Gavin Bishop: Cook’s Cook book launch

Gavin Bishop, along with Gecko Press and Scorpio Books, launched his latest illustrated book at Tūranga, Cook’s Cook: The cook who cooked for Captain Cook. 2019 will be the 250th anniversary of the visit of the H.M. Endeavour to Aotearoa New Zealand and Bishop’s book offers a fresh perspective on their journey.

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Gavin Bishop at the launch of his new book Cook’s Cook, October 2018, Tūranga

A large audience heard how Bishop spent several years researching for the book, which he says he really enjoyed, but was overwhelmed by the information he found.

One thing that struck him was the number of books that contradicted each other.

His challenge was how to find his own unique angle on the Endeavour story. As he looked through the names of the crew on the boat and their occupations, he began to wonder about the lesser-known members on board and was particularly struck by their curiously one-handed cook, John Thompson.

The story of the crew’s journey is told through food “as a point of context,” explains Bishop, with the cook as narrator. And, as his publisher Julia Marshall from Gecko Press notes “you can tell so many different stories through food—everything is here: culture, class, adventure, humour and much more.”

Cook's CookThe Endeavour was originally the collier Earl of Pembroke and was designed for a crew of just 16 but when it sailed as the Endeavour it had 94 crew on board, packed in like sardines. And the meals were prepared on the mess deck where 74 men slept!

The cooking process on the Endeavour seemed to involve throwing everything together in a pot or bag and boiling it. Bishop says the meat became so rank that it was towed in a net behind the boat to soften it up and every second day was a vegetarian day consisting of Pease Porridge. To avoid scurvy, the cook served up stinky German cabbage. But all was not awful for the men, as it was noted how much booze was aboard the ship.

The book contains a little story about each of the countries the Endeavour visited and explains some of the names of the recipes featured such as Poor Knights Pudding, Stingray Soup, Kangaroo Stew, Dog and Breadfruit Stew and Albatross Stew “which you wouldn’t get away with today.” There were goats, dogs, pigs, sheep, cats and chickens on board. And when the ship crossed the equator everyone aboard, including the cats, were apparently tied to a chair and dipped into the water 3 times in an equator crossing ritual.

Bishop told his audience that there are two stories about the Endeavour that you won’t find anywhere else except in his book. One was told by Pete Beech, whose family was there in Picton when the Endeavour came with Cook, and tells the story of how a Māori woman was tricked into giving her taonga away for a bag of sugar. And the second story comes from an obscure poem that mentions a slave named Dalton on board who was a servant of botanist Joseph Banks. Like the Endeavour, not a centimetre of space in Bishop’s book was wasted, he says, and even the endpapers are full of illustrated facts.

Cover of Aotearoa: The New Zealand story by Gavin BishopAt the book launch, Gecko Press were also celebrating 10 years of working with Bishop, starting with his collaboration for Joy Cowley in illustrating their successful Snake & Lizard. Marshall  said what a treat it is working with Bishop: “Gavin is a true artist and very knowledgeable.” Gavin’s other book published in the past year is the illustratively stunning Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story.

Our Painted Stories

You can see more of Bishop’s work in the Our Painted Stories exhibition at about the presence and importance of local Canterbury settings in children’s literature. Original artworks in the exhibition are from Bishop’s Mr. Fox and Mrs. McGinty and the Bizarre Plant as well as Margaret Mahy’s Summery Saturday Morning.

Mr FoxMrs McGinty and the Bizarre PlantA Summery Saturday Morning

The books and exhibition feature scenes from around Christchurch such as the Edmonds Factory with its ‘Sure to Rise’ signage as well as further afield on Banks Peninsula.

The Importance of Identity

Join international award-winning writer and illustrator Gavin Bishop and invited guests as we explore the Our Painted Stories exhibition and have a conversation about how seeing ourselves and our city in children’s literature helps grow a sense of identity.
Wednesday 24th October 5:30-6:30pm 
Tūranga
Free, no bookings required
Created in partnership with the Painted Stories Trust. 

While visiting Tūranga, Gavin was delighted to discover a picture of his family on our Discovery Wall that even he didn’t have a copy of.

Gavin Bishop, with his youngest daughter Alexandra and his book “Chicken Licken”, 8 June 1984, Reference ID: CCL-StarP-00740A

It is auspicious that just as Gavin Bishop was the first author to have a book launched at the old central library, he is also the first author to launch a book in the new library, Tūranga, 36 years later.

Gavin Bishop at the Mr Fox book launch
18 September 1982 Gavin Bishop, with his book “Mr Fox” which was the first book to be launched at the Canterbury Public Library on the corner of Gloucester Street and Oxford Terrace. Reference ID: CCL-StarP-00739A

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Kōmako: Reclaiming the Māori literary tradition

I’ve discovered a new online tool that I want to tell you about.

Kōmako is an online bibliography of writing by Māori in English, which has grown out of research undertaken by Bridget Underhill at the University of Canterbury. Kōmako lists Māori writing from over the past 180 years, gathers it in one place and makes it publicly accessible. This is extremely helpful for research purposes and gives visibility to some amazing works by both well-known and lesser-known Māori authors.

Kōmako utilizes the wonders of modern technology for the searcher – I can type in my iwi and be returned with a list of available writing on my iwi or I can type in my last name and see a list of my Aunty’s poetry. Anybody accessing this resource can search by author, title or iwi to find fiction, non-fiction or even music by Māori writers to go off and try to find at their local library.

Māori writers are one of my favourite things to talk about and here at Christchurch City Libraries we have a fantastic Ngā Pounamu Māori collection which covers a wide range of topics produced by a variety of sources. While they all have their individual merits Māori authors can give us an insider’s view on Te Ao Māori, which is both valuable and necessary to our understanding of a given topic: we would not ask a lawyer what it’s like to be a doctor, we would ask a doctor. As such the cultural insight provided by the Māori writers listed on Kōmako is a taonga, something to be both cherished and celebrated.

While we’re on the topic, check out some my favourite resources by Māori authors held at Christchurch City Libraries:

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Reading brown: Pacific stories and voices

A little while ago I saw Kiwi author Paula Morris ask on Twitter “Why aren’t you reading brown?”

Which prompted me to feel a bit guilty about how few Māori and Pacific New Zealand authors I read… and then I pretty much forgot about it because life is too short to feel guilty about the books you haven’t read. As a librarian I’m exposed to a constant stream of new and interesting looking titles and (spoiler alert) I read hardly any of them.

But, for a couple of reasons the notion that I should expand my reading into more Polynesian fare stuck.

The main one being that I had a one week holiday coming up during which I could get in some solid novel-reading. The second being that the holiday in question was in Rarotonga (of the aforementioned Polynesia). And thirdly, because I had a couple of titles on my For Later Shelf that were available in time to take the trip with me (sometimes the Atua* of the Holds Lists smiles upon thee).

Cover of Stories on the four winds: Ngā hau e whāMy first holiday read was not a novel at all but a collection of short stories. I always think with short stories that they are less of a commitment than a whole novel. Something that you can move easily on from should it not be to your taste. However Stories on the four winds: Ngā hau e whā was by far the more emotionally gripping and in places gruelling of the two books. In the space of relatively few pages I was drawn into murders, deaths and losses as well as tales of joy, love and connection. I started blubbing before the plane had even landed.

Writers, with their writerly tricks can surprise you, and indeed this was the brief for all the stories in the book (from a variety of well-known and perhaps less well-known Māori and Pasifika writers) – to surprise the reader. So every story has a twist or takes you somewhere you don’t expect. Even though the stories are short, they pack a punch and I found with some of them that I had to take a break between them, to get my bearings again. Standouts for me were the contributions from Albert Wendt, Alice Tawhai, Ann French, Jacqui McRae, K-t Harrison, and Reneé.

Cover of How to party with an infantMy second book was a novel and after the emotional rollercoaster of Stories on the four winds it was a nice change of speed. How to party with an infant by Kaui Hart Hemmings was perfect holiday fare. Hemmings is not a New Zealand writer but she is Hawaiian and I very much enjoyed the film of her first novel, The Descendants. I have so far neglected to read the source novel (more book-related guilt) but thought that this story of a single mother raising a small child in San Francisco would suit me.

It certainly did. The book has a sly sense of humour and uses the mechanism of the protagonist, Mele, listening to and writing the stories her parents’ group friends tell her. There are some really great characters in there, full of anxieties and insecurities – worrying about measuring up to other parents, fitting in, being good enough. As well there’s a bit of light romance of a very grown-up kind because everyone in this book has kids. I liked this book for its knowing jabs at the “Mummy Wars” aspects of parenting whilst celebrating the great, affirming friendships that can grow out of that shared experience.

For other recommendations of “brown reading” do check out Paula Morris’s post Why Aren’t You Reading Brown? for 21 titles by Māori and Pacific writers. Get the Holds Lists Atua on your side and you could be reading one before you know it.

* Te Reo Māori for supernatural being or god.

Fast Five with Gavin Bishop

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.

Gavin BishopToday’s featured speaker is award-winning New Zealand author Gavin Bishop:

What are you most looking forward to when you visit New Zealand for the 2016 IBBY Congress?

I have been privileged to visit many other countries to talk about my work and have always been looked after well. It is my turn now to make the visitors to the New Zealand IBBY Congress feel welcome. I have also been involved through the Painted Stories Trust with mounting an exhibition of NZ illustration for the IBBY Congress. This will be an exciting show featuring 20 of our top illustrators.

What is your favourite memory of libraries?

I love to visit a library with no idea in my mind of what I want to read. I wander along the shelves waiting for something to catch my eye. Suddenly a title, or a particular cover design shouts at me. This is one I will take out to read today.

Cover of Snake and lizardWhat are 5 of your favourite books?

  1. Moa by Quinn Berentson
  2. Cole’s Funny Picture Book No 1
  3. Snake and Lizard by Joy Cowley
  4. The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle by Hugh Lofting
  5. The Cleaner by Paul Cleave. A thriller set in Christchurch. Rather nasty but exciting and not for children.

What do you love most about the world of children’s literature?

I enjoy the support you get as a writer for children. The world of children’s literature is a very encouraging and nurturing one on the whole.

What do you believe is the most important thing that adults can do to encourage children to read?

Read to them from the time they are babies. Make books part of their lives. Throw books into the toy box or into the doll’s pram or the back of a trike.

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Kōrerorero mai – Join the conversation

Waiora: Te ū kai pō – The Homeland

Twenty years ago, Hone Kouka wrote a play for the New Zealand International Arts Festival, set in the 1960s called Waiora. It toured nationally and internationally for several years afterwards and has been staged in places as diverse as the UK, Japan and Hawaii. It is studied in universities and high schools.

Waiora is being restaged in Christchurch at the Court Theatre and I spoke to playwright Hone Kouka about the play. He describes it as “an immigrant story”, specifically that of his own family who moved from north of Gisborne to the Catlins, later settling in Rangiora.

Hone Kouka
Playwright, director, screenwriter and producer Hone Kouka (image supplied)

One of the key phrases for me, was my mum said a few times that it felt like we moved to another country. So it was a really interesting story of being like immigrants in our own country. And yes there were other Māori there… but even so for her going from a community that was predominantly Māori to a community that wasn’t was a major shift.

And my family eventually settled in Rangiora and have pretty much been there for the last 30-odd years. So that’s pretty much the basis of my family, and that’s where the story came from. My dad was a saw miller, and I just wanted to pay a homage, to a degree, to them.

It’s really interesting being here in Christchurch. There are a lot of new immigrants here…

For this reason and others, Kouka feels that Waiora is as relevant now as it’s ever been.

There are a lot of reasons why I said yes to it happening down here, just engaging with the Māori community down here. There are a lot of great artists and yeah, just wanting more art in regards to all the changes that have happened to the city. And it’s great to be partnered with the Court Theatre and they are working really hard to try and engage with Māori here which is just fantastic.

One of the reasons it’s being done here at the Court was that 20 years ago it was done here as well, at the old Court Theatre…

He’s hopeful the play will encourage people, Māori particularly, to discover theatre.

Waiora
Waiora: Te ū kai pō – The Homeland. (image supplied)

Lots of Māori I know would never have been to the theatre before. This (play) is a really great example of something that’s travelled around the world and is lauded over there and bringing it back for our people… It’s been a great experience to be back here.

It’s just an art form that Māori don’t usually associate with and that’s really what it comes down to, and what I’ve found is lots of the shows that I’ve put on around the world, and around New Zealand, once Māori turn up they go, oh yep, this is ours… and it (Waiora) covers a whole lot of things in regards to us as Māori – there’s haka, waiata, reo all through it as well – and that’s one of the things that theatre, because it’s live, can do that books can’t. That you’re actually living and breathing it.

We’ve got kapa haka exponents in the play as well and I wanted to wrap those art forms up. So it’s really bringing together, the strength of Māori all over the place to tell a Māori story.

He goes on to explain that theatre offers something that other media can’t.

I spend a lot of my working world between the film and the theatre industry, and at the moment people want a live experience because they’re constantly in front of screens, and they want, actually, communication with other human beings.

…it’s not like a movie. You can’t talk through it. You can’t turn it over or anything like that – it’s right in front of you. You can hear them breathing. You can see them sweating and people really like that.

Kouka has worked on recent features such as Mahana (based on Witi Ihimaera’s novel Bulibasha) so I asked him if there is much of a difference working in film and working in theatre.

Yeah there is. I was the original screenwriter for it (Mahana) and then I was one of the producers. I prefer theatre to the film industry. And the biggest difference is money, to be honest, as it therefore goes through more people’s hands, and as an artist it’s more diluted – what you create. And that’s why I prefer theatre because you can say exactly what you want to say, how you want to say it, where you don’t have to abide by the finances and things like that. So it’s just more difficult that way.

I feel really lucky that I can move between the two. Mahana and Born to dance are two projects that came out recently that I worked on and I’ve got others coming up as well. So I’m just really lucky that that’s what I do – that I’m an artist who moves between both art forms.

Oh the horizon are another film project, travel, and more indigenous theatre.

Our company’s got a new feature that’s basically, you know the French film Amelie? – it’s a Māori Amelie. I wanted to write something that was light and really colourful, bursting with energy… so that’s where that came from. So I just had a Skype meeting with a financier in Denmark so that’s one of the most recent.

I leave on Saturday to do a theatre project to travel to Vancouver – our company’s got a co-production with 2 Canadian First Nation companies over there, It’s super active at the moment and it’s really on a big upswing, and that’s another reason why I wanted to engage with Christchurch and get the Court Theatre involved because globally there’s a lot of work happening – in Wellington it’s really on a big upswing and upsurge there so it seems to be  a good time to be involved in Māori work and travelling around the globe because they’re very open to it, which is great.

When it comes to libraries he is unequivocally in favour.

I didn’t start reading until I was about 7… and then I went crazy. I love them. For me, it gives me time to think because it’s quiet, most of the time, if that makes sense?

Libraries, they’re essential. They’re great meeting places. They are places of space and thought – that’s really what I associate with libraries. They should be one of the absolutely protected things that we have. It’s important for us to have knowledge and share it and at times the Internet – there’s not always a lot of depth to what you can gain from there – but you can from books. And also I really love the tactile nature of books. I really love them.

Waiora: Te ū kai pō – The Homeland plays at The Court Theatre 13 August – 3 September

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Ranginui Walker: Teller of truths

Cover of Mata Toa: The life and times of Ranginui WalkerAt the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival in 2009, I was lucky enough to attend a session in which Ranginui Walker, academic, historian and biographer shared the stage with his own biographer and friend Paul Spoonley.

Over the course of the hour Walker came across as an intelligent, committed man with a great deal of personal integrity. Someone who never intended to be “the voice of Māoridom” for Pākehā New Zealand but somehow ended up there (and as you can imagine this was not often a comfortable position to be in). He spoke quietly and modestly of his accomplishments while there was no doubt that the courteous and stately manner was underlaid by a steely resolve. This is often the case with people who tell difficult truths.

Cover of Ka whawhai tonu matou: Struggle without endHis contribution to our understanding of ourselves as a country cannot be overstated. His 1990 history of New Zealand from a Māori perspective, Ka whawhai tonu matou: Struggle without end (along with Michael King’s The Penguin history of New Zealand) is a must read for anyone interested in how New Zealand came to be the place it is. It was a revelation to many and is a seminal work, which was later updated to address the Foreshore and Seabed debate. It is still a great and relevant read for all New Zealanders.

He wrote many other books that illuminated some aspect of the Māori experience of Aotearoa from a highly-acclaimed biography of Sir Apirana Ngata to a tribal history of his own beloved Whakatōhea iwi.

Ranginui Walker passed away yesterday at the age of 83. New Zealand has lost a great writer, thinker, and person.

Further Reading

Patricia Grace: On Belonging

Last Sunday I shrugged on a heavy coat and ventured out into a grey and dismal Christchurch morning to hear two New Zealand fiction writers – Paula Morris and Patricia Grace.

The On Belonging session was advertised as exploring themes “themes of nostalgia, memory and belonging” however both women confessed very early in that neither of them had read that particular description before that morning, so things would likely veer off a bit. Writers, eh?

Patricia Grace and Paula Morris
Patricia Grace and Paula Morris. Flickr, 2015-08-30-IMG_0034

But, in fact, some of those themes did come through as Paula Morris encouraged Patricia Grace into remembrance and recollection over the course of the hour. The pair had an easy, relaxed rapport. Patricia Grace, whom I have never had the opportunity to hear speaking in public before, has a calm and softly spoken demeanour. She speaks slowly and thoughtfully.

To start with they spoke a bit about Grace’s background, and the degree to which she grew up in two worlds. That of her father’s family – rural and Māori, compared with the world of her mother’s family – urban and Pākehā. The divide between her life growing up in Wellington “hooning around the streets” with her cousins and crabbing at Mirimar Wharf, and the marae community of her father’s whānau, where she lives now. As a child she enjoyed the environment of sea and bush, with both in close proximity.

In fact, many of the memories she recalled over the course of the hour would factor in the sea, including the passage she read from her novel. I get the impression that Patricia Grace would not be comfortable living in a landlocked country or too far inland. As it is she seems to have a very strong sense of belonging in her seaside community with her brother, cousins and children all living in what Morris compared to a “family compound”.

Chappy

Cover of Chappy

Then they moved on to discussing Grace’s latest novel, Chappy which has several settings, including New Zealand, Japan, Europe and Hawaii. The novel is about Daniel, as he unpicks the story of his Māori grandmother and Japanese grandfather, the “Chappy” of the title.

Grace said “Chappy” grew out of a story she heard from her husband, who is from Ruatoria, about a Japanese shopkeeper who had lived there and was a much loved member of the community, but who was imprisoned on Somes Island during WWII, and then deported, leaving his New Zealand wife and family behind.

As an aside, due to various First World War centenaries this year, I’ve been looking at a lot of contemporary news reporting and this treatment of Kiwi Japanese during WWII is no different than that of New Zealand Germans in the earlier conflict. It seems we always repeat the same behaviours, demonising the enemy (and anything that reminds us of them sometimes, whether it’s justified or not).

Grace started wondering how this man had come to be living there and that formed the seed of what became the novel. The device of having Chappy’s story revealed by other characters was partly due to her belief that she couldn’t adequately convey the mindset and culture of a Japanese character though she felt she could “get into his heart as a human being”.

“Chappy” is Grace’s first novel in ten years, and Morris was at pains to point out this isn’t just laziness.

“People think when you’re a writer and you haven’t written a novel for ten years that you’re just lying around eating bon bons all day.”

In fact, life intervenes. Grace has seven children and a mother who lost her independence – family life does sometimes take precedence over writing novels.

Grace read from Chappy, a passage about sea journeys and stowaways.

Cover of TuThen Morris went on to ask Grace about her earlier novel, Tū (which in Morris’ opinion would make a great movie) and led to her sharing memories of being a child in Wellington during WWII. The American soldiers who gave the kids oranges and chewing gum, the ration books which she though were “cute”. Trams rattling up and down (accompanied by the sound of a tram, rattling past on Worcester Boulevard). The experience of waving her dad off on a military ship so immense she mistook it for a building.

She never intended to write a book about war but found her father’s notebooks and started researching. Her father had never talked about his war experiences (and she had got the impression that he’d never been at the front lines when, in fact, he had) and the stories she had heard from Māori Battalion men, who sang Italian songs, were mainly tales of mischief. Her research revealed otherwise.

Multi-culturalism and te reo Māori

Morris says that Grace is “subversive” and offers one of Grace’s quotes, from 1989, for comment.

New Zealand is a multi-cultural society but you wouldn’t know this from reading our literature.

Does she still feel that way?

Grace thinks that literature and the media have changed since then and technology has helped though she admits “I don’t do technology, really”.

She also has no issue with the novel as a “European form”. “You have to do your own thing,” she says “in the lens of the novel. Make it your own”. Morris believes that published literature is still fairly Pākehā dominated.

Cover of PotikiA comment from the audience led into an interesting discussion about whether Grace is “political”. The questioner says that “Potiki” and its use of te reo Māori really opened doors to the language for her without feeling educative. Was it intentional?

Potiki was published in 1986 and uses some Māori language components. At the time of its release, Māori was not yet an official language of New Zealand (this was achieved, after much campaigning, in 1987).

Accusations were made at the time that this use of te reo was “divisive” and intentionally political. Grace however thought she was just writing about ordinary people. Morris agreed in this saying that when she wrote Rangatira she used Māori words that lots of people would be familiar with, and any that weren’t would be clear from the context…but apparently not everyone agreed. Morris also pointed out that many writers do this and have to defend themselves, people like Junot Diaz who have to explain that “this is how my characters speak”.

Grace says that the only political part of “Potiki” was the absence of a te reo glossary. She’d had them before but felt that “a glossary is what you have for a foreign language”.

“Nobody did a glossary for me when I came across French in a book or anything”. Certainly my own reading experience with The Lord of the Rings novels and even The Chimes, is that it’s not necessarily an impediment to reading if occasional words are in an unfamiliar language (elvish) or specialised vocabulary (music).

It was a shame that the session had to stop just then because I felt that there was more that could have been discussed on that topic, but end it did.

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