Charlotte Grimshaw: I and I and existentialism: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Blurring the lines between fact and fiction is a way of life for Charlotte Grimshaw. Growing up in father C.K. Stead’s orbit, Charlotte’s world was one where every facet of life could be fictionalised.

Cover of MazarineCharlotte spoke at WORD Christchurch Festival 2018 with Kate de Goldi about her latest novel, Mazarine, in which she explores the evolution of the shattered self; through the story of a woman trying to find her adult daughter, missing in Europe, ultimately finding her own sense of being.

There is a large element of psychoanalysis in Mazarine, a sense of personal experience within the narrative. The character of Francis is ethereal, almost non-existent in her family unit: adopted, ignored, her feelings unvalidated.

Francis keeps asking for validation of her existence throughout the book, her character lacking a sense of reality as her past has no narrative. This is a common human condition, asserts Grimshaw.

Mazarine, the ‘other mother’ whose son has gone missing with Francis’ daughter, is the blue butterfly to Francis’ brown female. (The male Mazarine gets the colour.)

Yet Charlotte was determined to avoid ‘selfie fiction” – meandering existentialism with no plot – writing instead a page-turner; successful in hooking this reader with “what happens next?” Grimshaw writes a compelling mystery that crosses the world, with an essential motif – a tattoo.

When asked of her inspiration for the story, Charlotte remembers an incident that drove the beginning (a suicide at West Ham railway station – Julian Assange’s lawyer) but not how circumstance took her there. Is she visited by a Muse? Charlotte suggests it might be aliens…

At the time of writing, the U.S. appeared to be on the brink of electing a female President (Hilary Clinton). Charlotte saw this as a possible zeitgeist. (Instead, the U.S elected a ‘narcissist gorilla’, she says; in whose world women exist only as handmaidens, plastic effigies of themselves; beautiful, young and never fat.)

Accordingly, the characters in Mazarine are strong females; Inez, the adoptive mother who will not speak to Francis, always refusing to acknowledge her feelings is ‘a towering black hole.’ Mazarine, significantly the first female friend Francis has found outside her family, is the Yin to Inez’ Yan. Francis’ father is the handmaiden, cowtowing to Inez’ dominant emotions and perception.

A wonderful session made all the more interesting by Kate de Goldi’s eloquent questioning and deep analysis.

“Therapy is a truth excavator” – Kate de G.

Kate de Goldi talks macro vs microcosm with Charlotte Grimshaw at WORD Christchurch

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Our monied world

Obviously C.K. Stead and Charlotte Grimshaw are a popular pair, it was a full house.  Steve Braunias was as much a participant as a facilitator with pithy one liners that had the audience eating out of his hand.

This apparently was the first time that Charlotte and her father had been interviewed together. Charlotte has always been intent on making it in her own right, even down to taking the name of her husband – Grimshaw – when she would have prefered to have kept her own name. She did acknowledge that she had finally made her own way and could now stand alongside her father as a writer.

The Stead household would have been an interesting one. Allen Curnow lived over the road, Frank Sargeson was a regular visitor. As Steve Braunias said C.K.Stead had “hung out with the dusty ancients that had invented New Zealand literature”. Charlotte recounted being upstairs as a young girl in her favourite room on her own enjoying the solitude, when she was joined by a man, with a beard and odd looking clothes who came and sat and the floor with her. She glared and him, and he glared and her until her father arrived and introduced her to James K. Baxter.

C.K Stead made the point that although his three children were all talented writers (his son is an art historian and daughter is the editor of the Atlantic Monthly), it is Charlotte who has inherited the “writing gene”.  Although she trained as a lawyer the urge to write was never far away.

The audience was no doubt completely different from the one that attended Don McKinnon earlier in the day. Stead was a member of the Labour Party at the age of seven, and he eloquently talked of his opposition to the Iraq war. As a reader you are always aware of their political persuasions but both stressed that they were writing about the human condition.  Charlotte also said that in the end she just wanted to write good dramas,  and at this point her father acknowledged that she was a great writer.  I wonder if this was news to Charlotte? Steve Braunias seemed to think so and came back to this statement a number of times!

I enjoyed this session very much, the questions were interesting and both participants engaging.  It was really good to see a father and daughter having such a good time!

Anticipated highlights #3 – AWRF 2013

Cover: Life after LifeThe last of my anticipated highlights is also one of the last sessions of the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. It’s a panel made up of two authors I know and admire, and two I have never read. By this stage of the programme difficult choices have been made, bargains have been struck with colleagues and panic that you’re going to miss an author you really want to see starts to set in.

This is why writers festival panels are a great invention. Festival-goers can cram a viewing of several writers into one session time, they can see unfamiliar writers (always good for the For Later list), check up on old favourites,  and the speakers change before concentration can flag.

What the writers choose to read is another great thing about panels – for this one they will “read selections from their work that reference the repeating of history”. This is the only time I will get to see Kate Atkinson and Charlotte Grimshaw, both writers I really like. I’ve seen them before so traded their main sessions for writers I hadn’t, but  the way history tends to repeat is fundamental to their work, so their choices should be very interesting.

Cover: WulfHamish Clayton’s Wulf features terrifying old Te Rauparaha – the possibility of his history repeating itself  is not an inviting prospect – but of course Clayton doesn’t have to read a published work; it could be something to add to the much later/eagerly awaited list.

Tanya Moir studied at Christchurch’s very own Hagley Writers’ Institute and has moved from straight historical fiction in La Rochelle’s Road, her first novel, to a mix of contemporary and historical elements in Anticipation, her latest. Both books have very well reviewed, which sometimes influences me and sometimes doesn’t.

Do reviews influence you?

“Soon is partly a novel about story-telling, about fiction and about art”: an interview with Charlotte Grimshaw

Jane interviewed New Zealand author Charlotte Grimshaw who will be speaking at the The Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. Steve Braunias will be talking with Charlotte and her father C.K. Stead about how power plays out in their fictional landscapes.

Charlotte Grimshaw is a New Zealand author of five books and two short story collections. She has been the recipient of many awards and also writes a monthly column for Metro.

Soon is her latest book, a follow on from the Night Book with Simon Lampton now on a summer break at the Prime Minister’s holiday home. He is negotiating the  fallout from his affair, tricky family machinations, corruption and a crumbling mental state. A parallel fantasy story told to the Prime Minister’s son by his wife Roza introduces an uncomfortable story about a character called “Soon” which has uncanny parallels to the dramas that are developing in the lives of the adults present.

When I finished Soon it felt like there was more to come.  Are you planning a third book in this series?

I’m now writing a sequel to Soon. Many people have said to me they want to know what happens next – particularly since the book ends on a bit of a cliff-hanger – so I decided I wanted to know too.

If there is to be a third book do you think we might hear more from Dr Lampton’s rather rebellious daughter, I found her quite intriguing and enjoyed the relationship she had with her father.

Of all the women in the novel, Dr Lampton’s rebellious daughter is the one whose personality is closest to mine. I’ve drawn on my own memories of being a teenager. It’s not a self-portrait, but I have a lot of sympathy for her struggles. She is bound to resurface somewhere, either in the next novel or in a subsequent one.

I was intrigued that I wanted Simon Lampton to succeed in his deception about Arthur Weeks’ death (even if it was accidental). Was it your intention for readers to have this sort of reaction?

I’m very pleased that you wanted Simon to succeed in his deception about Weeks’s death. I hope this means I’ve created a character for whom a reader can have empathy, as he gets himself into more and more trouble.

How did Roza’s fantasy story that she tells to her son Jonnie develop, was it something you planned or did it evolve as the novel was written?

Soon is partly a novel about story-telling, about fiction and about art. The fantasy story is a commentary and a satire on the main action, and Roza is, in comic terms, an anarchic artist. I had two statements in mind when I wrote the novel: 1) Ford’s line, “It is not intellectually good enough to be apolitical” and 2) The Woody Allen line, “The artist creates his own moral universe.”

The novel explores those ideas, which are not necessarily contradictory. As for the fantasy story, I had it all in my head, because I told my younger son a continuous Soon story from when he was three years old to when he turned ten, every day, often for up to an hour a day. It was exhausting, but rewarding. I have used only a fraction of seven years of Soon in the novel. The way the story started was exactly as it happens in the first chapter of the book. Having said all that I should add that the character of Roza is nothing like me. She is an entirely invented person, different from me in many many ways.

I would say in general that we love to hate our politicians. Certainly the ones we meet in The Night book and Soon are rather unpleasant.  Are they an indication of what you think about politicians?

I don’t hate politicians generally, although some are quite hateable as individuals. When I wrote The Night Book and Soon I partly had in mind the relationship between Albert Speer and Adolf Hitler. To put it briefly, Speer was a technocrat, and fairly apolitical, and he fell in with a group of politicians who led him very much astray.

We are always interested to know what part libraries have played in writers lives?

Libraries are vital and indispensable and should be preserved at all costs. I’ve used libraries since I was a child, and all my children have always had huge benefit from libraries.  Having said that, all writers wish people would buy their books rather than say they’re waiting for a copy at the library.

Do you believe that in order to write you need to read?  Is there anything you have read lately that you would recommend to our customers?

You can’t be a writer without reading all the time. In fact if anyone says they’re a writer but they don’t read much, you can tell straight away they won’t be any good. Lately I’ve reread The Untouchable by John Banville, Inside Hitler’s Bunker by Joachim Fest and I’m about to read Canada by Richard Ford.

I see that you are speaking alongside your father at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival about how power plays out in your fiction. Does power come from money and status or is this too simplistic?

My book is about political power in New Zealand, which can be achieved without too much money, (unlike in the U.S., say.) My father’s book is more about money and power, in that it’s about banking.

Are you planning to go to any of the sessions at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival and if so, what are you looking forward to?

I’ll be going to as many festival sessions as I can.

Best regards,

Thank you Charlotte for giving such interesting answers. We are getting to as many festival sessions as we can too, only days away now …

Singularity – New Zealand e-book month

Charlotte Grimshaw’s collection of interlinked stories, Opportunity, was shortlisted for the 2007 Frank O’Connor International Prize, and won New Zealand’s premier award for fiction, the 2008 Montana Book Award. She has described Opportunity as a single, unified composition, less a series of stories than a novel with a large cast of characters.

In Singularity, her powerful new collection, she has continued to develop the structure she explored in Opportunity. Characters from that book reappear, and new characters are added. The stories in Singularity cover a wide range of territory, from childhood innocence to adult desperation, from the depths of poverty to cushioned affluence, from London to Los Angeles, Ayers Rock in Australia to the black sand beaches of New Zealand’s wild west coast.

The stories can be read as discrete pieces, yet each contributes to a unifying narrative. Richly detailed, vivid with local colour, each story is an inspection of human motive and of the complex ties that bind five principal characters together.

You can read Singularity as an e-book from our Overdrive collection.

Singularity  is also available as a paper book.

The night book – New Zealand e-book month

It was this contemplation of the future that made Roza frightened, and that caused her to turn her mind, as she did now, harried and nervous, to the past. And then there was the question of Simon Lampton.

Roza Hallwright leads a quiet, orderly life, working at her publishing job each day, returning home to the large, comfortable house she shares with her politician husband David and her two stepchildren. But this peaceful existence is about to be changed forever. In the next few months there will be an election, and, if the polls are correct, Roza will become the Prime Minister’s wife. She has faced the prospect with relative calm, but a chance encounter with party donor Simon Lampton sparks a chain of consequences that will bring turmoil to both their lives.

Award-winning writer Charlotte Grimshaw has turned her unflinching eye on contemporary New Zealand society in this intricate and elegant novel. Sharp, moving, brimming with insight and observation, The Night Book is at once a meditation on power and politics, and an intensely humane look at the choices people make as they struggle, against the odds, to maintain love and integrity in their lives.

You can read The Night Book as an e-book from our Overdrive collection.

The Night Book is also available as a paper book.


Congratulations to Charlotte Grimshaw as this media release comes off the wires:

Nudging out international literary heavyweights Alice Munro and David Malouf, Charlotte Grimshaw’s new short story collection, Opportunity, has made the shortlist of six for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the world’s richest short fiction prize (NZ $59,000) The collection, published in May of this year, had been longlisted for the award in May.

Grimshaw joins Israel’s foremost writer and four other writers in the running for the top prize which will be announced at the Awards ceremony, in Cork, Ireland on Sunday, 23rd September.

Grimshaw will attend the Awards courtesy of the Cork City Council and the Munster Literature Centre in association with the Irish Times. She will also read from her shortlisted book during the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Festival, which begins Wednesday, 19th September. Continue reading