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.

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!

 

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

Wellington author interview: Mandy Hager

Mandy Hager has influenced a generation of readers with her politically astute, emotionally rich YA novels, including The Crossing and The Nature of Ash. But it’s her recent historical novel, Heloise, that’s been causing a stir this year. Described as “brilliant” by the Listener, Heloise tells the story of 12th century lovers Heloise d’Argenteuil and Peter Abelard, and the politics and attitudes they must negotiate during the Gregorian Reforms.

You’ve mentioned that you spent 18 months researching before starting to write Heloise. Were there any particular discoveries that stood out for you, or altered your approach?

Two things really impacted on how I ultimately told the story. The first was a very good piece of advice from academic Dr Constant Mews, who recommended I read as many of the texts Heloise would have read as possible, as all her writing is steeped in references to them. This really enriched the story, especially when I discovered her love of Ovid’s Heroides and saw how I could use it as a mirror for her own story. It was also a really good reminder that, though the incidentals of the 12th century are different, human emotion is consistent across time.

The second thing was discovering the politics that lay behind the story, which made the actions make sense and put them into context. This proved crucial to cracking open the various character’s motivations.

From early on, Heloise fights against the notion that as a woman, she must “learn in silence with all subjection.” How did this struggle, and its on-going relevance, influence your telling of the story?

For a start, the whole act of writing her story countered this: giving her back her voice and own personal agency. Thematically, it taps into several strands I wanted to focus on: the systematic silencing of women across the ages; the effects of church and state power and control, especially as it affected women; and on a craft level, the challenge of telling a story that still has pace and action when the central character is cloistered away and mainly interacts through letters and hearsay.

How difficult was it to capture the voice, thoughts and feelings of a character from the 12th century? Especially someone with Heloise’s background?

As I mentioned above, by reading what Heloise read, it helped me find appropriate ways of expressing her feelings through the literature of her day. Plus, I had the advantage of her letters, which gave me an insight into how she put words on a page and thought. I wrote the whole first draft in a kind of heightened 17th century voice to try and get away from modern concepts, metaphors and language. It didn’t work from a readers point of view (too dense and saccharine) but it helped me make the shift in my head and meant that when I rewrote my head was much more seated in the language and thought constructions of the time. That said, it’s amazing how hard it is to pick up all the modern words and ideas – and I’m extremely grateful to the team of editors and readers for digging them out!

In terms of feelings, once the situation is defined by its context, then it’s just a matter of imagining myself into the character’s head and focussing on what would be the most truthful human reaction to each situation. I think we make a mistake thinking people back then thought in a less emotionally sophisticated way. Heloise’s letters make it clear nothing changes in the history of the heart!

How did writing historical fiction compare with writing stories set in the near future, such as The Nature of Ash?

One’s solely based on imagining a future, with the ability to reference current culture as a kind of shorthand for what’s going on. Historical fiction requires a lot more digging around for shorthand references that are pertinent to the day but still resonate with today’s readers. Another less delicate way of putting this is, in books like The Nature of Ash (which I’m currently writing a sequel to) I’m free to make shit up! That’s a whole lot easier!

Does your approach to writing fiction such as Heloise differ to your approach to writing young adult fiction?

I think when writing young adult fiction there’s an overriding need for pace that is more pressing than adult fiction, along with the need for a young adult protagonist, but overall I don’t think there is that much difference. It’s still a matter of digging into character and trying to bring them alive on the page.

Has Heloise had an on-going influence on your own life, writing or politics?

Most undoubtedly all three! It’s by far the hardest book I’ve ever written (in terms of both its scope and the amount of time it took) and I had to dig really deep to keep going and not give up. I think the gift of the residencies I had during the time meant I felt a great deal of personal pressure to perform and come up with the goods, and though that was exhausting and at times overwhelming, I’m proud of myself for persevering! But I think it’s also taught me a lot as a writer, mainly thanks to my amazing editor, Harriet Allan, who really pushed me (in the best possible way) and I’m hoping that the lessons I’ve learned transfer through to all my writing in the future. The politics have had a huge impact. It’s depressing to realise the very same issues Heloise struggled with are still evident today, and we seem no closer to really solving them. We rabbit on a lot about how we should use history to learn how to progress and improve human lives, but the truth is we’ll go on making the same mistakes over and over – and the same people will continue to be oppressed – if we don’t actually heed the lessons and make a concerted effort to implement change. Heloise’s courage in speaking her truths and supporting those around her is one I now try even harder to emulate as a result of this.

5 minutes with Sally Bollinger: Comicfest feature

This year’s ComicFest event was a huge success, with over 1300 attendees on the day! Thanks to all that came along, and if you couldn’t make it, podcasts of the panel discussions will be available online soon. Until then, you can enjoy the last of our 5 minutes with interviews with our guests!

Next up we have Sally Bollinger, creator of both webcomics and video webseries. At Comicfest, Sally was on the A Wellington View – Local Cartoonists panel, along with Jem Yoshioka, Giselle Clarkson and Robyn Kenealy. Find out more from Sally below:

Image by Sally Bollinger
Image by Sally Bollinger

Q: What first got you interested in comics?
A: We had a lot of Tintin books in my house as a child. And when my dad would read to us (chapter books mostly) I’d draw the scenes and characters. Then I brought a graphic novel of the Hobbit and realised I could be doing this myself. So I did.

Q: What is your average day like?
A: Sadly an average day isn’t necessarily comics related, but it is always about stories! The week is usually about webseries, and the weekend is hopefully about comics. So I’ll chat to my flatmates, answer emails, edit a script or a video, drink tea, stare at the script with a feeling of doom, tidy (because I need to “think”), actually finish the script (because it turns out I haven’t forgotten what words are). Storyboard a loose comic, then get to drawing! (Yay!) I’ll do a couple of warm-up drawings, sketch out several pages, ink, scan, maybe colour or just tidy up the image. Maybe I’ll have a meeting in the evening. Then I might play Mah Jong with my flatmates or we’ll dance to musical numbers while we make dinner.

Q: Can you tell us about a current or recent project you’ve worked on?
A: Recently I’ve been creating a zine called the “Comic of Whimsy” about the silly things my flatmates get up to. But on a bigger scale I’m embarking on a webcomic with the Candle Wasters that is a part-webseries, part-webcomic adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Our Hamlet is a 14-year-old girl who draws angst comics in her Wellington bedroom and who’s best friend is a cactus. It’s got a lot of magic realism elements that we couldn’t pull off on screen but can do in comic form! (also I get to learn how to draw a giant, maniacal, human-faced horse.)

Image by Sally Bollinger
Image by Sally Bollinger

Q: Do you have any traditions or rituals that help you when you get to work?
A: Going for a walk before I start working, so my brain feels alive. Putting on a wash first thing. Lots of tea. Listening to music while I ink. But when I really get into the work it’ll be midnight before I think to check the time.

Q: Who/what is your biggest influence or inspiration?
A: Chris Riddell, Shakespeare, fairy tales and the opinion of my younger sister. As well as Dylan Horrocks and Tim Bollinger.

Q: What or who are your favourite NZ comics or creators?
A: I always go back to Toby Morris’ Alledaags: a year in Amsterdam and Katie O’Neill is excellent in every way.

Q: What is your dream comic project?
A: Whenever I read a really good fantasy novel I always imagine I’d make an excellent comic. So, if ever JK Rowling or Patrick Rothfuss suddenly, oddly wanted a New Zealand comic version of their works I’d be keen. Basically I’d love to explore a fantasy world, or just do a good adaptation of Hamlet.

Q: What are you excited to share with ComicFest attendees? Just a taster!
A: I’m keen to have a big ol’ chat about what everyone’s favourite comics are. But also excited to talk visual storytelling across media, and I always have a few Shakespeare facts up my sleeve.

Q: If you were to enter our cosplay contest, who/what would you dress up as?
A: Comic book character would be Black Jack by Tezuka. Or Kvothe from The Name of the Wind.

You can find Sally’s work online in a number of places!
Online comics: quietly-exploding.tumblr.com
Online webseries: The Candle Wasters on Youtube
Hamlet webseries/webcomic pilot: on YouTube!

5 minutes with Giselle Clarkson: Comicfest feature

ComicFest is back for 2017! On Saturday May 6th at the Central Library there will be panels and workshops all day long for comic-lovers of all ages. You can also pick up a free comic from us on the day and celebrate Free Comic Book Day, courtesy of GRAPHIC! Head over to the ComicFest Facebook event for all the details, and to receive event updates.

Giselle Clarkson is a Wellington-based freelance illustrator who is also interested in tramping, growing veggies and making music. She currently has a monthly comic being published by NZ website The Sapling, often featuring the influence of books on her as an illustrator. At ComicFest Giselle will be on our A Wellington View – Local Cartoonists panel along with Jem Yoshioka and Sally Bollinger, moderated by Robyn Kenealy. Come along to get an idea what it’s like to be making comics in NZ’s capital city!

Q: What first got you interested in comics?
A: There were lots of comics/cartoons on the bookshelves when I was a kid – Tintin, Asterix, The Far Side, Raymond Briggs, Spike Milligan, Rupert Bear – all things that had belonged to my parents or older brother. I loved reading them but it never occurred to me that they were a thing I could ask for more of.
It wasn’t until I was 16 or 17 and discovered webcomics that I realised what the possibilities were! But after that it was years before I started really making and sharing comics myself.

Comic by Giselle Clarkson
Comic by Giselle Clarkson

Q: What is your average day like?
A: I work freelance from home – I wake up early, make coffee, drink it at my desk, fluff around online for at least an hour and then start work. I like to take my breaks in the garden – poking around for interesting insects or something edible.
I love working in my pyjamas and having a flexible schedule, but I’m often working late at night and weekends don’t really exist. Going into town for a meeting is pretty exciting for me!

Q: Can you tell us about a current or recent project you’ve worked on?
A: I visited the New Zealand subantarctic islands last year and I’ve been making science communication comics about all the amazing stuff down there and the environmental threats the region is facing. Travelling on a ship for 19 days with a fairly small group of people was a pretty incredible – in a positive way! – experience in itself so I plan on telling a story about that too.
I’m also doing a regular comic about picture books for kids’ literature website The Sapling. Coming up with a good comic idea every month is not easy – I am in total awe of people who do it every day, or every week!

An image from Giselle's work on The Sapling
An image from Giselle’s work on The Sapling

Q: Do you have any traditions or rituals that help you when you get to work?
A: When I’m writing or plotting I need silence, or I have a fan going to make white noise. When I’m tidying up my line art or colouring it in I go into a sort of auto-pilot mode and if I don’t have something interesting to listen to and keep my mind focused I go absolutely spare with distraction. So I use podcasts to fix that problem.

Q: Who/what is your biggest influence or inspiration?
A: The NZ outdoors and the need to protect what we’ve got here. I’m really in love with all our wild places.
And people I meet, there are so many genuinely brilliant characters out there.

Comic by Giselle Clarkson
Comic by Giselle Clarkson

Q: What is your dream comic project?
A: Tagging along on scientific expeditions to remote places, drawing and writing about the environment, the science, the people and my experiences.

Q: If you were to enter our cosplay contest, who/what would you dress up as?
A: Hilda from Luke Pearson’s comic series! She always looks comfortable.

You can see more of Giselle’s work online at www.giselledraws.com and on Twitter at @giselledraws

5 minutes with Sam Orchard: Comicfest feature

ComicFest is back for 2017! On Saturday May 6th at the Central Library there will be panels and workshops all day long for comic-lovers of all ages. You can also pick up a free comic from us on the day and celebrate Free Comic Book Day, courtesy of GRAPHIC! Head over to the ComicFest Facebook event for all the details, and to receive event updates.

Sam Orchard is the author of the popular webcomic Rooster Tails. At ComicFest, Sam will be on our panel Should we all be writing political comics? along with Toby Morris and Sarah Laing, and moderated by the National Library’s Hannah Benbow. Check out Sam’s A’s to our Q’s below:

Q: What first got you interested in comics?
A: I’ve always loved drawing – as a kid it was always a really nice way to get lost in my thoughts and feelings and imagination… it still is, actually.
I’ve always loved words and pictures together – kids books by Babette Cole, and all of the Where’s Wally books would keep me entertained for hours. But it wasn’t until I was coming out in my late teens , when I went in search of representations of queer characters, that the power of comics (and in particular webcomics) became apparent. I was trying to find people like me, people I could relate to, and people who made me feel less alone. Up until that point I had been a total TV and Film nerd, but all the representations of of LGBT folk, at that time, were all pretty negative. But on the internet I found amazing queer webcomics by people like Paige Braddock, Kris Dresen and Erika Moen, and it opened up a whole new world for me.

Comic by Sam Orchard
Comic by Sam Orchard

Q: What is your average day like?
A: Well, I work part-time as a comic artist, and part-time as a personal assistant for a guy who runs an organisation in the accessibility/disability sector. So in any given week I’ll be balancing working for my boss, and finding time to draw. Both roles work really well for me, I often get to be part of really interesting conversations in my PA role, and that helps me to think about topics I want to draw comics about. There’s a nice balance of a quite social PA role, and my solitary drawing role.

Q: Can you tell us about a current or recent project you’ve worked on?
A: At the moment my big project is finishing up a children’s book I’ve co-authored, which is being published by Flamingo Rampant (http://www.flamingorampant.com) . Flamingo Rampant is an independent book publisher who published feminist, racially diverse, LGBTQ-positive books , and I’m so excited to be working with them! Our book is a counting book about a little kid’s birthday party – it also celebrates different family structures, queerness, transness, polyamory, disability, and I’m just super proud of it.

Q: Do you have any traditions or rituals that help you when you get to work?
A: I need a lot of noise when I work. So when I sit down for the day to draw I pop my headphones on and listen to podcasts or tv. Shortland Street is my fave to draw to – I found a youtube channel that had put up episodes from around 2003 so I’ve been making my way through the last 15 years of it. It’s perfect because the plot is fairly slow (which means it’s ok when I don’t pay attention, because they’ll repeat it), it’s pretty light (so I don’t get pulled in to the emotions) and it’s just a great show so it keeps me entertained.

Comic by Sam Orchard
Comic by Sam Orchard

Q: Who/what is your biggest influence or inspiration?
A: Ohhhh, I don’t think I have just one – I’m really influenced by Alison Bechdel, she’s been exploring queerness and queer communities for decades, and her stuff is amazing, complex, and dykes to watch out for is eerily relevant to today. Other big comic inspirations for me are Erika Moen, Lynda Barry, Lucy Knisley, and I’m really loving Blue Deliquanti’s stuff at the moment too. But I get inspired by a whole host of other people too – people like Janet Mock and Laverne Cox, but also the queer and trans activist scene in New Zealand too – people in No Pride in Prison’s, the Gender Minorities organisation, the list goes on.

Q: What or who are your favourite NZ comics or creators?
A: I’ve been a big fan of Robyn Keneally and CocoSolid for years, when I stalked them both on myspace.

Q: What is your dream comic project?
A: A few years ago I published the first three issues of my comic series ‘Family Portraits’ which is a series of short stories about queer and trans people in New Zealand. I’ve got the stories for the next book but I just haven’t had time to sit down and draw them. So that’s my dream right now – to get time and space to crack that next issue.

Q: If you were to enter our cosplay contest, who/what would you dress up as?
A: Steven Universe – he is my fave.

You can read Rooster Tails online here: http://www.roostertailscomic.com/
Find Sam on Twitter at @Sam_Orchard

5 minutes with Dylan Horrocks: Comicfest feature

ComicFest is back for 2017! This Saturday May 6th at the Central Library there will be panels and workshops all day long for comic-lovers of all ages. You can also pick up a free comic from us on the day and celebrate Free Comic Book Day, courtesy of GRAPHIC! Head over to the ComicFest Facebook event for all the details, and to receive event updates.

Syndetics book coverNext in our Q&A line-up is Dylan Horrocks, author of several graphic novels, his latest titled Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen. At Comicfest, Dylan will be in conversation with Sarah Laing in the Creating Graphic Novels panel from 12-1pm. Dylan is also hosting a critique session for comic creators which we’re sure will be absolutely invaluable. Spots for this workshop have already been filled, but you can email us at enquiries@wcl.govt.nz if you would like to be added to the workshop waitlist.

Q: What first got you interested in comics?
A: Apparently my first words were “Donald Duck,” so whatever it was, it happened so early I can’t remember! There were always good comics around the house, because my father has been into comics since he was a kid. So I grew up on a steady diet of Tintin, Asterix, Robert Crumb, Carl Barks, and many more. My parents were always happy to feed me more comics…

Q: What is your average day like?
A: It depends on the day, and what’s on my plate at the time. If I’m writing, I divide my time between the computer and a notebook; when I get stuck, I change media (and sometimes location), because sometimes that helps shift my state of mind and get going again. If I’m drawing, I’m usually sitting at my drawing board in the studio, lost in the process. I love the way drawing is a physical craft: you’re making something with your hands, out of paper, pencil and ink. There’s nothing like sitting back at the end of the day and looking at a page you made yourself.

From "Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen"
From “Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen”

Q: Can you tell us about a current or recent project you’ve worked on?
A: The most recent thing I’ve published is a short mini-comic called ‘Faultlines,’ which I drew in a single day in my sketchbook, a week after the November earthquake (and floods, tornadoes, Trump winning the US election, etc!). It’s about living with uncertainty in a fragile, damaged world, and it felt good to get it onto paper.

From "Faultlines"
From “Faultlines”

Q: Do you have any traditions or rituals that help you when you get to work?
A: No, and I’m open to suggestions. Sometimes it’s difficult to get started…. I have two quotes on the wall over my desk that help. One is a sticker I was given at Chromacon in Auckland last month: “We’re not here to be perfect.” The other is from a wonderful American cartoonist called Leela Corman: “We can be feral. We are the wilderness. We don’t need to go inside.” Both are excellent advice for artists and writers of all kinds.

Q: Who/what is your biggest influence or inspiration?
A: There are so many, and they wax and wane in importance over time. But some who have stayed significant for decades are Hergé (Tintin), Robert Crumb, Tove Jansson (the Moomins), Charles Schulz (Peanuts), and my family.

Q: What or who are your favourite NZ comics or creators?
A: An all-time favourite – and a big influence – is Barry Linton. There’s a big book of his comics (from the early 1970s to the present) coming out soon from Pikitia Press, and I can’t recommend it enough. Also, Bob Kerr (Terry & the Gunrunners), who I’m lucky enough to share a studio with. Tim Bollinger, a great Wellington cartoonist. Sophie MacMillan, Timothy Kidd, Karl Wills, Adam Jamieson, and so many more. There are too many great New Zealand cartoonists to mention them all! Ant Sang, Sarah Laing, Toby Morris, Cornelius Stone, Roger Langridge – all these people have inspired and influenced me at various times.

To The I Land - An appreciation of Barry Linton
To The I Land – An appreciation of Barry Linton

Q: What is your dream comic project?
A: The ones I’m working on at the moment. That’s why I’m working on them!

Q: What are you excited to share with ComicFest attendees? Just a taster!
A: What I’m most looking forward to is seeing other people’s work at the workshop.

Q: If you were to enter our cosplay contest, who/what would you dress up as?
A: Sam Zabel – because all I’d have to do is take off my glasses.

Check out Dylan’s website at http://hicksvillecomics.com/
Dylan is on Twitter too – find him @dylanhorrocks

5 minutes with Jem Yoshioka: Comicfest Feature

ComicFest is back for 2017! On Saturday May 6th at the Central Library there will be panels and workshops all day long for comic-lovers of all ages. You can also pick up a free comic from us on the day and celebrate Free Comic Book Day, courtesy of GRAPHIC! Head over to the ComicFest Facebook event for all the details, and to receive event updates.

Image by Jem YoshiokaJem Yoshioka is one of the featured cartoonists on our “A Wellington View: Local Cartoonists” panel, which will take place from 1:30-2:30pm during ComicFest. Jem is an illustrator and storyteller based in Wellington, and her comics often feature autobio stories.

Q: What first got you interested in comics?
A: As a kid I was really interested in animation and picture books. I learned storytelling from a mixture of these two things, which seemed to distill into something kindof comic-y.
I got interested in making comics when I was a teenager, on the early 2000s internet. It seemed like the most efficient way to begin to share the epic fantasy stories that were brewing in my head. The internet shaped my adolescence. It gave me access to other artists – both peers and mentors – who really helped to drive my illustration and comic work forward.

Q: What is your average day like?
A: I have a day job, so I get up and go to work. This is awesome because it pays my bills and means I can eat and sleep, which are important if you want to make comics. I then tend to do 20 minutes of gesture drawing more or less as soon as I get home. Sometimes that’s all the drawing I do in a day, but other times I try and expand it out to an illustration or comic project after dinner. I’ll usually have TV on in the background while I work, and I aim to be in bed between 10pm and 11pm. Depending on the day that can mean between 1-4 hours of drawing.
The routine is really important to me. I find I’m as productive if not more productive with full time work, because it forces me to maintain a healthy schedule. Sleep and time away from drawing mean I’m at less risk of injury, less likely to overwork or get into unhealthy sleeping and eating cycles. While my output is lower than someone working full time on drawing, I’m still really pleased with what I manage to get done with this routine. It works really well for me for now.

Image by Jem YoshiokaImage by Jem Yoshioka

Q: Do you have any traditions or rituals that help you when you get to work?
A: When I get a new sketchbook I always write the date on the first page. Then when the sketchbook is finished I write the finish date. I’ll always leave a few pages at the end of the book, too. It’s like a hello and goodbye to the book. I feel like dating the first page helps to clear off any ‘blank page’ magic that might prevent me from getting my ideas down. The final date is a goodbye and a thank you for all the work and traveling the sketchbook’s done with me over the months.

Q: Who/what is your biggest influence or inspiration?
A: I think as a creator it’s important to have many influences and inspirations. I have a lot of artists I admire and whose work has influenced mine. I also love photography, video games, traditional Japanese printmaking, fashion, animation, film, fine art, dance and novels. I collect what I can together and pull the bits out that I feel work for me and what stories I’m trying to tell. I’m a selfish sponge of visual and literary information.
If you’re looking for a specific name, the one that’s stuck with me ever since I was a teen is Shaun Tan. An Australian illustrator and picture book author, Shaun’s style of storytelling’s was definitely a huge influence on me as a kid, especially how he handled the relationship between words and pictures. His sense of timing, pace, composition, and colour have all had a huge effect on me.

Image by Jem YoshiokaQ: What or who are your favourite NZ comics or creators?
A: I really love Katie O’Neill’s work. Princess Princess Ever After is a cute and sweet story, and her new webcomic The Tea Dragon Society is building up in a really interesting way. Katie’s sense of colour especially draws me into the worlds she makes with her work.

Q: What is your dream comic project?
A: I’d really love to do a comic diary project over a year in Japan. I want to get familiar with a neighbourhood, learn its streets and trees and people. I want to live in a Japanese city and be small and lost, but find something there I wasn’t expecting. I’ve had holidays in Japan, but it’s the wrong pace and speed for the kind of project I want to make. I need something longer, something with more repetition and a chance to get comfortable and familiar. And I want to write it all down in a way I can share.
But that might be more about spending a year living in Japan than the diary project part.

You can find all of Jem’s online comics at http://jemshed.com/comics/ and on social media.
Twitter: @jemyoshioka
Facebook: /jem.yoshioka.art
Instagram: @jemyoshioka