Finalists in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults inspire Christchurch children

Pop! Bang! That’s what happened – literally – when a group of New Zealand children’s authors and illustrators presented inspiring talks to hundreds of Canterbury school children, just ahead of the announcement of the 2017 winners of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

Several of the nominated authors and illustrators toured the country speaking to school children about their work and craft. Hosted in conjunction with WORD Christchurch, they addressed primary and intermediate students who came from across Canterbury to hear them speak at St. Margaret’s College. They talked about what it takes to be a writer and/or illustrator and what keeps them inspired and shared their working processes, all with the aim of sparking readers and the next generation of writers and illustrators. We share some of the highlights here.

Session One: Tania Roxborogh, Leonie Agnew and David Elliot

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Tania Roxborogh, Leonie Agnew and David Elliot, signing books after their talk in Christchurch, 7 August 2017

Tania Roxborogh

BastionPoint.jpg“Any change for good is powered by fury and passion to make the world a better place” says Tania Roxborogh, and this idea is a driving force behind the story in her book about the Bastion Point occupation for Scholastic’s My New Zealand Story series, told from a child’s point of view.

Through the process of researching and writing this book, Roxborogh was reminded that: “Retelling history is never straightforward” because “people lie, self-edit, and mis-remember” and that “people remember different things.” She added that there is also the problem of bias in New Zealand media – from the right wing as well as the left wing – which she had to take into consideration when researching for this book.

When Roxborogh visited Bastion Point to help her find her point of view for the story, she found herself humbled, prompting her to ask: “What right do I even have to tell this story?” She realised, however, that regardless of who she was, the story of the protesters was a story worth telling.

Roxborogh teaches English and Drama at a Canterbury high school and has written over 50 books.

David Elliot

Snark

SnarkBeing a true history of the expedition that discovered the Snark and the Jabberwock … and its tragic aftermath.

Elliot’s illustrated book was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, and the Jabberwock and his presentation of museum-like artefacts and the stories he told about them would have had some in the audience wondering if his tale of the mission to discover the snark was true or not.

Elliot says he spent time living in a cottage inside Edinburgh Zoo and you have to wonder if this influenced his work illustrating weird and wonderous creatures.

Leonie Agnew

ImpossibleBoy.jpgWhat if…
For The Impossible Boy, Agnew asked: “What if a kid believes in something so much that his faith in it makes it real?” like Peter Pan’s belief in fairies, and on the flipside, “if you were an imaginary friend, what if you discovered you weren’t real?”

Agnew recommended using a little bit of non-fiction to make your fiction more real. In this case, she used the war-torn streets of Beirut in Lebanon as the inspiration for her setting of the story.

Various authors at the event talked about the hard parts of writing, when you feel like quitting or at least taking a break. Writing can take time! Agnew wrote 100 drafts of her book over 6 to 8 years. She says if you’re stuck, consider what Einstein said: You don’t solve a problem by looking at it in the same way, try looking at things from a new angle.

Agnew fits writing into her job as a primary school teacher by getting up at 5:30am to write before the school day starts. What inspired her to become a writer? Agnew “grew up in a house full of books” and her dad was a journalist who writes non-fiction, but really, she says, she “just wanted to do it.”

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Books by Leonie Agnew & Tania Roxborogh on display

In the first session with Tania Roxborogh, Leonie Agnew and David Elliot I felt an overall theme of the elusive – of capturing the elusive writing spark, capturing the Snark, and elusive invisible friends. Another theme that came through for me was the theme of imagination: imagine if someone was trying to take your land, imagine wondrous creatures and lands, imagine how an imaginary friend would feel if they discovered they weren’t real. Imagine.


Session Two: Des Hunt, Jenny Cooper and Simon Pollard

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Author Des Hunt, August 2017

Des Hunt

DesHuntSunkenDes Hunt has a love of adventure stories, science, New Zealand animals and he combines all of these into his stories. Sunken Forest was inspired by a real life summer camp he went on when he was 15 at Lake Waikaremoana, a trip that was memorable partly for sparking his interest in geology. The lake was formed during an earthquake landslide that drowned the forest. Standing tree trunks eerily remain there underwater today. Also trapped there are eels which can’t make their way back to sea to migrate to the Pacific islands to lay eggs. Unable to leave, they grow exponentially large.

In Sunken Forest, one such eel befriends Matt, who is sent to boot camp after his father, a boy racer, is sentenced to prison. At camp, Matt has to deal with bullies and getting the blame for things he didn’t do.

In his talk, Des Hunt totally engaged his audience from beginning to end, by which time he had them on the edge of their seats. He cleverly demonstrated the idea of building tension in a story by blowing up a balloon… about to burst at any moment. How do you really build tension in a story? He says: Add conflict and injustice, a disaster and… Pop!… an explosive climax.

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Author Des Hunt using a balloon to demonstrate the build-up of tension in story writing, August 2017

While many of those who spoke at the event started writing or drawing as early as their primary school years, surprisingly Des only published his first fiction book when he was about 50 years old but has since written heaps of books. His passion for writing is now so strong that he can’t imagine doing anything else and he hopes to be an author until he dies. This is good news for my young son who was so inspired by Des Hunt’s presentation he immediately went and read Sunken Forest, despite never having independently read a chapter book without pictures in it before. Des certainly inspired him reader to take his reading engagement to a higher level.

It was fantastic to see instant booktalking success in action! Des tours schools doing writing workshops so see if your school can be added to his schedule.

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Des Hunt with the audience, August 2017

Jenny Cooper

GladysgoestowarIllustrating is compulsive for Cooper: “It’s in my brain and I just can’t stop.”

Some of the many books Cooper has illustrated include...

DoYourEarsHangLowShe'llbeComingRoundtheMounatinJim'sLetters

She especially does a lot of research for illustrating the war stories, hiring models and WWI artefacts and taking hundreds of photos to draw from so she could get the details correct. The war stories she works on are “hard to illustrate because they are so sad” but equally she says, they are “really satisfying.” She added: “Sometimes the hardest and most challenging things you work on were the most rewarding.”

This was a sentiment shared by several of the speakers. Getting to a finished product takes times and many drafts! She tries 6 – 10 layouts before she has a rough drawing and after that, a finished painting may take up to 6 hours.

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Illustrator Jenny Cooper, August 2017

Simon Pollard

BugsPollard.jpgPollard is a spider expert, lecturing as an adjunct professor at the University of Canterbury and he has been working with spiders for 30 to 40 years. He is interested in telling stories about what spiders get up to and recently worked with WETA Workshop on the impressive display of oversized bugs for the Bug Lab show at Te Papa Museum.

Pollard is an engaging speaker and really brings bugs to life. He told stories (complete with eek-inducing pictures) about the jewel wasp that immobilises and enslaves a cockroach so it can use it as a living nursery, laying its eggs in it to hatch. Ingenious, but gross. We also heard about the clever Japanese honey bees that kill their enemy, the Japanese hornet, by gathering together in a ball around one and quivering – the heat of their buzzing wings stops the wasp from secreting their signal for more wasps to attack them.

Then there’s the insect that looks like a spider, but isn’t, just to scare off predators. After learning all these fun facts, we were left marvelling at the magic of the natural world.

Find books by Simon Pollard in our collection.

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Simon Pollard, August 2017

Questions from the kids

Primary and intermediate students from all over Christchurch lined up to ask lots of questions of the authors and illustrators after they spoke. Here are their inquisitive questions, and answers aimed at inspiring young readers, writers and artists.

What were some of your favourite books (growing up and now) and what writers would you recommend?

MillionsPhantomTollboothTheSecretGardenLostWorldTomorrowWhentheWarBegan

Which of the books that you’ve written are your favourites?

  • Leonie: Super Finn – She says: “It’s about a boy who wants to be a superhero and does crazy things. It’s great for years 3-6.”
  • Des: Frog Whistle Mine because he has spent time studying uranium, which the book is about.

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What advice would you give for budding writers and illustrators?

  • David: “Keep a visual diary, write things down, capture and value your imagination.”
  • Tania: “Read heaps… join groups and classes like the School for Young Writers, try different styles of writing.”
  • Simon: “Just write!” and “Write about what you know.”
  • Des: “If there is a book you really enjoyed, go back and read it again to try and find out why you like it.”

The winners of the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults will be announced at the awards ceremony held in Wellington Monday 14th August. 

READ MORE

You can read more excellent in-depth interviews with some of the finalist authors and illustrators here at The Sapling.

More awards information:

An integral part of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults is the HELL Reading Challenge, now in its fourth year. It has been hugely successful in getting kids reading and enjoying the pleasure of stories (and pizza). Kids can pick up their reading challenge cards at Christchurch City Libraries (until December 2017).

Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day – Christchurch competitions and events

Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day is on Friday 25 August.
You can see all national and international events and competitions on the Poetry Day website. Here’s what’s happening in Ōtautahi. See all the information in the full listing of local events.

Poetry nā Hinemoana Baker
Poetry nā Hinemoana Baker, Victoria Street,  Flickr 2013-07-30

Christchurch City Libraries is running two events:

Performance Poetry with Greg O’Connell
Friday 25 August 10am to 10.30am, Shirley Library, 36 Marshland Road
Come along, be part of the fun…and experience poetry like never before!
Shirley Library is hosting a special poetry performance by children’s poet Greg O’Connell in celebration of Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day
Perfect for kids aged 3 to 6 years. Find out more.

Poetry Workshop with Greg O’Connell
Friday 25 August 4pm to 5pm, New Brighton Library, 213 Marine Parade
Are you a young person who loves to write poetry? If you answered yes! enrol in our free poetry writing workshop today! Ages: 6 – 9 and 10 – 13 years. Greg O’Connell is a poet, performer and literacy educator.
Limited spaces, bookings essential. To book phone 941-7923. Find out more.

More events and competitions

The Great Wall of Poetry
UBS Canterbury is celebrating the readers and writers of poetry by building a Great Wall of Poetry. You’ve got until 20 August to enter.
Find out more on the Facebook event.

Take Two: Poetica: The Christchurch Urban Poetry Project

Young Poets Open Mic – ages 6 to 12
Young Poets Open Mic – ages 13 to 25
Thursday 24 August 4.3o to 7.30pm
XCHC Café and Exhibition Space, 376 Wilsons Road.
Find out more on the Facebook event.

Sight and Sound at UBS
Friday 25 August, 12:00-1:00pm
University Bookshop, University Drive, Ilam
Come and see the University Bookshop’s poetry wall and hear  James Norcliffe and Jeffrey Paparoa Holman. The winner of The Great Wall of Poetry competition will be announced and guests will be invited to read the work submitted by the members of the public. Find out more on the Facebook event.

Poetry Live, Christchurch!
Friday 25 August, 5.30pm-7.30pm
Exchange Café (XCHC), 376 Wilsons Road, Waltham
Be part of Poetry Live, Christchurch! at XCHC on Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day. Covert poets, come out of the closet in a friendly place. Join established poets, reading at the Open Mic. Free; koha appreciated. All ages welcome. Find out more on the Facebook event.

Politics and Poetry: Sailing in a New Direction
(Title from the opening of Curnow’s ‘Landfall in Unknown Seas’)
Friday 25 August, 7:30 to 10 p.m.
Space Academy, 371 St Asaph Street
Join us in this exploration of politics within poetry – and the poetry within the politics? Ben Brown, Danielle O’Halloran, Ray Shipley, Doc Drumheller, Andy Coyle and 20/20 Collection poet James Norcliffe will be reading work that engages with the big issues. Free entry, all welcome. Find out more on the Facebook event.

Free Public Workshop – Warm-down event
10.30-12.30, Saturday, 26 August 2017
The Writers’ Block, Hagley College, Hagley Avenue
Free public Saturday workshop with renowned Lyttelton poet, Ben Brown. All welcome. Please register by Monday 21 August.
For further information and to register please contact Director, Morrin Rout, Hagley Writers’ Institute |Phone: 03 3299789 |Mob: 0210464189 |Email: writers@hagley.school.nz

See also:

Poetry Phone – Warm-up/NPD
In this great warm up for National Poetry Day you can txt or call Poetry Phone live poetry readings 022 300 8164 or 021 474 555. Poetry lines are open from Wednesday 23rd to Friday 25th August, round the clock. You can also make poetry requests for friends & lovers, and we will give them a call. Send requests to drusdrus@gmail.com or 022 300 8164, be sure to include a bit of info about the recipient so we get the right poem for them.
Entry Details: R18, usual txt and call charges apply.
Date/Times: 23-25 August, phones open round the clock.

Poetry in a Box – Many Places at Once
Christchurch – Lyttelton Coffee Co/ Henry Traders / Lyttelton Market.
Poet David Merritt will be touring 25-30 poems in a box around a cafe, library or market or seat bench and invite members of the public to read them. Free and open to all ages.
Date/Time: Varies slightly from one venue to another but mostly 8am – 3pm, Friday 25th, Saturday 26th and Sunday 27th August
Find out more in the Facebook event.

Given Words
NZ poets are invited to participate in the Given Words poetry competition.
Follow GivenWords on Twitter
Find out more in the Facebook event.


National Online Poetry Competition
Tararua District Library is celebrating Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day with our Online Poetry Competition for the whole country. Have your poem published online and be in to win a prize and the glory. Competition open 10th July to 20th August 2017. Winner announced 25 August. Up to 2 poems per entrant will be published on the Tararua District Library Blog. Find out more.

Feel A Little Poetic?
Join poet Jenny Palmer and illustrator Evie Kemp, creators of the bestselling Feel A Little book, to make your very own blackout poem! Children of any age can print, create and share a Shy or Happy feelings poem at www.feelalittle.com. Free event open to children of all ages. To enter, find printable forms at www.feelalittle.com and submit completed with contact details via email poem@alittleink.co.nz or social media www.facebook.com/feelalittle and @feelalittlenz by Poetry Day Eve 24 August 5pm

VOLUME Poetry Spam (Junk Poetry Competition)
Choose a piece of spam or junk mail, an advertisement or other unsolicited words (either printed or received by e-mail). Write a poem using only the vocabulary of the piece of junk you have chosen.
Entry details: Free to enter. Open now to all New Zealand residents.
Submission Dates: Entries must be received by 18 August. Send to books@volume.nz or to VOLUME, PO Box 364, Nelson 7040. The winner will be announced on National Poetry Day (25 August) and in our newsletter
Download instructions at http://tinyurl.com/poetryspam

Poetry on Colombo Street
Poetry on Colombo Street. Flickr CCL-2013 -02-22-IMG_4085

Poetica’s Inaugural Project: The Instant Poetry and Infinity Wall. The project culminated with one poem be painted “permanently” on the wall; after a public vote via our Facebook page, Kirsty Dunn’s “Beauty in the Broken” was chosen to represent the project.

A hundred shards of potent remedy: an interview with Fiona Farrell about Decline and Fall on Savage Street

I am standing next to the old Government Building in Christchurch. It’s early morning and the air is crisp and smells of expectations. In front of me is the cathedral in ruins. But from where I stand, I can also see a new building coming up. The new central library, with its promise of healing …

CoverI am waiting here to meet Fiona Farrell to talk about her new book, which has been launched last week. Decline and fall on Savage Street, a fiction sister to non-fiction The villa at the edge of the empire, is yet another joyful gift with sophisticated form, lovable characters, relevant issues and healing properties that should not be underestimated.

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Fiona Farrell. Image supplied.

Congratulations Fiona, for another beautiful gift that you have given to the city of Christchurch and also to the wider community.

Thank you.

I was really impressed by the form of this book. It’s a novel but at the same time, each chapter works on its own like a short story and it stands on its own like a delicately crafted jewel. I was wondering where did the idea for the form come from?

From the city itself, from the fact that everything seemed to be falling into little bits. When I started writing The Villa at the edge of the empire, the fact one, that’s a twin to this one, I wrote that in small chunks. I thought of them as bricks or little pieces of timber, salvageable, and then you put them all together to make a shape, so it was like a salvage operation.

I also felt that it’s wasn’t just the physical destruction of the city, but what I was feeling as an older woman who has lived here for nearly 70 years, was the demolition of a social structure that sustained people, and its replacement with lots of individualist policies and theories that are affecting the way people live in this country. It felt like it wasn’t just a physical demolition, but a social and political one. So I wanted to put all these little bits together and try and reconstruct a sort of history out of all these bits and pieces. A bit like a Kiwi crib, when you knock all your bits together, I think that’s very New Zealand style.

The whole story is a great portrait of the 20th century. The history is often happening in the background, but the reader is constantly aware of it. I had a feeling that all the way through the story, the terrifying events in history were somehow distant, they were happening far away and to others. Only with the earthquake it becomes real and is happening to characters of the story. People are suddenly part of this terrible history.

Yes, it becomes very intimate and personal with the quake. One of the challenges in writing the book was to find a little link between an event (like World War Two), a personal intimate link with here and something that would leave its mark on a house, particularly this individual house in this imagined street.

Sometimes it would be because someone remembered the house. The man in World War Two, who is wounded, has a photograph of the corner of the house. Later on in the story, there’s a painting of him by a woman that he wanted to marry, who lives in a house. This painting has a shadow under a tree, which is a reference to him. So it would be a link like that, or someone might be directly involved in a major event, like WWII, or there might be a kind of echo of it. Like with Eric, the agent, who behaves like the McCarthy-ist spies in America, but does it in this little house.

Sometimes it’s a sort of an echo, and sometimes it’s a metaphor. So when the Berlin Wall falls down and all the barriers collapse in other parts of the world, it’s the kitchen wall that’s been taken down in the house, and two families are blended together. So sometimes it’s a metaphor, sometimes it’s an actual link.

Eric is one of the characters that I really didn’t grasp. He was the most mysterious figure in the whole story for me, but I did get a feeling that he might be a spy.

Yes, well, he’s an agent. He’s an agent of the government survey of the people who were suspected to be communists in the late 40s and 50s. There was this kind of anti-communist agitation here, as it was all over the world, in places like America and Britain. People were singled out if they were suspected of having communist sympathies. So he’s just an echo of that over here in Christchurch.

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Alluring cover of Fiona’s new book is work of Sarah Healey.

The other thing I was very impressed by was the form of each chapter, the way you form the beginning and the end. It seems very simple, but it’s extremely powerful because it gives you a feeling of a flow that’s beyond human control, that life is so much bigger and complex and stretches beyond the single events that are portrayed in the book.

I like leaving the beginning and the end of the chapter ragged, so you come in with a few dots in the middle of the sentence. Again it’s a part of that salvaging, it’s that the story is just a little piece that’s been salvaged and there’s a whole lot of other stories. So I’ve just got this one which has got torn edges and it doesn’t properly end either, it’s got a torn ending. So that story can continue out of sight.

I always think fiction is what you read, the story on the page, but then there are all the other stories that are implied within that book. That’s a sort of thing that’s been rather fashionable I suppose in the last 20 years or so, to make books out of minor characters for example or to say what would happen if something else had eventuated, to reframe the known story. That’s a sort of thing I’m working on as well, that idea that there’s a whole other narrative, a great big narrative, and you just choose this little bit. That’s the bit that you pick up from a ground, it’s just that little brick and you pick it up and you hold that one up. It’s kind of salvaging operation.

At the same time, that little brick tells the wider story as well, it’s so entwined in its context, which can have social, political, economic, environmental weight … so you can actually see a whole house in that little brick. I think that’s very hard to achieve and is at the same time the beauty of fiction.

Yes, that’s exactly right. In this particular fiction, it’s always a problem how you’re going to shape the material and tell a story. For me, it always has to start with structure. I always have to have a shape in my head. Other people might start with a character, or an event, or something like that, but for me, it’s a shape

I often find, when I’m talking about my books, I do this – an arch (Fiona draws an arch with her hand in the mid air) or a span. In this one, the shape is one hundred little pieces and once I have that in my head, once I have a shape clear, and the way I’m going to present it, everything falls into place. That dictates what I can tell, how long the book can be. It dictates how much you can actually pack into a short chapter, it gives you a very precise formula in which you can work.

It sounds a bit dry, but for me, it’s very reassuring, because it’s such a massive material and you could just tell a great sweeping saga that went straight through from A to B, but for me, it feels more comfortable. I feel at ease, writing this small precise pieces and it makes me very, very particular and very concentrated. It’s like writing a poem or a short piece of fiction. So I have to be economical, but I have to pack into that something about the character, I have to move the narrative forward, I have to put the reference to the house, there are particular things that I have to do within that tiny shape and it disciplines me.

I have noticed the voices of characters came through very well in each chapter. You can tell straight away which character is telling the story. I think you captured those voices really well.

I really enjoyed writing them all, I loved writing Poppy, she was my favourite. I liked all of them, even Eric in his funny, disturbing way.

I was really fascinated by the power of your imagination, I think it shines in the scope of various people who lived in the house and their stories. Where do you get the ideas from? There is such an abundance of them in this book.

The problem I have is too many ideas. The problem is limiting them. That’s really the problem I have, it’s the selecting.

Wow. It must be nice to have that problem, as a writer, I guess?

I don’t think it’s necessarily an advantage. It’s not an advantage to have loads of ideas because you still have to select and still have to discipline yourself, you have to restrain, what can happen, and make choices. It doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.

I guess that’s when your form helps.

It does, because it let me write lots of different little stories, which I enjoyed. And I also liked discovering history, things that I found by coming to the library and looking through the microfilm. I still like sitting in the library and finding all material that’s there.

Wongi's art on St Asaph Street
Whare & Whānau by Wongi Wilson, St Asaph Street. Flickr 2014-12-19-IMG_4045

If we return back to the characters, and I might be a bit biased here, but I got a feeling that women characters are really holding up the households in the house all the way through the book until the earthquake hits. That’s when female character Janey intuitively gives up and her husband Rob is trying to save the situation and is trying to hold it all together.

Yes, that’s true particularly for the first part, when Violet is there for a long long time. And I suppose Min and the hippy commune as well. I wanted to try to keep the balance, because history is often told from a male point of view and particularly in this country, or anywhere really. It can very often be a history of great male figures. I’m an old 70s feminist and we’ve been fighting that one for a very very long time. All my life really. It’s also that I do know how female characters work. I’m less secure when I’m writing male characters. I can understand the complexities of a female thinking. I wanted to try to keep the balance.

I think it is a good balance, especially with Rob, he balances it out. And Paul as well.

I loved Rob. He keeps on trying to make his pizza oven, I thought he was gorgeous.

It was very interesting to observe different timelines, which exist in the novel. One is the human-scale time. The other two are much slower and they belong to the natural world, have their own rhythm. Again, these two timelines, one of the river and the other of the earth, they create a different perspective of events. They give the perspective of human insignificance compared to the natural world, a reality that just passes by in its own slow rhythm.

Yes, and very magical and wonderful one. I find eels, the journey of those big female eels when they’re eighty, ninety, hundred years old, back up to spawn, amazing. How that’s imprinted in a thing that’s a size of a whitebait on arrival! I’m just in awe of the natural world, and I’ve become more so as I get older. It just seems more and more extraordinary. And valuable and a real corrective to human self-importance. We just have to do the best we can here, and live as well as we can, but make it possible for everything else to live as well. We really have been on a crazy path.

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Beautiful text design and illustrations by Rachel Clark.

 

I think out of your characters Sybil is the one most connected to the natural world.

She is, though she never moves outside of the house and garden, she stays there all her life, so she’s the one who lives the most restricted life in some ways. I wanted to show that idea that you can have this tiny, little, precise, fixed environment, but it’s got everything in it. If you just want to look at it. She looks, she’s the one who sees things. Partly because she’s been damaged slightly by almost drowning, after falling off the raft. But she sees the world very clearly and understands the beauty of animals and plants. She never moves much beyond the gate, very rarely.

Though she lives very rich life, she’s mostly turned inwards. And outwards to the beauty around her. I really liked her.

I did too. Solid little lady in her little grubby old dungarees. She’s great, little witch lady.

But also very strong at the same time.

Yes, she’s very determined, very strong, sure about who she is and what she’s doing. Yes, I liked her.

There are also many metaphorical layers in your novel. A lot of metaphors are kept in the frame of each chapter, but many flow all the way through the book. The most compelling one for me was the image of the architect at the beginning of the narrative. I saw it as a metaphor for a writer, who’s crafting lives of characters. Throughout the book it gains even greater importance, it’s almost a god-like figure. I imagined you in this figure of an architect.

It’s the story of creation. The Biblical story is the creation of the chaos and there’s the world, the natural world, and the God creating everything. But that’s the story of creation as an over-reaching western myth, or for some people it’s belief. But it’s also what actually happens, this idea of random existence and the way we create structures out of random events, whether they’re the way we interpret something that’s happened and make narratives out of it, or, whether we decide we need a shelter and we assemble lots of random pieces together from all over the place and we make a shelter for ourselves.

Because we need shelter, we’re a naked little animal without a shelter. It’s a necessity for us as a creature. What I liked about the architect is partly that he adds a little tower. He’s doing something very practical and right at the end, just before he goes off for his lunch, he adds a little detail, which is just a silly little tower, little turret with a room in it. And because of that tower, because he added that to the house, certain kinds of people keep getting attracted to the building, because it’s got a kind of romantic playfulness. There’s sort of joy in it. And each of them brings their own imagery to the idea of the tower or the turret.

What interests me is that the house never really grows into a character. It stays in the centre of the novel, it works as a setting, becomes a home and a sanctuary for so many generations, until the end, when it gets demolished and I think that’s when it becomes the most alive. It explodes into life.

Yes, just like the eel, living its 100 years and then it explodes. I love that. It wasn’t something I planned, but I love it. Thank you. I’m glad that’s how it seems.

This book is a perfect read for someone who hasn’t experienced the Christchurch earthquake and post-earthquake situation but is intrigued in how it must have felt, how it must have been on a personal level. I think you captured the aftermath, all the emotions, frustrations and everyday struggle extremely well. Only art allows us to capture life in such ways.

Yes, exactly, I think so too. I think there’s a certain amount you gain from reading facts, of course there is. You can read books about places or events, which are factual and have enormous power. But to really find out, to get in the intimate part of it, how it affects things like, how you are in bed with someone, or how a child feels, you do it through fiction. Often children’s feelings about war or big national or international events are at a distance or very limited. That’s what fiction can do, it’s investigative and curious.

According to Dale Spender and his work The mothers of the novel, the novel developed as a female form. It developed at the same time as men were going off on voyages of exploration and scientific enquiry, coming to New Zealand, apart from anywhere else. But women were not able to do that, and so stuck at home, within those four walls, they started speculating and investigating through fiction. And that’s how the novel started, at least in the English language, I don’t know if it’s the same across Europe. It was disregarded as something trivial, frivolous, something that was not important. That’s a sort of thing that you have all the time in Jane Austen: reading novels is a waste of time, it’s not important. She’s writing out of that kind of environment, but there were hundreds and hundreds of novels being written.

It’s always been investigative, a kind of scientific experiment. You are working on an experimental level, you’re saying, if I put these things together, what might happen. It’s a really profound art form. I really love fiction. That’s why I wanted to try to write about this. It was difficult, but I did want to try to write about this big event.

Sign O' the Times by Mark Catley for SCAPE Public Art Season 2016
Sign O’ the Times by Mark Catley for SCAPE Public Art Season 2016. Flickr 2016-10-16-IMG_6260

It’s interesting what you refer to in your note at the end of the book – that the first novel about WWII, Elizabeth Bowen’s The heat of the day, was written three years after the war finished.

Yes, the first that I could find anyway, yes. I think the difficulty is to get the mind calm enough to be able to write about such big events. And it is a kind of individualist expression and you do need a degree of calm to be able to do it. Just to be able to put the words on the page really.

You also need enough distance, a perspective, which takes time, I guess.

Yes, and the Heat of the day is a very peculiar book. It’s very sexual, that’s the thing that’s the most dominant about it. It’s about these fleeting sexual encounters in London after the Blitz. That’s possibly the expression of her personality, but also part of that confusion. It’s very primal. I think it does require distance, it’s quite confused book. I was trying to avoid that, keeping it very precise and very clear.

If we touch on political issues in the book, first of all, I really like the nickname – Big Buffoon. It’s very clear who that refers to.

Well, Rob can’t stand him. It’s a character, it’s not me.

Rob is very very angry and frustrated. I think a lot of people will easily relate to him.

That’s the other thing you can do in fiction, you can express multiple points of view of any given event. It’s not just one monolithic variation of how things are.

Sign O' the Times by Mark Catley for SCAPE Public Art Season 2016
Sign O’ the Times by Mark Catley for SCAPE Public Art Season 2016. Flickr 2016-10-16-IMG_6256

I think a lot of political issues that are expressed through characters in this book are done so in a very powerful way. When I was reading Liz’s story, I got so angry.

Yes, about women, not being able to access abortion. Absolutely. That’s based to some extent on a book by Margaret Sparrow, who was a doctor in Wellington, who fought to have abortion made legal. She, like a lot of people, who fought that particular battle, assembled a book of oral histories called Abortion then and now, which includes first person accounts of what it was like to get an abortion in an illegal way, in someone’s front room or back room. And the fear of it and sordid things that happened as a result of that. These women were often very young, very vulnerable and desperate, so people were able to exploit that. Not just financially, but also in other ways.

What happens in the novel is actually what people have reported. Not just once, that’s been the experience of loads of women. This issues had been raised again in this election. The prime minister has already flagged that he’s opposed to abortion. It may be something that comes up in the next term, who knows.

I think a lot of issues that are present throughout the story are extremely relevant to what’s happening today: war, conscientious objection, immigration issues, gender inequality, environmental problems …

Possibly that’s because whenever you write a historical novel, you’re actually writing about now. You’re writing about the past, but you’re really writing about now. It doesn’t matter what it is. The novels about Henry VIII or Queen Elizabeth I, they are to some extent reflections of our curiosity about celebrity. We are interested in clothes, in the machinations, just as we are in people like Trump.

The 20th century is a long period, but on some level, it’s also very short period and we are still engaged in it. We are still dealing with political things that were founded at the beginning of the 20th century, we’re still in those political parties, we’re still dealing with the same sorts of issues and they are not going to go away. It’s an ongoing flood. Like the river. And we are caught in it.

Thank you very much, Fiona. Would you like to share anything else about the book?

I hope that people find it a rich book. That’s what I really hope. That they’ll find things they’re interested in, or they share some of the feelings of the characters, that they can see them and that it’s vivid enough. I just hope it’s a rich book, with lots of pleasures for a reader. That’s what I’m hoping.

Well, it definitely is for me.

Find out more:

King Edward Barracks construction begins – This week in history 10-16 July

The Foundation stone for the King Edward Barracks was laid on the 13th of July 1905 by the Right Hon. R.J. Seddon, Premier and Defence Minister, though construction had already started.

King Edward Barracks, corner of Cashel and Montreal Streets, Christchurch, 1905, CCL PhotoCD 7, IMG0067

The official ceremony narrowly missed being delayed as there had been an accident with the Foundation Stone: a special saw had been required for the inscription in the particularly hard stone, and the saw broke. The job then had to be completed by the masons by hand, dulling several more of their tools in the process.

King Edward Barracks Foundation Stone by Sepia is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License. KeteChristchurch P1180490

It amazingly only took 25 days to complete the building on the corner of Cashel and Montreal Streets. To accomplish this remarkable feat, workmen worked after dark by gaslight, and it was remarked upon on the day in the Star newspaper:

The apparent apathy with which the authorities long seemed to treat Christchurch’s need of a habitable drillshed has been followed by a display of building energy which easily surpasses anything ever seen in the city.

The contractors and architects were Luttrell Brothers of Christchurch. Utilising an innovative design, of which Alfred Luttrell claimed there were only two existing examples in England, it would cover a large space for little money. The drillshed was designed as a large arched building and to be fire proof, unlike its predecessor which burnt down in 1903.

Constructed of 21 iron girders that weighed 6 tons each and enabled the building to be 36.5m x 91m and 12m tall with no obstructive structural columns. A brick mobilisation store, gun store and officers rooms were also built on the site.

Building the King Edward Barracks, Christchurch, 1905, CCL PhotoCD 9, IMG0084

As well as being the site for military activities such as holding drills for soldiers, hearing court-martials, demonstrations for cadets, assembling military areoplanes and giving gas mask training, it was also used for civic occasions and to host all sorts of entertainment. These included a World’s Fair, flower shows, car shows, circuses, pet shows, poultry shows, and training sessions for the All Blacks. These types of events were often illustrated in the newspapers, and some can be accessed through Paperspast.


The riverside site was an important food gathering area for Māori and was associated with the New Zealand Army from 1864. The army left the site in 1993 and Ngai Tahu Property purchased the Barracks site and the buildings were removed in 1997. The site is currently under going post-earthquake commercial redevelopment.

48 Hereford Street, Christchurch by KeteCCL is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License. KeteChristchurch kgP1060549.

More Christchurch history

To see more of what happened this week in the past, visit our Christchurch Chronology.

Canterbury Society of Arts formed in 1880 on the 8th of July

A group of community-minded men had an initial meeting in late June 1880 to discuss how to organise and promote art within Canterbury.

Canterbury Society of Arts exhibition [1906] CCL PhotoCD 7, IMG0007
They felt that the rapidly growing centre of Christchurch needed some form of cultural organisation, and Auckland and Dunedin already had Art Societies.

A sub-committee of three was elected to draft up the proposed rules for a Canterbury Society of Arts. On the 8th of July a General meeting was held at the Christchurch Public Library and the Rules of the Canterbury Society of Arts were approved. The Society had the aim of “…spreading a love of artistic work through the community” and the first exhibition was organised and held in early 1881.

The Annual Exhibition opening nights soon became the highlight of the social calendar which included music and entertainment. You can view some of the early Canterbury Society of Arts catalogues that we have digitised.

Over the years the Society developed and built a permanent collection, held regular programmes and events, faced social and financial difficulties, courted controversy, expanded their mandate from just fine art to include arts and crafts and (eventually) accepted contemporary styles. They acquired permanent space and moved, and completely re-invented themselves.

1980 marked the 100th anniversary of the Canterbury Society of Arts which resulted in an exhibition at the Christchurch Art Gallery and a catalogue with a history of the society. The catalogue for the 100th anniversary exhibition of the Society in 1980 can be accessed online.

Cover of The radical, the reactionary and the Canterbury Society of Arts 1880 - 1996

For an in-depth and updated look at the development of the Canterbury Society of Arts, and its change into the Centre of Contemporary Art (COCA Gallery), see Warren Feeney’s 2011 book The Radical, The Reactionary and the Canterbury Society of Arts 1880 – 1996.

Further information

Christchurch floods – This week in history, 3 to 9 July

The 4th of July marks the 40th anniversary of the Christchurch floods in 1977, when hundreds of people were evacuated from their houses. Three days of torrential rain affected the whole of Christchurch and much of Banks Peninsula with water rising up and threats of slips from above.

Particularly affected were those along the Heathcote river with water levels reaching windowsills in some houses in Opawa. Jet boats were used on flooded roads to check houses and help evacuate residents. Slips affected some properties in Lyttelton with part of a road slipping down and hill slips onto properties in Redcliffs.

Thornton Street, 1975 by CCL Photo Hunt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License. Kete Christchurch PH14-AlBu-Thornton-Street-1975
Thornton Street, 1975 by CCL Photo Hunt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License. Kete Christchurch PH14-AlBu-Thornton-Street-1975

Being built on the flood plain of the Waimakariri River, Canterbury is no stranger to heavy flooding no matter the season. The first stopbanks were built in the 1860s but floods still regularly occurred. This week marks the anniversary of several of these events from the past. From 130 to 5 years ago, all have caused damage, fear and anger, but also given reason to help each other out.

Before QEII expressway work begain. Floods, winter 1986. by CCL Photo Hunt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License. Kete Christchurch, PH14-010.
Before QEII expressway work begain. Floods, winter 1986. by CCL Photo Hunt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License. Kete Christchurch, PH14-010.

1887 July 6. Heavy floods damaging roads and bridges. 3 young men drown in the Avon River as a result of a boating mishap.
1908 July 7. Widespread flooding in city and province causing the gasworks to shut down.
1977 July 4. Hundreds evacuated as serious flooding affects city.
1986 July 7. Heavy rain floods northern suburbs of city, badly affecting St Albans and surrounding areas as well as Spreydon.
2011 July 6. Flooding after the earthquake.

Flood 6 July 2011 Avon River NB 06 by Gina Hubert is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License
Flood 6 July 2011 Avon River NB 06 by Gina Hubert is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License. Kete Christchurch Flood 6 July 2011 Avon River NB 06

The Waimakariri River in high flood the stop banks have broken and inundated the countryside, the Main North Road is under water. [1926] CCL PhotoCD 14 IMG0090
The Waimakariri River in high flood the stop banks have broken and inundated the countryside, the Main North Road is under water. [1926] CCL PhotoCD 14 IMG0090
If you have any images of past floods, or any other events that you would like to contribute to a community repository to build on the shared memories of Christchurch, please visit Kete Christchurch.

More Christchurch history

To see more of what happened this week in the past, visit our Christchurch Chronology.

School holidays! Holiday programmes, events, and activities – July 2017

Find out what’s on this school holidays for Christchurch children. KidsFest will be keeping Christchurch kids busy in July (read our post for more info). Check out the holiday programmes and activities at our libraries and learning centres, and shows and performances for kids.

Library and Learning Centre holiday programmes and activities

Our libraries and learning centres offer a variety of accessible, safe and affordable activities for children during their school holidays. Programmes and activities are aimed at children between the ages of five and 15 years:

Activities include origami, beebots, craft stick harmonicas, knitting, and board games. Some sessions require booking.

Christchurch holiday programmes and workshops

The following organisations are running holiday programmes or workshops for kids or teens in the July 2017 holidays:

Search CINCH, our Community Information Christchurch database, for more Canterbury holiday programmes.

Find an OSCAR programme (Out of School Care and Recreation) and view this map of OSCAR programmes in Christchurch.

Shows, movies, and performances

Kid friendly movies on in the holidays include Despicable Me 3, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, and Long Way North.

Things to do, and places to go in Christchurch

Margaret Mahy Playground - new slide and towers

Most of these venues are free but some have a entry fee. There is more information on their websites.

Margaret Mahy playground

For more events and activities, search Be There and Eventfinda.

KidsFest 2017

KidsFest is full of winter holiday fun for kids in Christchurch and Canterbury. It runs from 8 to 22 July. KidsFest is always popular and many events book out quickly, so have a look and figure out what things you want to do! Tickets are on sale 9am this Thursday 1 June.

KidsFest at Christchurch City Libraries

There are plenty of events and activities on at your libraries, including Lego animation courses (these run over 2 days and are aimed at ages 8 to 12 years, $22). There are also free activities, including:

Caterpillar craft for ages 5 to 8 years. Create your own mini MAKE company caterpillar to take home. All sessions run 10.30am to 11.15am.
Free, bookings required. Phone 03 941 5140.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar at the Gardens Storytime for ages 3 to 7 years
Explore and discover scenes from The Very Hungry Caterpillar nestled in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. Follow the team from the Christchurch City Libraries around the beautiful gardens, as they bring these scenes to life through the art of storytelling.
Free, bookings required. Phone 03 941 5140.

More KidsFest events

Here are a few KidsFest favourites:

More FM Lantern Parade on Saturday 8 July is the launch event for KidsFest, and this year it starts in Cathedral Square and winds its way to Margaret Mahy Playground where there will be fireworks.

Lantern Parade 2016
More FM Lantern Parade 2016

Explorer night at the Museum (we went last year and it was busy and fun romping around the Museum on a cold winter night). Free and no bookings required, it’s on four nights from 6pm to 8pm: Tuesday 11, Thurs 13, Tues 18 and Thurs 20 July.

The Christchurch Brick Show ($5) Saturday and Sunday 15 and 16 July. Fun for all the family to be honest – amazing LEGO displays to admire, hands-on play areas, and more.

The Christchurch Brick Show 2015

See the full list of fun stuff to do on the KidsFest website.

Find out more

eResources for kids

Here’s another things for kids – whether on holiday or during term. Our eResources enhance kids’ learning, fun and play.They are free, and all you need is your library card number and password / PIN.

Kids eResources

Matariki – Māori New Year 2017

Matariki – the Māori New Year – will take place on Pipiri 25 June 2017. During Matariki we celebrate our unique place in the world. We give respect to the whenua on which we live, and admiration to our mother earth, Papatūānuku.

Matariki 2017 is a fresh look through old eyes at Māori oral traditions, practices and customs associated with the Māori New Year.  Over the next three years the Christchurch City Libraries will be re-introducing ‘Te Iwa o Matariki – the Nine stars of Matariki’ beginning with Te Kātao o Matariki – the water stars of Matariki, Waipuna-ā-rangi, Waitī, Waitā.

Matariki 2017

Matariki Toi – Community Art Project in the Library

Each year a community art project runs in all our libraries for all to explore their creative side. This year the project is weave a star.  Materials are supplied, all you have to do is bring your creativity.

Matariki yarn stars
Matariki star weaving

Matariki Wā Kōrero – Matariki Storytimes

In addition to our normal Storytimes we have Matariki Storytimes. Come celebrate and welcome the Māori New Year with stories, songs, rhymes and craft activities. All welcome, free of charge.

See our list of Matariki Wā Kōrero – Matariki Storytimes.

Matariki storytime at Te Kete Wānanga o Ōraka
Matariki storytime at Te Kete Wānanga o Ōraka. Shirley Library. Monday 16 June 2014. Flickr 2014-06-16-DSC04495

Matariki Wānaka, Matariki Takiura – Saturday, 17 June

Christchurch City Libraries and Kotahi Mano Kāika (KMK) host a family day at New Brighton Library. Activities will include:

  • art activities and competitions
  • Cover of Matariki: Star of the yeara presentation relating to the book by Associate Professor Dr Rangi Matamua, Matariki, The Star of the Year.
  • exploring the stars with Skyview
  • explore KMK te reo Māori resources on the library computers
  • storytelling about Te Iwa o Matariki

10:30am – 3pm
New Brighton Library

Rehua Marae Matariki Wānaka – Saturday, 24 June

Matariki celebrations continue at Rehua Marae. Stalls, waiata, workshops for the whole family to enjoy. Pop in and say kia ora to staff from Christchurch City Libraries at our library stand/table.

10am-4pm
Rehua Marae
79 Springfield Road
Christchurch

Matariki at Rehua Marae
Rehua Marae, St Albans, Christchurch. Saturday 28 June 2014. File Reference: 2014-06-28-IMG_0501

All Matariki events at the library

Our Learning Centres are offering special Matariki Connect sessions for schools, introducing students to the key concepts of Te Iwa o Matariki with a focus on the three water stars, and involving a range of fun activities. This programme is now fully booked.

Other Matariki events in Christchurch

Matariki in the Zone – Sunday, 25 June

Organised by the Avon-Ōtākaro Network – a celebration of Matariki at the Mahinga Kai Exemplar site including the opening of the Poppies commemoration garden. Activities include –

  • planting
  • carving
  • weaving
  • build your own hut
  • displays and talks

10am-2pm
Anzac Drive Reserve
Corserland St (access of New Brighton Road)

“This is what the river told me” art and writing competition

Year 1-13 pupils can submit a written work (up to 2000 words) or artwork (maximum size A3) along the theme of “This is what the river told me”. Entries close 16 June and should be emailed (for artworks a photograph of the art and dimensions/media) to kathryn.avonotakaro@gmail.com

Please include your first and last name, age, school and year.

More on Matariki

Matariki colouring in

Download these colouring in pages.

Mana - colouring in Mātauranga colouring in Ngā Mahi hou colouring in Whānau - colouring in Matariki

Matariki

Mabel Howard – New Zealand’s first woman Cabinet Minister

It is 70 years since Mabel Howard (1894 – 1972) became New Zealand’s first woman Cabinet Minister.  She first entered Parliament in 1943, after winning the Christchurch East by-election on 6 February. In 1946, she won in the newly-formed electorate of Sydenham. In May 1947, Mabel was voted into Cabinet by the Labour caucus, on the death of Dan Sullivan.

Parliamentary debates 1st session, 28th Parliament vol. 267  June 24 to July 29 1947 lists Mabel like this:
Labour Ministry: Minister of Health, and Minister in Charge of Mental Hospitals – The Hon. Mabel Bowden Howard.

You can see Mabel talk about her new position – and what it meant to the women of New Zealand – here in New Zealand National Film Unit presents Weekly Review No. 306 (1947) published on ArchivesNZ YouTube channel.

A memorable moment in NZ political (and social) history is Mabel holding up bloomers. This was part of a debate in Parliament, to demonstrate variation in clothing sizes.

Member of Parliament, Mabel Howard, demonstrating that oversize bloomers vary in size. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP-NZ Obits-Ho to Ht-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22391156
Member of Parliament, Mabel Howard, demonstrating that oversize bloomers vary in size. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP-NZ Obits-Ho to Ht-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22391156

Jim McAloon’s biography of Mabel in Dictionary of New Zealand Biography details her interesting life and career. She came into politics via the union movement, and working with her MP father Ted Howard.

Mabel Howard, Minister of Social Security, inspecting a data processing machine [computer?] built by IBM at the Social Security Building, Wellington. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1958/4269-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23259028
Mabel Howard, Minister of Social Security, inspecting a data processing machine [computer?] built by IBM at the Social Security Building, Wellington. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1958/4269-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23259028
Mabel was a Christchurch City councillor for a number of terms: 1933-1935, 1938-1941, 1950-1959, 1963-1968.

Green & Hahn (Firm). Dame Mabel Howard jiving with singer Johnny Devlin - Photograph taken by Green and Hahn. Clauson, Lou, 1928-2013:Photographs of singers and other entertainers. Ref: PAColl-5679-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23210753
Green & Hahn (Firm). Dame Mabel Howard jiving with singer Johnny Devlin – Photograph taken by Green and Hahn. Clauson, Lou, 1928-2013:Photographs of singers and other entertainers. Ref: PAColl-5679-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23210753

Mabel was a colourful character. There are fab Mabel photo ops you can see on DigitalNZ. She was bullish, efficient, conscientious, determined, and hard-working. Her life and career demonstrate her ongoing concern with women’s rights, equal pay, consumer protection, and social welfare. She was a fighter. A trail-blazer.

Mrs Mabel Howard, in her new house in Karori, Wellington, showing her making a cup of tea. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1960/0845-1-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/30652147
Mrs Mabel Howard, in her new house in Karori, Wellington, showing her making a cup of tea. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1960/0845-1-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/30652147

More about Mabel

Listen to:
Mabel Howard Women in the Council Chamber
Christchurch City Council
This brief political biography originally featured in an Our City O-Tautahi exhibition from 19 – 30 September 2006, featuring Christchurch’s own “Women in the Council Chamber”, initiated and co-ordinated by Cr Anna Crighton.