Here are a few of the covers from our August Science Fiction newsletter:

Cover of The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes Cover of Earth Afire by Orson Scott Card Cover of Abadon's Gate by James S. A. Corey Cover of the Humans by Matt Haig Cover of The Humand Division by John Scalzi Cover of Neptune's Blood by Charles Stross

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By the end of The Great War, forty-five Australian and New Zealand nurses had died on overseas service and over two hundred had been decorated. These were women who left for war on an adventure, but were soon confronted with remarkable challenges for which their civilian lives could never have prepared them.

They were there for the horrors of Gallipoli and they were there for the savagery the Western Front. Within twelve hours of the slaughter at Anzac Cove they had over 500 horrifically injured patients to tend on one crammed hospital ship, and scores of deaths on each of the harrowing days that followed. Every night was a nightmare.Their strength and humanity were remarkable.

Using diaries and letters, Peter Rees takes us into the hospital camps, and the wards and the tent surgeries on the edge of some of the most horrific battlefronts of human history. But he also allows the friendships and loves of these courageous and compassionate women to enrich their experiences, and ours. This is a very human story from a different era, when women had not long begun their quest for equality and won the vote. They were on the frontline of social change as well as war, and the hurdles they had to overcome and the price they paid, personally and professionally, make them a unique group in Anzac history.

You can read The other Anzacs  as an e-book from our Overdrive collection.

The other Anzacs is also available as a paper book

On Canaan's SideLife: An unexploded diagramSalvage the Bones

Before I came to the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, I wrote that there was a theme of shadows running through my selections. It seemed fitting I should be the one to attend a session called “In the shadow of history”.

This session brought together three writers who’ve written fictional works about real, significant, historical events. These authors, their books and the events in question are:

Given the significant historical events that have happened in dear old Christchurch, I was interested to hear how these authors used the stuff of fact to create fiction. How does a writer create art out of the shadow of history?

Mal Peet is interested in how historical events shape human identity. He says, in his dry laconic way, that there are ‘floating particles of history in the air all the time’ and he’s fascinated with the concept that there are three molecules of Julius Caesar in everyone alive today. Life: An Unexploded Diagram plays with the notion that if we could explode people, break them down to their atoms, we could see the historical and biological patterns that make them up.

In Life, the characters are aware of the Cuban missile crisis but they live in their personalised present and do little about it. It’s a story about “bluff, double bluff and bumbling” where no one seems to realise they’re taking part in history until after the event. Then, there’s an epiphany and the author explores how  events change lives.

Sebastian Barry spoke in general terms about his novel On Canaan’s Side. He observes that Irish literature never seems to go to war. It’s much more concerned with portraying marginalised people.

There was no conscription in Southern Ireland during World War 1 but 200,000 soldiers went to war and 50,000 died. The soldiers were all volunteers. When the survivors came home in 1916, they didn’t get a hero’s welcome. They were forgotten because the war didn’t fit the national story. These men were damaged by the horrors they’d seen, and the shadow of their experiences haunted them and the lives of those who loved them. His book follows the story of Lilly Bere who is forced to flee Ireland after the war as she tries to make sense of the sorrows of her life.

Jesmyn Ward bases her novel Salvage the Bones on her own experience of  living through catastophic Hurricane Katrina which destoyed large areas of New Orleans in August 2005. She became angry about the unjustness of the commentary in the media. She gives the example of a newspaper photograph showing a white couple going through a rubbish skip accompanied by the caption ‘foraging for food’ whereas a black man doing the same thing was accused of looting. She wrote her novel to “offer people a fuller experience of what it was like for the people that lived through it.” Sebastian Barry made the observation that the storm of racism that followed Hurricane Katrina was even more heartbreaking than the terrifying natural storm.

Jesmyn Ward didn’t start to write her novel until two and a half years after Hurricane Katrina, Mal Peet writes of events that occurred in the early 1960s and Sebastian Barry looks back in time to WW1. It may be too early yet to see how the Christchurch earthquakes will impact upon the New Zealand literature, but the fact is that significant events shape our identities and out of the shadow of history comes art.


The last entry in Herbert's diary

Monday 10 July 1916: Was hit this morning. Got it in the left hand ear and neck. Parapet came down on top of me; was buried for about an hour… on Nov 6th sent to Monckworth.

Nov 14th – sent to action.

And there ends the War diary of Herbert Harold Stephens. I got a bit teary-eyed as I thought that meant he was lost in battle, but then read about the provenance of this diary, and how it ended up being digitised in Christchurch City Libraries’ collection:

This war diary is a small pocket diary donated by H.H. Stephens’ family some time after his death about 1968, and deposited in the Canterbury Public Library by Mr R.C. Lamb, 27 April 1978.

The diary is full of the everyday stuff of war and hospitalisation – shipboard life, clergymen visits, lady visitors, and the joy of meeting other Kiwis, especially Cantabrians:

… saw 4 NZ men there. One was from Belfast, and knows Rangiora and Chch well. Had a long yarn with him … he has lost a leg above the knee.

Private H.H. Stephens from Sydenham, Christchurch, joined up and was stationed in C Company, Infantry, of the First New Zealand Expeditionary Force. He departed for the war zone from Wellington on Saturday 14 August 1915, as a member of the Sixth Reinforcements. Private Stephens’s war quickly became a personal battle against dysentery which took him to England and hospital. On 9 May 1916 Private Stephens arrived at the Western Front near Armentieres. On 10 July he was wounded and again evacuated to the Middlesex Hospital in England.

Photo of medieval armourFor something completely different, I agreed to work my club’s stand at the Arms and Militaria Show held at the Riccarton Racecourse. I have to confess that I have a long-standing fascination with things military,  reaching back to a binge on WWII young adults literature at high school. Even so I didn’t really know what to expect, and hadn’t really expected quite such a range of people and products as were on show, and for sale. Here are a few photos of some of the different stands.

Medieval armour and weapons were on display at the Society for Creative Anachronism stand. This was a major hit with the kids, many of whom got to try on helmets, gauntlets and other bits of armour. The SCA has been ‘recreating’ the medieval world for over 40 years and also put on displays of combat outside the building.

Right next door to them was the Western shooting club whose members were also clad in appropriate gear (cowboy hats and fringed leather).

Model airplanes I was hugely impressed by a maker of model airplanes, the level of detail of which was extraordinary. At the other scale of modelling there was a full-sized display of a WWII Afrikakorps campsite.

There was a huge amount of military memorabilia on display, some of which was for sale. Medals, coins, books, magazines, uniforms and weapons were all available for the eager collector. We have quite a lot of resources for collectors of militaria I discovered, including several collectors’ guides, books about medals and badges, toy soldiers, collectable guns and blades and many titles about uniforms and armour including the well known Osprey books.

MedalsIn addition to our book collection the PriceIt source is another useful tool for the collector. It collates information from a wide variety of auction houses including eBay and includes authoritative articles about repair, restoration and conservation of antiques, hiring an appraiser and many specific areas of collecting.

Like all our sources PriceIt is free to use online: just enter your library card number and PIN.

cover for The Bounce Back BookPrime has been showing a programme called Blitz Street. A typical English street of World War II vintage has been created and then blown up to simulate the kind of damage caused by bombing. Along the way survivors of the Blitz share their experiences. It’s finished now, but it’s the sort of thing that might resonate with Christchurch residents. Earthquake street could be our new reality show!

What the Blitz survivors talk about is resilience. How to endure terrible experiences and stress and bounce back up again. Resilience in the face of adversity can help with your mental and physical well being. So how do you build your resilience?

The other day the water went off in my house for half a day. It was the first time since any of the quakes and it really threw me for a while. I found it hard to concentrate or do anything. I had to remind myself about all the positives – power is on, house is warm,  house is weatherproof and so on. I went to have a look  around our neighbourhood and saw the comforting sight of men at work. Then I made preparations in case we were without water for some time. I tried to get through a crisis in a positive way but it made me realise I wasn’t as resilient as I thought.

I looked up the library catalogue to see what I could find and sure enough – resilience brings up a good list of titles.

Our earthquake information page also lists the help out there – asking for help seems like a pretty good sign of resilience. This web page is a good starting point for all kinds of help.

CoverOver breakfast this morning, today’s session titled Religion: What is it good for? led inevitably to impassioned discussion regarding Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Bruce Springsteen, and the (mis-)appropriation of pop music for literary purposes.  Sadly, our lot failed to reach consensus, unlike the panelists in the real Festival session.  Adrian Wooldridge, Michael Otterman and Antony Loewenstein were remarkably united on several fronts, not the least being their disdain for Richard Dawkins.  I’ve already outlined some of the main points about these three guys here, and for Michael Otterman’s session, here, and told you it’s impossible to cover their topics in a short blog post, so won’t revisit, but I will attempt to provide a bit of the flavour of this combined session, before you rush off to find the books.

Chair Sean Plunket led off with a request for each speaker to make his own personal declaration of their beliefs.  In their own words – Antony Loewenstein identifies himself as a Jewish atheist who is agnostic about whether religion is good or bad; Michael Otterman is an agnostic cultural Jew from New York, which means he loves Seinfeld and eats bagels on Sundays; and Adrian Wooldridge, having been born C of E, is therefore an atheist who is relatively sympathetic to religion, and who also enjoys Seinfeld.

Whether or not you believe in God, Wooldridge says, current research shows that religion itself is (more…)

I have decided there can be no light and witty blog title for a subject such as the one Michael Otterman tackles in his latest book, Erasing Iraq.  Chair Sean Plunket describes it as a difficult and uncomfortable read, and not a book to be curled up in bed with at the end of the day.  A collection of interviews with Iraqi refugees displaced all over the world, the very first tale relates the story of a Mendaean family whose son is kidnapped and murdered by fundamentalist extremists, and who then must go to retrieve the body.

The main thrust of the message is that the United States invasion of Iraq represents not a liberation, but an occupation, triggering what Otterman calls sociocide – the killing not just of a group of people but of a way of life, with the Mendaeans being a case in point.  A small and very insular group with strong religious beliefs, before the war they numbered around 50,000.  Now there are less than 5000 remaining, and with their cultural and religious beliefs precluding them from marrying outside their society, they are the last of their people.  Otterman describes the “unforseen, unthinking consequence” of United States foreign policy and actions, and has documented the devastating human cost of this thoughtlessness through the tales of those he interviewed.

The session was riveting, and had a deeply appreciative and attentive audience (apart from the dear old ladies sitting next to me, who on discovering which session they had wandered into, said rather loudly, “Oh, dear! That doesn’t sound very nice!”).  Nice it wasn’t, but compelling it certainly was, with Sean Plunket making some (rather brave, I thought) comparisons between what is going on in Iraq today, and the Holocaust.  As it turns out, however, Otterman’s own father and grandparents were Holocaust survivors, and he is more than happy to discuss the similarities and differences.

There’s no way I can do justice to the gravity of this message, and thus all I will do is relay the advice that Michael Otterman gave the audience, when asked what we as New Zealanders and as individuals can do:  read the book.  Read as much as you can find from outside mainstream media.  Go to Google and type in “Iraq blogs”.  Lobby the government to admit Iraqi refugees (in 2006 we took in just 86 Iraqi refugees, despite the fact that more than 3 million are now stranded outside their own country with nowhere else to go).  And remember that the Fox Network  should never be the sole provider of news and information from places like Iraq, or Afghanistan, or indeed, anywhere.

I am a little afraid.  Usually when attending festivals or writing blog posts, the things I cover have tags like: zombies, young adult, cake, fluffy bunnies, Iron Man.  Next week, however, despite all my careful planning and plotting, I have ended up as the only representative on the Festival team going to any event related to important, contentious, and actually serious international issues, with tags like the ones listed above.

Actually, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but it does serve to illustrate my fear at being asked to write lucidly about some (or any) of the issues to be discussed in sessions by Antony Loewenstein, Adrian Wooldridge and Michael Otterman.  I am truly fascinated by all of the subject matter that these guys specialise in, but I did think I could hang around on the fringes and watch in awe, rather than being relied on to produce something intelligent and thought-provoking.

Adrian Wooldridge writes for the Economist, and has co-authored five books on globalisation and business, with his most recent being the (so far fascinating – I’m up to chapter 4) God Is Back: how the global rise of faith is changing the world.

Antony Loewenstein discusses Israeli-Palestinian problems, with My Israel Question (I’m almost ready to begin this one; it’s on my desk, I promise!).

And Michael Otterman also looks to be a fascinating speaker, although alas the library doesn’t seem to have a copy of his new release Erasing Iraq, and I have yet to source any kind of extract from the book on the web.

I have, however, been able to watch all of these guys in snippets of interviews on the web, and am so impressed by both their ability to take a wide and reasoned view of undeniably complex and convoluted issues, and their obvious passion for their chosen area of interest/expertise.   And I am truly looking forward to hearing them in person, at which point I will try my hardest to convey some sense of their message to you all!

In the meantime, however, perhaps you’d like to reassure me by sharing YOUR ideal tag-cloud, or even share your most challenging/terrifying/awe-inspiring festival or booktalk session memories …

ANZAC Day is celebrated on 25 April every year in New Zealand and Australia to remember all the members of the armed forces who served in the two World Wars and other major conflicts, such as the Vietnam and Korean Wars.  Children can learn some interesting facts about ANZAC Day and some of the wars that our troops fought in by:

There are also a number of dawn parades and memorials around Christchurch and Canterbury that you could go along to to remember those that died fighting for their country.


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