiqued each others work via their respective letterboxes.

20160826_150232-1

Things jumped around a bit, from University days to travel, opinions on food, (yes, likes it) euthanasia, (would be good to have a pill especially if dementia hit)  how and when he writes, (keeps office hours)  and favourite places, (Auckland then London).  A question was asked about women writers as they didn’t exactly feature.  Janet Frame was a good friend and he preferred Marilyn Duckworth to her sister Fleur Adcock, I’m unsure as to why.

It would be interesting to hear other opinions on this session.  I found it bitsy and not particularly illuminating.  I suspect others will have enjoyed it much more than me as they would have had more appreciation of the authors and characters of this important time of our literary history.

Find books by C. K. Stead in our collection.

WORD Christchurch

Migrant voices – WORD Christchurch

Migrant Voices was yet another epic, stimulating event at this year’s WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival.

Chaired by journalist Donna Miles-Mojab, the citizens of Christchurch and others from abroad sat and listened closely to first hand accounts from individuals who have made perilous and nerve shattering journeys away from conflict zones, to what is now their home – New Zealand.

It was a treat to be listening to such compelling narratives while sitting within The Chamber of the newly and beautifully designed  The Piano.

Donna Miles-Mojab. Image supplied.
Donna Miles-Mojab. Image supplied.

Somalian national Dr Hassam Ibrahim, and Afghan national Abbas Nazari spoke of their manifold hardships leaving the places their families knew, to eventually arrive via boats, planes, trucks and on foot, to New Zealand’s shores, to be faced with radically different surroundings and cultural sensibilities.

They spoke of their New Zealand experience with great gratitude but also lamented leaving their homelands for a place where they may not always be understood as people. It’s not every day that you get the privilege of hearing first hand accounts such as these. It’s staggering to think that RIGHT NOW over 3.2 million desperate humans are seeking asylum throughout the earth! Forced to leave homes, friends and familiar environments to make huge transitions abroad.

Double the Quota” campaigner Murdoch Stephens made the case for New Zealand to lift its refugee quota, and discussed the many positive economic and cultural impacts of resettling refugees in New Zealand. It was a compelling case – given that “NZ’s refugee quota has not grown since 1987”, which is pretty lame in contrast to our Australian cousins who “currently take more than three times as many quota refugees and asylum seekers as NZ per capita”.

Murdoch Stephen. Image supplied.
Murdoch Stephen. Image supplied.

 

WORD Christchurch

“Christchurch is where it all started for me” – an interview with Roger Shepherd – WORD Christchurch

Kim interviews Roger Shepherd ahead of his sold-out session In Love With These Times: A Flying Nun Celebration, on tomorrow (Saturday 27 August) at Blue Smoke.

Roger Shepherd. Image supplied.
Roger Shepherd. Image supplied.

CoverRoger, In love with these times is your personal experience, and it is about your role in the New Zealand music industry. There is a real sense of ‘being there’ in a certain time and place. A lot has been written about the music, so I’d like to focus more on place and – since you’re also an avid reader, on your love of books and libraries.

You write that during your upbringing “Reading became central” to your life. Tell us about some books you recommend.

David Stubbs: Future Days (Faber & Faber, 2014). This is a great exploration of what was an insular but fragmented (it happened all over Germany rather than in one locale) musical phenomena. I love the music and this book helped me make sense of where it came from (German youth rebelling against their Nazi tainted parents and teachers) and how it happened and it sent me back to listen to all of the music again. Can, Neu, Harmoniam Amol Duul, et al.

Geoff Chapple: Terrain (Random House, 2015). This is really a fantastic read for anyone curious about why our country looks the way it does. Landforms are the fascinating dynamic basic structures that shape our lives in New Zealand and learning to read them is immensely rewarding.

Rob Chapman: Psychedelia and Other Colours (Faber & Faber, 2015). This is my current music read and it’s very informative and delightfully opinionated. The ex Glaxo Babies singer – and now music writing academic – describes the very different development of psychedelic music in the USA and the UK and isn’t afraid to shoot down some longstanding myths and reputations. It’s a straight shooting and unglamorous look at one of the key musical strands that defines the 1960s. I found the section on The Beatles particularly rewarding.

Geoff Park: Ngā Uruora The Groves of Life – Ecology & History in New Zealand Landscape (VUP, 1995). This book is built around a handful of sites where the once common giant Kahikatea once stood or still stands just hanging on. Somehow I manage to read a fair bit of nature writing and this book is one of the most remarkable I have ever read. And perhaps the saddest.

Richard King: How Soon Is Now. This is about the development of the independent record labels in the UK and the USA that catered to the exploding number of bands that formed during and after the punk and helped connect them to the new audience that appeared alongside them. An erudite entertaining read about the rise and almost inevitable fall of of labels such as Postcard, Rough Trade, Blast First and Mute. Flying Nun isn’t discussed but fits right in there with what was happening internationally at the time.

CoverCoverCoverCover

You grew up in Aranui and went to Shirley Boys High and you write in your book about your fond memories of going to New Brighton Library every Saturday with your family. What place have libraries played in your life?

I love books and reading and tend to look for them in a number of different places. Bookshops selling new books obviously have the latest releases but second hand book shops have otherwise unavailable gems and oddments and I will travel considerable distances to attend book fairs.

Libraries have a different selection again and remarkable ones at that. I love to browse. As a kid we went to the old New Brighton library on Shaw Ave on a Saturday while my mother did her weekly shopping. It didn’t have a big selection but did have a rotating range of books that came out from the central library in town. I got started reading pretty tame Willard Price boys adventures (one of the key characters dies in one of them by getting his foot stuck in a giant clam, or did he fall into a volcano?) before moving on to John Wyndham and Fred Hoyle and other English science fiction writers. A road that took me all the way to J.G. Ballard who I greatly admire for the quality and originality of his ideas.

My taste in fiction is rather broad, Nabokov (skip the overly literary Lolita and check out one of the greatest books ever written, Pale Fire or the funniest, Pnin) and there are a number of New Zealand writers that I have followed including Maurice Gee, Emily Perkins and Damien Wilkins. I mix up my fiction reading with plenty of non-fiction. I read a good amount of travel writing (including Colin Thubron, Richard O’Hanlon (Trawler is especially good), Nick Dyer, but the best is Norman Lewis amongst a mass of other stuff including books about music, psychology, food, nature, history, geology and art.

I remember finding the Thames and Hudson William S. Rubin’s Dada & Surrealism art book one Saturday at the New Brighton library and that really opened up my mind to what existed beyond my closeted Aranui existence. My father must have been horrified. He certainly was when I started listening to punk rock a couple of years later.

With such a vastly changed landscape post-quake it is great to have the memories – an archive if you will – of the people and places in Christchurch that you document in your book (music venues, your various Flying Nun offices) to orientate readers in the city. You used to work at the Record Factory and near Shand’s Emporium too. You write of your memories of working in ‘the Square’, a centre city so vastly altered now, and you share your memories of music venues and music stores in Christchurch. How do you feel seeing sites in Christchurch where you used to work and play? Post-quake where do you find yourself drawn to with so much changed? Where do you ‘find’ yourself when you come to Christchurch now? Is that even possible now?

Record Factory was on Colombo St. The first Flying Nun office was on Hereford Street next to Shands. I’ve been lost in central Christchurch the last couple of times I have visited. I don’t think people outside Christchurch understand the devastation unless they see it for themselves. Surely the word “munted” must has been coined to describe what has happened in Christchurch. The physical central city I grew up exploring and then working and living in seems to have completely gone.

Fortunately the people remain and I have huge admiration for those who have done so with the clear intention of rebuilding the city. Where do I go when I am in town visiting my mother? I’ve always loved the Museum, Botanical Gardens and Art Gallery and make time to check out them out, to see what is new but mainly to be reassured by what is the same. I find those reconnections amongst the mass dislocations rather vital.

You talk about what drove you as a fan was the feeling that a lot of the music would have been lost if it wasn’t recorded. It seems hard to imagine Flying Nun was such a fruitful endeavour without cellphones and the internet, with the biggest excitement being the fax machine. What aspects of this ‘old school’ way do you think made Flying Nun a success in a way that wouldn’t happen in today’s high tech, globally connected world and ‘record me!’ culture? Any special piece of advice for budding music industry entrepreneurs today?

Despite all the technological advances I think what was always hard has become even harder to achieve. A new label needs to be working with bands that are new, exciting and unique. There has to be some momentum and some early sales to get the cashflow moving and confidence up.

This is something that normally grows out of the development of a scene. A scene is a localised outburst of communal creativity normally bourne out of geographic and socio economic isolation. Bands starting up and supporting each other and swapping ideas and making and playing new kinds of music which is what happened in both Christchurch and Dunedin in the early 1980s.

The internet connects people and makes everything totally absolutely available but works against that insular hothouse effect by accelerating the ongoing homogenised fragmentation of music. It’s harder to create music that is different enough to grab an audience’s attention let alone pay for it so a band or artist can start building a career.

Can you recommend any music or artists released out of Flying Nun today or out of Christchurch in general who have taken your interest?

Christchurch is where it all started for me. The Gordons who somehow later became Bailter Space. The Pin Group were special. The Bats are a fine example of musical evolution. From being very quietly country influenced to becoming very subtley krautrock flecked. A brilliant band that endure despite the non evolutionary force that is fashion. I really rate T54. I can’t wait to see Zen Mantra in a couple of weeks time at The Others Way in Auckland. And as always I am a huge fan of The Terminals and very much looking forward to eventually checking out their recently developing “side project” Dark Matter.

Flying Nun Records: The Clean, Ying1 (FN002), The Pin Group. FN 001CL-Ephemera-Music-Rock-1980s-Poster0017
Flying Nun Records: The Clean, Ying1 (FN002), The Pin Group. FN 001 CCL-Ephemera-Music-Rock-1980s-Poster0017

You mention in your book you like to cook and are an avid cookbook collector. Share with us some of your favourite cookbooks.

I like to cook and I have a big collection of cookbooks although there seem to be so many published these days.

CoverSarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich’s Honey and Co (Saltyard Books, 2014). My wife came back from London with this book and its Israeli middle eastern cooking is very much in the style of the excellent Ottolenghi books. I see a connection here to what first enthused me about cooking in the mid 1980s, Claudia Roden’s television series Middle Eastern Cooking.

Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers The River Cafe Cook Book (Edbury Press,1995): I love the first two River Cafe cookbooks. Simple modern Italian recipes that place the emphasis on using quality ingredients.

Chris Maynard and Bill Scheller’s Manifold Destiny (Villard Books, 1989). I have never cooked anything out of this book but love the idea that I could wrap up dinner in foil and cook it on my car engine as I belt along the motorway listening to The Clean’s ‘Point That Thing’.

Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham’s The Prawn Cocktail Years (Macmillan, 1997). These two excellent food writers get together to give the best quality recipes for former British comfort food favourites such as Chicken Kiev, Spaghetti Bolognese, Shepherds Pie, Lasagne al Forno and our Sunday brunch favourite, Kedgeree. Yum.

Share a surprising fact about yourself.

I have a number of loose amateur enthusiasms and geology, cartography and stamp collecting are among them. I’m very keen on volcanos and have good sized collections of postcards and souvenir teaspoons featuring them. Yes, I am strangely attracted to cardboard but I no longer collect it. Otherwise, it’s books that consume most of my spare time, seeking them out and then reading them.

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WORD Christchurch

Quick questions with Alok Jha – WORD Christchurch

We are asking quick questions of writers and thinkers coming to the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival on from 24 to 28 August.

Alok Jha is the science correspondent for Britain’s ITV News. Before that, he did the same job at the Guardian for a decade, writing news, features, comment and presenting the award-winning Science Weekly podcast. He has also reported live from Antarctica and presented many BBC TV and radio programmes.

Alok Jha
Alok Jha (image supplied)

What are you looking forward to doing in Christchurch?

Seeing it for the first time! I’ve heard about the city’s beauty, I’m looking forward to walking the streets and soaking up the atmosphere.

What do you think about libraries?

Some of the most important spaces in any civilised place. A place to imagine, dream and discover.

What would be your “desert island book”?

Cover of The periodic tableThe Periodic Table by Primo Levi

Share a surprising fact about yourself.

I’m not a fan of being cold, uncomfortable or doing anything too adventurous or outdoorsy. Which may be surprising to those people who know I’ve been on an expedition to Antarctica.

Alok Jha appears in:
Water: Alok Jha, Sat 27 Aug, 11am
Tales from the Ice, Sun 28 Aug, 3.30pm
The Nerd Degree, Sun 28 Aug, 5pm

Cover of The Water bookMore

Can books change the world? – WORD Christchurch

Among the first few events at this year’s epic WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival was “CAN BOOKS CHANGE THE WORLD?” This serious question arouses all manner of responses: Books ARE powerful! They HAVE changed the world! We cry. With fists in the air!

However, this intimate evening explored what drives writers to write in the first place – an important question – given that what we write can ripple out across earth. So, to traverse the topic of world-changing written thought, we were treated to a panel of clever literary people – children’s and short story writer Kate De Goldi, journalist and playwright Victor Rodger, and academic, writer and literary critic John Freeman – all of whom have won various awards and accolades.

The featured writers were probed with questions about “why they write”.  John Freeman began by stating that you have to keep yourself in check :

If you start thinking you can change the world, then you will have a rough time”. You’ll prime yourself for disappointment.

Therefore, you “write in the hope that people will be able to identity with you”. Hopefully, you can tap into something that touches them by seeking to appreciate their worldview.

BUT, he went on to warn “there is no such thing as apolitical writing”, you either have to take a position on certain issues, or you take positions by default. There is no middle ground.

JohnFReeman2 high res
John Freeman. Image supplied.

Kate De Goldi seemed to concur with these sentiments, stating that New Zealand citizens tend to have a problem “speaking truth to power” and taking provocative (and sometimes) unpopular positions and entering into heated discourse! She emphasized that writing is about “being a responsible citizen”, and that “if people dont read there is no democracy”. Therefore, we need to back ourselves.

Kate De Goldi_15x22.5cm _300dpi, Feb 8, 2015jpg
Kat De Goldi. Image supplied.

Victor added to the discussion by revealing his own impressions of life growing up as part of a minority group – as a young Samoan New Zealander, most Kiwi books, plays and shows did not embody his point of view as a young man wrestling with his identity. So, “he really wanted to get his own impressions of life out there”, “to challenge cultural and racial stereotypes”. Which is critical, as his work has added important dimensions to New Zealand’s artistic scene and prompted Kiwis think about who we are as a society.

Victor Rodger. Image supplied.
Victor Rodger. Image supplied.

It was an edifying evening, I found myself taking in this good advice from those who have hacked their way through the literary jungle. Its good to be reminded that with the privilege of free literary thought comes responsibility. And sometimes, we wind up writing something world changing!

WORD Christchurch