Chris Turney: scientist, adventurer, storyteller

Scientist and storyteller, what a magical combination from  Chris Turney, author of 1912, the year the world discovered Antarctica. His session at  The Press Christchurch Writers Festival was a delight for this most non-scientific of librarians.

Clearly 1912 was a crucial year for Antarctic exploration and research, with five expeditions in the Southern continent, four trying to reach the pole and one exploring the western Antarctic. In 1912 little was known about Antarctica, scientists were not even sure it was one continent. The Scott/Amundsen race is iconic of course, but how many of us know about the homicidal Germans, the unlucky Japanese and the combined Australian/ New Zealand team lead by Sir Douglas Mawson.

In 1912, the adventurer had to persuade both the scientific establishment and the general public to back an expedition, there was no government support. Mawson, who was only 28, was clearly a super fundraiser, netting over $20million US in today’s money.

Scott’s dedication to science lead to his team hauling 16kgs of rocks back from the Beardmore Glacier, even as they struggled to survive. They ditched equipment but not the rocks. This tale was supported by many others during Chris’s lively session and you could do no better than read the book  and look at his website which has lots of resources including film from the early expeditions. He even has his own YouTube channel so there is a feast for science and Antarctic junkies.

Chris is inspired by the fundraising skills of the early explorers and is involved in the privately funded Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013-2014. Marking 100 years since Mawson’s expedition the aim is “Taking a team of 30 women and men south, the new Australasian Antarctic Expedition will set out for two remote parts of Antarctica – Heard Island and Enderby Land – both of which have seen relatively little exploration over the past hundred years and for which we have few scientific measurements.” Anyone can join in supporting this.

What is the outlook for feminism in the 21st Century?

Princesses & pornstars by Emily Maguire

The statement certainly made me wonder what the outcome for feminism and women in general will be if all of the younger generation think that way. I was looking forward to Your skirt’s too short, one of the events at The Press Christchurch Writers Festival. Unfortunately the Festival was cancelled due to the earthquake. It was going to feature panellists Marilyn Waring, feminist and gender rights expert, and Emily Maguire, journalist and novelist who is widely published with articles and essays on “sex, religion, culture and literature”.

So any inspirational feminist texts that particularly made an impression on you?

Three Men Walk into a Pub …

Cover… at the Christchurch Writers Festival: a Kiwi, an Ozzie and a Chinese man. They settle in with their cabernet sauvignons to debate that age-old question: Do we write English differently depending on where we were born? Of course there are many weighty tomes on this subject and a few gazillion linguistics dissertations to boot. But you need go no further than The Press Christchurch Writers Festival this week to get some mighty fine opportunities to come to grips with this topic of our times.

At the festival there are several events which will be of interest in this regard:

At the pub the three men meet a very nice South African lady (drinking Pinotage of course) who slides a slip of paper across the bar counter and asks: OK, which country do you think this quote comes from?

There is a lovely road that runs from **** into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it.

If you’ve not read this book, it is almost impossible to identify the country. What do you think, could you identify a piece of Kiwi writing which has no obvious geographic references? Would you just know?  Do you have some quotes you’d like to share?

English as She is Spoke

Do you write letters to the newspaper bewailing the falling standards of English or, when you see such letters, do you shrug your shoulders and mutter “wodever”? Either way, here is a Christchurch Writers Festival event for you – English as She is Spoke which pairs Dr Elizabeth Gordon and Simon Winchester in what promises to be an event that is scintillating enough to render me speechless.

Elizabeth Gordon writes a regular column in The Press and her latest book Living Language: Exploring Kiwitalk tackles issues around language change in New Zealand. In other words, she writes really well about language. Simon Winchester on the other hand writes brilliantly using language and his The Professor and the Madman (aka The Surgeon of Crowthorne) is a must read for anyone interested in English.

I can’t say I am going to this event entirely without leanings. At times Gordon’s column has made me emit high-pitched keening noises whilst stabbing at the page with a blunt instrument. What is more, I have on occasion refused to stay in places which cannot correctly spell the word accommodation, recently joined a group called “there, their and they’re are not the same”  and feel heartbroken when some young people in libraries appear unable to articulate the simplest of requests.

That said, I will be in the queue for this event with an opinionated open mind (if there is such a thing), my mouth shut and my posture leaning to the side of the aisle on which Winchester sits. How about you?

PS – I am dedicating this blog to the patriarch of the Festival Team, Richard Liddicoat who for some time now has suspected that I am incapable of writing a blog of under 300 words. This one comes to exactly 299 Richard. Do I get a chocolate fish?

Most wanted

coverNot to be outdone in giddying-up for The Press Christchurch Writers Festival, I have compiled a list of authors with the most.

Author with the most taonga possibilities – Patrick Evans. Impossible to top the Evans family placemats shared with the audience during his recent lecture at the Christchurch Art Gallery on post-colonial  literary theory and his book The Long Forgetting, but he can try.

Authors with the best programme promise – Liam McIlvanney and Iggy McGovern as they look at “a shared history of religious bigotry, political violence and alcohol abuse”. With accents.

Author whose book I have had read aloud to me the most – Emily Maguire.  As far as a 19-year-old of my acquaintance is concerned this woman invented feminism.  We’ll see about that when she’s on the panel with Marilyn Waring.

CoverAuthor rarely seen but much admired – Rosemary McLeod. Also the author who doesn’t write enough books. Particularly looking forward to the immaculate bob and  the jewellery.

Author seen before and also much admired – Alexa Johnston. A stand-out at  Auckland Readers and Writers 2009.

But it’s not all beer and skittles at writers festivals, literary liggers have worries too and my biggest is what to wear to Ladies, a Plateand the New Zealand Fashion Design event at Christchurch Art Gallery.  A library T-shirt probably.

A Writer’s Other Life

The anticipation is building for The Press Christchurch Writers Festival! Can you feel it? CAN YOU FEEL IT??

I’ll be front and centre at one of the festival’s highlights– Hot off the Press on Friday 10 September. One of the four authors reading from ‘some of the best new books around’ for this event will be Wellington-based author Craig Cliff.

I’ve started reading Cliff’s debut short story collection A Man Melting: Short Stories. (Love it so far! I’m a sucker for well written short stories with resolutions that don’t leave me depressed!) But before I even got to the first story, I found myself pondering the bio. One sentence in particular:

These days [Cliff] lives on Wellington’s south coast and works for the government.

Works for the government?

Yes, yes, it’s no challenge to find info online about Cliff: that he’s won the Katherine Mansfield Award in the Novice Section, that his works are published in numerous literary magazines, that he tried writing a million words in one year. But what about this work reference?

I tend to think of writers as solitary individuals slaving away before antiquated computers in stuffy attics all day, every day. (An egregious assumption, I’m sure.) So, a question remains for writers who don’t write full-time:

What do you do in your other lives?

One Day Short Story Competition – What a blast!

I’ve done it! I’ve achieved the impossible. I’ve written a short story in one day and, let me tell you, that’s no small achievement.

Sunday dawned grey and damp. Not the most auspicious start to the 2010 NZ Society of Authors’ One-Day Short Story Competition but at least there was no temptation to head for the beach or spend time in the garden.

I had an early start. My daughter and her elaborate project had to be at the Science Fair at 7.30am so the first part of the day was spent dragging her out of bed, feeding her, finding her shoes and bundling her in the car. I had to start work at 9.30am so my very dear significant other made the trip into the Christchurch Art Gallery to pick up my short story instructions and texted them through to me at 10.15am.

And here is the crunch!  The story had to be no longer than 1500 words and include the phrase “Wanda fell from the tram and remembered nothing else until …”

My mind went into hyperdrive. Who was Wanda? What sort of parent calls a child ‘Wanda’? A fish is called Wanda. And what was this Wanda doing on the tram? Who travels on the Christchurch tram apart from holiday makers? Diners? Is the tram in Christchurch anyway? Is it on another planet? Could the tram be an alternative to the Hogwart’s express? And she fell. Did she fall or was she pushed?

I finished work at 1.00pm and raced home. I put my hands to the keyboard at 1.25pm. I knew I had to get the manuscript in printed form back to the Gallery by 5.00pm which meant leaving home at 4.00pm. Three hours and 5 minutes. Eeek!

Now you might think I’m making excuses giving you all these details of my hectic day, but I do feel there needs to be some explanation as to why I wrote possibly the worst short story since human beings started scratching in the dust with sticks. I’m not kidding. It was awful. The words flew out of my mind and I didn’t have time to censor them. The time rocketed past. My partner banged on the door at 4.40pm.

“No,” I cried. “I can’t do it. It’s too awful! I give up.”

He wasn’t hearing a word of it. “Finish it off,” he said. “I’ll turn the car around.”

We rocketed through the town at a determined pace. I flew through the Gallery doors with three minutes to spare. The lovely folk from the Society of Authors very calmly took my manuscript and wished me luck. Sweet of them!

The winners will be announced at the presentation at the Town Hall Conference Room on Saturday 11 September at 7.00pm as part of  The Press Christchurch Writers’ Festival. I’ll be there! I’m looking forward to hearing the good stories written by fellow writers. The experience has been great fun and I feel proud to be part of this event. I’ve cut my speed writing teeth and am already sharpening my pencil for next year’s competition. I think I’ll book my annual leave now.

Christchurch Crime Wave

Duh, not a real crime wave but oodles of mystery and thriller writers from all across the globe, here in Christchurch … yes … really … woo-hoo. I’ll be at The Press Christchurch Writers Festival to marvel at the twisted, tortured minds of these crime-peddling  scribes.

The line-up includes:
CoverSimon Kernick, specialising in high-octane thriller, his latest bestseller The last ten seconds is some crazy voodoo, believe me.  I read it in only two  sittings without blinking, barely breathing and compulsively turning page after page. Could be mind-control or maybe darn good writing? I need to know, and blog-readers I will find out.

Neil Cross, now living here in Godzone, this British ex-pat excels at twisty-turney, dark psychological novels. Neil’s thriller Burial is in the running  for the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel and he is also promoting his latest title Captured. Mr Cross is nothing if not versatile; having written an exquisite memoir Heartland, a Man Booker long-listed novel Always the sun and scriptwriting the BBC’s Spooks series. Someone told me he is funny too, so c’mon Neil make me laugh.

Liam McIlvanney holds the Stuart Chair in Scottish Studies at Otago University and spends most of his time introducing youthful kiwis to the extremely dubious pleasures of Rabbie Burns, James Hogg and Sir Walter Scott.  Liam is also the author of All the colours of the town, a richly textured thriller exploring the long shadow of Scots-Irish sectarianism. Ayrshire born, he is appearing in conversation with Iggy McGovern and will be chatting about something close to my own heart: the boozy, conflicted and violent Scots.

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The Press Christchurch Writers Festival – Here I come!

CoverI too have been lucky enough to be selected to attend the Press Christchurch Writers Festival. I’ve even changed my gravatar. I’m going to see one of my favourite authors – Barbara Trapidospeaking about her latest novel Sex and Stravinsky. It reminded me a little of her Travelling hornplayer in its style where coincidences abound in the run-up to the finish. Trapido also features in Good stories.

If you want to know more about Barbara Trapido, try British Council: Contemporary Writers  for a profile. This gives biographical information and critique her books up to Frankie and Stankie so is a bit outdated. Or best of all check out Trapido’s writing room on The Guardian’s website.

Is anyone else hoping to catch Barbara at The Press Christchurch Writers Festival?

Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel shortlist

logoThree books have been short-listed for the Ngaio Marsh Award, New Zealand’s first ever crime novel award. A panel of seven local and international judges has selected the shortlist from crime, mystery and thriller novels written by a New Zealand citizen and published in New Zealand in 2009. The winner will be announced on Friday night of the Christchurch Writers Festival during the Setting the Stage for Murder evening (10 September 2010).

Two of the short listed authors, Neil Cross and Vanda Symon will be on stage, along with Australian based Michael Robotham and English writer Simon Kernick.

The three finalists are: