This Beats Perfect: YA author Rebecca Denton sings out

CoverThis Beats Perfect is a contemporary young adult story about finding your voice. There’s music, social media and girl meets boy. Author Rebecca Denton was a teenager in Dunedin in the early 1990s rocking out to the ‘Dunedin Sound‘ and has been ensconced in the music scene ever since. Her novel even includes a playlist. We went ‘backstage’ to talk to Rebecca about writing her first book and musical influences.

The novel’s title is a perfect play on words. The story is based a little bit on the author’s own life experiences of being 17. Denton was a singer-songwriter herself but too shy to put herself forward due to a “fear of failure.” She says that “always in the back of my mind since I was really little I wanted to write… a book, a movie… write, write, write” and that it was a matter of finding “creative courage” to do so. In a way, this first novel is like putting a song out there. I interviewed Rebecca to hear more.

Rebecca Denton (image supplied)
Rebecca Denton (image supplied)

Rebecca, you have said you still feel like a kid, 18 at heart, and in This Beats Perfect you say you get to revisit dreams that you didn’t chase. Can you tell us more? Both the main male character Amelie and Maxx are held back by a fear of failure – about playing their own music to a wider audience – whether it’s anonymous Amelie feeling performance anxiety as she falters at her auditions or famous Maxx afraid to break out of the boy band mould he’s found himself in. Has this focus on a fear of failure come from somewhere for you?

I picked up the guitar from 14 (after I rather shortsightedly deemed my piano and trumpet were highly uncool). I wrote a few songs and played the odd gig but I was so terrified performing that I never chased this passion with the ferocity I should have. As a teenager I was afraid of being judged for many reasons but one of the most critical was that I felt if I wasn’t exceptional then it wasn’t worth trying.

This all or nothing fear of being nothing but *the best* never left me. It followed me right through my career in advertising and TV and really held me back. I was too afraid to stand out creatively, make bold decisions and believe in and listen to my own voice. Because of this I never fully put myself out there.

Then I got older, wiser, and realised that creativity can be a personal pleasure and it didn’t matter if that outspoken friend or peer I looked up to didn’t like what I did. It didn’t need to be for them. When you get wise to the fact that critics are not the custodians of pleasure, you become free. See: PUNK ROCK.

“Not everyone is going to like what you do no matter how real you are.” – from This Beats Perfect

How does the saying ‘write what you know’ apply to your novel?

When I decided to write a book, I didn’t have time for tonnes of research (due to small children) so I thought: What did I do at 18? Who did I want to be? Let’s relive that. And luckily I’d spent my career working and being around music and musicians so I was able to draw on that. I didn’t know everything of course. I got a little help from some friends.

Rebecca, you moved to Dunedin as a young teenager and went to Logan Park High School. How has growing up in Dunedin shaped this young adult novel? Tell us more about the influence of this time and place on your novel?

Frankly, I hated high school. But Logan Park has produced some pretty crazy talented folk* over the years. I didn’t click with my music teacher, or perhaps any teachers while I was there, but I appreciate some things looking back. The school was far more liberal and supportive of creativity than some of the more conservative single sex schools in Dunedin.

By the last couple of years of school I was so tediously bored and from about the age of 16 I started sneaking out of school and hanging out at the student union at Otago University in my school uniform or this little café near the university where they sold Dime bars, mugs of tea and single Camel cigarettes.I fell in with a music crowd and started sneaking into gigs at the Empire and the Crown. The 3Ds, The Clean, The Chills, The Bats, Bailterspace, Straitjacket Fits – I listened to or saw them all, multiple times. I was so lucky to be living in Dunedin at that time – it felt important. And in the days before the internet, small towns in the South Island never really felt important.

This time of my life totally influenced the book. I had the most amazing, clever and eccentric group of girlfriends with whom I shared everything and explored everything. There was a lot to love, and a lot to leave behind but it’s still with me, everyday. There are elements of people who have been a part of my life intertwined everywhere.

* Such as Kiwi musicians Andrew Brough, Jane Dodd, Graeme Downes, Martin Phillips
Read more from the library about the Dunedin Sound

The tagline title to This Beats Perfect is ‘She’s NOT with the band…’ In your novel, the main character Amelie is definitely NOT a groupie. Tell us about the character’s need to not be defined by a either a boy or her father.

I wanted to explore an area of music we don’t normally find a lot of women – and that is production and composing. PRS for Music (The Performing Rights Society) did a report in 2011, and discovered that only about 13% of registered composers in the UK were woman – I’ve not seen the numbers but I’m pretty sure it’s around the same or maybe even less in engineering and producing. So a heroine songwriter was a must – but a budding engineer was even more interesting to me.

Amelie shows her nuanced musical knowledge in the novel, rattling off obscure genres (like Nerdcore, Japonoise, Baby Metal, Nintendocore, Happy Hardcore and Fidget Bass). A depth of music appreciation shows in your writing. The playlist aspect you’ve created to tie-in with the book is unique. Each chapter is titled after a song. Can you tell us more about that idea?

My editor gave me feedback in the editing process that I needed to pack the book with more music. And I was struggling to come up with titles for chapters – so I thought, ‘hang on what about a playlist that reflects Amelie, the story and me?’

Listen to the This Beats Perfect playlist

The playlist includes New Zealand’s own The Chills (Heavenly Pop – funny ‘rock’ video, literally), The Clean‘s Tally Ho and Edward Gains. There’s hip-hop and The Beach Boys. Delightful discoveries in this playlist for me were Regina Spektor’s The Consequence of Sound and Sufjan Stevens’ Futile Devices. Amelie’s favourite artists mentioned in the novel include Marika Hackman, Laura Marling, SZA and Aldous Harding.

Hannah Harding: Lyrical writing
Aldous Harding at Lyrical writing session, WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival 2014. Flickr 2014-08-31-IMG_1823

You have specifically referenced Lyttelton musicians Aldous Harding and Marlon Williams in your novel. When Amelie’s sound engineer father encourages Maxx to find the soul of his own music, he takes him to see a musician he feels embodies this…

“His voice was deep as Johnny Cash, but with a modern cabaret feel, inspired and exquisite storytelling over timeless melodies.” “This isn’t songwriting for money, for fame, even for the audience’s entertainment.” … “Reminds me of Marlon Williams…”

I just want to support Kiwi musicians as much as possible, and I absolutely love what Marlon and Aldous are doing. Marlon Williams’ cover of the Screaming Jay Hawkin’s track Portrait of a Man is just so… so good.

Read our blogpost about Aldous Harding’s session on songwriting at the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival.

Any favourite memories or places in Christchurch for you?

When you live in Dunedin, Christchurch is the big smoke. I specifically remember I saw The Bats there when I was 16 (braces and all) with my friend Marea. She wore my mum’s home-knitted emerald green ’60s dress and I wore some cobbled together monstrosity.

What did you READ when you were a teenager?

You know, not a lot. I kind of stopped reading at around 13, well books anyway, and all my spare time was dedicated to music. Playing, listening, memorising lyrics. I did love books like Flowers in the Attic (yikes!) but honestly I just didn’t really read very much. I wish I had. I think if there had been a more interesting YA (young adult) reading community like there is today I would have read much more.

What role did (or do) libraries play in your life?

My father is an academic and writer so I spent a LOT of time in libraries with him when I was younger. Even today, when my Dad visits there will probably be some kind of trip to the library involved. I love going to them with my kids as well, snuggling up on a sofa and reading Hairy Maclary for the 100th time.

What’s your next project Rebecca? Any encores?

Book 2 follows on from This Beats Perfect, but it’s not Amelie’s tale, but the story of two young women: the privileged daughter of a record label executive who gets caught up in the business of selling celebrity secrets. And a hyper bubbly fangirl who has outgrown her idols and looking for what to do next. It’s fun, but also probably more layered than This Beats Perfect. Book 3 is in the same fictional world as well. I’m just starting it, but it will be about an all-girl punk band who scam their way to international glory. I can’t wait to write this book.

Rock on Rebecca!

More

This Beats Perfect would make a great read for artistically inclined teens or any young person wanting to give their passions and talents a push. This is the sort of book I want to give my musically minded daughter in her teens. It is published by Atom Books and Hachette New Zealand.

This Beats Perfect
by Rebecca Denton
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9780349002729

Rebeccalaunch
Author Rebecca Denton at This Beats Perfect book launch February 2017 (Photo credit: Carolyn Burke)

More about the author: Rebecca is originally from Melbourne, moved to Dunedin as a young teenager and later spent many years in the UK. New Zealand sits deepest in her heart. She now lives in Austria with her young daughters, a trumpet, 2 guitars, a keyboard, several vintage computer games. She spent her career travelling the world making music TV for MTV and Channel 4, and wrangling young adult audiences for the BBC and ITV. She’s filmed Iggy Pop, MIA, Kaiser Chiefs, Sonic Youth, Jack White, Dirty Pretty Things and The Klaxons, to name a few.

Rebecca’s recommendations

Rebecca says: YA literature is SO MUCH MORE than fantasy. There are so many incredible books out there (200+ debuts in the USA alone this year).

CoverCoverCoverCoversimonversusthehomosapienstheloveinterest

Read

Everyone teenager (and adult) needs to read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The story was inspired by the killing of Oscar Grant, an unarmed 22 year-old African America by a transit officer and is one of a crop of books exploring racial injustice out this year.

Read Kiwi

Fellow writery mum Bianca Zander‘s Predictions or The Girl Below.

Magic

A great escapist read was Caraval by Stephanie Garber. Great fun – I really just lost myself in that book.
Read our Caraval review.

Queer stories

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli is going to be a cult movie – so read the book first! And one of the most hotly anticipated YA books of the year is The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich. A fellow YA author said to me that it is ‘one of the best books you’ll ever read.’

Listen

Start your ‘women in punk‘ journey with Patti Smith’s record Horses.

Watch

Grace Taylor. Seek out some of her spoken word performances online or Taylor’s TedX Talk. And then buy, share, support and help to raise up voices of the marginalised in New Zealand.

Support art

Go to Art Ache if you can (it offers original pieces of art at affordable prices). There was one recently in Dunedin, and they happen regularly in Auckland. Buy some affordable limited edition pieces by other New Zealanders and help boost our artists.

If you like the sound of This Beats Perfect …

lonesomewhenyougoYou may also like the recently released Lonesome When You Go by Saradha Koirala. Paige plays bass in high school rock band Vox Pop, which means keeping steady even in their most raucous rock and roll moments. But in the tense build-up to the Rockfest competition, Paige finds she can’t control everything in her life, no matter how hard she practises. Lonesome When You Go is a novel about practising solo, performing like a rockstar, and how contributing your best self to something can create a force greater than the sum of its parts.
Author Saradha Koirala taught English at high school in Wellington for ten years.
Read an excerpt from Lonesome When You Go.

Mr. Bunny’s Chocolate Factory – a timely tale

Mr Bunny’s Chocolate Factory couldn’t be a more timely tale for Easter!

The publication of this picture book just happens to coincide with the announcement of the closure of the Cadbury chocolate factory in Dunedin, a decision prompted by profit motives. And factory farming is not far from the news either. This story is surprisingly topical on both fronts.

MrBunnysChocolateFactory

How do you think chocolate eggs are made? Chickens eat chocolate and then lay chocolate eggs, of course! There is a factory… run by a bunny… and in the factory works some chickens …underpaid and overworked. Take a look inside the inner workings of this chocolate factory about to fracture… you’ll find great greed, a big bad boss and weary workers.

If you fancy a serving of morality along with your morsels of treats, Mr Bunny is a wonderful way to engage young children with the ideas of greed and excess and reflect on how people – or animals – should be treated. This is story for our times, in more ways than one.

Easter related books

Checkout our basket full of recently arrived books about rabbits, eggs and Easter

Cover of happy easterCover of egg hunting we will goCover of The chocolate monsterCover of EggCover of We're going on an egg huntEasterhungry

Digital Egg Design

This school holidays, take part in a quirky QR iPad Easter hunt in the library followed by a chance to create your very own Easter-inspired basket of goodies.

Sick leave and my personality change

Winter ailments are striking early. In library after library staff are succumbing to lurgies and being booked off work. When it happened to me, my first thought was: Goodie, now I will read all the books on my shelves that I’ve not had time for.

I started with My Name is Lucy Barton. This was the wrong book at the wrong time. Lucy is sick in hospital having a disjointed trip down memory lane with a truly dysfunctional mother. It is beautifully written, but a Get Well Soon read it is not.

Cover of The life changing magic of not giving a f**kUnfazed, my hand reached out for The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. I needed a life change, and heaven knows the cupboards were long overdue for a bit of attention. After one chapter I lost the will to live. There is only so much origami-like folding of underwear that an invalid can handle. Instead I selected The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k (How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do With People You Don’t Like.) That’s more like it!

HyggeNext up Hygge. This is a Danish word for the concept of Happiness. I soon realised that I had been mispronouncing it for months. Irrationally, this kind of wrong-footing really annoys me. I still call it Higgy*. Anyway, it is the trend du jour. I was feeling quite ho-hum about it all until it got to the bit where you feel all higgy because you do generous things. I had my usual perverse reaction to this. Who exactly is feeling good here? The giver or the givee? Just for the record I would be enraged if people  kept leaving little containers of home-made jam on my doorstep and hung freshly baked bread rolls from my front doorknob. Clearly I was not in a good mental space.

And that’s when I realised that I was going about this Sick Leave reading all the wrong way. What I really wanted to do was rip out my lungs and have a go at them with a meat cleaver. I wanted violence. I was after blood. In quick succession I read two wonderful murder mysteries (The Fire Maker by Peter May and I Shot the Buddha by Colin Cotterill) and followed them up with my first Literary Western (The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt). I felt better almost immediately.

Cover of The Fire maker I shot the buddha The Sisters Brothers

We may have put an end to blood letting and the use of leeches in modern medicine. But that doesn’t stop it from being the way to go when you are feeling enraged by ill health. Give it a try!

*[Ed: For the curious it’s closer to “hoo-ga”. You’re welcome]

Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird at the WORD Christchurch and Christchurch Art Gallery

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.

CoverCover

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.

Crowd for Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird
Crowd for Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird. Flickr 2017-03-22-IMG_9004

Hera and Ashleigh kicked off with some readings:

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.

Photos

See our pics from the event.

Quotable Quotes

I don’t think either of us leave the house very much. (Hera)

I really love New Zealand actually. (Ashleigh)

This whole thing is terrible for my process. (Ashleigh, on this talk and writer events when you are an introvert writer)

I love her blurriness. (Ashleigh, on Lydia Davis)

People know both Renoir and Taylor Swift. (Hera, on art and pop culture)

George Saunders is my favourite living writer. (Hera)

All the sex in it is kind of a joke. (Hera, on her book)

Even Bill Manhire can be really funny. (Ashleigh)

I don’t find anything moving that I didn’t find funny first. (Hera)

Book signing - Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird
Book signing – Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird. Flickr 2017-03-22-IMG_9027

An Ashleigh and Hera playlist

Here are some of the many writers, poets, and musicians namechecked by Ashleigh and Hera:

  • Lydia Davis – Ashleigh loves her writing: “Something about her voice makes me want to write myself”.
  • Both name checked Frank O’Hara.
  • NZ poet James Brown
  • Hera is inspired by Mark Leidner, Chelsey Minnis, PG Wodehouse
  • Anne Carson – intense beauty, no humour. (Hera)
  • Ashleigh: Mark Greif – Against Everything
    “The opinions he expresses have a finality to them whereas Lydia Davis’ work seems like everything is still forming in front of her”
  • Hera recommended Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders. He is coming to the Auckland Writers Festival this year.
  • Ashleigh currently listening to Grandaddy the band – for a nostalgic ‘so bad it’s good’ hit.
  • Hera was asked about her use of a text generator in writing a poem in the book. She said she liked to play and experiment with language and referenced This Paper Boat  by Gregory Kan.

Amy – who was a great and enthusiastic facilitator for this session –  heartily recommended The TOAST website.

What’s next

Hera is heading off to a couple of overseas festivals.

Ashleigh is writing poems, and is off to New Haven, Connecticut to collect the Windham-Campbell Prize (and go to New York with the other recipients).

Both are working on new books. Slowly, surely.

Donna R and Kim M

Knights and Princesses Day

Knights and Princesses fun dayHear ye, hear ye!

The Princess and the PonyThe populace of Central Library Peterborough invite one and all for an afternoon of medieval entertainment, to take place from 1-3pm on Saturday the 25th of March. There will be crown decorating for those of royal blood, and shield making for any knights in need of armour. Catapults will be created and tested! If you are of an active disposition we invite you to attempt the quest, or if of a more mellow nature try out some medieval crafts and board games.

Prizes will be granted for the best costumes so bring your sense of chivalry and your best royal and/or knightly outfit to win! All welcome. This is a free event.

Need help getting into character? Check out my list of favourite books about knights and princesses for kids and teens.

Cover of Sir Gawain the TrueCover of The Princess in BlackCover of Tuesdays at the CastleCover of The Winter Prince

Boss Baby – based on a book

CoverBefore Boss Baby the movie there was … Boss Baby the book!

The film Boss Baby (2017) is loosely based on the 2010 book by author and illustrator Marla Frazee. Many a parent has thought that their little ones seem to rule the roost … sometimes they are downright tyrannical with a temper tantrum or two. Boss Baby is a delightful metaphor. Here, parents are the overworked staff of Boss Baby, put upon by his demands. Coincidentally topical, Boss Baby may remind you of a certain world leader making headlines for similar behaviour.

The Boss Baby (2010)
From the moment he arrives, it is obvious that the new baby is boss and he gets whatever he wants, from drinks made-to-order around the clock to his executive (play) gym. He makes demands. Many, many demands. And he was quite particular. If things weren’t to his immediate satisfaction, he had a fit. He didn’t say a single word that made any sense at all but that didn’t stop him. He was born leader.

CoverThe Bossier Baby (2016)
Boss Baby used to be in charge of his family, but that was before he got an even bossier baby sister. She demoted him and made herself CEO and set about restructuring the organisation (aka the family). She had a full-time social media team and a private limo (cue pram envy). Boss Baby was sidelined until they started working cooperatively to rule their workers (aka parents).

The voice of Boss Baby in the film is actor Alec Baldwin who has been doing impersonations of American president Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live.

Find Alec Baldwin’s work in our collection.

Caraval: Magical fantasy

If George R. R. Martin’s Westeros of the Game of Thrones series is a magical take on an historical Britain, then the world of Stephanie Garber’s Caraval is a similarly fantastical Italy.

The story starts on a sun-soaked isle, the home of heroine Scarlett Dragna and her sister Donatella, but inevitably progresses to the home of Caraval, where potions, wishes and magic are real and wind through it like its twisting canals (making it suggestive of an imaginary, fairy tale Venice).

Cover of Caraval

Scarlett and Tella are the daughters of the local governor, a murderous, manipulative brute from whom both sisters would love to escape. Scarlett, the elder cautious sister, hopes to do just that via an arranged marriage… but Tella has other, somewhat more adventurous ideas, involving a trip to the mysterious, magical game of Caraval.

The game is like a murder mystery dinner, but one that takes place over 5 days, involves a whole town as the set, and is infused with magic. It’s all just a game and nothing is real… but Scarlett, who is drawn into the game by her sister and is forced to hunt for her when she is abducted, comes to believe otherwise.

There are clues, chases, shadowy menacing figures, false leads, magically transforming clothes, revelatory backstories and more than a little bit of heady, romantic entanglement. Perfect, escapist, young adult, fantasy reading for a rainy weekend.

But there’s also character progression as the reader watches Scarlett discover her self-worth over the course of the book, starting out as a fearful, somewhat downtrodden character but eventually, through love for her sister and dogged determination, finding strength and confidence in her own choices.

As far as mysteries go, this one kept me guessing (and most of my guesses were wrong). The story is a bit slow to start, and if you look too closely you’ll start to find plot holes, but that said once the main characters are in the game, the pacing is such that it’s a diverting, page-turning ride to the dramatic conclusion.

Though, be warned, a couple of intriguing plot points are left deliberately open, suggesting a sequel may be in the works…

Caraval
by Stephanie Garber
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781473629158

Emily Writes talks

Emily Writes is a Wellington-based writer whose blog posts have a habit of going viral. She is mother to two year-old Ronnie and four year-old Eddie and over the last couple of years I have chatted with her online quite a bit.

With a three year-old myself our online conversations have covered the full range of parental indignities from pregnancy and childbirth to toddler tantrums and terrible things that have happened to our soft furnishings. But also moments of delight… and Alexander Skarsgård gifs.

Emily’s new book, Rants in the dark, is proving a hit with parents across the country. Ahead of the Christchurch launch event at Scorpio Books next week, Emily chatted to me about her book, how she writes, and shared some favourite reads of her own.

Emily Writes
Emily Writes. Image credit: Christopher Tse.

So you started out blogging about parenting stuff, segued into somewhat tipsy movie reviews, have become the parenting editor at The Spinoff and now you have a book out. The next inevitable step is the biopic of your life, so the real question is… who will play you?

Oh my gosh, that is so hilarious. Alexander Skarsgård would need to be my husband in a movie and we would need to have many off-camera dress rehearsals and practice runs.

Cover of I Am Sasha Fierce
Emily’s twin and future bestie, Beyoncé.

I would really like it if Beyoncé could be me… I love her… My inspiration is Beyoncé so I would like to meet her. Because if she played me in a movie I could meet her and then maybe we would become best friends.

I’m now thinking about this a lot. Because it would probably be like a Shortland Street actor, right? Or someone who could do a believeable Kiwi accent, so maybe it could be… Nicole Kidman in a fat suit or something? Or… Cate Blanchett’s very good at accents.

What were you aiming for in writing “Rants in the dark”?

I hope that it is kind of a friend in the night to mums and new mums. If they’re awake at 3am or something like that – I wrote it at 3am. So I hope that it feels like somewhere they can turn in the night when they’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. Or during the day, or any time. I hope that it’s a different kind of parenting book.

It’s not a place for advice, or judgment or “I know what I’m doing” because I definitely don’t know what I’m doing. I hope that it just makes mums feel good about themselves but not in a “yoga” way.

Do you feel like there is a niche that parenting books weren’t quite hitting and that that’s where “Rants in the dark” sits?

I guess, yeah. I got What to expect when you’re expecting when I was pregnant and it kind of terrified me, and it’s also a bit like reading a dictionary. It’s quite a full-on book and I looked but I couldn’t find anything that properly prepared me – and I know that you can’t properly be prepared [for parenthood] – but I guess I wanted something like “hey, this might not be every single second of incredible delight. It will be amazing and the best thing ever but there will also be some really hard times”. That’s a really hard message to get across and maybe that’s why there aren’t books like that.

I just really felt like because we had tried so hard [to have a baby] that I would be ecstatic every second. And it’s that whole thing where, any parent talking about the hard times, you feel like you have to justify straight away – I am really happy…  And that’s why it’s such a difficult thing to talk about but I think we really do need to talk about… the realness of parenting, I guess.

I felt, with Eddie’s illness… how did this ever happen? And that’s a really hard thing when you start motherhood with something that you never expected that turns your whole life upside down. So I wanted to write something that maybe resonated with those mums that didn’t have this super smooth run into motherhood.

Sometimes I felt, when Eddie was really sick, that all these mums around me just had these perfect lives, and I know that that’s not true… but I felt very weird, alone and kind of “othered”… And I know that a lot of mums who have babies that have health conditions or are prem or that type of thing, they feel that too. So I hope that in that way it serves the community.

Emily Writes is not your real name, is it? Why did you feel the need to work under a pseudonym?

I guess the pseudonym is about the fact that I want to protect the privacy of my children. Every step of the way I’ve had boundaries and wanted to respect their privacy, and not only privacy but for me it’s about respecting them as people. …We talk a lot about what I’m writing, in terms of respecting the boys, but there’s a lot of trust there that I’m never going to do something that hurts them.

But I guess I don’t want them to spend their lives with people saying things like “oh, is your mum blah, blah, blah”. And I don’t want them to be Google-able, if that’s a word. I don’t want them to feel like they are characters or anything like that and I want to respect my husband’s privacy. He’s a really shy person.

… It also allows me a little bit of separation… I want to be able to come home and I walk through the door and I’m with my kids. …I find this is sort of a way to remind myself that I am a mum first to my kids and a wife and that is really important to me that I prioritise that and this allows me to not get too far up my own a*** or something.

With two small kids, it must be a struggle to write sometimes.

It’s hard to get it good. I write heaps. My drafts folder is like a phonebook… but it’s all s***. It’s easy to write lots but trying to find something good enough to publish is hard.

What I did was all at 3am, 4am because my kid is just intense. Every time he woke up, if I had an idea, I would note it down during the night and the book is like lots of little blog posts in a book. So I didn’t have to change my way of writing or anything [from blogging]. So I feel like I was pretty lucky. I think writers who write actual books are amazing.

Cover of Rants in the dark[I remind Emily that she has written an actual book]

Oh yeah, I have written an actual book. I forgot.

You just feel so lucky to have a book that you just feel very weird, and lucky and how did this happen? And it just doesn’t feel like it was hard because it’s so exciting. And also I didn’t do the grind like other writers did. I feel like I’ve been shot up the a*** with a rainbow, basically. I’ve just been very lucky.

What authors or writers do you yourself enjoy reading?

That’s a great question. I love Bunmi Laditan. I discovered her after I had started writing because someone said “you remind me of Bunmi” and then I went on her Facebook page and she’s just amazing in the way she talks about anxiety and mental health –  just so powerful. I love Bunmi.

I love Clementine Ford. I just read Fight like a girl. I think that was really brave. It’s kind of like Feminism 101, a really nice sort of entry into intersectional feminism…

I really love Emma Neale whose book Billy Bird – I just cried the whole way through it – it was such a powerful metaphor for parenting.

Cover of Mansfield and MeI love Sarah Laing’s Katherine Mansfield book, Mansfield and Me. I love that book. It’s amazing. I wanted to read it because I really like her as a person. She seems super nice and lovely. I don’t know her but that’s how she seems. So I thought “I’ll just buy it because she seems really nice and I want to support New Zealand authors” and then I loved it. You know when you just don’t know if you’re going to like a book or not, and then it’s everything? And I never thought I’d be into a Katherine Mansfield book but I loved it.

You’re coming down to Christchurch and doing a book launch event at Scorpio Books soon.

Yes, I’m so excited to come to Christchurch and that Scorpio Books wants to host me. And I think someone is running around trying to organise a day event so that we don’t exclude mums who can’t go out during the “witching hour” because their children are tyrants. Which is my children. I don’t mean that to insult anybody’s children.

I’m quite nervous about the Unity launch in Wellington because my kids will be there but I feel like if they absolutely crack it, I’ll just be like “See? I told you. Everything in the book is true”.

Hear Emily Writes talk at Scorpio Books BNZ Centre, 120 Hereford Street, Thursday, 6-7.30pm, 16 March.

The New Zealand Book Council are giving away one copy of Rants in the dark. To enter the draw, email reception@bookcouncil.org.nz with “Rants” in the subject line by Thurs 16 March. (Remember to include your postal address!)

All About (Nasty) Women — WORD Christchurch

This blog talks about two live-streamed talks from the Sydney All About Women event, but after looking at their website I’ve realised how many interesting talks are happening that aren’t live-streamed. For instance Life on Mars, about Carmel Johnston’s year living in the HI-SEAS Mars simulation on Hawai’i. (I just re-watched The Martian so it caught my eye.) Luckily All About Women is filmed and put on Youtube so those of us who missed out can still watch when they’re uploaded.

Geena Davis on Gender in Media

If you’re skeptical that media representation and the lack thereof can influence the way we view ourselves and others, Geena Davis and her institute on gender in media can provide a few facts that might change your mind. In 2012, the year of Cover of Brave: The essential guideBrave‘s Merida and The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen, the participation of girls in archery competitions more than doubled. Which is great! What’s not so great is how rare that positive representation actually is. The gender disparity in film is just as bad now as it was 1946, and that’s not an exaggeration. I recently read Jessica Chastain’s essay on how amazing and rare it was to work on a set that has 20% women (The Zookeeper’s Wife, directed by Niki Caro). 20%! Sometimes she was the only woman on set at all. I sometimes forget, working in a field that is so woman-friendly, how isolated we can be in the workplace.

As depressing as those facts are I highly recommend having a look at Geena Davis’ website and the footage of her All About Women speech when it goes up. In person she is very, very funny and has inspired me to look even more closely at the media I consume. I recommend you do likewise, particularly animated children’s movies, which from the stats seem to have the worst record of gender disparity and negative stereotyping.

Backstage interview with Jessa Crispin

Crispin rejects the label of feminist because today’s feminism isn’t feminist enough. Too many people are calling themselves feminists, she says, by just co-opting the ideology others have created rather than inventing their own. To make real change we need just a few really hardcore radical women willing to tear down the system, we don’t need to convert everybody to the cause.

If feminism is universal, if it is something that all women and men can “get on board” with, then it is not for me. If feminism is nothing more than personal gain disguised as political progress, then it is not for me. If by declaring myself a feminist I must reassure you that I am not angry, that I pose no threat, then feminism is definitely not for me. I am angry. And I do pose a threat. — Jessa Crispin, Why I Am Not a Feminist

Cover of Why I am not a feministI found listening to Crispin frustrating because while I agreed with some of what she said (feminism needs to be more inclusive racially and economically) I disagree with how she thinks we should solve it. Slacktivism is a problem for many causes, not just feminism, so rather than sneering at the lip-service feminists as not being feminist enough, why not work to inspire more of them to take more active roles in achieving gender parity?

If you were there (or have read Crispin’s book, Why I Am Not a Feminist), I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Nasty Women

So many smart, articulate ladies on this panel. Some of the best quotes:

No one is looking after us, it’s only us. And if you don’t get active in democracy, you get Trump. — Van Badham

 

The moment we shut up we let them win. — Yassmin Abdel-Gamied

 

Cover of Shrill: Notes from a loud womanSimply presenting my body to the world and insisting that it has value is a political act. It freaks people out. — Lindy West

 

You have the strength of all the women with you, who came before you, and who will come after you. — Van Badham

 

We have to mobilise everyone. Tell our kids that activism and standing for office are part of our civic duties. —Lindy West

 

It’s when people mobilise around the issues that are actually more important than the vacuum of hate, that opinions can change and we’ve got to have hope in that message and our capacity to organise, to speak to people about what’s really important to them. It’s only a tiny percentage of people who are really defined by hatred and will vote hatred more than anything else. — Van Badham

 

The idea of changing the entire world is overwhelming, but the idea of having an impact on the few people who are around us is very very achievable. — Yassmin Abdel-Gamied

One (very small) way that I try to make a difference is to support marginalised authors by buying, reading and reviewing their books. It takes very little effort on my part and I get to read great books! Win-win. If you’re looking for new authors to read I recommend We Need Diverse Books as a great place to start.

Librarians who write!

The Library of Unrequited LoveI’ve lost count of the number of times people have said to me: “You should write a book!” Sometimes this is said after I have told a funny story, sometimes when they realise that I belong to not one but three book groups, but quite often it is said simply because I work in a library.

This got me thinking about how many librarians have actually written books. Let’s start with real live librarians working in Christchurch City Libraries right now:

  • Dylan Kemp is one of the Poets in Residence at a Christchurch community library. He has three published books of poetry to his name. Dylan is a poet who often focuses on relationships in his writing. In real life he speaks just like his poetry: thoughtfully, honestly and with kindness.
  • Andrew Bell is our resident coastal poet. He has two poetry books and a book of short stories in our collection. Andrew takes situations and observations from life (and Andrew is very perceptive) and turns them into beautiful writing that makes you want to say: Yes This Exact Thing Has Happened To Me!
  • Beaulah Pragg has the first of her Young Adult, Fantasy/Science Fiction novels – The Silver Hawk – in our collection. In a world of gender-role reversal set somewhere out there on “the rim”, Beulah’s imagination appears unstoppable – there is even a sequel in the offing.

TendernessBut wait there’s more. In the past, authors Sarah Quigley, Bill Nagelkerke, Dave Welch, Richard Greenaway and Margaret Mahy were all librarians working at Christchurch City Libraries. And internationally, well-known authors who have worked in libraries include: Philip Larkin, Anne Tyler, and Angus Wilson.

Sophie Divry, who wrote The Library of Unrequited Love, has a main character who (in a ninety page rant to a man who slept the night in her basement workplace) tells the story of her dead-end library job and her fantasy love-life for a customer. She has to have written this book in a library.

Librarians who have actually written and had books published know the hard yards that have had to be done to write a book, get it onto a shelf, and to have a hand reach out and choose it. They know best whether a library is a great place for an aspiring author to work.

As for me, I remain…..The Hand That Reaches Out!

List of Librarian Writers

Books written by current Christchurch Library staff.
Books written by current Christchurch Library staff.