WORD Christchurch: Mortification

WORD Christchurch: Mortification

After a hectic day getting riled up about Brexit and then learning to Vogue the FAFSWAG way, I settled down with relief for some good old-fashioned storytelling.

WORD Christchurch director Rachael King took to the stage first to introduce the Mortification session, inspired by an anthology of the same name edited by Robin Robertson in which writers tell stories of their public shame. She was joined in person by Robertson, Paula Morris, Steve Braunias, Megan Dunn, and Jarrod Gilbert; and in spirit by Irvine Welsh.

After a brief word from Robertson we were treated to a video from Welsh, who told a truly horrifying story of having shat himself in public and then trying to clean himself up in a filthy public loo. The tale also involved being laughed at by a bunch of drunk Glaswegians while standing naked from the waist down trying to wash himself in the sink. So gross – yet so funny. He really set the tone.

Morris was up next. ‘I have no public befoulings’ she said, to my relief, but instead told a story of ‘a thousand small humiliations’, often involving miniskirts. ‘I have the legs of a Polynesian seafarer and they need to be on display’ – but various wardrobe malfunctions have meant ‘once again feeling the breeze where the breeze should not be felt’. Her story of being perched awkwardly on a posh chair at an opera concert ‘vagina on velvet’ was particularly well told – and most women will be able to relate to the mortification of an unexpected period just when you’ve chosen to wear white trousers.

Braunias’ story was beautifully composed, with apparently unrelated details all coming together at the end. He first said he’d spied Helen Clark here at WORD, ‘storming along like a southerly in slacks’, before reminiscing about his life as a young man in Wellington – ‘the city felt like a jagged edge’ – refusing to go on his OE because NZ was too strange and baffling to leave. I can’t do justice to the story without relating it in full – hopefully there will be a second volume of Mortification and you’ll be able to read it for yourself. Suffice to say that I will never see the back of Helen Clark’s head the same way again.

Dunn took us in a completely different direction with a tale of trying to be a mermaid – including repeated use of the term ‘mermazing’ which I now wish to work into my everyday conversations. As part of her research for her forthcoming book, she took a mermaiding class in Florida, where ‘the heat sat on my skin like processed cheese’. She was told to undulate not just her body but also her head and neck: ‘I felt really dumb’. But she gave it a try – ‘middle age is gamely keeping going’ – despite a ‘deep sense of ugliness that’s hard to shake’. Dunn concluded that her happy place is in a bookshop, not the water, where mermaids are safely sealed within the pages of books ‘where they bloody should be’.

Our final storyteller was Gilbert, who told the story of trying to win a bet to run a marathon in three and a half hours. This involved him striding to the centre of the stage to act out a particularly mortifying episode from his training whereby he had to take an emergency dump in public on the side of the Sumner causeway, ‘possibly the most exposed piece of geography on earth’. He called the marathon ‘cruel and despicable insanity’ – but he did win the bet when he finished with a time of 3 hours 28 minutes. ‘It’s very difficult for me to describe just how little satisfaction that gave me.’

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

Book Review: Tell You What: Great New Zealand Non-fiction 2016, edited by Susanna Andrew & Jolisa Gracewood

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_tell_you_what_2015In his foreword to Tell You What, John Campbell is keen to engage the reader in a discussion about what might constitute ‘New Zealand culture’ these days. He starts out by quoting Allen Curnow: ‘Not I, some child, born in a marvelous year,/ Will learn the trick of standing upright here.’ Campbell goes on to list the ways and individuals in which identity and culture have developed and found expression in the years since Curnow wrote those lines in 1943: the Springbok tour, Bastion Point, frigates in Mururoa, Whina Cooper’s hikoi, Bill Manhire’s poetry, Janet Frame, Flying Nun, Marilyn Waring…

What Campbell is referring to is a two-faceted shift in the way that New Zealanders represent themselves. The first is that many of the people of Aotearoa do now stand conspicuously upright, in many locations, for many reasons — in anger, in celebration, in dissent, in assertion of the need for something better. And linked to this, making it all visible, is the emergent confidence, talent and stridency of our storytellers. There are multitudinous voices, pluralistic points-of-view! And to the great good fortune of the reading public, particularly for those of us who still prefer to read paper books, the second annual instalment of Tell You What has arrived just in time to stave off the despair at contemporary reportage that might, to paraphrase Campbell, have readers climbing into the oven beside the turkey.

So what is going on in New Zealand, for New Zealanders, for New Zealand writers? Judging by this collection, heaps. There are twenty-four pieces, if you count the foreword (which you should, because Campbell is a marvellous writer). There are personal and political accounts from Christchurch, China, Huntly, Frankfurt and the front lines of journalism. There is a lot of humour, which has me thinking that we might be quite a funny people, sometimes. It would be curious to see how much of the humour (Steve Braunias’ satire, Megan Dunn’s surrealism) would translate culturally. If Jermaine and Bret can be known worldwide just by their first names, perhaps the New Zealand sense of humour does cross cultures.

Within the uniformly excellent ranks (there are no weak links in the volume) there are a half dozen prices of writing that particularly resonated with me, either through the subject matter or the style of writing, and usually both combined. Charles Anderson’s account of the sinking of Easy Rider off Bluff combines journalism with a poetic sensitivity. It is a sad, sad story, made all the more harrowing and haunting through being nonfiction.

Braunias writes of his failure to respond adequately when a faulty heater almost sends his house, his daughter and his whole life up in flames. Braunias, like David Sedaris, has the ability to paint failure and weakness in a funny and sad light. His self-absorption rarely crosses over into self-indulgence.

Dunn’s ‘The Ballad of Western Barbie’ begins with an epigram: ‘Two things happen in Huntly: something and nothing. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which.’ Her narration of life in Huntly, as perceived when young and then as a well-traveled adult, is enlivened by conversations with her Western Barbie. It sounds odd from a distance, but it works.

Ross Nepia Himona has thought and written an unhyped analysis of the complexities and contradictions inherent in New Zealand’s ANZAC commemorations. In a piece taken from his blog ‘Lecretia’s Choice’, Matt Vickers offers us a head-and-heart dispatch from the front line. And Sylvan Thomson’s portrait is a funny and tender insider’s tale of how it is to make the physical, social and psychological transition from young woman to young man.

As mentioned earlier, the quality of the collection is even. The overall effect for the reader is a sort of mental and emotional relief, a confirmation that something human and intelligent is consistently being expressed and deciphered in New Zealand. In an era of persistent media and political distortion of life big and small, writing like this offers counterpoint and advice: Don’t simplify complex matters, and don’t complexify simple matters.

Reviewed by Aaron Blaker

Tell You What: Great New Zealand Nonfiction 2016
Edited by Susanna Andrew & Jolisa Gracewood
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408442

Booksellers NZ conference from the pen of Jenna Todd

Jenna Todd from Time Out Bookstore was presenting her findings about the Kobo Scholarship this year at conference, but that didn’t stop us asking her to keep a note of what else happened!

Nielsen Book Data Presentationnevena_nikolic
Nevena Nikolic from Nielsen (left, first on left) reviewed the latest consumer trends in New Zealand book buying. The total market is still in decline, but the figures are not as dire looking as last year. Children’s books has the smallest drop in sales.

The Luminaries provided a huge boost in sales for NZ fiction – it has sold 40,000 copies in NZ to date and it’s at the top of both the general and indie booksellers charts for the year to date. (Hopefully we will have another New Zealand win the Booker this year – any takers?!)

Nevena also said that according to their statistics, 10% of New Zealanders currently own an e-reader, and are purchasing about 1 e-book a month.

What are our future readers reading? with speaker Wayne Mills
pp_wayne_millsWayne Mills (left), the founder of the Kid’s Lit Quiz gave an insightful presentation what our future readers are reading. In 2012, all participants in the Kid’s Lit Quiz were given a simple survey: They were to give their favourite book, their favourite author and also what they were currently reading.

Over 1500 children voted, who mentioned over 7300 book titles. The clear favourite was (unsurprisingly) the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Almost all of the favourite individual titles were part of a series, was a movie or both, such as The Hunger Games, The Lord of the Rings and Percy Jackson.

The idea of the Kid’s Lit Quiz is to increase the awareness of children reading for pleasure and to combat the mis-match between what children want to read to what they are required to read for school. The results of this survey will be published in a paper for teachers. Mills also indicated further plans to survey more countries, as well as questioning New Zealand children again in 2020.

There is a definite period of change in the way we read, but there is growth in the teen market and events such as The Kid’s Lit Quiz really enrich the way our young people interact with literature.

The Future of New Zealand Publishing
Tony Moores headed this panel of excellent publishers and it was great to hear where they’re at and what their plans are for the future.pp_nicola_legat

Nicola Legat (right) spoke of the changes that Random House has made since the downturn in book sales since 2008. They have put in a huge amount of work into their new website, book app and making ebooks as well as reducing their list. While Nicola admits that publishing is about money in the end, Random House are completely committed to producing high quality New Zealand stories that create a cultural conversation. Each book they publish is released with a strategy and they are feeling more committed to booksellers more than ever.

Robbie Burton from Craig Potton Publishing spoke of their shrinking print runs, especially with the loss of the Red Group in New Zealand. However, the good news is, they grew 1% last year. He believes now is the time to emphasise localism.

Melanie from Allen & Unwin focused on the acquisition of Murdoch Books and what positive outcomes this will bring. They will still be focused on non-illustrated non-fiction, but not exclusively. They have plans to double their NZ publishing programme in the next 24 months.

by Jenna Todd 

We have a piece by Megan Dunn on our website about Michael Williams’ presentation. In The Read next week, we will provide Greg Randall’s full presentation, as well as a full write-up about it, and an article by him related to his presentation and further questions. 

Office choice: Our mother’s day picks

A book is an obvious choice for a mother’s day gift, and where would we be, the Thursday before Mother’s Day, without a few recommendations.

Cherie Donovan, Association Manager

  1. What type of books does your mum read? Maeve cv_the_storytellerBinchy, my Mum enjoys reading from a wide variety of authors but always came back to her one favourite author.
  2. What was the last book you gave your mum that she really enjoyed? The Storyteller, by Jodi Picoult (Allen & Unwin) 9781743318690
  3. What do you think she might enjoy this Mother’s Day? Under the Wide and Starry Sky, by Nancy Horan (Two Road) 9781444778427

Megan Dunn, Projects Manager

  1. What type of books does your mum read? My Mum loves reading self help books.
    She is a very productive, positive person who enjoys affirmative messages and new ways of looking at the world.
  2. What was the last book you gave your mum that she really enjoyed? Gulp, I can’t remember. However the last book she gave me was A Book is A Book (Gecko Press) 9781877579929; a delightful story. She knows I worked as a bookseller for years and so she also paired this present with Weird Things Customers Say in cv_too_soon_old_too_late_smartBookstores, by Jen Campbell (Overlook Press) 9781468301281, which made me hoot with laughter.
  3. What do you think she might enjoy this Mother’s Day? I don’t know, but I better go over to Unity and have a look at the psychology section because there are not many days left to get her something. In fact she might enjoy Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart by Gordon Livingston (Hodder Headline) 9780733621482. The title sounds depressing but the book is actually warm, insightful and rather wonderful.

Sarah Forster, Web Editor 

  1. What type of books does your mum read?cv_the_luminaries_HB My Mum is a big crime fiction fan. She
    also enjoys historical fiction, and true crime non-fiction. If it comes with a conspiracy theory, all the better.
  2. What was the last book you gave your mum that she really enjoyed? She enjoyed The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton when I passed on my copy last year. She also enjoyed The Casual Vacancy, by J K Rowling.
  3. What do you think she might enjoy this Mother’s Day? I have lost a bit of confidence in my book-buying, as she tossed Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn in the bin because it was too ridiculous. However, I might seek out a copy of The Collector, by Nora Roberts (Piatkus Books) 9780749959319 for her. (If my own family are reading this – I would like The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt)

Lincoln Gould, CEO 

  1. What type of books does your mum (wife) read? cv_the_secret_magdalene
    Literary novels
  2. What was the last book you gave your mum (wife) that she really enjoyed? Memories of My Melancholy Whores, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  3. What do you think she might enjoy this Mother’s Day? The Secret Magdalene, Ki Longfellow

Amie Lightbourne, Awards Manager

  1. What type of books does your mum read? My mother enjoys historical fiction andcv_the_game_of_kings whodunnits,
  2. What was the last book you gave your mum that she really enjoyed?  I gave my mother The Game of Kings, by Dorothy Dunnett (Penguin) 9780140282399, a swashbuckling authentic historical drama set in 1500’s Scotland.
  3. What do you think she might enjoy this Mother’s Day? I know she’s been interested in The Empress Dowager Cixi, by Jung Chang (Jonathon Cape Ltd) 9780224087445 which combines truth, history, and a wonderful cultural angle. She’d probably love that for Mother’s Day.

The Portrait Writer, with Jill Trevelyan

The Portrait Writer – Jill Trevelyan, chaired by Megan Dunn
Wednesday 12 March, 3.15pm

Jill Trevelyan (right) is an art writer on the rise, having written twopp_jill_trevelyan biographies, of artist Rita Angus, and art dealer Peter McLeavey, and curated/edited a book of letters by Toss Woolaston. While I haven’t read her, I was still entertained by this session, which focussed mainly on the popular Peter McLeavey: The Life and Times of a New Zealand Art Dealer.

Trevelyan’s work on McLeavey’s biography could very easily have been complicated – he fell out with a lot of artists, he is still alive and so is his family – so it was with a little trepidation that she began.  When Trevelyan presented McLeavey himself with the finished book, he said ‘so, have you found the real Peter McLeavey’? She later admitted that he sent her a note saying ‘thank you for finding Peter’ – so clearly she wasn’t too far off the mark with her portrait. The family were directly involved in the process, as she read each chapter to them as it was finished. This seems an incredibly generous way to work, and something I’d imagine not every biographer would be comfortable with.

cv_peter_mcleavey_life_and_timesMcLeavey sounds like an incredible person, dedicated fully to his vocation, and driven to constantly seek out new artists. But he didn’t ‘jump into bed with them’ straight away, Trevelyan said, but instead flirted for many years before offering to sell their work. The most impressive thing that Trevelyan found when researching was the volume and intensity of letters that McLeavey exchanged with the artists in his stable. He cultured their deep friendships by giving a lot of himself. This was also a way of keeping them close to him, while most art dealers were in Auckland, often closer to the artists geographically.

The biography of Rita Angus was much simplercv_rita_angus_an_artists_life in some ways, as the holder of her estate is her nephew. The fascination with the Angus book was how much her letters informed her art – showed the area in which she was thinking as she painted. Angus was a pure artist, painting her passions, rather than for money, such as Toss Woollaston. Amusingly, she would often borrow the paintings she had sold to somebody back, and sometimes even add to them, as she was never ready to let go.

Trevelyan loves how artists think and work in their world, and her job as an art writer is the most fun thing she can think of doing. While she doesn’t enjoy the production side as much, she acknowledged her brilliant team at Te Papa Press for leading her through it so expertly, as well as  being able to see what needs to be done from a very early stage of her work.

Jill Trevelyan is certainly somebody to watch if you are interested in the world of art in New Zealand. A perfectly pitched and wonderfully chaired session.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster, Web Editor, Booksellers NZ.