What should Witi read?

An interesting discussion happened on Twitter today regarding Witi Ihimaera’s Festival Foreword NZ Book Council address to open the Dunedin Readers and Writers Festival. The theme for the speech was “Where is NZ literature going?” but reading the excellent overview on the Booksellers NZ blog I seriously wonder how this got translated by the speaker to “Where has NZ literature been?”

Bearing in mind that this isn’t based on a transcript of the speech, I have a few thoughts I’d like to put forward.

Is this 2015 or 1993? Because I did a NZ Literature paper in 1993 and literally heard the exact same arguments. When Ihimaera is still talking about “nationalist” literature, and still, STILL refusing to see that nationalism is no longer the over-riding concept that interests or even makes sense to a new generation of thinkers (and therefore writers), then I cannot understand why we are asking him to repeat his arguments instead of asking new voices to talk to us – even in addition to his.

Ihimaera is too institutionalised in the “old guard” of New Zealand writing and publishing. When he says:

Though Ihimaera acknowledged the very significant successes of Nalini Singh, Paul Cleave, Neil Cross and Nicky Pellegrino, he also asked, “is a paranormal novel New Zealand literature?”

I literally want to throw something. Has he not heard of Steampress, Paper Road Press, Paul Gilbert, Summer Wigmore, Debbie (and Matt) Cowens, David Hair? Remember a NZ author called Margaret Mahy? HAS HE NOT HEARD OF ELIZABETH KNOX? Who came up with a much better response to this than I:

On much the same lines was this:

Later in his address, Ihimaera also talked about the preponderance of young writers coming out of creative writing courses, the effect of which seems to “melt” the writing into homogeneous prose that “blunted” New Zealand’s edge. “Where are the anarchic books?” he asked.

Dude. Just stop.

NZ literature and NZ publishing: we need new voices. We need better voices. We need to move this conversation on and hear new ways of thinking. I get that a Festival has an economic imperative to sell tickets and has to understand its audience but this is the same tired argument from the same tired voice. I compare this with Elizabeth Knox’s Margaret Mahy lecture and I know who I’d prefer to hear from.

On that note who would you like to hear talk about where NZ literature is going? And #WhatShouldWitiRead? Or, as suggested by a nice person than me, #WhatCountsasNZLit?

Picture book roundup for April 2015

Yes, it’s already May but these all published in April or earlier so I forgive me. :)

The Princess and the Giant coverThe Princess and the Giant by Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton, Nosy Crow, ISBN9780857633873, RRP $24.99

In the backyard of Princess Sophie’s house is a beanstalk and up that beanstalk lives a giant. The giant stomps and storms and yells and keeps Princess Sophie awake. After reading a book of fairytales she realises someone has to do something, so she grabs her books and goes off to see the giant.

The Princess and the Giant is a delightful rhyming tale, great fun to read out loud and with gorgeous illustrations (not surprisingly as it’s published by Nosy Crow). As it says on the back, “there’s nothing like a good bedtime story”.

Super Jonny cover imageWhat Does Super Jonny do When Mum Gets Sick? by Simone Colwill, illustrated by Jasmine Ting, Books for Caring Kids, ISBN9780994112729, RRP $19.99

The author, Simone Colwill, was inspired to write this picture book for kids when dealing with her own chronic illness and as a former radiation technician. Hospitals can be scary enough places for grown adults but kids are often left on the outer when it comes to information when a parent or adult is sick.

Super Jonny and his sidekick Bear learn about the different people helping his mum when she’s in hospital and what he too can do to help. This book is the perfect conversation starter with kids, helped by the warm and clear illustrations. Would be awesome to see it in hardcover though I understand the practical reasons it is in soft cover. Comes with online curriculum resources too, so can also be used by educators. Definitely recommended.

Any Questions? cover imageAny Questions? by Marie-Louise Gay, Allen & Unwin, ISBN9781760113179, RRP $24.99

As a world-renowned children’s author and illustrator, Mary-Louise Gay has been asked hundreds of questions by very curious children. She’s taken many of them and made this absolutely gorgeous book, complete with fantastic illustrations. If you’re interested in writing or reading then this has to be the book for you – oh, and your kids too!

Would be fantastic reading together or for any imaginative child to spend hours poring over. My pick for this month!

Chu's Day at the Beach cover imageChu’s Day at the Beach by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Adam Rex, Bloomsbury, ISBN9781408864357, RRP $24.99

Little panda Chu and his family are off to the beach for the day. But the inevitable happens and Chu sneezes and breaks the sea.

Quirky, offbeat, funny and abounding with cuteness, Chu and his seaside friends are adorable and this would be a great quick bedtime read after a busy day out. And who ever thought of such a thing as merpandas? Neil Gaiman, that’s who.

An Interview with Nicky Pellegrino

Nicky Pellegrino photoNew Zealand-resident author Nicky Pellegrino recently released her eighth novel, One Summer in Venice. She kindly agreed to answer some questions about the book, food and more for BookieMonster!

One Summer in Venice features interesting and different female characters. Did you have a favourite?

Coco is by far my favourite character. She is a fabulous older woman who dances the tango, wears great clothes, takes lovers and understands the importance of finding the joy in everyday life. She arrived in the book and kind of took it over. I’d like to be her when I grow up!

The food described in One Summer in Venice sounds amazing! Was it inspired by real dishes you’ve eaten in Venice? What dish would be your favourite?

I spent a couple of weeks in Venice researching which for me always means eating. Since I was on my own I ate a lot of cicchetti which are little bite-sized snacks of delicious things like crostini and meatballs. In Venice the seafood is amazing and so is the gelato and the breakfast brioche filled with sweet custard and the pasta dishes and well everything really.

One Summer in Venice cover imageWhat inspired the storyline in One Summer in Venice?

A book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin was my first inspiration. My main character Addolorata has reached a point in her life where she’s having a serious case of the blahs. She’s not sure she likes the person she has become. So she spends the summer in Venice trying to make a list of the ten things that really make her happy. Gretchen Rubin had a similar personal challenge to create more joy in her life – what she says is that it’s the things you do everyday rather than once in a while that add to the sum of your happiness. That became the foundation of the book.

If you were going to take time off from your “usual routine” and escape to any destination in the world where would you go?

Somewhere in Europe that has history, food, beautiful places and colourful people. I love Italy and Spain but have never been to Morocco or Greece….not even Paris….so I might pick one of them and have a totally new experience.

Addolorata is inspired by things like The Happiness Project to try and list what really makes her happy. Have you tried anything like that?

No just because I write about it doesn’t mean I do it! And actually I’m older than Addolorata and I’m pretty sure I know what makes me happy.

What things would you include on your “happiness list”?

Horses, dogs, New Zealand beaches, good books, red wine, a roaring fire on a cold night, a perfect cup of coffee, sunshine, cooking, being cooked for, having a job I love (for the most part!).

What are you reading at the moment?

I review books for the Herald on Sunday and have just finished a really charming French novella, The Reader On The 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didier Laurent. It’s about books and love. Not sure what I’ll choose next from the teetering pile beside my bed.

What book have you enjoyed most so far this year?

I think The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro which is a literary mash up of myth and magic, and a story about love and memory. I found it a complete page-turner. [BookieMonster: I completely agree!]

What other writing projects are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on the next novel. This one is set in southern Italy and my inspiration was this quote:

The best thing about ageing is that you have a past. No one can take that away but you’d better like it, – Diane Von Furstenberg

Thanks Nicky!


Radio book review no. 14 – The Caretaker of Imagination

Yes, last week was time for me to talk on the radio again about another fantastic book – this time around I chose The Caretaker of Imagination by ZR Southcombe.

The Caretaker of Imagination is a kids chapter book from a wonderfully talented New Zealand author. Have a listen and then go buy the book from Amazon, Kobo or directly from the author!