Sunday, May 31, 2009

Excuse my...

... self indulgent little Arrrrrrggggggggggghhhhhhhhhh, but sometimes a girl just gets very tired of feeling like everyone is relying on her to do everything.

And it didn't snow.

They promised.


That feels better.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Casebook in Dunedin

A while ago I blogged about Casebook, an award winning computer game which combines film footage and a solve the mystery game, I even down loaded the free first game, though life has been so frantic of late I haven't even had a chance for a dabble (long weekend ahead though). So I was pleased to read in this morning's Otago Daily Times the Casebook film crew has been out on the streets of Dunedin filming snippets for episode four, In Absentia.

Go the locals!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

And another new addition... the TBR pile.

The trouble with book festivals is you see and hear about so many books you'd love to read. I did very well, resisting so much temptation, and only coming away with two books, but like all these things, I had regrets. When my luggage weighed in well under what I thought it was I though, damn it, I could have brought more books. You've heard of buyer's remorse? I had non-buyer's remorse.

I had to go to the post office the other day, which unfortunately is next to the university Book Shop, and it doesn't take much imagination to figure out where this is going so welcome to the new addition to the family...

The Awa Book of New Zealand Science, edited by Rebecca Priestley.

It's for the kids, honest.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Good ole Mum

We had a special trip out to the airport this afternoon to pick up my Mum. Three lovely weeks of her company ahead.

Mum more than anyone is aware of my, ahem, fondness for books, so arrived bearing a few returns, and a couple of newbies for my devourment:

The Fire, by Katherine Neville.

I can't wait to read this book as it is the follow up to her fabulous book The Eight, which reigned supreme in the historical / current day mystery thriller romp before Dan Brown took out the franchise on it.

Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks.

Subtitled Tales of Music and the Brain, this looks to be a fascinating look into the human mind.

Just got to figure out when I'll get time to read them...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Anniversaries and Challenges

It has been a year, yes, a year since I started inflicting myself upon the blogosphere. So to those of you who have faithfully followed my fairly random thoughts and interests, thank you for popping by. I started this blog with a mind to scribbling about crime related writing and thoughts, (and shameless self-promotion) but it has strayed away from being entirely crime related and into the wider world of literature, with the odd bit of life thrown in for good measure.

Please, continue to drop in. My fragile ego relies on looking at the stats and seeing if anyone actually does bother, so it is gratifying to know people do, and some even comment on the blog, and in real life, which is lovely and most welcome.

One of the things I started was my Ngaio Marsh Reading Challenge, where I am working my way through her 32 novels. That reading had stalled for a while when life became a little chaotic, but is now on track with a vengeance. So anyone out there who likes a little Ngaio, and I know there were some converted to the cause at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, join me in a nostalgic trip through murder and mayhem.

For those who prefer a different taste in retro, here's a couple of reading challenges for you. I'm dabbling in both.

The Agatha Christie Reading Challenge:

Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise has instigated this challenge to read your way through all of Agatha's works. See here for the details.

The Sherlock Holmes Reading Challenge:

Mac at Mac Captures Crime has taken up the Sherlock Holmes Challenge. See details here.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bits n Pieces

A few random thoughts...

After an hour of exploration I have re-discovered the wooden surface of my desk. It's been a long time since I've seen it.

After the exercise mentioned above, I will concede that yes, a girl can have too many notebooks - I found sixteen of them with various jottings inside. Hmmmm.

Writing a CV is hard.

Writing a Robert Burns Fellowship application is harder.

I want this new book by PD James. And Bookman Beattie, you are naughty tempting me with this, you know I don't need any more encouragement to buy books!

I was amused and amazed to find this in the footpath of Queen Street in Auckland...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What I'm reading...

...or at least am trying too when not feeling bleary eyed and tired - still recovering from Auckland and too many late nights, usually involving wine.


The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak


Cleopatra's Nose by Judith Thurman

Kids' bedtime story:

The Horse and his Boy by C.S. Lewis

Car book:

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Between the Covers

Tonight was TV reviews time on Channel 9's Dunedin Diary programme with Dougal Stevenson. I tell you, it was a might nippy out there today, with snow and hail happening. Auckland seemed positively tropical by comparison.

I reviewed two books on tonight's programme, and these are my notes on what I intended to say. Naturally, what came out of my mouth was modified by nerves and my appalling memory.

The First Touch of Light By Ruth Pettis

The First Touch of Light is the second novel by the late Ruth Pettis. In the modern day Beth travels to Italy in an attempt to understand her father’s experiences during the Second World War, and thus more about him, his reactions and his deep seated anger. It switches back to the stories of her parents, Ellen and George who were married days before George left to fight in the war. It shows beautifully the perspectives of those who went, and those left behind. We learn about the hardships and trauma George had to face overseas, and of his decision to stop contact with his new bride. We learn of how hard it was at home for Ellen, to always be waiting, wondering if he was dead or alive, and we learn of the tumult that occured when after the war they were thrown back together, as very different people, to resume their lives.
This is a deeply and vividly told story that illustrates so well the emotional wrestling and pain that was part of the lives of individuals and families during the war. I highly recommend it.

The Madonna in The Suitcase By Huberta Hellendoorn

This is the touching story of Huberta’s daughter Miriam, who was born with Down Syndrome and is written as a Mother telling her daughter the story of her life, from her parents’ arrival in New Zealand from Holland as young immigrants, to her beginnings, to her triumphs and her tragedies. Huberta is honest about the challenges of raising a child with Down Syndrome, and also the joys, and she achieves this in a beautiful way without being overly sentimental. The end result is we see Miriam’s spirit and determination, from her wonderful gift for art, to her courage in recovering from a stroke. It has many photographs, and also colour plates of Miriam’s paintings. The picture on the cover is Miriam’s Madonna from the title.
I recommend it as a heart-warming story of a family’s joy and love of their child, and her development as a unique human being.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Auckland Festi-Vale

The Auckland Writers and Readers Festival is over, I am back to the real world of domesticity and of being Mummy, rather than Vanda, my literary appetite has been beautifully sated and it is good to be home to the smiling faces of three boys (two small, one big) and the cat (who, apparently was the only one to misbehave while I was gone.)

There have been fantastic summaries of the events at the Auckland festival from Beattie's Book Blog, and the Christchurch City Libraries Blog, so I will not go into a blow by blow account of each session I went to, (thirteen!) but more impressions and the most memorable quotes.

Firstly Bouquets and Brick Bats:

Bouquets, to Jill Rawnsley and the organisers for a fabulous festival. Well done, and although I was disappointed there weren't any crime fiction writers, I got over it pretty fast.

Brick Bats... nah.

Opening Night:

When asked about how being awarded prizes affected the writer...

Chimamandra Ngozi Adichie: "When you are sitting at your computer, struggling to write a decent sentance, you don't remember that you won a bloody prize"

Closely followed by Christos Tsiolkas: "Prizes are great for your parents to brag about to their friends."


Anne Thwaite, Joanna Woods and Hamish Keith.

Fabulous session, and did anyone else notice the similarities between Hamish Keith and the larger than life Charles Baeyertz?...

An Hour with Ranginui Walker:

This session was a revelation. The term the Accidental Activist came up during the conversation between Ranginui Walker, Paul Spoonley and Geoff Walker. I came away with a far greater understanding of the man and his part in campaigning for issues affecting Maori in New Zealand. Fabulous.

Can you hear me, Whangaparaoa?

This was a special treat, with a selection of readings from the correspondence of Janet Frame and Charles Brasch. What fun, it certainly gave a glimpse into their special relationship, and Janet's mischievous sense of humour. It also gave a very important look into the role Charles Brasch and some of his friends played in financially supporting writers and artists at the time. I certainly hope the trusteees of their estates let us see more of these fascinating and delightful insights. Please!

Short and Sweet:

A little stilted perhaps, but a lovely opportunity to hear short story writer David Malouf, Paula Morris, Charlotte Grimshaw and Owen Marshall read and discuss their craft.

Love, Food Wine and Travel:

My favourite session of the festival, it could easily have been billed as the Sarah-Kate, Nicky and Jim show and be shown on comedy central. Between Dr Evil chairs, lashings of champagne, freezing in dining hovels and the Chairperson giving away the ending it was a lively and fun session.
The comparisons to food kept on coming, including the authors' approach to writing - Sarah-Kate Lynch's being meticulous and over prepared, the baker, and Nicky Pellegrino's chuck it together with whatever's to hand approach. So when Sarah-Kate said when they were "100 years old and in the Havana Home for Bewildered Writers, Nicky could do the main course and I'll do the deserts," Nicky piped in, "and then Jim could come along and spoil it with the ending."

An Hour with Christos Tsiolkas.

What can I say about this session other than fantastic; Christos was very generous with his answers to great questions from the Chair, Charlotte Grimshaw.

Emerging Stars.

Eleanor Catton, Anna Taylor, Bridget van der Zijpp... so young, so eloquent, so beautiful, so talented...sigh...

An hour with Chimamandra Ngozi Adichie.

Another revelatory session, with the eloquent Chimamandra challenging my media induced World Vision view of Africa to realise the very real issues of class are just as prevalent there. I felt blessed to be a part of the audience in this entertaining and enlightening session. Great chairing by Paula Morris and the Ginger Beer touch at the end was inspired!

Commonwealth Writers Prize Awards.

Again I felt privileged to be a part of this. Congratulations to Christos Tsiolkas and Mohammed Hanif for winning the overall awards. John Campbell's great skills as MC turned this into a true event.

An Hour with Monica Ali.

What a warm and generous writer. This session was wonderful, I very much related to Monica with her writing her novels between the endless tasks and joys of motherhood. Quotes I liked: from Monica - "Non-fiction writing uncovers the lies, fiction uncovers the truths, the emotional truths." And one she said and I didn't get the name of the original teller, although I believe it was on a coffee mug... "A well behaved woman never changed the world."

An Hour with Judith Thurman. The Michael King Memorial Lecture. It was my first time at a Michael King Memorial Lecture, and I did not know what to expect. What I got was a warm, witty, fascinating and enlightening view into the life of a biographer and a columnist. As a writer it was great to hear that others could agonise so much over their work, Judith giving the example of her column on the grand subject of Tofu, and sharing four drafts of that vital first paragraph before the finished product. (There were 20+ drafts!) Wonderful stuff.

Drayton on Ngaio Marsh.

This was a high energy, rapid fire visual feast of a talk by biographer Joanne Drayton on the multifaceted life of Ngaio Marsh. It covered her family and childhood, friends and influences, detective fiction, and theatre. It felt like the quickest hour ever, and was a great high point for me to end the festival on.

I showed exquisite self-control by only buying two books: In the Kitchen, by Monica Ali and Cleopatra's Nose, by Judith Thurman, which is a collection of her essays.

My only other spending in Auckland was a pair of tights, as I managed to ladder mine at the airport on arrival (mutter, mutter) and the requisite bribery for the children for abandoning them for four days ($3.00 Japan is fantastic)

So four days of inspiration, great company, food, wine, and freedom. I shall dine out on the memories...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Annual Leave

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to the Auckland Festival I go...

I'll tell you all about it later.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Write On Radio day

Tomorrow (Wednesday) is Write On Radio Show day.

These are the details of my guests for the show which airs live on Toroa Radio 1575kHz AM from Noon till 1.00pm. It is also live streamed from the Toroa Radio website.

Laurence Fearnley is a highly regarded writer who was the 2007 Robert Burns fellow at the University of Otago and has had two of her novels shortlisted for the Montana New Zealand Book Awards. She has recently had released her 7th novel, Mother's Day, which is the final book in her Southern Trilogy.

We'll talk about the new book, and how it feels to reach the end of a themed trilogy and to be looking forward to something different.

Huberta Hellendoorn wanted to tell the courageous story of her daughter Miriam, who has Down Syndrome. Huberta has recently self-published The Madonna in the Suitcase, after being unable to find a mainstream publisher for the book. We talk about the pleasures and difficulties in writing such a personal tale about her family, and the difficult road to publishing it. Further details about the book, including how to purchase it can be found here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Black Beech & Honey Dew

An Autobiography by Ngaio Marsh.

After enjoying Joanne Drayton's biography of Ngaio Marsh I thought I'd read about her life from the horses mouth, so to speak.

In truth I found this book a little frustrating, OK, a lot frustrating. Joanne Drayton had alluded to the fact Ngaio Marsh was extremely reticent about her private life, and that is certainly the case, but that isn't what frustrated me the most.

From the stand point of someone who loves her for her crime fiction writing, she spoke so little about it. In fact I learned nothing about her motivations behind writing crime fiction, or even how she felt about her success with it. The autobiography concentrates a lot on her childhood, and also about her life in the theatre, so it didn't have a lot to offer the crime fiction aficionado. The version I read was the original. Perhaps I shall have to track down the revised edition she did a decade or so down the track. Back to the second hand book shops...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ngaio Marsh - Her Life in Crime

By Joanne Drayton.

This book finally floated its way to the top of my to be read pile and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I found it to be a warm and fascinating look into the life of Ngaio Marsh, well as far as anyone could get into her life considering her fierce protection of her privacy, which extended to carefully destroying all of her personal correspondence to ensure, no doubt, that no pesky biographers would be able to pin her down.

Joanne Drayton takes a story teller's approach to the biography which makes it very readable and you get a feeling for the woman. It certainly made me appreciate her amazing work ethic - she threw herself whole heartedly into all her projects, no matter how much of a struggle they might be.

The other device I like in this biography was the author's use of Ngaio's crime fiction novels, and theatre productions to portray what was happening in her life at the time, and to refelct the real people and events which inspired the stories.

So although some questions about Ngaio's life were left unanswered, the book gave me a great appreciation of Ngaio Marsh as writer and theatre director and woman. It also gives a good background into the history of crime writing, and the environment of her time and her peers, the four Queens of Crime. I gained a new appreciation of what it was for Ngaio Marsh to keep up her work in her later years when her health was deteriorating and many of her friends and colleagues had died. She was a remarkable woman.

I look forward to hearing Joanne Drayton's talk at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival next week.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Library Crimes

I was chatting to Liz at the Dunedin library about how much fun it would be to write of a murder in the library. I always imagined someone being crushed under an avalanche of books or getting squished in those shelves on the huge rollers.

Liz suggested I check out this little clip from one of my favourite Dunedin bands, Haunted Love...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

More on The Madonna

I've had so many queries from readers about The Madonna and the Suitcase, that I'm doing another post on the book.

After having no luck with getting the book published by a publishing house, Huberta decided to self publish, and was assisted with a couple of local grants. These are the accompanying notes to the book, and Huberta's contact details for those interested in the book, added with her permission:

Huberta Hellendoorn's book tells the story of a young married couple, Dutch immigrants newly arrived in New Zealand, whose first child, Miriam, is born with Down syndrome. Rather than being sad or negative, the book clearly demonstrates how their daughter is embraced into the family with love and optimism. While this book courageously depicts the hardships inherent in raising a child with special needs, it also celebrates the joys and the triumphs.

Miriam's emergence as an artist is supported by her family, teachers and friends and her talent is acknowledged and fostered. Further, Miriam is depicted as a child and then a young woman of courage and determination and with a sense of humour and an enormous capacity for empathy and sensitivity. She is both loved and loving.

This is an extraordinary story told with insight and elegance. Huberta is a published – and a very talented – writer. The book is carefully crafted; written without sentimentality but with attention to detail and language. The stylistic device Huberta uses – the book is written as an address, or letter, to her daughter – engages the reader so that they share and are involved in the experiences.

The book, while appealing also to the general reader, would provide inspiration to any family raising a 'special' child. It would also give hope and comfort to families of stroke victims.

This is a story of grace, inspiration and hope. A story of courage, determination and celebration of creativity, as well as a valuable and rewarding resource for families caring for a child with special needs and all professionals working with people who have a disability.

Paddy Richardson

Contact details:

Huberta Hellendoorn

Books available from the author: $29.95

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Madonna in the Suitcase

Tonight I had the pleasure of joining a very merry throng at the Dunedin Public Library to celebrate with Huberta Hellendoorn, the launch of her book The Madonna in the Suitcase.

It is a heart-felt book of a mother telling the story of her life to Miriam, Huberta and Bart's daughter who has Down Syndrome. I am half way through reading it and have smiled and laughed and wept, and felt inspired by Miriam's spirit and Huberta and Bart's love and joy in their daughter. Miriam has a unique talent for art. Her's is the Madonna on the book cover.

The Dunninghame suite was packed with friends family and people who had been involved in their lives over the years. Such a happy buzz. A lovely night.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Here's one for the paper-o-holics

Okay, I have frequently mentioned my addiction to paper and paper products, whether it is exquisite stationery for indulging in the need for letter writing, or wonderful prints and wood cuts on hand-made paper, or book plates.

Here's another little teaser for those who appreciate the finery of paper...

Circle Press.

Look and drool, people, look and drool.

By the way, the fabulous three dimensional poster shown here is Alphabet 11 by Ronald King.

Hide the credit card...

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Records & Archives Week

As a confirmed snail-mailer, ie. someone who uses that old-fashioned item called a pen, and actually writes correspondence on that crinkly stuff called paper, I was glad I spotted the ad in a bottom corner of The Star, or local free newspaper for Records and Archives Week.

It's called "Your's Faithfully...cul8r: Preserving Personal Letters as Archives."

It's a series of lunchtime talks at the Hocken Library, with speakers including Dr Donald Kerr on 'Publishing Contributions: Dr Hocken's First Literary Venture,' and Dr Philip Temple on 'The Letters of Maria Blumenthal', which gave him the fodder for I am With You Always, his novel based on Maria and other artists in Germany during the war.

It starts this Monday, and there is a diferent speaker each day, talks from 12.10pm-1.00pm.

The full programme can be found here. (The link didn't entirely play the game, so the ad is in the bottom right hand corner.)