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




Book Review: Sport 44: New Zealand New Writing 2016, edited by Fergus Barrowman

cv_sport_44Available now in selected bookshops nationwide.

is an annual publication that anthologises fiction, essays and poetry in one volume. The criteria for selection, with this volume as evidence, is a certain high standard of technical ability allied with a capacity for formal experimentation that doesn’t draw attention away from the progression of ideas and images.

Sport 44 is populated with the work of writers ranging from high-profile (Manhire, Knox and Stead) to well-known in the field of literature (Wallace, Dukes and Tiso) to well-regarded in a variety of cultural contexts (Bollinger, Wilkins and O’Brien). Regardless of the names of the writers, the writing has one key element in common: quality. And the book itself has an aesthetic appeal, with its textured paper and austere cover design. It may not stretch things too far to suggest that just as Sport the publication provides a space for new writing, the physical object provides a series of spacious pages in which words, sentences and stanzas can float or declare themselves without fear of overcrowding. Has it always been thus, or has the digital era, with its emphasis on filling spaces with data or colour, highlighted through counterpoint this wondrous effect of black ink on white paper?

Regardless of the answer to that question, the focus here is quite clearly the words and their cargo of ideas and symbol, emerging from the empty space. In Sport 44, there is valuable freight on every page, but there are several pieces that may especially catch the eye of the reader.

Tusiata Avia’s poem I cannot write a poem about Gaza, in which the poet tells herself why she can’t write such a poem, is in her words ‘like a missile plotted on a computer screen’… that will… ‘enter the top of my head and implode me.’ By the time she comes to the end of her list of reasons (she will be called anti-Semitic, it’s too complicated for a non-PhD to talk about, she will upset her Israeli friends in Tel Aviv, her fury and grief will explode but this pales beside the fury and grief of her Palestinian friends), the hopelessness and seeming insolubility has entered the top of the reader’s head also.

Breton Dukes, who has seen the light and moved to Dunedin, contributes an excerpt from a novel he is working on — Long White Cloud. This short piece, with its customary Dukes wit, astute characterisation, and analysis of the uneasy relationships that sometimes define New Zealand society, is a prompt to hunt down the novel once it is published. Dukes is a real talent, as is Craig Gamble, who also has a novel in progress; this excerpt, taken from The Society of the Air, is a shimmering molecule of fluid language.

The essay section provides many excellent examples of how nonfiction writing can make effective use of the devices and principles often associated with fiction writing, such as disrupted chronology, reincorporation, metaphor and subjective revelation. The truth of the subject matter is made doubly resonant, and at the very, very least we learn something we might not have otherwise known. Nick Bollinger’s piece The Union Hall casts light on the genesis of his career-forming obsession with music and musicians; in the piece While you’re about it contemplate werewolves, the speculative and inclusive genius of Sara and Elizabeth Knox is revealed in a transcribed Skype conversation; and Emma Gilkison, in An Uncovered Heart, charts the repercussions of a diagnosis of ectopia cordis, a condition whereby the foetal heart grows outside the body. In her tender and painful essay, the writer probes the literal and figurative enigma of the human heart.

In unison, the writers of Sport 44 aim at the head and heart. It is the best kind of writing, it is the best kind of book.

Reviewed by Aaron Blaker

Sport 44: New Zealand New Writing 2016
Edited by Fergus Barrowman with Kirsten McDougall and Ashleigh Young
Published by Fergus Barrowman
ISBN 9770133789004-44

Book Review: Fale Aitu | Spirit House, by Tusiata Avia

Launched over the weekend at the Auckland Writers Festival, this book is available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_fale_aitu_spirit_houseFale Aitu | Spirit House is a dreamworld that not only portrays strong and assured voices, but also explores the whispers of quieter ghosts. With Tusiata Avia’s brilliant language, this dreamworld becomes a landscape that is both quietly eerie and beautiful.

The collection is split into three parts: ‘Fale’, ‘Fale Mafui’e’, and ‘Aitu’. ‘Fale’, meaning house in Samoan, explores the stories that fill the rooms of family homes. Poem This is a photo of my house, describes a household of ghosts and memories, some painful, whilst moving from room to room. The brilliance of the poem lies in the way Avia drip-feeds the tiniest details with each description, hinting at perhaps a tragedy, a deep and dark feeling of loss. Avia warns, ‘The carpet is dark grey and hurts your knees, it doesn’t show any blood… Watch out for the girl in the corner, she is always here.’ It is a place that is rife with emotions and memories that cannot quite be suppressed or forgotten.

What follows is ‘Fale Mafui’e’, a short segment on the Christchurch earthquake. Maifui’e: 2 February 2011 is a title and date that resonates with significance even before the poem has begun. It is an erratic poem that portrays the panicked yet surreal moment of disaster; at first, the poet’s view is filled with “black sea creatures” and the next she is “underwater” in a strange dream that she describes as eternal.

Finally, ‘Aitu’ – spirits, in Samoan, further focuses on the characters and people that flit in and out of life. Poem Today we are in a Hospital Ward, becomes an interesting piece in this context. The process of giving birth feels unsettling paired with the earlier descriptions of ghosts and memories; even the newly born will someday become just recollections. The final poem, Fale Aitu, returns to the concept of spirits that consistently appears throughout the collection. The imagery of these spirits “grazing the glass” doors is a chilling description in such an intangible landscape. Even though there is an attempt to run quickly from the house and escape these ghosts, these spirits are always waiting: “some blowing smoke; some with hooded eyes, pacing”.

Included after Avia’s notes and acknowledgements, however, is another poem. Titled Poetry Manifesto, Avia states how, for her, writing poetry is “a supernatural force” that doesn’t necessarily need the supplementary explanations of academic writing. She talks about spirits and how their voices and words feed into her poetry. In a declaration that made me smile, she simply ends the piece with “I can write poetry, but don’t ask me to talk about it”.

Tusiata Avia’s new collection Fale Aitu | Spirit House is utterly alluring. The supernatural quality of her imagery perfectly brings the concept of ghosts to the fore of her collection. Avia is an expert at her craft and finds layers and layers of memory in old homes, broken buildings, echoed words. Although these aitu are eerie shadows in the background at first, it becomes apparent that these spirits are not here to harm, they drift and “move over us like water”. Memories may flit through the background but they are memories for a reason: they come from what is now the past.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Fale Aitu | Spirit House
by Tusiata Avia
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776560646

Spirit House, Foreign Soil: Maxine Beneba Clarke and Tusiata Avia at #AWF16

Tusiata Avia gives the best housekeeping spiel, setting the tone for one of the most gentle and respectful conversations between two powerful writers I’ve heard, she told us that if our phones went off we’d have to buy lunch for everyone else in the room.
 A spirit of community clung to this conversation. Which is weird because at one crucial point, Tusiata asked ‘where are all the brown faces in this room? Auckland is the biggest Polynesian city in the world… just saying’. Tusiata Avia and Maxine Beneba Clarke are both brilliant writers – the readings that they gently prodded each other to give throughout the session left us all softly gasping, such was their power. But just being a great poet, memoirist, essayist isn’t what defines them most of the time – it’s their brown skin. And this gets complicated.

Tusiata Avia says that something grates inside her everytime she is described as a Samoan poet or a poet of Polynesian decent, or any other iteration of that kind. And for Maxine, it’s the idea that this pigeon-holing needs to happen before there can be an engagement with her work that’s problematic. However, as this issue is rolled around over the hour, I think they strike what it is that truly defines their work in a way that could never define a writer who is missing the threads of heritage that follow these two writers around. And it’s something entirely magical – it’s voices.

Maxine Beneba Clarke has written in many voices – Jamaican, Sudanese, Australian, New Orleans, patois… and this is a result of writing the black diaspora. Tusiata read the poem ‘Vasanga’ to perfectly illustrate this point: The voice of a missionary and the voice of Samoan children attempting to ‘learn’ the precise ways of English pronunciation … funny, outrageous, important to hear.

Beneba Clarke says that she is comfortable in some voices more than others – she can call on the voices of her grandparents for some characters, but for those that are further from her own experiences, she creates distance. For example, the voice of a Sri Lankan asylum seeker in her volume of short stories is told in the third person and that character is accessed by the author through a secondary character who feels closer to her own knowledge and therefore allows the author a comfortable place to tell the story.

This discussion returned to the problem of “othering” – ‘it really pisses me off sometimes’, says Avia. Beneba Clarke experienced baffling criticism from those who couldn’t get past the location and culture of one of her stories about a white woman and a Ugandan man – ‘it was the story of an abusive relationship’, but all they could discuss was the setting ‘which is not the story’.

Both writers draw upon family, history and the discovery of heritage stories. Beneba Clarke described her research trip to the UK during which she visited the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool. You really had to be there for the reading of Demerara Sugar – her poem describing the impact of that journey, forever redefining Penny Road for everyone in the room.

The two writers were so generous and understanding of one another – Beneba Clarke next pressed Avia to talk about the way she threads her heritage and her present together (we all must watch Wild Dogs Under My Skirt. Avia talked about the idea of channeling – of having an inherent knowing in her DNA that aided what she discovered about Samoa’s pre-Christian stories from here, and from there. Her reading of ‘Covenant’ was astonishing. The poem’s central image is that of brother and sister ‘grafted’ together by their pajama buttons, chest to chest. That poem will ‘follow me around’ just in the way that Beneba Clarke’s work has been following Avia.

The Hate Race is Beneba Clarke’s forthcoming memoir that addresses the broader issue of race relations in Australia – what it means to be a brown person in white Australia. The purpose, Avia said, ‘is to bring these things out of the dark and into where the light can touch them. Even when it’s painful and unattractive’.

Both writers have mirror poems that describe the difficulty of finding words to tell those stories: ‘I cannot write a poem about Gaza’ (Avia) and ‘What are you going to say?’ (Beneba Clark, on the Westgate Mall Siege in Nairobi). Please go and buy these books – read these poems out loud.

Question time saw a Scouse voice tell the poets that he’s proud to define himself as a Queer Poet and might not they feel proud to be defined, too, because they’ll be easier to find for those coming behind them who need role models? Both said yes – they’re proud of their heritage and it’s important to have a community of people who are also proud to identify with you. But the problem of being defined above all else remains: ‘You are pigeonholed in a white establishment. You’ll go to festivals and you’ll be with an indigenous poet and the topic will be writing the other. It’s good to be proud, but there are wider implications at work.’

Tusiata Avia pinned the issue down, for me, when she said ‘people who only have one voice inside them – who don’t have multiple voices inside their head, following them around – struggle to read other voices. They jar and then that other voice becomes ‘lesser’’. This discussion proved how very wrong that is – all of the voices in this room were rich, powerful, and needed to be heard.

Reviewed by Claire Mabey

The talented Maxine Beneba Clarke, Slam Poet, bit of a genius

As I walked in, Maxine Beneba Clarke launched into her first performance of her poetry: “Black kids don’t do Hans Christian Anderson. We were the hunted wolves, crouched down in Grandma’s room… I am the Match Girl, left out in the cold. If I don’t burn this fiction down, it’s not for lack of trying.”

maxine_clarkeThis was performed with such force, such wonderful intonation, that the entire crowd of teenagers were silent. You could have heard a pin drop. They were spellbound. To see Maxine perform, is to be transported.

Today’s group was the year 9 – 13 crowd, older teens, those who are just now trying to work out what is relevant to them and how to make things work within their world view. They had much to learn from Maxine. She says, “Even if you don’t see the value in what you are being asked to study, there is value in working out why it is you don’t. In working out where you fit in relation to it.”

Maxine, like Tusiata Avia whom we saw yesterday, began without realising that she was allowed to do the type of poetry she does. She started being inspired by music, then later, making mix-tapes of her own voices, trying out new characters as she created. “I wasn’t taught that poetry was to be performed, that you could stand in front of somebody and give them your work.” Her next performance was all about ‘real poetry’ – by “people with PhD’s, bushmen and working class heroes.”

Foreign_soilMaxine fell into short fiction thanks to the characters she created in her poetry. Her book Foreign Soil comprises short stories about different people from different places – from Jamaica where her parents are from, from the USA, England, Australia. It wasn’t until her book picked up the Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript award that she was finally published. And just yesterday, her poetry collection Carrying the World was published in Australia and New Zealand.

I can’t wait to see Maxine’s memoir, about growing up black in middle-class white Australia – called The Hate Race, due late in 2016. She loves this work, because it brings her experience full circle – and inspires others. She says, “Make yourselves the heroes of your own stories.”

An incredibly important aspect of her talk for teens was focused on the ways in which you can write what you know. Don’t be restrained by medium – a story expressed via a Facebook message is no less a story than one written in pretty, poetic language. “There’s something very interesting on short-form social media: you get many different voices, and stories, intertwining in one place. I found this fascinating in my work, finding new ways to deliver stories.”

The teenagers in this group were awestruck, and asked pertinent questions – including for a poem about her experience of racial discrimination. This poem was called ‘Marley,’ and moved me to tears. She was also asked whether she felt empowered when she performed. “Yes, because sometimes the poem doesn’t do what you want it to do. I sometimes take friends to open mike nights, to get their honest opinions.”

The takeaway quote for me, and for the students: “Think about the things you love doing, and write it.”

Go and see Maxine Beneba Clarke in action, with Tusiata Avia this weekend at the Auckland Writer’s Festival. Don’t worry if you haven’t read her, you will experience her and be blown away. And I guarantee you will be buying her – and Tusiata’s books from the fine folks the festival bookstall on your way out of the Aotea Centre.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Maxine Beneba Clarke will be part of the event: Spirit House, Foreign Soil: Maxine Beneba Clarke and Tusiata Avia at 1.30pm on Saturday 14 May, in the Lower NZI Room at the Aotea Centre, as part of the Auckland Writer’s Festival. Go to this, it is unmissable.

Foreign Soil, published by Hachette Australia, ISBN 9780733632426
Carrying the World, published by Hachette Australia, ISBN 978073363640




My Dog Bingo, Iremongers and Night Vision Googles: #AWF16 Schools Fest Day 1

It takes a certain inner strength to stand up in front of 1500 10-14 year olds and talk, by yourself. Those who performed today had that, then some.

tusiataI arrived at the Auckland Writer’s Festival School Days just in time to catch the end of Tusiata Avia’s inspiring talk, and hear her recite ‘My Dog Bingo’ – a crowd favourite. She is an exceptional performer, well-suited to a huge crowd of murmuring, shuffling, clucking pre-teens and teens, and their heroic teachers keeping them in check. I emerged into the corridor with about 200 others, all merging in their school uniforms in every colour of the rainbow.

There was an instant signing queue for Michael Grant, author of the alternative WW2 book Front Lines, as well as several popular series’ such as the Messenger of Fear series, which is truly terrifying. The first book begins with a suicide after severe bullying and mental health crises, and a boyfriend forced to piece his girlfriend together within 60 seconds of her being cut in seven pieces (or else). Gruesome stuff, but relevant to today’s generation. Michael will be part of the larger festival, in conversation with YA author Jane Harris, on Saturday at 10.30am.

Michael Grant has a dedicated following in NZ, said Fiona Mackie from Pinehurst School when I talked to her later. Fiona is a Teacher-Librarian, at a school that runs from years 1-13. They had 200 kids there, her entire years 7 and 8. “He was able to move outside of introducing his books, because he knew about this following.”

Fiona had Twitter conversations with Liz Pichon, Michael Grant and Edward Carey in the lead-up to this year’s school events. “Using social media gives me street cred with the kids,” she says. “I read the tweets to them, and they are so amazed that these authors actually answer back! It’s fantastic.” There is a part for social media to play, especially in promotion of books for the digital teens.

The most valuable part of the schools programme for Fiona and her charges is the exposure to new writers, and their points of view and authorial voice. “Edward Carey’s writing style is unique, and now I’ve got kids who want to read him, who wouldn’t otherwise have picked him up off the shelf.”

Edward Carey and the Iremonger trilogy
I was lucky enough to meet and talk to Edward Carey after his session – he had come off the early morning flight from Houston, Texas to be here for the afternoon schools programme. He will be performing again on Wednesday for teenagers, then in conversation with Eleanor Catton at 2.30pm on Friday. I will be publishing my chat with him prior to that, to pique your interest further!


Image of Heap House, by Edward Carey

Edward Carey has just completed the publication of a trilogy called The Iremonger Trilogy. This is set in Victorian London – known as Lungdon in these books – and related through first-person narration, from the point of view of not only our hero and heroine Clod and Lucy, but from various characters, nice and not-so-nice, along the way. Edward begins all of his writing by drawing his characters. For the Iremonger trilogy, drawing Clod for the first time started his creative process, making him think ‘where is he from, and why is he so unhappy’.

Each of the Iremongers in Edward’s books has their own particular object. For Clod, this is a bath plug. For Lucy, a box of matches.  Edward showed us images of some of his key characters, including Queen Victoria, who in Foulsham (the second in the trilogy) is rather a malicious character, complete with snarl.

Edward did an excellent job of piquing the interest of the 10-14 year olds in the room, and a marvellous job at fielding dozens of great questions from the students. It was fascinating to watch kids in such a huge group, they lose the self-consciousness that exists in smaller settings & ask questions they may not have in close groups.

My personal favourite question from the audience: “Do you think you are a good illustrator?”
“Well that’s not for me to say,” says Edward, “I know that if I try to draw something happy, it doesn’t turn out that way.”

Ella West talks night-vision and sheep tailing
Ella West, author of last year’s LIANZA Young Adult book award-winner Night Vision, paced her talk perfectly, using videos from YouTube to keep the students interested in her talk. Her first clip was of the world as viewed through night-vision goggles, all greens and shining greys.

Ella explained where she started with Night Vision – through a chance viewing of a clip about a summer camp run for sufferers of XP, which is a genetic illness that prevents those who have it from ever going out in sunlight. The sun goes down, they can come out. “I was interested in what a person living life in reverse would see, and this is where I began,” Ella said.

“When writing a novel, you make the little things bigger,” Ella noted when talking about setting. She decided that not only would her heroine Viola be isolated mentally, but also physically – living on a sheep farm in Canterbury. She views a crime – a body disposal, which we learn more about as the novel carries on. Viola also has a passion – playing the viola.

Ella talks a bit about research, how invaluable google is for writers today. You can choose a setting, go to Google maps and see the trees, the road signs, the cars on the road.

She ends: “A storyteller is good at telling stories because that is what they love doing. When you find what you love doing, you have found your place in the world.”

The noise of 1500 listening children is constant, but everybody is paying attention to the writer, gasping at the right places, and laughing at the bits where it sounds a bit grubby.

I look forward to seeing some more incredible authors at the schools’ programme today.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Happy Birthday Janet and Reading Favourites with Sarah Jane Barnett & Matt Bialostocki, WORD Festival Friday 29 August

Sarah Jane Barnett is a poet, creative writing tutor, and reviewer from Wellington. Matt Bialostocki is a writer, photographer, and bookseller from Wellington. Together they went to a full day of festival events at the WORD Writers’ & Readers Festival 2014 in Christchurch. After each of the sessions they recorded their conversation. This is what was said in the first two sessions.

Happy Birthday, Janet
Friday, 29 August, 12pm

Owen Marshall, Tusiata Avia, and Bernadette Hall celebrate Janet Frame’s 90th birthday with favourite janet_framereadings and musings. Chaired by Pamela Gordon (Frame’s neice and literary executor).

Sarah: Our first session of the day was quite a session. What did you think?
Matt: The selection of material was great—a short story, four poems, and then a novel excerpt and a poem.
S: Each writer talked about the way Janet had influenced them. Owen Marshall—where did he get that plug from? [During the session Marshall had held up a bath plug on a chain]
M: Willowglen. It’s where Frame lived in Oamaru, a town where Marshall had also lived. He ripped it out of the sink in the corner of a room.
S: Yeah, it seemed important to him that they’d both lived in Oamaru, that they’d inhabited the same space. I was also quite excited by Bernadette Hall ‘stealing’ Frame’s words—in her making them part of her own poem.
M: They were from the novel, State of Seige. Hall used them in her poem, “Dark Pasture.”state of seige
S: It was Hall’s response to Frame’s work. She alternated her lines with Frame’s. That reading floored me; it showed me how much Frame still influences our writers.
M: They all had a personal connection to the work they were reading, and to Frame’s work as a whole. Marshall also noted that while a lot of people related to her fiction, there is a tangible sense of response to her autobiographical work because she was writing about places people knew; they were places they lived and places they shared.
S: He’s an amazing reader. I would like to have Marshall read me one of Frame’s novels.
M: You’d just have to watch out for your bath plug.

Reading Favourites
Friday, 29 August 2.30pm
Kate De Goldi, Sarah Laing, and Carl Nixon talk about two of their favourite New Zealand books with Guy Somerset.

cv_sydney_bridge_upside_downS: That was freaking amazing!
M: Fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels! Let’s quickly cover the books. First, De Goldi told us about Sydney Bridge Upside Down by David Ballantyne. She called it the ‘great unread New Zealand novel’. Laing recommended the graphic novel Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks, and Nixon recommended The Day Hemingway Died and Other Stories by Owen Marshall.
S: Nixon said he felt it shows a darker side to Marshall’s writing. I want to read that.
M: For her second book, De Goldi raved about Welcome to the South Seas: Contemporary New Zealand Art for Young People by Gregory O’Brien. She said that we needed more creative non-fiction for kids in New Zealand. I agree. Laing showed us From Earth’s End: The Best of New Zealand Comics by Adrian Kinnaird. She pointed out the ephemeral nature of NZ comics, and how this means it’s easy to miss new titles. Finally, Nixon spoke to us about Gifted by Patrick Evans—a novel about Janet Frame and Frank Sargeson.
S: His reading was fantastic. So fantastically funny! That is definitely one I’m going to read.
M: It’s developed a cult following.
S: day_hemingway_diedThey all recommended books they came to through a personal process of discovery. I think there’s something in that. Laing read comics as a kid, but then discovered them again in her 30s; The Day Hemingway Died was the first book Nixon discovered himself at age eighteen. De Goldi used the word ‘evangalising’; they really wanted us to read these books—to love them as they did. Many were out of print, though, or first published outside New Zealand. What does that say?
M: Yes—Hicksville was first published by the Canadian publisher Black Eye Productions in 1998 [and VUP in 2012], and Sydney Bridge Upside Down was originally published in 1968 but was out of print for years until De Goldi foisted a copy on a Australian publisher who was over for dinner.
S: De Goldi talked about the value of libraries. That’s where we find out-of-print books.
M: And all of these books were loved by at least one other person on the panel. Actually, Somerset was a great chair. He got them talking about the books so we could hear their varied responses.
S: He called them the ‘uber book group’. I felt encouraged. Nixon said he doesn’t read graphic novels and De Goldi said, ‘You need to learn to read them’. This is something I think for myself.


These conversations were recorded and transcribed after the events: Happy Birthday, Janet and Reading Favourites, by Sarah Jane Barnett and Matt Bialostocki.