Saturday, July 31, 2010

National Poetry Day Do

Poetry isn't really my thing, it's something I've only come to appreciate later in life due to interviewing some wonderful poets on the Write On radio show and discovering that I can enjoy it. I think I was tarnished early on in life by having the war poets inflicted upon me at high school. That is my only memory of poetry, well, besides Pam Ayers (who I loved) so I thought all serious poetry was, well, serious. And depressing.

Thankfully I have been cured of that somewhat, and I have to say I'm enjoying the Tuesday Poem phenomenon that has flourished in the blogosphere.

I also enjoyed the National Poetry Day event held in Dunedin last night at the City Library. It was a very civilised affair with wine and nibbles and a full house. The event was organised and MC'd by Cy Matthews and the poets reading were Jenny Powell, Sarah Paterson, Michael Harlow, Rogelio Guedea, Amos Mann and Diane Brown.

Rogelio Guedia is Mexican and one of the highlights for me was him reading his poems in Spanish and the Cy Matthews reading them in English. It gave a lovely taste of what the Festival Internacional de Poesia in Nicaragua would be like.

My other highlight was Diane Brown - I always love her work, but her readings this evening were especially poignant as she read poems of her parents, and dealing with their advancing age and mortality.

So it was a great evening, and a lovely place to catch up with some writery friends I hadn't seen in a while.

No, it won't induce me to try my hand at it!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

North Pole South Pole

The epic quest to solve the great mystery of the Earth's magnetism.

By Gillian Turner

This is a non-fiction book that I reviewed for National radio yesterday. It is a history of the steps of discovery that have lead to our modern day understanding of the Earth's magnetic field, and the people behind those discoveries.

I found this an engrossing book and one of the pleasures for me was seeing the contribution some of the historical figures whose names I was familiar with through science and modern day terms and how they made such an impact, Halley, Ampere, Faraday, Volta, Gauss and Joule to name a few. The author does a great job of portraying their character, personal circumstance and influences political and academic. There was some fever pitched competition going on.

The author also portrayed well how the scientific discilines depend upon each other, nothing is separate as we saw the contributions of the astronomers, and the physicists, and mathematicians and other sciences. How magnetism and electricity are so intertwined, and how these discoveries lead to what are now everyday things we take for granted like electric motors, and power generation.

There is a lot of science in the book and it was an advantage to have a science back ground, but it isn't essential as the author has made it accessible to all as she make the science incremental, layering each discovery so you learn as you go. There is also a good glossary, index and some helpful illustrations.

It was fascinating to see how researchers came to the realisation the earths magnetic poles had actually flipped numerous times over history, and tried to induce the significance of this, and how this lead to the discovery of plate tectonics.

I really enjoyed this book and gained a new appreciation of the inter-connectivity of the sciences and and the incredible enquiring minds and brilliance of some of these historical figures.

Go the scientists!

Monday, July 26, 2010

You know you're procrastinating when...'ve checked everyone's blogs for the day...'ve checked them again, just in case someone has commented on one...'ve done lots of loads of laundry, including resorting to washing quilts...

...the kitchen looks immaculate... does the kids room...

...and you're looking askance at your desk...'ve been down to check the letterbox...four times... keep clicking the send/receive button on your email obsessively...'ve written a few letters...

...and played with your new fountain pen, and your new bottle of ink...

...and then gone looking on Trade Me for more fountain pens, because that was so much fun...

...and before you know it... it's time to go pick up the kids!

...Another successful day writing...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Back in the mix

I've just returned from a lovely jaunt to Wanaka to talk to the Wanaka Y3A group. It was a great trip. I'd forgotten how pleasurable it is to drive for 3 1/2 hours by yourself, without the continuous chatter of little kiddies in the back seat asking where the next play ground is? Can we have something to eat? Are we there yet? Where you can have your music playing, and as loud as you like. And you can sing your heart out without the risk of ridicule. Of course I had the requisite stop at Roxburgh for a world famous in Otago Jimmy's pie on the way up, and the way back too - well, it would have been rude not to. I also got to catch up with my Paper Obsessed friend.

When you talk to the Y3A, it's a two hour gig, so I'd wondered how I'd go for that length of time. I needn't have worried, I could happily have gone on for longer. They were a great bunch to talk to, and asked well thought out questions. I must have done OK as no one looked like they were about to nod off. They also took me out for lunch afterward and gave me a very nice bottle of Central Otago Pinot Noir - so it was all good!

Tomorrow night I get to talk to a University Hostel. I'll even get a hostel dinner - that will bring back memories. I'll get to see if hostel food has progressed from deep fried Wiener Schnitzel and over cooked mixed veges.

And with a book group talk I did on Wednesday, it's been a very talky week.

Will next week be quieter? I'd hoped so but.... nah.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Black Coffee

A Hercule Poirot Novel

Adapted by Charles Osborne

Black Coffee was a play written by Agatha Christie in 1930 and staged at the Embassy Theatre and then St Martin's Theatre in London. This novel is an adaptation of the original play, written by Charles Osborne.

Poirot is summonsed to the home of prominent British physicist Sir Claude Amory when Sir Claude comes to believe a potentially devastating formula he has developed is about to be stolen by someone in his household. But even before M. Poirot arrives the formula is stolen and Sir Claude dead, from poisoning. Those present at the time of the murder include many members of Sir Claude's family, none of whom are particularly fond of him, his secretary, household staff and the mysterious Italian stranger, Dr Carelli.

Poirot and his companion Captain Hastings have to sift through the lies and deceit to find the killer.

I really did not enjoy this book, the story yes, perhaps, but not the way it was written. I guess my biggest gripe is that I feel Osborne portrays Poirot as straight out arrogant. We all know he is charming and arrogant, well, probably more self-assured than arrogant, but I think Osborne forgets about the charm. I found myself cringing on occasion, which is never a good thing when you're reading a book.

Although it is apparently endorsed by Agatha Christie's estate, I feel the novel doesn't do Agatha justice. I felt disappointed by it, and I suspect Christie would have been too.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Overture to Death

by Ngaio Marsh

Ngaio Marsh is, as far as I'm concerned, the Queen of weird ways to kill people. This book is a prime example.

Pen Cuckoo is the kind of English village that would normally invite images of the perfect country life, but all is not sweetness and harmony. The local Doctor is having a questionable relationship with a newcomer to the village, two spinsters are vying for the attentions of the long suffering vicar, a young couple's love is thwarted by an interfering aunt and what is deemed a socially unequal alliance. Passions come to a head when discussions on performing a play to fundraise for a new piano brings out the worst in everyone.

Come opening night, and the opening chords to the piano prelude and death strikes with the soft pedal, yes folks, it's death by piano.

Detective Chief inspector Alleyn has his work cut out for him trying to sort out the scheming and undercurrents of life in this village. A country idyll it is not!

Again I found this book a little difficult to get into, I think I just don't cope well with too much in the way of social etiquette and posturing, but I found I enjoyed it more as it went along, and by the end had definitely decided I liked it.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Yesterday I lost... loyal writing companion...

...our family friend...

...who was absolutely certain she was a human being in a fur coat...

...old age caught up and overtook her...

...she was one groovy cat who lived up to her name...

...We'll miss you Smooch!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Write On Radio Day

It's Write On Radio Show time again - where does a month go?

Write On is live on Toroa Radio 1575kHz AM at noon today (Wednesday) for those blessed to live in Dunedin, or live streamed from their website here, for those less fortunate.

Bill O'Brien is the writer of many books for children and adults. Bill is a retired police officer and has written several books relating to police issues including Aramoana - Twenty-two hours of Terror, and Invisible Evidence - Forensics in New Zealand. We'll talk about his writing and his new book - Blue Adrenalin - Life in the New Zealand Police.

Joan Bishop is a cooking writer for The Otago Daily Times and the writer of Joan Bishop's New Zealand Cock Pot and Slow Cooker Cook Book which was first published in 1985 and has recently had a new edition produced with more recipes. We'll talk about the joys of slow cooking, and also the art of the food writer.

Thanks to The University Book Shop for sponsoring the show - it's a marriage made in heaven!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Under The Mountain.

By Maurice Gee. (1979)

I adore this book, so it was with great delight I took to reading it as the bed time story for the boys.

This is an utterly classic sci-fi story for children, involving red headed twins, Rachel and Theo Matheson, extinct volcanoes, strange slug-like alien creatures that have lain dormant for thousands of years and the mysterious Mr Jones. It is the book that made the name Wilberforce synonymous with evil for a generation of New Zealand children. I remember watching with fear and fascination the 1981 television series they made of the book, it was the highlight of my week - I probably even had nightmares about it.

I was rapt that the boys enjoyed listening to the book as much as I did. And I'm looking forward to showing them the TV series, which thanks to the wonderful people at NZ On Screen, is available for all to see. The link for those wanting a nostalgia trip is here. It's almost worth it alone to see 1980's Auckland, let along the wonderful twisting tunnels under the volcanoes and the eerie Wilberforces.

Go on, watch it, you know you want to...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Crime of Huey Dunstan

By James McNeish

Professor Chesney, or Ches as he's known to his friends is nearing 70 and reminiscing about a court case he appeared as an expert witness on nearly twenty years earlier. The case of Huey Dunstan got under his skin, consumed him. Dunstan was accused of brutally murdering a man in cold blood, bludgeoning him to death. Yet when psychologist Ches meets Huey he finds it hard to equate the polite, honest young man with this murder. There is no doubt that he did it, but why? Ches looks into the young man's past, and two areas of difficult territory, buried memory and provocation.

This is where the book becomes fascinating as it references a number of high profile New Zealand cases, the Bain murders and the Christchurch Civic Creche child abuse case. Also provocation as a defense is a very topical subject as a result of Clayton Weatherston's use of provocation as a defense for his murder of Sophie Elliot, a defense that ultimately failed, but left the entire country with a sour taste.

This is essentially a courtroom drama, and although it doesn't have action and high drama, it is a thought provoking and compelling read.

Ches, our narrator is pretty unique in that he is blind, so his impressions of people rely on his other senses. This is a gift the author gives the reader, the ability to know someone and their feelings through sound, smell, taste, touch and intuition, minute things that tell so much. The author describes Ches's world incredibly. He's also just damn likeable, as are his supporting cast.

There are also some moments of beautiful self-depreciating humour on the part of the author

"Were I a novelist sitting down to invent a tale of intrigue and mystery, I can't imagine picking a character like Huey Dunstan or devising a plot that relied so much on intuition, not to say guesswork, where logic and a priori reasoning were submerged i so much cottonwool and where the process of deduction from empirical facts led, precisely, nowhere."

This is a wonderful read from a well regarded New Zealand writer, a writer who will turn eighty next year!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Plot for a Murder Mystery...

...Husband borrows wife's car for the day...

...Husband leaves his car so empty it's running on fumes and she has to fork out a small fortune to fill it with petrol after praying all the way to the petrol station that it would make it...

...Hubby returns wife's car empty and utterly caked with mud...

...Wife calmly drinks cup of tea while deciding where to hide the body...

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Passage

By Justin Cronin

Amy is 8 years old when she is abandoned by her prostitute mother into the care of nuns and Sister Lacey. FBI agent Wolgast is rounding up 12 death row inmates, people with no living relatives or connections, to take part in a military experiment, to be infected with a virus that not only offers immortality, but also transforms. When he is instructed to collect Amy, he struggles with handing over a little girl. He soon discovers she is unique and despite his trying to escape with her, they are caught. The experiment goes as planned until the unthinkable happens, and the creatures escape into the world, and create a disaster to humanity of apocalyptic proportions. Wolgast manages to escape with Amy.

Fast forward 92 years to a small survivor colony whose only weapons against the virals are light, blades and bows. Their society is sorely tested with the arrival of a little girl.

There is much I liked about this book, the fact it was a vampire story with bite, none of these namby-pamby uber good looking things in a gothic romance. These creatures mean business. I also liked the fact humanity is brought to the brink of extinction by its own folly - the search for eternal life. It is rich in symbolism, a chosen one, grail like searches and pilgrimages. It is very thought provoking and makes you consider how thin the veneer of civilisation is. It is a beautifully written piece of work.

My big gripe with this book is the sheer size of the thing - 766 pages. It is huge, intimidating and way too long. You could happily remove 250 pages of it and I think the story would have been far the better for it. It gets a bit bogged down which makes parts of it an exercise in endurance. which is a shame, because I loved the story idea, and the characters are beautifully drawn.

The whole thing is a bit I am Legend meets The Village. It will lend itself very well to the movie version, the rights of which sold for ridiculous amounts of money (why don't these things happen to me?) It is to be directed by Ridley Scott.

The Passage is the first of a trilogy of books, which is clear as it finishes on a bit of a cliff hanger. Overall I felt it was worth the read, but beware, if you start it, you're there for the long haul.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Today was my first day of freedom with out the novel deadline looming overhead. My first chance to get out and do things guilt free: meet Hubby for lunch, coffee with friends, do some retail therapy...


I was awakened by 'Mummy, I don't feel so well...blurrrgghhh'

So I stayed at home with the pukey one and did tax and laundry instead.