“Everything else is just filler” Sex and Death Salon: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Host Victor Rodger warned that this session was going to be dirty and lowbrow. I intend to make this blog as dirty and lowbrow as the editors will let me! Featuring poets Tayi Tibble and Chris Tse, and authors Stacy Gregg and Emily Writes, this was a no holds barred, late night sessions about things you might not want to mention at the dinner table. Or if you do mention them you might there might be awkward questions and emergency visits to Urban Dictionary.

Stacy pointed out that after sex and death everything else is just filler. Which is a little tricky for her given that she writes books aimed at children, therefore she has to feature death. Her subject is horses and she feels little frustrated that horses are often associated with sex. Jilly Cooper has a lot to answer for…

Emily brought the house down with a reading of *that* review of The Legend of Tarzan, explaining that she had just stopped breastfeeding when she wrote it and how a low tolerance for alcohol. Frankly, given the deliciousness of Alexander Skarsgård I think it a masterly and appropriate hymn to the male form.

Chris also brought the house down with his wonderful poem ‘Fun until it gets weird’ about playing Cards Against Humanity with your mum and aunties and having to explain bukake to them (do not Google this on a work computer). And then writing a poem about the experience that your family ask you to read out at Christmas. However, Chris also reminded us that we shouldn’t put older people in a box – they’ve been round the block themselves a few times. He also revealed that he felt dragging up took him most out of his comfort zone, and that his drag name is Angela Merkin, which I love!

Tayi read us her gorgeous poem ‘Johnsonville Cindy Crawford’, about the realities of growing up with an attractive mother, and remembering playing Tomb Raider, with Lara Croft and her big triangular boobs. If she could go back in time she would like to 1975 to take part in the Land March.

I don’t know if this session quite explored sex and death and taboo quite as much as I anticipated – death didn’t really get a look in, not even a petite mort. However, I do know that I laughed a lot, heard some great writing, discovered some cool people, and was rather envious of Stacy’s silver boots.

Follow our coverage of WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Sex, & Sex, drugs & Rock n roll, & rock n roll – WORD Christchurch

IMG_5797Warning: as the title indicates, there may be some adult content in this post.

There is nothing like being ushered into a writers festival session with the question”Sex, drugs, and rock n roll?” It feels very non-cardigany!

This was a bit of an ongoing theme of my WORD Christchurch experience. First up, on Thursday evening I went to the launch of new erotic magazine Aotearotica at the New Regent Street pop-up.

Melanie McKerchar
Aotearotica at G+A Creative. Readers/Performers: Isabelle McNeur, Jodi Sh. Doff, Melanie McKerchar, and Laura Borrowdale. New Regent St popup festival.WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Flickr 2016-08-25-IMG_5746

The readings were fabulously varied in their saucy flavours. After an intro by Aotearotica editor Laura Borrowdale, Melanie read a sexy jewel from Anaïs Nin, Isabelle shared her honest raw love tales, and Jodi Sh. Doff told a story about a verrrry seductive subway ride.

By the way, if you can write or draw, Aotearotica is looking for submissions for Volume Two.

After the sex, the Sex, Drugs & Rock n Roll. This session featured more of the middle vice. Bianca Zander, Jodi Wright, and Kate Holden with Charlotte Graham (who was a very clued up chair). Charlotte wondered why sex, drugs and rock n roll books have such appeal? Taboo and rite of passage were two suggestions.

Panel for Sex, Drugs, and rock n roll
Panel for Sex, Drugs, and rock n roll: Charlotte Graham, Kate Holden, Bianca Zander, Jodi Wright. Flickr 2016-08-27-IMG_5808

Kate read stories about drugs before she became an addict – but while she was using, she read fantasy books. As heroin took hold in Australian in the 1990s, it appealed to soft, dreamy types because when the world is a bit abrasive “opiates are a great softener of that feeling”. She also explained how “anthropologically fascinating” brothels are – incredibly moving, compulsively interesting.

Kate’s memoir In my skin shows how important her family is, and she made a good point:

Family doesn’t get written about much in junkie memoirs.

Now that her memoir’s film rights have sold, everyone is re-reading and they are impressed all over again.

Jodi Wright - Sex, Drugs, and rock n roll
Jodi Wright, Flickr 2016-08-27-IMG_5800

CoverJodi couldn’t remember enough to write a memoir, so used her experience as the basis of a novel. She tried to find out what caused her addiction, going to psychiatrists to find the inciting incident: “What I needed to do was get unstuck”:

The story is what I have.

CoverBianca “always wanted to write a great rock n roll novel … I don’t think this is it”. It’s elusive trying to capture the spirit of rock n roll in words. Her book The Predictions was inspired by a story about an ashram kid, parented by the whole group, who went looking for his mum in a crowd. She thought about those kids without a solid foundation, unmoored out there in the world.

Two  points I took away from this session:

  • Good “Sex, drugs, and rock n roll” novels and memoirs take away the feeling of other, and make us think “us”.
  • Men are often feted for doing/writing this kind of stuff, and yet women get demonised. Hmmm.

And finally the rock n roll. I went to the Flying Nun In love with these times session at Blue Smoke. It was a joy. Russell Brown was our MC and on stage were Roger Shepherd, Graeme Downes, Jay Clarkson, Bruce Russell, and Hollie Fullbrook (Tiny Ruins). There were plenty of Flying Nun alumni in the audience which definitely added to the flavour. Roger Shepherd’s book is not just a great tale about a music scene, it’s a pretty powerful look into Christchurch’s history too.

Highlights? Jay Clarkson playing Spooky, and her perspectives on being a young mum and muso. Graeme Downes’ new song Dunedin Spleen (and his general loucheness and academic nous). Russell Brown’s super knowledgeable MCing and questions. The lugubrious Bruce Russell. This was something special.

More Sex, Drugs, and rock n roll

More WORD Christchurch

Work/Sex – WORD Christchurch

CoverA stripper, a sex worker and a go go dancer walk into a book festival and … talked about their work.  All three women were in agreement that sex work is just that, work.  Work that needs decent conditions, support and respect.

“What is harder, sex work or writing?”  Writing!

“I was already going to bars and taking my clothes off for free, so I might as well get paid”

“I was a stripper but I was also a student, a daughter and an athlete”

“My job was to service the car, not drive it”

“It was a playground, I could experiment with different personalities”

“There was my night self and my day self”

All three women talked of friendships formed, shared experiences and Jodi Sh. Doff talked about a fox hole mentality.  Her experience in 1970s New York was different than the others who worked in a job that had been legalised or decriminalised. 70s New York strip clubs and brothels were run by the mob. The women were at the bottom and they had to look after themselves as no one else would.  Jodi Sh. Doff read out an extraordinary piece of writing that was raw, scary and horrific.

There was talk of men needing someone to talk to, needing to go to sex workers because they were unconfident, scared or felt inadequate. Kate Holden would prefer her husband to go to a sex worker than have an affair, and her son would she felt at least have a good experience if he chose to go to a sex worker. Leigh Hopkinson had always been honest about what she did, but gradually became more wary as people’s reactions could be negative.  In Jodi Sh. Doff’s case she earned more than working as a young person in a law firm.  There were drugs but these came before sex work, not because of it.

All wanted to work somewhere where they could be someone else, a full on Go Go dancer, a seductive striptease or a princess.  However it was still just a job, and as Kate Holden said why are we still talking about sex workers, we don’t interview sandwich makers!

WORD Christchurch

Jesse Bering: Science not morals

Cover of PervAfter reading a review of Perv in The Press’ Your Weekend magazine I was very intrigued. Jesse Bering is a science communication professor at Otago University so this book is looking at perversions from a scientific perspective – not a moral one.

Many thanks to Word Christchurch for giving me the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and sit right up the front of the fascinated crowd. The topic is an uncomfortable one for even the most open-minded of us but he gave the talk with such grace and humility even when heckled by a couple of audience members.

Jesse Bering
Jesse Bering. Flickr 2015-08-30-IMG_9023

But surely this is what it’s all about: having the conversation. Looking at our own desires and the desires of others and seeing them as just that, without judgement.

Unfortunately I’m still on the holds list for this book but I hear he writes in a humorous way. Phew! That will make the subject a little more relaxed reading!

From disasters to sex: Cool stuff from the selectors

Cover of The year it all fell down2011 was a big year for Christchurch, and we can be forgiven for being unaware of what was happening in the rest of the word.  Thankfully Bob Ellis in The Year it All Fell Down can help our collective memories.

From the Arab Spring to the London riots and Occupy Wall Street; from the Christchurch earthquake and the Fukushima meltdown to the possible discovery of the Higgs-Boson ‘God’ particle; from the shooting of US Senator Gabby Giffords to her vote on the bill that saved America’s economy; from Assange fighting extradition to the Murdoch empire on trial; from the last hours of Kim Jong-il and Vaclav Havel to the Breivik massacre in Norway and the executions of Gaddafi and bin Laden – the year 2011 was portentously charged. The shockwaves from these events – and more – continue to reverberate through the corridors of power and even the foundations of the planet.

If you are wondering about the origin of your surname David McKie’s What’s in a Surname?: From Abercrombie to Zwicker is full of quirky but useful information.  I always thought surnames were connected to occupation, but according to the author I could well be wrong.

Occupational names are full of hazards: ” … Farmer? That sounds easy enough. A man who owns or runs a farm. But farmer used also to mean tax collector”.

Cover of Kawaii!Kawaii! Japan’s Culture of Cute by Manami Okazaki is a colourful examination of how Kawaii culture began, and how it is now inside homes, on lunchboxes, airplanes, in haute-couture, street fashion, and in cafes, museums, and hotels.

Cover of Five days at MemorialFive Days At Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink has created quite a stir in the United States. The five days after Hurricane Katrina hit created total chaos. The hospital was plunged into darkness, became cut off from the outside world and most of the machines keeping seriously ill people alive failed.

Post disaster, one doctor and two nurses were charged with second degree murder for administering lethal doses of morphine to patients after completing triage  (the allocation of scarce medical resources) and making life and death decisions about whether to evacuate the able-bodied, who had a better chance of survival, or the more severely ill. How these decisions were made during utter chaos and the unfolding legal case makes for riveting reading

The Art of Sleeping Alone: Why One French Woman Suddenly Gave up Sex.  French women have perfect children, don’t get fat, have no need for facelifts, and apparently one of them (at least) has given up on sex.

Complaining that she has had enough of being “taken and shaken” the well-known writer, stylish, sexy and 49, is no longer ashamed to say she wants to get off the sexual merry-go-round.


Science isn’t very funny, I’ve been married to a scientist believe me I know, but sex is potentially very, very funny and not just in a “Carry on” boobs and buffoonery kinda way. Mary Roach is an American science writer and author of the chucklefests Stiff: The curious lives of human cadavers (2003) and Spook: Science tackles the afterlife (2005). Her latest humorous scientific foray Bonk: The curious coupling of science and sex attempts to answer such pressing issues as “Is vaginal orgasm a myth?”, ” Can a dead man get an erection?”, “Why doesn’t Viagra help women – or for that matter, pandas?”. Burning issues that demand an answer I’m sure we all agree (especially for all the sexually dysfunctional pandas among us).

Mary Roach’s approach to scientific investigation is rather in the mode of British documentary maker Louis Theroux, enthusiastic and self-sacrificing. Roach and her long-suffering husband Ed (ED also stands for erectile dysfunction) endure sexual congress by Dynamic 3D ultrasound, Roach witnesses Danish artificial inseminators pleasuring sows and finally rides the vaginal photoplethysmograph … all enough to make a librarian blush.

This is not a history of sex research but loosely dips in and out (phnarr-phnarr) some of the most significant eras of scientific investigation including Dickinson, Kinsey and Masters, as well as current research activity. Fun and a right “rollicking good read”, but typically not everyone agrees with me (see The Listener’s review).