Saturday, November 28, 2009

Death and the Running Patterer

by Robin Adair.

I have tried hard to like this book, really, really hard because it is a historic crime fiction novel and I really like historic crime fiction.

And I have tried really hard to like this book because it is set in Sydney, Australia in 1828, at a very interesting time in its past, when the social classes are full of former convicts who have served their time and a re now free, as it were, as well as those who have never served and are trying to lead a new life as immigrants, and those who have been posted there and didn't have a heck of a lot of choice in the matter.

And I have really tried to like this book because the author won the Penguin's Most Wanted competition, which means Robin Adair fended off hundreds of others who submitted manuscripts to get discovered.

And I've really tried to like this book because the characters are interesting, and I like most of them, except for a few who are a bit pretentious and pompous.

BUT, damn it, I just don't, and I feel bad that I don't. And if I was going to put my finger on the one thing that is stopping me liking this book... is info-dumping.

Yes, the author has clearly done a lot of research and discovered some interesting little facts, but I have found it irritating that he felt the need to include them all. And not just include them, but signal their coming, so I know its going to happen, he's going to enlighten me and I'm thinking, don't, don't, I know what you're going to write next, but please don't do it, don't do it, ah, damn. He did it. Here endeth the lesson.


I tried.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Easily influenced? Who me?

I enjoyed Julie and Julia a lot - it's a fabulous movie and I recommend it to anyone who will listen to me. Merryl Streep as Julia - Brilliant. I see Aspiring Writer is also doing her best to spread the Julie and Julia word.

Loved the movie, went home dreaming about food, found myself thinking I was just going to have to cook a boeuf bourguignon, and not just any boeuf bourguignon, no, it would have to be Julia's boeuf bourguignon. But how could I do this if I didn't have the recipe?


So not only did I go and acquire Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck, I also had to get Julie Powell's book Julie and Julia, and while I was at it, Julie Powell's next culinary adventure Cleaving: A story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession.

I am an advertiser's dream target audience!

Mental note to self, must grow some self-control, must grow some self-control...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Things that made me happy...

...Launching Containment with grand style surrounded by friends, family and fellow book-lovers.

...Getting to trot out in my flash retro-style green and purple frock with fushia pink cardy.

...That the University Book Shop as well as putting on a fabulous spread of nibbles knew my novels well enough to provide a massive bowl of ToffeePops.

...Watching the well timed and sneaky hit and run raids done on the ToffeePop bowl by the swag of kids present.

...Listening to the kind and thoughtful words of Tania Roxborogh who launched the book for me.

...Hearing the lovely comments about Containment from those who had already devoured it.

...Leaving UBS with a big smile and the sense of having had a fabulous occasion.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Out of Containment

My baby has made it to the shelves. Containment is out there, jostling for attention, saying, pick me, pick me, take me home to read. We went for a wander into town yesterday and I got quite a surprise to see it in the shops, and was very pleased to see how much shelf space I got at Paper Plus, bless them.

Now I have a book launch to look forward to. So if you happen to be in Dunedin tomorrow (Tuesday) evening come along to the University Book Shop at 6.00pm and join me and a bunch of friends, family and fellow book lovers for some drinks nibbles and a few speeches.

The speeches will be short, promise.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What I'm reading...

Just to prove that I'm not spending all of my time swanning around playing ladies, I am reading a few books too. I always have several on the go at any one time. This doesn't display a lack of focus on my part, more a complete panic at how many books I want to read, and how little time there is to do it!

So, here they are in no particular order:


The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler.

Death and the Running Patterer by Robin Adair


By the Sword: A history of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samuri, Swashbucklers and Olympic Champions by Richard Cohen

The World Through Maps: A History of Cartography by John Rennie Short

Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th century by Tashen

Kid's Bed Time reading:

Tunnels by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams

For the fun of it I thought I'd jot down on a piece of paper a Christmas wish list of books I'd be rather delighted to acquire. I had to stop in the end. The list was getting a little, er, ambitious. Hmmmm.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Playing ladies.

After the great success I had in mood elevation to fend of the rejection letter blues of yesterday, I trotted out again in my finery today. I had to go and have a hair cut, and if I was going to have a hair cut, I thought I may as well get flossied up to match the new do, so my sparkly shoes were pulled into service again along with my floral green dress and apple green cardy (I'm having a one-woman protest at the amount of black people wear in Dunedin)

Seeing as I had the frock, the shoes and the hair do, I felt a movie was in order so grabbed a friend who also needed cheering up and wallowed for two hours in the delight of Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia.

Ahhhh, what a wonderful movie. I loved watching Julia Child when I was a kid, and adored the sound of her quirky voice, and the way she used to drink more of the wine than she put in the food. Seeing Meryl transform into Julia was a heavenly experience.

Now I have urges to cook, french cuisine, naturally. I feel a Boeuf Bourguignon coming on...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Nice shoes fix most ills...

Today I got my traditional rejection letter from the latest round of Creative New Zealand Arts Grants. Then I got the traditional emails from my writer friends who were also declined.

This left me feeling a bit glum, so I did what I usually do when feeling blah and needing a pick me up - I popped on a nice frock, my sparkly high heeled summer shoes, popped on some make-up, pretty jewelery and went to town.

In town I swanned around the shops, met a friend for coffee, met hubby for lunch, and generally swished around in my fancy shoes.

I feel much better now.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Don't fence me in

Not being one to rest on my laurels (not that I've earned any of those) I decided this old girl needed to learn some new tricks. So at fencing on Saturday I had my first lesson in the use of the sabre. A lady needs to add new weapons to her repertoire don't you think?

For those not in the know fencing with a foil you score points with the tip of the blade and the target area is your torso. In sabre you can score with the tip, but most points come through hitting your opponent with the edge of the blade, yup, you try and slice them! Also in sabre everything is target from your hips up, so you can score a point by hitting someone on the torso, but also on the mask, or on the arm.

Oh, it was fun!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Courage Day

Sunday the 15th of November marks the International Day of the Imprisoned Writer, in New Zealand we call it Courage Day, named after writer James Courage whose books were banned.

To mark the occasion the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors is staging a "Write-in" at the Dunedin Public Library from 1.00pm to 3.00pm.

The purpose of this is to do something really quite personal and practical - to write letters to foreign governments who have imprisoned writers for expressing opinions that are contrary to the government line. The Writers in Prisons Committee reported that this year there have been around 1000 attacks against writers and there are about 200 serving long terms in prison. Also 27 have been killed since this time last year.

We have it pretty cushy in New Zealand, but there are many brave souls, journalists, writers and musicians who put it on the line every day.

So if you happen to be in Dunedin tomorrow, come along and put pen to paper with us.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Why 'yes' can be good.

I suffer from a complete inability to say no, so much so that I now have a picture on my office wall that states "Stop me before I volunteer again..."

BUT sometimes wonderful things come from a nervous and hesitant yes.

Yesterday's Write On Radio Show was my fourth anniversary show, yes, I've been doing it for four years. The whole thing came about because it was someone else's idea, and they were going to do it, and I offered to fill in occasionally (thinking that will never happen) but then they buggered off overseas for a bit, and we got a sponsor and suddenly it was, well, unless you do it Vanda, we'll lose the sponsor. Gulp. It was never supposed to be me!

Turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened, for many reasons.

Firstly, I got to learn how to produce a radio show, as it's me doing all the dials, gadgets and computer stuff. I don't have some fancy-pants technician, nope, for that one hour I am in control of the station (can you just hear the megalomaniacal laugh...)

Secondly, despite being so nervous for the first few shows I thought I would puke, I did it, and it was fun, and my guests were great. It has helped my self-confidence immensely.

And speaking of guests, it turned out to be a wonderful way to showcase the fantastic writers we have in Otago, and a good way for local writers to have some radio exposure with someone they knew who was, hopefully, non-threatening, or at least not too scary.

It also meant I have had the opportunity to interview a few super-stars, Ian Rankin and Diana Gabaldon. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd get to do that!

One of the most beneficial things to have happened as a result of doing the radio show, is my reading horizons have been hugely expanded. As I'm the kind of girl who likes to over-prepare I like to read my guests books, most recent and past, so it means I have had to read all sorts of things that I would normally never have picked up. I have discovered a love of biographies, read all sorts of fascinating local history books, lots of fabulous fiction for all age groups, and have had my reading comfort zone rather challenged with subject matters I really did not want to know about.

So after four years I am still having a hell of a lot of fun with this show, and will be eternally grateful that I didn't say NO.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Write On Radio Show day

Tomorrow is Write On Radio Show day - man a month rolls around quickly!

One of my highlights of this month was getting the opportunity to interview Diana Gabaldon while she was in town promoting her latest book An Echo in the Bone. Having been an avid reader of her Outlander series since she started producing them, it felt rather special to be able to meet her and have a wee chat.

One of the amusing things to come up in my researching the author before the interview was looking at some of the things on You Tube. There are interviews with Diana which are great, but there are also compilations of video made by fans with their casting picks if ever there was a movie made. It was interesting to hear Diana talking on the subject in her public talk. When asked who she'd pick as actors for a dramatisation of her works she couldn't, or wouldn't. She said every readers mental image of her characters is different, and to her the important thing about the actors wouldn't be their overall look, but whether they could become the characters, inhabit them and bring them alive.

I feel the same way about casting if ever there was a dramatisation of my Sam Shephard novels. I have a definite image of what she looks like in my head, but it is the skill of an actor in capturing her spirit which is important.

Anyhoo, here's the details on my interviewees for tomorrow's show which is broadcast live from noon til 1.00pm on Toroa Radio, 1575 kHz am in Dunedin, or live streamed from the Toroa Radio website.

Ian Chapman is a mild mannered university academic by day, and transforms into Dr Glam by night, ok, and by day too, if occasion demands. We talk about Glam rock, and about his recently released book Glory Days, which celebrates the 1970's as seem through the eyes of some of its prominent participants.

Diana Gabaldon is an American writer and Best-Selling author of the Outlander series of books which are a winning combination of historic fiction, modern day, science fiction, romance and adventure. Diana was recently in Dunedin promoting the seventh book in the series, An Echo in the Bone. We talked about the pleasures and challenges of writing such a sprawling saga that covers turbulent times in history from Culloden to the American Revolution.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Glory Days

I have just finished reading Glory Days: From gumboots to platforms, by Dr Glam, aka Ian Chapman. I'm interviewing Dr Glam, er, Ian, this Wednesday for the Write On Radio show, so read the book by way of preparation.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Glory Days. I imagined it would be a whole lot of rambling from an admittedly interesting person on the seventies. What I read was a whole lot more, a whoooole lot more.

Sure, Ian tells of his experiences in the heady seventies, which he saw through as a teenager obsessed with glam rock and extremely fond of David Bowie, but this book delivers so much more than one person's fond memories. Ian describes the seventies in New Zealand, from its music, movies, politics, and cars to its fashion, food, hair and television, and does so in a very entertaining way. But it is the snapshots stories by his invited guests which make this into a memorable book. There are tales and explanations from the likes of Sharon O'Neill, Chris Knox, Tui Flower, The Christchurch Wizard, John Minto, Marilyn Waring, Roi Colbert and Suzanne Lynch, to name a few, recounting their memories of the era, and their place in it.

I really enjoyed this nostalgia trip back to the seventies, conjuring up memories of my orange Raleigh Twenty bicycle, and coveting my big sister's orange flared jump suit and platform heels, but this book also filled in a lot of the background this then primary school aged kid was oblivious to.

Glory Days is entertaining reading, and a reminder of a far more interesting age.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


It's true, I've been getting nowhere of late. I feel like I've had too many balls to juggle, and admittedly I've dropped a few. Writing has been a non event, and I've spent my days dealing with the tyranny of the urgent. I haven't even managed to blog!

It's just as well life is cyclic in nature and I'm at the point where things are getting to a more even keel. Oddly, I think a bit of it has to do with the upcoming book launch. I don't know how other writers find it, but for me, the knowledge that it's coming up causes a kind of a pause, waiting, holding of breath, not being able to move on wholeheartedly with the next project until this one is properly realised. I hate the waiting!!!!

So, apart from the counting of days until the book launch, I have cleared my desk, organised what needs to be organised, dealt with the clutter, physically, and that which is going on in my head, and I think I'm finally ready to write...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The gift of the Gab

Tonight Dunedinites were treated to an evening with American writer Diana Gabaldon. There was a huge buzz of excitement in the Glenroy auditorium as a hugely appreciative crown lapped up every word from this pocket dynamo. And she was just that, very small, 5 foot 2 inches, beautiful, ageless and I finally discovered someone who can talk more and faster than I do!

Firstly, pronouncing her name. I've spent the last fifteen or so years thinking it was Ga-bald-don. But no, it is more like Gabble-dohne (rhymes with stone). Glad I cleared that one up before I make an idiot of myself for the radio interview tomorrow.

Diana entertained a capacity crowd with her energetic, generous and very funny account of how she got into writing, and in particular her Outlander series of books - or Cross Stitch series as we know them here. We learned all sorts of things, from her keeping the college football team concentrating during her anatomy lectures by giving a concise history of contraception, to her main reason for choosing a young, tall, red-haired Scotsman as a main character in her novels - Kilts, need I say more! She also shared as to why it became about time travel, because of this stroppy woman character named Claire, who insisted in talking to a room full of eighteenth century Scots (in kilts, naturally) and insulting them in modern day language.

Diana's method of writing involved just seeing where things would take her, which kept it exciting, because she didn't even know what was happening, and she was writing it. It was lovely, and inspiring to hear her talk so passionately about the characters she had created, and thrill she got in their journey.

I've been a reader of her series since the early nineties, when Cross Stitch came out, and have found Diana's natural ability at story telling, and in creating fascinating and fully fleshed out characters has meant I feel like they are my friends, and I can't wait to start into a new book, and then feel a pang of loss at knowing I've got another three years or so to find out what has happened to them next. I finished reading her latest installment, An Echo in the Bone this morning, and enjoyed it just as much as the others.

These are large books, Over 800 pages in this new book, but, when thinking about it, it all belonged there, every scene added to the wonderful sense of reading, and being part of something epic. And listening to Diana speak about the detail she loves and giving the sense of truly feeling what this was like to the reader, the smells, the texture, the colour, the sound, the harshness of life in that era, and her passion for it made it obvious why she is such a storyteller and why her books are so popular.

As for me, I look forward to pre-recording a radio interview with Diana tomorrow, I look at my recently finished copy of An Echo in the Bone, sigh that I've got to wait years for the next one, and send Diana little thought waves...stop touring...get writing, lady.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Between the Covers

Last week before all the running around like a mad thing getting ready for the big trip, I got to pop down to the local television station and do my Dunedin Diary thing, reviewing the books of two local authors.

The timing turned out to be quite delightful, as the first of the books I reviewed was by Brian Turner, who has just been announced as the recipient of the Prime Minister's award for Literature, specifically his poetry.

So here's my notes for the reviews, with the usual qualification that this was what I wanted to say before nerves and my dodgy memory.

OK, so Blogger is being uncooperative, and its now a day later and it doesn't like my HTML, blah,blah, so I've had to do this the long way...

Just This by Brian Turner

I will confess to being a great admirer of Brian Turner's poetry, and his ability to speak and reach out to everyone. i think he has a remarkable gift to paint with words his landscape, the people in it, and their relationship with it in such an expressive and evocative way.

For me a particularly moving segment of the collection of poems focused on fathers and sons, froma poem about a child's first day at school, to a poem about joy.

As always his observations about his Central Otago landscape are beautifully drawn, evoking the grand, the big skies and the mountains, right down to the rustic detail, of moving stock and their inevitable trails... "A curdle of sheep wobbles by..." And he does all this in his poems with a wry humour and tenderness.

Brian himself summed it up by saying there is no finer way of saying things than through poetry, and he certainly does this here. I recommend his latest collection, Just This. I think there is something there for everyone to enjoy.

Collision by Joanna Orwin

Joanna Orwin was this year's Otago University College of Education Children's Writer in Residence. Collision is her first adult novel.

I found this book a fascinating read. There have been many historical novels looking at the conflict between Maori and early British settlers, but this is the first I have read that looks at the French and Maori. Monsieur Marion du Fresne lead a two ship French expedition to New Zealand in 1772, and due to a collision between the ships had a prolonged stop for repairs in the Bay of Islands. This story is based on true events and through the eyes of Andre Tallec, an ensign with the French. It also gives the Maori perspective. The story portrays the interactions between the French and local Maori lead by the Chief Te Kuri. We see how a lack of language, ignorance of each others cultures, a certain amount of arrogance and also local politics built up to a climax for the ill fated expedition. So this is a book about a collision of cultures, and even though each side was trying hard, it all turned sour.

Collision is not what I'd call a rip-snorter adventure, it's more considered, but it builds up the tension and in reading it you feel a part of this ball rolling towards an unstoppable disaster.

I'd recommend this book for anyone with an interest in New Zealand History, it gives a fascinating new perspective, and also anyone who enjoys a good historic nautical of military tale.