Toni Morrison: a Personal Reflection

After the recent death of Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, our fiction selector Neil reflects on his memorable meeting with the literary great.

Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison has died at the age of 88. Many years ago I had the great privilege of running a book signing event for one of her novels. What I best remember is the way she could communicate to her audience even the darkest of events with great humanity and compassion. Though it was a long time ago, I can still recall how her presence lit up the room and how the audience hung rapt on every word she said.

Born in 1931, she said to biographers “Storytelling was part of family life.” After gaining a master’s degree at Cornell University she started a teaching and editing career before publishing her first novel, The Bluest Eye in 1970. What followed was a remarkable stream of stunning works, with razor sharp dissections of slavery and racism and their consequences for individuals and society. She was awarded just about every literary award available, including the Nobel Prize, the French Legion of Honour and the US Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In our ever more divided world, her messages about the corrosive power of racism and slavery are as powerful and important as they ever were. For more reflections on Toni Morrison, visit The Guardian tribute page.

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.

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)

Dame Fiona Kidman discusses This Mortal Boy!

It’s not easy to win a New Zealand Book Award–and it’s even harder to win one on four separate occasions! But that’s exactly what Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize-winner Dame Fiona Kidman has managed to achieve, claiming an award in 1988, 2001, 2006 and now in 2019 with the fantastic This Mortal Boy.

This Mortal Boy is the story of Albert Black, the second-to-last man to be executed in New Zealand. Judges described it as a work that “pulls the reader into mid-century New Zealand–the restlessness of a new urban youth culture, the moral panic that led to the Mazengarb report, the damning assumptions of the legal profession and the unchallenged omissions that eased the pathway to a young man’s death.”

Wellington City Libraries recently had the pleasure of hosting Dame Fiona Kidman as part of our Mystery in the Library event at Karori Library, along with fellow authors Kelly Dennett, Kirsten McDougall, Jennifer Lane and Brannavan Gnanalingam. If you weren’t able to make it to this excellent event, never fear! You can now listen to it in its entirety via the podcast below–including Dame Fiona Kidman describing the process that brought This Mortal Boy to fruition. Enjoy!

Check out the shortlist for the 33rd Arthur C. Clarke award!

The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.” – Arthur C. Clarke

The prestigious Arthur C. Clarke award shortlist has just been announced. The award aims to honour the best science fiction novel of the year – 124 books were submitted and six have make the shortlist. The judges have selected a fantastically varied list from Simon Stålenhag’s graphic novel The Electric State to Ahmed Saadawi’s politically nuanced Frankenstein in Baghdad, as well as novels in the cyberpunk and military space opera genre. The judges will have a really tough time deciding who the final winner will be!

The 2019 Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist:


Semiosis / Sue Burke.
“Colonists from Earth wanted the perfect home, but they’ll have to survive on the one they found. They don’t realize another life form watches…and waits… Only mutual communication can forge an alliance with the planet’s sentient species and prove that humans are more than tools.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Also available as an ebook.

Syndetics book coverThe electric state / Simon Stålenhag.
“In late 1997, a runaway teenager and her small yellow toy robot travel west through a strange American landscape where the ruins of gigantic battle drones litter the countryside, along with the discarded trash of a high-tech consumerist society addicted to a virtual-reality system. As they approach the edge of the continent, the world outside the car window seems to unravel at an ever faster pace, as if somewhere beyond the horizon, the hollow core of civilization has finally caved in.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverFrankenstein in Baghdad : a novel / Ahmed Saadawi ; translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright.
“From the rubble-strewn streets of U.S.-occupied Baghdad, Hadi — a scavenger and an oddball fixture at a local café — collects human body parts and stitches them together to create a corpse. His goal, he claims, is for the government to recognize the parts as people and to give them proper burial. But when the corpse goes missing, a wave of eerie murders sweeps the city, and reports stream in of a horrendous-looking criminal who, though shot, cannot be killed. Hadi soon realizes he’s created a monster, one that needs human flesh to survive–first from the guilty, and then from anyone in its path.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Also available as an ebook.

Syndetics book coverRosewater / Tade Thompson.
“Rosewater is a town on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious alien biodome, its residents comprise the hopeful, the hungry and the helpless – people eager for a glimpse inside the dome or a taste of its rumored healing powers. Kaaro is a government agent with a criminal past. He has seen inside the biodome, and doesn’t care to again — but when something begins killing off others like himself, Kaaro must defy his masters to search for an answer, facing his dark history and coming to a realization about a horrifying future.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Rosamunde Pilcher, international bestselling author has died

Rosamunde Pilcher had already written thirteen books before she became an international bestselling sensation with the Shell Seekers. Eventually the popular book was to be translated into forty languages, sit on best seller lists for an astonishing forty-nine weeks, sell over ten million copies and turn Rosamunde into an unlikely cult figure in Germany. She was credited for taking romantic fiction to a higher level injecting more realism and grittiness into the genre, and setting the benchmark for romantic fiction novelists. She retired from writing in 2000 after completing her final work Winter Solstice stating that she “wanted to stop while she was writing well”. She will be sorely missed by her legions of fans.

Syndetics book coverThe shell seekers / Rosamunde Pilcher.
“Artist’s daughter Penelope Keeling can look back on a full and varied life: a Bohemian childhood in London and Cornwall, an unhappy wartime marriage, and the one man she truly loved. She has brought up three children – and learned to accept them as they are. Yet she is far too energetic and independent to settle sweetly into pensioned-off old-age. And when she discovers that her most treasured possession, her father’s painting, The Shell Seekers, is now worth a small fortune, it is Penelope who must make the decisions that will determine whether her family can continue to survive as a family, or be split apart.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWinter solstice / Rosamunde Pilcher.
“Elfrida Phipps loves her new life in the pretty Hampshire village. She has a tiny cottage, her faithful dog Horace and the friendship of the neighbouring Blundells – particularly Oscar – to ensure that her days include companionship as well as independence. But an unforeseen tragedy upsets Elfrida’s tranquillity: Oscar’s wife and daughter are killed in a terrible car crash. Oscar and Elfrida take refuge in a rambling house in Scotland which becomes a magnet for various waifs and strays who converge upon it, including an unhappy teenage girl.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

WCL’s Most Wanted of 2018

It’s that time of year for us to unveil the most wanted of 2018! Check out the top 10 most read books by the whole city of Wellington. Fiction, Non-Fiction, Children’s and Young Adult – here are your favourites.

Fiction

This year was all about thrillers for Wellington readers with Lee Child and John Grisham taking out 1st and 3rd place for most borrowed books, and newcomer A.J Finn sweeping in to take 2nd place for the most read fiction titles this year! For a fuller list broken down by genre and hand picked by our Fiction team check out ‘Ring out the old, ring in the new: the best novels of 2018!’.

Non-Fiction:

Drawn out takes the number 1 spot this year followed closely by Chelsea Winter’s and Dr Libby’s cookbooks coming in at 2nd and 3rd place. The top 10 was dominated by cookbooks with only few exceptions including the international best-seller Fire & Fury and local favourite Nikau Cafe by Kelda Hains.

Children’s

Children’s author Jeff Kinney takes out our number one place with his book the Last Straw and a further 7  places of our Top 10 this year, with popular children’s author Andy Griffiths managing to squeeze in for 2 spots taking out 6th and 10th place. For any parent this year’s top 10 will come as no surprise to see that the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and those multi-storied tree houses are as popular as ever!

Young Adult Fiction

Movie adaptions have dominated the Young Adult top 10 this year with 7/10 either out or coming out any minute included on the list, with classics classics like  The Fault in Our Stars and The Hunger Games remaining in the top 10 for another year! John Green’s new novel has taken the coveted number 1 spot though, with Mortal Engines following closely behind in second place spurred on by the upcoming release of Peter Jackson’s new action packed film and The Maze Runner taking out 3rd place.

Biographies

New Zealand author Diana Wichtel has taken the 1st place for Biographies 2018 with her book Driving to Treblinka with fellow NZ author Lilia Tarawa coming in 5th place with her book Daughter of Gloriavale. 2nd place went to the ever popular Educated : a memoir by Tara Westover with Shaun Bythell’s hilarious account The diary of a bookseller rounding out the top 3.

eBooks

Bestsellers dominated the eBook top 10 list this year with Margaret Atwoods The Handmaid’s Tale tand Lee Child’s The Midnight Line taking out 2nd and 3rd place respectively, but they couldn’t take the crown of 1st place from the charming little memoir Flat Broke with Two Goats from Jennifer McGaha, the only non-fiction book to make the ebook Top 10!

Overdrive cover Overdrive cover Overdrive cover

Stay tuned for the Best of 2018 – eLibrary edition… Coming Soon!

 

 

Iconic legend of the comic book world, Stan Lee, has died

Stan Lee, co-creator of some of the most famous super heroes ever: including Spider-man, The Hulk, The X-men, The Fantastic Four, Thor and the Black Panther died yesterday (12th November 2018). It is no exaggeration to say that the comic creations he helped bring to life changed the global entertainment world profoundly. Some of those characters have permeated just about every aspect of world culture. His larger than life public persona often appeared as cameos in Marvel Universe films.

He will be greatly missed but there is no doubt those creations he helped to form will go on.

R.I.P. Stan Lee.

Syndetics book coverAmazing fantastic incredible : a marvelous memoir / Stan Lee and Peter David and Colleen Doran.
“In this gorgeously illustrated, full-color graphic memoir, Stan Lee–comic book legend and cocreator of Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Avengers, the Incredible Hulk, and a legion of other Marvel superheroes–shares his iconic legacy and the story of how modern comics came to be.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSpider-Man 2099 [6] : Apocalypse soon / Peter David, writer ; Will Sliney, artist.
“Spider-Man 2099 has learned the location of the headquarters of the Fist – the extremist anti-government offshoot of the Hand that put his fianc’e in a coma – and he’s ready to mount his attack! But it turns out that he’s not the only one investigating the radical group. Elektra Natchios, Marvel’s most deadly assassin, has her own reasons for hunting these terrorists. Can Miguel trust this mysterious newcomer, or is she yet another obstacle in his quest for vengeance?  (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverStan Lee’s How to draw comics : from the legendary creator of Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, Fantastic Four, X-Men, and Iron Man / Stan Lee.
Contents of this book include: A brief history of comic books . . . by a guy who lived them! — Tools of the trade — Form, perspective & foreshortening — The human head — Amazing anatomy, action & acting — Characters & costumes — Bring on the backgrounds — The life behind the layouts — Peerless penciling — Imaginative inking — Lively lettering — Crafting the color — Commanding covers — and Creating the comic book.

 

Anna Burns has won the 2018 Man Booker Prize

Anna Burns has won the 2018 Man Booker Prize with her unique take on the troubles in Northern Ireland.  Her novel Milkman has been praised for its distinctive voice and dark humour. She is the first Northern Irish writer to receive the prize. Its portrayal of a divided society in which a man uses these troubles to sexually pursue a young woman has been lauded. Anna Burns manages to deal with major, serious issues that can be found in many cultures in a common sense fashion that also contains elements of humour.

The book has been described as “incredibly original” by the Booker’s chair of judges, the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah. The novel’s themes whilst local also manage to cover the same experiences in a universal fashion. Anna Burns said of her life changing Booker win, “It’s nice to feel I’m solvent. That’s a huge gift.”

Milkman / Burns, Anna
“Written in a perfectly-rendered Irish vernacular Set in an un-named city but with an astonishing, breath-shorteningly palpable sense of time and place Milkman is a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. The story of inaction with enormous consequences and decisions that are never made, but for which people are judged and punished.

Middle sister is our protagonist. She is busy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her nearly-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with milkman (which she herself for the life of her cannot work out how it came about). But when first brother-in-law, who of course had sniffed it out, told his wife, her first sister, to tell her mother to come and have a talk with her, middle sister becomes ‘interesting’. The last thing she ever wanted to be. To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous…” (Catalogue)

Nobel prize winning author VS Naipaul dies aged 85

Nobel prize winning author V.S. Naipaul died over the weekend. He was acknowledged by all as a master story teller with a sharp eye for the human condition, but he was also a highly controversial figure — his statements on gender, race and Islamic culture were often extreme. He leaves behind a challenging and complicated body of work, his acknowledged masterpiece being A House for Mrs Biswas (link and synopsis below).

You can read obituaries for V.S. Naipaul at the links below:

Syndetics book coverA house for Mr Biswas / V.S. Naipaul ; with an introduction by Karl Miller.A House for Mr. Biswas
“In the comic masterpiece which established him one of the greatest writers in the English language, Naipaul follows the fortunes of Mr Biswas, the outsider who refuses to conform to the customs of his grander in-laws whose house he lives in. Finally finding a house of his own, he triumphs over the smaller minds who would repress him.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)