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)

Author Interview: Award-Winning Lee Murray – Part 3/3!

Please note: this is part three of our interview with Lee Murray. Please click here for part one and here for part two.

Lee Murray is an award-winning New Zealand author of science-fiction, fantasy and horror. She recently won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Novel with Into the Mist, book two of the Taine McKenna series, as well as Best Collected Work as one of three editors on Te Korero Ahi Kā. However Murray’s work isn’t limited to the page: she has also helped establish key writing communities in New Zealand and organise events such as GeyserCon, New Zealand’s 40th National Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention.

To learn more about Murray’s work, check out her website here — or part three of our interview below. Enjoy!

You’ve also done a lot of other great work helping to develop the sci-fi, fantasy and horror writing community in New Zealand. What would you like to do next in terms of this?

Thank you. One of things I’m especially proud of is being co-founder and co-convenor of Young New Zealand Writers, a not-for-profit volunteer group established almost ten years ago to develop writing and publication opportunities for our youngest writers through a shared love of science fiction and fantasy. Young New Zealand Writers runs programmes for school students such as free-to-enter writing competitions, anthologies, mentorship, and our annual day Youth Day Out, which is occasionally held in conjunction with our national science fiction and fantasy convention. It’s a huge task, but every year the quality of the work and the talent of our students convinces me that forming new readers and writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror are some of the most important things we can do to keep the community vibrant.

There are a lot of other great ways to raise awareness. For example, Speculative Fiction Writers of New Zealand (SpecFicNZ) has just established a regular podcast, called none other than The SpecFicNZ Podcast, to focus on trends in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. With lively discussion and interviews by the group’s members, the podcast is still in its infancy, but definitely worth tuning in to for a listen. I notice some of the mainstream literary festivals, such as Featherston Booktown, the National Writers’ Forum, and the South Auckland Writers’ Festival, are introducing genre panels and presentations as part of their regular programming line-up, a trend which can only be promising for the genre. Of course, by far the best way to ensure the health and longevity of our local science fiction, fantasy, and horror community is for New Zealanders to read and recommend our work. That’s it. The more people read and rave about us, the better our chances of attracting the notice of local publishers and producers, and that in turn creates more opportunities for writers, which will improve the number and range of titles on offer for readers to enjoy, and so on and so forth. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of demand creating supply. You heard it here, folks!

What are your thoughts about CoNZealand next year? Will you be very involved?

I’m not at all involved in CoNZealand planning, although, if I can get together a few colleagues, I might propose a couple of panel presentations. Mostly, I’m looking forward to enjoying the convention as an attendee and welcoming a number of friends from overseas. I hope they’re as inspired as I am by our landscape, and our people, and that no one goes home without trying our wonderful hokey pokey ice cream.

As someone with an impressively busy schedule, what advice would you give to authors trying to fit their writing around other commitments?

I’m the worst person to ask this question because I am hopeless at saying no to those other commitments. Over and above my actual writing, I undertake a lot of mostly unpaid writing-related activities. I’ve already mentioned the national convention, and the Young New Zealand Writers group. In addition to those, I typically have several mentees on the go, a book or two I’ve been asked to blurb, a half dozen blogs I’ve promised to write, panel presentations to plan, reviews to write, and more than one commissioned work to edit. Last summer, I had to turn down a prestigious international judging opportunity as I had already committed to judging two other national competitions over the same time period. With my to-be-read stack teetering at 90 novels and 30 novellas, I couldn’t possibly squeeze in any more. As it was, I spent almost the entire summer in my hammock reading! The thing is, while many of those extra commitments take me away from my writing, they also contribute to my work by immersing me in all aspects of genre fiction. Plus, I get a sneak peak at some wonderful new work, while also having a hand in developing (and celebrating) the new talent coming through the ranks.

Ah. I think you are asking for suggestions on how to schedule your writing around paid work commitments as well as the demands of family and community. I am fortunate to write full-time, but many of my colleagues who work other jobs write in the early morning or late evenings when their children are in bed. Or perhaps they scribble furiously in a notebook on the train into work. I have a friend who does writing sprints in the car while her children are at their music lessons. One friend gets all their best ideas in the shower. Another finds their inspiration while out running. All trying to carve out writing time where they can. With the latest CNZ survey revealing that New Zealand writers average around $12,000 in annual earnings from their writing, the reality is most writers cannot make a living from their creative work. This means we are in danger of losing those middle voices, where writing becomes something people do only as students, or when they have retired from full-time work. On the other hand, it’s also true that writing seems to take the time available, so if you have an hour to spare, then the poem or drabble will take you an hour to write, whereas if you can afford to invest a week, the same piece will invariably require the full week. So, perhaps there is some merit in having at least some pressure on us to make our time profitable. I should add here that, even at my fastest, I’m an incredibly slow writer, producing only 500-1000 words daily. Still, I console myself that Hemingway wrote just 500 words a day and yet his body of work comprises an impressive 10 novels, 17 collections of short fiction, two books of poetry, and nine works of non-fiction (albeit some published posthumously).

Author Interview: Award-Winning Lee Murray – Part 2/3!

Please note: this is part two of our interview with Lee Murray. Please click here for part one.

Lee Murray is an award-winning New Zealand author of science-fiction, fantasy and horror. She recently won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Novel with Into the Mist, book two of the Taine McKenna series, as well as Best Collected Work as one of three editors on Te Korero Ahi Kā. However Murray’s work isn’t limited to the page: she has also helped establish key writing communities in New Zealand and organise events such as GeyserCon, New Zealand’s 40th National Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention.

To learn more about Murray’s work, check out her website here — or part two of our interview below. Enjoy!

The Path of Ra series is also a distinctly New Zealand work. Have you received much feedback from both local and international readers in regards to the story’s setting or language?

The Path of Ra is a collaborative series which I co-author with my friend and colleague, Dan Rabarts. Having already worked together with some success on a couple of anthology projects, Dan and I decided to join forces, taking a he-said / she-said approach to a futuristic supernatural thriller. When we started working on the novella — yes, it was going to be a novella and it accidentally turned into a three-book series — with both of us being Kiwi, there was no doubt that we would set our story in New Zealand. We selected a near-future Auckland as the setting, partly for its geography, its sprawling urban spread, and especially for its recognisable landmarks such as One Tree Hill, the Auckland Harbour Bridge, the downtown waterfront, and the iconic Sky Tower. As far as feedback from our readers about the setting and language goes, here’s what some of them had to say:

“The descriptions of the scenes, including a dark version of Auckland and the surrounding countryside, really worked for me.”

“…a fast-moving futuristic novel with a great New Zealand flavour and supernatural thrills on the side.”

“Setting the novel in near future New Zealand is so brilliant! I’ve never read another novel with that setting, so it feels fresh in a genre that frequently feels overused and stale.”

“The unusual setting in a bleak near-future New Zealand added to the dark atmosphere. Also, it was interesting to learn several New Zealand and Māori phrases, thanks to the glossary thoughtfully added at the end of the book.”

“Set in the Auckland of the future, an energy-starved darker version of itself, the story manages to seamlessly combine a nod to culturally insightful supernatural elements with the clarity that only science can provide.”

I think, when we read fiction, we like to be transported to somewhere fresh and exotic, as Roald Dahl writes in Matilda: “…books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives.” For our Path of Ra stories, Dan and I believed that Auckland in the 2040s could be that new world, a city sweltering though the effects of rapid climate change where fuel and food shortages have an impact on everyday lives, and where the underworld draws inexorably nearer. Our readers seem to like it.

In terms of language, our tendency to use Kiwi vernacular in our writing has proved to be very entertaining during the editing process. For example, when we submitted Hounds of the Underworld to the publisher, our editor mentioned a possible Freudian slip. Did we know that Penny had called for the laboratory fume hoods to be turned up full tit? Shouldn’t that be full tilt? New Zealand is the only country in the world to use that particular turn of phrase. We love providing that uniquely Kiwi context by adding words like chur, ropeable, and Weet-Bix to our stories. We also love that after working with us for three years, our American publisher immediately knows what we mean when we talk of whānau, whāngai, and wairua. Using these local terms allows New Zealand readers to recognise the backdrop as being distinctly Kiwi, while also offering a fresh landscape for our international readers.

However, when we use these terms, we’re careful to provide context, so the word is understood, making the reading experience an enjoyable one, without overly taxing the reader. It’s one thing to provide a strong Kiwi flavour, and another to clobber your reader over the head with it. Sometimes though, we’ll change a term to something simpler, just to avoid a reader stumbling over an unfamiliar expression in a crucial scene. For example, in an early draft of Teeth of the Wolf, my character, Penny, mentions that Cerberus was ‘full of beans’, and our editor questioned why the Labrador was fed just a page later. In the final text, we agreed that the dog should be full of energy, since no actual beans were consumed! Happily, our publisher, Raw Dog Screaming Press, is hugely supportive of diverse voices, and I suspect the company’s focus on authenticity is, in part, the reason the house was awarded this year’s international Horror Writers Association’s Specialty Press Award.

You were the programme director at GeyserCon this year – what did the role involve? (And were you able to enjoy the convention as a fan as well?)

Being programme director for one of our national science fiction and fantasy conventions means around two years of weekend volunteer work — and a willingness to relinquish your soul. I’m kidding, of course, although not when it comes to the amount of work. Mostly, the role involves being completely potty about science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and having the connections and the firepower to persuade, cajole, or press-gang your colleagues into sharing their talent and their expertise. After that, it’s simply a matter of ensuring your panellists and presenters offer topics and activities that you’d be excited to attend yourself. So, despite the fact that I was running around like a headless chicken checking on things most of the weekend, I got to experience a lot of the activities and discussions on offer. I can honestly say GeyserCon was a wonderful experience.

This year’s event included cosplay and gaming streams, as well as an industry stream for writers, screenwriters, and poets. The presentations included fight scenes, writing from found objects, designing fantasy maps, planning for a geothermal apocalypse, designing Victoriana costumes from op shop materials, cosplay make-up, gaming for kids, creating zines, and a hilarious horror-thriller debate. Fans of science fiction, fantasy, and horror were simply spoiled for choice. One of the best things about our national conventions is that with just 200-300 attendees, the numbers aren’t too overwhelming, which makes them a good opportunity for introverted geeky sorts like me to network with friends, catch up with new trends, and generally immerse themselves in all things genre. I almost always come home with more books than I have time to read, too.

For part three of our interview with Lee Murray, please click here.

Author Interview: Award-Winning Lee Murray – Part 1/3!

In the bio section of her website, author Lee Murray describes herself as a New Zealand-based writer of fantasy, science fiction and horror. While this description is correct, with Murray publishing a range of award-winning speculative fiction, it doesn’t really capture the scale or importance of her role in New Zealand’s writing community.

Looking through previous Sir Julius Vogel Awards lists, one of the first things you’ll notice is the regularity of Murray’s name among the finalists. This includes her Taine McKenna series, now on its third book with Into the Ashes, as well as the Path of Ra series co-written with author Dan Rabarts. The initial installment, Hounds of the Underworld, has been called “a wild and gruesome treat, packed with mystery, action and dark humour.”

Murray’s work hasn’t been limited to the page. She’s helped to establish key writing communities in New Zealand, as well as editing several local speculative fiction anthologies including the award-winning Te korero ahi kā. And when she’s not writing, editing or mentoring, Murray helps organise events such as GeyserCon, New Zealand’s 40th National Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention.

To discover more of Murray’s work, check out her website here–or part one of our interview below. Enjoy!

You recently released Into the Ashes, book three in the Taine McKenna series. What first inspired you to write a thriller series with a local setting, and why do you think it’s been an overlooked genre in New Zealand writing in the past?

New Zealand inspired me! What better setting for an adventure? New Zealand offers landscapes and geology and legends which make it the perfect setting for a thriller adventure. The Taine Mckenna series features the Urewera mountain ranges, the soaring cliffs and icy channels of the Fiordland sounds, and the raw energy and bleak isolation of the Central Plateau. The series concept was, quite literally, inspired by our landscape, the idea coming to me while I was out running in the bush. Before sustaining an injury, I used to run marathons — completing 25 marathons and a couple of ultramarathons — which meant a lot of time running on trails.

While our New Zealand terrain can be dangerous, especially if weather conditions change rapidly, the bush doesn’t offer up a lot of beasties. There are no mountain lions, no snakes and no grumpy bears. Probably, the worst thing a runner is likely to come across is a wētā or two, or maybe a swarm of wasps. Out on the road, you might meet a stray pig dog, or a herd of cows on the way to milking, but I’ve never encountered anything on a bush trail. I was discussing this with some friends while running on a bush trail, and it occurred to me ‘what if there was something?’ and ‘what might that be?’ and the idea for Into the Mist evolved from there. I went home and opened a file which I optimistically called “Global Blockbuster” and that was how the series came about.

By the time I came to write the third book, Into the Ashes, not only did I have a contract to fulfill, readers were hanging out to see what would happen between Taine and Jules and whether Temera would regain his gift for seeing. Again, my inspiration for the third story came entirely from the New Zealand landscape. I was on a road trip with my son and husband and we were passing through the Central Plateau on a spectacularly clear day, and I remember thinking the region would make the perfect backdrop for a story. There were the mountains, the supervolcano, the lakes, the army training grounds, and all the wonderful local legends and mythology associated with the area. Adding to that, one of our greatest fears here in ‘The Shaky Isles’ is a dread of ‘the big one’: a massive volcanic-earthquake event. My mind was racing. Then my son said, “Mum, you should call your book Into the Ashes.” And that was it. The idea was born, and the eventual book became my personal favourite in the series.

I agree that too few adventure-thrillers are set against our local landscape though, and I’m not entirely sure why that is. I suspect those manuscripts exist, but with our local publishing industry’s focus on literary titles, genre authors are having to travel further afield to find homes for their work. As Bilbo Baggins says in Tolkien’s The Hobbit: “We don’t want any adventures here, thank you! You might try over The Hill or across The Water.” Often, New Zealand’s genre writers are published by smaller or foreign presses with smaller publicity budgets, which means our work is less likely to appear in local bookstores and libraries or come to the attention of New Zealand’s reviewers.

Pleasingly, there are signs that the situation is changing. For example, Craig Sisterson’s New Zealand Crime and Mystery Writers’ group is gaining some notice, with its annual Ngaio Marsh Awards showcasing new mystery-thriller works and authors, although the focus remains on real-world procedurals in the vein of Paul Cleave and Vanda Symon. Alan Carter’s Malborough Man is a good example, the novel starring UK detective, Nick Chester, who is forced to relocate to New Zealand after botching an undercover case. Gaining ground in the speculative thriller-adventure arena is Waikato writer Adrian J. Smith, the author of fast-paced New Zealand-based monster adventures in Nicholas Sansbury Smith’s bestselling Extinction world. Smith tells me he is writing an original title which also uses a Kiwi backdrop, so that will be one to watch for. Happily for me, the McKenna military thriller with its strong local focus appears to have filled a neglected niche in the market and its novelty may account, in part, for the series’ success, with Into the Mist and Into the Sounds winning the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Novel in 2017 and 2019 respectively.

For part two of our interview with Lee Murray, please click here.

Author Interview: Vogel Award-Winning Kura Carpenter!

The Sir Julius Vogel Awards are New Zealand’s annual celebration of home-grown science fiction and fantasy, with awards covering books, dramatic presentations, fan publications and more. One of the most competitive categories is Best New Talent, and this year’s winner was Dunedin-based author Kura Carpenter!

Kura’s debut novel, The Kingfisher’s Debt, tells the story of Tamsin Fairchild, a translator who must team up with rookie cop Scott Gale to investigate the disappearance of a newborn baby. But this is no ordinary crime: beneath familiar New Zealand locations is a world rich in danger–and magic. Vogel Award judges described The Kingfisher’s Debt as “very cleverly set in an urban fantasy world overlaying (or underlying, depending on your perspective) Dunedin, New Zealand. The writing is crisp, the plot excellently designed and executed.”

We contacted Kura to discuss her writing process, the Vogel Awards and what it’s like to be a fantasy writer in New Zealand. For more on her writing check out her website, and for the full Sir Julius Vogel Awards list, click here. Enjoy!

You’ve described The Kingfisher’s Debt as urban fantasy–a genre combining both fantasy and mystery. How did elements of these two genres complement each other in the shaping of the story?

My story follows a typical mystery structure–crime discovered, investigation, clues revealed, case solved–but the world it’s set in is an alternative New Zealand where magic exists, but most regular people don’t encounter it, in much the same way that you don’t know anything about crime unless it directly touches your life.

The crime in my story is connected to the people who deal in magic, I guess maybe that’s what you mean by shape. The mystery and magic are interconnected. Without the magic, there would be no desire to try and steal it.

Reviews of The Kingfisher’s Debt have praised your descriptions of real-life locations–Dunedin’s midwinter darkness and the “80s kitsch of St Clair”. Were there many challenges in bringing this familiar world to the page?

None. Although I was going for a 90s vibe, so I guess I failed.

There has also been a lot of positive feedback about the characters in The Kingfisher’s Debt–their grittiness, unusualness and dialogue. How did the character of Tamsin–and her excellent first person perspective–come about?

She just popped into my head and I wrote down what she said.

I’m an introvert, I feel awkward meeting people, so I talk to myself all the time, practice conversations, that kind of thing. It’s probably the only benefit of anxiety, all the internal practice improves ones writing ability to capture ‘voice’.

Was it difficult to create a story with both past and present timelines? Was there much planning or re-drafting required with this?

No. I don’t plan, I’m a pantser, an intuitive writer, (which often surprises people who assume I must be a strict outliner). I’m just fortunate to have better than normal intuition for pattern and structure.

I’d come across the zipper-structure (alternating timelines) when reading a novel years ago, and after I’d written my first draft I realised that’s what I’d inadvertently created, it just needed some shuffling of scenes to get the timeline straight and make sure the subtext was as I wanted.

It’s always exciting to have a story that includes a library! You’ve previously worked in Dunedin City Library–what was it that drew you to the library as one of the locations in The Kingfisher’s Debt?

Yes. I’m lazy. It was the easiest thing to do, use locations I’m familiar with.

How do you feel about the fantasy writing scene in New Zealand at the moment? How do you think it might develop in the future, especially with WorldCon taking place in New Zealand next year?

That’s a hard one. On the one hand adult-reading level fantasy has been all but deserted by New Zealand’s traditional publishers, not for lack of talent, but because it’s simply not profitable. Talent wise I think the scene is stronger than it ever was. With the rise of self and indie publishing, has come a lot of opportunity.

While in many fields New Zealand punches above its weight internationally, for example film, sport, and even our P.M. is beloved globally, however when it comes to fantasy writing, we haven’t managed to carve out a spot beyond our borders.

Other New Zealand writers who write realist fiction consider what I write to be commercial and appealing to the masses, but because I’m not writing American or U.K. stories my story is actually non-commercial, it only has local appeal. WorldCon will shine a spotlight on us briefly, but the trouble ultimately remains that we’re a small market for telling our own stories, our own brand of fantasy. If we’re going to develop in the future then we must become leaders and not just followers.

Dublin Noir: New Mystery Fiction

What exactly makes a murderer? What leads to the decision to kill? These are the questions Irish author Olivia Kiernan considered when writing the second book in her Frankie Sheehan series, The Killer in Me. The Financial Times has called The Killer in Me fresh, tense and gruesome, while the Wall Street Journal described it as a “captivating new thriller.” Now you, too, can discover why it just might be one of the best police procedural stories this year.

Also new to Wellington City Libraries this month: the latest works from Christi Daugherty, S.C. Perkins and Scottish author (and founder of the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival) Alex Gray. Enjoy!

Only the dead can tell / Gray, Alex
“When Dorothy Guildford is found stabbed to death in her home, all signs point to her husband, Peter. The forensic psychologist is convinced there’s more to the case than meets the eye but Police Scotland are certain they have their man. While DC Kirsty Wilson searches for evidence that will put Peter away for good, she is shocked to discover a link to a vast human-trafficking operation . . .” (Adapted from the catalogue.)

The killer in me / Kiernan, Olivia
“Murder convict Sean Hennessy is released from prison to return to a seaside community in Dublin. He has always professed his innocence. But within months of his release, two bodies appear in the peaceful suburb of Clontarf. With a TV documentary pushing the public’s sympathies in Hennessy’s direction, the original evidence against him is called into question and Detective Frankie Sheehan finds herself doubting her original analysis of the case.” (Adapted from the catalogue.)

Murder once removed / Perkins, S. C.
“According to her friends, Lucy Lancaster, Austin, Texas genealogist, has never been drunk. Tipsy, sure, but drunk? No way. So when she arrives back at her office from a three-martini lunch a few sheets to the wind, it’s a notable occasion. Even more momentous is what her client, Austin billionaire Gus Halloran, has announced on live television with a blotto Lucy standing at his side: Texas senator Caleb Applewhite might be responsible for the murder of Seth Halloran.” (Adapted from the catalogue.)

A dangerous collaboration / Raybourn, Deanna
“Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell is whisked off to a remote island off the tip of Cornwall when her natural historian colleague Stoker’s brother calls in a favour. On the pretext of wanting a companion to accompany him to Lord Malcolm Romilly’s house party, Tiberius persuades Veronica to pose as his fiancée–much to Stoker’s chagrin. But upon arriving, it becomes clear that the party is not as innocent as it had seemed.” (Adapted from the catalogue.)

A beautiful corpse / Daugherty, Christi
“With its antebellum houses and ancient oak trees draped in a veil of Spanish moss, Savannah’s graceful downtown is famous around the world. When a woman is killed in the heart of that affluent district, the shock is felt throughout the city. But for crime reporter Harper McClain, this story is personal. The corpse has a familiar face . . .” (Adapted from the catalogue.)

Sir Julius Vogel Awards Announced!

Aotearoa/New Zealand has a long history of publishing exciting science fiction and fantasy, from Anno Domini 2000, or, Woman’s Destiny by former Prime Minister Sir Julius Vogel to The Dreamhunter Duet by Elizabeth Knox to Ngā Waituhi o Rēhua by Katerina Te Heikoko Mataira.

Each year the best of this local sci-fi and fantasy is recognised at the Sir Julius Vogel Awards, with awards for novels, short stories, fan productions and more. This year the Vogels were announced at GeyserCon, the 40th National Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention in Rotorua. Congratulations to all the winners!

And next year things get even bigger. In 2020 the Vogels will be held as part of CoNZealand, the 78th World Science Fiction Convention–happening right here in Wellington. Guests include Mercedes Lackey, Larry Dixon, Greg Broadmore and toastmaster George R.R. Martin!

To get you started, we’ve got a list of past Vogel winners and finalists currently available in our collection. And for everyone who went to GeyserCon, we hope you had a great time!

Overdrive cover Fosterling, by Emma Neale (ebook)
“A young man is found unconscious in a remote forest. He is over seven feet tall, his skin covered in thick hair which reminds onlookers of an animal’s pelt. When he wakes in a city hospital, he is eerily uncommunicative. Speculation begins. Medics want to run tests on him, the media want to get his story, and the public want to gawp and prod. A moving, compelling story about society and our reactions to difference.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description)

Dreamer’s pool : a Blackthorn & Grim novel / Marillier, Juliet
“In exchange for help escaping her long and wrongful imprisonment, embittered magical healer Blackthorn has vowed to set aside her bid for vengeance against the man who destroyed all that she once held dear. Followed by a former prison mate, a silent hulk of a man named Grim, she travels north to Dalriada. There she’ll live on the fringe of a mysterious forest, duty bound for seven years to assist anyone who asks for her help…” (Adapted from the catalogue)

The traitor and the thief / Ward, Gareth
“Discovered picking pockets at Coxford’s Corn Market, fourteen year old Sin is hunted across the city. Caught by the enigmatic Eldritch Moons, Sin is offered a way out of his life of crime: join the Covert Operations Group (COG) and train to become a spy. At Lenheim Palace, Sin learns spy craft while trying not to break the school’s Cast-Iron Rules. Secrets, spies and steampunk gadgets abound in this fantastic adventure story!” (Adapted from the catalogue)

Into the mist / Murray, Lee
“When New Zealand Defense Force Sergeant Taine McKenna and his squad are tasked with escorting a bunch of civilian contractors into Te Urewera National Park, it seems a strange job for the army. Taine draws on ancient tribal wisdom as he becomes desperate to bring his charges out alive. Will it be enough to stop the nightmare? And when the mist clears, will anyone be left?” (Adapted from the catalogue)

Onyx javelin / Wheeler, Steve
“Move over Star Wars! This is a superb space opera… humans and hybrids and strange new creatures fighting for survival on Earth and across the galaxies. There is life everywhere throughout the Milky Way Galaxy. It takes forms that will astonish and frighten, that will challenge and terrify as they exist within the greater fight of existence: eat or be eaten. But who is the enemy really?” (Adapted from the catalogue)

Heartwood / Robertson, Freya
“Chonrad, Lord of Barle, comes to the fortified temple of Heartwood for Congressus peace talks, which Heartwood’s holy knights have called in an attempt to stave off war in Anguis. But the Arbor, Hearthwood’s holy tree, is failing, and because the land and its people are one, it is imperative the nations try to make peace.” (Adapted from the catalogue)

When we wake / Healey, Karen
“In 2027, sixteen-year-old Tegan is just like every other girl–playing the guitar, falling in love, and protesting the wrongs of the world with her friends. But then Tegan dies, waking up 100 years in the future as the unknowing first government guinea pig to be cryogenically frozen and successfully revived. Appalling secrets about her new world come to light, and Tegan must choose to either keep her head down or fight for a better future.” (Adapted from the catalogue)

Eavesdropping Underwater: an Interview with Giacomo Giorli!

Why do scientists eavesdrop on whales and dolphins? What can recordings of whale and dolphin sounds tell us? How do you even record the sound that these creatures make? And what’s it like to go to Antarctica?

Join us on Saturday, May 25 at Te Papa for a FREE talk by NIWA scientists Dr Giacomo Giorli and Olivia Price to hear the answers!

As part of the build-up to Eavesdropping Underwater, we interviewed Dr Giacomo Giorli about his role as a marine mammal acoustician. Dr Giorli’s work has taken him around the world, from studying dolphins in the Ligurian Sea to investigating predator-prey relationships in the waters of Hawaii. He has continued this work at NIWA, including involvement in a pioneering underwater sound project that recently gained national headlines.

What first drew you to oceanography?

Curiosity. I grew up close to the sea, and I was just curious about it.

What makes you most excited in your current job at NIWA?

The possibility to study many species in the Southern Ocean that we know almost nothing about, and the incredible amount of technology that we have at NIWA to conduct research.

You recently discovered clicks from unknown beaked whales in the Cook Strait. What would you like to do next to follow up this research?

That work was the result of a study conducted by all the researchers that authored the paper, and not just my “discovery”. It was a collaborative work. One important thing to note is that we did not discover unknown or new species of beaked whales (as many people always think). We recorded echolocation signals from beaked whales in Cook Strait that were not previously described in literature. We know the signals are from beaked whales, but we do not know what species of beaked whales are producing them. I guess a natural follow up to this research would be to identify the species that are using these sounds.

You’ve also studied the foraging behaviours of sperm whales and other toothed whales in Hawaii. What was it like completing this research, and what were the results?

That research is far from completed. In reality what I was studying in Hawaii was just the tip of the iceberg of deep sea predator-prey studies involving deep diving toothed whales. The toothed whale species studied in that research are species that dive very deep to search for food. They can dive deeper than 1 km. Because of this, it is essentially impossible to observe their behaviour directly. One can go in the African savanna and observe predator behaviour directly. Think about cheetahs hunting. We all are familiar with videos of cheetahs chasing impalas. What I want to point out is that when you have to deal with working in the deep ocean in general, making observations is incredibly challenging. We face the problem of observing how deep sea prey drives the distribution and behaviour of their predators.

In Hawaii, I tested new acoustic technology that would allow researchers to understand how prey availability and type could influence the behaviour of the deep diving predators (toothed whales). Data indicated that sperm whales, for example, foraged more where they had chances of finding larger prey, rather than where they had chances to find more prey. It seems counter-intuitive that they would rather go in a place where there is less potential prey. It suggests that these predators are somehow picky in choosing their prey.

As well as whales, your work also involves recording sounds from creatures as tiny as marine algae. What are the similarities and differences in working at these different scales?

The research I did on algae with my colleagues in the U.S. was a laboratory experiment. We did not go to sea. Algae do not have a sound generator like vocal cords. The sound is produced by oxygen bubbles that are expelled from the algal tissue during photosynthesis. However, the signal processing techniques we used to analyse the acoustic data are pretty much the same used for cetacean bio-acoustics research.

If money wasn’t a problem, what would be your ideal research project?

I guess the ideal research project in Marine Sciences is the one that ends well without failures of instrumentations and other things that can go wrong at sea.

For more insights into Dr Giorli’s work, join us at Eavesdropping Underwater: the Sounds of Whales and Dolphins on Saturday, May 25 at Te Papa!