Stories Below Sea Level: Climate Authors in Aotearoa

men say that one day
that lagoon will devour you”

dear matafele peinam, by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

Up until surprisingly recently, climate change was a neglected topic in the world of fiction. Environmentalist Bill McKibben addressed this in his 2006 essay What the Warming World Needs Now is Art, Sweet Art, pointing out the lack of impact climate change had had on fiction and art compared to previous societal challenges.

However over the last few years things have changed: books focussing on the climate emergency are being published faster than ever, including in New Zealand. Authors have taken up McKibben’s challenge to use fiction to examine the changing world around us, to spur us into action. This undertaking has extended to organisations such as Track Zero and Verb Wellington, both of which have promoted the transformational power of literature.

Yet despite climate change’s more prominent role in local fiction, another question stands out: exactly whose climate stories are being published–and whose aren’t? As Lani Wendt Young recently pointed out, in 2015 only one percent of fiction published in New Zealand was written by Pasifika writers, and only four percent by Māori. And yet Māori and Pasifika communities are disproportionately affected by climate change.

Over the next few weeks Wellington City Libraries will be releasing a series of interviews with publishers, editors and authors whose work has addressed the climate emergency in Aotearoa and the Pacific. Their work spans different genres, languages and formats, but all of them tackle climate change and its complexities. To get things started we’ve got a booklist of local climate fiction and non-fiction for you to browse–and if there’s an author or work you’d like to see included, please let us know!


Where we land / Jones, Tim
“A New Zealand Navy frigate torpedoes a boat full of refugees fleeing a drowning country and Nasimul Rahman is one of the few survivors. First he has to reach the shore alive and then he has to avoid the trigger-happy Shore Patrol, on alert to stop climate change refugees entering the country. Donna is new to the Patrol. When word comes through that the Navy has sunk a ship full of infiltrators and survivors might be making their way ashore, it sounds like she might be put to the test.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Melt / Murray, Jeff
“This novel is an urgent, crushing observation of adaptation and exclusion amidst preparation to settle Antarctica as climate destruction starts to bite. New Zealand in 2048, gateway to the melting continent, is thrust into the centre of the climate crises. Vai Shuster, the Advocate of a tiny, broken island, must find a place for her community in a world that’s not sure it needs the poor.” (Catalogue)

So many islands : stories from the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Indian and Pacific Oceans
“Giving voice to challenges and triumphs, these writers paint a vibrant portrait of what it is like to live, love and lose the things most precious to them on the small islands they call home. Voicing global issues such as climate change and nuclear testing in the Pacific – a fight close to the heart of these precariously poised islands – to petty politics and the gaps between generations, readers will find universal connections with these worlds and words.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

High water
“Eleven of New Zealand’s best cartoonists take a speculative stab at the looming threat of climate change in this thoughtful, provoking and sometimes hilarious collection. With tales ranging from washed-up celebrity polar bears, to giant post-apocalyptic crabs, High Water takes the reader on a thrilling romp through one of the most important issues of our time. Contributors include Dylan Horrocks, Sarah Laing, Chris Slane and many others.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Sea change : climate politics and New Zealand / Hayward, Bronwyn
“The scientific consensus is clear: our climate is changing and action is needed urgently. Yet at the same time, it can seem that the solutions needed are too large and the problem too insurmountable. Bronwyn Hayward is an international expert on sustainability, youth politics and democracy. In Sea Change: Climate Politics and New Zealand she lays out what New Zealand and New Zealanders could do to keep the average global temperature rise under 1.5 degrees.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Ruby and the blue sky / Dewar, Katherine
“Grammy night: Ruby wins ‘Best Song’ and makes an impulsive acceptance speech that excites nature lovers across the world. While Ruby and her band celebrate, an extreme evangelical sect, funded by covert paymasters, dispatches a disciple on a ruthless mission to England. As the band plays its sold-out tour, Ruby is pursued by eco-groupies insisting she use her new fame to fight climate change. Back home, Ruby must confront a challenge not even tea, beer or her mum’s veggie lasagne will make go away…” (Catalogue)

Star sailors / McNaughton, James
“In the not too distant future, the effects of climate change devastate the world and New Zealand becomes a haven for elites. When a young couple from the wrong side of the tracks gain entry into Wellington’s most exclusive gated community, it appears their troubles are over. But they find themselves divided over the identity of Sam Starsailor, an alien prophet who has washed up on a beach near New Hokitika and is said to bring warnings from another planet.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Towards a warmer world : what climate change will mean for New Zealand’s future / Meduna, Veronika
“The year 2014 was the hottest on record since we’ve begun collecting global temperature measurements in 1880. As new thresholds are breached, acclaimed RNZ science writer Veronika Meduna explores our future in a warmer world. Beginning with lessons from our ancient geological past, this BWB Text draws on current observations and increasingly sophisticated climate models to describe possible end-of-century scenarios for New Zealand.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Mistory : a novel / Temple, Philip
“Following Annie’s strange death, her partner is forced to think about what he has allowed to happen to his life, his community and his country. His diary, kept during the year of The Change, reveals how the example Annie left him, and the mission of his young sister Sophie, drive him to escape the life of a bureaucratic cipher and work with the Movement in its fight to bring back a free and fair way of life.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

He Matapihi Molesworth Library: Aotearoa Fiction

He Matapihi Molesworth Library, our brand new space in the National Library, has opened to the public! He Matapihi has a fantastic lending collection focussed on works from Aotearoa, including Māori and Māori local history, biography, Te Reo, art and architecture, natural history, general history and social comment–and, of course, fiction!

To celebrate this exciting new collection we thought we’d put together a list of some of our favourite local fiction, from recent releases such as Elizbeth Knox’s The Absolute Book and Jeff Murray’s cli-fi Melt to classics such as Robin Hyde’s visceral Passport to Hell. And with hundreds of fiction titles on the shelves at He Matapihi, there are plenty more to choose from. Enjoy!

Absolute book / Knox, Elizabeth
“Taryn Cornick believes that the past is behind her – her sister’s death by violence, and her own ill-concieved revenge. She has chosen to live a life more professional than personal. She has written a book about the things that threaten libraries – insects, damp, light, fire, carelessness and uncaring. The book is a success, but not all of the attention it brings her is good. There are questions about a fire in the library at Princes Gate, her grandparents’ house, and about an ancient scroll box known as the Firestarter . . .” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The imaginary lives of James Pōneke / Makereti, Tina
The candle is low. Tomorrow I will see whether it is my friends or a ship homewards I meet. But first I must finish my story for you. My future, my descendant, my mokopuna. Listen? So begins the tale of James Poneke–orphaned son of a chief; ardent student of English; wide-eyed survivor. All the world’s a stage, especially when you’re a living exhibit. But anything can happen to a young New Zealander on the savage streets of Victorian London.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Melt / Murray, Jeff
“This novel is an urgent, crushing observation of adaptation and exclusion amidst preparation to settle Antarctica as climate destruction starts to bite. New Zealand in 2048, gateway to the melting continent, is thrust into the centre of the climate crises. Vai Shuster, the Advocate of a tiny, broken island, must find a place for her community in a world that’s not sure it needs the poor.” (Catalogue)

Passport to hell : the story of James Douglas Stark, Bomber, Fifth Reinforcement, New Zealand Expeditionary Forces / Hyde, Robin
“Finding himself in early trouble with the law, the young James ‘Starkie’ tricked his way into a draft in 1914 by means of a subterfuge involving whisky and tea. Hyde portrays a man carousing in the brothels of Cairo and the estaminets of Flanders; attempting to shoot a sergeant through a lavatory door in a haze of absinthe, yet carrying his wounded captain back across No Man’s Land; a man recommended for the V.C. but also subject to nine court martials.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

A madness of sunshine / Singh, Nalini
“On the West Coast of New Zealand, Golden Cove is more than just a town. The adults are more than neighbors; the children, more than schoolmates. That is until one fateful summer–and several vanished bodies–shatters the trust holding Golden Cove together. All that’s left are whispers behind closed doors, broken friendships, and a silent agreement not to look back. But they can’t run from the past forever. It’s not long before the dark past collides with the haunting present and deadly secrets come to light.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The cleaner / Cleave, Paul
“The city is sweating over the Christchurch Carver’s seven gruesome murders. But Joe, who works for the police, knows that one is a copycat murder, and he determines to find that killer and frame him for the other six deaths. Joe is in control of everything in his simple life, including both his day job at the police department and his . . . night work.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

False river : stories, essays, secret histories / Morris, Paula
“Fictional characters muse upon the truth behind real people, non-fiction pieces contain short interludes of fiction, fiction is written to read like an essay, made-up elements slip into true accounts. These pieces range the world, from America, to Antwerp to Aoteoroa, and talk about writers, famous figures, family members, witch-burning, cyclones and numerous pertinent and stimulating topics.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Marlborough man / Carter, Alan
“Nick Chester is working as a sergeant for the Havelock police in the Marlborough Sound. If the river isn’t flooded, it’s paradise – unless you are also hiding from a ruthless man with a grudge, in which case, remote beauty has its own kind of danger. In the last couple of weeks, two local boys have vanished. Their bodies are found, but the Pied Piper is still at large. Marlborough Man is a gripping story about the hunter and the hunted, and about what happens when evil takes hold of a small town.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Chappy / Grace, Patricia
“Uprooted from his European life and sent to New Zealand, 21-year-old Daniel pieces together the history of his Māori family. As his relatives revisit their past, Daniel learns of a love story between his Māori grandmother Oriwia and his Japanese grandfather Chappy. The more Daniel hears about his deceased grandfather, the more intriguing Chappy becomes. In this touching portrayal of family life, acclaimed writer Patricia Grace explores racial intolerance, cross-cultural conflicts and the universal desire to belong.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Rotoroa / Head, Amy
“On tiny, isolated Rotoroa Island in the Hauraki Gulf is a treatment facility for alcoholic men. It’s here that three characters at very different points in their lives will find themselves gathered, each for reasons of their own. There is Katherine, known to history as Elsie K. Morton, famous journalist and author; Jim, a sleepless alcoholic; and Lorna, a teenage mother who joins the Salvation Army looking for a fresh start. As the stories of their lives are revealed, so too are their hopes and vulnerabilities.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Verb Wellington 2019: Librarians’ Choice!

When it began life in 2014, Verb Wellington (then LitCrawl) featured 15 literary events across a single night in November. Six years on, things have changed! This highlight of the capital’s creative calendar runs for a full four days, with writers from Aotearoa and around the world packing into shops, bars, libraries, galleries and more to listen to–and take part in–a range of exciting literary events.

To help you navigate these authorial riches, we’ve put together a librarians’ choice of Verb Wellington events. And if you need to do some reading before heading along, never fear–we’ve got links to the books associated with each event as well! So whether you like discovering the luxurious yet desolate apartments of post-recession Iceland or Tinakori Road in the ’60s–or anything else!–Verb Wellington has got you covered. (And for bonus reading, check out our curated list of Verb Wellington eBooks here!)

Monty’s Pick:

Going to Custard: High Tea with Danielle Hawkins and Catherine Robertson.

The pair of best-selling Aotearoa writers sit down and tuck in to talk about how they draw upon life to spin into stories for their beautifully Kiwi pages.

When it all went to custard / Hawkins, Danielle
“The news of Jenny’s husband’s infidelity comes as a nasty shock to the part-time building control officer and full-time mother – even though, to her surprise, her first reaction is relief. What really hurts is her children’s unhappiness at the break-up, and the growing realisation that she may lose the family farm. This is the story of the year after Jenny’s old life falls apart; of family and farming, pet lambs and geriatric dogs, choko-bearing tenants and Springsteen-esque neighbours. And of getting a second chance.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

What you wish for / Robertson, Catherine
“Dr Ashwin Ghadavi, the newly imported GP, is trying hard to fit into Gabriel’s Bay. His challenges include the immoveable force of his office manager, Mac, the ambiguities of the Kiwi idiom and his unrequited attraction to Mac’s daughter, Emma. Having returned home, Emma is on a mission to right eco wrongs, and her targets include local farmer Vic Halsworth, who’s already neck deep in the proverbial and, to make matters worse, seems to be having visions of moose.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Fiona’s Pick:

Val McDermid: Queen of Crime with Val McDermid and Noelle McCarthy.

Val joins RNZ’s Noelle McCarthy for a discussion about her latest books: the beautiful My Scotland, an ode to the Scotland in her stories and what those places mean to her, and the rather more bloody, How the Dead Speak.

My Scotland / McDermid, Val
“In My Scotland, number one bestselling author Val McDermid takes readers to the landscapes where she has lived all her life, and the places where her stories and characters reside. Accompanied by over 100 stunning photographs, this remarkable book uncovers Val’s own Scotland in all its glory – from the iconic Isle of Skye to the majestic streets of Edinburgh; from the undiscovered hideaways of the Highlands to the wild and untamed Jura.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

How the dead speak / McDermid, Val
“After an explosive case that forced Tony Hill and Carol Jordan to reassess everything they thought they knew about right and wrong, both are dealing with the fallout in their own separate ways. While Tony must pay the price for his actions, Carol is conducting investigations into suspected miscarriages of justice. But when a shocking discovery is made on a construction site, Tony and Carol are brought into each other’s orbit once again…” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Cathy’s Pick:

Lit-Sync For Your Life 2019 curated by Chris Tse.

Six of Wellington’s most dynamic and fearless drag performers will shablam the house down in a literary drag show celebrating New Zealand books and writers.

He’s so MASC / Tse, Chris
He’s So MASC confronts a contemporary world of self-loathing poets and compulsive liars, of youth and sexual identity, and of the author as character–pop star, actor, hitman, and much more. These are poems that delve into worlds of hyper-masculine romanticism and dancing alone in night clubs. With it’s many modes and influences, He’s So MASC is an acerbic, acid-bright, yet unapologetically sentimental and personal reflection on what it means to perform and dissect identity.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

How to be dead in a year of snakes / Tse, Chris
“In 1905, white supremacist Lionel Terry murdered the Cantonese gold prospector Joe Kum Yung to draw attention to his crusade to rid New Zealand of Chinese and other east Asian immigrants. Author Chris Tse uses this story–and its reenactment for a documentary a hundred years later–to reflect on the experiences of Chinese migrants of the period, their wishes and hopes, their estrangement and alienation, their ghostly reverberation through a white-majority culture.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Neil’s Pick:

For the Love of the Library with Laurinda Thomas, Bee Trudgeon, Jackson Nieuwland and Elizabeth Knox.

Three librarians discuss, with Elizabeth Knox, what they value most about their work, their workplace and how they see the libraries of the future for Aotearoa.

The absolute book / Knox, Elizabeth
“Taryn Cornick believes that the past is behind her – her sister’s death by violence, and her own ill-concieved revenge. She has chosen to live a life more professional than personal. She has written a book about the things that threaten libraries – insects, damp, light, fire, carelessness and uncaring. The book is a success, but not all of the attention it brings her is good. There are questions about a fire in the library at Princes Gate, her grandparents’ house, and about an ancient scroll box known as the Firestarter.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Wake / Knox, Elizabeth
“One sunny spring morning the Tasman Bay settlement of Kahukura is overwhelmed by a mysterious mass insanity. A handful of survivors find themselves cut off from the world, and surrounded by the dead. As they try to take care of one another, and survive in ever more difficult circumstances, it becomes apparent that this isn’t the first time that this has happened, and that they aren’t all survivors and victims—two of them are something quite other.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Paul’s Pick:

Growing up Wāhine Māori with Nadine Anne Hura, Patricia Grace and Tayi Tibble.

Nadine Anne Hura talks with one of our greatest writers Patricia Grace, and powerhouse of poetry, Tayi Tibble, about the ways that being a Māori woman has influenced their written worlds.

Chappy / Grace, Patricia
“Uprooted from his privileged European life and sent to New Zealand to sort himself out, 21-year-old Daniel pieces together the history of his Maori family. As his relatives revisit their past, Daniel learns of a remarkable love story between his Maori grandmother Oriwia and his Japanese grandfather Chappy. The more Daniel hears about his deceased grandfather, the more intriguing and elusive Chappy becomes.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Poūkahangatus / Tibble, Tayi
“This collection speaks about beauty, activism, power and popular culture with compelling guile, a darkness, a deep understanding and sensuality. It dives through noir, whakama and kitsch and emerges dripping with colour and liquor. There’s whakapapa, funk (in all its connotations) and fetishisation. The poems map colonisation of many kinds through intergenerational, indigenous domesticity, sex, image and disjunction.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Spores, Don’t Even Breathe: our interview with Douglas Parker – Part Two

We recently had the pleasure of a surprise visit from Wellington-born writer Douglas Parker. His book Spores, Don’t Even Breathe has been gathering some fabulous reviews from readers: as one said, “A cracking good read–easy yet gripping”. It’s always good to see a new author emerge, and when we heard that NaNoWriMo had been a key part of his creative journey to publication we just couldn’t resist an interview. So here for your delight, edification and enjoyment is part two of our interview with Douglas Parker (for part one, please click here).

Could you tell us a little about the publishing process and how you went about getting Spores out into the public domain once you’d finished writing it?

My wife very kindly took on the job of getting the book published. She found an agent with ties to both New Zealand and the United States. He took us through the editing process and presented the book to publishers in New York.

It was accepted by the editors at two publishers, but rejected by the marketing department at both of them. Apparently it didn’t neatly fit into any of their categories. This was a few years back and the ‘science thriller’ genre was new.

After this we decided to self-publish. This is very easy to do these days, but not necessarily easy to do well. We used a professional service to do the layout for Kindle and published only a purely electronic version at first.

After we did this, a lot of readers told us they’d prefer a physical book, so we released a print version using Amazon’s print on demand service.

How did you go about setting up publicity and events for Spores, Don’t Even Breathe?

We’ve only done two events. The first was a launch party which was held at Ekor Bookshop on College Street. We chose it as a location because it’s a nicely designed space, and about the right size for the number of people we were expecting.

Ekor were very supportive, advertising the event to their client base and putting Spores on their shelves. I gave a talk and signed books, which seems to be the standard for a book launch. It was a lot of fun and certainly helped me to feel like a ‘real’ author.

The second event was attending the New Zealand Book Festival in Auckland. This is an annual event where New Zealand authors can sell directly to the public. It was a great to be able talk to readers directly, tell them about my story and get their immediate feedback. Nothing teaches faster than the look of enthusiasm or disappointment on someone’s face when you tell them about your story.

Beyond that we’ve mostly stuck to social media for marketing, mostly because the book is available online in both electronic and physical formats. More on that below . . .

You describe Spores, Don’t Even Breathe as a science thriller. Could you describe the attributes that make a book a science thriller as opposed to a thriller or science fiction?

I think of science fiction as being speculative. It explores alternative worlds where the science and technology are radically different to those we have today, or have had in the past.

A science thriller is based in the present and has a strong science element. However the science is contemporary, which allows the story to explore its impact on the world the reader inhabits.

Of course, one of the problems with contemporary science and technology is that they change rapidly. If I was writing Spores today, I’d need to include references to CRISPR technology, which didn’t exist when I was working on the first draft.

What was it about the genre of science thriller that drew you to it?

I fell into this genre by accident more than anything. I have a science background, and so with ‘spores’ as the topic it was natural for me to write about it from a scientific perspective. It was only after the novel was finished that I started to think about what genre it might fit into.

How do you use social media to promote yourself, your work and Spores, Don’t Even Breathe?

I have a website hosted through WordPress and a Facebook page. My wife manages these and is constantly prompting me for interesting items to post. Well, constantly prompting me for any items to post, I’m afraid I’m not the best at coming up with new material for the feed.

The difficulty with social media is that there is a lot to learn if its going to be used well, and it changes very rapidly. So we seem to always be in catch-up mode. Still, we know a lot more than we did at the start, and when the next book comes along we’ll be much better at getting the message out there.

Are you planning something new?

Still in the planning stages. I’ve decided to set the next novel in Wellington. I’ve always loved the landscape and it is going to feature heavily in the story, along with the weather. To me this is an important part of the city’s unique character – beautiful at times, unruly and threatening at others. A nice dramatic backdrop to the unfolding story.

There will again be a strong science element, along with a dark family history. Beyond that, you’ll have to wait . . .

Would you use the same NaMoWriMo 30 day approach?

I will definitely use the NaNoWriMo approach again, although I will probably commit to more than the 30 days. I wasn’t able to finish in 30 days last time, despite exceeding the fifty-thousand word limit. So next time I plan on giving myself three months to complete a full first draft.

I find the idea of finishing very motivating, but it will be interesting to see if I can sustain the required intensity for that long.

Who are your favourite authors and why?

I really like the early short stories of William Gibson. They present a plausible near future, where science and technology has advanced, but not so far that it isn’t believable. These stories are nearly 40 years old now, but the world comes closer to their future every day. Russia’s use of social media to interfere in U.S. elections being an example.

For me, the power of this writing is that it presents this technological future without any particular moral judgement. The characters use advanced technology to meet their typically human needs – love, greed, revenge, etc. It isn’t presented as a good or a bad outcome, just an inevitable one.

In Conversation: an Interview with Liz Nugent!

It’s not every day you get to interview one of Ireland’s most successful thriller writers, but with the acclaimed Liz Nugent on her way to Aotearoa we were lucky enough to get the chance! Since the publication of Liz’s debut novel Unravelling Oliver in 2013, she has released two more fantastic psychological thrillers that examine the inner workings of some unforgettable and disturbing characters. Liz has also won four Irish Book Awards, with her second novel Lying in Wait voted Readers’ Choice for the famed Richard and Judy Book Club.

Even more exciting: on Thursday, 3 October at Karori Library you, too, can join Liz for a special (and free!) event as she chats to Wellington writer Kirsten McDougall about turning to psychological thrillers after a career in Irish radio and television, and the art of getting inside the heads of monstrous characters. So join us on Thursday, 3 October for Liz’s only Wellington event!

When: Thursday, 3 October
Where: Karori Library
What time: 6.30pm – 7.45pm

In previous interviews you’ve mentioned your focus on ‘explaining but not condoning’ the extreme or horrific actions your characters take. Could you talk more about your approach with this? (And have you had any interesting responses from readers in regards to your characters?)

I like to get under the skin of my sociopathic protagonists and figure out what makes them tick. I want to know their triggers and their motivations for committing heinous acts. And I find that easier to do when I write from their point of view because people will always justify their actions no matter how bad they are. How often have we heard ‘she made me do it’ as an excuse? The provocations are real to them so while I absolutely do not condone their terrible behaviour, I think I understand it. Readers have a very mixed reaction to this. Some will have sympathy for the murderer while some will absolutely hate him/her. But I leave it ambiguous in the books. It’s up to the reader to decide whether it was nature or nurture that made the character the way he/she is!

I really like your description of hearing the short story that Unravelling Oliver is based on being read aloud by actor Barry McGovern. How do you think this ‘reading aloud’ process influenced your writing–and have you used it with subsequent works?

I wrote this short story called Alice in 2006 and made it to the shortlist, and because of that, it got broadcast on national radio. I have a background in theatre so I asked if Barry could be the reader. He is such a good actor that he brought the character of Oliver to life for me, and that gave me the impetus to go on and develop that short story into a book. I haven’t done that with other characters but when I’m writing, I think of certain actors in my head who would be right for the role and how they might play them. It’s a weird way of writing, but it works for me!

What has been your experience of teaching creative writing masterclasses like the one you’ll be running at Celtic Noir? Is there any specific advice you’d give to someone interested in writing psychological thrillers?

I’ve taught the class I’ll be teaching in Dunedin three or four times in Ireland and the feedback is pretty good. I take a very informal approach. We should have a bit of fun when we’re learning so hopefully, I’ll get to know a bit about the students too. It is very relaxed, and as I’m using the work of Vince Gilligan, who created Breaking Bad, it will be hugely entertaining.

Pschological thriller writers should go back and read the works of Daphne du Maurier, Patricia Highsmith, and Barbara Vine. They really are the masters (mistresses) of the genre.

What is your sense of the thriller genre and crime fiction at the moment, both globally and in Ireland?

I have a feeling that the incredible growth in popularity has to do with the current political climate. Nothing seems fair in the world right now. In Ireland and elsewhere, we look to Jacinda Ardern as a great political leader and while I’m sure not every Kiwi is happy with her, she conducts herself with grace and dignity. In Ireland, we are geographically caught between the UK and the USA, both currently being governed by pathological liars and buffoons. When people like that get into positions of huge power, it makes for a very unjust society. That’s why I think crime fiction is booming because at least, usually, the bad guy gets caught in the end.

Would you be interested in adapting your own work for either television or film?

I am currently just finishing a short film I have written based on a story I wrote many years ago. It’s going into production very soon so I’m pretty excited about that.

My first novel has been optioned for the screen by Leonardo di Caprio’s production company in LA. It would change my life if that got made but I’m realistic enough to know that it may never happen. Books get optioned all the time and never turn into films. I can dream, though.

You’ll be in New Zealand for the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival (as well as other events, including here in Wellington!). Do you have any other writerly–or not so writerly–plans while you’re here?

I’ve got events in Auckland, Nelson, Rotorua, Wellington and Dunedin and I’m really looking forward to meeting writers Amy Ridout, Kirsten McDougall, Fiona Sussman, Dame Fiona Kidman, Liam McIlvanny, Adrian McKinty, Vanda Symon and Zoe Rankin. Also looking forward very much to meeting readers and booksellers. I love bookshops and libraries so I’ll certainly be visiting plenty of those on my way from north to south.

Not so writerly, the scenery, the wineries and watching the water going anti-clockwise down the plughole! Also, I want to see the haka close up. My husband is travelling with me and I know the Rugby World Cup is on while we’re there, so we’ll be on three time zones: New Zealand, Ireland and Japan.

Author Talk: In Conversation with Liz Nugent and Kirsten McDougall

Join us for a special evening with two acclaimed storytellers who craft suspenseful tales centred on unforgettable protagonists.

Liz Nugent, who was named Irish Woman of the Year in Literature in 2017, chats to Wellington writer Kirsten McDougall about turning to psychological thrillers after a career in Irish radio and television, and the art of getting inside the heads of monstrous characters. Please note: this is a free event.

When: Thursday, 3 October
Where: Karori Library
What time: 6.30pm – 7.45pm

Liz Nugent has published three novels–Unravelling Oliver, Lying in Wait and Skin Deep–which have all been #1 bestsellers and have collectively won four Irish Book Awards. Lying in Wait was voted Readers’ Choice for the famed Richard and Judy Book Club.

In 2018, Kirsten’s second book Tess was a finalist for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel and longlisted for the Acorn Prize for Fiction at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

The Booker Shortlist: Our Predictions!

The Booker shortlist has been announced! Six books vying to be crowned the best novel of the year written in English. As the Booker Prize Foundation note, to win is to have your life transformed, with a substantial increase in readership, sales and publicity.

Of course, this transformation doesn’t apply to all on this year’s shortlist: both Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie are previous winners, with Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children winning the Booker of Bookers in 2008. But to win–or even make it onto the shortlist–still requires a phenomenal feat of writing.

And that brings us to the question of the moment: who will win?! We checked in with staff here at Wellington City Libraries and rounded up some predictions. Take a look below and see what you think. Do you agree? What’s your prediction for Booker 2019?

Dusty’s Prediction:

My choice for this year’s Booker goes to the multilayered novel Girl, Woman, Other. Bernadine Evaristo’s interconnected stories speak with the voices of twelve unique beings across generations throughout Britain. This book has been hailed as “Exceptional. Ambitious, flowing and all-encompassing, an offbeat narrative that’ll leave your mind in an invigorated whirl . . . unites poetry, social history, women’s voices and beyond.” So for something other than the bitter interminable grind of bleak pseudoreality, here is an iconic and unique voice, filled with warmth, subtlety and humanity.

Neil’s Prediction:

I usually like to support the dark horse books and would love to see An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma win, but this year I cannot see past the obvious favourite The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. It hasn’t even been released yet but has already been hailed as a landmark work: “a savage and beautiful novel” is what the judges said. You can read a sneak preview and judge for yourself by clicking here. The momentum around this work is so big I think the judges will want to award the prize to the book that could well be regarded in the future as the seminal book of its time.

Paul’s Prediction:

My pick is Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann. How could you not choose a 1,000+ page book which is made up of almost one long sentence?! (Especially when part of the story is narrated by a mountain lion.) In truth though, Ducks, Newburyport is a fantatic work: as Parul Sehgal said in her review, it “has its face pressed up against the pane of the present; its form mimics the way our minds move now: toggling between tabs . . . between news of ecological collapse and school shootings while somehow remembering to pay taxes and fold the laundry.”

The Full Booker Shortlist:

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Quichotte by Salman Rushdie

An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma

Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

Discovering the Bard with Bloomsbury Drama Online

It’s not always easy to love Shakespeare. It can be tricky making sense of thou, thee, thy and thine, or navigating your way around an iambic pentameter. For a lot of people, their first (and last) experience of the Bard is listening to his work being recited in their high school English class–not always the most magical of settings.

And yet, over 400 years after Shakespeare’s death, his plays are still works of great power, intensity–and magic. But how to escape those early experiences and discover this? The easiest way is often to head along to a theatre and watch a performance. Words that seem incomprehensible on the page quickly make sense when delivered by an actor or actress. Sentences that seem dull and long-winded in the classroom are suddenly filled with sex and sword-fights.

But what if you can’t make it, or want a sneak peek before heading along? Well, that’s where Bloomsbury Drama Online comes in!

Bloomsbury Drama Online is Wellington City Libraries’ premier database for the performing arts. As well as containing playtexts for each of Shakespeare’s works, there’s also a fantastic collection of live video recordings. Interested in Hamlet? Bloomsbury Drama Online has recordings of four different productions, including two from the Royal Shakespeare Company and a fantastic adaptation with Hamlet played by Maxine Peake.

With over 3,000 plays, 350 audio plays and 150 hours of video, Bloomsbury Drama Online isn’t just restricted to Shakespeare, either. In it you can find the works of celebrated playwrights from Tony Kushner to Caryl Churchill, Anton Chekhov to Bertolt Brecht, and many, many more. There’s also context and criticism to add further depth to your experience.

What if this isn’t enough, though? You’ve seen the plays, you’ve read the texts–but you want more? Then it’s time to visit Bloomsbury Drama Online’s final section: Theatre Craft. Here you’ll find everything you need to start learning about the practicalities of acting, from introductory works such as Acting Characters and Mastering the Audition to specialist texts such as Stage Combat Arts.

To get started, just grab your library card and make your way to Bloomsbury Drama Online!

One Year Till CoNZealand!

What will you be doing this time next year? With the strange and fluctuating state of the world at the moment it’s impossible to say for sure–but hopefully you’ll be joining us at CoNZealand! CoNZealand is the 78th World Science Fiction Convention, being held in Wellington from 29 July to 2 August 2020. That’s right, there’s only one year to go!

But what exactly happens at a World Science Fiction Convention, or WorldCon? Basically–a lot! There are writers’ workshops, specialist talks, gaming, cosplay, art exhibitions, charity auctions, parties, dances, masquerades, film festivals, autograph sessions, awards and more, all put together by fans. Each convention also has its own unique events: WorldCon 75 in Finland included a beer tram through Helsinki and a tour of the Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant!

With 2020 rapidly approaching, the team at CoNZealand are putting together a convention of their own. They’ve already assembled a fantastic line-up of special guests, including Mercedes Lackey, Larry Dixon and toastmaster George R.R. Martin. We recently spoke to CoNZealand’s library liaison Jenny about how things have been going so far, and what’s coming up. Check out her answers below! (And remember, if you’d like to be part of CoNZealand, you can volunteer here.)

For those just discovering CoNZealand, could you please give an introduction to what it is?

CoNZealand is the 78th World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon), the world’s premier non-profit science fiction and fantasy convention. It has been running since 1939 (with a hiatus during World War Two), attracting thousands of writers, professional creatives and fans every year to talk about, celebrate and live science fiction and fantasy for five days. WorldCon is quite different from other events that may be more familiar, such as Armageddon Expo or ComicCon in the U.S. At CoNZealand you won’t buy a ticket, you buy a membership, because you’re not going to watch an event, you’re going to participate in panel sessions, workshops, Q & A sessions, music, gaming, costuming, as well as having the opportunity to mingle with celebrated authors and other fans.

One of the most impressive things about CoNZealand is the fact it’s run entirely by fans. Could you describe how this works?

As is often said, all the WorldCons are run by fans, for fans. Everyone taking part in running ConZealand is a volunteer, no one is paid, and any profit goes to charity. As soon as I knew about the ConZealand bid to run the 2020 WorldCon I volunteered to help. I highlighted areas where I thought I could be useful and ended up in the Promotions Division. There are 15 Divisions, each organising different aspects of running CoNZealand, and the Executive Division which oversees the whole convention planning and running. Any member of CoNZealand can volunteer to help before and during the convention, in big or little ways. It’s a great way to meet people from all around the world.

What do you think will make CoNZealand unique from other WorldCons?

WorldCons are a melting pot of participants and cultural styles, and CoNZealand will add a significant Kiwi “flavour” to the cultural mix. We expect there will be a great deal of interest in The Lord of the Rings films and other works from Weta Workshop – especially as our Wellington-based Artist Guest of Honour, Greg Broadmore, is currently working with Weta Workshop to develop an augmented reality game based on Greg’s retro sci-fi world of Dr Grordbort. With the presence of George R.R. Martin as our Toastmaster, we anticipate a lot of Game of Thrones fans will turn up too. Hopefully the Kiwi style will add a laid back, friendly atmosphere to proceedings.

What surprises and/or challenges have you encountered with CoNZealand preparations so far?

The challenges I’ve encountered are realising how much hard work is involved in running CoNZealand and fitting the work around a full-time job. It has also been a steep learning curve for me, I haven’t done project management or promotions work before so I’m learning as I go. I have also gained a lot from volunteering: I’ve learned a lot of new skills and I feel a great sense of achievement about what we are all creating.

What will the next few months of build-up have in store?

So much work to be done, so much work that all the volunteers are doing. The technology, financial, publications, events, and facilities management work is not my skill set so I’ve only seen a tiny fraction of the work they are doing. We are having staff meetings in July and October which will give me a better overview of all that is happening. On the promotions side I’m doing some blog posts (like this one), and I’m working on ways to effectively promote CoNZealand to libraries all around the country. We run stalls promoting CoNZealand at events all around the world: locally, we were at Wellington Armageddon and at Wellycon earlier this year, and you’ll have another opportunity to talk to us if you’re going to Auckland Armageddon in October.

What are you most excited about with CoNZealand?

I’ve only been to one WorldCon before, AussieCon 3 in 1999, and that was the most exciting, mind blowing experience. I’m not only going to another WorldCon, I’m helping to run it, and I feel like I’m part of creating something wonderful. I’m also excited about all the people I’ll meet who “get” science fiction and fantasy, and talking and hearing about aspects of the genre that I never knew existed.

The Wolf-Cub in the Pinafore Dress: New Fiction

Salt Slow is exemplary . . . Melancholy, powerful and poised. — China Mieville

There’s a host of great new fiction titles out this month, but perhaps the work we’re most excited about is Salt Slow. Salt Slow is the debut collection of short stories by the prize-winning Julia Armfield, and has been described as a combination of ancient mythology and contemporary observation. A woman burns her ex-boyfriend’s possessions (and toenails) at the bottom of the garden; a wolf-cub is clothed in a blue pinafore dress; a city forgets how to sleep . . .

Julia Armfield isn’t the only debut author with great new work: we’ve also got the irresistible Oksana, Behave! by Maria Kuznetsova as well as This Storm from literary giant James Ellroy. And of course there’s the English translation of Genki Kawamura’s Sekai kara Neko ga Kieta nara–aka If Cats Disappeared from the World. Enjoy!

Salt slow / Armfield, Julia
“This collection of short stories is about women and their experiences in society, about bodies and the bodily, mapping the skin and bones of its characters through their experiences of isolation, obsession and love. Throughout the collection, women become insects, men turn to stone, a city becomes insomniac and bodies are picked apart to make up better ones. Blending the mythic and the Gothic, Salt Slow is an extraordinary collection of short stories that are sure to dazzle and shock.” (Adapted from the catalogue)

Oksana, behave! : a novel / Kuznetsova, Maria
“When Oksana’s family begins their new American life in Florida after emigrating from Ukraine, her physicist father delivers pizza to make ends meet, her depressed mother sits home all day and her flamboyant grandmother relishes the attention she gets when she walks Oksana to school. Oksana just wants to have friends and lead a normal life–and though she constantly tries to do the right thing, she keeps getting herself in trouble . . .” (Adapted from the catalogue)

This storm / Ellroy, James
“1941, war has been declared and the Japanese internment is in full swing. Los Angeles is gripped by war fever and racial hatred. Sergeant Dudley Smith of the Los Angeles Police Department is now Army Captain Smith and a budding war profiteer. Hideo Ashida is cashing LAPD paychecks and working in the crime lab, but he knows he can’t avoid internment forever. Then Ashida becomes obsessed with finding the identity of a body discovered in a mudslide . . .” (Adapted from the catalogue)

Blood / Gee, Maggie
“When a corrupt, brutal dentist, Albert Ludd, is found battered and bloody after failing to attend a memorial party for his youngest son, suspicion falls on the dentist’s other children. Especially on Dad’s middle daughter, 37-year-old buxom bruiser Monica Ludd, who was heard ‘uttering threats’ against her absent father. How come her car is found outside Dad’s house? And why did she buy an axe?” (Adapted from the catalogue)

If cats disappeared from the world / Kawamura, Genki
“The postman’s days are numbered. Estranged from his family, living alone with only his cat Cabbage to keep him company, he was unprepared for the doctor’s diagnosis that he has only months to live. But before he can tackle his bucket list, the Devil appears to make him an offer: In exchange for making one thing in the world disappear, our narrator will get one extra day of life. And so begins a very bizarre week . . .” (Adapted from the catalogue)

The Farm / Ramos, Joanne
“Ambitious businesswoman Mae Yu runs Golden Oaks–a luxury retreat transforming the fertility industry–where women get the very best of everything, so long as they play by the rules. Jane is a young immigrant in search of a better future. Stuck living in a cramped dorm with her baby daughter and her shrewd aunt Ate, she sees an unmissable chance to change her life. But at what cost? A brilliant, darkly funny novel that explores the role of luck and merit, class, ambition and sacrifice, The Farm is unforgettable.” (Adapted from the catalogue)

Necessary secrets / McGee, Greg
“Spanning the four seasons of a year, Necessary Secrets tells the story of Dennis (Den) Sparks and his three adult children. Starting with Den contemplating his mortality on the day of his 70th birthday, the year ahead is told from four different points of view. A searing picture of NZ society today, the family deals with love, loss, financial struggles, drugs, domestic violence and all the issues that Kiwis deal with daily.” (Adapted from the catalogue)

We, the survivors / Aw, Tash
“Ah Hock is an uneducated man born in a Malaysian fishing village and now trying to make his way in a country that promises riches to everyone, but delivers them only to a chosen few. With society changing around him, like many he remains trapped in a world of poorly paid jobs that just about allow him to keep his head above water but ultimately lead him to murder a migrant worker from Bangladesh. A confession–devastating, unblinking, unforgettable–which reveals a story of class, education and destiny.” (Adapted from the catalogue)