On Chatham Island time with David Mitchell

The WORD Christchurch event with novelist David Mitchell ran on Chatham Islands time. With no session before or after, time was flexible. It started a little late and David was generous with his time, going well over the nominal finishing time. David was thankful for the restorative properties of Whittaker’s Hokey Pokey chocolate and a power nap. He was on top form with the conversation flowing easily between him and Rachael King – an award-winning author in her own right. David assured us we could go at anytime, he didn’t want to hold anybody’s babysitter up but we could have listened to this self-effacing Englishman all night. It was amazing for us starstruck fans to hear it took three days to get over his own fanboy awe and introduce himself to Haruki Murakami at breakfast.

On Middle Age and the role research plays in his novels

He used to go off around the world whenever he wanted to research his books, staying at backpacker hostels when he was researching Cloud atlas on the Chatham Islands, and drinking with the locals. Now he negotiates absences from home with his wife, and he stays at comfortable hotels. Interspersing quality time at home with stints at literary festivals allows his wife to have time to do things, and him to tuck the children into bed. He wrote Crispin Hershey from the Bone Clocks as a foil against believing the publicity machine. Several of the literary festivals Crispin attends have since invited David – a great way to travel to parts of the world – a tip for new authors maybe? He chooses the literary festivals he attends carefully, hoping to pick up useful experiences and nuggets of information from the places he visits, and they may later be woven into his books. Should we expect to see Iceland featured in a novel sometime?

Sometimes there is no substitute for being there. Without having ridden a bicycle in the snow in Europe, he wouldn’t have known that despite how many clothes you put on you still end up with snow up your nose, down your neck, up your sleeve and in your armpit:

Snow’s up my nose, snow’s in my eyes, snow’s in my armpits, snow howls after us through a stone archway into a grotty yard with dustbins already half buried under snow, snow, snow. Holly fumbles with the key now we are in…

Hugo Lamb with Holly Sykes, Bone Clocks

On Children

Rachael explored the Faustian aspects of David’s work, and whether we fear more for our children than ourselves. Rachael and David discussed how now having children has affected them, and their fears for their children and the world they could inherit. The world ravaged by climate change and desperately short of oil David describes in the last chapter of Bone Clocks is a warning.  Despite recurrent themes of death and cheating death, he doesn’t like to write too much sadness in novels. They are ultimately are for your enjoyment. David said as a parent he would never write anything in a novel that hurts children – if he puts them in harm’s way ultimately he always kind of saves them.

Cover of The Bone Clocks Cover of The Thousand autumns of Jacob de Zoet Cover of Cloud Atlas Cover of number9dream

On writing and being a nerd

The upcoming new Slade House novella and the Bone Clocks are part of an overarching Uber novel where characters and references pop up in other novels. He delights in these nerd-like aspects of his work, creating links between characters in his books in a Tolkienesque way. He’d like to put more of this in his work, but he feels he is already asking a lot of his readers with the way he structures his novels.

On the fantasy scale he feels he is only about a 3 or 4, partly due to his books being character and not plot driven. Despite being a bit of a nerd and creating back stories for his characters, he doesn’t have his entire novels mapped out. He has an idea where the novel is going, the characters drive how it gets there. The characters need to develop depending on the limits of the period and the setting as with Orito Aibagawa the daughter of the Japanese Doctor in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. His wife warned him not to make her a whore and he always listens to his wife! Orito needs to come and go from the island of Edo-era at will. The problem was the island of Edo-era the one window on the West for Japan at the time  had very restricted access, so he makes her a doctor’s daughter she has a certain status which means her presence is not questioned and she can move around freely he also gave her a disfigurement or why would she still be single.

He pleads guilty to research. David limits his writing output, so he can spend a couple of years researching novels such as The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and he relishes it. David says when he is researching he scoops information up. Later it shines light on your work as sun on leaves synthesises results.

Last time he was in Christchurch he had barely four hours to research the Chatham Islands in the Christchurch public library, taking notes from Michael King’s A land apart : the Chatham Islands of New Zealand  before we gently chucked him out at closing time. The character at the start of Cloud Atlas who collects teeth from skulls on the beach comes from that research. He would dearly have loved to able to have met Michael and shouted him a drink.

Scoop information up – later it shines light on your work, as sun on leaves synthesise results.

The Quotable Auckland Writers Festival

Here are some of favourite quotes which I managed to write down during the Auckland Writers Festival. I was struggling to rank them in a list from best to awesome, but you can judge them according to your own taste and preference.

“Reality is a bit more than we think it is.” Ben Okri

“The only limit with your story is imagination.” David Walliams

“If people read their authors, it’s their richness.” Ben Okri

“My stories are always unpredictable to myself” Haruki Murakami

“You feel like a magician when you write.” David Walliams

“I’m writing books for my people, not for my country.” Haruki Murakami

“Good thing is that people are writing books about what we’re doing wrong.” Charlotte Grimshaw

“I like the audience to have their view of the songs.” Hollie Fullbrook

“It is important to try and inspire those ones who don’t read, to read.” David Walliams

“Truth can hurt, but not knowing can hurt more.” Alan Cumming

“Curiosity is willingness to step in somebody else’s shoes.” Atul Gawande

“We don’t love our past enough to bring it into our present.” Aroha Harris

“History is one of the most powerful colonizing tools available. Especially if you are writing it from your point of view as a hero.” Aroha Harris

“More knowledge from parents to children.” Xinran

“We are in an age, when a move from home is a mythic experience.” Anna Smaill

“Everyone has an amazing story to tell.” David Walliams

“Remain yourself. Your experience is the most interesting. Be what you are.” Alan Cumming

“Hearts get broken over the breakfast table.” Anton Chekhov (only present in spirit and quoted by Hollie Fullbrook).

“You should always have a picture of a 100% boy, even when you have 78% husband.” Haruki Murakami

What I realized transcribing these quotes is that some of them are deeply embedded in the context of writer’s work or their life experience. But what makes them so beautiful is their universality. Everyone can interpret them in their own way.

David Mitchell Über Novelist

Portrait of DavidMitchellDavid Mitchell uber novelist is addictive, it’s official.  Cloud Atlas stays with you long after you have read it, and makes you question the way the world works, what it could become and the part individuals play in that. The series of ethical journeys the characters traverse through the book explore how people prey on each other and corporations prey on societies. The themes of interconnectedness and cause and effect heightened by reincarnating the main character.

Cover of Bone Clocks by David MitchellNow after reading The Bone Clocks – only my second David Mitchell novel – I begin to see his recurring themes of power, communication or miscommunication and connectivity. The consequences of random and considered actions we all make on a daily basis underlies much of his work, such as Holly Syke’s young actions.

David says his work explores how random or crafted connectivity powers reality. His skilled craftsmanship blends several different genres into one great novel in The Bone Clocks going from the realism to futuristic and fantasy elements, sometimes it feels like you are reading several books at once. The different styles – together  with the different voices to narrate each section – mean you’ll need to keep your wits about you so you don’t miss that crucial references, but I’ll give nothing away.

This author really loves language. You see that he finds it an ally, a trusted friend, and it is a joy to read – but sometimes he criticises himself.  The character and novelist Crispin Hershey’s ideas make you think the author himself he is having doubts about novel’s structure, or is he just making us think?   You can imagine I am very excited  to see him at WORD Christchurch tonight (Sunday 17 May).

Fans can follow breadcrumbs to pick up on references to characters from other works, tying them together.  Search out his fan site for insights into his works.

Here are some clips:

A very booky week – WORD Christchurch Autumn Season, and the Auckland Writers Festival

If you like exploring new ideas, if you revel in reading, if you are partial to intelligent and funny conversation – 12 to 17 May2015 was a winner of a week!

Auckland Writers Festival

In Auckland we reported back from the litfest-apalooza Auckland Writers Festival. We tweeted with the hashtag #awf15.

Read our AWF15 blog posts.

Cover of Colorless Cover of Being Mortal Cover of Not my father's son Cover of Station Eleven

WORD Christchurch Autumn Season

Christchurch played host to the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season. We attended sessions, blogged, and tweeted (hashtag #wordchch).

Read our WORD Christchurch blog posts.

Cover of H is for hawk Cover of Awful Auntie Cover of Hack Attack Cover of Bone Clocks

The Beauty of Lists

Cover of The Librarian's Book of Lists Memory – as you get older – seems to fail you at the most inopportune moments…  And if, heaven forbid, you are a little ‘distracted’ or ‘stressed’, then it completely goes out of the window.

Once upon a time I could remember the titles of books and authors’ names without having to play mental ‘charades’  with myself (or rope in increasingly bewildered colleagues) to acquire them! Ah, those were the days…

Thank heavens for our catalogue’s nifty little function entitled Lists. I was asked a question the other day: ‘what books could I recommend’. Well, this time I was prepared. I had a List, you see. Quick as a flash I went into My Account on BiblioCommons, clicked on My Lists and there they were – my top books (in no particular order) that I have access to via the library collection.

Cover of PersonalYou don’t have to make lists public if you are of a reticent nature; whilst I make my own private  lists, I also peruse the public list titles on the catalogue page and find that some of them are really rather quirky and/or list very unusual topics. I’ve actually found quite a few books to place reserves on via this method.

Who could fail to be impressed with titles such as If you like… fiction for hipsters or If you like… Chick Lit – Beyond Bridget Jones and Marion Keyes? And, if you are desperate to find Lee Child-like books by different authors, THEN miraculously there is a list called If you like… Lee Child which puts forward 21 different authors to try. Yeah!!

Have you ever created or made use of a list? Check out the Staff Picks lists created by our librarians (you can choose from Adults, Kids and Teens) – I guarantee you’ll be surprised by the range they cover.

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This month’s special – The 10pm Question by Kate De Goldi – the eBook!

On Friday 22 August we are having our Community Read 2014 : One book one community with The 10pm Question by Kate De Goldi.

For this month thanks to Allen & Unwin and Wheelers everyone can read the 10PM Question as an eBook at the same time!

10pm Question cover

You can read the 10 pm question as an e-book from our Overdrive collection and Wheelers collection.

10 pm question  is also available as a paper book and an audiobook.

What is your 10pm Question? Get on board with our Community read

Community ReadI spied a poster in the library that has put a real spring in my step: Community Read 2014. The reason for this spring is a visit to Christchurch City Libraries by Kate De Goldi. She is coming to talk about her novel The 10PM Question and I can’t wait.

I read this book a number of years ago and at the time it struck a real chord. Frankie Parsons, a twelve year old boy, is on the verge of change. He has a head full of worries and Frankie’s Ma listens patiently to his 10pm questions. I had a son who also had a head full of worries and at the time I found The 10PM Question a reassuring read. Kate De Goldi deals sensitively and perceptively with the issue of anxiety and the challenges faced by Frankie and his family.

Kate is an award winning writer who cannot be missed.

Knowledgeable

Articulate

Thinking

Engaging

Dazzling

Enthusiastic

Gem

Observant

Lover of Literature

Dynamic

Insightful

I had the pleasure of listening to Kate a number of years ago and I promise you will not be disappointed. Come along to this free event on Friday 22nd August, 11-12pm, at the South Library Colombo Street, Christchurch. In the evening (7.30pm to 9pm), join the Court Jesters for some 10pm questions. Share your 10PM question and be in to win an iPod touch. The Court Jesters at South Library will improvise your 10pm questions!

Kate de Goldi – and many more authors – will also be appearing in a variety of sessions at the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival.

I don’t have a 10pm question but I do have plenty of 2.30am questions! What is your 10pm question?

Confessions of an Author Obsessive

Cover of The Crane WifeI’ve got a bit of a obsessive personality at the best of times (to my shame, I have been known to tidy DVDs at shops without even being aware of it), and when it comes to favourite authors, it manifests in a need to read every book they have ever written. This has often been frustrated by choosing authors who seem to only write one book a millennium or have written so many, my task seems Herculean.

When I read a writer who just ‘does it for me’, I then set about reading every thing they have ever written. Those who have written just a few I can mark off quickly, others are proving to be a life’s work for me.

It’s interesting how some vary in their skills from book to book, and others nail it every time. I sometimes start with their first book and work through in order of publication, or just randomly pick them in a crazy ‘throw my hands in the air like I just don’t care’ kind of way.

So, like a true obsessive, I will now list a few of the authors I have read completely or am working on. I’ll also give my tips, for what it’s worth, on how I think it is best to approach them:

Cover of Close RangeAnnie Proulx

Start with The Shipping News, then Accordion Crimes, Postcards, Close Range (which is a collection of short stories including the excellent Brokeback Mountain), and then move on to her other excellent titles. I’d leave Bird Cloud to the end. This is a non fiction account of her building her dream home in Wyoming and is possibly the least interesting, but that may just be me.

Patrick Ness

Start with the amazing Chaos Walking Trilogy, move onto A Monster Calls, then More Than This, and finish up with The Crane Wife and The Crash of Hennington. Mr Ness is one of those writers who needs to write more prolifically to keep me happy! There is a title of his not in the library:  Topics about which I know nothing – I’ve filled a request an item form (a useful form to use if you want the library to buy something).

Cormac McCarthy

Cover of Outer DarkThere are eleven of his titles in the library, and he is my slow and steady author. I love his work, but it is not always easy going and rarely light, so I pepper his works in among my other reading.  I’d suggest starting with All the Pretty Horses, then move onto Outer Dark, The Road, No Country for Old Men,  Suttree and then his other works. I’ve still got a few to read, and the added bonus with McCarthy is his works have such depth and strength of narrative and character (I’m not biased or anything), that they make great movies… so read the book, watch the movie of  The Road, The Sunset Limited (a play), The Counsellor and No Country for Old Men. 

John Steinbeck

An early obsession for me when in my teens, I think I started with Of Mice and Men, then moved onto Cannery Row, Sweet Thursday, East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath, but perhaps it is time to finish that list off too.

Carol Shields

This writer’s works are only partly read by me, but Unless got me hooked, which led to The Collected Stories, Duet, Stone Diaries, Small Ceremonies and Larry’s Party. I still have several more to tick off the Carol Shields list.

Do you have authors you love with a passion, whose latest novel you are hanging out for? And who would you see as your ‘must read all’ authors?

Recent necrology, April 2014

Some well-known people who have died recently:

  • Rubin Carter, 1937-2014
    Boxer wrongly convicted of murder who found Bob Marley fighting his corner
  • Cover of Love in the Time of CholeraAlan Davie, 1920-2014
    Artist who won the admiration of Rothko and Pollock and later embraced ‘magic symbolism’
  • Bob Hoskins, 1942-2014
    Actor who excelled as the tough but engaging anti-hero of Mona Lisa and The long good Friday
  • Richard Hoggart, 1918-2014
    Commentator and academic whose Uses of Literacy lamented the impact of mass culture on traditional working-class life
  • Doris Pilkington, 1937-2014
    Aboriginal author whose story of Australia’s stolen generation inspired a film starring Kenneth Branagh
  • Cover of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014
    Icon of American youth and energy who was as prolific in his marriages as he was on screen
  • Patrick Seale, 1930-2014
    Author who deputised for Kim Philby in Beirut and became the pre-eminent expert on Syria
  • John Shirley-Quirk, 1931-2014
    Former science teacher turned bass-baritone whose talents proved an inspiration to Benjamin Britten
  • Sue Townsend, 1946-2014
    Writer whose diaries of spotty teenager Adrian Mole became a publishing sensation
  • Owen Woodhouse, 1916-2014
    NZ jurist and chair of government commissions, notably workers’ accident compensation

Recent necrology, January 2014

cover of Julius HaastA list of well-known people who have died recently

  • Claudio Abbado, 1933-2014
    Shy but steely conductor who crafted some of the great performances of the last century
  • Percy Blandford, 1912-2014
    Canoe designer who got Britain boating with his post-war do-it-yourself designs
  • Colin Burrows, 1931-2014
    Former University of Canterbury ecologist who spent his life studying, protecting and teaching others about NZ’s native plant life
  • Elizabeth Jane Howard, 1923-2014
    Novelist who drew on her miserable childhood and spectacular misfortune with men
  • Michael Jacobs, 1952-2014
    Quixotic travel writer who celebrated the sounds and tastes of Spain and Latin America
  • Kenneth Rose, 1924-2014
    Telegraph columnist and historian who chronicled the Establishment with wit, style and occasional asperities
  • Thomas Rosenthal, 1935-2014
    Flamboyant publisher who also made his mark as art historian, broadcaster and connoisseur
  • cover for Pete Seeger at 89Pete Seeger, 1919-2014
    Godfather of folk music who was revered as the voice of political protest for more than half a century
  • Ariel Sharon, 1928-2014
    Israeli leader famed for bold, brash, ruthless manoeuvres both in politics and on the battlefield
  • James Siers, 1936-2014
    Pioneering Wellington photographer and writer