About a Boy – WORD Christchurch

Canada’s Elizabeth Hay and New Zealand’s Tanya Moir and Emma Neale talked with Morrin Rout about their novels – all of which feature a boy finding his way.

Elizabeth Hay, Image supplied.
Elizabeth Hay, Image supplied.

CoverEach author talked about their boy before reading a passage from their novel. Elizabeth Hay introduced Jim, ten years old, and in a car on the way to Lake Ontario, asks of his parents “what’s the worst thing you have ever done?” Jim is a boy out of step with where he is in life, a cross border boy (a Canadian mother and New Yorker father) sorting out who has claims on his love and loyalty.

Tanya Moir introduces us to Winstone Blackhat at age 12, he is living on his own, living rough above the dams in Central Otago, sees himself as an outlaw and is surviving by fishing and stealing food from tourists.

Tanya Moir. Photo by Fiona Tomlinson. Image supplied.
Tanya Moir. Photo by Fiona Tomlinson. Image supplied.

CoverEmma Neale’s Billy is 8 (going on 9) and is a quirky, imaginative child whose vivid imagination becomes a problem to his parents when he believes he is a bird.

Each author read a passage from their novel. There is something magical about authors reading aloud from their own work, the characters come to life as the writer intended and the audience is left wanting to know more.

Morrin asked how did they each decide how to tell the story of their boy? Elizabeth said “His Whole Life” came about from a long drive she was on with her own son and he asked that question “what is the worst thing you have ever done?”. She was unable to answer that question at the time and he was unable to tell her in return his worst thing but the question remained. She wanted to explore that question further so created her fictional characters and set them on a journey to further explore the mother / son bond. The character of George the husband explores the notion of the husband as a fifth wheel.

Emma Neale. Photo by Graham Warman Burns. Image supplied.
Emma Neale. Photo by Graham Warman Burns. Image supplied.

CoverTanya said “The Legend of Winstone Blackhat” told Winstone’s story through the mechanism of a Western film inside his imagination. Winstone’s thoughts and feelings are described by a third person character, not by him directly.

Emma “Billy Bird” said she wanted to write a verse novel with three distinct voices, the three voices are those of Billy, his mother and his father. This allowed her not to be limited to the child’s perspective but his voice was playful and madcap and lifted the book when the subject matter deals with tragedy.

Elizabeth’s novel deals with the question “what’s the worst thing you have ever done?” but links in Canadian politics and the question of “will Quebec ever leave Canada?”  Canada and Quebec is described as a bad marriage – where Quebec really needs to leave. Quebec can also be described as an adolescent who will never achieve independence without leaving Canada.

Tanya’s novel is cinematic, she has taken the devices and clichés of cinema and put these back into words. She described writing her novel as imagining it as a movie scene with a camera tracking though the shoot and taking that and turning it into a sentence doing the same tracking with words.

Emma explored the family seeking counselling help to deal with their tragedy. Billy’s bird behaviour is a problem so she looked at what options would a family have to get help? She did this through researching and talking to professionals – but noted that sometimes the writer needs to abandon the research and let the character lead.

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Cath Parr

Catching up with Tanya Moir

Tania Moir at AWRF 2013Guess who I bumped into this morning? Canterbury’s own Tanya Moir who is here at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2013 to promote her new book, Anticipation.

Now, Tanya and I go back a long way. In another life, we wrote advertising copy together and I’ve followed her writing career with interest. I cheered when she published her first novel La Rochelle’s Road, an historical novel about British settlers on Banks Peninsula, and I was keen to hear what she was up to now.

PQ (Post Quake) Tanya moved to Auckland because her husband found work up here. She is living in a beach settlement half an hour out of the city where the surf crashes over a black sand beach. Auckland’s  west coast is a great place for old surfers and writers to hang out, a laid-back community tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. The couple plans to return to Christchurch permanently one day and they visit the region frequently as they still have a property on Banks Peninsula.

Tanya is currenAnticipation - Book Covertly working on a new novel. It’s a contemporary work and she feels she’s nearly half way through the process. When I ask if she’s happy in her work, she says everything else seems boring in comparison. She loves to write.

Her constant companion is a five month old Irish wolfhound puppy who is already the size of a well built Labrador. She says he’s crazy but a great companion.

Tanya will be appearing in History Repeating in the Limelight Room at the Aotea Centre on Sunday at 4pm. In this FREE session four writers will read sections from their work that reference the repeating of history.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Auckland, get along to the session. If not, place a hold on Anticipation at Christchurch City Libraries. Highly recommended contemporary New Zealand literature.

Anticipated highlights #3 – AWRF 2013

Cover: Life after LifeThe last of my anticipated highlights is also one of the last sessions of the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. It’s a panel made up of two authors I know and admire, and two I have never read. By this stage of the programme difficult choices have been made, bargains have been struck with colleagues and panic that you’re going to miss an author you really want to see starts to set in.

This is why writers festival panels are a great invention. Festival-goers can cram a viewing of several writers into one session time, they can see unfamiliar writers (always good for the For Later list), check up on old favourites,  and the speakers change before concentration can flag.

What the writers choose to read is another great thing about panels – for this one they will “read selections from their work that reference the repeating of history”. This is the only time I will get to see Kate Atkinson and Charlotte Grimshaw, both writers I really like. I’ve seen them before so traded their main sessions for writers I hadn’t, but  the way history tends to repeat is fundamental to their work, so their choices should be very interesting.

Cover: WulfHamish Clayton’s Wulf features terrifying old Te Rauparaha – the possibility of his history repeating itself  is not an inviting prospect – but of course Clayton doesn’t have to read a published work; it could be something to add to the much later/eagerly awaited list.

Tanya Moir studied at Christchurch’s very own Hagley Writers’ Institute and has moved from straight historical fiction in La Rochelle’s Road, her first novel, to a mix of contemporary and historical elements in Anticipation, her latest. Both books have very well reviewed, which sometimes influences me and sometimes doesn’t.

Do reviews influence you?