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

Book Review: Bloomsbury South – The Arts in Christchurch 1933-53, by Peter Simpson

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_bloomsbury_southSomething happened in Christchurch between 1933-53. Here, in this southern city, far removed from the creative artistic spark which had spread across Europe and the Americas, there was a blossoming. Christchurch is my city, so the arrival of Bloomsbury South was like opening a door to a world I suspected  had existed, but had never properly explored.

Peter Simpson knows this world, as he lived in Christchurch for 25 years. He was a student, then a teacher at Canterbury University so knew and worked with many of those in this artistic community. His familiarity with running a publishing and printing company, Holloway Press, also enabled him to have an intimate understanding of the mechanics of this group.

The something that happened was the coming together of a group of creative artists: writers, painters, dramatists, sculptors, publishers, musicians, actors and dramatists. Together they supported, discussed and experimented in the wider arts. The title alludes to the Bloomsbury set who rose to fame in London. While some might say it is a bit pretentious to make this connection, Peter Simpson gives strong evidence to support the title.

His research is meticulous, and follows the individual stories of these creative leaders. Ursula Bethell was a founding member, and her support and encouragement is shown as an important factor in the establishment of the group. She supported rising poets, while Leo Bensemann provided a house for a studio, but also the venue for discussions and parties in which big ideas were freely debated. The founding of the Caxton Press played an important role in the printing and distribution of many new works. Each development is explained and its importance highlighted in this very readable book.

Having lived in Christchurch all my life, I have grown up with these names. I suppose I have struggled with the vacuum left as they departed for more supportive roles in other cities. Peter Simpson details this gradual decline and the desperate attempts by the remaining members to struggle on. The furore over the gift of Francis Hodgkins’s painting, Pleasure Garden, epitomises the conservative backlash in Christchurch. The establishment resented and excluded the members of the group, and so they left, taking their vision and passion to other shores.

This book is one of those benchmark writings, which every follower of the development of a distinctly New Zealand voice, must read. Peter Simpson has timed the release of his book well, coming 5 years after the earthquakes, which literally shook up the arts scene in Christchurch. I trust this publication will signal a new era in Christchurch creativity. It is time to move forward with the knowledge of past mistakes to enable us to build a community which allows and supports all forms of expressive art. This book is a wonderful gift to anyone who wonders, “What happened?”

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Bloomsbury South: The arts in Christchurch 1933-53
by Peter Simpson
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408480

Book Review: Where the fish grow, by Ish Doney

Available now in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_where_the_fish_growIsh Doney packs love and longing into her first collection of poetry, Where the fish grow. Describing Doney’s own move from New Zealand to Scotland, her writing resonates deeply through its portrayal of how bittersweet it is to leave old memories behind while making new ones.

One painful aspect of departure is leaving loved ones behind, and Doney expresses this in her poem Family. She beautifully describes the process as ‘packing up / grey Christchuch days… Folding up streets and parks’. The restraint of her language results in a tone that is modest and almost shy. In this way, the final verse of the poem is heartbreaking yet subtle. Here, Doney spends her time ‘remembering what it was like… to lie on the lino… under a hospital bed / and listen to my brother cry’.

Similarly in the poem Miscarriage, Doney describes a different kind of leaving, and one that she can’t quite fathom. Unable to comprehend what has happened, she repeats her chances like a plea: ‘Five percent. / We should have been okay’. The precision of Doney’s writing portrays a deep yet intangible kind of loss with no flamboyance or excessive description. She is simply a poet capturing an event for what it is: a loss that leaves pools of emptiness rippling through her life.

The heart is placed obliquely in the chest, is another beautiful poem that describes the heart and all its emotions as a literal concept. Some hearts are ‘bent or partially broken… hence, fracture takes place more readily’, suggesting that constant leaving and settling results in small cracks in a person. The use of short and simple lines presents these observations as strong and sturdy structures for the rest of poem. However, in the end, ‘The substance of the heart / is uncertain’; its complexity is left inexplicable.

Doney finds a constant through the ritual of making tea, and she uses this to find that sense of home again. She describes the motion as a process similar to making mud pies, of ‘mixing the garden together / and covering it with petals’. This is her way of grounding herself: through the imagery of the earth. Tea reappears throughout the collection and so does the sea; it is where the tang of salty air and fish becomes a prevalent memory for Doney. In the final poem, Seaside, she imagines ‘collecting the ocean / in coffee cups’, of being able to bring bits of home with her wherever she goes. It is an innocent way of making the unfamiliar seem familiar, of adjusting a new home in relation to the old.

Where the fish grow portrays the many of emotions of departure when home is so close to someone’s heart. The heart is a complex and difficult thing and Doney’s attempt to understand it is through the description of a magical world, a world where the smell of tea brings back certain memories and the tide brings in layers and layers of the past. Where The Fish Grow is an enjoyable poetry collection that captures both the wonder of the new and the bittersweet feeling that comes with leaving the old.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Where The Fish Grow
by Ish Doney
Published by Makaro Press (Part of the Hoopla series)
ISBN 9780994123718

Book Review: Vernacular, by Philip Smith, photos by David Straight


cv_vernacularAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

How much notice do you take of the design of fences, gates and steps as you drive around your suburb? I can assure you when you read Vernacular you will look at some of these structures with renewed interest and fascination.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English gives the definition of ‘Vernacular’
(of language) of one’s own native country, not of foreign origin…
(of architecture) concerned with ordinary rather than monumental buildings”.

Philip Smith is an Auckland based landscape designer with a particular interest in advocating for New Zealand’s threatened plant species. He is also interested in the human imprint within New Zealand, particularly the forms and objects that arise from everyday lives.

David Straight’s interest in the built environment started in London and New York and he is now based in Auckland. His work includes photographing architecture for some leading New Zealand architects as well as an ongoing exploration of the transitional landscape of post-earthquake Christchurch.

The reader is taken on a journey through New Zealand as the author and photographer check out culverts, gates, fences, walls, pavements, stairs and even marker posts: fundamental elements of our built environment. No matter where you live, there is something of interest and you will have seen many of the structures which are photographed.

The book is divided into various chapters addressing different landscape types, as well as looking at other aspects such as nature of materials, as the author points out, “Many aspects of the vernacular landscape are built with materials close at hand.”

The author has dedicated one chapter to Māori structures, but there are numerous other references throughout the book and I was particularly interested in the discussion and photographs of the upper and lower redoubts at Te Pōrere Redoubt, the earthen structure erected for defense during The New Zealand Wars at the end of the 1860’s.

Water is of great significance and importance to New Zealand and wonderful photographs of coastal views and structures are dispersed throughout the book, and it includes a chapter on hidden waterways and manhole covers. With irrigation such a big part of the New Zealand farming scene the chapter entitled “Big Ditch, Little Ditch” is particularly interesting and illustrates how the water races first used for gold-mining can still be useful in the modern world of irrigation.

There is a lot in this book and a reader will not absorb it all in the first reading. It would sit nicely on the coffee table to be enjoyed and re-read a number of times, by anyone interested in the natural environment and the world around them. I enjoyed this book, and I am looking forward to having more time to pick it up and read it in more depth and study the excellent photos. I particularly liked the cover photos; the fence with the flat standard and the brown tussocks grasslands of the Mackenzie reflect the real New Zealand.

As the author says, “As a society, we should afford our landscapes much more than a cursory glance, for it is looking intently at them that we gain an appreciation of the depth and diversity of our culture”.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Vernacular – The Everyday Landscape of New Zealand
Written by Philip Smith, with photographs by David Straight
Published with the assistance of the Friedlander Foundation by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9781927213490

Book Review: Quaky Cat Helps Out, by Diana Noonan, illustrated by Gavin Bishop

Available in bookshops nationwide.cv_quaky_cat_helps_out

Quaky Cat has appeared in an earlier picture book by Diana Noonan. This book was written in response to the Christchurch earthquake and has raised more than $150,000 for Christchurch charities. All author royalties from this book Quaky Cat Helps Out will go to supporting the work of Orphans Aid International.

Diana is an award-winning author of more than 200 publications including young adult novels, picture books, non-fiction, poetry, stories for radio, material for television and short film scripts. Gavin Bishop is an award-winning New Zealand children’s author and illustrator. He has published more than 40 books.

The dedication at the back of this book –

“In memory of the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, Quaky Cat Helps Out is a tribute to the brave children and families who have opened their hearts and homes to help a broken city”.

Tiger the ginger cat can’t sleep. He feels uneasy but doesn’t know why.
It’s six in the morning, and Tiger can’t sleep.
He tosses and turns at his friend Emma’s feet.
It isn’t the cold that keeps him awake,
Or the shudder and rumble and bump or a quake.

Even though his house and surrounds are mended after the Christchurch earthquakes in 2011 he just can’t settle. Things are not what they seem. A number of cats have lost their homes. Tiger goes around issuing invitations to his displaced friends to come and settle at his and Emma’s house.

This is a fabulous story with lovely illustrations. I had to be very careful reading this story to 4-year-old Abby as she has a rather overactive imagination. We have to be very mindful when the television news is on that she doesn’t hear about a house fire or about any sort of crime. She has a lot of questions about things and broods on them. This isn’t unusual for this age group, but sometimes you have to be careful when broaching different subjects i.e. earthquakes.

Abby did respond very well to this story and was totally engrossed with Tiger and his friends and how they all came to his and Emma’s house. We also talked about sharing and how it’s really good to be nice to people when something bad has happened to them. It’s hard to explain an earthquake to a child that has no concept of what an earthquake involves – it’s hard enough for an adult who hasn’t experienced them first hand either. Abby has two cats of her own, so came up with some good suggestions about what you could do to make sure the cats were safe.

At the back of this book there are comments from children that lived in Christchurch during the quakes.
“Just like Quaky Cat’s friends, my house got cracks and we had to get a new floor. We had to live in a caravan…..our house is still getting fixed from the earthquake.”
– Regan, age 9

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Quaky Cat Helps Out
by Diana Noonan, illustrated by Gavin Bishop
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775432975

Book Review: King Rich, by Joe Bennett

Available in bookshops nationwide.

Tcv_king_richhree small things have occurred in the past two weeks to bring Christchurch to the front of my thinking. Firstly, this week saw my first visit to Christchurch since the tragic earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. To be honest, although I have not had any need to go to Christchurch, I certainly have not gone out of my way to find a reason to go. Very simply, I have not wanted to see how this city that I have visited many times over the years, has been so destroyed both physically and emotionally. But a holiday on the West Coast required going through Christchurch to get there, and an overnight stay with friends who offered to take us on a tour of the city was far too good to turn down. Secondly, the latest North and South magazine has a very sobering article on the very slow progress being made in those five years to fix homes and businesses damaged/destroyed, with massive fingers pointing at both the insurance industry and the government. And lastly, I read this wonderful novel set in the days after the 2011 earthquake. What a gem.

This is the first work of fiction by well-known NZ writer and columnist Joe Bennett, who has lived in the Christchurch area for many years. His novel asks what would have happened to someone who actually managed to remain inside the cordoned off CBD disaster zone, living in the condemned multi-story hotel which also happened to be the tallest building in the city? For Richard, in his early sixties, life in recent years has taken a bad turn. Sick, probably malnourished, basically homeless, and an alcoholic to boot, the haven he finds in the deserted and leaning hotel, is really the only place he wants to be. Just think of all those mini bars! With no one to love, and no one to love him other than an abandoned dog which also finds its way into the building, Richard has little to live for. On the other side of the world in London, his daughter Annie, who has spent her whole life wondering what happened to her adored father after he left her and her mother, sees on TV the devastation wrought on her home town, and makes the long journey back to Christchurch to see if she can find him and maybe re-find herself.

It’s a simple story of love and hope, the kindness of others, the simple pleasures in life, set against a background of such devastation, loss and despair. Could it only be written by someone who has lived through all this themselves? Well, in this case, I think yes. Because the book absolutely sparkles with what Christchurch is all about. The writer captures the essence of the landscape, the garden city, the old wooden architecture, the solidness of the place, the spirit, resilience and stoicism of the residents that was apparent to the rest of the country and the world in the days, weeks and now years after. Joe Bennett is a marvellous writer, so visual – ‘The starlings are gangsters in flashy suits, strutting like hit men on the far edge of the sill, their sword-beaks jabbing at each other in perpetual squabble.’ This is just one of many, many sentences that I loved. It’s such an entertainment to read, even though the subject matter is not.

Both Richard and Annie, as the main characters, are very real people. Despite their flaws, as the reader you can’t help but relate to them, empathy oozing over the page. Noted NZ writer Dame Fiona Kidman reviewed this book for The Spinoff, and her main criticism is how Annie’s mother/Richard’s ex-wife is portrayed, and I agree with her. It is a very simplistic and one-dimensional view of a woman who was betrayed early on in her marriage and left with a young child to raise. The reader is not supposed to like her, she does not behave well. However, taking into consideration the circumstances of her marriage breakdown, I do think she deserves some compassion and sympathy. Dare I say it, if the book had been written by a woman the wife may have come across as a nicer person, with at least one redeeming quality.

Besides this small criticism, Annie’s search for her father, the history she unearths, and the people she meets who knew her father in his younger and better days is really quite heart-warming. Disasters like this always produce small but beautiful real life stories, and the best thing about the story of King Rich and his daughter Annie, is that it could so easily be true. I hope there is more fiction to come from Joe Bennett!

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

King Rich
by Joe Bennett
Published by HarperCollins NZ
ISBN 9781775540557

Book Review: From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle, by Kate De Goldi


This book will be launched tonight at Unity Books Wellington, from 6pm. It will be available in bookshops nationwide from tomorrow.  

I had to slow myself down while reading this book, to better savour the words inside. Halfway through, I already knew I wanted to re-read it. Kate De Goldi is a spectacular wordsmith. Her main characters, Ren and Barney, are alive on the page, so alive that to read their story is to experience it. I certainly experienced a craving for Sultana Pasties, Barney’s favourite biscuit, while reading each evening.

Barney Kettle, as you can probably tell from the cover and title of the book, is a filmmaker. He lives and breathes “thethrillingalchemyofthecreativeprocess”. Though he is only 12, he is certain a successful career as a film director is in his future. After all, he has already produced three 15-minute films. His teacher mum thinks he is a megalomaniac, but also thinks that this is a good thing for a film director to be. He loves nothing more than to be called ‘Maestro’. His 11-year-old sister Ren is his ‘Slash’. She plays the role of producer / assistant director / casting director / set designer / costume manager / location scout / caterer in all of his grandly schemed films.

We enter the world of Barney and Ren from the perspective of an unnamed man in a hospital bed. He begins the story twice, and the story is written, though not strictly alternately, from Barney then Ren’s points of view. The perspectives of each sibling bring a different colour to their story of the street they live on; for their fourth film is to be a documentary called the Untold Story, and it is about the Street and its residents, each of whom comes alive as they are filmed. Bambi, a Canadian acrobat, is just one of these residents: ‘She had performed with a triple trapeze in countless Big Tops; she had lived closely with clowns.’

280px-ChristchurchBasilica_gobeirneAs well as being the story of Barney, this is the story of Christchurch’s High Street prior to the earthquake. I lived in the Catholic boarding school next to the Basilica mentioned in this novel, attending there once a week for mass (and once walking inside the top of the domes). I often walked to town via High Street, and first became aware of how beautiful certain periods of architecture were while walking down it. Kate writes incredibly immersive books – as with the character of Frankie in The 10pm Question, you feel you want to jump up and down with Barney when he is excited, and your emotions plunge with Barney’s as glitches in his grand plans arise.

As well as the story of the Street, there is a mystery, which begins concurrent to the Untold Story with a simple white envelope marked ‘YOU’. We follow the siblings through the homes of their friends, filming as we go, and keeping an eye out for another envelope. One brilliant filming session happens in Montgomery’s, the community bookshop. Suit drops in to purchase his weekly book – a day early – and the siblings ask him what he likes about the shop.

Oh, it’s the ambience…. Then there is the endless potential in the books, the warmth they seem to exude, their heady aroma. The filtered light. And the hush of absorption. The holy feeling of a republic of readers. And the presiding magus – the person who brings us all this. Without Gene’s dedication, and Sarah’s and Billie’s, of course, where would we be? We would be a lesser Street.’

I feel richer for having read about the people of De Goldi’s High Street, from the bookshop to the Nut Shop, the junk shop the kids’ dad runs, to the Living History Museum – an echo of the website created by ex-High Street inhabitants, High Street Stories. I urge everybody to go and get this book and read it, no matter your age. This ode to the Christchurch of yore is phenomenally good.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle
by Kate De Goldi
Published by Longacre Press / Penguin Random House NZ
ISBN 9781775535768

Book Review: Passing Through, by Coral Atkinson

cv_passing_throughAvailable in selected bookstores nationwide.

Authors and publishers are approaching the centennial of World War One from every conceivable angle, from military histories to children’s activity books to poetry. Passing Through, by Coral Atkinson, is a work of romantic historical fiction set in the 1920s, self-published, and very much in the vein of the work of Jenny Pattrick OBE.

The first thing that struck me about Passing Through was the gorgeousness of its production. It has been beautifully designed by Keely O’Shannessy, whose work often crops up at the PANZ Book Design Awards, and produced and typeset by students of the Whitireia Publishing programme, of which I am proud to be a graduate. Passing Through is a paperback with a striking dust jacket, and I love that the front of the dust jacket and the front cover of the book have different, complementary designs. The heading font beautifully evokes the 1920s, and I particularly liked the elegant placement of the page numbers.

Passing Through is an enjoyable light read. Set in Christchurch in the 1920s, it follows the fortunes of Nan, a young woman who can talk to the dead; Ro, an ex-soldier turned con man who seeks to profit from Nan’s talent; Louisa, a war widow; and Harry, a returned serviceman suffering from shellshock. The characters are all likeable and interesting, and the narrative arc is satisfying in its comfortable predictability: the good end happily, the bad get their comeuppance, the lovers get together.

This is not to say that Passing Through is without weight: Atkinson is an assured storyteller and her accessible prose has pleasing touches of the lyrical. An experienced novelist, she is often praised for her sense of place − and this does feel very ye olde New Zealand, albeit in a heavily Pakeha-centric manner. It was interesting too to see a portrayal of Kiwi spirituality (Nan is a genuine medium) that is based neither in formal religion nor in Te Ao Maori, as is often the case in NZ fiction.

Within the context of our national reexamination of World War One and its devastating, ongoing effects, Passing Through does feel very rose-tinted. There is no mention of venereal disease or domestic violence, both of which were rife in the aftermath of the war. And although both of the returned servicemen characters carry scars (Ro has lost fingers and Harry has shell shock), the psychological implications of amputation are never explored, and post-traumatic stress disorder seems to almost be something you can get over if you just put your mind to it. But this is a function of the genre: Passing Through was never going to be a work of gritty realism.

Passing Through is notable for being at the upper, professional end of the self-publishing market. It can take its place with pride amongst its traditionally published peers in the historical fiction shelves of the bookshop: I am surprised that Random House, who have published Atkinson’s previous novels, didn’t pick this one up. And congratulations again to the students of the Whitireia Publishing programme, whose sterling editorial and production work has placed Passing Through at a clear professional standard.

Overall, I would recommend Passing Through to lovers of romance, light fiction and historical fiction, and to those who have enjoyed Atkinson’s previous work. Guaranteed to lend a touch of 1920s elegance to your bookshelf!

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage, Freelance writer and publisher

Passing Through
by Coral Atkinson
Published by Dancing Tuatara
ISBN 9780473262693

Book Review: Shigeru Ban: Cardboard Cathedral, by Andrew Barrie, photos by Bridgit Anderson & Stephen Goodenough

Shigeru Ban: Cardboard Cathedral will be launched at WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival, on Wednesday 27 August, in the cathedral itself.

A temporary building that is loved by people – even one built with mere paper – can become permanent. I sense that this cv_shigeru_ban_cardboard_cathedralmonument in Christchurch will be loved and used by the citizens of New Zealand for a long time to come. – Shigeru Ban

Shigeru Ban: Cardboard Cathedral tells the story of the construction of the Cardboard Cathedral which was built to replace the historic Christchurch Cathedral destroyed in the earthquakes of September 2010 and February 2011. The book uses photographs, essays, concept plans, and architectural drawings as a way to explore how architecture can be used to help a community rebuild not only its civic spaces, but its spirit.

Contributions to the book include a foreword by the Very Reverend Lynda Patterson, Dean of Christchurch Cathedral; an essay by Shigeru Ban; an essay by Professor Andrew Barrie; documentary photographs by Bridgit Anderson; full-colour plates by Stephen Goodenough; and an afterword by David Mitchell.

Architect Shigeru Ban has spent the last ten years working with emergency and temporary housing projects, and the Cardboard Cathedral is Ban’s largest post-disaster structure. The loss of twenty-eight Japanese students in the seriously flawed CTV building in the earthquake of 2011 was widely reported on the Japanese news, which is how Ban first learned of the disaster. Shortly afterwards, he was contacted by Reverend Craig Dixon – who had seen an article about Ban’s Paper Church in Kobe – about designing a replacement for the ruined Christchurch Cathedral.

In his essay, Professor Andrew Barrie calls Ban the “poster boy for the architecture profession’s sense of social responsibility” and Ban’s own philosophy of architecture supports this idea; that architects have traditionally worked for the rich and privileged, and through that have “ignored the need to design houses for ordinary people … [or] for the victims of natural disasters.” Barrie states Ban’s genius “originates in his ability to mould all of his concerns – aesthetic, structural, environmental, social – into builds of clarity, refinement, and beauty.” His designs have received international acclaim, Ban winning The Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2014, which is the most prestigious international honour for an architect.

Photo: Stephen Goodenough

Photo: Stephen Goodenough

The Cardboard Cathedral is clearly a product Ban’s social and design goals. There is something both epic and humble about the design and Ban’s choice of materials. At night, light from the cathedral spills out between the tubes and the transparent roofing. It glows like a beacon. The muted palette of the interior, however, has an unostentatious and simple beauty. The book details the construction process of using ninety eight massive paper tubes (which Ban insisted were sourced locally) over the laminate timber A-frame roof; a design choice that purposefully echoes the geometry of the old cathedral. The result: a space for worship and community.

The qualities of the new cathedral are captured by the book in no small part due to its exceptional design by the Alt Group’s Janson Chau and Dean Poole (the book has also been selected as a finalist in the Designer’s Institute Best Awards for 2014). The designers have used a combination of white, grey-green, and brown paper, where each paper type signals a different section: white for the forwards and afterword; grey-green for Barrie’s essay and the cathedral’s concepts/drawings; and brown for Bridgit Anderson’s documentary photographs of the construction. There is also a single section of Stephen Goodenough’s colour plates of the completed cathedral. These materials mirror the materials of the new cathedral, and the clean lines created by tight margins and a sans serif font in turn mirror the building’s design. The production is impeccable, and the clever design epitomises the way text and photography can work together to tell a story.

Photo: Stephen Goodenough

Photo: Stephen Goodenough

While the new cathedral is obviously, as Reverend Lynda Patterson states, for “the glory of God,” it is also representative of the resilience and fortitude of Christchurch residents. Some of the most memorable photographs in the book are of the giant tubes in a warehouse in Riccarton. After volunteers polyurethaned each tube they inscribed their names on the inside; Anderson’s photographs suggesting that many hands worked to create the new building. In his afterword, David Mitchell states that “the old cathedral was an essentially European building; the new one is essentially Pacific,” which, he suggests, indicates a move away from the “Englishness” of what is considered New Zealand’s most English city, and a likewise change in its residents.

Personally, this was a difficult book to review. I spent the first twenty-six years of my life in Christchurch, and many of my friends and family still live there. I knew people who died in the 2011 earthquake, and friends who lost their homes. Last year I returned to Christchurch for a poetry reading, and walking back to my hotel at dusk, I felt an incredible sense of loss and desolation. I have lived in Wellington for nearly a decade, so Christchurch is no longer my home, but it is the stamping ground of my childhood and early adult years. There is a strong connection between memory and place, but what becomes of memories when those places are gone? Shigeru Ban’s cathedral offers one suggestion: that we build new memories.

In this way, Shigeru Ban: Cardboard Cathedral works on many levels: for Christchurch residents it documents and celebrates community resilience; for some like me, it provides a way to connect with a new part of Christchurch; for others it may simply be a book about the power of architectural vision and innovation.

by Sarah Jane Barnett

Shigeru Ban: Cardboard Cathedral
by Andrew Barrie. Photographs by Bridgit Anderson & Stephen Goodenough
Auckland University Press, 2014
$59.99 RRP, 252pp., hardback
ISBN 9781869407674

Book Review: Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas, by Lynne Cox

Available now in bookstores nationwide. 

A number of years ago Lynne Cox travelled to Newcv_elizabeth_queen_of_the_seas Zealand to swim across three lakes near Mount Cook. During a walk along the Avon River, in Christchurch, she happened upon a couple of children standing on the bank; Michael and his sister Maggie. They were waiting for Elizabeth and thought perhaps she was as well. On inquiring further about who Elizabeth was, Lynne decided some time later to write a story about this rather amazing elephant seal.

The Avon River in Christchurch travels through the heart of the city. Elephant seals live in the sea, but for some reason this seal decided to travel up the Avon River, making herself at home on the banks of the river. Of course this attracted a lot of attention and people lined the banks of the river to see her. The people of Christchurch thought there was something rather special about her. She was strong and powerful and regal like the Queen of England. So she was named Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas.

We had just come home from a trip to the zoo with small and larger members of our family, and so on opening the courier package, one rather delighted little girl wanted this book read to her – NOW! Abby is at the age where everything is “why”, and so reading this book to her, was no exception.


Elizabeth the sea elephant lived in the Avon and Heathcote rivers from the late 1970s until her death in 1985.

Michael used to look for the elephant seal every day on his way to school and then again on the way home. Even though she was a wild animal, Michael would call her name “Elizabeth, hello Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas, are you there?”

Unfortunately Elizabeth decided to explore her surrounds causing numerous problems with cars. To avoid hitting her they ended up crashing into rocks and having other near accidents. A small group of volunteers in a small motorboat waited until Elizabeth was in the river. They approached her slowly and gently looped a rope around her large body. Elizabeth is not happy with this turn of events and continues to go back to the banks of the Avon River.

This book was read to our little person twice with the same questions each time, “Why is Elizabeth swimming back, why is she lying on the road, why is putting her head out of the water.” When I first opened this book and flicked through it, I wasn’t sure what Abby’s reaction would be to it. I thought perhaps she was a bit young to enjoy, but I was proved totally wrong on that score. We had just come home from the zoo – one of Abby’s favourite places at Auckland zoo is the Seal enclosure – laughing at their antics. Abby wanted to pack this book into her overnight bag to take home.

The illustrations by Brian Floca are fabulous. I always take note of how illustrations marry in with the text. I give this author full marks for the simplicity of the story. A lovely book to add to a small person’s collection.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas
by Lynne Cox
Published by Schwartz & Wade
ISBN 9780375858888