The Right to be Cold – WORD Christchurch

As a fellow introvert I find Sheila Watt-Cloutier incredible, going from interpreter/nurse at the Ungava Hospital to International Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, among other things. Here’s someone who won’t need Tara Moss’s book Speaking Out as she has already been speaking out for decades via various platforms, successfully raising awareness of Inuit and global issues (and as she points out, the two are interlinked). Hers is a voice we need to hear more of.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier. Image supplied.
Sheila Watt-Cloutier. Image supplied.

So who are the Inuit?

The Inuit people are spread over four countries — Greenland, Canada, Alaska (US), and Siberian Russia. They total 165,000 all at the top of the world, most very far away from each other (not helped by the current airline routes). The same language is spoken with different dialects, the same food is eaten, the same legends, the same hunting practices, the same songs. The same people.

The motivation behind The Right to be Cold

Watt-Cloutier spent her first ten years in the Arctic in Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, which is located in Northern Quebec (Canada). She grew up in a very close knit family, raised by her mother and grandmother, travelling by dog-sled, and maintaining a close connection to the local environment and community. After leaving for school age ten and returning almost a decade later, the stark changes wrought in those few years propelled her onto a more political platform.

I felt a sense of responsibility to write the book from a personal narrative, through the experiences of those graphic changes, because I can still remember those more traditional times. It wasn’t generations ago, it was in my lifetime, things have changed very rapidly. I wrote it from a place of trying to connect all these pieces of how we had come from such a powerful, independent culture, strong and valuable, to the addiction, violence and abuse problems we deal with today. I wanted to put into context these wounds, to piece together what has happened in our family systems, societies, and communities.

The disappearance of the dog teams

It wasn’t until I was an adult starting to work in politics that stories began to come out. It was such a shameful time, the wounds were so deep that the men in our communities didn’t talk about that era. There was a time in history when the authorities of the day decided (supposedly for health and safety reasons) to remove the dogs. Thousands were shot and killed, families would come in from outpost camps to barter only to have their dogs shot and therefore their transport removed… It was a great trauma.

How did this affect the Inuit communities?

The dog slaughters and the demolition of the sealing industry changed the way hunters could provide for their families. They began to turn to rifles, ammunition, and motorised boats rather than traditional hunting practices, but the loss of the cultural tradition of hunting plus the degradation of the ice through climate change have caused a lot of damage to their sense of worthiness, integrity, identity.

Traditionally Inuit hunters are calm, reflective, inclusive, wise people. While Western impressions of hunters are often as aggressive men with rifles, hunting in the Arctic leaves no room for anger; any foolish decisions place yourself and your family in jeopardy in such a harsh environment. By losing that identity as proficient provider the hunters have begun to act out, passing their hurt on to women and children through violence. To circumvent that cycle of abuse Watt-Cloutier feels it is important to reclaim and understand their history. By reconnecting with their culture and past hopefully some will regain a sense of place in the community.

Cover of The Right to be ColdIf I could just help one person alleviate part of the burden that they carry, then I will have accomplished what I set out to do.

I haven’t really delved into the more environmental part of the talk because there was a lot of information packed into that one-hour session, but I highly recommending reading her book The Right to be Cold to learn more about how we can make this a better planet for everyone, not just the polar bears.

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Adventures in Publishing – WORD Christchurch

Eat. Sleep. Read. Scott Pack’s t-shirt made a nice statement and I felt an immediate affinity. Eloquently introduced by Tracy Farr author of The Life and loves of Lena Gaunt, this could well turn out to be one of my favourite sessions.  Scott Pack could quite easily give up his day job and become a stand-up comic, a lovely British self deprecating humour always wins me over.

ScottPack1
Scott Pack. Image supplied

Changing the title of the talk to How to accidentally become a publisher: A story in 10 books is a crowd-winning way to lead us through his career in publishing.  It turns out that Scott Pack is a bit of a risk taker who surprisingly listens to Radio New Zealand, (but more about that later). The  books he uses are varied and prove a clever way to describe career highlights.

Blood Sweat and Tea by Tom Reynolds

Scott Pack left Waterstones where he had worked for about 10 years and became involved in The Friday Project.  Ebooks have taken off by this point and bloggers were also starting to make their mark. Tom Reynolds had been writing a very popular blog about his life as an ambulance driver, so The Friday Project were the first publishers to turn digital on its head and publish a digital format ie a blog into a print format book.  It became a best seller, and as we know the rest is history as there are now any number of blogs becoming books.

White Noise by Don De Lillo

9780330291088White Noise was used to highlight the National Radio story. Scott Pack suffers from tinnitus and finds it much harder to get rid of the white noise sound when it is quiet at night. After trial and error he came upon the solution of listening to Radio New Zealand, which gave him something good to listen to but because it wasn’t necessarily British or local he could also go to sleep and not get too caught up in the interviews as he would with a British made programme. This led to his next book The Life and loves a Lena Gaunt by Tracy Farr. He heard it read on Radio New Zealand, loved it, contacted Tracy and ended up publishing her along with Fiona Kidman and Damian Wilkins all in the space of about 5 months.

The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki

The Wisdom of Crowds was a nice lead into one of Scott Pack’s latest venture Unbound – kickstarter (or crowdsourcing)  for books.  The curators of the site put up a chapter of a book that has been submitted by a writer that they think shows some merit.  As a reader you get to like a book and give the amount of money that you think it is worth to the kickstarter or crowdsourcing site.  If the book raises enough money it is published and you get your name in the back of the book.  Authors can also offer other means for you to support them – a chef for example who is trying to get his/her book published could  (for a price) to come to your house and cook  you dinner.

Lastly he talked about and area that he is obviously passionate about.  He is on the hunt for lost, forgotten or out of print books.  The Iron Chariot by Stein Riverton was apparently the 2nd best Norwegian crime novel of all time. (Why 2nd best no one seems to know) but it is long out of print and  has now been translated. Scandinavian crime is still a ‘thing’ and he hopes it will sell well.

Plenty of food for thought, this was a great session for aspiring writers…and I think there were a few in the audience, but it was also highly entertaining and informative for those of us who just love books and enjoy listening to someone who shares their enthusiasm.

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An hour with Nadia Hashimi – WORD Christchurch

The interviewer for this session was Marianne Elliott who had trained as a human rights lawyer.  She worked in the area of advocacy and communications and Afghanistan was one of the many places she has worked.  She recounts her time there in her book Zen under fire, and her experiences and empathy really helped make this session successful.

Nadia Hashimi. Image supplied.
Nadia Hashimi. Photo by Chris Carter. Image supplied.

Nadia Hashimi wants to portray the “heroic women of Afghanistan rising above it all”. The common portrayal is of an oppressed downtrodden group, meek and in the shadow of the men, hidden by the burka. Afghan women are a mystery, we start making our own assumptions aided by portrayals of the western armies going in to save them.

9780062411198Nadia Hashimi was born in the USA but weaves the stories of her family into her stories. Many have been refugees and her book When the Moon is Low portrays a refugee story and was published before the recent refugee crisis.  Ahead of her time on this issue, it had always been one that had affected her family and the people of Afghanistan.

She not only portrays women differently than the common view but her men too are often kind and romantic and opposed to brutal and paternalistic.  She described romance as being a huge part of Afghan culture.  Radio shows abound where people can call in anonymously and talk about their loves and relationships, she called it an obsession with romanticism and Bollywood movies are incredibly popular.

A House without windows describes the experience of Afghan women in prison.  For some it is a complete erosion of their freedoms, for others whose lives are incredibly brutal it is a welcome refuge, there is no one to bother and harass them, they are fed and may even be able to go to literacy classes.  The justice system is flawed and women are often imprisoned after false statements and for such crimes as running away from home.  Both women described the frustration of working in the justice arena, but also acknowledged that there are some amazing people working in this area who are slowly trying to bring about change.

A question was asked about how we can best support Afghan women. Sending money can be risky as corruption is rampant. She suggested supporting the arts, Afghan women’s writing projects and women’s crafts, we can also read their blogs, listen to their stories and realise that these women are strong and resilient.

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Giving Them Hell: Political Cartoons — WORD Christchurch

Anyone who knows me well is aware that I’ve always been interested in cartoons and comics. As a child I devoured Asterix and Calvin and Hobbes; as a teenager I flipped to the political cartoons, studying Garrick Tremain’s effortless shading; and today I consume pretty much any comics I get my hands on, online and off. I even (briefly) considered political cartooning as a career, before being dampened by the “death of printed media!” doom and gloom and the fact that all the political cartoonists I was aware of seemed to be older men. (No offence, Peter Bromhead.)

So with that in mind I was super excited to attend a session which featured not only Toby Morris (of Pencilsword fame) but also that rare unicorn, female cartoonist Sharon Murdoch! Interior designer and long-lived editorial cartoonist Peter Bromhead rounded off the panel, all facilitated by Toby Manhire.

Sharon Murdoch. Image supplied
Sharon Murdoch. Image supplied

What’s your ambition in creating cartoons?

To do a drawing which the editor will accept. I look for the paradox which an event is all about; news is a sort of dung heap of information, and all I’m really interested in are the top two layers. I then sit around worrywarting it until I can do something which represents some kind of funny paradox. —Bromhead

Sometimes it’s an act of solidarity, of protest, to show I’ve witnessed something. Witnessing can be very powerful; if enough people say they’ve seen something, that’s a motivator for change. —Murdoch

Cartooning is a kind of preaching, agree or disagree?

I try not to, but it’s something I have been accused of. I do try to say something with my comics, otherwise what’s the point? Nowadays I’m not so interested in ripping someone to threads, I’m more interested in engaging with issues, talking about topics. Comics can be a medium for engagement and change. I don’t feel duty-bound to be funny. —Morris

Toby Manhire, Toby Morris, Sharon Murdoch and Peter Bromhead at WORD Christchurch.
Toby Manhire, Toby Morris, Sharon Murdoch and Peter Bromhead at WORD Christchurch.

What Prime Minister do you most enjoy drawing?

Muldoon was easy. Just take a pear shape, add a straight line for the mouth, close one eye, add a bit of hair on top and there you go. —Bromhead

John Key is really challenging to draw, he has such an everyman face. I think Tom Scott comes closest: “He has a face that looks like a knife stabbed through a scrotum.” —Sharon Murdoch

Just emphasise the white tide mark of his hair dye that goes up and down. Any man who dyes his hair is not to be trusted. —Bromhead

All three agreed that too much emphasis on technical proficiency can be stifling — it’s more important to capture the idea, the energy of the person. Plus being too accurate can run the risk of attracting politicians into buying the originals, Bromhead’s worst nightmare.

The death of printed media…?

I don’t think cartoons are as important as they were in the 50s and 60s because we are so bombarded by visual images that cartoons don’t seem to have the same impact anymore. I don’t think people are reading newspapers, the political clout has waned. —Bromhead

I think cartoons are perfectly placed to succeed — with such short attention spans if you can communicate an idea in a picture that’s a lot more effective. —Morris

I think the static image is still potent, will still survive the demise— sorry, I mean “the changing media landscape”. I mean, look at the burkini cartoon by Anne Telnaes. So simple but very effective. —Murdoch

Personally I’m hopeful that political cartoons will continue to call out the baffling, upsetting and funny antics of our elected representatives.

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Last Word Whisky and Poetry — WORD Christchurch

Hats off to whoever decided to combine whisky with poetry, what a fantastic idea! Judging by the crowded seats of the Last Word I wasn’t the only one to think so. Perfect for a brisk winter afternoon.

WORD at the Last Word.

Sarah Jane Barnett kicked off the session by reading from a longer poem about coping with the devastation of your childhood home, something I’m sure many can relate to here in Christchurch:

She points to questions she has highlighted in bold yellow. “You need to answer these too.” She smiles. Her hand rests lightly. “Should I read them out?” she asks, as if lightness is a face she often wears. I say, I have good English, I’m a translator. But she reads to me, pointing and smiling.

David Howard read some opaque poetry:

If you want love to stay, shut up our house, covering the furniture with dirty sheets. When the moon was full, he could see it in the pond. Still, if he pulled the shutters there would be no colour, just the memory that is language. Bad language.

Steven Toussaint explored the influence of Dante:

Voluptuous, the resultant species, yes, but not itself the base whereby all voices balance. If the subjects meet before the finial seat is crossed, the gaze is lost in the ardour of all others.

And then luckily we returned to poetry I could understand with the moving, sometimes alarming words of Emma Neale:

Emma Neale performing at the Last Word.
Emma Neale performing at the Last Word.

and it’s the moment walking past
an unlit downtown doorway
when footsteps start their time-bomb tick
behind her:

stay calm, she thinks,
no sudden moves.

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The Spinoff After Dark – WORD Christchurch

This late night event at C1 Espresso featuring talent from “New Media empire in the making” The Spinoff was shambolic – but in the best possible way.

Literary festivals are, out of necessity, highly organised affairs. Sessions start at certain times and time limits are fairly rigidly adhered to. People file in, file out. Signing table queues may snake and cause congestion but otherwise it’s all pretty orderly. Festivals like this are something of a logistical nightmare so structure is both expected and advised.

So this wasn’t really like that.

Duncan Greive and Giovanni Tiso - The Spinoff after dark
Duncan Greive and Giovanni Tiso – The Spinoff after dark. The Twitterati? Yeah nah.

Rather, The Spinoff After Dark had a “flying by the seat of the pants – did someone really let us do this?” feeling to it while at the same time being thoroughly WORD in its content. A bit like the heyday of Mediaworks, when Joanna Paul and Belinda Todd had the helm of Nightline. You knew it was all sort of related to the other serious, newsy output of TV3 – but it sure as heck didn’t feel like it.

Alex Casey, Duncan Greive and Joe Bennett - The Spinoff after dark
Alex Casey, Duncan Greive and Joe Bennett – The Spinoff after dark. Beware the chair lobber.

And if that hastily cobbled together comparison hasn’t fired your desire for things old and defunct the  “mini-interview of various festival performers” section of the evening included… Joe Bennett!

But to give credit to Bennett, his was actually my favourite of the quickfire “snackable content” interviews that Toby Manhire, Alex Casey and Duncan Greive tag-teamed on, if only for this marvellous interaction –

Alex Casey: *Describes local event that anyone who’s watched television or used the Internet in the last 10 years would know about* (in this case fundraising celebrity boxing match Fight for Life)

Joe Bennett: ….. *tumble weeds*

Bennett also shared an anecdote about the time that, in his role as English teacher at Christ’s College, he threw a chair at one of his students, coming distressing close to giving the lad a head injury – the head in question belonging to Leigh Hart aka That Guy.

This was a funny wee tale on its own told in the usual emphatic Bennett style but got funnier when my partner admitted during the drive home that he too had a chair thrown at him by an entirely different English teacher at a different Christchurch boys’ school.

Is this a thing, former schoolboys of Christchurch? Answers on a complaint form to the Ministry of Education.

Steve Hely - The Spinoff after dark
Steve Hely – The Spinoff after dark – he likes Max Key a lot.

Other interviewees included American humorist Steve Hely, author and literary bunfight starter Paula Morris (fave biscuits in descending order afghan, melting moments/yoyos, gingernuts), Festival director and author Rachael King, journalist Rebecca MacFie, blogger Giovanni Tiso and probably someone I’ve forgotten because by that stage it was quite late and my brain probably stopped retaining information.

The event also included lights that sometimes flickered and seemed to get more dim at random times, cleverly highlighting the “after dark” part of the event name, and an AMA (Ask Me Anything) portion during which Manhire read questions for himself and fellow Spinoffers harvested from Twitter, several of which were attributed to Guy Williams who clearly has too much time on his hands.

Toby Manhire, Alex Casey, Duncan Greive- The Spinoff after dark
Toby Manhire, Alex Casey, Duncan Greive – The Spinoff after dark. Toby answer 536 question from Guy Williams.

We learned exciting new things: that both Manhire and Casey do not like eggs (whaaaat?), that Manhire thinks he looks like Ben Whishaw (hmmmm), and that both Casey and Greive have had ghostwriting gigs that neither of them seem particularly ashamed of – Casey for Youtube star Jamie Curry (the trick to doing it quickly is to include lots and lots of photos – a device I have tried to employ in this very post), Greive for heatpump enthusiast/sportsman Dan Carter.

If this session sounds like it was a bit of an odd jumble of things, it certainly was – and a great time because of it. A++. Worth staying awake for.

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Cities of tomorrow: A better life? – WORD Christchurch

When it comes to city-building and urban planning people in Christchurch have more to say about this than they ever have. We’re at a crucial point in our recovery where most of the old that will go has and we’re getting a clearer and clearer idea of what the new will actually be like. It’s an in-between place, a liminal place, and not necessarily a comfortable place.

So picking the brains of experts in the field of governance, sustainability and city planning seems like a good idea. Sure, we might all have opinions about how to make a city that offers a better life for its inhabitants but they’re not necessarily well informed ones. What do the experts think?

On the panel for this session were French experts Marie-Anne Gobert of Lyon, Cécile Maisonneuve of Paris, Mark Todd of Auckland property development company (and literary prize sponsors) Ockham, and former Christchurch resident (who now lives in Sydney) Barnaby Bennett.

Anne-Marie Gobert, Barnaby Bennett, Kim Hill, Cecile Maisonneuve and Mark Todd
Anne-Marie Gobert, Barnaby Bennett, Kim Hill, Cecile Maisonneuve and Mark Todd, Flickr File Reference: 2016-08-27-IMG_2499

Radio New Zealand presenter Kim Hill had what turned out to be a reasonably challenging job, in keeping the discussion moving along, correctly interpreting the French accents, and managing the audience input – tasks she undertook with her characteristic gentle belligerence.

Speaking of the audience, this was bar far the most vocal crowd I’ve been part of in the festival so far. Christchurch people are, generally speaking, fairly undemonstrative in these kinds of events but this topic generated much spontaneous clapping (mainly when Central Government was pinned as having failed in some respect) and vocal affirmations of the “hear, hear” variety.

I guess when an author is discussing their work we’re happy to sit and listen, but we are all, to some extent or other, experts in our own city and people attending this session obviously have a reasonable level of engagement with the subject matter.

The main points that stuck out for me were –

  • Local authorities need to be willing to take risks and to experiment, to try small-scale pilots of things to learn if they work and then be scaled up if successful. Failure, particuarly when small, fast and comparatively inexpensive aren’t cause for shame or embarrassment, they’re a crucial way to learn what works and what doesn’t.
  • Good public transportation is vital.
  • Engagement with communities needs to be iterative.
  • Stratification of the rich and poor is really bad for cities and the people who live in them
  • Public-private partnerships can work if the terms are clearly defined

The question and answer session at the end was unfortunately rather overshadowed by a gentleman (I use the term loosely) from Southland who ranted on and on and even with prodding from Kim Hill simply refused to get to the point, prompting her to ask –

I appreciate this dystopian polemic, sir…but is there a question?

The crowd was actively booing him and telling him to shut up at this point and by the time he insulted Barnaby Bennett’s dress sense, he’d lost pretty much everyone. It was the most extraordinary thing I’ve ever seen at a literary festival.

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The Margaret Mahy Memorial Lecture: David Levithan — WORD Christchurch

Imaginary things, once properly imagined, will grow as powerful and lucid as if they were true. —Margaret Mahy, Memory

Growing up David Levithan didn’t see himself in literature, or if he did, it was with an undercurrent of unease — queer characters were often sidelined, or the subject of tragedy. Levithan seeks to address that with his engaging, often humorous stories of young love between boys, and he’s not alone, if the growing movement of We Need Diverse Books is anything to go by.

David Levithan. Image supplied
David Levithan. Image supplied

The cure that literature can offer, the panacea or the help that we can give, the hope that we can give, is empathy. It is the notion of a common humanity. It is the notion that another human being has so much more in common with you than difference with you.

Empathy becomes even more important when faced with today’s prevailing political winds, closing borders and minds as it blows. Fiction at its best provides other perspectives, other contexts for living. Levithan believes that inherent in Young Adult literature is a belief that there is an ability to change things, not just a diagnosis of a problem but providing the compass pointing the way out. Even bleak books such as M. T. Anderson’s Feed and Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War try to provoke action in readers where the characters themselves might despair.

The co-writing process — an exercise in trust

Cover of You Know Me WellLevithan is very non-monogamous literarily. Co-writing brings out something unexpected in his writing, and he approaches every collaboration with the spirit of experimentation. He always maintains his own chapters, honing his own character while having only limited control over the story. This can provide difficulties for his collaborators; Levithan recently discovered that Nina LaCour usually writes her books out of sequence, which made the chronological narrative of You Know Me Well a little challenging. Levithan publicly declared his intention to continue joining forces with other authors, his next release (The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily, co-written with Rachel Cohn) being released in October.

Making characters real

One of the biggest mistakes beginning writers can make is to think that conflict has to be Conflict with a capital C in order to be worthy of a story. Smaller conflicts can be just as compelling, such as fighting with your best friend. To make characters real, try writing out the thoughts of your characters, as flat characters don’t have thoughts. It’s important to establish what the main character is thinking even if this doesn’t make it into the final text.

Cover of Two Boys KissingTwo Boys Kissing

When asked to be part of an anthology about queer teens, Levithan decided to explore the dimension of history. Two Boys Kissing is therefore narrated by a Greek chorus of the gay men of the AIDS generation, of his uncle’s generation, while looking down on the generation below Levithan — the current gay teens with their (relative) freedom. The plot came from hearing about Matty Daley and Bobby Canciello, who’d just broken the Guinness World Record for Longest Continuous Kiss.

Why do you do what you do?

For the readers. The books aren’t important; it shouldn’t matter what book is better than the other. What authors want is not to win awards or earn money (although I’m sure they wouldn’t say no), but for their books to matter to a reader.

Sometimes teens need someone on the outside to help them work out what they’re feeling on the inside.

Not just teens, David Levithan, not just teens. Thanks for visiting Christchurch.

Suggested reading

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Water: Alok Jha – WORD Christchurch

How often do you think about water? Every now and again when you suspect the hot water cylinder might not manage another dishwasher load? Occasionally when you note how much a bottle of it costs at the dairy?

Alok Jha
Alok Jha (image supplied)

Journalist (and ITV science correspondent) Alok Jha suggests that we should all be paying a bit more attention to this miraculous and yet thoroughly prosaic substance. After all our planet is “a blob of water with a few dry patches”. It’s one of the most important things on our planet and all life relies on it. Worth more than a passing thought, once in a while, surely?

In order to turn us to his way of thinking he provides us with an background on the science of water. Had any of us considered, for instance, how the water on our planet actually got here?

I’m someone who considers herself to have a good imagination but I’d honestly never wondered this. Water just is. I think I’d assumed it had always just been here, but water is actually younger than our planet.

Cover of The water bookIt started in space in clouds of dust and gas from stars that have gone supernova. This is where our oxygen comes from. The hydrogen part of the equation originates with the Big Bang. Some molecules bash together with some grains of cosmic detritus and then some more and some more and if you follow that chain of events long enough you end up with chunks of ice – asteroids and comets that about 4 billion years ago bombarded our planet (only for about 500 million years – just a passing storm) and resulted in all the surface water we have on planet Earth. So next time you take a dip in the ocean or drink a glass of water, consider that that stuff used to be hurtling, frozen, through space.

Jha also pointed out some really interesting qualities that water has. Firstly that in solid form it floats on its liquid form. Hence icebergs. Most substances don’t behave this way. Usually the solid form is more dense and sinks. This is actually crucially important for life on Earth because if ice didn’t float then during an ice age all life would get killed off instead of some of it living on underneath the frozen surface where some liquid water remains.

The other important thing about water is surface tension. Water is sticky and loves sticking to itself too and this surface tension allows for certain biological processes, like a plant’s ability to, against the force of gravity, draw water upwards through very thin tubes, or the way our capillaries can transport our mostly watery blood around our bodies.

All these things we take for granted, most certainly at our peril.

Jha was at pains to point out that the quantity of water on our planet isn’t the issue. It’s essentially a closed system. The same amount of water moves through us, around the earth, into the atmosphere and so on. Rather it’s the quality at issue. Water that’s of the type that can sustain us is rather less common and becoming less so.

Polluting water is easy, unpolluting it? Well, that doesn’t happen much.

Jha’s talk involved things as varied as –

  • Cute photos of antarctic penguins and seals (cynical manipulation via cute animal appeal openly admitted to)
  • Official confirmation that drinking your own urine is “a bad idea”
  • A stomach churning illustration of why Jha was so seasick on his Antarctic voyage (see the horizon line in the photo below)
Alok Jha illustrates how seasickness happens
Alok Jha illustrates how seasickness happens, Flickr File Reference: 2016-08-26-IMG_2477

But the main idea was that the only way for us to take better care of our water resources is for a larger number of us to actually be more aware of them, of how much water we use and how vital it is for our survival. For us to all just stop taking it for granted.

Cover of 50 ways the world could endMore WORD Christchurch

 

No Sex Please, We’re Teenagers — WORD Christchurch

Should there be sex in young adult fiction? A resounding yes, according to panellists Karen Healey, Ted Dawe and Frances Young. Sex is a major part of many people’s lives and therefore it will turn up in fiction whether or not you’ve identified it as an important theme in your writing. How it is portrayed, positively or negatively, is another matter — Healey emphasised her wish for sex-positive teen fiction, getting rid of the shame that settles on us in adolescence.  Dawe meanwhile was concerned that Harry Potter is leading a movement away from realistic, warts-and-all depictions of young men. (He obviously hasn’t read the testosterone-fueled mess that is Order of the Phoenix.)

No Sex Please We're Teenagers
Frances Young, Ted Dawe, Karen Healey and Mandy Hager.

The role of pornography in teen sexuality

Young cited various statistics linking increasingly violent pornography with sexual violence against women. If teens are discovering sex via violent porn, does this then influence their relationships and sexual experiences in the future? With pornography being increasingly accessible online, and society and media supporting the objectification of women, are we grooming our children into becoming sex offenders? Young considers this a public health crisis which needs to be addressed.

Frances Young. Image supplied
Frances Young. Image supplied

Differences between publishing in NZ/Australia vs. publishing in the US?

Karen Healey. Image supplied
Karen Healey. Image supplied

Healey mentions a saucy scene in While We Run which received a very positive response from her Australian editors, and some careful notes on her manuscript from her American publishers. (‘Do you have to use the word “unzip”?’) Her debut novel Guardian of the Dead was also initially written for an adult audience, and had to be altered to suit a teenage audience. The sex was cut but the violence was allowed to stay.

The Into the River controversy

Ted Dawe. Image supplied
Ted Dawe. Image supplied

Several panellists brought up the “dubious consent” of a particular sex scene (borderline rape) in Into the River, and the lack of any reprisals or sense of wrongdoing in the novel. Dawe said he dislikes being compelled to write a counter-argument into the text as that’s “proselytising” rather than fiction writing. He suggested his books are primers for teens just beginning to have sexual relationships, an accurate reflection of first-time messy unglamorous sex. What a scary thought.

Sex is a controversial topic but makes for fascinating discussion. Were you at the session? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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