Xinran at the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season

It was interesting to hear Xinran speak at a WORD Christchurch event. She spoke for more than an hour and we could have listened to her for much longer. Xinran is a very good story teller. She told many stories from her 300 interviews in China. She spoke about some negative effects of the one child policy, especially the way these children were treated as little princes or princesses, spoilt, cossetted, and given very little opportunity to grow up as independent people.

Cover of Buy me the sky Cover of The Good women of China  Cover of Miss Chopsticks Cover of China Witness

Some stories were hard to believe and in fact were probably isolated cases, such as the child who demanded that her mother buy her the river. Other stories concerning mothers doing everything for the child were not so surprising when there was so much pressure on children to perform academically. For the same reason, we heard similar stories of Japanese children in the past, even if there were two or more children in the family. Xinran admitted that the one-child family was probably a necessity, however. It’s hard to know how these negative effects could have been avoided.

Many people wanted to ask her questions. One woman wanted to know more about her charity The Mothers’ Bridge of Love concerning girls who were adopted out to foreign countries like New Zealand. Xinran talked a little about this and how such girl babies were smuggled out by mothers. The long term result of a preference for male children is now the huge imbalance of adult men unable to find partners, especially in rural areas.

Her speech only covered negative aspects of the one child policy. I am looking forward to reading her book Buy Me the Sky to find out if it also includes some positive aspects.

Anna Sun
Upper Riccarton Library

Hack Attack: WORD Festival Event 12 May 2015

Cover of Hack AttackNick Davies, the author of Hack Attack: How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch, was the subject of a Q&A session with Joanna Norris, the editor of The Press, in the chair.

We learned from Joanna Norris’ introduction that George Clooney was making a movie based on the book.

When asked about the difficulty of digging deeply into the phone hacking scandal for several years, Davies answered that he had a very reliable source who had guided him through his investigation for over two years. He said it was clear from the outset how extensive the crimes were, but the difficulty was in proving the truth of the story when up against a powerful corporation headed by a ruthless operator like Rupert Murdoch.

All along through the investigation, paradoxically, the impetus was driven by News Corp. itself because the company’s staff acted stupidly, arrogantly and aggressively. News Corp. kept up relentless attacks on Davies and The Guardian, which spurred Davies and his editor on to follow the story, knowing it must have substance.

Cover of Flat Earth NewsThe ball got rolling when Davies was giving a radio interview about a previous book, Flat Earth News: An Award-Winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media. His source was listening to the interview and contacted him about the dodgy dealings that were going on at The Sun and News of the World, both Murdoch tabloid newspapers.

When asked if he thought his book had made any difference to the behaviour of the UK press, Davies answered that, unfortunately, it was business as usual. It remained a “journalist’s fantasy” that writing about a bad thing could make it stop. He gave, as an example, The Sun conducting a campaign to undermine Labour in the most recent UK election as proof Murdoch’s power remained unchanged.

Davies disclosed that he had discovered that UK tabloids were “peculiarly ruthless” and the journalists who staffed them were “almost like a parody of themselves”.

It was Davies’ belief that it was the arrival of Princess Diana that triggered this avalanche of celebrity investigative digging and bred an attitude of journalistic cruelty where “nothing is off limits, nothing is private”. But the tabloid journalists’ hypocrisy was astounding. Andy Coulson and Rebecca Brooks were having an eight-year-long affair while callously exposing the sex lives of public figures.

All through the long investigation by The Guardian into the phone hacking scandal, Davies was pilloried in all the right-wing Murdoch newspapers. He observed that no-one threatened him with physical violence to stop investigating, but the Murdoch empire indulges in what Davies called “reputational violence”, trying to ruin people’s reputations.

Towards the end of the session, in response to questions from the audience, Davies gave the view that the internet had broken the model of newspapers across the world and journalists no longer had the funding nor the resources needed to do their jobs properly.

He thought that the Leveson Enquiry was a powerful one, but Lord Justice Leveson’s report had been deliberately smothered by powerful people in the UK.

The audience got the impression that Nick Davies would go on fighting the good fight, but he was weary and cynical as to the extent he could make a change for a better society.

Read our other blog posts about Hack Attack by Nick Davies.

Very very sleazy tabloid hacks. Hack Attack – Nick Davies at the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season

This is the first booky session I’ve been to with both my Mum and Dad. And a friend. Both had heard about Nick Davies, and didn’t know he was coming to Christchurch for the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season. So we were a keen crew, as were the rest of the crowd. Joanna Norris, editor of The Press, was in the chair – she’s great – en pointe at all times, and with rich journalistic knowledge.

Nick is a Guardian journalist. He investigated the phone hacking that was rife in British newspapers:

The story began in 2007 when the Royal Editor of The News of the World was imprisoned for hacking into voicemail messages of staff at Buckingham Palace.

Nick Davies

He was contacted by a insider who had all the information. Once the stories started coming out it grew massive – 200 people were complicit and  5500 victims affected in phone hacking scandal. It went straight into the world of power, but the difficulty was to prove it. The Guardian posted stories, and may have left it there – but it became locked into the story by the aggressive responses of people like Rebekah Brooks, then CEO of News International:

Our credibility was at stake.

Nick gave us a great insight into the murky world of the tabloid hacks – phone tapping, corruption, prostitutes, cocaine, the lot. The bad guy tabloid hacks are “very very sleazy”. Nothing is off limits.  He sees the hounding of Princess Diana by the newspapers as a turning point.

The wall of deference was broken down & everyone was now fair game … Diana’s life was ransacked for stories.

Tabloid newspapers are “peculiarly ruthless” and riddled with “cruelty and hypocrisy”:

What they do is reputational violence.

This works most effectively against the power elite. The rich and powerful see their fellows brought down by scandal, and don’t want it to happen to them.

Nick had quite a good theory as to why it is that our newspapers are relatively “gentlemanly” as opposed to the UK tabloids. New Zealand ‘s difficult geography and sparse population means that we haven’t developed a national newspaper. Our papers are provincial.  But in the UK, 12 to 15 newspapers were all competing in a rich market.

Discussion moved to the recent UK election and the role of the newspapers.

Since 1979 noone has been elected without Rupert Murdoch’s support.

Some newspapers “pumped the electorate full of misinformation”.  Ed Milliband was portrayed as an “unreliable, untrustworthy nutcase”.  Every party “needed a Murdoch man in their office”. Cameron had Coulson, but Milliband had a Murdoch connection too because:

You have to build a bridge to Rupert.

Nick explored more the parlous state of journalism and public relations:

The PR stuff can go in the bin – we decide what is news. … Honesty is the main thing in journalism.

A great discussion – and the issue is of ongoing interest. Read the book, and follow @bynickdavies and keep up with it all.

Search our catalogue for Nick Davies

Cover of Hack Attack  Cover of Flat Earth news

More from the Nick Davies talk

Read Andrew’s post Hack attack by Nick Davies

WORD Christchurch Autumn Season

Christchurch plays host to the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season. We will be attending sessions, blogging, and tweeting (hashtag #wordchch)

Read our WORD Christchurch blog posts

Nick Davies

David Mitchell Über Novelist

Portrait of DavidMitchellDavid Mitchell uber novelist is addictive, it’s official.  Cloud Atlas stays with you long after you have read it, and makes you question the way the world works, what it could become and the part individuals play in that. The series of ethical journeys the characters traverse through the book explore how people prey on each other and corporations prey on societies. The themes of interconnectedness and cause and effect heightened by reincarnating the main character.

Cover of Bone Clocks by David MitchellNow after reading The Bone Clocks – only my second David Mitchell novel – I begin to see his recurring themes of power, communication or miscommunication and connectivity. The consequences of random and considered actions we all make on a daily basis underlies much of his work, such as Holly Syke’s young actions.

David says his work explores how random or crafted connectivity powers reality. His skilled craftsmanship blends several different genres into one great novel in The Bone Clocks going from the realism to futuristic and fantasy elements, sometimes it feels like you are reading several books at once. The different styles – together  with the different voices to narrate each section – mean you’ll need to keep your wits about you so you don’t miss that crucial references, but I’ll give nothing away.

This author really loves language. You see that he finds it an ally, a trusted friend, and it is a joy to read – but sometimes he criticises himself.  The character and novelist Crispin Hershey’s ideas make you think the author himself he is having doubts about novel’s structure, or is he just making us think?   You can imagine I am very excited  to see him at WORD Christchurch tonight (Sunday 17 May).

Fans can follow breadcrumbs to pick up on references to characters from other works, tying them together.  Search out his fan site for insights into his works.

Here are some clips:

David Mitchell’s Middle Earth

Writers festivals are just as much about discovering new authors as they are meeting your favourites. David Mitchell is one of those authors I keep meaning to read. I hear lots of great things about his books and the blurbs sound interesting but that’s as far as I’ve got so far. After listening to his session at the Auckland Writers Festival today his latest book has gone to the top of my reading pile and I’ll be searching out his earlier books.

The interviewer started by asking David about the inter-connectedness of his novels. Although each of them is a stand alone novel, there has been much discussion by fans about how characters overlap in his stories and the very ‘Middle Earth feel’ of his work. David explained that, as a kid, he made his own Middle Earth by drawing imaginary maps. He would scrawl these huge worlds and locations on paper. His impulse with his writing is to make something enormous. He wants each book to be individual and for people to not have to read all his books, but each book is a small piece of something bigger.

David described himself as ‘such a nerd for names.’ He mentioned that it’s very important to get the names right and that he spends lots of time working on them. High Scrabble scores apparently make very good names.

David’s latest novel, The Bone Clocks, is his ‘midlife crisis novel.’ It deals with immortality and the price you might pay to have immortality. The story is made up of multiple parts and each one is written in a different genre. David wanted to put many different ideas in the book but make them co-exist. The only way to do this was to compartmentalise them by genre. The interviewer pointed out that the book’s protagonist, Holly Sykes, is David’s first proper female protagonist. David found it particularly nerving and frightening writing a female protagonist as he hadn’t done so before. The Bone Clocks sounds amazing and I certainly can’t wait to delve in to David Mitchell’s world.

The inevitable question about his influences was asked, and I loved David’s response:

The world is made of potential ideas; you just take from it what you want.

Christchurch, you are lucky – you can see David Mitchell at WORD Christchurch Sunday 17 May 6pm at Court Theatre. Buy tickets now.

The World of David Walliams

We learnt a lot about David Walliams last night thanks a soldout WORD Christchurch event:

As a kid

  • He used to pretend to be Wonder Woman (he demonstrated this with a nice twirl).
  • He dressed up in a silk dressing gown and put a “David Walliams Private Detective” sign on his door.
  • David was decked out in a mauve bridesmaid’s dress by his sister.

The World of David Walliams

Tips for budding writers

  • Have a very evil villain.
  • Write a story that you’d like to read.
  • Read as many books as you can.

His favourite books as a kid

  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • The Lion, The witch and the wardrobe
  • Stig of the dump (approving noises from my other half for that announcement)

He remembers lying with his head on his Dad’s chest, as he read him Green eggs and ham.

David in action

David did a couple of readings, from Gangsta Granny and Awful Auntie.

We saw that he has the power to get kids to jump and down with fizzing excitement. And then sign books for them for aaaages. What a star.
The World of David Walliams

Coming up from David Walliams – a picture book called The Bear who went boo, and the tale of a little boy who busts his grandad out of a maximum security twilight resthome.

Gangsta Mum, Dad, & Kid go David Walliams

Me and my whanau are very excited about seeing David Walliams at his WORD Christchurch event tonight. I’d tell you to buy tickets – but he blooming well sold out in 24 hours.

That’s not surprising. I’ve been reading Gangsta Granny to my six-year-old. When Ben discovers his granny’s biscuit tin filled with jewels, my daughter’s eyes went round. I didn’t think that actually happened in real life, but David Walliams did it.

Plus we watched Mr Stink in the weekend. Twice.

Cover of Gangsta Granny Cover of Mr Stink Cover of Awful Auntie Cover of The Boy in the dress

Cover of Awful AuntieDavid Walliams

What wild and wonderful creature would you be?

H is for HawkHelen Macdonald, the author of H is for Hawk, would be a goshawk.

She knew this from the age of nine, when after a visit to the zoo with her parents, they had to peel her fat little fingers from the wire of the birdcage and carry her sobbing home. She did not want to leave the birds.

After the sudden death of her father, she took off into a remote area of England with only her newly purchased goshawk, Mabel, for company. In last night’s WORD Christchurch event she took us through her year. And what a year it was – solitary, quite mad, running in the wild with her bird, eating bird-catch and stale pancakes, covered in mud and scratches and passing her time observing Mabel and playing games with her.

Her book covers all of this. Her take on grief:

Grief is love with nowhere to go

Her references to a seminal book The Goshawk by T. H. White – a deeply disturbed man whom Helen at times felt she might be turning into, and her take on falconry. Halfway through I began to wonder what wild animal I would most identify with and like to be. I started with the Big Five – nononononono, then I tried the Little Five – no, horse NO ostrich – maybe … but no.

Throughout Helen Macdonald was a joy to listen to and I was second in line to have my copy of her book signed. When I got to the signing table (and in typical Roberta style), I heard my mouth asking Helen: When will I know what my signature animal is? I am beginning to fear it is a Scottish Terrier.

She looked up, moved her head from side to side like a focussing hawk, stared down her suddenly beakish-looking nose and said: A Scottish Terrier would be good.

And that is why I love Literary Festivals, you enter the venue as a jaded library assistant and you leave as a Scottish Terrier being hunted down by a hawk!

https://christchurch.bibliocommons.com/search?&t=title&search_category=title&q=h%20is%20for%20hawk
The goshawk and the scottish terrier.

Oh my WORD!

Cover of ReachThis morning in a café, three of my favourite things came together for a sort of a bookish group-hug.

First there was the cappuccino, then a book: Reach by Laurence Fearnley, and finally a delicious little custard tart. Life is good. Three ladies came across to find out what I was reading. I love when that happens. Then an elderly man joined in and said that he knew Laurence Fearnley and her parents but he didn’t like her writing. Mountain men don’t argue, he said of  The Hut Builder. She got it wrong. By now the whole coffee shop was becoming quite intrigued.

Cover of H is for HawkAnd that is is exactly the sort of thing that happens at a literary festival such as the up-and-coming WORD Christchurch Autumn Season from 13th to 17th May. That same shared interest in books, authors, reading and ideas. And it’s why I wouldn’t miss attendance for all the world.

This time, I’ve got my sights set on Helen MacDonald and her talk on her memoir H is for Hawk. This is a book about the author’s grieving for her father, a photographer, whose last photo was taken as he collapsed and died.

Grief stricken, she becomes obsessed with the idea of training her own goshawk. She buys Mabel for GBP800 on a Scottish quayside and takes her home to Cambridge. Then she fills the freezer with hawk food and unplugs the phone, ready to embark on the long, strange business of trying to train this wildest of animals.

Cover of The Year of Magical thinkingThe only other book that I have read which deals specifically with grief and grieving is Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. Both MacDonald and Didion, so suddenly bereft, embark on their own spiritual journeys to come to grips with loss. The first words Didion wrote after her husband’s death are:

Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant.You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

At the WORD Festival event I attended in Christchurch last year, I bought the first copy of Reach that had ever been sold. I know that because I was there when Fearnley told me, and inscribed those words in my new purchase.

Who knows what bookish joys await me at the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season this month. See you there!