Guess who’s coming to Christchurch? David Walliams, David Mitchell, Helen Macdonald, Xinran, Steve Braunias, Nick Davies.

Ōtautahi you are in for a right treat.  WORD Christchurch – in association with the Auckland Writers Festival – is bringing six top authors to town for its Autumn Season 13 to 17 May.

For some top whānau fun, head along to David Walliams (Thursday 14 May 6pm). He will be reading from Awful Auntie and talking about his kids’ books – with plenty of time after to get your books signed.

It is a really crackingly good non-fiction line up. Helen Macdonald’s book H is for Hawk was picked in lots of top books of 2014 lists, and has the silverware to match – attracting big literary prizes like the Costa book of the year.

If you like gritty, investigative journalism, then Nick Davies’ Hack attack is the session for you. Or  have a drink at the Heritage Hotel for Steve Braunias and hear him talk about satire, politics, and the recent election campaign. Xinran will be talking about China and the single child policy.

If fiction is your cup of tea – David Mitchell is talking on Sunday 17 May. His latest The Bone Clocks is a genre-splicing treat, and you might also know of Cloud Atlas.

Cover of Awful AuntieDavid Walliams
Cover of H is for Hawk
Helen Macdonald
Cover of Hack Attack

Cover of Madmen
Steve Braunias
Buy me the sky
Xinran
Cover of Bone clocks
David Mitchell

So, read the books and get your tickets sussed. If you are keen to attend a few sessions, your best bet is to get a season pass – with that you’ll get entry to all sessions (except David Walliams, book that separately).
Go to our page on WORD Christchurch.

Short and sweet

Cover of Stone MattressShort stories are delicious. Like chocolates in a box, you pick one that looks good and indulge in a bite-sized treat. I was recently stuck at Auckland Airport and lifted the lid on a copy of Stone Mattress, nine tales from the ingenious mind of Margaret Atwood. I must admit I found these stories rather moreish. Three tales and seventy five minutes later, I heard my name over the loud speaker and had to make a frenzied dash for the departure lounge.

Cover of Dear LifeOne of my favourite short story authors is Alice Munro who won the Man Booker International Prize in 2009 for her work. Her latest title Dear Life contains ten bitter sweet tales that resonate at the deepest level of the human psyche.

Cover of Between my father and the kingAt the moment I’m savouring the most recent collection of stories by Janet Frame. The critics say Between My Father and the King contains some of her best writing and includes previously unpublished work.

For exceptional collections that will give you a taste of other cultures and times, try those by Haruki Murakami, Yiyun Li, Edna O’Brien, Colette and the ever-perceptive Rose Tremain.

Apparently, the short story is one of the hardest genres to get right so I’m forever grateful that these authors have mastered the art. Short stories must be one of the most honest and immediate forms of communication around. They encapsulate moments of insight by some pretty amazing human beings and are a perfect treat at the end of a busy day. Happy sampling!

“I have read all your books” – A farewell to PTerry

I met Sir PTerry the same year I met my future husband. It was 1985 and I was 18 years old. I have, it seems, spent my entire adult life with him. Which may explain why I am very thankful that I have today off, and am sitting in a darkened room and erratically weeping-while-laughing.

I’m not sure I can do justice to the man – there are people all over the world who write much more betterer than me, and who cared just as passionately about him. You can (and should) read all of these things on the interwebs. You also can (and should) read all of his books. All I can do is say, thank you – you made me laugh, and cry, and fall in love, and feel brave, and learn things, and re-evaluate the way I thought about things, and champion books that (at least in those early days) no-one else thought were worth a damn. I almost preferred it that way – I think I didn’t want to have to share, and it felt so very special when I met those few others who felt the same.

When you came to Christchurch and I got to ACTUALLY meet you, you were every bit as scary and amazing and inspiring as I’d hoped you would be.

I fell in love with Vimes. I wanted to be like Granny Weatherwax (but always knew I was probably a lot more like Agnes Nitt). I adore the Patrician (One Man One Vote). We temporarily borrowed a cat called Greebo. I will ALWAYS want to own a dragon called Errol.

I have read all of your books; even the slightly less-outstanding very early ones (and those ones by you and Mr Baxter that I didn’t like so much but read anyway, because YOU’d written them). I’ve read them on planes and trains and boats, and in the garden and the lounge and in bed and at work. I’ve read them out loud to my family, and to my friends, and occasionally to random strangers.

I think my life would have been an emptier, colder place without you, Terry Pratchett. I probably wouldn’t have been a librarian, and I certainly wouldn’t have been a writer of small silly things.
You have made me a better person, and I can’t believe I have to carry on in a universe where you no longer are.
Cover of Going Postal Cover of The colour of magic Cover of Wintersmith Cover of The last hero

Haere ra Terry Pratchett

“I intend, before the endgame looms, to die sitting in a chair in my own garden with a glass of brandy in my hand and Thomas Tallis on the iPod, the latter because Thomas’s music could lift even an atheist a little bit closer to Heaven.
Oh, and since this is England, I had better add, ‘If wet, in the library.’

I woke up this morning and read Terry Pratchett had died.
Cover of Going Postal Cover of The colour of magic Cover of Wintersmith Cover of The last hero

I searched the catalogue, and found 189 things with him listed as author (he wrote more than 70 novels). And had a laugh at one of his famed creations – The Librarian, a wizard turned orang-utang “the only librarian who can rip off your arm with his leg.”

Haere ra Terry Pratchett, a great and magical writer, a great and magical human being.

It’s useful to go out of this world and see it from the perspective of another one.

The Road to Wigan Pier: George Orwell’s early 20th century musings

The Road to Wigan Pier is another one of those books which has helped me realize the privilege of living in this part of the world, at this point in history, replete with all the technological processes and improvements which make life (somewhat) faster, easier and less painful (think dentists in the early 20th century).

Before I read this book I was discontent due to my plethora of first world problems – the cell phone battery doesn’t last long enough. The ending of the TV series The Killing didn’t provide enough closure. Forgetting my multiple passwords during technological pursuits. Jesus or Mary didn’t appear in the foam of my soy, trim, decaf, extra foam latte …

But reading this non-fiction work by liberal visionary George Orwell got me sorted, and makes me think twice before I have a first world whinge.

Cover of George Orwell Cover of George Orwell Cover of The lost Orwell Cover of George Orwell

The Road to Wigan Pier is basically a very well-written investigative, political, ideological and sociological commentary into life in industrial Northern England during the 1930s.

It’s split into two parts.

First, Orwell manages to detail and depict the rugged (in)human experiences of the working classes who occupy the horrible jobs and houses of Lancashire and Yorkshire in the 1930s. He does this through injecting himself into their environment in an act of heroic, subjective journalism – he takes up lodgings in a cloistered, rank and damp boarding house overfilled with sickly, pallid humans of all ages. It is here he lodges with the unwashed Brooker family, who are basically landlords to a bundle of borderline broke people living in the unsanitary conditions provided by the Brookers. Orwell’s Dickensian caricature of the Brookers and their house is quite a laugh – “I have noticed that people who let lodgings almost always hate their lodgers”.

However, it becomes not that funny after he enters hellish, chugging coal mines where one works but can barely stand in the cramped cavities, and therefore, spends hours scuttering about in a back-breaking, pooh-stanced, squatting position. The hard work is mesmerizing and leads him to state “If there is one man to whom I myself feel inferior, its is a coal-miner”. For what reward? A life fraught with health issues subsequent to the soot…

It is an exercise in raw reportage as he notes his impressions of life, and the horror and squalour of it all through exposing himself directly (as an upper-middle class gent), getting intimate with the toils of everyday life in the working class slums in what was supposed to be enlightened, democratic and civilized England. And that’s the point, all this is contrasted against that which is never really detailed in the book, but that which the English and Orwell were familiar with – the lush lifestyles of the upper classes in England, and the fullfilling life which being upper class afforded them.

Cover of George Orwell Cover of Anima Farm  Cover of George Orwell Cover of George Orwell

The second part of the book is a little surprising (to me anyway), because Orwell enters into quite a zealous Socialist spiel. This ideological discussion challenges classist modern England – why should there be classes at all in a democratic environment? However, while being a blatantly biased and ardent presentation on the values of socialism, its important to keep in mind the context in which the piece was written, that is, a time when socialism and liberalism was under threat from the burgeoning support for fascism and totalitarianism in 1930s Europe (and of course Mother England).

But it is apologetic too, as Orwell also criticizes the English Socialist movement for being full of nut-case individuals:

One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.”

Still a very intriguing journey into early 20th century socialist thought from one of England’s most celebrated and rational writers and reporters.

Lastly, what I found really interesting about this book is that Orwell discusses the nature of early 20th century progress and the “machine-civilization” which had emerged and preoccupied many thinkers of the time as mechanization and modernization was taking hold of society and changing jobs, gender roles, warfare and human economic and social interaction in general – will machines take all jobs? A 21st century echo anyone?

The machine has got to be accepted, but it is probably better to accept it rather as one accepts a drug – that is, grudgingly and suspiciously. Like a drug, the machine is useful, dangerous and habit-forming. The oftener one surrenders to it the tighter its grip becomes.

More on The Road to Wigan Pier

You can read The Road to Wigan Pier on Project Gutenberg Australia.

The road to Wigan Pier, 75 years on David Sharrock, The Observer, 20 February 2011

Russel Boyce’s The Road to Wigan Pier exhibition

In 1984, I was commissioned by the Impressions Gallery, Bradford; to undertake a project that reflected on the themes described by George Orwell in his book, ‘Road to Wigan Pier’.

Search the catalogue for George Orwell

Personal names in the catalogue

Cover of Final Curtain
Ngaio Marsh’s novels are shelved under Marsh.

If you are a regular user of our libraries, you may have noticed that the writer’s name will usually be listed surname first in the catalogue. This order is important as an author’s fiction will be shelved under the part of the name which appears first in the catalogue listing.

Working out which part of the name is the surname or family name is usually straightforward, especially in the English-speaking world. It is normally the last part of the name, eg,

This general rule may be affected if the surname includes a separately written prefix (van, de, etc), or if it is a compound surname. The writer’s preference in the way in which his or her name is written is also taken into account.

Cover of Frog
Mo Yan’s novels are shelved under Mo.

However, a more common issue is that some nationalities follow different conventions. Therefore the last part of the name may not be that chosen for listing in the catalogue, eg,

  • Mo Yan is listed as Mo, Yan, not as Yan, Mo; and
  • Trinh Khanh Tuoc is listed as that, in direct order, not as Tuoc, Trinh Khanh.

For many, Icelandic names tend to prove the most bothersome when it comes to identifying which name the author is listed under. Icelandic names are in fact listed under the first given name, followed by any other given names, patronymic and family name, in direct order. Thus

Cover of Strange Shores
Arnaldur Indriðason’s novels are shelved under Arnaldur.

If you are unsure where to look for an author’s fiction on the shelves, you may find the answer in the catalogue – check the Full Record tab of a title in the catalogue and you will see how the author is listed.

Or, of course, ask your friendly librarian!

Off (and on) the shelf

One of my many tragic New Year’s resolutions is to end 2015 with a smaller For Later shelf than I began it with. I’m starting as I mean to go on by shortening For Later to F. L.

Cover of Hockney Volume 1: the BiographyThe futility of this endeavor was immediately evident when I read Volumes One and Two of a new biography of David Hockney. It’s a brilliant and compelling portrait of the artist as a young man and as an older one still as passionate about his work as he ever was. Seemingly two off the shelf, but then a new book came out about Ron Kitaj, a friend and contemporary of Hockney’s, so that had to be added to the F. L. shelf.

The whole Zenny Zennishness of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying was thought-provoking, inspiring and amusing. Perhaps more amusing than inspiring – I laughed out loud in some parts, but I did not start talking to my clothes.

It was also satisfying to have this one off the shelf after a long wait on the Holds list. I did learn that photographs are the hardest things to get rid of. And adult children please note – storing stuff at your parents’ houses is not tidying. It is transferring. Obviously my life was not changed because I had to add the Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide and Organize & Create Discipline to the F. L. shelf. Hope springs eternal.

Cover of 33 Artists in Three Acts33 Artists in 3 Acts was one of my best reads of 2014 and I cannot recommend it highly enough. You don’t read writing like this every day. However Sarah Thornton is so good she got me all excited about art again and I had to add at least two books: Jeff Koons and When Marina Abramović Dies.

Then there are the F. L. books I haven’t even read yet, just sitting there breeding new items. 10.04 by Ben Lerner has had great reviews. One mentioned that Harriet Lerner is his mother so then I had to add The Dance of Deception, having enjoyed The Dance of Anger years ago. One not off, one on.

Must do better.

Early New Zealand Women Writers. Some of their work described as racy and corrupting!

Check out some of our pioneer women writers. Some wrote very controversial books; many were published overseas and became hugely popular.

The Butcher Shop by Jean Devanny 
Cover of The Butcher ShopSet on a King Country Station, Jean Devanny’s  The Butcher Shop is about adultery and murder. It was described as disgusting, polemic and ahead of its time. It was banned on publication in New Zealand and in many other countries due to the violence, open sexuality and feminism portrayed within its pages.

The Story of a New Zealand River by Jane Mander
Jane Mander’s The Story of a New Zealand River is set in Northland and describes the issues faced when a local sawmill boss marries a cultured, piano-playing Englishwoman, who brings with her to the bush her children from a previous marriage. It has been suggested that this novel provided inspiration for elements in Jane Campion’s film The Piano.

Isabel Maude Peacocke 
Cover of The Story of a New Zealand RiverIsabel Maude Peacocke wrote children’s books and light romances set in Auckland. Although not well known in New Zealand, she had a large readership in England, where her work was published.

Nelle (Ellen) M. Scanlan
Nelle Scanlan wrote four family-sagas set in New Zealand. The novels in the ‘Pencarrow’ series (Pencarrow, Tides of Youth, Winds of Heaven, and Kelly Pencarrow) published between 1932 and 1939, portrayed early New Zealand as a prosperous thriving country. They were very popular and considered to have created an interest for New Zealand fiction in that era. Nelle also published many novels in England before writing the ‘Pencarrow’ sagas. She was the most popular New Zealand novelist of her generation.

New Zealand Holiday by Rosemary Rees
Rosemary Rees could be described as the pioneer ‘chick lit’ writer! She wrote racy romance novels, some of which were set on back blocks farms in the North Island. Her 84 novels became so popular that some were serialised in papers in America and Britain.

Breakfast At Six by Mary Scott
Mary Scott made international success with the writing of her rural domestic comedies which began with the publication of her ‘Barbara’ newspaper sketches in 1936. One of her most popular novels was Breakfast at Six about newlyweds and their life on a back-blocks farm and the problems and pleasures faced by a rural community in New Zealand. It was followed by the sequel Dinner Doesn’t Matter.

Ngaio Marsh
If you haven’t already, do try a Ngaio Marsh mystery. Described as one of the Queens of Crime Fiction of the 1920s and 1930s, she is probably best known for her wonderful detective novels featuring Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn; four of these (Vintage Murder, Died in the Wool, Colour Scheme and Photo-Finish) are set in New Zealand. You might also enjoy reading our blog posts about Ngaio Marsh.

Cover of Vintage Murder Cover of Died in the Wool  Cover of Colour Scheme Cover of Photo-finish

Please note that some of these books are only available at our Store. There is no public access to this collection, but you can place holds on most Store titles for borrowing. Reference only items held at Store can be sent to Central Library Manchester for viewing – please ask a librarian to arrange this for you.

The trouble with twins

Cover of Her Fearful SymmetryI am not a big fan of books that feature twins. Now read that sentence again carefully before you get all huffy. In fact, I love the few twins I have met; it is the use of twins as a plot device of which I am suspicious.

And what a lot of books fall back on twinniness. Have a look at this library list of 212 adult novels which feature twins. Here’s what I don’t like about twinny books:

  • I disdain books where the second twin is sprung on me near the end of the story and is the one who actually committed the murder/ theft/ betrayal – take your pick.
  • I am bored by books where the twins look exactly alike but behave completely differently, one all sweetness and light and the other a nasty piece of work.
  • I hate the deception played out in novels where the twins trick people through posing as one another.

Cover of SisterlandYet I have read some very good twin themed books:

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger involves not one but two sets of twins. Set in London opposite Highgate Cemetery, it becomes unforgettably creepy. Life After Death takes on a whole new slant in this very good read.

Sisterland is a novel by Curtis Sittenfeld. It stars two identical looking twins who aren’t at all alike. One of them has psychic powers that enable her to predict an earthquake in their hometown area. It could have been an awful book, but Sittenfeld is a very accomplished novelist – you are safe in her hands.

Christopher Bohjalian gives us The Night Strangers. It features twins, an old house, a plane crash that killed 39 people, an unhinged pilot father and a coven of strange ladies in the nearby village.

And then Cover of The Night Strangersthere is The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. Karen recently reviewed this excellent book – have a look at her blog post. Suffice it to say that this is one of the few books that I have read twice – in my entire life. It is that good.

If you’ve read this far hoping for help with breastfeeding your newborn twins, getting them to sleep at the same time or dilemmas around developing their little identities – there is loads of stuff for you as well. And if you are a creative mum of twins who lives in a crumbling Victorian mansion (preferably on a moor) and have named your girls Violet and Carmine – give serious consideration to writing a book. You’ve got all the right ingredients!

Does anyone out there feel the same as I do about twinny books, or am I about to be shot down by flaming double-barrelled guns?

Gavin Bishop and Digital Stories at eBook Club

2014 ended with a flurry of creativity for the budding story tellers of eBook club at the South Learning Centre. After Skype interviewing our local legend, illustrator and author Gavin Bishop, the crew, armed with some great advice on how to become a successful story teller, began illustrating and creating their own digital story.

Gavin Bishop Skype Interview
Gavin Bishop Skype Interview
Ebook Club 2014

Some took inspiration from author Warren Pohatu and others created their own legend using Keynote and Paint.Net.

Many thanks to Gavin for generously sharing his wisdom and time.

Check out two of the stories from our fine young folk.

Sam
South Learning Centre