Cool stuff from the Selectors: Art, Science, and a bit of literarty


The art of typewriting
Our Selector has always found creating a picture using type to be rather appealing so has enjoyed the 570 illustrations ordered into letters and numbers, punctuation pictures, interlocking words, animals, household objects, maps and texts.

An Astronomers Tale: A Life Under the Stars
Gary Fildes, Bricklayer and average guy,  had a secret.  Eventually he came out – and followed his passion to become an astronomer.

The Fall of the House of Wilde
A new and interesting slant on the many times subject of biography Oscar Wilde which puts him as a member of one of the most dazzling Anglo-Irish families of Victorian times, and also how the family were involved in the broader social, political and religious context of the times.


Hankie Couture: Handcrafted Fashions From Vintage Hankerchiefs
Designs for that special doll in your life, or perhaps you will just enjoy browsing the pictures, I know I did!

Black Dolls From the Collection of Deborah Neff
Keeping with the doll theme, but from a totally differnt angle this book presents over 100 unique handmade African American dolls made between 1850 and 1930 from the collection of Deborah Neff, a Connecticut-based collector and champion of vernacular art. It is believed that African Americans created these dolls for the children in their lives, including members of their own families and respective communities as well as white children in their charge.  Stunning photography.

Outlander Kitchen
You’ve read the books, watched the TV series, now it’s time to cook Mrs. FitGibbon’s Overnight Parritch; Geilli’s Cullen Skink; Murtagh’s Gift to Ellen; Sarah Woolam’s Scotch Pies and Atholl Brose for the Bonnie Prince.

Announcing Annual – a treasure trove for Kiwi children

annual_coverWe’re so excited about the eagerly-awaited publication release of Annual from Gecko Press (edited by Kate De Goldi & Susan Paris). Annual is a real game-changer as the first publication of its kind in New Zealand.

Annual is a 136-page smorgasbord of stories, comics, satire, how-tos, poems, games and puzzles aimed at 9-12 year old children – and their families.

There’s a dictionary of crazy words that come in handy on car trips, a sophisticated ‘spot the similarity’, a found poem from school newsletters, a maths-nerd’s memoir full of tricky logic puzzles, and top-class fiction that spans Christchurch Botanic Gardens in the 19th century, the loss of a brother, a Kiwi beach holiday and a board game.

A Box of Birds: A Collection of Odd Words to Take on a Road Trip by Kirsten McDougall, in Annual

Annual’s fantastically illustrated double-spread contents page by Dylan Horrocks is a work of art in itself and the publication features a curation of specially commissioned pieces and collaborations from 41 New Zealand writers and illustrators, including: Bernard Beckett, Fifi Colston, Gavin Bishop, Dylan Horrocks, Barbara Else, Coco Solid, Samuel Scott, Whiti Hereaka, Paul Beavis, Renata Hopkins, Ben Brown, Sharon Murdoch, Damien Wilkins, Jonathan King and many others!

Why a New Zealand annual?

Kate De Goldi, co-editor of the Annual from Gecko Press, could see there was a “hectic” trend in children’s writing – popular books for children such as those that are slapstick or fantastical or series titles (think Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants). She says that while these books are great, the current market does not run in the favour of more nuanced, complex books.

Inspired by, and harking back to memories of children’s annuals in the UK like Bunty The Books for Girls, De Goldi reminisces that “Annuals were like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag – you always see something new every time you opened one.”

Annuals were full of literary miscellany – a home for practitioners, writes, emerging talent. Kate remembers being given annuals for Christmas and how for some children it may have been the only book they got in a year so it was something to be savoured and enjoyed all year long.

With Annual, the editors set out to “reimagine an iconic book format for today’s young readers.” Lorde, Taylor Swift and “selfies” are in there. Indeed one of the charms of Annual is how it manages to reference pop culture yet still feel nostalgic.

The Island of Misplacia from B.O.N.E. by Gavin Mouldey, in Annual

Christchurch writers, illustrators and artists showcased

Street art by Wongi
Whare & Whānau by Wongi, Flickr File Reference: 014-12-15-IMG_3940

Speaking of nostalgia, it’s evident Kate De Goldi has a soft spot for Canterbury. Born and raised here, a Christchurch connection appears throughout Annual in various forms: From local writers such as Gavin Bishop, Ben Brown and Renata Hopkins to the street art of Christchurch in a commentary on Wongi Wilson’s Whare & Whānau (2014) in Spray Can Renaissance.

Due to the CBD’s rebuild, Wilson’s mural, that was on the corner of Tuam and Manchester streets is barely visible now, making this snapshot of a certain time and place more poignant.

We asked Kate to tell us more about the inaugural Annual:

Kate, how did the idea for Annual came about?

Author, Kate De GoldiFor some time I’d been bothered by the fact that there seemed to be a dearth of good, original New Zealand reading material for readers between 8 to 12, the reading group that American publishers/booksellers call ‘middle-grade’ (between ’emerging’ readers and young adult readers), roughly between 8 and 12 years. Additionally, I was sorry that there were no publications anymore for emerging writers for that age group to publish short form material.

One day a couple of years ago while I was out running round the hilly streets of Wellington and thinking about these things, it suddenly occurred to me that an Annual – a miscellany of stories, comics, poetry, articles, art, puzzles, games etc – would be a great solution to both of these issues. By the time I’d finished my run I’d thought of two people who could help make it happen – Julia Marshall, the publisher for Gecko Press and Susan Paris, the editor of the School Journal.

Why is this ‘Annual’ so significant for New Zealand?

As far as we know there’s never been a New Zealand publication like this for New Zealand children. This is the first publication of new, commissioned material across a variety of forms for this age group. It’s also the first publication to draw contributions from such a wide range of writers and artists – well known writers and illustrators for children, but also new writers and artists or writer/artists who usually produce work for an adult readership.

Annual is also an attempt to broaden the notion of what is allegedly ‘suitable’ for children. We believe that the 9-12 age group is a very sophisticated readership, one that’s hungry for different kinds of reading – fiction, non-fiction, graphic material, and great art – so we’ve commissioned work that is varied and substantial and with real literary merit. But the editors (Susan and me) have a pretty developed sense of the absurd, too, so we wanted the Annual to have funny – even silly – contributions as well as solid stuff.

Tell us about your childhood memories of annuals?

I grew up in a house full of books, including a wide range of very good children’s books. Comics were kind of frowned on, though – but I loved them… I read them at other people’s houses whenever I had the chance.

All the well-known British children’s comics of that post-War period (Girl’s Crystal; Princess; Rupert; Beano, Bunty, to name some) also had an Annual (a kind of bumper issue of the comic) published in time for the Christmas market. As a non-comic household we tended not to get the Annuals either – except one year when, for some reason, my sister Clare got Bunty. She was 8 that year, but claims she was still reading that Bunty Annual until she was 18. I believe her – the thing I noticed about annuals was that they seemed to last forever…every time you picked up a well-thumbed, familiar annual there was somehow always something you hadn’t noticed before and were very pleased to read.

When we were first thinking about our annual we knew we wanted it to be like that – a gift that kept on giving. It’s roughly aimed at a 9-12 readership but we hope that those readers will keep on dipping in over the years; and we’re confident there will be both younger and older readers – and adults – outside the designated age group who will enjoy many of the contributions between the covers.

How did this annual come together?

Once I had the annual idea I contacted Julia Marshall who was immediately very keen on the idea of Gecko Press publishing a miscellany of this kind (Gecko’s catchphrase is ‘curiously good books’). Then I contacted Susan Paris, who is a good friend, but more importantly has 12 years experience commissioning and editing the New Zealand School Journal a publication embedded in the history of children’s writing and illustrating in New Zealand and which is in many ways like Annual –  miscellany of varied forms, but for use in the classroom.

Susan and I began by dreaming up ideas for stories, poems, articles etc and then worked out who we thought would be the best writers and artists to work with those ideas. We needed to come up with the ideas ourselves to ensure a balance across the annual – different moods (sad, funny, silly, reflective); different settings (urban, rural); gender and cultural balance; different forms (realist, fantasy, historical etc). We worked hard to match our ideas with the right artist/ writer…for example, we liked the idea of a ‘found’ poem composed entirely of lines taken from school newsletters. We asked James Brown to have a go at that – we knew he was great with different poetic forms. We approached writers and artists who we knew enjoyed working within certain parameters but who could still make the piece their own.

Commissioning was just the first stage – we edited all the work for publication and worked with Gecko Press to find illustrators for many of the pieces. It was particularly interesting for me – a tyro* in this regard – to see a project of this size right through from inception to publication. Every aspect of the process was fascinating – and quite consuming…debating the best sequencing of all the contributions, debating the title and cover, the color of the cover…and more. And finally there’s spreading the word ahead of publication – talking to librarians, booksellers, teachers, any prospective buyers – preparing the website to go live. (* Tyro = beginner or novice).

Kate, you say that Annual is meant to be enjoyed by ‘backwards browse.’ What does that mean?

This was new to me – Julia told us that people nearly always explore a book, especially a volume of mixed material, from the back to the front.

It’s perfectly true. I do it myself, though I’d never noticed…and we’ve enjoyed watching people pick up Annual and check it out by fanning the pages from back to front. That’s good from our point of view – the first piece they see, then, is Naked Grandmother, the board game which is pretty entertaining. A ‘backwards browse’ will find you flicking through an annual until you fall on what you want to sink yourself into.

Annual’s cover is quite subtle compared to the treasure trove inside. Was that intentional?

Yes, that was intentional – the title written vertically and two lovely drawings by Gregory O’Brien…the chirping bird kind of heralding something good to come. And then there’s the color – a radiant orange.

We wanted the cover to be a striking design (that’s the work of Spencer Levine who also designed the interior) so that the prospective reader would be drawn to pick up Annual – and then begin the ‘backwards browse’ through the material between the covers – which is rich indeed, a real feast for the eye.

What is your hope for the book?

Firstly, I hope the book finds its way to the readers we had in mind when we were working on it – all those readers between 9-12 who are smart, curious and hungry for new material. I hope that readers outside that age group will check it out, too. I hope especially that it is bought by school libraries – that way Annual can reach readers who may not otherwise come across the kind of material inside.

We hope that Annual becomes an annual publication! We’re working on the second volume now and hope that we can keep on producing for as long as there’s an audience…We hope to keep on finding new writers and artists and giving them a platform to publish. We hope, too, that NZ writers and artists for children aspire to be published in Annual, that it builds an audience among practitioners as well as readers.

Kate, you’re very prolific. What is your next project?

Cover of From the cutting room of Barney KettleSusan (Paris) and I are well launched on the commissioning of Annual 2 – which is huge fun…We meet twice a week and spend hours talking and pitching ideas to each other, refining them and working out how best and who might turn them into gold.

I’m also working on a film script of my children’s novel From the cutting room of Barney Kettle another first for me and very interesting. (Set in High Street, Barney Kettle is a homage to Christchurch pre and post-quake).

Kate De Goldi is starting work on a novel in the new year and continuing a long term non-fiction project. (Her current project is a book about children’s literature bibliophile, Susan Price).


Here are some personal highlights from the book:

Continue reading

After WORD – an interview with Rachael King, literary director of WORD Christchurch

Cori L. Sanders did a splendid job coordinating a team of volunteers at the recent WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Here she interviews WORD’s literary director Rachael King.

Rachael King

Congratulations on the amazing success of the recent WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival.  Putting together a literary festival seems a massive undertaking. How long did it take you to plan and execute?

Each festival takes a year to plan, although some foundation work is done in the preceding year as well. This year we had a fantastic and very hard working team led by Executive Director Marianne Hargreaves. My job is to plan what the festival will look like – everyone else makes it happen!

The festival featured 80 events and over 150 writers and speakers.   How did you put the programme together?  Or to reprise the title of one of the festival events: Where do you get your ideas from?  (Did you brainstorm with a committee or were these ideas all your own?)

I do call for input of ideas from our board of trustees, who are all avid readers, and from my Twitter followers who are a clued-up bunch, but mostly the ideas come from reading books, reading coverage of books on the internet, checking upcoming publishing schedules (and publishers sometimes pitch their authors to me), and generally thinking about the issues and themes that the world is concerned with. What moves people? What troubles them? What do they want to know more about?

Outside of my work hours I am constantly thinking about the programme and can get lost for days down the rabbit hole of the internet following ideas. We also work closely with the Melbourne and Brisbane Writers’ Festivals as well as Sydney’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas, so we send each other ideas.

James Dann and How to start a magazine panel
James Dann, Debbie Stoller, Duncan Greive, and Luke Wood. How to start a magazine panel. Flickr 2016-08-28-IMG_5849

How did you hear about these various authors/speakers, and how did you decide which ones to invite over?

All different ways, but here are some examples. The Canadian writers (Ivan Coyote, Elizabeth Hay and Sheila Watt-Cloutier) came to me through Hal Wake, the director of the Vancouver Writers Festival, which I attended in October last year. I saw that Tim Flannery had a book out on climate change, which was a topic I wanted to cover; his partner Kate Holden came highly recommended to me by another writer.

I found Caitlin Doughty via Twitter, where she was tweeting macabre things that appealed to me, which led me to her website where to my delight I discovered she had recently published a book. Then I saw her speak at the Sydney Writers’ Festival last year and that sealed the deal. Ali Cobby Eckermann and Elisa Washuta came through the Christchurch Sister Cities programme – both writers were recommended to me by literary people in Adelaide and Seattle respectively.

Alok Jha was recommended to me by someone who had seen him in person in the UK. John Freeman I met in Auckland last year, then again in Vancouver and New York. He was coming out for the Melbourne Writers Festival so I extended the invitation to Christchurch.

Caitlin Doughty
Caitlin Doughty Flickr 2016-08-28-IMG_5873

Did you start with a theme in mind or did the theme emerge later?

You send out hundreds of invitations and hope that some will stick. In this case, the ones that were sticking started revolving around two common themes – the planet and its people. Nearly all the writers who had accepted my invitation write about quite political things, whether it is the environment, gender, human rights, sexual politics, life and death. I decided to declare the Planet & its People as the official theme because I knew it would appeal to people who care about what is happening in the world right now.

The festival ranged over a myriad of topics like climate change, water, feminism, sex, positive death-acceptance, true crime, LGBT issues, poetry, migrants’ voices, war stories, inclusive cities, and political cartoons.  How did you know what topics would appeal to a general audience?  What combination and balance were you looking to achieve?

These are topics that engaged people care about. I was looking for a combination and balance of thought-provoking, challenging, enlightening, uplifting and entertaining.

Do your literary interests span all these different genres, topics, and cultural hot buttons?  Did you read all the books featured?

I wish I could say I read books by all 150 speakers at the festival but alas no, I didn’t have the time! My personal tastes run to literary fiction and personal essays mostly, but I can still appreciate a topic and trust my sources, and I always make sure the speaker is engaging foremost.

You’ll notice I managed to smuggle my musical tastes in there as well, with the Flying Nun celebration night and Hollie Fullbrook from Tiny Ruins, and also included comics, performance poetry, live storytelling, journalism and TV writing, so WORD is no longer just about books.

Hollie Fullbrook "Tiny Ruins" at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala
Hollie Fullbrook “Tiny Ruins” at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala. Flickr 2016-08-26-IMG_5777

Some authors were interviewed on stage; others took to the stage by themselves; and yet others were part of a panel. How did you decide which format would best showcase each author’s talents?

A lot of it was led by the writers themselves. It is a big ask to get someone to prepare an address, so many authors prefer the ‘in conversation’ format. It is good to have a mixture of both, so I always ask which format the writers prefer.

Panels are a good way to make sure an international author has more than one opportunity to be on stage; and with local writers, they are a good way to include as many writers as possible, and to cover some interesting topics beyond ‘tell us about your book’.

How did you decide who would chair each panel or interview each author?

I attend a lot of writers’ festivals and am always paying close attention to the chairs! In many cases a good chair person is as important as the speaker people have come to see. Chairing takes a certain set of skills – confidence to carry the responsibility, but also the confidence to take a back seat and not dominate.

Chairing a panel is a kind of mediation as well, where it’s essential that you allow everyone on the panel to get their word across, and be prepared for conflict. Managing audience questions is another skill! I also look for chairs who can go with the flow of conversation rather than rigidly over prepare and stick to their questions no matter what. As far as who to match with whom: instinct.

What guided your decision-making regarding workshop topics and the people who would run them?

I wanted a range of topics, and we certainly had that: fiction, song-writing, the business of publishing, memoir, indigenous storytelling. They arose from looking at who was coming and who had experience teaching. The workshops were all very popular, so we will definitely look at adding more next time – and as Tracy Farr’s fiction workshop and Scott Pack’s How to Perfect Your Submission workshop sold out so quickly, will look at more fiction workshops next time and another about getting published. The Taku Kupu Ki Te Ao workshop had three teachers in addition to the facilitator, and by all accounts they got as much out of it as the students!

What gave you the idea to launch the immensely successful new events like Oratory on the Ōtākaro, and the New Regent Pop-Up Festival?

The Ōtākaro walk was conceived in consultation with Ngāi Tahu who are a great supporter of the festival. We are keen to regularly feature Ngāi Tahu speakers and stories. Look out for more walks at future festivals!

The Pop-Up was inspired by a combination of things – wanting to expand the fringe programme which creates accessible events in interesting spaces; wanting to include as many Christchurch writers in the programme as we could; and my visit to the Lit Crawls in Seattle and San Francisco last year. The organisers are keen for us to become part of the Lit Crawl family but there is already a LitCrawl (note different spelling!) in Wellington and we don’t want to detract from that. But the New Regent Street space was an excellent way to test the waters for this kind of event, and I hope it will become a regular feature of future festivals. It added so much character to the festival.

New Regent Street Pop-up
New Regent Street Pop-Up Festival Flickr 2016-08-25-IMG_5751

Any kinks you want to iron out for next festival or any things you want to redress?

Yes, but I’m keeping those to myself as they kinks mostly happened behind the scenes and we need to maintain the image of a swan gliding across a still lake while its legs work furiously below the surface!

What were the personal highlights of this festival for you?

Oh, so many! I’m not supposed to have favourites, and as I was behind the scenes, I missed much of the festival. But I will say I was pretty proud to have Ivan Coyote and Caitlin Doughty, and the Hear My Voice event and Flying Nun event gave me goosebumps. I thought the Stars are on Fire showcase went perfectly (but I am biased), and hearing Tiny Ruins debut a beautiful new song just about had me in tears!

What are the perks of being the festival’s literary director?

Meeting interesting writers! Championing books, especially New Zealand books. Getting to travel to other festivals and to collaborate with them as well. I get a lot of free books, which is a big bonus of course.

What ideas have already sparked for the next festival?

As it’s two years away, I’ll be reissuing invitations to some people who couldn’t make it this time around. But look out! We have an amazing line-up in the planning for our Autumn Season in May, in partnership with Auckland Writers Festival, and will also have a programme of events within the Christchurch Arts Festival next year.

What do you do when you’re not planning literary festivals?

I should be writing books! But the festival takes up too much of my headspace at the moment, so I’ll say I like walking and reading, spending time with my kids. And I have recently taken up horse-riding after a 25 year gap, so that is my current obsession.

Thank you very much, Rachael, for your time, and congratulations once again on the success of the festival!

The Stars are on fire gala
The Stars are on fire gala. WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Friday 26 August 2016. Caitlin Doughty, Steve Hely, Hollie Fullbrook, Ivan Coyote, Tusiata Avia, Sir Tipene O’Regan and Stephen Daisley.Flickr 2016-08-26-IMG_5778

Read more of the libraries’ WORD 2016 coverage.

Historical Fiction of the Masses

Historical fiction is beaut and I read LOADS of it!

I find that it’s an opportunity for talented writers to explore a tiny part of history and expand on it in a way that keeps within the spirit of the times. With the added bonus of hindsight, they might get into some areas that perhaps weren’t fully described by contemporary historians in factual writings.

There’s another side to historical fiction too, and this is the tendency to lean towards topics & settings centred on ladies holding court in the drawing room or the Upstairs-Downstairs type narrative full of posh English aristocrats, much like the recently popular Downton Abbey or Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall which has had the tele treatment.

There’s nothing wrong with these stories, some of them are written beautifully and they sure make good TV fodder, but my concern is that we may be boxing the term “historical fiction” into these aristocratic themes and subsequently some other great works about the “historical common people” are not reaching audiences that would love them. So let’s get into the gritty side of what I like to call (for lack of a better term) Historical Fiction of the Masses.

CoverA fine example of Historical Fiction of the Masses (and I may be showing by Tasmanian roots here) is one of my favourite books of all time – Gould’s Book of Fish – a Novel in Twelve Fish by Richard Flanagan. He’s a Tasmanian author who most recently won the Man Booker Prize for his work (also historical fiction) Narrow Road to the Deep North.

In Gould’s Book of Fish he delves deeply into the corruption, lunacy and brutality of the penal system of transportation to Van Diemen’s Land in the 17th/18th centuries. This is a history not often told in its full brutal reality by history’s keepers, until quite recently when shame around the perceived “convict stain” was turned around and many people began speaking with pride of their convicted and transported ancestors.

CoverThere’s another very accomplished and award winning Tasmanian author who writes good “Historical Fiction of the Masses” – Rohan Wilson. His two titles – The Roving Party and To Name Those Lost are full of grit and reality and are based on real points of history, and the characters based on real people.

And there’s other great international titles in this vein too, The Revenant by Michael Punke is a survivalist story set in the 19th century Rocky Mountains frontier and has recently achieved a lot of attention with Leonardo Dicaprio claiming his first Oscar for his role as the main character.

CoverThe North Water by Ian McGuire dealing with life on a whaling ship in the North Sea & the ship’s morally corrupt crew was long-listed for this year’s Man Booker Prize

There’s a huge depth of writing in this style and a new title piqued my interest after I heard an interview with the author Eowyn Ivey on Radio New Zealand.

CoverHer book is titled To the Bright Edge of the World and during her interview she expressed her admiration for minimalist writers such as Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy. She even said that one of her best-loved books was Gould’s Book of Fish by Flanagan – how could you resist!? Her book is written as diary entries and other correspondence amongst a group travelling through the wilds of frozen Alaska, their families & their descendants. It’s brutal, realistic and believable with strong engaging characters, a weight of mysticism and a deep plot – all the elements for a fine example of Historical Fiction of the Masses!

Go get some titles like these and get reading! Ma Te Wa.

Word for WORD: Quotes of the festival

Literary festivals are wonderfully educational things. If you open your ears and listen, seemingly the wisdom of the world will made available to you.

And some of it is quite pithy too. Now that the extended programme events have been completed we’ve gathered together our favourite quotes from the writers and thinkers of WORD Christchurch 2016. Read and receive their wit and/or wisdom.

On Writing

“To create Lena, I took elements from a wide range of … characters and sources. These were the disparate, disconnected limbs and organs I harvested and stitched together to make my monster. It was my job to add flesh and skin, and then to animate her.” Tracy Farr

“You’re writing fiction; take liberties.” Tracy Farr

“We have over-simplified things for children. Children’s sentences need to be longer. We need more semi-colons.” Kate de Goldi on writing for children

“Writing is a form of changing energy into words.” John Freeman

“The worst place for creativity is a desk. I need to be out-and-about stealing ideas!” Alice Canton on creativity

“I wanted to create a journal of stories that would silence a dinner party.” John Freeman on his new journal Freeman’s

Andy Griffiths
Andy Griffiths. WORD Christchurch event. Friday 16 September 2016. Flickr File Reference: 2016-09-16-IMG_6102

“Do I have any chips for writers? No, I don’t share my chips.” Nobody can grab Andy Griffiths’ ghost chips.

“My job as a writer is to stop my characters from solving problems.” Andy Griffiths


“You get tragedy and farce in all of life – and politics is a part of life” Peter S. Field on the US Presidential race.

“His plans for being president don’t seem like those of someone who thought about being president for more than an hour…” Steve Hely on Donald Trump.

Toby Manhire with Steve Hely
Toby Manhire with Steve Hely, WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Friday 26 August 2016. Flickr File Reference: 2016-08-27-IMG_2495

“You want boring people in government. You want outrageous people on TV.” Steve Hely on what makes a good politician.

“Politics doesn’t just happen in parliament – it affects lives. Laws aren’t made in a vacuum” Fiona Kidman

“A world without intelligent discourse gets you Trump and Brexit.” Duncan Greive tells it like it is.

“It’s like watching a political version of the O.J Simpson trial.” Dr Amy Fletcher regarding the Trump/Clinton political situation and its polarizing effect.

“I venture to suggest that a man who dyes his hair is a man not to be trusted” Peter Bromhead referring to Prime Minister John Key


“I don’t think men should read my book” Jodi Wright dismisses a male reviewer who used the words “sex slave”.

“My body is not an apology” Tusiata Avia reads from her poem.

Tusiata Avia at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala
Tusiata Avia at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala, WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Friday 26 August 2016. Flickr File Reference: 2016-08-26-IMG_5772

“There’s not a lot of money in feminism.” Debbie Stoller

“I find it hard to have respect for people who say they are not feminist” Debbie Stoller

“Because wanting equality as a human being is exactly like the Holocaust” Tara Moss on the term “feminazi”

That’s different…

“Do what works for you, however weird it seems.” Tracy Farr on weirdness

“Magazines smell really good; the Internet doesn’t” James Dann is not wrong.

James Dann and How to start a magazine panel
James Dann and How to start a magazine panel, WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Sunday 28 August 2016. Flickr File Reference: 2016-08-28-IMG_5849

“I’ve watched a lot of porno on tape…” the start of an audience question at the No sex please we’re teenagers session.

“New Regent Street – a time period that has never existed in New Zealand” The Unicorn

“I appreciate this dystopian polemic, sir, but is there a question?” Kim Hill to a persistently long-winded audience member.

“When it is someone you love, a bit of decomposition doesn’t matter.” Caitlin Doughty on dealing with our own dead.

“Being “othered” is something that pervades your daily life in New Zealand.” Alice Canton

“I know it’s after 10pm and Christchurch, emphasis on the Christ…” The Unicorn

Channelling Oprah

“Community is a social lifeboat…” Justin Cronin on disaster response and community

“A child is a deal you make with the future.” Justin Cronin

“We raise our voices, not shouting but singing” David Levithan

“Use your powers for good” Ivan Coyote

Ivan Coyote at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala
van Coyote at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala, WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Friday 26 August 2016. Flickr File Reference: 2016-08-26-IMG_5775

More WORD Christchurch

Monster Making 101

Recently I braved the heaviest rain of winter to attend the WORD Writer’s Workshop “Teaching the Monster to Speak” hosted by the energetic Tracy Farr.

Tracy Farr (image credit, Matt Bialostocki)

Cover of The life and loves of Lena GauntTracy, who was born across the ditch but who we’ll claim as a Kiwi as she’s lived in Wellington for the past 20 years, wrote The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt in 2013 and received accolades for creating characters so real they could walk off the page. Tracy started her second novel and was determined to achieve the same rich characterization. She investigated her writing process so she could replicate it. The twenty or so other workshop attendees and I were fortunate enough to be able to share her wisdom.

To make truly original, realistic characters, Tracy advises authors to stitch them together, physically and psychologically. To extend the Frankenstein metaphor further, she suggests splicing character traits and collecting body parts. Take your mother’s dark eyes, your cousin’s dress sense (or lack of), your colleague’s habit of giving you compliment sandwiches and your dentist’s squint, and you’re on the way to making your Monster. Tuck away images or sayings specific to your Monster into a real or virtual folder via Pinterest or Scrivener. Make mood boards and observe, collect and record “whatever buzzes”. Place your Monster into a setting and move it around so it can start to take on a life of its own.

The idea is to transform/invent/disguise people you know to create your characters. Tracy says “be aware of when you’re copying and when you’re creating” and encouraged us to do a writing exercise every day. She assured us that, if we do this, something (or someone) will turn up.

Cover of WriteTracy based her workshop on four main writer’s resources: Sarah Quigley, Write; Linda Barry’s nearsightedmonkey Tumblr; Jason Steger, It’s fiction and that’s a fact (on Helen Garner’s The Spare Room); and The Exercise Book: Creative Exercises from Victoria University’s Institute of Modern Letters (see also

Tracy Farr’s new novel, The Hope Fault, is due for release by the Freemantle Press next year. Make sure you keep an eye out for it – an eye, his ear, your brother’s obsession with drones, the butcher’s stutter, the purple coat you saw at Farmers… Make it real then make it strange. Happy stitching!

More WORD Christchurch

“All Eyes” – Justin Cronin – WORD Christchurch

“All eyes” I sure will keep my eyes out for those “virals,” “flyers,” “slims” or “smokes”.

Signed copy of The City of Mirrors

Justin Cronin had us all eating out of his hand during his interview with local young adult author Karen Healey.

His motivation for writing his virals trilogy – still can’t bear to call them vampires – was his daughter Iris who was then something like 9 years old. A prodigious reader she had taken a look at his previous novels Mary and O’Neil and  The Summer Guest and pronounced them boring and wanted to read a book about a girl who saved the world! Each day they would cycle around Houston and talk about what would be in such a book. Through this process he lost his inner critic.

Iris has an audiographic memory (like a photographic memory but for sound) she would always know what chapter they where up to when returning to a book. She had lots of suggestions –  there would be a girl with red hair like her and she named the characters. There was only one rule about what would be in the book – it had to be interesting. After a while he realised his current novel wasn’t going so well and he had 30 pages of notes so he thought he’d write the first chapter and see if it went anywhere – and here we are ten years later with the last volume of the trilogy.

Justin Cronin and Karen Healey
An evening with Justin Cronin. WORD Christchurch event, supported by Hachette. The Piano. Thursday 15 September 2016. Flickr 2016-09-15-IMG_6021

An English professor at Rice University, his only rule for Iris at college is don’t take any creative writing courses I can do that. Now  publishing her own work it looks like dad has successfully taught her the family business although I don’t know who taught who …

Why vamps? They are the most interesting out of the four monsters in human form: Frankenstein, werewolves, vampires and zombies. Although I wonder if he forgot about yeti, and Karen was putting a great case for old-fashioned fairies. He excuses himself saying those other Vampire stories were not on his radar, at the time Twilight had only just come out.

At the heart of the vampire noir is the premise that immortality is a terrible state to reassure us that we would rather be human than live forever. He takes vamps and puts them into a new narrative and that’s what makes it interesting. Vamps but with a twist –  you’ve always got to bring something else in to make it interesting like a road trip and a viral epidemic. He was inspired by a couple of B grade movies one called Near Dark directed by the talented Kathryn Bigelow. It blended to the western narrative of a drifters story also Magic Johnson had just come out and there was the AIDs epidemic.

Justin’s not averse to a bit of vampire seduction but in a different way, a seduction utilising rhetoric. Fanning as the charismatic narrator, Fanning sitting around for all those years in a library reading books using language to seduce Amy. A rhetorical seduction to make us feel sympathy with him.

On characters and community

  • Since you are running for your life what is the one thing you would carry with you? In most cases people would carry someone else, therefore you have a love story and bonds of community.
  • Survival is not sufficient. We read end of the world stories for reassurance and resurrection is an important part of that.
  • You need survivors to have hope for their children. You think what does it mean to have a child? A child is a deal you make with the future.

Describing the novels as an apocalyptic western road trip,  part of the inspiration for The Passage trilogy was the depressing world events at the time. Hurricane Katrina had just hit, G.W. Bush had been re-elected and a second less known Hurricane Rita had triggered an evacuation of Houston which he found himself in the midst of.

One morning stuck on the motorway at 2 am going nowhere in a massive traffic jam watching the fuel gauge go down he did the maths and decided they weren’t going to make it out and made a u-turn and headed back home. Luckily the main force of the hurricane hit further off than predicted.

He is interested in the response of community to disasters like the Christchurch earthquake how community survives. Community is a social lifeboat with a group of mostly good people who are resilient.

Why Mirrors

“The vampires can’t see themselves in the mirror and after a certain age that is the case with everybody”.

On making things creepy

I look to nature things that creep me out like fish why do they all turn the same way like that? Crickets how they can jump so much further than their body length, the virals are like bugs in hives.

On imagination

He deliberately doesn’t describe the virals too much leaving it to you to bring the things that scare you to your picture of them. Everyone’s picture of a viral would be different. That’s why movies can be disappointing and on that topic he has sold the film rights but it may be a TV show will eventuate. TV shows are now where the story is at not so many special effects.

Favourite things

Watching The walking dead and The Americans.

What drives him crazy

When the guns don’t run out of ammo on The Walking dead, and cars start whose batteries would have gone for years and the tyres aren’t flat. You have to think these things through.

Justin Cronin and Karen Healey
An evening with Justin Cronin. WORD Christchurch event, supported by Hachette. The Piano. Thursday 15 September 2016. Flickr 2016-09-15-IMG_6032

Just Andy Griffiths – WORD Christchurch

Just think: What is the worst that can happen?

At his two sold-out talks, hosted by the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival 2016 on the 16th and 17th September, popular children’s author Andy Griffiths of the Storey Treehouse book series kicked up a (brain)storm session with his audience.

“Who has ever blocked the plug in the shower and let it fill up as much as you could just to see what would happen?” asked Andy. How did he know?! I glared at my son in the seat next to me who does this all the time! (And even brings tin foil into the shower to keep it sealed in). Andy asked his audience to imagine a shower was filling up with water with the doors sealed shut with silicon… “How would you get out?!” He was milking the audience for their ideas. It felt like a riddle to solve – one that he doesn’t actually know the answer to but is making up as he goes along.

Andy Griffiths
Andy Griffiths. WORD Christchurch event. Friday 16 September 2016. Flickr 2016-09-16-IMG_6086

In the Treehouse series the two main characters Andy and Terry (named after the author and illustrator Terry Denton) get up to some ridiculous stuff that would horrify a health and safety inspector. Andy says “It would be no fun if I had my characters think ahead about the consequences to their actions. A sensible forward-thinking character is a useless character who doesn’t belong in a story.” What he needs are “idiots who never think ahead.” Andy adds: “My job as a writer is to stop my characters from solving problems.” Andy also loves to do what he calls “wasting the reader’s time” – as witnessed by endless pages in his books with the same word written over and over and over and over and over and over…

Dressed in his finest fake tuxedo t-shirt, Andy spoke to hundreds of fans in New Zealand to coincide with his newly premiered book The 78-Storey Treehouse: Movie Opening Night (2016) about the making of a movie about Andy and Terry ‘s adventures (but Andy’s kicked off the set). Oh, and it features spy cows that go around stealing ideas from them. Their justification? “For years the humans have milked us. Now we’re milking them, for their ideas.”

“So how do you get your ideas?” – an audience member asked Andy. “I steal them!” he confessed. “Haven’t you ever heard of Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree?” he joked. Seriously though, he loved the feeling of expansion and freedom when he read The Faraway Tree books years ago and he tries to copy that feeling. Playing in trees is inherently dangerous – and he keeps his that way by not putting fences around the crazy levels they build such as a chain-saw juggling area and crocodiles under a skateboard ramp. His storytelling advice is to ask: “What is the worst thing that can happen?” and to “think the opposite of what would happen and do that.”  He says he does the opposite of what the reader expects because shock and surprise equals reader laughter. “I never underestimate my readers’ stupidity.” He means that in a nice way.

Now back to that shower rapidly filling up to the ceiling with water, and you trapped naked inside: “What would you do? All you have is a rubber duck” he said, waving a rubber duck toy in the air. He suggested using the duck’s squeaker as a distress signal to call emergency services (it didn’t work by the way, he tried it live). You could plug the shower head with the duck but it would fill and expand and being killed by an exploding rubber duck, he says, would be an embarrassing way to die. “What’s the worst that could happen?!?” You could break your way through the ceiling by hammering it with the rubber duck but then get trapped in the ceiling and float through the roof space until you came crashing down naked into your sister’s sleepover party. Humiliation overdrive. In case he hasn’t made his point with his young readers (and potentially budding writers themselves): “It’s all about brainstorming.”

Another great way of generating ideas? Making lists – such as the lists of what kind of levels they could have in their treehouse – a bowling alley, a game of snakes and ladders with real snakes and, in The 78-Storey Treehouse, what about an all-ball level for sports fans? Including fire balls and wrecking balls. There’s also Andyland, Terrytown and Jillville (to home the Andy, Terry and Jill clones left over from the previous book), a combining machine (eg. electric eel + unicorn = Electricorn) and a Scribbletorium.

Andy Griffiths
Andy Griffiths. WORD Christchurch event. Friday 16 September 2016. Flickr 2016-09-16-IMG_6102

Speaking of scribbles, Andy shared with everyone Terry’s early drawings of their treehouse complete with marshmallow machine and vegetable vaporiser and certainly their most dangerous hazard of all, their publisher Mr. Big Nose whose nose explodes when he gets angry, usually caused by Andy and Terry not making another deadline on the book they are meant to be writing. Andy’s character tends to get a bit cross in his books too which just makes Terry funnier.

Hands up – who likes Terry better than Andy? About half the room. Andy says he has to be mean to Terry since he steals his chips and that’s why he had to create a high-security potato chip storage facility in his latest book, complete with 1000 mousetraps, 100 lasers, a 10-tonne weight and an angry duck – to deter those friends and family who like to steal our chips from us (you know who you are). In real life, Andy and Terry endlessly amuse each other – into their third book in the Just series (Just Crazy, Just Stupid etc…) they felt they just didn’t have enough bad ideas and were having trouble getting a book together …so how about a book about a book that never gets started?

Andy showed a few slides of amazing, and amusing, trees and treehouses. A child in the audience reprimanded him for his picture of a tree that looked like a bum: “That’s inappropriate!” He joked back: “You have to do some serious introspection when a six year-old tells you that you are inappropriate.”

Andy says he has been writing since he was about 5 or 6 years old. He says one of his earliest ‘books’ he made was a get-well card for his dad that read “Get well soon …or you are doomed” with a drawing of a tombstone. Andy reminisced about how when he was a child he read cautionary tales  –  German tales from the 1800s such as Heinrich Hoffmann’s Der Struwwelpeter – and similar to Hilaire Belloc’s cautionary verses – unlovely bedtime stories – about what frightfully horrible things can happen to you when you play with matches or suck your thumb. And did that teach him to be a good boy? No! That taught him that “Reading is cool.” “I don’t know what will happen when I read!” he enthused. The same can be said about his stupendous stories.

Andy Griffiths - crowd
Andy Griffiths. WORD Christchurch event. Friday 16 September 2016. Flickr 2016-09-16-IMG_6064

Joking about all the dangers in his books he says that’s why he came to New Zealand, because there were no scary things, like poisonous spiders… um, uh, Andy! Watch out! The audience were quick to educate him about the redbacked spider and the katipo. Andy said that he doesn’t believe in cruelty to animals in his books but an audience member called him out: “But what about when the shark is fed Terry’s underwear?” Well, Andy points out he had Jill (their animal-whisperer sidekick) perform open-shark surgery to save it. Andy says the moral is: “Don’t wash your undies in a shark tank – or just don’t wash your underpants” full stop. Andy Griffiths doesn’t miss a beat.

“Is Jill really your sister?” someone was desperate to know. “Let’s hope not! I’m married to her in real life” said Andy, who met his wife Jill Griffiths in 1997 when she was the editor of his first book Just Tricking and was quick to add that Jill is funny in her own right (she composed the Ballad of the Ninja Snails in The 52-Storey Treehouse). He says Jill stops him from taking his jokes too far (although I’m not sure how much further they could go).

“Will there be an actual Treehouse Movie?” an eager fan inquired. “Not so far” answered Andy, sounding unsure how his books would translate on screen. But is he working on another book? He did some quick mathematical calculations (adding 13 to 78) before confirming that, yes, a 91-Storey Treehouse is under construction – due to be built by August 2017. Great news! Because the worst that could happen for fans is that Andy and Terry stop reaching to new heights.

Watch this space.

Max with author Andy Griffiths
Max and Andy Griffiths.

Thanks to publishers Macmillan and WORD Christchurch for bringing Andy to town. Missed his appearance? Watch Andy and Terry in action at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival 2015

See our photos of Andy Griffiths in Christchurch.

Andy Griffiths and fan
Andy Griffiths and fan. WORD Christchurch event. Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre. Saturday 17 September 2016. Flickr 2016-09-17-IMG_6187

It’s raining Raina

CoverIt seems apt to be writing about American cartoonist Raina Telgemeier’s latest graphic novel Ghosts (released September 2016) after a night or two of ‘dark and stormy’ wild weather across the country. I lay in bed snuggled up with my children to keep warm, making up spooky stories to tell them as the wind lashed the trees. It was the kind of weather that gets one imagining something eerie in the air… like ghosts, perhaps.

Ghosts is a little bit different from Raina’s previous, award-winning, autobiographical graphic novels Smile (2010) and Sisters (2014). For fans expecting another story from her real life, she points out this is her first true fiction story “not at all based on real stuff.”

However it does similarly revolve around two sisters:

Eleven-year-old Catrina and her family are moving to the small coastal town of Bahía de la Luna because her younger sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn’t happy about leaving her friends, but she tries not to complain because she knows Maya will benefit from the clean, cool air that blows in from the sea. As the girls settle in, they learn there’s something a little spooky about their new town…

Have a peek at an excerpt of Ghosts set in the missions of foggy northern California and during the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos).

As a fan of graphic novels, especially autobiographical comics, it was exciting to meet Raina and hear her speak at the recent International Board for Books and Young People Congress (IBBY), held in Auckland in August 2016.

CoverRaina’s illustrated stories of her life growing up appeal to 7, 17 and 37 year-olds alike. I thought it was curious that my copy of Raina’s book Smile had gone missing from my bedside table one night and when I went to check on my young son, supposedly asleep in bed, I found he had taken it and was totally absorbed and asking for more – I suspect it was the smiley face on the cover that attracted him. He quickly became a big fan of Raina’s despite the content of her books being from a female perspective and about sisterhood and female friendships. This is a great reminder not to gender stereotype readers’ interests.

Moreover, graphic novels are a great hook for reluctant readers. I like to think of Raina’s comics as ‘gateway graphic novels’ and wanted to meet Raina partly just to thank her for really igniting my son’s reading. I also blame Raina for my son wanting a pet fish (her fish poo scene had him in hysterics) as well as his first iPod for his birthday (just like her character in Sisters, although in her case it was a cassette player, being the 1980s). Happy Birthday son – you’re also getting Ghosts for your birthday too!

American cartoonist Raina Telgemeier
American cartoonist Raina Telgemeier at IBBY Congress 2016, Auckland. Flickr 2016-08-19-Raina-Telgmeier-speaking

Raina’s talk at the IBBY Congress My life as a Comic and Comics are my life

The title of Raina’s talk at the IBBY Congress My Life as a Comic and Comics are My Life highlights how interchangeable these two aspects are for her. Indira Neville, from the National Library of New Zealand in Auckland – and a cartoonist in her own right – introduced Raina by acknowledging her impact on making a greater space for women in comics. Raina then talked about her influences on her comic-making as a child.

Early influences

Raina shared her early influences and inspirations as a child growing up in the 1980s in America (like me) such as the Care Bears, the Smurfs, Strawberry Shortcake and Scooby Doo cartoons. Perhaps a reminder not to write off children’s seemingly vacuous television viewing. She was talking about my childhood too! She also highly rates the comic series Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Waterson and Bone by Jeff Smith as both being important in her becoming a cartoonist.

Raina was also a huge fan of realistic fiction such as that of Judy Blume and of Beverly Cleary and her stories of sisters Beezus and Ramona. Raina was interested in what kids her age were doing and was enamoured with For Better and for Worse by Lynn Johnston – in this comic strip the characters grew up every year alongside her and her family in real life so they felt like friends or neighbours to Raina and for her, lives blurred between reality and comics – much like her own work does.


Growing Up

CoverA seminal comic she received was from her father, Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa, which ends with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. She said she cried for two days after the ending and was fascinated with how “comics can make you feel a huge emotional response” – this resonated with her from a young age. She credits Barefoot Gen with waking her up to the power of storytelling.

“Comics can make you feel a huge emotional response.”

Another spark was a 1st grade teacher who set a year long assignment of diary writing where the teacher would write back and forth to the students in diaries they were keeping. Raina helped illustrate her school annuals and yearbooks and she kept an illustrated journal all through school and college, drawing her day in a visual diary. She still keeps a weekly comic diary. She says “all my influences get chucked into a blender and what comes out is my own original work.”

Making It

Raised in San Francisco, Raina went to the School of Visual Arts in New York, “having been enamoured with the city due to shows like Sesame Street”, and there she studied illustration and comic-making. She made mini-comics “back in the pre-internet days” and distributed about 7,000 copies of her her mini-comic ‘Take-out’ (7 issues, 12-pages black and white). She sold them for a whopping $1 a piece and would be thrilled when she received a cheque for $2.50 for selling a few comics. Her advice at the conference on how to get good at drawing comics? “Trace and copy is a great way to learn how to make shapes.” Simple as that.

CoverRaina frequented comic conventions to promote her work and was approached at one by Scholastic Book Group, who were kicking off Graphix – an imprint of Scholastic. Raina had only done short comics up to that point so wasn’t sure what to do for a larger book so they asked her what she really liked reading herself as a kid. Answer: The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin, which just happened to be in Scholastic stable of books and wow, two weeks later she had a book contract to illustrate the beloved series. She lifts the dialogue straight from the books and each of the four books took a year to make. Initially in black and white they have been reprinted in colour and since then have been on the New York Times Best Sellers list (colour sells!) She says she can see herself across several characters in The Baby-Sitter’s Club but Kristy is her favourite and of course the character in her comics she can relate to the most is herself… She went on to write and illustrate several graphic novels about her experiences growing up, also published by Scholastic.


CoverWarning: Contains graphic content (of a dental nature)
Smile (2010) depicts the aftermath of an incident that led to Raina having her teeth reconstructed between the ages of 11-15, after falling over and damaging her permanent front teeth. This was a very self-conscious time of life and her graphic novel lays bare these awkward years and the accompanying bullying as well. There is something innocent and wholesome about Raina’s stories and she comes across as cheerful but there were certainly no smiles when she presented a photo in her talk of her gruesome dental files from this time period. Set in the time covering the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco, Raina says in Smile: “I survived a major earthquake. I guess in the grand scheme of things losing a couple of teeth isn’t the end of the world.”


CoverSisters (2014) was based on one panel in Smile about a family road trip and delves into the relationship with her younger sister Amara and wider family dynamics many readers will relate to.

Raina can’t wait to be a big sister. But once Amara is born, things aren’t quite how she expected them to be. Amara is cute, but she’s also a cranky, grouchy baby, and mostly prefers to play by herself. Their relationship doesn’t improve much over the years, but when a baby brother enters the picture and later, when something doesn’t seem right between their parents, they realize they must figure out how to get along. They are sisters, after all…
Present-day narrative and perfectly placed flashbacks tell the story of her relationship with her sister, which unfolds during the course of a road trip from their home in San Francisco to a family reunion in Colorado.

What’s the drama with Drama?

CoverAfter the dramas in Smile came the real Drama (2012). Set in middle school years, partly Raina’s intent with Drama was to honour the technical people who do the work behind the scenes in school drama and stage productions (as opposed to the select few who make it on stage). Drama is a homage to these friendships and the camaraderie that occurs between them. In the story are twin boys who are gay, just like her best friends were at school. On the controversy of having young gay students depicted in Drama, she says she is pleased Scholastic backed her and notes her based-on-a-true story graphic novel is actually indicative of the real world compared to fantasy-driven comics which get less questioned. Moreover she says:

“I hear from kids thanking me for validating their existence.”

This I think is the essence of what makes her work so popular among readers young and old alike – they can find themselves in her stories: in the sibling spats, in the humiliating experiences, negotiating friendships and in the minutiae of school and home life.

What other comics and books does Raina recommend for readers who love her graphic novels?

She gave special mention in her presentation to:
El Deafo (2014) by Cece Bell Raina rates it as: “The best middle grade memoir about hearing loss you will ever read.” Okay, it may be the only one.
Roller Girl (2015) by Victoria Jamieson. A graphic novel adventure about a girl who discovers roller derby right as she and her best friend are growing apart.
Sunny Side Up (2015) by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm. From the brother-and-sister creators of Babymouse, Sunny Side Up follows the lives of kids whose older brother’s delinquent behaviour has thrown their family into chaos.


Ivan Coyote: Talking across boundaries – WORD Christchurch

Ivan Coyote
Ivan Coyote (Image supplied)

When the WORD blog team put their hand up to cover different sessions at WORD Christchurch, I was fortunately alone in choosing both “The Storyteller” and “Black and Blue Storytelling” with Ivan E. Coyote. As the event continued and audiences enjoyed the stories, people kept coming back for more and more. By Sunday morning, “The Storyteller” session was sold out and WORD volunteers brought more chairs in.

Ivan hails from the Yukon, Canada and their stories are autobiographical, exploring family history and dynamics, gender identity, social justice and equality. At times self-deprecating, but with a good sprinkling of wit and humour so that the messages they are conveying are all the more powerful for being from personal experience. To deliver these messages in any other way, would perhaps come across as a lecture. Ivan has taken pains to point out that that is not their intention. In a Radio New Zealand interview Ivan explained that the medium they use is very traditional, whilst the subject matter is not. They write the story down and craft it before learning it, then once it is learnt, they are able to really tell it and tweak it and ad-lib for the audience. The result is a very natural, polished telling by a gifted raconteur.

Autobiographical storytelling requires a fine balance between truth and privacy. Ivan applies a strict set of criteria to their writing / telling. They ensure that the story is honouring and they thoroughly examine their own motivation in writing the story – for example are they trying to ensure that they have the last word? The essence of this is ensuring that they show compassion and that they “use their powers for good”. Ever since the sessions during WORD, I keep thinking what a great attitude and approach it is to aim to make everyone, even the most challenging person in the room comfortable and included. At the end of the day, why can’t we all just get along?

Ivan uses story to recount interactions with people with absolute attention to detail. “I’m not so much OCD but ATD – that’s attention to detail”. Through “Scars” we learnt a little about the mysterious world of a hand model, the map of childhood accidents and ultimately the effect of top surgery. This was moving for both the teller and the listeners. The humane telling elicits empathy, groans and sighs from the audience. On Sunday morning there was barely a dry eye in the room.

The session ended on a lighter note with Ivan telling a series of “literary doritos” short, bite-sized stories inspired by overheard snippets of conversation and a standing ovation.

Cover of Tomboy survival guideI asked Ivan if they intended readers to read their collections in order, as it seemed that Missed Her was intended that way. Ivan said that it didn’t matter although the Tomboy Survival Guide would probably be better if it was read in order. You read it here first…

Find stories by Ivan Coyote in the library catalogue

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