About a Boy – WORD Christchurch

Canada’s Elizabeth Hay and New Zealand’s Tanya Moir and Emma Neale talked with Morrin Rout about their novels – all of which feature a boy finding his way.

Elizabeth Hay, Image supplied.
Elizabeth Hay, Image supplied.

CoverEach author talked about their boy before reading a passage from their novel. Elizabeth Hay introduced Jim, ten years old, and in a car on the way to Lake Ontario, asks of his parents “what’s the worst thing you have ever done?” Jim is a boy out of step with where he is in life, a cross border boy (a Canadian mother and New Yorker father) sorting out who has claims on his love and loyalty.

Tanya Moir introduces us to Winstone Blackhat at age 12, he is living on his own, living rough above the dams in Central Otago, sees himself as an outlaw and is surviving by fishing and stealing food from tourists.

Tanya Moir. Photo by Fiona Tomlinson. Image supplied.
Tanya Moir. Photo by Fiona Tomlinson. Image supplied.

CoverEmma Neale’s Billy is 8 (going on 9) and is a quirky, imaginative child whose vivid imagination becomes a problem to his parents when he believes he is a bird.

Each author read a passage from their novel. There is something magical about authors reading aloud from their own work, the characters come to life as the writer intended and the audience is left wanting to know more.

Morrin asked how did they each decide how to tell the story of their boy? Elizabeth said “His Whole Life” came about from a long drive she was on with her own son and he asked that question “what is the worst thing you have ever done?”. She was unable to answer that question at the time and he was unable to tell her in return his worst thing but the question remained. She wanted to explore that question further so created her fictional characters and set them on a journey to further explore the mother / son bond. The character of George the husband explores the notion of the husband as a fifth wheel.

Emma Neale. Photo by Graham Warman Burns. Image supplied.
Emma Neale. Photo by Graham Warman Burns. Image supplied.

CoverTanya said “The Legend of Winstone Blackhat” told Winstone’s story through the mechanism of a Western film inside his imagination. Winstone’s thoughts and feelings are described by a third person character, not by him directly.

Emma “Billy Bird” said she wanted to write a verse novel with three distinct voices, the three voices are those of Billy, his mother and his father. This allowed her not to be limited to the child’s perspective but his voice was playful and madcap and lifted the book when the subject matter deals with tragedy.

Elizabeth’s novel deals with the question “what’s the worst thing you have ever done?” but links in Canadian politics and the question of “will Quebec ever leave Canada?”  Canada and Quebec is described as a bad marriage – where Quebec really needs to leave. Quebec can also be described as an adolescent who will never achieve independence without leaving Canada.

Tanya’s novel is cinematic, she has taken the devices and clichés of cinema and put these back into words. She described writing her novel as imagining it as a movie scene with a camera tracking though the shoot and taking that and turning it into a sentence doing the same tracking with words.

Emma explored the family seeking counselling help to deal with their tragedy. Billy’s bird behaviour is a problem so she looked at what options would a family have to get help? She did this through researching and talking to professionals – but noted that sometimes the writer needs to abandon the research and let the character lead.

Read

More WORD Christchurch

Cath Parr

Canadian Tales with Elizabeth Hay – WORD Christchurch

Here’s some audience questions from the session with author Elizabeth Hay at the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival.

On writing

Canadian Elizabeth Hay has to write about what means most to her. In her latest book  His whole life, she writes of the close mother-son bond. As the marriage comes apart, the mother-son bond deepens. In her earlier novel Late nights on air she revisits her years as “An old radio hack”.

On the publishing scene

New Zealand authors will sympathize with her comments that publishers aren’t always aware how much Canadians interested in Canadian tales. Publishers want books to be set outside Canada with an eye to foreign sales.

Elizabeth Hay, Image supplied.
Elizabeth Hay, Image supplied.

On Trudeau

“He knows he’s not the smartest guy in the world” unlike Harper. He’s done some things like the Montreal Gay Pride march, does he overdo it? – Sometimes. Under former president Harper, Canada was very tar oil sands orientated. Under Trudeau it is different – landscape and environment is at the heart of the country now.

On the landscape

You can’t live in Canada without having a sense of it because there is so much of it and a need of landscape which is at the heart of our writing”.

Read a biography of Elizabeth Hay on her official website.
Have you read her books what would you like to ask her?

IMG_2002[1]

Elizabeth Hay appears in:
Canadian Tales: Elizabeth Hay, Fri 26 Aug, 12.30pm
About a Boy, Sat 27 Aug, 1.45pm

Find books by Elizabeth Hay in our collection.

WORD Christchurch

Take your pick of the best at WORD Christchurch

There is nothing like a book festival, the chance to luxuriate in an atmosphere charged with language, bathing your senses in rich text, balm to your soul.

At WORD Christchurch the words come flying off the page during readings, you will hear the inspiration behind your favourite authors work, you’ll be inspired to try new genres, enjoy poetry and become informed on global issues.

Book covers
WORD Christchurch related reading

So many authors will be present at this ear’s wonderful WORD Christchurch programme there is something for everyone but for me two sessions leapt off the programme’s pages. An hour with Dame Fiona Kidman our own literary giant and An evening with Justin Cronin and for someone new I have selected Canadian Tales: Elizabeth Hay. You may think a diverse choice but for me they are all powerful writers who hold you enthralled to the very end.

Fiona Kidman_c_Robert Cross_2
Fiona Kidman (photo credit: Robert Cross)

A little 1988 yellowed hard-covered copy of Unsuitable Friends has adorned my book shelf for many decades. It was my introduction to Dame Fiona Kidman’s work. Her characters struggle to free themselves from domestic constraints to achieve their dreams and to keep their moral compass. It is almost as if she is writing for her daughter who would be a contemporary of mine, as would she be of my mother. The book seemed written just for young women like me.

I remember arguments on the role of women in the house, Dad asserting that going to work had given my mother funny ideas! It was refreshing to read such vivid contemporary women’s fiction. No wonder she won the New Zealand Book Award for fiction that year.

Her urging of her female protagonists to not be bound by the constraints of their circumstance continued in her 2013 novel The Infinite Air about the enigmatic Jean Batten and in this year’s release All Day at the Movies. I can’t wait to get my hands on it. The outsider status of these characters is what appeals to me and it is this that also appeals in Justin Cronin’s writing.

Justin Cronin - Photo credit Julie Soefer
Justin Cronin (photo credit: Julie Soefer)

Man’s responsibility to use scientific discovery to the benefit of the planet as well as humanity, and the need to look to technology to solve man-made environmental problems is a big theme at this conference. Justin Cronin’s apocalyptic trilogy about an escaped laboratory virus fits right in here.

Not one to usually read a vampire tale I started reading The Passage as a read-a-like for Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It was some time before I realized I was reading a vampire novel but not like any you have ever read. It’s a rip roaring yarn with fear and violence and with a cautionary back story.

I am saving the end of this trilogy till I can reread the first two, there are so many back plots and references I want to read them all back to back. If you are a Game of Thrones fan you’ll love it.

Elizabeth Hay
Elizabeth Hay (image supplied)

For my last pick I wanted an author I knew nothing about and comparisons to Margaret Atwood and Annie Proulx mean she has got to be good, so I chose Elizabeth Hay. I’ve just started her much praised coming of age tale, His whole life, and it’s making me thirsty to read more. This Canadian has a lovely laid back style which entrances you and keeps you spellbound.

So why not make some picks of your own and join the party at WORD Christchurch.

More WORD Christchurch