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

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


photo by John McDermott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A love letter to Books a Plenty, from Angie Belcher

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

Dear Books a Plenty,

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

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

Books a Plenty staff

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

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

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

Happy Book Week.

love, Angie Belcher
Writer, Researcher, Author and Educator

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

Book Review: Maui and other Maori Legends: 8 Classic Tales of Aotearoa, by Peter Gossage

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_maui_and_other_maori_legendsThis bind-up collects eight classic Maori myths, the original picture books of which form some of my most visual memories from when I was a child. Six of the books that are reproduced here were published between 1975 and 1985, with the others from the early 2000’s. I remember clearly, sitting on the floor of the library at St Brigid’s Primary School, poring over these potent celebrations of Maori mythology, spellbound by the swirling style of the art within.

The first six of these stories are based on the mythology of Maui, arguably our most famous cultural ancestor. Many wonderful authors and illustrators have ensured our Maori mythology has endured, but Gossage’s bold, colourful art is the real joy of this collection, while his lyrical tellings are a pleasure to read aloud.

But Maui was still alive!
The wave children of Tangaroa and Hine-moana bore him on their backs.
The clouds shielded him from the fierce sun,
and Tawhiri the wind cooled him.

This collection is published beautifully by Penguin, and the handy bookmark ribbon has been a source of entertainment to my son Dan, who has happily started reading it to himself, making sure to keep his place with the ribbon provided.

My family is Pakeha, and my children’s main access to Maori myth is in essential books like this. It is a joy to re-read these old favourites and share them with my children. Please make sure you have this book in your library; it is still relevant and important.

Maui and other Maori Legends: 8 Classic Tales of Aotearoa
by Peter Gossage
Published by Penguin NZ
ISBN 9780143309291

10 reasons to pick up Annual, edited by Kate De Goldi & Susan Paris

Available now in bookshops nationwide. Kate De Goldi will be at VicBooks in Kelburn this NZ Bookshop Day, at 2pm, talking about Annual.

cv_annualAs you open the Gecko Annual, you know you have something special in your hands. The endpapers are literally works of art – if a print of these exist, let me know, Gecko! The contents by Dylan Horrocks is an entirely unique way of approaching a contents page. I could ramble about the beauty of the contents ad nauseum, but instead of going through each story and page, I’m going to give you 10 good reasons to get a copy of Annual.

  1. Cartoons!
    My favourite part of every Annual was always the cartoons, and the cartoon strips. ‘Bad Luck Zebra’ is a little bit of genius; ‘Holiday’, by Jonathan King is baffling and awesome; and ‘Parsley Magic’ takes some classic fairy tales and rewrites them. That was my 6-year-old’s favourite.
  2. Diversity
    Editors Kate De Goldi and Susan Paris have ensured that the viewpoints put across in this collection are diverse and interesting, and the content is top-notch.
  3. Wonderful, quirky illustrations
    You can’t go too far wrong when you’ve got side illustrations by Gavin Bishop, Sarah Wilkins, Giselle Clarkson, and Sarah Laing; and lots of fantastic artists I hadn’t previously heard of.
  4. How to look at art
    Unexpectedly, these were some of my favourite sections. Nobody ever talked to me about how to look at art at school; still less shared choice aspects of NZ life through it.
  5. Old favourites, with new voices
    Another story in the world of Fontania, from Barbara Else. Meanwhile, an adventure journal from Gavin Mouldey introduces an adventure tale I’d love to see continued elsewhere – and so would my 6-year-old son.


  6. How to write & illustrate
    Paul Beavis can do very little wrong in my books, so it will be no surprise to find that I loved this short illustrated Monster-based section, telling young people how to create their own lead character and write and illustrate their own story.
  7. The unexpected
    A piece of satire from Steve Braunias, a (very apt) song from Samuel Scott, a sad tale from Damien Wilkins, spot the similarities, the Rhyme Ninja… I love the Rhyme Ninja.
  8. New words
    Kirsten McDougall’s ‘A Box of Birds’ was a trail of excitement for young Dan, as he asked the meaning of each new word as I read it! Such good words.


  9. Crafts from Fifi
    My favourite craftsperson. I will say though, most of us would not be able to paint a lord and lady bottle person quite as elegantly as Fifi does! (I will undoubtedly be required to prove this at some point, I’ll post a pic if I have to.)
  10. A website to go with it
    www.annualannual.com tells us how it came to be, all about the contributors (so the bios aren’t taking up all that space in the action-packed Annual), and the history of annuals.

And of course, did I mention that the editors are our beloved Kate De Goldi, and School Journal long-time editor Susan Paris? No? Well they are, and that is fantastic. I look forward to this becoming an annual institution.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

edited by Kate De Goldi and Susan Paris
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776570775

Book Review: The Diamond Horse, by Stacy Gregg

cv_the_diamond_horseAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

THIS BOOK IS AMAZING!! Stacy Gregg has, once again, left me gobsmacked. After reading one of her previous novels The Princess And The Foal, I was excited to read this one. Gregg has put an extreme amount of research into this novel, and I felt as if I had been transported halfway across the world, experiencing this story first hand next to Anna.

The Diamond Horse is based on a Russian girl, Anna Orlov, whose father breeds animals and works for the Empress Catherine. When Anna’s father buys a new horse Anna is the one to break him in, but after the horse dies, Anna’s father orders that his son, a three-day-old foal is killed because of his unique appearance. When Anna’s mother dies she gives her a black diamond necklace that holds a secret.

I really enjoyed the persistence and courage that Anna showed throughout the novel, and would recommend The Diamond Horse to anyone who loves horses or anybody between the ages of 7 – 10.

Reviewed by Isabelle Ralston (age 14)

The Diamond Horse
by Stacy Gregg
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9780008124397

Stacy Gregg will be in-store at Paper Plus Bethlehem for NZ Bookshop Day.

Beetles and Bates’s Bookstore, by Steve Braunias

Steve Braunias shared this reminiscence of a Mt Maunganui summer spent near Bates’s Bookstore with us, in honour of NZ Bookshop Day. 

beetlesThere was a curious plague of beetles one summer when I was growing up in Mt Maunganui. They appeared in their thousands. They were like black rain. They warmed themselves on pavements, and I crunched over them on the way from my house to the Central Parade shops, where I walked every Monday of my childhood to buy the latest copies of Shoot!, Goal, Tiger, and the Woman’s Weekly at Bates’s Bookstore.

I saw my friend Simon Tulip. I said, “What are they?”
He said, “Beetles.”
I said, “I know that. I mean – what’s going on?”
He said, “I don’t know.”

Their shells were shiny in the bright sun. We picked them up, and inspected their legs writhing in the air. We were standing outside the electric power board building, a long, low kind of bungalow, very stylish with its red brickwork and its venetian blinds which were always drawn. A low electric hum came from deep within.
He said, “Are you going back to school next year?”
I was 16. “Yes,” I said. “Are you?”
“Yeah, course,” he said, “but I just wondered if you were.”
Had I told him about my School Certificate exam results? Or did someone else tell him? How else would he have known? Was that what he was getting at – or did he have the inside track on something else? Was it to do with my home life?800px-Mount_Maunganui

Mt Maunganui was flat as a plain, except for the mountain at the end of the beach. You could see it everywhere. It was the central fact of life in town – that, and the sea, and the wharf. I shielded my eyes from the hot sun and looked towards the mountain. I pretended to take a great deal of interest in it because I wanted to change the subject about whether I was returning to school.

“See you later,” he said.
“Yep,” I said.

tiger_roy_of_the_roversI walked around the corner to the shops, and to Bates’s Bookstore. I always felt safe in there, and excited, too, because of the prospect of reading the latest copies of Shoot!, Goal, and Tiger. Sometimes I read my mother’s Woman’s Weekly. It was okay. Shoot! had columns by Bobby Charlton and Bobby Moore, Goal had the results, line-ups, and attendance records of every game in England’s four divisions, and Tiger featured the adventures of Roy of the Rovers, the greatest football comic strip of all time.
“Hello, Mr Bates!”, I said.

His name was Alan. I finally plucked up the courage to call him that when I was about 30. He was a lovely man, with black hair combed to the side, and a taste for cardigans. He laughed and joked, and I always thought of him as sophisticated: he sold literature. I liked him more than anyone in Mt Maunganui outside of my family.

I read Tiger on the way home. I crunched over the beetles on the pavement, but I’d forgotten about them. I was in the inky, dramatic world of Roy of the Rovers, courtesy of Mr Bates of Bates’s Bookstore in Central Parade.


Steve Braunias is an award-winning journalist, and the author of many bestselling non-fiction books, including Civilisation: Twenty Places on the Edge of the World (Awa Press), which won Non-fiction Book of the Year at the 2013 NZ Post Book Awards. His most recent book, The Scene of the Crime (HarperCollins NZ) was released into bookshops on 29 October.

Tākitimu sells well in Wairoa but be careful with tractor books in Ashburton, says Lincoln Gould

To be woken by a mobile phone call while climbing into bed at a roadside motel in a small South Island country town was perhaps my first encounter of the wonderful, if a little eccentric, world of New Zealand booksellers.

“I heard you are in town and want to talk to you about bookselling,” said Russell Antiss. How did he know I was in Ashburton? I had not told anyone I was even going through the town. However, I had met Philip King of Canterbury University Bookshop earlier in the day and Philip had spread the world down the line that the new guy from Booksellers NZ was doing a tour. I don’t know whether Philip actually said this, but I suspect he might have told Russell, “He knows absolutely nothing about bookselling, so you might want to put him straight.”

Russell insisted that he would come around to the motel, pick me up and take me to his home for a cognac and a chat; most hospitable and an interesting discussion on the industry, particularly the founding of the Paper Plus Group, ensued.

Actually I had an even stranger, but far less hospitable encounter with the industry when John and Ruth McIntyre of the Children’s Bookshop in Kilbirnie threw a “welcome to the book trade” function at the trade’s traditional Wellington watering hole, the Southern Cross. This particular bookseller, who shall remain nameless, decided he would introduce himself by way of head-butting me and telling me what a shocking fraud I was rorting the trade by way of the structure of book tokens as administered by Booksellers NZ.
So a good industry to join? “Yeah, nah,” might have been an answer then, but as it has turned out, the last six and half years have been very enjoyable, for many reasons, particularly thanks to my encounters with the wide variety of booksellers throughout New Zealand.

On another tour of bookshops a few years into my time at Booksellers NZ, I pulled into Take Note Wairoa, now independent bookshop The Book Parade, owned by Ange McKay. Okay, it’s small and sells a lot of stuff other than books, but the shop is an important community hub. Asked what book she sells most of, the answer was Tākitimu, written by Tiaka Hikawera Mitira (J. H. Mitchell) and first published by A.H. and A.W Reed in 1972, but still published by and available through Oratia Media. It is a history of the Ngati Kahungunu iwi that recognise Tākitimu as their foundation canoe, and it traces the history of the peoples of the Te Urewera.

Sales from many community bookshops represent special interests of their localities. Paper Plus in Ashburton told me of selling lots of books about tractors. Mind, local specialities are not fully understood sometimes: Paper Plus Support Office noted the higher than usual sales of tractor books in Ashburton so delivered a larger than usual pack of a new title they thought would sell well down there – A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.

I certainly have not met all the booksellers in the country, but all that I have met, while individualist and sometimes eccentric, have one thing in common – a passion for books and bookselling. To be called a “good bookseller”, especially by a cranky publisher, is a badge of honour.

Bookselling has been tough over the past few years and the industry has lost a number of its characters, such as Jeff Grigor from Chapters and Verses in Timaru, Tim Skinner from Capital Books in Wellington, John Ahradsen from Paper Plus. But it appears the tide has turned for sales and while not up there with at pre-2007 levels, the graph is heading in the right direction.

This coming weekend’s NZ Bookshop Day will be a celebration of bookshops in communities right across the country and a celebration too of the many booksellers who are sticking with the trade primarily for one reason – they love books.

– By Lincoln Gould, CEO of Booksellers NZ


Book Review: WORK, by Sarah Jane Barnett

cv_workAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

As a fan of Sarah Jane Barnett’s debut collection, A Man Runs Into A Woman, I was excited to read her newest book of poetry, WORK. Like her debut, this collection tells the story of a variety of characters with their own shifting relationships and lives, from the life of an Ethiopian immigrant to that of a polyamorous couple.

There is a striking simplicity about Barnett’s writing, especially in the way she daringly describes the unconventional. Each poem is a snapshot of a certain life, but Barnett does not pass judgement on these lives; she simply presents them for what they are and lets readers grapple with the truth themselves. Although it can be hard at first to relate to circumstances that seem so different, there is a natural quality to these characters’ thoughts and worries that left me feeling empathetic. The longer poems did feel more fulfilling for this reason, since they felt more developed. However, the sheer variation of lives explored also made every experience valid.

Several of these poems almost felt like fantasy in the way they were presented. In one poem, a woman hunts down a bear; at the same time, she recalls the legend of a girl who decided to marry the very same kind of animal she is trying to kill. Despite this wide imaginative scope, these poems are still familiar in the way they are ultimately grounded in the real. The woman also recalls a break-up, thinks of a lost conversation and recalls other scenes in her past. It is this bridging of the gap between the real and the unreal that softens the placement of such fantasy amongst the genuine quality of these lives.

I also enjoyed the range of forms Barnett used to tell these stories, and the way she included fragmented poetry along with sections that bordered on prose. Pieces of fragmented writing allowed an internal look into the sometimes-frantic thought processes of Barnett’s characters. In ‘Running With My Father’, the narrator turns to the rhythm of her run to help her find the appropriate words. The breathlessness of the exercise leaves her language jarred, stating, “long exhale rhyme working into the cords of the body disorder”. These various formats and perspectives brought out a more solid representation of what these characters looked like to others and also, importantly, to themselves.

For me, the title WORK encompasses the way in which these characters attempt to overcome adversity. Work is an inevitable and enduring facet of life, and although this idea of work is not physically manifested in Barnett’s poetry through office tables and manual labour, it is expressed through these characters’ own struggles. In this way, they are navigators of work, trying to align it with their own desires. The silver linings that these characters find despite their struggles, all presented through Barnett’s beautiful language, makes Work a moving portrayal of humanity. Although different, these lives find a common ground in the hope of second chances, and the knowledge that it’s not the end, not quite yet.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

by Sarah Jane Barnett
Published by Hue & Cry Press
ISBN: 9780473333331