Island-styled success with Mākaro Press

I asked three new publishers five questions, in an effort to understand why you would decide to start anew in the current publishing environment (see feature article in The Read last Thursday.)  These are the answers from Mary McCallum from Mākaro Press. Here are the answers from Paper Road Press, and the answers from Pip Adam and Emma Barnes from Cats and Spaghetti Press.

  1. Why did you decide to create your own publishing company?
    I have been involved with books in almost every way except for publishing for years. I am a writer myself, as well as a writing mentor, creative writing tutor and reviewer, and I have worked as an organiser of literary events, a bookseller, and a trustee of a literary residency. I have always supported NZ literature and had thoughts – on and off – about I would go about publishing local fiction and poetry.

    At the start of 2013 I was working as co-editor on an anthology of Eastbourne writing and we were looking for publishers, at the same time my son Paul (below on the left) had completed an Honours degree in film studies and was looking for work. We employed him to do some work on the anthology and found he was great at what he did, and then it occurred to me that he and I could take the book through to publication ourselves. With local publisher Steele Roberts mentoring us, and generously offering us an office, carpark and computer, Mākaro Press was born. pp_paul_and_mary

  2. You have had some success already – what is your aim with the company? What constitutes success for you?
    We started with a vision but without a plan. We wanted to show New Zealand writing at its best, including those books that might not otherwise be made due to larger publishers contracting, and to make all efforts to get those books into the hands of readers. There is definitely a niche in this country for smaller publishers, and we’re still finding out the size and shape of that niche, but so far we’ve enjoyed exploring it.

    Eastbourne_pileUnlike some other small publishers starting up at the moment, Mākaro Press aims to be a self-sustaining business that eventually brings an income and makes some kind of profit. The cost structure in this industry and the shift in book-buying practices make that very difficult, but we’re looking at ways of making them work for us. Some things we’re doing are: trying to make our books fit a format to keep costs down, looking at different ways of funding books and marketing them to the communities that will support them, and collaborating with other publishers e.g. ebook publisher Rosa Mira Books. Who knows if we can manage it in the end, we’d like to hope we could.

    Success for us is holding a book in our hands that wouldn’t look as it does, might not even be a book at all, if we hadn’t taken it on, and that feeling is doubled if the reviews are good and people buy the book.

  3. How are you selecting your titles? Have you got a MS pile yet?
    Yes, we have a pile already and I feel guilty about how long it takes me to get through it because so many other things call on my time. We are being sent manuscripts at an increasing rate now that writers have us on their radar, and we go looking for writers, too. We approach poets for our HOOPLA series, and approach other writers we think are writing books we could publish.

    It takes so much longer than I thought it would reading and assessing manuscripts, thinking about them, and talking to the author before the editing process even begins. I keep in front of me the patience and encouragement of Geoff Walker of Penguin who published my novel The Blue in 2007 after having shown an interest in the manuscript three years earlier, the openness and flexibility of Julia Marshall of Gecko who allowed me two goes at convincing her with Dappled Annie and the Tigrish (published this year), and the respectful but firm approach that editor Jane Parkin — who edited both novels — shows authors. I am also influenced by the personal hands-on approach of Roger Steele and his crew at Steele Roberts.
    Hoopla_series

  4. How are you going with distribution? Is there anything you would like to see booksellers doing?
    I distribute via PDL, with the wonderful Paul Greenberg and Joan Roulston of Greene Phoenix marketing the books to bookshops and libraries. Paul is pragmatic, hardworking, enthusiastic, supportive and fights for our corner. I could help him more by getting our publishing information out earlier than I do i.e. three months before publication, but that’s a bit hard for us to do at the moment. Indie and certain Paper Plus booksellers have been amazingly supportive, and others are coming on board as they get to know our books, but I’d love to see the same support from Whitcoulls. Not just for us, but for New Zealand writers as a whole.

    It would mean a lot for our business if returns from book sales could make their way to us more quickly than they do (we can wait four months) – this feels like a complex industry issue to do with sales and returns etc rather than something booksellers can sort but they could perhaps contribute to the discussion. It would also make a huge difference to us if booksellers could see their way clear to dropping their cut for NZ books from 40% to 35 or 30%, but as a former bookseller I can understand their position.

  5. I would imagine with a small list, you are easily adaptable for new realities. How are you dealing with future technologies for distributing/publicising your books?
    Yes, we are adaptable. We print a number of our books using print-on-demand, so that means smaller print runs and less outlay all at once, and we have worked out a way of publishing poetry titles by doing them as a bunch (e.g. as a series of three) to keep printing costs down. We are also building a relationship with Rosa Mira Books who are making an e-book of one of our titles. We hope this relationship will lead to more such collaborations.

- Sarah Forster, Booksellers NZ

Getting creative with Cats and Spaghetti Press

cats_and_spaghetti_logoI asked three new publishers five questions, in an effort to understand why you would decide to start anew in the current publishing environment (see feature article in The Read from yesterday.)  These are the answers from Emma Barnes and Pip Adam, who founded Cats and Spaghetti Press. Here are the answers from Paper Road Press, and we will post Mākaro Press’ answers on Monday.

1. Why did you decide to create your own publishing company?
Pip and I spent a lot of time talking about things we’d like to see getting published. Books aren’t always the easiest format to get creative with and the vagaries of publishing in this climate mean that what gets published can sometimes end up being larger manuscripts that are easier to make into books. We really liked the idea of doing weird things or little things or things that might not otherwise see the light of day.

2. What are you hoping to achieve in your publishing ventures?
We’re not in it to make money. But who is with poetry and short fiction! Even fiction! We are just wanting to make room for the unusual. I think that sums us up best.

3. How are you selecting your titles? Have you got a MS pile yet?
I came across Magnolia’s work and thought it was a natural fit for us and Pip agreed! So that was great. We’re going looking. If you’re only accepting submissions, you are often bound by that in that maybe you don’t know what you’re missing! I want to go out and find diverse work, both from different backgrounds and work that will challenge us to produce.
Pip_Sugar_Emma
4. How are you going with distribution? Is there anything you would like to see booksellers doing?
A few weeks ago, Cats and Spaghetti launched its first publication − Sugar Magnolia Wilson’s long poem Pen Pal. It was not a conventional publication and we didn’t want to distribute it in a conventional way. We decided to give all the copies of the first edition − which was a beautiful object − away for free. We organised an event, several writers read work which reflected some of the themes of Pen Pal (Magnolia gave them a brief to think witch-craft and the occult), then we let people know through social media that this would be the only chance to get a copy of the first edition of Pen Pal. In this way, we gifted the publication back to the poetry writing/reading community. We also tied the publication to the event, so it was sort of a record of the event for people who came and heard and read. We wanted people to read Magnolia’s work and we’re not totally sure ‘sales’ equal readers as unproblematically as we assume. By distributing Pen Pal the way we did (at the launch event), people paid for it through effort and participation and love and joy and support of the writer and the event, which we hope means that their relationship with Pen Pal will be different to what it might have been if they had paid money for it.

I hope that maybe when they pick it up or read it or see it in their bookshelf they’ll remember the night and the readings and the people they talked to and that will kind of commit them or tie them to the community around them. We were lucky to find a writer who shared our kaupapa.

As you can see, this makes it tricky to think about how we might work with booksellers, but I do think booksellers are an important part of the community that I’m talking about. I’m really interested in how a bookseller might fit with a gift economy kind of project.

5. I would imagine with a small list, you are easily adaptable for new realities. How are you dealing with future technologies for distributing/publicising your books?
I feel really lucky because neither Emma, Magnolia or I had money as a base criteria for publication. This is a ridiculously privileged position to be in, but I think that this, more than anything gives us scope for experimentation in distribution and publication. We were, and I imagine will be, mainly working in a self-funded model. This has two advantages, one of them is obvious − we please ourselves − but the other advantage is that we need to be creative and I think that is also very good. For instance, with Pen Pal, we had enough money for a small run of beautiful things, so we needed to find an exciting way of getting this small run into hands that would love it like we did. Our next project is a collection of a lot of writers’ work which has been rejected from other publications, and yeah I find it quite exciting not to have to think of it as a ‘literary journal’ as such or an ‘anthology’, it feels like there is so much room for it to become.

- Booksellers NZ

Paving a Paper Road to success – Paper Road Press

marie_elizabeth_paper_roadI asked three new publishers five questions, in an effort to understand why you would decide to start anew in the current publishing environment. These are the answers from Marie Hodgkinson of Paper Road Press. (Left, with publicist Elizabeth Heritage) Over the coming two days I will post full answers from the other two publishers covered in this feature article, Mákaro Press and Cats and Spaghetti Press.

1. Why did you decide to create your own publishing company?
I’ve always been interested in working with books and words. During university I ran Semaphore Magazine, an online publication that focused on short stories and poetry, and my experiences working with authors and a mixture of online and print publishing made it clear to me that this was a field I could really enjoy. After I completed the Diploma of Publishing at Whitireia Polytechnic in Wellington, there weren’t many jobs available that offered the breadth of publishing activities I enjoy, so I started up Paper Road Press in addition to working as a project administrator at another publishing company in town.

2. You have had some success already – what is your aim with the company? What constitutes success for you?
cv_baby_teethOur first book, the charity collection Baby Teeth: Bite-sized Tales of Terror, sold out soon after it launched. It’s now available as an ebook and via print on demand. I’d say it’s done really well, for an admittedly niche book (scary stories about, but not for, children − difficult!).

We released our first novel in May − Engines of Empathy, by Paul Mannering. Obviously, a movie deal and Scrooge McDuck-style rooms of gold would be an ideal level of success, but keeping things within the realm of reality, it would be great to see the book be well received in NZ and overseas, and sell well enough that we can finance publishing the second book in Paul’s series.

3. How are you selecting your titles? Have you got a MS pile yet?
Paper Road Press currently has a completely open submissions policy − writers send in the first 5000 words of their manuscript, and if I like what I see, I ask for the full manuscript to review. I do my best to keep on top of the pile, but I admit there are a few in there at the moment that I really should get back to! I may move to a ‘reading period’ submissions policy at some stage, where I only accept submissions in certain months of the year (and can plan ahead to put time aside for reading and assessing manuscripts), but for the time being, open submissions are working for me.

4. How are you going with distribution? Is there anything you would like to see booksellers doing?
I did the distribution for Baby Teeth myself − never again! Our current distributor is Greenecv_engines_of_empathy Phoenix Marketing, with Paul Greenberg, who’s a well known figure in the book trade. The book’s only been out for a couple of months, so it’s a bit early to know how that’s going, but I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen so far.

5. I would imagine with a small list, you are easily adaptable for new realities. How are you dealing with future technologies for distributing your books?
All of our books (all two of them!) are available both in print and as ebooks. We’re also working with a Scottish audiobook producer to create audio versions for digital download. I do my best to keep up with new technologies in the publishing industry, and keep an eye out for new distribution systems − but there’s certainly a risk in jumping on every shiny new idea before it’s been market tested.

- Booksellers NZ

A fond farewell for Karen Ferns

Karen Ferns, joint Managing Director pp_karen_fernsof Random House, New Zealand for some seven
years was farewelled by more than 90 people from all parts of the industry at a function in Auckland on Thursday night. Publishers and booksellers came from across New Zealand to thank her for her support of the industry.

Undoubtedly there were tears in many eyes as Karen’s contribution to the industry, her leadership of Random House, her professionalism and the personal mentoring that she has given many were highlighted.

Speakers included, Nicola Legat, New Zealand Publishing Director of Random House, Kevin Chapman, immediate Past President of the Publishers Assn of New Zealand, and Joan MacKenzie of Whitcoulls on behalf of booksellers. Joan particularly mentioned the number of times that Random House, under Karen’s leadership had won top honours in the annual Book Industry Awards for almost every year that she had been MD.

Karen herself spoke of the passion she has for the New Zealand book industry and its people, and the confidence she has in it despite the pressures it faces. She said she is excited about the new path that lies ahead for her, whatever that may be.

Karen has left the Random House group as Joint Managing Director, Australia and New Zealand, as a result of the integration of Penguin and Random House to form Penguin Random House New Zealand, which is to be led by former Penguin New Zealand MD, Margaret Thompson.

by Lincoln Gould 

Two great women at the Auckland Writer’s Festival on Sunday – Keri Hulme and Patricia Grace

A follow-on from the Auckland Writer’s Festival on Sunday 18 May, by Gillian Whalley Torckler

Next on the agenda was an event described Hulme_Keri_from_webas the largest book club discussion
ever. It was a celebration of “The Great Kiwi Classic” − The Bone People by Keri Hulme.
There was some discussion at the start about the definition of a classic. What defines a classic? Does everyone have to like it? Can it be a classic if some people are offended by it?

Peter Biggs chaired the session, which included a reading by Keri Hulme and commentary from Eimear McBride (a novelist from Ireland) and Reina Whaitiri (a NZ academic). The hour started with a ten-minute reading by Hulme herself. She read from a copy she had presented to her uncle who upon hearing she was writing a book, advised her to write in the style of Wilbur Smith. Thankfully she ignored him. The Bone People is a very kiwi book, set on the rugged west coast of New Zealand. It is interesting to note that both of our Booker prize-winning books were set in this wild landscape, that some might even describe as a savage landscape.cv_the_bone_people

But this book had an inauspicious start – Hulme says that every publisher in Australia and New Zealand turned it down. That’s music to every author’s ears. From the envelopes of rejection come the … well, let’s be realistic, it won’t be the Booker every time.

The audience participation in this session was a more significant component than many. There were accolades – some glowing, some not so. There were tears from the audience when more than once victims of abuse thanked Keri for writing the book, for lifting the lid. Despite it being a violent, savage book, it was deemed positive because it has reached so many people. One person admitted it took him three reads to finally “get” this book – the first time he hated it but now it’s his favourite book.

In writing the book, Hulme loved the characters but made them do some heinous things in order to show how much damage we do to each other and how much damage we do to the earth.

keri_hulme_reading

Keri Hulme, about to read from The Bone People

And if you were wondering, there will never be a film made of The Bone People because Keri doesn’t want one. And after all these years, one is left feeling very much like Keri is still calling the shots. And it seems, from the sign on her gate, which reads “Unknown cats and dogs will be shot on sight. Unless I know you or you have contacted me first, do not come in,” she always will.

The end of the day was here. Grace_Patricia_2The last session – Patricia Grace in conversation with her long-time publisher Geoff Walker (formerly of Penguin Books). Patricia Grace (right) grew up reading books about other places, other places that were not New Zealand, well not her New Zealand anyway. She wanted to write about the people she knew, and the communities she grew up in, and in so doing she pioneered Maori writing.

Katherine Mansfield and Frank Sargeson were early role models, but although she appreciated Mansfield’s way with words, the settings and stories were far removed from her own world. She didn’t recognise Mansfield’s voice, whereas she did hear an authentic kiwi voice in Sargeson’s writing. She realised this was important and started to seek out kiwi voices. Soon realising she had her own voice, she began to write. At first, on the kitchen table, after she had got her seven children into bed at 8 o’clock each night.

Although many of Grace’s books have political undertones (and maybe even overtones) she says the characters always come first. Once they are invented, then their behaviour comes from who they are. Grace showed in a quiet and confident way that she more than deserved to be the 2014 Honored New Zealand Writer.

patricia_grace_Waiata

A waiata for Patricia Grace

The final curtain has been closed and the Festival was declared over for another year. But it was the biggest yet – over 50,000 tickets and a whopping 45% increase from 2013. The Aotea Centre was buzzing all day. And from what I saw, Sarah-Kate Lynch would have been happy to see lots and lots of readers buying books.

Events attended and reviewed by Gillian Whalley Torckler, on behalf of Booksellers NZ. 

John Marsden, Reza Aslan and Sarah-Kate Lynch begin a very full Sunday at the Auckland Writer’s Festival

What a day! Starting with John Marsden at 10 am and ending with a waiata from Patricia Grace’s whanau at 6:30pm. Such was the final day of the Auckland Writers Festival 2014 for me.

John Marsden (right) writes for children and young adults. Marsden_ JohnAs an English teacher, he was aware that kids were not reading enough and when he tried to find books to recommend to year nine kids, all he could find was the Flowers In The Attic series, which he described as awful and the equivalent of Twilight in its time! Whoops, my teenage persona was addicted to that series penned by Virginia Andrews. John decided that it couldn’t be that hard to write books, he was after all an English teacher at an isolated boarding school and lived in close proximity to teenagers most of the year. His first book was So Much To Tell You, which he tried out on his students and they (of course) liked it − one girl was moved to tears. That connection between reader and writer inspired him to continue.

While writing Tomorrow When The War Began he knew it was going to be really big. He just had a gut feeling. His editor was similarly optimistic, but the first reviews were awful. Really awful. But his belief in the book has been repaid over and over again. He wrote the book to show that teenagers (at least the ones he knew) were compassionate with a heroic spirit, and not the hopeless, negative, uninterested, drug-addled losers that they were portrayed to be in the media.

John Marsden gave a few insights into the type of writer he is. For example, he is never comfortable reading his work aloud, as he always feel he could have done better, and he thinks all of the best books have a change in status for their characters.

john_marsden_book_line

John Marsden signs in the Aotea Centre

Next up was The Politics of Prophets with Professor Reza Aslan. Describing his mother as a sometime Muslim and his father as an atheist, this emigrant Iranian grew up in the USA and became an evangelical Christian in his early life. He became a preacher, and eventually studied religion formally at University.

Aslan_RezaAslan (left) reminded the audience that in fact neither Jesus nor Mohammed actually created religion, they were simply prophets that reformed existing religions. He describes religion as storytelling, more about identity than practices. It’s how you see yourself in the world. He described the human desire for puritanism as an attempt to purify a faith and return it to an imaginary past. All scripture is simply words on a page and requires interpretation to have meaning − scripture is infinitely malleable. He used the example of slaves and slave owners using the same bible and even the same verses to justify their opposing positions.

He reminded the audience that religion was once synonymous with citizenship, which is now more aligned on a geographical basis. Religion provided identity: a club membership, if you will. It’s the way we identify the differences and similarities between people we encounter. Shared religious sayings and metaphors deepen relationships and offer an immediacy of intimacy between people, and exclude those who don’t understand them.

Aslan dismissed questions about religious violence – in his mind the worst examples of violence are secular (eg fascism, Marxism, etc) and he concluded “The fact of the matter is that we will kill each other for any reason.” Sobering stuff.

Now for something so different, but with an equally exuberant presentation…Sarah-Kate Lynch in conversation with Petra Bagust about her latest book, Screw You, Dolores. It is a nonfiction book about her life and about happiness and, I guess, how to find it.

When Lynch (right) writes any book she aims to pp_sarah-kate-lynchsmlamuse and make people feel good: she prefers the happily-ever-after stories to the dark and gloomy novels.

The title comes from a lovely story that Lynch tells of a younger version of herself in Los Angles buying the staples of life – beer, cigarettes and Pringles – when a checkout operator, with a name badge that identified her as Dolores, in a rather shrill voice (well it was when relayed to the audience!) shrieked, “Don’t put your items on the conveyor belt until the customer before you has finished.” The young Lynch obediently scooped her selection up back into her arms. I am certain the Sarah-Kate Lynch in the room today would not have. But I digress − back in the grocery store, the whole scene was repeated a few seconds later − this time directed at the man behind Sarah-Kate. His response was to simply walk out of the store leaving his groceries on the belt, but before leaving he said three brief words, “Screw you, Dolores!” Lynch realised that was not only a great line, but a lesson for life happiness. Screw You, Dolores is an idea and method about how to feel better.

Sarah-Kate is witty and funny, but surprisingly shy. She is adamant about one thing though and that is that we need to buy NZ books, to support NZ writers. Petra Bagust referred to this book as a “A $30 investment in happiness”, and you know, she is probably right.

Events attended and reviewed by Gillian Whalley Torckler
Editors note: I have split this post in two, due to length. The second post will be up shortly! 

Auckland Writer’s Festival, Saturday 17 May

What an absolutely jam-packed and wonderful day this has been. Already, this morning seems an age ago. And there’s still a whole day to go!

We started with veteran homes_amnovelist A.M. Homes, who, I was intrigued to discover, is known as A.M. rather than a more standard first name. She was a pleasure to listen to: intelligent, candid, wry, unafraid. She was also very, very funny: “I’m up for adoption now too if anyone’s interested…I come with a child, pets and a very big life”. She spoke about her writing life and its constantly shifting mix of truth and fiction, darkness and humour: “everything is and isn’t a joke”.

One of the things I am particularly enjoying about this festival is the mix of the literary with the scientific. Homes − in common with the scientists I have heard speak − talked about how “the future for all of us is going to be not what you know but what you can imagine.” I was also struck by a comparison with yesterday’s session on the West’s characterisation of the East: Reza Aslan said that we always use the ‘other’ to define ourselves, it’s what we’re afraid of. Homes said she’s more interested in the ‘other’ than in herself, it’s what draws her to fiction and keeps her writing.

Dikotter, FrankNext up was historian Frank Dikotter on The Tragedy of Liberation, the fate of China under communism in the 1940s and 50s. In contrast to the previous sessions I’d attended, in which people sat on the stage in conversation, this one was a lecture delivered by Dikotter pacing up and down the stage, as though to express the thrust of his thoughts through motion.

Dikotter, who is based in Hong Kong, has been granted access to the Chinese archives, and what he has uncovered about the fate of the Chinese people under Mao is horrifying. The statistics of deaths and torture, of children as well as adults, are all recorded there, largely forgotten, and Dikotter has taken it upon himself to publish them to the world in a series of very successful books.

Although Dikotter’s delivery was measured, his argument carefully structured and his every assertion meticulously backed up by fact to the best academic standard, what really came across was his anger. I wasn’t the only one to notice: in audience question time, someone got up and complained that he was partisan and that this was not the way to have a constructive dialogue about the past. I was reminded of a book I read recently, Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang. (Cixi was the power behind the Chinese throne in the second half of the nineteenth century. I have reviewed the book here). This also is written by a passionate scholar determined to redress a perceived imbalance in history. I left the session interested to read Dikotter’s books and examine his bias for myself.

Al-Khalili, Jim (c) Furnace LtdThe next session was a definite high point for me: Jim Al-Khalili taking on Science and the Big Questions. I had seen him yesterday in A Question of Civilisations and had been struck by his obvious passion for science and the exploration of important ideas. His conversation with Shaun Hendy was pleasingly ambitious in its range: how the universe began and will end; the nature of time and space; the way mathematical laws could extend not just throughout our own universe, but through every conceivable variation of a universe in an almost infinite multiverse. Quite a lot to cover in an hour on the Aotea Centre stage at the Auckland Writers Festival.

paradox I enjoyed the session immensely, and it went really fast – and I now know that, while my subjective experience of time is largely irrelevant to the universe, time is not in fact the absolute constant that clocks would lead us to expect. Khalili managed the trick of appearing authoritative without being dogmatic or unapproachable; teaching without patronising; and inspiring creative thought and the desire to learn in his audience. The proof is in the purchase: I went straight out to buy his book and get him to sign it for me.

The really big event for today, though, was definitely An Evening with Sandi Toksvig. If you’ve never heard of her, I urge you to immediately download the free podcasts of The News Quiz from BBC Radio 4, plus as many of her episodes of Whose Line Is It Anyway? and QI as you can get your hands on (actually, just watch the whole of QI, it’s reliably wonderful).

Toksvig initially came onstage by herself, Toksvig_Sandijust to tell us jokes (“I love that, in the English language, we can have the man who fell into the upholstery machine but is now fully recovered”) and generally chat to us. She was irresistibly funny, charming, and wise; and, while being obviously one of the smartest people in the room, made us believe there was nothing she’d rather be doing than talking to us. I was sorry when Sean Plunket came onstage to interview her – I felt he added nothing, and confined her to boring interview questions when I would much rather have heard her natter to us about whatever took her fancy. (I would also have loved to hear her speak more about her books). But it didn’t really matter: Toksvig’s ebullient charm filled the packed and enthusiastically applauding theatre.

Once again I have ended the day with a brain absolutely buzzing with a delicious mix of words, ideas, and exciting new discoveries of authors and thinkers. Bring it on!

Events reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage on behalf of Booksellers NZ

Lynley Dodd, Adam Johnson, and more on Friday 16 May

I attended four great sessions today at the Auckland Writer’s Festival.

My favourite was Dame Lynley Dodd Dodd_Lynley_no_exceptions_MUST_credit_Tim Cuff(right, photo by Tim Cuff), in conversation with Michele A’Court. Hardly surprising that audience participation was par for the course with the first stanza from Hairy Maclary loudly and proudly repeated by all. How many other sessions would have had the whole book read by the author, with suitable sound effects from the very adult audience for Scarface Claw? All because Dame Lynley’s voice was compromised by a cold?

Dame Lynley talked about her early life, her early talent for drawing, her parents’ love of words and word play, and her fine arts training in sculpture; which all eventually came together in the magical combination of ordinary cats and dogs doing what ordinary cats and dogs do. Who needs talking animals, when as she said, so much language is exchanged in the eyes. And the stories that she finds to tell by simple daily observation are so good, no talking is needed. There was a wonderful anecdote of her meeting with Dr Seuss and she also shared how Hairy Maclary came to be. There should have been a much bigger plug for the recently published book by Finlay Macdonald, The life and art of Lynley Dodd, a beautifully presented hard back, packed full of illustrations from her many, many books on every page, as well as an entertaining read. This was the best money I spent all day.

Johnson_Adam_credit_Tamara_BeckwithI also really enjoyed Simon Wilson’s conversation with Adam Johnson (left), who won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature last year with The Orphan Master’s Son. I haven’t read the book, in fact I knew nothing about it other than a quick read of a plot summary on Google, which left me none the wiser!

Adam Johnson was a very entertaining and interesting man to listen to. He told us about a country and society − North Korea − that is the complete antithesis in every possible way from how we live and the freedoms we have. America was really the country/society held up for comparison. A handful of people manage to escape North Korea each year and it is the stories of these people that the author has told in this novel. He was able to go North Korea for only five days, where he was constantly monitored and minded, and he used this time to notice as much detail as he could. Things like the colour of houses and roofs.

The saddest thing I got out of his talk on North Korea was how the people have no history of storytelling and haven’t done ever since the Japanese invaded and forbade speaking in the Korean language. The author admits he has been obsessed with North Korea and its people, and his passion was very apparent as he talked about his writing of the book and the themes he explores. As well as reading two sections from this book, he also read a small excerpt from a story in his collection of short stories – about a 15 year old sniper working for the FBI. Unsettling.

Peter McLeavey has been well known cv_peter_mcleavey_life_and_timeson the Wellington art scene for many years,
operating out of his two rooms in Cuba St, with his distinctive white hair and black hat. The 2009 film , The Man in the Hat introduced him to the rest of New Zealand, and the 2013 biography by Jill Trevelyan gave us a much more in-depth study of this pioneer of the New Zealand art scene.

This session was chaired by Auckland Art Gallery director Rhana Devenport, with Jill Trevelyan and artists Yvonne Todd and John Reynolds on the panel. The overall tone of the session was one of reverence and wonder for all he had achieved for art and artists in New Zealand, but above all huge affection for this complicated and complex man, who called himself a travelling psychoanalyst. The session consisted mostly of anecdotes by the two artists of their dealings over the years with Peter McLeavey, both of whom were carefully nurtured and encouraged by Peter. Both would seem to have had at times prickly relationships with him, as he could be, as John put it, quite curmudgeonly! But somehow Peter seemed to manage the fine line between managing artists, encouraging and developing them, yet at the same time running a business, and marrying up potential buyers with works of art.

The author herself didn’t partake a great deal in the discussion, but her book was referred to throughout by the others, thumbed through, and read aloud from by Rhana. The highlight of the session was during the question and answer session, when Peter’s nephew who was in the audience, very succinctly narrated a conversation between his mother and Peter, about said nephew.

Hughes-Hallett, LucyThe last session was again for an author I didn’t know, and for a book I didn’t know anything about – Lucy Hughes-Hallett (left), a British cultural historian and biographer, and her biography of Gabriele D’Annunzio. This session was introduced by Geraint Martin, himself a great lover of history and literature.

D’Annunzio (below, right) is somebody you have probably never heard of. But how could one not be intrigued by this ‘poet, seducer and preacher of war’ who declared himself the greatest Italian poet since Dante. I think he is very well known in Italy for his exploits, but not so much in English speaking countries, although his writing was admired by James Joyce and Ernest Hemmingway. It would seem that his major occupation in life was the art of self-promotion and he did everything he possibly could to achieve this. Poet, novelist, seducer, airman and finally dictator of a small state in what is now Croatia for a period of time at gabriele_dannunziothe end of WWI.

Mussolini loved him and ‘borrowed’ much of his rhetoric, the black shirts and the straight arm salute from D’Annunzio. Ms Hughes-Hallett has written 600 pages about this incredibly interesting individual, and regaled us with an endless supply of stories about him. Are there still people like this in the world out there? Or was he simply the product of a time in Europe when enormous changes were taking place?

Events attended and reviewed by Felicity Murray, on behalf of Booksellers NZ. 

New Zealand Listener Gala Opening Night: True Stories Told Live – Truth and Lies

True Stories Told Live: Truth and LiesAWF_2014_Get-The-Full-Story

There was a great buzz at the Aotea Centre on Thursday night for the gala festival event,
in which eight writers were invited to speak on the theme of truth and lies for seven minutes, with neither scripts nor props.

Auckland Writers Festival director Anne O’Brien introduced the evening with the rather startling assertion that artists have 229% more sex than average (truth? or damned lies and statistics?), before Carol Hirschfeld (left) stepped in with her newscaster’s air of unflappable calm to MC the evening.

pp_inua_ellamsFirst up was Nigerian British poet and performer Inua Ellams (left). Obviously supremely confident in front of an audience, he took to centre stage (rather than hiding behind the podium) to tell us a story of a long-ago breakup. “If all breakups were this beautiful”, he said, “I’d break up every day.” He painted a vivid picture of a Cambridge dorm room, a beautiful girl, and the sun coming out to illuminate a tear on her cheek. He helped heal the pain of heartbreak with poetry: “poetry helps me rediscover who I am”.

Ellams finished with that famous quote from Keats: ” ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ – that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Ellams was followed by celebrated photographer Marti Friedlander, hailed by Hirschfeld as a national treasure. She started with one minute’s silence for the abducted Nigerian girls − an uncomfortable truth if ever there were one − before lightening the mood by remarking that, in marriage, lies are often preferable. Charmingly, Friedlander confessed “I’ve told some fantastic lies in my time and I’m pleased to have told them.”

Next up was American novelist AM Homes (right), homes_amwho, it turned out, had lied when she agreed to do a scriptless event, instead taking to the podium to read us an extract from her memoir, The Mistress’s Daughter. Nobody minded: she’s a superb storyteller, and gripped us all with a tale of her own beginnings. A lawyer heralded her birth: “your bundle has arrived, and it’s wrapped in pink ribbons.” She compared the discovery of bits of data about her birth parents to being a recovering amnesiac. Homes recalls the strangeness of meeting her birth father and recognising her body on him, “the departments of ass”. She left me with a desire to read her books.

The fourth writer/performer was explorer and historian Huw Lewis-Jones, standing in for Lawrence Hill, who had been prevented by illness from attending. Lewis-Jones strode barefoot onto the stage and structured his talk around his lack of shoes. He invited us to consider their absence: Was it to better appreciate the carpet? To use shoelessness as a prop? To illustrate the way his journeys follow in the footsteps of great explorers? Eventually he hinted he was following the advice of a kuia, who had told him to take off his shoes for his talk in order to better connect to the earth − and so as to not walk mud into the building.

Irvine WelshBritish Lewis-Jones was followed by Scottish Irvine Welsh (left), author of Trainspotting. After commenting on the zombification of jet leg “(just like taking drugs, only without the fun part”), he launched into a rollicking yarn about a devilish cat. This cat, a giant, pit-bull-like tom (who I thought must have been like Greebo from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld), “kidnapped my wife” by trapping her in a bathroom. It then emigrated to Illinois with its owners, where it took on not only the neighbourhood cats but also a coyote! Welsh made us laugh and I was sorry to see him leave the stage.

Next up was Kiwi columnist and novelist Sarah-Kate Lynch (right) , spicing things up in a black pp_sarah-kate-lynchsmltutu. She spoke feelingly about the terror being asked to go scriptless, and the way her seven minutes on stage had taken up hundreds of hours of worrying. Lynch promised to tell us the story of buying pyjamas for her dead father, but instead ended up talking about an anxiety dream she had had before the festival, in which she was delivering her seven-minute talk to us naked, and (in the dream) needed to bend down and pick up her lucky pen. I hope she is able to enjoy the feeling of relief that it’s now all over.

After Lynch we had a complete change of pace with Egyptian writer Yasmine El Rashidi, who somehow managed to come across as very private and shy while also being an excellent public speaker, creating a sense of intimacy in the huge Aotea Centre theatre. She spoke movingly about her absent father, who went away on business for a fortnight and was still gone twelve years later. Rashidi said her friends call her “slippery”, and told the story of slipping out of a writers’ retreat after being aggressively love-bombed by an ultra-successful bright young thing.

bulldozerThe final writer to grace the stage was the inimitable Alexander McCall-Smith, author of one of my favourite series, The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. He began with the grandiloquent claim to be the only writer present telling the truth, and proceeded to spin a tall tale about a trip Montalcino. He claimed that, in the absence of hire cars available, he instead hired a bulldozer in which to pootle about the Tuscan countryside: “the advantage of which is that you can remove the bits you don’t like”. I think it was the way he collapsed into laughter at this point which was my first clue that his claim to truth was itself a lie. His wonderful good humour was infectious and got the whole audience chuckling.

After Hirschfeld had summed up the writers’ performances, a short memoriam film was shown to mark the passing of many authors over the past twelve months. Then all writers returned to the stage and we were invited to meet them at the book signing table afterwards. One thing’s for certain: the festival’s off to a rollicking great start!

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

 

How to make a gift for a Prince

When we heard that the Royal Visit to New Zealand was timed for April, we saw the perfect opportunity to gift 9-month-old Prince George with the wonderful Picture Book finalists selected in this year’s New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. The idea quickly expanded to annually gifting the young Prince and his family the finalists that most suit his age until he reaches the age of 18. By the time Prince George grows up, the Cambridge family will have a superb collection of New Zealand literature, all personally inscribed.
Prince George Book Wrapping_1_square
So how do you make a gift for a Prince? When you work in an industry where everyone loves what they do, it’s no trouble at all to put together something really special.

The first thing to do was to get the publishers and authors on board. We approached the finalist publishers Scholastic NZ, Penguin, Gecko Press and Page Break to see if the authors and illustrators would like to write a personal message to Prince George on their finalist books. The result was some wonderful and creative messages including an illustrated bear from Donovan Bixley and a personalised poem called ‘Prince George’ by Catherine Foreman. She even made a gorgeous wee origami-styled envelope for the poem.

Prince George Book Wrapping_Boats envelope for P George
We spoke to our friends at Clemenger BBDO design agency based here in Wellington, and they were as excited as we were about getting creative with the new Awards logo and Prince George Book Wrapping_Front cover of carddesign to create some colourful wrapping paper and a personalised card. They presented
us with 5 fabulously fun colours of wrapping paper, one to carefully wrap each precious book in, and a personalised card with George on the front.

Clemenger BBDO donated their time free of charge and worked with Service Printers to create the best looking wrapping paper and card you could hope to see and we thank them both for their time and contribution.

We sent the card (with a second copy in case of mistakes) to our Board Chair, Random House Publishing Manager Nicola Legat, where she put pen to paper and addressed the card and present to Prince George. With the card back in hand, our PR Advisor Adrienne Olsen put her gift wrapping skills to good use and carefully wrapped each book.

Prince George Book Wrapping_3Little did we know this idea of ours was going to result in international media coverage, with our gift of picture books featuring in any number of Royal Visit articles across the world, as well as in New Zealand. Back here at home, the picture book finalists flew off the shelves as book store staff catered to people coming in store ‘wanting to buy the books that Prince George received’.

The books gifted to Prince George included: Machines and Me: Boats, by Catherine Foreman (Scholastic NZ), The Boring Book, by Vasanti Unka (Penguin), The Three Bears…Sort of, by Yvonne Morrison and Donovan Bixley (Scholastic), Toucan Can, by Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis (Gecko Press), and Watch Out, Snail! By Gay Hay and Margaret Tolland (Page Break Ltd).

Prince George Book Wrapping_2

by Amie Lightbourne, Awards Manager
Photographs by Adrienne Olsen, Awards Publicist  adrienne@adroite.co.nz

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