Friday, May 30, 2008

We sure love those books...

I'm still basking in the delight of the treasures I found at the Regent 24-hour Book Sale. Now the knowledge that I helped to contribute towards the $103,ooo raised by the sale makes it all feel even better. Glad to be of help, as I'm sure are all the Dunedinites, and out-of-towners who flocked to this annual bibliophile pilgrimage. Always pleased to do my civic duty.

This year's proceeds are earmarked for a new pulley system for the stage, so what props go up, stay up, and those who need to can fly...

This morning's grabbing headline:

"Fined for assault with a hedgehog."

I'm sure it wasn't much fun for the teenager, or the hedgehog.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Killer Lines

I've been thinking about first lines, and how they drag a reader further into the book and entrap them. So, as another unique way to procrastinate from actually writing, I surveyed some of the crime fiction books on my shelves (and piled on the floor, if I'm honest) and came up with the ones I liked the most, from the genteel, to the stop you dead in your tracks.

I now present the Vanda Symon, Killer Lines Awards (feel free to argue).

Drum roll please...

* The Gentle Start Award goes to Alexander McCall Smith and The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.

"Mma Ramotswe had a detective agency in Africa, at the foot of Kgale Hill. These were its assets: a tiny white van, two desks, two chairs, a telephone, and an old typewriter. Then there was a teapot, in which Mma Ramotswe - the only lady private detective in Botswana - brewed redbush tea.

You have to love a novel thats starts with an inventory and acknowledges the importance of the teapot.

* The Too Much Information Award goes to Simon Beckett for The Chemistry of Death.

"A human body starts to decompose four minutes after death. Once the encapsulation of life, it now undergoes metamorphoses. It begins to digest itself."


* The Stop You Dead Award goes to Ian Rankin for Exit Music

"The girl screamed once, only the once, but it was enough."

You got my attention.

* The Shudder Award goes to Arnaldur Indridason for Silence of the Grave

"He knew at once it was a human bone, when he took it from the baby who was sitting on the floor chewing it."

Not a happy mental image, thanks.

And lastly...

* The Sass Award goes to Janet Evanovich for Metro Girl

"Just because I know how to change a guy's oil doesn't mean I want to spend the rest of my life on my back, staring up his undercarriage."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Pav for breakfast

One of the parts I loved about the fabulous Pavlova with everything session at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival was when the panelists were asked their favourite memories associated with the mighty pavlova. This, of course, got me thinking about my childhood memories of pavlova.

Pavlovas were birthday and Christmas treats, and I have fond memories of lining up in the kitchen to watch mum's old Kenwood mixer do its thing, and that wonderful smell. No, not the sweet smell of the sugar and egg whites and vinegar, I'm talking about the smell of the hot engine oil from the old Kenwood. It flicked out random spatters of it that would occasionally land as a black fleck on the glossy pink surface of the beating meringue. It didn't seem to make any difference to the end product, in fact, perhaps it was the key secret ingredient that made Mum's pav's such a hit.

My other fond memory is the Christmas tradition, started by one of my brothers, of seeing who was first up on boxing day to have left over pavlova for breakfast. (That was assuming there was any left after the Christmas day gluttony). Mum didn't seem to mind, after all, a hearty breakfast is essential, according to the dietitians.

All this talk of Pavlovas, besides making me salivate, leads me on to the second book I reviewed on Dunedin Diary last week. Here's my notes.

The Pavlova Story by Helen Leach.

If ever a dessert begged a book, the pavlova is it, and Helen was the one with the knowledge to do it. The Pavlova Story is no light and fluffy read, but it isn't an academic tome. There is a lot of detail, but I think the author has found the right balance to do this story justice.
The book covers the fascinating history of the development of the pavlova, or pavlovas, there were three variants.

One of the delightful side effects of researching it are the stories of the social history of recipes and recipe books, particularly the local fund raising cook books. As a reader, I found this side of things fascinating. I always thought a recipe was a recipe, but this book shows how they evolve through time as a result of individual experimentation and social setting. The section on the effects of the war was particularly interesting. It was also great to see that home cooks ruled and set the trends in culinary design, more so than restaurant chefs and food scientists.

I found this a very interesting book to read from the standpoint of someone interested in food, and also interested in social history. It contains the recipes for the main pavlova variants mentioned, although, and I know I'm biased, I still think my Nana's is the best.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Between the Covers

One of the pleasures that has come about from being a crime writer and radio show host was being invited to do a monthly book review slot with the alluring title Between the Covers on Channel 9 Television's Dunedin Diary show. The show is hosted by the charming Dougal Stevenson, and is unashamedly Dunedin-centric.
So not only do I get to enjoy a chit-chat with Dougal, I get to review books I like by local authors. And I should mention here that I choose books I am sure to like. I think life is too short, and a writer's work too precious to trash, and even if I didn't like it, I'd find something constructive to say and suggest an audience who would. That's all part of being a grown up.
So on occasion I'll post my notes of what I would have said in the review if it all went perfectly and I didn't get nervous, and tongue tied or if Dougal didn't ask too many questions, or my brain actually worked properly in my three minutes of fame.

Digging for Spain by Penelope Todd

Penelope is better known as a Young adult and teen fiction writer, who has been a finalist in the NZ Post Children's Book Awards on many occasions. This is quite a departure from her fiction. Digging for Spain is part travel memoir, part autobiography, part confessional and the subtitle, a writer's journey, describes it aptly.
Penelope spent time on a writer's and artists fellowship at Can Serrat in Spain, and her experiences there give the framework for this book. It was a time for reflection on her journey as a person over several years as well as a time to immerse in writing. In this book she is unflinchingly honest about her struggles and internal debates on writing, and faith, and love, and reclaiming her identity as an individual amongst the constant demands of being a mother and wife. This honesty really resonated with me.
I found this to be a book that opened up questions of my own writing, and faith, and love, and it is one I will need to mull over and ponder and read again.
It isn't all serious, serious though. Penelope's prose is colourful and interesting and she has a particular way with words. I would recommend this as a must read for anyone who is or has questioned their life, the worth and direction of their life and what they believe in.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Oh, the treasures I found.

The Dunedin Municipal clock has struck midday, which means the Regent 24 hour book sale is over for another year. I managed two forays, one at 1.00pm yesterday which was insanely busy - an hour after kick-off, and I had to utilise my best shuffling and gentle elbowing skills to get near the books. The other was at a more, ahem, unseemly hour, but I finally found a time where it's reasonably quiet, even if it was 3.30am. Yes, I know, don't ask.
Ah, but it was worth it. Apparently there were 300 000 books this year. I relieved them of thirty.

Most notable treasures:

The Eye of the Lizard by M.H. Holcroft. (Reed 1960) It has the most amazing Tuatara on the cover, by Dennis Beytagh, as featured in Cover Up: The Art of the Book Cover in New Zealand. And yes, I'm the kind of girl who'll buy a book for the cool cover. (And a book on book covers.)

Butterworths Crimes Act 1961 : Thought it could be handy in my line of work.

The pile of books that made the kids very happy.

The Infantry Pioneers Pocket Book. How could I possibly resist a book with the dire warning on the cover "NOT TO BE PUBLISHED. The information given in this document is not to be communicated, either directly or indirectly, to the press or to any person not holding and official position in His Majesty's Service." Oooh. I now have the plans to build blockhouses, gun emplacements, trenches and tank-proof obstacles. All very handy for a girl in the suburbs.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

24 hours of bookie heaven

Tomorrow is the day all Dunedin bookophiles have been anticipating all year - the famous and fabulous Regent 24 hour Book Sale, kicking off at midday. Picture a theatre, pick a big one, cover the stage with trestle tables groaning with books, line the front and the aisles too. Heck, why not put some upstairs in the dress-circle. Toss in 24 hours of entertainment, masses of treasure hunters and you get the picture.
It doesn't matter when you go, it's busy. I've been at 10.00pm - packed. I've been at 4.30am, still busy - I don't know why, you'd have to be a nutter to be out at that hour of the morning. I'm still deciding on my strategy to beat the crowds this year - maybe several quick assaults.
Last year's best treasure was the 1971 New Zealand boy's book of crafts, pets, sports and hobbies, compiled by Anthony Harvey and Peter Snell. It makes The Dangerous Book for Boys look a yawn. It's provided endless entertainment for the boys, young and old.
What treasures will this year's sale reveal?
I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Annual leave

So, I've started a blog, Hasn't everyone? And I've never been one to buck a trend. I don't profess to being particularly witty, and god knows I'm not very profound, but I will attempt to post my thoughts on life, the universe and the latest book I'm reading.

What better way to kick off than with the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. I took annual leave from the family, removed my super-mummy outfit and slid on my Vanda costume, not even my Vanda-Woman one, just the plain ole Vanda costume and headed up to Auckland to wallow in all things literary.

There have been plenty of posts on other favourite blogs about the festival, so I shall keep it brief.


* The festival overall - great writers, fantastic venue and well run. Congrats to the organisers.
* Witi Ihimaera - he chatted, he read, he sang...
* Pavlova with everything - we all wanted seconds.
* Mo Hayder - Clever, witty and gorgeous.


* Some of the dodgy chairing. Please review your choices for next year, people.
* Ticket prices.

As to be expected, my luggage was several kilograms heavier on the return flight, and I'm not ashamed to say that I'm a writer groupie who likes to have her books personally autographed. So I returned home tired, nauseated (The flight home was interesting, including the bonus aborted at the last second landing at Dunedin Airport because of the fog, but that's another story), and happy, ready to face Mount Laundry and the real world.

Roll on next year.