The Politics of Indignation, and Capes and Tights: Superhero Comics, Sun 31 August, WORD Christchurch

The Politics of Indignation
finlay_mcdonald
The Politics of Indignation featured Australian writer Richard King, author of On Offence, in conversation with journalist Finlay Macdonald (right) about our culture of offence-taking, particularly in the media and politics. It was a lively, fascinating discussion that I really enjoyed.

King’s thesis is that the act of publicly taking offence has become a toxic presence in our democracy, shutting down valuable arguments where it should be the start of the debate. He spoke about how offence-taking has become part of our political currency, with politicians being rewarded for being seen to be offended with extra media coverage and headlines.

The reason we have freedom of speech, says King, is to protect the search for truth. And it is meaningless unless it includes the freedom to offend. He spoke scathingly about how a sense of victimhood has become part of our cultural self-awareness, where ‘me being offended’ is automatically ‘your problem’. King also criticised the act of being offended on behalf of others, the way the middle classes can be patronisingly protective of “the marginalised”.

There was an interesting discussion of the place of satire: the act of being deliberately offensive in a humorous manner in order to make a serious point. It reminded me of the conversation yesterday between satirist Steve Braunias and The Civilian’s Ben Uffindell. Both Uffindell and Macdonald made the point that satire in New Zealand is difficult because too many people don’t get it. Macdonald said this means that journalists get tired of being misunderstood and simply stop using satire – and this has the effect of “making us all so bloody pious”.

Of course, these days, no discussion of offence is complete without mentioning Twitter. King bemoaned the fact that Twitter, which was originally touted as being the great, international conversation-enabler, has instead become a place where vital debate is shut down. “140 characters is enough to convey strength of feeling, but not reasoned argument.”

This was a fascinating session and really got me thinking about how feelings of offence affect my own behaviour. Good on King for bringing up a topic that we all need to consider.

Capes and Tights: Superhero Comics

Capes and Tights was my last session at the 2014 WORD Christchurch Writers Festival, and it was a wonderful note to end on: lively fun with an infectious passion for books and story.
dylanhorrocks
Cartoonist Dylan Horrocks (right)  chaired a panel discussion on superhero comics with filmmaker Jonathan King, author Karen Healey and philosopher Damon Young. All four spoke with humour and real feeling about their love for superhero comics, and the different ways they had read them at different stages of their lives. For example, Young spoke movingly about being an angry teen wanting to see his own rage reflected in the characters, needing to see vengeance as noble.

No discussion of superhero comics is complete without an examination of violence. King pointed out that, since 9/11, US superhero films tend to show seriousness by having entire city blocks destroyed and people and rubble covered in dust. Young spoke about how articulate violence in comics can express character and play a valuable role in storytelling.

I was very struck by Healey’s thesis that all comics are fanfiction (she has written her PhD on this topic). All comics are built on characters, situations, stories and artwork that have come before them – there is no definitive first story or ‘right’ version. I was also interested to learn that, in this context, ‘canon’ means ‘having the official masthead’ (eg. of DC Comics or Marvel).

Horrocks asked all the participants what superpower they’d have if they could: Healey said invincibility, Young said telekinesis, and King chose the ability to fly. Horrocks said he’d had invisibility, and spoke very poignantly about his idea of his invisible self continuing after his death, observing the world.

The session ended with Horrocks inviting Rachael King, one of the WORD organisers, to come and receive a very well deserved round of applause. Horrocks praised WORD 2014 for being the year’s best literary festival – bring on 2016!

by Elizabeth Heritage, Freelance writer and publisher
www.elizabethheritage.co.nz

The Margaret Mahy Lecture, by Elizabeth Knox – WORD Festival, Sun 31 August

Margaret Mahy Memorial Lecture, by Elizabeth Knox
An Unreal House Filled with Real Storms

I am a pretty gregarious person. I approach people at events; I call people on the phone. (When left on my own for more than a few hours, I go mad and start serenading my pet rats.) I am a natural networker, and literary events like writers festivals are like catnip to me: I get to talk to other readers, to meet authors I’ve read and discover others I’d like to read, to buy books and get them freshly signed. Having a media pass is even better − I get to interview people, hobnob with celebrities, and tune my curious book-reviewing brain to live events. My usual festival MO is to constantly make myself available for interesting conversations.

When Elizabeth Knox’s lecture ended, I did none of these things. I couldn’t wait to get out of the room. I saw many people I knew, who I enjoy conversing with, but I approached none of them. I headed straight outside into the calming Christchurch cold and towards the cardboard cathedral.

I didn’t know what to think. It was just before 11 in the morning on a Sunday and my mind was in whirring turmoil. What had I just experienced? Some kind of profound and disruptive event of the mind. I wasn’t ready to be around other people, wasn’t ready to discuss the experience we’d all just had. I couldn’t even put it into words in my own head. And why was I striding so desperately towards the cathedral? I am an atheist, and have never, from my compulsory-Catholicism childhood onwards, viewed houses of worship as places of consolation.

Perhaps it was that Knox had spoken so matter-of-factly about experiencing the presence of god in her own life; doing what she had credited Mahy with; “making the supernatural natural”. Perhaps it was because, when Kate De Goldi came back onstage to do the end-of-event wrap-up, she suggested that, rather than ask questions, the audience just file silently out, as from a church. We did. Many of us had been crying.

Either way, I was stymied. It was a Sunday morning and the cathedral was being used for its primary purpose: there was a service on, and I didn’t want to join in. So I walked around outside, touched the cardboard, admired the stark, fresh lines of the architecture, and listened to the singing − borrowed sounds of beauty and calm.

I thought about Knox, about her talking about the experience Mahy had had on her as a reader: “she opened up a room in New Zealand literature that I wanted to hang out in”. And I thought about how the same is true of my discovery of Knox. I was living in England and feeling a bit distanced from New Zealandness. One day in a bookshop I discovered a book that had been written by a fellow Kiwi called Elizabeth: The Vintner’s Luck. I bought and read it.

It was so strange, almost uncomfortable. Was it literary fiction? Fantasy? Paranormal slash? (One of my favourite Knox quotes is a tweet she once sent: “I am a genre-tunneling monster!”) Was it New Zealand literature? It wasn’t set in Aotearoa and it didn’t have that NZ lit feel at all. But in that book I met something, someone, that has stayed with me ever since. Knox opened up a room for me in New Zealand literature that I value enormously. I revisit it whenever I need to be prodded in the mind, pushed off my comfortable perch and forced to fly. Knox’s writing reminds me that the world is strange and that I can be better in it. Ehara koe i a ia, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Knox’s inaugural Margaret Mahy Memorial Lecture, entitled ‘An Unreal House Filled With Real Storms’, will be coming to national radio soon, and Knox promises to publish it as prose as well. Make sure you go there.

by Elizabeth Heritage, Freelance writer and publisher

www.elizabethheritage.co.nz

Supernaturally – Laini Taylor and Elizabeth Knox, WORD Christchurch, 31 August

Laini Taylor is one of my writing idols. When her attendance at the WORDword-LainiTaylor
Christchurch festival was announced I was absolutely delighted. I would like to think I was among the first to purchase my ticket for this event − in which she and Elizabeth Knox discuss the supernatural world of Young Adult writing. This discussion was hosted by local speculative
fiction writer, Helen Lowe.

I enjoy the panel-style format such as this, where it rather resembles a friendly discussion, to which I am a welcome eavesdropper. The camaderie between Elizabeth, Laini and Helen was open and friendly, and it was
wonderful to see that each participant was familiar with the other’s
work. Neither dominated the discussion and comments bounced back and
forth in a lively, animated manner.

Helen’s questions were insightful, both to readers and aspiring authors. She began with asking why they create supernatural/fantastic worlds – in which Laini admitted to tricking people into reading high fantasy (her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy starts from an urban fantasy
perspective). Elizabeth attributed it to her older sister, who made the world magical. Other topics took us through the laws of magic, the hero’s journey trope (which elizabeth_knoxneither author follow consciously), and other such popular Young Adult themes as strong female characters, insta-love and love triangles. Elizabeth Knox (left)  described the latest trend towards paranormal romance as “the cuckoo laid in the nest of fantasy”.

I also learned that the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, one of the
best I have ever read, began when Laini was seeking relief from a
challenging novel and began with free writing and discovery of the
characters of Karou and Brimstone. Certainly a most serendipitous
occurance, and one that I (and I imagine many others) am most grateful
for. Writing a novel, she informed us, is a little like swimming from
buoy to buoy, capturing spontaneity in short bursts.

Overall, a very rewarding discussion that both intrigued me as a reader
and inspired me as a writer. I could have listened to the two of them
all day!

by Angela Oliver, writer, artist and reviewer for Booksellers NZ

The Great NZ Crime Debate, WORD Christchurch 30 August

The Great NZ Crime Debate

This year the Great New Zealand Crime Debate was convened to debate the moot “Crime Doesn’t Pay”. On the affirmative team were lawyer Marcus Elliott, crime writer Paul Cleave and US novelist Meg Wolitzer. On the negative team were Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel, journalist Martin van Beynen and satirist Steve Braunias. The debate was MC’d by writer Joe Bennett.

It was a highly enjoyable night of silly fun. The emphasis was on jokes rather than arguments; name-calling rather than logic. All participants spoke well, although no one came close to Bennett in terms of sheer showmanship. A grand night was had by all.

After the debate was the presentation of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. The finalists were Joe Victim by Paul Cleave (Penguin), Frederick’s Coat by Alan Duff (Random House), My Brother’s Keeper by Donna Malane (HarperCollins) and Where the Dead Men Go by Liam McIlvanney (Faber).

And the winner is! Where the Dead Men Go by Scottish Kiwi Liam McIlvanney. Although he has only lived in NZ for few years (and still has a very strong Scottish accent), McIlvanney says he is proud to be a New Zealander and loves seeing his books in the NZ section of bookshops. Resident in Dunedin, he told me that his favourite bookshops are UBS Otago, Scribes, and Unity Books Wellington.

Lots more WORD festival fun to come. Bring it on!

Reported by Elizabeth Heritage, Freelance Writer and Publisher
http://elizabethheritage.co.nz/

The Changeover: 30 Years On, and The Secret Diary of the Civilian, WORD Christchurch 31 August

The Changeover: 30 Years On

I was so excited when I saw this session advertised. As a child and teenager, I loved Margaret Mahy’s chilling YA novel The Changeover, and reread it many times. The engrossing story of Laura Chant having to ‘change over’ to become a witch in order to protect her little brother felt both magical and real at the same time. But I never met anyone else who had read it.

WORD Christchurch Writers Festival brought together authors Elizabeth Knox and Karen Healey and filmmaker Stuart McKenzie to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of The Changeover (chaired by Bill Nagelkerke).

It was the changeoverwonderful for me to hear the admiration and enjoyment I had experienced as a child for this book expressed with such articulate passion by these highly intelligent speakers. Both Knox and Healey acknowledged Mahy’s influence on them and their work: Healey said The Changeover “blew up my brain”, Knox said “Mahy’s naturalism made the supernatural natural”. I particularly liked Healey’s description of Mahy as “an enchantress who made books appear”.

And I am thrilled that The Changeover is to be made into a film! McKenzie has decided to set the movie in present-day Christchurch, rather than in 1984 when the book is set, and Nagelkerke drew the parallel of Christchurch having dramatically ‘changed over’ from a pre to a post-earthquake city. Hopefully the film will mean republication of the book: as with the Reading Favourites session yesterday, the panelists noted that, despite its prestigious Carnegie Medal win, The Changeover is now out of print.

Some copies are still available from the 2003 reprint, however, and I would urge you all to go out at once and buy this wonderful, profound, magical and terrifying NZ spec fic novel.

The Secret Diary of The CivilianWORD-Web-Event-CIVILIAN

My second session today was Steven Braunias in conversation with Ben Uffindell, creator of the satirical (and reliably hilarious) news website The Civilian.

There’s always a danger with these kinds of sessions that analysis will render the comedy unfunny. Happily, this was avoided, both because Braunias and Uffindell are both just very funny men, and also because they largely stuck to discussing the nature of satire rather than the nature of comedy.

The one-liners flew thick and fast, from the cynical to the surreal: Braunias introduced Uffindell as “New Zealand’s most credible politician since Judith Collins”; Uffindell said “I feel like the Pope [sharing God’s truth with the masses]”; and “crayons are inherently funny”.

There was a very amusing moment when Uffindell recalled the title of one particular article: “Joe Karam, several others found dead in Bain home”, which caused Braunias to spit out his beer in a burst of laughter.

Uffindell was very strongly of the opinion that satire needs to move out of “a dark corner of Twitter” and closer to the mainstream. He name-checked other satirists – Toby Manhire, Danyl McLaughlan – but said they’re insufficiently well known. He believes that New Zealanders are often too poorly educated to appreciate satire, and he gets a lot of feedback online which makes it evident that people haven’t understood that The Civilian’s “facts” aren’t real.

So where does The Civilian draw the line? Uffindell says that writing something that hurts someone personally and individually is a step too far. Other than that, pretty much anything is fair game. He says he has at one point or other in his 23 years occupied so many different points along the political spectrum that he no longer has any firmly held political beliefs; thus allowing him to satirise all parties fairly.

The Civilian is not a force for good” said Uffindell. “I am here to create chaos on the page”. Long may he continue to do so.

Written by Elizabeth Heritage, Freelance writer and publisher
http://elizabethheritage.co.nz/

The Storyteller, with Diane Setterfield at WORD Christchurch, Saturday 30 August

It was something of a spur-of-the-moment decision to attend Diane
Setterfield‘s talk at the WORD festival. I had previously read The
Thirteenth Tale and absolutely adored it, then picked up Bellman and
Black, which had a different sort of feel − evocative and rich, but
with slower pacing. This proved to be an excellent decision, for Diane
Setterfield was an absolute delight to listen to.WORD-Web-Event-STORYTELLER

Diane Setterfield (right) is an English author, whose 2006 debut novel became a
New York Times No 1 bestseller and was beloved by readers and book clubs
everywhere. She was joined on the stage by Nicky Pellegrino, herself a
fine writer, who lead the questions with a cheeky smile and candid good humour.

Pellegrino opened the discussion with the topic of storytelling in
general, during which we learned that Setterfield’s earlier days had
contained strong elements of oral story-tellings − including bawdy jokes
− as well as the classics. She seemed a humble sort, modest of her own
successes but with quirky, witty answers to many of the questions that
were posed to her.

I was especially taken by her descriptions of stories 200px-Thirteenthtale− comparing them with a natural phenomenon, something that can only be created by special and unusual people − and the final realisation that maybe anyone could do it, as long as they read and enjoy reading. When she decided that she wanted to become an author, she gave up her day job − with no clear inkling of the tale she wanted to tell − and began to write. It took five years to write The Thirteenth Tale, during which
the complicated plot, with its many twists and turns, almost lead her to give up on it. We are all the more fortunate for her perseverence.

Her lyrical, evocative prose can be in some ways attributed to her
earlier career as a translator of literature − from English to French
and French to English. Translation, she explains, really helps you
realise what words are actually important and how the sentences are
structured. It is something that any author can benefit from, as long as
they have a knack for languages.

She also spoke of books as “shy creatures”, especially in the early days
of writing − hiding when you get near the keyboard and needing to be
ignored until they manage to take roots and grow. This is one of the
most eloquent, and whimsical, metaphors I have heard to describe the
writing process and, as a writer myself, I would have to say that it is
oh-so-true.

It was when we moved on to the topic of her second book, bellman and blackBellman and
Black, that the topic of death came up in their conversation. Death is prevalent in both her novels – but in the first book most of the characters dying are old and/or mad, whereas in the second there is a
great deal more tragedy involved. Death, she explains, isn’t nice, but it is really interesting. Especially when children learn of the concept of death, until that stage they are “like little gods, living as though
they are immortal…” It was this idea, and William Bellman, that lead her to write this gothic ghost story, exploring also the powerful combination of death and retail in the Victorian era (when the mourning period lasted years rather than days).

When asked if she was Margaret, the writer in The Thirteenth Tale she
informed us that she was not, but she could have been and nor was she
Mrs Winters (the elderly lady with the secret) but that she had it in
her to be.  When she wrote her first book, she wrote it first and
foremost for herself − because otherwise what would be the point? − and
also aimed to write something her mother would like. Thankfully she
suceeded, and exceeded, on all counts.

Diane Setterfield was a pleasure to listen to, with her whimsical views
on writing, and life in general, this was truly a worthwhile experience.

by Angela Oliver, writer, artist, reviewer and reporter for Booksllers NZ

Diane is on this Sunday 31 August at 4pm, in Beyond the Veil: Historical Ghost Stories

Exciting Tales and All Right Release, and Creating Worlds, at WORD Christchurch, Saturday 30 August

As a writer, bookseller and dedicated bibliophile, I make it my practice to attend as many literary events as I can. It is fun to recognise faces, and engage in networking, as well as meeting some of the authors that I admire. Today, at the Christchurch WORD festival, there was the chance to do a bit of both, along with making some new discoveries. Today, I attended three of the events, the following two of which were free.

The first event was Exciting Tales and All Right? Book Launch at 11.30 am, hosted by librarian and children’s book blogger/expert, Zac Harding. cv_felix and the red ratsThree authors, two of which are local faces, read selected pieces from their books. The first to take the stand was James Norcliffe, poet, writer and educator.  He had selected two passages from his tale x and the Red Rats, a finalist in the Junior Fiction category of the NZ Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. This tale is an entwined narrative of two different words − blending the modern and the fantastical. In his strong, expressive manner, Norcliffe first revealed to us the mystery of the red rats, then took us on a pig-bound flight of fancy.

He was followed up by Desna Wallace, school librarian, bookseller and author, reading from her story, Earthquake. Part of the “My Story” range for Scholastic, it is written in diary format. She took us back to April, 2011, after the second of the major earthquakes, and to a time of relative calm, allowing us to re-live the royal wedding through the eyes of her (fictional) narrator.

Third up was Melinda Syzmanik, cv_a_winters_day_in_1939a prolific and experienced professional author. Her chosen reading was taken from A Winter’s Day in 1939, another NZ Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults finalist – and winner of the Librarian’s Choice Award at the LIANZA Book Awards. Whilst a fictional story, this tale developed from her father’s own experiences in Poland during World War II. Beautifully told, it transported us into 12-year old Adam’s world, and the uncertainity he faced as he and his family were transported to a Russian work camp. Her language is compelling, and left me eager to learn more.

With the readings finished, it was time for the All Right? book launch. This nifty little staple-bound chapbook was available for free, and contains poetry from the very talented students from the School for Young Writers. After a brief introduction, we were treated to short readings from the children, ranging in age from Year 5 to Year 11. All spoke with confidence and clarity, stepping boldly up to the microphone (in some cases they were barely visible over the podium) and reading out their imagery-rich pieces. Their evocative prose, to say so much in so few words, left me feeling like a rank amateur. A particular favourite of mine was “Dust Mite Mountains”.

After that, it was time for a short break before the next event, Creating Worlds, in which five wonderful young adult novelists − two international − read from their works. This was one of the events I was most excited about, as two of the authors are particular favourites of mine. Once again, each guest was skilfully introduced by Zac Harding.

The first to step up to the elizabeth_knoxpodium was Elizabeth Knox, author of The Vintner’s Luck and the Dreamhunter duet. She read a passage from Mortal Fire, winner of the NZ Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, in the Young Adult category. Her selected passage tied in loosely with the “Dreamhunter / Dreamquake” duo.

word-LainiTaylorFollowing her up was Laini Taylor, from Portland, America. One of my favourite writers, her writing has enchanted me since I first discovered it, and she selected a passage from the wonderful Daughter of Smoke and Bone, first announcing that she had chosen the most embarrasing chapter for her to read aloud, and then keeping us spellbound through it. With her lyrical language combined with the wry humour and her rather charming accent, it was an excellent way to re-experience her writing.

Next up, Karen Healey took the stage. She is both author and a school teacher with a strength of character and charisma that added extra charm to her tellings. Instead of reading to us from one of her books, of which there are four, she read us a short story from her smart phone. Entitled “Careful Magic” it is to feature in an anthology, and one I shall definitely consider purchasing. Her tongue-in-cheek humour and rich use of language shone through.

Tania Roxborogh then read us a passage from her novel Third Degree. Her dialogue was very clever, and her rather descriptive prose as her narrator was being treated for serious burns had us wincing at the imagery.

WORD-Web-Event-INTERESTINGWe concluded with American author Meg Wotlizer, whom I am ashamed to say I was unfamiliar with previously. This is something I intend to remedy! Her chosen piece was taken from the not-yet-released-in-NZ Belzhar,  a novel inspried by Sylvia Platt’s The Bell Jar (which all of the authors, but few in the audience, had read).  The short piece she read to us had me instantly hooked, and I am definitely going to be hunting down a copy of this one to read in full!

Overall, it was a wonderful opportunity to hear the authors read their work, giving it the passion that it clearly deserves, and I felt privileged to be able to attend.

by Angela Oliver, writer, artist, bookseller and reviewer