Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Mr Seven-Year-Old likes playing with words.

We were talking about mentoring, as I have been mentoring a creative writing student. He asked what a mentor did, and I explained about encouraging and looking over their work and doing some editing on it and giving my opinion and offering them support.

So he says, "you edit the work before it is finished?"

"Well, yes, in a way," I say.

"So you're like a pre-editor?" he says.

"Well, I suppose I am."

Then he starts giggling. "Mummy, that makes you a predator."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

All the Colours of the Town, launched.

Tonight I attended a merry gathering of folk at the University Staff Club to launch Liam McIlvanney's All the Colours of the Town. This was the New Zealand launch, as Liam had launched it at the Edinburgh Festival earlier. Dunedin threw in some Scottish weather to emulate it's northern cousin, just to put the author at ease. Dunedin is thoughtful like that.

Liam is the Stuart Chair at the University of Otago, so was well supported by the staff of the English Department and University, as well as friends. He is a recent arrival to Dunedin from Scotland, so I had the double pleasure of hearing him read from his work, and read with his very Scottish accent. My boys (who are often dragged along to these affairs and thus well versed in book launch nibbles and gentle conversation) commented that he was a little interesting to understand.

All the Colours of the Town is a crime novel set in Glasgow and Belfast. I am told Liam is going to set his next novel in Dunedin. We might have to rope in Paddy Richardson and form a Dunedin Crime Writers Club - a good excuse for wine and lots of chatting to ward of the Dunedin chill.

Monday, September 28, 2009

And then there was one...

...left to acquire.

I've been steadily working away acquiring all of Ngaio Marsh's novels. This particular treasure hunt has been great fun and a good excuse to spend far too much time in second hand book shops and trolling Trade Me. I have endeavoured to stick to just shopping for Ngaio books in said establishments, but as you well know, the flesh is weak.

A large part of the fun of the book hunt has been seeing the variety in cover art. I have a great fondness for intriguing cover art which has resulted in me buying different editions of the same books just for the covers. My recent purchases are vastly different in style, from the 1964 Dead Water hardback, to the 1983 edition of Death at the Bar. I actually prefer the older edition books, particularly the almost psychedelic covers of the 1970's, such as Artists in Crime.

But alas, my excuses for shopping are almost at an end, for I have only one book remaining to hunt down - A Surfeit of Lampreys.

Happy hunting Vanda...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I live to duel another day...

I am pleased to announce I acquitted myself well in the public arena, bettering their champion, and doing so with sufficient style and grace to be admitted to the ranks of Salle Angelo.

For the sense of occasion I fenced in full skirts, and this photograph, while not the most gracious in style, shows me levitating, a skill I did not realise I possessed.

It was a fabulous evening of ceremony and convivial company, with everyone dressed up exquisitely for the occasion. After the duel we all retired to Plato for a splendid dinner and entertaining speeches. Most certainly a night to remember.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A duel to the death...

...or until dinner.

I have caused grave offense to the members of Salle Angelo by belittling their fancy hats, and therefore, must publicly duel their champion to restore honour and be formally admitted to the classic fencing club.

I shall be dueling down on the waterfront near Plato restaurant in Dunedin tonight at 6.15pm. If you happen to be lurking around the waterfront at that hour, come watch me wield my sword, hopefully with the finesse and style befitting of a lady. I shall elegantly and delicately try to run their champion through.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Crime Time

Amongst the, er, haul of books I happily removed from the University Book Shop were a heap of Crime Time books - a journal of crime fiction that comes out of Britain. They were editions that were a few years old, but hey, its all new material to me.

The issues I brought were:

Women in Crime
The Sherlock Holmes Issue
Key Crime Movies
US vs UK
Ed McBain & Ian Rankin
Sue Grafton
Elmore Leonard & Val McDermid
The Pulps.

I can justify it by calling it research.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Why the University Book Shop is Evil...

...because it tempts me so...

...with its otherworldly, picture perfect, just smell those books and breathe atmosphere...

...with its staff who entice me with 'ooh look Vanda, have you read this? or have you seen that? and we know you just neeeeeeed this'...

...with its cruelly situated right in the front where you have to trip over it must have New Zealand New Releases table...

...with its tidbits of stationery, and Moleskine Notebooks and perfect to write with pens...

...and worst of all, yes folks, worst of all, with its upstairs continuous book sale...

...They had buy two books get the third book free up there...

...I am weak...

...I indulged... multiples of three...







...Oh dear...

Sunday, September 20, 2009


It was party-time in the Symon household yesterday, with a hoard of kids around to celebrate the imminent transition from Mr Nine-Year-Old into Mr Ten-Year-Old. Naturally, such a splendid occasion called for a splendid cake.

Half the reason for having kids is so you get to make flash cakes!

Friday, September 18, 2009

En francais s'il vous plait

Trade Me is a dangerous place. You discover all sorts of things you didn't realise you needed until you saw them. Which is why I purchased these, by Ngaio Marsh.

Comme a Rome (When in Rome)

Et vous etes pries d'assister au meutre de... (A Man Lay Dead)

Why oh why did you need Ngaio Marsh books in French, Vanda, you may ask?

Apart from the obvious (because they were there and I could) there is also method behind my madness. I thought it would be a fun way of brushing up on my school girl French, especially as form 7 was a long time ago, and I've been meaning to get around to it due to the whole use it or lose it principle. What better way than with Ngaio, oh, and also Diana Gabaldon (Un tourbillon de neige et de cendres)

So, I can perfectly justify my purchases, because one never knows when one might need to test drive one's French.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Raising the Roof...

...well the big winds last night did, with a few clay tiles taking an unexpected flightpath to the ground. Please don't let it rain for a day or two!

Monday, September 14, 2009

More on Agatha Christie Week

There have been a number of tributes to Agatha Christie as part of Agatha Christie week.

Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise has organised a weeks worth of guest bloggers talking about their personal views on Agatha and her works. Pop over each day to get the link to the next host. I kicked off that week yesterday, and today's post is hosted by Bernadette over at Reactions to Reading.

Kiwi crime blogger Craig, at Crime Watch also posted, check out his Agatha Christie piece here.

The whole Agatha Christie week thing has inspired me to track down a DVD of Death on the Nile (thanks Bernadette) and also one of her books I haven't read, but which everyone tells me is a cracker, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Agatha Christie Week

Agatha Christie Week runs from the 13th to the 20th of September and is a celebration of this extraordinary writer.

So how does a fledgling crime writer, with three publications to her name pay tribute to a legend of crime fiction with over a hundred?

She does so with a smile.

Because that is what I noticed when ever I talked to people in the past week about Agatha Christie and her writings, they all smiled. And not just any old smile, it was always that full on, crinkle around the eyes, gazing off into the middle distance, reminiscing kind of a smile. It was a smile of fondness and warmth. They professed to having read many of Agatha Christie's books. There were the Hercule Poirot fans, and those who preferred Miss Marple, and those who happily read any of her mysteries. A love of the drama of it all was a common theme among those I quizzed, the drama and the very Britishness of the scenes. But wouldn't that become a little tedious I asked? No! always the emphatic reply.

I confess to having not read many of Christie's novels, but despite this, I feel her presence has made a marked impact on my writing and my perception of what good crime fiction is. When I think of Agatha Christie's work, I think of fabulous characterisation and intricate and clever plots. But most of all I think of them as being great crime fiction stories.

For me it was the dramatisations of her work that were my adolescent staples. In fact, as a prelude to writing this tribute I took a trip down memory lane aboard The Orient Express - the version with Albert Finney. And again, I found myself smiling - at the caricature that is Poirot, at the upper class theatrics, the romance of steam travel, and of course, at the plot.

Perhaps what is the biggest nod to the worth of Christie's writing is its longevity. More than thirty years since her death she is still high in the public consciousness, her novels are still being read, film and television adaptations stll playing, and the announcement of a new publication about her, Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks, creating a buzz.

In another lovely nod to her writing abilities Agatha Christie won two prestigious awards at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in 2000. She was voted as the Best Writer of the Century, and was awarded the Best Series of the Century for her Hercule Poirot books.

Agatha Christie still has a huge number of fans and devoted Agathaphiles. She is blogged about, and thanks to our Agatha Christie Reading Challenge hostess has a regular Blog Carnival in her name. Her writing entertains as much today, as it did in her Queen of Crime hey-day.

So this newbie crime fiction writer doffs her hat to Agatha Christie, truly a great writer.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Diana Gabaldon is coming to town...

I plead guilty to often whinging that international authors seldom visit Dunedin, presumably because their publishers feel it is one step away from Antarctica and therefore not worth the effort. So I was delighted to read a little snippet in the Otago Daily Times which announced American author Diana Gabaldon is including Dunedin in her tour of the country to promote her latest book.

I have been a fan and a follower of her Outlander series, or Cross Stitch series as we know it, since the get go, and like many women I'm sure, fell in love with Jamie Fraser and felt like Claire was my closest friend. So at last we will have the next book in the series, An Echo in the Bone.

Diana will be hosted by the Dunedin Public Library and will be talking at the Sir Clifford Skeggs Gallery in the Municipal Chambers on Tuesday November the 3rd at 5.30pm.

I've already booked my seat!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Sam.

Went to a birthday party with a difference tonight. The guest of honour wasn't there as this was a 300th birthday party for Samuel Johnson. There can't be that many people in the world who get to have their 300th celebrated.

The event was marked in style at the Municipal Chambers, with music from The Rare Byrds String Quartet, and with Dr Paul Tankard and Dr Ken Smith reading excerpts of Samuel Johnson's works. The Dunedin Public Library excelled themselves as usual in hosting the evening.

Much to my boys' delight, this 300th birthday bash also sported quite possibly the biggest birthday cake I have ever seen, an enormous chocolate cake, yum. So Happy Birthday, Sam, still going strong after three hundred years.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

On the doorstep.

There's nothing more exciting than arriving home and seeing courier packages on the door step, especially when those packages look suspiciously like books. This has been a good week for packages on the porch, and these are the treasures, by local Dunedin writers, which have arrived for me to read for radio interviews.

Banquo's Son by TK Roxborogh

All the Colours of the Town by Liam McIlvanney

Glory Days from gumboots to platforms by Dr Glam aka Ian Chapman

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Write On Radio Show tomorrow

Tomorrow, Wednesday the 9th of September is Write on Radio Show day, which airs live on Toroa Radio 1575 kHz AM in Dunedin or live streamed from the Toroa Radio Website for those of you not blessed enough to live here. Actually this show will be semi-live seeing as my guests had other things like jobs so I had to pre-record these two interviews. On the day I'll be in the studio, playing with the sound board, filling in the gaps with some chat and music, and then reading my book - Collision.

Dr Chris Brickell is a senior lecturer in Gender Studies at The University of Otago and his recent book Mates & Lovers: A History of Gay New Zealand won the Montana Award for Best First Non-Fiction book at the 2009 awards. The book looks at the history of gay men in New Zealand, and we discuss the perception of same sex relationships over the centuries and the impact law and psychiatry had on the lives of men.

Anthony Tedeschi is the Rare Books Librarian at the Dunedin Public Library. The library has had many wonderful collections donated to it over the years, including the McNab Collection, and the AH Reed Collection. We talk about some of the benefactors, and discuss some of the treasures held in our public library.

Monday, September 7, 2009


The other night I got to enjoy a very convivial evening to celebrate the launch of Joanna Orwin's novel Collision. The splendid University Book Shop played host for the evening, holding a lively and large crowd of guests, friends and colleagues. Joanna is the 2009 Otago University College of Education Children's Writer in Residence, so it was special for us to have her celebrate the launch here rather than in her home town of Christchurch.

Collision is based on the true events that befell a French expedition to New Zealand in 1772. We have had plenty of books about the relationships between Maori and British explorers, so it is fascinating to read a story about encounters between Maori and the French.

I am half way through reading Collision and am enjoying it immensely. I love how the author ties the viewpoints of each side, through a young French ensign, Andre Tallec and his Maori counterpart Te Kape, so the reader can see the trail of misunderstandings that inevitably lead to disaster. Also she tells it in a way that is fair to both parties, not siding with one or the other, so the reader can see and feel anxious about what must unfold.

I also have a fondness for nautical tales, so this book is hitting the spot on many levels.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Phew, what a week.

I've been off the radar a bit this week, courtesy of having so many things on - it's been a hellova busy one, so it was with great relief and delight we marked the end of it and cracked open a yummy riesling and enjoyed a takeaway curry for dinner.

So what have I been up to?

Three talks this week, including the big one this afternoon where I was invited to be the final keynote speaker for the Otago University General Staff Conference. It was the first time I had done a talk with a power point display, so I was a bit nervous about the timing and the technology, but everything worked like a charm and the audience seemed to enjoy the talk. They even served ice-cream afterward!

This morning I was busy pre-recording 2 interviews for next week's radio show. So I'd spent the week furiously reading books and preparing for that. I prefer to do the radio show live, but when guests work and have annoying things like jobs and lives, sometimes I need to record segments earlier. Both the interviews with Chris Brickell, author of Mates & Lovers: A History of Gay New Zealand, and with Anthony Tedeschi, the rare books librarian at the Dunedin City Libraries went very well.

I had my last ever PTA meeting at school - yes, I've finally managed to flick off being the Chair of the PTA and am going to retire gracefully and leave the incoming PTA chair unencumbered by the presence of the ex, as it were. I've really enjoyed doing the job, but oh, what a relief to be able to pass it on!

Then there was the worrying about Google thing.

Amongst all that were the usuals, you know, keeping up with a hubby and two busy boys and keeping the home front under control as well as writing the next novel and doing other researchy stuff. No wonder I feel a little, er, stuffed.

Speaking of research things, if anyone out there knows what kind of attire a woman would have fenced in around 1760, please let me know! I'm thinking if any of them were gauche or unladylike enough to play with swords they would have worn something similar to the riding attire of the day. And why do I need to know this? Well, that's something for another post...