On your bike! – Go by bike day 2017

A.E. Preece Cyclists' Exchange [ca. 1885]
Cyclist waits patiently for his muffin.
A.E. Preece Cyclists’ Exchange
[ca. 1885] File Reference CCL PhotoCD 1, IMG0039
Go by bike day is tomorrow. Surely a person doesn’t need more inducement to hit the road, powered by their own legs, enjoying a form of transport that’s good for their fitness and their wallet… but a free coffee and a muffin at the traditional Go By Bike Day Breakfast doesn’t hurt, does it?

This year the location of the breakfast is 597 Colombo St, on a Life in Vacant Spaces lot at the St Asaph St corner and all cyclists can enjoy the aforementioned free breakfast thanks to a range of cycle-friendly sponsors.

I’ve been to several of these events in the past and it’s always a good opportunity for a bit of sly perving of bikes (and associated accessories) as the concentration of other cyclists gives you a really good view of all the different kinds of cycles and cyclists that ride around in Christchurch.

In fact, the whole month of February is a good time to be out on a bike, and not just because the weather is generally pretty good. The Aotearoa Bike Challenge encourages you to get on a bike, even if it’s only for 10 minutes and to try and rack up some mileage. It’s super easy to register, then you log all your rides, can set yourself goals to achieve – “burn off a glass of wine” for instance – and compete against your co-workers.

I am registered and it is strangely addictive. Even relatively short trips of a kilometre or two really do add up if you’re riding every day. Also, there are prizes up for grabs. And if you’re new to the whole cycling thing, they’ve got really helpful tips about riding to work, bike maintenance and other relevant topics.

Learn more about cycling

In our catalogue

Cover of Urban cycling Cover of The official New Zealand road code for cyclists Cover of Everyday cycling in Aotearoa New Zealand Cover of Bicycling an introduction

On the web

  • Bikewise Information about bikes for kids and adults. Bike safety, choosing a bike, maintenance, and more.
  • Cycling in Christchurch News, information and events for Christchurch cyclists
  • Cycling (Christchurch City Council) Information on cycleways, bike parks and cycle safety.
  • Spark Bikes Bike Share A two year pilot to promote bike share as a part of the city’s transport mix.  Borrowable bikes availabe at 5 central city stations.
  • Bikes on buses Information on using Metro’s bus-mounted bike racks
  • RAD bikes (Recycle a Dunger) Bike need some work before it can hit the road? Help is at hand with parts, tools, and instruction on bicycle maintenance and repair.

Summer reading, had me a blast

So, what usually happens with me over the summer is I drag a big pile of books and DVDs home and then I do an average to poor job of getting through them all over the Christmas and new year break, because even though I might not necessarily be at work, there’s still plenty to do at home (taking the Christmas tree down, letting the 3 year old help, cleaning up after that disaster and so on…)

This year I had the misfortune of getting a cold in the new year that turned into a chest infection and necessitated quite a bit of lying in bed feeling sorry for myself. Which as everyone knows is the perfect time to get some reading done. Here’s what I managed to rattle through as a result *cough*.

Cover of American GodsAmerican Gods – As recommended by Pickle Bronwyn, this is a great read. It spans a great many topics – Norse mythology, theology, Americana, First Nations beliefs – and it’s also kind of a road-trip novel. Engrossing and enjoyable.

Like a Queen – To say Aussie writer and mum Constance Hall is a phenomenon is not overstating the case. Her posts on parenting and relationships and the importance of building other women up rather than tearing them down are massively popular, largely due to Facebook. In only a couple of years she has recruited a legion of fans (or “Queenies”) from all walks of life who love her brash, no-BS yet tender approach to modern womanhood. Her book is more “hippyish” than I usually go for but it’s brutally honest and raw too which is very affecting. A great, affirming read for harangued and under-appreciated mothers.

Cover of You can't touch my hairYou can’t touch my hair: And other things I still have to explain – Phoebe Robinson made a fan out of me within about three pages. She’s wickedly funny, scathing and more than a little bit goofy while tackling pretty important issues like racism and sexism. I learned a lot about African American hair from this as well as what sexism looks like to a female actor/comedian. I LOVED this book (even though I cannot fathom why she put The Edge at the top of her “which order I would have sex with the members of U2 in” list. The Edge. REALLY?). It’s a humorous mixture of pop culture, social awareness and general badassery. Highly recommended.

Cover of Talking as fast as I canTalking as fast as I can – Actor Lauren Graham’s memoir is a lot like what you imagine her personality to be – considered and cheerful with plenty of quips, non sequiturs and tangential observations. It’s a must-read for Gilmore Girls fans and recommended companion reading if you’ve recently watched the rebooted “A year in the life” series. Don’t read this expecting to get the low down on any Hollywood scandal though. No careers are ruined. No beans are spilled. But it is a light, amusing read that makes me keen to check out her first novel (a second is in the works) as well as her screen adaptation of The Royal We. There’s also a handy “writing process” guide borrowed from another writer included that I may well put into use. Also, how much is that cover photo crying out for some book-facing? So. Much.

Exhibit A.

Cover of The world according to Star WarsThe world according to Star Wars – I am a sucker for any book that indulges my desire to ponder the many facets, nooks and crannies, and minutiae of the Star Wars universe. And Cass Sunstein, one of America’s most highly regarded legal scholars, obviously feels the same since he wrote this book, seemly to fill that exact niche. It’s a mixed bag (the section on the U. S. constitution was a bit tenuous, in my opinion) but there are plenty of opportunities to ponder the meanings, symbolism and politics of this most popular of sci-fi series’ and to view it through a variety lenses. Recommended for fans.

 

Book to film: The Changeover

Cover of The ChangeoverMargaret Mahy’s young adult novel, The Changeover was already several years old when I first picked up a worn copy in my high school library at the age of 15.

I was so taken with it that even before I had finished reading it I was re-imagining it in my head as a movie.

In that peculiarly obsessive way that teenage girls sometimes are about their favourite things my mania lead me to imagined locations and camera angles, and I had a very long list of songs to be included in the soundtrack. Most of which, upon reflection, were terrible.

When Margaret Mahy died in 2012, I felt moved to write a heartfelt blog post about how important her writing, and this book in particular, had been to me.

A couple of years later at a WORD Christchurch panel discussion on The Changeover, I learned that a film of the book was in development and felt conflicted in that way that book fans often do. Because how could that film ever live up to the book, or indeed my own imaginary movie of it?

Stuart McKenzie is, with his wife Miranda Harcourt, co-director of that film which recently finished shooting here in Christchurch.

The Changeover directors Miranda Harcourt and Stuart McKenzie
The Changeover co-directors Miranda Harcourt and Stuart McKenzie. (Image credit: Dean McKenzie)

Perhaps not fully understanding the degree of my fangirl obsession, he agreed to answer some questions about what their version of Mahy’s story will look like.

Margaret Mahy wrote a number of terrific books for young adults – what made you want to film The Changeover particularly?

We felt The Changeover was really cinematic. It’s a supernatural thriller about a troubled teenager who’s got to change over and become a witch in order to save her little brother from an evil spirit. So, it’s got a great central conflict! And its genre is very clear — yet at the same time it puts this compelling twist on it by feeling very naturalistic.

Its themes of love, loss, sacrifice and change are primal. Laura Chant feels like a real person — she struggles with herself and her kind of dispossessed place in the world, but she’s got big dreams. In other words, she’s a complex and powerful heroine who our audience can really identify with!

Another thing that made the book feel so cinematic for us was Christchurch. We updated Margaret’s story to contemporary, post-earthquake Christchurch. For us, the brokenness and reconstruction of Christchurch is like a visual metaphor for Laura’s own damage and subsequent transformation.

The Chant home set
The Chant family home in the Red Zone (Image credit: Dean McKenzie)

The book (and Margaret Mahy herself) are very beloved, by me and many others. Does that place extra pressure on you to do a good job with the film?

All along we’ve wanted to make something Margaret would love: raw and lyrical, tender and tough and true. We wanted to keep the story feeling very contemporary, as the book itself was when it was first published in 1984. Like Margaret, we wanted to find the magic in the real world, not drift away into fantasy.

We were lucky to have Margaret’s blessing from the start. Before she died, she read and loved an early draft of the screenplay. So that was a great feeling to carry through the development of the project and into the shoot itself. She really encouraged us to find the spirit of the story and not be bound by the literal form of the book. We had this quote in mind by the great French film director Jean Renoir, “What interests me in adaptation isn’t the possibility of revealing the original in a film version, but the reaction of the film maker to the original work.”

I guess you could think of the book and the film as two reflecting worlds — much in the same way that Laura herself discovers the connectedness between two powerful realities — magic and the everyday — and finding in fact that they’re really one and the same.

Margaret was always clear that Laura’s changeover into a witch is a metaphor for her becoming a young woman, an active journey to embrace her own creative power. And Laura’s story itself is a metaphor for the challenges we all face in our lives and the changeovers we all have to go on in order to grow.

Oh yeah, back to the question about doing a good job… Yes, we really feel that! And we’ve still got a lot of work to do in post-production. Helps to have great people to work with, which we have.

On the one hand The Changeover, if you’re familiar with Christchurch, is very recognisably placed here, on the other hand it’s also very vague about where it’s set. The name of the city is never mentioned. The suburbs and street names in it are all made up. Christchurch is certainly its spiritual home, but you could make a very good argument that it’s not a story that needs to be specifically told here, and yet you are telling it here. What made you want to shoot here rather than in Auckland or “Wellywood”?

As you say, Christchurch is the “spiritual home” of The Changeover and we always wanted to make it here. I was born and bred in Christchurch and spent my early teenage years in Bishopdale which Margaret calls Gardendale in the book.

The Changeover was welcomed to Christchurch by Ngai Tahu in a moving whakatau — as a production we felt hugely embraced by Christchurch, the people, the Council, the environment itself.

Shooting in central Christchurch
Nighttime shoot in central Christchurch (Image credit: Dean McKenzie)

Miranda and I were determined to film in Christchurch because its flat vistas give the film a unique look. Cinematographer Andrew Stroud and Production Designer Iain Aitken helped us reflect the everyday and often unexpected beauty of the place.

Christchurch also allowed us to explore the division between social worlds which is a key feature of The Changeover. Laura comes from a solo-parent family struggling to make ends meet. By contrast, Sorensen Carlisle lives in an architect-designed home with fine art on the walls and a sense of history and sophistication. The developing romance between Laura and Sorensen means first differentiating and then bridging these two worlds.

Mahy herself described The Changeover as having a lot of folk tale elements – there are “evil” step-parents and an enchanted brother, for instance –  but also that “the city is simultaneously a mythological forest”. Will your film retain those suggestions of a modern day fairy tale?

Yes it does and that is in the very DNA of the story. At heart The Changeover is an emotionally powerful female rite-of-passage keyed into a primal fairy tale tradition. It’s true that those fairy tale elements are more overt in Margaret’s novel.

We wanted the film to feel very contemporary and naturalistic so in our story the fairy tale nature is felt rather than seen. We often thought about Bruno Bettelheim’s groundbreaking study on fairy tale called The Uses of Enchantment. He says, “This is exactly the message that fairy tales get across to the child in manifold form: that a struggle against severe difficulties in life is unavoidable, is an intrinsic part of human existence — but that if one does not shy away, but steadfastly meets unexpected and often unjust hardships, one masters all obstacles and at the end emerges victorious.” That is something we experience through Laura in The Changeover.

In terms of characters, it strikes me that Sorensen Carlisle, at least how he’s written in the book, is something of a contradictory figure – dangerous yet vulnerable, jovial yet dark, aloof yet intense – that must present some challenges when it comes to casting. How difficult was it to find someone who can be all those things in a convincing way?

We had great casting agents in NZ and in the UK. We looked long and hard to cast this film. When we auditioned young UK actor Nick Galitzine we knew we had found our mysterious and compelling Sorensen Carlisle. And Nick and Erana James who plays Laura Chant have a powerful chemistry together. We have always said that this intensity is our special effect!

Reading the book as a teenager it was incredibly important to me that Laura was of mixed racial heritage both in a personal sense, as it was quite unusual to read about someone like me as the heroine of a novel, but also in that it marks her as being different and something of an outsider, which I think adds to her story. I’m really pleased that you’ve cast a part-Māori actress in the role. Was that always the plan?

This was totally important to us too. We love how in the book Laura is part-Maori but Margaret Mahy doesn’t make a big thing about that, it’s simply part of the unique world of the story which in fact helps make it feel universal. It’s true that Laura being part-Maori means that by her very nature she finds herself between two worlds. That’s the journey Laura is on — to open herself to new worlds, new experience.

We looked for many years for our Laura Chant — and we kept coming back to Erana James who we had met early on in our process. Of course, financiers want to cast someone in a central role like this who already has a profile. Erana hadn’t acted in a film before so she was unknown in NZ let alone internationally. But with the support of the NZ Film Commission we made a “tone reel” last year with Erana playing Laura. She was fantastic in it — and the international people involved in the project — like our sales agent and even Tim Spall or Melanie Lynskey — could immediately see that this young woman had something special.

Erana James on set as Laura Chant
Erana James on set as Laura Chant (Image credit: Dean McKenzie)

Could you hope for a better villain than Timothy Spall?

You are so right! But what drew us to Tim in the first place is that he could reveal the humanity in Carmody Braque. It’s this which makes him such a powerful adversary for Laura — because there is something of Braque in Laura herself. A desire to live more fully and expand her horizons.

We are so lucky to have Timothy Spall in The Changeover. He is mesmerising. I think Margaret Mahy would have been thrilled!

It’s clear from his answers that Stuart McKenzie is as much a fan of The Changeover as I am, so I feel much more relaxed about the movie adaptation now.

In addition to the film coming out late next year, McKenzie says there will also be a movie tie-in reprint of the (currently out of print) book. So roll on 2017!

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Word for WORD: Quotes of the festival

Literary festivals are wonderfully educational things. If you open your ears and listen, seemingly the wisdom of the world will made available to you.

And some of it is quite pithy too. Now that the extended programme events have been completed we’ve gathered together our favourite quotes from the writers and thinkers of WORD Christchurch 2016. Read and receive their wit and/or wisdom.

On Writing

“To create Lena, I took elements from a wide range of … characters and sources. These were the disparate, disconnected limbs and organs I harvested and stitched together to make my monster. It was my job to add flesh and skin, and then to animate her.” Tracy Farr

“You’re writing fiction; take liberties.” Tracy Farr

“We have over-simplified things for children. Children’s sentences need to be longer. We need more semi-colons.” Kate de Goldi on writing for children

“Writing is a form of changing energy into words.” John Freeman

“The worst place for creativity is a desk. I need to be out-and-about stealing ideas!” Alice Canton on creativity

“I wanted to create a journal of stories that would silence a dinner party.” John Freeman on his new journal Freeman’s

Andy Griffiths
Andy Griffiths. WORD Christchurch event. Friday 16 September 2016. Flickr File Reference: 2016-09-16-IMG_6102

“Do I have any chips for writers? No, I don’t share my chips.” Nobody can grab Andy Griffiths’ ghost chips.

“My job as a writer is to stop my characters from solving problems.” Andy Griffiths

Politics

“You get tragedy and farce in all of life – and politics is a part of life” Peter S. Field on the US Presidential race.

“His plans for being president don’t seem like those of someone who thought about being president for more than an hour…” Steve Hely on Donald Trump.

Toby Manhire with Steve Hely
Toby Manhire with Steve Hely, WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Friday 26 August 2016. Flickr File Reference: 2016-08-27-IMG_2495

“You want boring people in government. You want outrageous people on TV.” Steve Hely on what makes a good politician.

“Politics doesn’t just happen in parliament – it affects lives. Laws aren’t made in a vacuum” Fiona Kidman

“A world without intelligent discourse gets you Trump and Brexit.” Duncan Greive tells it like it is.

“It’s like watching a political version of the O.J Simpson trial.” Dr Amy Fletcher regarding the Trump/Clinton political situation and its polarizing effect.

“I venture to suggest that a man who dyes his hair is a man not to be trusted” Peter Bromhead referring to Prime Minister John Key

Womanhood

“I don’t think men should read my book” Jodi Wright dismisses a male reviewer who used the words “sex slave”.

“My body is not an apology” Tusiata Avia reads from her poem.

Tusiata Avia at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala
Tusiata Avia at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala, WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Friday 26 August 2016. Flickr File Reference: 2016-08-26-IMG_5772

“There’s not a lot of money in feminism.” Debbie Stoller

“I find it hard to have respect for people who say they are not feminist” Debbie Stoller

“Because wanting equality as a human being is exactly like the Holocaust” Tara Moss on the term “feminazi”

That’s different…

“Do what works for you, however weird it seems.” Tracy Farr on weirdness

“Magazines smell really good; the Internet doesn’t” James Dann is not wrong.

James Dann and How to start a magazine panel
James Dann and How to start a magazine panel, WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Sunday 28 August 2016. Flickr File Reference: 2016-08-28-IMG_5849

“I’ve watched a lot of porno on tape…” the start of an audience question at the No sex please we’re teenagers session.

“New Regent Street – a time period that has never existed in New Zealand” The Unicorn

“I appreciate this dystopian polemic, sir, but is there a question?” Kim Hill to a persistently long-winded audience member.

“When it is someone you love, a bit of decomposition doesn’t matter.” Caitlin Doughty on dealing with our own dead.

“Being “othered” is something that pervades your daily life in New Zealand.” Alice Canton

“I know it’s after 10pm and Christchurch, emphasis on the Christ…” The Unicorn

Channelling Oprah

“Community is a social lifeboat…” Justin Cronin on disaster response and community

“A child is a deal you make with the future.” Justin Cronin

“We raise our voices, not shouting but singing” David Levithan

“Use your powers for good” Ivan Coyote

Ivan Coyote at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala
van Coyote at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala, WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Friday 26 August 2016. Flickr File Reference: 2016-08-26-IMG_5775

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Reading favourites – WORD Christchurch

Is there anything so satisfying as introducing someone to a book that you love? In librarianship it certainly falls under the categories of both personal passion and professional responsibility (see our own Staff Pickles for examples). And the Reading Favourites session at WORD Christchurch yesterday had a similar vibe – of reading enthusiasts, well, enthusing.

Renowned New Zealand children’s author, David Hill; editrix of Tell you what, and comparative literature PhD, Jolisa Gracewood; and author and founder of the Academy of New Zealand Literature, Paula Morris, all took the stage to wax lyrical about their favourite New Zealand reading. Poet Chris Tse was also supposed to be part of this panel but was unable to attend due to illness. A shame, and it would have been good to have another, and yes I’m going to say it, younger voice in the mix but it was still definitely a session worth attending regardless.

Things kicked off in a jovial manner with Paula relating the ridiculous predicament of having flushed her reading glasses down the toilet and having to make do with some hastily bought, budget ones.

And then, because it’s National Poetry day, each read a short poem, Jolisa and David both choosing pieces from well-worn copies of 100 New Zealand Poems edited by Bill Manhire. This is a collection that Jolisa called “subversive” due to its lack of attribution of the poems unless… you refer to the index, a device that perhaps forces the reader to engage with the poem on its own merits.

I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve already forgotten the name of the 4 line poem that Jolisa recited, but do clearly remember that I liked it, and can accurately report that David Hill’s choice was The Adorable Thing about Mozart by Elizabeth Smither.

Paula Morris encouraged us all to read some other piece of poetry for ourselves, preferably out loud (or possibly in public), reflecting that “…you can do anything in Christchurch these days…”

Well not quite, but surely, on a wild and wet winter day a verse or two of Hone Tuwhare, either whispered or shouted at the sky wouldn’t be considered too transgressive?

Cover of Wednesday's childrenJolisa’s first choice of favourites was Wednesday’s children by Robin Hyde. Her copy of this novel about a woman who wins the lottery and “lives as she pleases” has its own story. It was bought here in Christchurch at a library book sale and still retains its borrowing slip, and cards in a pocket at the back. Initially it went unread (by her) for quite some time and it wasn’t until a boyfriend of Jolisa’s started reading it and really enjoyed it that it came back onto her radar – a unexpected surprise of a read.

Wednesday’s children set in the 1930s and is about women, women on welfare, and women with children – all things that are as relevant now as they ever were. Though sadly it is no longer in print (so get a reserve on a library copy if you fancy trying it).

cover of From the cutting room of Barney KettleDavid Hill’s first choice was much more current, namely last year’s From the cutting room of Barney Kettle by Kate De Goldi. David admitted it made him both weep and laugh and said that De Goldi’s writing was “crystalline” and sharp. Moreover the adults in it are depicted as “fallible, real human beings and not caricatures”. He said he was “honoured to be thrashed by her in the children’s book awards”.

Jolisa’s second choice for favourite read was by another Christchurch author, this time Margaret Mahy, and her young adult novel The Tricksters.

Cover of The trickstersSet in the general vicinity of Lyttelton Harbour, Jolisa went into movie trailer voiceover mode describing its tagline as “The Christmas it all fell apart…”. It’s a story about a family and an earth-shattering revelation but it also has elements of the supernatural. Even as a confessed rationalist she still enjoys books that “ask you to take on faith that there are other worlds…” which is something we have in common. I can’t abide notions of magic or “woo” in real life yet find this not only permissible but desirable in fiction.

This book too, is sadly out of print, but Jolisa’s hope is that with the film of The Changeover (based on Mahy’s novel) being made, other “adjacent” Mahy young adult fiction will receive renewed interest. (If we’re casting votes, may I also suggest The Catalogue of the Universe and Memory? Please and thank you.)

Cover of Going westDavid Hill’s second choice was Maurice Gee’s Going West. He described Gee as very “modest” and the least “show-off” writer he knows, and described a tension between his quiet style and the quite shocking events that unfold. In fact, he’s so good that “I’m not even jealous”. Happily Going West is still in print, and via someone in the audience, who presumably has the inside line on things Gee, we learned that there will be a new young adult novel out in February 2017.

Digressions were common (and welcome – at least by me) throughout the session, and Paula Morris’s reflection that Gee’s novels being set in Henderson, where she grew up, meant something led into the question of whether or not New Zealand writers should include New Zealand place names in their work. What if it’s jarring or too “foreign” for non-Kiwi readers? Apparently these are questions that publishers want to know the answers to, as David Hill has been asked this himself.

I liked Paula Morris’s sarcastic remark on this that readers would surely be completely bewildered – “I thought this was happening in London… but apparently it’s Taihape…”

Well, quite.

David Hill went as far as throwing the question to audience member Ted Dawe aka “another author who beat me in the children’s book awards”, who said that he didn’t like to be too specific about anything in his books, but even so the US version of Into the river has a 130 word glossary, providing meanings for every Māori word used, for instance.

Cover of The book of famePaula Morris also picked two favourites, the first being The book of fame by Lloyd Jones, a really funny book that nevertheless got sneering reviews in the UK but which “everyone I’ve ever recommended it to has really loved it”.

She also recommended Māori boy by Witi Ihimaera which, as a memoir, is necessarily “full of lies” but is “searingly honest” as well.

The session veered off at the end towards discussing the eternal question of why people don’t read more New Zealand fiction. Kiwi authors do well with children’s books but somehow this doesn’t translate to adult readers.

Jolisa suggested that being forced to read something at high school in an “eat your veges – this is good for you” kind of way could harden a reader against particular writers, and I must admit I still bristle at the suggestion I read any Janet Frame again, ever. So I think there may be some truth in that.

Paula Morris in particular highlighted some of the odd “prejudices” that create barriers to people reading New Zealand fiction – the notion that it’s all doom and gloom, “man alone” stuff when that’s demonstrably not the case. Would reading one depressing British author put you off reading British authors for life? So why does that seem to apply with local literature?

I couldn’t help thinking that this is very similar to the problem of representation and diversity in media generally. We’re used to what we’re used to and what we’re used to is a particular kind of voice. In movies this has typically been male and white and probably American. But things are slowly changing. Kiwi films are going gangbusters at the box office, ones with indigenous faces and voices, even. And there was a time when a nightly Kiwi soap opera was a risky proposition rather than an institution. Perhaps the next Ghostbusters reboot or Hunt for the Wilderpeople* of New Zealand fiction is just around the corner?

Here’s hoping. In the meantime, we’ve all got some favourites to try.

More WORD Christchurch

*Technically the Hunt for the Wilderpeople of New Zealand fiction is Wild pork and Watercress, but you get my meaning.

Let’s take a walk: A poignant pop-up book about Christchurch

It’s hard to believe but C1 Espresso first opened 20 years ago. In that time they’ve treated patrons to more than just coffee and fancy teas – C1 is known as the kind of place where unexpected things happen. An old sewing machine dispenses drinking water, a sliding bookcase acts as an automatic door, curly-fries are delivered by pneumatic tube and so on, and so on.

C1 Book launch
Artwork from Let’s take a walk

Still, I was surprised to hear they had published a book, even more surprised to hear that the book in question, Let’s take a walk, is their second effort (the first being about growing coffee in the pacific).

I spoke to C1’s Sam Crofskey about Let’s take a walk, in part to try and understand why a café would put together a kids’ pop-up book about the Christchurch earthquakes. It’s an unusual fit.

The motivation comes from a very real place, one that a lot of Christchurch people can relate to, of wanting to move on. And like a lot of things in the genre of earthquake recovery, it didn’t happen overnight.

“We’ve taken four years to do this from a desire to get it right – partly because we’re putting our names to it, partly because of the subject matter,” says Crofskey.

Crofskey and C1 were early returners to the Central City, post-quake. They reopened in 2012 and have been much praised as “heroes of the rebuild” but Crofskey admits that this hasn’t always sit comfortably with him as it seemed to imply that everything was okay with them, as he explains, “our home was in the central city – we couldn’t move on”.

An idea was, if you’ll forgive the coffee-related pun, percolating.

Initially Crofskey enlisted artist friend Hannah Beehre to update the C1 menus with artwork of earthquake damaged city buildings. What she made, drawings of before and after, hacked up and rearranged as collage, were great but there was a problem.

“They were too sad and full-on to have them in the café”, says Crofskey.

So Beehre “softened” the images with the addition of brightly coloured diggers and other demolition vehicles. They added words too. A story grew of “someone who is just trying to explain it (the earthquake) to their kids”.

Crofskey has a young family himself and he even refers to the book as “… an ode to my long-suffering wife and two children”.

Getting the tone of the book right was, he admits, a challenge but he’s happy that “it’s fundamentally a kids’ book”, but one that has things to say that only the adults reading will understand. Poignancy. Loss. Cynicism.

For example, the ending is upbeat, looking towards a shining future… but grown-ups may read it in a different, more cynical way.

“The view of the future is really great – it’s the only picture that’s in full colour – a kind of Wizard of Oz sort of thing. But that’s kind of me taking the piss out of the blue-print and stuff like that.”

Even the choices of which buildings to include in the book aren’t without subtext.

“The Cathedral’s not in it – that’s not a mistake”, says Crofskey making reference to the broken ChristChurch Cathedral as a symbol of a lack of earthquake recovery – an inappropriate choice for a book in which the overriding message is one of moving on and looking forward to the future.

“But kids don’t pick up on that stuff,” says Crofskey drawing parallels with family-friendly films, “it’s like a Pixar movie, is what it is”.

C1 Book Launch 1
Artwork from Let’s take a walk

And get ready to feel things when you open Let’s take a walk, as Crofskey claims “we haven’t had an adult who hasn’t been really upset by it”.

Gosh.

Curious to know more? The Let’s take a walk book launch is on tomorrow, Wednesday, 24 August 6pm and is a free WORD Christchurch event. All welcome.

Sam Crofskey will also be appearing in How Are We Doing, Christchurch?, Fri 26 Aug, 11.15am

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Ten years for King Tuheitia

It does not seem like it’s been over 10 years since the Māori Queen Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu passed away. Ten years since, as a nation, we stopped and watched her tangi live on television, watched as she was carried along the Waikato river in a waka to her final resting place at Taupiri Mountain.

A few months later on 21 August of that year, her son Tuheitia Paki succeeded her and became the 7th Māori monarch.

Koroneihana (coronation) celebrations take place at this time each year at Tūrangawaewae Marae, Ngaruawahia for several days leading up to the anniversary of the coronation.

Waka at the Tainui settlement celebrations, Turangawaewae, Waikato, New Zealand, 22 August 2008
Waka at the Tainui settlement celebrations, Turangawaewae, Waikato, New Zealand, 22 August 2008, Photo by Phillip Capper, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Throughout the week visitors and iwi members will take part in political debates on matters important to the Kingitanga and to Māoridom. Cultural performances, sports competitions, education expo and other festivities also take place. Koroneihana is one of the key events on the Māori calendar.

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La Traviata

Last night I had my first ever opera experience. Although I generally enjoy live music and performance I wasn’t 100% if I would like opera, even with the excellent introduction to the operatic world I got from a bonafide opera singer. I mean, all that warbling and melodrama. Maybe it would be a bit OTT for me?

Violetta and Alfredo
Violetta and Alfredo, Photo by Neil MacKenzie.

But then I remembered that I love stuff that’s OTT. And opera, or at least this one, has it all. Gorgeous ladies in gorgeous costumes, an impressive set bedecked with chandeliers, protestations of love, sacrifice, longing, mortality, familial squabbles… there’s even a guy dressed as a matador at one point. And amazing voices joined together in song. Wow.

And even with the “please don’t leave me!” and “oh, I’m dying of consumption!” histrionics, it was still very moving. I was surprised by that, but shouldn’t have been, because in addition to the singing there is actual acting that goes on too, and I got rather pleasantly swept up in it all.

La Traviata means “The fallen woman” and the plot revolves around Violetta, a French courtesan, a party girl who after resisting for a time, realises that actually the party can’t go on forever. She moves with her lover, Alfredo, to the country and everything’s rosy (literally, the set was covered in roses at this point)…until it’s not. There is heartbreak and anger, shame, and remorse – basically every terrible break-up you’ve ever had.

Verdi’s opera is based on the play The Lady of the Camellias which was itself adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas fils (the son of the Alexandre Dumas who wrote The Three Musketeers). Also known as Camille in the English speaking world, it has been adapted numerous times on stage and film, including a 1984 movie starring Greta Scacchi, Ben Kingsley and Colin Firth. It’s certainly a story that has legs (and some rather annoying gender politics but sometimes you just have to note these things, wish they were otherwise, and move on).

My takeaways from the evening were –

  • I’m a sucker for love stories
  • I didn’t fully appreciate just what a properly trained human voice was capable of. Crikey!
  • I really need a spangled gold bolero jacket
Incredible costumes
Incredible costumes, Photo by Neil MacKenzie

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Everything you wanted to know about opera but were afraid to ask

Confession time. I have never been to an opera.

I’ve seen Shihad play more times than I can remember. I’ve been to performances of “experimental music” that I’d rather not recall. Kapa haka? Count me in. But never opera. Which seems like a bit of an oversight on my part.

La Traviata
NZ Opera’s La Traviata. Image supplied

Luckily NZ Opera are performing Verdi’s La Traviata in Christchurch starting this week and a combination of factors have led to me taking up the challenge of my first ever operatic experience –  namely that I love big, loud live music, getting to dress up, and being inside the restored Isaac Theatre Royal.

But not wanting to dive in without some idea of what to expect I sat down with Christchurch opera singer and member of the “Trav” cast, Amanda Atlas who answered all my silly questions and made me think this opera lark might be quite fun, actually. This is some of what I learned*.

The top 6 things you need to know about opera

  1. It’s not amplified. The singers don’t have any microphone assistance, unlike what you might get with musical theatre, for instance. Opera singers have to be powerful enough to sing over the top of a full orchestra and still be heard. This is why operatic training takes a long time and why the top singers are usually a little older. However…
  2. Opera singers are not all fat. That’s not really a thing. As evidence I offer the cast line-up of La Traviata. Who would have guessed a cartoonish stereotype wasn’t actually realistic?
  3. It’s just like watching a foreign language film, but live. Everything is sung in Italian (depending on the opera – there are operas in German, for instance), but there’s a screen above the stage with “surtitles” so you can follow what’s happening.
  4. There’s an intermission (and there’s a bar). I may have expressed mild concern that the performance is scheduled to start at 7.30pm and doesn’t end until 10pm but Amanda assured me that there would be a break, if for no other reason than the orchestra needs one. Fair enough! Happy to enjoy a mid-opera wine while they rest their talented fingers.
  5. You can wear jeans! Yes, opening night is a bit more glamorous and folk tend to dress up a bit more, but people can and do go to opera in normal street clothes (and nobody boos or throws rotten fruit at them).
  6. It’s not super expensive. Well, some seats are but opera tickets cost about the same as other concerts you might go to (I checked, and indeed, our Weird Al Yankovic tickets from last year cost about the same as those for La Traviata).
Amanda Atlas
Professional opera singer, Amanda Atlas. Image supplied.

Amanda Atlas’ passion for opera is clear whenever she speaks about it… she also completely spoiled the plot of La Traviata by telling me the ending but I’m hoping that won’t matter too much. I will only say that it’s about a French courtesan named Violetta who has consumption and falls in love…

This production of La Traviata is a traditional one – think beautiful costumes and chandaliers. The word Amanda uses is “sumptuous”.

Opera is timeless

…opera doesn’t necessarily have to be reinterpreted because the stories are timeless, it’s all love and relationships generally, and power and sex and betrayal and they’re just great stories, and interpreted by great composers. I’ve always been extremely moved by it and there are some operas that I find difficult to sing because I get so emotional.

It’s full of emotion

It turns out emotion is a big part of the appeal of opera, for both performers and audience.

We want to make the audience feel that emotion and cry…and the music is just glorious and heart-breaking.

The music just captures human feeling and emotion with the naked human voice. Like when you hear a Māori waiata or someone singing at a funeral, there’s this inherent emotion in the human throat when it’s not interfered with and for me, I think that’s what opera can really access in a way that some other things can’t necessarily.

Sometimes it’s like…Game of Thrones?

When it comes to picking favourites, it turns out that emotion also has its part to play, as Amanda explained the difference (for her, at least) between Italian operas and those in German.

Cover of The New Grove Guide to Wagner and His OperasI particularly love Wagner, which is the big, heavy German, crazy “brother-sister incest, and Gods striking down dwarves, and crazy over-the-topness” – it’s Game of Thrones basically… and that’s where my voice sits the most, so that’s my favourite thing to sing.

Also because for me personally when I sing Italian repertoire there’s something about it that actually does really make me emotional and so I sometimes find it more difficult to sing well because I’m…. not staying cold enough to just keep my technique solid. So when I sing Wagner, because it doesn’t get into my soul quite so much as Italian stuff, there’s a slight remove therefore I find it much easier to sing.

The Isaac Theatre Royal has great acoustics

It made me so happy when it reopened and it is wonderful to sing in. We’re really lucky to have it. It’s probably my second favourite theatre in New Zealand. My favourite one, funnily enough, is the Civic Theatre in Invercargill. The Civic Theatre in Invercargill has the best acoustic of any theatre I’ve ever sung in. It’s a very similar looking theatre, same style with the three tiers, but this one’s second.

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*Added opera vocabulary word for fun, “sitzprobe”, literally a “sitting rehearsal”.

WORD Christchurch: Moata’s picks of the festival

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It’s out. The programme for Ōtautahi’s own literary festival, WORD Christchurch. And oh, it is chock full of goodies for anyone wanting to open their brains and fill them with bright, shiny ideas for a few days (25-28 August).

It also takes place in a bright, shiny new building namely in musical sounding The Piano Centre for Music and The Arts on Armagh St, just west of New Regent Street.

The festival programme is a refreshingly broad one that takes in the full scope of that which might fall under the umbrella of “literature”. There’s bound to be something on the schedule to tempt. Here’s my very cut-down wishlist (the full un-expurgated version is exhaustive and exhausting).

Picks of WORD Christchurch 2016

C1 Book Launch 1
Artwork from C1’s book about Christchurch’s quake-damaged buildings

C1 Book Launch: Let’s take a walk (Wednesday 24 August 6pm) C1 Espresso is one of my favourite post-quake places in town and owners Sam and Fleur Crofskey have been positively flabbergasting in their ability to imagine and innovate anything from a front counter clad in Lego to curly fries whizzing past diners in Lanson tubes. So why wouldn’t they also be publishing a book about the aftermath of the quakes? This session is a) free and b) in close proximity to aforementioned curly fries.

How are we doing, Christchurch? (Friday 26 August 11.15am – 12.15pm) If there’s one thing that Christchurch people have grown a taste for it’s talking about ourselves and our post-quake lives. This session will have Sam Crofskey of C1, Robyn Wallace of He Oranga Pounamu, Katie Pickles author of Christchurch Ruptures, Ciaran Fox of All Right? and Bronwyn Hayward. It’s another free event and I’m thinking it’ll make for a good chat to listen in on.

Reading favourites (Friday 26 August 2.15 – 3.15pm) Everybody’s got reading favourites and so do writers. Will Chris Tse, David Hill and Jolisa Gracewood treasure the same Kiwi literature that I do? Only one way to find out. Yet another free event, chaired by novelist and Academy of New Zealand Literature setter-upper Paula Morris.

Kiwi YA author, Ted Dawe
Kiwi YA author, Ted Dawe

No sex please, we’re teenagers (Friday 26 August 5.15 – 6.15pm) Anyone who was fascinated by the “yes it’s censored-no it’s not-yes it is” controversy surrounding Ted Dawe’s YA novel Into the River will want to pull up a pew at this one. Also discussing the vagaries of writing sex for teenage readers are international bestseller David Levithan, and sexual therapist Frances Young. Chaired by YA author Mandy Hager.

The Stars are on Fire (Friday 26 August 7.30 – 8.45pm) Seven writers take turns telling tales of burning passions in the Isaac Theatre Royal. Also John Campbell is there, probably being effusive. That’ll do me.

Read it again! Picture book readings (Saturday 27 August
1 – 1.30pm) As the parent of a toddler I’m always keen to have someone else take a turn with the picture book reading, or to find new books that spark young imaginations. Another free event with readings from Kiwi authors David Hill, and Mary Cowen and Lynne McAra.

Busted: Feminism and Pop Culture (Saturday 27 August 11am – 12pm) Things I’m into – feminism, pop culture. This really is a no-brainer for me as co-founder and editor of Bust magazine, Debbie Stoller talks all things lady with Charlotte Graham.

Cities of Tomorrow: A better life? (Saturday 27 August 5 – 6.15pm) City-building is never far from my mind these days and it’s not even my area of expertise but it is for Barnaby Bennett, Marie-Anne Gobert, Mark Todd and Cécile Maisonneuve. Kim Hill will be leading the discussion.

Duncan Greive of The Spinoff
Duncan Greive, Editor of The Spinoff

The Spinoff After Dark (Saturday 27 August 10 – 11pm) Modern media website, The Spinoff has become my go-to for news, opinion, and entertainment in the last year or so. I expect a rollicking good time at C1 with The Spinoff crew of Duncan Greive, Alex Casey, Toby Manhire and a nominally in charge Steve Braunias. Also, is the name of this session a “Peach Pit After Dark, Beverley Hills 90210” allusion? I like to imagine so…

The State of America (Sunday 28 August 12.30pm – 1.30pm) I went to a similar, identically titled in fact, session at the Auckland Writers Festival. How will this one compare? I’m looking forward to finding out. With three Americans historian Peter S. Field, political scientist Amy Fletcher, and TV writer and novelist Steve Hely there should be a good mix of perspective with journalist Paula Penfold probing for answers on the confusing world of US politics.

Caitlin_Doughty_in_red_evergreen_background
Caitlin Doughty, Author and mortician

Ask a mortician: Caitlin Doughty (Sunday 28 August
2 – 3pm) You had me at the words “funny” and “mortician”. Caitlin Doughty, presenter of Ask a Mortician web series and author of Smoke gets in your eyes and other lessons from the crematory will be part of a morbid discussion with… the Christchurch coroner, Marcus Elliot. Priceless (but not actually, tickets $17 or $19).

The Nerd Degree (Sunday 28 August 5 – 6pm) It’s a podcast. It’s a nerdy pop culture quiz game. It’s humorous and improvised and I do love it and it’s part of the festival. Nerds battle nerds, in this case Brendon Bennetts, ITV science correspondent Alok Jha, YA author Karen Healey, cult film director Andrew Todd and mortician Caitlin Doughty.

There’s actually a heap more things but I’ll probably be lucky to manage these. What are your picks for the festival?