Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas themed books for the kids

I was having a peruse through the kids' book shelves for some Christmas themed books for the bedtime story and discovered we have quite an eclectic collection, so I thought I'd share some of the titles with you.

First on the list has to be a story of baby Jesus, because, lets face it, that's the whole point. We have a lovely nativity book called The Very First Christmas by Elena Templeton.

Marta and the Manger Straw is a heartwarming story of a Polish tradition by Virginia Kroll and illustrated by Dunedin local Robyn Belton.
Another poignant and war-time Christmas story is The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, by Gloria Houston and illustrated by Barbara Cooney.

A lovely gift for the boys from a friend a few years ago was The Upstairs Downstairs Bears at Christmas, by Carol Lawson.

Of course most kids, young and old, have come across How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss. Some have even subjected themselves to the movie.

No New Zealand Christmas would be complete without a Lynley Dodd story, and we have Slinky Malinki's Christmas Crackers. you can just imagine what trouble that cat gets up to with a Christmas tree to maraud.

Geronimo Stilton, mystery mouse journalist extroadinaire has a couple of Christmas time adventures, and we are in possession of A Christmas Tale, and A Very Merry Christmas.

And lastly, this one should come with a warning, as it comes with a CD, and I'm telling you now, there is only so much of it a girl can take when it's being played over, and over. Great fun in small doses is A Kiwi Jingle Bells, by Yvonne Morrison and Deborah Hinde. It's the kind of song that you can't get out of your head!

So there you go, a few Christmas books for kids, big and small.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tied up in Tinsel

by Ngaio Marsh

What would Christmas time be without reading an appropriately themed Whodunnit? I was also spurred on by Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise who challenged readers to report on their favourite Yuletide titles. This title was first published in 1972. My second-hand book shop find version is a 1980 Fontana edition.

Tied up in Tinsel starts with Roderick Alleyn's wife, Troy, as a guest at Halberd's Manor commissioned to paint a portrait of the Lord of the manor, Hilary Bill-Tasman. The manor's domestic arrangements are a tad unusual in that Hilary has staffed the house with former prison inmates, all of whom had been incarcerated for murder. Throw into the mix a pile of snobbish Christmas guests, an elaborate and beautifully pagan Christmas ritual and the disappearance of one of the guest's equally snobbish manservant, and you have a veritable feast of possible guilty parties. Alleyn is called in to help sort out the mess, and we all know he is not to be trifled with.

I greatly enjoyed this novel, and not just because of the fun and gripping story. I also enjoyed immensely Ngaio Marsh's writing. Her eye for description is delightful.

Take for example this passage in which she describes the first introduction of Cressida Tottenham.

"Cressida Tottenham was blonde and extremely elegant. She was so elegant that her beauty seemed to be a second consideration: a kind of bonus, a gloss. She wore a sable hat. Sable framed her face, hung from her sleeves and topped her boots. When her outer garments were removed she appeared to be gloved rather than clad in the very ultimate of expensive simplicity."

And this passage describing the storm swept, night-time manor:

"The voice of the storm was transmitted only through vague soughing noises, distant rattling of shutters and an ambiguous mumbling that broke out intermittently in the chimneys. There were characteristic creaks and percussion-like cracks from the old woodwork and, a long way off, a sudden banging that Alleyn took to be a bout of indigestion in Hilary's central heating system."

So I will highly recommend Ngaio Marsh's Tied up in Tinsel as a spot of festive murder mystery reading. It's a great story, beautifully written.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A favourite hits the top ten...

I was delighted to read the front page of my Otago Daily Times this morning and see that little old Octagon Books in Dunedin was judged one of the top ten second-hand book stores in the world by the Irish Independent News.

I love wandering in for a peruse among its well stocked shelves and have come home with many a treasure that just couldn't be passed by. From books on rocks and fossils, to Otago Maritime History, to Ngaio Marsh novels, to children's books, so many delights have come from that store.

To read the article and see what charmed the judge follow the link here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Frilly tea and festive things

If I've been a little quiet on the blog front, you can blame the silly season. Being someone who tends to be rather into the whole Christmas thing, I've been having a wonderful time doing all things festive, including baking up a storm.

Today was the last day of school for the little folk, and to celebrate the occassion I invited a number of the school mums here for a frilly afternoon tea, with the bone china teacups and pretty plates and serviettes. I made mini almond and pecan nut pies, Christmas mince pies and a chocolate Florentine slice, and the mums brought some delectable treats with them and we had a wonderful afternoon playing ladies before we all trooped down to the school and picked up the kids for the holidays.

Today was also my last book review time on Dunedin Channel 9 television's Dunedin Diary show. I got to choose my Christmas picks for the year.

As I said on the show, 2009 and has been a great year for Otago writers, with plenty of fabulous books being produced by the locals. I chose four local books which had come out recently that I thought anyone would be delighted to find under the tree on Christmas morning.

Children's book:

The Word Witch, by Margaret Mahy and illustrated by local boy David Elliot.

Non-fiction Book:

Glory Days by Dr Glam aka Ian Chapman - A great look at the glorious 1970's

Pictorial book:

Big Weather South by Dave Cull and photography by the Otago Daily Times. A graphic description of some of the, er, interesting weather we get down here in the south.


Banquo's Son by Tania Roxborogh. A gripping sequel to Shakespeare's Macbeth

Thursday, December 10, 2009


By Bill Bryson

I've been a long time fan of Bill Bryson's entertaining and informative style of writing. I've read a number of his travel adventures, and happily waded my way through The Short History of Nearly Everything. I was delighted to see he tackled the subject of Shakespeare.

My Shakespeare experiences include some uninspiring encounters with it at high school via King Lear, and Julius Caesar, and some far more satisfying encounters as a young adult with The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet and As You Like It. I also read a few Charles Lamb books.

Most of my adult excursions into Shakespeare territory have been via movies, and more recently reading Tania Roxborogh's wonderful sequel to Macbeth, called Banquo's Son.

But back to Bill - Bryson, not Shakespeare. This book was a fabulous and by Bill's standards, short read. I was aware of some of the debates around who wrote Shakespeare, by those academics who cannot for the life of them believe a bloke named Shakespeare actually wrote Shakespeare, so it was interesting to see the genesis of some of them.

The part that fascinated the most though was finding out William Shakespeare's contribution to the English language with neologisms. He made the first recorded use of 2035 words, including these common words we take for granted - critical, frugal, horrid, vast, hereditary, excellent, assassination, lonely, zany, unlock, untie.

He also introduced many phrases - one fell swoop, vanish into thin air, cold comfort, flesh and blood, tower of strength, to list a few.

So Shakespeare, by Bill Bryson turned out to be a delectable little read, and I feel I have a much better knowledge of that other Bill now.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Media Day Wednesday

Tomorrow is going to be one of those hectic ones, with the Write On Radio Show I produce and host at lunchtime, and then an appearance on Channel 9 Television's Dunedin Diary programme tomorrow at 5.00pm as well as the usual mad running around after kids end of year stuff and a Chrissy Do in the evening.

So in the interests of making life easy on myself I'm cheating a bit on the radio show.

The Write On Radio Show is broadcast from noon til 1.00pm on Wednesday the 9th of December (tomorrow for those of you reading this tonight, today for those of you reading this tomorrow!) It's on Toroa Radio 1575kHz AM for those of you who live in beautiful Dunedin, or live streamed from there website here for those of you who are unfortunate enough to live elsewhere.

For my first guest I'll be having...Me! And no, I'm not doing a monologue and droning away until everyone falls asleep. I'm invited a special guest interviewer - Tania Roxborogh. I hope she's nice to me.

My second guest is actually going to be a replay of an earlier interview in the year - I told you I was cheating. Anthony Tedeschi is the Rare Books Librarian at the Dunedin Public Library, and I chatted to him about the wonderful collections they have up there.

I'll just be glad if I survive tomorrow!

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Big Sleep

by Raymond Chandler

This was my first delving into the world of Raymond Chandler and Hard Boiled Crime Fiction, and what fun!

The Big Sleep is the first of the Private Investigator Philip Marlowe books, and he is working for the Sternwood family, dealing with a blackmailer that old man Sternwood would like to go away. Unfortunately for Mr Sternwood, he has two daughters who redefine the world trouble, and Marlowe is left wondering what he's got himself into.

I knew Chandler was the King of evocative description, but I was still grinning to myself at the unique way he puts things. Little statements like...

"He wore a blue uniform coat that fitted the way a stall fits a horse."

or this wonderful description of Carmen Sternwood:

"The girl and I stood looking at each other. She tried to keep a cute little smile on her face but her face was too tired to be bothered. It kept going blank on her."

I enjoyed my first outing with Philip Marlowe immensely and will most definitely be back for more.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


We have had a nocturnal visitor to our house via the cat door. Not only, did I discover had the thieving feline filched our moggies food, BUT it had also had a toilet stop. And where did it decide to relieve itself? Over the piles of fabric I have been crafting into new curtains.

We live in a villa, villa windows tend to be large, so the amount of fabric and blackout lining involved here is rather huge. I was part way through sewing them, but now, courtesy of their nice new aroma, I have had to remove the linings from the fabric, wash all of the fabric, and had to cut off and bin the soiled sections of lining. I have to pretty well start again.

I'm not particularly amused. I would even go as far to say my heart is harbouring thoughts of violence.

And lets just say my language was, er, colourful.

The bl**dy interloper better not set foot over my threshold again!

Friday, December 4, 2009

At last, the last...

I have been busily acquiring second hand (or third, or fourth hand) copies of Ngaio Marsh novels, and am pleased to be able to say I have finally nabbed the last of them. A Surfeit of Lampreys was eluding me, but thanks to the marvel (ahem) that is Trade Me for the last purchase, I now have a copy of each of them, and two of some (the covers were cool, so how could I resist?)

Of course one of the dangers of trolling Trade Me is you can get a little distracted by other objects. I was wanting The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which I got, along with eight other Agatha Christie novels which I paid the grand sum of $2.00 for. I think that was good value! Where the value doesn't quite stack up is the couple of hundred bucks I need to spend on shelves to house all of the extra books. Hmmm. Maybe best not to mention that to Hubby.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Arts on Sunday and other stuff

Phew, there have been lots of publicity interviews and bits and pieces with the launch of Containment, which is great because, lets face it, the window of opportunity for getting your name and your book out there is pretty narrow. And as you all well know, I'm certainly one for shameless self-promotion.

I'm always delighted when I get to speak with Lynn Freeman on the Arts on Sunday programme on National Radio. It's always good to get nationwide coverage, but I also like the questions she asks. The interview was played this Sunday gone, and for those of you who missed it the link to the podcast is here.

Today is the first of December, yes, it is the first day of summer (not that you would have noticed here in Dunedin!) and the countdown to Christmas.

I love Christmas, and the festivities and traditions. Tomorrow my Mum arrives on the plane from Napier, and when she gets here we'll have a wonderful time decking the halls and trimming the tree and Christmasing out the house! There will be decorations everywhere, and festive lights, and my collection of Nativities. The boys have been planning for weeks how they are going to decorate their room, they have a mini tree each with mini baubles too, and I have even found some mini Christmas tree lights for them, though that's a surprise they wont know about until tomorrow. They have also been planning the Christmas baking, with my Christmas cook books having been poured over and carefully post-it noted at the appropriate pages.

Christmas time seems to bring out the big kid in me and seeing their joy brings a huge grin to my face. I still have a sense of delight in the season.

There's no bah-humbug in this household!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Death and the Running Patterer

by Robin Adair.

I have tried hard to like this book, really, really hard because it is a historic crime fiction novel and I really like historic crime fiction.

And I have tried really hard to like this book because it is set in Sydney, Australia in 1828, at a very interesting time in its past, when the social classes are full of former convicts who have served their time and a re now free, as it were, as well as those who have never served and are trying to lead a new life as immigrants, and those who have been posted there and didn't have a heck of a lot of choice in the matter.

And I have really tried to like this book because the author won the Penguin's Most Wanted competition, which means Robin Adair fended off hundreds of others who submitted manuscripts to get discovered.

And I've really tried to like this book because the characters are interesting, and I like most of them, except for a few who are a bit pretentious and pompous.

BUT, damn it, I just don't, and I feel bad that I don't. And if I was going to put my finger on the one thing that is stopping me liking this book...

...it is info-dumping.

Yes, the author has clearly done a lot of research and discovered some interesting little facts, but I have found it irritating that he felt the need to include them all. And not just include them, but signal their coming, so I know its going to happen, he's going to enlighten me and I'm thinking, don't, don't, I know what you're going to write next, but please don't do it, don't do it, ah, damn. He did it. Here endeth the lesson.


I tried.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Easily influenced? Who me?

I enjoyed Julie and Julia a lot - it's a fabulous movie and I recommend it to anyone who will listen to me. Merryl Streep as Julia - Brilliant. I see Aspiring Writer is also doing her best to spread the Julie and Julia word.

Loved the movie, went home dreaming about food, found myself thinking I was just going to have to cook a boeuf bourguignon, and not just any boeuf bourguignon, no, it would have to be Julia's boeuf bourguignon. But how could I do this if I didn't have the recipe?


So not only did I go and acquire Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck, I also had to get Julie Powell's book Julie and Julia, and while I was at it, Julie Powell's next culinary adventure Cleaving: A story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession.

I am an advertiser's dream target audience!

Mental note to self, must grow some self-control, must grow some self-control...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Things that made me happy...

...Launching Containment with grand style surrounded by friends, family and fellow book-lovers.

...Getting to trot out in my flash retro-style green and purple frock with fushia pink cardy.

...That the University Book Shop as well as putting on a fabulous spread of nibbles knew my novels well enough to provide a massive bowl of ToffeePops.

...Watching the well timed and sneaky hit and run raids done on the ToffeePop bowl by the swag of kids present.

...Listening to the kind and thoughtful words of Tania Roxborogh who launched the book for me.

...Hearing the lovely comments about Containment from those who had already devoured it.

...Leaving UBS with a big smile and the sense of having had a fabulous occasion.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Out of Containment

My baby has made it to the shelves. Containment is out there, jostling for attention, saying, pick me, pick me, take me home to read. We went for a wander into town yesterday and I got quite a surprise to see it in the shops, and was very pleased to see how much shelf space I got at Paper Plus, bless them.

Now I have a book launch to look forward to. So if you happen to be in Dunedin tomorrow (Tuesday) evening come along to the University Book Shop at 6.00pm and join me and a bunch of friends, family and fellow book lovers for some drinks nibbles and a few speeches.

The speeches will be short, promise.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What I'm reading...

Just to prove that I'm not spending all of my time swanning around playing ladies, I am reading a few books too. I always have several on the go at any one time. This doesn't display a lack of focus on my part, more a complete panic at how many books I want to read, and how little time there is to do it!

So, here they are in no particular order:


The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler.

Death and the Running Patterer by Robin Adair


By the Sword: A history of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samuri, Swashbucklers and Olympic Champions by Richard Cohen

The World Through Maps: A History of Cartography by John Rennie Short

Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th century by Tashen

Kid's Bed Time reading:

Tunnels by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams

For the fun of it I thought I'd jot down on a piece of paper a Christmas wish list of books I'd be rather delighted to acquire. I had to stop in the end. The list was getting a little, er, ambitious. Hmmmm.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Playing ladies.

After the great success I had in mood elevation to fend of the rejection letter blues of yesterday, I trotted out again in my finery today. I had to go and have a hair cut, and if I was going to have a hair cut, I thought I may as well get flossied up to match the new do, so my sparkly shoes were pulled into service again along with my floral green dress and apple green cardy (I'm having a one-woman protest at the amount of black people wear in Dunedin)

Seeing as I had the frock, the shoes and the hair do, I felt a movie was in order so grabbed a friend who also needed cheering up and wallowed for two hours in the delight of Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia.

Ahhhh, what a wonderful movie. I loved watching Julia Child when I was a kid, and adored the sound of her quirky voice, and the way she used to drink more of the wine than she put in the food. Seeing Meryl transform into Julia was a heavenly experience.

Now I have urges to cook, french cuisine, naturally. I feel a Boeuf Bourguignon coming on...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Nice shoes fix most ills...

Today I got my traditional rejection letter from the latest round of Creative New Zealand Arts Grants. Then I got the traditional emails from my writer friends who were also declined.

This left me feeling a bit glum, so I did what I usually do when feeling blah and needing a pick me up - I popped on a nice frock, my sparkly high heeled summer shoes, popped on some make-up, pretty jewelery and went to town.

In town I swanned around the shops, met a friend for coffee, met hubby for lunch, and generally swished around in my fancy shoes.

I feel much better now.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Don't fence me in

Not being one to rest on my laurels (not that I've earned any of those) I decided this old girl needed to learn some new tricks. So at fencing on Saturday I had my first lesson in the use of the sabre. A lady needs to add new weapons to her repertoire don't you think?

For those not in the know fencing with a foil you score points with the tip of the blade and the target area is your torso. In sabre you can score with the tip, but most points come through hitting your opponent with the edge of the blade, yup, you try and slice them! Also in sabre everything is target from your hips up, so you can score a point by hitting someone on the torso, but also on the mask, or on the arm.

Oh, it was fun!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Courage Day

Sunday the 15th of November marks the International Day of the Imprisoned Writer, in New Zealand we call it Courage Day, named after writer James Courage whose books were banned.

To mark the occasion the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors is staging a "Write-in" at the Dunedin Public Library from 1.00pm to 3.00pm.

The purpose of this is to do something really quite personal and practical - to write letters to foreign governments who have imprisoned writers for expressing opinions that are contrary to the government line. The Writers in Prisons Committee reported that this year there have been around 1000 attacks against writers and there are about 200 serving long terms in prison. Also 27 have been killed since this time last year.

We have it pretty cushy in New Zealand, but there are many brave souls, journalists, writers and musicians who put it on the line every day.

So if you happen to be in Dunedin tomorrow, come along and put pen to paper with us.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Why 'yes' can be good.

I suffer from a complete inability to say no, so much so that I now have a picture on my office wall that states "Stop me before I volunteer again..."

BUT sometimes wonderful things come from a nervous and hesitant yes.

Yesterday's Write On Radio Show was my fourth anniversary show, yes, I've been doing it for four years. The whole thing came about because it was someone else's idea, and they were going to do it, and I offered to fill in occasionally (thinking that will never happen) but then they buggered off overseas for a bit, and we got a sponsor and suddenly it was, well, unless you do it Vanda, we'll lose the sponsor. Gulp. It was never supposed to be me!

Turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened, for many reasons.

Firstly, I got to learn how to produce a radio show, as it's me doing all the dials, gadgets and computer stuff. I don't have some fancy-pants technician, nope, for that one hour I am in control of the station (can you just hear the megalomaniacal laugh...)

Secondly, despite being so nervous for the first few shows I thought I would puke, I did it, and it was fun, and my guests were great. It has helped my self-confidence immensely.

And speaking of guests, it turned out to be a wonderful way to showcase the fantastic writers we have in Otago, and a good way for local writers to have some radio exposure with someone they knew who was, hopefully, non-threatening, or at least not too scary.

It also meant I have had the opportunity to interview a few super-stars, Ian Rankin and Diana Gabaldon. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd get to do that!

One of the most beneficial things to have happened as a result of doing the radio show, is my reading horizons have been hugely expanded. As I'm the kind of girl who likes to over-prepare I like to read my guests books, most recent and past, so it means I have had to read all sorts of things that I would normally never have picked up. I have discovered a love of biographies, read all sorts of fascinating local history books, lots of fabulous fiction for all age groups, and have had my reading comfort zone rather challenged with subject matters I really did not want to know about.

So after four years I am still having a hell of a lot of fun with this show, and will be eternally grateful that I didn't say NO.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Write On Radio Show day

Tomorrow is Write On Radio Show day - man a month rolls around quickly!

One of my highlights of this month was getting the opportunity to interview Diana Gabaldon while she was in town promoting her latest book An Echo in the Bone. Having been an avid reader of her Outlander series since she started producing them, it felt rather special to be able to meet her and have a wee chat.

One of the amusing things to come up in my researching the author before the interview was looking at some of the things on You Tube. There are interviews with Diana which are great, but there are also compilations of video made by fans with their casting picks if ever there was a movie made. It was interesting to hear Diana talking on the subject in her public talk. When asked who she'd pick as actors for a dramatisation of her works she couldn't, or wouldn't. She said every readers mental image of her characters is different, and to her the important thing about the actors wouldn't be their overall look, but whether they could become the characters, inhabit them and bring them alive.

I feel the same way about casting if ever there was a dramatisation of my Sam Shephard novels. I have a definite image of what she looks like in my head, but it is the skill of an actor in capturing her spirit which is important.

Anyhoo, here's the details on my interviewees for tomorrow's show which is broadcast live from noon til 1.00pm on Toroa Radio, 1575 kHz am in Dunedin, or live streamed from the Toroa Radio website.

Ian Chapman is a mild mannered university academic by day, and transforms into Dr Glam by night, ok, and by day too, if occasion demands. We talk about Glam rock, and about his recently released book Glory Days, which celebrates the 1970's as seem through the eyes of some of its prominent participants.

Diana Gabaldon is an American writer and Best-Selling author of the Outlander series of books which are a winning combination of historic fiction, modern day, science fiction, romance and adventure. Diana was recently in Dunedin promoting the seventh book in the series, An Echo in the Bone. We talked about the pleasures and challenges of writing such a sprawling saga that covers turbulent times in history from Culloden to the American Revolution.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Glory Days

I have just finished reading Glory Days: From gumboots to platforms, by Dr Glam, aka Ian Chapman. I'm interviewing Dr Glam, er, Ian, this Wednesday for the Write On Radio show, so read the book by way of preparation.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Glory Days. I imagined it would be a whole lot of rambling from an admittedly interesting person on the seventies. What I read was a whole lot more, a whoooole lot more.

Sure, Ian tells of his experiences in the heady seventies, which he saw through as a teenager obsessed with glam rock and extremely fond of David Bowie, but this book delivers so much more than one person's fond memories. Ian describes the seventies in New Zealand, from its music, movies, politics, and cars to its fashion, food, hair and television, and does so in a very entertaining way. But it is the snapshots stories by his invited guests which make this into a memorable book. There are tales and explanations from the likes of Sharon O'Neill, Chris Knox, Tui Flower, The Christchurch Wizard, John Minto, Marilyn Waring, Roi Colbert and Suzanne Lynch, to name a few, recounting their memories of the era, and their place in it.

I really enjoyed this nostalgia trip back to the seventies, conjuring up memories of my orange Raleigh Twenty bicycle, and coveting my big sister's orange flared jump suit and platform heels, but this book also filled in a lot of the background this then primary school aged kid was oblivious to.

Glory Days is entertaining reading, and a reminder of a far more interesting age.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


It's true, I've been getting nowhere of late. I feel like I've had too many balls to juggle, and admittedly I've dropped a few. Writing has been a non event, and I've spent my days dealing with the tyranny of the urgent. I haven't even managed to blog!

It's just as well life is cyclic in nature and I'm at the point where things are getting to a more even keel. Oddly, I think a bit of it has to do with the upcoming book launch. I don't know how other writers find it, but for me, the knowledge that it's coming up causes a kind of a pause, waiting, holding of breath, not being able to move on wholeheartedly with the next project until this one is properly realised. I hate the waiting!!!!

So, apart from the counting of days until the book launch, I have cleared my desk, organised what needs to be organised, dealt with the clutter, physically, and that which is going on in my head, and I think I'm finally ready to write...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The gift of the Gab

Tonight Dunedinites were treated to an evening with American writer Diana Gabaldon. There was a huge buzz of excitement in the Glenroy auditorium as a hugely appreciative crown lapped up every word from this pocket dynamo. And she was just that, very small, 5 foot 2 inches, beautiful, ageless and I finally discovered someone who can talk more and faster than I do!

Firstly, pronouncing her name. I've spent the last fifteen or so years thinking it was Ga-bald-don. But no, it is more like Gabble-dohne (rhymes with stone). Glad I cleared that one up before I make an idiot of myself for the radio interview tomorrow.

Diana entertained a capacity crowd with her energetic, generous and very funny account of how she got into writing, and in particular her Outlander series of books - or Cross Stitch series as we know them here. We learned all sorts of things, from her keeping the college football team concentrating during her anatomy lectures by giving a concise history of contraception, to her main reason for choosing a young, tall, red-haired Scotsman as a main character in her novels - Kilts, need I say more! She also shared as to why it became about time travel, because of this stroppy woman character named Claire, who insisted in talking to a room full of eighteenth century Scots (in kilts, naturally) and insulting them in modern day language.

Diana's method of writing involved just seeing where things would take her, which kept it exciting, because she didn't even know what was happening, and she was writing it. It was lovely, and inspiring to hear her talk so passionately about the characters she had created, and thrill she got in their journey.

I've been a reader of her series since the early nineties, when Cross Stitch came out, and have found Diana's natural ability at story telling, and in creating fascinating and fully fleshed out characters has meant I feel like they are my friends, and I can't wait to start into a new book, and then feel a pang of loss at knowing I've got another three years or so to find out what has happened to them next. I finished reading her latest installment, An Echo in the Bone this morning, and enjoyed it just as much as the others.

These are large books, Over 800 pages in this new book, but, when thinking about it, it all belonged there, every scene added to the wonderful sense of reading, and being part of something epic. And listening to Diana speak about the detail she loves and giving the sense of truly feeling what this was like to the reader, the smells, the texture, the colour, the sound, the harshness of life in that era, and her passion for it made it obvious why she is such a storyteller and why her books are so popular.

As for me, I look forward to pre-recording a radio interview with Diana tomorrow, I look at my recently finished copy of An Echo in the Bone, sigh that I've got to wait years for the next one, and send Diana little thought waves...stop touring...get writing, lady.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Between the Covers

Last week before all the running around like a mad thing getting ready for the big trip, I got to pop down to the local television station and do my Dunedin Diary thing, reviewing the books of two local authors.

The timing turned out to be quite delightful, as the first of the books I reviewed was by Brian Turner, who has just been announced as the recipient of the Prime Minister's award for Literature, specifically his poetry.

So here's my notes for the reviews, with the usual qualification that this was what I wanted to say before nerves and my dodgy memory.

OK, so Blogger is being uncooperative, and its now a day later and it doesn't like my HTML, blah,blah, so I've had to do this the long way...

Just This by Brian Turner

I will confess to being a great admirer of Brian Turner's poetry, and his ability to speak and reach out to everyone. i think he has a remarkable gift to paint with words his landscape, the people in it, and their relationship with it in such an expressive and evocative way.

For me a particularly moving segment of the collection of poems focused on fathers and sons, froma poem about a child's first day at school, to a poem about joy.

As always his observations about his Central Otago landscape are beautifully drawn, evoking the grand, the big skies and the mountains, right down to the rustic detail, of moving stock and their inevitable trails... "A curdle of sheep wobbles by..." And he does all this in his poems with a wry humour and tenderness.

Brian himself summed it up by saying there is no finer way of saying things than through poetry, and he certainly does this here. I recommend his latest collection, Just This. I think there is something there for everyone to enjoy.

Collision by Joanna Orwin

Joanna Orwin was this year's Otago University College of Education Children's Writer in Residence. Collision is her first adult novel.

I found this book a fascinating read. There have been many historical novels looking at the conflict between Maori and early British settlers, but this is the first I have read that looks at the French and Maori. Monsieur Marion du Fresne lead a two ship French expedition to New Zealand in 1772, and due to a collision between the ships had a prolonged stop for repairs in the Bay of Islands. This story is based on true events and through the eyes of Andre Tallec, an ensign with the French. It also gives the Maori perspective. The story portrays the interactions between the French and local Maori lead by the Chief Te Kuri. We see how a lack of language, ignorance of each others cultures, a certain amount of arrogance and also local politics built up to a climax for the ill fated expedition. So this is a book about a collision of cultures, and even though each side was trying hard, it all turned sour.

Collision is not what I'd call a rip-snorter adventure, it's more considered, but it builds up the tension and in reading it you feel a part of this ball rolling towards an unstoppable disaster.

I'd recommend this book for anyone with an interest in New Zealand History, it gives a fascinating new perspective, and also anyone who enjoys a good historic nautical of military tale.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The things I have been up to instead of writing...

Life, it has this funny way of sidling in and distracting you with enticing things, or urgent things, or frantic things, and before you know it, whammo, another month has gone by. I would like to formally announce that I blinked and missed October, and the month before that, come to think of it.

So what have I done this week, other than not write a single word on the novel?

Arrived back from Australia (I couldn't resist dropping that in)

Waited for my luggage to arrive back from Australia - it took the scenic route.

Recovered from the trip to Australia. My stomach and my internal clock stayed on NZ time, while my social life operated on Aussie time.

Organised a couple of events.

Sewed a Puss & Boots outfit for Mr Seven-Year-old for the school disco. Luckily for me Mr Ten-Year Old was happy to go in the Harry Potter Griffendor colours Quidditch uniform I made him last time.

Made a batch of Halloween Ghost meringues.

Made a batch of vanilla flower cakes.

Frantically read An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon so I'm prepared to interview her for the radio next week.

Successfully ignored anything resembling housework.

Successfully ignored anything resembling writing.

Pfaffed around a great deal. (Is that how you spell Pfaffed? My sewing machine is a Pfaff, so does that mean when I'm sewing I'm ignoring the important things I should be doing? Rhetorical question really!)

Drank some nice wine.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Emotional Tourist

Okay, I will admit here and now that I cried when I saw the Sydney Opera House, and I cried when I saw the harbour Bridge. I also cried when I met up with my rellies - do you detect a little pattern here?

Let's face it, I'm an emotional kind of a girl, but hey, that means I am having a damn good time.

It was hosing down with rain on the day we went right into the city. But the weather cleared down to a drizzle, so I got to walk over to the Opera house. The rain did wreck havoc with the hair though, hence the killer frizzies from hell!

We stayed in Newcastle and in Sydney. I loved the incredible machinery associated with the coal in Newcastle - the huge conveyor belts and feeder machines, huge cranes. The scale was wonderful. I have a bit of a thing for the industrial landscape and machinery.

All in all it was a fantastic trip - it was was great to see family I hadn't caught up with for years, and I loved Sydney. Can't wait to return with the whole crew next time.

Random observations on Sydney:

Flying in to Sydney I was struck by the beautiful bays and the abundance of red roofs.

There are so many trees, but they were all eucalypts or gum trees. The effect was a monochromatic vista, occasionally studded by a flamboyant flowering Jacaranda.

The monochrome was made beautiful by the shimmering texture of the leaves.

Driving around Sydney I was struck by the vast number of red brick houses. Everything involving the earth or rock seemed to be red.

The different tones and shades of red were fascinating.

The red brick worked so well with the grey/ green of the eucalypts.

Australia sounded so different to New Zealand. The bird song was beautiful.

The bird song wasn't so beautiful at 5.00am when they all woke up!

The harsh grating Australian accent I was expecting wasn't there, (with the exception of my sister's.) It was a lot softer then I expected. Do they ham it up on television?

Sydney wasn't as culturally diverse as Dunedin.

Fresh prawns are good.

But not as good as fresh corn on the cob, slathered in butter, pepper and salt and scoffed at the market.

Seeing pictures of something doesn't prepare you for the emotional impact of being there, and seeing them with your own eyes and touching them. Mental note to self: take lots of tissues when traveling!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Jumping the ditch

I am counting down the days till I finally get to use my passport and get my first steps on Australian soil. Yes folks, sad though it may seem, I am feeling hysterically excited about my first grown up trip overseas! To Australia, or Sydney to be more specific. I have traveled before, to Fiji, when I was two, and eight years old, so that doesn't really count.

So I'm off, kiddy and Hubby free, to a family wedding. I don't know how much of Sydney I will get to see, but hey, I'll be in a foreign place with a strange accent (theirs, not mine), so I can kid myself it's somewhere further than a three hour flight away.

I've packed the important things...

New Frock...check
New shoes...check
Credit card...check.

What else do I need?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Look what arrived...

... in my letterbox...

It's a real book...

And I've been patting the silver lettering...

And lined it up next to its two friends...

Three novels...

Damn chuffed!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

To Facebook or not to Facebook....

... that is the question.

Facebook is a black hole of time, every one I know who is on it, seems to spend waaay too much time messing around, desperately checking their updates, or playing Waka waka.

Do I even want to go there?

Well no, not really.

But then, I keep getting these invitations. And people tell me it is a great way to network and keep up with what everyone is up to.

They even say it is a great promotional tool for writers, and we all know I'm into shameless self-promotion.

But then I don't want to get sucked into it, and be one of these sad, desperate people constantly checking in case someone has visited.


What's a girl to do?

Opinions, anyone?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tomorrow's radio day

Where does a month go? Honestly, I'm sure it was only last week I was playing with sliders and microphones for the Write On Radio Show. But life seems to be marching on at an alarming rate, and it is that time again.

Write On airs live on Toroa Radio 1575 kHz AM in Dunedin, or is streamed live from the Toroa Radio Website for people who don't live in the centre of my universe.

These are this month's victims, er, I mean guests...

Liam McIlvanney's first fiction novel All the Colours of the Town was released earlier this month. Set in Belfast and Glasgow it follows the fortunes of Glaswegian journalist Gerry Conway as he follows the sniff of a story across to Belfast and discovers hatred and sectarian violence. Liam McIlvanney is a recent arrival to New Zealand from Scotland to take up the Stuart Chair of Scottish studies at the University of Otago. We'll talk about what drove a Robert Burns specialist to write crime, and the picture he paints of the two cities.

Tania Roxborogh is the writer of over twenty books for adults and children and is a woman with a passion for Shakespeare. This passion has lead her to write Banquo's Son, a sequel to Macbeth. We talk about taking over the story of Fleance where The Bard left off, and the journey she has taken to get this book published.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Passionate Prose and Pavlova

October is New Zealand Book Month and on Thursday I got to do my thing at the Dunedin Public Library in an event called Passionate Prose and Pavlova. Naturally, there was pavlova and coffee served, and the guest speaker felt obliged to indulge in a slice or two, for good form's sake.

The Dunedin Public Library is good at shameless self-promotion, so their techie guy was there to record the event for posterity, or the approximation of it that is U-tube. They were only going to record 10 minutes or so, but seemed to think it was going well and decided to do the whole thing.

So for those of you dedicated enough to watch almost an hour's worth, the links are below.

Of course, I didn't go into it realising they were going to do this, so I sit here quietly hoping I didn't say anything either a) stupid, or b) embarrasing or c) defamatory and that I looked OK, didn't pick my nose or scratch anything personal. I haven't watched it as I suffer a bit from I-can't-stand-to-see-myself-itis. There was a little girl chattering away so I hope the sound is OK.

As this is a library event, I spent the initial part of the talk chatting about books that had turned the reading lights on for me as a child, and that influenced me later in life. Then I go on to talk about the importance of setting and place in fiction novels, with a background to why I chose to set my novels in firstly Mataura, and then Dunedin, and also some of the twilight zoneish life imitating art moments that have occurred because of it. I do a reading of the prologue to the fourth Sam Shephard novel, Bound, and then finish up with questions from the audience.

So here t'is divided up into 5 parts:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Friday, October 9, 2009

Because a girl can't have too many books...

...let me introduce you to a couple of recent arrivals.

I am a big fan of Australian writer Peter Temple and loved his recent novel The Broken Shore. So how could I possibly resist a sequel? Well, it would have been rude not to buy it, wouldn't it? And we all know how big I am on manners. His new offering is titled Truth.

The back cover blurb goes thus:

At the close of a long day, Inspector Stephen Villani stands in the bathroom of a luxury apartment high above the city. In the glass bath, a young woman lies dead.

So begins
Truth, the sequel to Peter Temple's bestselling masterpiece The Broken Shore.

Villani's job as head of the Victoria State Homicide Squad is bathed in blood and sorrow. His life is his work. It is his identity,his calling, his touchstone. But now, over a few sweltering summer days, as fires burn across the state and his superiors and colleagues scheme and jostle, he finds all the certainties of his life are crumbling.

Truth is a novel about a family, a city. It is about violence, murder, love, corruption, honour and deceit.

And it is about truth.

This is moving towards the top of my TBR pile.

My other purchase was spurred on by a review by Karen on Good Reads, and that is Death and the Running Patterer, by Robin Adair. This is a novel set in Sydney in 1828, the running patterer is some one who hawks news on the streets, and Nicodemus Dunne is thus in the perfect position to track down the killer of a soldier.

This book won the Penguin Most Wanted competition, a writing competition where the first prize was a book contract from Penguin. I look forward to it - I do love a historic mystery.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Antipodean Holmesian Society

Sherlock Holmes and his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle seem to have as many fans today as they did in their hey-day. There's a new movie coming out soon that I will have to go and see, not just because it is Sherlock Holmes, but also, and I'm going to admit to being horribly shallow here, but I kind of fancy Robert Downey Jnr. Also, while I'm being shallow, the movie posters of him and Jude Law are really quite appealing. Have printed them off for the office wall.

But on more cerebral matters, I discovered, courtesy of my fencing associates the existence of the Antipodean Holmesian Society, which has a monthly newsletter discussing all sorts of tidbits about Sherlock Holmes, from reviews of books pertaining to the man, to locations of statues, to the current concern over the disputed Conan Doyle memorabilia, 40 000 items bequeathed to the City of Portsmouth.

So how could I resist? I sent off my subscription and am now a member.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Home again...

...and I am certain that in the time we were away, the assortment of papers, books, pens, notes, reference material and general crapola on my desk got into the whole spring, new life thing and bred mightily. Because, I swear, there wasn't this much crud on it when I left. And some of it seems to have attempted an escape by diving off onto the floor where it's formed a sort of a paper pond, complete with ripples emanating out from a central splash of trash.


Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Breath of Snow and Ashes

Greetings from Wanaka, where I was amazed to wake up to find it was snowing this morning! This departure from Spring weather was very, very pretty, if a little chilly and it enhanced the feeling that yes, we're away for a few days holiday.

It was also appropriate that it was snowing when I was reading a book called A Breath of Snow and Ashes, by Diana Gabaldon. I am a fan of her writing, and have read all of her Outlander (or Cross Stitch, depending on where you live) series books. I have had this one a while and had started it, but due to life, had to put it aside for a while. The while turned out to be a few years. Anyway, the impetus to finish it is a looming radio interview with the author early in November. So I need to finish this book, and also read her latest title, An Echo in the Bone. If you have seen these books - they are large, and long - the one I am reading is 980 pages. I can't think of a better way of enjoying my holiday time than luxuriating in the world of Claire and Jamie Fraser for a decent stretch of uninterrupted reading time.

I do have the family with me of course, but have chosen to neglect them in favour of my book - priorities!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Mr Seven-Year-Old likes playing with words.

We were talking about mentoring, as I have been mentoring a creative writing student. He asked what a mentor did, and I explained about encouraging and looking over their work and doing some editing on it and giving my opinion and offering them support.

So he says, "you edit the work before it is finished?"

"Well, yes, in a way," I say.

"So you're like a pre-editor?" he says.

"Well, I suppose I am."

Then he starts giggling. "Mummy, that makes you a predator."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

All the Colours of the Town, launched.

Tonight I attended a merry gathering of folk at the University Staff Club to launch Liam McIlvanney's All the Colours of the Town. This was the New Zealand launch, as Liam had launched it at the Edinburgh Festival earlier. Dunedin threw in some Scottish weather to emulate it's northern cousin, just to put the author at ease. Dunedin is thoughtful like that.

Liam is the Stuart Chair at the University of Otago, so was well supported by the staff of the English Department and University, as well as friends. He is a recent arrival to Dunedin from Scotland, so I had the double pleasure of hearing him read from his work, and read with his very Scottish accent. My boys (who are often dragged along to these affairs and thus well versed in book launch nibbles and gentle conversation) commented that he was a little interesting to understand.

All the Colours of the Town is a crime novel set in Glasgow and Belfast. I am told Liam is going to set his next novel in Dunedin. We might have to rope in Paddy Richardson and form a Dunedin Crime Writers Club - a good excuse for wine and lots of chatting to ward of the Dunedin chill.

Monday, September 28, 2009

And then there was one...

...left to acquire.

I've been steadily working away acquiring all of Ngaio Marsh's novels. This particular treasure hunt has been great fun and a good excuse to spend far too much time in second hand book shops and trolling Trade Me. I have endeavoured to stick to just shopping for Ngaio books in said establishments, but as you well know, the flesh is weak.

A large part of the fun of the book hunt has been seeing the variety in cover art. I have a great fondness for intriguing cover art which has resulted in me buying different editions of the same books just for the covers. My recent purchases are vastly different in style, from the 1964 Dead Water hardback, to the 1983 edition of Death at the Bar. I actually prefer the older edition books, particularly the almost psychedelic covers of the 1970's, such as Artists in Crime.

But alas, my excuses for shopping are almost at an end, for I have only one book remaining to hunt down - A Surfeit of Lampreys.

Happy hunting Vanda...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I live to duel another day...

I am pleased to announce I acquitted myself well in the public arena, bettering their champion, and doing so with sufficient style and grace to be admitted to the ranks of Salle Angelo.

For the sense of occasion I fenced in full skirts, and this photograph, while not the most gracious in style, shows me levitating, a skill I did not realise I possessed.

It was a fabulous evening of ceremony and convivial company, with everyone dressed up exquisitely for the occasion. After the duel we all retired to Plato for a splendid dinner and entertaining speeches. Most certainly a night to remember.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A duel to the death...

...or until dinner.

I have caused grave offense to the members of Salle Angelo by belittling their fancy hats, and therefore, must publicly duel their champion to restore honour and be formally admitted to the classic fencing club.

I shall be dueling down on the waterfront near Plato restaurant in Dunedin tonight at 6.15pm. If you happen to be lurking around the waterfront at that hour, come watch me wield my sword, hopefully with the finesse and style befitting of a lady. I shall elegantly and delicately try to run their champion through.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Crime Time

Amongst the, er, haul of books I happily removed from the University Book Shop were a heap of Crime Time books - a journal of crime fiction that comes out of Britain. They were editions that were a few years old, but hey, its all new material to me.

The issues I brought were:

Women in Crime
The Sherlock Holmes Issue
Key Crime Movies
US vs UK
Ed McBain & Ian Rankin
Sue Grafton
Elmore Leonard & Val McDermid
The Pulps.

I can justify it by calling it research.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Why the University Book Shop is Evil...

...because it tempts me so...

...with its otherworldly, picture perfect, just smell those books and breathe atmosphere...

...with its staff who entice me with 'ooh look Vanda, have you read this? or have you seen that? and we know you just neeeeeeed this'...

...with its cruelly situated right in the front where you have to trip over it must have New Zealand New Releases table...

...with its tidbits of stationery, and Moleskine Notebooks and perfect to write with pens...

...and worst of all, yes folks, worst of all, with its upstairs continuous book sale...

...They had buy two books get the third book free up there...

...I am weak...

...I indulged...

...in multiples of three...







...Oh dear...

Sunday, September 20, 2009


It was party-time in the Symon household yesterday, with a hoard of kids around to celebrate the imminent transition from Mr Nine-Year-Old into Mr Ten-Year-Old. Naturally, such a splendid occasion called for a splendid cake.

Half the reason for having kids is so you get to make flash cakes!

Friday, September 18, 2009

En francais s'il vous plait

Trade Me is a dangerous place. You discover all sorts of things you didn't realise you needed until you saw them. Which is why I purchased these, by Ngaio Marsh.

Comme a Rome (When in Rome)

Et vous etes pries d'assister au meutre de... (A Man Lay Dead)

Why oh why did you need Ngaio Marsh books in French, Vanda, you may ask?

Apart from the obvious (because they were there and I could) there is also method behind my madness. I thought it would be a fun way of brushing up on my school girl French, especially as form 7 was a long time ago, and I've been meaning to get around to it due to the whole use it or lose it principle. What better way than with Ngaio, oh, and also Diana Gabaldon (Un tourbillon de neige et de cendres)

So, I can perfectly justify my purchases, because one never knows when one might need to test drive one's French.