Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Navigation - a memoir

By Joy Cowley

Joy Cowley is one of New Zealand's most beloved story tellers, the writer of hundreds of books and school readers for children as well as novels for adults. I remember listening to her speak at the Auckland Writer's Festival a few years ago and being thoroughly captivated by her warmth, passion and wisdom. I came away from that talk feeling privileged to have been a part of it. So I couldn't wait to read Navigation, her memoir, and as hoped it held me captivated by her warmth, passion and wisdom.

Joy mentions at the beginning that she'd been initially approached by Penguin to write an autobiography, which she declined, but when they approached suggesting a memoir she thought, yes. And I'm so glad she did as a memoir has allowed her to illustrate her life in a series of little stories, vignettes, rather than being stifled by the formality of an autobiography.

What an amazing and interesting woman, Being someone who grew up knowing her stories for myself and my children I have this image of her as a deliciously grandmotherly type of person, which she is, so I was delighted to discover her youthful spirit, the young woman who rode motorbikes and flew a Tigermoth aeroplane. From a  personal perspective I was intrigued to she had a career in pharmacy, just like me.

She talks of her childhood and her parents influence, her marriages and children and how she came to see the need for better childrens' readers and books in schools and how she helped in achieving that to international renoun. She also talks about her loves and spirituality.

One of the little treats for me, for as you know I'm a bit of a fan, was this encounter, when she was a young writer, attending her first PEN Christmas party in Wellington.

"I don't know how long I stood there - long enough to understand that I was a country girl who had invaded a sophisticated party under false pretences. I needed to go back and wait at the station until the evening train.
As I turned and walked towards the door, a woman who had been sitting in a chair near the wall stood up. She was tall, angular, wore a big brimmed hat and white gloves. She strode across the room towards me, held out a gloved hand and said in a loud, well-rounded voice, 'How do you do. The name is Marsh.'
I was rescued by a perceptive Ngaio Marsh, who escorted me to the other end of the room and introduced me to writers I knew by name only - Denis Glover, Noel Hillard, Frank Sargeson, Ian Cross, Alistair Campbell. I discovered in the next hour that famous writers and poets were people."

Good on ya, Ngaio!

Joy Cowley is a beautiful story teller and it was a pleasure to read this book and I came away feeling as privileged to have had a glimpse into this lovely woman as I had seeing her on the stage all those years ago.

Lovely stuff.

4 comments:

Bookman Beattie said...

I agree with you absolutely Vanda. A great woiman, a great writer, a great read. Ciao

Margot Kinberg said...

Vanda - Glad you enjoyed this memoir as much as you did. I really like the idea of telling one's story in the form of a set of vignettes and anecdotes; it is a welcome alternative to the more typical autobiography...

PC said...

Joy is one of the warmest and wisest and most generous people I have ever met. And her writing does miracles for young readers. Did you hear the news today that she is going to do the Janet Frame Memorial Lecture this year? Excellent.

Px

Vanda Symon said...

Fantastic that Joy is going to deliver the Janet Frame Memorial lecture. What a treat for the audience. Will they record and podcast it?

Margot, I find myself eager to pick up memoirs, but not so much autobiographies. Memoirs always seem warmer and more like a chat to a friend.