Friday, January 29, 2010

Masters Games

Dunedin is host to this years Master Games, you know, the games for old farts. There has been an influx into the city of wrinkled and determined folk, ready to do battle and prove that age is no impediment for blood thirsty competition and a lot of fun.

I was delighted to read in the local paper the oldest registered competitor was a 95 year-old woman competing in the 100 metres track and field, and also indoor rowing, in the 300m, 500m and 1000m events. In fact there are 350 competitors older than seventy out of the 6000 people registered in the games.

I will be doing my bit in the fencing competition tomorrow. It does mean I have to get out of bed a damn sight earlier than usual, but hey, small price to pay for the chance of trying to legally and legitimately run people through with my sword!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The good stuff

I've had a spell of good things happen...

Bookman Beattie aka Graham Beattie listed Containment as one of his best books of 2009 for his Radio New Zealand Nine to Noon book reviews. I'm utterly rapt with this as this man reads a lot of crime fiction!

Here's the link to his Beattie's Book Blog.

My Stonehenge birthday cake scored eight druids at Clonehenge, the website devoted to replicas of Stonehenge. That's the highest rating they've ever given a cake!

I got a cheque to soften the blow of the ACC bill.

The sun came out in Dunedin today. After I got over the shock of this strange substance emanating from the sky, I got brave and went out in it!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dangerous Writing

Writing must be an incredibly high risk activity. It must rate up there with base jumping and marlin wrestling, javelin catching or playing chicken with trains.

Or so you'd think, because I just got my ACC bill!!!!

(For those unfortunates who do not live in New Zealand, that is Accident Compensation Corporation, the entity we pay money to through our wages, road user charges, petrol taxes etc to pay for medical treatment and/or compensate us for injury so we cannot sue.)

Mind you, I can see their point. I might accidentally suffer a life-threatening paper cut requiring extensive surgery, hospitalisation and lengthy rehabilitation. Or there is a certain risk of sustaining crush injuries from an avalanche of crud off of my desk. My keyboard could suddenly malfunction and flick a rogue letter up to poke me in the eye. Or for that matter, I could, in a fugue of writing frenzy accidentally poke myself in the eye. Now I think about it, the list goes on and on. I see their point entirely. This writing is a risky business.

Oh ACC, please forgive me for ever doubting you.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Vintage Murder

by Ngaio Marsh

This is the first of Ngaio Marsh's Chief Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn novels to be set in New Zealand, so it was fun to see what picture of New Zealand the author painted. In fact the picture she painted would have done the boffins at the New Zealand tourism industry proud; clean, green and beautiful.

Of course this book wasn't all about New Zealand, there was a murder involved here. The majority of her mysteries are set in Alleyn's homeland of Britain. He is in New Zealand on holiday, recouperating from surgery and happens to be sharing a train with a company of touring actors who are taking their show to the fictional town of Middleton. He gets to enjoy their opening show and comes along to the opening night party only to witness, along with those present the untimely demise of the Company co-owner by a sabotaged suspended jeroboam of Champagne. Ngaio Marsh gets full marks for unusual murder weapons.

Not one to be able to turn down helping to unravel a murder, Alleyn finds himself assisting the local constabulary.

The last Ngaio Marsh book I read that involved a theatre group and actors (Enter a Murderer) drove me a bit nuts (flaming actors) so I was a little apprehensive about starting this one. I was pleasantly surprised. There were many things I enjoyed about this book. Another good murder mystery. The New Zealand setting. The fact this novel was published in 1937 and the way that is reflected in the language and the social attitudes towards Maori characters and traditions. The tiny little name hidden in the text that caused a serendipitous aha moment for another piece of research I am doing.

So overall Vintage Murder was a good read, and good, vintage Marsh.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


By Roderick Gordon & Brian Williams.

Last night we finished this book after it being the bed-time story book for the boys. I had chosen it as it had been touted as the next great thing after Harry Potter. Yes, this was before Stephanie Meyer.

Tunnels is a story about a boy named Will who, with the inspiration of his Dad, is mad about excavating and tunneling. They look for old disused underground railways, sewers, anything interesting underground. When Will's dad makes a few interesting discoveries, and then disappears Will becomes determined to find him. With the help of a friend he follows his Dad's trail until they stumble upon something truly astonishing, a whole new world.

I'm not sure what to make of this book. It was a great premise and interesting, and the boys seemed to enjoy it, but I found it really quite grim. It was a joyless book, there was certainly nothing that made us laugh. So although it is an adventure book for boys, I wouldn't actually recommend it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Little Stranger

By Sarah Waters.

Who can resist a ghost story? And who could resist a Man Booker Prize short-listed ghost story? Not me, that's for sure. This book was also an opportunity for me to try a new author, as I hadn't read any of Sarah Water's novels before.

Dr Faraday is called to Hundreds Hall, a once vibrant family home to generations of the Ayers family, but now a crumbling post war yoke for its owners' necks. The three remaining members of the family are virtually destitute and struggling to deal with the changes in society brought about by war and modernisation. The son, Rod, has been badly injured in the war, and seems to be fighting a losing battle with his demons. Mrs Ayers is aged and trying to maintain a shred of their former lifestyle. The daughter, Caroline, is practical and pragmatic, but plain, so has been overlooked by suitors. Dr Faraday recalls visiting the house as a youngster, his mother worked as a nanny for the family. It pains him to see the declining state of the house as well as its inhabitants.

As a series of unfortunate events, and then dramatic changes in the health of the family occurs, they are all left wondering if the house is hiding something more sinister than rot, damp and decay.

The Little Stranger is a long and unrushed kind of a book, that slowly builds up tension and momentum. It is full of fabulous detail and beautiful description of not only the people, but also Hundreds Hall, which comes to life almost as a character in its own right with the wonderful descriptions of its dilapidation. I enjoyed this book immensely and found it a satisfying read. I'll certainly be looking out for more of Sarah Water's novels.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Killer Poetry

While crunching away on a piece of home made sour dough bread toast with butter and raspberry jam this morning, I was blown away to see the Monday poem in the Otago Daily Times. Immortalised in poetry!

It is reproduced below, with the kind permission of its lovely author...

Garden Plots

by Ruth Arnison

A lunchtime walk, winter brisk. Gloves, hats
and foggy words kept us warm

Lights at the Gardens intersection overridden
by police. Observing our

pedestrian status they stopped traffic, waved
us across like ducklings strayed

onto a busy road. Embarrassed we scurried,

At the drinking fountain, the pipes were
frozen, our midday thirst

unquenched. Over the bridge, we took the
lower path to Dundas St

You know, she said, I can't walk here
on my own. Not since -

Vanda, I prompted. Yeh, she said, I think
it was down there, the murder

A jogger brushed passed us, we shivered
and moved on

She's writing another one, she said. It's not
right, authors taking over

the city. Soon we'll be walking all over
their plots


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Fantastic Mr Fox

One of the joys of the school holidays is the, ahem, excuse to go and see the cool kids movies. So when we made the suggestion the boys might like to go see Fantastic Mr Fox, we weren't too disappointed when they jumped up and down and said yes please.

This movie has had great reviews and it was easy to see why.

My observations....

In an age of Pixar digital whizbangery (which is marvelous) it was so refreshing to see this puppet type movie which looked and felt so different!

It is based on Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox, but as Mr Eight Year Old pointed out 'it didn't happen like that in the book,' but the story and the movie are so good you don't care. I explained to him how loose the term 'based on' is.

I loved the speedy way they all moved.

The characters looked and moved like I imagined refined Quentin Blake's illustrations would if come to life.

George Clooney was the perfect voice for Mr Fox.

It was a clever, brilliantly well done movie.

Go grab yourself a kid and go along, in fact, forget the kid - go along anyway.

Friday, January 15, 2010

In the top 5

I squealed with delight when I got a wee email from Penguin to let me know Containment was number 4 in the New Zealand Fiction for Adults Best Seller List!

This is the first time I've ever made the top five and I feel ridiculously pleased, so much so I went and put something bubbly in the fridge for tonight. It's given my ego a nice little boost, because that means people are buying my book - and not just my family and friends! (Mind you, my family is big enough it could just about tip me into the list by itself)

The news has come at a really good time for me, because one of the things about being a writer is the ebb and flow of self-confidence and self doubt, which can change as often as the tides, depending on how the writing muse has been co-operating. And although I've had some good writing days recently, I've had that stupid little voice in my head, the one that quietly self-sabotages and constantly asks why are you really doing this? What's the point? Is what I do really meaningful?

So for me, this little snippet of news means a lot, as it's a vote of confidence from the readers. God bless your little cotton socks!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Let them eat cake

Today we had a little party for the transition of Mr Seven-Year-Old to Mr Eight-Year-Old. There were all the usual elements: a gaggle of excited children, balloons and streamers, treasure hunt, Simon Says, Hide and Seek, lunch with sausage rolls, cheerios, little sandwiches, chippies, cheese and crackers, carrot sticks, cucumber and grapes. And of course there was cake.

When Mr now Eight-Year-Old was planning his party (which he has been for months) he decided he wanted a Wonders of the World party. Cool, that left lots of scope for games and bits and pieces.

I asked him what sort of cake he would like?

Stonehenge he said.



Gulp goes mum.

When in doubt, have a go...

I am delighted with the result, and it was easier than I thought it would be.

Damn chuffed with it, actually.

Amazing what you can do with icing.

Happy Eight-Year-Old.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Writing in an Age of Silence

by Sara Paretsky.

Sara Paretsky is best known as the writer of the V I Warshawski series of detective novels. I found this little treasure in my favourite book-o-holic den, The University Book Shop and couldn't resist.

I thought it was going to be the usual type of memoir by a writer, fascinating, inspirational, instructive, which it was, but it was also far more than that. It was a real eye-opener.

This book is very, very political, and it explores the personal and political climate that moulded and developed her signature character. Paretski was a young woman in the mid-sixties, in the midst of the civil rights movement which she saw from the periphery and from the perspective of the Polish families, as she was staying in a Polish neighbourhood. She talks about how this time materialised in her writing.

She also talks passionately about feminism and her involvement with the women's movement, in particular with women's rights to control their fertility. She voices her concern at how female characters are portrayed in fiction, and especially crime fiction, and how that informed the charcteristics she gave V I Warshawsi.

The chapter on the erosion of civil liberties in the United States post 9/11 was shocking.

I am so glad I picked this book out, as it opened my eyes and my thinking beyond the surface of many issues, and is an insight to the woman, and her character.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A cracker.

Had a cracker writing day today. Life has returned to some sense of rhythm with Hubby going back to work today and the sense that the Christmas and New Year period is truly over.

In many ways it was a relief, as I'd reached the point where I was itching to get back to my things, as opposed to looking after everyone else's things. So it was very gratifying to sit down today, glance over what I'd written an age ago, think, hey, that's not too bad, and then to add a solid thousand words to it.

I'm sure the process was helped by a few pots of tea in my new, shiny Christmas pressie tea pot (I made a blend of English breakfast and Lapsong Soshong, or how ever you spell it) It was also helped by my doing the one thing I said I'd never do in the school holidays - I plonked the kids in front of the TV for the afternoon. At least I can say it was quality viewing for them - DVD's from my Thunderbirds colection. God bless Super-Marionation.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Winter Ghosts

By Kate Mosse.

Kate Mosse is best known as the writer of Labyrinth and Sepulchre, weighty books that cross over between historic fiction and modern day, with an element of the supernatural, and both of which I loved.

The Winter Ghosts is a much shorter and quicker read, and is also very satisfying.

Freddie Watson is traveling through an isolated and mountainous region of Southern France in the middle of winter in 1928. His car spins off the road and he has to trudge through the forests in the midst of a storm to find a village to summon help. But all is not as it seems in the village of Nulle, and there is something mysterious about Fabrissa, the young woman he meets and shares stories of his past with.

As always Kate Mosse's descriptions of both people, and France are evocative and enticing. Whenever I read her books, I have an urge to hop on a plane and go see it for myself. Pity about my lack of resources.

I'd initially given this book a three out of five, as although it was a lovely read, it wasn't as meaty or as in depth as Kate's other titles. But I have decided I need to upgrade this to a four out of five. The reason for this? A week after reading the book, and while distracted by reading other books, I find my mind drifting back to the story, pondering some of the atrocities committed in the name of war and religion, and thinking about the characters. The book is hanging around in my head, and considering how fast some things fall out of my head, any book that can hang on in there, in the presence of my next brilliant read, deserves the accolade.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


By Sebastian Faulks.

This is the first Sebastian Faulks novel I have read, and did so on the recommendation of a number of people who said I simply must read it. I am so pleased they insisted and I was so obedient.

This book is a first person account of the life of Mike Engleby. He's an odd sort of a man, clearly not that likable for some of the people he encounters but strangely endearing for the reader as we get more and more inside his head. We see of his hellish private school experiences, his attempts at fitting in at university, and his embarking on a career in journalism. We also see his thought processes as he attempts to make sense of the disappearance of a university friend. He has quirks aplenty and as some of his actions become more and more questionable I found myself liking him all the more.

Engleby is a deep, dark, funny and very stylish novel. It is thought provoking and a damn good read. I highly recommend it.

After reading this I shall have to go and dust off the languishing copy of Charlotte Gray which adorns my books shelf and has never been read...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Favourite books in 2009

A number of bloggers have been chatting about their favourite books read in 2009. I felt it was time I did the same, but then I had a look at my notebook and due to the schermozzle that 2009 turned out to be, I only read about 40 books, which I suppose isn't too bad, but I'd aimed for 50.

So this year, I am aiming for fifty again, and am off to a good start having finished reading Engleby, by Sebastian Faulks today - but I shall blog a review about that tomorrow.

As for this year's books? I read quite an eclectic mix, so I have put my favourites into loose categories, and in some I haven't been brave enough to make a call and have listed two books. Yes, I'm indecisive, but put it down to the quality of the books, not my lack of fortitude...

Best Crime fiction:

The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas
The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

Best General Fiction:

First Touch of Light by Ruth Pettis

Best Historic Fiction:

Sepulchre by Kate Mosse
Banquo's Son by Tania Roxborogh

Best Biography:

Ngaio Marsh: Her Life in Crime By Joanne Drayton

Best Memoir:

Chance is a Fine Thing by Philip Temple
The Madonna in the Suit Case by Huberta Hellendoorn

To help me along in my quest to read fifty books this year I have signed up to Dorte's 2010 Global Reading Challenge. I've opted for the easy challenge, which is to read a book from an author you haven't read before from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America. I thought it would be a good way to broaden my reading horizons.

My reading horizons are always gladly expanded by reading the books written by people I interview on the Write On Radio Show. I already have four books on that pile itching to be read.

Then there is the pile of books I have succumbed to upon entering the University Book Shop, which include a few "chunkers" which will slow my rate down a bit. But never mind, I am keen and eager, I just have to find the time...

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Seeing Red

Went into town for the first time in ten days.

There are sales on.

I succumbed.

But then, every crime writer needs a pair of knee length red boots, don't they?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Emerging from the post Christmas fuzz...

I love the post-Christmas, chill on through to the New Year summertime fuzz. You eat to much, drink too much if you're lucky, eat some more, swan around, play board games, read books, plan what you're going to eat next, watch the monarch caterpillars do their thing, watch the kids do their thing, watch the Hubby and visiting men-folk do fantastic things with the BBQ, bake more things to eat, and punch the air in jubilation when you get dressed in the morning and find you can still fit your clothes. Ah, summer.

Christmas was a lovely booky affair in our household. In fact all of my requirements for living were met in the pressie department - books, bling and a new tea pot.

We have also acquired a new family member. We affectionately refer to it as 'Buggy.' It being Christmas holidays and reasonably warm I thought it would be a fun holiday project to start a sour dough bread bug - and lo and behold, it worked. We now have this festering, vaguely creepy looking seething mass inhabiting our hot water cupboard and have been enjoying yummy sour dough bread each day. I am pleased to report they are getting better and better each time, and we are not sick of it yet. Mr Seven-Year-Old has proven himself to be a patient and good bread-kneader, so the two of us have been lined up side by side kneading each morning - he has taken charge of the focaccia and I do the sour dough. There's something very satisfying about it - especially eating it!

Well, must dash, time to go and plan what to eat for lunch...