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 wonderful 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.
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.