WORD: The Spinoff After Dark: Toby Manhire, Alex Casey and Duncan Greive

Event_The-Spinoff-after-DarkI arrived at this session in a bit of daze, having had my head exploded by Hear My Voice, two hours of incendiary poetry and storytelling from a group of WORD Christchurch’s most outspoken writers. One of my favourite things about literary festivals is discovering new writers to love, both from Aotearoa and overseas, and at Hear My Voice I found three: Sophie Rea, Daisy Speaks, and Ivan E. Coyote. As well as being wonderful writers they were also exceptional performers. Catch them if you can.

The Spinoff After Dark was a very relaxed session – and a good thing too, because by this point in the day after Busted, Speaking Out and Hear My Voice, I was in danger of Feelings Overload. Toby Manhire, Alex Casey, and Duncan Greive from The Spinoff sat with some mics in a cafe and nattered to us. They did mini-interviews, which were quite fun, starting with comedy writer Steve Hely: “Everything I know about Max Key, I learned from Alex Casey”. I’m not sure why they were talking about Max Key, or why Casey had been emailing Hely so much information about him: one of the downsides of this session is that it assumed a lot of shared knowledge on the part of the audience (which I didn’t always have), and relied often on in-jokes. But the participants were quick-witted and the mood good-humoured, so it was generally entertaining.

The second guest hauled out of the audience was WORD Literary Director Rachael King. Casey was asking everyone who their Fight for Life opponent would be: it had to be someone equivalent in your field. King chose Auckland Writers Festival Director Anne O’Brien: “I lift weights, so she’d be down in the first round.” (Hely had chosen Max Key.)

The third guest was Joe Bennett, but I’m afraid I can’t report on what he said because all it says in my notes is “wow, Joe Bennett is really goddam annoying”. I think he said he would fight Steve Braunias.

Next up was author Paula Morris. She reported on her travels in Latvia, where you have to go everywhere by bus and it’s really hot on the buses, but people get annoyed with you if you take off your coat. “That’s just one of the many interesting things I know and it’s why travel is important.” She would fight Selina Tusitala Marsh, because she’s weak from where Morris pulled Marsh’s neck muscle while brushing her hair.

The fifth interviewee was illustrator Toby Morris (no relation to Paula); the other half (with Manhire) of ‘The Pencilsword‘. They spoke about the trials of being called Toby. Morris said his father-in-law referred to him as Tony in his speech at his (Toby’s) (I mean Morris) (Toby Morris not Paula) (god, sorry) wedding. He would fight Sam Scott from the Phoenix Foundation.

Then RNZ producer Mark Cubey was called to the stage. He said he was amazed there aren’t more Spinoffs: fantastic, fun, crazy, good websites. In fact, he said, “I think there’s room for a spinoff of The Spinoff, you could call it The Spunoff.” Greive looked horrified. “No one do that!”

Manhire then invited celebrated journalist Rebecca Macfie to come up and be mini-interviewed. This was a complete surprise to her and it took Manhire a while to persuade her. “I’m totally unfunny, I’m the wrong person to be doing this,” Macfie warned. Manhire asked her whether Pike River was over. “Shit no. How can it be finished when there’s no accountability, no bodies, no justice.” Hear, hear.

The final guest was blogger Giovanni Tiso. He was asked how come he’s so good at blogging when English is his second language, after Italian. He said “writing is a second language anyway. You are taught rhetoric if you’re taught well at school.” (I think Italian schools must be better than ours because I don’t remember being taught that?). Casey was asking everyone what they snacked on while writing. He said he writes his blogs on Monday nights so there are no snacks (cue much consternation). He would fight Karl du Fresne.

The panel then answered questions people had tweeted in, and from the audience. Greive on sports journalism: “Everyone got into bad habits a hundred years ago and that’s why a lot of things are bad.” Casey on The Bachelor: “When you apply an international franchise here you see the weirdness of New Zealand, and that’s why I like it”. She ghostwrote the text of Jamie Curry’s (heavily illustrated) book in a couple of days.

Eventually the panellists resorted to interviewing each other. Manhire would fight Duncan Garner. Greive would fight Marcus Stickley because The Wireless won best website at the Canon media awards, and “I will probably carry that resentment to my grave”. Casey does not recommend K Bar chocolate.

I wanted to tell Casey how much I admired her outspokenly feminist work at The Spinoff but such earnestness seemed out of place in amongst light-hearted discussion of snacks. I confined myself to live-tweeting and wine. Bring on WORD Sunday!

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

The Spinoff After Dark
with Toby Manhire, Alex Casey and Duncan Greive

Alex Casey appears today in:
The Great Divide?, Sun 28 Aug, 3.30pm

Toby Manhire appears today in:
Giving Them Hell: Political Cartoons
, (Chair) Sun 28 Aug, 2pm

Duncan Greive appears today in:
Reimagining Journalism, Sun 28 Aug, 5pm

 

WORD: The Stars Are On Fire, with Tipene O’Regan, Caitlin Doughty, Stephen Daisley, Tusiata Avia, Steve Hely, Ivan E. Coyote and Hollie Fullbrook

Festival Director Rachael King opened this fsampler event to rapturous applause, speaking about the theme of the festival – how can we look after the planet and its people. This was followed by Kim Hill, who was suffering from the condition (not uncommon) of not being John Campbell (who was meant to do the introductions). She managed to find a quirky fact about each performer to announce them, and in no way was inferior to the great Campbell – and I prefer her voice, anyway.

The first performer was Sir Tipene O’Regan. It was an honour to hear one of the first Polynesian creation myths from such a legendary Ngai Tahu figure. His telling included humour, and felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience to savour. “First there was nothing, and then there were darks. All sorts of darks.”

The second performer was Caitlin Doughty, who took us through the routine of cremation. Caitlin is an undertaker, and runs a crematorium. She first got a sense of how many in the audience were intending to be cremated – about 50%, which she says is about average for New Zealand. I now know that it takes about 2 hours to burn a body (at around 815 degrees celcius) to the stage that it is ready to be placed in the Cremulator to be turned to ashes.

Next up was Stephen Daisley, who talked a little about emotions and family. He then, slightly bafflingly, treated us to a sample of an excellent review that Owen Marshall did of Coming Rain on The Spinoff. Daisley seems to me like somebody who can’t quite believe his talent is finally being acknowledged, so I’m happy to see him finding his space in the literary community.

Tusiata Avia performed two poems next: first, one from her new collection Fale Aitu | Spirit House, then one called ‘My body’. I have seen Avia perform many times, and each time I am newly grateful that she shares her talent with us. She is a dynamic reader, who knows how to play her audiences, and how to lose them in the beauty of her language.

Steve Hely was up next: he is an award-winning comic writer for TV shows in the US, including The Office. He talked about a bus trip he took through the Atacama in Chile. Most of the men on the bus were Coal Miners, heading home after long periods away: the attendant on the bus though chose Austenland, as the DVD to help take away some of the boredom. It does seem an odd choice, and I think Hely may have hit the nail on the head when he decided the attendant chose it solely to annoy the miners, who wouldn’t have had a hope of understanding it.

The absolute stand-out for everybody in the audience tonight, I think, was Ivan E. Coyote. They were such a stunning storyteller, that in telling about the females that they were influenced by while growing up made everybody in the audience feel they wanted to have known these great women of the Yukon. Elizabeth Heritage will be reviewing their solo event on Sunday.

The final performer was the talented Hollie Fullbrook aka Tiny Ruins. She also sang about a bus journey, and the space between individual experience.

I now want to see each and every one of these people in action again. Judging from Twitter, the near to sold-out audience was all with me. Get ready for another ticket sales spike, WORD!

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Caitlin Doughty is appearing in:
Embracing Death, Sat 27 Aug, 9.30am
Ask a Mortician: Caitlin Doughty, Sun 28 Aug, 2pm
The Nerd Degree, Sun 28 Aug, 5pm

Stephen Daisley is appearing in:
Writing War Stories, Sat 27 Aug, 3.15pm
Coming Rain, Sun 28 Aug, 11am

Tusiata Avia is appearing in:
Hear My Voice, Sat 27 Aug, 5.30pm
Spirit House/ Unity, Sun 28 Aug, 2pm

Steve Hely is appearing in:
How to be a Writer: Steve Hely, Sat 27 Aug, 3.30pm
The Great NZ Crime Debate, Sat 27 Aug, 7.30pm
The State of America, Sun 28 Aug, 12.30pm

Ivan E. Coyote is appearing in:
Taku Kupu Ki Te Ao: My Word to the World, Sat 27 Aug, 1-4pm
Hear My Voice, Sat 27 Aug, 5.30pm
The Storyteller: Ivan E. Coyote, Sun 28 Aug, 11am

Hollie Fullbrook is appearing in:
Workshop: Songwriting with Hollie Fullbrook, Sat 27 Aug, 9.30am
Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?, Sat 27 Aug, 12.30pm
In Love With These Times, Sat 27 Aug, 7.30pm

 

 

A Feminist Reading List

We_can_do_itElizabeth Heritage asked for recommended reading lists from each of the people she interviewed in relation to our article on feminist themes at NZ literary festivals. Please feel free to add your own recommended reading at the bottom, and we will incorporate this gradually into the main list.

Our respondents were: Carole Beu, from The Women’s Bookshop, Ponsonby; Matthew Simpson from publisher HarperCollins NZ; Tilly Lloyd, from Unity Bookshop, Wellington; Writer and Lecturer Anna Jackson; Nicola Strawbridge, from Going West Festival; Kathryn Carmody, from NZ Book Council, and Rachael King, from WORD Christchurch.

cv_a_history_of_nz_women A History of NZ Women, by Barbara Brookes (BWB) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
• Animal: The Autobiograpghy of a Female Body, by Sara Pascoe (Faber) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
Bad Feminist, by  Roxanne Gay (Little, Brown) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
Colour of Food: a Memoir of Life, Love and Dinner, by Anne Else (Awa) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
Do It Like a Woman – and change the world, by Caroline Crido-Perez (Portobello)
Everywhere I Look, by Helen Garner. Helen Garner is one of my favourite feminist essayists – whose feminism, and humanism, and personality inform everything she writes on every topic. Recommended by Anna Jackson.
Fat is a feminist issue, by Susie Orbach. Orbach’s book made me see that, unless something was done urgently, what was going on around me would continue indefinitely. Highly motivating. Recommended by Maria McMillan.
Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, by Bell Hooks is a must. Recommended by Nicola Strawbridge.
cv_the_fictional_woman Fictional Woman, by Australian crime novelist Tara Moss. (HarperCollins)  This 2014 book focuses among other things on the under-representation of women in modern entertainment, media, advertising and politics. It was a #1 Nonfiction bestseller in Australia. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
Fifty Shades of Feminism, edited by Lisa Appignanesi, Rachel Holmes & Susie Orbach (Virago, 2013)
Published as a response to Fifty Shades of Grey – it is a brilliant collection of 50 stunning essays by a wide variety of feminists, young & old – and it has a grey cover! Recommended by Carole Beu
Fighting to Choose: the Abortion Rights Struggle in NZ, by Alison McCulloch (VUP) Recommended by Carole Beu.
• Freedom Train: The story of Harriet Tubman, by Dorothy Sterling.() I loved that Harriet Tubman, who herself escaped slavery and returned many times to help others escape, was short, not physically beautiful and plagued by narcolepsy. I knew the stakes were as big as could be and every time I read was stirred by the fact one woman, through cunning and cleverness and stubborness was responsible for life and death. Recommended by Maria McMillan.
Fury: Women Write About Sex, Power and Violence, edited by Samantha Trenoweth (Hardie Grant) Recommended by Carole Beu.
Headscarves & Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, by Mona Eltahawy (Wiedenfeld & Nicolson) Recommended by Carole Beu.
cv_how_to_be_a_womanHow to Be A Woman, by Caitlin Moran (Ebury Press). As she says: “We need to reclaim the word ‘feminism’. We need the word ‘feminism’ back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29% of American women would describe themselves as feminist – and only 42% of British women – I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?” Recommended by Nicola Strawbridge.
How to be Both, by Ali Smith. This is one of the loveliest novels I’ve read, about art, ambition, identity, and relationships including the relationship between a daughter and a mother. Recommended by Anna Jackson.
How to Win at Feminism (HarperCollins), the new book from the editors of the Reductress feminist satirical website, is another one we love. Never let it be said that feminists are a humourless bunch. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
cv_I_call_myself_a_feministI Call Myself a Feminist :The View from Twenty-Five Women Under Thirty, edited by Victoria Pepe (Virago)
Virago followed Fifty Shades of Feminism up in 2015 with this great collection. Recommended by Carole Beu.
In Gratitude, by Jenny Diski (Bloomsbury) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg (W H Allen)
A more controversial, alarming book, which may start arguments that are surely worth having. Recommended by Anna Jackson.
Mary Anning’s Treasure, by Helen Bush. Like Harriet Tubman, Mary Anning was no beauty. She was gruff, proud, and as strong as a man. Once with an unexpected tide, she hoisted a woman across her shoulders and carried her to safety. I was going to be a paleontologist when I grew up because of Mary Anning. Recommended by Maria McMillan.
Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit (Granta) Recommended by Carole Beu, Tilly Lloyd
Moranifesto , by Caitlin Moran (Ebury press)
Then there is the wonderful Caitlin Moran. She is the first of a whole range of young women who don’t give a stuff what people think of them. Recommended by Carole Beu and Anna Jackson, who says, “I find Caitlin Moran terrifically funny and magnificently sensible.”
cv_not_that_kind_of_girlNot That Kind of Girl, by Lena Dunham. Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer are figures from popular culture whose frank and unapologetic feminism is completely central to their fame and genius. This was a huge bestseller. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
Roll on the revolution . . . but not until after Xmas! : Selected Feminist Writing
A collection of years of feminist essays, many of them originally published in Broadsheet Magazine, from 95-year-old New Zealander Margot Roth, now living in Melbourne. The project was begun by the late great Pat Rosier (former Broadsheet editor) & has been completed by The Margot Collective (available from PDL, via Paul Greenberg). Recommended by Carole Beu, Tilly Lloyd
Sex Object, by Jessica Valenti (HarperCollins) , founder of Feministing and columnist/staff writer with The Guardian (US), is a confronting and forthright memoir about how she came to be a leading voice in third wave feminism. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, by Lindy West (Quercus) Recommended by Carole Beu.
So Sad Today, by Melissa Broder (Scribe) Recommended by Carole Beu.
Speaking Out, by Tara Moss (HarperCollins). This is the follow up to Fictional Woman, and is a practical handbook for women and girls on speaking out safely and confidently in a world that marginalises them. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
Scv_stuff_i_forgot_to_tell_my_daugthertuff I Forgot To Tell My Daughter, by Michele A’Court (HarperCollins). A’Court is one of NZ’s pre-eminent and funniest feminists. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson (Text) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd and Anna Jackson, who says, “this is a brilliant mix of essay, memoir and lyric about the difficulty of negotiating parenthood, gender roles and relationship issues in a marriage with a transgender partner.”
The Blazing World, by Siri Hustvedt (Sceptre) This brilliant novel looks at the career of a woman artist who devised an art project to expose the bias against women artists: she set up a young, male imposter to pretend to have made the art works she herself would produce, then reveal her identity; as she anticipated, there was an excitement around his work her own work had never generated even though this work was very much a development of her own ideas. What she didn’t anticipate is that he would claim the work as his own, and no one would believe it was hers, despite all the proof of her workings. It is a brilliant premise and the novel draws out the twists and turns of a gripping story brilliantly, but what is ultimately so moving about the novel is its complex representation of relationships between difficult people, and the difficulty of managing personal relationships alongside ambition. Recommended by Anna Jackson.
The Changeover, by Margaret Mahy () I had no brother to save but, as the world revealed itself to me at 14 as ethically bereft and deeply women-hating, I realised I had my own personal and intergalactic crisis to deal with. There was only one thing for it. Hmm, thought I was a mere human? Pyeouw! Take that, patriarchy. Recommended by Maria McMillan.
The Fact of a Doorframe, by Adrienne Rich ()  Rich seemed to capture perfectly our own struggles in dealing with the horror of a world that seemed particularly violent towards women, and a desire, despite it all, to love, laugh and celebrate. Recommended by Maria McMillan.
The Female Eunuch, by Germaine Greer (HarperCollins). This was published over 40 years ago and it’s never been out of print. It is still a go-to work about how 20th century western society was taking away women’s agency on so many levels. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, by Amy Schumer will certainly be just as big a smash as Lena Dunham’s book, if not bigger. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
The Natural Way of Things, by Charlotte Wood () Recommended by Maria McMillan.
cv_unspeakable_ThingsUnspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution, by Laurie Penny (Bloomsbury). This is the book that I’d recommend to get anyone fired up about feminism. Recommended by Kathryn Carmody.
We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (4th Estate) Recommended by Carole Beu, Matthew Simpson, Tilly Lloyd. Matthew adds, “We should all be feminists is something every young woman and man should be afforded the chance to hear or read.”
Who was that Woman Anyway: Snapshots of a Lesbian Life, by Aorewa McLeod (VUP) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
Why Science is Sexist, by Nicola Gaston (BWB Texts) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
Witches: Salem 1692, by Stacy Schiff (Weidenfeld) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.

And some online recommendations, from Rachael King, WORD Christchurch Director:
I love On the Rag, The Spinoff’s podcast which is run by Alex Casey, who is writing some fantastic commentary on the representation of women in the media. The Spinoff is publishing a lot of good feminist writing. Alex will be at the festival of course, along with three other Spinoff editors.

I also recommend BUST, which isn’t widely available in New Zealand but which can be found online. It was started in the Riot Grrl era and has kept on going. When I first was introduced to it by my friend Gemma Gracewood, I found it incredibly refreshing and encouraging. So of course I had to take Gemma with me when I met with Debbie Stoller in New York – it was a wonderful meeting of minds.

Two feminist writers are visiting for WORD Christchurch in a week or so: Tara Moss, noted earlier; and Nadia Hashimi, whom Matthew Simpson says is “an Afghan-American novelist whose stories of the intimate lives and struggles of women in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan are imbued with a strong message of female solidarity across national and cultural divides.”

Tell us your favourite feminist reads below, and we’ll add them to the list.

The Politics of Indignation, and Capes and Tights: Superhero Comics, Sun 31 August, WORD Christchurch

The Politics of Indignation
finlay_mcdonald
The Politics of Indignation featured Australian writer Richard King, author of On Offence, in conversation with journalist Finlay Macdonald (right) about our culture of offence-taking, particularly in the media and politics. It was a lively, fascinating discussion that I really enjoyed.

King’s thesis is that the act of publicly taking offence has become a toxic presence in our democracy, shutting down valuable arguments where it should be the start of the debate. He spoke about how offence-taking has become part of our political currency, with politicians being rewarded for being seen to be offended with extra media coverage and headlines.

The reason we have freedom of speech, says King, is to protect the search for truth. And it is meaningless unless it includes the freedom to offend. He spoke scathingly about how a sense of victimhood has become part of our cultural self-awareness, where ‘me being offended’ is automatically ‘your problem’. King also criticised the act of being offended on behalf of others, the way the middle classes can be patronisingly protective of “the marginalised”.

There was an interesting discussion of the place of satire: the act of being deliberately offensive in a humorous manner in order to make a serious point. It reminded me of the conversation yesterday between satirist Steve Braunias and The Civilian’s Ben Uffindell. Both Uffindell and Macdonald made the point that satire in New Zealand is difficult because too many people don’t get it. Macdonald said this means that journalists get tired of being misunderstood and simply stop using satire – and this has the effect of “making us all so bloody pious”.

Of course, these days, no discussion of offence is complete without mentioning Twitter. King bemoaned the fact that Twitter, which was originally touted as being the great, international conversation-enabler, has instead become a place where vital debate is shut down. “140 characters is enough to convey strength of feeling, but not reasoned argument.”

This was a fascinating session and really got me thinking about how feelings of offence affect my own behaviour. Good on King for bringing up a topic that we all need to consider.

Capes and Tights: Superhero Comics

Capes and Tights was my last session at the 2014 WORD Christchurch Writers Festival, and it was a wonderful note to end on: lively fun with an infectious passion for books and story.
dylanhorrocks
Cartoonist Dylan Horrocks (right)  chaired a panel discussion on superhero comics with filmmaker Jonathan King, author Karen Healey and philosopher Damon Young. All four spoke with humour and real feeling about their love for superhero comics, and the different ways they had read them at different stages of their lives. For example, Young spoke movingly about being an angry teen wanting to see his own rage reflected in the characters, needing to see vengeance as noble.

No discussion of superhero comics is complete without an examination of violence. King pointed out that, since 9/11, US superhero films tend to show seriousness by having entire city blocks destroyed and people and rubble covered in dust. Young spoke about how articulate violence in comics can express character and play a valuable role in storytelling.

I was very struck by Healey’s thesis that all comics are fanfiction (she has written her PhD on this topic). All comics are built on characters, situations, stories and artwork that have come before them – there is no definitive first story or ‘right’ version. I was also interested to learn that, in this context, ‘canon’ means ‘having the official masthead’ (eg. of DC Comics or Marvel).

Horrocks asked all the participants what superpower they’d have if they could: Healey said invincibility, Young said telekinesis, and King chose the ability to fly. Horrocks said he’d had invisibility, and spoke very poignantly about his idea of his invisible self continuing after his death, observing the world.

The session ended with Horrocks inviting Rachael King, one of the WORD organisers, to come and receive a very well deserved round of applause. Horrocks praised WORD 2014 for being the year’s best literary festival – bring on 2016!

by Elizabeth Heritage, Freelance writer and publisher
www.elizabethheritage.co.nz

Book review: Red Rocks by Rachael King

cv_red_rocksThis book is in bookshops now and is a finalist in the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.

It takes quite a lot of trust and faith in your reader to mix a thoroughly ancient legend, in this case about mythical selkies, with a modern of coming of age story. Half of the main characters in this book by Rachael King are in fact seals; seals that, in keeping with Scottish legend, turn into beautiful young women when they cast their skins aside to walk on land. The mythical selkies. The other characters are one half of a modern day separated family trying to get on with life as best they can. It also takes a good storyteller to pull it off.

Surprisingly perhaps, I found myself suspending disbelief; and I became entranced by this book and its characters. And it happened so subtly that I didn’t even notice. The main character Jake is a little lost – his parents are divorced, his mother remarried with a new baby. He visits his father who is living a nomadic writer’s existence on the Wellington coast. But the school holidays are never much fun without friends, so the adventurous Jake takes off to explore the rocks of the Wellington coastline. He makes friends with another equally lonely young girl and an old man and attracts the interest of some local bullies. But it is when he finds an abandoned seal skin which he hauls home that the trouble really begins. The taking of the skin is the key turning point in this book as it unravels the story and importantly prevents its rightful owner from going to back to the sea.

Hindsight is a great thing. And of course, I can tell you now that I knew all along which characters were human and which were seals, but what’s clever is the way this realisation subtly unfolds. There is not a moment of mass revelation, you just suddenly begin to understand who the characters are and how they inter-relate and it feels natural. I guess that’s why it easy to believe in all of the characters in this book; they just work.

Interestingly, I just handed the book to my eleven year old saying it was great and I think you will like it. He read the back (which mentions seal skins but nothing about selkies) and he asked “What’s up with selkies? This is the third book this year that’s had slekies in it.”

Really? I had no idea. Apparently, his teacher has been reading these books to them in class.

“What time period have they been set in?” I asked.
“Ancient of course” was his reply. “And all in Scotland.”
“What about one set in Wellington in modern times. Could that work?”
“Hmm, maybe.”

But there is no maybe about it. This book works and it’s a gripping page-turning tale.

The book should appeal to any reader (young or old) who is able to suspend reality briefly, but after all isn’t that what reading is all about?

Reviewed by Gillian Torckler

Red Rocks
by Rachael King
Published by Random House
ISBN 9781869799144 (paperback)
ISBN 9781869799151 (e-book)

Rachael King has a secret and she’s ready to confess…

I have a confession to make. I took another person’s words and I put them into my book without attribution. So far nobody has called me out on it, not even my editor, who is renowned for having an eagle eye in such matters.

These are the words that I paraphrased: I baited my line, watched it sink, and waited with exquisite anticipation for the pecking of mullet, the sucking of trevally, or – best of all – the sudden pull of kahawai or kingfish.

Ring a bell? These words sit above Wellington harbour, as part of the Wellington Writer’s Walk, and they were written by my father, the late Michael King.

Let me explain myself.

There’s a picture of me, aged about seven I guess, proudly holding up two (admittedly rather small) kahawai by the gills, with a big snaggle-toothed grin on my face, while my brother serenely gazes at the camera with a rope swing between his legs, about to leap off into the abyss. I look at that photo now, with our home-knitted jerseys and flared jeans, and think that it sums up a pretty idyllic New Zealand 1970s childhood experience: bare feet in winter; haphazard haircutting practices; homemade, death-defying swings on macrocarpa trees; and nature, lots of nature.

rachael-king-with-fish

The photo was taken at Paremata, near Welington, where Dad lived for a time in a two-bedroom rented cottage, with a steep track down to the beach. Jonathan and I slept in bunk beds in the bedroom; Dad slept in a double bed in the living room, and used the other bedroom to write in. It was while living there that my dad taught me how to row a boat, and to fish. He taught me not to reel my line in every time I got a bite, but to wait patiently until the fish was truly hooked, when the rod would dance in my hand. He taught me how to identify varieties of fish. The silver ones were yellow-eyed mullet. If they had yellow spots they were kahawai; but not too many spots or they were spotties, which also had jagged dorsal fins and were inedible. We threw those ones back. If the fish had ridges along the tail so its cross-section was diamond-shaped: trevally.

When it came time to write my first children’s book, how could I not suffuse it with all of those experiences? They were so much a part of my growing up that I couldn’t write what I knew without involving the sea.

And so Jake in Red Rocks goes and stays with his writer father by the sea and his father takes him out fishing. And as I wrote that scene I wanted to put a part of my father in it, and so I took his words, and I gave them to Jake:

“His hands were cold as they gripped the rod, but he felt such exquisite anticipation, it didn’t matter. What would find his bait? Would he feel the sudden pull of kahawai? Or the pecking of a mullet?”

I put them in there not because I couldn’t think of my own words to use, but because my dad isn’t around to read my book and this is how I made up for that fact. It was my little secret; my homage to the man who had given me the experiences I was now giving to my characters. And happily, as his literary executor, I was able to give myself permission to use those words.

There’s another picture of me. I’m sitting next to Dad’s quote on the Wellington Writer’s Walk, not long after it was installed. It’s late 2006 and I’ve got my first baby son in a sling and I’m smiling at my aunt Gerri, Dad’s sister, who is taking the picture. Soon after this picture was taken, I walked that baby around the South Coast of Wellington, and an idea came to me about a boy finding a sealskin in a cave, taking it home, and hiding it under his bed. I like to think that in this photo, that story is a twinkle in my eye, and that the quote is already working its way in there.

rachael-king-at-seatBy Rachael King, author of Red Rocks.

Red Rocks is a finalist in the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.

Red Rocks
by Rachael King
Published by Random House
ISBN 9781869799144