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...