Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Please excuse...

...my absence from the blogosphere in the last few days...

...I've had a good excuse...

...been typing my little fingers off...

...to write 'The End' on the first draft of Bound...

...Feels good...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

War on my mind

It's funny how a theme will come at you in waves, for no apparent reason. For me that theme is War. I don't think it's because I subconsciously feel my life is a war zone with house sales and death by cleaning and the hectic pace of life in general at the moment. I think it is more one of those serendipitous things.

It all started with Fifi - yes, it's your fault. Writer, illustrator, wearable art creator and craftswoman extroadinaire Fifi Colston has recently started another blog (she has several) (I don't know how she finds the time) called Dearest Dadie, Postcards From the War, where she shares the letters and postcards of her husband's grandfather Rothwell to his then girlfriend (and later wife) Hilda (Dadie) during World War One. Go visit Fifi's blog, as it is lovey and will prove over time to give a very personal glimpse into the effects of war on people.

The second trigger was reviewing a wonderful book called Dear Alison: A New Zealand Soldier's Story from Stalag 383. This book is an absolute treat. Dudley Muff was a prisoner of war during World War Two in Germany. Instead of writing a traditional diary, he wrote a diary record for his niece, Alison, who was then aged three. The result is an incredible record of prisoner life written for a child and illustrated with the most wonderful, expressive little stick figures as well as detailed drawings. It is humourous and sad, and eye-opening and ultimately uplifting. Dear Alison is one of this year's non-fiction finalists in the New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards.

The third wave came in the form of a YouTube link to a remarkable piece of video. It is the performance of Kseniya Simonova, aged 24, who won the 2009 Ukraine's Got Talent (I know what you're thinking) This is something I had never seen the like of before. She draws on an illuminated sand box a series of images showing how ordinary people were affected by the German invasion during WWII. It is stunning, and worth watching for the full eight and a half minutes. The link is here.

There have been all sorts of other little things, now my senses have been heightened as it were. I can assure you I am entertaining no thoughts of incorporating the World Wars into my writing any time soon. But riding this little wave of discovery has been pleasurable, often emotional, and thought provoking.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Heavenly Peace

Ngaio Marsh House was an absolute treat during our recent trip to Christchurch. But the pilgrimage would not have been complete without a journey to visit Ngaio Marsh's grave.

Ngaio wanted to be buried at Peel Forest, which is a gorgeous area of native bush, tucked into the base of the hills on the edge of the Canterbury plains near Geraldine. This was a place she visited often and it was the home of her great friends the Ackland family. After we finally found the little churchyard and cemetery where she is buried, it is a bit off the beaten track, I could fully understand why she would have wanted eternal rest there.

The Church of the Holy Innocents at Mount Peel is a stunning little church and its surroundings with trees, bush, paddocks and cows was idyllic. We went on a warm and sunny day and the whole area exuded peace and calm.

There was nothing auspicious about Ngaio's gravestone. It simply says 'Edith Ngaio Marsh.' That is all, no dates, no accolades, just an elegant and to the point memorial.

The company she keeps at the cemetery is fascinating. This is a very old and historic churchyard, in fact it held the grave of the first woman to be born in Christchurch. It is also the ancestral home of the Ackland family, and other families. I was also intrigued to note there were a couple of graves for people who had died overseas, but had wanted their remains to be brought back to Peel forest. Such is the allure of the place.

So Ngaio rests in heavenly peace amongst her friends in what I think must be one of the prettiest and serene places in New Zealand.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

I was delighted to see the television adaption of Alexander McCall Smith's books was to be screened on Vibe. Naturally, as with any television or movie adaptation there is a certain amount of anxiety before viewing - will the casting of characters resemble what they are like in your head? Will they stay true to the plots or the intent? Will they completely butcher it? Will I be disappointed?

I am delighted to say none of my fears came to fruition.

I loved the casting of Jill Scott as Mma Ramotswe and her supporting characters. And I think what I found most pleasing was the director captured that essence of all things in their time ease, you believed that was what this corner or Botswana was like. It was so very much how I imagined it from reading the book.

Naturally there was plenty of red bush tea.

So over all, a big thumbs up for the television version. I'm looking forward to the next episode.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ngaio Marsh House

One of the highlights of our recent visit to Christchurch was to visit Ngaio Marsh House, in the hilly suburb of Cashmere. Other than Agatha Christie's house in Britain, Ngaio Marsh house is the only crime writer's residence open for public viewing.

The Ngaio Marsh Trust which runs the house has done a fantastic job of keeping the property in the condition it was in when she died in 1982. With great foresight, after her death they went through the house and photographed everything, as they were able to keep the majority of her possessions, but unfortunately not the house. With everything photographed the possessions available to the trust were put into storage. Many years later, when the trust was able to purchase the house, they were then able to use the photographs to place Ngaio's belongings back to their original positions.

There were some items they didn't own, and they have also over the years added items, specifically portraits of Ngaio that they have purchased. The end result is you walk into this home and you get a wonderful sense of Ngaio and her life.

For a start, as you wind your way up the narrow bush-clad road and driveway, you get an overwhelming sense of peace and privacy. All I could hear was the bird call and sound of cicadas merrily chirruping. You could immediately understand why this place was so special to her and such a haven.

The house itself is fascinating. It is an Arts and Crafts era home designed by leading Christchurch architect Samuel Hurst Seager. The wooden ceilings were wonderful, and the entire house, which is quite compact exuded a homeliness and warmth. It was charming.

It was wonderful to be surrounded by Ngaio's belongings, and all of her books. I love looking at people's book shelves, for don't they say you are what you read? Ngaio must have been a most fascinating woman. Her reading was very diverse. I was also intrigued to see her reference material and the books she used in researching her novels.

The swords woman in me delighted in seeing sabres adorning her walls. She had many of the stage props used in her theatre productions decorating her home.

I was also delighted to see her Edgar Award.

So if you are ever in Christchurch, do make sure you book in a tour of Ngaio Marsh house. It is an utterly brilliant experience and the guides are knowledgeable and entertaining.

The Ngaio Marsh trust still has a mortgage on the property, and struggles to make end meet - so any tours and donations are gratefully received. Like many organisations, they are reliant on volunteers and donations.

We are truly blessed to have this home available to us - make the most of it, people. It is unique!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Neat freak

I have discovered a new black hole of time. And no, I haven't joined Face Book, because I know full well it would eat away at my time, courtesy of eating away at my resolve to not have to know exactly what's going on in everyone's lives on a minute by minute basis.

So what is this black hole?

It's cleaning.

Yes, you heard it from me, cleaning. Cleaning and its close friend, tidying. I realise these are words you thought you'd never heard uttered by me, but, I am suddenly having to be fastidious about these things. This is what happens when you do something rash like decide to sell your house.

Consequently my shower has been cleaned more in the last two weeks than it has in months. It is so shiny I need to put my sun glasses on to have a splash in the morning. Ditto the floors, which have been mopped far more often than I deem sensible. My desk is so tidy its scary. Hell, I even dusted stuff, yes, seriously!

So, you ask, do you like your house cleaner and tidier Vanda? Is it something you could get used to?

And the short answer is, er, NO!

I, Vanda Symon would like to announce to the world, unashamedly and unreservedly, I like my clutter. I find this terribly clean and tidy house unnatural and it is so not me.

Bring back my mess!!!!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Media Overkill

Toady was one of those days when everything happens at once. Not only did I have my radio show, Write On at noon, I also had my regular book reviewing slot on Channel 9 Television's Dunedin Diary programme.

Here's the bits about the radio show today, and my guests, who were both fabulous.

Michele Powles has recently arrived in Dunedin from Auckland to take up her position as the Robert Burns Fellow at the University of Otago. Last year she had published her first novel Weathered Bones, a tale of three women past and present. We talk about the novel and what the fellowship means to her

Bronwyn Wylie-Gibb from Dunedin's The University Book Shop is a regular guest on the show. Join us as we chat about current books, trends and whats hot in the book world.

On Dunedin Diary tonight I reviewed two books, Father's Raising Daughter's by Nigel Latta, and Promised Land, by Graeme Sydney, which also went very well. I also got to meet Graeme Downes from The Verlaines, and jeweller and guest judge for the ID Fashion Week Andrew Logan. It's cool who you bump into in the studio!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Cures for panicking writers

I'm the kind of girl who keeps calm, mostly. My life can get rather busy, and I might occasionally start paddling on the inside, but mostly look serene-ish on the outside.

OK, now the outside is starting to look panicky too!

Things currently available to panic about (I am so blessed with choice)

We have brought a new house.
We have to sell our old house.
I have to keep the old house ridiculously clean and tidy.
I'm not that good at tidy.
I have to finish reading two books by tomorrow.
I have study commitments.
I have said yes to a large project I have got to get stuck into.
I'm upgrading my web site but have been really slack with sending a photo and my charming web master is nagging me.
I have television tomorrow and there is a monster zit on my chin. (OK, that panic is ridiculously vain, I know)
It is March and I have a novel deadline approaching.
I have a novel deadline approaching
I have a novel deadline approaching
I have a novel deadline...

There are several ways I can deal with all this:

Resign from life, hide myself away, drink wine and eat copious amounts of chocolate. (To be honest, that's my favoured approach, but then I'll turn into a lush and get the size of a house and the zit on my chin will only get bigger.)

Meet friends in cafes, drink copious amounts of coffee and eat pretty cakes and slices. (See above, remove the word 'lush' and insert the words 'twitching mess.')

Or I could sit my arse down and actually write.

My, God, there's an idea!

Hmmmm, any other suggestions welcome.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A new adventure

If I have been absent from the blogosphere of late, it has been because I have been rather preoccupied.

You see, in a moment of rashness, hubby and I have brought a new house. And not being of the rich and famous variety of folk, it means we have had to rapidly get this beautiful old home we live in on the market. Hence, instead of writing, blogging, looking after children, having a life, I have been sorting, cleaning, painting, and been in stunned amazement at how much crap we have accumulated in the time we have been here.

I must confess, I am the kind of person who can not bear to throw anything out. I am the polar opposite of minimalist. I am utterly maximalist, which is all well and good, until you have to sell your house. then suddenly you realise that other people will see your treasures as clutter, and other people will see your mementos as junk. At some point you also come to realise that prospective home buyers do not want to risk injury by opening a cupboard and being met by an avalanche of ,er, stuff. That kind of dampens their ardour. So in the interests of presenting a home for sale, I am actively de-junking. This has also been triggered by the fact the home we have brought is smaller. I know, you are thinking, what?!!! Smaller?!!! (Especially those of you who come to stay and are aware of exactly how much stuff we have.) But rest assured, the positives outweigh the negatives.

I am getting my head around the idea of change, even if it is just moving across the city. I also have to admit to having a wee cry when the For Sale sign went up on the fence this morning. But it is all for good, moving forward, onwards and upwards. I just hope I can survive the process in the meantime.

By the way, if you'd love to buy a beautiful old villa in Dunedin, drop me a line...