Resolution and revolutionaries: A. N. Wilson, eminent biographer

There was an understandably big crowd at The Piano last night for A. N. Wilson in conversation with Christopher Moore. Part of the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season, we were treated to insights about the eminent novelist and biographer’s new and upcoming works, as well as his distinguished career.

As you can see, I was quite a long way back!
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Wilson – or Andrew as I think we’re allowed to call him – was inspired to write biography after reading Lytton Strachey‘s Eminent Victorians and wanting to write as well as him. While he is generally commissioned to write biographies, he chose to write about the lives of Leo Tolstoy and Walter Scott. Scott was pretty much the father of historical fiction, with his tales of the Scottish Highlands allowing people to imagine what it was like to live in the past instead of simply regurgitating facts.

One of the things that fascinated Andrew about Tolstoy was the fact that while we know him as a great novelist, in Russia he was more known for his political beliefs – including his idea of passive anarchy which went to to inspire people like Gandhi. However, after digging into Tolstoy’s domestic sphere he concludes that:

he would not like to be Mrs Tolstoy.

Cover of ResolutionAndrew’s latest novel is Resolution, about the German botanist Georg Forster who travelled with Captain Cook on his second voyage and later became a revolutionary in France. Interestingly, in Communist East Germany Forster was seen as a champion of class struggle and became a national hero. It’s great to hear about different and interesting people and I’m looking forward to reading this book.

An obvious favourite of Andrew’s is Queen Victoria who he describes as “taking being an embarrassing mother to new heights”. However, he is now researching Prince Albert, who is quite a different kettle of fish. Indeed, Andrew describes him as being

deeply strange and complicated.

He also believes that although Victoria was madly in love with Albert, he never fell in love with her and controlled her to a great degree. Look out for this biography in 2019, as its going to be fascinating!

Andrew obviously has a passion for the people he writes about and it was fabulous to have the opportunity to listen to his great storytelling here in Christchurch – which, he reminded us, is very much a Victorian city.

A N Wilson, photo by Andrew London

 

Stella Duffy at the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season

Stella Duffy: writer, playwright, actor, improviser, founder and co-director of Fun Palaces, and general multi-tasker extraordinaire. How, asks interviewer Liz Grant, does she have the energy?

I like working, and I know I’m really lucky to be able to do it — my parents both left school at 14, had very hard working lives, the only time off my dad had was when he was shot down in World War II and became a POW — so when artists talk about how it’s such hard work, and they have to suffer, it makes me want to punch them. What’s hard work is raising seven children like my mother, or being a brilliant man with no opportunities like my dad. I work really hard at my job, but it’s not hard work. I know I’m fortunate to be able to do it.

Liz Grant and Stella Duffy. WORD Christchurch Autumn Season. The Piano. Monday 15 May 2017. Flickr 2017-05-15-IMG_0166

Family

Duffy’s family history is fascinating — like all families it is complex and messy. While researching she discovered a great-grandmother who had given birth in Holloway prison. The reason for her spell inside? Manslaughter; “I didn’t realise the baby was so ill,” she said in court, “and neither did my (12-year old) daughter.” She worked from 9pm-6am every night (“charring” is the occupation given, scare quotes intentional), providing for her children so that she could be home to get them ready for school, only to lose a child and be imprisoned while pregnant with the next. It’s a far cry from Downton Abbey, that’s for sure, and can be seen in the hard working lives of the families in Duffy’s London Lies Beneath.

“There’s no place like home”

Probably the most interesting for me was the talk of home/not home, how once you move away from the place you grew up you effectively lose it — always missing home, but when you visit it has changed without you. This really resonated as someone who grew up in a small town but now lives in a city, with family across New Zealand as well as far away in Europe, who has lived overseas and now feels the tug of home/not-home wherever I am.

Christchurch in particular has that double-layered effect, walking down streets that have changed beyond measure in only a few years. In cities such as London and Rome the juxtaposition of past and present is even more noticeable, everything built on and around and between the layers of its own history. Duffy loves being swallowed up by such a vast, full and vibrant city, being “a small fish in a very big pond”, keeping the taniwha in the Thames fed with Kiwi accents and secrets:

Cover of London Lies BeneathYou know what they say about the taniwha, don’t you, girl?

She shook her head.

He smiled as he said, It’s homesick, of course, but the Thames is too busy and it can’t get by the ships for fear of being seen and lauded and brought ashore for our pleasure again. It doesn’t like to be looked at, not directly. And it’s bigger, much bigger now, grown full on the secrets we tell to the water. That taniwha lives off our whispers, eating up the fears and tears we tell over the side of a bridge. It’s grown fat on what we hide from in the dark, beneath the bedclothes. There’s no getting away from it either, it will follow you along the Effra or the Neckinger as easy as it rides the tide from Tilbury to Teddington.

— London Lies Beneath, Stella Duffy

Ngaio Marsh

When I first read about Money in the Morgue I was under the impression that Duffy was simply finishing an already mostly-completed manuscript, but no: Dame Ngaio Marsh only left three sketchy chapters with some rough notes and no ideas of whodunnit, where it was done or how. Helpful!

Duffy talked a little about how to recreate the tone of Marsh’s writing without the less desirable -isms that permeate 30s era novels (how to make it seem as if it were written in that time but not of that time, if you see what I mean). The answer? Steal a few of Marsh’s writing tics. “Alleyn rubbed his nose.” “His ascetic monk’s face.” “His long, elegant fingers.” Perhaps we’ll see some of New Zealand’s “primordial landscape”, too. All jokes aside, Duffy is careful to avoid any sense of pastiche or mockery in her writing, being an avid admirer of Marsh’s work.

I look forward to reading Money in the Morgue when it’s published in May 2018, and in the meantime reading Duffy’s recent thriller, The Hidden Room. If you’re interested in learning more about the historical setting of London Lies Beneath, Duffy recommends Round About a Pound a Week, written in 1913 by the trade unionist, Fabian and feminist Maud Pember Reeves. If you’re new to Ngaio Marsh’s writing then she recommends starting with Died in the Wool, a country house mystery set on a high country sheep station in New Zealand.

Cover of The Hidden RoomCover of Round About a Pound a WeekCover of Died in the Wool

An evening with Ivan Coyote – Tuesday 16 May at WORD Christchurch Autumn Season

Last year, I went to two events run by WORD Christchurch, and I fell in love with Ivan E Coyote.

Ivan Coyote. Image supplied.
Ivan Coyote. Image supplied.

Cover of 'Tomboy Survival Guide' by Ivan CoyoteI first saw them (Ivan goes by the gender-neutral pronoun) at Speaking Proud which I’d attended to see old favourite David Levithan. Ivan read their reply to a letter someone had written them, ‘Shouldn’t I feel pretty‘. It was a powerful, powerful letter and we were both tearing up by the end of it. All Ivan’s writing is performed impeccably – for them, writing goes hand in hand with performance – and is simultaneously moving and stunning. The letter was about more than just gender identity, it was about surviving in the world.

Cover of 'Missed Her' by Ivan CoyoteAt the end of the session, I bought their book Missed Her – a collection of moments, autobiographical stories, things you might read on the blog of a friend. There’s a wicked punch of honesty in each of the stories. When I went up to get the book signed, Ivan thanked me for being part of the audience “I saw you listening intently.”

Then the Christchurch Art Gallery hosted Hear My Voice, a non-stop hour and a half of spoken word poetry, and Ivan was there, a storyteller among the poets. They read ‘literary doritos’ – not quite poems or prose, but little anecdotes, some of them deeply upsetting, some so full of hope. There were stories of cruel, cruel words spoken by adults and poignant, brilliant words from kids who haven’t learned to hate yet.

“I don’t think he is a lady” said a young girl named Rachel, “I think he is a man… but with really pretty eyes.”

A year on and I can still hear Ivan’s delivery when I read those lines. Their storytelling power is epic, the kind of epic that, if you possibly have a chance, you must hear in person to really believe it.

Luckily for all of us – Ivan is coming back to Christchurch soon, at the Piano on the 16th of May. It’s a late-ish session – 8pm – and I’m preparing myself for an intimate, honest, hilarious, heart-aching evening.

Cover of Gender Failure by Rae Spoon and Ivan CoyoteAnd for those who can’t make it, I really encourage you to pick up one of their books and read a story. It won’t take much time, some of them are only half a page long, but it will be worth it. Or look them up on YouTube (Ivan’s done a great TED talk about the use of public bathrooms, and you can also find several performances of their work).

But try and get there if you can; it’ll be a night to remember.

Ivan Coyote: Tuesday 16 May 8pm

The Rankin File – Ian Rankin at the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season

Ian Rankin is coming to town as part of WORD Christchurch Autumn Season, and I’ve got myself a ticket to go and hear him speak!

Ian Rankin – Sunday 14 May 6pm

Ian Rankin. Image supplied.
Ian Rankin. Image supplied.

Now it’s confession time … I’ve never read an Ian Rankin novel.

In my years working in public libraries, Rankin’s books have been ever-present and always on the move. Their uniform cover design makes them stand out really well among the larger collection and they all portray a sense of grim foreboding and cold realism.

Rankin’s name is always the first and largest text (before the title) and this is tribute to his popularity. And speaking of popularity, his Rebus novels in particular have a huge following of readers, some of whom have regularly suggested that I read his work. But I’m afraid I’ve never gotten around to it (so many books, so little time!), UNTIL NOW!

CoverI’ve just begun his first Rebus novel Knots and Crosses, and already I’m loving it. All the elements of a good noir crime story are there — an overworked under-appreciated borderline protagonist, a system of bureaucracy to overcome, the doggedness to get to the truth, and a series of gruesome crimes committed by a dangerous and difficult-to-understand sociopath … it’s gripping!

CoverI’m now an “almost-fan” and really looking forward to hearing about the author’s background, inspirations and where he’s headed to next in his writing. My experience at his talk may go either way for me in regards to my reading further works by him, but I’m excited at the prospect of gaining some extra knowledge to fuel my new reading. Who knows I might get all the way through the series! There’s currently TWENTY ONE titles in the Rebus series so it’s a decent list to invest in, and the latest Rather Be The Devil has his loyal readers queuing up for our library copies!

So, if you’re like me — a lover of gritty noir crime, but have never picked up a copy of an Ian Rankin book — then I would implore you to do so. You won’t regret it. If you’re already one of his legion of loyal followers, then come and see the man himself at 6pm on Sunday 14 May.

Beyond the Green Road – an evening with Anne Enright

Well…. Christchurch, we are in for a treat!  Making the journey all the way from Ireland is Anne Enright, winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize, Britain’s most prestigious literary award.

Dublin born writer Anne will be gracing us with her presence at the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season.

Anne Enright. Photo by Joe O'Shaugnessy. Image supplied.
Anne Enright. Photo by Joe O’Shaugnessy. Image supplied.

Anne Enright: Wednesday 17 May 6pm

CoverThe Gathering, Anne Enright’s fourth novel and winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize, centers around the nine children of a large Irish family who gather together for their brother’s funeral.  It starts off with the main character, Veronica Hegarty having a memory about something that she might have witnessed about her brother years ago in her grandmother’s house, problem is that she has no idea if it really did happen or not …

CoverHer latest novel, The Green Road (2015), won the Irish Novel of the Year.  It follows the lives of four adult children spread over three continents, each struggling to cope with their own lives as well as with their difficult mother who announces that she will be selling the family home. The self-absorbed children return to the small Irish town in Country Clare where they grew up, and are forced to confront the realities and complexities of their family situation.

Moving, humorous yet sad, Enright’s intriguing writing style has captured the attention of fans around the globe. She was recently named the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction.

With her quick wit and fantastic sense of humour deeply engaging audiences worldwide, an evening with Anne Enright is one event you don’t want to miss!

Ali Ng

A.N. Wilson at the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season

When I heard that British historian A.N. Wilson was going to be talking at the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season this month I oohed and aaahed, and inwardly danced the conga. Nothing — short of A.N. Wilson himself requesting me to leave this event for being far too bright-eyed, enthusiastic, and downright scary — could make me miss this evening.

A.N. Wilson. Image supplied.
A.N. Wilson. Photo by Andrew London. Image supplied.

A.N. Wilson: Monday 15 May 7.30pm

A.N. Wilson is one of the historians who first sparked my interest in biography and history. His beautiful biography of C.S. Lewis was written with an honesty and empathy that left me with a truer sense of the man. His depiction of a troubled and less than perfect individual was contrary to many previous accounts of Lewis, which portrayed the beloved creator of Narnia as an almost patron saint, living by the perfect standards Christian historians envisaged for him.

Wilson cut to the chase but with a sympathy and affection for his subject. He touchingly described the demands made on Lewis by Mrs Moore, and the loneliness that dogged him through events such as the death of his mother, and his brothers struggles with alcoholism. Wilson’s ‘humanisation’ of Lewis encouraged me to investigate more and read some other sadly under-read works by Lewis (such as the very moving A Grief Observed), a sure mark of a very great biographer.

The astonishingly prolific A.N. Wilson has written many other biographies including a landmark biography on Leo Tolstoy, a fascinating study of Queen Victoria (which has recently been adapted for television), and Hitler: A short Biography. Wilson unfailingly succeeds in making his subjects come to life with a poignancy and finesse that make him a joy to read.

While Wilson has had his struggles with Christianity over the years (rather like C.S. Lewis himself), it hasn’t stopped him from also writing moving and valuable accounts of the lives of Jesus and St Paul. There is a richness and complexity to his writing that informs the reader, but also makes them question things. Theology is one of the most complex subjects for an author to tackle, and being able to follow Wilson’s own complicated spiritual journey through his work makes for fascinating, relatable reading.

Book Cover 

Wilson has also received considerable attention for his non-fiction works such as The Victorians and The Elizabethans.

In addition, he is the author of such popular novels as Dante in Love and Winnie and Wolf. One of Wilson’s most praised novels My Name is Legion relates what happens when a newspaper begins a smear campaign on an Anglican missionary, seeking to overthrow a corrupt African regime. Wilson takes a hilarious but brutal look at the morals of modern day Britain – its people, politics, and press, and does so with an elegance and subtlety that make his work compulsive reading.

It seems that Wilson is able to adapt to any format and genre having also written a children’s story, presented several television series including The Genius of Josiah Wedgwood (one of Wilson’s own heroes), and contributed to publications such as ‘The Times Literary Supplement’ and ‘The New Statesman’.

The ultimate ‘man of letters’, Wilson is a consistently compelling writer with an awe-inspiring literary oeuvre. His session at WORD Christchurch Autumn Festival promises to be a fascinating evening. Wilson will be discussing his impressive career with arts critic Christopher Moore, and his most recent works Resolution: a novel of the boy who sailed with Captain Cook and a biography on Queen Elizabeth II.

I’ll see you there on May 15th (and yes, I am counting down the days…)

Helen

Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird at the WORD Christchurch and Christchurch Art Gallery

BIRD + YOUNG sounds like a firm purveying fancy jewellery.  But for Hera Lindsay Bird (poet) and Ashleigh Young (poet, writer, editor), it is words and ideas that are the things they are making and selling. This WORD Christchurch event at the Christchurch Art Gallery auditorium was introduced by WORD’s programme director Rachael King and chaired by Amy Marr, the Visitor Programmes Coordinator of the Art Gallery.

CoverCover

Hera Lindsay Bird is a poet whose works have pretty much gone viral – you might have read the one about Monica from Friends, and that Keats one – everywhere, BAM! Ashleigh Young  is a poet and writer who recently became the first New Zealander to win Yale University’s Windham-Campbell Prize, worth US$165,000 (NZ$230,000), for her collection of raw, real, beautifully honest essays, Can you tolerate this? Their books are both on the shortlist for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

It was a soggy evening, but that didn’t deter the crowd. It was full to the gunnels.

Crowd for Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird
Crowd for Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird. Flickr 2017-03-22-IMG_9004

Hera and Ashleigh kicked off with some readings:

How do they get time to write when they work full time (Hera at Unity Books, Ashleigh at Victoria University Press)? It ain’t easy, but great employers help. Hera gets a paid day off each week. Ashleigh’s boss has offered time off for writing, while keeping her job open.

What followed was a discussion that ranged widely – from influences, to the IIML, sexy stuff, humour, and processes – with a good amount of Q&A time (surprise fact: lots of questions asked by men). Here’s some of the things we learned:

  • Ashleigh edited Hera Lindsay Bird’s book which she said required barely a single change. She read the manuscript on the floor, weeping and cackling.
  • Hera enjoys reading crime fiction, humour, and heaps of poetry. She’s currently reading the Adrian Mole books by Sue Townsend.
  • Ashleigh has lots of self help books concealed on her Kindle.
  • Ashleigh said she can’t remember not wanting to write (but always knew she’s need a day job to pay the bills)
  • Hera’s parents had star charts – not for good behaviour but for writing, and she would get paid to write poems. She wondered if her Coromandel hippy parents fancied her as the next Laura Ranger (remember Laura’s Poems?)
  • Hera feels the support of her family and knows that even if she writes something explicit, her Dad will be chill with it.

Photos

See our pics from the event.

Quotable Quotes

I don’t think either of us leave the house very much. (Hera)

I really love New Zealand actually. (Ashleigh)

This whole thing is terrible for my process. (Ashleigh, on this talk and writer events when you are an introvert writer)

I love her blurriness. (Ashleigh, on Lydia Davis)

People know both Renoir and Taylor Swift. (Hera, on art and pop culture)

George Saunders is my favourite living writer. (Hera)

All the sex in it is kind of a joke. (Hera, on her book)

Even Bill Manhire can be really funny. (Ashleigh)

I don’t find anything moving that I didn’t find funny first. (Hera)

Book signing - Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird
Book signing – Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird. Flickr 2017-03-22-IMG_9027

An Ashleigh and Hera playlist

Here are some of the many writers, poets, and musicians namechecked by Ashleigh and Hera:

  • Lydia Davis – Ashleigh loves her writing: “Something about her voice makes me want to write myself”.
  • Both name checked Frank O’Hara.
  • NZ poet James Brown
  • Hera is inspired by Mark Leidner, Chelsey Minnis, PG Wodehouse
  • Anne Carson – intense beauty, no humour. (Hera)
  • Ashleigh: Mark Greif – Against Everything
    “The opinions he expresses have a finality to them whereas Lydia Davis’ work seems like everything is still forming in front of her”
  • Hera recommended Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders. He is coming to the Auckland Writers Festival this year.
  • Ashleigh currently listening to Grandaddy the band – for a nostalgic ‘so bad it’s good’ hit.
  • Hera was asked about her use of a text generator in writing a poem in the book. She said she liked to play and experiment with language and referenced This Paper Boat  by Gregory Kan.

Amy – who was a great and enthusiastic facilitator for this session –  heartily recommended The TOAST website.

What’s next

Hera is heading off to a couple of overseas festivals.

Ashleigh is writing poems, and is off to New Haven, Connecticut to collect the Windham-Campbell Prize (and go to New York with the other recipients).

Both are working on new books. Slowly, surely.

Donna R and Kim M

“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

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

More WORD Christchurch

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.

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