NZIFF Survivalist

The Christchurch leg of the New Zealand International Film Festival is in full swing and there’s been some brilliant films on show thus far!

A particular favourite of mine has been ‘Arctic’ – a one-man powerhouse performance by Mads Mikkelsen. He’s a pilot that has crash-landed somewhere in the vast emptiness of the Arctic and from the beginning of the film it’s obvious that he’s already been there for some time. He has developed a routine and a set of behaviours that centres around:

a) keeping himself fed (luckily there’s fish right under his feet ready for the catching), and

b) giving himself the best possible chance of being rescued.

Without giving anything away, events occur that lead him to the decision to make a long trek to a possible permanent habitat due North. It’s a road movie, a survival piece, and a celebration of the resilience of humans in the face of insurmountable odds. Mads needs some serious recognition for this performance!

The survival-against-the-odds theme is not something new to us in storytelling and film making however. I myself am particularly drawn to those stories that pit an individual – often the survivor of some calamitous event, against the wilderness in whatever shape that takes. There are examples set in jungles, deserts, mountains and polar regions, there are even some set in space. Often the entire story is reliant on a single actor to shoulder the whole burden and when there’s nature involved it opens the way for cinematographers, costume designers, and music composers to help set the scene and drive the suspense. A good recent example is ‘All is Lost’ which sees Robert Redford give a riveting performance as a man lost at sea, adrift and endangered.

And here’s nine more, in a list…

The art of survival

List created by DevilStateDan

Films that showcase the stranded loner pitted against nature and against all the odds of surviving at all… From the jungle to the Arctic, from space, the open ocean, and the desert; all these environments are out to kill you! Could you do what it takes to survive…?!?

Into the Wild – The story of a young American man who sells up and hits the road heading all the way north into Alaska. He’s desiring to be closer to nature and to get away from humanity. He has only his wits and some very limited survival skills to negotiate the harsh and unpredictable environment. A great journey and a decent telling in this movie and a great performance from Emile Hirsch.

Cast Away – The classic tale of the “shipwrecked”. The sole survivor of a FedEx plane crash ends up on an isolated island and has to fend for himself. He’s there quite a long time and we get to see his transition from inept city-dweller to experienced survivalist. Great solo performance from Tom Hanks.

Gravity – Survival in space! A single astronaut survives a disaster in orbit around Earth. She’s got to use all her guile, instinct, and training to get back to the surface. Gripping story and amazing cinematography and a stellar performance from Sandra Bullock (and George Clooney for a bit too!).

Jungle – Based on real events, a young Israeli adventurer finds himself lost and alone in the jungle of South America. It’s a hostile environment and we follow his descent into desperation and madness. Another standout performance from Daniel Radcliffe.

127 Hours – Everyone knows the story – a mountain climber gets stuck and spends 127 hours locked in place when his arm becomes caught in a climbing mishap. He’s driven to some dark places in his mind and the most desperate option quickly becomes the only option. James Franco is very good in this!

The Martian – The movie of the super-popular novel of the same name. An astronaut is left behind on Mars after a minor disaster spoils the plans for the mission. The “castaway” is a biologist and he soon gets to work farming potatoes, and making plans for his rescue. Big budget, big names, big topic! Matt Damon delivers a pretty decent representation of the main character but this does get very “Hollywood” at times…. but then it’s set on Mars and it’s a survivalist story so what’s not to like!!

Life of Pi – An oceanic wilderness survival tale with a difference. Young Indian man Pi is adrift in the Pacific Ocean in a lifeboat. Along for the ride are various wild animals from his family’s zoo business – one of them is a Bengal Tiger! Can he reach safety before he becomes lunch?? Good story told in retrospect and great work from the special effects department.

The Revenant – Not so much a sole-survivor tale but a good story of desperation, survival, and revenge! A member of a trapping party in the 1800’s is mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead by his party. With a little help along the way he manages to recover enough to navigate his way back to civilisation and onto avenge his betrayal. Dark and bloody and there’s a graphic bear attack. Leonardo DiCaprio does pretty well with what is a difficult role and the support cast are very good. I’d read the book by Michael Punke first though, it goes better than the film.

The Shallows – A tense thriller involving a young surfer and a homicidal shark! The girl is stranded annoyingly close to shore, but she’s in the Great White’s feeding ground and he’s got a taste for blood. The ocean is a scary place!

View Full List

Many of these stories are based on books and some are true life tales of hardship and exposure, but for today we’re talking movies…

Happy viewing,

^DevilStateDan

No coward soul…

I am the only being whose doom
No tongue would ask, no eye would mourn;
I never caused a thought of gloom,
A smile of joy, since I was born.

Oh Emily Brontë – how wrong you are! I don’t know if this poem of yours is autobiographical or not, but you really have caused many smiles of joy and thoughts of gloom, and all sorts of other feelings, since you were born 200 years ago on 30 July 1818 in West Yorkshire.

image_proxyThink how many people have swooned over Heathcliff – surely the ultimate Byronic hero – and been captivated by the passion and strangeness of Wuthering Heights, Emily’s only published novel. It is in many ways a brutal and nasty book, considered shocking when it was first published in 1847, but has stood the test of time to be considered one of the greatest novels in the English language.

Emily is also known for her intense, intellectual poetry, although reading ‘I am the only being whose doom‘ has made feel a tad bit gloomy. In her isolated, seemingly lonely life, did she really feel that she had to keep her emotions under control because they were corrupting her? Or has she created a narrator to explore her thoughts around emotions and the need to be loved? We’ll never know, for Emily Brontë is so very elusive, perhaps the most mysterious of her incredible family.

She is also a canvas on which other authors have speculated – both about her life and about some of the gaps in Wuthering Heights.

I don’t really know how comfortable Emily would be with all this continued attention, but I hope she knows that she’s appreciated the world over. We’ll certainly be remembering her on her birthday and her wonderful way with words. I’ll leave you with this quote I love from Chapter 9 of Wuthering Heights:

I’ve dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas: they’ve gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind.

Do you have any favourite Emily Brontë poems or quotes or Heathcliffs?

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Dead Men’s WORDs

WORD Christchurch is back for 2018 and once again we have a programme chock full of amazing opportunities to revel in the goodness of the creative use of words.

There’s such a wide array of interesting stuff to highlight too…

Perhaps the biggest for me is the conversation with Irvine Welsh on Friday 31 August at the Isaac Theatre Royal (6pm-7pm). Welsh debuted in 1993 with the now-modern-classic Trainspotting, the story of a group of heroin users negotiating life in Leith, Scotland in the early 1990s.

He’s revisited these characters often with his 2016 book The Blade Artist focusing on Francis Begbie and his new life as a contemporary artist in California – a great read! And his new book, Dead Men’s Trousers, brings the whole crew back together in a more substantial way. There’s betrayal and payback, drug use and abuse, and of course a high level of coarse language and violence.

And with mixed feelings I realise that there’s some events in Dead Men’s Trousers too that, without giving any spoilers, makes me think that this might be the last we’ll see of these characters. There’s some loose ends tied off and some revelations about the future for some of them, and if it is to be the last then it’s a great way to send them off – here’s hoping that they will come back as ageing and maladjusted senior citizens at some point though, that’d be a hoot!

Scottish author Irvine Welsh (image supplied).

It will be great to hear Irvine Welsh’s take on the happenings of Britain recently; he has strong opinions and regularly shares them through his twitter account @IrvineWelsh

His 2018 WORD Christchurch talk does have a cost of $34/32 and it is only for an hour but I’m dead keen!

^DevilStateDan

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WORD Christchurch 2018: Spoilt for choice – Roberta’s Picks

It’s the first law of any truly great literary festival that you’ll almost certainly wish you could be in two places at once. That’s because just about everything you really want to see (or do) will probably be on the same day (quite often at exactly the same time) and in completely different venues. And WORD Christchurch 2018 is no exception to this rule.

It’s a hard life, but programme in one hand, good coffee in the other, here are some of the tricky festival choices I have made – grouped like this: Something Old; Something New; Something Borrowed and Something Blue:

Drawn OutSomething Old: I choose Catherine Chidgey: Transformations (Friday 31st August) because reading In a Fishbone Church seventeen years ago was when I first started to love New Zealand writing, and Chidgey has never let me down since then. She’ll be chatting to Morrin Rout about how she brings her own life to her writing. Tom Scott’s: Drawn Out (Saturday 1st September) is another choice of mine that stretches back to my early New Zealand days when I would laugh out loud at a Tom Scott cartoon over my cappuccino and huge muffin in the food court next to the old Farmer’s in Central Christchurch. I was such a lonely immigrant then. Thanks for the laughs Tom!

Something New: I just can’t go past The Witches of Gambaga (Friday 31st August). This is a documentary by Yaba Badoe  about a group of women ostracised as witches in Northern Ghana. I know nothing about witches or Ghana, and it all seems worlds apart from the venue at the Art Gallery in Christchurch, but how magical is that? Also new to me is my festival hot favourite Around the World in 80 Trees (Friday 31st August) by Jonathon Drori. I love trees. Were I a tree I would hope to be a tall, straight, slim-waisted Nikau Palm throwing my arms up in the air at the sheer joy of living. Please let me not be tempted to reveal this weirdness at this event!

Jonathan Drori
Author Jonathan Drori. Image supplied.

The Diary of a BooksellerSomething Borrowed: For me this is all about learning from other peoples’ experiences. My two picks are The Diary of a Bookseller (Saturday 1st September) by Shaun Bythell – he’s young, he’s Scottish and in this day and age he sells books. No Brainer! And Explosive Archaeology (Sunday 2nd September) in which a poet, a curator, a novelist and an academic discuss the underappreciated artists they love. I’m bound to learn something off-the-wall here.

How we met

Something Blue: And finally some luuuuurve. My pick is Let Love In (Saturday 1st September). Catherine Robertson and Michèle A’Court both write about love, but from very different perspectives (romance or quirky realism). But in the end it all comes down to our fondness for our own love stories – question time should be a blast. I feel warm and fuzzy already!

And of course in any respectable festival day there’ll be the little side forays into interesting cafés. Maybe I’ll take in a 20 minute lecture from Cabinet of Curiosities, and I’ll certainly loiter in the Piano foyer to get that magic feeling of reconnecting with my literary tribe again. No secret handshake required. Just see you there!

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Of humans and gods elemental

I’m a committed reader and I do read fairly widely and there’s one particular thing that I love when it comes to fiction; I love stories that blend and blur the lines between reality and mythology. The kind of thing where the lives of men and meddling gods coexist and the environment holds some physical form.

There’s loads of examples of this throughout literature – the Greeks and Romans loved to tell these types of stories, and those stories continue to be told in our own time – think of John Banville’s ‘The Infinities’ and ‘Fifteen Dogs’ by Andre Alexis . In both books the Classical Gods get involved in the modern life of humanity (and canines). And more recently there’s been ‘American Gods’ by Neil Gaiman, and ‘Good Omens’ a joint effort between Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett. Both of which will be getting the screen treatment very soon!

Cover of The infinites Cover of Fifteen dogsCover of American GodsCover of Good omens

But what about the more elemental gods, the older gods, gods of the earth, environment, and the supernatural world…?

Cover of FlamesI’ve just finished reading ‘Flames’ by Robbie Arnott – a young Tasmanian author with some serious talent! He’s been writing for some years now and has a string of awards following in his wake, and he’s a very welcome addition to the burgeoning Tasmanian writers scene, a scene which includes the rural romances of Rachael Treasure, the gritty historic fiction of Rohan Wilson, and the Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan. I’m a Tasmanian myself so I do enjoy keeping up with what’s coming out of the beautiful isle, but I wasn’t really prepared for how good ‘Flames’ was going to be! It feels as you read it as if the land of lutruwita (the indigenous name for Tasmania) is itself telling the story and we are the privileged few who get to gain some insider knowledge.

It centres on two young people just after the death of their mother, which itself acts as a catalyst for all that follows. The brother is steadfast and pragmatic and wants to protect his sister so decides to build her a coffin, to which her response is to flee into the wilderness of the South West where she discovers a supernatural aspect to the world around her, and to herself and also to her family. Meanwhile the brother mounts a search to find his sister. On the journey we meet characters that are both at one with the natural world and still finding and settling into their place in it. We meet their father, we learn more about the family’s background, and other characters each of who are portrayed perfectly to outline their purpose in the narrative.

Robbie Arnott’s use of language is poetic and evocative of times past, of the smell of earth, the feel of wind, and the heat of fire. The narrative moves organically from one character to the next, shifting perspectives and fleshing out the magic of the story as it progresses. His descriptions of Tasmania (and you can rely on this ex-pat to confirm) are stunningly accurate and establish a very strong sense of place – you can smell eucalyptus burning, hear the rush of the waves onto the rocks, and you can feel the semi-decayed earth under your feet as you negotiate the wombat burrows.

So; beautiful language, strong sense of place, great characters with depth and purpose, and an engrossing story line – it’s ticked all the boxes for me!

Cover of The buried giantAnd ‘Flames’ is not the only book to achieve this balance between the real, the myth, the supernatural. ‘The Buried Giant’ by Kazuo Ishaguro is the tale of an ageing couple on a medieval pilgrimage with their purpose obscured by a think fog affecting memories, or there’s the outstanding series ‘The Tale of Shikanoko’ by Lian Hearn where we follow a journey of growth within a fantastical Edo-era Japan that has such imagination and rooted in strong mythology and where the everyday is touched with magic both light and dark. As is fellow Tasmanian Richard Flanagan’s great piece of surrealist historical fiction ‘Gould’s Book of Fish – a novel in twelve fish’ which I’m sure was both inspiration and license for Robbie Arnott to create this work, ‘Flames’.

And if you like this particular sub-genre then there’s plenty of films and tele series’ that are similar. You could have a look at ‘The Kettering Incident’, Tasmania’s own supernatural, David-Lynch-esque, tele series. It’s brilliant, dark, a bit creepy, and it’ll show you some places and environments very like those Robbie Arnott has depicted in ‘Flames’.

Enjoy your reading,

^DevilStateDan

The world of WORD: Dan’s picks of the 2018 festival

WORD Christchurch is back for 2018 and the programme is full of quality experiences of the written word!

Once again there’s everything from poetry sessions, confessional sessions, author and book-related panels, and even a whale-watching tour to beautiful Kaikoura!

But for me, the biggest excitement surrounds the sheer diversity of options available to us, the reader/audience…

  • As stated above, you can take a Whale Watching (Tues 28 Aug) trip to Kaikōura. Hosted by authors Philip Hoare and David Neiwert, and travelling from Christchurch to rendezvous with Whale Watch Kaikōura for an early afternoon cruise out into the mighty ocean, you can encounter the ocean giants first hand, all the while having the author/hosts regale you with knowledge and stories.
  • Then there’s A Cabinet of Curiosities: Tiny Lectures on the Weird and Wonderful. (Fri 31 Aug – Sun 2 Sept) A series of quickfire 20min lectures on some of the more unusual aspects of our world; UFO’s, sexbots, mermaids…. you get the idea! These will be a great way to fill in some downtime between bigger events, such as…
  • Irvine Welsh: Trainspotting to Dead Men’s Trousers. (Fri 31 Aug) What an exciting opportunity to hear from the mind of the man who burst onto the scene in 1993 with what is now a modern classic! Welsh has written quite a few books centred on the characters featured in Trainspotting, but is this to be the last one…?!? He’s also a highly opinionated and politically-minded individual so there’s sure to be some Brexit talk during his talk.
  • Diary of a Bookseller (Sat 1 Sept) gives us an insight into the highs and lows in the life of a Scottish second-hand bookshop. It’s hosted by Shaun Bythell who will also be running Book Collectors Old and New (Fri 31 Aug) – a 3 hour interactive workshop on all things book collecting. Shaun co-hosts with Brian Phillips as they will impart all the knowledge you could want on the world of book collecting.
  • And how about a panel discussion with authors presenting readings of new writing on the music that has shaped them as artists and people. Soundtrack or, Dancing About Architecture (Sun 2 Sept) will see authors Philip Hoare, Pip Adam, Chris Tse, and Nic Low do just that. Musical styles and experiences will be as wide and varied as the work of the authors presenting.
  • And finally, the story of the editor-turned-bestselling author. A.J. Finn: The Woman in the Window (Sun 2 Sept) introduces us to the next big thing in thriller writing. Dan Mallory, writing under a pseudonym, is getting huge accolades from some big names in the genre and The Woman in the Window is already getting the silver-screen treatment. This will fascinating to hear him speak about how his years of editing set him up for the best possible crack at his own bestseller!

So there are my pics for this year’s festival – wide, rich, and varied. See you there for literary-themed goodness!

WORD Christchurch 2018: Moata’s picks of the festival

The release of the WORD Christchurch festival programme always presents a challenge for this library blogger – how many events can I reasonably manage to go to over 5 days? 

It’s a great problem to have, sure, but it still presents some logistical issues, and questions like “is it possible to overfill your brain?”

Still, I’ve done my best, poring through the 2018 programme. Below are my picks from this year’s festival (on 29 August – 2 September).

Picks of WORD Christchurch 2018

New Regent Street Pop-Up Festival (Thursday, 30 August, 6.30pm)

A fun-filled literary tour around the characterful spaces of New Regent Street and surrounds that you can pop in and out of according to your whim. Sessions on horror, sci-fi, erotica, poetry, comedy and much more, featuring emerging Christchurch writers and performers alongside well-established local, national and international talent. This is a free event and sounds like a lot of fun.

125 Years: Are We There Yet? (Thursday, 30 August, 7.30pm)

Georgina Beyer, Lizzie Marvelly, Anne Salmond, Paula Penfold and Sacha McMeeking, chaired by Kim Hill. Now that is a line-up of formidable, impressive women. Count me in.

KĀ HURU MANU: My names are the treasured cloak which adorns the land (Friday, 31 August, 10am)

Ngāi Tahu have been working on creating a comprehensive map that details the place names, stories, and important places for the iwi for many years now and Kā Huru Manu is the result – an online, fully referenced, searchable place names map that anyone can use. This free session is a must for nerds of the local history/mapping/iwi history variety.

You Write Funny! (Friday, 31 August, 5.30pm)

Lots of funny people in a room together is my idea of a good time. This session with have readings from Chris Tse, Megan Dunn, Annaleese Jochems, Erik Kennedy, and Ray Shipley.

Irvine Welsh: Trainspotting to Dead Men’s Trousers (Friday, 31 August, 6pm)

Trainspotting is one of those seminal works that it feels like there was a distinct “before” and “after” of. To hear its author Irvine Welsh speak on this and his other literary outings is a rare treat. He will be “in conversation” with New Zealand author, Paula Morris.

Starry, Starry Night (Friday, 31 August, 8pm)

The Gala Showcase is always a great night out. It’s sort of a taster for the rest of the festival and this year will feature Robin Robertson, Hollie McNish, Sonya Renee Taylor, Rajorshi Chakraborti, Philip Hoare, Yaba Badoe and Joseph Hullen. John Campbell is in charge of making everyone feel welcome by lavishing compliments and being puppyishly excitable.

Bad Diaries Salon (Friday, 31 August, 10pm)

I was recently looking through a box of photos and came across one of my old diaries. Curious, I read one sentence on one page and then flung it back into the box hoping to distance myself as much as possible from the horror within. But other people’s diary entries? That’s a whole other thing. Getting authors to read from their diaries is a stroke of genius and something I will very much turn up for even though this time slot is past my bedtime.

Timey-Wimey Stuff (Saturday, 1 September, 11.30am)

I’m a sucker for a good title and this one tickles my Whovian tendencies – Ted Chiang, Whiti Hereaka, and Michael Bennett, talk time travel with literary academic Daniel Bedggood. This should make a nice companion piece to WORD Christchurch’s James Gleick event last year. 

Tāngata Ngāi Tahu (Saturday, 1 September, 1pm)

The researchers at Ngāi Tahu have been producing some outstanding biographical books, Tāngata Ngāi Tahu being one of them. There’s a lot of history than can be revealed in the stories of individuals, He Rau Mahara: to Remember the Journey of Our Ngai Tahu Soldiers being another great example of this. With so many stories that could be told, I’m curious to know how they choose who to focus on – so maybe I’ll find out at this free session.

Mortification (Saturday, 1 September, 5.30pm)

Writers Paula Morris, Steve Braunias, Megan Dunn and Irvine Welsh share stories of public shame, hosted by Robin Robertson. There’s a vein of confessional sessions running through this festival and this is just one of them. I want to go to ALL of them (see more below).

The Sex & Death Salon (Saturday, 1 September, 10pm)

Christchurch-born journalist, playwright, and actor Victor Rodger interrogates a selection of festival guests about taboo subjects. I’m imagining it as a no-holds barred chat show (Graham Norton but more rude?!) It’s in The Gym at The Arts Centre and it’s free!

Ted Chiang: Arrival (Sunday, 2 September, 2.45pm)

The poignant, thoughtful sci-fi movie Arrival was my favourite film of 2016, so it’s pretty exciting to have science fiction writer Ted Chiang who wrote the short story the film was based on at the festival. If I could only go to one thing this would probably be it.

The Nerd Degree (Sunday, 2 September, 5.45pm)

Part pop culture quiz game, part nerd-fest, all podcast, The Nerd Degree is always a good time. Their last outing at the 2016 festival which featured Caitlin Doughty and Alok Jha was no exception. (Full disclosure: I am a regular panelist on this show so I am slightly biased towards loving it but that doesn’t make me wrong)

A Cabinet of Curiosities: Tiny lectures on the weird and wonderful (Friday 31 August,
Saturday 1 September, Sunday 2 September – sessions at 4pm and 4,40pm)

This one’s a bit different and something like a literary festival lucky dip – seven writers, seven disparate topics. You won’t find out which writer or esoteric 20 minute lecture you’re going to get until you turn up… but there’s a gin cocktail included in the price of the ticket (the venue is The Last Word whisky bar) so either way it should make for a refreshing break between sessions.

This list may not be strictly achievable but it’s just so hard to choose! What’s on your WORD wishlist?

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Reading many lives

With regards to the quote above, if one were of a sardonic frame of mind one might point out that at the rate at which Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin kills off his characters a thousand lives might be an understatement. Nevertheless the basic premise stands. Reading allows anyone the chance to “inhabit” a great many people and characters.

This is never more true than when you’re reading a book of short stories. Though you may become attached to a character, the next protagonist is probably only a few page turns away. Sometimes this is a relief. Sometimes it leaves you wanting more.

Recently I’ve found myself reading books that work with the theme of many lives but in very different ways.

Cover of deleted scenes for lovers by Tracey SlaughterDeleted scenes for lovers by Tracey Slaughter. I think her surname is appropriate because she killed parts of my soul with this book (in a good way). Her short stories are set in New Zealand, but a rather grimy, rundown one. The stories, with exception of the last one which is a novella, are short and sometimes brutal vignettes from the lives of damaged and lost people. You’ll want to set aside time between each one. This is not a book to rush through. The writing is incisive and brilliant and made me feel a lot of things, some of them against my will.

Cover of Meet cuteMeet cute is rather anodyne by comparison. It’s a collection of young adult short stories, all by different writers and all featuring the “how they met” story of two characters. As with any collection like this some authors and characters resonate more than others, and while the bulk of the stories have a contemporary romance kind of vibe there are a couple of sci-fi/fantasy genre tales too. Most, though not all, of the stories are about straight couples – one of the unexpected joys of the book is that you don’t know when you’re introduced to the main character whether their story will be a boy-meets-girl or a girl-meets-girl one – I found it was fun to try and guess in the first page or so.

He rau mahara: To remember the journey of our Ngāi Tahu soldiers: From the pā to the battlefields of the Great War is completely different again – a nonfiction title produced by Ngāi Tahu’s whakapapa unit about the iwi’s First World War soldiers. It’s a beautifully put together book, filled with photographs of soldiers with names you might recognise – Nortons, Pōhios and Skerretts. Nearly two thirds of the book is dedicated to a profile of every Ngāi Tahu soldier who took part in the Great War, with the first part of the book featuring a sample of stories of soldiers, war, and their families. A gorgeous and poignant memorial to South Island soldiers and their whānau, and the lives they lived.

“Lymond is back!”

Cover of The Game of KingsI come bearing glad tidings, for the Lymond Chronicles have finally been republished and the library now has a complete set available to borrow.

This means I can finally recommend them with a clear conscience, starting with The Game of Kings — first in a series featuring the sneaky and erudite 15th century Scottish Francis Crawford of Lymond and lots of humour, sheep-stealing, and a bunch of historical references I’m too uneducated to understand.

During the course of the series the reader is taken to England, France, Malta, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire, Dunnett’s writing and incredible depth of research transporting you with ease to each location. Her characters, too, are well-drawn and sympathetic, particularly my favourites Kate Somerville and her pragmatic daughter Philippa: 

“There are twenty thousand men, women and children in the bagnios of Algiers alone. I am not going to make it twenty thousand and one because your mother didn’t allow you to keep rabbits, or whatever is at the root of your unshakable fixation.”

“I had weasels instead,” said Philippa shortly.

“Good God,” said Lymond, looking at her. “That explains a lot.”

Lymond himself has been compared to other clever/ridiculous heroes such as Peter Wimsey and Athos, and I’d add Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle to that list. He has influenced writers from Marie Brennan, Guy Gavriel Kay, Ellen Kushner and Max Gladstone to Kim Stanley Robinson — all, now that I think about it, either fantasy or science fiction writers. Perhaps it’s the detailed sense of history and place that Dunnett evokes that makes it resonate with creators of other worlds.

Much as I love this series, its writing takes no prisoners and often leaves first-time readers baffled and confused within the first hundred pages. They’re not light reads by any means, although they are often fun, and going in you just have to accept that there is a lot going on that you won’t understand — unless you speak five languages and are deeply familiar with the literature and politics of the time period, in which case I salute you. (Or if you can’t but still want to understand, grab a copy of The Dorothy Dunnett Companion which attempts to explain the myriad references that the author drops carelessly every second paragraph.)

But if you do persevere (which I recommend you do), you’ll have six  ridiculous, funny, clever, heartbreaking books to read ahead of you. I mean, it has lines like this:

“And the English army, wheeling, started south at a gallop over the hill pass into Ettrick, followed by twenty men and eight hundred sheep in steel helmets.”

Who wouldn’t want to read that?

Cover of Queens' PlayCover of Disorderly KnightsCover of Pawn in FrankincenseCover of The Ringed CastleCover of Checkmate

Brighten up your life

Tomorrow, 21 June, is the winter solstice. The shortest day. The point at which the southern hemisphere of our little blue planet, with its jaunty, tilted axis, reaches “peak gloom”. The weather will continue to grow colder from this point*, hardening into winter, but the days themselves and potential daylight hours will increase. And not a moment too soon.

Cover of the album Sunshine by The Emotions.
The connection between sunshine and emotions is not limited to this Motown album from 1974.

If you’ve been feeling down recently, the lack of sunshine may have something to do with it. According the MetService, sunshine hours in Christchurch this June are well below average. I don’t mind a bit of cold myself but the lack of blue sky and sunlight is rather dampening to the spirit.

Short of leaving town, or literally heading for the hills what can we all do to feel better? Our friends at All Right? have a lot of great suggestions but here are some of my own:

Make the most of what we’ve got – I just ran outside and stood in the sunshine for about 20 seconds before the sun went away again. Make hay (and Vitamin D) while the sun shines, and all. If you’re in the position to be able to go for a walk or be outside for a bit during the all too brief appearances the sun is making then do. But take a brolly because it will probably start raining again…

Get out and socialise – It can be tempting to stay indoors and hibernate but sometimes forcing yourself to be social is worth the effort. At the library there are options for crafting with company or book groups, or our Matariki Whānau Fun Day on Saturday at Ōrauwhata: Bishopdale Library and Community Centre might be the ticket. Or make the most of the darkness by lighting it up on the winter solstice night light bike ride through Hagley Park. Alternatively, you could organise your own Matariki shared dinner with friends and whānau – whip up a batch of soup and hang out together moaning about how rubbish the weather is!

Now that I mention it… SOUP – I firmly believe a hearty soup can have healing and mood-altering properties. When combined with a comfy pair of slippers and a good book, soup is a veritable panacea for whatever ails you. Also, leeks and potatoes are inexpensive at the moment and if you make them into a soup you can say you’ve made vichyssoise which sounds really fancy.

Watch (or read) something funny – My go tos for funny reading are David Sedaris and Caitlin Moran (both of whom have new books coming out), and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. On telly I’ve been watching comedy show Taskmaster and that regularly gives me a full on belly laugh, same for The Good Place. Or maybe a movie comedy? Our recent comedy DVDs are worth a look. My favourite funny movies from the last year have included Thor: Ragnarok, Jumanji, and The Trip to Spain.

Wear bright clothing or something that makes you feel happy – It’s tempting to match the sombre grey of the sky with your outfits but don’t! Go the other way instead with vibrant warm colours or really anything that makes you feel great: jewellery, a flower in your hair, an eye-catching pair of socks, anything that brings a smile.

Be nice to people – Acts of kindness or generosity are actually mood-lifters for both the recipient and the giver. I’m trying to dish out more compliments (rather than just think them in my head). The All Right crew have some cute compliment gifs that might come in handy for this.

*If you’ve ever wondered why the weather doesn’t start to warm up after winter solstice it’s because of the time it takes to change the temperature of the large bodies of water that make up most of the surface of our planet. Seas and oceans warm throughout summer and are slow to cool – like giant hot water bottles keeping us warm through the night/autumn. It’s only when they’ve lost their heat that we’ll start to really feel winter’s bite.

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