Wellington Author Interview: Jess Richards

“Dying faces are the colour of soiled linen. It’s the eyes which shine, as if the world around the person who is dying has brightened itself, so it’s fully seen and felt and known.”

So begins City of Circles, the third novel by acclaimed Wellington author Jess Richards. Richards’ work has been described as “brilliantly peculiar” and “a cornucopia of secrets and surprises”, with her debut novel Snake Ropes being nominated for the Costa First Novel Award, the Scottish Book Awards and the Green Carnation Prize. City of Circles tells the story of orphaned circus performer Danu as she negotiates grief, love and the mystery at the heart the fantastical city of Matryoshka . . .

Your work has been compared to Angela Carter and Erin Morgenstern, both of whom use circuses as key elements in their work. What do you think it is about circuses that continue to appeal to readers and writers?

Circuses have great potential to be made magical in fiction, because of their potential to appeal to all the senses, and also their rich history and traditions. They’re archetypal places of wildness and strangeness – performance and storytelling, which speak to our very human need for wonder. This is so often lacking in the ‘real world’ – as adults, we often lose sight of our desire for magic and strangeness. Within stories, we can find a parallel world to disappear into, between mundane daily rituals, tasks and chores. The people within circuses can be strange in so many ways – from the bearded lady to the cartwheeling clown, from the strong man to the contortionist. These slightly off-kilter people can be unique and intriguing characters to read and write about. The ordinary, distorted. The usual, made strange.

In Snake Ropes, the world of the story has been described as intentionally minimal in order to create the feeling of an “insular society”. How did creating Matryoshka and the world within City of Circles differ to this?

After writing Snake Ropes, which was set on a remote island, my second novel, Cooking with Bones began with two sisters fleeing a futuristic city (called Paradon) who quickly found their way to a strange and remote village. So both of my first two novels were mainly set in insular locations which had their own rules, folklore, mythology and sense of community. In City of Circles, I wanted to invent a magical city which also had all of these things, but on a larger scale. I used more description for the city, as it was such a unique and remarkable place, full of strange characters and places. Even the houses had their own unique ‘atmospheres’ and the house that Danu squats in has its own narrative voice. It was great fun to consider what kind of character a house could be – as cities are crammed full of buildings as well as people I came to see the buildings and the city itself as having their own personalities. As well as being part of the setting in that they were interesting things for the main characters to look at and explore, they also became part of the story.

As someone who has lived in several different places and recently moved to Wellington, how has your own experience with cities and identity compared to Danu’s?

When I’d just started to write City of Circles, I left my home of 18 years, and decided to remain voluntarily homeless for a period of time. During the next two years I couldn’t settle anywhere, so I looked after other people’s homes and pets, even their holiday cottages, which were sometimes in isolated rural places and sometimes in villages, towns, and cities. I slept in many different beds and was quite envious of Danu owning her own mattress, even though the caravan it was in kept moving on. All the places I lived in or visited found their way into City of Circles, as aspects of the places the circus travelled through, and several cities (London, Chicago, Wellington to name only a few) added to the descriptions of the different areas and revolving circles within Matryoshka, the city she eventually remains in. When Danu fell in love with Matryoshka, she experienced it almost as a living and breathing place, filled with enchanting scents and intriguing secrets. While I was exploring many different ‘homes’ I deeply wished to find somewhere which called me to it. Somewhere to love. As it happens, it was a person, not a city, I fell in love with, and that’s how I came to move to Wellington. I followed my heart to a person, while Danu followed her heart to a city.

Several reviews have praised your treatment of grief in City of Circles. How did you approach this theme?

My father died suddenly while I was writing City of Circles, and just three months after his death, I came to New Zealand. Experiencing grief so far away from anyone who knew him was an isolating experience. When we’re not with people who also knew the person who died, because no one is talking about them, there are no new memories to be had. All I could do, while grieving at such a great distance was to pour my grief into this novel. To give it to Danu, as it was too hard a thing to carry alone. As Danu’s parents had died right at the beginning of the novel, I wrote about her grief at the same time as I experienced my own. The physical pain of grief is something that few people talk about, so I gave aspects of this to Danu. I had her describe watching someone die, which is also something that few people talk about. She ties her mother’s locket like a choker around her throat, and trusses her ankles with her father’s bootlaces. The pain, to her, is a constant reminder of the strength of her love, and the strength of her loss. When she finally faces her grief, she does so from a high rooftop, throwing lily petals into the sky, and letting the wind carry them away. She’s trying desperately to part with her sorrow, and let it fly from her. But the truth of grief is that it never goes away. We each have to find our ways of living alongside it. And that is what Danu does as well. Learning to live beside grief takes time and courage. Others are also affected by it, which we see in Morrie, a charismatic hunchback who is in love with Danu, though she can’t reciprocate.

You were recently involved in an event at the Post-Apocalyptic Book Club in London. How did this go, and how do you see your work in terms of the genre of dystopian and speculative fiction?

It was a lovely event – with a great chairperson who had prepared excellent questions about City of Circles in advance. She got me to talk about more things than I’d realised I could. The audience were also great – really interested in the process of ‘world building’ and inventing an imaginary city. I tend not to think too much about genre when I write – to me, the main thing is the characters, and their story, and the world they are in being believable. That said, speculative fiction is a broad term which spans a variety of genres such as fantasy, sci-fi, young adult fiction and literary fiction. To me, what speculative fiction means is that the author has been ‘speculating.’ Asking… what if? And then answering their question in the form of a story. What if… there was an undiscovered island off the edge of a map? (This was the question behind Snake Ropes.) What if… an old woman was several people, and not just one? (One of the questions within Cooking with Bones.) And what if… a city was built which was made out of revolving circles, like a clockwork toy… and what if… a grieving woman thought she was alone in the world, and then discovered she had a double… In terms of dystopias – they’re far more interesting to write about than utopias, because I don’t believe that utopias exist. I also like writing amoral characters, who are neither completely good nor totally bad, but somewhere ambiguous in between. Darkness is, to me, much more interesting than light.

NaNoWriMo wrap-up for 2017

Did you know that during NaNoWriMo this year Wellington City Libraries hosted a Come Write In, where writers could gather each weekend to work on their goal of 50,000 words? Below we have some profiles of these future authors, and if you’d like to join them next year, just sign up to NaNoWriMo. Thanks so much to everyone who came along!

Gabrielle

Story: A woman running from her past finds a key hidden behind a picture frame in a hotel room, but what does it unlock?

How have you found NaNoWriMo this year? This year has been a challenge. I got 3,000 words into the novel I was planning to write, then got frustrated with the story, and started a new story from scratch. I may not finish this year, but I’m happy with the plot of the new novel.

Will you do NaNoWriMo again next year? Absolutely. I’ll try to not end up moving house and jobs next November, and see if that means I have more energy to write.

Leon

Story: Liz is a newspaper reporter who gets in over her head when she investigates a sunken ship and gets involved with a group of musicians and their ambitions.

How have you found NaNoWriMo this year? It’s flowed well. It’s been very social, which is nice.

Will you do NaNoWriMo again next year? Yes. I might use a similar process of making a plan and then abandoning it, but we’ll see closer to the time.

Jack

Story: American Idol but there are robotic scorpions and the world is a capitalist hellscape.

How have you found NaNoWriMo this year? I really love the Wellington writing group (I’ve written in the Dunedin and Christchurch groups for NaNo as well and those are great too). Writing with a bunch of other writers around is fantastic for creativity if not for productivity.

Will you do NaNoWriMo again next year? I do NaNo every year (this is my 8th).

Fiona

Story: The cheesiest romance novel you could possibly imagine – with all the traps!

How have you found NaNoWriMo this year? I’ve been so busy there’s no way I’m going to make 50K! But the meetups have been great and it’s a great group this year. I’ve still got more words than I started with!

Will you do NaNoWriMo again next year? Hopefully! And I’ll make sure November is less busy so I can write more words.

Quillbert the Literary Hedgehog

Story: My protagonist is a hedgehog vigilante called ‘The Urchin.’ He is trying to bring down two rival criminal organisations – the Owls and the Foxes – who bring death to the streets and corruption to parliament.

How have you found NaNoWriMo this year? Exhilarating and exhausting. Without the support of your peers, it is easy to burn out in the first week. Like a hedgepig caught in a bonfire.

Will you do NaNoWriMo again next year? I shall. Next year I shall write my memoirs. This is technically referred to as being a “NaNoWriMo Rebel” as it will not be a novel. I embrace the title.

Portable fiction: eBooks for the holidays

If you’re going on a family road-trip this summer, the last thing you want filling up the boot of your car is books: after all, there won’t be any space, not with the suitcases and body boards and fishing rods and the chilly bin, and that extra chilly bin for the ice, and the camp cooker just in case you want to eat under the stars, and the sleeping bags and tent and all those spare tent-pegs that don’t really work but you’d feel bad if you didn’t bring them, and – well, you get the idea. Basically, Overdrive is here to make sure you’ve got great new fiction to read during your holidays, no matter how pressed you are for space!

Overdrive cover The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, by Arundhati Roy
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is at once an aching love story and a decisive remonstration. It is told in a whisper, in a shout, through tears and sometimes with a laugh. Its heroes are people who have been broken by the world they live in and then rescued. For this reason, they are as steely as they are fragile, and they never surrender.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover Sweetpea, by C.J. Skuse
“I haven’t killed anyone for three years and I thought that when it happened again I’d feel bad. Like an alcoholic taking a sip of whisky. But no. Nothing. I had a blissful night’s sleep. Didn’t wake up at all. And for once, no bad dream either. This morning I feel balanced. Almost sane, for once…” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The Book of Chocolate Saints, by Jeet Thayil
“Francis Newton Xavier has lived a wild existence of excess in pursuit of his uncompromising aesthetic vision. Approaching middle age in a body ravaged by hard-living, he leaves Manhattan, and his journey home to India becomes a delirious voyage into the past.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover Silk and Song, by Dana Stabenow
“Sixteen-year-old Wu Johanna is the granddaughter of the legendary trader Marco Polo. In the wake of her father’s death, however, Johanna finds that lineage counts for little amid the disintegrating court of the Khan. Johanna’s destiny – if she has one – lies with her grandfather, in Venice, at the very edge of the known world.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover Borne, by Jeff VanderMeer
“In a ruined city of the future, Rachel scavenges a strange creature from the fur of a despotic bear. She names him Borne. He reminds her of her homeland lost to rising seas, but her lover Wick is intent on rendering him down as raw material for the special drugs he sells. Nothing is quite what it seems, and if Wick is hiding secrets, so too is Rachel – and Borne most of all.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover White Tears, by Hari Kunzru
“Two twenty-something New Yorkers: Seth, awkward and shy, and Carter, the trust fund hipster. They have one thing in common: an obsession with music. Rising fast on the New York producing scene, they stumble across an old blues song long forgotten, and everything starts to unravel. Carter is drawn far down a path that allows no return, and Seth has no choice but to follow.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The End of Eddy, by Edouard Louis
“Before I had a chance to rebel against the world of my childhood, that world rebelled against me. In truth, confronting my parents, my social class, its poverty, racism and brutality came second. From early on I provoked shame and even disgust from my family and others around me. The only option I had was to get away somehow. This book is an effort to understand all that.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover My Name Is Nobody, by Matthew Richardson
“Solomon Vine was the best of his generation, a spy on a fast track to the top. But when a prisoner is shot in unexplained circumstances, and on his watch, only suspension and exile beckon. Three months later, in Istanbul, MI6’s Head of Station is violently abducted from his home. With the Service in lockdown, uncertain of who can be trusted, thoughts turn to the missing man’s oldest friend: Solomon Vine.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The Lover, Marguerite Duras
“Saigon, 1930s: a poor young French girl meets the elegant son of a wealthy Chinese family. Soon they are lovers, locked into a private world of passion and intensity that defies all the conventions of their society. A sensational international bestseller, The Lover is disturbing, erotic, masterly and simply unforgettable.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover John Dies at the End, by David Wong
“My name is David Wong. My best friend is John. Those names are fake. You might want to change yours. You may not want to know about the things you’ll read on these pages, about the sauce, about Korrock, about the invasion, and the future. But it’s too late. You touched the book. You’re in the game.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Recent eAudiobook fiction perfect for your summer holiday!

Sometimes you want to listen to something familiar, like an official sequel to Little House on the Prairie, and sometimes you want to listen to something a bit different, like a story about an ancient, powerful, lovesick mummy who’s terrorising humanity. Either way, this month’s new eAudiobook fiction from Overdrive has got you covered!

Overdrive cover A State of Freedom, by Neel Mukherjee
“Set in contemporary India and moving between the reality of this world and the shadow of another, this novel delivers a devastating and haunting exploration of the unquenchable human urge to strive for a different life.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover How Hard Can It Be?, by Allison Pearson
“Kate Reddy is back! This is the follow-up to the international bestseller I Don’t Know How She Does It, the novel that defined modern life for women everywhere. This time she’s juggling teenagers, aging parents and getting back into the workplace, and every page will have you laughing and thinking: It’s not just me.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, by Theodora Goss
“Based on some of literature’s horror and science fiction classics, this is the story of a remarkable group of women who come together to solve the mystery of a series of gruesome murders—and the bigger mystery of their own origins.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover Caroline, by Sarah Miller
“In this novel authorized by the Little House estate, Sarah Miller vividly recreates the beauty, hardship and joys of the frontier. A captivating story that illuminates one courageous, resilient and loving pioneer woman as never before.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce
“This fictionalised portrait of Joyce’s youth is one of the most vivid accounts of the growth from childhood to adulthood. Dublin at the turn of the century provides the backdrop as Stephen Dedalus moves from town and society, towards the irrevocable decision to leave.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The Wrong Dead Guy, by Richard Kadrey
“In this fast paced sequel to The Everything Box, chaos ensues when Coop and the team at DOPS steal a not-quite-dead and very lovesick ancient Egyptian mummy wielding some terrifying magic.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover Dead Water, by Ann Cleeves
“When the body of a journalist is found, Detective Inspector Willow Reeves is drafted to head up the investigation. As she digs deeper, she realises the journalist was chasing a story that many Shetlanders didn’t want to come to the surface…” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce
“When Harold Fry nips out one morning to post a letter, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other. He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof or mobile phone. All he knows is that he must keep walking.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The Complete Talking Heads, by Alan Bennett
The Talking Heads monologues are widely regarded as one of Alan Bennett’s finest dramatic achievements. Beautifully crafted and full of compassion and wry observation, each tale is ripe with the quirky, insightful detail that has become Bennett’s trademark.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

All you need now is a garden: New eBooks

Cicero once said that if you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. And while he probably didn’t expect that library to include eBooks, he’d be happy to know that Robert Harris’ acclaimed ‘Cicero’ trilogy is now a part of it. Joining Harris’ work are a range of other great titles, including Eliza Robertson’s debut novel Demi-Gods and the first in J.Y. Yang’s excellent ‘Tensorate’ series. Enjoy!

Overdrive cover Demi-Gods, by Eliza Robertson
“It is 1950, and Willa’s mother has a new beau. The arrival of his sons at Willa’s summer home signals the end of her safe childhood. Willa is drawn to the solitary Patrick, and as they grow up, their encounters become increasingly charged. But when Willa finally tries to reverse the trajectory, an act of desperation has devastating results.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover A Line Made by Walking, by Sara Baume
“Struggling to cope with urban life, Frankie, a twenty-something artist, retreats to the rural bungalow on ‘turbine hill’ that has been vacant since her grandmother’s death. Her family come and go, until one day they don’t, and she is left alone to contemplate the path that led her here, and the smell of the carpet that started it all.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The Cicero Trilogy, by Robert Harris
“An epic trilogy by Robert Harris. Imperium takes us inside the violent, treacherous world of Roman politics, Lustrum is a study in the timeless enticements and horrors of power while Dictator is an intimate portrait of a brilliant, flawed, frequently fearful yet ultimately brave man. An unforgettable collection.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The Last Time We Spoke, by Fiona Sussman
“Carla and Kevin Reid are celebrating their wedding anniversary with their son Jack. On a murderous collision course with this joyous yet fragile gathering is Ben Toroa, an unexpected and unwanted visitor. As Carla struggles to come to terms with the aftermath of the appalling events of the night, their stories will be forever entwined.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The Days of Anna Madrigal, by Armistead Maupin
“The suspenseful and touching ninth novel in Armistead Maupin’s ‘Tales of the City’ series follows one of modern literature’s most unforgettable characters – Anna Madrigal, the legendary transgender landlady of 28 Barbary Lane – as she embarks on a road trip that will take her deep into her past.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover Gorky Park, by Martin Cruz Smith
“A triple murder in Moscow’s famous Gorky Park amusement centre rocks the capital; three corpses found in the snow, so badly mutilated that their identities can’t be verified. Now, to identify the victims and uncover the truth, Chief Investigator Arkady Renko must battle the KGB, FBI and the police – and stay alive doing it.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang
“A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down. Unwilling to continue as a pawn in their mother’s twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes is a step away from his twin Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering their bond?” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The Death of Bees, by Lisa O’Donnell
“Marnie and her sister Nelly have always been different. Marnie leads a life of smoking, drinking and drugs; Nelly enjoys eating cornflakes with Coke and reading Harry Potter. But when Lennie, the old guy next door, starts to get suspicious, it’s only a matter of time before their terrible secret is discovered.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover Misadventures of a City Girl, by Meredith Wild
“Fresh off a divorce, Madison Atwood needs an escape, and Avalon Springs is the place. Luke Dawson lives off the grid, but when he finds a beautiful woman soaking in the hot springs on his property, he can’t turn her away. They make no promises, but mother nature has other plans…” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover Waking Gods, by Sylvain Neuvel
“An unknown vessel, not of this world, materializes in London. A colossal figure towering over the city, it makes no move. Is this a peaceful first contact or the prelude to an invasion?” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Tim’s NaNoWriMo Tips

Starting your first NaNoWriMo can be a daunting experience, but never fear! Our resident NaNoWriMo veteran Tim will give you the low-down on what to expect during your thirty day writing epic – including tips and tricks to help you through those more challenging times at the keyboard!

Did you do much planning before your first NaNoWriMo?

The planning I did on my first NaNoWriMo really made things difficult because I had a story I wanted to tell – and when it wasn’t working I just stopped. This was failed attempt #1. The trick is to remember the goal of this challenge: to hit the word count. What I learned from that experience was the planning caused me to have an additional goal which got in the way of the first. If you are able to get away with writing a complete novel you’ve had planned out in one month – good oh! But it seems like everybody I talk to who has tried the challenge learned to loosen up on the planning and allow the story to carry its own momentum.

What were your thoughts after your first day’s writing? How did this change throughout the month?

Every year I try NaNoWriMo I feel very disheartened after my first day. It’s like going for a jog for the first time in ages. It sucks! But the trick is not minding that it sucks. That’s why the whole online community is so great. There are subreddits and hashtags you can latch onto and remember you aren’t alone. In recent years, NaNoWriMo has become rather big on YouTube – so you can actually *see* you aren’t alone too! Real life face-to-face meet ups organized by communities – like the group that meets up in the Central library – are a really good way to get accountable. It wasn’t until after my second attempt at the challenge that I realized I couldn’t write this many words while alone on my laptop in my bed after a full day’s work. It was too tempting to just watch a TV show instead.

Did the intensity of NaNoWriMo help or change your writing in unexpected ways?

The intensity of NaNoWriMo forced me to shed a lot of silly stylistic rituals and habits I’d picked up from years of trying to be a ‘serious writer’. There are days when you just want to blab the words out onto your text editor and go to sleep. Or get on with your day. This is a Good Thing. Because when you stop being so self-conscious with your writing it’s always way better. I think there is a weird doubt we all have that if each sentence isn’t clever then readers will think we aren’t worth reading. But this is a fallacy. Just write.

Do you have any tips or tricks for getting through those harder moments?

Gripe! Gripe to your friends and to your flatmates and to your partner and to your pet. This way, everyone can know how interesting and creative you are for attempting to write a novel in a month. I also sincerely recommend showers. Just go stand in the shower and give yourself a pep talk. Pump some beats. Yeah, you got this. You are a writer. The novel might end up a bit shabby but by gosh you are actually writing!

How did it feel to complete 50,000 words?

I don’t know. I’ve never completed 50,000 words. I think it probably feels like sending off a university assignment when you close all the tabs of research. Or maybe it feels like when your bus has all green lights in the morning and you actually get to work on time. Or perhaps like a cool lemon lime bitters with like one ice in it and you’re part of the first wave of humans exploring intergalactic space. Who knows! Some do.

What happened to the non-writing areas of your life during NaNoWriMo, and do you have any advice in regards to this?

To be honest, if you aren’t a very organized person you are going to fail NaNoWriMo. Most likely. Because unless you already have up to an hour of every day carved out for ‘creative activities’ then something will suffer. And it would be great if it was your mindless internet browsing time but let’s be honest – that usually isn’t what is sacrificed. Just remember to shower. Also, it should be noted that having the free time to do NaNoWriMo is quite a privilege. Many people in New Zealand and the rest of the world DO NOT have a spare second to do something so silly and awesome.

What happened to your NaNoWriMo writing after November?

Nothing. I always hide mine. They are so embarrassing! This is something I obviously need to work out in therapy. But if you want a good time, check out Twitter for silly first lines of NaNoWriMo novels. So when you are writing your great November Novel, just remember: that’s your bar. That’s your company. Now get out there and take a jump!

 

New non-fiction for your ears

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to talk to an extraterrestrial, wonder no longer, because this month’s new eAudiobook non-fiction from Overdrive includes Peter Godfrey-Smith’s Other Minds, a critically acclaimed examination of the octopus – “the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien.” And if you’d like something more mammalian, we’ve got a range of other great titles from authors including Bill Bryson, Caitlin Moran and Hillary Clinton.

Overdrive cover Gastrophysics, by Charles Spence
“Why do we consume 35% more food when eating with one more person, and 75% more when with three? Why are 27% of drinks bought on aeroplanes tomato juice? How are chefs and companies planning to transform our dining experiences, and what can we learn from their cutting-edge insights to make memorable meals at home? These are just some of the ingredients of Gastrophysics.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, by Bill Bryson
“Bill Bryson’s first travel book opened with the immortal line, ‘I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.’ In his deeply funny new memoir, he travels back in time to explore the ordinary kid he once was, and the curious world of 1950s America. It was a happy time, when almost everything was good for you, including DDT, cigarettes and nuclear fallout…” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover Moranifesto, by Caitlin Moran
“This is Caitlin’s engaging and amusing rallying call for our times. Combining the best of her recent columns with lots of new writing unique to this book, Caitlin deals with topics as pressing and diverse as 1980s swearing, benefits, boarding schools and why the internet is like a drunken toddler.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover Other Minds, by Peter Godfrey-Smith
“Peter Godfrey-Smith explores the incredible evolutionary journey of the cephalopods, which began as inconspicuous molluscs who would later abandon their shells to rise above the ocean floor, acquiring the greater intelligence needed to do so – a journey completely independent from the route that mammals and birds would later take.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover Creativity, Inc., by Ed Catmull
“Ed Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques, honed over years, that have made Pixar so widely admired—and so profitable. Creativity, Inc. is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve centre of Pixar Animation Studios.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover Vacationland, by John Hodgman
“Though wildly, Hodgmaniacally funny, John Hodgman’s Vacationland is also a poignant and sincere account of one human facing his forties, those years when men in particular must stop pretending to be the children of bright potential they were and settle into the failing bodies of the wiser, weird dads that they are.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover What Happened, by Hillary Rodham Clinton
“For the first time, Hillary Rodham Clinton reveals what she was thinking and feeling during one of the most controversial and unpredictable presidential elections in history. Now free from the constraints of running, Hillary takes you inside the intense personal experience of becoming the first woman nominated for president by a major party.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The Man from the Train, by Bill James
“Using unprecedented, dramatically compelling sleuthing techniques, legendary statistician and baseball writer Bill James applies his analytical acumen to crack an unsolved century-old mystery surrounding one of the deadliest serial killers in American history.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Wellington author interview: Pip Adam

Author image by Victoria Birkinshaw

Spacious open plan living. Nest or invest. Classy urban retreat. If you’ve spent a bit of time browsing real estate brochures, you’ve probably read these words before. But there’s another, darker story of renting and home ownership in New Zealand, one without floor plans or glossy full-page photos: The New Animals, by Pip Adam.

Adam’s work has appeared in a range of journals and anthologies, with her short story collection Everything We Hoped For published in 2010 and her debut novel I’m Working on a Building in 2013. She’s been described as “the woman who is making literature subversive fun in this country again… The most wired-in to the seething discontent below the housing bubble.” So put down the brochure and get a copy of The New Animals today!

The blurb for The New Animals references intergenerational tension, however the story also looks at tensions of class, wealth and gender. What was it like shaping a story around these conflicts?

I always think conflict and complexity give ‘life’ to stories. It seems like a boringly obvious thing to say but it is also constantly a surprise to me. I often use writing to sort out things that confuse me about life and I guess confusion is often a state of conflict for me – one idea against another, or maybe things acting in ways that don’t gel with my world view that cause a disruption to the things I believe and understand. For me it is always scary writing about people who I am not, but I have always loved the idea of trying to imagine myself into a mindset that seems confusing to me. Like often I might see someone do something and I have this idea that people always act in ways they see as ‘good’ or ‘right’. I’ve met lots of people and no one ever seems to make decisions by thinking ‘this is wrong thing to do’, even people who have broken the law. So yeah, I am always interested in trying to imagine myself into a mindset that would see decisions I see as odd as the ‘right’ decision.​ I enjoyed it particularly in this work because it was a bit like Sudoko or those tile puzzles, where someone would act and there would be a domino tumble of other people being forced to act.

You recently talked about your relationship with fashion – its power and ability to answer societal questions, but also its environmental impact. How did you approach this in The New Animals, especially with fashion playing such a large role in the story?

I am really interested in design of all types, particularly the form and function, or form versus function. Before I started the book I had this love of fashion which I think was a hangover from my hairdressing days. Like I loved seeing how fashion changed and yeah, also I really like looking at beautiful things. For this book I started taking a more intense interest. I became a rampant foll​ower of fashionable people and people in the fashion industry. I just consumed everything I could. I visited shops as well, touched the clothes, saw them on the hangar and on people. I was also really interested in the history of fashion and some of the theories around fashion. I am especially obsessed with the work of Rei Kawakubo and the way she deconstructs the human form. I love the play of her work but also the real seriousness and almost horror of some of her work. I am also quite obsessed with Alexander McQueen’s life and work – in a lot of cases the violence of it. One of the hard things about writing about fashion is that it is often talked about in quite ‘light’ ways. I had to read very deeply to find the language that had weight and importance. There is a risk that fashion can seem shallow because, I think, it is ephemeral and seems to be about adornment when often it is about so much more.

The New Animals is very grounded in Auckland. How do you think the city’s geography helped with the story?

I really love Auckland. I grew up there and I visit a lot.​ It’s interesting you ask about geography because I think it is a really interesting city that way. Like you have that massive volcanic basin that is the harbour and then you have that network of volcanoes that have formed Mt Wellington and Mt Eden and, yeah, I often think of Auckland as this volatile place. My parents live close to Stonefields which is a development built on the site of an old quarry. Auckland has this feeling for me of land acted on. Land in flux, land in change and to me this book is a lot about that, about change and fluidity and evolution and I think walking around Auckland, travelling over it which I did heaps of for this book it’s impossible not to feel that. For instance, the train I catch a lot from Glen Innes travels over the Orakei Basin, this incredibly changeable place. If the tide is in, it looks like a body of water, but when the tide is out it transforms into this muddy almost wasteland. Everything that was covered by the water is exposed. I like that as an image as well, the way things can be exposed by changes in environment. Tides are a big part of my thinking around this book. The way the moon pulls these huge bodies of water around, the way they kind of create these weather patterns deep below us. And then don’t even get me started about how humans began as fish, how the ocean must have some strange pull on us still.

One aspect that really stood out was the friendship between Carla and Duey, with the contrast between their interactions and their personal thoughts, and their awareness of the friendship’s decline. Was this relationship a difficult one to write?

For a long time, in the writing process, Carla and Duey had been lovers and it just wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do. We so often place the ‘sex’ relation above all other intimate relationships. I am really interested in friendship. I find it so interesting. What keeps friendships alive is so complicated but also so purely unselfish. I liked the idea that Carla and Duey were at a stage where the relationship (as if it were a separate thing from the two people in it) was in decline, like despite all their care and thought for each other nothing was going to save it. It was difficult to write because I don’t read many books about friendships that are like that, so in a way the models I had were very much about love and sex relationships. So it took some sorting out, like some real close work. The other thing that I loved about writing that relationship is that I think it is pretty cool how humans can think one thing and then act in a better way. I love how we do that for each other. I guess also, finally, I was interested in deconstructing some of the ‘work’ we do in human relationships. Like, I find people pretty confusing sometimes, a lot of the relating stuff doesn’t come automatically to me. So, I am often thinking a lot about what the right thing to say is or what a person is saying (like actually saying). It was fun to make some of that work apparent, to sort of uncover that and show it.

Reviews of The New Animals have generated some discussion about New Zealand literature and the reviewing process. What has it been like seeing the passion your work has brought out in people?

Writing is a weird thing. I really like the part of writing that takes place in a room by myself. I love working on something, like really working on something – crafting it and messing it up and having to fix it and ​living with it. I find I get so ‘into’ that work (like I literally feel like I climb inside the story) that I forget that other people will read it. So yeah, sometimes publication is a bit of a shock. Like I remember after my first book was published someone I didn’t know said to me, ‘I read your book,’ and I was like, ‘I never said you could.’ I just forget that people will read it. So, it’s pretty amazing when people I respect say they like what I’ve written. People will email me and tell me in person and it means heaps because I’ve sort of ‘shown my hand’ as a human. I’ve said, ‘I made this. I think this is how life is awesome,’ and when someone says, ‘I see what you’ve made and it made me think this is how I think life is awesome,’ that is just incredible. I love how art can do that and I’m not sure much else can. I put a lot of stake in passion. I love the way, in my life, I have been granted the opportunity to come into contact with many people who make me feel passionate and I just get fired up about the idea that our work sort of sparks off each other. Like no matter what is going on. No matter what other people are saying about our work, we can sustain ourselves. It’s like the biggest collaboration. Because although I love those times by myself working, I am never far from the work of others, I will be reading those writers to keep me going, to keep me passionate.

Pip Adam's The New Animals

Delectable new Overdrive fiction

With its sourdough bread, fresh honey and Pu’er tea, this month’s new eBook fiction from Overdrive has a definite culinary theme. Of course food is never just food: it can be a symbol of familial love, culture, or, in Maja Lunde’s The History of Bees, a warning of what’s to come. So head over to the elibrary and join us for this literary feast!

Overdrive cover Refuge–A Novel, by Dina Nayeri
“An Iranian girl escapes to America as a child, but her father stays behind. Over twenty years, daughter and father know each other from only four crucial visits. The longer they are apart, the more their lives diverge, but also the more each comes to need the other’s wisdom and, ultimately, rescue.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover Whispers Through a Megaphone, by Rachel Elliott
“Miriam hasn’t left her house in three years, and cannot raise her voice above a whisper. But today she has had enough, and is finally ready to rejoin the outside world. Filled with wit and sparkling prose, Whispers Through a Megaphone explores our attempts to meaningfully connect with ourselves and others, in an often deafening world.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover Highland Fling, by Anna Larner
“Eve Eddison describes her ideal woman to her best friend, Roxanne, over pints in their local pub a few days before she travels to the Scottish Highlands. There she falls head over heels for an enigmatic local, Moira Burns, and the usually reticent Eve wants more than a holiday romance.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The History of Bees, by Maja Lunde
“England, 1852. William is a biologist and seed merchant who sets out to build a new type of beehive. United States, 2007. George is a beekeeper and fights an uphill battle against modern farming. China, 2098. Tao hand paints pollen onto the fruit trees now that the bees have disappeared. The History of Bees joins three different narratives into one gripping and thought provoking story.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover A Casualty of War, by Charles Todd
“Though the Great War is nearing its end, the fighting rages on. While waiting for transport to her post, Bess Crawford meets Captain Alan Travis from Barbados. Later, when he’s brought to her disoriented from a head wound, Bess is alarmed that he believes his cousin, Lieutenant James Travis, shot him. Bess’s quest for the truth will bring her face-to-face with the wounds of war that not even peace can heal.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover Michael Tolliver Lives, by Armistead Maupin
“Michael Tolliver, the sweet-spirited Southerner in Armistead Maupin’s classic Tales of the City series, is arguably the most beloved gay character in fiction. Now, almost twenty years after ending his groundbreaking saga of San Francisco life, Maupin revisits his all-too-human hero, letting the 55-year-old gardener tell his story in his own voice.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The Dewey Decimal System, by Nathan Larson
“After a flu pandemic, a terrorist attack and the collapse of Wall Street, New York City is a shadow of its former self. As the city struggles to dig itself out of the wreckage, a nameless, obsessive-compulsive veteran has taken up residence at the New York Public Library. Dubbed “Dewey Decimal”, he must face the darkness of his past and the question of his buried identity.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover Sourdough, by Robin Sloan
“Lois Clary, an engineer at a San Francisco robotics company, codes all day. When her favourite sandwich shop closes up, the owners leave her with the starter for their mouth-watering bread. Soon she is baking loaves daily and taking them to the farmer’s market, where a close-knit club runs the show. But when Lois discovers another, more secret market, aiming to fuse food and technology, a whole other world opens up. But who are these people, exactly?” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover Endless Love, by Scott Spencer
“Seventeen-year-old David Axelrod is consumed with his love for Jade Butterfield. So when Jade’s father exiles him from their home, David does the only thing he thinks is rational: he burns down their house. Sentenced to a psychiatric institution, David’s obsession metastasizes, and upon his release, he sets out to win the Butterfields back by any means necessary.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See
“Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. There is ritual and routine, and it has been ever thus for generations. Then one day a jeep appears at the village gate—the first automobile any of them have seen—and their world will soon change forever.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Starting over & facing fears : New eAudiobook Fiction

The characters in this month’s new eAudiobook fiction from Overdrive are a restless bunch. Some are battling unstable relationships, others unreliable friends. A few are struggling to discover the truth about devastating events, while others are erasing those events by going back in time. And while time-travel might not be an option for us right now, there are bound to be other solutions to life’s problems – read your way towards them with our eLibrary.

Overdrive cover George and Lizzie, by Nancy Pearl
“George and Lizzie have radically different understandings of what love and marriage should be. George grew up in a warm and loving family, while Lizzie grew up as the only child of two famous psychologists. Over the course of their marriage, nothing has changed—George is happy; Lizzie remains…unfulfilled. When a shameful secret from Lizzie’s past resurfaces, she’ll need to face her fears in order to accept the true nature of the relationship.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover Impossible Views of the World, by Lucy Ives
“Stella Krakus, curator at Manhattan’s Central Museum of Art, is having the roughest week in approximately ever. Her ex-husband is stalking her, a workplace romance is in free-fall and a beloved colleague, Paul, has gone missing. But the appearance of a mysterious map sends Stella on an all-consuming research mission. She discovers the unbearable secret that Paul’s been keeping, and charts a course out of the chaos of her own life.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The Looking Glass War, by John le Carré
“When word reaches ‘The Department’ – an ailing section of British intelligence – that Soviet missiles are being installed close to the West German border, it seems the perfect opportunity to show their rivals that The Department still has value. Former spy Fred Leiser is lured back from retirement to investigate, but the world has changed since The Department’s glory days, and there is no place for heroes…” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The Goddesses, by Swan Huntley
“When Nancy and her family arrive in Hawaii, they are desperate for a fresh start. Nancy’s husband has cheated on her; they sleep in separate bedrooms and their twin sons have been acting out. But Hawaii is paradise. Nancy starts taking a yoga class and there she meets Ana, the charismatic teacher. As Nancy grows closer to Ana she feels a happiness unlike anything she’s ever experienced, and knows she will do anything Ana asks of her…” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty
“Summoned to a case of apparent possession, Father Karras is at first sceptical, then horrified. The victim – a 12-year-old girl named Regan – seems to be controlled by a malign supernatural force that makes her swear, blaspheme, scream in agony and perform appalling acts. Attempting to find a rational explanation, Karras finds himself locking horns with the demon inside her head. He must turn to the ultimate solution: exorcism…” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover Tornado Weather, by Deborah E. Kennedy
“Five-year-old Daisy Gonzalez’s father is always waiting for her at the bus stop. But today, he isn’t, and Daisy disappears. Nearly everyone in town suspects or knows something different about what happened. And they also know a lot about each other. They are all connected, in ways small and profound, open and secret.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover Edge of Tomorrow (Movie Tie-in Edition), by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
“When the alien Mimics invade, Keiji Kiriya is just one of many recruits shoved into a suit of battle armour called a Jacket and sent out to kill. Keiji dies on the battlefield, only to be reborn each morning to fight and die again and again. On his 158th iteration, he gets a message from a mysterious ally. Is she the key to Keiji’s escape or his final death?” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan Mastai
“Tom lives in a perfect world: no war, no poverty, no under-ripe avocados. . . oh, and time travel. When he loses the love of his life, going back to fix it seems like the only answer. . . what could possibly go wrong? Elan Mastai’s breakthrough novel brings a whole new dimension to a classic love story.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)