Fatal Flaws and Wild Cards: New Mystery Fiction!

Ready for some New Year mysteries? Look no further than our first booklist for 2020! Top of the pile is The Wild Card by Renée (Ngāti Kahungungu). As Ataria Sharman explains in The Pantograph Punch,  protagonist Ruby Palmer “is no damsel-in-distress. She’s a theatre-stealing, boss ass wahine toa determined to solve the mystery of her friend’s death, even at risk to her own life.”

Also in this month is the fourth book in the Wyndham and Banerjee historical crime series by Abir Mukherjee as well as the second novel by German writer Simone Buchholz to be translated in to English. Enjoy!

The wild card / Renée
“Ruby Palmer has been dealt a rough hand. She was left in a kete at the back door of the Porohiwi Home for Children when she was a baby, and then at seven she discovered that Betty who stopped the bad stuff happening to Ruby at the Home has drowned. Now in her thirties, Ruby suspects her friend was murdered–her only lead is a notebook that uses the symbols on playing cards to tell a story she can’t understand. To discover the truth, Ruby needs to find the wild card, and fast.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

The ashes of London / Taylor, Andrew
“London, 1666. As the Great Fire consumes everything in its path, the body of a man is found in the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral. The son of a traitor, James Marwood is forced to hunt the killer through the city’s devastated streets. There he encounters a determined young woman who will stop at nothing to secure her freedom. When a second murder victim is discovered in the Fleet Ditch, Marwood is drawn into the political and religious intrigue of Westminster – and across the path of a killer with nothing to lose…” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Death in the East / Mukherjee, Abir
“1922, India. Leaving Calcutta, Captain Sam Wyndham heads for the hills of Assam, to the ashram of a sainted monk where he hopes to conquer his opium addiction. But when he arrives, he sees a ghost from his life in London – a man thought to be long dead, a man Wyndham hoped he would never see again. Wyndham knows he must call his friend and colleague Sergeant Banerjee for help. He is certain this figure from his past isn’t here by coincidence. He is here for revenge . . .” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Beton Rouge / Buchholz, Simone
On a warm September morning, an unconscious man is found in a cage at the entrance to the offices of one of Germany’s biggest magazines. He’s soon identified as a manager of the company, and he’s been tortured. Three days later, another manager appears in a similar way. Chastity Riley and her new colleague Ivo Stepanovic are tasked with uncovering the truth behind the attacks, an investigation that goes far beyond the revenge they first suspect . . . to the dubious past shared by both victims.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

One fatal flaw / Perry, Anne
“It is 1910 and a fire has left one criminal dead and another charged with murder. Convinced of his innocence, Jessie Beale begs barrister Daniel Pitt to defend him. It’s a hopeless case–unless Daniel can find a witness whose testimony on fire damage is so convincing that any jury would believe him. Daniel’s friend Miriam Croft was taught by forensic scientist Sir Barnabas Saltram, who has built his reputation on giving evidence of this kind. But when Saltram agrees to testify, Daniel starts a chain of devastating events.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Murder fest / Wassmer, Julie
“A local Arts Festival is being held to honour a cultural exchange visit from representatives of Borken – Whitstable’s Twin Town in Germany. Yet very soon, personality clashes surface among the participants; local politicians try to use the festival for their own ends while others jostle for improved billing on the festival programme. Tempers flare, old feuds re-surface and on the eve of the first event, a cryptic message – Murder Fest – is received by the local police.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Fiction New (and Like New!)


The first new books for the year are in! Included in this month’s selection is Becky Manawatu’s debut novel Auē. Auē has been called a “contemporary story of loss, grief and domestic violence – but also of hope” and has been getting some great feedback. Check out RNZ’s interview with Manawatu here, and a preview of the first chapter via The Spinoff here.

Also in: re-releases, including the combined works of Giorgio Bassani with The Novel of Ferrara and the first English language edition of Irina Odoyevtseva’s Isolde. And of course there’s also a great range of page-turning summer reads, including Danielle Steel’s Spy: a Novel and Westwind by Ian Rankin. Enjoy!

Auē / Manawatu, Becky
“Taukiri was born into sorrow. Auē can be heard in the sound of the sea he loves and hates, and in the music he draws out of the guitar that was his father’s. It spills out of the gang violence and the shame he feels about abandoning his eight-year-old brother to another violent home. But Arama is braver than he looks, and he has a friend and his friend has a dog, and the three of them together might just be strong enough to turn back the tide of sorrow.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

The novel of Ferrara / Bassani, Giorgio
“Set in the Italian town of Ferrara, these six interlocking stories present a world of unforgettable characters: the doctor whose homosexuality is tolerated until he is humiliatingly exposed by a scandal; a survivor of the Nazi death camps whose neighbors’ celebration of his return gradually turns to ostracism; a man who has never recovered from the wounds inflicted in youth. Above all, the city itself assumes a character and a voice, deeply inflected by the Jewish community to which the narrator belongs.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

I am God / Sartori, Giacomo
I am God. Have been forever, will be forever. Forever, mind you, with the razor-sharp glint of a diamond, and without any counterpart in the languages of men. So begins God’s diary of the existential crisis that ensues when, inexplicably, he falls in love with a human. And not just any human, but a geneticist and fanatical atheist who’s certain she can improve upon the magnificent creation she doesn’t even give him the credit for. It’s frustrating, for a god…” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Westwind / Rankin, Ian
“After his friend suspects something strange going on at the launch facility where they both work–and then goes missing–Martin Hepton doesn’t believe the official line of “long-term sick leave”. He leaves his old life behind, aware that someone is shadowing his every move. The only hope he has is his ex-girlfriend Jill Watson–the only journalist who will believe his story. But neither of them can believe the puzzle they’re piecing together–or just how shocking the secret is that everybody wants to stay hidden…” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Hunter’s moon : a novel in stories / Caputo, Philip
Hunter’s Moon is set in Michigan’s wild, starkly beautiful Upper Peninsula, where a cast of recurring characters move into and out of each other’s lives, building friendships, facing loss, confronting violence, trying to bury the past or seeking to unearth it. Once-a-year lovers, old high-school buddies on a hunting trip, a college professor and his wayward son, a middle-aged man and his grief-stricken father, come together, break apart, and, if they’re fortunate, find a way forward.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

This is yesterday / Ruane, Rose
“Alone and adrift in London, Peach is heading into her mid-forties with nothing to show for her youthful promise but a stalled art career and the stopgap job in a Mayfair gallery that she’s somehow been doing for a decade. She is too young to feel this tired, and far too old to feel this lost. When Peach is woken one night with news that her father, who has Alzheimer’s disease, is in intensive care, she can no longer outrun the summer of secrets and sexual awakenings that augured twenty-five years of estrangement from her family.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

In love with George Eliot : a novel / O’Shaughnessy, Kathy
“Marian Evans is a scandalous figure, living in sin with a married man, George Henry Lewes. She has shocked polite society, and women rarely deign to visit her. In secret, though, she has begun writing fiction under the pseudonym George Eliot. As Adam Bede‘s fame grows, curiosity rises as to the identity of its mysterious writer. Gradually it becomes apparent that the moral genius Eliot is none other than the disgraced woman living with Lewes…” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

On swift horses / Pufahl, Shannon
“Muriel is newly married and restless, transplanted from her rural Kansas hometown to life in a dusty bungalow in San Diego. She misses her freethinking mother and her sly, itinerant brother-in-law, Julius, who made the world feel bigger than she had imagined. And so she begins slipping off to the Del Mar racetrack to bet and eavesdrop, learning the language of horses and risk. Meanwhile, Julius is testing his fate in Las Vegas, working at a local casino where tourists watch atomic tests from the roof.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Spy : a novel / Steel, Danielle
“At eighteen, Alexandra Wickham is presented to King George V and Queen Mary in an exquisite white lace and satin dress her mother has ordered from Paris. But fate, a world war, and her own quietly rebellious personality lead her down a different path. By 1939, England is at war. Alex makes her way to London as a volunteer in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. But she has skills that draw the attention of another branch of the service. Fluent in French and German, she would make the perfect secret agent…” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Isolde / Odoevt︠s︡eva, Irina
“Left to her own devices, fourteen-year-old Russian Liza meets an English boy, Cromwell, on a beach. He thinks he has found a romantic beauty; she is taken with his Buick. Restless, Liza, her brother Nikolai and her boyfriend enjoy Cromwell’s company–until his mother stops giving him money. First published in 1929, Isolde is a startlingly fresh, disturbing portrait of a lost generation of Russian exiles.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Our latest selection of New Zealand fiction titles

Books can be the people we never get to meet, ancestors or far neighbours.”
― Elizabeth Knox, The Vintner’s Luck

Throughout the year in a series of occasional blogs we in Wellington City Libraries aim to cover as many home grown New Zealand books as possible. And in this blog we have an absolutely bumper crop of new Aotearoa fiction. One of the many highlights in this latest selection of books is Elizabeth Knox’s The Absolute book in which we find Elizabeth Knox’s in scintillating masterful form dealing with huge issues within the context of Fantasy. This book lingers long in the mind and we would be surprised if it doesn’t feature heavily in many people’s best books of 2019 lists.

Amongst the many other books of note are Jeff Murray’s climate change narrative Melt, one of 2019’s many novels dealing with environmental collapse. Expect to see more era defining books on this topic released over the next few months too. Enjoy!

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

Gone to Pegasus / Redgrave, Tess
“Its Dunedin 1892, and the women’s suffrage movement is gaining momentum. Left to fend herself when her husband’s commited to the Seacliff Lunatic Asylum, 23-years old Eva meets Grace, an outspoken suffragette wiht an exotic and mysterious past. As the friendship between the two women grows through shared love of music, Eva begins questioning the meaning of her marriage and her role as a woman. But Grace has a bullying husband and secrets she’s been keeping from Eva, which could threaten the freedom both woman find themselves fighting for.” (Catalogue)

Moonlight sonata / Merriman, Eileen
“It’s the annual New Year family get-together. Molly is dreading having to spend time with her mother, but she is pleased her son will see his cousins and is looking forward to catching up with her brothers . . . Joe in particular. Under the summer sun, family tensions intensify, relationships become heightened and Molly and Joe will not be the only ones with secrets that must be kept hidden.
‘No one must ever know.’” (Adapted from Catalogue)

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

The Julian calendar / Henry, William
“A bright young photojournalist returns to London with the aim of releasing himself from a profound love affair that has stalled without explanation. Instead, he is derailed by memories of the secretive nurse who broke his heart, and rejuvenated by a man whose unexpected and intense friendship challenges the fundamental notion of love itself. The Julian Calendar is Simon’s debut novel under the pseudonym William Henry.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverThe Rigel affair / L M Hedrick.
“Based on a true story. Charlie and Mattie meet after the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack. She’s the girl of his dreams. But when he embarks for the Pacific war zones his letters are sporadic. Mattie is tormented by doubts. Did he truly love her, or was it only a dream?” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverNailing down the saint / Craig Cliff.
“Duncan Blake is a Kiwi filmmaker whose move to LA has not gone to plan. After a series of setbacks, he’s working at a chain restaurant, his marriage is on shaky ground after a porn-related faux pas and his son won’t stop watching Aladdin .When Duncan gets the chance to scout locations for a fated director’s biopic of Saint Joseph of Copertino, it’s the lifeline he’s been searching for. But in Italy, in the footsteps of the seventeenth-century levitator, he must confront miracles, madness and the realities of modern movie making. A novel about the pursuit of dreams, the moral calculus this entails, and the possibility that the rational, materialist worldview isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Touching the universe / Romeo, Tom
“Ten years after his father’s disappearance, Gordo Jenkins is on the brink of turning his life around. He’s about to finish university and pursue his filmmaking dream, and he’s fallen in love with Eleanor after a chance encounter in a Manhattan clinic. But then he’s confronted with news of his father’s whereabouts and must decide if he wants to put his life on hold again to see him. A few days later, Gordo and Eleanor begin a cross-country drive to Mexico to unravel the mystery of his father’s disappearance – and confront the mystery of their own lives along the way”–cover.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

 

Our latest new New Zealand fiction showcase

In dividing the light, things are seen. And we notice ourselves.”
― John Allison New Zealand poet. 

New Zealand literature is a rich and diverse field one full of many voices and many stories. This range and diversity is well represented in our latest fiction showcase to focus  on new New Zealand fiction releases.

Our latest showcase ranges from the compulsive, tense, nail biting  page turner that is Call me Evie by J.P. Pomare to the more gentle captivating A dream of Italy by Nicky Pellegrino there is also the latest outing from best selling  author Catherine Robertson called What you wish for and Pearly Gates set in and celebrating small town New Zealand by Owen Marshall.  As well as  a veritable  host of  wonderful other voices and stories to be experienced and enjoyed.

Call me Evie / J.P. Pomare
“Meet Evie, a young woman held captive by a man named Jim in the isolated New Zealand beach town of Maketu. Jim says he’s hiding Evie to protect her, that she did something terrible back home in Melbourne. In a house that creaks against the wind, Evie begins to piece together her fractured memories of the events that led her here. Jim says he’s keeping her safe. Evie’s not sure she can trust Jim, but can she trust her own memories?” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

A dream of Italy / Nicky Pellegrino.
“The picturesque mountain town of Montenello is selling off some of its historic buildings for just one euro each. To be considered as a future resident of Montenello contact the town’s mayor, Salvio Valentini. Many people read Salvio’s advertisement with excitement. Elise is in her twenties and desperate to get on the property ladder. Edward wants to escape a life he finds stifling. Mimi is divorced and starting afresh. And there is one person whose true motivation won’t be clear for some time. These four people all have a dream of Italy. And it’s going to change their lives.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Julian calendar / William Henry.
“A bright young photojournalist returns to London with the aim of releasing himself from a profound love affair that has stalled without explanation. Instead, he is derailed by memories of the secretive nurse who broke his heart, and rejuvenated by a man whose unexpected and intense friendship challenges the fundamental notion of love itself.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Photos of you / Tammy Robinson.
“People are here for me, to celebrate the anniversary of the day I was given life. On the very same day I’d just been told my life was all but over.’ When Ava Green turns twenty-eight, she discovers this will be her last birthday. The cancer she thought she’d beaten three years ago is back, only this time it’s terminal. But she is not going to let the cancer define her last, precious months, she is going to make her childhood dream come true: her wedding.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWhat you wish for / Catherine Robertson.
“Dr Ashwin Ghadavi, the newly imported GP, is trying hard to fit into Gabriel’s Bay. His challenges include the immovable force of his office manager, Mac, the ambiguities of the Kiwi idiom, and his unrequited attraction to Mac’s daughter, Emma. Having returned home, Emma is determined to help her old friend, Devon, whether he wants it or not. She’s also on a mission to right eco wrongs, and her targets include local farmer Vic Halsworth, who’s already neck deep in the proverbial and, to make matters worse, seems to be having visions of moose.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPearly Gates : a novel / Owen Marshall.
“This entertaining and insightful novel both skewers and celebrates small-town New Zealand. Pat `Pearly’ Gates has achieved a lot in his life and evinces considerable satisfaction in his achievements. He has a reputation as a former Otago rugby player and believes he would have been an All Black but for sporting injuries. He runs a successful real-estate agency in a provincial South Island town, of which he is the second-term mayor. Popular, happily married, well established, he cuts an impressive figure, especially in his own eyes. But will his pride and complacency come before a fall?” (Syndetics summary)

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

Syndetics book coverThe Ice Shelf / Anne Kennedy.
“The Ice Shelf: an eco-comedy” On the eve of flying to Antarctica to take up an arts fellowship, thirty-something Janice, recently separated, has a long night of remembrance, regret and realisation as she goes about the city looking for a friend to take care of her fridge while she’s away. En route she discards section after section of her novel in the spirit of editing until there is nothing left to edit. The Ice Shelf, a novel written as Acknowledgements, is an allegory for the dangers of wasting love and other non-renewable resources.” (Syndetics summary)

Admissions : tales of life, death & love in a hospital not far from here … / Mira Harrison.
“Here are the stories of eight women doctors, nurses, cooks and cleaners at the heart of a hospital that connects them all in a city that could be anywhere. Inspired by Mira Harrison’s experiences in healthcare in the UK and NZ, these engrossing narratives unveil the shifting balance between professional and private worlds. Our scrupulous or haphazard plans are disrupted by falling in love; by our connections to others; by the birth of our children; by loss, grief, and ultimately death.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Focus on Maori writers for Waitangi day

Kōrero paki Aotearoa, New Zealand fiction has a flavour like no other. The place and the people have a unique creative influence.

Jacquie (J C Sturm) at the Wellington Central Library

We have a selection of Māori novelists based around Wellington, Apirana Taylor, Tina Makereti, Hinemoana Baker and Patricia Grace. Including the remarkable J C Sturm, who began writing in 1940’s, working for many years at Wellington Public Library where we knew her as Jacquie Baxter. The house of the talking cat, her collection of short stories was crafted in the 1960’s finding a publisher in the 1980’s to much success and acclaim.

 

These writers have turned their hand to myth and contemporary fiction, bringing characters to life in situations from history to current times, using personal relationships, family interactions and events that have swept through people’s lives leaving marked changes on potential futures and a mysterious past to be unveiled. Our selection also includes the piercing writing of Alice Tawhai (pen name) and Paula Morris’s excellently drawn characters.

Short story compilations are a great way of discovering new authors. Huia Short stories : Contemporary Māori fiction showcases a variety of winners from the Pikihuia awards. This recent collection features a diverse range of voices including Genesis Te Kuru White, Olivia Aroha Giles and Iraia Bailey, writing in English and te reo.  Explore the journey to becoming a writer with Te Papa Tupu where Te Waka Taki Kōrero / The Māori Literature Trust support emerging writers.

There is more to discover on our New Zealand Fiction page, just scroll down to Māori writer/Māori life.

Syndetics book coverHuia short stories 12 : contemporary Māori fiction.
“Here are the best short stories and novel extracts from the Pikihuia Awards for Maori writers 2017 as judged by Whiti Hereaka, Paula Morris, Poia Rewi and Rawinia Higgins. The book contains the stories from the finalists for Best Short Story written in English, Best Short Story written in te reo Maori and Best Novel Extract categories. This writing competition, held every two years, is organised by the Maori Literature Trust and Huia Publishers as a way to promote Maori writers and their work. The awards and the collection of finalists fiction celebrate Maori writing and bring new writers to light.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBlack marks on the white page / edited by Witi Ihimaera and Tina Makereti.
“Here are the glorious, painful, sharp and funny 21st century stories of Maori and Pasifika writers from all over the world. Vibrant, provocative and aesthetically exciting, these stories expand our sense of what is possible in Indigenous Oceanic writing. Witi Ihimaera and Tina Makereti present the very best new and uncollected stories and novel excerpts, creating a talanoa, a conversation, where the stories do the talking. Join us as we deconstruct old theoretical maps and allow these fresh Black Marks on the White Page to expand our perception of the Pacific world.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe imaginary lives of James Pōneke / Tina Makereti.
“While exhibited as a curiosity, a Maori boy turns his gaze on Victorian London. ‘The hour is late. The candle is low. Tomorrow I will see whether it is my friends or a ship homewards I meet. But first I must finish my story for you. My future, my descendant, my mokopuna. Listen.’ So begins the tale of James Poneke- orphaned son of a chief; ardent student of English; wide-eyed survivor. When James meets the man with laughing dark eyes and the woman who dresses as a man, he begins to discover who people really are beneath their many guises. Although London is everything James most desires, this new world is more dark and dazzling than he could have imagined.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverFive strings / Apirana Taylor.
“Mack is a larger-than-life street philosopher and Puti¿s a former gang member looking for something more. Together, they¿re at the bottom of the heap. They live out their lives in a haze of smoke and alcohol, accompanied by a host of other characters scraping by on the fringes of society. Will any of them be redeemed? A poignant and humorous love story.” (Syndetics summary)

 

Syndetics book coverChappy / Patricia Grace
“Uprooted from his privileged European life and sent to New Zealand to sort himself out, twenty-one-year-old Daniel pieces together the history of his Maori family. As his relatives revisit their past, Daniel learns of a remarkable love story between his Maori grandmother Oriwia and his Japanese grandfather Chappy. The more Daniel hears about his deceased grandfather, the more intriguing – and elusive – Chappy becomes.
In this touching portrayal of family life, acclaimed writer Patricia Grace explores racial intolerance, cross-cultural conflicts and the universal desire to belong. Spanning several decades and several continents and set against the backdrop of a changing New Zealand, Chappy is a compelling story of enduring love.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverLuminous / Alice Tawhai.
“Tawhai’s tales combine characters and occurrences that are at once cripplingly dark and yet also tinged with a quiet beauty and optimism and she deftly covers subjects such as identity, addiction, devotion and abandonment.” (Syndetics summary)

 

 

Syndetics book coverFalse river : stories, essays, secret histories / Paula Morris.
“Riffing on truth, lies and secrets, this collection uses fiction to explore fact, and fact to explore fiction. These pieces range the world – from America, to Antwerp to Aotearoa – and talk about writers and writing, famous figures, family members, witch-burning in Denmark, cyclones and numerous pertinent and stimulating topics. All brilliantly written, each will leave you thinking and desperate to jump back in for more.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

New Fiction from Aotearoa New Zealand

This Mortal Boy book cover

New to the world, or new to Wellington City Libraries, these titles from local authors showcase a range of talents, beginning with Fiona Kidman’s new book about the ‘jukebox killer’ in Auckland in 1955. These tales explore New Zealand influences through eras and locations influencing lives we can recognise and feel kinship with.

This mortal boy / Kidman, Fiona
“Albert Black, known as the ‘jukebox killer’, was only twenty when he was convicted of murdering another young man in a fight at a milk bar in Auckland on 26 July 1955. His crime fuelled growing moral panic about teenagers, and he was to hang less than five months later, the second-to-last person to be executed in New Zealand. But what really happened? Was this a love crime, was it a sign of juvenile delinquency? Or was this dark episode in our recent history more about our society’s reaction to outsiders?” (Catalogue)

The new animals / Adam, Pip
“Carla, Sharon and Duey have worked in fashion for longer than they care to remember, for them, there’s nothing new under the sun. They’re Generation X: tired, cynical and sick of being used. Tommy, Cal and Kurt are Millenials, they’ve come from nowhere, but with their monied families behind them they’re ready to remake fashion. They represent the new sincere, the anti-irony. Both generations are searching for a way out, an alternative to their messed-up reality. Pip Adam’s new novel walks the streets of Auckland city now, examining the fashion scene, intergenerational tension and modern life with an unflinching eye.” (Catalogue)

Death actually : Death. Love. And in between. / Fenwicke, Rosy
“Maggie never wanted to go into the family business, but when her parents die suddenly and her husband has abandoned her and their two children, what choice does she have? So she becomes a funeral director.” (Catalogue)
Set in Queenstown this book encompasses family trials and trivialities with good humour and great characters.

The new ships / Duignan, Kate
“Peter Collie is adrift in the wake of his wife’s death. His attempts to understand the turn his life has taken lead him back to the past, to dismaying events on an Amsterdam houseboat in the seventies, returning to New Zealand and meeting Moira, an amateur painter who carried secrets of her own, and to a trip to Europe years later with his family. An unexpected revelation forces Peter to navigate anew his roles as a husband, father and son. Set in Wellington after the fall of the Twin Towers, and traversing London, Europe and the Indian subcontinent, The New Ships is a mesmerising book of blood-ties that stretch across borders. A novel of acute moral choices, it is a rich and compelling meditation on what it means to act, or to fail to act.” (Catalogue)

Designer days : a story set in Thorndon, Wellington, 2009 / Mercer, R. D.
“‘Down into the dark cave’ Laura says to her baby, pushing the buggy into the underpass. Cave paintings? Yes, indeed, but among them some writing she does not expect to find. Laura and Eddie both resist being constrained by the timetables of office or school. They want the freedom to design their own days. Laura, an IT specialist, craves domesticity. Eddie resents being moved to High School in Wellington. Laura’s husband, Matt, begins to behave curiously.” (Catalogue)

The man who writes the dreams / Barrett, Pera
“A story about following dreams. People have stopped turning their dreams into done-things. Luckily for us, the man who writes the dreams is here to make things right.” (Catalogue)

Equinoctial gales : a story set in Wellington, 1939 / Mercer, R. D.
“There were those who liked to refer to the shopping area of Kelburn as ‘the village’. It gave it status. Did they have in mind some impossible idyll of an English village of established families, in which people knew their place and weather was predictable? The reality of Kelburn in 1930s New Zealand could not have been more different.  A chance event, a “sudden death”, connects the characters in one way or another… But no-one living in Wellington can ignore the weather. They are all affected by its fickleness, its days of violence and its days of blessed calm.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Alternative medicine / Solomon, Laura
“The stories in Alternative Medicine can be broadly defined as black comedy with a twist of surrealism… In ‘The Killing Jar’ a boy’s spider spies on his adulterous father and reports back to its owner. In ‘The New Heart’ a man experiences somebody else’s memories after receiving a heart transplant. The story ‘Mandy’ features a strangely obsessed protagonist. Everyday sadness at a refugee going blind is sketched out in ‘Blindness’. Childhood relationships are depicted in the short story ‘Pets’ and in ‘Piano Lessons/War Stories’ the narrator reflects upon her grandfather’s time fighting in World War 2.  The stories show human life in various forms and endeavours.” (Adapted from catalogue)

Hilary and David / Solomon, Laura
“In Hilary and David, David, a lonely elderly struggling novelist, contacts Hilary, with whom he has a friend in common, via Facebook, and an unlikely friendship develops via a series of messages. The two begin to share details of their past and current lives. Hilary is a solo mother with two children. One of the children has Down’s Syndrome and the other has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Both are struggling… Through a series of messages, Hilary and David share their thoughts on life, the universe, men, women and everything else in between and provide companionship and advice for one another.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

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.

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.

2016 New Zealand Fiction prize winners announced

Syndetics book coverThis year’s Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize of $50,000, has been awarded to Catherine Chidgey for her novel The Wish Child. This is her fourth novel since her first, In a Fishbone Church, was published in 1998, and is thirteen years after her last novel, The Transformation.
The Hubert Church Best First Book Award for Fiction was awarded to Gina Cole for her short story collection Black Ice Matter.