Catherine Chidgey and Paul Cleave: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Catherine Chidgey signs my books.

It’s my first day at the fest and it’s a full morning for me with two events one after the other: Catherine Chidgey (Transformations) and Paul Cleave (Crimechurch). Both Kiwi writers and both well known in their respective fields. But how similar/dissimilar are their writing styles? The lights dim, lets find out!

They are both first and foremost writers: This sounds like a really obvious statement to make, but many other participants at festivals are not. They are first adventurers, sportspeople, chefs, politicians or comediennes who later write about those experiences. But Chidgey & Cleave (sounds like an upmarket boutique store written like that) are both individuals who started writing young, and when asked their occupation would be totally justified in replying:”I am a writer”.

Cover of The Wish ChildThey are both internationally known: Catherine Chidgey has strong German roots and has won several UK book awards starting with her first novel In a Fishbone Church (1998). Her well-known novel The Wish Child is due for publication in the States this year. Paul Cleave is an international best selling crime author who divides his time between Christchurch and Europe. He has a receptive readership in both France and Germany and is also (with his next novel) due to break in to the American market.

They both like the creepy and the quirky: Chidgey is drawn to the weird – phrenology, wigs and the weird half-life status of hair, the religious Procession of the Snails in France, her collection of evening bags. Cleave specialises in unforgettably creepy shiver-up-and-down-your- spine characters like Joe in his first novel The Cleaner (2006).  He likes quirky settings too and finds that Christchurch has those aplenty.

But in other ways these two authors are oh-so different.

Research: Cleave hardly does any research. Maybe ten minutes on Wikipedia tops. He does however need to keep an eye on his own writing and research, in a way. This is because he repeats characters in his books, so for the sake of good continuity he needs to check up on exactly what he said about them before. Nowadays he keeps detailed notebooks. Chidgey is a self confessed obsessive. Once she has decided to write on a topic she researches it to the exclusion of all else. Many is the time she has teetered on the brink of the Google Hole fearing that she would end up researching but never actually writing. Now she tries to research and write at the same time.

Personality: Chidgey is an introverted eyes-and-ears person, not that big a contributor to conversations. Cleave is a terrific talker with great rapport with his interviewer and I’d peg him as a high end extrovert. Chidgey draws heavily on family and friends for her inspiration. Cleave never uses the characteristics of friends in any of his books. His family was barely mentioned.

Cover of Joe Victim by Paul CleaveWriting Style: Cleave writes quickly and loves some of his characters so much that he repeats them, like Joe in The Cleaner (2006), who re-appears in Joe Victim (2013). Although his books are stand-alone reads they do loosely form a series. Chidgey writes slowly and contemplatively, sometimes she reworks a sentence 20 times before she gets it right. She had a 13 year gap between Golden Deeds and The Wish Child. Her latest novel The Beat of the Pendulum (2018) was a relatively fast write by her standards because it was written to cover one year of “found events” in her life. If she left long gaps in the writing she could not keep up. It is a challenging but highly creative book.

Here they are in their own words:

Paul Cleave:

My novels are about the characters in them. That’s what you’ll remember long after you’ve finished the book. There are characters that I love so much I want to repeat them in later stories. But I would kill any one of them to progress the story-line. I’m ruthless that way.

Catherine Chidgey:

I want to create something whole and beautiful out of all the white noise, the static, of everyday living.

My first day at WORD 2018, and two very successful writers show that you can never generalise when it comes to writing. There are as many different ways to be an author as there are stories waiting to be written. It was a very good start.

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Try not to lose your head over this series

Murder, history, politics, religious reformation. Watching Queens come and go. Good Catholics  having their saints and idols removed from churches, their monasteries dissolved and monks thrown out into the streets. And all because your Monarch, who you are fast going off, wanted a divorce and it wasn’t granted by the Pope. Oh, and murders and the solving of them of course.

It’s all here in this fabulous series of chunky reads, The Shardlake series.

We join Matthew Shardlake, barrister at Lincolns Inn. It’s 1547. Henry VIII is on the throne and has, with the help of Thomas Cromwell his right hand man, divorced his first Queen and broken away from the Church of Rome.  Matthew is clever, honourable, reliable, a reformer… and a hunchback. Cromwell knows of Shardlake’s reputation as man who can be trusted with confidential matters and who doesn’t give up until he’s sorted it, and has approached Matthew to solve a murder in a monastery that is about to be dissolved. The King’s man has been killed and he wants to know who and why. The times are extremely tenuous; there are spies everywhere. No one is safe. Anyone outspoken on religious matters is likely to end up on the rack. Shardlake just wants a quiet life. Cromwell wants answers. So starts the first book Dissolution.

Cover of Sovereign

I’m not a big fan of mucked about history, so love the way C. J. Sansom weaves his stories around the events of the time. His descriptions of the filth in the streets, the fear of the common people, the conniving of wealthy families, both Protestants and Catholics, manoeuvring their daughters and nieces into the King’s circle in the hope that their family/beliefs will benefit, the buildings, the rubbish rotting on the banks of the Thames when the tide is out, the heads on spikes outside the Tower.  That’s not even accounting for the murders Shardlake and his assistant, Jack Barak, are called on to solve.

For Tudor history its hard to go past Hilary Mantel, author of  Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, who presents us a view from inside the Royal Court and the life of Thomas Cromwell, who started life as a blacksmith’s son and achieved greatness as Henry VIII’s Chancellor. Not forgetting Susanna Gregory who also writes historical mysteries with the protaganist of Matthew Bartholomew.

Having recently sung the praises of these books to my brother (he promptly read one after the other until there were no more) and to several library customers their  response was the same, “read that one, where’s the next?” The Shardlake covers are not enticing but don’t be put off. My colleague Roberta Smith is also a fan as you can see from her blog on Serial killers.

Do you like history? A good murder mystery? Being gripped by a good story? The Shardlake series could be to your taste, methinks.

Already a fan?  What is it that got you reading the series?

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Cool stuff from the Selectors: Fiction news

Who isn’t writing crime and mystery novels these days? If Dickens, Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope were around now, they’d be making sure that murder and detection was the place to be.

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Interesting authors in this field doing the murder route include Jessica Fellowes, (niece of the man who gave the world Downton Abbey), with The Mitford murders,  John Gordon Sinclair (the actor from the much loved comedy Gregory’s girl), has a mystery coming up called Walk in silence and Lottie Moggach, daughter of Deborah, has Under the sun.

Aside from promising crime there is a new novel by Salman Rushdie, The golden house, which deals with Obama and Trump America.

A former Booker winner Roddy Doyle has a new novel called Smile.

And don’t forget the Film Festival coming up. One of the most interesting films is an adaptation of the Thomas Cullinan novel The beguiled. Originally made as a vehicle for Clint Eastwood, the novel now gets a feminist makeover by Sofia Coppola with Nicole Kidman leading the cast. We have the reprint of the novel on order.

(The last person to call me) Sweet Pea (ended up dead) by C. J. Skuse

CoverEver thought of getting your own back on people who burst your bubble?

Forget the Bucket list, Rhiannon Lewis has a Kill List.

  1. The guy who squashes her groceries.
  2. The man that cuts her off every morning when she crosses the road.
  3. The colleague who takes credit for her work. And uses joke forms of her name.
  4. The creeps that proposition her on the way home from the pub/while walking her dog.
  5. The girl who bullied her at school.
  6. The girl who shagged her partner after the staff Christmas do.
  7. The café assistant who still hasn’t made your order while you shifted your car (I threw that one in).

Dexter meets Big Driver in this slightly sexy passive-aggressive tale of an unlikely vigilante killer. (Some call this genre Murder Porn.)

Rhiannon isn’t paranoid; she hates everybody. Well, everybody except her dog, Tink. Of course she has issues. The only survivor of a mass murderer, Rhiannon finds it hard to feel emotion. But she does feel a thrill when she gives a sexual predator a taste of his own medicine…

I love the subtitle. Related as Rhiannon’s diary, we read Sweet Pea as if we are voyeurs ourselves. Private and incriminating, it is a brutally honest account of all the things that push our buttons, and a liberating way of dealing with them – murder!

I don’t usually read mysteries, but this is both funny and brutal. Skuse, previously an author for children and young adults, lets it rip with similes to rip your sides – her wit alone will cut you to shreds.

This is one for the closet psychopath (I’m making a list of my own).

Sick leave and my personality change

Winter ailments are striking early. In library after library staff are succumbing to lurgies and being booked off work. When it happened to me, my first thought was: Goodie, now I will read all the books on my shelves that I’ve not had time for.

I started with My Name is Lucy Barton. This was the wrong book at the wrong time. Lucy is sick in hospital having a disjointed trip down memory lane with a truly dysfunctional mother. It is beautifully written, but a Get Well Soon read it is not.

Cover of The life changing magic of not giving a f**kUnfazed, my hand reached out for The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. I needed a life change, and heaven knows the cupboards were long overdue for a bit of attention. After one chapter I lost the will to live. There is only so much origami-like folding of underwear that an invalid can handle. Instead I selected The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k (How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do With People You Don’t Like.) That’s more like it!

HyggeNext up Hygge. This is a Danish word for the concept of Happiness. I soon realised that I had been mispronouncing it for months. Irrationally, this kind of wrong-footing really annoys me. I still call it Higgy*. Anyway, it is the trend du jour. I was feeling quite ho-hum about it all until it got to the bit where you feel all higgy because you do generous things. I had my usual perverse reaction to this. Who exactly is feeling good here? The giver or the givee? Just for the record I would be enraged if people  kept leaving little containers of home-made jam on my doorstep and hung freshly baked bread rolls from my front doorknob. Clearly I was not in a good mental space.

And that’s when I realised that I was going about this Sick Leave reading all the wrong way. What I really wanted to do was rip out my lungs and have a go at them with a meat cleaver. I wanted violence. I was after blood. In quick succession I read two wonderful murder mysteries (The Fire Maker by Peter May and I Shot the Buddha by Colin Cotterill) and followed them up with my first Literary Western (The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt). I felt better almost immediately.

Cover of The Fire maker I shot the buddha The Sisters Brothers

We may have put an end to blood letting and the use of leeches in modern medicine. But that doesn’t stop it from being the way to go when you are feeling enraged by ill health. Give it a try!

*[Ed: For the curious it’s closer to “hoo-ga”. You’re welcome]

Murder in the library – A panel discussion on Wednesday 1 June 6.30pm

The Ngaio Marsh Awards, in association with the New Zealand Book Council and Christchurch City Libraries, invite booklovers to Murder in the library – A panel discussion – Ngaio Marsh Awards featuring three talented Canterbury authors. It is on at South Library, Wednesday 1 June at 6.30pm. This is a free event, but bookings are essential as places are limited. Please telephone 03 941 7923 or email LibraryEvents@ccc.govt.nz to book a seat.

Crime writing has evolved from the puzzle-like mysteries of Agatha Christie and Christchurch’s own Ngaio Marsh to modern novels delving deeply into people and places. It is the world’s most popular form of storytelling.

2016 Ngaio Marsh Awards entrants Ray Berard, Katherine Hayton, and Deborah Rogers will discuss what drew them to crime writing, how they craft memorable characters and page-turning stories, and the impact of our New Zealand setting on tales of crime and mystery.

Ngaio Marsh Award

The circumstances of this crime are unusual…

These were the words of the Crown Prosecutor, Mr A W Brown, during the opening of what might be the most notorious murder trial in Christchurch history.

Two teenage girls jointly accused of the murder of one girl’s mother. A brutal and tragic death. A sinister friendship. Family secrets revealed. A rejected insanity plea. Is it any wonder Peter Jackson thought the story of Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme would make a good movie?

Newspaper image of Pauline Parker and Juliet HulmeIt was 61 years ago today that Pauline Parker’s mother was murdered during an outing to Victoria Park. In a newspaper article in The Press the following day she is described, rather barely, as “Honora Mary Parker, aged 45, of 31 Gloucester Street”.

Two months later Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme were standing trial for her murder.

Much has been written about the teenagers, the crime, and the trial but there’s something very immediate about reading the newspaper reporting of the day, when the revelations that came out during the trial were new information.

You can read contemporary reportage of the trial on our Parker – Hulme page.

More information

 

60 years since the Parker-Hulme murder and 20 years since Heavenly Creatures

Woman’s body found. Police called to Victoria Park. Murder charge laid.

The body of a middle-aged woman was found in a hollow in Victoria Park, below the tearooms about 4.00 pm yesterday. An arrest has been made and a charge of murder will be preferred in the Magistrate’s Court this morning. The woman was Honora Mary Parker, aged 45, of 31 Gloucester Street. Her body was found by the caretaker at Victoria Park. He reported the discovery to the police. (Woman’s body found, Press, 23 June 1954, p.10.)

Pauline Parker, 16, and Juliet Hulme, 15, were found guilty of killing Pauline’s mother Honora Mary Parker with a brick in a sock. The murder took place on 22 June 1954. The jury rejected a plea by the defence that the girls were not guilty on the grounds of insanity.

Main Characters in trial

This year it is 20 years since Heavenly Creatures – the movie about the murder – was released. Lots of Christchurch people have a connection to the movie, mine is that my sister sung in the choir you hear at the start.

Our website has digitised content from Christchurch newspapers at the time of the trial and articles written since.

View a DigitalNZ set The Parker – Hulme Murder and Heavenly Creatures.

Honorah Mary Parker
Honorah Mary Parker: Archives NZ [CH171 – CH250/1955]

Gang of three: Crime watch

Cover ImageTurn of Mind by Alice La Plante
Cool, clinical orthopedic surgeon Jennifer White has early onset Alzheimer’s.  The story of her marriage, children and successful career is told through her own increasingly untethered memories, notes from her caregivers and most critically from the police investigation that has developed around her since the murder and mutilation of her neighbour and long-term “frenemy” Amanda.

As the murder investigation gathers pace, Jennifer’s mind conversely start its final unraveling, and the dénouement when it comes, while predictable, is both heartbreaking and tragic. Turn of mind is a mystery with a very small m – but is instead a beautifully written expose of a dysfunctional family and a brilliant mind in slow, tortured free fall.

Before I go to sleep by SJ Watson
Cover imageWinner of the 2011 John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award, SJ Watson – like La Plante – grapples with dual concepts of memory and identity while simultaneously developing a tense and escalating plot-line.

Christine Lucas has a rare form of amnesia; unable to store new experiences for more than 24 hours, she is also unable to access memories from before her “accident” 20 years previously.  The daily task of re-introducing her to horrible reality falls to her husband Ben but Chrissy suspects he is revealing only part of her story.

The reader needs to suspend some initial disbelief but the central theme and the way it is handled is so dynamic and intriguing that compulsive reading is inevitable. I was also thrilled when a seemingly extraneous character was sent to far-flung NZ – Aotearoa being a place in fiction tradition so unimaginably far away that any characters unfortunate enough to be sent there are lost beyond the horizon for ever.

Watson, formerly an audiologist with the NHS was inspired by the fascinating real life amnesia cases of Henry Gustav Molaison and Clive Wearing.

Outrage by Arnaldur Indridason
Cover ImageIcelandic author Arnaldur Indridason’s atmospheric mystery titles usually star gloomy detective Erlendur, this title instead features female detective Elinborg who takes charge of a tricky murder investigation after a body is discovered in a Reykjavik apartment.

A wife and mother, Elinborg’s domestic life is just as important to her as her career and she juggles domestic worries such as her relationship with her son with the complexities and challenges of solving a murder. As the victim’s complex story is slowly revealed so too are the underlying tensions in what appers to be a liberal and tolerant society.

Elinborg is a clever, sympathetic character with just as strong and satisfying a presence as Inspector Erlendur. Another well-written and absorbing title in this long-running series.


Gang of three brings you short and sharp reviews of criminally good reading. If these aren’t enough, you can: