It’s been a good year for science fiction, with some great series wrapping up. Don’t worry about cliffhangers or long waits between sequels with these recommendations, you can read the whole lot back-to-back if you feel like it!
You might think a book series about a being who call themselves “Murderbot” would make for grim reading, but you’d be wrong. An AI SecUnit (security consultant) for a research party on a newly discovered planet, Murderbot just wants to watch their favourite media show rather than having to interact with humans. But when they’re attacked by unregistered indigenous fauna it starts to look like their research mission has been sabotaged, and Murderbot finds themselves caring more about the humans than they’d like to admit.
The sequels all feature Murderbot trying and failing to stop protecting humans from themselves, as well as a sarcastic AI ship and some of Murderbot’s back story. The final novella in the series came out at the start of this month, so if you feel like some comforting, slightly snarky science fiction then I’d highly recommend giving the series a go, starting with All Systems Red.
If Murderbot is the literary equivalent of chocolate pudding then Ninefox Gambit and its sequels are like kimchi — delicious but not to everyone’s taste. It took me a while to get into but once I did they were compulsive reading. Ninefox Gambit begins with disgraced captain Kel Cheris being given a second chance in order to recapture the Fortress of Scattered Needles. The catch? To do so she must ally with undead tactician Shuos Jedao, a man who went mad before murdering his own troops as well as the enemy. Cheris must decide whether she can trust his tactical ability, or whether he’s leading her to her own grave.
The Planetfall series is technically not closed to future sequels, but there are now three books out and they all stand alone (although there are some common threads). I find each of them very odd — Newman doesn’t go in for satisfying conclusions, but at the same time there’s something compelling about them that keeps me reading. They all grapple with mental illness in different ways, from hoarding in Planetfall to postnatal depression in Before Mars. For that reason the experience of reading each book is very unsettling, Before Mars especially so as it begins with that classic trope of arriving in a new place (Mars) only to discover a note in your own handwriting warning you not to trust the others. My favourite of the three is probably After Atlas — detective (and indentured slave) Carlos Moreno is tasked with finding the murderer of the leader of the same religious cult Carlos escaped as a teenager.
Bonus:Semiosis by Sue Burke, an entertaining but odd book about coexisting with intelligent plantlife on an alien planet.
A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe by Alex White: A treasure hunter and a racing driver framed for murder and trying to clear her name both meet on a smuggler’s ship in search of riches and justice. From the reviews it sounds fun and pacy!
A large audience heard how Bishop spent several years researching for the book, which he says he really enjoyed, but was overwhelmed by the information he found.
One thing that struck him was the number of books that contradicted each other.
His challenge was how to find his own unique angle on the Endeavour story. As he looked through the names of the crew on the boat and their occupations, he began to wonder about the lesser-known members on board and was particularly struck by their curiously one-handed cook, John Thompson.
The story of the crew’s journey is told through food “as a point of context,” explains Bishop, with the cook as narrator. And, as his publisher Julia Marshall from Gecko Press notes “you can tell so many different stories through food—everything is here: culture, class, adventure, humour and much more.”
The Endeavour was originally the collier Earl of Pembroke and was designed for a crew of just 16 but when it sailed as the Endeavour it had 94 crew on board, packed in like sardines. And the meals were prepared on the mess deck where 74 men slept!
The cooking process on the Endeavour seemed to involve throwing everything together in a pot or bag and boiling it. Bishop says the meat became so rank that it was towed in a net behind the boat to soften it up and every second day was a vegetarian day consisting of Pease Porridge. To avoid scurvy, the cook served up stinky German cabbage. But all was not awful for the men, as it was noted how much booze was aboard the ship.
The book contains a little story about each of the countries the Endeavour visited and explains some of the names of the recipes featured such as Poor Knights Pudding, Stingray Soup, Kangaroo Stew, Dog and Breadfruit Stew and Albatross Stew “which you wouldn’t get away with today.” There were goats, dogs, pigs, sheep, cats and chickens on board. And when the ship crossed the equator everyone aboard, including the cats, were apparently tied to a chair and dipped into the water 3 times in an equator crossing ritual.
Bishop told his audience that there are two stories about the Endeavour that you won’t find anywhere else except in his book. One was told by Pete Beech, whose family was there in Picton when the Endeavour came with Cook, and tells the story of how a Māori woman was tricked into giving her taonga away for a bag of sugar. And the second story comes from an obscure poem that mentions a slave named Dalton on board who was a servant of botanist Joseph Banks. Like the Endeavour, not a centimetre of space in Bishop’s book was wasted, he says, and even the endpapers are full of illustrated facts.
At the book launch, Gecko Press were also celebrating 10 years of working with Bishop, starting with his collaboration for Joy Cowley in illustrating their successful Snake & Lizard. Marshall said what a treat it is working with Bishop: “Gavin is a true artist and very knowledgeable.” Gavin’s other book published in the past year is the illustratively stunning Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story.
Join international award-winning writer and illustrator Gavin Bishop and invited guests as we explore the Our Painted Stories exhibition and have a conversation about how seeing ourselves and our city in children’s literature helps grow a sense of identity. Wednesday 24th October 5:30-6:30pm Tūranga
Free, no bookings required Created in partnership with the Painted Stories Trust.
While visiting Tūranga, Gavin was delighted to discover a picture of his family on our Discovery Wall that even he didn’t have a copy of.
It is auspicious that just as Gavin Bishop was the first author to have a book launched at the old central library, he is also the first author to launch a book in the new library, Tūranga, 36 years later.
Once you make mention of your possible retirement, people start hounding you mercilessly. All boundaries crash and burn and you will find yourself having to answer questions like: “Why now?”, “Surely you’ll get bored?”, “Exactly when?”, “Will you have enough money?”, “What about your sex life?” … OK so I made up that last one, but all the others stay put. What I really needed was a book entitled: “What will I do when you are gone”, sadly that one is yet to be written.
But Libraries have always come to my rescue in the past and they did not fail me this time either. Lo and Behold, I found the perfect book to recommend for situations of loss, because make no bones about it, I’m going to miss you guys heaps.It’s a new book – What To Do When I’m Gone. It’s written by a mother to help her daughter cope after her death. It’s funny, full of good advice, beautifully illustrated and applies to all sorts of life situations where people just aren’t there for you any more. Here’s how it starts:
DAY 1 After I’m Gone: Make fajitas. And after you’ve done that serve with fresh tortillas, chopped cilantro, and thin slices of avocado. Great job. Now don’t you feel better? Of course you don’t. Pour yourself a stiff glass of whisky.
My next bookish recommendation to tide you over is The Wrong Heaven by Amy Bonnaffons. This recent edition of short stories has a slight Magic Realism edge to it. Here is a book to remind you why we read in the first place: to be taken by the hand to visit some strange place, only to get there and find yourself quite unexpectedly at home. I chose this book for its stunning cover, I started reading it because of its great title. I finished it because it is just brilliant. And you’d think it would be a “ladies” book, but its best reviews are all by men. Read it!
And I hope you have already met up with Elizabeth Strout in your reading travels, but if not you can just as well start here with Anything is Possible her most recent book of loosely linked characters in a small mid-western town. I love Strout’s writing – she is one of the best observers of everyday
folk that we have right now. She feels like one of those people who can divine an entire personality from a single scrap of fabric. Forget about politics and climate change and the price of petrol. The really important stuff is happening to the people in your home, your neighbourhood, your town.
Of course you can instead choose to read one of the many books on retirement, or on growing older. But I can summarise their contents for you right here: Make a will; Pay off your mortgage; Keep active and socialise, and whatever else you do, join a Tai Chi class. Instead I’m hoping growing older will be more like this quote from a review of The Wrong Heaven:
Anything is possible: bodies can transform, inanimate objects can come to life, angels can appear and disappear.
Now that’s more like what I am aiming at in retirement!
We love FESTA! This Labour weekend “vibrant biennial celebration of urban creativity and community” is one of Ōtautahi’s most cool and unique events. It’s food for the mind, eyes, and soul. That is particularly apt in 2018 as FESTA gets foody – FESTA 2018 is all about architecture, design – and food. Contribute to the Pledgeme FESTA2018 by midday today (Thursday 27 September) and you’ll help the traditional Saturday evening mega-event street party FEASTA! be the best yet.
There are more than 55 events planned for FESTA 2018, here are some of my picks:
The big FREE street party is on Saturday 20 October from 5 to 11pm. It’s a FESTA tradition to activate different parts of the city, and this time Mollett Street (which runs between Colombo Street and Durham Street South) is the place to be.
There will be the stunning installations we’ve come to love at the FESTA party. The 2018 works have been created by more than 130 design and architecture students from across Australia and New Zealand, as well as NZIA and NZILA Canterbury branch members, in collaboration with Creative Director Barnaby Bennett. There will be loads of whānau fun, music, performances, art, markets, and plenty of yummy delights. One of the excellent initiatives on the night is Kono for Kai: 100 hand woven harakeke kono (small food baskets) filled with native plant seedlings and seeds will be available to the public in exchange for a koha of kai (non-perishable goods only please). All koha received will be gifted to a community group for distribution to those in need in the community. Read all about it.
FESTA at Tūranga
Ka rawe! Your new central library Tūranga will be open when FESTA is on, and it is the venue for:
Saturday 20 October and Sunday 21 October 1 to 4pm; Monday 22 October (Labour Day), 10am to 1pm at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū
Pop in to this drop-in session and make a cityscape out of food! Use the colourful clay provided to sculpt a house or a building in the shape of fruit and vegetables and add it to the map. Suitable for children aged 7+. FREE
Sunday 21 October 6pm to 7.30pm. Meet at Victoria Square. FREE.
Take a trip back in time and explore our culinary past. Join Nik Mavromatis as he hosts a guided walking tour around central Christchurch, starting with Ōtautahi’s oldest market square. Nik then takes you to former hospitality sites and reminisces over the cafes, bars and restaurants that were previously part of the fabric of our city.
This is a mere taster, visit the FESTA 2018 to explore all the events on offer.
American science fiction writer Ted Chiang has a very particular way of speaking. He pauses a lot to gather his thoughts, and the intonation, or melody, of his voice doesn’t vary much. This can have the effect of making it feel that he is taking a very long time to get to the point. Fortunately, Arrival is the third WORD Christchurch session of his that I’m attending so I’ve become somewhat accustomed to it. Because once you get past the quality of his voice, he actually does have some interesting things to say.
It also helps that Arrival (the only sci-fi movie I’ve every watched with a middle-aged female linguist as its hero – feel free to recommend others if you know of any) is a recent favourite of mine, and that I’m part way through reading The story of your life, the novella on which the movie is based.
Local sci-fi and fantasy author, Karen Healey happily lets Chiang talk about the things that interest him about the genre he writes in. You get the impression from Ted Chiang that he spends a lot of time thinking generally, and about science fiction especially, so his thoughts, when he does finally express them are fully-formed. His lines are not throwaway ones. He’s considered these things from a variety of angles.
For instance, he rejects the notion that his writing “transcends genre”, as, in his opinion, this is the kind of thing that people who don’t usually like science fiction say – the implication being that the rest of the genre isn’t very good, and that this thing that they somehow like is some kind of aberration.
Hollywood sci-fi vs literary sci-fi
I especially enjoy hearing about his views on the nature of science fiction storytelling in movies versus in fiction because, as a fan of sci-fi cinema, I recognise that his observations have the unerring ring of truth to them and I may never watch an MCU movie in the same way again.
In Hollywood sci-fi, he says, there’s very often a good vs. evil scenario in which the world is in a good/peaceful/stable state then something evil/monstrous/destructive comes along and there is a struggle to overcome this force of evil and return the world to a state of goodness, peace, and harmony. It’s a very conservative formula in that it’s looking to restore the status quo. This immediately makes me think of Make America Great Again (MAGA) and just how powerful narratives that resonate with people can be. Human beings love stories and we like to use the same patterns of story over and over again.
The kind of science fiction that Chiang is interested in is entirely different. In these kinds of stories the world is changed by some kind of disruption or discovery and the change is irrevocable. There is no going back to the way things were before. At the end of the story the world is a very different place from what it was at the beginning, and more than that it’s not necessarily a better place, just a different one. This is a much more progressive storyline and one that you don’t get much in Hollywood movies, if for no other reason than that they are not easy to make a sequel to.
For instance, all the Jurassic Park franchise (currently on its 5th film – a 6th is planned) needs for there to be another dinosaurs-cause-chaos story is for some scientists to make the same errors of judgement the first lot did and the “oh no, who could have foreseen this dinosaur-related catastrophe happening again?” scenario can and will happen again.
Compare this with Chiang’s favourite science fiction film, The Matrix. In many ways it looks like a battle between good vs. evil story but it’s not. The world is a radically different place at the end of the movie. “Neo’s monologue at the very end of the film,” says Chiang “has really stuck with me”. And just in case we didn’t believe him, he quotes it, word for word:
I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid… you’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone, and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.
To Chiang this quote perfectly captures what it is to be a radical or a revolutionary. It is not the status quo and it is not comforting, which good vs. evil stories often are. Ted Chiang is not interested in writing “comforting” fiction.
Humanity, curiosity and evidence
What he is interested in is what it means to be human and for him a sense of curiosity, which Healey points out is often present in his characters, is essential.
To be fully human is to be actively engaged with the world around us…
Trying to learn more about the universe is a really noble pursuit and “profoundly meaningful”. And though a lot of his stories have a theoretical question or “though experiment” at their core he feels that science fiction, by tying these ideas to a character with an emotional storyline, can make them more accessible to people.
Philosophy doesn’t have to be so radically removed from our lived experience. I think it’s interesting because it does apply to our lived experience.
Chiang is an Atheist but has an interest in religion. In one of his stories he imagines a world in which there is irrefutable evidence of the existence of God and explores whether that would make it easier or harder to have faith. In some ways, he thinks it would be harder.
In response to a question from Healey about how you approach people from the past as a topic for science fiction, Chiang is magnanimous – people in the past had a different way of viewing the world. Given the observations they had at the time, their interpretations often make sense. Subsequent observations can change this view, of course. They were engaged in the same general practise as modern scientists are engaged in.
It was perhaps this train of conversation that prompted the first of the audience questions, as a very forthright arm shot up a couple of rows in front of me, and an older gentleman asked what Chiang’s thoughts were on the question of “settled science”, a phrase that he felt was being used to shut down debate in such areas as Climate Change (a topic, it should be noted, on which the vast majority of the scientific community is in agreement).
Chiang, as is his habit, takes a while to get to the point of his answer but to summarise it is basically this: Science is practised by human beings who have biases, but scientists are far more aware of their biases than other people (in particular, politicians, who are the worst at recognising their own vested interests). Science fiction in general aligns with scientists. And science by its nature doesn’t really get to an end point.
This is so successfully diplomatic a response that the questioner, judging by the nodding of his head, felt he was being agreed with. Sir, you were not being agreed with. You were being disagreed with in a slow, patient manner.
The only other audience question was, shockingly, about science fiction and picked up on Chiang’s earlier discussion of The Matrix, which the audience member wondering what he made of the sequels. Like most of us, he found them disappointing calling them “the prime example of the harmful effects” of Hollywood’s demand for sequels, when “commerce runs counter to artistic goals”.
Which led nicely into a discussion of how the film Arrival got made.
The movie’s genesis was rather different route than what’s usual, as the screenwriter Eric Heisserer had read Chiang’s story and wanted to adapt it, but then had to find someone to produce it. Chiang is at pains to point out that Heisserer deserves all the credit for making The Story of your life work as a movie, as Chiang himself considered it “unfilmable” due to its very “internal” nature. And Chiang himself offered a few comments on the screenplay but mostly stayed out of it.
The movie-making business is so, so weird and it’s not something I want to be closely involved in.
Diversity in science fiction
Chiang is happy about the shift in science fiction that has seen increasing diversity in its authors and writing, though this hasn’t been without its conflicts, Chiang describing sci-fi’s “own version of the Alt-Right” laying seige to the Hugo Awards for a number of years. These efforts, in his opinion, have ultimately proved unsuccessful. N. K. Jemisin, a queer, African-American woman winning the Hugo for best novel for an unprecedented three years running.
Chiang also points out that the popularity of The three body problem by Cixin Liu, a work translated into English from Chinese, is another example of a growning openness in science fiction.
I think it’s great because for a long time science fiction, despite it being very forward looking – in practice it’s been very conservative.
Not to mention the tropes. So. Many. Tropes. And conventions and little in-jokes. Science fiction, Chiang seems to be saying, in some quarters has become unchallenging and… comfortable.
I very much want [science fiction] to be filled with surprising reading experiences. I think science fiction should be about questioning your assumptions… It should make you wonder about things you took for granted, things you assumed to be true but actually are just a societal convention.
The more different science fiction writers there are, he says, the more likely it is that you get that experience.
And there he goes again, advocating against the status quo. Ted Chiang: the slow-spoken, thoughtful revolutionary.
When I was fourteen at my co-ed high school I was forced by limited subject choices to do Domestic Science (that’s what the girls got, only boys did Geography). I was miserable in Domestic Science, and lippy with it too. Finally I got thrown out of class. By the next day I became notorious as the only girl in the school permitted to study Geography. And that was one of my very early life-defining moments. Because maps have shaped my life.
And map books themselves have changed in ways I could not have foreseen all those years ago. Cartography has come a long way from colouring-in maps of the Natural Regions of the world.
For example: Plotted – A Literary Atlas by Andrew deGraff (his official title is Pop Cartographer, how cool is that?) provides us with beautiful maps, plans and landscapes for nineteen great books. (At last you can see what the literary insides of Jonah’s whale might have looked like!). I could kick myself that I never had this idea.
Other recently published map/site books include Unfathomable City (an Arty New Orleans Atlas) and the perfectly charming Spiritual Places by travel writer Sarah Baxter.
Move on to The Art of Map Illustration – in which four contemporary artists (called Visual Storytellers – another great job description that I regret I have missed) explain how they include maps in their art.
There’s also the beautiful children’s book City Atlas with a search-and-find game on every page and the weirdly compelling Atlas of Lost Cities which will make you want to travel to places that no longer exist.
And right here in a local Christchurch mall I spotted a novel I’d not heard of before: The Consolation of Maps. What a wonderful title. The library hadn’t purchased it, but I used the online form to Request an Item for our Collection and we now have five copies. It’s a wonderful story about the love of antique maps and the contrasts between life in Japan and the States. Okay, so the cover does make you feel that the only consolation one might gain from maps would be if a ton of them dropped on your head and put you out of your misery, but aside from that, it is a worthwhile read.
Back to my fourteen year old self: Geography is the reason I can talk at some boring length about Magnetic Declination. Why I have a good grasp of Adiabatic Lapse Rates and Great Circles. Why every home I have ever lived in has a globe of the world, several atlases and a box full of topographic maps. It is also responsible for my having only ever dated bearded men and why I always make good friends with ladies who bake delicious cupcakes!
The map of my life seemed to start from that point where I was thrown out of class. What a blessing that turned out to be!
Like most kids my son enjoys stories before bedtime (which is just as well because his mum is a librarian and he was going to be getting them regardless).
Like a lot of Kiwi parents I do my best to add some te reo Māori into the mix where I can, but my own Māori language knowledge is a bit patchy in places – I’m a work in progress. So how to expose my 4 year old to some te reo, but also read a story so we’ll both understand it and enjoy the experience?
I’ve found that reading te reo Māori versions of books we already know really well in English has been a fun way to do it. It helps if it’s a book that you’ve read so many times, you’ve practically got it memorised. That way you can “read” the English language version (out loud from memory), and then read the te reo version from the page.
Our latest success with this method has been with Stephanie Blake’s Poo Bum aka Paraweta, which has just come out in te reo.
I let my tamaiti hold the original version and turn the pages of that one, while I hold the Māori language version, and he yells out “Paraweta!” at the appropriate points in the story.
Here are some other te reo Māori versions of children’s classics we’ve enjoyed that you might like to try:
If you’re a te reo beginner then start with simple stories like The very hungry caterpillar, Where’s Spot or even Kei te pehea koe? / How do you feel? (which is in both English and Māori and is really easy to follow).
Or try stories in English that incorporate some te reo Māori words like The kuia and the spider (because it’s never to early to learn words like “hōha“), or Row, kiwi, row your boat, which you can sing together and includes simple Māori greetings (and a full te reo version for more confident speakers/singers).
Even if I trip up on a word here and there I’ve found that as long as I’m doing the silly voices and engaging with the story, my son is pretty happy to have a te reo Māori story at bedtime, in fact… Paraweta is his new favourite.
Find out more
Throughout Te Wiki o te Reo Māori we’ll be blogging about ways you can help strengthen the reo.
New Zealand women gained the right to vote on 19 September 1893, so this year marks 125 years since women won the right to vote. The Suffrage 125 celebration is being led by the Ministry for Women, New Zealand Minitatanga mō ngā Wahine in partnership with Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage.
The Suffrage 125 Events and Celebrations include happenings in Ōtautahi, on Wednesday 19 September (and before and after the anniversary date):
The Mix: Suffrage City 125: Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū Wednesday 19 September 6pm to 9pm Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū.
Includes curator Felicity Milburn in conversation with Barbara Brookes, author of A History of New Zealand Women, NZI Foyer takeover with Fun Natural Fun (join Instant Fantasy, Misfit Mod. Trainwreck & blle fmme for an all-inclusive DJ night, drop in Feminist Badge making workshop …Subscribe to the Facebook event.
Kate Sheppard Suffrage Dollshouse display and Raffle for Cholmondeley Children’s Centre
Come along and see tiny suffrage dollshouses at the new Woolston Community Library 689 Ferry Road from Saturday 15 to Saturday 22 September and enter the live raffle draw at 11am on Saturday 22 September at the Woolston Library. You could win the Kate Sheppard dollshouse ($2 a ticket or 3 tickets for $5). Come and enjoy the display, tiny cupcakes, and coffee – and also see tiny dollshouse tributes to other women who campaigned for the vote including the Dunedin Tailoresses Union, Meri Te Tai Mangakahia and more.
More local Suffrage 125 events
Women’s Suffrage Ride Sunday 7 October 1-3pm Armagh Street bridge, Hagley Park. Part of Biketober, this guided ride around the central city will incorporate significant places of interest related to the women of Christchurch, both past and present. Places limited. Sign up via Facebook to secure your spot.
Suffrage Series at the Arts Centre Tuesday 16, Wednesday 17, and Friday 19 October
The Suffrage Series celebrates the diverse range of women we have in Canterbury through three nights of quick fire talks, discussions and music.
Suffrage and Suffering – Changing Canterbury Canterbury Museum 12 October to 22 October
Visit a display commemorating Kate Sheppard’s role in achieving suffrage for women in New Zealand. Tours: Tuesday 16 October 3.30pm to 4.30pm; Thursday 18 October 3.30pm to 4.30pm
Suffrage and Heroism Saturday 13 October 2pm to 3.30pm, Former Trinity Congregational Church, 124 Worcester Street
A floor talk by Dr Anna Crighton of the Christchurch Heritage Trust, will explain why the theme of Suffrage and Heroism relates to the history of the Church.
Methodist Suffrage Trail Talk [bookings required] Thursday 18 October 2pm to 3pm Methodist Church of New Zealand Archives, 50 Langdons Road, PapanuiCome to an illustrated presentation on the role of the Methodist Church in the campaign for women’s suffrage in New Zealand during the 1890s.
Trust the Women: Dora Meeson Coates Friday 19 October 12.30pm to 1pm Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o WaiwhetūChristchurch Art Gallery Curator Felicity Milburn discusses the extraordinary life of Canterbury College-trained artist Dora Meeson Coates (1869-1955).
Suffrage 125 national events
Here are some events and resources online specially for Suffrage 125:
#Trailblazing125 marks this massive milestone and honours all the amazing women of New Zealand. We are proud and privileged to bring you 24 incredible wāhine toa – one post for every day for the first 24 days of September.
Suffrage 125: The Women on Wikipedia Challenge
Celebrate 125 years of women’s suffrage by helping to increase the visibility of New Zealand women who have made a contribution to the arts and community life in Aotearoa. Your mission if you choose to accept it: think of a female NZ writer, artist or community figure, check whether they are represented on Wikipedia, and if not, create an article about them and their work. If an article already exists, check there’s nothing important missing and fill the gap if you can. When you’re done, post the links to the Women on Wikipedia Challenge Facebook page so other people can read, share, and add to them. Find out more.
And hooray, there’s a Funny Girls NZ Suffrage Special on THREE on Thursday 20 September 8.30pm to 9.30pm
Women’s Suffrage Petition
The petition was organised in 1893, and was described by Kate Sheppard as “a monster petition” demanding the right for women to vote. A digital image of the actual petition held at National Archives. Search for the names of women who signed the petition at New Zealand History Online.
During the chaos of dashing between WORD sessions, writer and co-editor Laurence Fearnley kindly agreed to sit down with me and answer a few questions about her new anthology To the Mountains and other works.
What brought you to writing about mountaineering?
My parents used to do a lot of climbing in Scotland and Wales after the war [before moving to Christchurch]. We spent a lot of weekends tramping — dad went on a couple of expeditions to the Himalayas, my brother was a keen climber… When I was doing research for my novel The Hut Builder I read a lot of Alpine Club articles and ended up with boxes and boxes of material, so I thought it would be quite nice to do something with that. There hadn’t been an anthology of mountain writing since Ray Knox’s A Thousand Mountains Shining in the 80s, so it seemed a good time. I hadn’t really kept up to date with modern mountaineering writing but [co-editor] Paul Hersey edited the Alpine Journal and is a climber, so he had that sort of knowledge.
You researched a lot in the Hocken Collection. What was that like?
They have full archives from the Alpine Club, which was established in 1891. It’s interesting because they allowed women to join as members right from the start, compared to others like the Canterbury Mountaineering Club which didn’t allow women in until the 1980s. I got material from those archives and also from notebooks, journals, and letters that individuals have donated to the collection. It’s an amazing archival record, it’s incredible. It does taper off from the 1970s/80s onwards so it would be great if people continued to donate to the collection, if this could be our central repository of mountain writing.
A lot of voices chosen for this anthology aren’t those most people would associate with alpine writing — usually we only hear from those at the cutting edge of mountaineering.
That’s the sad thing because that’s how you get the same old voices coming through, if they’re not disrupted by allowing different voices. Mountains are a big part of our sporting identity, it would be nice if it was seen as something families do, not just rugged individuals. There are so many reasons why people go into the mountains — photography, art, for somewhere quiet and restful, to admire the beauty… The public perception of conquest [of the Alps] doesn’t really hold true, it’s not necessarily a motivation for most people.
At the same time a lot of the 1930s Canterbury Mountaineering Club articles are of trips in the Port Hills because it was difficult to get good transport to the Alps — they might only be able to get into the mountains once or twice a year but they were very fit. It was a class orientated sport, particularly in the early days. It’s interesting when the boundaries start breaking down between the upper middle class mountaineers and the working class mountain guides. Guides weren’t allowed in the Alpine Club because they were professionals.
Which doesn’t give credit to the fact that the guides were doing a lot of the work putting up tents, cutting steps, carrying the equipment…
Yes, you get someone like Dora De Beer on an expedition overseas in China, they walked 400 miles before they even got to the mountain, it was a real Victorian expedition. They would expect shelter from whatever was available, from monasteries to embassies, just take over their house. She was an amazing woman — during the 30s just before the war she would drive from London through Holland, Germany and Switzerland to get to Italy, on her own a lot of the time. Her diaries are from 1936-37, a lot of her entries are things like “Very inconvenienced getting across the border,” such a sense of imperious entitlement with no mention of the political climate. People like her were so curious and enthusiastic, in New Zealand they’d set off on horseback across Otira to the West Coast, just loving the absolute freedom of being out of that rigid society. They thought it was a great hoot.
Some of my favourite parts of the book are letters from the 1800s, there were some really funny excerpts. You must have had a lot of fun finding these in the Hocken collection. Do you have any favourites?
The ones I liked were the quieter, reflective pieces, people going back later in life and just enjoying being in the outdoors with their friends. I guess Jill Tremain had a big impact on me as a kid when she did the [1971 traverse of the Southern Alps] with Graeme Dingle — I can remember it being on the radio, there was a lot of controversy about them sharing a tent as she wasn’t married. From her letters she seemed to have such a generous outlook on life.
Voices I like least would be the 1970s slightly macho hard men stuff, that’s not a voice that appeals to me but quite a big part of the literature of the time. When you compare those writers with Aat Vervoorn, so reflective and spiritual, learning from the landscape… The ones who enjoy being in the space rather than needing to prove themselves or get a reputation, those would be the voices I like.
What are you currently working on?
I’m two-thirds of the way through a novel looking at landscape through scent and identity, under the umbrella narrative of a woman who loses her job when the university Humanities department is done away with. That one will be coming out next year. I’m also looking at doing an anthology of New Zealand women mountaineers. This will be more historical, it will be worthwhile to have a chronology of women mountaineers as there are so many of them.
What are you reading at the moment?
Just read a couple of books that I reviewed for Landfall, one called Oxygen by [New Zealand freediver) William Trubridge — not a book I’d necessarily be drawn to but interesting to see just how determined and focussed he has to be. The other is a beautiful book about hunting called Dark Forest Deep Water by Richard Fall, which would normally be something that turns me off but hearing him reflecting on why he hunts and the emotional journeys of hunting… It’s a great book, I’d really recommend it.
Thanks Laurence for a lovely interview, and I look forward to reading your next books!
Once again, WORD Christchurch was fabulous. All the session I went to were thoroughly interesting and enjoyable, and reading all the fabulous write ups of other sessions caused some serious past-tense FOMO. My holds list has also got rather long…
However, I’ve also been thinking about some of the connections between different sessions. One very sparkly connection was Stacy Gregg‘s silver boots, another around leaving New Zealand – or not. At the very wonderful Mortification session Steve Braunias told a beautifully crafted story about giving a well-known politician fleas, but one of the points he made was about how he wasn’t particularly keen to do a big OE – he was settled in New Zealand. In Explosive ArchaeologyBrannavan Gnanalingam noted that Robin Hyde developed her career in New Zealand, rather than going overseas to do so. Sometimes it seems that some Kiwis have to go away to achieve in order to come back and be successful, but as these stories show that isn’t always the case. New Zealand is more than enough.
As we found out, when you are mortified you are very vulnerable – think inopportune periods, an inopportune goat in the buttocks, assorted inopportune number twos and buttocks exposed to the elements. I enjoyed hearing people talk about things in life that had not gone so well – we need to be open about our screw ups. Sex also makes us vulnerable. Sharing your wibbly bits with someone else is risky, as is showing your mum poems you’ve written which contain a lot of sex. Tayi Tibble was nervous showing her mum her more sexual poetry, but her mum was fine with it. Her risk paid off.
But, as Chris Henry reminds us, it really is ok to be vulnerable. Looking after our mental health is so very important, and reaching out to people and telling them how we feel is huge and so worthwhile. Chris demonstrates very well how you can be a hero and vulnerable. ‘We can make a life‘ not only covers family stories and the earthquakes, it also advocates for the amazing work that rural GPs do, which Chessie feels is sometimes under appreciated.
Advocacy came up again in Explosive Archaeology – in terms of making sure we are speaking about underappreciated artists and genres, and also in terms of making sure we are leaving doors open for those that come after us. When we succeed – who do we take with us? Who do we raise up?
I love events that make me think and WORD certainly did that. I’m going to make sure that I’m ok with my vulnerability, and that if I like something I tell people about it.
I like the WORD Christchurch Festival, and I’ve enjoyed telling you about it.