Monday, September 29, 2008

In the sticks

We're off on holiday to Haast and Wanaka for a week and I'm being very brave and am leaving the computer at home, gulp.

So it's splendid isolation for a little bit and having to write with those archaic tools, pen and paper, if I have time between bush walks and strolls along beaches, those sort of hardships.

Adieu civilisation.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Ngaio Marsh Challenge

Inspired by the recent Joanne Drayton biography, Ngaio Marsh: Her life in Crime, and crime fiction addict Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise and her Agatha Christie reading challenge, I have decided to do the patriotic thing and undertake a Ngaio Marsh challenge. That is to read all of her mystery novels in the order they were published - 32 in total, thank you very much.

I haven't given myself a deadline for this accomplishment - I've got more sense, but lets be realistic here, 32 books, amongst everything else I have to read and want to read, and writing the odd novel, I could be a while.

To make it all official like, I've played with photoshop and made a little Ngaio Marsh Challenge Logo, and I'll have a dedicated place to archive challenge posts in the left hand side of this blog.

Challenges are always far more fun if other people are mad enough to join you, so if there's anyone else out there who'd like to keep me company, let me know in the comments, I'd be thrilled to have some fellow Marshers.

One of the fun things about this is going to be tracking down the books in the second-hand shops, and displaying the covers of the edition I get. Some of the covers I have already are fabulous, and some ugh, so I'll post the good, the bad and the ugly.

These are the first 5 titles on the hit-list:

A Man Lay Dead (London 1934; New York 1942);

Enter A Murderer (London 1935; New York 1942);

The Nursing Home Murder with Henry Jellett (London 1935, New York, 1941);

Death in Ecstasy. (London: 1936; New York,1941);

Vintage Murder (London: 1937; New York, 1940);

I have already had a head start of one, as I read A Man Lay Dead in July, so it's straight on to number 2: Enter a Murderer.

So I shall report back with reviews of each book, and a picture of the cover, (and no doubt a comment on it, if it's really bad.) Any fellow challengers, feel free to add your reviews to the comments too - it will be good to see what others think.

Wish me luck!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Stamping out Crime

Love crime fiction? Love stamps? Here's the website for you...

Detective Fiction on Stamps.

Amazing what you find when you're trolling around for something else on The Net. I was looking for a Ngaio Marsh picture and found, to my pleasure (I do like stamps) she featured on an eighty cent stamp in a series that also pictured New Zealand litterati Katherine Mansfield, James K Baxter and Bruce Mason.

Others who get the stamp treatment are Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie, who have been licked and sent all over the world. Edgar Allan Poe is there as well as a number of actors who have played detectives in film adaptations.

So there you are, a bit of fun for a Saturday morning.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Return of the Quiz Master

Last night was the mind-bender that is The Book Lovers' Quiz Night. Sixteen teams of bookophiles came along to the beautifully eighites decored Mornington Tavern to fight it out in the name of fun and NZ Book Month.

Dougal Stevenson was his usual charming and witty self, and more or less kept the teams under control. Who would have thought some of those normally mild-mannered book types would have such a competitive streak? (You know who you are...) But then, enticements of chocolate will bring out the feisty side of most people.

The dastardly questions were formulated by Jackie Ballantyne, and tested knowledge from Peter Rabbit to Booker prize winners.

Congratulations to the winning teams - there was only half a point in it at the top.

1st Libri Liberace
2nd The Remains of the Day
3rd Inbred (you only get names like this in Otago/ Southland)

Thanks too for the generosity of our sponsors:

The University Book Shop
Th Mornington Tavern
Longacre Press
Penguin New Zealand
Random House New Zealand
The Fortune Theatre
Dunedin Public Library.

The event was organised by the Otago Southland Branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors. Thanks to my helpers on the night - Jackie Ballantyne, David Ballantyne, Beverly Martens and Carolyn McCurdie, and of course greatest appreciation and thanks to Dougal - he's a star!

I would post photos on here, but my camera and my computer aren't talking. (My computer is a snob and doesn't talk to CDs of any form either, in fact it swallowed and won't relinquish the last one.) I'll post some the round about and long way later.

Good time had by all.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Too much temptation...

...and I've never been one to restrain myself.

The display stand at the University Book Shop had been beckoning, calling out, enticing me with all those lovely orange and white Penguin titles, the $12.99 price tag saying take one home, hell, take a couple.

Hmmm, I confess to five:

Truman Capote - In Cold Blood
Gabriel Garcia Marquez - Love in the Time of Cholera
Ken Kesey - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Patrick Suskind - Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Bill Bryson - Mother Tongue.


It's all your fault, Penguin.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House by Kate Summerscale.

This book recently won the 2008 Samuel Johnston Non-fiction Prize, and having finished it this morning, I understand what the fuss is about.

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher is not just an insight to a horrific nineteenth century crime, but also a look into the intricacies of life at that time.

The Kent Family, of Road Hill House , Wiltshire, wakes one morning in 1860 to discover the vicious murder of three year-old Saville Kent. The house had been secured for the night, so the only reasonable conclusion is that the crime was perpetrated by a member of the household - whether family, or staff. It is a crime which grips the nation in hysteria and every one has their theory.

Enter Mr Jack Whicher, of Scotland Yard, one of a new breed of policing the public is still very suspicious of - the detective. Whicher comes to his own conclusion, which causes an uproar, and leaves him the target of hatred and derision. Whicher in a way commits the ultimate crime in classist Britain - a lower-class man examining and then accusing someone in a middle-class family.

This is where Summerscale's book is fascinating reading, and a great resource for a writer looking at that period in history. She uses what could be seen as mundane daily detail to show a graphic picture of what life was like in 1860's Britain for the middle classes, their staff and local community.

She is also very detailed in her recording of Jack Whicher's undertakings, his methods of detection and the stigma and social prejudice against him and the new phenomenon of detectives.

Another fascinating aspect that Summerscale brings into the book is the effect the case had on fiction writing at the time, and the inspirations drawn from Whicher and his ilk by writers of detective fiction and murder mysteries. She cites Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Henry James as examples.

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher rises far beyond a detailed look into the findings and reasoning behind a heinous crime. It gives a unique perspective into the social climate at the time and the effect the case, the detectives and the characters had on literature.

It's compelling reading.

Bookslut has an interesting interview with Kate Summerscale here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Book Lovers' Quiz Night

It's NZ Book Month and to celebrate the occasion The Otago Southland NZ Society of Authors have organised another Book Lovers' Quiz Night.

You get all the fun of a pub quiz, but the questions are about books - no rugby questions, no annoying questions about celebrity starlets. Instead we'll test your book knowledge on anything from your Dickens to your Dr Seuss, your Tolkien to your Twain.

Our Quiz Master extraordinaire is Dougal Stevenson, who will entertain as well as keep you all in check (we all know what these book people are like when let out in public!)

Come along and join us this Thursday the 25th of September, downstairs at the Mornington Tavern, Mailer St, Dunedin at 7.30pm.

Teams of up to four, $20.00 entry per team, and there will be plenty of prizes and raffles.

Register your team by emailing Jackie at jgb2atxtradotcodotnz (replacing the words at and dot with the appropriate symbols so poor Jackie doesn't get spammed by spambots!) Or if you can't manage a team, but want to join the fun anyway, bundle along and we'll find a team for you.

Join us. It will be a great night out.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The weird and wonderful...

...bits from the news. A day late, courtesy of the birthday party and associated mayhem.

Big-budget poo?

Considering that it costs the police here around $5000.00 to get a DNA analysis done, is this money down the toilet? Brings new meaning to the term poo patrol.

City uses DNA to fight dog poop.

And speaking of being in the poo:

Here's an inventive place to try and throw someone off the scent. Nice idea, but in the end, it stank.

High-speed driver hid in port-a-loo.

And here's another word, or two... can legitamitely use in your writing, now they are recognised as proper English by the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang.

Bogans, petrolheads join official slang ranks.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Let them eat cake.

We have survived the birthday party of Mr Eight-year old, very soon to be nine-year old. All concerned are tired, but happy.

We went Ten-pin bowling with eight kiddies, then home for a pizza lunch and the obligatory amounts of chippies and sugar.

I can't claim all of the glory for the cake - Mr six-year old baked the cake, I only decorated it, but I think it's rather cool, and perfect for a birthday boy who is nature and conservation mad.

For those not in the know, the little fellow on the cake is a Hoiho, or yellow-eyed penguin, a local of these parts, and a critter that a lot of people are doing a lot of good work to ensure their survival, including The Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust.

Mr Birthday boy and a few of his friends got to dress up as penguins and look intolerably cute while doing their thing for conservation week and the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust last weekend. They waddled around Dunedin's Octagon handing out information and getting a lot of photos taken with tourists.

So, another party done for another year. Once again I marvel at how the years have flown, and then there's the realisation the next birthday for him will involve double figures! Next I have to deal with Mr Six-year old's party which is a long way away, ie. next year, and he's already planned it, including the menu!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Do we need stormy weather?

One of the many things I do, when I should instead be writing Containment, book number three, is analyse why I'm having such difficulty with this one. With both Overkill and The Ringmaster, when I sat at the computer the words came, sometimes they gushed, and on odd occasion avalanched onto the screen in front of me. With Containment it is more a trickle, and some days even that's an overstatement.

But why the difference? I didn't experience the literary constipation of the dreaded second novel that some seem to suffer. Do I have it with the third? Well no. I'm beginning to think the driving force behind my work has had more to do with my emotional climate than self-doubt and second guessing.

Let me explain.

The period in my life when writing Overkill was chaotic, and fraught. Chaotic because I had very young children and they bring with them a level of joyous chaos that turns your life on its head in ways you could never imagine. Thrown into that mix was a move to another city and Hubby going back to university which meant a big change and a couple of years with no income. All this was good and positive and exciting. But it was also a period of overwhelming grief. We didn't have an annus horribilus we had two, with two of the lovely men in our lives sickening and dying of cancer. Overkill became a form of escape, a way to temporarily blot out what was happening in the real world. In many ways it became a crutch. When I re-read it, I can see and feel the underlying depth of emotion I was feeling at that time. It channeled into Sam's feelings too.

The Ringmaster was the opposite, mostly. When writing this book it was on a wave of almost euphoria. The skies were clear, no one was sick, no one was dying, life had moved past that awful period. It was still underpinned by that deep sense of loss, but the outlook was bright. The words flowed.

Today, all is steady. Life is good, drama free, beautifully ordinary. And don't get me wrong, after the previous years we've had, ordinary is great - I love ordinary, and in no way am I wishing to tempt fate here. But I fear it's not that good for my writing. I don't have that all-encompassing emotional impetus I had with Overkill and The Ringmaster. I'm not needing my writing as a form of escape, or an expression of euphoria. Do writers need stormy weather?

Whether we do or not, I guess it's time for me to be a grown up and tell myself this is what I do, I love to write, it's what I've wanted to do since childhood, and now, through good times, and bad, and plain ole ordinary, I just have to do it.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Brain fuzzed

My brain is off-line today, so let's have some classical music instead...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Space Gum

Last night I had the pleasure of being the MC for the launch of Dunedin Writer, and dear friend, Tania Roxborogh’s latest children’s novel, Space Gum. I’m not sure if she asked me to do this because I’m her friend, or because I had the loudest voice and am good at bossing around a crowd. Whatever her motivation, I was chuffed to have the honour.

The Dunedin Public Library’s Dunningham suite was abuzz with Tania’s friends and family, fellow writers and what seemed like most of her students from Columba College. It was a very warm spring evening and the library had thrown open the doors to a large and lovely fourth floor balcony I didn’t even realise was there. To have so many children and teenagers present and so obviously appreciative of Tania’s work (her books, and on them as pupils,) made it a special evening.

Space Gum was launched by Trish Brooking, a senior lecturer at the Otago University College of Education. Tania mentioned later in her speech that a number of the pranks involved in Space Gum, of which there are many, came from examples bragged about by College of Ed staff, including the infamous farting car. (You’ll have to read the book)

Barbara Larsen of Longacre Press also spoke, talking of the need to capture life-long readers. Longacre’s dedication to publishing great fiction for children and young adults is surely helping there. It was great to look out across a roomful of avid, young readers.

Here are the notes for my introduction to the evening, minus the being bossy bits.

Welcome everyone and on behalf of Tania, the Dunedin Public Library and Longacre Press I’d like to thank you for coming out this evening to celebrate the launch of Tania Roxborogh’s latest children’s novel Space Gum. This is the second time this year we have had the pleasure of gathering and celebrating with Tania the wonderful achievement of seeing one of her writing projects come to fruition. Tania is one of these extraordinary people in life who manages to lead a very full life, and I mean very, yet manages to achieve that thing so many people dream of - to write and have published books. And not just any books. This is where Tania’s versatility shines through. She has written books to educate, books to entertain, books to inspire, books to help us to help our kids, and books our kids love to read. Tania has managed to do this in her very busy world while also devoting herself to the things so important in her life; her family here tonight, Phillip, Mackenna and Brianna, her lovely doggies, her students at Columba College where she teaches full-time, her church and her friends. Tania is the poster girl for the fact that if you make the time, make that appointment with yourself to write because it means that much to you, you can achieve your goals. The fact that we are here tonight is a testament to making time, and to the value of passion and dogged determination.

I read and loved Space Gum, but I’m not an eight-year old boy. Luckily I had to hand one I’d prepared earlier. After hearing the readings at the launch, and chuckling his way through the farting car bit, he grabbed my copy of Space Gum off me, plonked himself in a chair (in the semi-upside down and squiggling around very active fashion that boys do) and proceeded to devour the book.

Here are Mr Eight-year old’s comments on Space Gum:

I liked the pranks, they were really funny, especially the farting car and the toilet seat.

I liked how Carl's mystery solving skills were put to the test.

I liked Coca the dog and I liked how Carl's mum and Jenny got doing pranks too.

It was a really good book.

There, out of the mouth of an eight year old.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Essay, essay, essay. What have we here, then?

I've always been a big fan of the essay - no, not the kind that you freak out over at two o'clock in the morning and it has to be in by nine, but the thoughtful writings of commentators on subjects of interest. It seems to be a declining art-form, which is a shame.

It isn't a form of writing I've had a crack at yet, although each time entries are called for for the Landfall Essay Competition, I get a little surge of inspiration, I just haven't acted on it.

The last couple of days have brought to my attention a number of projects involving essays.

When I was at The Press Christchurch Writer's Festival I was delighted to hear Elizabeth Knox say that she had a volume of essays coming out soon. She said they were of a more personal nature, rather than commenting on the universe and everything. I shall be lined up to buy one. (I have Brian Turner's recent Into the Wider World: A Back Country Miscellany on my next to the bed, hope to get to soon, reading pile)

Detectives Beyond Borders drew my attention to a new project by Irish crime writer Declan Burke, where he's invited Irish crime writers to write essays on aspects of crime writing. Now that's a book I'll be lined up for. You can read about the project on Declan's blog Crime Always Pays.

I've always enjoyed Australian Clive James' essays, and have a couple of his tomes in my bookshelf. Mysteries in Paradise drew my attention to this rather rambling essay from Clive on Crime Fiction.

If anyone can recommend any modern day essayists they've enjoyed, please do. I haven't got enough to read. Hah!

Monday, September 15, 2008

When will there be good news?

I mentioned in an earlier posting that hearing Kate Atkinson read from When will there be good news lent an extra humour to this book, which I finished reading last night.

It is a terrific story, but what really stands out is the characters. From Reggie - a sixteen-year old who is wise beyond her years, yet innocent and like a little terrier, determined that people are going to take seriously her concerns about the sudden disappearance of her employer and friend Dr Joanna Hunter; to Joanna herself, a child survivor of her family massacre and now potential victim.

This is a Jackson Brodie novel, but Jackson isn't the star player here, in fact he is incapacitated for much of the novel. When he does get involved, he's injured and not one hundred percent. We also get re-acquainted with Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe, whose new found domesticity is not sitting well, especially when Jackson comes back into her life.

The author's skill and the pleasure it brings comes from the interweaving of these stories, the intersections, some not even apparent until the very end. Who are victims, who are survivors, and whose mettle will shine through?

For me the star is Reggie, her tenacity and straight forward approach to life make this novel shine. I enjoyed it immensely and I hope we meet up with Reggie again someday.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sunday silly stuff

The weird and wonderful bits from this week's news...

A sugar high?

Mum always said too many sweets were bad for you.

Hallucinogenic chocolates doom Berlin Sweet Shop:

Dying for a ride in a Porsche?

If you're going to go, you may as well go in style.

German emergency services opt for luxury.

A bit of a balls-up!

Oh, the difference a letter makes. So next time the teenager tells you learning to spell properly is a load of old b*llocks...

Sign slip leads to street name 'red list'

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Last Word...

...on The Press Christchurch Writer's Festival. These are based entirely on what I got to see and are completely biased.

Best insights into a different country and culture: Xinran Xue and Toby Eady. I gained a new appreciation of China and the Chinese from these two quite different, yet complimentary perspectives.

Biggest pleasant surprise: The gorgeous banter between sisters Elizabeth and Sara Knox.

Best curmudgeon : Hamish Keith. I could have happily listened to more of his interesting talk on the New Zealand art world.

Best Crime Panel : Ours (I had to put that in, didn't I?!)

Best new top in a Crime Panel: Vanda Symon.

Best dressed : Joanne Drayton at an Evening with Ngaio Marsh - I want that red coat!

Best shoes : A tie - Kate Mosse's platform sneakers, and Donna Robertson's red boots.

Loudest panelist : Joe Bennett.

Best comedic timing by a Chair : Chris McVeigh - talking with Mark Billingham (see earlier post)

Biggest Bravo : Dame Fiona Kidman standing in a public forum and saying the Montana judges made a major error in judgement by only picking four finalists. (Particularly pertinent after hearing Kate Mosse say she advises the Orange Prize Judges to think about the message they send if they do not select a full complement of finalists.)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Beyond the Labyrinth?

Another Kate I was very excited to discover was making an appearance at The Press Christchurch Writer's Festival was Kate Mosse.

I loved her novel Labyrinth, which I'd brought as soon as it was released in New Zealand. After reading it I'd chatted with the family about it and my boy's were fascinated and excited as their favourite game is Carcassonne. We had to go look it up on the internet and there were a lot of Carcossonne style Lego castles being made that week, as well as a lot of the game being played.

I enjoyed listening to Kate talk about her discovery of the town and her instant love affair with the Languedoc region. Her passion for and knowledge of the area (she has a home there) shows through in Labyrinth and her descriptions of the place. She said in the summer when the town is chokka with tourists it is probably the closest approximation to what it would have actually been like in older times, crammed full of people and all their noise and bustle.

She is a very thorough researcher and liked to complete all of her research before even starting on a work. I think it was 5 years worth that went into Labyrinth. (I should have taken notes during the festival rather than relying on my rather dodgy memory) Of course then the difficulty is ensuring the research and too much much information doesn't hinder or strangle the story. I know when reading Labyrinth I felt I learned a lot about the Cathars and struggles in the name of religion of the time, but I felt she achieved the right balance of story-telling and background. I cared about the characters and had to know what would happen next!

The audience had quite a treat really, she was a very warm and engaging speaker and the hour was over in a flash. We were all pleased to hear her say she was a huge Ngaio Marsh fan, and crime fiction fan, and had read every one of her books. She went out to the Ngaio Marsh House open day and thought it remarkably similar to Agatha Christie's home.

Kate and her husband teach creative writing, and it was clear this was a passion for Kate. She was very generous with sharing her thoughts on many aspects of writing.

I also saw her in the panel Oranges aren't the only prize, as she was a founder of the Orange Prize for literature. It was fascinating to hear of the genesis of this prize and why it was set up, and to counter some of the criticisms that it is sexist by being eligible for women writers only. Again she was a very open and generous speaker.

One of the highlights of the festival for me was an impromptu opportunity to go out for a wine (or two) with the girls - the girls being Kate Mosse, Dame Fiona Kidman and Mary McCallum. Lovely.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Good News - delivered in person.

One of The Press Christchurch Writer's Festival sessions I anticipated the most was When Will There Be Good News? An hour with Kate Atkinson. I've been a fan of her Jackson Brodie novels, and am now 3/4 of the way through the latest.

One of the most interesting things I got out of the session was the immense difference hearing the writer read from their book makes. I was several chapters in at this point, and was enjoying the book, and finding it relatively dark. But when Kate Atkinson read from it in the tone and voice she had intended, it made me recognise an almost tongue in cheek humour that my internal reading voice had missed. It has quite a wicked humour. My brain has borrowed her reading voice for the rest of the novel.

As a little aside, when at the Auckland Readers and Writers Festival I heard Heather O'Neill read from Lullabies for Little Criminals, and her voice lent Baby an extra vulnerability my head voice would not have.

This goes to illustrate, that an individual reader brings a different viewpoint with them to a novel, depending on their own character, life experiences and state of being at the time. What the reader garners from it may be nothing like what was intended by the author.

One of the highlights of the talk was hearing Kate Atkinson, international best selling superstar say out loud that she gets bored! Especially if she has plotted out a book and has no surprises to enjoy - which explains why her writing process tends to be more 'lets see what happens' rather than planned to within a inch of its life. That was such a refreshing statement to hear. It was like it gave a whole raft of writers permission to admit to themselves, and others, that this writing business can be dull, tedious, a bit of a chore on some days. But despite this, we plug on, and anticipate the days when the writing is an adventure, euphoric, a high.

So I shall too say out loud - sometimes I feel bored. There, done it, I feel better now.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

On Air

Today's radio show day, with Write On, the show I produce and host for the Otago Southland NZSA live at noon.

Hills AM Community Radio has had a bit of a facelift and henceforth shall be known as Toroa Radio. The reason for the re-branding? We'll be coming at you FM soon, and technology has found us. The station now has live streaming radio, so those of you elsewhere on the planet who might like to listen in can do so via the website. The listen live link is in the top left hand corner. Be warned though, it's a little moody and doesn't always behave.

Podcasting is a new fandangled thing too, and a number of interviews are there to look at. Click here to go to the Write On podcasts page for several archived shows. I'll link in the podcasts to the Write On webpage after each show.

Today's show is with guests Tania Roxborogh and Joanna Woods.

Tania Roxborogh is a writer, teacher, family gal and all round very busy person. She had a new book, Kids Behaving Bravely: Raising a resilient Child, launched earlier this year. This is a follow up to No it’s not OK: How to stop the cycle of bullying released last September.
We talk about how parents can instil inner resilience in their children, so they can cope with what life throws at them.
Tania also has a children's novel Space Gum to be released later this month.

Joanna Woods is the author of three biographies. In 2005 she was the Research Fellow at the National and Turnbull Libraries where she did much of the research for her recent book Facing the Music: Charles Baeyertz and The Triad. The Triad was a journal devoted to literature, art, science and music that Charles Baeyertz established in Dunedin in 1893. We chat about The Triad, and Charles - an amazing and almost forgotten character from out past.

It's going to be a media day, as I'm doing a stint on Channel 9 Television's Dunedin Diary this evening to talk about New Zealand Book Month events.

I'll be ready for that glass of Sav tonight!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

On the Mark

Mark Billingham is a name in Crime fiction that is highly regarded in Britain and overseas, and just starting to gain momentum in New Zealand.

You can imagine my excitement when I first received an invitation to share a panel at the Christchurch Writer's Festival with him, and my relief that they had also included their local crime writer Paul Cleave (he's a lovely guy and its easy to relax around the locals). I was intrigued to read Mark was a stand-up comedian and on the day his humour set the tone for a laid back and interesting discussion. I have attended crime fiction panels at festivals that have been serious to the point of being maudlin, but ours certainly wasn't. Also, I thought Ursula Cheer did an excellent job as chair as she kept things on track and ensured all of the panelists had equal opportunity to have a say. It would have been easy to let Mark run with it, but she unobtrusively steered the conversation. I also think Mark would have been far too professional and kind to hog the limelight.

We agreed on many things - when asked the best advice to give budding crime writers, we all said, read, read and read some more. I said not to take yourself too seriously, but I think Mark thought I'd meant not to take writing too seriously. There's a big difference. I take writing very seriously, just not myself.

As the touch of oestrogen on the panel, and a mum with young children, I smiled when the men-folk said you must write every day. I said the reality of life for me (and for many women) is family comes first, and sick kiddies and life intervenes regularly, so all power to those who manage some writing everyday, I try, but it doesn't always work out as you plan.

An hour with Mark Billingham gave opportunity for more insight into the writer. It also brought the award for best comedic timing by a Chair person - Chris McVeigh was making a statement "The greatest, greatest" took one look over at Mark, who was doing a goofy grinny thing, then dropped in "disappointment"!

Speaking of comedy, Mark made the interesting point that crime fiction was just like doing a comedy routine, where you build up and prime the audience for the punch line, only the punch lines in crime fiction are a bit more grim.

I was also pleased to hear Mark echo my sentiment that gratuitous and overt violence in crime fiction is unnecessary, that the reader can come up with far more graphic mental images provided with a few cues than anything he could put on a page. He also echoed Ian Rankin's assertion that women crime writers are the worst offenders in this regard. I have to agree with them, present company excluded, of course.

Crime writing has always been seen as literary fiction's trashy, black sheep in the family cousin, the one we don't talk about or admit to, and Mark made the comment that the inclusion of Child 44 in the Booker long list was encouraging. But he also pointed out the truth of the situation that literary fiction is judged by its very best examples, and genre fiction by its very worst and that seems to be an inequality we are stuck with.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Christchurch Festi-Vale

T'is over, t'is over and I am sitting here, back home, at my computer musing on all the wonderful things from the weekend and contemplating attacking Mount Laundry. The boys had a lovely lads weekend here and I had a fantastic Vanda weekend up there, wallowing in the festival, meeting up with writer friends, making new writer friends, chatting with readers...what could be better?

Congratulations to the organisers for a fabulous event, and their encouragement and energy. The festival had a very happy buzz and I enjoyed the atmosphere and the variety of sessions for people to choose from.

My panel on Friday went well, with Mark Billingham and Paul Cleave, and yes, I didn't chicken out and I wore my new 'here I am' top. Alas there is no photographic evidence of it that I can point you to. I'm glad I wore something bright as it was hard to stand out on a stage with the hilarious Mr Billingham!

You can check out the panel summary on the Christchurch City Library's blog here, and their blog and reports on the entire festival here. Prior to the festival I'd also done a little interview for the library blog you can read here. (That got pretty herey, sorry) And I'll add another here for Bookman Beattie's festival reviews.

Before I left for the festival I went to visit my local pharmacist with a view to buying make-up (yes folk, I brought make up!) and asked him for something that would make me look young, pretty and intelligent. Well, after my session the Christchurch Library bloggers said I was "warm, intelligent, engaging and enthusiastic," so thanks Lloyd, it worked!

I'll post my thoughts on individual sessions over the next few days - I went to fifteen, which might explain why I felt a bit tired by the end of it - tired but happy.

I might also add that my luggage came home 3 kg heavier. I tried hard not to buy any books...

(Photo of myself, Maxine Alterio and Graham Beattie - courtesy of Graham)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Time for the Vanda Suit

Tonight I'm leaving, on a jet plane, (well, actually a turbo-prop,) but will be winging my way to Christchurch for The Press Christchurch Writer's Festival.

I get to shrug off the super-mummy suit, and slip on the Vanda Suit. The Vanda suit involves a new top I brought which is way out of my comfort zone, but I thought, heck, if I'm on a panel with male crime writers I may as well look feminine, and if I'm going to be on a stage, I may as well be visible. I had to take a friend along shopping to achieve this feat, otherwise I would have opted for the boring and conservative option. I thought if I mentioned the new top on the blog, then I can't chicken out of wearing it!

So I shall be off-line for a few days while I wallow in the festival, and enjoy a long weekend off-duty. Hubby's on Daddy duty, and I'm on fun duty.


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A mystery fit for Sherlock Holmes?

I read in my newspaper this morning that yet another film about Sherlock Holmes is in the pipeline. This time our intrepid sleuth is getting the Guy Ritchie treatment.

Robert Downey Jnr is taking the title role, and according to The Otago Daily Times, Russell Crowe is to be Dr Watson. Yes. Hmmm.

BUT when I went online to check on the gory details, it was nooo way, not Russell, Guy hasn't decided yet, that was just rumour and speculation (in a news paper, quel horreur, I thought they dealt in facts)

So we have a Sacha Baren Cohen/ Will Farrell combo coming our way, and now a Robert Downey Jnr/? version. The later is apparently going to be an all action affair, concentrating on Holmes' prowess as a swordsman and boxer.


Here's The Guardian article about it all.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Herald on Sunday reviews The Ringmaster

Due to Dunedin's vast physical isolation from the rest of the country, or at least Auckland, we can't get The Herald down here. We can get The Telegraph, from Britain, and papers from New York, but not The Herald. Hmmmm.

So thanks to Beattie's Book Blog for reproducing in full here the great review of The Ringmaster that appeared in The Herald on Sunday.

Cemetery Lake

Paul Cleave is one of the writers I get to share a stage with at The Press Christchurch Writer's Festival this weekend. I've just finished reading Cemetery Lake, which I have to say, I loved. Here's my thoughts...

Cemetery Lake by Paul Cleave

Private investigator Theodore Tate gets a heck of a lot more than he bargains for when an exhumation for a case brings to the surface, literally, more bodies. And when the body in the coffin isn’t the man whose name is carved on the stone, but that of a young woman, Tate’s past and present get thrown into turmoil.
The link with a case from his former life as a police detective leaves him unable to walk away from this without trying to make amends for past bad judgment, and to keep his own secrets hidden.
Life seems to spiral downwards at ever-increasing speed for Tate, and you can’t help but empathise for him and the increasingly difficult situations and self-destruction he gets himself into. You have to keep reading with an almost train-wreck fascination. Tate is wonderfully drawn character and turbulent narrator for what is a fast paced and exciting thriller.
This is the third, and I think best book from Cleave. It is once again set in Christchurch and I enjoyed the frequent references to and intersections with events from his first book the Cleaner.
Cleave has enjoyed success with his other books in Germany and Europe, and I’m certain this one will be the same. It’s great Kiwi crime-writing.
Highly recommended.

Monday, September 1, 2008

You know it's spring...


This strange warm sensation comes from a weirdly blue sky.

The temperature suddenly jumps five degrees and you don't think it's just in your head.

The Rhododendrons are starting to announce their arrival with bursts of colour.

You get to shuffle through yellow carpets of Kowhai flowers.

You get to laugh at groups of our native wood pigeon, Kereru, playing tag across the roof tops.

The cat changes her sleeping position from the winter retreat of the kid's bed, to the office.

You go to try on a few articles of summer clothing and say, oops, (or words to that effect.)