Kate De Goldi writes fiction for all ages and reviews books for print and broadcast media. Her most recent novel is From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle. She is co-editor, with Susan Price, of the children’s anthology Annual 2.
What are you looking forward to doing in Christchurch?
I’m looking forward to seeing Christchurch in the spring – particularly the cherry blossoms on Harper Ave – and to having a run or two up the back roads of Tai Tapu.
What do you think about libraries?
I think libraries (and their librarians) are the beating hearts of our communities – essential, enabling hives of connectivity and possibility. I was formed and nurtured by the Christchurch library system and feel great love and gratitude for it.
Share a surprising fact about yourself.
I am a devastating chess player. Kidding.
Kate De Goldi’s sessions at WORD Christchurch Festival 2018
We’re so excited about the eagerly-awaited publication release of Annual from Gecko Press (edited by Kate De Goldi & Susan Paris). Annual is a real game-changer as the first publication of its kind in New Zealand.
Annual is a 136-page smorgasbord of stories, comics, satire, how-tos, poems, games and puzzles aimed at 9-12 year old children – and their families.
There’s a dictionary of crazy words that come in handy on car trips, a sophisticated ‘spot the similarity’, a found poem from school newsletters, a maths-nerd’s memoir full of tricky logic puzzles, and top-class fiction that spans Christchurch Botanic Gardens in the 19th century, the loss of a brother, a Kiwi beach holiday and a board game.
Kate De Goldi, co-editor of the Annual from Gecko Press, could see there was a “hectic” trend in children’s writing – popular books for children such as those that are slapstick or fantastical or series titles (think Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants). She says that while these books are great, the current market does not run in the favour of more nuanced, complex books.
Inspired by, and harking back to memories of children’s annuals in the UK like Bunty The Books for Girls, De Goldi reminisces that “Annuals were like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag – you always see something new every time you opened one.”
Annuals were full of literary miscellany – a home for practitioners, writes, emerging talent. Kate remembers being given annuals for Christmas and how for some children it may have been the only book they got in a year so it was something to be savoured and enjoyed all year long.
With Annual, the editors set out to “reimagine an iconic book format for today’s young readers.” Lorde, Taylor Swift and “selfies” are in there. Indeed one of the charms of Annual is how it manages to reference pop culture yet still feel nostalgic.
Christchurch writers, illustrators and artists showcased
Speaking of nostalgia, it’s evident Kate De Goldi has a soft spot for Canterbury. Born and raised here, a Christchurch connection appears throughout Annual in various forms: From local writers such as Gavin Bishop, Ben Brown and Renata Hopkins to the street art of Christchurch in a commentary on Wongi Wilson’s Whare & Whānau (2014) in Spray Can Renaissance.
Due to the CBD’s rebuild, Wilson’s mural, that was on the corner of Tuam and Manchester streets is barely visible now, making this snapshot of a certain time and place more poignant.
We asked Kate to tell us more about the inaugural Annual:
Kate, how did the idea for Annual came about?
For some time I’d been bothered by the fact that there seemed to be a dearth of good, original New Zealand reading material for readers between 8 to 12, the reading group that American publishers/booksellers call ‘middle-grade’ (between ’emerging’ readers and young adult readers), roughly between 8 and 12 years. Additionally, I was sorry that there were no publications anymore for emerging writers for that age group to publish short form material.
One day a couple of years ago while I was out running round the hilly streets of Wellington and thinking about these things, it suddenly occurred to me that an Annual – a miscellany of stories, comics, poetry, articles, art, puzzles, games etc – would be a great solution to both of these issues. By the time I’d finished my run I’d thought of two people who could help make it happen – Julia Marshall, the publisher for Gecko Press and Susan Paris, the editor of the School Journal.
Why is this ‘Annual’ so significant for New Zealand?
As far as we know there’s never been a New Zealand publication like this for New Zealand children. This is the first publication of new, commissioned material across a variety of forms for this age group. It’s also the first publication to draw contributions from such a wide range of writers and artists – well known writers and illustrators for children, but also new writers and artists or writer/artists who usually produce work for an adult readership.
Annual is also an attempt to broaden the notion of what is allegedly ‘suitable’ for children. We believe that the 9-12 age group is a very sophisticated readership, one that’s hungry for different kinds of reading – fiction, non-fiction, graphic material, and great art – so we’ve commissioned work that is varied and substantial and with real literary merit. But the editors (Susan and me) have a pretty developed sense of the absurd, too, so we wanted the Annual to have funny – even silly – contributions as well as solid stuff.
Tell us about your childhood memories of annuals?
I grew up in a house full of books, including a wide range of very good children’s books. Comics were kind of frowned on, though – but I loved them… I read them at other people’s houses whenever I had the chance.
All the well-known British children’s comics of that post-War period (Girl’s Crystal; Princess; Rupert; Beano, Bunty, to name some) also had an Annual (a kind of bumper issue of the comic) published in time for the Christmas market. As a non-comic household we tended not to get the Annuals either – except one year when, for some reason, my sister Clare got Bunty. She was 8 that year, but claims she was still reading that Bunty Annual until she was 18. I believe her – the thing I noticed about annuals was that they seemed to last forever…every time you picked up a well-thumbed, familiar annual there was somehow always something you hadn’t noticed before and were very pleased to read.
When we were first thinking about our annual we knew we wanted it to be like that – a gift that kept on giving. It’s roughly aimed at a 9-12 readership but we hope that those readers will keep on dipping in over the years; and we’re confident there will be both younger and older readers – and adults – outside the designated age group who will enjoy many of the contributions between the covers.
How did this annual come together?
Once I had the annual idea I contacted Julia Marshall who was immediately very keen on the idea of Gecko Press publishing a miscellany of this kind (Gecko’s catchphrase is ‘curiously good books’). Then I contacted Susan Paris, who is a good friend, but more importantly has 12 years experience commissioning and editing the New Zealand School Journal a publication embedded in the history of children’s writing and illustrating in New Zealand and which is in many ways like Annual – miscellany of varied forms, but for use in the classroom.
Susan and I began by dreaming up ideas for stories, poems, articles etc and then worked out who we thought would be the best writers and artists to work with those ideas. We needed to come up with the ideas ourselves to ensure a balance across the annual – different moods (sad, funny, silly, reflective); different settings (urban, rural); gender and cultural balance; different forms (realist, fantasy, historical etc). We worked hard to match our ideas with the right artist/ writer…for example, we liked the idea of a ‘found’ poem composed entirely of lines taken from school newsletters. We asked James Brown to have a go at that – we knew he was great with different poetic forms. We approached writers and artists who we knew enjoyed working within certain parameters but who could still make the piece their own.
Commissioning was just the first stage – we edited all the work for publication and worked with Gecko Press to find illustrators for many of the pieces. It was particularly interesting for me – a tyro* in this regard – to see a project of this size right through from inception to publication. Every aspect of the process was fascinating – and quite consuming…debating the best sequencing of all the contributions, debating the title and cover, the color of the cover…and more. And finally there’s spreading the word ahead of publication – talking to librarians, booksellers, teachers, any prospective buyers – preparing the website to go live. (* Tyro = beginner or novice).
Kate, you say that Annual is meant to be enjoyed by ‘backwards browse.’ What does that mean?
This was new to me – Julia told us that people nearly always explore a book, especially a volume of mixed material, from the back to the front.
It’s perfectly true. I do it myself, though I’d never noticed…and we’ve enjoyed watching people pick up Annual and check it out by fanning the pages from back to front. That’s good from our point of view – the first piece they see, then, is Naked Grandmother, the board game which is pretty entertaining. A ‘backwards browse’ will find you flicking through an annual until you fall on what you want to sink yourself into.
Annual’s cover is quite subtle compared to the treasure trove inside. Was that intentional?
Yes, that was intentional – the title written vertically and two lovely drawings by Gregory O’Brien…the chirping bird kind of heralding something good to come. And then there’s the color – a radiant orange.
We wanted the cover to be a striking design (that’s the work of Spencer Levine who also designed the interior) so that the prospective reader would be drawn to pick up Annual – and then begin the ‘backwards browse’ through the material between the covers – which is rich indeed, a real feast for the eye.
What is your hope for the book?
Firstly, I hope the book finds its way to the readers we had in mind when we were working on it – all those readers between 9-12 who are smart, curious and hungry for new material. I hope that readers outside that age group will check it out, too. I hope especially that it is bought by school libraries – that way Annual can reach readers who may not otherwise come across the kind of material inside.
We hope that Annual becomes an annual publication! We’re working on the second volume now and hope that we can keep on producing for as long as there’s an audience…We hope to keep on finding new writers and artists and giving them a platform to publish. We hope, too, that NZ writers and artists for children aspire to be published in Annual, that it builds an audience among practitioners as well as readers.
Kate, you’re very prolific. What is your next project?
Susan (Paris) and I are well launched on the commissioning of Annual 2 – which is huge fun…We meet twice a week and spend hours talking and pitching ideas to each other, refining them and working out how best and who might turn them into gold.
Among the first few events at this year’s epic WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival was “CAN BOOKS CHANGE THE WORLD?” This serious question arouses all manner of responses: Books ARE powerful! They HAVE changed the world! We cry. With fists in the air!
However, this intimate evening explored what drives writers to write in the first place – an important question – given that what we write can ripple out across earth. So, to traverse the topic of world-changing written thought, we were treated to a panel of clever literary people – children’s and short story writer Kate De Goldi, journalist and playwright Victor Rodger, and academic, writer and literary critic John Freeman – all of whom have won various awards and accolades.
The featured writers were probed with questions about “why they write”. John Freeman began by stating that you have to keep yourself in check :
If you start thinking you can change the world, then you will have a rough time”. You’ll prime yourself for disappointment.
Therefore, you “write in the hope that people will be able to identity with you”. Hopefully, you can tap into something that touches them by seeking to appreciate their worldview.
BUT, he went on to warn “there is no such thing as apolitical writing”, you either have to take a position on certain issues, or you take positions by default. There is no middle ground.
Kate De Goldi seemed to concur with these sentiments, stating that New Zealand citizens tend to have a problem “speaking truth to power” and taking provocative (and sometimes) unpopular positions and entering into heated discourse! She emphasized that writing is about “being a responsible citizen”, and that “if people dont read there is no democracy”. Therefore, we need to back ourselves.
Victor added to the discussion by revealing his own impressions of life growing up as part of a minority group – as a young Samoan New Zealander, most Kiwi books, plays and shows did not embody his point of view as a young man wrestling with his identity. So, “he really wanted to get his own impressions of life out there”, “to challenge cultural and racial stereotypes”. Which is critical, as his work has added important dimensions to New Zealand’s artistic scene and prompted Kiwis think about who we are as a society.
It was an edifying evening, I found myself taking in this good advice from those who have hacked their way through the literary jungle. Its good to be reminded that with the privilege of free literary thought comes responsibility. And sometimes, we wind up writing something world changing!
There are some wonderful authors and illustrators for children who are coming to Auckland in August as part of the 2016 IBBY Congress. You can read all about who we are excited to meet in our post about the IBBY Congress here on the blog. We approached some of the speakers and asked them a few questions about books and libraries.
The first featured speaker is award-winning New Zealand author Kate De Goldi:
What are you most looking forward to when you visit New Zealand for the 2016 IBBY Congress?
I’m looking forward very much to hearing a range of speakers from different literary communities and cultures – hearing about the strengths and deficits in their communities in terms of bringing children and books together. It’s a rare opportunity to hear a number of commentators who have immersed themselves in children’s literature and the reading life of children, so there’s sure to be much to learn.
What is your favourite memory of libraries?
My ur-library was the old Christchurch City Library on the corner of Hereford Street and Oxford Terrace. I spent countless hours there as a child and learned the great pleasure of browsing the shelves, finding old, loved books to reread, but always happening on something new, too, which would often take my reading in another direction. For me, still, there is nothing to rival the pleasure of an unhurried browse of library shelves and a tall pile of books gathered to take home from the library.
Perhaps my favourite memory of that old library was the upstairs reading room where I often took myself (instead of to school) during my seventh form year – and read all manner of unexpected things. In my memory that time and space is associated with intellectual expansion and wonderment – but also a sense of security and uninterrupted self-directed learning.
For the last twenty years the Wellington libraries have been my favourite city spaces, particularly Wellington Central. I have never lost the feeling of cresting excitement when I walk through the automatic doors and into that fabulous abundance of books, of unending potential…
What are 5 of your favourite books?
I read very widely in adult literature and have many favourites, but I’ll confine myself to children’s books for this. These five books are ones I frequently re-read – my criteria for a favourite book.
1. Ounce, dice, trice by Alistair Reid; drawings by Ben Shahn. The New York Review Children’s Collection.
This book is like a visit to a glorious circus – where words dance, fly, juggle and tumble. It’s a celebration of the wildness and wonder of language at play.
I admire Dubosarsky’s work enormously. This is an eerie modern fairytale in which a family three sisters watch – and often misinterpret – the strange goings-on between the important adults in their life. Viewed through the eyes of six year old Matilda, this haunting story reminds us how very differently the young see the world unfolding around them.
A life-changing book: Ivan, a silverback gorilla, narrates the story of his captivity and work in a circus mall; with tender voice and images of great beauty, he helps the reader to understand properly the nobility of all living creatures, and the urgent need for kindness to the most vulnerable.
I think this is the greatest of Mahy’s many splendid novels. Using the elements of a lesser known Grimm tale, ‘Jorinda and Jorindel’ – thick forest, old castle, shape-changing witch, innocent maiden, adventurous young man, captive birds – Mahy weaves a profound and moving – and thoroughly contemporary – story about the riddle of parenting, the manipulation of children, the vanity attendant on talent, the complex responsibilities of the writer, the frailties and possibilities inherent in being human. Somewhere in the RNZ archive there is a most wonderful audio of Bronwyn Bradley reading the book aloud.
What do you love most about the world of children’s literature?
I greatly value a body of literature that has the young eye at the heart of its story telling and exploration of language. It is so good to be reminded again and again (as an adult) what it is like to be new to the world, to be decoding everything around you in order to understand what it is to be human. I deeply appreciate, too, that the very best of children’s writers deepen and expand the form in which they work, offering subtle, nuanced, complex literature to young readers, a literature where story, character, language and moral complexity is rendered as artfully as in any literary form. Many people immersed in the world of children’s literature – writers, critics, academics, readers – have an acute recall of what it is like to be a child. It is not that they are arrested developmentally, more that this part of life is still very present to them, so that their young eye is still working to a high level. I really like meeting people like that!
What you believe is the most important thing that adults can do to encourage children to read?
I think reading oneself – ie, modeling reading to the ever-alert child – is a fundamental requirement. You are demonstrating to children that a fully rounded life includes an sustained reading life.
I think reading aloud to children as far into their school years as possible is very important too. It can tide them over their own reading humps or resistances and bring them to more and more sophisticated story.
Thirdly, ensuring that the local library is a regular and enjoyable part of a child’s life – allowing them to feel that the library is a second home – an astonishing resource in their lives, allowing them to experience the unhurried pleasure of browsing and taking risks with books, allowing them to make friends with librarians. It’s good to own books, of course (if you are able) – particularly for re-reading which I think is an important part of a reading life. But the library’s resources are deeper and more vast than any bookshop’s so it’s an even more important place for the reading life.
Lastly, I would suggest that we need to listen to what our children’s reading interests really are – and validate them, while continuing to provide a range of possibilities. A Lego instruction sheet is a reading experience. A picture book is always a good thing no matter your age. And there’s always room for airheaded series books, too. A thorough reading life for a child will always have dross as well as pearls.
Two of my favourite things about literary festivals are: to hear authors read from books, and to find out what their best loved reads are. Reading Favourites was a WORD event that ticked both those boxes for me.
The three authors were Kate de Goldi, Sarah Laing and Carl Nixon and they were asked to name their two favourite New Zealand books. Guy Somerset hosted this event, which he wistfully billed as being: “like an Uber Book Group without the wine or cake.”
Kate de Goldi chose:
Sydney Bridge Up-side Down by David Ballantyne, a book about which she confesses to be somewhat evangelical. Published in 1968, it is a book that “keeps finding its readers”. It was, according to de Goldi, way ahead of its time.
Kate’s second choice was Welcome to the South Seas by Gregory O’Brien, a book de Goldi classifies as Creative Non-Fiction. It is a book that awakens the child in you, that grandparents buy for their grandchildren and end up keeping for themselves. It has the artwork asking you the questions.
Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks topped Laing’s favourites list. She has read this graphic novel several times and never tires of its multi layered approach. With each reading she seems to uncover more and more.
Sarah’s second choice was From the Earth’s End – The Best of New Zealand Comics. Sarah reminded us that after the war, 47 comic titles were published every month in New Zealand alone and that libraries are the guardians of much of this early material.
Carl’s first choice was The Day Hemingway Died by Owen Marshall. It was the first book (at 18 years of age) that Carl remembers wanting to read as if he had discovered it all by himself. It has a very distinct tone, is the perfect illustration of character foibles and is laugh-out-loud funny – all at the same time.
Carl’s second choice was Gifted by Patrick Evans. He read a wonderful extract from this book about the meeting between Sargeson and Janet Frame, two people who never really understood one another at all, according to Carl. This book never received the attention that it deserved and Carl hopes that we will rectify that by getting out there and doing it justice.
This was a well presented, varied event in which the participants gave us a peek into their best-loved books. And, to top it all, it was free. That is correct, there were a number of free events at the festival, and the calibre of all events is very, very high. So, in two years time, even if the budget is tight and penury looms (and I do so hope this will not be the case), you can still tart yourself up, hitch a ride down to the Fest and recharge those tired old book-loving batteries.
It 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.
I spied a poster in the library that has put a real spring in my step: Community Read 2014. The reason for this spring is a visit to Christchurch City Libraries by Kate De Goldi. She is coming to talk about her novel The 10PM Question andI can’t wait.
I read this book a number of years ago and at the time it struck a real chord. Frankie Parsons, a twelve year old boy, is on the verge of change. He has a head full of worries and Frankie’s Ma listens patiently to his 10pm questions. I had a son who also had a head full of worries and at the time I found The 10PM Question a reassuring read. Kate De Goldi deals sensitively and perceptively with the issue of anxiety and the challenges faced by Frankie and his family.
Kate is an award winning writer who cannot be missed.
Lover of Literature
I had the pleasure of listening to Kate a number of years ago and I promise you will not be disappointed. Come along to this free event on Friday 22nd August, 11-12pm, at the South Library Colombo Street, Christchurch. In the evening (7.30pm to 9pm), join the Court Jesters for some 10pm questions. Share your 10PM question and be in to win an iPod touch. The Court Jesters at South Library will improvise your 10pm questions!
I’ve always thought that fiction can teach us as much as non-fiction about life, if not more. A medical book about dementia might give you the facts, but, if you really want to understand the disease, Margaret Mahy‘s young adult novel Memory is hard to beat.
Kate de Goldi and Dr. Helena Popovic both have parents with dementia and they both turned to words to help them deal with it, though in different ways. In a session at the 2013 Auckland Writers and Readers Festival they talked about their books and their personal experiences of this cruel disease.
Popovic is an Australian doctor whose book In Search of my Father weaves story and science. De Goldi turned wholly to story, writing a powerful children’s book about a young girl and her grandmother.
She had always wanted to write an ABC, but the idea of locating this ultimate way of ordering things in a dementia unit where disorder rules only crystallized after the September 2010 Christchurch earthquake.
De Goldi was in Christchurch at the time, helping to move her mother into a rest home. While running beside the river De Goldi noticed large cracks in the road and this started her thinking about cracks in the community and in her mother’s mind.
The ACB with Honora Lee mixes comedy and sadness, and many of the scenes will resonate strongly with anyone who has experience of the struggle to extract meaning from the fragments of language dementia sufferers utter. As de Goldi says “You could almost say dementia is like a book and you’re trying to complete what they’re saying”.
Popovic, asked to define dementia, offered “progressive mental decline that interferes with daily function”. As she said, this is a vague definition but until now dementia in all it forms has been regarded as irreversible. Popovic does not agree. She thinks there is a lot we can do to improve our brain function.
Physical exercise, social and mental stimulation all help and it seems that striving to learn a new skill is enough – you don’t have to become expert in it. After being almost inspired to try one of the projects in Rosemary McLeod’s beautiful book With Bold Needle and Thread this was a great relief to me.
Popovic also thinks the phrase ‘senior moment’ should be banned as sometimes we speak things into existence. A lot can be done to prevent dementia and to improve our brain function in middle-age. She believes there should be a comprehensive campaign along the lines of the stop smoking and drive safely campaigns – cognitive decline is not inevitable.
Frankie Parsons is twelve going on old man: an apparently sensible, talented Year 8 student with a drumbeat of worrying questions steadily gaining volume in his head: Are the smoke alarm batteries flat? Does the cat, and therefore the rest of the family, have worms? Is the kidney-shaped spot on his chest actually a galloping cancer? Most of the significant people in Frankie’s world – his father, his brother and sister, his great-aunts, his best friend Gigs – seem gloriously untroubled by worry.
Only Ma takes seriously his catalogue of persistent anxieties; only Ma listens patiently to his 10pm queries. But of course, it is Ma who is the cause of the most worrying question of all, the one that Frankie can never bring himself to ask. Then the new girl arrives at school and has questions of her own: relentless, unavoidable questions. So begins the unravelling of Frankie Parson’s carefully controlled world.
So begins the painful business of fronting up to the unpalatable: the ultimate 10pm question.
The 10pm Question is a novel which defies all age categories. It does so with a sparkling wit and an operatic cast of characters so delightful and maddening they become dear to us.