Sunday, November 30, 2014

Why Patrick O’Brian is Jane Austen at sea

What better way to mark the O’Brian’s centenary than by jumping on board with Captain Jack?

Russell Crowe in the film of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Photograph: Allstar/20th-century fox/Sportsphoto Ltd
There are two types of people in the world: Patrick O’Brian fans, and people who haven’t read him yet. This second category includes many women who are put off by the seemingly excessive focus on ships. This worried me, too. I thought it would be all battles and no women: perhaps even (shudder) a seafaring Lord of the Rings
I have travelled the seas with Captain Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin and, I hope to tempt you to set sail on the “Aubreyiad”. I won’t deny that there are mentions of futtock shrouds, bowsprits and even main-studding-sails (just don’t try to say this out loud). Each of the novels begins with a diagram showing the 21 sails of a square-rigged ship. This may give the impression that you need to know – indeed care – about such things. This is only true to the extent that, to enjoy an episode of ER, you must understand the full implications of: “give me an ABG, CBC, chem 7, cardiac enzymes, and coag panel”. It’s possible to let it all wash over you – like the fast-talking political detail in The West Wing, or the slang in The Wire – and form a general impression of whether the wind is causing problems or the French ship is about to sink. (On the other hand, you could consult A Sea of Words, one of several guides to Jack’s world.) O’Brian is never heavy-handed with his research: it’s simply that the books are set in a perfectly realised world, which happens to be a ship at war.

There is vastly more to Jack than fair winds and rigging. For one thing, there is Stephen, the brilliant, bold, enigmatic Irish-Catalan naturalist-surgeon-spy. Although Jack doesn’t write up his physical charms, I’ve got a huge crush on Stephen: he is obsessional and secretive, but also fiercely intelligent, moral and passionate. For book after book, I willed the gloriously lithe Diana Villiers to succumb to his pursuit.

Gordon H. Brown Lecture 2014

Nicholas Thomas: A Critique of the Natural Artefact, anthropology, art and museology
City Gallery Wellington, Civic Square
Wed 10 December, 6PM | Free

Hosted by Art History, Victoria University of Wellington in partnership with City Gallery Wellington

Nicolas Thomas, Director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge, UK, presents a lecture on the interpretation of indigenous art in anthropology and art history.
Thomas is the author of Oceanic Art (1995), Discoveries: The Voyages of Captain Cook (2003) and Islanders: The Pacific in the Age of Empire (2010), for which he was awarded the Wolfson History Prize.

The lecture will be followed by refreshments and the launch of Thomas’s Body Art.

Buy your copy and get it signed by the author.

Numbers are limited. To secure your seat please email with Gordon H. Brown in the subject line.

Book reviews roundup: Havel: A Life, Everything I Never Told You, The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World

What the critics thought of Michael Žantovský’s Havel: A Life, Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You and George Prochnik’s The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World

Rolilng Stones
The Rolling Stones visit Vaclav Havel in Prague Castle in 1990. Photograph: Corbis
Václav Havel’s career is without compare among those who came to eminence in the last years of communism: playwright, philosopher, dissident, political prisoner and finally president of his country, he combined in his person the greatness of a national saviour with the cheek of a clown.” Roger Scruton in the Times, for whom the Czech leader was clearly a hero, was impressed by Havel: A Life by Michael Žantovský – the author “tells the story with a great flair for detail, almost as though he had stood at Havel’s shoulder, taking notes … Thanks to Žantovský’s truthfulness, Havel emerges from this account as a great national leader whose greatness was inseparable from real humility and grace.” Victor Sebestyen in the Spectator pointed out that Žantovský, “the Czech ambassador to Britain, was Havel’s friend and press spokesman during his first years as president … Žantovský was an elegant writer before he turned diplomat and this is a clear-eyed portrait that never descends into gush or hagiography.” Žantovský’s account of the velvet revolution is “masterly” and he is “brilliant on personal snippets”. “We have the last word on Havel’s true musical tastes – he wasn’t the president of rock’n’roll; he liked easy listening. Havel does not emerge as a saint. Žantovský lists innumerable affairs, one-night stands and drunken binges … As president, he made a fatal mistake: he stayed on the stage too long.”More

Enter Winter: 10 Poems for the End of Autumn

Enter Winter: 10 Poems for the End of Autumn

Thanksgiving’s coming up and there’s a definite chill in the air — so we thought we might warm ourselves by sharing ten of our favorite poems to accompany frosty mornings and leaf-shaking nights. Some of these poets’ speakers delight in snow and cold, and some get thoroughly depressed. A wintry mix, as it were. Curl up and read this near your favorite fire! … Read More

Saturday, November 29, 2014

9 Fascinating True-Crime Books For 'Serial' Fans

HuffPost Arts & Books

It may be the season of Thanksgiving, but a dark Thursday dawned upon fans of the wildly popular podcast "Serial" this week: There was no new installment of Sarah Koenig’s engrossing true-crime investigation. A long weekend home with your annoying kid brother and that well-meaning aunt who keeps asking you when you’re going to meet someone nice probably sounds even more dull without an hour puzzling over the case of Adnan Syed and the tragic murder of Hae Min Lee. (Read more here)

PD James: Tributes Flow

Ruth Rendell looks back on her 40-year friendship with her fellow crime novelist PD James – ‘such a nice woman’ 

PD James, right, and Ruth Rendell at the Cheltenham Literature Festival in 2009
PD James, right, and Ruth Rendell at the Cheltenham Literature Festival in 2009. The two writers first met at a literary festival. Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/Rex
I’ve known Phyllis for about 40 years. We met at a book festival, probably one of the first I ever attended. It would have been a very commonplace thing for her to go to a festival, but nobody knew me then, and she was so nice to me. That is the thing I always will most remember about her: what a kind woman she was, how she did her very best to make you feel good.

She did not write sensation novels, she wrote books about real things, things that could have happened. She didn’t write at all like Agatha Christie. Christie had the most magnificent plots and great stories, but I don’t think anyone would say that she wrote believable stuff, people didn’t want that from her.

But any of the events in Phyllis’s books might have happened – and I think people liked that because they’d never had it in crime fiction before. Dorothy Sayers was a marvellous crime writer, whom both Phyllis and I admired very much, but she hadn’t got the same reality, and she also had that peculiar snobbishness that made her have her detective the son of a duke. Phyllis would have nothing of that.

Tribute in The Telegraph

Society of Authors

Val McDermid's tribute

Ian Rankin & others pay tribute

The New York Times

Philip Pullman: William Blake and me

As an exhibition of Blake’s paintings opens in Oxford, Philip Pullman reflects on how his poetry has influenced and intoxicated him for more than 50 years

William Blake The House of Death, The Lazar House
A detail from The House of Death, The Lazar House, by William Blake (1795). Photograph: the Fitzwilliam Museum, University/Amy Jugg
Sometimes we find a poet, or a painter, or a musician who functions like a key that unlocks a part of ourselves we never knew was there. The experience is not like learning to appreciate something that we once found difficult or rebarbative, as we might conscientiously try to appreciate the worth of The Faerie Queene and decide that yes, on balance, it is full of interesting and admirable things. It’s a more visceral, physical sensation than that, and it comes most powerfully when we’re young. Something awakes that was asleep, doors open that were closed, lights come on in all the windows of a palace inside us, the existence of which we never suspected.

So it was with me in the early 1960s, at the age of 16, with William Blake. I came to Blake through Allen Ginsberg, whose Howl I read half aghast, half intoxicated. I knew who Blake was; I even had an early poem of his by heart (“How Sweet I Roam’d from Field to Field”); I must have come across “The Tyger” in some school anthology. But if Blake could inspire the sort of hellish rapture celebrated and howled about by Ginsberg, then he was the sort of poet I needed to read. Hellish rapture was exactly what I most wanted.

Long live bookshops!

Ebooks are everywhere, but a few independent bookshops are staging a valiant rearguard action

The Spectator   29 November 2014

You’d be forgiven for thinking that bookshops only ever close down. More than 500 have shut since 2005, leaving fewer than 1,000 in the UK. Yet amid the many doom-and-gloom stories of our country being on the verge of losing all its literary havens is the occasional good news of one not closing, but opening.

A few weeks ago, Assouline opened its stately bookselling doors on Piccadilly, between Hatchards and the flagship Waterstones, and not far from Heywood Hill and Peter Harrington, which opened its Mayfair premises just this summer. Assouline is a French publisher of coffee-table books; Prosper Assouline, who founded the company with his wife, said in a recent interview, ‘We made a decision ten years ago to position our publishing company as a luxury brand.’

Brian O'Driscoll has seen off Roy Keane to land the Bord Gáis Energy Sports Book of the Year

Book2Book Thursday 27 Nov 2014

The Irish rugby legend's autobiography 'The Test' scooped top prize at the book awards in Dublin last night with other winners including Graham Norton, Cecelia Ahern and Majella O' Donnell

Irish Independent

Nightclubs for literature? Why book selling is booming in Taiwan

By Johan Nylander, for CNN - November 24, 2014 

Customers at Eslite's bookstore on Dunhua Road, Taipei read books in the early hours. The store is open 24 hours a day.
Customers at Eslite's bookstore on Dunhua Road, Taipei read books in the early hours. The store is open 24 hours a day.

Taipei (CNN) -- It's midnight in the capital of Taiwan.
While some people are slowly walking home through the neon-lit streets, or getting ready to hit the club scene, others are on their way to a more unusual nocturnal hangout -- a bookstore.

The Eslite store in central Taipei opens 24 hours and has more night owl visitors than most Western bookstores could dream of during their daytime hours.

Here, young and old sit side-by-side on small steps or around reading tables, deeply engrossed in literary worlds.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Antarctic Society Canterbury Branch - an invitation

Standing Room Only for Sunday 30 November 2014 on Radio New Zealand National

12:39 New Zealand Film Awards

On December the 12th, the New Zealand Film Awards celebrate one of the best ever years for cinema features, documentaries, TV movies and short films – not to mention the Hobbit finale. Simon Morris talks to producer Tainui Stevens and writer/director/actor Fiona Samuel about the winners and losers in the award nominations, why they’re important, and why it’s been such a fantastic year on the big and small screen.   

1:10 At the Movies with Simon Morris

Simon Morris reviews Jimmy’s Hall, The Good Lie and Life of Crime.

1:34 Joe Oppenheimer

Joe Oppenheimer selects what scripts will and won’t be turned into BBC Films as its Commissioning Editor. He reveals what boxes, Kiwis with potential ideas for him, need to tick. He’s been in NZ as a guest of Women in Film and Television and Script to Screen.

1:47 Haydn Rawstron

New Zealander Haydn Rawstron is now a Chevalier/Knight of the order of Arts and Letters, in thanks for his many years of expertly managing opera singers who appeared in France’s opera houses. The musician, manager and heritage campaigner has now established an opera festival at his home in rural Canterbury.

2:05 The Laugh Track

Justin Harwood, ex-Chills musician and now writer of the web series High Road. It’s got NZ on Air Funding for its second series.

2:26 Bruce Mason Playwriting Award winner

The winner of the 2014 Bruce Mason Playwriting Award, $10,000 prize,  is Ralph McCubbin-Howell, one of the founders of playful Wellington theatre company Trick of the Light.

2:38 Majella Cullinane

Robert Burns Fellow at Otago University Majella Cullinane talks about the First World War era novel she’s been working on all year, which incorporates her Irish and now New Zealand homes. Majella’s also a published and award-winning poet who moved to NZ in 2008.

2:49 Drowned World

Curator Daniel Michael Satele wants us all to think more about water. So he’s put together an exhibition of works about water and called it The Drowned World. Named for novelist JG Ballard’s dystopian sixties classic, the exhibition is an online, interactive experience which will hopefully make us question our understanding of this most precious resource. Because, Daniel suspects, we might be getting it all wrong.

3.05 The Drama Hour

The return of Encore – The Story Of New Zealand Theatre. We’re up to act eleven: feminist theatre begins to tell stories of women, and the actor’s union springs into action. We have the short play You Say Hawaii. And Bardfest gives us a monologue from Henry The Fifth.

Visit our webpage for pictures and more information:

Saturday Morning with Kim Hill: 29 November 2014: Radio New Zealand National

8:15 Andrew Roberts: Napoleon
9:05 Andreas Antonopoulos: bitcoin
9:30 John Darnielle: goats and wolves
10:05 Playing Favourites with Peter Schwerdtfeger
11:05 Andris Apse: shooting the south
11:30 Memet Bilgin Rigolo: balancing act
11:45 Children's Books with Kate De Goldi: four picture books

This Saturday's team:
Producer: Mark Cubey
Wellington engineer: Carol Jones
Auckland engineer: Tony Stamp
Research by Anne Buchanan, Infofind

8:15 Andrew Roberts
Dr Andrew Roberts is a British historian, public speaker and Doctor of Philosophy, living in New York. He has written or edited twelve books, most recently Napoleon the Great (Allen Lane, ISBN: 978-1-846140273), the result of years of study including visits to St Helena and 53 of Napoleon's 60 battlefields.

9:05 Andreas Antonopoulos
Entrepreneur, writer and public speaker Andreas Antonopoulos has founded three bitcoin businesses and launched several community open-source projects. He is a keynote speaker at Bitcoin South, New Zealand's first Cryptocurrency Conference (Queenstown, 29-30 November).

9:30 John Darnielle
John Darnielle is a musician and author, best known for performing and recording with John Hodgman as The Mountain Goats. His debut novel has just been published: Wolf in White Van (Scribe, ISBN: 9781925106237).

10:05 Playing Favourites with Peter Schwerdtfeger 
Distinguished Professor Peter Schwerdtfeger is Director of the Centre for Theoretical Chemistry and Physics, New Zealand Institute for Advanced Study, at Massey University, Albany. This week, he was awarded the Royal Society of New Zealand's Rutherford Medal, its highest honour, for his world-leading contributions to fundamental aspects of chemical and physical phenomena in atoms, molecules and condensed matter.

11:05 Andris Apse
Andris Apse is arguably New Zealand's most acclaimed landscape photographer. He draws from his work of the last thirty years, much previously unpublished, for the new book, Spirit of the South (Penguin, ISBN: 9780143571865), a photographic tribute to the mainland, with essays by Alison Ballance, Anton Oliver, Fiona Farrell and Kennedy Warne.

11:30 Memet Bilgin Rigolo
Turkish Canadian performer Memet Bilgin Rigolo, a.k.a. 3D Graffiti Guy, has a computer programming background and was a member of the Turkish national sailing team before forming the aerial duo Wings of Desire, combining dance, mime and aerial acrobatics. He performs two acts, Sanddorn Balance and Spinning Top on Driftwood, in the Spiegelworld show Empire, a blend of comedy, acrobatics, vaudeville and burlesque in a touring Spiegeltent. Empire is currently playing in Wellington (to 21 December), after shows in Australia and Christchurch, then plays in Auckland (6 January to 15 February 2015).

11:45 Children's Books with Kate De Goldi 
New Zealand writer Kate De Goldi is the author of many books, most recently, The ACB with Honora Lee (Random House). She will discuss four picture books:
I Am the Wolf... and Here I Come! by Benedicte Guettier (Gecko Press, ISBN: 978-1-877579-42-4); Follow the Firefly by Bernardo Carvalho (Book Island, ISBN: 978-0-9941098-2-8); The Rabbit and the Shadow by Melanie Rutten (Book Island, ISBN: 978-0-9941098-0-4); and So Many Wonderfuls by Tina Matthews (Walker Books, ISBN: 978-1-922077-51-6)

On Saturday 29 November 2014 during Great Encounters between 6:06pm and 7:00pm on Radio New Zealand National, you can hear a repeat broadcast of Kim Hill's interview from 22 November 2014 with Atul Gawande on mortality.

Next Saturday, 6 December, Kim Hill's guests will include Yvonne Todd and Jane Gleeson-White.

Kim's photo by David White.

Lapham’s Quarterly Volume VII Box Set

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Dear Reader,

The new Lapham’s Quarterly Volume VII Box Set has arrived! Handsomely packaged with a custom slip case and a letter from Lewis Lapham, each set contains four timeless issues: Comedy, Revolutions, Youth, and Time. Each is bursting with photographs, illustrations, and fascinating texts from history’s greatest statesmen, generals, novelists, poets, and scholars—as well as astute essays from today’s leading journalists.

Whether for yourself or as a gift, the box set makes a valuable addition to any library. Make holiday shopping history this year with the Lapham's Quarterly Volume VII Box Set.
David Rose

P.S. Enter promo code Box710 when you order and receive a special US$10 discount. Don't delay!

Witi Ihimaera in Christchurch on Monday

Witi Ihimaera in Christchurch on Monday!

Don’t forget to grab your tickets for this wonderful storyteller, talking about his life and new memoir Maori Boy.

Presented as a fundraiser by Bookenz on Plains FM, in association with Penguin Random House and WORD Christchurch.

For more information go here.

Witi Ihimaera: Maori Boy

Monday, 1 December
The Atrium
455 Hagley Ave, South Hagley Park

Tickets only $12 plus service fee from Dash Tickets 

Witi Ihimaera’s new book Maori Boy will be on sale and Witi will be available for signing after the event.

So You Returned to Sark


by Chris Davies Curtis

 This delightful story is a follow-up to the Author’s trilogy about her life on the Island of Sark, in the Channel Islands, her travels to New Zealand and life as a District Nurse in London. 

   This volume continues from where Chris Davies Curtis left off earlier, and as the story flows the reader is transported back to Sark and shares the Author’s highs and lows, as she creates a new life with "the love of her life" after her divorce from her former husband.

  Throughout the story you get glimpses of her growing happiness and contentment living on an island rich with community life, and her involvement in the social interaction with the locals.

   We get to know the Author as a wife, mother, grandmother to her stepchildren, a Registered Nurse, and organiser of multiple activities that bind these small communities together.
   This book of 163 pages is thoroughly readable and I encourage those interested to read the earlier three titles first as this one is a continuation and in some respects binds the previous books together.
     I have no doubt we will, in the future, hear more from this Author.

Review by Merilyn Mary - Flaxflower Reviews
So You Returned to Sark
by Chris Davies Curtis
Publisher: Chris Curtis Books through Amazon CreateSpace
ISBN: 9781500786328

Available: paperback Amazon US, UK, and Europe; Wheelers Book Supplies; through Nielsen's catalogues;
from the author via      
Author's website:
Ebook, Amazon Kindle; Smashwords for most other eReaders

25 Interesting Things about Children’s Authors and Their Books

The Story of Mankind, written and illustrated by Hendrik Van Loon, received the first Newbery Medal in 1922.

Louisa May Alcott’s working title for Little Women was The Pathetic Family.

Chris Van Allsburg, who wrote and illustrated the book Jumanji (1982 Caldecott Medal) about a board game coming to life, found board games disappointing as a child.

J. R. Tolkien wrote much of The Lord of the Rings on the backs of undergraduates’ exam papers during a wartime paper shortage.

Frank Baum’s original title for The Wizard of Oz was The Emerald City. Because of a superstition that publishing a book with a jewel in the title was unlucky, the title was changed.
In the final poem of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, the name Alice Pleasance Liddell is spelled out with the first letter of each line. Alice Liddell was the girl for whom the book’s main character was named.
Robert C. O’Brien (Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, 1972 Newbery Medal) was the pseudonym of Robert Leslie Conly. He had to write under a pen name because his employer, National Geographic, didn’t want their writers working for anyone else.

Madeleine L’Engle (A Wrinkle in Time, 1963 Newbery Medal) wrote her first story at the age of six. The story concerned a little girl who lived in a cloud.

Although John Newbery is often credited with publishing the first Mother Goose book in London in 1760, Thomas Fleet printed Mother Goose’s Melodies in Boston in 1719. Fleet’s mother-in-law, Elizabeth Goose, wrote the book using some verses she remembered and some she wrote herself.

Beverly Cleary (Dear Mr. Henshaw, 1984 Newbery Medal) wrote novelizations of the Leave It To Beaver television series.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s first book, Little House in the Big Woods, was published when she was 65 years old.

Margery Bianco always wanted to write about her toys. She had a rabbit named Fluffy that became the basis for The Velveteen Rabbit.

When his hometown librarian asked Jerry Spinelli (Maniac Magee, 1991 Newbery Medal) if he was a “maniac,” he answered, “I sure am. Aren’t we all?”

Karen Cushman (The Midwife’s Apprentice, 1996 Newbery Medal) saw the phrase “midwife’s apprentice” and built the book around it.

When Julius Lester learned To Be a Slave was named a Newbery Honor Book in 1969, his first question was “What’s that?” He then asked, “Any money?” He hung up as soon as he learned no money was involved.

Mildred Taylor’s (Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, 1977 Newbery Medal) first book about the Logans, Song of the Trees, was inspired by a real child. At one point while writing that book, Taylor lost her temper because she couldn’t find the words to portray the strong feelings involved.
Maurice Sendak based one of the “wild things” in Where the Wild Things Are (1964 Caldecott Medal) on a relative who scared him as a child by saying, “I could eat you up.” The other wild things were also based on Sendak’s relatives.
E. Hinton received a “D” in her high school creative writing class while she worked on the manuscript for The Outsiders.

Meindert DeJong spent four years writing The Wheel on the School (1955 Newbery Medal).

Two years after World War II ended, Ezra Jack Keats (The Snowy Day, 1963 Caldecott Medal) changed his name from Jacob Ezra Katz to avoid anti-Semitic prejudices.

Virginia Hamilton (M. C. Higgins, the Great, 1975 Newbery Medal) was the first African-American writer to receive the Newbery Medal.

Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic remained on the New York Times Bestseller List for 182 weeks.
After Louis Sachar (Holes, 1999 Newbery Medal) and several of his friends took the bar exam, they stayed up all night to see if they passed. Sachar wasn’t as excited as his friends when he learned he had passed because he wanted to be a writer instead.

Nearly thirty publishers rejected And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, Dr. Seuss’s first book.

The only money Maia Wojciechowska (Shadow of a Bull, 1965 Newbery Medal) had when she arrived in New York was a dime. She threw that dime into the river from the Brooklyn Bridge.

— Source: Newbery and Caldecott Trivia and More for Every Day of the Year
By Claudette Hegel
Carved book by Kelly Campbell Berry

Auckland Writers Festival News



Here in the AWF office, we are getting very excited about the 2015 Festival, with a host of amazing international writers confirmed to appear.

The full programme including 120+ events will be launched in March so request a programme now, and don't miss out.


Congratulations to Wellington writer Tracy Farr who won with her story, Once Had Me. Her winning entry beat more than 600 other entries in this year's open division.

The winner of the secondary school division was Amelia Kendall for The Rose Garden. Suzanne Takiwa won the non-fiction essay, for her story Cherubs in the Garden.

The winning short stories will be published in full in upcoming editions of the Sunday Star-Times.


We are thrilled to announce that once again Ford New Zealand will be partnering with us to deliver the 2015 Auckland Writers Festival.
Thanks to Ford, the Festival will be out on the streets of Auckland in style in the All-New Mondeo.
For more information, please visit Ford New Zealand.


Thank you to Julia Gillard, Jennifer Curtin and everyone who joined us for this sold-out event last week.
Some wonderful insights into Ms Gillard's term as Prime Minister of Australia and an informative discussion of politics and gender issues. 

For those who missed out, the video is now live on our site, view it here.