Interview with a Vampire (Master), by Sarah McMullan

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So you needed a change?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m happy with that” he says.

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

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

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

pp_looming-with-a-dog-jefferey-deaver

Jeffrey Deaver

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

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

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

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

snowy-street-lamp-1474559946d34

Probably not this one.

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

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

By Sarah McMullan @sarahmcmullannz

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

Book Review: Wasted – A story of Alcohol, grief and a death in Brisbane, by Elspeth Muir

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_wastedIt would be easy to look at the title of this book and put it down thinking it’s another academic waxing lyrical about the evils of alcohol, couching it in self-help terms and a preachy tone.

It’s not.

Wasted is a book that every New Zealander and Australian needs to read because realistically anyone of us could find ourselves in the same position as Elspeth Muir or the many people attending her brother’s funeral in the opening scene of the book.

What starts as a personal story turns into an examination of the current drinking culture in NZ and Australia. Muir’s youngest brother Alexander was 21. He’d finished his uni exams that day and gone out celebrating like he’d done a hundred times before. He got wasted like he usually did, except on this particular night he jumped off a bridge into a river and drowned.

What follows is one woman taking a long hard look at her brother’s life and how many warning signs of problem drinking are considered normal by everyday standards. Binge drinking, blackouts, belligerence when drunk, mood swings, unusual choices… You might not tick all but you’ve probably ticked some. Wasted is a sobering look at just how dependent we are as nations on alcohol. Economically, socially, and psychologically. It’s part of our nation’s identity woven through so many pivotal life events, on both sides of the Tasman.

More impressive still, is that Muir never lets you forget that Alex was a real person. Her brother. He has parents, siblings, friends, lovers. People that still miss him every day, people that still wonder why that night was different. People that still hurt. It’s that bittersweet quality to Muir’s writing that makes Wasted something special, something more than a misery memoir or an academic text on how we should live.

If I had my way, I’d give this to everyone in their last year of high school, and their parents too.

Reviewed by Sarah McMullan 

Wasted: A story of alcohol, grief and a death in Brisbane
by Elspeth Muir ****
Published by Text Publishing
ISBN  9781922182135

Book Review: The City of Mirrors, by Justin Cronin

cv_the_city_of_mirrorsAvailable from today in bookshops nationwide.

I wouldn’t say I’ve been counting the days to the release of the final book in The Passage Trilogy (well, not until the last 3 months) but I have certainly been eagerly awaiting it.

The book that started it all – The Passage – was a sprawling tale that inevitably drew comparisons to Stephen King’s The Stand in both scale and skill. The Passage introduced us to Amy, a little girl somehow connected to a strange viral outbreak that is in turn linked to mysterious experiments and twelve very frightening men. Spanning nearly a century, The Passage sets out a dystopian world so real you feel you like you could reach out and touch the characters. More importantly, you want to.

Book 2, The Twelve, jumps both backwards and forwards from the timeline of The Passage introducing us to new characters, filling in backstory and updating us on old; as well as developing what can only be described as the mythos of Amy and the Twelve. It’s obvious that Cronin was in this for the long game from the start with carefully laid threads slowly pulling together into the most intricately woven plans and plotlines. With an explosive ending, I’d recommend you have Book 3 on standby.

The City of Mirrors is the book that was either going to prove that Justin Cronin was a true maestro of the written word or a hack spinning webs like a dizzy spider with no master design. To say this book is a triumph is an understatement.

Every thread, every plotline, every character pulls together and creates the most amazing final chapter of the trilogy. It’s like magic.

This is not a small book. (None of the three are.) I read it in one sitting – I couldn’t put it down, I didn’t want to. I had tears running down my face on more than one occasion: genuine tears of joy for some of the characters who after three books feel like old friends.

So too their losses feel sharp as glass beneath bare feet. That is perhaps Cronin’s greatest skill – to write so many characters so well that you care about all of them, you remember all of them. They are all significant even if it appears to be only for a small period of time.
And the ending? So intricate yet so simple it seems almost obvious.

And while Cronin’s world is set in a plague-ravaged universe, the wisdom throughout holds true today. Human nature and the reasoning of man, God, science and nature are eternal no matter the locale or the time frame. A city of mirrors – reflecting your true self, is not so hard to imagine.

I dare you to open the cover and look inside.

Reviewed by Sarah McMullan

The City of Mirrors (The Passage Trilogy: Book 3)
by Justin Cronin
Published by Orion
ISBN 9780752897899 / TPB 9780752897912

If you want to refresh your memory of the first two books, here’s the place to go. 

Book Review: Moranifesto, by Caitlin Moran

cv_moranifestoAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

If you’re new to the Caitlin Moran party, this is the place to start. I’ve read all of her books and this is her best. (Unless you’ve read every single column she’s written for The Times in which case I’d suggest you give this a miss and pick up How to Build A Girl instead.)

A collection of (mostly) columns she’s written for The Times of London over the past 6 years with the odd new piece written just for this, it’s one of the funniest, wittiest, most thought provoking book’s you’ll read this year.

Moran’s greatest gift is her ability to express her unusually high intellect in a completely relatable way. Self-deprecating yet totally fierce in her belief that everyday women have the right to express their opinions and be listened to, Moranifesto tackles everything from politics to economics; Dr Who to cystitis; the secret love of a cancelled social engagement to that list of weird things that are sexy though you know that deep down they’re really not.

Saying what we’d all like to, and often a whole lot that’s probably never ever occurred to another person ever; Caitlin Moran is a leading voice of this generation’s women. If you don’t follow her on Twitter I suggest you do so ASAP @caitlinmoran – she’s hilarious.

Reviewed by Sarah McMullan

Moranifesto
by Caitlin Moran
Published by Ebury Press
ISBN 9780091949051

Book Review: I Love Dick, by Chris Kraus

cv_i_love_dickAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

First published in 1997, I Love Dick was a landmark publication in the world of feminist literature, cleverly mixing memoir with fiction to create what the author called “lonely girl phenomenology”, and what the critics call “radical” and “gossipy”. The public loved it and I can totally see why.

The Dick of the title is a man – a sociologist and media theorist who dazzles the author throughout the book, captivating her like a shiny thing catches the eye of a kea. As time passes and she negotiates her way through the art world with her husband by her side, she encounters various movers and shakers some real life figures, some not, some possible “names changed to prevent a law suit”… And always Dick.

There are undoubtedly some disturbing aspects to the book. The idea that a married woman would “crush” on a single man, who seems uninterested to the point of asking her to leave him alone, and convinces her husband to help pen letters to him seems cruel, possibly fantastical. Does she love Dick that much or is it the idea of Dick? Of what he represents?

Sharp eyed and sarcastic, Kraus spares no one, least of all herself, brutally dissecting the feminist movement of the 90s, both within the academic world and the fickle arts scene where individuality is heralded as new and brave, but only if it can be marketed in an acceptably formulaic fashion.

A performance artist on the rise, married to a successful man, her feminist world view takes on a distinctly Dick-shaped lens, one she’s aware of but unsure whether it’s a gift or a handicap in a post-modernist world.

And who is Dick? Is he a real person? And what really happened between the author, her husband and Dick?

Dick’s real identity is now known – but don’t go searching for it until you’ve read this book. Reading it for the first time is something to treasure. The fact it’s not as well-known as non-fiction feminist texts is a shame, a crime! This is a book every independent, intelligent woman (or man who likes them) should read. It’s not fluffy. It’s certainly not a beach read. But it’s witty, satisfying and good for the soul – like a night out where the wine is as good as the conversation and you know your plan to take over the world is solid.

I’ve added I Love Dick this book to my “Annual Read” list. So should you, because I think you’ll love Dick just as much as I do.

Reviewed by Sarah McMullan

I Love Dick
by Chris Kraus
Published by Serpent’s Tail
PB ISBN  9781781256480
HB ISBN 9781781256473

Book Review: Wild Pork and Watercress, by Barry Crump (film tie-in)

cv_wild_pork_and_watercressAvailable now at booksellers nationwide.

Re-released to coincide with the New Zealand release of Taika Watiti’s reimagining of this classic Kiwi tale, Wild Pork and Watercress is as relevant now as it was when it was first published.

Barry Crump’s writing still has always been rough and ready, and it’s this bushman’s charm that makes Ricky – the overweight foster kid that no one wants, such an endearing little rascal; and his gruff (foster) Uncle Hec such a stoic old sod you can’t help but care about him.

With the addition of behind-the-scenes photos from the making of The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, this edition provides a great chance to hook the younger members of the family on reading, especially once they’ve seen and loved the film. It’s a memento they can use. And for those of us a wee bit older, the updated preface from Crump’s son Martin is an interesting read.

What we know about Barry Crump today is a lot different to what we knew about him when he first started publishing; regardless of his shortcomings in other personal areas, his tales of the bush and the men he encountered there are part of NZ’s literary history, and Wild Pork and Watercress is a must have in every New Zealander’s library.

Reviewed by Sarah McMullan

Wild Pork and Watercress
by Barry Crump (official film tie-in of The Hunt for the Wilderpeople)
Published by Penguin Random House
ISBN  9780143573746

Joy Cowley: A Joyful Life, with John Allen

Joy Cowley is truly a living legend, and it was a privilege to be at this final event of NZ
Festival Writer’s Week. John Allen is himself a great speaker, and it was wonderful to hear the obvious admiration in his voice as he spoke with Cowley about her life and career to date.

Allen had a chat with one of Joy Cowley’s friends before coming to interview her, and she described her friend thus: “When I think of Joy, I think of Yoda: he is old, he is wise, he is strong, he is serene, he has seen it all, done everything, and loves it all.” Is this how Joy Cowley sees herself, asked Allen.

yoda

Cowley says, “I’m a very big container filled with stuff that’s come from other people, other places. There’s something within me that wants to process what people have given me. I relate to the world most strongly as a mother. But as far as looking in the mirror; as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing there.”

Cowley’s early life was covered briefly in her autobiography from 2010, Navigation: A Memoir. She has long been a risk-taker, she rode motorbikes, and was one of the first female Tiger Moth pilot in the country. There were frequent references throughout the chat to Cowley’s enjoyment of life on the wild side. She bungy-jumped to celebrate her 65th birthday, and got a tattoo to celebrate her 70th.

pingAllen wondered about her early reading life. “I was slow to come to reading,” Joy said, “My parents moved around a lot when I was young, I had been to 5 different schools by the age of 7.” At that stage in school, kids were taught reading by phonetics, which made no sense to her. The first book she remembers reading by herself was a picture book called Ping – a marvellous adventure of a duck. “And I finished it and started it again, and the story was the same. This was the first time I’d encountered the constancy of print.”

Her family were great storytellers, but of course stories changed as they grew. “The stability of story is very important, especially if you are from a muddly home, as I am.” When she was about 9, she started telling stories to her sisters, using universal stories but changing the details. These stories were always about powerful children, who could do anything. “I made these into our stories.” Cowley later noted that she wasn’t young as a child – she was the eldest, the responsible one, while her parents were often ill and unpredictable.

pp_joy_cowleyPowerless kids empower themselves through stories, says Cowley. “It’s very important that kids are made powerful. In their stories children may solve adults’ problems, but adults can’t solve children’s problems.” To give a child a positive, empowering world in a story is very important.

Cowley uses her lived experience in her fiction. “Fiction writers are dealing with reality, but taking it to another level. They are deconstructing and reconstructing the ingredients of their stories, and pouring them out, making something new.”

After a brief discussion of Cowley’s adult novels, the discussion moved on to young writers using writing as therapy – as Cowley herself did. “You go deep when you are writing. If it is bleak, good – write it, but not for children.” She is concerned by the bleakness in many YA novels. You can empathise, but not sympathise.

Dreams are a recurring theme in Cowley’s writing. “They are important to me, mainly because I remember my dreams. Sometimes they are just the muddle of the day, but then there are messages that take you home to yourself.” There was also a longer discussion about spirituality, and the place of religion in Cowley’s life.

If fascinates Allen that her books have travelled so well around the world, despite their clear kiwi character. Cowley says, “I like to see a strong sense of place in any book. It is important to see where the character is and what the child is doing there. “

As a child, Cowley read so many stories giving children serious messages about being good and responsible. “I used to wish I could be twins so one could be good and one could be bad. There are stories by adults that place adult expectation on children. But my first duty to a reader is to entertain.

“I work with children who are reluctant readers. No one can be tense when they are laughing.”

Her road to publication wasn’t exactly straight-forward. She says, “My writing was always invisible to me. I had no idea of how to evaluate my writing. I didn’t know until I got some feedback, how to begin.” The person who she owes her breakthrough to was Monty Holcroft, who edited The Listener when her first story was accepted – he asked her how many times she had reworked her stories. “Being a writer is one thing, but learning to be an editor is another. I still need a good editor to work on my manuscripts. I very easily go into self-doubt.”

cv_snake_and_lizardAllen wondered about her eponymous characters snake and lizard – are they Cowley and her husband Terry Coles? “Yes” she says, “I firmly believe that friendship is not made of sameness, but the accommodation of differences.” They married in mid-life, which was the right time for them – and now they are a unit. In Snake and Lizard, Terry is represented by snake and Joy is represented by Lizard. Joy Cowley and Gavin Bishop are currently working on a third in the series, to be called Helper and Helper, which she then read an excerpt from.

In contrast to Sally Gardner about the UK education system, Joy Cowley loves the kiwi education system. New Zealanders are in the top 10 in the world in many different areas, because our education system encourages individual potential. There issomething in the New Zealand character that will give anything a go, and that will persist.

cv_road_to_ratenburgTake heed, Elizabeth Heritage – Joy Cowley loves rats! The Road to Ratenburg is her next Gecko Press publication, about some rats that are made homeless. A bit like Pilgrim’s Progress, apparently – but for rats.

This was a fantastic look into the mind of a legend. I was second in the signing queue, with my well-loved copy of Just One More. It will be Cowley’s 80th birthday this year, and to celebrate this, everybody who attended received a greeting card from Gecko Press, featuring a print of one of Gavin Bishop’s illustrations for the next Snake & Lizard book.

Attended and reviewed by Sarah Forster
NB: I have just gone to Nielsen to find something by Joy Cowley, and come up with 1480 hits for her author name. Now that is a publishing backlist!

Booksellers NZ has been privileged to attend and report on twenty-five world-class events over the last four days. I’d like to give a huge shout-out to Elizabeth Heritage, who bore a full load beginning last Tuesday with Henry Marsh; to Sarah McMullan, whose account of the Robert Dessaix event was fantastic, and to Emma Shi, who attended the more poetry-focused events on the programme. Thank-you also to Kathryn Carmody and Claire Mabey, for being amazing organisers; and to the Radio NZ bloggers, Charlotte Graham and Ellen Falconer, who did an incredible blow-by-blow account of all the activities of the weekend.

Now we have the Auckland Writer’s Festival to look forward to!