It’s (pretty) easy being green

Back to the land at CCLWhy is a Writer’s Festival like a box of chocolates? Because there’s something inside for everyone.

Today I saw Tony Murrell, from Radio Live’s garden programme, host a lively session with The Gardener magazine editor Lynda Hallinan and sustainable gardening writer Janet Luke. All three are highly regarded gardening experts. They’re passionate about plants and their enthusiasm was infectious. I’ve never seen the microphone passed to so many people so quickly. It seemed everyone in the audience had a question to ask or a comment to add.

Tony Murrell has noticed a huge resurgence in interest in growing food at home in recent years. He laments the fact that many of today’s gardeners have lost the skills needed to grow veges successfully and have to spend money on re-education, tools, catalogues, fertilisers, etc. This results in expensive crop of perpetual spinach, lettuce and tomatoes which people get bored with and ‘turn back into camellia hedging’.

His panelists disagree. “It’s not all about money, Tony,” said Janet. “You are such an Aucklander!”

Linda said, “Don’t spend anything! Don’t build raised beds, don’t hire a garden designer, don’t buy a tonne of compost. Just buy a spade, dig a hole and plant things.” She believes gardening journalism has made it sound difficult and it’s not. “It’s natural. Plants grow and produce fruit because they are fulfilling their biological function. People think it’s harder than it is.”

Some sustainable gardening tips:

  • Lasagne your compost heap
  • Pile fallen leaves into a black polythene bag, tie it off, punch a few holes in it and store behind your garden shed for a year. It makes great compost.
  • If your plants look great above the soil but have nothing beneath, your garden has too much nitrogen and not enough potassium.
  • Janet Luke and Lynda Hallinan at AWRF 2013Blue flowers attract bees. Plant rosemary and borage to help pollination.
  • Chop out the middle of your lemon tree and prune to a vase shape.
  • Avoid systemetic sprays – they hurt bees.

If you’d like to know more, visit your library and check out Linda Hallinan’s Back to the land and Janet Luke’s Green Urban Living. They’ll give you plenty of helpful advice on how to get your garden doing what comes naturally.

The Joy of Art – The Brilliance of Pat Hanly

Hanly at Christchurch City Libraries“People are too new here and nature absorbs them.” Pat Hanly

This afternoon I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Ron Brownson, Senior Curator of New Zealand and Pacific Art at Auckland Art Gallery, about the work of artist Pat Hanly.

The talk was given in celebration of the publication Hanly, edited by Gregory O’Brien, which is arguably one of the best art books published this decade. Ron Brownson believes this book is ‘better than a TV programme, it is better than a TV series. It is a mini capsule of excitement.’

Ron Brownson at AWRF 2013Ron Brownson is a charismatic speaker. He quickly engaged his audience and treated us to a feast of Hanly’s paintings blown up on slides to the size of the gallery wall. He said, ‘If you’re going to have colour, you’re going to have a glut of colour’ and that was certainly what this art-starved Cantabrian needed. Vibrant blues, reds, greens and yellows filled the space, engaging the senses and lifting the spirit, as Brownson took us through the major series of Hanly’s art.

Auckland Art Gallery has just been bequeathed one of Hanly’s Showgirl Paintings and the curators are anxiously awaiting its arrival on New Zealand soil. It is a work ‘delicious in its sensuality’ containing the figure of a dancing girl which is Chimera-like in spirt. It will be a great addition to the Auckland Gallery collection.

Gil Hanly at AWRF 2013No man is an island, not even a painter, and it was wonderful to see Pat Hanly’s wife, Gil, taking photos for the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. She added some interesting background information to the talk, in one instance filling us in on the events that led up to the painting Fire at Mt Eden. Warring gangs in the neighbourhood set fire to a house close to the Hanly home and the family watched as the flames leapt into the night. Although Hanly’s works are abstracted, they are of this world.

Some people say they don’t understand Hanly and Brownson believes he knows why:

‘They don’t understand about joy and happiness. (Hanly’s) painting is full of joy. It enjoys living.

Scarlett Thomas – Tapping into Creative Writing

The End of Mr Y at CCLScarlett Thomas teaches Creative Writing at Kent University in England.  She has written eight novels including Our Tragic Universe and The End of Mr Y which was longlisted for the Orange Prize.

Who better to write a book about how to write?

Her latest work, Monkeys with Typewriters, is a guide to creative writing and contains Scarlett Thomas’ best advice. In conversation with Paula Morris, she said this is the book she wishes had been available when she started out.

The title comes from the Infinite Monkey Theorem which puts forward the proposition that a monkey, hitting keys at random on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time, could almost surely type the complete works of Shakespeare. Let’s just say it’s a long shot. According to Thomas there’s a one in 15 billion chance of a monkey typing the word banana, but this isn’t the point. The point is that it’s the words on the page that matter because they are the story. What was going on in the writer’s mind or life when s/he wrote them is irrelevant.

Scarlett Thomas at AWRF 2013A couple of writing tips:

1. Make the task seem manageable. The Hound of the Baskervilles is a short novel of 60,000 words. Break that down into 3,000 words a day and you’ve written a novel in 20 days – doesn’t seem so hard now, does it?

2. The only thing that drives characters are desires and objectives. Like people they act for a reason. Find the one key driver that is a superobjective for your character, it could be the need for comfort/control/balance/fame/popularity, and you have the beginnings of a believable character.

Some authors moan about the difficulties of being a writer. Thomas believes this is because they haven’t worked at Pizza Hut. Her advice for discontented writers? “Do some rubbish jobs so you appreciate how wonderful being a writer really is.”

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.

We appreciate your appreciation! The Gladstone

Saturday night at the DB Gladstone – ah, those were the days. The dingy old pub with cracked stucco walls, peeling paint and the stench of beer seeping from its pores slouched next to its corporate neighbours on the corner of Peterborough and Durham Streets and sneered at their clean concrete exteriors. In the ’80s, the Gladstone was the venue for great gigs. I remember seeing legendary Kiwi bands such as The Wastrels, the Dance Exponents and Pop Mechanix there and The Gordons in all their edgy glory.

It was the place to go. Saturday nights, I’d put down my Victorian poetry texts, backcomb my black and purple hair, squeeze into my drainpipe jeans, strap on my winkle pickers and head to the Gladstone to scowl with friends in dark corners.

Many of us did our courting there, pogo-ing into the night as the bass thudded on and the singers’ voices became husky with the clouds of cigarette smoke that engulfed us all.

I hope with the rebuild that there will still be room in Christchurch for a bit of grunge. We need a few haunts in which we can lurk and not feel obliged to be perky and bright and have our teeth whitened to fit in with the crowd.

Keeps it real somehow.

Out of this world Kiwi music

Some songs just make you feel good, don’t they? I first heard  Heavenly Pop Hit when I was studying Broadcasting Communications at CPIT. I was on work experience at the TVNZ studios on Gloucester Street watching the production team put together segments for What Now!  They ran the video and everyone started singing along. I remember jellyfish swimming in an amorphous mass of green and blue and feeling wow, this is great! It was a heavenly moment.

Heavenly Pop Hit

The Chills was formed by singer/songwriter Martin Phillips in 1980 after the demise of his punk band The Same. The Chills experienced Kiwi chart success throughout the 80s and 90s with hits such as Pink Frost and I Love my Leather Jacket and was one of the first bands to embody the Dunedin sound. Phillips has been the only member to stay with the band to the present day. The most recent album released by the Chills was Stand By in 2004 and they performed in Australia in 2010.

To create a zippy ending to this blog, I tried to sum up how I feel about great Kiwi music but the words were beyond me. I’ll just leave it to the master:

So I stand as the sound goes straight through my body,
I’m so bloated up, happy, and I throw things around me.
And I’m growing in stages, and have been for ages,
Just singing and floating and free.
Martin Phillips – Heavenly Pop Hit (1988)

Auckland Writers and Readers Festival – a literary bubble bath

Crowds at the 2012 AWRF FestivalOnly one month to go until I can plunge into the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival and immerse myself in four wonderful  book-filled days overflowing with author talks, workshops, book signings and gala events. Glorious! It will be like sinking into a literary bubble bath and I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.

This year I’m looking forward to seeing Anita Desai. I first came across this author back in the 80s when she wrote A Clear Light of Day and was moved by her deceptively simple story of a brother and sister in post-partition Dehli. Desai has been nominated for the Man Booker Prize three times. I’ve just read The Artist of Disappearance and it’s apparent the author has lost none of her skill. Her stories are insightful and her characters stay with me. I hope to interview her so keep checking the blog in May if you’d like to hear more about this talented writer.

The Prisoner of Heaven at Christchurch City LibrariesCarlos Ruiz Zafon is also on my most-wanted-to-meet list. He has written a trilogy of novels around the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and his website list of favourite books is similar to mine so I feel we may be kindred spirits. He writes stories ‘in exchange for a penny, a smile or a tear, and a little of your time and attention’ in which he combines elements of the great nineteenth century novels he admires with twentieth century cinema, multimedia and popular motifs.

Kate Atkinson will be there. Need I say more!

Poet Fleur Adcock has released a new collection, Glass Wings. The poems explore themes of identity, memory and what it means to belong (or not). High Tide in the Garden and The Inner Harbour are favourites of mine. I’m really looking  forward to learning more about the woman who is one of New Zealand’s most influential poets.

I hope to find a few surprises at the Festival too. I like to go along to an event I know nothing about and learn something new. Last year I saw Chris Bourke talk about the Auckland music scene in the 1960s and now have a whole new appreciation of Kiwi jazz. This year I could explore live book valuing, war correspondence, or cricket. It’s the variety of the events on offer that makes the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival such a great occasion.

Twenty six days and counting down! I might even see you there.

Reach for the stars

Search the catalogue for AstronomyI’ve been doing a lot of navel gazing lately. You know the stuff – Who am I?, What am I doing with my life?, Why am I here?, etc, etc, etc. I guess it’s all to do with my age (isn’t it always) and the fact that I’ve come through a massive great earthquake and lived to tell the tale. One of the DIY self-help books I read recently made me pause for thought. It asked, “If money was no issue and you had all the time in the world, what would you do for work?”

Now, I’m a very happy and contented librarian but there is a small part of me that yearns to know more about astronomy. I visited the Mt John Observatory last year and was overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of space. If I had my time over, I’d conquer my irrational fear of physics and study the stars.

However, it’s never too late to learn and Christchurch City Libraries has many resources for those of us who want to explore new boundaries and expand our extragalactic knowledge.

It seems the more astronomers discover about space, the larger and more complex it becomes. No one believes there’s much chance of bumping into Vulcans or Klingons by traveling at warp speed to the next galaxy any more. Now we’re talking of globular clusters, cosmic strings, and quasars kiloparsecs away. The search for the meaning of life continues in a universe vast beyond measure.

Although poles apart in dimension, it seems to me that self-engrossed introspection and extraterrestrial investigation have a lot in common. Both ponder the mystery of time and existence. It’s only the scale that varies.

A few of my favourite foodie things

The Best of Alison Holst at Christchurch City LibrariesNew Zealand Book Month has given me cause to reflect on my fave New Zealand reads. While I’m at a loss to decide which fiction title is my number one, there are three non-fiction works that catapult to the top of my list. New Zealand fiction could be described as dark, raw and cynical but Kiwi cookbooks are some of the most accessible, easy-to-read and downright yummy cookbooks on the planet.

My first cookbook ever was given to me by my mother when I left home. It was The Best of Alison Holst now known fondly as “The Red Bible”.  I’ve used this book as many times as I’ve had hot dinners. My first copy became so splattered and manky after the first ten years it sat oozing oil and shedding breadcrumbs on the bookshelf. Although I knew I had to throw it out, I just couldn’t bear be without it. Fortunately, this best selling legend was reprinted a couple of years back and I grabbed another copy from the bookshop. My new copy is fast becoming as loved and battered (literally) as the first.

When I was going through my yuppy stage, I bought a slim volume called Smart Food for Busy People by Annabel Langbein and this book made a huge impact on me.  From the time I first opened the pages it started work its magic in my kitchen and I loved what it did for my culinary repertoire. The recipes had the new New Zealand vibe I was experiencing in restaurants at the time – crisp textures, emphasis on fresh produce, an influence from Asian cuisine, light and healthy food with flavour. I cooked recipe after recipe and wowed friends and family. Of course Annabel has gone on to host her own very successful television show and produce more quality, up-to-the-minute cookbooks but Smart Food is still my favourite.

Richard Till's Kiwi Kitchen at Christchurch City LibrariesRichard Till opened Espresso 124 on the Strip before it even became the Strip. It was the restaurant on Oxford Terrace around which all the others gathered as the food scene exploded into life in Christchurch in the late 80s. We loved Espresso 124. The food was brilliant, the atmosphere was charged and you could see Richard every Friday night hurling pans around the kitchen and dodging flames as he seared perfect steaks. The man’s a legend. His cookbooks capture his authentic Kiwi style and no-fuss approach to great food.

These are my favourites and there are plenty more – Al Brown, Ray McVinnie, Peter Gordon, Celia Hay, Julie Biuso, Fleur Sullivan … New Zealand has some of the best food writers on the planet. No doubt about it.

Today’s libraries are poles apart

South Library Cake DayLibrarians are always looking for new ways to attract people through our doors, share our wonderful resources and contribute to our communities. For example, South Library (pre-quake) held a Cake Day and everyone was invited to share an enormous chocolate cake. It was a good idea, lots of fun and a great success.

However, Mayfield Library in Dalkeith, Scotland has taken community involvement to a whole new level. They’re holding a Library Day which includes a Pole Dancing class. The Mail has reported that the 90 minute workout is being held for over-16s in the early afternoon and local bands will play while the patrons dance.

Bob Constable, Midlothian Council’s cabinet member for public services and leisure, told the Daily Telegraph that “the pole fitness session is a fun and interesting way of encouraging more people into our libraries, trying out all the services on offer and ultimately borrowing more books.”
 South Library Strengthening
The article appears to have divided librarians in Britain who either agree that the concept is a lot of fun or are outright horrified that libraries have been reduced to becoming yet another place of  entertainment. However, everyone appears to have drawn a line at the idea of using books as bats in a form of library table tennis. The book is a sacred item after all.
As I was walking to work today it crossed my mind that newly reopened South Christchurch Library has a whole lot of poles that are not being fully utilised at present. Hmmm …