Patricia Grace: On Belonging

Last Sunday I shrugged on a heavy coat and ventured out into a grey and dismal Christchurch morning to hear two New Zealand fiction writers – Paula Morris and Patricia Grace.

The On Belonging session was advertised as exploring themes “themes of nostalgia, memory and belonging” however both women confessed very early in that neither of them had read that particular description before that morning, so things would likely veer off a bit. Writers, eh?

Patricia Grace and Paula Morris
Patricia Grace and Paula Morris. Flickr, 2015-08-30-IMG_0034

But, in fact, some of those themes did come through as Paula Morris encouraged Patricia Grace into remembrance and recollection over the course of the hour. The pair had an easy, relaxed rapport. Patricia Grace, whom I have never had the opportunity to hear speaking in public before, has a calm and softly spoken demeanour. She speaks slowly and thoughtfully.

To start with they spoke a bit about Grace’s background, and the degree to which she grew up in two worlds. That of her father’s family – rural and Māori, compared with the world of her mother’s family – urban and Pākehā. The divide between her life growing up in Wellington “hooning around the streets” with her cousins and crabbing at Mirimar Wharf, and the marae community of her father’s whānau, where she lives now. As a child she enjoyed the environment of sea and bush, with both in close proximity.

In fact, many of the memories she recalled over the course of the hour would factor in the sea, including the passage she read from her novel. I get the impression that Patricia Grace would not be comfortable living in a landlocked country or too far inland. As it is she seems to have a very strong sense of belonging in her seaside community with her brother, cousins and children all living in what Morris compared to a “family compound”.

Chappy

Cover of Chappy

Then they moved on to discussing Grace’s latest novel, Chappy which has several settings, including New Zealand, Japan, Europe and Hawaii. The novel is about Daniel, as he unpicks the story of his Māori grandmother and Japanese grandfather, the “Chappy” of the title.

Grace said “Chappy” grew out of a story she heard from her husband, who is from Ruatoria, about a Japanese shopkeeper who had lived there and was a much loved member of the community, but who was imprisoned on Somes Island during WWII, and then deported, leaving his New Zealand wife and family behind.

As an aside, due to various First World War centenaries this year, I’ve been looking at a lot of contemporary news reporting and this treatment of Kiwi Japanese during WWII is no different than that of New Zealand Germans in the earlier conflict. It seems we always repeat the same behaviours, demonising the enemy (and anything that reminds us of them sometimes, whether it’s justified or not).

Grace started wondering how this man had come to be living there and that formed the seed of what became the novel. The device of having Chappy’s story revealed by other characters was partly due to her belief that she couldn’t adequately convey the mindset and culture of a Japanese character though she felt she could “get into his heart as a human being”.

“Chappy” is Grace’s first novel in ten years, and Morris was at pains to point out this isn’t just laziness.

“People think when you’re a writer and you haven’t written a novel for ten years that you’re just lying around eating bon bons all day.”

In fact, life intervenes. Grace has seven children and a mother who lost her independence – family life does sometimes take precedence over writing novels.

Grace read from Chappy, a passage about sea journeys and stowaways.

Cover of TuThen Morris went on to ask Grace about her earlier novel, Tū (which in Morris’ opinion would make a great movie) and led to her sharing memories of being a child in Wellington during WWII. The American soldiers who gave the kids oranges and chewing gum, the ration books which she though were “cute”. Trams rattling up and down (accompanied by the sound of a tram, rattling past on Worcester Boulevard). The experience of waving her dad off on a military ship so immense she mistook it for a building.

She never intended to write a book about war but found her father’s notebooks and started researching. Her father had never talked about his war experiences (and she had got the impression that he’d never been at the front lines when, in fact, he had) and the stories she had heard from Māori Battalion men, who sang Italian songs, were mainly tales of mischief. Her research revealed otherwise.

Multi-culturalism and te reo Māori

Morris says that Grace is “subversive” and offers one of Grace’s quotes, from 1989, for comment.

New Zealand is a multi-cultural society but you wouldn’t know this from reading our literature.

Does she still feel that way?

Grace thinks that literature and the media have changed since then and technology has helped though she admits “I don’t do technology, really”.

She also has no issue with the novel as a “European form”. “You have to do your own thing,” she says “in the lens of the novel. Make it your own”. Morris believes that published literature is still fairly Pākehā dominated.

Cover of PotikiA comment from the audience led into an interesting discussion about whether Grace is “political”. The questioner says that “Potiki” and its use of te reo Māori really opened doors to the language for her without feeling educative. Was it intentional?

Potiki was published in 1986 and uses some Māori language components. At the time of its release, Māori was not yet an official language of New Zealand (this was achieved, after much campaigning, in 1987).

Accusations were made at the time that this use of te reo was “divisive” and intentionally political. Grace however thought she was just writing about ordinary people. Morris agreed in this saying that when she wrote Rangatira she used Māori words that lots of people would be familiar with, and any that weren’t would be clear from the context…but apparently not everyone agreed. Morris also pointed out that many writers do this and have to defend themselves, people like Junot Diaz who have to explain that “this is how my characters speak”.

Grace says that the only political part of “Potiki” was the absence of a te reo glossary. She’d had them before but felt that “a glossary is what you have for a foreign language”.

“Nobody did a glossary for me when I came across French in a book or anything”. Certainly my own reading experience with The Lord of the Rings novels and even The Chimes, is that it’s not necessarily an impediment to reading if occasional words are in an unfamiliar language (elvish) or specialised vocabulary (music).

It was a shame that the session had to stop just then because I felt that there was more that could have been discussed on that topic, but end it did.

Read more

Sarah Waters: Mistress of the agonising twist

I was so excited when I heard the highly acclaimed UK author Sarah Waters, author of such novels as Tipping the Velvet, The Fingersmith and The Night Watch, was going to attend WORD Christchurch’s Shifting Points of View “mini-festival” during the Christchurch Arts Festival.

Cover of The Paying Guest Cover of Fingersmith Cover of The night watch Cover of Tipping the velvet

I had just finished her latest novel The Paying Guests, and have also read most of her other novels.

I decided to try a talking book version of The Paying Guests for a change and was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it.  Except that I found myself sitting in my car; thinking, just another minute, another minute, aggghhhh, damn I have to go, but I desperately want to know what happens next.

I haven’t decided if listening to the talking book is the best idea or not? I know usually I would have been up to the wee small hours reading, but instead was stuck waiting for my next chance to get in the car and hear what was happening.

If you enjoy amazing attention to historical accuracy, multi layered characters you love, loath,  are distressed by and empathise with, some love and captivating storylines I would recommend trying a novel by Sarah Waters. But beware the always agonising twist, just when I think “huh,” with an air of authority, “I know what’s going to happen next!” I am always wrong.

Oh those twists.

I am lucky enough to be attending Sarah’s talk Crimes of Passion session on Monday 7 September and looking forward to blogging about it after. Stay tuned!

Tania
Outreach Library Assistant

Margaret Wilson and the Struggle for New Zealand Sovereignty

Cover of The Struggle for SovereigntyWORD Christchurch Shifting Points of View events at the Christchurch Arts Festival was awesome enough to have Margaret Wilson speak out of her accumulated legal and political wisdom on Sunday 30 August. Bronwyn Hawyard, author and political scientist at the University of Canterbury, ably chaired the session.

It’s not often that, in your own town, you get a highly accessible ex-Speaker of the House coming to give an intimate talk about critical political issues. And listening to someone with her background had me in awe given that she’s the Former Attorney-General, Minister of the Crown, current Professor of Law. Nothing too serious …
UBS Bookstand

Shifting points of view sessions. WORD Christchurch events at the Christchurch Arts Festival. Sunday 30 August 2015. Flickr 2015-08-30-IMG_9004

Her exposition at the festival was related to her nifty little book The Struggle for Sovereignty: New Zealand and Twenty first Century State. We have a paper copies and eBooks in the library. This short work provides a concise perspective on how – since the economic reforms of the 1980s – the core parts of the sovereign New Zealand state have been eroded and compromised by globalization and the neoliberal, free-market ideology – basically the deregulation, privatization and legislation which seems to give large business entities powers which don’t keep them accountable to citizens.

Mrs Wilson argues that the NZ State: the public service, the legal system and New Zealand’s constitution, are (often by default) providing a fertile ground for deregulation which affects society in all sorts of detrimental ways. Over recent years, Government policy has re-ordered the New Zealand economic environment in keeping with the neoliberal philosophy, and this is exemplified in insecure work and the trend towards free trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

Insecure work – In another basic example of how things are going, Mrs Wilson points out that around 30% (over 600,00 humans) of the NZ work force is employed in “insecure/precarious” working conditions – meaning that such roles are “casual”, “fixed term”, “zero hours” etc. Which gives employees minimal bargaining rights for better pay and conditions and no certainty with regard to secure hours for the future. She claims this is due to the global neoliberal trend which NZ has adopted and favours “contract work” over “wages”, as keeping people on contract keeps them working more efficiently, whereas “on wages” people take too long – so the neoliberal (in)sensibility goes.

The TPPA could potentially enable large multi-national businesses the right to sue the NZ Government if our Government enacts laws which hinder their ability to make money – say if we had legislation which made plain packaging on cigarette packs mandatory – a business may have legal recourse if the courts deemed plain packaging affected their ability to make a profit.

Margaret Wilson and Bronwyn Hayward
Margaret Wilson and Bronwyn Hayward. Shifting points of view sessions. WORD Christchurch events at the Christchurch Arts Festival. Sunday 30 August 2015. Flickr 2015-08-30-IMG_8959

It seems our wonderful Pacific democracy is somewhat undermined – as policy can be rushed or hushed through Parliament without the public knowing or debating the nature of its contents. The Select Committee process can be circumvented due to the policy process being carried out “under urgency” – Parliament can rush through policy faster than normal because of some special “urgent” circumstances. All this basically means it’s very hard for the public to make submissions regarding certain policy initiatives. Which is what the Select Committee process is often for.

Margaret Wilson points out that it might be time for Kiwis to really get hold of our State and demand some changes to our Constitution, for example, which could usher in a more robust regulatory regime and pull back the neoliberal economic steam roller so as to make NZ a fairer, more equitable society – maybe resulting in some better contractual conditions and pay for workers somewhere down the line.

However, I asked her if New Zealand even has a “constitutional culture”, and she said one of the things which came out of the most recent constitutional inquiry was that Kiwis generally don’t have a basic understanding of what a constitution even is because its not taught in schools or referred to and celebrated as a crucial part of our history. Unlike the Americans, who have a very staunch constitutional culture. Just think gun control!

Maybe time to teach politics in schools.

Her book “The Struggle for Sovereignty: New Zealand and Twenty first Century State”, is a great tool – a short and to the point read about these technical political issues.

Here’s some quotes from her session:

수선화가 피기시작한 2015년 겨울…

작가와의 만남은 그 책을 이해하는데 많은 도움을 주는것 같습니다. 지난 일요일  Christchurch Arts Festival의 일부인 WORD Christchurch 에서 “평양의 영어 선생님(Without you there is no us)” 의 작가 수키 킴의 강연을 들었습니다.  작가와의 만남 자체도 신기했지만, 많은 수의 참석자들 때문에 놀라기도 했습니다. 북한에 대한 관심 때문인지, 내가 미쳐 알지 못한 작가의 명성 때문인지는 정확히 알 수 없었습니다. 작가의 말도 안돼는 상황 설명에 웃는 다른 사람들과 달리들 웃지 못하고 눈물이 났던 까닭은 무슨 까닭이었을까요… 작가의 따뜻한 용기에 박수를 보내 드림니다

Cover of Without You, There Is No Us수키 김(Suki Kim)은 한국에서 태어나 13세 때 부모를 따라 미국으로 이민을 가 뉴욕의 컬럼비아 대학에서 영문학을 전공하고 영국 런던대학원에서 동양문학을 공부했답니다. 2003년 첫 장편소설 “통역사(The Interpreter)”로 펜 헤밍웨이 문학상 후보에 올랐고 미국 내에서 민족 다양성을 뛰어나게 표현한 문학작품에 수여하는 펜 경계문학상과 창조적인 인간을 구현한 작품에 수여하는 구스타브 마이어 우수도서상을 수상하기도 했습니다. 아울러 가장 명성이 높은 구겐하임, 풀브라이트, 그리고 조지소러스 재단 오픈소사이어티의 펠로십을 휩쓸었답니다.

Korean children's books, Flickr Sept-2015-Ch.jpg
Korean children’s books, Flickr Sept-2015-Ch.jpg

2011년 7월부터 같은 해 12월까지 6개월간 평양과학기술대학에서 학생들에게 영어를 가르치며 그녀가 진실로 원하는 것은 북한의 실상을 직접 보고 느끼고 그것을 글로 쓰는 것이었답니다. 그 경험을 토대로한 “평양의 영어 선생님(Without you there is no us)” 2014년에 펴냈습니다.

이 달에 새로이 소개할 책은 이호백 작가의 그림책 “도대체 그 동안 무슨일이 일어났을까?”입니다. 이책은 뉴욕타임스 2003년 최우수 그림책으로 선정되어 미국의에서 ”While We Were Out”이란 제목으로 번역·출간되었으며,일본어,불어로 출간되기도 했답니다. 아이들의 호기심을 이끌어내기에 아주 좋은 책입니다. 작가의 허락으로 책을 읽어 보았습니다. 아이들과 함께 들어 보세요.

.

Warm patrons of literature

It seems that in the early days of our city’s European history, it was very much the fashion for visiting luminaries to make a progression through the country, stopping at every town to meet the locals and be wined and dined.

NPG Ax18230; Anthony Trollope by London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company
Anthony Trollope by London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company, albumen carte-de-visite, 1870s NPG Ax18230 © National Portrait Gallery, London CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Anthony Trollope, who turns 200 this year, was one such celebrity, and passed through New Zealand in August 1872. He notes in a book about his travels that he visited every county and province except Hawke’s Bay. You can trace his journey through the country in Papers Past, a treasure-trove of archived newspapers dating from 1839 to 1948, although there is surprisingly little in the press about his visit to Christchurch – he seems to have arrived and left our city without much fuss at all. This is in contrast to some of his other appearances: he “and wife” attended the Queen’s Birthday Ball in Wellington; was the subject of a great deal of heated discussion around who was paying for his visit, and whether this payment was impacting politically on his writing; and disappointed Dunedinites by failing to attend a celebration of the anniversary of Sir Walter Scott, at which he had promised to speak.

The disappointment seems to have gone both ways, however. The book he wrote while here (rather creatively named Australia and New Zealand) is tucked away in our archives, but we have a copy of AH Reed’s book about Mr Trollope’s visit in the Aotearoa New Zealand Centre at Central Library Manchester. It’s full of pronouncements on our wee country, mostly political, and some quite scathing. Trollope described the trip from Waimate to Christchurch as being “an uninteresting journey as far as scenery is concerned”; advised “no young lady to go out to any colony either to get a husband, or to be a governess, or to win her bread after any so-called lady-like fashion”; and noted that the greatest fault of New Zealanders was that they were excessively keen on blowing their own trumpets, and that if the New Zealander “would blow his own trumpet somewhat less loudly, the music would gain in its effect upon the world at large”. Despite this, he did manage to redeem himself somewhat by complimenting us on our reading – while speaking at a banquet in his honour at the Northern Club he noted that ” … his own works, and those of other leading writers, were in every house he entered ..” and that there were “… more warm patrons of literature in the colonies in proportion to population, than in Great Britain.”

Reed’s book is well worth a read, if only to find a reason to feel self-defensively patriotic. And if you don’t feel like a bit of flag-waving, there’s always Trollope’s fabulous works of fiction to pick up and enjoy.

Cover of The Warden Cover of Barchester Towers Cover of Phineas Finn Cover of The Way We Live Now

Close your eyes – Michael Robotham is coming to Christchurch

Cover of Close your eyesChristchurch crime fiction fans are in for a treat when Michael Robotham, one of the best crime writers working, visits on Wednesday 26 AugustHe’s coming to Christchurch with his latest book, Close Your Eyes, but he’s got an impressive back list. His books Shatter and Lost won the Ned Kelly Award for Australia’s Crime Novel of the Year – good old Australia – a Crime Novel Award named after a criminal.

Shatter and The Night Ferry were shortlisted for the Crime Writer’s Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award; Say You’re Sorry and Life and Death made it to the shortlist for the Crime Writer’s Golden Dagger Award. We’ll have to wait until September to see if Life and Death wins.

I always like a crime writer who started as a journalist. Even better if they started as a cadet rather than doing a post-graduate degree in Journalism (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It’s just that writers who have had to distill the facts of a story into a small space jostling with lots of other stories know how to grab your interest. And I fondly imagine cadets learning their craft by having their copy scrutinised by cynical hard-bitten reporters squinting through the smoke from the fag permanently attached to their lips. Probably an image that was way out of date when Michael Robotham was working on evening newspapers. If it was ever true. Perhaps I’ll ask him when he comes to Christchurch. I also have a question about going to school in Gungadai.

Event details

An evening with Michael Robotham
Wednesday 26 August 6pm to 7.30pm
South Library
Free event, complimentary tickets can be picked up from South Library or Paper Plus Northlands Mall. Books will be available for purchase courtesy of Paper Plus. For more info or to reserve tickets please call Kathryn Hartley Ph: 03 941 6649 or email:kathryn.hartley@ccc.govt.nz

Michael Robotham: ghosting and crime Michael on Saturday Morning with Kim Hill, Radio New Zealand National, 15 August.

Hear Graham Beattie’s review of Close your eyes on Nine to Noon, Radio New Zealand National, 12 August.

Cover of Life or Death Cover of Watching you Cover of Say you're sorry Cover of Bombproof Cover of Lost

Budgie Manor – Community Read of Magpie Hall

Part One of our Community Read of Magpie Hall by Rachael King was tea and tales (and cake) on Friday morning.

Part Two on Friday evening was a night of improv and laughs. South Library was the venue, and there was a good-sized crowd.

Community Read audience

We had a nice introduction from Rachael, Councillor Phil Clearwater, and Libraries Manager Carolyn Robertson.

Then it was onto the comedy. The two improvvers were very clever, making good use of some props, wordplay, and guest appearances from the audience. Magpie Hall became Budgie Manor in a variety of fast and furious skits, and roars from the audience peppered the show.

Improv - Community Read

The night ended with some book prizes being given out, and book signings.
Rachael King signs copies

Plus a little more cake.
Cake

See our photos of the Community Read events and Magpie Hall displays.

Countdown to National Poetry Day 2015

National Poetry Day 2015 logoPens to paper (or fingers to keyboard)! There is only one month until National Poetry Day on Friday 28 August. Several poetry competitions are currently open but with submission dates that end in the next few weeks (with winners generally being announced on National Poetry Day).

There are several nationwide poetry competitions this year as well as one for Christchurch poets.

Nationwide Poetry Competitions

Christchurch Poetry Competition

Hagley Writers’ Institute National Poetry Day Competition – Open to current and previous students at Hagley Writers’ Institute. (Submission Dates: 25 July – 7 August 2015)

Christchurch Poetry Event

0800 Muse – Kickstarting the poem: A public workshop to get you in touch with your muse. Open to all. Meet at 1oam for morning tea. The workshop will run from 10.30am-12pm, followed by the announcement of The Hagley Writers’ Institute National Poetry Day competition winners and celebratory readings from competition winners, Frankie McMillan (judge), Kerrin P Sharpe, Christina Stachurski, Bernadette Hall and more.

Date: Saturday 29 August, 10am – 1pm

Place: The Writers’ Block, Hagley College, Hagley Avenue.

Bookings: Registration required. Register by August 27th. For further information and workshop registration contact Morrin Rout, Director – Hagley Writers’ Institute. email writers@hagley.school.nz, (03) 329 9789 or 021 046 4189

Poetry Resources

Need inspiration? Check out our poetry resources

2015’s Community Read with local author Rachael King

Community Read 2015 Magpie Hall

2015: One book, one community

Magpie Hall by Rachael King

This August, Christchurch City Libraries invites you to read, share and discuss Magpie Hall by Rachael King.

Unlimited copies of the Magpie Hall eBook will be available to borrow for the whole of August from our Wheelers eBook platform! Thanks Wheelers and publishers Penguin Random House.
Reserve now.

Take a walk with us on the dark side, as we explore family secrets, taxidermy, Victorian tattooing, and Gothic novels.

I absolutely loved this book. It had a wonderfully familiar setting in the Canterbury foothills somewhere, mixing family history mysteries with the pressures of modern life. I was spellbound.

Magpie Hall by Rachael KingFind out more

Community Read 2015 author talk

Book Chat, Tea and Tales with award-winning author Rachael King
Friday 7 August At South Library
11am to 12pm

Community Read 2015 Performance

Join the Court Jesters as they improvise themes from Magpie Hall
Friday 7 August at South Library
7.30pm to 9pm

For more information phone (03) 941 5140

Remembering a wonderfully wacky Word Witch

Margaret Mahy 1936-2012

Three years ago today Margaret Mahy our favourite award winning author, writer, librarian, mother and grandmother died.

Take time to remember.

Read MM picture books – here’s a few to get started with …

Down the back of the chairBoom, Baby Boom BoomDashing DogBubble TroubleA Lion in the MeadowLeaf Magic

Young Adult reads

The changeoverKaitangata Twitch24 HoursThe Tricksters

Get to know MM

Margaret MahyMarvellous CodeNotes of a Bag LadyMy Mysterious World

Do what Margaret enjoyed – read, walk around the garden and have a sleep (apparently she could do this quite easily). Don’t walk down Cambridge Terrace though, or at least make sure your trousers stay up when you do.

Have a MM lunch – a salad sandwich made with wholemeal bread and cheese and tomato and lettuce and spring onions, and avocado and hard-boiled egg and anything else handy.

I’m going to remember Margaret by driving over the winding hill to Governors Bay and then wandering along the wiggly track at the bottom of the road. I won’t be alone. I’m taking a dashing dog, a bubble trouble baby, a gaggle of geese, a couple of mixed-up pirates, a librarian, a three legged cat, a boy with two shadows, a tin can band, a dragon, a lion and of course a witch.

Our procession will be one of nonstop nonsense, full of mischief and mayhem. A magical way to remember Margaret Mahy.