Tuesday, March 31, 2009

But where are the killers?

At last the programme for the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival is out, and I've just whiled away a good slot of what should have been writing time perusing the events.

BUT what is this? Where are the crime writers?

My plane tickets are booked, I can't back out now, and yes, there are plenty of wonderful writers to entice and inspire me, but I'd be lying if I didn't say I'm disappointed there are no crime fiction writers. Last year I got to enjoy listening to Peter Temple and discovered the fabulous Mo Hayder, but this year... What happened?

I will get to see Joanne Drayton talking about Ngaio Marsh, and Jo is a fabulous speaker, so there is some sweetness for the crime palate, but otherwise, sigh.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Murder in a strange climate

The weekend's Otago Daily Times printed this article by The Observer's Tobias Jones called Getting away with Murder, looking at some of the exotic locations of the crime fiction being written today. Included in his list was Istanbul, with Jason Goodwin's The Janissary Tree, which I finished reading recently and Botswana, home of Precious Ramotswe, Alexander McCall Smith's traditionally built heroine. It is an interesting article and well worth a read.

While I was tracking it down on The Observer's website, I came across this little treasure on Writers' Rooms, on Guardian.co.uk. Go on, have a look at other writers' rooms, the little background stories that go with them are lovely, and a bit of an insight. It got me tempted to take a photo of my writing area, but then I thought it would be too embarrasing as it is so messy, but then, you may want to see how messy my desk is!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Tributes and tears

Last night saw one of those poignant moments in life when we celebrated the launch of Dianne Pettis's new novel The First Touch of Light. A large group of Dianne's family and friends gathered at the Hocken Library to mark the occasion. It is almost a year since Dianne's death, so as one of the speakers said, it was a kind of unveiling. It did seem strange to launch a book upon the world without the author present, but it was a celebration that everyone was certain Dianne would have been thrilled with.

Geoff Walker, Publishing Director of Penguin New Zealand was Master of Ceremonies, and the book, and their experiences and memories of Dianne were discussed by Emeritus Professor Lawrence Jones, and her close friend and fellow writer Fiona Farrell. It was an emotional moment when Dianne's daughter Tess read a brief passage from the book.

It was a lovely evening of fond memories and a celebration of the work of a wonderful writer.

I can't wait to read the book. In the meantime here is the link to Mary McCallum's review of the book for Radio New Zealand's nine to noon programme.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Bee's Knees

Last night the little fellas and I got to enjoy the book launch of Dunedin writer Raymond Huber's children's novel Sting. Strange how it doesn't take much arm twisting to get the boys along to book launches, especially when they are hosted at our favourite haunt The University Book Shop.

As the book title and the cover imply, Sting is a tale based in the world of the bee, and in particular a bee named Ziggy, who is not your average bee in a box.

It was a lovely launch for a book that I can see will be an absolute hit with my bee mad boys. One of our summer holiday treats had been to visit Arataki Honey in Havelock North which is devoted to all things bee and you can see into working hives. Needless to say the boy's were engrossed and we came away from the place with a lot of honey purchases.

The event last night was warm and friendly, the authors speech funny and engaging and the crowd very appreciative. It was clear Raymond is very passionate about his bees.

I can't wait to read the book - it will be next on the bedtime reading list when we've finished The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, although the boys will no doubt devour it before then, they thought the whole idea behind the book was the bee's knees.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

By Stieg Larrson

There have been a myriad of glowing reviews of this book, and I shall add to the general wattage. I won't go into great detail, as it has all been said many times before, but I shall make a few bullet points:

* I loved this book, and rushed out and brought the next one.

* The characterisation was fabulous and Lisbeth Salander has to be one of the most interesting and complicated characters created in recent times.

* The complexity of the plot, and what was hidden behind the disappearance of a girl many years ago was very satisfying.

* I enjoyed the fact this was a translation, and a lot of the original Swedishness had been left in. This added immensely to the experience, and is one of the things I really enjoy about translated fiction.

* What a bugger Stieg Larsson is dead.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Tyranny of the Urgent

I was rather shocked to realise I hadn't posted anything on the blog for four days. Admittedly we were away for a few of those days on a I-have-to-get-outta-here break with another family in Naseby, which was fabulous, but otherwise I feel I've been chasing my tail trying to catch up on an extremely long to-do list.

Top of the to-do list is a few revisions on the manuscript, and although these are minor I'm finding it difficult as in my mind I have moved on to the next novel, Bound, so revisiting Containment feels like backwards rather than forwards momentum. That's the funny thing about novels, they keep coming back at you, whether its for revisions, or edits, or proof-reading. I suppose it's preparation for when the kids grow up and leave home, then keep coming back, then leaving, then coming back...

Having had two weeks away from home I seem to be two weeks behind on general stuff, and I didn't quite realise how much stuff there was to do. Whether novel related stuff, school stuff, university stuff, NZSA stuff, family stuff, household stuff, stuff stuff.

So I have written a list (I'm big on lists as my mind has the retention of a sieve) and the list is so long it fulfils my daily target of writing 1000 words.

I've already crossed 'go to school and record the kid's poetry for the radio show' off the list, and wash the sheets, and put out the wheelie bin, and book the car in for it's service check.

And now I can happily cross today's blogging off the list...

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Janissary Tree

By Jason Goodwin.

This murder mystery is set amongst the rich and fascinating setting of Nineteenth century Istanbul. A concubine from the Sultan's harem has been killed and it is the task of Yashim, a eunuch to discover the killer. He is also charged with discovering the murderer of a cadet in the New Guard.

Yashim is an entertaining and unique protagonist. As a eunuch, he has unrestricted entry to places most would not be allowed upon pain of death. I enjoyed his particular quirks, and learned way more about eunuchs than I ever wanted to. I found it a slightly meandering book, but the pleasure of the journey with Yashim made it well worth the read.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

WOW - The end, sigh.

Saturday 7th March

Wake up in Cromwell at the Golden Gate Lodge. Eat breakfast cereal dampened with my remaining ration of miniscule UHT milk pottles out of a tea cup with a teaspoon. Well equipped room. The previous evening’s event still bangs around in my head:

Best comedic timing in the face of adversity:

Lady in Red: “… may I introduce Stephen Brawn-eye-as.” (accent on the “eye”)
Steve: “That was a noble attempt at pronouncing my name.”
Lady in Red: “Why, what is it?”
Steve: “Smith.”

All the troops rounded up we head merrily to Queenstown (although find ourselves drawn to a welcome interlude at Gibston Winery and Cheesery)
After the Mountain Scene’s article with its banner headlines quoting Steve as saying Queenstown is “Preposterous and visually offensive” we expect to be greeted by picket lines and hecklers. Instead we arrive to … nothing. The book store venue has nothing set up and we’re thinking hmmmm. There are no highly offended locals, no burning effigies. Steve seems disappointed.

Eventually eight or so locals arrive to hear the authors and I’m related to half of them, so we have an impromptu reading session in the store.

We have our first pang of sadness and glimpse of things to come as our provocative traveling companion Steve has to part our company for another assignment. It’s like a reality TV programme – Steve, you are off the bus – except with hugs and the odd tear.

The remaining survivors head towards Wanaka via the twisty and turny but scenic Crown Range Road. It is no reflection on Kathryn’s driving that we arrive singing hymns. I am amazed at Janet’s and Anna’s ability to remember all of the words.

We get dolled up ready for the evenings do. As we are all dressed up, and early, we head around to Anna’s father in law’s for a drink. Thanks Hugh.

Our last event is hosted by a book group in the home of Lois, owner of Rippon Vineyards. Gob smacked – amazing house, stunning view, fabulous company, food and great Pinot Noir. David pulls out a couple of his plays and enlists members and spouses of the group to act up – they love it. The evening turns out to be a memorable and fun event. It seems a fitting end to a wonderful tour of grass roots readers to finish in someone’s home.

Sunday brings with it the time for sadness and joy – it’s been a fabulous tour and we are all loath to part company after our week’s break from real life, but real life too has its charms and we head off in our respective directions to home and family and the anticipation of seeing little faces delighted to claim us back.

Post Script to this posting, originally on Beattie's Book Blog:

My baggage was slightly heavier when I reached home, courtesy of a few book acquisitions. As well as copies of my fellow WOWers books, autographed - I'm the kind of girl who likes physical mementos of special trips, my added extras included: three Ngaio Marsh books, a NZ true crime book, an antique world atlas, an old Hobbies for Boys book for Mr Nine-Year-Old, an old The Last Battle by CS Lewis for Mr Seven-Year-Old, other sugary bribery for the kids, Northanger Abbey by Jane Austin - a birthday gift from Janet, she called it Jane Austin's girl detective novel, a Jesus pen - gift from my fellow travellers, and a couple of rocks (the memento thing again.)

WOW was a remarkable experience, my fellow travellers were superb company - it felt like being on a creative and fun holiday away from real life with a bunch of mates. What lovely memories!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

WOW-Friday Wanaka and Cromwell

You have to love provincial towns and the people who choose to or are forced to inhabit them. Our first stop for the morning was Mount Aspiring College, or MAC as they affectionately refer to themselves. Our talk was held in the senior common room, and this common room had a rock climbing wall. Naturally Anna felt compelled to climb it, and naturally, I didn't. We were learning new things about our fellow busees every day, so we could add rock wall climbing to Anna's impressive resume.

I don't know what it is but they seem to breed incredibly energetic young male English teachers down here. We met Alan at Twizel Area School, and now Chris at MAC. MAC was also blessed with Florence, the librarian, who was French and wins the award for the most outstanding baking provided by any group during our tour - still warm from the oven chocolate chip cookies, and a selection of sandwiches and wraps. Yum - thanks Florence. It was great to see what they were doing with their library.

I think the bit the students enjoyed most was Steve regailing them with stories of his meeting with Michael Jackson, the gloved one, and the live demonstration of what happens if you make the mistake of trying to shake his hand.

Funny moment of the morning - looking out the window and seeing a boy piggybacking another boy and a girl perched on top of him. Don't worry, one of the teachers quips, they're farming boys. If that wasn't funny enough, this aside caught coming from the mouth of the young man later as he walked back unencumbered - "Must find me a heavier girl."

Words on Wheels display in Cromwell Paper Plus

Our next stop was Cromwell College, and despite being only forty minutes down the road, it had a completely different feel to MAC. The students here were harder, though still lovely and engaging. The auditorium we were in had the most amazing colourful relief mural of a local Maori legend involving a taniwha, the wind and two headed dogs. They inspired David to get the kids to do an improvised play about Maui fishing up the North Island. The kids had a great time with it, and we were all amused at their sugestion as to what Maui could use as bait for his hook - his brothers!

Anna was delighted when the school librarian told her they didn't have her books at the moment as they kept getting stolen! That has to be one of the best endorsements of a writer's ability to capture their audience.

Friday was a three-eventer and the last gig for the night was a talk at Cromwell's Golden Gate Conference Centre. (Before the event I got the award for furthest inadvertant flight of a cherry tomato at dinner - can't take me anywhere.)

Our evening event went well, despite a few equipment issues - the podium and microphone (I have an allergy to them) and Steve managing to break his reading glasses and having to borrow some off the audience. The audience responded well to all our readings and questions, and particularly enjoyed Janet's poetry and Steve's reading about dear Mr Wilson in Death of a Ladies Man.

It was lovely for us all to kick back after a hectic day and enjoy a few quiet drinks and scintillating conversation out on the balcony. WOW has been out of this world.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Now where was I? Thursday on WOW

Thursday on the Words on Wheels tour was a positively cushy day, with only one gig and a free afternoon. The gig provided the best quote of the tour.

We had arrived late into Twizel on Wednesday night, so finally got to check out the lay of the land on Thursday morning. It was, to me, an odd and bland looking town, but every local we chatted to raved about how much they loved it there, so looks must be deceptive.

We started off our day at Twizel Area School, which caters for pupils aged from five to eighteen. Our audience looked to be aged fourteen and over, and we were all amused to see they naturally segregated themselves into girls on our left and boys from our right. We had the front row slouchers and the back row gigglers, uniformed pupils, pupils who were supposedly uniformed but wearing it in intriguing ways, and the seniors in all manner of mufti.

David is big on audience participation and one of the highlights of the tour was his pulling a pupil out of the crowd in each town or school to read the same poem. An adult would read Hone Tuwhare's Rain, then David would get a student to read his anti-poem, titled I Hate Rain. It was amazing to see the various attitudes with which the anti poem was delivered, and surprising to see the universal struggle they had pronouncing the name Tuwhare.

Twizel Area School produced the best anti-poem attitude of the tour and man, I wished it had been caught on video. So genuine thanks to Jordan, our uber-blonde chick, who delivered it with edge, and when it came to struggling over the name delivered the absolutely perfect, couldn't do it if you tried, had us all falling off our chairs "Hone Tu-wha-what-ever."

We will never forget Twizel!

We couldn't be with in close proximity of a bird sanctuary and not drop by with Mr Baunias aboard, so we took a little detour to the local Department of Conservation Black Stilt breeding ground. Huge thanks to our very knowledgeable guide, and owner of the best mullet hair do seen on tour.

This also provided another great quote when someone made a comment about the bird's beaks and Steve corrected them, "They are not called beaks, they are bills." Yeah, get it right!

We got to enjoy our picture postcard perfect moment at Lake Pukaki, where Aorangi Mt Cook was on perfect display, before we headed off towards Omarama and lunch and the memorable sight of our tour minder Kathryn reenacting a childhood pony club photo on the wooden horse at the cafe. That's what happens to minders after a few days of trying to keep a bus load of writers under control.

We had one more tiki-tour on Steve's insistence to see the Clay Cliffs. They were worth the detour, even if we thought we'd lost Steve and Anna for a while when they decided to go play explorers in a wild west movie.

After a cruisy day and lots of playing tourist we were grateful to rock into Wanaka, find a quiet bar for a drink and the great pool competition re-match - the guys won this time, dammit. We then got to enjoy our takeaway dinner, sitting on the picture perfect lakefront, talking to the, what were those black birds with white beaks again Steve? Coots?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Normal service will resume...

...on Monday after the school fair.

Mental note to self - next time there is a school fair - don't offer to organise it!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

WOW - Wednesday - Happy Birthday to me

I got to celebrate one of those birthdays on tour, the ones with a little zero on the end. It felt kind of weird waking up to a birthday in a strange motel room, and without the invasion of excited little fellows wanting to see what pressies Mum got. It turned out to be a wonderful day.

Highlights :

Senior moment. In a telephone radio interview I did a complete blank on Steve Braunias' name. Oops, sorry Steve.

Feeding the miniature ponies pears left out especially for us by Viv Barrat from Methven - thanks Viv.

Mayfield second hand shop. Oh my God, gather your friends, pack your lunch, go for the day.

Staveley Cafe and Community Hall. Topp territory.

Janet hugging a giant moa (see pic)

Geraldine library gig. The room was too small, and some of the question time a little testing, but Owen Marshall turned up to hear us so all was forgiven.

Geraldine's record holding world's largest jersey; and the Bayeux tapestry replica, but done in sprung steel flecks - stunning and awe inspiring.

The lovely audience at Fairlie singing me Happy Birthday.

The amazing cowboy boots David borrowed (read dragged) off the feet of one of the Fairlie audience to act as a prop for his reading from Gary Manawatu (1964-2008): Death of a Fence-Post-Modernist.

The lovely lady from Fairlie who tracked us down to a restaurant to give us a bag of homemade chocolate chip biscuits.

My wonderful fellow travellers who presented me with a six-lamington, candle topped birthday cake, accompanied by chirpy Happy Birthday music piped over the restaurant sound system.

Fabulous day.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tai Tapu Tuesday - WOW

Words on Wheels rolled out of Darfield and headed to the Tai Tapu Library (or Tai Tap, as we were corrected by other locals). Tai Tapu gets my vote for the cutest town library ever - it was a stunning little old building filled with old photos, and an eclectic mix of books.

A small but appreciative group came to see us in action, although we were a little alarmed when their self-appointed spokesman and right- winger announced that 'I don't read fiction... and poetry is pointless.' Janet did well not throttling the dear old thing. We duly did our readings, and David pulled a fun Mastermind group activity from his bag of tricks. I gathered from the little asides given by others afterward, the outspoken gentleman's views weren't shared by all - oh the simmering underbelly of small towns.

A stop to grab lunch at the Tai Tapu store gave us this gorgeous montage (see pic) A large plastic cow, and a dedicated group of Penny Farthing cyclists who had cycled from Mount Cook and were heading to Christchurch. Their modern steeds were worth about five grand each, so no one was game enough to give one a whirl.

Next stop was our first school group at West Melton Primary School. This was a straight Q & A session, although Steve did get the Head Boy and entourage up to do a live demonstration of what it felt like to be John Key and be mobbed by the press. My lingering memory of West Melton school will be their entrepreneurial and capitalist pupils who greeted the visiting writers by hitting them up to buy raffle tickets! Naturally we all obliged.

Methven was the next destination, but not before little stop at the Rolleston Pub for a refresher and a boys versus girls pool match. After my ignoble start (it is quite a skill to miss all of those balls when you're on the break!) I am pleased to say the Gals cleaned up the Guys - thanks Anna. FYI Rolleston streets are named after writers.

The third gig of the day was at Methven, at the Mount Hutt Memorial Hall and was to be a fundraiser for the Methven District Heritage Project. We were very warmly welcomed by the local counillor as well as organiser and we were all pleased to know our talk was contributing funds to their grain and snow project. There was a great turn out, and the pikelets and the salmon sandwiches were sensational.

Three gigs in one day - tired but happy WOWers

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

First day nerves

After I got over the embarrassment of that unfortunate suitcase contents on public display incident, we loaded up the bus, (verdict - comfortable, but smelly) and trooped onwards to Christchurch City Library for our first performance. Naturally I was feeling a bit nervous as this was our first chance to see each other in action and gauge what the company was going to be like on the bus. Decided pretty quickly we were in for a good time.

After the gig we had a bit of time to kill, so the ladies indulged me by being dragged half way across town to look at some second hand book shops. It wasn't a wasted effort as I picked up three Ngaio Marsh and a book about some detective in the 1930's. A bit of a bad omen that I buy 4 books on the first day.

We properly hit the road and head for Darfield.

When we arrive at our accommodation I begin to wonder what we're in for when the slightly under the weather motelier throws 6 keys at us, then asks if we've got a problem with that? The key I'm given is labeled room number 12. There are only ten rooms at the Motel. Anna's is labeled 'Office.' Hmmmm. After some trial and error we find that key 12 opens room 3 and the office key opens room 7. It makes as much sense as the motellier.

Our function that evening is at the Darfield Public Library, where one of the highlights is Glen's amazing Dr Who memorabilia display, including the model Tardis he made himself - we like Glen. The evening goes really well and we all discover, much to our delight, that David expects us to be very hands with his plays. Always fancied myself as an actress. Got to play a chick named Morag.
Mental note to self - be careful about what extracts I choose to read and the number of expletives involved in them.

We have a little wander around the town and find a bar to retire to, but not before David records this moment for posterity, seeing as he is in crusader territory. This mural is on the wall of the local Butcher Shop. David wanted the image to go on his blog day for Beattie's Book Blog, but dammit, we couldn't get the technology to work, so here it is, titled The Sword is Mightier than the Pen - WOW in Crusader Country.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Home, sweet home.

The wheels on the bus have stopped, and I am home to three very pleased-to-see-me boys. (That includes the big one) The expected Mount laundry is just a minor hillock, and all of the windows and furniture seem intact. The cat won't leave me alone.

Over the next few days I will chat about my experiences on Words on Wheels, but tonight I just wanted to check in, say hi and share with you the first two questions asked by Mr Seven-Year Old:

1. Did you bring me a present?

2. Did you play Putt Putt Golf?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Knickers on the tarmac

First lesson of the road trip. Zip your suitcase before you lift it into the van! I have cemented my position as the designated blonde of the trip.

We have kicked off the tour at the Christchurch library this afternoon, and gotten over the first gig nerves. I can see it is going to be great fun, and also a terrific way to be exposed to different kinds of writing. Christchurch got a little treat with David Geary roping in a couple of local actors to read part of his play The Farm, so there was poetry, satire, novels and a fab start.

Next stop, Fairlie (via a couple of second hand book shops!)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The wheels on the bus go ... tomorrow.

What a week, first flying up one end of the country, then tomorrow flying up to Christchurch to hop on a bus for the Words on Wheels bus trip, thanks to the folk at the New Zealand Book Council.

I get to spend the next seven days in the company of Steve Braunias, Anna MacKenzie, David Geary, Janet Charman, and our baby sitter and the poor person who has to try and keep us all under control, Kathryn Carmody - good luck Kathryn.

When I think back to all the road trips I've taken in my life, they have usually descended into infantile affairs with too much toilet humour and jokes about bodily emissions. But hey, that was with my family, or flat mates, I'm sure my fellow WOWers will display more class than that, certain.

The week away happens to be an auspicious one, where I celebrate one of those birthdays, and also get to miss my 10th wedding anniversary - sorry Honey. It is also the longest I will ever have been away from Hubby and the kids, goodness knows the hijinks they'll get upto while the boss is out of the way.

Today I get to go shopping for a decent suitcase, because the little Adidas sports bag I've always travelled with isn't going to cut it for a week away, especially as these little towns we're visiting always seem to have fantastic second hand book shops, and as you know, when it comes to books, I have zero self control. I might also have to buy a few more items of clothing as I realised I don't own enough clothes to go a week without doing some laundry.

I shall attempt to blog, but I don't know what kind of internet services our accommodation will offer. We are officially taking turns at blogging, and our travel blog can be followed at Beatties Book Blog each day.

So tomorrow we will kick off proceedings at the Christchurch central library, at 2.00pm, and then we hit the road and head for Darfield for a chat at the Darfield public library at 7.00pm.

Bon voyage.