An Evening with Lee Child – Past Tense – WORD Christchurch

I am well into the morning-after glow of having spent an evening in the company of Lee Child, Paul Cleave and 750 of his Christchurch fans – and what a night it was! This is my first WORD Christchurch event – this one presented in association with Penguin Random House New Zealand – and I couldn’t have asked for a better author to kick off with. Lee Child is funny, intelligent and relaxed as he responds to Paul Cleave’s questions. He looks every bit as he does on the back cover of his books too. Now don’t worry – there are no spoilers for Past Tense in here – nor were there any in the interview, thankfully. I am still only part way through the book so I would have been gutted if it had been discussed in depth.

Have you ever wondered if Lee Child is channeling any of himself into our favourite character? Turns out that he is. He has gone out and experienced moving around the States as Jack does and has a similar dislike for technology. He also told us that other than the leather jacket and boots that he was wearing on the night; everything else will find itself in the bin in a few days and he will leave with new clothes. The basics aren’t expensive – he’s tried expensive clothing and found that they look the same anyway. And yes his jeans go under the mattress at night!

So which of you didn’t like Tom Cruise in the big screen role of Jack Reacher? No? Me neither! Quite simply because he doesn’t have the requisite traits that we all know Reacher to have – if anything, Tom Cruise is the antipode of Jack Reacher.

But this isn’t something that we will have to continue to grin and bear for any future films. That’s because there won’t be any. It was in Lee’s contract with the studio that he could opt out of any future movies once two had been made. So he has. Instead we have something much more worthy to look forward to. A TV series! He has just signed the paperwork to put Jack Reacher onto the little screen and I for one will be happily bingewatching it. If luck has it, there will be 8 seasons which will incorporate 24 books – 3 per season. One book will be chosen as the main theme and the other 2 will be cannibalised to round out the episodes. Can’t wait to see the result.

It was nice to see Lee graciously accept the book of a first-time author from the audience, when he was offered it. I had the impression that he genuinely supports up and coming talent. He does however, heartily disapprove of a well established author who quite blatantly kicks off a series with a character who is a bit of a dead ringer for ol’ Jack. David Baldacci… you know who you are! Amusingly, Lee didn’t take this affront lying down and is openly disparaging of such behaviour. He even went as far as to name a couple of his minor characters Baldacci and made sure that Reacher got a chance to punch them in the face. It seems that was enough to assure the absence of David Baldacci at some book events that he and Lee Child were due to attend together. Better watch your back DB!

So, ‘how does he remain as thin as he does?’, was one audience member’s question. Lee has discovered that stoking the fires of his creativity is as simple as keeping himself hungry. He writes better like this. He puts it down to some primal part of his brain that is activated when he is hungry – and it’s no doubt trying to imagine what it will have to do in order to hunt and forage to fill this need. Deep stuff.

So even though food doesn’t play a huge part we can rest assured that he is consuming copious amounts of coffee. This stuff must be running through his veins as it’s not unusual for him to consume 36 cups of coffee in a day! 36! Mind blown! How on earth does he sleep at night, I wonder?

So that was my night with Lee Child. It was a very entertaining time that was had by all. And no I didn’t hang around for my book to be signed, because I didn’t have a couple of hours to spare! Maybe next time.

Time to immerse myself back into Jack Reacher’s world – Past Tense here I come!

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An Evening with Lee Child – Friday 23 November, 7pm – WORD Christchurch

CoverLee Child has just released his 23rd Jack Reacher book – Past Tense – and I can hardly wait to get my hands on it. The only thing that could possibly be better, is attending ‘An Evening with Lee Child’ – but you also won’t be surprised to hear that this WORD Christchurch event is already sold out. With a drawcard like bestselling author Lee Child having a chat with local author Paul Cleave – it’s no wonder! There was much seat bouncing and skiting to anyone who would listen when I heard that I would be going to see the creator of the Jack Reacher series in the flesh. It is almost like being in the same room as the great man himself – and who wouldn’t want to be up close and personal with someone like Jack?

Lee Child is one of an elite group of authors of whose work I have read in its entirety – and eagerly anticipate his next offering. This doesn’t sound like too big of a deal, I agree; but I am actually one of those librarians who don’t read many books. Blame the alluring pull of technology, being time-poor and feeling like it is taking my work home with me. But for another tale about Jack, I will always make an exception.

With 23 books under his belt and more than 40 short story anthologies, Lee Child has been giving his imagination and typing skills a serious work out over the last 21 years. His books have been bestsellers and he’s sold well over 100 million of them all over the world. From a librarian’s point of view I can honestly say that they are rarely back in the library long enough to actually get shelved.

Now I can see how this is a wee bit like teasing you all given that the event is actually sold out – but don’t despair. You can put your name on the waitlist according to the WORD Christchurch website – so you might be in with a chance! I on the other hand will be there with bells on and will let you know what you missed from the comfort of your lounge room – so watch this space!

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Poet Kaveh Akbar is no sheep in wolf’s clothing – WORD Christchurch

Kaveh Akbar is more of a shepherd than a wolf. The internationally acclaimed Iranian-American poet not only produces amazing thought-provoking poetry, but nurtures other poets to achieve their full potential too. So it was a perfect date for us to be hosting him at Tūranga, the flagship of the future. We are all about helping our citizens to access all they need to reach for the top.

Hosted by local poet Erik Kennedy, this event was held in the brand spanking new Tautoru / TSB Space, and brought to us by WORD Christchurch in association with LitCrawl Wellington. View photos of Kaveh Akbar and Erik Kennedy event.

Mr Akbar is a really nice guy. Humble and quietly spoken (though this changes when he reads) Kaveh kept thanking us for coming. When reading, Kaveh is animated, moving with the lilting rhythm of his words, his voice rising with the swell of emotion and experience.

An Iranian-American, he sees his poetry as:

“the membrane between myself and the divine…a new idiom for ancient binaries.”

Binaries such as solitude and community, decay and rebirth, literature and culture.

Kaveh has been posting interviews with poets making waves on DiveDapper; a website he created as a platform for exposure, promotion and connection. It has become a community, bringing poets and enthusiasts together worldwide. The list of poets on this website is impressive! Akbar sees this as a way to “push (his gratitude) outwards.” He further demonstrated this by reading two poems by New Zealand poet Helen Heath.

CoverKaveh’s book of poetry Calling a Wolf a Wolf was released to much acclaim this year. In it, Kaveh addresses difficult themes from addiction to desire; his poetry refreshing in a way that feels uplifting rather than downbeat.

Akbar’s work shares a sense of lessons learned and experience shared, as opposed to a self-indulgent train wreck. In all, there is a theme of hunger: for the physical sensation of being alive. Akbar’s poems grabbed me at first taste. Alliteration, onomatopoeia and themes of life, death and longing fill his poems. Addiction is portrayed as a kind of death; “a void to fill in wellness”. The poetry came from a need to fill the gap left after he became sober: “my entire life up to that point was predicated on the pursuit of this or that narcotic experience.” All this brings to mind a Persian poet who celebrated the wine and song of life, yet without the cautionary tale: Omar Khayyam.

In the light of current politics, Kaveh asserts that the ‘utility’ of poetry ‘forces us to slow down our metabolism of language’. A useful antidote to doublespeak, perhaps. He makes it sound like a science. And in fact it is.

Kaveh Akbar
Kaveh Akbar in conversation with Erik Kennedy. WORD Christchurch event. Tautoru / TSB Space, Hapori | Community, Level 1, Tūranga, Tuesday 6 November 2018. Flickr 2018-November-6-IMG_1984

Although he now only speaks a few words of Farsi these days, Akbar sees feeling as a ‘universal language,’ one that we all understand. The purpose of poetry, he says, is as Homer put it – to ‘delight and instruct.’  So often, we leave out the delight, loving to lecture others on the way of things. Pre-sobriety, Akbar the poet painted himself as the hero of his works; a ‘gloriously misunderstood scumbag.’ A way of being, he says, that’s insufferable (I’ve dated guys like that).

‘So you’re the sobriquet of the School of Delight?’ quips Eric Kennedy. Sobriquet. Oh clever. Thus begins a new Golden Age in Poetry. The interview website DiveDapper came from Kaveh’s hunger for dialogue with other poets while going through recovery. It’s a way to share experience with others – ‘a vast expanse of empathetic resources.’

The internet has meant that ‘the age of coy diminishment of one’s passions is over’…it is now an age of ‘unabashed zeal.’ Eric:  Zeal Land!”

Kaveh read a number of wonderful poems from Calling a Wolf a Wolf. I love the titles – so real but imaginative. He really does have a way with words:

The last word goes to Mr Akbar:

“Poetry is the best thing that exists in the universe.”

More about Kaveh Akbar

Kaveh has been published by the New Yorker, The New York Times, Best American Poetry 2018 and The Guardian:

Poems

Vulnerability and advocacy at WORD Christchurch Festival

Once again, WORD Christchurch was fabulous. All the session I went to were thoroughly interesting and enjoyable, and reading all the fabulous write ups of other sessions caused some serious past-tense FOMO. My holds list has also got rather long…

However, I’ve also been thinking about some of the connections between different sessions. One very sparkly connection was Stacy Gregg‘s silver boots, another around leaving New Zealand – or not. At the very wonderful Mortification session Steve Braunias told a beautifully crafted story about giving a well-known politician fleas, but one of the points he made was about how he wasn’t particularly keen to do a big OE – he was settled in New Zealand. In Explosive Archaeology Brannavan Gnanalingam noted that Robin Hyde developed her career in New Zealand, rather than going overseas to do so. Sometimes it seems that some Kiwis have to go away to achieve in order to come back and be successful, but as these stories show that isn’t always the case. New Zealand is more than enough.

As we found out, when you are mortified you are very vulnerable – think inopportune periods, an inopportune goat in the buttocks, assorted inopportune number twos and buttocks exposed to the elements. I enjoyed hearing people talk about things in life that had not gone so well – we need to be open about our screw ups. Sex also makes us vulnerable. Sharing your wibbly bits with someone else is risky, as is showing your mum poems you’ve written which contain a lot of sex. Tayi Tibble was nervous showing her mum her more sexual poetry, but her mum was fine with it. Her risk paid off.

But, as Chris Henry reminds us, it really is ok to be vulnerable. Looking after our mental health is so very important, and reaching out to people and telling them how we feel is huge and so worthwhile. Chris demonstrates very well how you can be a hero and vulnerable. ‘We can make a life‘ not only covers family stories and the earthquakes, it also advocates for the amazing work that rural GPs do, which Chessie feels is sometimes under appreciated.

Advocacy came up again in Explosive Archaeology – in terms of making sure we are speaking about underappreciated artists and genres, and also in terms of making sure we are leaving doors open for those that come after us. When we succeed – who do we take with us? Who do we raise up?

I love events that make me think and WORD certainly did that. I’m going to make sure that I’m ok with my vulnerability, and that if I like something I tell people about it.

I like the WORD Christchurch Festival, and I’ve enjoyed telling you about it.

Melting the canon – Explosive Archaeology: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

This fantastic session included no stripey jumpers or whips or trowels – the archaeology was metaphorical, asking us to look back, elevate, uncover and dig up those who have been excluded from the literary canon. Poet Tayi Tibble, academic Erin Harrington, novelist Brannavan Gnanalingam and curator Jennifer Shields were asked by session chair Pantograph Punch editor Lana Lopesi to wrestle with the canon and to share their favourite underappreciated artists and genres.

Jennifer Shields. Image supplied.
Jennifer Shields. Image supplied.

Jennifer told us about Wellington-based emerging musical talent Hybrid Rose and Christchurch contemporary art collective The Social, who specialise in making cheap, accessible and engaging public art in a post-quake environment.

Brannavan Gnanaglingam. Photo credit: Lucy Li
Brannavan Gnanaglingam. Photo credit: Lucy Li

Brannavan talked about Merata Mita, also the subject of a recent documentary, who made protest documentaries like Bastion Point: Day 507 and Patu! which do not fit with the ‘man alone’ narrative of the emerging New Zealand film industry. Someone else who doesn’t fit into an established narrative is political journalist and social realist Robin Hyde. Unlike the ‘Mansfield narrative’ she didn’t need to leave New Zealand in order to find her purpose. Let’s widen out the canon so people don’t have to ‘fit’ and can be as they are.

Dr Erin Harrington. Image supplied.
Dr Erin Harrington. Image supplied.

Erin spoke about children’s material, and how formative influences can be left out of the canon, referencing Karen Healey‘s article about absences in the New Zealand Book Awards. She talked about Aotearoa’s special relationship with Badjelly the Witch, played regularly on Sunday morning kids’ radio and how this helped learn to be listeners and to understand story and narrative. BTW, childhood influences are something that I have explored on Library Whisperers with Christchurch’s good friend Matt Finch.

Tayi Tibble. Image supplied.
Tayi Tibble. Image supplied.

Tayi introduced us to two up and coming poets Jessica Thompson Carr and Joy Holley, advocating for their work by reading us some of their poetry. Finally Lana spoke about artist Leofa Wilson who has mentored and opened so many doors for Pasifika women.

Opening doors was a big theme of the questions that followed. How do people get to that place where you become an overnight success? How can doors be left open for the people that come after? What are the best ways to advocate and champion others and build networks and relationships? This was an interesting debate, suggesting that we must be mindful of who we promote, always have our wings open so people can be taken under them, keep making connection, and above all speak about the the things, and the people, we love.

Adventurous Women: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Broadcaster and writer Miriama Kamo introduced the lineup for WORD Christchurch’s final session by prefacing with a definition of the topic:

adventure (n.) a wild and exciting undertaking (not necessarily lawful)

All four women featured fully fit the description, from extreme endurance to joyous risk-taking while travelling. The only thing I have in common with these ladies and their incredible lives is our gender, but while I won’t be running off to the Greenland ice cap anytime soon, their talks have inspired me to be a little more adventurous in my own life.

Adventurous women. Image supplied.
Adventurous women. Image supplied.

Hollie Woodhouse began her adventures with an Outward Bound course in her late twenties. While alone in the bush she wrote down four goals she wanted to achieve:

  1. Start her own business
  2. Go to the UK and do her OE
  3. Sign up for an event each year that would challenge her
  4. Get a tattoo

For me a challenging event would be speaking in front of a crowded auditorium at The Piano, but for Hollie that meant signing up for the Coast to Coast with no prior experience, after which she headed to London and now publishes a magazine called Say Yes to Adventure, which combines her love of design, adventures and the written word. So that’s three checked off her list, but instead of resting on her laurels she decided to apply for an expedition to the Greenland ice cap — a natural next step, I’m sure you’ll agree.

This part of the talk had me putting multiple question marks and exclamation points next to my notes: for 29 days Hollie and three others would walk from 8-14 hours on the ice, pulling a 60kg sled behind them. The weather was unseasonably bad, causing at one point a hurricane that kept them shut up in their tents for so long that a necessary toilet break was made, and in the 20 seconds they were outside the frostbite already set in. The delay caused them to take longer than anticipated, resulting in a grueling 30+ hour trek on the last day to get to the helicopter. (Who does this to themselves?!) Really puts my holiday food poisoning in perspective.

CoverOur next speaker, Lilia Tarawa, thankfully began her talk with something I could relate to: growing up on the idyllic West Coast, surrounded by rivers, trees, bush, and mountains. She was close with her friends and family, loved going camping, and excelled at learning musical instruments. At age six she was proud to receive a glowing first school report with excellent grades and the comment that “Lilia demonstrates leadership qualities which could be useful when she gets older.” Lilia’s grandfather read this out to their gathered community at the evening dinner, and as her heart swelled with pride he popped it by saying: “We don’t need women like you.”

Lilia grew up in the cult of Gloriavale, and this was her first inkling that her world was not as wonderful as it seemed. The use of shame and humiliation to control others made it difficult for her to see herself raising children in that environment, and after the mistreatment of her best friend as an older teen she resolved to leave. Luckily the rest of her family were already on board (her two elder brothers had already left) so they were able to escape together. Despite leaving the environment it hasn’t been easy to shrug off her upbringing:

They began by using shame and guilt to degrade my self worth. Every day I was told I was a worthless sinner so when people treated me badly I thought maybe I deserve this, maybe this is my fault. My love for others broke the chains that shackled me — why was I willing to stand up for them but not for myself?

Lilia now fulfills the prediction of that early report card, standing up for both herself and others as a strong leader. “I want to tell my six year old self that she can do anything she wants to do, and never let anyone tell her otherwise.”

From the sobering reality of escaping a cult to the wry humour of Margaret Austin, who prefaced her speech with two confessions. 1) She is not Margaret Austin the former Labour MP, and 2) She grew up in Palmerston North. I forgave her these defects when she continued on to detail her escape, first from her home town and later from a cottage in Port Chalmers, fleeing overseas for 14 years. After some good experiences (Amsterdam) and bad (Athens), she ended up on a street in Paris described by Henry Miller as full of pimps and prostitutes. Perhaps that explains why, when looking for a job as a dancer, she was directed to Les Folies Bergère. (If you’re not familiar, think Moulin Rouge.) It wasn’t until she saw the picture of topless dancers on the wall of the director’s office that she realised quite what she was auditioning for. Luckily Margaret is nothing if not game, and that is how an ex-Sunday School girl from Palmerston North became a Paris cabaret dancer.

I’ve taken a lot of risks, and most of them have worked out well. If you’re going to take a risk, why take a calculated risk?

Her parting shot to the audience was the advice that if someone tells you that you shouldn’t do this or can’t do that, do it. An appealingly contrary attitude that describes Margaret perfectly.

CoverAfter three incredible speakers you might be thinking that the fourth couldn’t possibly live up to the others, but Dr Michelle Dickinson put that thought to bed with the revelation that not only is she a competitive kitesurfer, she also does snow-kiting, mountain biking, runs ultra marathons, swims with sharks, goes rock climbing, and used to do competitive martial arts and cagefighting for money(!!). This is all in addition to her work as an engineer, nanotechnologist, lecturer, and now founder and Director of Nanogirl Labs Ltd. Whew! Despite being intimidatingly smart, Michelle didn’t come from a home of academic excellence — both parents dropped out of school early and Michelle herself failed the exams needed to get into nursing college, the only career option the school advisor recommended for girls. No one recognised her skills with a soldering iron and electronics at home as being valuable, or that being bad at tests didn’t mean you weren’t smart. Luckily she got into university a couple of years later and studied “the art of breaking shit and never having to put it back together!”.

Despite her many challenging hobbies, Michelle says one of the hardest things she’s done is be a woman engineer. It’s a lonely position to be in, with only 11% of engineers in Aotearoa being female. Often she has literally been the only woman in the room. As a lecturer in Auckland she struggled with letting her female engineering graduates out into the workplace, as she recognised that many won’t be safe in their jobs. The audience was treated to a range of sexist adverts and logos from engineering firms across New Zealand to illustrate her point. This situation is unlikely to change while we continue to reinforce job stereotypes, confirmed by a survey done on age 5-8 year olds where they were asked to draw a picture of an engineer. 100% were of a man. Since Michelle has started Nanogirl Labs Ltd and has brought female engineers into schools to talk about their jobs, the survey results have changed drastically. “Every one of you is a role model,” she told us (no pressure), “Every one of us can do a tiny thing that shifts New Zealand into a brand new space.”

We’re so afraid of failure in New Zealand. Take a risk! If it works, you’ll be happy. If you fail, you’ll be wise.

The perfect conclusion to a literary festival celebrating adventure and the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage, recognised by a standing ovation by the audience. I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Selina Tusitala Marsh and Tusiata Avia – Fast burning women: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Selina Tusitala Marsh is impressive. Tall and exuding warmth with an open, smiley countenance topped by a mass of long dark curls, she enters carrying her tokotoko which is topped with long hair mirroring her own.

Selina Tusitala Marsh. Image supplied.
Selina Tusitala Marsh. Image supplied.

One immediately feels drawn to her and the packed audience settles down to be entertained. Selina is in conversation with her sister poet and friend, Tusiata Avia. They are obviously at ease with each other and enjoy talking together.

Selina is New Zealand’s current Poet Laureate, the fifth woman to hold this position and the first woman of colour. She feels she has an obligation and responsibility to make everyone feel included as well as showcasing her Pasifika heritage.

Her mission is to get the story of the tokotoko out there and she regularly invites people to come along and touch it. It is fitting that she is the 11th Poet Laureate and the tokotoko breaks down into eleven pieces which is necessary for travel.

Paula Green, NZ poet, says “Hone Tuwhare and Sam Hunt are the two poets that are so beloved by our nation. I predict Selina is our third.”

One wonders how she manages to fit everything in in her extremely packed schedule. She has composed and performed for the Queen and welcomed Barack Obama to New Zealand. As well as travelling extensively both here and abroad, she is involved in the Writers in Schools Programme which is booked up for the next two years.

She feels women find it hard to value their self-worth and to ask for help. With the help of her friend Tusiata, she is learning to be more forthright. She equates life to four burners – Family, Health, Work and Friendship. For a long time the friendship burner was missing. She felt guilty about leaning on friends when she had so little time to reciprocate. She is definitely in the fast burning lane.

Tusiata meanwhile is recovering from burnout, suffering ill health from her fast pace of life. Whilst recuperating at home, they spent many hours on the phone talking. Selina was thrilled. She could now talk whilst running around Waiheke Island, where she lives and maintain two burners at once – exercising for health and friendship by being each other’s sounding board. She also advocates movement of mind and body for relaxation. This is achieved by running, yoga, writing and creating. Running is also where she has inspiration for her poetry. She has boundaries surrounding her family time and makes sure she spends weekends with them when she is in New Zealand, hence her 4pm flight back to Auckland following her appearance.

Tusiata Avia. Image supplied.
Tusiata Avia. Image supplied.

We were treated to Selina reading a poem from her latest book Tightrope titled ‘The Working Mother’s Guide to Reading Seventy Books a Year‘.

Where to now? Her latest project is a graphic mini memoir very aptly titled “Mophead to Poet Laureate” which is due out in 2019.

Colette Squire
Papanui Library

Hollie McNish and Hera Lindsay Bird – Poetry Stars: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Kate Sylvester introduced the two poets and her assertion that poets were the antidote to a world out of kilter brought rousing applause.

Hollie McNish and Hera Lindsay Bird. Image supplied.
Hollie McNish and Hera Lindsay Bird. Image supplied.

It’s not an easy thing to report on a poetry reading. You listen with different ears to poetry than you would to a speaker.

Being tagged with the epithet “poetry stars”, might bring with it an unfair burden of expectation and if Hera Lindsay Bird, who was first up, felt that she didn’t show it as she appeared quite at ease on the stage. The poems she read were generally dealing with love and sex, but often in a tangential and quirky way. She read the poems: Jealousy, Love is like laying down in a major intersection, Monica (about the character, Monica Geller, from the sitcom, Friends), Da Vinci Code, Six Seasons of the Nanny  and Pyramid Scheme.

Now, I confess, I’m a sucker for humour in poetry because poetry can often take itself very seriously. There was a strong vein of humour running through all the poems that Bird read and the audience chuckled a lot during her reading.

I’ve read that the poet, Lord Byron, was treated like a rock star in his day with people, mainly women, queueing for hours outside booksellers when Byron released a new book of poetry. He died a rock star’s kind of death too, dying at Missolonghi, aged 36,  while helping the Greeks battle the Turks for their independence.

Perhaps Hera Lindsay Bird will revive the “poet as rock star” phenomenon if the reception of her eponymous debut is anything to go by.

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Hollie McNish came to poetry fame via that most 21st century medium, YouTube. A little older and a little more experienced than her reading companion, McNish read poems that traversed her life from childhood to pregnancy in her thirties. She read the poems: Yanking (a variation on what she claimed was a Kiwi-ism “giving a wristy”), Call On Me (about the nature of friendships changing as we get older), Hiccups (for her daughter), A Dead Pig I Mean (about a bizarre ritual David Cameron indulged in at private school), Wow (about her one-year old daughter admiring her naked body in a mirror), Sex (about not wanting sex for six-and-a-half months after her daughter was born, Bricks (talking with her 92-year-old grandmother about what turned Hollie on) and McNish ended with a poignant poem dedicated to her Grandad called Cherry Pie with its echoes of post-war trauma.

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I’ll be first to put my hand up and say that I am all for the popularising of poetry (being a poet myself and wanting to get my books out there in the hands of poetry readers), but there are still ivory tower elements fiercely guarding poetry for the elitist few as evidenced by the poet, Rebecca Watts, refusing to review Plum, McNish’s latest poetry collection, for P. N. Review. Watts instead wrote a polemical article titled Cult of the Noble Amateur in which she wrote: “Plum is the product not of a poet but of a personality. I was supposed to be reviewing it, but to do so for a poetry journal would imply that it deserves to be taken seriously as poetry. Besides, I was too distracted by the pathological attitude of its faux-naïve author, and too offended by its editor’s exemplary bad faith, to ignore the broader questions it provokes.” Watts’ article subsequently received broad coverage in several English news outlets such as The Guardian and the BBC.

The Body is not an Apology – Sonya Renee Taylor: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Poet and playwright Tusiata Avia, introduced Sonya Renee Taylor, the founder of The Body Is Not An Apology, and informed us that they had fourteen years of friendship.

The Body Is Not An Apology is an ideal and now also a global business committed to radical self-love and global transformation.

Sonya Renee Taylor. Image supplied.
Sonya Renee Taylor. Image supplied.

If I could only write two words about this session they would be: Inspiring and Illuminating. Taylor is, as the saying goes, a force of nature. She describes herself as a performance poet and an activist.

Tusiata and Sonya spoke about an incident when they first met at a festival where someone body shamed Taylor, but Avia took it on board as well and it has lasted with her these past fourteen years. Taylor said that “body shame is contagious” as it is often overheard by others.

The day before, Taylor had done an interview with Kim Hill who seemed sceptical that radical self-love could transform the world, but Taylor affirmed that transforming our need to be superior to others transforms the world. Taylor said “we can’t build outside if we haven’t built inside.” The message of love is a transformative tool and Avia posited that this was a message given by all the major spiritual teachers. Taylor explained that self-love should not be confused with self-confidence or self-esteem which were fleeting and externally influenced. Self-love is divine love because it acknowledges the divine within us all. Radical self-love is enduring because it affirms our inherent “enoughness”, our worthiness.

CoverTaylor explained that we never see a two-year-old who hates themselves because we all came here with love, but as we grow that essence gets buried somehow. “Love must be the foundation of the world.”

Taylor said her entire journey in writing the book, The Body Is Not An Apology, was about her learning to navigate her own self-love journey. The book was seven years of examination of the self.

The genesis of her journey began at a Poetry Slam in Knoxville, Tennessee. A female participant with cerebral palsy had excused having unprotected sex by saying that she didn’t feel she could ask the man to use protection because of the way she felt about her body. From somewhere in her subconscious, Taylor told her “your body is not an apology”. This then evolved into a poem and then a Facebook page and eventually a global organisation. It was what Taylor described as a “transformational portal” which occurs when three facets are present: honesty, vulnerability and empathy.

But while performing the poem, The Body Is Not An Apology, Taylor realised that she was transforming some of the contradictions raging inside her. This was further developed with the liberating sight of a plus-size model. Taylor asked herself “why was she hiding?”

Avia explained how through illness she had lost 40 kilos and she noticed a change in social perception of her. Taylor asserted that the concept that healthy bodies are better bodies marginalises so many body types and runs contrary to the irrefutable fact that all bodies are finite because we all die. She called the hierarchy of bodies that was promoted in Western society by media and others “body terrorism”. An example that highlighted body terrorism was the ability for TSA personnel in US airports to body scan body types that sat outside their perfect frame. Taylor said that during one such scan a TSA agent touched her genitals in an act of state-sanctioned sexual assault. New Zealand was not immune since immigrants to our country can be refused if they have a BMI over 35.

Avia posed the question: “How do we achieve radical self-love?” Taylor responded by saying that we all have to interrogate “Body oppression” and change it. We must be willing to change our negative internal messages. Every person has their own sphere of influence in which to practise this. Avia pointed out that there were many tools in the book to help readers with this process.

Gleefully introducing science into her book (Taylor said she was not good at science in school), she compared body shame to pathogens. In order for body shame to thrive there needed to be a triad: host, environment and pathogen. We were the hosts, society was the environment, and body shame was the pathogen. Taylor claimed that when we interrupt that triad, it stops the process of disease.

A.J. Finn – WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

CoverThe next thrill-ride is here and it’s editor-turned-bestselling-author A.J. Finn and his new book The Woman in the Window.

The newest thing in psychological crime fiction is A.J. Finn and he has joined some illustrious company, the likes of Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins. I was lucky enough to hear the author speak as part of WORD Christchurch Festival  and was impressed by his energy and his insights into the processes of writing a best selling novel.

A.J. Finn reads at the Bad Diaries Salon. WORD Christchurch Festival 2018.Friday 31 August 2018. Flickr 2018-08-31-IMG_0196
A.J. Finn reads at the Bad Diaries Salon. WORD Christchurch Festival 2018.Friday 31 August 2018. Flickr 2018-08-31-IMG_0196

A.J.’s real name is Dan Mallory and he’s a die-hard crime thriller fan. It’s very evident on reading  The Woman in the Window too, all the elements to unnerve the reader are there and the suspense increases as our protagonist starts to question her own mind. It’s part Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ (a movie and director that has had a huge impact on Dan Mallory), and part contemporary suburban gothic. Once you’re hooked in there’s no putting it down and you’re swept up on a rollercoaster ride of suspense, drama, and heavy merlot consumption.

Let’s have a look at Dan Mallory as a person and see what we know about him and how it might provide insight into his becoming the next big thing in crime fiction…

  • A.J. Finn is obviously a pseudonym and it was selected carefully to achieve a certain gender neutrality but also for the author to maintain some healthy distance between his personal life and that of his role as a best-selling author. A fun fact; “A.J.” was his cousin’s name, and “Finn” was his other cousin’s French Bulldog – great choices that really sum up his attitude to life and family!
  • He’s been a keen fan of crime stories from a young age when he was dropped at the cinema by his mother as a form of free child-minding. On the screen that day was the classic film ‘The Vanishing’ and young Dan was hooked. He then studied the genre religiously, including becoming a devotee of Hitchcock, forming a strong love of our own Ngaio Marsh, and completing formal post graduate studies on none other that Patricia Highsmith!
  • He’s an outspoken champion of people living with mental health issues – he himself has had a life long struggle with misdiagnosed depression and bipolar disorder. This book’s main character Anna Fox also has mental health concerns and Mallory has a very sound insight into her voice and attitude. She’s the perfect example of a sufferer who still engages meaningfully with society in the face of her illness.
  • The character name ‘Anna Fox’ was chosen deliberately so as to be easy to pronounce and remembered across all languages and cultures – few people will have issues with the sounds used to produce any of the names of the book’s characters – a brilliant piece of multicultural accessibility right there!
  • Before becoming a worldwide sensation Dan Mallory worked in publishing and states that he did indeed use his knowledge of the industry to help him produce The Woman In The Window. Mostly this was down to effective processes that he used for editing as he went along, but also extended to ensuring a solid architecture of twists and turns – he learned a lot as a publisher and read a lot of books, he even worked on stories by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling’s’ crime fiction pseudonym!)
  • The movie rights to ‘The Woman in the Window’ were sold well before the book was even published and the soon-to-be-released film will star Amy Adams and Gary Oldman, among other big names. Mallory is determined however to not become an author who consciously writes for film and plans to hold out until his next book is out (it’s already started and is due in early 2020) before making the desicion to sell the filming rights.

At his WORD session, Dan Mallory presented as a man with infectious energy. He was quick with a funny story and unashamedly successful and happy. I look forward to his next release and hope that he continues to grow into the brilliant thriller writing that he seems capable of. And if you haven’t got your copy of  The Woman in the Window yet then jump on our catalogue now and add yourself to holds queue – it’s worth the wait!

Happy reading!