Friday, December 19, 2008

Hit the road, Jack

Ah, t'is the season to be jolly, and to drive long distances to catch up with family. Seeing as I have a pressing deadline and an addiction to technology, we are taking the lap-top away, but there's no guarantees as to whether I feel the pressing urge to blog, or if holidayitis will take a hold and I find myself only having the strength to raise that Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc to my lips, and no more.

Today's little tid-bit is a link to the Alexander Turnbull Library and their new Manuscripts and Pictorial website. It's well worth a look and a valuable tool those bits of historical research.

Best I go deal with Mount Laundry and get packed...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Between the covers

What a lovely day it's been. School is winding up for the little fella, so he had a good day. Tonsil boy turned a corner in his recovery and was a lot better today. He also got to go to a friend's birthday party. It was Dunedin Diary television night, and Hubby and I got to enjoy the school Board of Trustees Chrissy Dinner at Zucchini Brothers restaurant.

For Dunedin Diary it was my last show of the year and I got to give my Christmas gift ideas from the wealth of locally produced of local interest books. I had five books to cover in four minutes, phew, so these are my notes of what I would have said if everything went according to script. Needless to say it never does, but hey, that's live telly for you!

So these were my local picks for Christmas shopping:

Kids picture book:

Herbert the brave sea dog by Robyn Belton.

This is based on the true story of Herbert, a little terrier dog who fell of a boat in a storm in the Marlborough sounds and survived for thirty hours in the water before his owners and a fisherman found him alive. It’s one of those heart warming stories that delighted my boys, and made me shed a tear or two. Beautiful illustrations by Robyn Belton, of greedy cat fame, and this is her first picture book she has both written and illustrated. They have also reproduced in the back page some of the newspaper reports and letters and the special award Herbert got for bravery. It’s a lovely gift for the kiddies.

Teen fiction:

Anywhere but here by Ella West.

Teens can be difficult to buy for but I think this story about a group of teenagers with a touch of science fiction to it will appeal to girls and boys. This is the second in a trilogy of books but stands alone well. Nicky and her friends have the ability to travel from place to place by the power of their mind. They’ve escaped from The Project, a mysterious organisation that abducted them from their families and trained and them to carry out secret missions. They are in Los Angeles, one of them wounded and they have to keep their wits about them in a strange town and situation. Throw in plenty of the problems teens face with relationships and hormones and their loyalties are being challenged. They have to work together to keep one step ahead of The Project.

Blokes Bo

Into the Wider world by Brian Turner.

Brian Turner is a poet, writer and essayist and he’s a blokes bloke. He loves his fishing and sports and has a real connection to the environment. This book is a wonderful collection of his musings on a myriad of topics from wasting time to, fishing, to dogs. They’re delightful and I’ve enjoyed just opening up at random and reading the story in front of me. I have brought this book for my brother for Christmas – he’s a hunting and fishing kind of a guy and normally difficult to choose for, but this year was no problem, because Brian was kind enough to bring out the perfect book for blokes.

Coffee table type book:

Rita Angus: Life & Vision by William McAloon and Jill Trevelyan

Rita Angus would have of be one of New Zealand’s most recognised artists, and it has been a very special treat to be able to see so many of her works in their full glory at the Rita Angus exhibition at the Dunedin Art Gallery. I urge everyone to go and see it. This book is the catalogue of the exhibition, which marks 100 years since her birth. It’s a beautiful pictorial book, with full colour pictures of all of the works in the exhibition, and therefore a rich cross section of her body of work. It has a good commentary on what was happening in her life at the time of painting some of her works as well as biographical information. I love it for the pictures – it’s a beautifully produced book you can enjoy again and again.

All around great gift book:

Fleur's Place by Paul Sorrell and Graham Warman.

This is simply a fabulous book. Made so by the fact I think Fleur holds a special place in everyone’s hearts down here. This book is as much about Fleur’s vision as it is about the restaurant and the food and the array of characters who people who keep Fleur’s place supplied. From a recipe perspective, they are simple and flavoursome and the type of thing you and I could happily make in our own kitchens. The photography is terrific, and this would just as happily be displayed on the coffee table as getting ingredient stains all over it in the kitchen.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My best picks of 2008

I have a notebook, it's a grotty looking, grey school variety in which I record the books I've read. Every year I swear I'll update it to something a little more stylish, but it hasn't quite happened yet. maybe next-year.

I was muttering to a book group the other night that I'd only managed to read 50 or so books this year, which didn't seem like many, but they were kind enough to point out that's about one a week, which isn't too bad for a busy mum/ writer/ domestic goddess.

So which books made the biggest impact on me this year?


This would be a close toss up between Peter Temple's The Broken Shore, and Kate Atkinson's When will There be Good News. Both are labelled as crime fiction and stood out for me because of the wonderful characterisation that kept me thinking about the people long after the book was finished. I loved Kate's Reggie, and Peter's Cashin.


Joan Druett's Island of the Lost. As well as being a fabulously well told tale of shipwreck and survival on the Auckland Islands, this was one of those books that got me to thinking. How would I survive in that situaltion? What base of skills have I got to call on in the case of disaster or endangerment. It left me mervelling at the strength of human spirit, and how damn clever and hardy the early settlers and workers were. We are so pampered any lily-livered nowadays, we woulddn't stand a chance.

Biography/ Memoir:

I never used to read this type of book, but had several find their way onto my reading pile this year, and I'm hooked. There were two that stood out for me because they touched me on a very personal level because they related to the place I am at in my life. So these two I can honestly say came into the life-changing category for me. How often do you get to say that about a book?

The first I read early in the year was Digging for Spain by Penelope Todd. In this book Penelope questioned a lot of the things she had based her life upon, including her religion and family. It resonated with a lot of the questions I had been asking of myself recenly.

Who is Sylvia: The diary of a biography of Sylvia Ashton Warner by Lynley Hood was the other book that gave my foundations a good rattle. This book, originally published in 1990, is the diary Lynley kept when undertaking the all consuming project of Sylvia's Biography. As well as being a fabulous look inot the process of doing a biography, this book was a case of perfect timing, as when she wrote it Lynley was my age, with two kids and a husband and a drive to do something. It was like, hello, here's me!

There were lots of books I intended to read in 2008, but never managed, so they will shuffle over into the 2009 pile. These included Rachael King's The Sound of Butterflies, and Mary MacCallum's The Blue - fellow bloggers who I feel guilty that I haven't read their books yet. Then there's all the new blogger's I've discovered whose books I want to read - Emma Darwin's The Mathematics of Love, and A Secret Alchemy, Declan Burke's The Big O, and Roger Norris' A Gentle Axe.

So many books, so little time!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Off the kids' book shelf

My boys are avid readers, well, they could hardly not be in this household, so I thought I'd do a post on some of the books they've been reading recently.

Bed-time story book

Castaway by Bill O'Brien

This is a perennial favourite in our household. It is the diary of thirteen year-old Samuel Clark, who was one of a group of men marooned on Disappointment Island in 1907 when the Dundonald foundered and sank. This is a fictional account of a real event, the boys love it.

Mr Six-year-old.

Space Gum by Tania Roxborogh

Carl is pretty good at getting into trouble, especially as he has a liking for pranks. When an old NASA scientist gives him a formula for something special, all manner of trouble breaks loose. Both the boys found this book laugh out loud funny. Mr Six-Year-Olds favourite prank was the toilet seat trick.

I'm telling on you by Sandy McKay

Timothy is a bit of a tattle tale. He doesn't find it quite so much fun when he gets into trouble.

Herbert the brave sea dog. by Robyn Belton

This one is a picture book and besides having the gorgeous illustrations of Robyn Belton, it's based on the true story of Herbert, a border terrier who survived thirty hours in the sea in the Malborough sounds after falling overboard.

Mr Nine-Year-Old (AKA tonsil boy)

Well, he's just devoured the whole Harry Potter series recently, and I'm pretty sure everyone knows what those books are about.

Hurricane Tim by Neville Peat

We're airshow junkies and Sir Tim Wallace is the man behind the Warbirds over Wanaka airshow. This is a biography of his life including his helecopter pilot days, and the aftermath of his crashing his Spitfire at the airshow in 1996 and his long recovery.

Reaching the Summit: Sir Edmund Hillary's story
by Alexa Johnston and David Larsen.

Sir Edmund Hillary conquered Mt Everest and became a kiwi hero, not just because of this, but also because of his aid to the Nepalese people.

Tin Tin in America. By Herge.

Mr Nine-Year-Old is a huge Tin Tin fan and laughs his head off at them. Thank heavens the Dunedin Public Library has a really good collection.

So there you go. If anyone out there wondered what boys read, and are stuck for book ideas for boys, I hope this helps a bit. I know my two are hoping for books this Christmas. I don't think that is going to be an issue.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A cutting edge performance

This news item could be straight from a Ngaio Marsh novel.

As reported on

"An actor has almost died after slashing his throat on stage with a real knife instead of a blunt prop knife.

Actor Daniel Hoevels collapsed at Vienna's Burgtheater in Austria with blood pouring from his neck, and the audience even started applauding the spectacular special effects, London's Telegraph said.

It was only when the 30-year-old failed to get up to take a bow that they realised something was wrong, it said.

Hoevels's character was to commit suicide in the drama, a scene that was to be acted out with a blunt stage weapon.

But he'd been given a real blade instead, the Telegraph said.

Police were investigating the incident as a possible murder attempt, and would not rule out the possibility a jealous rival may have switched the blades.

Police were told the knife was bought at a local store, and were investigating whether props staff forgot to blunt the blade for the performance of Friedrich Schiller's play Mary Stuart, about Mary Queen of Scots, the Telegraph said.

"The knife even still had the price tag on it," a police investigator said.

The actor had emergency treatment at a local hospital.

"If Hoevels had hit an artery or cut only slightly deeper, he would have died on stage," a doctor said.

Remarkably, Hoevels returned to the stage the next night with a bandage around his neck."

In Ngaio Marsh's Enter a Murderer, the prop was a loaded gun, minus the blanks and plus the real thing that lead to the demise of one of the actors. A vintage who dunnit.

In this case, fortunately the unsuspecting actor didn't dispatch himself on the stage, but, in true the show must go on fashion, turned back up for work not long after. That's dedicated!

The Austrian police have their work cut out trying to discover who was at fault and whether the prop knife was there with malicious intent. Good luck to them dealing with actors! Where's Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn when they need him?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Anywhere but Here

By Ella West

Anywhere but Here is the sequel to Thieves, the first in a trilogy of books by Ella West about Nicky, a teenage girl with the incredible gift of being able to travel by using the power of thought. In Thieves, Nicky and four other teenagers with similar abilities have been collected and sequestered by the Project, an organisation of unknown agenda which trains them to undertake clandestine operations. When one of their operations goes horribly wrong the group use the opportunity to escape from the clutches of the Project.

Anywhere but Here picks up where Thieves leaves off, the teenagers are on their own in Los Angeles, one of them injured, and all of them desperate to keep one step ahead of the Project. They have to work together to succeed, but doubts and conflicted loyalties creep in.

This is a novel aimed at a young adult audience, but this adult enjoyed it as much as the first. Ella West captures the mood and angst of a very difficult situation for these unusual teenagers, without being overwrought. The slide in allegiances and questioning of personal identity and grappling with the enormity of their situation is real and believable. The writing is superb and the pace rips you along for the ride.

This is a wonderful example of why it pays adults to dip into fiction that is labelled as young adult.

Bring on the next one!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Write On

Today was radio show day, and courtesy of Mr Tonsils McSymon I was doing a bit of frantic preparation this morning. I'd decided to make it easy on myself and invited the wonderful Bronwyn Wyllie-Gibb from the University Book Shop in to chat books, and we could have happily chatted books for the entire hour. There were a number I planned to mention, but we just ran out of time. By the way, if I had to answer one of those questions they ask people on who you would pick as the mosy stylish person - I'd vote Bronwyn.

Here's the doodah from the Write On website:

With Christmas looming and with it thoughts of gift buying, I talk with Bronwyn Wyllie-Gibb of the University Book Shop about books that have stood out during the year, local books and some of the wonderful choices available for Christmas and your reading wish list.

Earlier in the year I interviewed Geoff Walker, and I have had a lot of requests to replay this interview. Geoff Walker is the Publishing Director or Penguin New Zealand and has been involved in the publishing industry for a very long time.
We talk about the publishing industry in New Zealand, trends and recent changes. We also talk about the effect on the digital age on how books are published and the effects on writers.
Geoff also talks about the process of publishing - how they look at the hundreds of manuscripts submitted each year and what you can do to improve the chances of being picked up.

Speaking of the Write On website, I've finally managed to embed the podcasts of radio shows past, so if anyone feels inclined to listen to older shows, going back about 7 months, you can do so there. See we can master the technology!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


I was over the moon to open this week's Listener, while plonked on hospital bed next to recovering son, and see The Ringmaster made the New Zealand Listener's 100 best books of 2008 list! Got a photo of the cover in too. Hopefully it will prompt people to stampede their local bookseller to buy multiple copies for their loved ones for Christmas.

I also got a lovely mention of Overkill and some very flattering comments from Christchurch crime writer Paul Cleave. Great to see his crime fiction novel Cemetery Lake also made the list.

All things to cheer up a tired mum.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Under the knife

Bags packed, off to hospital with Mr Nine-year-old who is having his tonsils out today.

I know this is a bog standard, lots of people have it type thing, but all the same, it's my baby going under the knife and I'm having Mummy moments about it.

I'll be jotting down my hospital experiences for future reference, of course, and more importantly, my feelings. He's pretty cool about it all. What he was most concerned about this morning was not being allowed to eat breakfast.

Typical boy.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Chrissy Do-done

We've just set foot in the door after a lovely Chrissy do for the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society Authors. The venue for our seasonal gathering was the Weavers Retreat in Mosgiel, where we were set up in their glass atrium , and we Dunedinites had to contend with something we were entirely unprepared for - feeling hot, sunny and hot.

Around thirty writers and "writer's widows" (ie long-suffering spouces and partners) enjoyed good food and wine and great company. As well as enjoying the delights of the menu, we also had opportunity to share around the tables who people were, what they were working on and how their year was going. It was great to her from writers who had books published and had a great year, those who had exciting projects for next year, from those who were just quietly working away, those who had personal circumstance which had dictated a difficult year, and from those who support the pen-pushers (or keyboard tappers as most of us are.) It showed what a wonderfully diverse lot we are, and how important it is to mix and socialise and chat.

Writing is a solitary business. We were talking about work Chrissy do's and I said to someone I should have a little work Chrissy Do by myself, with Molly the iMac, a glass of bubbles, a Christmas mince pie and I could even buy myself a $5.00 gift! Actually, I've decided this is quite a fun sounding idea, and might actually do it! I could take a piccy with Molly's inbuilt camera and post it on the blog - The office Chrissy Do - no chance of embarrasing yourself in front of the boss, photocopying things that should stay private or unintentionally going home with Derek from accounting...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Cons, crooks and bit players

The editing process is rather interesting. Reading through the entire manuscript in a couple of sittings has been an enlightening exercise. It's also brought a few surprises - a number of 'that's actually really funny' moments, a few 'gosh I'm clever,' moments, and a lot of 'sh*t, I forgot about that' and 'I'm not so clever after all' moments.

All in all though, I'm really pleased with the manuscript and am no longer freaking out about my deadline. (A few wines probably helped there too)

It has made rather apparent though, the fact one of the bit players who was to be casually discarded at the end of the book is not going to cooperate. He's clearly telling me, oh no you don't, lady, I fully intend to be in the next one too. Sam has grown rather fond of him, and no, it's not in a romantic way. He started out as an interesting but shady bit player and developed into something more, so I'm thinking he may just have to stick around.

Isn't it funny how we become so attached to our characters we can't quite let go. I was talking with another writer friend the other day who is working on her second novel. It is completely different to her first novel, and is set some 30 years later, and in no way supposed to be related, but she finds characters from the first book making an appearance, older and wiser.

I am at a huge advantage in writing a crime series in that I get to keep writing about Sam Shephard, a character I love, and love doing awful things to (writers are like that). But who would have thought when I started out on this lark that I'd become so attached to the supporting cast and odd walk on role? Just as well we have an endless capacity for love.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Clothes or books? Clothes or books?

And you can guess what won!

The kiddies' school show (which was fabulous, by the way) called for some wardrobe acquisitions. Getting the "Cromwell Chafer Beetle" organised was no problem, but "Dr Orbell" required a lab coat. Dutiful mummy that I am I wandered around trying to find something that would look like a lab coat on a six-year old. I failed dismally on that front and Mr Six-Year-Old ended up on stage in Dad's white shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He looked intollerably cute and was a star, as was the Chafer Beetle.

There is a point to all this, other than gushing about my clever children. My lab coat search involved the odd second hand clothing store, and I discovered that these institutions also have books. Oh dear, how sad, I hear you cry.

So, ahem, I came away sans lab coat but plus:

Guerilla Season by Paul Thomas - Some New Zealand crime fiction circa 1996

Bain and Beyond by Joe Karam - Where he looks at other cases in the New Zealand justice system, not just the David Bain case for which he is known.

Crucifix Lane by Kate Mosse - I loved Labyrinth and Sephulcre is in my reading pile, so here's an earlier work to add to it.

The Seventies - A Hutchinson pocket book of everything you wanted to know about the decade. Who knows when you'll need a blast from the past - all in the name of research.

The Complete Idiots Guide to Chemistry by Ian Guch - For my inner nerd.

So there you go, yet another book trap for the unwary.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

100 years young

Today we got to sing happy birthday to the Dunedin Public Library which first opened its doors on the 2nd of December 1908.

The boys and I trotted off to a lovely little do where the Mayor, Peter Chin, and Merle van de Klundert, the Chair of the Friends of the Library made speeches and cut a cake, and the sounds of champagne corks popping echoed around the fourth floor. There were sammies and savouries and lots of chocolates. The library choir sang a hilarious song recounting the history of the esteemed institution. The Mayor lead us all in singing Happy Birthday and three cheers. The only downside was the parking ticket on my windscreen when we got back to the car - The DCC giveth and the DCC taketh away.

The library has had a very full centenary programme which included Library Alive Day on Sunday. We came along and Mr Six-year-old had his face painted, Mr Nine-year-old got to play air hockey, there was a bouncy castle, characters from Narnia, a treasure hunt, live music playing on every floor and I was thinking, wouldn't it be great if libraries were this much fun every day!

Mary Ronnie has written Freedom to Read: A Centennial History of Dunedin Public Library. I was delighted to be given a copy as a thank you for giving an author talk at the library as part of their centenary programme. I haven't had an in depth read yet, but from the flicking through I've done it looks fascinating.

I've had a love affair with libraries since childhood, my first book addictions started in the Greerton Public Library in Tauranga - Richard Scary's The Bears Almanac was the worlds best book ever when I was a five-year old. I still visit the library most weeks, and it has been great fun being a part of the centenary celebrations.

Bring on the next 100 years.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Deck the halls

The Symon household has been Christmased. We are treed, we are ornamented, tinselled and garlanded. We are nativitied and angeled and strung with lights. The Christmas cookie cutters have been dug out and have already been put to use as stensils for making felt Christmas decorations with the kiddies. Mr Six-year-old is already planning the truffles he's going to make as a gift for his teacher.

I unashamedly confess to never having lost the magic of Christmas, to enjoying it just as much as the kids, and now I have the added delight of enjoying the excitement on their faces as we decorate the house, write Christmas Cards, talk about hopes for exciting things under the tree and share the story of the birth of Christ.

There's no sign of bah-humbug in this household - it is a bah-humbug free zone!

Let the silly season begin...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Daft draft poem

Knocked off the draft.

It begged to die,

bludgeoned with a blunt instrument

at the hands of a serial offender

looking for ways

to dismember its body,


pick over its bones.

(This is why I write novels, not poetry)

Friday, November 28, 2008

The aha moment cometh...

...and it arrived over a large flat white and a rhubarb friand this morning at one of my favourite Dunedin cafes, the aptly named Rhubarb.

I've been getting rather anxious, waiting for the aha's arrival. I've been hammering away at Containment for quite some time now, but something was lacking. My deadline was getting scarily close and I have to admit to a mild to moderate amount of panic happening. But I wasn't completely freaked out because when I was writing Overkill, the aha moment didn't come until the 6th draft. Yes folks, one of the acts of faith of a writer, I kept on working even though it didn't all quite tie in, then heaved a sigh of relief when I discovered the tiny shred of information that made it all slot into place and everything make perfect sense.

So my freakoutometer has slidden below critical, and I feel I have the connections that will make it all gel together. Writing is often about dogged determintaion, and Containment has been an example of that. There have been times when I'd wanted to toss the whole bloddy thing away and start again, but then I thought, no, the bits of the skeleton I had were good, but I guess it was like one of those archaeological digs where you're not quite sure what you've got till all the bones turn up.

The bones turned up with a Rhubarb Friand and a damn fine coffee.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Between the covers

Today was one of those run around like a mad ass kind of days, that also included a stint on Channel 9 television's Dunedin Diary programme doing my regular book review slot.

This month I reviewed a couple of non-fiction books, and these are my notes for what I intended to say. Naturally, it isn't what actually came out of my mouth, because those little things like nerves, feeble memory and Dougal's questions and comments make me deviate from the master plan.

Growing Organic by Nick Hamilton and Philippa Jamieson.

Growing Organic is a British book by Nick Hamilton that Philippa Jamieson has edited and adapted for the New Zealand situation. Philippa’s the editor of New Zealand Organic magazine.

I would call this a beginners guide to organic gardening, and gardening in general as it covers topics from which tools to select and how to get started from growing seed to taking cuttings to watering techniques. It covers the inevitable bugs, and has suggested organic sprays, although I would have liked a few more homemade spray recipes as we have an impressive aphid invasion happening. It doesn’t have photos but has good diagrams that are helpful.

It also has a helpful section on storing your vegetables once they’re harvested. What to do with that bumper crop that’s coming out your ears rather than just give it away to the neighbours. And of course composting and what to do with the leftovers.

I’d recommend this as a good basic book for people wanting to get started on the pleasures of growing your own food.

Dunedin Tracks and Trails by Antony Hamel

This has got to be one of the handiest books published. For a family like mine where we like to get out for the odd walk, and have a mountain biker always looking for places to ride, it’s brilliant.

The books nicely divided into geographical areas and as well as showing the tracks and clear directions how to get to them, it has lots of fascinating information about the area’s history and what to look out for.

Each section also has a summary of the walks, approximate time, distance and how hilly as well as a rating. I particularly liked the Features list, and the North Dunedin one of pondering why our future leaders and intellectuals seem happy to live in such messy flats as students.

It gives all the vital information, like when tracks are closed for lambing and when they’re crossing private land and you need to be aware of cattle.

I’d say that this is a book that every Dunedin home needs to have, and our family will certainly be popping out with it over the summer to enjoy some fresh air and the local scenery.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Broken Shore

by Peter Temple.

This is so much more than a crime novel. The Broken Shore has won a slew of awards, including the CWA Duncan Lawrie Dagger, and so it should.

Peter Temple is a master at creating characters with depth and appeal, and who ring true in all their tics and flaws. Even the minor players and cameos are exquisitely drawn with often a few scant words. I think his skill with dialogue is what makes his people real, in what they say, and what they don't say. He allows his male characters a complex emotional life, which makes Cashin an unforgettable man. This all with in the setting of a novel that rips along at great pace and compels you, no forces you to read on.

Joe Cashin is a Port Monro detective, recuperating from major injuries sustained in the course of duty. When an elderly pillar of society is brutally murdered in his home, Cashin in brought into investigate with the local Cromarty police. They follow leads from a watch missing from the victim, but when an operation to bring in potential suspects goes horribly wrong a torrent of racial tensions and discontent boils over.

Peter Temple is a South African living in Australia, and it is clear that he has observed and absorbed the attitudes, positive and negative towards the aboriginal people. In The Broken Shore he captures the inter-racial tension, inter-family posturing, political maneuvering, small mindedness, and small town mentalities. He pokes at the seedy underbelly of society and makes it twitch. He also captures the harshness of the Australian landscape and and how that in turn can create earthy, hard people.

This is a stunning book, and one that I will re-read - and I very rarely re-read fiction books.

Monday, November 24, 2008


You go through patches as a writer where self-doubt clouds your conviction. I've been battling one of those patches, but like all things in life, if you want to make forward progress you suck it in and keep on working. This approach has worked to some extent, but still, why-do-I-bother-itis has been plaguing me.

One of the symptoms has been a steadfast ignoring of the envelope of Media Watch review clippings that Penguin so kindly provide to its authors. I didn't think my fragile state of being could cope with a bad one, so the envelope was conveniently buried in one of those piles of papers and junk that occasionally avalanche out of bookshelves or topple over and crush small children.

This morning I got brave and went digging for it. The cause of this sudden rush of nerve? Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise has posted a fabulous review of Overkill, including useful things like where you can find the book in Aussie and the UK. So thank you Kerrie, you've made my day!

That spurred me on and I discovered when I opened my bundle that all of the reviews were good, and I'd had quite a few mentions in people's "What I'm reading" piles.

New Zealand Lawyer magazine also featured a review of The Ringmaster, which was very positive. They did a piece titled Serial Killers stalk the South Island, and reviewed my book and Paul Cleave's Cemetery Lake. Great to see Paul and I are keeping the law fraternity happily amused.

So that's a brighter start to my day. That and not having any sick kiddies at home for the first time in two weeks. It's just me and the snoring cat.

Better go, got an appointment with Detective Sam Shephard.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Invisible Evidence

I was almost crushed under an avalanche of stuff from the bookcase that sits next to my desk. It contains my most frequently used reference material as well as all those things that need to be shoved somewhere, anywhere so I can find a big enough area on the desk to fit the keyboard.

Every now and again the bookcase has a kind of allergic reaction and effectively sneezes to clear the blockage.

One of the books sneezed out was this little gem from Bill O'Brien - Invisible Evidence: Forensics in New Zealand. Bill's an ex-coppa turned writer so knows what he's talking and writing about.

Invisible Evidence is very handy and covers the up to date technology and methods used in forensic science here. With everything from crime-scene examination, to pathology, to document examination and the latest isotopic analysis.

So if you're looking for a handy little forensics reference book, or even one of those cool little books to give for Christmas to someone difficult to buy for (ie. a bloke) - mystery solved.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The wheels on the bus go round and round...

The New Zealand Book Council have invited me to be the fiction writer on next year's Words on Wheels bus tour. I'll get to spend six days on the road visiting every town and village on the road between Christchurch and Queenstown between the 2nd and 8th of March.

And who are the poor unfortunates that get to put up with me for so long?

My fellow road tripees are Anna Mackenzie (Teen Fiction), David Geary (Scriptwriting), Janet Charman (Poetry) and Steve Braunias (Non-fiction).

We'll get to visit libraries, schools and town halls, and hopefully the odd restaurant and pub too.

But sending a crime writer on a road trip, is it such a good idea? It conjures up images of a closed room kind of a murder mystery on wheels. The publicist is dead. Who dunnit?

Was it the crime writer? Everyone assumes someone who spends all day imagining how to kill people would be the fiend. But what about the poet? Can you trust a poet? Or that guy who writes about birds? Those teen fiction writers can get up to no good, and don't get me started on script writers.

Hmmmm, could be fun.

Heh, heh, heh.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Good golly, Molly

I know I've had the conversation before about falling in love with inanimate objects, but I can't help it. I love my new computer, Molly rocks. There are so many cool things you can do.

Molly has a built in camera, so we've discovered the Photo Booth function. It's great fun. The kids, especially have had a blast taking photos of themselves doing what kids do best - scary faces, poking out tongues, bunny ears behind each other's heads - you get the picture.

You can also do effects, and I really, and I mean really like the colour pencil effect, because you can take a picture of you, and it's like photoshop overkill - no more wrinkles, and I'm sure it makes you look younger. Oops, I mean, of course I'm young anyway, honest.

Naturally I'm making the most of the functions that relate to what I actually do - write, and the fact that I no longer have to squint at the tiny screen on my laptop has improved workplace conditions immensely. It makes realise how tiring it was peering away at the old one, and although I had the lap-top propped up on a pile of Hubby's business text-books, and had a full size keyboard plugged into it, Molly has improved my posture immensely. The OSH boffins would be very happy.

I love having the ability to display side by side documents, or a document and internet side by side. It is rather handy. Am I gushing? Sorry, the first flush of love, and all.

Then there's the widgets. Sigh. Can a girl ever have too many downloads?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A voice from the past

I've just enjoyed listening to the podcast of Sounds Historical where Jim Hopkins played a recording of an old interview with Ngaio Marsh, complete with old-time static. I find it amazing to listen to sound recordings of writers since passed, it gives a dose of the spine tingles. I experienced this with the recording of Janet Frame emanating from the radiogram at Janet Frame's house at Eden St in Oamaru, and experienced it here listening to Ngaio Marsh's resonant voice.

Ngaio talks about why she got started with crime fiction, and about plot, amongst other things. It's a fascinating and slightly eerie glimpse into her motivations and her past.

After the Ngaio Marsh interview Jim talks with Joanne Drayton, author of the recently released biography Ngaio Marsh: Her life in crime. It's a lovely combination hearing Ngaio, and then her biographer. It's also interesting to hear how well the mystery writer worked so hard to keep her personal life a mystery.

Click the link here to go straight to the podcast, or here to go to the Sounds Historical webpage and internet links. The interviews are in the second hour of the Sunday the 16th of November show, and doesn't start until part way through the hour. I'd embed them into the blog if I could, but my technical adviser is out, and I haven't figured it out myself yet. (Anyway, why figure it out when Hubby can do it for you - it makes him feel needed.)

So thanks to Hugh and Nicky for the heads-up on this - My friends seem to realise I'm a teensy bit interested in my fellow New Zealand crime writer.

And speaking of Ngaio Marsh, Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise has posted this review of A Man Lay Dead, and David Cranmer at The Education of a Pulp Writer has posted this review of Death in Ecstasy - which is the next book on my Ngaio Marsh Challenge list.

I tell you, Ngaio is all the rage!

Monday, November 17, 2008

On Top of Everything

By Sarah-Kate Lynch.

I thoroughly enjoyed Sarah-Kate's Dunedin launch of this book the other night, and the opportunity for pink fizz and cupcakes.

Naturally I brought a copy of her book, and being a sycophantic groupie type had to get it autographed - it would have been rude not to.

I got to devour the book over the weekend, and it made a very pleasant change from my steady diet of crime fiction.

This is the story of Florence, and Florence re-defines having a bad day. It starts with her getting fired from her own business by her best friend, and then her husband leaves her for another man. And that's just the beginning. Sometimes bad days spill over to bad weeks, months, especially if you believe trouble comes in threes, or multiples of threes.

If all this sounds maudlin, it's not because Sarah-Kate infuses this novel with wit and charm and characters to make you smile.

Naturally, it wouldn't be a Sarah-Kate Lynch book if there wasn't food involved, and in this instance it's cakes, cupcakes, little cucumber sandwiches, fruit cakes and tea, plenty of tea, leaf of course, served in fine bone china. Sarah-Kate is the queen of foodie chick-lit.

I did want to slap Florence, frequently. She annoyed me a lot, to the point of teeth gritting at times. But I guess that means I cared about her. And I do wish the story had been told entirely from Florence's point of view, but that's by the by - I really enjoyed this book.

On Top of Everything was a perfect to while away a few hours over a weekend, and gave me urges to haul out the fine bone china and have a frilly high tea for my friends. Actually, I have a feeling that will happen. I feel a bake-a-thon coming on.

Put it on your summer reading list.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Science of Sherlock Holmes

I have just started reading, and am already captivated by this book by E.J.Wagner, which was lent to me by Prof Jules Keiser - my forensic anthropology man. For some strange reason he thought I'd be interested.

It is subtitled "From Baskerville Hall to the Valley of Fear, the Real Forensics Behind the Great Detective's Greatest Cases."


It looks at Sherlock Holmes methods of detection and his forensics in the light of Victorian medicine, law, pathology, toxicology and the emerging forensic science of the time. It also delves into some of the folklore that existed and gives real-life examples of mysteries from the era.

I can see this will be a valuable resource as well as an entertaining read. It won a 2007 Edgar award, so it must have struck a chord with many people.

I'm hooked.

Friday, November 14, 2008

It's a girl...

...and she's big and she's beautiful.

She's got a 20 inch widescreen back-lit LCD display, a cd/dvd drive that actually works. She'll talk directly to my camera without spitting the dummy, and talk to my scanner. She's got a decent girth to her so I can do side by side documents. She's got an amazing memory (as all kids do - just ask one to play the memory card game with you and you'll soon feel shamed) and will do exactly as I ask.

Although Mme iBook has seen me through three novels, if you count the one I'm completing, and Hubby through an MBA, I shall not mourn her retirement. Lets face it, she was getting a bit tired and crotchety, and from an entirely practical standpoint, it's not easy drumming out a novel on a laptop with a squinky-winky tiny screen coz these eyes ain't getting any younger. We'll trot the old girl out when we travel and for those times when portability is desirable (although, we'd need the power cord, because Mme Mac's only good for about 20 minutes now). And I'm sure the kids will try to lay claim to her, so she won't feel entirely left out.

But for now, I only have eyes for my new baby, Miss iMac...sigh...

I think I'll name her Molly.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sticks and stones

Last night's fizz and cupcakes was delightful, but there was a wee spoiler on the way home.

Driving through Queens Drive and the Green belt I got a hell of a fright with an enormous bang and clatter on the car windscreen. Fortunately I had my Hanes self-cleaning underwear on, but unfortunately there was a ruddy great chip in my windscreen - my new windscreen that was replaced only three weeks ago. Grrrrr.

The cause of all this? Stone throwing little SHoneTs. They must have been hidden in the trees. As I had a kiddie in the car I didn't stop to investigate, but when I got home Hubby hopped on his bike and nipped down to check it out while I rang the police.

He found two teenagers up on the bank, still throwing stones at cars, and who proceeded to throw stones and swear at him too. Charming.

Anyway, the police didn't have any cars available to send out last night, but a lovely policewoman came to the house today to fill out an incident report.

So what's this all got to do with anything other than Vanda being in a rage at the idiotic antics of clueless teenagers and being down some dollars on the insurance excess?

I had a policewoman in my house, a young police woman. So although she wasn't short like my Sam Shephard, I did quiz her on a few things. She was most amused to being questioned by the complainant, and saw the irony of a crime writer making a complaint due to willful damage.

So I learned:

Those stab-proof vests they all have to wear are majorly uncomfortable.
After a few weeks they mould a bit to your body shape, but not much.
For the first two weeks it's hard to breathe in them.
They weigh about 6 kg for the little sizes, and the big blokes who need bigger sizes they weigh considerably more.
The police hate them.

All stuff I suspected anyway, but good to hear it from the horses mouth.

So although it was a pain in the bum circumstance, and I am still ropeable about thoughtless little *$%@%**s breaking my windscreen - you can always turn a negative into a positive.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pink fizz and cupcakes

What a Wednesday it's been!

Today was Write On Radio show day and I enjoyed my chats with Paul Sorrell and Martha Morseth. I was entirely in charge of the radio station, and managed to get through that without any technical whoopsies, which was good considering if I did stuff up, there would have been deathly silence over the frequency until the station manager returned from lunch. Then again, I did like that sense of power...

My postal courier radar was in fine form and I raced out to the letterbox to find a parcel with my copies of the German edition of Overkill, Ein Harmloser Mord. They are very cool - I can't understand a word of them, but they're cool. Look damn fine in the bookshelf.

Then this evening I got to put on the glad rags and trot off to hear Sarah-Kate Lynch promoting her latest book, On top of everything.

At this point, I should make a confession. I had what one could call a blonde moment yesterday. I got the kids dinner early, got dolled up, and piled us all in the car to get down to Sarah-Kate's do at the University Book Shop at 5.45pm, only problem was that when we pulled up, the University Book Shop looked suspiciously closed, and I had to admit to myself and the kids that maybe I'd made a wee stuff up on the date. Hmmm.

So tonight I got the kids dinner early, got dolled up (deja vu, anyone?) and piled us into the car, and, thank heavens, when we got to the University Book Shop the lights were on, the pink bubbly poured and there was a beautiful array of dainty cupcakes sitting on the book stands. Phew. So I got to meet the glorious Sarah-Kate, did the sycophantic groupie thing and got my book autographed, got to enjoy a glass of fizz and a delicious cupcake (or two).

What more could a girl ask for?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Write On Radio

Tomorrow is Write On Radio day, with the show broadcast live on Toroa Radio 1575 kHz AM Radio at noon.

This, of course, means it's November already, which naturally leads into December, which naturally leads into an almighty panic. Could someone please explain what happened to this year?!

Here's the details of the lovely folk I'll be chatting with.

Paul Sorrell is a writer, editor and photographer who has edited several publications, including Murihiku - The Southland Story. His latest project was to write the recently released Fleur's Place, the book about the popular Moeraki restaurant and its vibrant owner Fleur Sullivan. We'll talk about Fleur's Place, and the art of bringing together chefs, photographers and personalities in a project to create a book.

Martha Morseth is a writer, poet and playwright who has had a collection of poetry published - Staying inside the Lines, as well as Yeah, a book of stories for teenagers, and Let's Hear it for the Winner, a book of three plays. Her new collection of short stories for teenagers, A cut of unreal, has just been released and is a mix of ghost and science fiction stories.
We'll talk about the fun of writing about cutting edge technology and ghosts, and also about seeing her play The Trials and Tribulations of Emily performed on stage last year by St Hilda's Collegiate School.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

So Phryne

Cocaine Blues

By Kerry Greenwood

I here by announce I have started a new addiction - Phryne Fisher mysteries. I had been warned, people had told me I'd enjoy it so much I'd have to have more. They were oh so right.

For those not in the know, Phryne Fisher redefines elegance, intelligence and quick-wit in 1920's Melbourne. She is a sleuth who can pull together a mystery, and an outfit with impeccable taste. You can't help but love her, and the various waifs and strays she pulls in for the ride.

I don't know of any other crime fighters that can drive a racing car, fly and discuss the ins and outs of aeronautic engineering, tango like the devil and dress to kill, other than Bond, James Bond, but Phryne's far more stylish and fun. And Phryne would eat James for dinner.

Cocaine Blues is the first of the Phryne Fisher Mysteries, and I'll be heading down to the University Book Shop for more!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Death by Stephen King

A few months ago I entered a competition for Stephen King's upcoming short story collection Just After Sunset. I like entering competitions, because, hey, who doesn't like getting free stuff. I'm fairly lucky too - my strike rate is pretty good. This one was in conjunction with the Sunday Star-Times and Sky Television.

In this competition, as well as the much anticipated new book, the prize pack contained a little reference to also winning a copy of the Stephen King books which had made it onto screen. At the time I thought that would be a nice little bonus, but it was the short story collection I was really lusting after.

Well, lo and behold, I won the thing! Very excited. But the gratification had to be delayed as Just After Sunset was embargoed until November. But, the lovely lady said, we'll send you the other books now. Enjoy! I thought, excellent, that will be 7 or 8 books. I slightly underestimated. A little box arrived with, wait for it, twenty-seven, yes, twenty-seven Stephen King novels.

That more than filled up the new bookshelf.

Anyway, this is all a longwinded way of saying that Just After Sunset has just this moment arrived with the courier. It seems like a happy reward for having to deal with snow on the car when I went out this morning.

A nice chilling way to ward off the chill.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Nursing Home Murder

by Ngaio Marsh

Dunedin threw one of those crazy spring days where we had snow in November, and it's still snowing. It was the perfect kind of a day to curl up with a good book.

When I first saw the title The Nursing Home Murder, I had visions of a murder happening in a old-folks home, but no, way back when it was the term used for a private hospital. In this book the murder takes place during the emergency operation for acute appendicitis of Derek O'Callaghan, the home secretary. Derek doesn't come out of it alive and considering there are a number of people in the operating room who have made threats against his life, questions get asked. The mode of murder - a drug overdose, so being an ex-pharmacist this book was right up my alley.

Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn is on the case, and I have to say I warmed to him, far more in this book than Enter a Murderer, where I found him irritating. Also in this book the only theatrics were those you'd expect during an operation - no actors, thank heavens.

It seemed a much calmer book than the last and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Next on my list on the Ngaio Marsh Challenge is Death in Ecstasy, but seeing as I'm having difficulty tracking down a copy - none in the second-hand stores around here and the library only has the talking book variety, it may take a while.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

All's Phryne in the end.

I went into the University Book Shop today to find Fleur Beale's My Life of Crime, but alas they didn't have it in stock. Not one to waste an opportunity I took a little look around to see what new books they had in stock, and courtesy of the evil and enticing way of booksellers, I fell victim to one of those cardboard display stands which they fill chocka full of the offerings of a featured author.

I know, I know, the words gullible, or weak-willed, or impulse shopper apply here, and yes, I'm a marketer's dream target, but in my defence, it was a very pretty display, and how could a girl possibly walk past an entire stand of Phryne Fisher novels? For a start, it would have been unquestionably rude.

I've heard so much about Kerry Greenwood's fabulous Phryne that I decided it was time I found out what all the fuss was about. So I've started at the beginning with Cocaine Blues, and after a few G&T's and a good read, I'll tell you what I think.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Vintage video

The NZ on Screen website is proving to be a gold mine of video treasures, and thanks to Pamela Gordon for pointing out this one for me.

Dame Ngaio Marsh documentary

A documentary about internationally acclaimed crime-writer and Shakespearean director, Dame Ngaio Marsh. It contains an interview with Marsh in her later years interspersed with comments from former students and friends, and re-enactments from some of her novels. It is one of three documentaries made to mark International Women's Year (1975) - the second is about Sylvia Ashton-Warner, and the third Janet Frame.

Watching it this afternoon gave me a great feel for this woman, and what an amazing sense of drama she had. And then there was her voice, deep and rich and listening to her speak, and laugh, I could easily imagine the fun she had writing her murder mysteries. It quite gave me the chills to see her in the flesh - the good chills, that is.

The video concentrates more on her life in the theatre than her life of crime, but it still gives some insight into Ngaio the writer. The timing of finding this treasure is perfect, with me being at the beginning of my Ngaio Marsh Challenge.

I hope there are other video gems out there that will come to light.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Two Little Boys

by Duncan Sarkies.

I'm in a real quandary with this book. It is very rare I find a book I just don't enjoy, and oddly enough, I feel guilty if I don't like a book, especially one by a New Zealand writer, as I feel somehow I'm letting the side down.

But the simple fact of the matter is I didn't warm to this one. I loved the idea, someone accidentally runs over a Norwegian backpacker, panics somewhat, makes a number of very bad decisions, not the least of them being roping in his old mate to help him clean up the mess, and it all spirals down hill for them from there.

I fear it was too blokey for me. I could handle a few chapters of blokishness, but after a while it wore thin and reminded me of a flatmate from my Thames days and his sidekick who probably were daft enough to do a few of the things mentioned, especially under the influence of some of the substances mentioned. Yes, I did find parts of it very funny, so it wasn't all lost on me, but overall, it wasn't my cup of tea.

In saying all this, I recall from when the book came out there were plenty of good reviews and people found it hilarious. So there is a big audience out there who will love this book.

So apologies, Duncan. Being a writer I know how much you put into a novel, and like I said, I feel bad for not liking it, but hey, if you can't be honest in a review on your own blog, when can you be, and after all, it's not like I'm The Listener or anything, it's just the skewed view of one conservative housewife from Dunedin.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Writer's block be gone!

And to help banish it, the kind folk at iTunes have released a new friend...

iStop WritersBlock

This is what they say...

iStop WritersBlock is an application that helps writers with writers block. All you have to do is hit the Random Plot button, and you have a new twist or plot to help you get through your case of writers block.

The timing couldn't be more perfect for some as the have a "special discount during NaNoWriMo"

So there you go folk, your computer can now have a Random Plot Button all for $1.29 US - what fun!

Friday, October 31, 2008

The bedside table... groaning under the weight of books I want or need to read in November.

Currently reading:

Two little boys by Duncan Sarkies

The blurb goes thus: When Nige runs over a Norwegian backpacker while attempting to save petrol, his life really turns to shit. he chucks the body in a nearby road works and runs to his best mate of fifteen yers, Deano. Trouble is, Deano's not really the guy you should turn to in a crisis. This off-kilter tale of male camaraderie is a bizarre debarcle from start to thrilling finish.

The Nursing Home Murder by Ngaio Marsh

A Career in Crime: Inside information from leading Women Writers.

On the pile to read:

Ngaio Marsh: Her life in Crime by Joanne Drayton

High Country Lark by Neville Peat

Edge: A cut of unreal by Martha Morseth

Poor Man's Gold: The diary of Reuben Radcliffe, Northland, 1899-1900 by Kath Beattie

The Midnight Choir by Gene Kerrigan

And somehow, I'm sure there will be more...