If you are at all into thrillers, you have probably heard of this New York Times bestselling author of Orphan X and its sequel The Nowhere Man.
But did you know his skills extend way beyond the crime genre? He’s also a Shakespeare-tragedy scholar and a writer of comic books. Gregg will be interviewed by local crime reviewer Ken Strongman. After the talk, there will be an audience Q & A and book signing, with books available to purchase on the night. Book your tickets now.
Gregg has a contract for three more Orphan X novels, and Bradley Cooper’s production company has picked up the film rights. Gregg has experience writing for television, so he is on screenwriter duties for this movie adaptation.
I asked my Dad – who is thriller and crime buff – a few questions about Gregg:
You’ve read books by Gregg. Tell me a bit about them.
As mentioned I have read three of Gregg’s books over the past year. My first taste was Don’t Look Back about a year ago. A great story about a single mother on an adventure tour group to Mexico, concerns over being trapped by a dangerous predator and secrets wanting to get safely back home to her son. Great “edge of the seat” stuff to keep you glued to the pages.
I then noticed the highly acclaimed Orphan X which I read next a few weeks later. Evan Smoak is the man. Taken from a group home and trained in undercover operations it has more potential thrills, twist and turns you think you could handle. It is no surprise Bradley Cooper is signed up for the movie.
I was hooked by now, so read one more of Gregg’s books to confirm my theory. I read Tell no Lies in May of last year and this one was based in San Francisco, a counsellor with ex cons and suddenly anonymous threats from a killer. No rest again as the action is maintained.
He is bleeding good, one of my favourites.
What are the best things about his writing?
The joy of his books is the immense variety, realism yet excitingly dangerous and ever changing scenarios. Some people may only like to read them during the day as those noises from inside your house could be the precursor to something evil.
Are you keen to see him in person? What would you ask him?
If I happened to meet Greg my question would be how hard is it to switch from comic book to a serious badass thriller.
Yesterday a car pulled up next to me while we were sitting at the lights, and the gentleman inside (I use the term loosely) rolled down his window. ‘Cheer up!’ he called. ‘Come on! Smile for me!’
If this doesn’t happen to you on a regular basis then perhaps you won’t understand why my immediate response was one of stifled rage. Sure, it’s one of the more innocuous forms of putting women in their place, but it exists on the flipside of the coin marked Nasty Woman. And if you’re looking at the USA thinking That’s so much worse, at least our last prime minister was only grabbing ponytails, don’t be too complacent. Unfortunately kiwi misogynists are looking at global politics for more ideas of how to be horrible to women.
If this depresses you, I have good news! WORD Christchurch is live-streaming a collection of talks by smart, feminist women straight to Christchurch. Geena Davis will be talking about women in Hollywood and the film industry, Jessa Crispin will be discussing her new book (Why I Am Not a Feminist — A Feminist Manifesto), and Yassmin Adbel-Magied, Van Badham and Lindy West will be on the Nasty Women panel. I’m especially excited to listen to Lindy West, as she was one of my favourite staff writers at Jezebel.com a few years ago (and has since published a book, Shrill).
I look forward to hopefully seeing some of you there, but if you can’t make it (or you need something to read in the meantime), check out our staff’s favourite feminist titles here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Literary festivals are wonderfully educational things. If you open your ears and listen, seemingly the wisdom of the world will made available to you.
And some of it is quite pithy too. Now that the extended programme events have been completed we’ve gathered together our favourite quotes from the writers and thinkers of WORD Christchurch 2016. Read and receive their wit and/or wisdom.
“To create Lena, I took elements from a wide range of … characters and sources. These were the disparate, disconnected limbs and organs I harvested and stitched together to make my monster. It was my job to add flesh and skin, and then to animate her.” Tracy Farr
“You’re writing fiction; take liberties.” Tracy Farr
“We have over-simplified things for children. Children’s sentences need to be longer. We need more semi-colons.” Kate de Goldi on writing for children
“Writing is a form of changing energy into words.” John Freeman
“The worst place for creativity is a desk. I need to be out-and-about stealing ideas!” Alice Canton on creativity
“I wanted to create a journal of stories that would silence a dinner party.” John Freeman on his new journal Freeman’s
“Do I have any chips for writers? No, I don’t share my chips.” Nobody can grab Andy Griffiths’ ghost chips.
“My job as a writer is to stop my characters from solving problems.” Andy Griffiths
“You get tragedy and farce in all of life – and politics is a part of life” Peter S. Field on the US Presidential race.
“His plans for being president don’t seem like those of someone who thought about being president for more than an hour…” Steve Hely on Donald Trump.
“You want boring people in government. You want outrageous people on TV.” Steve Hely on what makes a good politician.
“Politics doesn’t just happen in parliament – it affects lives. Laws aren’t made in a vacuum” Fiona Kidman
“A world without intelligent discourse gets you Trump and Brexit.” Duncan Greive tells it like it is.
“It’s like watching a political version of the O.J Simpson trial.” Dr Amy Fletcher regarding the Trump/Clinton political situation and its polarizing effect.
“I venture to suggest that a man who dyes his hair is a man not to be trusted” Peter Bromhead referring to Prime Minister John Key
“I don’t think men should read my book” Jodi Wright dismisses a male reviewer who used the words “sex slave”.
“My body is not an apology” Tusiata Avia reads from her poem.
“There’s not a lot of money in feminism.” Debbie Stoller
“I find it hard to have respect for people who say they are not feminist” Debbie Stoller
“Because wanting equality as a human being is exactly like the Holocaust” Tara Moss on the term “feminazi”
“Do what works for you, however weird it seems.” Tracy Farr on weirdness
“Magazines smell really good; the Internet doesn’t” James Dann is not wrong.
“I’ve watched a lot of porno on tape…” the start of an audience question at the No sex please we’re teenagers session.
“New Regent Street – a time period that has never existed in New Zealand” The Unicorn
“I appreciate this dystopian polemic, sir, but is there a question?” Kim Hill to a persistently long-winded audience member.
“When it is someone you love, a bit of decomposition doesn’t matter.” Caitlin Doughty on dealing with our own dead.
“Being “othered” is something that pervades your daily life in New Zealand.” Alice Canton
“I know it’s after 10pm and Christchurch, emphasis on the Christ…” The Unicorn
“Community is a social lifeboat…” Justin Cronin on disaster response and community
“A child is a deal you make with the future.” Justin Cronin
“We raise our voices, not shouting but singing” David Levithan
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’s question was:
What was your inspiration to start writing books?
Andy 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.
One 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!
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.
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:
Read a lot of books.
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!
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.
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.
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?
What is the most important piece of advice you would give to an 8 year old boy that loves to write?
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?
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?
“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?
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?
I would ask Andy if he would add a slide to his treehouse that could take you to different countries.
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.
To Mr Andy Griffiths:
You write great stories but are you any good at drawing?
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?”
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
Canadians. Who would win the nicest people in the world smack down? Us or them? I think them. I’m going to read every book Elizabeth Hay ever wrote. And I might start reading a poem a day at breakfast time just because she does.
Ted Dawe’s shirt. Possibly Rata flowers and leaves, perhaps Pohutukawa. Either way very pleasing to look at.
Those who cannot tell the difference between a question and a statement. You know who you are. Or perhaps you don’t. Think about it people. Does the question take longer to ask than to answer? Then don’t ask it.
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.
I 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…
Black and Blue Storytelling at 27 steps brought me right out of my comfort zone. To be heading into Christchurch whilst stone cold sober and on my own on a Friday night after 10pm was a big thing for me – but there aren’t that many opportunities to hear adult storytelling. In my excitement I hadn’t really reflected on the name – black and blue storytelling in that some of the stories might be a bit risqué.
According to the host, Derek Flores aka ‘The Unicorn’, the aim of the evening was to conduct a social experiment to find “an inconvenient space and cram as many people as possible inside”. It was hot, or as the Unicorn described it “toasty” and the vibe was becoming a lot more like hot yoga – we were achieving weightloss through storytelling – yay!
To add to the surreal vibe, Mitchell the bar tender circulated bills to the people seated and unable to get to the bar. It is virtually a story in itself that, at the moment of Ivan E. Coyote’s introduction, Mitchell was trying to rest payment from them for Ivan’s bourbon.
Ivan had a simple message for the crowd in “A Cautionary Tale”. A tale involving a retro, blue polyester tuxedo, beer, ecstasy, air travel and inappropriate packing told with humour and panache. Don’t drink beer. We laughed, empathised and cringed together.
This tale features in the book “Gender Failure” written with Rae Spoon, exploring their failure to fit into a gender binary world.
The Unicorn and Alice Canton wove an improvised tale that spun, as improvisation can into a surreal meander where the thread was almost lost until the Unicorn brought it all back together to a conclusion. The contrast between the crafted story and improvisation offered two very different oral narratives – a rare and welcome alternative offering in a literature festival programme.