Dan recommends: The best of fiction

Another year is coming to a close and it gives me pause to think about what an amazing year it has been for fiction! We’ve been bestowed with such a wealth of quality new releases, from longstanding authors continuing to deliver, debuts of such genius it boggles the mind, sequels that have been waiting more than a century, and a bold author new takes on an old classic.

Catalogue link to Flames by Robbie ArnottMy highlights for this year start with not only the best book I’ve read this year but possibly the best I will ever read, ever!

I’m talking it up, I know but here’s some of the reasons why… Flames is a tribute to nature, the environment, our place in it, the unseen elements, the powers that rule, and the lives of all things. It weaves myths and small gods into the fabric of the environment, masters of unseen systems which shape lives unbeknownst to the humans inhabiting their land. This is an astonishingly good book. It’s elemental, blurs the lines between reality and mythology, sweeps you up in atmosphere and the sense of place, and the use of language is sublime. The story is set in Tasmania and centres around a family with deep connections to the land and environment. A young woman sets out south, alone to the wilderness of ancient Tasmania, while her brother sets out to build her a coffin and sends a private detective to track down his sister and bring her home.Through the course we discover an ageless world, gods of nature, young people coming of age, and what it is to engage with your world. Superb effort and the best thing I’ve read this year – quite an effort given the next titles I’ll share with you!

Catalogue link to Macbeth by Jo NesboWhen Hogarth Shakespeare set out to create modern retellings of the great works of Shakespeare, they were inspired by their choice of Jo Nesbo to retell Macbeth. Macbeth The master of noir violence and mystery has done an absolutely brilliant job of turning Macbeth (the man) into a Scottish police officer, wracked with guilt of the past, plagued with addiction, and hungry for power. It’s so obvious to me now that Macbeth was MADE for the Scandi-Noir genre treatment. It’s gritty, dark, violent. Full of power, betrayal, and characters walking the fine line between sanity and madness. For this story Macbeth is head of SWAT in a dangerous and corrupt town and together with his mistress, Lady, the rags-to-riches casino entrepreneur, they embark on a powerplay to seize control of the city. But Macbeth has a sketchy past full of drug abuse and violence and as he relapses things get out of control, people get killed, lines get blurred… A great read and a must if you like Scandi Crime!

Catalogue record for The shepherd's hut by Tim WintonThe next two I’d like to share are by two of the most important authors of our contemporary world right now – in my humble opinion. The first is the Australian writer Tim Winton and his newest book The Shepherd’s Hut. It’s the very colourful and memorable account of a young man forced by circumstance to take to the outback roads of rural Western Australia. Such brilliant descriptive writing will have you smelling the eucalyptus in the air, and hearing the crispy arid saltlands crunching underfoot. Jaxie is running and he’s got a vague destination in mind – north. And he’s got to survive the perils of rural Australia, criminals, and the very land that seems to want to kill him from heat, thirst or animal attack. An outstanding book from a great Australian author and written in vernacular language too, strengthening characters and adding some lightness!

Catalogue record for Don't skip out on me by Willy VlautinThe other amazing offering comes from an American author; Don’t Skip Out on Me

Willy Vlautin is one of my favourite authors writing today and his works just keep getting better and better. He writes of contemporary everyday life and he tells the stories of working class Americans and the very real struggles faced by ordinary people in the America of today. This one is concerning a young American Indian man who passionately desires to be a champion boxer. He begins his journey on a ranch in Nevada where an ageing couple has adopted him, and follows him to Arizona as he sets his mind to a life of pugilism. Beautifully written and full of the heart and pathos that Willy Vlautin is famous for. A stellar effort and worthy of much praise.

Catalogue record for Only killers and thieves by Paul HowarthAnd now for the fans of gritty Historical Fiction and WesternsOnly Killers and Thieves

Another great debut from Australia that really captures the Australian Gothic story. It’s the story of two young men, not boys but barely men, after a traumatic family event that sees them on a journey not of their choosing. The book describes the brutality of life in 1800’s Australia, the treatment of the indigenous population, and the rigourous adherence to the ‘old ways’ in this vastly alien and seemingly lawless world. If you like your reading to be vivid, violent, confronting, and troublesome then you’ll sure like this one!

Catalogue record for Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J. D. BarkerI was originally going to keep this list of highlights to five titles but there’s another one that came to my attention recently. It’s the sequel (a prequel to be more precise) that’s taken over a century to come into existence. Dracul

The official prequel to the great work, this one penned by none other than Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew and authorised by his estate. It’s told in the familiar form of diary entries and personal notes, and tells the story of Bram himself who along with his siblings encounter some serious evil and a creature so powerful and unknowable that it threatens their very souls. So well written and very readable, good pace (bit of a page turner), and language that would please the original author. A great read for fans of horror, mystery/suspense, or the classics. Definitely one of my best picks for 2018 and a worthy inclusion to this highlights package (and my colleague Fee loved it too)!

Now I look at the titles that missed out on inclusion to this list with some sadness – like I say, it was a remarkable year for quality fiction! Here at least you have a selection for your holiday reading this summer. Grab one at your local library, settle in with a cup o’tea (or something else), and get some amazing stories in for the hols.

Happy reading,

^DevilStateDan

Dan recommends: The best recreational non-fiction of 2018

2018 has been a stunning year for me when we talk about books and reading, and here’s a selection of recreational non-fiction titles that I have enjoyed in the back half of 2018 and that you too can enjoy over the New Zealand summer season!

Cover of A collection of conversations with Richard Fidler, Volume 3First up; an audiobook! A Collection of Conversations With Richard Fidler Volume 3

Volume 3 is another outstanding collection of conversations with Australian ABC Arts journalist and author Richard Fidler. His genius with interviewing technique unwraps some amazing stories from people who have done amazing things with their lives. The common thread among all of these interviewees is their passion for continued learning, their curiosity about the world, and their passion for life. In this volume we hear from a blind woman who navigates by sonar, a Bundjalung woman who rose to become one of Australia’s brightest lights, a man who spent 10 years alone in the bush before gaining a doctorate while being homeless, the animalistic life of comedian Bill Bailey, and many more fascinating stories. A great summer’s day listening at the bach, maybe with a glass of something refreshing…

Cover of Leviathan, or the whaleNext we have the soon-to-be-considered-classic work of Philip Hoare Leviathan, Or, The Whale

I was lucky enough to see/hear Philip Hoare speak at this year’s Word Christchurch festival, and it was the realisation of a dream that I didn’t know I had – to meet the man who has had me mesmerised with his writing about the sea and natural science too often to count. Philip Hoare writes of the sea in such powerful and beautiful language. This particular book is his own graceful exploration of whales, their place in our world, our human history interacting with them, and the perils that they face at the hands of humanity and environmental changes. A book to read slowly, embracing every sentence for its beauty and poetic brilliance.

Cover of Wisconsin death tripIn completely the other direction, 2018 was the year I discovered this book from long ago – Wisconsin Death Trip

This book is a surreal journey about the real events surrounding the town of Black River Falls, Wisconsin way back in the 1890s. Over a decade or so the townsfolk underwent what can only be called a mass-mania with incidents of murder, arson, infanticide, institutionalisation, and all manner of other horrors. These stories are told through archival newspaper reports and the most astonishing images taken from glass-plate negatives taken during the time. Haunting images and crazy stories… an amazing piece of captured history.

Cover of 11 Explorations into life on EarthAnd perhaps in the lead up to Christmas you could indulge in a British custom and read about the history of the Royal Institute’s Christmas Lectures 11 Explorations Into Life on Earth

A very compelling volume of short accounts of the sessions delivered by many noted British scientists including Richards Dawkins and the great David Attenborough himself. These lectures were aimed to get kids excited about science and they are very entertaining and informative – you’ll love them too!

And the last title I’ll share with you is a micro-history. A micro-history is a work which focuses on one very specific piece of human or natural history. In the past I’ve enjoyed brilliant micro-histories like Salt by Mark Kurlansky – the amazing story of the most popular food seasoning in the world, or The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester (a repeat offender when it comes to micro-histories!) – an account of a madman who made the most significant contribution to the English language dictionary. I may one day write a blog just about the amazing world of micro-histories (Alina has done a very good microhistories list to start with) but for this time it’s all about Krill in The Curious Life of Krill.

Cover of The curious life of krillThis is a fascinating read about one of the most bountiful and important food sources in the Earth’s oceans. Written with an expert’s mind and a writer’s sense of storytelling this is a most enlightening read. Krill; they’re not as small as you think, and they are almost definitely the most important link in the food chain for life on Earth. Great read. Cool creatures. Think of them when you’re BBQ-ing your prawns this Christmas! 🙂

And that’s the back half of my 2018 reading in recreational non-fiction. These are not all the titles that crossed my path but definitely the most interesting and the ones I would like to share the most.

Happy Christmas season to y’all and happy reading for the rest of 2018!

^DevilStateDan

Your Halloween Soundtrack

It’s that time of year again for us to celebrate all things dark, sinister, and macabre, and what a lot of options you have from us here at Christchurch City Libraries!

We have Horror, Sci-Fi, & Fantasy booklists covering all your favourite subgenres, plenty of horror films available on DVD, Pru has done an excellent sum-up of Halloween stuff including Spooky Halloween Days at Shirley and Linwood, AND we have a way for you to soundtrack your festivities… after all, what’s more frightening than the sounds of impending dread…!?

Monster rock horror for your Halloween

List created by DevilStateDan

Trick and Treat yourself this Halloween with these suitably horror-ific musical experiences…

Nothing suits Halloween better than the psychedelic horror rock sounds of King Crimson, the perfect way to soundtrack your Halloween!
Live at the Orpheum

A great cross section of the work of Siouxsie & the Banshees. Rock this album while your carve your Jack O’Lantern!
Spellbound

The original monsters of rock – you wanted the best, you got the best. Get your full make-up on and rock this Halloween!
Monster

Thirty tracks from the Stranglers from between 1983-1991. A collection of punk fuelled horror B-sides to rock you this Halloween.
Here & There

Music from the horror show born out of NZ – what better way to kick start your Halloween!?The Rocky Horror Picture Show

The hugely celebrated second (and last!) album from the Cannibals. Some call it a masterpiece. Whatever you think you can bop with the pop til you drop this Halloween!
The Raw & the Cooked

Rob Zombie has been delivering his horror rock for decades and this album is one of the highlights of his career. Get trashy and zombie this Halloween.
Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor

Music to survive zombies by… the perfect soundtrack for your Halloween.
The Walking Dead

The grandfathers of gothic rock in a collection featuring their best tracks. It doesn’t get more dark, gothic, or horror-ific than the masters.
The Ultimate Collection

And finally, on this CD you will find THE classic piece of horror music; Toccata & Fugue in D minor. If you don’t recognize the name, you’ll surely recognize the first three notes!
Famous Organ Works

View Full List

Happy listening and a happy Halloween!

A.J. Finn – WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

CoverThe next thrill-ride is here and it’s editor-turned-bestselling-author A.J. Finn and his new book The Woman in the Window.

The newest thing in psychological crime fiction is A.J. Finn and he has joined some illustrious company, the likes of Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins. I was lucky enough to hear the author speak as part of WORD Christchurch Festival  and was impressed by his energy and his insights into the processes of writing a best selling novel.

A.J. Finn reads at the Bad Diaries Salon. WORD Christchurch Festival 2018.Friday 31 August 2018. Flickr 2018-08-31-IMG_0196
A.J. Finn reads at the Bad Diaries Salon. WORD Christchurch Festival 2018.Friday 31 August 2018. Flickr 2018-08-31-IMG_0196

A.J.’s real name is Dan Mallory and he’s a die-hard crime thriller fan. It’s very evident on reading  The Woman in the Window too, all the elements to unnerve the reader are there and the suspense increases as our protagonist starts to question her own mind. It’s part Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ (a movie and director that has had a huge impact on Dan Mallory), and part contemporary suburban gothic. Once you’re hooked in there’s no putting it down and you’re swept up on a rollercoaster ride of suspense, drama, and heavy merlot consumption.

Let’s have a look at Dan Mallory as a person and see what we know about him and how it might provide insight into his becoming the next big thing in crime fiction…

  • A.J. Finn is obviously a pseudonym and it was selected carefully to achieve a certain gender neutrality but also for the author to maintain some healthy distance between his personal life and that of his role as a best-selling author. A fun fact; “A.J.” was his cousin’s name, and “Finn” was his other cousin’s French Bulldog – great choices that really sum up his attitude to life and family!
  • He’s been a keen fan of crime stories from a young age when he was dropped at the cinema by his mother as a form of free child-minding. On the screen that day was the classic film ‘The Vanishing’ and young Dan was hooked. He then studied the genre religiously, including becoming a devotee of Hitchcock, forming a strong love of our own Ngaio Marsh, and completing formal post graduate studies on none other that Patricia Highsmith!
  • He’s an outspoken champion of people living with mental health issues – he himself has had a life long struggle with misdiagnosed depression and bipolar disorder. This book’s main character Anna Fox also has mental health concerns and Mallory has a very sound insight into her voice and attitude. She’s the perfect example of a sufferer who still engages meaningfully with society in the face of her illness.
  • The character name ‘Anna Fox’ was chosen deliberately so as to be easy to pronounce and remembered across all languages and cultures – few people will have issues with the sounds used to produce any of the names of the book’s characters – a brilliant piece of multicultural accessibility right there!
  • Before becoming a worldwide sensation Dan Mallory worked in publishing and states that he did indeed use his knowledge of the industry to help him produce The Woman In The Window. Mostly this was down to effective processes that he used for editing as he went along, but also extended to ensuring a solid architecture of twists and turns – he learned a lot as a publisher and read a lot of books, he even worked on stories by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling’s’ crime fiction pseudonym!)
  • The movie rights to ‘The Woman in the Window’ were sold well before the book was even published and the soon-to-be-released film will star Amy Adams and Gary Oldman, among other big names. Mallory is determined however to not become an author who consciously writes for film and plans to hold out until his next book is out (it’s already started and is due in early 2020) before making the desicion to sell the filming rights.

At his WORD session, Dan Mallory presented as a man with infectious energy. He was quick with a funny story and unashamedly successful and happy. I look forward to his next release and hope that he continues to grow into the brilliant thriller writing that he seems capable of. And if you haven’t got your copy of  The Woman in the Window yet then jump on our catalogue now and add yourself to holds queue – it’s worth the wait!

Happy reading!

NZIFF Survivalist

The Christchurch leg of the New Zealand International Film Festival is in full swing and there’s been some brilliant films on show thus far!

A particular favourite of mine has been ‘Arctic’ – a one-man powerhouse performance by Mads Mikkelsen. He’s a pilot that has crash-landed somewhere in the vast emptiness of the Arctic and from the beginning of the film it’s obvious that he’s already been there for some time. He has developed a routine and a set of behaviours that centres around:

a) keeping himself fed (luckily there’s fish right under his feet ready for the catching), and

b) giving himself the best possible chance of being rescued.

Without giving anything away, events occur that lead him to the decision to make a long trek to a possible permanent habitat due North. It’s a road movie, a survival piece, and a celebration of the resilience of humans in the face of insurmountable odds. Mads needs some serious recognition for this performance!

The survival-against-the-odds theme is not something new to us in storytelling and film making however. I myself am particularly drawn to those stories that pit an individual – often the survivor of some calamitous event, against the wilderness in whatever shape that takes. There are examples set in jungles, deserts, mountains and polar regions, there are even some set in space. Often the entire story is reliant on a single actor to shoulder the whole burden and when there’s nature involved it opens the way for cinematographers, costume designers, and music composers to help set the scene and drive the suspense. A good recent example is ‘All is Lost’ which sees Robert Redford give a riveting performance as a man lost at sea, adrift and endangered.

And here’s nine more, in a list…

The art of survival

List created by DevilStateDan

Films that showcase the stranded loner pitted against nature and against all the odds of surviving at all… From the jungle to the Arctic, from space, the open ocean, and the desert; all these environments are out to kill you! Could you do what it takes to survive…?!?

Into the Wild – The story of a young American man who sells up and hits the road heading all the way north into Alaska. He’s desiring to be closer to nature and to get away from humanity. He has only his wits and some very limited survival skills to negotiate the harsh and unpredictable environment. A great journey and a decent telling in this movie and a great performance from Emile Hirsch.

Cast Away – The classic tale of the “shipwrecked”. The sole survivor of a FedEx plane crash ends up on an isolated island and has to fend for himself. He’s there quite a long time and we get to see his transition from inept city-dweller to experienced survivalist. Great solo performance from Tom Hanks.

Gravity – Survival in space! A single astronaut survives a disaster in orbit around Earth. She’s got to use all her guile, instinct, and training to get back to the surface. Gripping story and amazing cinematography and a stellar performance from Sandra Bullock (and George Clooney for a bit too!).

Jungle – Based on real events, a young Israeli adventurer finds himself lost and alone in the jungle of South America. It’s a hostile environment and we follow his descent into desperation and madness. Another standout performance from Daniel Radcliffe.

127 Hours – Everyone knows the story – a mountain climber gets stuck and spends 127 hours locked in place when his arm becomes caught in a climbing mishap. He’s driven to some dark places in his mind and the most desperate option quickly becomes the only option. James Franco is very good in this!

The Martian – The movie of the super-popular novel of the same name. An astronaut is left behind on Mars after a minor disaster spoils the plans for the mission. The “castaway” is a biologist and he soon gets to work farming potatoes, and making plans for his rescue. Big budget, big names, big topic! Matt Damon delivers a pretty decent representation of the main character but this does get very “Hollywood” at times…. but then it’s set on Mars and it’s a survivalist story so what’s not to like!!

Life of Pi – An oceanic wilderness survival tale with a difference. Young Indian man Pi is adrift in the Pacific Ocean in a lifeboat. Along for the ride are various wild animals from his family’s zoo business – one of them is a Bengal Tiger! Can he reach safety before he becomes lunch?? Good story told in retrospect and great work from the special effects department.

The Revenant – Not so much a sole-survivor tale but a good story of desperation, survival, and revenge! A member of a trapping party in the 1800’s is mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead by his party. With a little help along the way he manages to recover enough to navigate his way back to civilisation and onto avenge his betrayal. Dark and bloody and there’s a graphic bear attack. Leonardo DiCaprio does pretty well with what is a difficult role and the support cast are very good. I’d read the book by Michael Punke first though, it goes better than the film.

The Shallows – A tense thriller involving a young surfer and a homicidal shark! The girl is stranded annoyingly close to shore, but she’s in the Great White’s feeding ground and he’s got a taste for blood. The ocean is a scary place!

View Full List

Many of these stories are based on books and some are true life tales of hardship and exposure, but for today we’re talking movies…

Happy viewing,

^DevilStateDan

Dead Men’s WORDs

WORD Christchurch is back for 2018 and once again we have a programme chock full of amazing opportunities to revel in the goodness of the creative use of words.

There’s such a wide array of interesting stuff to highlight too…

Perhaps the biggest for me is the conversation with Irvine Welsh on Friday 31 August at the Isaac Theatre Royal (6pm-7pm). Welsh debuted in 1993 with the now-modern-classic Trainspotting, the story of a group of heroin users negotiating life in Leith, Scotland in the early 1990s.

He’s revisited these characters often with his 2016 book The Blade Artist focusing on Francis Begbie and his new life as a contemporary artist in California – a great read! And his new book, Dead Men’s Trousers, brings the whole crew back together in a more substantial way. There’s betrayal and payback, drug use and abuse, and of course a high level of coarse language and violence.

And with mixed feelings I realise that there’s some events in Dead Men’s Trousers too that, without giving any spoilers, makes me think that this might be the last we’ll see of these characters. There’s some loose ends tied off and some revelations about the future for some of them, and if it is to be the last then it’s a great way to send them off – here’s hoping that they will come back as ageing and maladjusted senior citizens at some point though, that’d be a hoot!

Scottish author Irvine Welsh (image supplied).

It will be great to hear Irvine Welsh’s take on the happenings of Britain recently; he has strong opinions and regularly shares them through his twitter account @IrvineWelsh

His 2018 WORD Christchurch talk does have a cost of $34/32 and it is only for an hour but I’m dead keen!

^DevilStateDan

Find out more

Of humans and gods elemental

I’m a committed reader and I do read fairly widely and there’s one particular thing that I love when it comes to fiction; I love stories that blend and blur the lines between reality and mythology. The kind of thing where the lives of men and meddling gods coexist and the environment holds some physical form.

There’s loads of examples of this throughout literature – the Greeks and Romans loved to tell these types of stories, and those stories continue to be told in our own time – think of John Banville’s ‘The Infinities’ and ‘Fifteen Dogs’ by Andre Alexis . In both books the Classical Gods get involved in the modern life of humanity (and canines). And more recently there’s been ‘American Gods’ by Neil Gaiman, and ‘Good Omens’ a joint effort between Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett. Both of which will be getting the screen treatment very soon!

Cover of The infinites Cover of Fifteen dogsCover of American GodsCover of Good omens

But what about the more elemental gods, the older gods, gods of the earth, environment, and the supernatural world…?

Cover of FlamesI’ve just finished reading ‘Flames’ by Robbie Arnott – a young Tasmanian author with some serious talent! He’s been writing for some years now and has a string of awards following in his wake, and he’s a very welcome addition to the burgeoning Tasmanian writers scene, a scene which includes the rural romances of Rachael Treasure, the gritty historic fiction of Rohan Wilson, and the Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan. I’m a Tasmanian myself so I do enjoy keeping up with what’s coming out of the beautiful isle, but I wasn’t really prepared for how good ‘Flames’ was going to be! It feels as you read it as if the land of lutruwita (the indigenous name for Tasmania) is itself telling the story and we are the privileged few who get to gain some insider knowledge.

It centres on two young people just after the death of their mother, which itself acts as a catalyst for all that follows. The brother is steadfast and pragmatic and wants to protect his sister so decides to build her a coffin, to which her response is to flee into the wilderness of the South West where she discovers a supernatural aspect to the world around her, and to herself and also to her family. Meanwhile the brother mounts a search to find his sister. On the journey we meet characters that are both at one with the natural world and still finding and settling into their place in it. We meet their father, we learn more about the family’s background, and other characters each of who are portrayed perfectly to outline their purpose in the narrative.

Robbie Arnott’s use of language is poetic and evocative of times past, of the smell of earth, the feel of wind, and the heat of fire. The narrative moves organically from one character to the next, shifting perspectives and fleshing out the magic of the story as it progresses. His descriptions of Tasmania (and you can rely on this ex-pat to confirm) are stunningly accurate and establish a very strong sense of place – you can smell eucalyptus burning, hear the rush of the waves onto the rocks, and you can feel the semi-decayed earth under your feet as you negotiate the wombat burrows.

So; beautiful language, strong sense of place, great characters with depth and purpose, and an engrossing story line – it’s ticked all the boxes for me!

Cover of The buried giantAnd ‘Flames’ is not the only book to achieve this balance between the real, the myth, the supernatural. ‘The Buried Giant’ by Kazuo Ishaguro is the tale of an ageing couple on a medieval pilgrimage with their purpose obscured by a think fog affecting memories, or there’s the outstanding series ‘The Tale of Shikanoko’ by Lian Hearn where we follow a journey of growth within a fantastical Edo-era Japan that has such imagination and rooted in strong mythology and where the everyday is touched with magic both light and dark. As is fellow Tasmanian Richard Flanagan’s great piece of surrealist historical fiction ‘Gould’s Book of Fish – a novel in twelve fish’ which I’m sure was both inspiration and license for Robbie Arnott to create this work, ‘Flames’.

And if you like this particular sub-genre then there’s plenty of films and tele series’ that are similar. You could have a look at ‘The Kettering Incident’, Tasmania’s own supernatural, David-Lynch-esque, tele series. It’s brilliant, dark, a bit creepy, and it’ll show you some places and environments very like those Robbie Arnott has depicted in ‘Flames’.

Enjoy your reading,

^DevilStateDan

The world of WORD: Dan’s picks of the 2018 festival

WORD Christchurch is back for 2018 and the programme is full of quality experiences of the written word!

Once again there’s everything from poetry sessions, confessional sessions, author and book-related panels, and even a whale-watching tour to beautiful Kaikoura!

But for me, the biggest excitement surrounds the sheer diversity of options available to us, the reader/audience…

  • As stated above, you can take a Whale Watching (Tues 28 Aug) trip to Kaikōura. Hosted by authors Philip Hoare and David Neiwert, and travelling from Christchurch to rendezvous with Whale Watch Kaikōura for an early afternoon cruise out into the mighty ocean, you can encounter the ocean giants first hand, all the while having the author/hosts regale you with knowledge and stories.
  • Then there’s A Cabinet of Curiosities: Tiny Lectures on the Weird and Wonderful. (Fri 31 Aug – Sun 2 Sept) A series of quickfire 20min lectures on some of the more unusual aspects of our world; UFO’s, sexbots, mermaids…. you get the idea! These will be a great way to fill in some downtime between bigger events, such as…
  • Irvine Welsh: Trainspotting to Dead Men’s Trousers. (Fri 31 Aug) What an exciting opportunity to hear from the mind of the man who burst onto the scene in 1993 with what is now a modern classic! Welsh has written quite a few books centred on the characters featured in Trainspotting, but is this to be the last one…?!? He’s also a highly opinionated and politically-minded individual so there’s sure to be some Brexit talk during his talk.
  • Diary of a Bookseller (Sat 1 Sept) gives us an insight into the highs and lows in the life of a Scottish second-hand bookshop. It’s hosted by Shaun Bythell who will also be running Book Collectors Old and New (Fri 31 Aug) – a 3 hour interactive workshop on all things book collecting. Shaun co-hosts with Brian Phillips as they will impart all the knowledge you could want on the world of book collecting.
  • And how about a panel discussion with authors presenting readings of new writing on the music that has shaped them as artists and people. Soundtrack or, Dancing About Architecture (Sun 2 Sept) will see authors Philip Hoare, Pip Adam, Chris Tse, and Nic Low do just that. Musical styles and experiences will be as wide and varied as the work of the authors presenting.
  • And finally, the story of the editor-turned-bestselling author. A.J. Finn: The Woman in the Window (Sun 2 Sept) introduces us to the next big thing in thriller writing. Dan Mallory, writing under a pseudonym, is getting huge accolades from some big names in the genre and The Woman in the Window is already getting the silver-screen treatment. This will fascinating to hear him speak about how his years of editing set him up for the best possible crack at his own bestseller!

So there are my pics for this year’s festival – wide, rich, and varied. See you there for literary-themed goodness!

200 years of the Modern Prometheus

Mary Shelley, by Richard Rothwell, 1840. Wikimedia Commons.
Mary Shelley, by Richard Rothwell, 1840. Wikimedia Commons.

Mary Shelley was just 18 years old when she began writing the English language’s most successful gothic horror tale, Frankenstein, which was first published  200 years ago. So after all these years what do we know about her, the story, and the circumstances that led to the creation of Frank Jnr.?

  • She did indeed write the story when she was 18, although it was not published until she was 21.
  • It was written as the result of a challenge laid down by Lord Byron (romantic poet extraodinaire), who along with young Mary, her husband Percy, and Byron’s “personal physician” John Polidori was staying in a spooky country house. On a stormy night telling ghost stories to each other, Byron thought it would be a good challenge for the group to see who could write the best ghost/horror story!
  • That session also led to Polidori writing the story ‘Vampyre’ which was influential on Bram Stoker for his work, ‘Dracula’.
  • ‘Frankenstein’ was first published anonymously on a short run of 500 using extremely budget materials by publisher Lackington’s, who are still operating today
  • In 1910 Thomas Edison created a 15min film based on the story – I love the music accompaniment on it!
  • The monster has no name but is referred to in the book by the names in my first sentence. For many years I believed the monster’s name was Adam, but I must’ve dreamed that!
  • The story was initially published anonymously with many readers assuming the author to be Mary’s husband Percy. Even after its reprinting in 1831 with Mary’s name on it many still thought Percy’s hand was involved. In truth it is now believed that Percy contributed a measly 6% of the text (4,000 of 72,000 words) with many readers considering that his contributions only detracted from the story, were over complicated and over described, making the whole thing harder to digest.
  • During her life Mary also wrote, seven novels, three books for kids, over a dozen short stories, and numerous biographies, articles, and poems.

The story of Frankenstein is now so embedded into our popular culture that there have been countless depictions and references all through the history of film and television; think Hermann Munster, the film Young Frankenstein, British tele series The Frankenstein Chronicles, and even with the fantastic kids film Tim Burton, Frankenweenie ,we see that this story of horror has even entered into the realms of children’s literature and culture.

But have we stayed true to Mary’s idea?? Does the monster still serve the same purpose as she intended; a lesson in mortality, human desire for control and intolerance for the different, perhaps even describing the perils of parental abandonment…? This series of charts from the Guardian suggests there have been some major deviations.

So how will you celebrate the outstanding achievement of Mary Shelley? Perhaps by reading some classic gothic/horror/monster literature, there’s plenty out there and I’ve created a short list of titles for you, all available through the Christchurch City Libraries catalogue and across many formats; books, audiobooks, ebooks, and graphic novels…

Classic Gothic/Horror/Monster stories

List created by DevilStateDan

Some spooky, dark, and unnerving tales, classic titles from famous names…

View Full List

Happy and spooky reading to you….

Film and television – a mid-year review

Seen anything good on the tele lately…?!?!

Me neither. That’s why I borrow films and tele series’ from the library! It’s a much better way of being in control of what you’re actually watching during screen time, and you can tailor your viewing to perfectly suit your taste and your timetable, WIN-WIN and, no more infomercials!!

And it’s really just about good old-fashioned storytelling isn’t it!? For me, film and television is a coming-together of multiple artforms that, when it’s done well, has the ability to move you at a level many other artforms might not individually.

So here’s a list of the best films and series’ that I’ve had the pleasure of viewing this year, so far – many more to come!

2018 – The Best of Film and Television

List created by DevilStateDan

These are the best films and television series’ that I have explored throughout the year so far, all available to you through Christchurch City Libraries membership.

The fencer – Post WWII Estonia. The Germans are gone and the Russians are taking control. They’re especially interested in those Estonians that fought for the Germans and are systematically hunting them out. This story is about one such man, a world-class fencer who is concealing himself as a sports teacher for a country college. This is a stunning and heartfelt film about humanity, strength, and love.

Get Out – A gripping story of a young black man heading away for a weekend with his as-yet un-met in-laws… what comes after is a web of dark intrigue and something is definitely not right!

The Curious World of Hieronymus Bosch – Ever wanted to know more about the mysterious Hieronymus Bosch?!? Then get a load of this – it’s a part of the ‘Exhibition on Screen’ series that takes viewers on a tour of the works and life of some of history’s great artists. This one is all about Hieronymus Bosch and is surprising in its revelations about who he was and where his inspirations were drawn, plus you get up close with some of his most amazing works!

Chasing Trane – The latest telling of the life, love, and music of the great jazz saxophonist, John Coltrane. Rare footage and loads of interviews with music legends that were close to him. He was truly a musical visionary and died at such a young age from liver cancer, it begs the questions of how much more impact could he have had on contemporary music!? A must-watch for all music fans!

Saint Amour – An old man and his adult son go on a wine-tasting road trip around France in order to reconnect. Sounds normal, but this is French comedy and things get strange! Good story.

The Limehouse Golem – I really liked this film – a Victorian Whodunnit! I loved the Victorian era look of it, the clever direction, the story was weaving and uncertain – as it should be for a classic whodunnit! And the acting was solid and dramatic without being over the top. It’s a small shame that I picked the killer in the first 20mins but I still liked the story and enjoyed it to the end!

The Dinner – A family of privileged white Americans meet for a very posh dinner to discuss an incident that involved their children. The details slowly emerge as the film unfolds and explores the issues of parenting, mental health, social navigations etc. Great performances from the four lead actors.

Detectorists – A short series about the engrossing world of metal detecting in rural Britain. Written and directed by Mackenzie Crook (from the Office, and Pirates of the Caribbean), it’s full of pathos and at once hilarious, cringey-embarrassing, and full of heart. It’s about how even small lives are big and important and that everyone deserves to be happy. Highly recommended if you like British comedy.

Rellik – A dark and twisted crime series with an uniusual device; the story is told in reverse. We begin with the outcome of a police investiagtion into a series of acid-burn murders, from there we go back in increments of hours/days as the foundations are explored and new light begins to show on reasons for behaviours evident earlier/later… it’s a little confusing to explain so just watch it, it’s quality crime drama!

Swinging Safari – A gloriously retro look at family life in 1970’s Australia. Try to think of every brand name, in-safe parenting practice, cliché, and add a bit of over-styling and you’ve got it. Loosely wrapped as a coming-of-age story, it centres around 3 Aussie families living, loving, and loafing. Very funny film, especially if you’ve lived through some of these circumstances.

For more view the full list