Tonight I had the delight of watching Tosca, performed by New Zealand Opera. In the spirit of joy and discovery, I brought along my mother, who was lucky enough to have this be her maiden voyage to Puccini’s works. Indeed, I would have her begin her experience with no other. Love and jealousy, deceit and more than a little stabbing, Tosca embodies everything I love about French drama and Italian opera.
Tosca is originally set in Italy in the early 1800s (in this performance, still in Italy, but pushed forward to the stylish 1950s). It focuses on the diva Tosca, her lover, Cavaradossi, who is accused of helping a prisoner escape, and the devious Scarpia, the Chief of Police, who desires Tosca and sees an opportunity in her desperation when her lover is arrested. The more modern setting was very tasteful, the ominous mafia undertones fitting almost too well with the political pressure within Italy, certainly connecting the audience more than Italy’s situation in Napoleonic times.
Favourite character? Scarpia, of course. His leitmotif looms ominously throughout, providing dread from the moment the curtain rises. Teddy Tahu Rhodes provided a brilliantly full sound, and stole the show for me. His embodiment of Scarpia continually drew my eye back to him, commanding and leaving others in his shadow (at times, literally, due to clever stagecraft).
Favourite song? Lucevan Le Stelle. I sniffled my way through it, and even my mother had her eyes prick with tears in the heartfelt rendition by Simon O’Neill as Cavaradossi. His vocal performance of this piece was especially superb, the pauses speaking as much as his smooth and soaring phrases. You can have a taster of this in O’Neill’s 2015 performance in the video below.
Favourite moment? Spoiler alert: Tosca’s dramatic end. Nothing says defiance like jumping off a prison tower, crying ‘See you in hell, sucker’ (*ahem, not an exact translation). Orla Boylan provided a Tosca that was funny, believable and heart-breaking, with a voice and costume selection that delighted my diva-prone heart.
Kudos, of course, to the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, whose accompaniment outshone every production of Tosca I have watched. The mark of an excellent supporting orchestra is its seamless interactions with the performers, heightening the emotion and not overwhelming, which the CSO accomplished. The Freemasons New Zealand Opera Chorus featured as well, supporting with a variety of characters, and a fair few familiar faces to the Christchurch musical theatre scene.
All in all, a brilliant night. It definitely makes me want to go and reread my copy of Scarpia by Piers Paul Read, which provides the story from the perspective of the notorious Baron.
As someone who loves opera, I would highly recommend the experience. The show runs from 8 to 16 March.
Dooling is a place where people live on a knife edge; work hard, drink hard. Women around the world bear the brunt of this in their daily lives. Some have gone to prison for fighting back.
Tiffany lives in a trailer at the edge of a forest. She’s regularly beaten by the man who has enslaved her to drugs.
Superhumanly beautiful, a naked woman comes down from the forest and changes everything.
All over the world women succumb to an enchantment. (Or sickness depending on which books you read.) Falling asleep, they form moth-like cocoons around themselves. The women are not dead, merely sleeping.
Where has their consciousness gone? Wake them and you’ll find out – in a terrible bloody way. They turn into very angry zombies.
Lila is the local Police Chief. She loves her husband. Or does she? Suspicious of his love, resentful over the pool he made her agree to (first world problems, LOL), Lila has a choice to make.
Fighting the curse valiantly, (and not without the aid of some confiscated contraband), Lila eventually closes her eyes and crosses over… to the world beyond the huge tree in the forest; a world without men. The idea appeals to many – inmates like Jeannette, wives like Elaine.
Without their women, the men left behind get depressed, go nuts, drink and burn things. Some prepare for battle.
If Evie, the woman who began this series of events, is killed in the inevitable battle between good and evil, the women stay in the place beyond the Tree forever.
If she lives, they get to choose if they want to stay in what they have come to call “Our Place”, or come back to the world of men. It’s a difficult choice for some. (The honeymoon period only lasts about eight weeks according to S.K.)
There is a suggestion here that the characters are at war with Nature and God. Has Evie come from the Garden of Eden?
“Once I’m dead, the portal between this world and the land of sleep will close. Every woman will eventually nighty-night, every man will eventually die, and this tortured world will breathe an enormous sigh of lasting relief.” Evie, p.362
The tree motif is a great link to the world of faerie. Trees have been doors to other worlds (than this) in many stories. The Kings enchant the normal world with ‘fairy handkerchiefs’ (spider webs in the grass), clouds of moths, a snake, and a tiger…
Always an advocate for women (see Big Driver) this latest offering is well written, topical (the senior King jokes about Trump), and thrilling without being too brutal.
Stephen and Owen have crafted a riveting read with the characterisation that fans love him for. He even throws in a book group or two.
I attended the live-streamed All about women sessions beamed in from the Sydney Opera House to the Christchurch Art Gallery on Sunday from 3pm to 7.30pm.
It was heartening to hear the introductory voiceover acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which the Sydney Opera House stands in both English and the local Gadigal dialect of the Dharug language.
The first session was calledGrabbing Back: Women in the Age of Trump, chaired by Julia Baird and featuring author Fran Lebowitz, moderate Republican commentator Sophia Nelson, and Francesca Donner from the New York Times. Each of the panellists had been totally surprised and disheartened by Trump winning the Presidency. Nelson said she had a sense of foreboding when she saw huge Trump billboards all over rural Virginia where she lives. Lebowitz, the archetypal New Yorker, said she remembered three days in minute detail: Kennedy’s assassination, 9-11, and Trump’s election victory. She remembers the New York streets being empty at 3am on a Tuesday morning which is unheard of in “the city that never sleeps”. Donner felt that the media treated Hilary Clinton badly and that Trump’s victory was due to white fear of women and black people.
All of the panellists were puzzled by the fact that 53% of white American women voted for Trump given the many appallingly sexist comments he had made. The consensus of opinion was that those women had overlooked Trump’s sexism in order to vote for their men’s economic welfare.
Lebowitz and Donner disagreed that the #MeToo movement was not related to the rise of Trump with Donner arguing that the political climate provided the arena for the “whispers to become a roar”. Lebowitz said that #MeToo needed to concentrate now on the abuse of women in low-paid jobs. Nelson felt #MeToo needed to open up the conversation with men and that young boys needed to be taught to value women. Donner felt it was really positive that #MeToo had men now thinking much more about their behaviour.
Tarana Burke founded the MeToo movement in 2006 when it was a little-known and grassroots. The movement entered the global consciousness when actress, Alyssa Milano, started using #MeToo as an Internet hashtag in response to the allegations circulating about Harvey Weinstein.
Tracey Spicer, after 14 years with the Ten network, was dismissed in 2006 after returning from maternity leave when her second child was two months old. She took the Ten Network to court for discrimination and won. Tracey Spicer felt that the Australian media had failed to expose powerful male abusers and that women were stronger together if all their stories of being abused were told.
Tarana Burke was a community worker in Selma, Alabama, and she wondered why sexual violence wasn’t discussed as part of the social issues she was working with. As an abuse survivor from a young age herself, she felt that the young women she was working with needed a trajectory to healing. She felt a community problem needed a community solution, but most organisations were dealing with young women’s external needs, but not their internal needs.
In 1996, a shy young woman Burke calls “Heaven” told Burke how she was being molested by her mother’s boyfriend. Burke found Heaven’s story triggered her own trauma and she could not deal with it at the time. Burke later reflected that she wanted to say to Heaven “Me too”, but she couldn’t at that moment. Later, when Burke started sharing her story she found that the exchange of empathy between abuse survivors was healing.
When asked by Maley, Burke did not feel that Hollywood actresses had co-opted the MeToo movement. She felt the real co-opters were the media and corporations. Burke saw the global expansion of #MeToo as a real opportunity, but was worried about failing abuse survivors. She feels that the larger focus must be on helping those who really need the movement’s help.
Spicer made the important observation that sexual abuse/violence is a pyramid, with rape and sexual assault at the top and sexually inappropriate comments and put-downs and the like at the base. She said it all needed to be addressed as a pattern of behaviour that society should no longer tolerate.
Both panellists felt strongly that #MeToo can’t be allowed to fade into “hashtag heaven”, but must be sustained by engaging in the conversation with men and for women to continue applying pressure to the media and to politicians.
The third session was Suffragettes to Social Media: waves of Feminism, chaired by Edwina Throsby and featuring Barbara Caine, Anne Summers, Rebecca Walker and Nakkiah Lui.Each panellist spoke about the wave of feminism with which they were most familiar.
Barbara Caine spoke about the first wave of feminism. She said they started as very polite, upper middle-class women called the Suffragists until Emmeline Pankhurst made the movement more militant. The term, “Suffragette”, was coined by the Daily Mail newspaper with the intention of being patronising by using the diminutive ending “ette”. Pankhurst galvanised the movement by instigating property damage whereby the Suffragettes were determined to be arrested for the publicity and when they were jailed, they demanded to be treated as political prisoners. They sought the sexual mores of men, but were still somewhat exclusive as their aim was to seek the vote for white, middle-class women. Caine ascertained that the first wave ended with the advent of World War One.
Anne Summers was a protagonist in the second wave of Feminism. She was a young woman in the 1960s when the Vietnam War and Women’s Lib were prominent in the headlines. Although revolution was being espoused, she realised that “it was still women who were doing the shit work of the Revolution”.
Books such as Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sexradicalised women in the 1960s who sought a total transformation of Capitalism and Imperialism. In Summers’ pithy phrase: “women wanted equal pay and orgasms”. Through their activism, they brought about many reforms including anti-discrimination, gender pay equality, rape crisis centres, better child care provisions and getting more women into higher education.
Summers said the ’60s and ’70s saw a flowering of women’s creativity and it never occurred to her or many of her fellow feminists that the changes they had wrought would not be permanent. Unfortunately, John Howard’s government came to power in Australia in 1996 and “turned back the clock’ by dismantling many of the reforms.
Rebecca Walker spoke about the third wave of Feminism. She grew up believing in feminist ideals, but found, in the early 1990s, that many young women felt a “deep disconnect” with Feminism. She saw a need to re-radicalise a generation of women who felt alienated by Feminism. Women of colour felt left out of Feminism, seeing it as a white, middle-class movement. She perceived that the movement needed a more diverse leadership and had to emphasise both similarities and differences. She spoke of the need for third wave Feminism to become multi-issue, inclusive and working for all forms of equality.
Nakkiah Lui wasn’t sure if she represented a fourth wave of feminism, but, as a “queer black woman”, she knew she didn’t want to be part of the patriarchy. She said her feminist hero was her mother who had only identified herself as a feminist two years ago. Her mother grew up in a tent and had to leave school in Year 10, but she left a violent domestic relationship to go into tertiary education and now she works in Aboriginal communities empowering indigenous women.
Liu said many indigenous women in Australia still endure high rates of domestic violence, have lesser life expectancy and fear having their children taken from them by government agencies. As for fourth wave Feminism, she said there can be no “true victories if they don’t include all women”.
Women of the Air Force Auxiliary, Harewood, Christchurch (1941).
The first batch of 41 women volunteers in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force began work at Harewood aerodrome in 1941. Women had not figured prominently in air force activities prior to this date. They were needed because many men were away fighting in World War Two. Here some of the women are shown leaving the city for the aerodrome by bus.
Do you have any photographs of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in Christchurch or of the Harewood aerodrome? If so, feel free to contribute to our collection.
Kete Christchurch is a collection of photographs and stories about Christchurch and Canterbury, past and present. Anyone can join and contribute.
Plains, Port Hills & Peninsula – Finding our way was the theme for 2017.
This year we had some excellent individual photographs and collections submitted telling wonderful stories of people, family and Christchurch. Thank you so much for sharing your memories and contributing to our photographic history.
This year’s judges were Sarah Snelling the Digital Curation Librarian and Masha Oliver, Information Librarian at Central Manchester Library joined by Jacqui Stewart from the Kete Christchurch Team. They met on 27 November to decide on the winners in the categories of Places – Your landmarks in time, Your People – How we lived, and an overall winner.
All category winners and highly commended entries win a book prize.
This year’s entries
Photographs date from 1913 to October 2017 and it has been a great to receive so many photographs from the 1960s, 70s and 1980s. Of note is the collection of photographs from Cynthia Roberts. These photos document women involved in the Christchurch Women’s Resource Centre in the 1970s.
The judges noted that this year the photos reflected Christchurch’s social history, depicting everything from anti-nuclear awareness and anti-mining protesting to Cantabrians at work and play. We also see buildings and landscapes that have been lost due to development and earthquakes.
Several entries are recent photographs beautifully highlighting the magnificent landscape we live in.
This image was awarded the overall winner for multiple reasons. One of the judges commented that so much was being told by the photograph it has an almost illustrative quality to it. A strong composition is balanced by the people in the foreground. This photograph was taken in 1980 and shows Māori, Pākehā, a family group and people of different age groups. The woman with the pram and suitcase fits in with the “finding our way” theme. The image shows people in places and a sense of community spirit.
This photograph is part of a wider collection that Cynthia submitted focusing on people in the 1970s and 1980s. Our digital heritage collection has really been enhanced by Cynthia’s photographs.
Group by Lyttelton Harbour, 1948. Doug Bovett.
Doug’s image is part of a wider collection of twelve photographs taken by his mother in the late 1940s. The collection shows pictures of a group of friends that caught the daily train from Rangiora to Papanui High School and went tramping and socialised together, showing what young people did in their leisure time.
The judges fell in love with the images of young women enjoying themselves and living life in post WWII Christchurch.
It was noted that this photograph has a feeling of a modern selfie and that really not much changes in 69 years. Teenagers still hang out and take photos of themselves. It was also commented that the clothing was not the active wear and shoes we wear now but everyday clothes, maybe even school uniform.
Making a Yogi Bear Snowman in the evening, 1976. June Hunt.
June Hunt’s photograph of the snowman was highly commended as this photo and her other submissions show her story and everyday family life in 1970s Christchurch. The excitement of the first snow, the clothes people wore and what people did in their leisure time.
Masons preparing stone for the Memorial Church Tai Tapu, 1930s. Bryan Bates.
This photograph was judged as highly commended as it tells such a lot about what was happening in post-WWI New Zealand. We can see what men wore to work – craftsmen doing a trade that may have been in its decline. The depiction of stonemasons working on stone to build a church when so many of our stone churches has gone after the earthquakes is also significant.
Leader of the band, 1913. Name withheld
This photograph is one of the oldest we received this year. It shows Fredrick Wilson the leader of the Stanmore Brass band in 1913. The Wilson family ran the tearooms at the Sign of the Bellbird and Fredrick also helped Harry Ell build the walking tracks.
The image shows what people did in their leisure time and a bygone era when nearly every suburb had a brass band.
Charlotte on a motorbike. 1923. L Sullivan.
Charlotte is 18 years old and dressed in her boyfriend’s clothes riding his motorbike that she liked riding fast. The photograph was awarded a highly commended. It shows an adventurous young woman who had a long life in Christchurch. She travelled throughout Canterbury on the back of her boyfriend’s bike, “finding their way”.
This photograph continues the theme of many of this year’s submissions, strong women enjoying life in Christchurch.
The images in this category included landscapes, images of Banks Peninsula, interiors and buildings.
Rugby match at Lancaster Park. 1960. Des Pinn
This image was chosen for several reasons. It shows a crowd at a rugby game at Lancaster Park – they may be leaving after a game. Socially it reminds us of what many people did regularly on a Saturday afternoon, what people wore and what people did in their leisure time.
A judge also commented that it feels like the crowd escapes the photo.
Places – Highly commended
Kaiapoi Woollen Manufacturing Co. Ltd, 1979. Alan Tunnicliffe.
This photograph was taken in 1979. We have very few photos of the city at this time and the photograph shows a lost city scape, specifically the east side of Manchester Street between Allen and Eaton Streets.
Shag Rock, Sumner Beach, 2009. Phil Le Cren
An image of iconic Sumner at sunset. Taken in 2009 the landscape was dramatically altered by the earthquakes.
Men’s Toiletries Department at Hays, 1960. Des Pinn.
This a unique image as it shows the interior of a shop in 1960, and it shows a display introducing Old Spice.
Totara tree, 1995. Merle Conaghan.
Merle’s photographs taken while out on Banks Peninsula with her walking group have added greatly to our collection. She highlights the varied landscape found on Banks Peninsula, from the coast to the rugged hills.
The Totara tree looks like a sign pointing in several ways tying in nicely with the “finding our way” theme.
We welcome submissions of photos, information and stories to Kete Christchurch at any time.
From Bridget Williams Books, we have a collection of New Zealand women’s history and publishing. It has a selection of great titles including
A History of New Zealand Women by Barbara Brookes
A comprehensive history of New Zealand seen through a female lens. Brookes argues that while European men erected the political scaffolding to create a small nation, women created the infrastructure necessary for colonial society to succeed.
The Women’s Suffrage Petition,Te Petihana Whakamana Pōti Wahine, 1893
In 1893 New Zealand became the first country in the world with universal suffrage: all New Zealand women now had the right to vote. This achievement owed much to an extraordinary document: the 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition.This book tells the story of the Women’s Suffrage Petition through the lives of over 150 women who signed; alongside is the narrative of the campaign for women’s suffrage.
Strong, Beautiful and Modern: National Fitness in Britain, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, 1935–1960 by Charlotte Macdonald In the late 1930s and early 1940s, a wave of state-sponsored national fitness programmes swept Britain and its former colonies. Following revelations of the Nazi enthusiasm for government-backed sports and the organisation of mass leisure, the programmes quickly foundered. They probably laid, however, the foundations for the twentieth century’s obsession with fitness, a key facet of modern life.
A collection of primary source material that captures the foundation of women’s movements, struggles and triumphs. This archive has 15 collections ranging from newspaper and periodical collections to conference papers and photographs. Here are some examples of collections:
European Women’s Periodicals This collection of European women’s periodicals contains publications from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Dutch Indonesia, from 1830-1940. At the time of their original publication the periodicals in this collection informed readers and allowed them to express their views on a wide range of topics, including literature and the arts, women’s suffrage, birth control, education, and homemaking.
Herstory The Herstory Collection comprises full texts of journals, newspapers, and newsletters tracing the evolution of women’s rights movements in the United States and abroad from 1956 to 1974. The collection includes documents from the National Organization of Women (NOW), Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), Women Strike for Peace (WSP), and many other groups.
Women’s Labour League: Conference Reports and Journals, 1906-1977
This collection consists of the conference proceedings, annual reports, and publications from the Women’s Labour League and the Labour Party Women’s Organization. The Women’s Labour League (WLL) was a UK-based feminist-driven organization aimed at increasing women’s involvement in Parliament and other significant political forums.
Photo Hunt 2017: Plains, Port Hills & Peninsula – Finding our way
This year the theme for Photo Hunt is Plains, Port Hills & Peninsula – Finding our way. However, the photos you submit are not limited to this theme. We invite you to share any of your photos and help grow the city’s photographic archive. All entries must be received by 31 October.
Christchurch City Libraries has produced a set of four postcards promoting the competition which are available from your local library. Each week during October we’ll be featuring one of the postcard images on our blog.
Bathing beauties at Corsair Bay about 1920. Neck to knee bathing costumes and what looks like a shower cap for a bathing cap. Mother and daughter Alice and Venis with two cousins.
Entry in the 2013 Christchurch City Libraries Photo Hunt.
About Kete Christchurch
Kete Christchurch is a collection of photographs and stories about Christchurch and Canterbury, past and present. Anyone can join and contribute.
I recently went to a From Poetry to Prose book talk featuring Tusiata Avia at the WEA here in Christchurch, as part of their October Writing Workshops.
She talked about how she has gone about making the transition from poet to novelist. Ashamed to admit I wasn’t familiar with her work, I was inspired by her forceful writing combined with a very relaxed attitude to life.
She read from her upcoming first novel and from a poem in Wild Dogs Under My Skirt which have the same characters and the same domestic abusive dynamic. Wonderfully engaging, she performs the characters voices so well that I found myself lost in the story.
Tusiata Avia is Christchurch born, of Samoan descent. An acclaimed performance poet and children’s author, her work has also been published in various literary journals. Her first collection of poetry, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, was published in 2004 then taken to the world as a one-woman poetry show between 2002 and 2008.
Pacific female authors are so lacking in long fiction which makes the wait for her novel that much more anticipated!
She will be playing her much-lauded and loved songs that have stood the test of time such as Sway, Suddenly Strange and Bursting Through, alongside songs since then, included in The Very Best of Bic Runga (released 2017).
There must be quite a few of us who, in their 20s, would have filtered their relationships and emotional experiences through the lyrics of Bic Runga’s songs when the album was first released, and sang along to Drive, while driving around. Her music has cross-generational appeal and now I don’t know who is the bigger fan, myself or my daughter, but we’ll both be there up front in the majestic theatre to sway to her beautiful and equally majestic voice.
We caught up with Bic for a few quick questions ahead of her concert in Christchurch. She shares her reading interests and formative library memories.
Bic, you grew up in Christchurch, in Hornby, and went to Cashmere High School… what special places do you think of fondly here?
My favourite places are the Arts Centre where I did a lot of hanging out as a teenager. Lyttelton and Governors Bay are also really special places to me.
What role did libraries play in your life growing up?
I used to catch the bus to the library in town most Saturdays, and I discovered all the music I love there. I used to get out cassette tapes and that’s where I discovered The Smiths, The Sex Pistols, The Cure, The Cocteau Twins. It was unlike the music my parents played at home, so it was really my own place.
What type of reading do you enjoy? Any recommendations? What are you looking forward to reading?
My kids are mad about Minecraft, there’s an unofficial Minecraft book they quite liked called the Elementia Chronicles by Sean Fay Wolfe. So if you can’t peel your child away from Minecraft, you could try the book!
Can you recommend any music or artists out of Christchurch who have taken your interest?
If a young person was interested in being a musician today, what advice would you give them?
I’d say just practice a lot, practice slowly and make it your meditation. Everyone wants fame, but it seems no one wants to practice enough!
We asked Bic to share a surprising fact about herself (and it may just be her next creative project) …
I’ve just learned how to draft clothing patterns slowly over the last few years and I’m ready to do a fashion project, maybe using wool. I’m really excited to do something creative that’s not music, but I think the two will work together well.
Finally Bic, you are donating money from every ticket purchased to your Christchurch show to the Māia Health Foundation, who are raising money for projects for Canterbury’s health system. Can you tell us more about that?
Bic has won a multitude of awards and worked on many musical projects and collaborations in the twenty years since Drive was released, too numerous to mention here. Most recently, Bic has written a song for a New Zealand children’s annual of stories, poetry, comics, art and other miscellany Annual 2 which has just been published is aimed at 8 to 12 year olds. Her song, Next Thing You Know You’ll Be Happy, is based on the idea that happiness comes from simple pleasures.
Stacy Gregg’s latest pony book The Thunderbolt Pony is a children’s novel very close to home, both for Cantabrians and for the author. Set in the aftermath of an earthquake in the real life town of Parnassus, near Kaikoura, the story is about 12 year-old Evie and her determination to save her beloved Arabian pony Gus, her loyal border collie Jock and her aptly named cat Moxy.
Stacy Gregg portrays strong, independent, fearless girls in her books and here Evie bravely overcomes not only the forces of nature but her anxiety disorder, which she has been suffering since her dad became terminally ill. Evie’s OCD manifests itself in the belief that she if she doesn’t stick to set routines, it will cause bad things to happen, making her the ‘bringer of earthquakes.’ Evie must embark on both a physical and mental journey, in a race against time to get to a rescue boat.
Stacy Gregg has experienced the effects of anxiety disorder firsthand, with her own daughter developing OCD a couple of years ago, and she brings the specificity of what it can be like into the story. In fact, Stacy manages to intertwine quite a lot into this pacy yet reflective story. There’s also Greek mythology in here too with reference to Poseidon, who makes the perfect tie-in as not only the god of the sea but of earthquakes and horses as well.
You don’t have to be a horsey person for this story of adventure and animal friendship to appeal. Gregg’s style of historical fiction applied here will particularly resonate with many middle-school children in New Zealand and those around Canterbury, the Hurunui and Kaikoura will feel especially immersed in the familiar settings. Overriding everything, however, is Stacy’s signature quality storytelling.
Interview with Stacy Gregg
We interviewed Stacy on the release of her latest book – she talks about her research and writing process and about her experiences with anxiety disorder in her family.
Stacy, what types of research did you do for The Thunderbolt Pony?
As well as reading lots around my subjects, I’ve always travelled for my research. My books have taken me to Arabia and Spain, Italy and Russia and now for The Thunderbolt Pony, Kaikoura and the East Coast of the South Island. It was important to me to travel the route that my heroine will take, the 64-kilometre stretch between Parnassus and Kaikoura. I was hoping the earth might move while I was there, but it didn’t. I had to rely on second-hand accounts of what the earthquakes were like because I’ve only ever been in a minor tiny tremor once here in Auckland.
What did you find in your research of the earthquakes that surprised you?
That they are noisy! You don’t think about the sound an earthquake makes, you think about the feeling of the land moving underneath you. But everybody I spoke to talked first about the noise. The boom that comes beforehand and the sound like a train surging beneath you. Like the rumble of the thunder that comes before the lightning – it gave me the title for the book.
Stacy, did you have a real person in mind when you were writing the character of Evie, who has OCD?
Evie’s journey is based very much on my own daughter’s struggles with OCD. When I first had the idea for writing the book I asked Issie what she thought about having a character who suffers from OCD and she was really, really supportive of me writing about it. She felt like it was important to raise awareness of the condition so that kids who are suffering from anxiety disorders realise how common it is and that they aren’t alone. There’s been such an overall increase in anxiety disorders in pre-adolescents, but this is especially true in places like Canterbury and Kaikoura where the kids have been through an earthquake and the ongoing aftershocks. Statistics in a recent study in Christchurch have shown that four out of five kids in the region have some level of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). It’s a very real issue.
What did you find in your research about anxiety disorders like OCD that surprised you?
My daughter gets really cross people say stuff like “Oh I totally need to keep the kitchen clean – cos I’m so OCD!” Because that’s not OCD at all – that’s just liking things to be neat! I remember there was a time when the word “schizophrenic” was misused in the same way. Then the mental health community stepped up and reclaimed it and said “hey it’s not okay to talk about schizophrenia as if it means you have a split personality -it’s actually a real condition that people suffer from.” I think the same thing will happen now with OCD.
There are a lot of mistaken preconceptions about OCD being a ‘clean freak’ condition where you have to wash your hands or keep things perfectly tidy. Yes, it can manifest in that way, but it’s just as likely for you to have OCD and have a super-messy bedroom! For many OCD sufferers it’s about wanting to protect people – or animals – you love and make them safe by adhering to rituals and counting. It’s a bit like superstition on steroids. If you have OCD you are compelled to carry out your rituals and you get really anxious and upset if you can’t do them right as you really do believe you are risking harming everyone that you love. You’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. In The Thunderbolt Pony, Evie is fighting her OCD and trying to get a grip on her actual reality, but she’s got a lot to contend with.
How challenging was it to write about a condition in your family? Was this a helpful process for you, to write about it?
It was tough at times to open the wound and examine it – but it’s better than letting it fester I think. Issie and I are both the same like that, we confront stuff head on and she was very honest with me and trusted me to tell the story. OCD is a rough gig. It can totally dominate someone’s life in a very debilitating way. Issie did a lot of really hard work with her clinical psychologist and that work gave her the tools to overcome it. I’m really proud of how open and brave she was, and I’m really grateful to our psychologist Hilary, for the support he gave her. The character of Willard Fox is very much based on him and he gets a big thank you in the dedication.
What has been the response so far from readers of The Thunderbolt Pony?
I just toured in Australia around schools in Sydney and what amazed me was that the kids there all knew what OCD was and they were very open to talking about anxiety disorders and seemed to really naturally engage with it. I’m just about to begin the South Island tour now – kicking off in Kaikoura – and I admit I am anxious about talking to the kids who have actually experienced the real earthquake. It’s going to be special, going back to the place where the book is set, but it’s also daunting. I hope they like it.
One thing really engaging about your books is the historical fiction aspect, how you use real places, events and real experiences in many of your stories. Why do you choose to write this way?
I think it’s the ex-journalist in me – I love to do solid research and I like to have a true story as a base foundation for my fiction. The Princess and the Foal was the start of that for me – it is the real story of the childhood of Princess Haya of Jordan. Her mother died in a helicopter crash when the Princess was 3 and she became really emotionally withdrawn and shut down after her death. When the princess was 6 her father, King Hussein, gave her an orphan foal to raise and said. “This foal has no mother, just like you. It’s on your shoulders now to be in charge and care for this young life.” This was the turning point for Princess Haya and her whole life story, her incredible success as an Olympic show jumper and as a powerful world influencer, came from that moment. It was so special to me to tell her story and to be given access to the royal palaces and the stables. My love of telling a true story sprang from working on that book.
You often write your historically-based stories from two points of view but in The Thunderbolt Pony we have just Evie’s viewpoints, one during the rescue adventure and one reflecting on her journey later (both physical and mental journey). Is this your way of using your ‘dual narratives’ device in this story?
That is a really good question in terms of discussing structure and the devices an author uses. I have frequently used dual narratives in previous books – dovetailing two girls with perspectives that are historical and modern-day up against each other. For this story though, there is just one voice, it is Evie’s story and hers alone. However, I didn’t want to write it in a linear fashion – I felt like we needed to see her two journeys – the physical and the mental – intertwined. It gives the book a different pace and that’s why we make time leap back and forth. The skill for a writer I think, is to construct a tricky timeline and make it feel like it makes sense and is effortless so that the reader doesn’t notice!
You’ve said you like to “get rid of the parents in a story” – can you tell us more about that and why?
It’s not just me who likes to get the parents out of the way. Look at Harry Potter. Or Lemony Snicket. Parents are a problem because they like boring stuff like routines and being safe. They are all about healthy meals and bedtimes and they are also on hand to help you when things get rough. If there are no parents you can have big crazy adventures where you must be brave and do everything yourself and there’s no one to stick their oar in and say “hang on a minute this is madness let’s stop and have a proper dinner!” That is why you get rid of the parents – they are too sensible and they ruin your fun and crush the spirit out of the adventure.
You write about strong female characters who are fearless, independent, self-sufficient. Can you tell us more about that?
I’ve always written strong girls as my heroines. Horses make girls powerful. You can’t be a powderpuff. You need to be mentally and physically tough to handle them. And at the same time you need to stay vulnerable and soft, because it’s in those unguarded moments that you create a true bond with a horse. My daughter rides competitively and when we roll up at competitions I’m always impressed at these women turning up driving massive trucks and handling enormous powerful warmbloods. We just don’t think anything of it – we don’t expect men to come and help with any of it. It’s a very feminist sport.
How long did the writing process take for this book?
I write a book a year. I spend about three months researching, three months writing and then another three months with my editor, pushing the manuscript back and forth through various stages beating it into shape. Then the next three months are publicity and touring and preparing to do it all over again. I love every stage of the process, I’m very lucky to do the job that I do.
What’s next? What are you working on at the moment?
My next book is called The Fire Stallion and it’s set in Iceland. As usual, I have the whole thing plotted out already – but I’m not giving away any spoilers yet!
What have you recently enjoying reading and what’s on you ‘to-be-read’ pile?
I have just finished Neil Gaiman’s book on Norse Mythology (OK that’s a big clue for the subject matter of my next book). But I won’t be able to read anything for a while now. I am an all-or-nothing reader and I can’t read other authors when I am in writing mode as I’m a terrible mimic. I have to isolate myself for the next few months and then I will binge read when the new book is finally done. On the bedside table until then are Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz, The Dry by Jane Harper, and My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent.