Follow your dreams: biographies to inspire and entertain

In our latest Biography picks we meet New Zealand peanut butter baron Pic Picot, curator of fashion Claire Wilcox who tells her story in a series of vignettes,  former model and muse Jenny Boyd who was twice married to Mick Fleetwood, and Emmy award winner Julianna Margulies who starred as Carol Hathaway in the long running series ER. We also feature comedian Tom Allen, Australian film producer Al Clark (of  The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert fame) and Kaiya Stone who writes with humour and honesty about the difficulties of living with dyslexia and dyspraxia.

Everything is going to be K.O. / Stone, Kaiya
“A hilarious and heartfelt illustrated memoir of living with specific learning difficulties. In Everything is Going to be K.O. , Kaiya Stone writes about her experiences of living with specific learning difficulties: from struggling at school, to being diagnosed with dyslexia and dyspraxia at university, and performing her own one-woman stand up show inspired by her journey. Always funny and unfailingly honest, Kaiya not only outlines the frustrations of having SpLDs, but also the ways in which they have fuelled her creativity.” (adapted from catalogue)

Patch work : a life amongst clothes / Wilcox, Claire
“Claire Wilcox has been a curator of fashion at the Victoria and Albert Museum for most of her working life. In Patch Work, she steps into the archive of memory. From her mother’s black wedding suit to the swirling patterns of her own silk kimono, her memoir unfolds in spare, luminous prose the spellbinding power of the things we wear. Through the eye of a curator, we see how the stories and the secrets of clothes measure out the passage of time, our gains and losses, and the way we use them to unravel and write our histories.” (adapted from catalogue)

Jennifer Juniper : a journey beyond the muse / Boyd, Jenny
“Jenny Boyd’s extraordinary life is the stuff of movies. With boyfriend Mick Fleetwood, sister Pattie, George Harrison and the rest of the Beatles, she lived the London scene in the flower power era.  Later her two marriages to Mick Fleetwood, founder member of Fleetwood Mac, brought her to the forefront of the world of rock and roll – and its fame, money, drugs and heartache.  Jenny has spent her life in the company of some of the greatest musical and cultural influencers of the last 50 years – and the journey she takes to finding her own sense of self and creative ability makes Jennifer Juniper a truly captivating and inspiring story.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

No shame / Allen, Tom
“When I was 16 I dressed in Victorian clothing in a bid to distract people from the fact that I was gay. It was a flawed plan. This book is a very funny, candid and emotional ride of a memoir by one of our most beloved comedians. The working-class son of a coach driver, and the youngest member of the Noel Coward Society, Tom Allen grew up in 90s suburbia as the eternal outsider. In these hilarious, honest and heart breaking stories Tom recalls observations on childhood, his adolescence, the family he still lives with, and his attempts to come out and negotiate the gay dating scene. They are written with his trademark caustic wit and warmth, and will entertain, surprise and move you in equal measure.” (Catalogue)

Time flies / Clark, Al
“Al Clark is best known for his role as producer of Australian film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert . This idiosyncratic memoir with a distinctive voice and a sense of the absurd delivers a wistful, reflective, sometimes comic view of his childhood and working life. Clark first worked as a journalist at Time Out in London before becoming Publicity Director at Virgin Records. It was here that he represented the Sex Pistols, Phil Collins and Mike Oldfield. What emerges from Time Flies is Clark’s deep connection with music and film. Where so many showbiz memoirs are about deals, dirt and revenge, Times Flies is about a fan who never lost his sense of wonder.” (Adapted from Filmink review)

Sunshine girl : an unexpected life / Margulies, Julianna
“Known for her outstanding performances on The Good Wife and ER, Julianna Margulies now unleashes her sharp talent with a powerful debut memoir chronicling her life and her work, examining from within, her journey from chaos to calm. Along the way, there were failed romances, difficult choices, and overwhelming rejections. But there was also the moment that fate, faith, and talent assembled in a perfect storm that lead to the roles of a lifetime. Sunshine Girl is an accomplished coming of age story that offers readers a rich sense of relatability as well as the intimate details of a life unimagined” (adapted from catalogue)

Image from Mighty ApePic : adventures in sailing, business, and love / Picot, Pic
Now known for his famous peanut butter, Pic Picot has gone from selling the odd jar at the Nelson farmers market to running a multi-million dollar company. But his journey didn’t start there, he has been a leather sandal maker,  travelling rock musician, boat builder, restaurateur and has sailed the Pacific. In his book Pic discusses his successes and failures with honesty, perception and a great deal of humour. Pic’s unusual path to business success offers hope for anyone wanting to follow their dreams.

Astonishing journeys and bookish broads: recent biographies of note

Astonishing journeys, a pioneering feminist, bookish broads, an Ockham Award winning book and a funny but thoughtful reflection on turning 50, all feature in these latest biographies.

Nuestra América : my family in the vertigo of translation / Lomnitz-Adler, Claudio
“A riveting exploration of the intersecting lines of Jewish and indigenous Latin American thought and culture, by way of a family memoir. In Our America, eminent anthropologist and historian Claudio Lomnitz traces his grandparents’ exile from Eastern Europe to South America. His grandparents stories intersect with leftist political movements in 1920s Peru, the Holocaust, Colombia’s political unrest and Israel’s beginnings. This immigrant family memoir recounts history with psychological insight and the immediacy of a thriller.” (adapted from Catalogue)

Floating in a most peculiar way / Chude-Sokei, Louis Onuorah
“The first time Chude-Sokei realizes that he is ‘first son of the first son’ of a renowned leader of the bygone African nation is in Uncle Daddy and Big Auntie’s strict religious household in Jamaica, where he lives with other abandoned children. Then his mother, the onetime “Jackie O of Biafra,” sends for him to come live with her in Inglewood, Los Angeles. In this world, anything alien– such as Chude-Sykes’s secret obsession with science fiction and David Bowie– is a danger. His yearning to become a Black American gets deeply, sometimes absurdly, complicated. This is his memoir of the redemptive skill of navigating not just Blackness, but Blacknesses, in his America. — adapted from jacket” (Catalogue)

Kate Edger : the life of a pioneering feminist / Morrow, Diana
“In 1877, Kate Edger became the first woman to graduate from a New Zealand university. Edger went on to become a pioneer of women’s education in New Zealand. She also worked tirelessly to mitigate violence against women and children and to fortify their rights through progressive legislation. She campaigned for women’s suffrage and played a prominent role in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and in Wellington’s Society for the Protection of Women and Children. Diana Morrow tells the story of this remarkable New Zealand woman’s life in a very readable book which provides valuable insights into the role of women social reformers in our history.” (adapted from Catalogue)

Bookish broads : women who wrote themselves into history / Marino, Lauren
“Women have written some of our most extraordinary literary works while living in societies and cultures that tried to silence them. In Bookish Broads, Lauren Marino celebrates fierce, trailblazing female writers, reworking the literary canon that has long failed to recognize the immense contributions of women. Featuring more than 50 brilliant bookish broads, Marino cleverly illuminates the lives of the greats as well as the literary talents history has wrongfully overlooked. Each intimate portrait delves into one woman’s works and is accompanied by vibrant illustrations depicting each literary legend in her element and time.” (adapted from Catalogue)

Of the winner of the General Non Fiction category at the 2021 Ockham Book Awards (Vincent O’Sullivan’s biography of Ralph Hotere), category convenor Dr Sarah Shieff said that as a biographer, O’Sullivan displayed masterly skill:

This is a sensitive, detailed portrait of one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most important modern artists, shaped around the four pou of Hotere’s identity: his Māoritanga, his faith, his whenua, and his whānau. The judges would like to commend Vincent O’Sullivan for an extraordinary achievement in biography.” (NZ Book Awards Trust)

Ralph Hotere : the dark is light enough : a biographical portrait / O’Sullivan, Vincent
“Ralph Hotere (Te Aupouri and Te Rarawa; 1931-2013) was one of Aotearoa’s most significant modern artists. Hotere invited the poet, novelist and biographer Vincent O’Sullivan to write his life story in 2005. Now, this book – the result of years of research and many conversations with Hotere and his fellow artists, collaborators, friends and family – provides a nuanced, compelling portrait of Hotere: the man, and the artist.” (Publisher information)

Turns out, I’m fine / Lucy, Judith
“Judith Lucy was just Great! Sure, the last remaining member of her immediate family had died, she was menopausal, she suspected her career was in the shitter and it seemed like the world was going to hell in a handbasket – but everything would work out because SHE HAD A MAN. Then, in the space of twenty-four hours, her relationship came apart and so did she. A broken heart became the catalyst for a complete existential melt down. She was nearly fifty, suddenly alone and unsure about every aspect of her life. How had this happened? She tries everything from dating a tree to getting a portrait of her vulva done to swimming with a whale shark. Thanks to a series of revelations and a slight drowning experience, Judith slowly starts to realise that her life is still full of possibilities and despite death, heartache and a dry vagina it turns out … she’s fine.” (adapted from Catalogue)