Our girls Paula and Rachael

Well, I say ‘our girls’, but really, we are having to share them both with the rest of the world – both are being published overseas in ever-increasing degrees.  Paula Morris’ latest book for teens, Ruined, is part of a three-book deal with Scholastic, and Rachael King’s earlier work The Sound of Butterflies has now been translated into eight languages (we counted them). 

A full room, a great chair (Dorothy Vinicombe),  and a very engaged audience meant the hour flew by, and I took so many notes I don’t even know where to begin.  Rachael has promised to chat with us back in Christchurch next week, but in the meantime, here are a few of the questions asked, and their respective answers.

What are the perils and pleasures of writing historical fiction?

Rachael: The pleasure comes in letting your imagination run away with your choice of character (you can choose someone as far removed from yourself as you like – Magpie Hall features as one of its main characters a 19th century heavily tattoo-ed English male taxidermist), but then you do need to ground them in some sort of reality.  And this is the perilous bit, she says: “When you’re reading my book, I don’t want you to be thinking about me and my research.  If you are, I’ve failed in my job.” 

Paula:  Once you’ve started a story, your research can lead you much more deeply into that story, if you let it:  “One thing leads to another.”  And if sometimes the research reveals facts that don’t fit with your plot, you must either choose to change your story, or to ‘ignore’ those facts. 

Exactly, comments Rachael:  “If this is fiction, I should be able to make things up, otherwise it’s not fiction.” 

Tell us about how you developed some of the other characters in your books.

For both writers, this turned into an exploration of ‘object as character’.  For Rachael:  In Magpie Hall, Henry’s cabinet of curiosities was pivotal enough, and had so much impact on those around it, that it really did attain ‘character status’; and for Paula, the same could be said of Lafayette Cemetery in New Orleans, the setting for much of the action in Ruined.  In fact, Paula’s editor felt so much ‘love’ was going into the cemetery descriptions, she was asked to stop, already!

And finally, a question about how connections with new books can inspire revisiting of older classics.  For example, the Twilight series has awakened a huge surge of interest in Wuthering Heights, just as Bridget Jones’ Diary introduced a whole new set of readers to Austen.  The question then became:

Team Austen or Team Bronte?

RK:  Has always been Team Bronte, and although she hated Austen as a student, now fully loves P&P.

PM:  Both Team Austen and Team Bronte, always. 

Rachael did comment, however, that for her Wuthering Heights has always been a novel not of great love, but of great revenge, a statement fully supported by Paula, who added, “Yes, and a sadistic one at that”. 

Other highlights of the session included a detailed description of how to skin a tiger (Rachael), an illuminating discussion of tattoos in high society (Churchill’s mother apparently had one!), and a brief mention of Paula’s earlier career as ghost writer, featuring “trashy shopping and kissing novels set in San Tropez”.

A great session, great authors, and great books – go find them and read them both.  Now.

Media darlings

Who’d have thought libraries or librarians could be so interesting? I am constantly amazed by the number of news stories particularly in the British media about us lowly librarians. We are either irresistibly fascinating or, as I fear is more likely, really newsworthy stories were a little thin on the ground that day. Possibly a case of when in doubt chuck in a heartwarming library tale, take for example:

  • The Rose Marie musical score returned after 70 years by the criminal known as Iris Chadwick. 83 years old and showing a remarkable lack of remorse Mrs Chadwick said “I’ve hung on to the book for so long because it was part of my childhood”. Yes part of your childhood Mrs Chadwick but just think of all those library customers who couldn’t tickle the ivories with Rose Marie ditties because you kept your mitts on the score. Just cheeky!
  • Lousie Brown from Stranraer in Scotland is on the cusp of borrowing her 25,000th library book, beat that eh? She has read six library books a week since 1946 and enjoys family sagas, historical novels and the odd Mills and Boon. Stranraer in the South-West of Scotland is not noted for either its glorious weather or entertaining night-life so perhaps reading really is the best option. Furthermore Mrs Brown has never accrued a library fine. Mrs Chadwick could take a leaf out of Mrs Brown’s book but on second thoughts maybe not, it might take her 70 years to return it.
  • Lastly and more disturbingly Texan lady librarians have released The Tattooed Ladies of TLA, a 18 month calendar celebrating their body art. This is a companion piece to the “Men of Texas Libraries” and designed to raise funds for disaster relief. Men of Texas Libraries, the mind boggles. The Tattooed ladies of TLA is apparently very tastefully done and “allows you to spend 18 months getting better acquainted with these fascinating and dedicated women of Texas libraries”. Go girls!

What’s got me excited

One the best parts of my job is getting to hear and read and get excited about new titles before they hit the shelves. So here’s some books that I have been waiting for, and have enjoyed when they have made it to the library (and a few others that I am still waiting to see!).

The re-issue of the fantastic graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore. I found lots of interesting and detailed background information about this classic on Wikipedia – did you know that Watchmen is the only graphic novel to date to win a Hugo Award, and that there is a movie in the works? (be patient, the movie site is a little slow to load) I’m also looking forward to the book Prince of stories : the many worlds of Neil Gaiman which explores the impact that Gaiman has had on pop culture, from anime to movies and everything in between.

Another cool book that made its way to my desk recently was Comic book tattoo : narrative art inspired by the lyrics and music of Tori Amos edited by Rantz A. Hoseley. Okay, so you may not like her music, but I found it pretty cool that so many comic artists were inspired by her lyrics to create a whole stack of weird and wonderful comics.

If you love books written and illustrated by Australian Graeme Base, then I recommend that you check out Julie Watt’s The Art of Graeme Base, which gives in-depth background to the creation of his wonderful books, like Animalia, Uno’s Garden and his newest title, Enigma : a magical mystery.

And then there’s Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer, the fourth book in the Twilight series. I can’t wait to find out what’s going to happen with Bella and Edward, the vampire she fell in love with. As it happens, I am still on the waiting list for a copy, so it is lucky that I have just gotten hold of a copy of Terry Pratchett’s latest book, Nation, to keep me enthralled over the long weekend.