Ngaio Marsh was so much more than a crime writer. But remember we have over 30 of her crime novels as eBooks.
Ngaio Marsh would have been 119 today. This world renowned crime writer and theatre director was born Edith Ngaio Marsh in Fendalton on 23 April 1895. Her father, a clerk, built Marton Cottage at Cashmere in 1906. This was her home for the rest of her life, although she spent significant periods in England.
Ngaio Marsh photographed during the 1940s : “Ngaio in the spotlight” [194-], CCL PhotoCD 17, IMG0038
Many people know of Ngaio Marsh as the crime writer. But she also enriched the cultural life of Christchurch with her devotion to theatre production and mentored young people with dramatic aspirations.
Ngaio made a huge contribution to the community, and it seems appropriate her name lives on in a theatre – the Ngaio Marsh Theatre at the University of Canterbury (sadly closed due to earthquake damage), as well as in the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel.
On February 18, 1982, writer Dame Ngaio Marsh died at her home in Cashmere. She was one of the famous Queens of Crime (along with Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers) who emerged in the 1930s.
What isn’t so well known is the impact she had on the cultural life of Christchurch and New Zealand as a theatre director and nurturer of a generation of acting talents through her involvement with the Canterbury University College Drama Society and other touring productions. (Mervyn Thompson and Sam Neill were among those who acted in her productions)
She also wrote an autobiography Black Beech and Honeydew which is a snapshot of life in early C20th Christchurch for a particular class of people.
“The Queen of Tartan Noir”. Who could resist her session at Wellington Writers and Readers Week 2012? Not me, even though I was unaware of quite what constituted Tartan Noir nor of ever having read any.
Denise Mina is the Queen in question and was the winner of the best-dressed author and best author’s hair competitions, contests held only in my irredeemably trivial head. She is the owner of an enviable quiff, a raconteuse of the first order and an award winning writer.
Born in Glasgow, but brought up as part of an ‘oil family’ who moved 21 times in 18 years, Mina ended up back in Glasgow after studying ceramics in Galway. At University in a Law Faculty full of crime fiction fanatics, her PhD topic involved mental illness in female offenders, but, instead of completing her thesis, she began Garnethill, her first book. When she told her supervisor she was dropping out of her PhD to write a crime novel his first question was “what’s it about?”.
According to Mina people read crime fiction for fun. If they don’t like it they’ll say it was bad, but if they don’t like literary fiction they’ll say they didn’t understand it. Having bought one of her books on the strength of seeing her sessions, I’d have to say it wasn’t exactly fun although it was extremely enjoyable, and it made me want to read all her books.
She’s been selected to write the graphic novels of Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy; selected in that she was sent an email asking “do you fancy this?”. The headline for that piece of news read “Queen of Tartan Noir to take on Tattoo Girl”. I can’t wait.
Paul Cleave is the winner of this year’s Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. The award was announced today in a special Christchurch Writers’ Festival event, Setting the Stage for Murder. Paul won the award for his book Blood Men. The other finalists were Alix Bosco, Neil Cross and Paddy Richardson.
Then the four finalists sat down with Craig Sisterson as chair to answer a few questions. I’d have to say all four seemed a little hesitant about being on stage if body language was anything to go by but as the panel discussion went on they opened up with some great observations. By the time a member of the audience asked whether they would consider including the Christchurch earthquakes in their stories they were ready to take some quite differing views. Paul Cleave was quite strong in his feeling that it would be wrong to make money by writing about such a tragedy, Greg McGee (Alix Bosco) was cautious believing there were dangers in writing about the event too soon and time need to elapse. Neil Cross was quite firm that good writing helps cultures examine their traumas. This was a view that John Hart certainly endorsed from the audience.
It was great to see four good New Zealand writers talking about issues that confront New Zealand writers – too much looking inward and an “ingrained lack of confidence” in selling on the world stage. There was a hope that there were enough good writers around and New Zealand had the chance to carve its own distinctive place in crime writing as Scandinavian crime writing had done. So come on crime writing fans – support your local team (or at least go to one game and see how they play).
What does this mean? For Kiwi crime writing fans it means the elusive author Alix Bosco, who won last year’s Ngaio Marsh Award, will appear on stage at the 2011 awards where he/she is also a finalist with her book Slaughter Falls . Last year’s no show sparked wild conjecture as to who Alix Bosco is. Suspects include Greg McGee, Rosie Scott, television writer Maxine Fleming, and former Prime Minister Helen Clark !
Other finalists for the award for best crime, mystery, or thriller novel written by a New Zealand citizen or resident, published in New Zealand during the previous year:
- Blood men by Paul Cleave (Random House)
- Captured by Neil Cross (Simon & Schuster)
- Hunting Blind by Paddy Richardson (Penguin)
As well as the Boo Radley moment in New Zealand crime publishing, the awards evening will feature international authors Tess Gerritsen and John Hart. It should be an great event in the TelstraClear Club at Hagley Park on Sunday 21 August. Get your tickets now.
Three books have been short-listed for the Ngaio Marsh Award, New Zealand’s first ever crime novel award. A panel of seven local and international judges has selected the shortlist from crime, mystery and thriller novels written by a New Zealand citizen and published in New Zealand in 2009. The winner will be announced on Friday night of the Christchurch Writers Festival during the Setting the Stage for Murder evening (10 September 2010).
The three finalists are: