“There’s a fine line between having an imagination and having a mental illness”: Joanne Harris

Joanne Harris is probably most well-known as the author of the Chocolat, which was later made into a movie, starring Johnny Depp.  She has written 14 novels, including Runemarks and Runelight for younger readers, and 2 cookbooks.  I’m a huge fan of her writing so I was looking forward to spending an hour with her at The Press Christchurch Writers Festival on a Saturday afternoon.

Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure, a follow-up to Chocolat, is Joanne Harris’ latest book and most of the session focused on this. When asked why she keeps revisiting Vianne Rocher, Joanne admitted that Vianne keeps on knocking at the door, and she keeps wondering what happened to her and where she has gone.  Over the course of the three books, Vianne has changed and some readers haven’t been happy with this.  As Joanne pointed out though, the nice, comforting thing about stories is that things stay the same, but life has changed Vianne.

Another reason Joanne wanted to revisit Vianne and her family was that she felt that both she and her characters had unfinished business.  She wasn’t daunted about writing about Muslims, but a lot of people couldn’t understand that. As she explained, she was writing about people who were Muslim or Christian, not about the actual religions. Her story is simply about ‘individuals living in certain circumstances, facing certain situations.’  She just wanted to write the story and people would get what they wanted to get from it.

Joanne delved into her characters and where they came from.  A lot of people are quite disappointed that she doesn’t look or act like Vianne, but that there are aspects of her personality in the character. The relationship that Vianne and Anouk have in her books is very much the relationship that she has with her own daughter. The most memorable thing she said about characters and the way that they get inside your head is that ‘there’s a fine line between having an imagination and having a mental illness.’

Joanne felt that she had been put in the camp of ‘comfortable writers who write with a quill pen’ but she has also written some quite dark stories.  She’s a seasonal writer, so her lighter, sunny books have been written when it’s sunny, and her darker books in the dark and gloomy months.

You may not know that she’s also written books for younger readers (aged 12 years and up) called Runemarks and Runelight.  Joanne started writing from the minute that she realised books weren’t enough, and she would write continuations of stories she loved and would bring her favourite characters back to life in new stories.  When she was first published she told her publishers that they were never to give her a deadline and never to tell her what to write.  Something that I found really interesting was that nearly all of her books have been published out of sequence and giving readers the illusion that she writes a book a year (which she doesn’t). If you follow her on Twitter @JoanneChocolat, you’ll know all about her writing shed, which has its own personality (and has more followers than her).

The hour flew by and I could have listened to Joanne talk for another hour. I highly recommend Joanne’s books, especially Lollipop Shoes and Runemarks, and they’re all available in the library for your reading pleasure.

Christchurch children meet local legends

The GeoDome was filled with the excited chatter of Christchurch school children this morning as The Press Christchurch Writer’s Festival kicked off with the Read Aloud Schools Programme. Children from around the city got the chance to come along and listen to stories from three of our best local writers, Gavin Bishop, Kate De Goldi, and Rachael King.

Kate De Goldi was up first and she told us all about her new book, that’s coming out in October, called The ACB with Honara Lee. Like her other novels, her latest story is set in Christchurch, and the Beckenham Loop in particular. She describes it as an ABC book within a story, that’s set in an old people’s home (hence why the title is slightly mixed up). Kate came up with the idea after our earthquakes left cracks, not just in our roads and homes, but also in our community. This got her thinking about the cracks in the memories of old people. Kate found the idea of setting an alphabet book in an old people’s home interesting, because it’s putting something that is very orderly in a place that certainly isn’t. The main character in the ACB with Honara Lee, Perry, is a girl who wants to have younger people to hand out with (rather than just her boring parents) and less to do after school, but she ends up making friends with the old people at her grandmother’s rest home.  Most can’t remember her name or the ABCs, but they know she always brings good baking.  I love Kate’s books, especially The 10pm Question, and I can’t wait to read this interesting new story.

Local legend, Gavin Bishop, talked about how he finds himself looking back into the past more and returning to his childhood when writing and illustrating his stories. Gavin grew up in Kingston in the 1950s, where there were only a few houses, a school (with only 12 students) and a pub. He has captured some of his memories of his childhood in Kingston in his wonderful book, Piano Rock. He read one of the stories from Piano Rock, the only story in the book that he ‘made up’ and told a funny story about his younger brother, who his parents found in the cabbage patch.  Gavin also brought along his tattered old teddy bear, who used to follow him everywhere when he was growing up.

Rachael King is used to talking to large groups of adults at book festivals, but this was her first time talking to a whole audience of children. After asking that the children laugh at all her jokes, Rachael told us about her wonderful new book, Red Rocks. She mentioned that she dedicated the book to her two young boys, and when she excitedly showed them the dedication, they were more interested in getting back to Cartoon Network. Rachael is fascinated by the myths of the selkie (seals that shed their skin on land and become human) and so she decided to write a selkie story set in New Zealand. Red Rocks is one of my favourite books of 2012 and you can read my review on the Christchurch Kids Blog.

The children who came along for the session really enjoyed meeting the authors and hearing all about their stories.  My favourite part of the morning was seeing crowds of children queuing up to get their autographs at the end, and hearing several children begging their teachers, librarians and parents to get copies of the books that were talked about.  Thanks to the organizers for a great event!


Writer’s festivals aren’t just for adults

There is a great line-up for The Press Christchurch Writers Festival this year, and not just for adults.  Christchurch school children get the chance to listen to some of our best writers read their stories aloud, and some of our international guests are just as well-known for their children’s stories as they are for their adult novels.

John Boyne, Joanne Harris and our own Rachael King are all fantastic writers who write unique and interesting stories, both for adults and children. John Boyne is probably most well-known as the author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and in the last couple of years John has also written two stories for children, called Noah Barleywater Runs Away and The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brocket.  John is also known for his adult novels, including The House of Special Purpose and The Absolutist.

Joanne Harris is known for her adult novels, including Chocolat and Five Quarters of an Orange, but many of you may not know that she has also written two teenage novels featuring Norse gods, called Runemarks and Runelight.

Our very own local author, Rachael King, has also recently published her first children’s novel, called Red Rocks, which is just as amazing as her adult novels, The Sound of Butterflies and Magpie Hall.

As well as the sessions with these authors I’ll be attending the Read Aloud Schools Programme (featuring Gavin Bishop, Rachael King and Kate De Goldi) and the Why YA? panel, where John Boyne, Jane Higgins and Helen Lowe will discuss Young Adult literature as a genre.  I’m also very excited to be interviewing John Boyne about his books for young readers and his writing.

Follow our pre-, during, and post-Festival words:

Should authors experiment?

In the past few years there have been many adult authors trying their hand at writing books for children and teens.  Just because they’re best-selling adult authors doesn’t always mean they will write best-selling (or even good) books for younger audiences.

Clive Cussler, for example, has written dozens of books for adults and is an author who is always on our best-seller lists. However, back in 2006, he released a book for children called The Adventures of Vin Fiz.  It was so condescending and old-fashioned that I gave up after a few pages.

John Grisham is another adult author who recently turned to Young Adult fiction, with his Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer books.  I haven’t tried it myself (I couldn’t bring myself to do so), but the reviews have been pretty bad all round.

There are equally as many adult authors who have written some amazing books for children and teens.

Should authors experiment or should they stick with what they’re good at?  What do you think?

Join the fun at the 2011 Storylines Free Family Day

The Storylines Free Family Days are held every year throughout New Zealand to celebrate the amazing, extremely talented authors and illustrators that we have in our country.  This year the Christchurch Free Family Day is being held at Cobham Intermediate School, 294 Ilam Road, Burnside on Sunday 21 August, from 10am-3pm.  It’s a chance for you and your children to meet some fantastic New Zealand authors and illustrators, including:

And some very special guests…

Your children could get their favourite author’s autograph, listen to them talk about their books and read some of them, or enter the Storylines competition.  It’s totally FREE, so come along with your family and join the fun.  You can download the programme from the library website or grab one from your library.

Two authors = one breathtaking story

CoverIt’s no secret that I think Patrick Ness is a brilliant author (I’ve written many blog posts about it).  His Chaos Walking Trilogy is one of those stories that really struck a chord with me and the characters and their world will stay with me for a long time.  The books in the trilogy have won various awards in the world of children’s literature, including the BookTrust Teenage Prize, the Guardian Award, the Costa Book Award, most recently the final book, Monsters of Men won the prestigious Carnegie Medal.  When the Chaos Walking Trilogy came to an end last year, I was looking forward to reading whatever Patrick Ness wrote next and thankfully I didn’t have to wait very long.

Patrick’s next project was to write a story based on the ideas of another brilliant author, Siobhan Dowd, who had passed away from breast cancer in 2007.  Siobhan had the characters, premise and beginning and it was up to Patrick to turn it into a story. Being both a fan of Patrick’s and Siobhan’s writing, I eagerly anticipated their story A Monster Calls.

And boy, what a story it is!  Night after night, Connor is woken by the same nightmare, “the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming.  The one with the hands slipping from his grasp, no matter who hard he tried to hold on.”  It is one night, after waking from this nightmare, that the monster arrives, twisting to life from the yew tree in the graveyard.  The monster comes to offer Connor a deal; it will tell Connor three stories, but then he must tell the monster a fourth story, and it must be the truth.  However, Connor’s mum is very sick and the truth is the thing that he fears the worst.

I really can’t explain how amazing A Monster Calls is.  Before you even start reading the book, you just need a few minutes to marvel at how beautiful it is.  Walker Books have put so much love into the design, from the dust-jacket and the cover,  to the stunning illustrations spread throughout the book by the very talented Jim Kay.  The story itself is breathtaking and you’ll go on a roller-coaster of emotion as the monster guides Connor towards the truth.  I especially liked the three stories that the monster tells and I hope that Patrick Ness writes more short stories like these.

Grab a copy of A Monster Calls from the library now.  Trust me, you won’t regret it.

All I Ever Wanted by Vikki Wakefield

My favourite quote from one of the greatest books of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird, is:

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

I was reminded of this quote while I was reading a wonderful book by debut Australian author, Vikki Wakefield.  Her book, All I Ever Wanted is the story of Mim, who is growing up in the suburbs.  She knows what she wants and where she wants to go – anywhere but home, with her mother who won’t get off the couch and her brothers in prison.  She’s set herself rules to live by, like ‘I will finish school, I will not drink alcohol, I will not be like everybody else, and I will not turn out like my mother.’   However, things aren’t going to plan; drug dealers are after her, her best friend isn’t talking to her, and the guy she likes is a creep.  Over the nine days before her 17th birthday, Mim’s life turns upside down.

All I Ever Wanted is a brilliant debut from Vikki Wakefield and I’ll eagerly await her next book.  I loved the character of Mim, whose voice was original and authentic.  Even though her life is tough, she stays true to herself and is determined not to turn out like the rest of her family.  The thing that really makes this book so great is the other people we meet who are a part of Mim’s life.  There’s the vicious, dodgy Mick Tarrant (who beats his family and his dog Gargoyle), her neighbour Mrs Tkautz (the grouchy woman who everyone thinks is a witch), Lola (the shy girl who lives next door), and Kate (the straight-laced sister of Jordan).  When Mim actually gets to know them she realises she has misunderstood them and maybe they aren’t so bad after all.

Mim and the cast of characters in All I Ever Wanted will stay with you long after you’ve finished her story.      

Picture books to brighten your day

CoverOn a cold, dark and miserable winter’s day,  reading and sharing picture books is one of the best things to brighten up your day.  The words bounce, float, and soar along the page and the illustrations can transport you to places far, far away.  The good thing about picture books is that they almost always have a happy ending that leaves you smiling.  Here are a couple of fantastic new picture books:

Hester and Lester is the latest book by award-winning New Zealand author, Kyle Mewburn and  it’s beautifully illustrated by Harriet Bailey,  the winner of the inaugural Storylines Gavin Bishop Award for Picture Book Illustration.  The book is about big sister Hester who finds her brother, Lester sitting sadly in the forest.  She tries to cheer him up and so they go on an imaginary adventure in the forest, building a castle, filling it with gold and jewels and assembling a troop of snail soldiers.  This is a great story about siblings and using your imagination, with beautiful illustrations that highlight our special flora and fauna.

CoverWaiting for Later is the new book by Tina Matthews, author and illustrator of the award-winning Out of the Egg.  Nancy is bored so she goes to each of the members of her family to ask if they will play cards, come for a swing, or tell her a story, but they all say ‘Later.’  Nancy decides to climb a tree to wait for later, when her family will have time for her.  In the tree she sees her mother ‘wondering up words and writing them down,’ and hears the little creatures in the tree and the autumn leaves saying ‘We will tickle you, until you wriggle and giggle.’  I loved this sweet story with all the descriptions of the things Nancy sees and hears, and the wood cut and stencil illustrations are stunning.

We have heaps of amazing picture books for all ages that you can borrow from your library.
You’re never to old to enjoy them and they’re perfect for sharing.

Remembering the future

CoverMy way of escaping from our shaky city is to dive into a book and live someone else’s life.  Even if you’ve got no power you can curl up on the couch in a blanket and read about how other people cope with difficult situations, watch them fall in love, go on an adventure or solve a mystery.  One particular book I’ve read recently is about something that I’m sure we’d all love to do at the moment – forgetting the past.

Forgotten is an amazing new book by Cat Patrick, about a girl who can remember her future, but not her past.  Every morning at 4:33am, London Lane’s mind resets and her memories of the previous day are wiped.  London explains her condition:

I see the future in flashes, like memories.  I remember what I’ll wear tomorrow, and a car crash that won’t happen til this afternoon.  But yesterday has evaporated from my mind – just like the boy I love.

I’m sure it’s blowing your mind right now, trying to figure out how that would work.  I was slightly confused for the first couple of chapters, but then got drawn into the story and wanted to find out how she dealt with knowing the future.  Every night before she goes to sleep she has to write down what happened during the day so that she can remember it for tomorrow e.g. what clothes she wore, what homework she has to bring to school, and why her best friend isn’t talking to her.  There’s also the problem of remembering her boyfriend, because she can’t remember him from the previous day, but she doesn’t have any memories of him in her future either.

Forgotten is one of those books that keeps you thinking and wondering from start to finish.  Just like London, you’re trying to piece together bits of the past and the future to try and figure out how it’s going to end.  You may think that it sounds like science fiction but it’s not (I’d love to know how Cat came up with the idea though).  Cat Patrick’s writing is really unique and she’s created characters that teens will relate to.  I’m just glad that my mind doesn’t wipe clean every day so that I can remember this amazing book.