After WORD – an interview with Rachael King, literary director of WORD Christchurch

Cori L. Sanders did a splendid job coordinating a team of volunteers at the recent WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Here she interviews WORD’s literary director Rachael King.

Rachael King

Congratulations on the amazing success of the recent WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival.  Putting together a literary festival seems a massive undertaking. How long did it take you to plan and execute?

Each festival takes a year to plan, although some foundation work is done in the preceding year as well. This year we had a fantastic and very hard working team led by Executive Director Marianne Hargreaves. My job is to plan what the festival will look like – everyone else makes it happen!

The festival featured 80 events and over 150 writers and speakers.   How did you put the programme together?  Or to reprise the title of one of the festival events: Where do you get your ideas from?  (Did you brainstorm with a committee or were these ideas all your own?)

I do call for input of ideas from our board of trustees, who are all avid readers, and from my Twitter followers who are a clued-up bunch, but mostly the ideas come from reading books, reading coverage of books on the internet, checking upcoming publishing schedules (and publishers sometimes pitch their authors to me), and generally thinking about the issues and themes that the world is concerned with. What moves people? What troubles them? What do they want to know more about?

Outside of my work hours I am constantly thinking about the programme and can get lost for days down the rabbit hole of the internet following ideas. We also work closely with the Melbourne and Brisbane Writers’ Festivals as well as Sydney’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas, so we send each other ideas.

James Dann and How to start a magazine panel
James Dann, Debbie Stoller, Duncan Greive, and Luke Wood. How to start a magazine panel. Flickr 2016-08-28-IMG_5849

How did you hear about these various authors/speakers, and how did you decide which ones to invite over?

All different ways, but here are some examples. The Canadian writers (Ivan Coyote, Elizabeth Hay and Sheila Watt-Cloutier) came to me through Hal Wake, the director of the Vancouver Writers Festival, which I attended in October last year. I saw that Tim Flannery had a book out on climate change, which was a topic I wanted to cover; his partner Kate Holden came highly recommended to me by another writer.

I found Caitlin Doughty via Twitter, where she was tweeting macabre things that appealed to me, which led me to her website where to my delight I discovered she had recently published a book. Then I saw her speak at the Sydney Writers’ Festival last year and that sealed the deal. Ali Cobby Eckermann and Elisa Washuta came through the Christchurch Sister Cities programme – both writers were recommended to me by literary people in Adelaide and Seattle respectively.

Alok Jha was recommended to me by someone who had seen him in person in the UK. John Freeman I met in Auckland last year, then again in Vancouver and New York. He was coming out for the Melbourne Writers Festival so I extended the invitation to Christchurch.

Caitlin Doughty
Caitlin Doughty Flickr 2016-08-28-IMG_5873

Did you start with a theme in mind or did the theme emerge later?

You send out hundreds of invitations and hope that some will stick. In this case, the ones that were sticking started revolving around two common themes – the planet and its people. Nearly all the writers who had accepted my invitation write about quite political things, whether it is the environment, gender, human rights, sexual politics, life and death. I decided to declare the Planet & its People as the official theme because I knew it would appeal to people who care about what is happening in the world right now.

The festival ranged over a myriad of topics like climate change, water, feminism, sex, positive death-acceptance, true crime, LGBT issues, poetry, migrants’ voices, war stories, inclusive cities, and political cartoons.  How did you know what topics would appeal to a general audience?  What combination and balance were you looking to achieve?

These are topics that engaged people care about. I was looking for a combination and balance of thought-provoking, challenging, enlightening, uplifting and entertaining.

Do your literary interests span all these different genres, topics, and cultural hot buttons?  Did you read all the books featured?

I wish I could say I read books by all 150 speakers at the festival but alas no, I didn’t have the time! My personal tastes run to literary fiction and personal essays mostly, but I can still appreciate a topic and trust my sources, and I always make sure the speaker is engaging foremost.

You’ll notice I managed to smuggle my musical tastes in there as well, with the Flying Nun celebration night and Hollie Fullbrook from Tiny Ruins, and also included comics, performance poetry, live storytelling, journalism and TV writing, so WORD is no longer just about books.

Hollie Fullbrook "Tiny Ruins" at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala
Hollie Fullbrook “Tiny Ruins” at WORD Christchurch The stars are on fire gala. Flickr 2016-08-26-IMG_5777

Some authors were interviewed on stage; others took to the stage by themselves; and yet others were part of a panel. How did you decide which format would best showcase each author’s talents?

A lot of it was led by the writers themselves. It is a big ask to get someone to prepare an address, so many authors prefer the ‘in conversation’ format. It is good to have a mixture of both, so I always ask which format the writers prefer.

Panels are a good way to make sure an international author has more than one opportunity to be on stage; and with local writers, they are a good way to include as many writers as possible, and to cover some interesting topics beyond ‘tell us about your book’.

How did you decide who would chair each panel or interview each author?

I attend a lot of writers’ festivals and am always paying close attention to the chairs! In many cases a good chair person is as important as the speaker people have come to see. Chairing takes a certain set of skills – confidence to carry the responsibility, but also the confidence to take a back seat and not dominate.

Chairing a panel is a kind of mediation as well, where it’s essential that you allow everyone on the panel to get their word across, and be prepared for conflict. Managing audience questions is another skill! I also look for chairs who can go with the flow of conversation rather than rigidly over prepare and stick to their questions no matter what. As far as who to match with whom: instinct.

What guided your decision-making regarding workshop topics and the people who would run them?

I wanted a range of topics, and we certainly had that: fiction, song-writing, the business of publishing, memoir, indigenous storytelling. They arose from looking at who was coming and who had experience teaching. The workshops were all very popular, so we will definitely look at adding more next time – and as Tracy Farr’s fiction workshop and Scott Pack’s How to Perfect Your Submission workshop sold out so quickly, will look at more fiction workshops next time and another about getting published. The Taku Kupu Ki Te Ao workshop had three teachers in addition to the facilitator, and by all accounts they got as much out of it as the students!

What gave you the idea to launch the immensely successful new events like Oratory on the Ōtākaro, and the New Regent Pop-Up Festival?

The Ōtākaro walk was conceived in consultation with Ngāi Tahu who are a great supporter of the festival. We are keen to regularly feature Ngāi Tahu speakers and stories. Look out for more walks at future festivals!

The Pop-Up was inspired by a combination of things – wanting to expand the fringe programme which creates accessible events in interesting spaces; wanting to include as many Christchurch writers in the programme as we could; and my visit to the Lit Crawls in Seattle and San Francisco last year. The organisers are keen for us to become part of the Lit Crawl family but there is already a LitCrawl (note different spelling!) in Wellington and we don’t want to detract from that. But the New Regent Street space was an excellent way to test the waters for this kind of event, and I hope it will become a regular feature of future festivals. It added so much character to the festival.

New Regent Street Pop-up
New Regent Street Pop-Up Festival Flickr 2016-08-25-IMG_5751

Any kinks you want to iron out for next festival or any things you want to redress?

Yes, but I’m keeping those to myself as they kinks mostly happened behind the scenes and we need to maintain the image of a swan gliding across a still lake while its legs work furiously below the surface!

What were the personal highlights of this festival for you?

Oh, so many! I’m not supposed to have favourites, and as I was behind the scenes, I missed much of the festival. But I will say I was pretty proud to have Ivan Coyote and Caitlin Doughty, and the Hear My Voice event and Flying Nun event gave me goosebumps. I thought the Stars are on Fire showcase went perfectly (but I am biased), and hearing Tiny Ruins debut a beautiful new song just about had me in tears!

What are the perks of being the festival’s literary director?

Meeting interesting writers! Championing books, especially New Zealand books. Getting to travel to other festivals and to collaborate with them as well. I get a lot of free books, which is a big bonus of course.

What ideas have already sparked for the next festival?

As it’s two years away, I’ll be reissuing invitations to some people who couldn’t make it this time around. But look out! We have an amazing line-up in the planning for our Autumn Season in May, in partnership with Auckland Writers Festival, and will also have a programme of events within the Christchurch Arts Festival next year.

What do you do when you’re not planning literary festivals?

I should be writing books! But the festival takes up too much of my headspace at the moment, so I’ll say I like walking and reading, spending time with my kids. And I have recently taken up horse-riding after a 25 year gap, so that is my current obsession.

Thank you very much, Rachael, for your time, and congratulations once again on the success of the festival!

The Stars are on fire gala
The Stars are on fire gala. WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Friday 26 August 2016. Caitlin Doughty, Steve Hely, Hollie Fullbrook, Ivan Coyote, Tusiata Avia, Sir Tipene O’Regan and Stephen Daisley.Flickr 2016-08-26-IMG_5778

Read more of the libraries’ WORD 2016 coverage.

Monster Making 101

Recently I braved the heaviest rain of winter to attend the WORD Writer’s Workshop “Teaching the Monster to Speak” hosted by the energetic Tracy Farr.

Tracy-Farr-2015-creditMattBialostocki-131
Tracy Farr (image credit, Matt Bialostocki)

Cover of The life and loves of Lena GauntTracy, who was born across the ditch but who we’ll claim as a Kiwi as she’s lived in Wellington for the past 20 years, wrote The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt in 2013 and received accolades for creating characters so real they could walk off the page. Tracy started her second novel and was determined to achieve the same rich characterization. She investigated her writing process so she could replicate it. The twenty or so other workshop attendees and I were fortunate enough to be able to share her wisdom.

To make truly original, realistic characters, Tracy advises authors to stitch them together, physically and psychologically. To extend the Frankenstein metaphor further, she suggests splicing character traits and collecting body parts. Take your mother’s dark eyes, your cousin’s dress sense (or lack of), your colleague’s habit of giving you compliment sandwiches and your dentist’s squint, and you’re on the way to making your Monster. Tuck away images or sayings specific to your Monster into a real or virtual folder via Pinterest or Scrivener. Make mood boards and observe, collect and record “whatever buzzes”. Place your Monster into a setting and move it around so it can start to take on a life of its own.

The idea is to transform/invent/disguise people you know to create your characters. Tracy says “be aware of when you’re copying and when you’re creating” and encouraged us to do a writing exercise every day. She assured us that, if we do this, something (or someone) will turn up.

Cover of WriteTracy based her workshop on four main writer’s resources: Sarah Quigley, Write; Linda Barry’s nearsightedmonkey Tumblr; Jason Steger, It’s fiction and that’s a fact (on Helen Garner’s The Spare Room); and The Exercise Book: Creative Exercises from Victoria University’s Institute of Modern Letters (see also modernlettuce.wordpress.com/tag/the-exercise-book)

Tracy Farr’s new novel, The Hope Fault, is due for release by the Freemantle Press next year. Make sure you keep an eye out for it – an eye, his ear, your brother’s obsession with drones, the butcher’s stutter, the purple coat you saw at Farmers… Make it real then make it strange. Happy stitching!

More WORD Christchurch

Afternoon tea in the Treehouse with Andy Griffiths

CoverThere’s nothing cooler than meeting your hero – especially when they are super funny! Thanks to WORD Christchurch and Macmillan we ran a competition where the prize was afternoon tea with Andy Griffiths and a double pass to his sellout Saturday show at Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre.

The lucky winner was Jorja who came along with Casey, Zac (librarian at Halswell School), and me. Jorja also scored a signed copy of Andy’s newest book The 78-storey treehouse (Kia ora Macmillan!)

Jorja and Andy Griffiths
Jorja meets Andy Griffiths. Flickr 2016-09-16-IMG_6037

Jorja’s question was:

What was your inspiration to start writing books?

CoverAndy talked about his time as an English teacher. His students didn’t like books much, so they started making up stories, then photocopying copies and leaving them in other classrooms and the library. Even earlier, as a schoolkid, he drew cartoons for all his friends.

He loved Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree, Dr Seuss, and scary comics.

CoverOne of the books that inspired him was at his Nana’s place. Heinrich Hoffmann’s Der Struwwelpeter featured scary stories like a girl setting her dress on fire by playing with matches. The stories were funny and totally over the top. His Very Bad Book is based on that book and in it kids do really dangerous things, and their parents give permission … Baaaad parents!

Weird humour?

At first the stories did seem weird – but people didn’t realise how weird their senses of humour are! Andy writes with the philosophy “I think this is funny – hopefully lots of people agree with me”.

I am interested in unusual ways of looking at things.

Jorja, Andy Griffiths, and Zac
Jorja, Andy Griffiths, and Zac McCallum. Flickr 2016-09-16-IMG_6039

Advice for young writers

I’ve never personally eaten a dead fly.

But someone’s dog did just that during a piano lesson, so it slipped into one of Andy’s stories.  “Little details are really fun”.

His top tips for aspiring writers:

  1. Read a lot of books.
  2. Get your own notebook and write in each day. 3 to 4 minutes, then build up to hours. It’s the same as training for a sport. Practice!
  3. Write out chapters of books that you love. This will give you insight into how a story is made. Imitate – get better at making it up.
  4. Learn to touch type.

Andy has a collection of first lines and reckons a lot of work goes into the first line. Except in the Treehouse, where it’s always Andy addressing the audience. A bit like Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton.

Andy’s a fan of Tristam Shandy by Laurence Sterne – a black page,  a white page, a marbled page … and as Jorja found out – a BLAM! and a KABLAM! page.

Kia ora Andy – we loved having you visit.

Jorja and Andy Griffiths
Blam! Kablam! Jorja and Andy Griffiths. Flickr 2016-09-16-IMG_6042

Questions for Andy

Thanks to all of you who entered, and all the Mums, Dads, caregivers and teachers who helped. There were so many great entries  – here are some questions you had for Andy Griffiths:

Did you have a tree house when you were a kid?

Maisy

What is the most important piece of advice you would give to an 8 year old boy that loves to write?

Lucas

Hello, my son Thomas would ask Andy Griffith if he could tell us about any tree house stories there will be in the 91 storey tree house. His idea is to have a bungy jumping level at the top of the tree : )

My seven year old daughter would ask how old he is. I would ask if he liked to write stories at school and what did the teachers think of them?

Nadia

My son Freddie would ask why is your sense of Humour so weird? Lol I would ask him at what age did he realise he wanted to be an author or at least thought about it and what a fab movie his books would makes.

My question for Andy would be: if you hadn’t become an author, what other career would you have chosen?

Hope

“will there be a 91-Storey Treehouse?”

(He pestered the book store daily while waiting for the 78-Storey Treehouse to arrive!) Mac

I have read all your bad and treehouse books! You are very naughty, but I do have a question! Why do you always use the number 13 in your treehouse books?

Keiran

How come you involve Jill Griffiths but not your daughters? (:

with great respect, osher

My question is Have you ever actually made a treehouse, and if you have what was in it?

Harry

I would ask Andy if he would add a slide to his treehouse that could take you to different countries.

Matthew

I would ask Andy if he would extend his treehouse to have a level to attract aliens so we could study them and have marshmallow eating competitions.

Ava

To Mr Andy Griffiths:
You write great stories but are you any good at drawing?
From Alex

aNdy, is all your stuff in your books real? tHomas aged 10
tHis is the best I could get out of Thomas, he is reading so his nose is in his pile of books. mUm and Dad have the tv muted, peace and quiet. his friend Alex has your latest book.

Elsie (8 years old-budding author)…..wants to know” What is it like to be an author?”

How many more wacky books are you going to write?

Hugo

“All Eyes” – Justin Cronin – WORD Christchurch

“All eyes” I sure will keep my eyes out for those “virals,” “flyers,” “slims” or “smokes”.

Signed copy of The City of Mirrors

Justin Cronin had us all eating out of his hand during his interview with local young adult author Karen Healey.

His motivation for writing his virals trilogy – still can’t bear to call them vampires – was his daughter Iris who was then something like 9 years old. A prodigious reader she had taken a look at his previous novels Mary and O’Neil and  The Summer Guest and pronounced them boring and wanted to read a book about a girl who saved the world! Each day they would cycle around Houston and talk about what would be in such a book. Through this process he lost his inner critic.

Iris has an audiographic memory (like a photographic memory but for sound) she would always know what chapter they where up to when returning to a book. She had lots of suggestions –  there would be a girl with red hair like her and she named the characters. There was only one rule about what would be in the book – it had to be interesting. After a while he realised his current novel wasn’t going so well and he had 30 pages of notes so he thought he’d write the first chapter and see if it went anywhere – and here we are ten years later with the last volume of the trilogy.

Justin Cronin and Karen Healey
An evening with Justin Cronin. WORD Christchurch event, supported by Hachette. The Piano. Thursday 15 September 2016. Flickr 2016-09-15-IMG_6021

An English professor at Rice University, his only rule for Iris at college is don’t take any creative writing courses I can do that. Now  publishing her own work it looks like dad has successfully taught her the family business although I don’t know who taught who …

Why vamps? They are the most interesting out of the four monsters in human form: Frankenstein, werewolves, vampires and zombies. Although I wonder if he forgot about yeti, and Karen was putting a great case for old-fashioned fairies. He excuses himself saying those other Vampire stories were not on his radar, at the time Twilight had only just come out.

At the heart of the vampire noir is the premise that immortality is a terrible state to reassure us that we would rather be human than live forever. He takes vamps and puts them into a new narrative and that’s what makes it interesting. Vamps but with a twist –  you’ve always got to bring something else in to make it interesting like a road trip and a viral epidemic. He was inspired by a couple of B grade movies one called Near Dark directed by the talented Kathryn Bigelow. It blended to the western narrative of a drifters story also Magic Johnson had just come out and there was the AIDs epidemic.

Justin’s not averse to a bit of vampire seduction but in a different way, a seduction utilising rhetoric. Fanning as the charismatic narrator, Fanning sitting around for all those years in a library reading books using language to seduce Amy. A rhetorical seduction to make us feel sympathy with him.

On characters and community

  • Since you are running for your life what is the one thing you would carry with you? In most cases people would carry someone else, therefore you have a love story and bonds of community.
  • Survival is not sufficient. We read end of the world stories for reassurance and resurrection is an important part of that.
  • You need survivors to have hope for their children. You think what does it mean to have a child? A child is a deal you make with the future.

Describing the novels as an apocalyptic western road trip,  part of the inspiration for The Passage trilogy was the depressing world events at the time. Hurricane Katrina had just hit, G.W. Bush had been re-elected and a second less known Hurricane Rita had triggered an evacuation of Houston which he found himself in the midst of.

One morning stuck on the motorway at 2 am going nowhere in a massive traffic jam watching the fuel gauge go down he did the maths and decided they weren’t going to make it out and made a u-turn and headed back home. Luckily the main force of the hurricane hit further off than predicted.

He is interested in the response of community to disasters like the Christchurch earthquake how community survives. Community is a social lifeboat with a group of mostly good people who are resilient.

Why Mirrors

“The vampires can’t see themselves in the mirror and after a certain age that is the case with everybody”.

On making things creepy

I look to nature things that creep me out like fish why do they all turn the same way like that? Crickets how they can jump so much further than their body length, the virals are like bugs in hives.

On imagination

He deliberately doesn’t describe the virals too much leaving it to you to bring the things that scare you to your picture of them. Everyone’s picture of a viral would be different. That’s why movies can be disappointing and on that topic he has sold the film rights but it may be a TV show will eventuate. TV shows are now where the story is at not so many special effects.

Favourite things

Watching The walking dead and The Americans.

What drives him crazy

When the guns don’t run out of ammo on The Walking dead, and cars start whose batteries would have gone for years and the tyres aren’t flat. You have to think these things through.

Justin Cronin and Karen Healey
An evening with Justin Cronin. WORD Christchurch event, supported by Hachette. The Piano. Thursday 15 September 2016. Flickr 2016-09-15-IMG_6032

Just Andy Griffiths – WORD Christchurch

Just think: What is the worst that can happen?

At his two sold-out talks, hosted by the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival 2016 on the 16th and 17th September, popular children’s author Andy Griffiths of the Storey Treehouse book series kicked up a (brain)storm session with his audience.

“Who has ever blocked the plug in the shower and let it fill up as much as you could just to see what would happen?” asked Andy. How did he know?! I glared at my son in the seat next to me who does this all the time! (And even brings tin foil into the shower to keep it sealed in). Andy asked his audience to imagine a shower was filling up with water with the doors sealed shut with silicon… “How would you get out?!” He was milking the audience for their ideas. It felt like a riddle to solve – one that he doesn’t actually know the answer to but is making up as he goes along.

Andy Griffiths
Andy Griffiths. WORD Christchurch event. Friday 16 September 2016. Flickr 2016-09-16-IMG_6086

In the Treehouse series the two main characters Andy and Terry (named after the author and illustrator Terry Denton) get up to some ridiculous stuff that would horrify a health and safety inspector. Andy says “It would be no fun if I had my characters think ahead about the consequences to their actions. A sensible forward-thinking character is a useless character who doesn’t belong in a story.” What he needs are “idiots who never think ahead.” Andy adds: “My job as a writer is to stop my characters from solving problems.” Andy also loves to do what he calls “wasting the reader’s time” – as witnessed by endless pages in his books with the same word written over and over and over and over and over and over…

Dressed in his finest fake tuxedo t-shirt, Andy spoke to hundreds of fans in New Zealand to coincide with his newly premiered book The 78-Storey Treehouse: Movie Opening Night (2016) about the making of a movie about Andy and Terry ‘s adventures (but Andy’s kicked off the set). Oh, and it features spy cows that go around stealing ideas from them. Their justification? “For years the humans have milked us. Now we’re milking them, for their ideas.”

“So how do you get your ideas?” – an audience member asked Andy. “I steal them!” he confessed. “Haven’t you ever heard of Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree?” he joked. Seriously though, he loved the feeling of expansion and freedom when he read The Faraway Tree books years ago and he tries to copy that feeling. Playing in trees is inherently dangerous – and he keeps his that way by not putting fences around the crazy levels they build such as a chain-saw juggling area and crocodiles under a skateboard ramp. His storytelling advice is to ask: “What is the worst thing that can happen?” and to “think the opposite of what would happen and do that.”  He says he does the opposite of what the reader expects because shock and surprise equals reader laughter. “I never underestimate my readers’ stupidity.” He means that in a nice way.

Now back to that shower rapidly filling up to the ceiling with water, and you trapped naked inside: “What would you do? All you have is a rubber duck” he said, waving a rubber duck toy in the air. He suggested using the duck’s squeaker as a distress signal to call emergency services (it didn’t work by the way, he tried it live). You could plug the shower head with the duck but it would fill and expand and being killed by an exploding rubber duck, he says, would be an embarrassing way to die. “What’s the worst that could happen?!?” You could break your way through the ceiling by hammering it with the rubber duck but then get trapped in the ceiling and float through the roof space until you came crashing down naked into your sister’s sleepover party. Humiliation overdrive. In case he hasn’t made his point with his young readers (and potentially budding writers themselves): “It’s all about brainstorming.”

Another great way of generating ideas? Making lists – such as the lists of what kind of levels they could have in their treehouse – a bowling alley, a game of snakes and ladders with real snakes and, in The 78-Storey Treehouse, what about an all-ball level for sports fans? Including fire balls and wrecking balls. There’s also Andyland, Terrytown and Jillville (to home the Andy, Terry and Jill clones left over from the previous book), a combining machine (eg. electric eel + unicorn = Electricorn) and a Scribbletorium.

Andy Griffiths
Andy Griffiths. WORD Christchurch event. Friday 16 September 2016. Flickr 2016-09-16-IMG_6102

Speaking of scribbles, Andy shared with everyone Terry’s early drawings of their treehouse complete with marshmallow machine and vegetable vaporiser and certainly their most dangerous hazard of all, their publisher Mr. Big Nose whose nose explodes when he gets angry, usually caused by Andy and Terry not making another deadline on the book they are meant to be writing. Andy’s character tends to get a bit cross in his books too which just makes Terry funnier.

Hands up – who likes Terry better than Andy? About half the room. Andy says he has to be mean to Terry since he steals his chips and that’s why he had to create a high-security potato chip storage facility in his latest book, complete with 1000 mousetraps, 100 lasers, a 10-tonne weight and an angry duck – to deter those friends and family who like to steal our chips from us (you know who you are). In real life, Andy and Terry endlessly amuse each other – into their third book in the Just series (Just Crazy, Just Stupid etc…) they felt they just didn’t have enough bad ideas and were having trouble getting a book together …so how about a book about a book that never gets started?

Andy showed a few slides of amazing, and amusing, trees and treehouses. A child in the audience reprimanded him for his picture of a tree that looked like a bum: “That’s inappropriate!” He joked back: “You have to do some serious introspection when a six year-old tells you that you are inappropriate.”

Andy says he has been writing since he was about 5 or 6 years old. He says one of his earliest ‘books’ he made was a get-well card for his dad that read “Get well soon …or you are doomed” with a drawing of a tombstone. Andy reminisced about how when he was a child he read cautionary tales  –  German tales from the 1800s such as Heinrich Hoffmann’s Der Struwwelpeter – and similar to Hilaire Belloc’s cautionary verses – unlovely bedtime stories – about what frightfully horrible things can happen to you when you play with matches or suck your thumb. And did that teach him to be a good boy? No! That taught him that “Reading is cool.” “I don’t know what will happen when I read!” he enthused. The same can be said about his stupendous stories.

Andy Griffiths - crowd
Andy Griffiths. WORD Christchurch event. Friday 16 September 2016. Flickr 2016-09-16-IMG_6064

Joking about all the dangers in his books he says that’s why he came to New Zealand, because there were no scary things, like poisonous spiders… um, uh, Andy! Watch out! The audience were quick to educate him about the redbacked spider and the katipo. Andy said that he doesn’t believe in cruelty to animals in his books but an audience member called him out: “But what about when the shark is fed Terry’s underwear?” Well, Andy points out he had Jill (their animal-whisperer sidekick) perform open-shark surgery to save it. Andy says the moral is: “Don’t wash your undies in a shark tank – or just don’t wash your underpants” full stop. Andy Griffiths doesn’t miss a beat.

“Is Jill really your sister?” someone was desperate to know. “Let’s hope not! I’m married to her in real life” said Andy, who met his wife Jill Griffiths in 1997 when she was the editor of his first book Just Tricking and was quick to add that Jill is funny in her own right (she composed the Ballad of the Ninja Snails in The 52-Storey Treehouse). He says Jill stops him from taking his jokes too far (although I’m not sure how much further they could go).

“Will there be an actual Treehouse Movie?” an eager fan inquired. “Not so far” answered Andy, sounding unsure how his books would translate on screen. But is he working on another book? He did some quick mathematical calculations (adding 13 to 78) before confirming that, yes, a 91-Storey Treehouse is under construction – due to be built by August 2017. Great news! Because the worst that could happen for fans is that Andy and Terry stop reaching to new heights.

Watch this space.

Max with author Andy Griffiths
Max and Andy Griffiths.

Thanks to publishers Macmillan and WORD Christchurch for bringing Andy to town. Missed his appearance? Watch Andy and Terry in action at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival 2015

See our photos of Andy Griffiths in Christchurch.

Andy Griffiths and fan
Andy Griffiths and fan. WORD Christchurch event. Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre. Saturday 17 September 2016. Flickr 2016-09-17-IMG_6187

Ivan Coyote: Talking across boundaries – WORD Christchurch

Ivan Coyote
Ivan Coyote (Image supplied)

When the WORD blog team put their hand up to cover different sessions at WORD Christchurch, I was fortunately alone in choosing both “The Storyteller” and “Black and Blue Storytelling” with Ivan E. Coyote. As the event continued and audiences enjoyed the stories, people kept coming back for more and more. By Sunday morning, “The Storyteller” session was sold out and WORD volunteers brought more chairs in.

Ivan hails from the Yukon, Canada and their stories are autobiographical, exploring family history and dynamics, gender identity, social justice and equality. At times self-deprecating, but with a good sprinkling of wit and humour so that the messages they are conveying are all the more powerful for being from personal experience. To deliver these messages in any other way, would perhaps come across as a lecture. Ivan has taken pains to point out that that is not their intention. In a Radio New Zealand interview Ivan explained that the medium they use is very traditional, whilst the subject matter is not. They write the story down and craft it before learning it, then once it is learnt, they are able to really tell it and tweak it and ad-lib for the audience. The result is a very natural, polished telling by a gifted raconteur.

Autobiographical storytelling requires a fine balance between truth and privacy. Ivan applies a strict set of criteria to their writing / telling. They ensure that the story is honouring and they thoroughly examine their own motivation in writing the story – for example are they trying to ensure that they have the last word? The essence of this is ensuring that they show compassion and that they “use their powers for good”. Ever since the sessions during WORD, I keep thinking what a great attitude and approach it is to aim to make everyone, even the most challenging person in the room comfortable and included. At the end of the day, why can’t we all just get along?

Ivan uses story to recount interactions with people with absolute attention to detail. “I’m not so much OCD but ATD – that’s attention to detail”. Through “Scars” we learnt a little about the mysterious world of a hand model, the map of childhood accidents and ultimately the effect of top surgery. This was moving for both the teller and the listeners. The humane telling elicits empathy, groans and sighs from the audience. On Sunday morning there was barely a dry eye in the room.

The session ended on a lighter note with Ivan telling a series of “literary doritos” short, bite-sized stories inspired by overheard snippets of conversation and a standing ovation.

Cover of Tomboy survival guideI asked Ivan if they intended readers to read their collections in order, as it seemed that Missed Her was intended that way. Ivan said that it didn’t matter although the Tomboy Survival Guide would probably be better if it was read in order. You read it here first…

Find stories by Ivan Coyote in the library catalogue

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About a Boy – WORD Christchurch

Canada’s Elizabeth Hay and New Zealand’s Tanya Moir and Emma Neale talked with Morrin Rout about their novels – all of which feature a boy finding his way.

Elizabeth Hay, Image supplied.
Elizabeth Hay, Image supplied.

CoverEach author talked about their boy before reading a passage from their novel. Elizabeth Hay introduced Jim, ten years old, and in a car on the way to Lake Ontario, asks of his parents “what’s the worst thing you have ever done?” Jim is a boy out of step with where he is in life, a cross border boy (a Canadian mother and New Yorker father) sorting out who has claims on his love and loyalty.

Tanya Moir introduces us to Winstone Blackhat at age 12, he is living on his own, living rough above the dams in Central Otago, sees himself as an outlaw and is surviving by fishing and stealing food from tourists.

Tanya Moir. Photo by Fiona Tomlinson. Image supplied.
Tanya Moir. Photo by Fiona Tomlinson. Image supplied.

CoverEmma Neale’s Billy is 8 (going on 9) and is a quirky, imaginative child whose vivid imagination becomes a problem to his parents when he believes he is a bird.

Each author read a passage from their novel. There is something magical about authors reading aloud from their own work, the characters come to life as the writer intended and the audience is left wanting to know more.

Morrin asked how did they each decide how to tell the story of their boy? Elizabeth said “His Whole Life” came about from a long drive she was on with her own son and he asked that question “what is the worst thing you have ever done?”. She was unable to answer that question at the time and he was unable to tell her in return his worst thing but the question remained. She wanted to explore that question further so created her fictional characters and set them on a journey to further explore the mother / son bond. The character of George the husband explores the notion of the husband as a fifth wheel.

Emma Neale. Photo by Graham Warman Burns. Image supplied.
Emma Neale. Photo by Graham Warman Burns. Image supplied.

CoverTanya said “The Legend of Winstone Blackhat” told Winstone’s story through the mechanism of a Western film inside his imagination. Winstone’s thoughts and feelings are described by a third person character, not by him directly.

Emma “Billy Bird” said she wanted to write a verse novel with three distinct voices, the three voices are those of Billy, his mother and his father. This allowed her not to be limited to the child’s perspective but his voice was playful and madcap and lifted the book when the subject matter deals with tragedy.

Elizabeth’s novel deals with the question “what’s the worst thing you have ever done?” but links in Canadian politics and the question of “will Quebec ever leave Canada?”  Canada and Quebec is described as a bad marriage – where Quebec really needs to leave. Quebec can also be described as an adolescent who will never achieve independence without leaving Canada.

Tanya’s novel is cinematic, she has taken the devices and clichés of cinema and put these back into words. She described writing her novel as imagining it as a movie scene with a camera tracking though the shoot and taking that and turning it into a sentence doing the same tracking with words.

Emma explored the family seeking counselling help to deal with their tragedy. Billy’s bird behaviour is a problem so she looked at what options would a family have to get help? She did this through researching and talking to professionals – but noted that sometimes the writer needs to abandon the research and let the character lead.

Read

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Cath Parr

Sex, & Sex, drugs & Rock n roll, & rock n roll – WORD Christchurch

IMG_5797Warning: as the title indicates, there may be some adult content in this post.

There is nothing like being ushered into a writers festival session with the question”Sex, drugs, and rock n roll?” It feels very non-cardigany!

This was a bit of an ongoing theme of my WORD Christchurch experience. First up, on Thursday evening I went to the launch of new erotic magazine Aotearotica at the New Regent Street pop-up.

Melanie McKerchar
Aotearotica at G+A Creative. Readers/Performers: Isabelle McNeur, Jodi Sh. Doff, Melanie McKerchar, and Laura Borrowdale. New Regent St popup festival.WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Flickr 2016-08-25-IMG_5746

The readings were fabulously varied in their saucy flavours. After an intro by Aotearotica editor Laura Borrowdale, Melanie read a sexy jewel from Anaïs Nin, Isabelle shared her honest raw love tales, and Jodi Sh. Doff told a story about a verrrry seductive subway ride.

By the way, if you can write or draw, Aotearotica is looking for submissions for Volume Two.

After the sex, the Sex, Drugs & Rock n Roll. This session featured more of the middle vice. Bianca Zander, Jodi Wright, and Kate Holden with Charlotte Graham (who was a very clued up chair). Charlotte wondered why sex, drugs and rock n roll books have such appeal? Taboo and rite of passage were two suggestions.

Panel for Sex, Drugs, and rock n roll
Panel for Sex, Drugs, and rock n roll: Charlotte Graham, Kate Holden, Bianca Zander, Jodi Wright. Flickr 2016-08-27-IMG_5808

Kate read stories about drugs before she became an addict – but while she was using, she read fantasy books. As heroin took hold in Australian in the 1990s, it appealed to soft, dreamy types because when the world is a bit abrasive “opiates are a great softener of that feeling”. She also explained how “anthropologically fascinating” brothels are – incredibly moving, compulsively interesting.

Kate’s memoir In my skin shows how important her family is, and she made a good point:

Family doesn’t get written about much in junkie memoirs.

Now that her memoir’s film rights have sold, everyone is re-reading and they are impressed all over again.

Jodi Wright - Sex, Drugs, and rock n roll
Jodi Wright, Flickr 2016-08-27-IMG_5800

CoverJodi couldn’t remember enough to write a memoir, so used her experience as the basis of a novel. She tried to find out what caused her addiction, going to psychiatrists to find the inciting incident: “What I needed to do was get unstuck”:

The story is what I have.

CoverBianca “always wanted to write a great rock n roll novel … I don’t think this is it”. It’s elusive trying to capture the spirit of rock n roll in words. Her book The Predictions was inspired by a story about an ashram kid, parented by the whole group, who went looking for his mum in a crowd. She thought about those kids without a solid foundation, unmoored out there in the world.

Two  points I took away from this session:

  • Good “Sex, drugs, and rock n roll” novels and memoirs take away the feeling of other, and make us think “us”.
  • Men are often feted for doing/writing this kind of stuff, and yet women get demonised. Hmmm.

And finally the rock n roll. I went to the Flying Nun In love with these times session at Blue Smoke. It was a joy. Russell Brown was our MC and on stage were Roger Shepherd, Graeme Downes, Jay Clarkson, Bruce Russell, and Hollie Fullbrook (Tiny Ruins). There were plenty of Flying Nun alumni in the audience which definitely added to the flavour. Roger Shepherd’s book is not just a great tale about a music scene, it’s a pretty powerful look into Christchurch’s history too.

Highlights? Jay Clarkson playing Spooky, and her perspectives on being a young mum and muso. Graeme Downes’ new song Dunedin Spleen (and his general loucheness and academic nous). Russell Brown’s super knowledgeable MCing and questions. The lugubrious Bruce Russell. This was something special.

More Sex, Drugs, and rock n roll

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How to start a magazine – The Sunday Fringe at WORD Christchurch

The Sunday Fringe at the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival was at one of my favourite new Christchurch places – Space Academy / Kadett Cafe in St Asaph Street. It’s just such a pleasant space to be in – great hot drinks, yummy food, AND an exhibition of The Smiths posters.

I was keen to go to this session, being a magazine lover from way back – raised on Twinkle, Tammy, and Misty comics, then Mizz, Q, Select, NME, British Vogue … Also, the library has just launched a magazine uncover – huraina.

The panellists on How to start a mag are eminently qualified to talk MAGAZINES: Debbie Stoller’s mag-baby is BUST (up to issue 100), Luke Wood (Cheap Thrills), and Duncan Greive from online mag The Spinoff (via Real Groove). The session was ably chaired by RDU’s breakfast host James Dann.

How to start a magazine
How to start a magazine. Flickr 2016-08-28-IMG_5856

In the world of magazines, the tension between quality content and business/advertising/the Web is massive:

  • Don’t sell your soul to the advertisers. Magazines can become deformed by demands of the advertiser and fat with ad pages.
  • The culture and the capital are never going to be compatible.
  • How on earth do magazines make money?
  • How do you sell magazines when there are fewer bookshops and less people buying mags?
  • Why would people buy content they can get free on the web?
  • NZ Herald and Stuff are both trying to be gossip sites, magazines, and provide serious news. The broken economic model dictates incoherence.
  • A world without intelligent discourse gets you Trump and Brexit.
Duncan Greive at How to start a magazine
Duncan Greive. Flickr 2016-08-28-IMG_5852

Who wants to advertise to smart, funny feminists? Turns out – no-one.

Debbie Stoller at How to start a magazine
Debbie Stoller. Flickr 2016-08-28-IMG_5850

So why make a magazine when it’s all against you? The big driver is PASSION. As Luke Wood said:

As a designer I guess I do fetishize the object. Somehow when it is in print, it is more archived. I believe in the content that we’re publishing.

And the experience of reading a magazine is different to consuming “weird snackable crap” on the internet. Debbie Stoller said:

It’s the quality of the time that you spend with it. It’s a more quiet focused time – it sticks in your memory more.

Luke Wood at How to start a magazine
Luke Wood. Flickr 2016-08-28-IMG_5853

I can’t finish with mentioning this rather splendid quote from James:

Magazines smell really good; the Internet doesn’t.

Agreed.

WORD Christchurch

Photos from How to start a magazine

My WORD – Anne on the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival

Ever since WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival ended on Sunday I’ve felt rather sad and a little lost. When I’ve been to other literature festivals I’ve been enthused, happy and have absolutely gorged myself on as many sessions as possible. Then they ended and that was that. WORD was different to that and also, for me, significantly different to previous WORD festivals. Let me try and explain how.

For me, WORD 2016 was like having my best friend visit for a full on weekend of anecdotes, reminiscence, political discussion and culture. Now they’ve gone back home and I miss them.

The main sessions which stood out for me were those related to feminism, short stories and storytelling. The sheer numbers attending the feminist sessions from Dame Fiona Kidman, Helene Wong, Debbie Stoller, Tara Moss and Barbara Brookes was heartwarming.

Book sale stand, WORD Christchurch
Books for sale at The Piano. Flickr 2016-08-24-IMG_2459

However, the absolute highlight of the festival, for me was the oral storytelling of Ivan Coyote. It is a rare thing to find oral storytelling events in literature festivals. It is, as the saying goes, “as rare as hen’s teeth” to find storytelling for adult audiences. But WORD programmed this to audiences who lapped it all up and hungrily asked for more. Oral storytelling is the one thing above all that I’ve missed since moving to New Zealand from the UK over 7 years ago. I hadn’t come across Ivan Coyote before, so my choice of their sessions was purely guided by the words “storyteller and raconteur”. My punt paid off as these sessions were fantastic. Like most storytelling events, they were just too short and that’s a great criticism to have!

So now, I have a few more books and collections on my shelves just like an album of photos to remember the weekend. Until the next time, WORD.