Ngaio Marsh Award Blog Tour: Finalist Kirsten McDougall

Tess is available in bookshops nationwide.

Tess___58022.1496194537Set in Masterton in 1999, Tess tells us the story of a drifter with unusual powers. Author Kirsten McDougall explores the world of a girl on the run, who is drawn into the troubles of the family of Lewis Rose, who picked her up one rainy evening. McDougall’s rich language takes us into the centre of these family dynamics, as Tess comes to understand that all families have their secrets.

Sarah Forster asks her a few questions about the book, as part of the 2018 Ngaio Marsh Finalist blog tour.

1. What did you begin with, when you wrote Tess? The character, a plot point, a setting? Can you describe the process of writing it?

The germ of Tess was in a notebook I found a few years after making this note: ‘a story about a girl who can see people’s memories’. I actually remember writing that note. I was at the Embassy Theatre waiting for a movie to start. Theatres are great places to daydream in I think – I often have ideas for stories when I’m in a dark, warm theatre.

I began writing Tess at the beginning, with the image of a young woman walking on a back road outside Masterton, with her hair and clothes wet. I didn’t really know what was going to happen to her, but I knew I wanted her to be desperate and down on her luck. When Lewis’s car comes along at first, I didn’t know what was going to happen – whether he’d mean her well or ill. I wrote it quickly, but left it sitting around for a good year before I agreed to let VUP publish it. I’d had a very bad reader’s report on the MS and it knocked all the confidence out of me and it took me a year to let my colleagues at VUP convince me that really it was good enough to publish.

2. Tess lives in a world haunted by the dangerous spectres of men and their desires. I find it interesting to think about gender in crime fiction and the power dynamics afforded by it – can you tell me your inspiration for Tess’s way of living in the world?

Power dynamics affect everything right – they shape our world. The only people who can be indifferent are those who hold the power.  Tess has little power, even the strange power she has makes her weird and outsider-ish. I definitely wanted to write about the power men have over women.

There was a period in my life where I hated men, I’d walk down the street scowling at anyone male. I don’t feel that anymore (I’m the mother of two sons!) but I can see I tapped into that anger memory to write this book. The scene where Tess is set upon by some rural bogans on the High St of Masterton – that’s a scene straight out of my teenage years. It’s wrong that a woman shouldn’t be able to walk along a street at night without fearing for her safety. Maybe I am still angry – but I no longer scowl, I put it in my writing.

3. I’ve been looking at articles for the definition of what makes crime fiction just that, and I certainly agree that the novel would fall over without the crime. Yet there are no detectives, no procedural drama, and not even a hint of an autopsy! Were you tempted to go for tropes once you realised the way the plot was leading you.

I actually wrote a scene with Jean and Tess and a cop but it was no good and I couldn’t be bothered to make it good. The energy I can feel in a scene as I write it is how I know if it’s a keeper. If I can’t get excited or I can’t be bothered to continue till I am excited, I know to dump it. So I guess the answer is – tropes need to come of themselves, naturally out of a scene.

It’s lovely my book is up for the Ngaio Marsh Award, but I don’t consider myself someone who has written a ‘crime fiction’. This is not because I have ideas about hierarchies in genre, it’s because I know that good crime fiction has things it needs to do, to satisfy readers who go out and buy crime fiction. I’m reading Denise Mina’s The Long Drop at present. Now, that is good crime fiction – her knowledge and technical skills are really impressive.

Having said that – I’m really not a fan of typecasting books by genre (see my note about YA below). I like to wander into a novel and learn its rules as I read – formulaic books bore me as a reader, and as a writer. I loved them as a child though. I reread all the Famous Five books over and over as a kid because their formulaic quality comforted me. I guess I’m not looking for comfort when I read anymore.

The thing with crime is essentially it’s about boundaries – what society is willing to tolerate and sometimes the line between moral and immoral, right and wrong, just and unjust is very filmy and complex. This is a ripe space for fiction. As a reader, the books I’m most interested in are those ones that explore situations that aren’t clear cut. I like moral ambiguity, I like people who are good and bad in one package. Long John Silver is one of the best characters for that reason, he’s bad but you can’t help really liking him.

4. Staying with Louis, for Tess, is ‘Better than being surrounded by people who wanted something from her, people whose blackness threatened to swallow her up.’ This leads soon to a memory of what she did with Benny prior to running away. Can you speak to the importance of backstory in your formulation of Tess’s further actions?

Well, our history is what makes us who we are. We all behave in certain ways because we hold our histories in our bodies and whether we are conscious of it or not, our childhood informs our adult behaviour. Tess isn’t someone who is able to make great decisions because she just hasn’t had the solid background and support that people need to make good decisions about what they do or who they hang out with.

Backstory can be technically problematic in fiction. It can slow down the action, make for a plodding story. We’ve all read those novels where there’s two or more temporal storylines and you make your favourite, and skim read the storylines you’re less fond of. Tess is a short novel with the focus on one character, so the backstory is brief, just enough to fill you in and, hopefully, ramp up the tension in the present-day action.

I’d like to write a novel with no flashbacks whatsoever. I don’t have anything against them, but I’d like to try, just for the sport of it.

5. Something I had cause to reflect on during my second read of the book was the comparative social status of Tess, in opposition to Louis and his broken family. Was this interplay of social status important to the novella?

Absolutely. From the very first I wanted to write about different classes intersecting. It’s not explicit in the novel – like, ‘This is a book about class’, but it’s very much there. Of course families can be broken no matter their class. In my book Lewis Rose is solid middle class, which hasn’t saved him from having a dreadful time of it.

Tess recognises the beauty of his home from the start – the luxury of space in his house and garden, of the large wooden dining table that shows all the signs of people spending hours around it, of books in a separate living room – these are all things that people with a certain level of income take for granted but Tess has never lived in a house like this because she’s working class poor.

For me, the kindest part of Lewis is that he shares his home with Tess, with someone who it would be easy to assume will nick off with some of your property. He does this out of loneliness, but also because he can see she needs care. Perhaps when you lose what Lewis has lost, you stop caring so much about property.

6. Can you describe the effect on Tess and Jean of their witnessing of the destruction of their mothers?  How important is this in bonding them in their relationship?

Tess and Jean bond because they recognise a need in each other that was created because they had shit mothers. I think people can feel need or lack in other people, even within a minute of meeting another person. We’ve all met those people we want to run from at a party because they give off neediness and those people we’re drawn to because we recognise something of ourselves in them; a similar level of brokenness. Both Tess and Jean have a way of toughing it out in the world, hiding their vulnerabilities, albeit badly. The thing about hiding your vulnerabilities is that it’s exhausting. Tess and Jean meet at a point when they’re both so tired of hiding, and they recognise that they can comfort one another.

I’ve come to realise that shit mothers are one of my obsessions in fiction. My next fiction will be even more about this. I have so much to say on this subject.

7. When I finished Tess the first time I thought – well this is a coming-of-age story, I wonder if I could review it on The Sapling as YA. Did you think of this as you were writing – that it might fit in that market?

Yeah, people have said that about it, probably because the protagonists are 19/20 years old. You know, I want people of all ages to read my work, I don’t care how old they are. I have no respect for the YA/Adult divide. I think YA was created as a separate genre for marketing in publishing houses, for ease of shelving in bookshops and libraries and to ease the moral concerns of some parents. I hate it when people get all uptight about what ‘shouldn’t be’ in a ‘YA’ book, like all the panic over Ted Dawe’s Into the River when he won the Children’s Book Award. Surely, the only question should be – is it any good? Is the writing good?

By the time I was 12 I’d skimmed for the sex scenes in many Judith Krantz books – and that’s the crap that’s actually dangerous, books where I got ideas about what women’s bodies should look like, what ‘normal’ sex is, as opposed to the glorious smorgasboard of real world bodies and sex.

The best thing I heard said about YA fiction is that it should offer hope. Who are we to rain on a kids’ parade?

8. Finally, something general! Do you read or watch crime fiction? Give us some recommendations!

I guess if I was going to broadly make statements about what I like I’d say I like ‘whydunnits’ more than ‘whodunnits’. The one thing I really don’t like is sex-crime fiction. I mistakenly took myself and a friend to see Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside of Me one film festival. I’ve loved many of his films, but this was horrific, about a cop who does these violent sex crimes and I just don’t see the point of making that film.

Is Daphne du Maurier crime fiction? I love Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel. I recently watched Search Party on Netflix – satirical millennial crime fiction which is smart and funny and horrific. I had my Kurt Wallander phase, though some of those books are clunky as. Also, I just saw The Guilty at this year’s film festival, which is a Danish thriller set in a police emergency call centre. The action never leaves the one room and plays out in real time. It was tense and brilliant.

Love Letter to University Book Shop, Dunedin from Eileen Merriman

 

Go into your local bookshop & write a love letter, and be in to win $500 in Book Tokens! 

Dear UBS Dunedin

We first made our acquaintance in 1993, when I arrived as a student. Dunedin was smaller than Wellington, older and colder, yet full of possibilities. You were upstairs-and-downstairs then, although I can’t remember what was upstairs, only that you smelt like damp wood. I’d pore over the medical textbooks, dreaming of a place in medical school (I was one of 999 students vying for 160 places, mere plankton in a limitless ocean).

When I was sick of studying (the Krebs cycle, meiosis and mitosis, the anatomy of dogfish), I’d drift into the fiction section.  There, I was transported by Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale), enraptured by A S Byatt (Possession), and intoxicated by Donna Tartt (The Secret History).

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I didn’t get my place in medical school, not that time. I returned to Dunedin in 1994, and bought textbooks for my Medical Laboratory Science degree – Haematology, Biochemistry, Pathology, Microbiology. The books smelt glossy. My room smelt like mildew. I studied with a hot water bottle on my knees, a blanket wrapped around my shoulders. When I met my future husband, a fellow Med Lab student, I lent him my battered copy of Sidney Sheldon’s If Tomorrow Comes. He said, ‘I think you should read this again’. I did.

Tomorrow came. In December 1996, I received my acceptance letter from Otago Medical School. I returned to your ever-expanding bookstore to buy my coveted textbooks. The Anatomy Atlas was my favourite, with its photographs of grey-brown embalmed bodies. I learned the tortuous path of the cranial nerves, the muscles of the thigh, the neurotransmitters of addiction (dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline).

My love of fiction never waned ­– Paullina Simons, Wally Lamb, Donna Tartt. I dreamed of writing. I didn’t write. I’d stopped writing in 1992, my last year of high school. Writing was for other people, people who weren’t cramming their brains with lists of medications and causes of anaemia and medical statistics. I thought I’d lost the knack.

But still, I kept reading. I returned to you, again and again. You never failed to disappoint.

While rain streamed down your windows, I lingered over F Scott Fitzgerald and Richard Dawkins and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I bought coloured pens, highlighters, exercise books with clean lines and virgin-white paper. So many books, so little time. I moved to Christchurch, Nelson, Melbourne, Auckland. I played around, dabbled in other bookshops. They weren’t the same. Like a first kiss, you lingered.

Now I return with my children, nine and three years old. They make straight for your children’s section, where we choose a Rick Riordan book for Mini-Me the first and a Charlie and Lola book for Mini-Me the second. I leave them to pore over their delights while I escape into the adult section, fraternising with Haruki Murakami, Charlotte Grimshaw, and David Mitchell.

You are my dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine is activated by nicotine, cocaine, sex and… books. Serotonin makes one happier, calmer and more focused. Your bookshop doesn’t make me more focused. It induces a trance-like state. It sends me back in time. Flats with threadbare carpet and weeping windows, burning couches and black ice, life-changing grades next to a never-to-be-forgotten student ID number (930284), the scents of formaldehyde and sea-salt, the best of times, the worst of times, and through it all, the power of the written word.

It’s twenty-four years since I first set foot in your bookshop. We were both smaller then. One of my proudest moments is the day my mother-in-law, a resident of St Clair, sent me a photo. My debut young adult novel, Pieces of You, was displayed in your children and young adult section. I’d come home. I’ve never really left.

Yours truly and forever,

Eileen Merriman
Eileen Merriman is an award-winning short story and flash fiction writer from New Zealand. Her young adult novel, Pieces of You, was published in May 2017 (Penguin Random House); the manuscript was awarded a mentorship by the New Zealand Society of Authors in 2015. A second YA novel, Catch Me When You Fallis due for publication on Jan 2nd, 2018.

Otago University Bookshop
The University Book Ship is always heavy with treasure, so wear your best pirate outfit to The University Bookshop in Otago from 10am -4pm, and celebrate books and bookshops with piratical treats in store all day. Pirate Cupcakes! Gold doubloons! Enjoy them… or add them to your hoard. There will be treasure hunting and pirate crafts and you can make your own parrot, or maybe you need a silver hook?

At 10.30am, 12.30am and 2.30pm, they will host pirate story-times and perhaps the odd sea-shanty. See live writers writing at the Captain’s table and you could share a doubloon or two with them, after all, they are creating treasure for us all!

 

Love Letter to Ekor Bookshop, from Elspeth Sandys

Go into your local bookshop & write a love letter, and be in to win $500 in Book Tokens! 

Dear Ekor Bookshop,

You arrived in Wellington without a lot of fanfare but in just over year you have succeeded in endearing yourself to a community of readers, writers, and lovers of good food and coffee. Small but perfectly formed, your shop, with its comfortable chairs and sofas, and the smell of fresh coffee, positively entices people in off the street. I love it that you’ve collected relics of ‘Old Wellington’ – your cafe counter is from Kirkcaldie and Stains; your desk from Beggs Music shop – to link this modern gem of a bookshop with what has been lost in our city. Frieda Kahlo paintings (a personal favorite) cover the wall by the entrance. A mural by illustrator Phoebe Morris decorates the children’s area.

Once in, it is impossible not to be drawn to your books, displayed so that the latest editions are what is seen first. But they are only the tip of the iceberg. A wide range of New Zealand books, the latest overseas fiction, children’s books and classics, fill your shelves. Anyone entering your shop to buy coffee is probably in for a long stay. Even if all you’ve come in for is to buy a card – there’s a wide range to choose from – chances are you will be tempted to stay and browse.

My own novel Obsession was launched in your shop earlier this year. A happy occasion with people spilling out on the pavement (it was March: summer was still around). Niki, your stylish and beautiful owner, had cleared away the daytime tables and chairs, as well as the children’s toys, to make room for the guests. Wine cheese and nibbles were served, speeches were made, books were sold. I can think of no nicer place to launch a book.

Thank you Ekor. I love you.

Elspeth Sandys
Elspeth Sandys has published eight novels, two collections of short stories and a memoir. She has written extensively for radio (BBC and RNZ), television, and theatre. Elspeth was born in Timaru “towards the middle of the 20th Century”. (Bio from The Spinoff)

Ekor Bookshop & Cafe
Ekor’s staff will be treating their wonderful customers to a little day of Scandinavian wonders! Beautiful Scandinavian books (some Scandinavian books in their original languages) and food – including our ever popular Moomin range and traditional hot Danish pancakes made specially on the day by our resident Danish Ekorian, special cold Flat Whites on sale one day only from People’s Coffee, with the best Swedish barista in town, Lars Bringzen serving up wonderful coffees all day, and gifts from all over Scandinavia!

Come and experience a little Scandinavian magic for NZ Bookshop Day at Ekor Bookshop & Cafe!

A Love Letter to The Women’s Bookshop, from Deborah Shepard

Go into your local bookshop & write a love letter, and be in to win $500 in Book Tokens! 

Deborah_Dhepard_photo_by_John_McDermott

photo by John McDermott

My favourite bookshop is the Women’s Bookshop in Ponsonby Road. It opened, first, in Dominion Road in 1989 the year I moved, reluctantly, from Christchurch to Auckland, following the dictates of my husband’s career.

Only one year earlier I had been immersed in a new paper in Feminist Studies at Canterbury University, one that had turned my world on its head, providing a theory and an explanation for the vague feelings of alienation and dissatisfaction that had been surfacing since becoming a mother, or, ‘just a mother,’ that’s how you were viewed then, and not a human being with a brain and yearnings to write. The move to Auckland changed my academic pathway, although the seeds of my future had been planted in that one revolutionary paper. Through a course in film studies with Professor Roger Horrocks I embarked on PhD research and it was Carole Beu’s bookshop that provided the resources I needed to do that work and write my feminist revisionist history of New Zealand film, Reframing Women: a history of New Zealand film (Harper Collins 2000).

The day I found the new bookshop in Dominion Road I felt immediately at home and excited. The atmosphere was so welcoming. You could make a cup of herbal tea, settle into a sofa in the corner and take a leisurely browse through the revolutionary texts. Carole offered an amazing collection of fiery texts. These were the heady years of the feminist movement, where there was an explosion of writing by women that provided the theoretical underpinnings for a better understanding of the gendered nature of the society in which we live. This was where you could find the Virago ‘Modern Classics’ a series that reclaimed the earlier texts of hundreds of women writers. It’s where you could source the work of feminist historians who were critiquing the masculinist bias in the historical records whilst recuperating the contribution of brilliant women writers, artists, musicians, philosophers and scientists who had formerly been ‘hidden from history.’ It’s where you could find the texts by feminist economists, planners and geographers who were re-envisioning society and how it might be better structured to create fairer, more cooperative and supportive communities for us to live in.

Carole stocked the seminal texts by: Betty Friedan, Marilyn French, Germaine Greer, Gloria Steinem, Kate Millett, Dale Spender, Mary Daly, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Linda Nochlin, Phyllis Chesler, Erica Jong and the follow up books by Gloria Steinem Revolution from within, Germaine Greer The Whole Woman, Naomi Wolf The Beauty Myth and later The Backlash by Susan Faludi. She also, critically for us, supported the work of New Zealand women novelists and non-fiction writers and kept the fires burning through the 1990s and 2000s when feminism was under attack and almost went underground, until recently when we got Caitlin Moran and Clementine Ford, the younger spiky feminists who are taking us forward again.

These days when I visit the bookshop in Ponsonby Road, I value it even more. It is like a heart beating for women, in the centre of the city. I love that it is staffed by women, some of them published authors in their own right, and by Carole herself, a feminist legend, who over three decades has championed and supported women’s literature through the Listener Women’s Book festivals in the 1990s, through her radio and television book reviews, the Auckland Writers’ Festivals, the book launches at her store and her own annual Litera-Teas. While the work of male writers is included at the Women’s Bookshop it must be one of a very few public spaces that offers a kind of intellectual retreat where women can read to be empowered and inspired to be braver, bolder, wilder and more staunch. Experiences like these can’t be had through Amazon. The Women’s Bookshop is a precious institution, a taonga in our nation’s bookselling network, long may it thrive.

Deborah Shepard, 2017
Deborah Shepard is an Auckland biographer, life writing mentor and teacher of memoir with a PhD in Film Studies.

The Women’s Bookshop, Ponsonby
Stopping Passers-By! An artist will be stopping passers-by on the pavement, by painting colourful illustrations on the outside of our shop window from 11.30am to 1.30pm.
Spot Prizes! We have heaps of give-away books – enough to give a Spot Prize every 10 minutes from 10am to 5pn!! No matter what time customers come in, they will have a chance to WIN! They can select their own prize from the scintillating stack.
PLUS: Visit two of the best bookshops in Ponsonby – and win! 
On NZ Bookshop Day, buy any book at both The Women’s Bookshop AND the Dorothy Butler Children’s Bookshop down the road, get a stamp from both shops, and WIN a children’s picture book – choose from the delicious pile.

A Love Letter from Jeffrey Paparoa Holman – From Chaucer to Hera Lindsay Bird

Go into your local bookshop & write a love letter, and be in to win $500 in Book Tokens! 

Jeffrey_Paparoa_Holman

Bookshops and libraries have been part of my life for as long as I can remember reading: primary school libraries first of all, then the local dairy in Blackball with its westerns and Pan Piper war stories at 1/6d; the tiny lending library down the road at the Workingmen’s Club and Mutual School of Arts, serviced by the National Library Service van every few months. Our house was a house of reading: only the radio, one station, 3YZ and no television. How privileged I was.

At high school in Greymouth, the library was a step up from this and later, the local bookshops: Miss Brislane’s and Kilgours, even Woolworths with their bargain bins, hallowed emporiums where I began to build up my never-ending private library with funds, goodness only knows how, my cash-strapped mother provided. I’ve never stopped, gladly (and sadly, there are no treatment centres for biblioholia).

A return trip home to the land of my birth in the 1980s had me goggled-eyed at the shelf-stacked bookshops of Albion: the new, the secondhand, even a whole Welsh town (Hay-on-Wye) devoted to bookshops of every stripe. A six-year stint working for Waterstones in Kent and London –  all these temples of print made sure I would not die wondering as to how great a good bookshop could be.

Returning to study here in 1997, I made the acquaintance both of UBS and Scorpio Books, as well as the late, much lamented wedding-cake towers of Smiths Bookshop Manchester Street, a slice of secondhand book history to rival any I’d seen in Britain, since sadly brought down to earth by the terrible earthquake series beginning in 2010, punishing all the old buildings in the city for the next four to five years, along with their inhabitants, we readers.

I cannot truly pick any one of these waystations on my own writing journey, but as of today, UBS still stands firm at the university where I am typing now, surrounded in this office by a shelf of close friends: from an 1852 Wiremu (the New Zealand Dictionary, 2nd edition, compiled by the Rev. Wm. Williams, Archdeacon of Waiapu) to the majestic Collected Poems of Alistair Te Ariki Campbell. I visit our campus bookshop every week; my most recent buy was John Le Carré’s The Pigeon Tunnel.

They hosted the launch of Blood Ties, my beautifully made New and Selected Poems 1963-2016 a few weeks ago; as shortly afterwards did Scorpio, with Mākaro Press’s lovely imprint of Dylan Junkie, my fanboy poems for Bob.  Both events were full of life and energy, people like me who love to read and who – without such oases of cultural riches – would be poor indeed.

Have smart phones and tablets and laptops displaced the paper book? Who knows? It looks that way when I walk through the university library these days and see the waves of screen-babies staring at their machines with hardly a book in sight. Some days, the old words of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer come back to me:

“Almighty and most merciful Father, we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts … and there is no health in us”.

Was that prophetic? Should I lay down my iPhone and repent, turn again to the halls of print and hold a book like a talisman once more, a reminder of how truths on paper have set me free: truths of the imagination, of science, of faith? Visit my local bookshop while it still remains and buy New Zealand made? Yes, I think so.

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman – 2017

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman was born in London in 1947 and immigrated to New Zealand in 1950, living out his early years mostly on the South Island’s West Coast. He lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

 

 

 

 

A love letter to Books a Plenty, from Angie Belcher

Go into your local bookshop & write a love letter, and be in to win $500 in Book Tokens! 

Dear Books a Plenty,

My heart dropped when I approached your door and saw it closed. Brown paper covered the windows blocking out light. Like a door slammed in my face I stood, stunned, lost for words. Anxiously I peered through a tear in the paper searching for clues as to why you had left. It was then that I noticed the slip of A4 which had dropped to the ground. In heavy black felt pen were the words “Moved to 74 Grey Street”. Like a page torn from a novel, scooped up by the wind and blown along the road, I scurried towards you.  Your doors opened wide, welcoming me once more.

Inside, I stopped, took a deep breath and inhaled your scent. The makeover had transformed you. Smaller, brighter. There was a new clarity and confidence about you. Your shelves decorated with words. In one of the most prominent area stood the New Zealand titles and in another, local authors. I was dizzy with excitement and knew you had not forgotten me, a small independent never-to-be famous wannabe writer. And there, crowing aloud in front of all the other children’s books was The Farmyard Idol. The shining bunting on the cover reflecting light and begging to be read. A wave of gratitude filled me.

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Books a Plenty staff

For a moment, chapters of my life flashed before me; evenings spent drinking wine on your Book Club nights, seated in your window as a living book week display and the sound of your EFTPOS machine as you sold books on my behalf.

From the first time we met you have supported me, encouraging me when I was down and celebrating even the smallest of my successes. Your kindness was not just limited to me but to Tauranga Writers, Bookrapt and Friends of the Library. Your generosity reaching out with sponsorship of local reader writer events.

For the first time I really saw how important you are in my life. You, and your books, so many books, Books-a-Plenty. There are no more words. Just love and gratitude.

Happy Book Week.

love, Angie Belcher
Writer, Researcher, Author and Educator
www.angiebelcherwriter.com

Books A Plenty, Tauranga
Tauranga Arts Festival continues on Bookshop Day weekend. There will be displays and signings in-store for that and NZ Bookshop Day.

Love Letter to the Bookshops I have known, from Catherine Robertson

Dear Bookshops I Have Known,

How can I choose my favourite amongst you, when you’ve all meant so much to me?

Whitcoulls in Wellington’s James Smith’s department store gave me a job while I was at university, and access to bargains from the $1 bin (it was 1986), such as Cynthia Heimel’s Sex Tips for Girls, which I still have.

Parsons was the Bond Street jeweller of books to a struggling student – all those art books to covet on the way upstairs to an endless filter coffee, only fifty cents and with the added bonus of whipped cream and listening to Mike Bungay hold court at the next table.

The Women’s Bookshop in Courtenay Place, where I bought my collection of Viragos (Willa Cather, Vita Sackville-West) and flicked through Broadsheet.

Capital Books, my go-to for how-to books – no subject too obscure. All these particular shops gone now, but remembered whenever I look at my bookshelf.

My old favourites, who go from strength to strength:

Unity, I found you first in Willis Street, in a building that’s been replaced by something flash and glassy, and have followed you around faithfully.

Marsden Books, who make the trip to Karori always worthwhile.

The Children’s Bookshop, who opened the year after my first child was born, and have let me re-visit my own childhood (Frances the badger, Orlando the Marmalade cat!) and discover new joys with my sons. My boys are grown-up now, but I still shop there – you’re never too old for great children’s books. Ruth and John were some of the very first people I told when I finally sold a novel, and I’m so grateful for all their support.

The newer shops that, of course, have opened just for me: Ekor. Vic Books. And out of town, The Women’s Bookshop, Wardini’s, McLeods. The pleasure of shelves stocked with care and discernment. The whole vibe of delight in creation and language, and in the beautiful, magical objects that are books.

Thank you all

XXX
pp_catherine_Robertson
Catherine Robertson

Catherine Robertson is a number one New Zealand best-selling author. She lives beside the sea in Wellington, New Zealand, with her husband, the one son still at home, two rescue dogs and a Burmese cat.