Stella Duffy at the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season

Stella Duffy: writer, playwright, actor, improviser, founder and co-director of Fun Palaces, and general multi-tasker extraordinaire. How, asks interviewer Liz Grant, does she have the energy?

I like working, and I know I’m really lucky to be able to do it — my parents both left school at 14, had very hard working lives, the only time off my dad had was when he was shot down in World War II and became a POW — so when artists talk about how it’s such hard work, and they have to suffer, it makes me want to punch them. What’s hard work is raising seven children like my mother, or being a brilliant man with no opportunities like my dad. I work really hard at my job, but it’s not hard work. I know I’m fortunate to be able to do it.

Liz Grant and Stella Duffy. WORD Christchurch Autumn Season. The Piano. Monday 15 May 2017. Flickr 2017-05-15-IMG_0166

Family

Duffy’s family history is fascinating — like all families it is complex and messy. While researching she discovered a great-grandmother who had given birth in Holloway prison. The reason for her spell inside? Manslaughter; “I didn’t realise the baby was so ill,” she said in court, “and neither did my (12-year old) daughter.” She worked from 9pm-6am every night (“charring” is the occupation given, scare quotes intentional), providing for her children so that she could be home to get them ready for school, only to lose a child and be imprisoned while pregnant with the next. It’s a far cry from Downton Abbey, that’s for sure, and can be seen in the hard working lives of the families in Duffy’s London Lies Beneath.

“There’s no place like home”

Probably the most interesting for me was the talk of home/not home, how once you move away from the place you grew up you effectively lose it — always missing home, but when you visit it has changed without you. This really resonated as someone who grew up in a small town but now lives in a city, with family across New Zealand as well as far away in Europe, who has lived overseas and now feels the tug of home/not-home wherever I am.

Christchurch in particular has that double-layered effect, walking down streets that have changed beyond measure in only a few years. In cities such as London and Rome the juxtaposition of past and present is even more noticeable, everything built on and around and between the layers of its own history. Duffy loves being swallowed up by such a vast, full and vibrant city, being “a small fish in a very big pond”, keeping the taniwha in the Thames fed with Kiwi accents and secrets:

Cover of London Lies BeneathYou know what they say about the taniwha, don’t you, girl?

She shook her head.

He smiled as he said, It’s homesick, of course, but the Thames is too busy and it can’t get by the ships for fear of being seen and lauded and brought ashore for our pleasure again. It doesn’t like to be looked at, not directly. And it’s bigger, much bigger now, grown full on the secrets we tell to the water. That taniwha lives off our whispers, eating up the fears and tears we tell over the side of a bridge. It’s grown fat on what we hide from in the dark, beneath the bedclothes. There’s no getting away from it either, it will follow you along the Effra or the Neckinger as easy as it rides the tide from Tilbury to Teddington.

— London Lies Beneath, Stella Duffy

Ngaio Marsh

When I first read about Money in the Morgue I was under the impression that Duffy was simply finishing an already mostly-completed manuscript, but no: Dame Ngaio Marsh only left three sketchy chapters with some rough notes and no ideas of whodunnit, where it was done or how. Helpful!

Duffy talked a little about how to recreate the tone of Marsh’s writing without the less desirable -isms that permeate 30s era novels (how to make it seem as if it were written in that time but not of that time, if you see what I mean). The answer? Steal a few of Marsh’s writing tics. “Alleyn rubbed his nose.” “His ascetic monk’s face.” “His long, elegant fingers.” Perhaps we’ll see some of New Zealand’s “primordial landscape”, too. All jokes aside, Duffy is careful to avoid any sense of pastiche or mockery in her writing, being an avid admirer of Marsh’s work.

I look forward to reading Money in the Morgue when it’s published in May 2018, and in the meantime reading Duffy’s recent thriller, The Hidden Room. If you’re interested in learning more about the historical setting of London Lies Beneath, Duffy recommends Round About a Pound a Week, written in 1913 by the trade unionist, Fabian and feminist Maud Pember Reeves. If you’re new to Ngaio Marsh’s writing then she recommends starting with Died in the Wool, a country house mystery set on a high country sheep station in New Zealand.

Cover of The Hidden RoomCover of Round About a Pound a WeekCover of Died in the Wool

Ngaio Marsh and Shakespeare

There’s a Ngaio Marsh birthday party event at Christ’s College Old Boys Theatre this Sunday 24 April. The event is a fundraiser for the Ngaio Marsh House and Heritage Trust, and includes wine, nibbles, and a talk on crime fiction by Professor Ken Strongman. Find out more on the Ngaio Marsh birthday event on Facebook.

Crime writer and theatre director Ngaio Marsh’s actual birth date is 23 April, and she shared a birthday with Shakespeare. It’s doubly appropriate – as her production of Shakespeare’s plays were widely acclaimed. This is Ngaio as Hamlet …

Baverstock, William Sykes, 1893-1975. Ngaio Marsh - Photograph taken by W S Baverstock. Dacres-Mannings, J :Photographs relating to Dame Ngaio Marsh. Ref: PAColl-0326-09. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23167157

If you want to find out more about Ngaio and Shakespeare, I recommend the splendid Inaugural Ngaio Marsh lecture – it was given on 22 April 2012 by Elric J. Hooper, MBE who appeared in several of Dame Ngaio Marsh’s acclaimed Shakespeare shows. He explains how they met (pages 10 and 11):

Three years later, in 1956, I was appearing in a student revue in the Civic Theatre and Gerald Lascelles told me that Ngaio Marsh and Charles Brash wanted to meet me. I went up to the empty stage after the performance. Two figures were standing there. The man was reticent. The woman was flamboyant. She was dressed in a handsome, three-quarter length seal skincoat. She was wearing a grey woollen skirt – not trousers. Her hair was wildly dressed. She smoked a cigarette. She asked me what I had been doing. Said Macbeth.
“Not the thane!” she said in alarm.
“No, A lord. Lennox.” I said putting her at her ease.
She mentioned that she was about to direct Lear.
A few weeks later, I auditioned for Ngaio. I was chosen to play the Fool in King Lear.
It was a memorable production with Mervyn Glue as the King, salivating so copiously that looking up into the lights one did not have to imagine the rain and storm. The costumes and set were blue grey. The set was a curved podium which a descending ramp on one side and steps down the other. In the centre was a kind of shelter for hovel. It worked extremely well.

Cast of Hamlet. Marsh, Ngaio :Photographs of theatrical productions. Ref: PA1-q-173-73-2. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23074208

His summary of Ngaio as Shakespearean director is a good one (page 10):

One of the great features of Ngaio’s Shakespeare were the moments that can only be described as “Theatrical.” Hamlet, at the end of the speech which concluded the first part, “The play’s the thing whereby I’ll catch the conscience of the King,” threw the loose sheets of the play in the air and stood there while the leaves descended around him. In Julius Caesar, hands were bathed in blood. In Lear, the eyes were ripped out.

Hamlet, produced by the University of Canterbury Drama Society and performed at the Civic Theatre [11 July 1958] CCL PhotoCD 17, IMG0039
Hamlet, produced by the University of Canterbury Drama Society and performed at the Civic Theatre [11 July 1958] CCL PhotoCD 17, IMG0039

More about Ngaio Marsh

Three New Zealanders: Ngaio Marsh

#shakespeare400 tweets

Ngaio Marsh – Crime writer now in eBooks

Ngaio Marsh was so much more than a crime writer. But remember we have over 30 of her crime novels as eBooks.

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Happy birthday, Ngaio Marsh!

Ngaio Marsh would have been 120 today. This world renowned crime writer and theatre director was born Edith Ngaio Marsh in Fendalton on 23 April 1895. Her father, a clerk, built Marton Cottage at Cashmere in 1906. This was her home for the rest of her life, although she spent significant periods in England.

Ngaio Marsh photographed during the 1940s

Ngaio Marsh photographed during the 1940s : “Ngaio in the spotlight” [194-], CCL PhotoCD 17, IMG0038

Today there is a lovely little Google image celebrating her.

Many people know of Ngaio Marsh as the crime writer. But she also enriched the cultural life of Christchurch with her devotion to theatre production and mentored young people with dramatic aspirations. Ngaio made a huge contribution to the community, and it seems appropriate her name lives on  –

For more on Ngaio Marsh:

Early New Zealand Women Writers. Some of their work described as racy and corrupting!

Check out some of our pioneer women writers. Some wrote very controversial books; many were published overseas and became hugely popular.

The Butcher Shop by Jean Devanny 
Cover of The Butcher ShopSet on a King Country Station, Jean Devanny’s  The Butcher Shop is about adultery and murder. It was described as disgusting, polemic and ahead of its time. It was banned on publication in New Zealand and in many other countries due to the violence, open sexuality and feminism portrayed within its pages.

The Story of a New Zealand River by Jane Mander
Jane Mander’s The Story of a New Zealand River is set in Northland and describes the issues faced when a local sawmill boss marries a cultured, piano-playing Englishwoman, who brings with her to the bush her children from a previous marriage. It has been suggested that this novel provided inspiration for elements in Jane Campion’s film The Piano.

Isabel Maude Peacocke 
Cover of The Story of a New Zealand RiverIsabel Maude Peacocke wrote children’s books and light romances set in Auckland. Although not well known in New Zealand, she had a large readership in England, where her work was published.

Nelle (Ellen) M. Scanlan
Nelle Scanlan wrote four family-sagas set in New Zealand. The novels in the ‘Pencarrow’ series (Pencarrow, Tides of Youth, Winds of Heaven, and Kelly Pencarrow) published between 1932 and 1939, portrayed early New Zealand as a prosperous thriving country. They were very popular and considered to have created an interest for New Zealand fiction in that era. Nelle also published many novels in England before writing the ‘Pencarrow’ sagas. She was the most popular New Zealand novelist of her generation.

New Zealand Holiday by Rosemary Rees
Rosemary Rees could be described as the pioneer ‘chick lit’ writer! She wrote racy romance novels, some of which were set on back blocks farms in the North Island. Her 84 novels became so popular that some were serialised in papers in America and Britain.

Breakfast At Six by Mary Scott
Mary Scott made international success with the writing of her rural domestic comedies which began with the publication of her ‘Barbara’ newspaper sketches in 1936. One of her most popular novels was Breakfast at Six about newlyweds and their life on a back-blocks farm and the problems and pleasures faced by a rural community in New Zealand. It was followed by the sequel Dinner Doesn’t Matter.

Ngaio Marsh
If you haven’t already, do try a Ngaio Marsh mystery. Described as one of the Queens of Crime Fiction of the 1920s and 1930s, she is probably best known for her wonderful detective novels featuring Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn; four of these (Vintage Murder, Died in the Wool, Colour Scheme and Photo-Finish) are set in New Zealand. You might also enjoy reading our blog posts about Ngaio Marsh.

Cover of Vintage Murder Cover of Died in the Wool  Cover of Colour Scheme Cover of Photo-finish

Please note that some of these books are only available at our Store. There is no public access to this collection, but you can place holds on most Store titles for borrowing. Reference only items held at Store can be sent to Central Library Manchester for viewing – please ask a librarian to arrange this for you.

Happy birthday, Ngaio Marsh

Ngaio Marsh would have been 119 today. This world renowned crime writer and theatre director was born Edith Ngaio Marsh in Fendalton on 23 April 1895. Her father, a clerk, built Marton Cottage at Cashmere in 1906. This was her home for the rest of her life, although she spent significant periods in England.

Ngaio Marsh photographed during the 1940s

Ngaio Marsh photographed during the 1940s : “Ngaio in the spotlight” [194-], CCL PhotoCD 17, IMG0038

Many people know of Ngaio Marsh as the crime writer. But she also enriched the cultural life of Christchurch with her devotion to theatre production and mentored young people with dramatic aspirations.

Ngaio made a huge contribution to the community, and it seems appropriate her name lives on in a theatre – the Ngaio Marsh Theatre at the University of Canterbury (sadly closed due to earthquake damage), as well as in the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel.

For more:

Fiona Farrell talks about adapting Ngaio Marsh to the stage

Inside the Ngaio Marsh houseFiona Farrell has been adapting the Ngaio Marsh novel Photo Finish into a stage play SNAP! which is coming soon to the Court Theatre. She will talk about her task at the Elmwood Bowling Clubrooms, Heaton Street, Merivale on Sunday 15 September from 5pm to 7pm.

Photo Finish was one of the four Ngaio Marsh novels set in New Zealand. ( I seem to remember another involved someone crushed in a wool press and another offed in a mud pool – both truly Enzed ends). This one was written when she was over 80 years old, was well received and sold well. It was her second to last detective novel. It follows the traditional convention of a house party trapped in a storm except the venue was not a country house but a South Island luxury lodge.

The talk is a fund raiser for the Friends of Ngaio Marsh House. To book tickets, which are $25.00,  contact Philippa Bates philbates@paradise.net.nz The price includes wine or fruit juice, nibbles and a social half hour.

Ngaio Marsh House is a great cause to support. It is currently undergoing earthquake repairs and should reopen in September. It is well worth a visit. We have some photos which will give you a taster of what to expect when you visit.

Ngaio Marsh wanted to be a painter

Hamlet, produced by the University of Canterbury Drama Society and performed at the Civic Theatre 11 July 1958

The 2013 Ngaio Marsh Memorial Lecture “Painting in a Writer’s Landscape” takes place on Sunday April 28, 5–6 pm, Christ’s College Old Boys’ Theatre. Ngaio is well-known as a writer of detective fiction and nationally respected as a director of Shakespearean theatre, but her early ambition was to be a painter. Christchurch art historian Julie King will discuss how Ngaio Marsh’s work as an artist found expression in her novels.

Tickets $15 from Philippa Bates, 16 Hounslow St, Ilamphilbates@paradise.net.nz
Please pay by cheque made out to The Friends of Ngaio Marsh, and enclose a stamp-addressed envelope for delivery of your tickets.

Information from The Press Christchurch Writers Festival.

Find out more about the fabulous Dame and view our photos.

Ngaio Marsh: Picturing Canterbury

Ngaio Marsh

Ngaio Marsh photographed during the 1940s: “Ngaio in the spotlight” [194-]

Death of a queen of crime

Photo of interior of Ngaio Marsh's houseOn February  18, 1982, writer Dame Ngaio Marsh died  at her home in Cashmere. She was one of the famous Queens of Crime (along with Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers) who emerged in the 1930s.

What isn’t so well known is the  impact she had on the cultural life of Christchurch and New Zealand as a theatre director and nurturer of a generation of acting talents through her involvement with the Canterbury University College Drama Society and other touring productions. (Mervyn Thompson and Sam Neill were among those who acted in her productions)

She also wrote an autobiography Black Beech and Honeydew which is a snapshot of life in early C20th Christchurch for a particular class of people.

Christchurch City Libraries has a Ngaio Marsh collection featuring her work in many different languages. We also have a small collection of photographs, and of course plenty of her works to read.

Her home in Cashmere is now open to visitors. These photographs give an idea of what the house is like inside.