Monday, August 29, 2011

The Ngaio Marsh Awards Event!

I know it's a week after the big event, and the announcement Paul Cleave won the Ngaio Marsh Award for best crime fiction, but hey, some of us are a bit slow at this time of the year! But better late than never, so here's my report on the Setting the Stage for Murder.

First up - the venue. I was delighted they kept the event in Christchurch, despite the physical limitations of a city still coming to grips with the aftermath of the earthquakes. With so many venues destroyed Christchurch has come up with a great idea which is the Events Village in Hagley Park - temporary but beautifully functional places to allow those all important social and cultural activities to happen. We were at the TelstraClear Club, which was like an enormous yurt. This large, circular marquee was warm and welcoming, with the inside lined with stained glass windows and leadlights, and a huge chandelier suspended from the centre. The raised circumference was lined with wooden dining booths and the central portion filled with seating. There was a cafe/ bar serving food and drinks, and the University Book Shop had set up a sales table. It was a fabulous venue. Well done Christchurch!

First on the billing were award-winning crime writers Tess Gerritsen and John Hart, ably chaired by Graham Beattie. The crowd enjoyed the candid and often very amusing conversations with these two popular authors. I loved the fact they disagreed on so much! Tess Gerritsen was all for working from home, John Hart had to have an office away from the house and the distractions of wife and kids. Tess advocated belonging to writing groups to get critiquing on your work, John was absolutely against. It was great to hear their differing opinions, and realise that all writers have their unique ways and quirks in how they approach their work.

Then we got to see the finalists of the Ngaio Marsh in action on the stage - Paul Cleave, Neil Cross, Paddy Richardson and Alix Bosco (AKA Greg McGee). Craig Sisterson, the driving force behind the awards, fired the questions, and this year he must have been relieved to know the winner would actually be at the awards! The results were interesting, often funny (Neil Cross has the split-second timing of a comedian) and entertaining. Again, I find it interesting when writers disagree, and one of the questions from the audience on whether they would use Christchurch post earthquakes as a setting made for lively discussion, with Paul Cleave adamant he couldn't do that at this stage as he would find it distasteful. Most of the other writers agreed. But it was John Hart who piped up from the audience that he felt it would be wrong not to include the hugely impacting event in fiction. Lots more discussion followed.

Finally we came to crunch time - the announcement of this year's winner of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Fiction....Paul Cleave, for Blood Men. Congratulations to Paul! His Dad looked so proud I thought he'd burst.

Congratulations to Craig Sisterson and the Christchurch Writers Festival folk for organising the event and keeping it in Christchurch, and it was great to see it well supported. It was wonderful to see Auckland crime writer Ben Sanders come down to support the event, and also local Christchurch writers Rachael King and Grant Shanks in the crowd.

It was a wonderful day, and well worth the hideously early start to catch the plane up from Dunedin. After the event, and a lovely lunch with the finalists, and international writers and local literati, and then an impromptu and emotional tour around the perimeter of the earthquake ravaged central city (crammed in the backseat of Dave Batterbury's car with Neil Cross and Paul Cleave, and with Craig Sisterson occupying the front seat)(it was very cosy and very very noisy!) I was a tired girl plonked in the plane home that night. Here's hoping I'm on the stage for next year's awards!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Death and the Dancing Footman

by Ngaio Marsh

Jonathan Royal thought it would be great fun to invite a group of acquaintances along to Highfold Manor for a weekend of socialising. He was gleeful at the prospect as his flair for the dramatic lead him to carefully handpick the invitees - The disfigured Sandra Compline and her two sons, William and Nicholas. Chloris Wynne - William's fiancee and Nicholas's ex. Plastic surgeon Dr Francis Hart (the disfigurer) and his wife, beautician Elise Lisse (also Nicholas's lover). Lady Hersey Ablington, competing beautician. Aubrey Mandrake - a man with secrets of his own. Royal is delighted with the powder keg of emotion and hatreds he has created, and with a snow storm preventing anyone from escaping the confines of the Manor the fun turns rather sour with the murder of William Compline.
 Throw in further attempts at murder and a spot of mistaken identity, and with everyone having motive and many opportunity, the whodunnit leaves everyone guessing as to the identity of the murderer under his roof. A mercy dash across the snowy roads brings Detective Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn on the scene to sort out the mess before anyone else dies.

I enjoyed Death and the Dancing footman - it certainly kept me guessing right to the very last. My only quibble is that Roderick Alleyn doesn't make an appearance until 3/4 of the way through the novel, so I felt a bit cheated as I really am rather fond of him and his sidekick Fox. It did seem very appropriate to be reading a novel about people trapped in a house by snow when we were trapped in the house by the snow! Although we managed to get through without killing each other.

The cover art on this novel is by one of my favourite cover artists, Philip Hood. Fontana 1975 edition.

This novel also counts towards my tally for the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge run by Bev Hankins at My Readers Block

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Books that give you the chills?

The Christchurch earthquake was several months ago, and for the vast majority of the country life is unaffected and we tend to forget. But for many of those in Christchurch life is far from normal, and the things we take for granted, like books and libraries are still unreachable. This is where little articles in the paper, like this one a week or so back make me smile.

Resourceful Cantabrians have come up with a great way to get books to people, and a bit of community spirit happeneing along the way, with book exchanges in fridges - yes, you read correctly, in fridges - unplugged of course. Fridges have appeared on vacant sites stocked with books people no longer want, and if you need a read you can pop along and grab one, and even better, chuck in one of your old reads for someone else. Brilliant.

You can read about it here:

Fridge a Magnet for Book Lovers.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A bit blue

It's been an odd few weeks. Novel-wise I've been a bit in limbo land, I have the publisher feedback for the new manuscript, and know I need to crack on and do revisions, but I've needed to create a bit of space between drafts, that mulling time that requires distance, which is hard with a new pressing deadline, but I think I'm finally there.

Also a dear old writery friend died last week, and although I'd been expecting it, as she had been quietly declining for a while, I still feel like the world has a Joan sized hole in it now. There are some people in your life who, even though you know they are elderly, ill and frail, their indomitable spirit means you just expect them to keep on going and always be there, that the normal rules of mortality don't apply. Joan was one of those. So I'm sharing with you an obituary I wrote for this very special lady for the NZSA weekly newsletter.

Joan de Hamel (1924-2011)

It is with great sadness we pass on news of the death of NZSA Otago/Southland member Joan de Hamel.

'Joan de Hamel was the award-winning writer of many wonderful books for children and teenagers. She was one of the first authors to write books specifically for teens that were set in New Zealand amongst our unique flora and fauna with X Marks the Spot in 1973. Take the Long Path won the Esther Glen Award in 1979 and her children’s picture book, Hemi’s Pet, won the A.W. Reed award in 1985. Her books brought the gift of adventure and of laughter to generations of young New Zealanders.

Joan was born in England and educated at Oxford University. She and her husband, Francis, and their three young sons moved to New Zealand for what was supposed to be a short period of time in 1955. The emigration proved to be rather more permanent, and they added two more sons to their family here. The family lived a while in Christchurch before finally settling in Dunedin. As well as a love of writing, Joan had a passion for the donkeys and angora goats she bred on their Otago Peninsula farmlet by Paradise Rd. Joan was a hugely valued member of the writing community in Dunedin, and was one of the founding members of PEN in the city. She was integral in helping foster the warm and vibrant community we enjoy today. Her contribution was recognised with her being named the NZSA President of Honour from 1999-2000.

Most importantly, Joan was a person who genuinely cared about and supported others, offering advice and help to many writers when needed. She was practical too, opening her home to host writers’ luncheons and supporting events. A number of years ago the Otago Southland branch of the NZSA held a fundraising auction, and where the rest of the members brought along books to auction, Joan fronted up with bags of gorgeous wool from her beloved angoras. Joan was very knowledgeable about literature and a thoughtful reviewer, and until very recently reviewed books for the New Zealand Book Council Booknotes magazine.

Joan will be remembered with great love and affection as a wonderful writer, supporter and friend, and as her family wrote in her death notice, ‘she died peacefully after a long and happy life.’  Joan’s cheerful and adventurous spirit and love of nature shines through in the plaque dedicated to her in the Dunedin Octagon Writer’s Walk which quotes her 1992 novel Hideaway: ‘What more could anyone want than their own land down to the shoreline and the whole Pacific Ocean as a boundary fence.’