WORD Christchurch Festival: Black Marks on the White Page

With WORD Christchurch Festival at the forefront of my mind at the moment, having bought my tickets yesterday (and by the way the session Motherhood is selling out fast [SOLD OUT now! Ed.] ) I was intrigued to find an article by UK author Natasha Carthew about an idea for a Working Class Writers Festival in Britain.

On 12th July, Carthew tweeted to her 1,700 followers: “Comrades! This is a call to arms – we’ve got to get ourselves a #WorkingClassWriters Lit Fest! I’ve been doing the circuit and we’re a bit underrepresented int we?”

Carthew, who has written three books of poetry, and two YA books published by Bloomsbury, wants to ensure that publishing recognises writing from across the social spectrum.

She said: “I think it’s really important to enhance, encourage and increase representation from working class backgrounds, which can be quite underrepresented at other literary festivals. I feel we are an equally talented group of people that do not get enough exposure, young people from similar backgrounds especially need to have something to aspire to, something that is reflective of their society and writers they can relate to and look up to.”

The first thoughts that came to mind are would we have such a thing here, would we call it “Working Class”, do we think of class in the same way that they do in Britain? I grew up in a home where we referred to ourselves (proudly I might add) as Working Class, but it is not something you hear much today in New Zealand.

9780143770299Perhaps the closest comparison for New Zealand and the issues of inclusiveness/exclusion will be at the WORD session Black Marks on a White Page: A Roundtable...

Join contributors to last year’s superb anthology of Oceanic writing, Black Marks on the White Page,  for a roundtable discussion for Māori and Pasifika writers. Co-editor Tina Makereti, who worked on the book with Witi Ihimaera, will be joined by Victor Rodger, Nic Low, Paula Morris and Tusiata Avia to share tips on writing, and for a talanoa on the challenges and opportunities facing writers in Aotearoa and internationally.

Confessions of an Oxford Dictionary of National Biography addict

I’m a huge fan of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (DNB). It is a wonderful resource for anyone who wants to know about the lives of well-known and not so well-known historic British and British-related figures and can be accessed via the Source either in our libraries or from home with your library card number and pin.

I first encountered the DNB when working at the National Army Museum in 2004 when the newly revised printed edition was published and I catalogued all 60 volumes. (The original Victorian edition was edited by Virginia Woolf‘s father, Sir Leslie Stephen.) The print volumes were beautifully produced, wonderful to flick through, took up a lot of shelf space – and came with a free one year subscription to the online version, which was fantastic to explore.

The DNB truly comes alive online (which is slightly ironic as you have to dead to be considered for inclusion) – there are updates every few months, links to related people of interest, theme pages and lists, and a Lives of the Week feature which highlights a different life every day – these can even be sent direct to your inbox. This last week we’ve had the chance to discover botanist and geologist Sir Albert Seward, shorthand specialist Marie Beauclerc and Polish Battle of Britain pilot Josef František amongst others. I wonder who’s going to be there when you’re reading this?

This is the place to find out about the mysterious Spring-Heeled Jackclaimants to the English and Scottish thronesJohn Lennon (and John Lennon), Presidents of the Royal SocietyMary SeacoleHDangry young men and merry men, and many, many more. Indeed, this blog is taking a while to write as I keep getting sidetracked.

Looking at this resource from a New Zealand angle, many governors, governors-general, premiers and prime ministers are included and can be found on this list, the Canterbury Association has its own theme page, and a simple full text search on ‘New Zealand’ brings up plenty of hits.

New Zealand’s own Dictionary of Biography is part of the Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Who have you discovered? Do you have an online resource you keep returning to?

A lady in the air

CoverIt can be surprising what catches your eye looking through our weekly Just Ordered list (available as a RSS feed from our website). A couple of months ago I spotted the title Spitfire Women of World War II by Giles Whittell, the brief description told me that it was about the women who ferried military aircraft from the factories in Britain to the bases. Some time ago I had read about American women performing the same task on a website A People At War.

Spitfire Women tells the stories of the remarkable women who came from all over the world to fly a variety of aircraft, often with no more preparation than an hour with a handbook, in all kinds of weather and without any instrument training. They came from a variety of backgrounds, from aristocratic European families to South American farmers – some didn’t even speak English and only two (from Poland) were considered part of the military. While they all started out on the older and slower craft, it was the Spitfire that they all wanted to fly as they felt that its graceful lines and fine controls were designed just for them.

CoverShortly after returning this fascinating book I spotted another, similar looking book, Spitfire: portrait of a legend by Leo McKinstry. This one tells the story of how the Spitfire came to be the fighter plane that every pilot, male and female, wanted to fly. As in the Spitfire women book, the personalities loom large and in many cases seem to threaten the project, and Britain’s defence, from the start. It’s more history than biography, however, and sometimes gets a bit bogged down in the politics, but nevertheless its engaging reading.

Two things have come out of this reading for me – one is a renewed interest in the second world war – and there’s no limit to the reading and watching that the library has available on that topic. The second is a renewed interest in flying and I’ve been on my first training flight at the Christchurch Flying school. Its a great thing to have a go at, and a fabulous gift – if you want to give it a go there are a number of places that you can go to: see our listing of flight schools in CINCH.