The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

Laura Chant lives with her Mum and beloved little brother Jacko and she has ‘warnings’. Odd sensations overcome her. She’s had them before, when their Dad left the family home and when she met Sorry (Sorenson) a prefect at her high school. And now she’s had another one.

Cover of The Changeover

Warily she continues through her day at school, picks up Jacko and walks home, everything as normal. Except on the way they pass a shop that was never there before and the strange, rather sinister old bloke inside bothers her enormously…

Jacko’s health starts to deteriorate, his life hanging in the balance, and Laura is convinced it’s because of the man in the shop. Her Mum is struggling to make ends meet, keep her job and be a loving Mum, there for her children. It’s tough going and Laura’s mad ideas are just not going anywhere. Laura feels herself to be alone.

So she turns to Sorry for help, knowing, believing he is a witch.

The Changeover is classed as a teenage story with supernatural elements. I first heard it as an adult, as it was read on a children’s holiday programme. I missed the last few episodes and headed to the library. I had to know what happened. There appears to be more going on with Sorry and Laura than meets the eye and what happened to Jacko? Are Laura’s bizarre theories correct? I was so pleased I tracked the book down.

Whilst I have read sci-fi and Fantasy, The Changeover avoids both genres. It’s a darn good story with witches and a bit of magic thrown in and it works. I was caught up in a great story and characters. Jacko is a small boy I wanted to live, not die and I found myself driven to read on, to urge Laura to put some of her thoughts into action, to save him if she could.

As a young woman New Zealand author Elizabeth Knox met Margaret Mahy and got to know her well. In her introduction to the latest edition she writes of the her hero Margaret Mahy:

“I’m thinking of her laugh, her hats, her dogs and cats, her winter coughs, her knitted coats, her rainbow wig, and very imposing penguin suit. I’m thinking of her long sentences and pithy quips; of the rose window of the top bedroom of her flat in Cranmer Square; of her empty refrigerator, of her very model of a modern Major General and, in the same vein, her virtuoso “Bubble Trouble”, and the loving rapture in her grandson Harry’s eyes when he watched her perform it at the launch of Tessa Duder’s book”.

A recent reread of The Changeover as a middle aged adult and I still loved every minute of it AND there’s a movie coming in September AND its filmed in Christchurch, New Zealand, Margaret Mahy’s home town. Will watching a favoured book turned into a movie be iffy? Possibly (watch the trailer below and judge for yourself). But I will go and pay homage to a wonderful writer.

The Changeover
by Margaret Mahy
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781869713553

Creating Worlds – Young Adult Readings at WORD Christchurch

Cover of Daughter of Smoke and BoneI kicked off a very full weekend at the WORD festival with some good old oral storytelling. Listening to stories read aloud is one of my earliest memories and my memories sitting in early intermediate school captivated by The Giver and terrified by Goosebumps are much easier to recall than what we learned in class afterwards…

Creating Young Adult Worlds was a great session, with five authors writing for young adults reading aloud from their work. Karen Healey, Laini Taylor, Meg Wolitzer, Elizabeth Knox and Tania Roxborogh gave us all a taste.

Laini Taylor read “the most embarrassing” chapter from the first book in her incredible fantasy trilogy Daughter of Smoke and Bone, in which art student Karou gets a satisfying revenge on her ex-boyfriend. The passage went from hilarious to heartbreaking in the space of a sentence, and included some pretty excellent life advice from a monster:

But here’s one. It’s simple. Don’t put anything unnecessary into yourself. No poisons or chemicals, no fumes or smoke or alcohol, no sharp objects, no inessential needles–drug or tattoo–and…no inessential penises either.

Karen Healey read from a short story ‘Careful Magic’ which will appear in an up-and-coming anthology Kaleidoscope. Within minutes she crafted an intriguing magical world and a few really fascinating characters that I can’t wait to read more about. Kaleidoscope is a collection of sci-fi and fantasy short stories featuring diverse characters, from disabled superheros, time-traveling Chinese-American figure skaters, to transgendered animal shifters. It’s is not in our library yet, so while you’re waiting why not catch up with Karen Healey’s other novels and short stories?

Elizabeth Knox read a passage from her historical-fantasy novel Mortal Fire, based in Southland, an imaginary country similar to New Zealand, which will be known to readers of her Dreamhunter series. Mortal Fire won the New Zealand Post Book Awards this year for best Young Adult Fiction. The story features some really interesting characters, though my favourite is Canny, daughter of a war heroine, Pacifica maths whiz and stubborn as anything.

“People get over things, cultures don’t.”

Cover of Mortal Fire Cover of Third Degree Cover of Belzhar

Tania Roxborogh read from the 2005 novel The Third Degree. The story is based on the author’s real experience of being badly burned when she was young and strongly features her relationship with her mother. Though the story begins when main character Ruth is starting university, many of the themes will be familiar to anyone who had to spend time in hospital as a child. There were some excellently gruesome medical scenes!

If I had to choose out of the five, I’d say that I am most excited to read Meg Wolitzer‘s new book Belzhar. I couldn’t describe it better than Karen Healey did in her tweet:

Intrigued? We have Belzhar on order so get your name on the waiting list!

Find these authors on our catalogue:

WORD Christchurch

The more we change, the more we find out who we are – WORD Christchurch

Karen Healey‘s first experience with Margaret Mahy came early, as a toddler.

There’s a photo of me — I must have been about 4 — reading A Lion in the Meadow, sitting on the toilet, wearing a raincoat and wellies. I’d obviously rushed in without bothering to take them off, but had made enough time to grab a book to read.

Cover of The CHangeoverIn contrast Elizabeth Knox first picked up The Changeover while working in a museum shop in her twenties. She had only recently started reading books for young adults again after a self-imposed diet of 19th century poets. (“I think Mahy would have got on very well with William Blake,” Knox adds.) The strong sense of family present in Mahy’s works, similar to those by Diana Wynne Jones, have made both writers firm favourites of hers.

Karen Healey:

I first read The Changeover when I was about 13 and it just blew my BRAINS out. I was so excited by this book, because Laura literally writes herself into being a heroine.

Laura’s strong, flawed character will be the core of the forthcoming Changeover movie, filmmaker Stuart McKenzie confirms. While some aspects of the book have necessarily been trimmed (including Sorry’s backstory and, much to my regret, librarian Chris Holly), McKenzie assures us that they have been pruned to allow better visibility of Laura and her story.

The film is set in post-earthquake Christchurch, updated from 1984. The transformation of the city echoes the various changeovers present in the book, from Laura’s physical change from child to adolescent to the changeover of the title.

Cover of Guardian of the DeadAnother strong character in the movie will be Carmody Braque, whose malevolent presence seeps through the book like the smell of peppermints — yet in the end the reader almost feels sorry for him. We get a glimpse of the person he might have been once, possibly someone quite similar to Laura. Healey admits to stealing the amoral nature of Carmody Braque, a character who decides his need to live overrides your freedom, for her first novel.

Braque is terrifying because you get the sense that he sees himself as quite reasonable. He turns up everywhere in various guises, whether as the patupaiarehe in Guardian of the Dead, or Laurel in Fire and Hemlock. In some ways they are utterly alien, yet there is the possibility in all of us to become another Braque. This role-reversal and exploration of the slipperiness of our sense of self is a theme throughout The Changeover, asking: When do we stop being ourselves?

An Unreal House Filled with Real Storms – WORD Christchurch

Photo of Elizabeth KnoxIt seems appropriate that Elizabeth Knox‘s inaugural Margaret Mahy Memorial Lecture took place on a Sunday morning. Despite an audience so packed there were barely enough seats, we all sat still and quiet. We were so spellbound by her memories, funny and sad in equal measures, that when at the end Kate de Goldi tentatively opened the floor for questions there was only the collective held breath of a room full of people. I hardly know how to describe it — Elizabeth Heritage likened it to a religious experience, which is probably as close as I can get to conveying the atmosphere that a matter-of-fact writer created in a small, stuffy room.

This year has been the raven on my shoulder.

A refrain, repeated three times over the course of an hour. How to untangle the references to Odin and God, twined together with anecdotes of chemical-green glowing farts and a family of ghosts who lived among the convulvulus?

Knox discovered Mahy late, stumbling across The Changeover in her early twenties and describing her writing as “opening up a room in New Zealand literature I wanted to hang out in.” With so many books to her credit, ranging over several genres…

I write with genre, hand in hand with it, rather than within genre.

…I think we can safely say Knox has found her place in this unreal room filled with storms.

While the lecture won’t be published in the immediate future, it should be available soon on National Radio. Look out for it.

Elizabeth Knox: WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival

WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival kicks off on 27 August. We’ve asked three quick questions of festival guests:

Elizabeth Knox – writer

Cover of The interestingsWhat (or who) are you most looking forward to at WORD Christchurch?

So many wonderful writers; it’s hard to choose. Fortunately I don’t have to! I’m going to try to go to everything. I am very excited to hear Meg Wolitzer talk about The Interestings. But when I’m in Christchurch these days what I most love is to see and hear how the city is doing.

What do you think about libraries?

 Sanctuary! Sanctuary!

Share a surprising fact about yourself.

Three times during thunderstorms I’ve seen ball lightning in our kitchen.

Cover of Wake Cover of Mortal Fire Cover of The Angel's cut

Elizabeth Knox talks fantasy – Wednesday 23 June @ Our City O-Tautahi

Cover of Dreamquake by Elizabeth KnoxWe’ve talked before about the wonderful Women on air show on Plains FM 96.9 and the literary sessions they organise. Tomorrow night (Wednesday 23 June) is one to savour – an hour with Elizabeth Knox:

A rare chance to hear her discuss the role of the supernatural in fiction. If you have read The Vintner’s Luck or seen the movie or more recently, read her highly acclaimed Dreamhunter & Dreamquake novels, don’t miss hearing her speak.

Elizabeth will be speaking at Our City O-Tautahi, find out more on the Women on air podcasts.

The Vintner’s Luck: The movie, the sequel

The Vintner’s Luck by Elizabeth Knox is one of the great works of the imagination in New Zealand literature. Set in 19th century Burgundy, at the heart of the novel is the love between winemaker Sobran Jodeau and the angel Xas. It’s an utterly sumptuous read and there are TWO exciting pieces of news to report:

The sequel The Angel’s Cut is out now. Sexy angel Xas is back, and this time the setting is old Hollywood, 1929. Get your hold on a library copy, buy one, whatever it takes. And if you’ve read it already, let us know what you think.

And the NZ Film Commission has just released a trailer for the upcoming movie version of The Vintner’s Luck. The movie retains NZ roots – it’s directed by Niki Caro and stars Keisha Castle-Hughes as Celeste. It looks to have a coolly lush style -and Gaspard Ulliel as  Xas looks startlingly handsome.

Playing the Game – Creating Worlds: the Knox sisters in conversation


Bronwyn reports: From the very start of today’s meeting it is clear that Elizabeth and Sara Knox have a close relationship.  When I arrive, they are giggling on the couch, and their warmth and openness is apparent all the way through (they let me take their photo! and they say nice things about libraries!). 

The session itself is a bit more formally structured, as we are being recorded for radio, but there are some light moments too (mention of Sara’s interest in rear-gunners draws a laugh from many in the audience) …

Both talk about their most recent books, as well as the process of growing a novel, and of course ‘The Game’, and I’ve just jotted down a few thoughts and quotes from each:

Sara:  “The universe drops ideas on me; sometimes they’re big and they squash me, sometimes they’re supportable.”
Sara:  “It was impossible for me not to be a writer.”
Elizabeth:  ” I consider my writing to be not magic realism, but fantastic naturalism.”
Elizabeth:  “Everything is good and bad.”

Both say they have an over-developed sense of story, which comes from The Game …

Continue reading

Creating worlds: Elizabeth Knox and Sara Knox

Orphan Gunner
Orphan Gunner

I found Sara Knox’s book The Orphan Gunner hard to read, and although I desperately wanted to like Elizabeth Knox’s books, I have struggled there as well. So hopefully at the end of this session I will be suitably impressed, full of insight and understanding, and willing to give them both another go.

One hour later… Hmmm still not convinced unfortunately. I really liked listening to them both, they are quick, very funny and brimming full of ideas and enthusiasm. However, after many many questions from the chair John McKenzie about the whys and wherefores of The Dreamhunter series, I am really none the wiser, perhaps even more confused! In many ways the two sisters could have run the session themselves, they obviously have a great rapport, know each others books intimately and have of course have that wonderful imaginative life of story telling from their adolescence to call on.

I suspect for people who loved the Dreamhunter series that this would have been a session made in heaven. Plots and characters were dissected and analysed within an inch of their lives, it would have been good to hear more about the Orphan Gunner, and I felt like Sara Knox was left out in the cold a bit.

My other colleagues are now ensconced in the world of crime, grime and murder foul. I hope they come out still feeling like lunch!