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Unity, I found you first in Willis Street, in a building that’s been replaced by something flash and glassy, and have followed you around faithfully.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

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Lonesome When You Go: A Q & A with Saradha Koirala

cv_lonesome_when_you_goLonesome When You Go is Saradha Koirala’s first YA book, after having released two collections of poetry. We are happy to be able to participate in the Lonesome When You Go blog tour this week, following Kids’ Books NZMs Blair recommends, and Hooked on NZ Books He Ao Ano.

From our review by 14-year-old Isabelle Ralston: “Lonesome When You Go follows the story of a teenage girl named Paige as she faces all sorts of challenges with her bandmates, friends and family. Over the course of the novel Paige discovers that she can’t always control everything in her life. This novel is filled with lots of fun, quirky unique characters, who help Paige discover that she’s never alone even when it seems like no one is there.”

We asked Saradha a few questions about the basis for the book, what comes next, and what her favourite YA titles are at the moment.

pp_saradha_koirala1. When did you begin writing Lonesome When You Go – was there a particular trigger?
I started writing Lonesome ages ago! It was around the end of 2011 when I’d been teaching at a girls’ school for a few years and had ideas about what was perhaps lacking in the library for some of my students. I wanted to have a cool female lead with a strong voice – actually I probably wanted her to be cool and nerdy at the same time, but I’m not quite sure that’s how Paige turned out! I was lucky in 2012 to receive some funding to write my second book of poetry, Tear Water Tea, and used some of that bought time to also make progress on Lonesome When You Go.

2. Was it a book that came quickly? Can you describe some of the challenges writing the book, perhaps around disguising characters who were somewhat real?
None of the characters started off as real people (although they feel very real to me now!) and I realise this I could have explained this to my high school friends and ex-band mates up front, to alleviate their anxieties about me writing this book!

The main challenges for me were around creating a coherent plot. I’m primarily a poet, so I really got stuck into writing “scenes” – little snapshots of imagery and emotion – and struggled to tie these together into a story. I got some help from an awesome writing group, but the structure and story arc did not come easily at all.

Another challenge was time. I started teaching full time again about halfway through 2012, but dedicated my summer to working on Lonesome. It really was quite a long process of writing – mostly for a few hours on Monday evenings once school went back – and I put the whole manuscript away for about sixth months before I dared look at it again and then crafted it into something I felt okay about sending to a publisher.

3. You also experienced having a band in Rockquest as a teen: what was that like? Did you make it to finals? Are the winners still around now? (did you go to their concerts and boo?)
It was completely amazing to be part of Rockquest ’96! 1996 remains one of may favourite ever years for my own memories, but also what an incredible time for rock music! (I go on this rant often.)

Our band formed just for that year and we had some really fun and messy times rehearsing. My brother was the lead guitarist, his best friend on vocals and my boyfriend of the time was the drummer! As you can imagine it was fraught with love, arguments and shifting allegiances. We made it to the regional finals in Nelson and I vividly remember our performance in front of a mind-blowingly huge crowd (although some of that memory is now mixed with Paige’s fictional experience!) but remember little else from the night. I have no idea who won, but they’re probably incredibly wealthy and famous now.

4. What are you in the midst of now? How do you balance writing poetry with writing YA?
Last year I completed a third poetry collection and another YA novel. With time and space this one came much more easily to me. Now I’m busy trying to get some of the poems out into the world and am working on a third YA novel (1996 features heavily) that is somewhat more challenging to write than the first two. It’s a bit unwieldy at the moment, but I’m really enjoying trying out different styles and structures.

I still find writing poetry comes a bit more naturally to me and I have to really make a concerted effort to focus on writing fiction. Not that it’s a chore – I completely love it and I feel incredibly lucky to have time to dedicate to writing at the moment – but it takes plotting and planning and there are more rules and expectations when writing fiction, I find.

5. What are your favourite current YA books set in high schools?
People keep asking me variations on this question and I find my answers keep changing! Probably because there are so many favourites and so many great YA books to choose from, so I’ll just take it as an opportunity to mention some more awesome YA books!

In terms of books set in high schools, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky rates very highly for me. I also think John Green and David Levithan capture the high school vibe really well – Paper Towns in particular has some nice quirky schooly moments. I grew up with a rather Americanised version of high school life from movies and books, which really wasn’t anything like my experience at all. When Michael Met Mina, by Randa Abdel-Fattah feels like a very real and authentic high school story (especially for me now living in Australia) and Abdel-Fattah always does a great job of exploring issues that should definitely be being discussed among young people in the classrooms and corridors of high school.

Thank you Saradha: tomorrow sees My Best Friends are Books take on the tour, courtesy of Zac McCallum.

Lonesome When  You Go
by Saradha Koirala
Published by Makaro Press
ISBN  9780994123749

Interview with a Vampire (Master), by Sarah McMullan

Walking into The Museum Hotel, I wasn’t really sure what Justin Cronin would be like. We followed each other on Twitter and he seemed affable though not a digital native. I knew he had been travelling for several months already talking about The City of Mirrors – the final book in his successful Passage trilogy.
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Experience told me that by the time most authors made it to NZ, they were often a little bit tired. Life on the road is hard and the constant stream of interviews, readings and hotel rooms wears thin, so I was a little surprised to see a shorter than expected somewhat chipper man bouncing around a snooker table asking if anyone knew the rules, and debating if he could handle a cue in both hands.

Deciding that two cues one author may not have been the safest move for the beautiful tables, we instead sat down and started talking about what life is like now for a man that just fired himself from a job he’s had for the last decade: writing about Amy and the Virals.

‘It’s not like there’s one moment and you’re suddenly finished” he said, momentarily relaxing back on the chaise lounge. “When you hit save on that last chapter, that’s one point. Then it goes to the editor. Then it comes back. When they’ve finished with it that’s another end point. Then there’s the design side of things. And the marketing and release side. Then there’s publicity. And it’s always about sales numbers. So, I haven’t really come to the end yet, but it’s starting to form off in the distance. It’s strange because I’ve sort of fired myself!”

He leans forward and places his empty cup on the table. “I feel like I should have some big exciting story about how it feels to finish the trilogy but I don’t have one.”

I can’t help myself; “Are you working on something new?”

“Yes. And I’m not telling you anything about it, other than it’s different to what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years.” He settles back into the couch, smiling. I get the feeling he’s been asked that a lot lately.

“So you needed a change?”

“Not a change exactly, just those characters ended the story I had in mind for them. It was time to leave them.”

“Was it hard to write the ending for some of those characters? I know as a reader who’s been following their journey, it was really quite emotional fare-welling some of these characters, especially some who didn’t get the endings they fought so hard for. I’m not ashamed to say I cried happy and sad tears. Were you sad writing their demise?”

He pauses, “No. I never felt sad for my characters. Just a sense of satisfaction that they were achieving what they were supposed to. Their arcs were concluding. I had created them to do this, to reach this point.”

cv_passage_trilogyIt turns out, Justin Cronin manage to secure a deal for all three novels of the trilogy up front, so right from the very start he knew what he was going to do with the story, how and when. He pitched it that way, and believe it or not over the nearly 10 years it took to write The Passage, The Twelve and The City of Mirrors, the characters never deviated off on their own journey. They stayed on the path he had planned for them right from the very start.

As an experienced author with three previous titles to his name; Cronin’s approach to writing the trilogy was no different, though perhaps his inspiration was a little unusual.

“It began with me going running with my daughter. She’d be on her bike and I’d be running, and we’d make up stories. The rules were they had to be about a girl saving the world, and she had to have red hair because my daughter did. And it went from there.”

“What about other influences? You’ve been likened a lot to Stephen King. Are you a fan?”

Shifting slightly, Cronin laughs, “Actually no. I mean, I haven’t read a lot of his work. Maybe when I was younger…” he trails off. “I read a lot. I always have and there are a lot of different influences that I think are visible in the books, Different writers, different genres, different titles… I like to think there are little Easter eggs hidden in there.”

cv_1st_onthebeachI nodded, hoping my literary knowledge wasn’t going to make me look like an idiot. “The Australian link – was that a nod to On the Beach, by Nevil Shute?” He grinned at me. I continued. “Cormac McCarthy’s The Road popped up for me, George Orwell 1984, Lila reminded of Mrs Dalloway …”.  He laughed. I’m still not sure if that’s a yes or a no but I still maintain she does.

“… and yes I get the likeness to Stephen King, but as a lifelong reader of him I’d have to say it’s really only The Stand, and it’s a superficial likeness really. It’s a post-apocalyptic novel set in a world brought low by a virus where good squares off against evil, it’s super long, it’s easy to read and while it’s horror it’s not just blood and guts and it will get in your head and scare you.”

“I’m happy with that” he says.

I see his publicist looking at her watch. Time is nearly up.

“Two quick questions” I say. “How did you come up with your signature author pose?”
He looks at me like I just sprouted an extra head. “My what?”

“Your signature author pose. This…” I say showing him photos on my phone. “Your signature author pose seems to be ¾ to front on, arms folded, seriously eyeballing the camera. Why that one?”

pp_looming-with-a-dog-jefferey-deaver

Jeffrey Deaver

He flops back looking quite perplexed. “There are other signature poses for authors?”
“Oh there are loads. Jeffrey Deaver does the side on looming thing. They make him loom everywhere. Clive Barker does the thoughtful head tilt, often with an open necked shirt; Stephen King usually get cropped at the neck and is face on, and most female authors get cropped across the shoulders or end up in some complicated leaning / arm thing designed to make them look either relaxed or powerful. There seems to be quite an art to it. I just wondered how you came up with yours?”

“Well, I’m usually the one taking photos at home, and I don’t like having my photo taken so I just do what they tell me. I never noticed that before. You’re right. I’m crossed arms guy! I’ll have to see if that’s on all my books.”

“Which brings me to my last question: do you have a copy of all yours books? All the different editions from around the world? “

“I do. But I don’t look at them. It’s a contractual thing. They arrive and they go straight to storage. God knows what we’ll do with them when I die. Congratulations, here’s 350 copies of the same book! I mean it’s not exciting to see them arrive. Most of them have the same covers – or one of two designs.

snowy-street-lamp-1474559946d34

Probably not this one.

“But I do remember when my first book came out, and it was snowing and the delivery guy couldn’t get through the snow and I wanted to see it and show everyone and I had to go out in the middle of the blizzard to get my copy and I remember standing on a street corner under a streetlamp ripping open this package, or trying to because I had mittens on, and seeing my book with my name on it for the first time, and it was just an incredible feeling. And even though I’d been researching and writing and editing and all the rest for what felt like years, that moment was when I felt like an author for the first time.”

A big thank you to Justin Cronin for giving up his time; to Sarah at Booksellers NZ who made it happen; to Gemma at Hachette NZ for letting me near her author and The Museum Hotel in Wellington for not evicting us at the first mention of two handed snooker playing.

By Sarah McMullan @sarahmcmullannz

The Passage (9780752883304) & The Twelve (9780752883335 ) are available now as paperbacks. RRP $25.99. Orion.
The City of Mirrors is available as Trade Paperback. RRP $37.99. Orion.

Kate De Goldi talks From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle, and the Christchurch earthquakes

Kate De Goldi is one of New Zealand’s finest writers, a truly inspiring speaker, and an excellent reviewer in all mediums. She has won the overall Children’s Book of the Year twice – in 2005 for picture book Clubs: A Lolly Leopold Story, and in 2009 for The 10pm Question. Last night, she won the Junior Fiction category at the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, with From The Cutting Room of Barney Kettle.

I had lunch with her a few weeks ago. Most of this interview went up on The Spinoff last week. However, there were a few discussions we had about specifics regarding Barney Kettle that I thought that fans of the book may be intrigued by. So here are the questions that missed out (one includes the very interesting information that Kate is currently writing a script for the film of Barney Kettle!)

Author photo Kate De Goldi_websiteIn Barney Kettle, the thrillingalchemy of film-making happens as much when editing as it does when making film itself. When writing, do you typically start out with a lot more ‘film’ than you end up with? Are you a constant self-editor?

A book takes quite a long time to gestate for me. I often work on the front end of the book for a couple of years.

With Barney Kettle, the last part of it was written in three months, but it was a long time coming – it’s much more plotty than my other books so there were more mechanics. But the key thing with Barney Kettle was finding the narrative perspective – the unknown narrator. I started it in other ways, and it didn’t have enough depth for me, so I wrote that opening scene as a kind of instruction to myself. I mentioned the children finding the envelopes – at that stage I had no idea what the envelopes were, what they would have in them. But I had to give myself some parameters. I knew I wanted them to be chasing down some mystery as well as making a documentary. So that’s how it always begins. I edit as I go. I don’t do many drafts – I only do one really, but very very slowly.

I tried to work a bit differently with Barney [than with other books]. I had a daily word count – you have to keep on putting the wood on yourself to stop you falling into your old writing ruts, so I gave myself a target word limit once I settled into it. It was a very interesting discipline, and it did move things forward quite quickly, I stopped agonising about sentences until it came to the editing. And the next day I’d go back and discard half of it, but I had still moved forward. But every book’s different.

Let’s talk about the earthquakes. How frequently have you been to Christchurch since, and what is it like to walk around the streets you once knew so well, but no longer recognise?
During the period the earthquakes were happening, my parents were starting to decline. So I was down there a lot, practically lived there in 2010, so I was there for several earthquakes, and Dad only died last October, so I’d been going down every six weeks for five years. My sisters are there, I’m really close to them, and many of my cousins.

Is it coming back? It must have been heartbreaking, the first few times.
It’s kind of unreal really, I’ve talked about this with others before – there’s a different experience of the earthquake for people who used to live in Christchurch and don’t live there anymore, ex-pats.

For the first couple of years, the first year, it was awful. The quakes were going on – the people who lived through it had this total – dreadful – experience – those who weren’t there, who came and went, had a different kind of experience. Christchurch has always been my place, but I’m very aware that I didn’t experience that total life-change. It was more an imaginative change for me.

The most startling thing for me, was this time last year I went down with my daughter to Christchurch to see Dad, he was in care near where we used to live in Shirley, backing on to Avonside. I somehow, in all the three years that Dad had been in care, had never been in that area. And my daughter wanted to go explore to see the houses of her old friends. We turned into River Road and I literally couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a flourishing suburb before. And now it’s vanished. I felt like I was in a film, I felt like I was in Back to the Future. Or like we’d been transported back to the 19th century, before anything was built there.

And I sort of was obsessed with it. I kept going back, took my sister the next day, driving round and round. It was haunting. You could see all the section parameters – the fences weren’t there – but the tree planting was, you could see where houses were. And there were ghost bus stops. There’s a character in Joe Bennett’s King Rich, who – watching the earthquakes from afar – says she feels as though her childhood had been erased. I recognised that feeling.

My earthquake experience is part of Barney Kettle. Writing it was a bit of a lament for that lost childhood, and that lost place. The High Street is representative of the lost Christchurch.

cv_from_the_cutting_room_of_Barney_KettlyYour sense of place is incredible in Barney Kettle: you could walk from shop to shop with Barney and Ren, or follow them around as Orange Boy and Crimson Girl did – does place for you start from detail, or does it begin broad & get painted in by your imagination?
It comes and goes. I did greatly enjoy a writing day when I was going into a new shop with Barney and Ren, and I was able to describe it. I had such fun. I love thing-ness. That book is just full of stuff. And that’s the stuff of a child’s life – thing-ness. Objects, people, so I just wanted it to be filled with all that sort of stuff. And biscuits.

If there is one thing I wished while reading Barney Kettle, it was to read the zines that Orange Boy and Crimson Girl wrote and drew: have you got your own copies of these, or did they stay in your imagination?
No. I did have to think about them quite carefully, about the 8 pages of them. I had to give a sense of them without completely retelling them. I imagined them quite carefully, though.

Did you ever have a point where you thought, I’d like that to be on the page there?
I did initially think that maybe the zines would be in the book, but it seemed better that it wasn’t illustrated in the end. Actually I’m writing a film script for the book now, it’s been optioned by an Australian film company and who knows if it will ever be made, but they are a fantastic team of people and their MO, when adapting, is to work the author. I tried to tell them it wasn’t a very good idea – cowardice mostly – but they convinced me otherwise. And I’m so pleased. It has been the most instructive experience. It’s been really interesting learning how to tell a story visually. I’m not naturally that good at it, but I’m enjoying learning. They saw the book as very filmic – obviously it has filming in it, but there are the zines too, which lend themselves to animation.

I love zines because they’re such democratic forms of storytelling and they allow for all sorts of capacity – drawing and writing and photocopying and pasting and sewing etc. Quite a lot of the antic humour in Barney comes from the zines I’ve read over the years. I liked making up the zines’ titles in the comic shop. But I liked the idea, too, that there would be a mysterious envelope for the kids to open. With the little story inside, so there are character studies within character studies… It’s quite a populated book.


cv_annualI am looking forward to getting the finished version of Kate De Goldi and Susan Paris’ Annual, produced with Gecko Press, out this October.

Annual will be the first publication of its kind in New Zealand., and features a dictionary of crazy words that come in handy on car trips, a sophisticated ‘spot the similarity’, a found poem from school newsletters, a maths-nerd’s memoir full of tricky logic puzzles, and top-class fiction that spans Christchurch Botanic Gardens in the 19th C, the loss of a brother, a Kiwi beach holiday, and a Fontanian boarding school.


Kate De Goldi interviewed by Sarah Forster

Author interview with Edward Carey, Master of gothic Victorian power games at #AWF16

edward creyEdward Carey is my new favourite writer. Once I knew I was going to the schools days for the Auckland Writers Festival, I went to the library and got a dozen books out, among them the first in Edward’s YA trilogy, the Iremonger trilogy, called Heap House. Upon picking it up, I was immediately lost in the gothic world of Victorian England, deep within the gloom, dirt and muck of the world of the Iremongers. The chores had to wait. And I decided I must meet the brilliant man behind this book.

While Edward Carey is British, he lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, writer Elizabeth McCracken and their two children. All of them are over for the 2016 Auckland Writer’s Festival, with Carey and McCracken taking turns doing events and juggling kids.

The Iremonger trilogy is set in dark days of the Victorian era: Prince Albert has died, and Queen Victoria has been angry for years, taking it out on the poor. The main characters Clod, and Lucy Pennant come together initially in Heap House – the home of the Iremongers, rulers of the world of rubbish, the heap-farmers elite.

heaphouseEach of the books in the series is illustrated throughout, with illustrations of Heap House (above, source Edward Carey’s website), then Foulsham, then Lungdon in the front of each title; and portraits of characters throughout. As the series carries on, we get a broader view of what is happening and why, and gain freedom to go into the world at large. “I wrote the books inside out to begin with, and I didn’t know what I was doing, and that was fine, but I couldn’t see the shape of it, and I wanted to do something as ambitious as I possibly could. I felt like it would be cowardly of me to set something in Victorian London without actually setting foot in it. And so it was something I wanted to build up to. I was very conscious of getting into landscapes that grew and grew, and for the people to get smaller and smaller as their land gets larger and larger.”

heaphousecoverHis illustrations, done in the style of daguerreotypes, are grim, quirky, and altogether brilliant. I wondered who inspired his art most of all. “There are some artists I go back to – mainly writer-artists, people who do both writing and illustrating: Alisdair Gray, the Scottish artist; Tove Jansson; William Blake; Bruno Schultz. I can’t imagine separating the two as a process.”

During the schools session, he noted that his own creative process always began with a drawing. He was speaking to 10-14 year olds, and I wondered how he enjoyed speaking to kids. “It was strange to shift from writing for adults, to writing for young adults. With the writing, I sometimes find the compartmentalisations rather frustrating. But I enjoy talking at schools because the kids, they often want to be writers themselves, and they get really keyed up about it, and its great hearing about their thoughts. They seem more engaged than I think I was at their age.”

I explained a little to Carey about the controversy we had here in NZ which saw Ted Dawe’s Into the River banned, and wondered whether he had crossed any invisible line (according to his publishers) of what is acceptable in YA. There is rather a high body count throughout the series, but they are for the most part, not gory deaths – merely disappearances of a sort. He says, “Some people have told me that this is really really really dark, and I think that’s fine. You must never patronise in any way, and the books can be dangerous, as long as the story feels real. The idea of banning is – kids work it out for themselves, don’t they.”

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As Heap House opens, the first thing we learn is that Clod, our hero as it turns out, can hear objects talking. They say their names, over and over again. In the house in which he lives, each person is given a ‘birth object’ to keep with them always, and these objects make noise – have names, in fact. Normal names, ones like you and I have – while Clod and his kin have names just a little off-centre: Pinalippy, Otta, Ormily. The objects range in size from a marble hearth (Grandmother’s object), to a pencil shaving. Clod’s particular object is a plug. He is an aristocrat of dirt, part of the large and inimitable Iremonger family.

“This idea, of things with lives, started while I was in China with other authors – one of the places we went to was a museum that hadn’t been finished yet. And they had put all these baths in one room, and they seemed to be talking to each other, these baths. And they seemed to really have so much life, and really kind of want to wander around and climb into each other. The open plugholes in many of them were like mouths, and many had feet. There were different rooms where the same type of objects were all amassed, and it threw out what a museum usually is, and felt like the objects had basically curated themselves.”

lungdon coverThe Iremongers with birth objects feel empty when they don’t have them close – they are constantly fidgeting with them, holding them, sometimes talking to them; even their nicknames are based on their birth objects. The Iremongers are promised to each other at birth, and showing each other their particular objects is almost like seeing each other naked. I wondered whether Carey reflexively assigns people he knows objects. “No, that would be cruel. The grandmother does this in the novel – you never get to choose yourself. It was fun sometimes giving an object that sums up the character, but in other times giving ones that are contrary to the character.”

Once Clod understands his attachment to the objects for what it is, he rejects it. I wondered whether this was a moral stance for Edward. “It’s in there, how we deal with objects, our obsession with objects and what it’s doing to the world we live in, the amount of stuff we throw away all the time. But that’s only part of it, some of it is to do with the beauty of objects. Like, consider the bath plug. Quite seriously, it’s a beautiful object. But we don’t look at it aesthetically. But I didn’t want to give any massive moral message, I don’t think that’s a writer’s job, and I think when a writer does it, it’s dreadfully dreary and it should never be allowed.

“But I do think those themes of you know, the world falling apart, being strangled by the amount of possessions around, and of the possessions fighting back, I did hope that readers would look at the objects around them while they are reading, and wonder if they had some sort of conscious feeling.”

Edward once tried to write a historical novel, and says it was a disaster. “I adore and admire Hilary Mantel, but I can’t research – it kills me, I want to imagine everything.” In Victorian London there were dirt heaps everywhere, and people did farm them, but nothing of the scale of the Foulsham heaps. “The Heap was just an idea of how much dirt Victorian London at its highest peak was creating. And also, how the poor were being crushed all the time. And they were just cogs – not even cogs, just rivets in this massive machine that just smashed them.”

lucy_pennantThe heroine of the novels, Lucy Pennant (right, from Edward Carey’s website), is raised in Foulsham, then brought as a servant to the Iremonger’s mansion, Heap House, because they believe she is their kin – mistakenly, as it turns out. When she arrives, the other servants want to know her story, because they don’t remember their own. I wondered why it was important that the servants be called by one name – Iremonger – and know nothing about their own stories. “Our stories are what we are, if we don’t have these stories, we’re nothing. There’s something terrifying in humans being around in every age not being able to keep their own stories. I can’t think of anything more terrifying. If your own past is – we are all the stories of our lives. If we can’t access these, then who are we, and what are we?”

Lucy Pennant and Clod Iremonger have a seemingly unlikely relationship. “For Clod, Lucy is the most exciting thing he’s ever seen. She’s not family, she answer back and doesn’t play by the rules, and she is utterly herself. She is the moral force of the whole book. And Lucy surprises herself with her depth of feeling for Clod. It’s a tremendously complicated relationship, they really spark off each other – every time she sees him, she punches him.”

If you have read this interview and are still wondering whether the Iremonger trilogy is for you – it’s a little bit like Anna Smaill’s The Chimes in its treatment of objects and memory, it feels a little like Ben Aaronovich’s Rivers of London series with its magic and grime. It has gallows humour and so many perfect lines that it aches. Pick it up and be engrossed.

We had a quick chat as I wrapped the interview up, about bookstores, and Carey’s favourite independent bookstores around the world. As it happens, we have a bookseller, Steve Bercu, from BookPeople in Austin coming as a guest speaker to the conference next month.

“There’s a fantastic bookshop in Austin called BookPeople, but my favourite bookshop in America is Prairie Lights in Iowa City. I have old dear friends there who run it – Paul Ingram gives incredible recommendations of books – you go in there and he’s just talk talk talk, non-stop. My favourite bookshop in England would be Mr B’s [Emporium of Reading Delights], a bookshop in Bath. I know all the people there now, and I did their catalogue cover a couple of Christmases ago. Mr B’s has now started publishing their own books. They print a few hundred, and if it works, they print more. Independent bookstores, if they go, it’s just awful. A city without them – it’s as if the city doesn’t have a pair of lungs.”

“My favourite thing about bookshops is going there and spending a couple of hours, and getting lost, and learning from just going through books. Events all depend on the reader – I once saw Seamus Heaney read, and it was one of the best readings I’ve ever been to. Those are thrilling, you walk away with joy in your step.”

Edward Carey is in conversation with the wonderful Eleanor Catton at 5.30pm Friday 13 May, at the Lower NZI Room in the Aotea Centre. Please do go along and learn more about this talented author/illustrator. And do buy his books at the book stall at the Festival – they can be difficult to find elsewhere, though I am sure, not for  much longer.

Interview by Sarah Forster

Books:
Heap House (Iremonger #1), Hot Key Press, ISBN 9781471401572
Foulsham (Iremonger #2), Hot Key Books, ISBN 9781471401619
Lungdon (Iremonger #3), Hot Key Books, ISBN 9781471401671

Review & Interview: Under Italian Skies, by Nicky Pellegrino

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_under_italian_skiesUnder Italian Skies is the latest book by Nicky Pellegrino. Nicky was kind enough to answer questions about her book and I’ve incorporated them into this review.

Stella, a sensible soul, is faced with needing to reevaluate her life after her friend (and boss) dies. She is unsure what she wants to do in terms of employment, just knows that she needs new direction. She is inspired by the concept of a gap year, and comes across the idea of an international house swap. Unlike women portrayed in similar novels, she does not fall apart and she isn’t running away. She just creates a scenario where she can get inspiration. I asked Nicky(below right) if she had a real life inspiration for Stella:

pp_nicky_pellegrino“I tend to avoid change in my own life. But often it’s forced on us and we have to deal with it; which is Stella’s situation. I think she does panic to begin with because she’s a person who is used to having a plan and making things happen. Then when she comes up with the house-swap idea she throws herself into it with all the efficiency she brought to her working life. The character wasn’t inspired by any one real person but I guess I always take bits and pieces of things that people say and do, and end up stitching them into my stories.”

My favourite aspect of the story was the character of Stella. Stella seeks direction and in watching her do so, we learn a lot about her life, career, friendships and relationships. She is not defined by any of these domains and is a very well-rounded character. Nicky says, “I think about my characters all the time; like I would a good friend who was at a crossroads in their life. I might be driving along or walking the dogs or lying in bed or blow-drying my hair; but my brain is busy turning them and their situation over in my mind. So in the end they are real to me and hopefully to the reader.

I think in my books the story is generally driven by the characters, so it’s important they are rounded and balanced.”

A lot of books that are involve the protagonist visiting a foreign location see the setting through the character’s eyes only. The setting is there just to be different, and is really there just for the character to comment on its difference. I was really impressed with how strong the fictional ‘Triente’ came across in Under Italian Skies. This is helped by Triente having such a passionate advocate – the owner of the house Stella swaps with is keen for her to experience the region through visiting interesting destinations and meeting people. He enjoys her emails discussing her adventures and really wants her to love the house and Triente as he does. The beauty of the region is well explained, without being corny.

Maratea_real_trienteNicky Pellegrino spent her childhood summers in Italy and I asked if there was a particular influence for Triente. Nicky says,”It’s actually a real place, called Maratea (image to left), which is beside the coast of Basilicata in the south west of Italy. My father’s cousin has a house there which we’ve stayed in several times: that is what Villa Rosa is based on. It’s a beautiful area – kind of like Amalfi but without the crowds – but I changed its name because I wanted to be free to do a bit of creative “town planning”. There is a linen shop there though, that is very like the one in my books. And many churches and a harbour area with lots of seafood restaurants. It’s become a special place to me over the years.”

This is great sit-by-a-sunny-window read – an inspiration for creating change or resetting your life without requiring extreme chaos to do so. There are so many fantastic supporting characters – people who are helped by Stella as she is helped by them. I could think of real life acquaintances who remind me of these characters, so had quite a giggle. Under Italian Skies can be quite funny at times but its success as a novel ultimately rests in the strength of its characters and their interactions. I really enjoyed reading it.

Review and Interview by Emma Wong-Ming

Under Italian Skies
by Nicky Pellegrino
Published by Orion
ISBN 9781409150862

Adapting picture books: choosing stories to reflect the child’s world

pp_peter_wilsonGuji Guji, by Chih-Yuan Chen and Death Duck and the Tulip, by Wolf Erlbruch are both published by Gecko Press, and available for purchase at bookshops nationwide.

Peter Wilson, Director of the Little Dog Barking Theatre company is in Wellington at the moment for a school holiday run of two puppet plays based on Gecko Press picture books: Guji Guji, from the book by Taiwanese author Chih-Yuan Chen; and Death Duck and the Tulip, from the book by German author/ illustrator Wolf Erlbruch. I popped over to BATS to have a talk with him about adapting children’s books for theatre, the secret to making good theatre for children, and why it is that puppetry endures.

Wilson began his New Zealand career as the founding Director of Capital E National Theatre for Children in 1996. He left there in 2010, to found Little Dog Barking Theatre. Since at Little Dog Barking, as well as before, Wilson has adapted many children’s books into puppet plays. His adaptation of Death, Duck and the Tulip has toured internationally since 2014, and it is exciting to see it back in Wellington from Tuesday 19th until the Saturday 23rd April at Bats Theatre.

1. How did you come to choose two books published in English by Gecko Press to adapt into children’s plays?
cv_death_duck_and_the_tulipA copy of Death, Duck and the Tulip was actually given to me by my wife – I read it, and had two thoughts. First, that it would adapt well into the kind of work I do. Second, I thought if I had had a book like that when I lost a brother (I was 5, he was 6), it might have explained a lot of things – so that was the other reason for doing it.

Children that age don’t tend to get talked to about death very much – although of course, the book itself is about life, rather than death. So that is why I did the first adaptation. Then Julia Marshall (publisher at Gecko Press) suggested other books of hers to adapt, and one of these was Guji Guji and I instantly thought it would lend itself to shadow puppetry.

I’m always looking at children’s books. I’ve done other books from other children’s publishers. I’ve done Kiwi Moon, by Gavin Bishop and Tessa Duder’s (YA novel) Jellybean, among others.

cv_guji_guji2. Is it the fairytale aspect of the books that make them good to adapt?
Yes, and no. I’m always looking for something that’s a little big stronger – not something run-of-the-mill. A lot of children’s theatre presents happy all the time.

Guji Guji is about bullying, about family love, about friendship, its about identity and who we are. Which I think are important things for society in this day and age – children are faced with all sorts of different challenges, and its important to show them the world we live in. I try to choose stories to reflect the world of the child.

3. What level of interaction have you had with the authors of the two books while adapting their books for performance?
I had a little bit of correspondence with the Guji Guji author, and I did try to communicate with Wolf Erlbruch, but I missed him.

Guji Guji is on an international tour in the middle of the year. We are taking it to the Okinawa International Theater Festival for Young Audience in August,  then on to Kyushu to play in five centres, then to WA’s Awesome Festival, then to Shanghai for their Theatre festival. The Auckland Arts Festival is coming to have a look at it this week, and also Nelson Arts Festival.

4. Have you got a solid team of puppeteers you work and tour with regularly?
They change, but I try to keep a close team together. Kenny King has been with me since we started. We worked at Capital E before that. He has an interest in puppetry. I have two new people this year – we travel overseas as a team, and I try to keep everybody together.

5. How do you choose actors that are excellent at performing to children?
There are two things I look for: They either need to have experience working with children, or have children of their own. The second thing is that because the work is a mix of puppet, and mask, and visual theatre, I try to look for people adept that those arts. A lot of actors think of performing for children as a good starting place, rather than a career – they want to go into film or television.

6. What makes an adaptation work?
I don’t know what the magic is. There are other adaptations of Death Duck and the Tulip, for example. I adapted it before seeing them. There is a company in WA who created a big-budget musical from the book – and it just didn’t work. They missed the whole point of the story.

I always try to keep my adaptations as simple as possible. My actors would disagree – there are so many props in them. But as long as the audience can’t see the work, we’ve done our job.

7. How do audiences from different cultural backgrounds react to Death Duck and the Tulip?
We haven’t had any negative reactions around the world, but I have in New Zealand. We had done performances in Christchurch and Nelson, then in Auckland, three performances in schools were cancelled, because the play was about death. The principals came to see it, and were happy, but the parent body controlled the decision.

We’ve had parents come and thank us for presenting such a difficult work to their children. And we’ve made children cry, of course – we’ve made adults cry. That’s part of the game. I mean, I can read a book and cry. And I think it’s rather good – I don’t advocate that children should be sad, but they should be able to experience and understand that emotion.

8. Finally, a very broad question – why do you think that puppetry as a way of storytelling, particularly for the very young, has endured?
I’ve always used puppets. I find puppets are amazing things, because they’re basically a piece of material, or something carved out of wood, and you breathe life into them. And children, and adults too, suspend their disbelief. Because they know its not real.

I always remember my father saying, when I first went into puppetry – I had a show with a bandicoot in it, and the bandicoot went to sleep, and he breathed while he was sleeping.
At the end of it, my father – he never came to my work at all, but he came to this show – said ‘the bloody bandicoot breathed.’ He couldn’t believe it. My father really wasn’t an arty bloke, and I think that’s the beauty of puppetry,this ability to suspend disbelief. And we can create impossible worlds, because the puppet as an art form can do impossible things – if we want it to fall to pieces, we create a puppet that falls to pieces.

Thank you to Peter for taking time to chat with me – please do go and enjoy these wonderful works if you are lucky enough to be in Wellington. I took my two children, aged 3 and 5 to Guji Guji today, and they were spellbound.

Little Dog Barking are a touring theatre company, available for school and festival performances. Have a look at their other shows on their website.

GUJI GUJI 
Based on the book by Chih Yuan Chen. Guji Guji is a simple and beautiful story about being different, bullying and family love.
Bats Theatre Date: 19th – 23rd April 2016
Little Theatre, Lower Hutt: 28th April 2016
Kapiti Playhouse, Paraparaumu: 29th April 2016
Times: 10:00am and 11:30am
Venue: BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Terrace, Wellington (map)
Age: 2 – 10 years old
Ticketing: Via BATS Theatre – ph 04 802 4175 or visit http://www.bats.co.nz

DUCK DEATH AND THE TULIP
Using puppets, mime and magic, Little Dog Barking Theatre Company tells the story if a heart-warming and whimsical friendship between a playful duck and a character called Death.
Date: 19th – 23rd April 2016
Times: 6:00pm
Venue: BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Terrace, Wellington (map)
Age: 2 – 102 years old