Interview: Andrea Hotere on her book The Vanishing Point

The Vanishing Point by Andrea Hotere is a brilliant, multi-layered historical art mystery thriller set in London in 1991 and Madrid in 1656. The novel boasts two main  protagonists, Alex Johns and the Infanta Margarita, with each character connected by mysteries surrounding one of the most famous paintings of all time, Las Meninas or ‘The Ladies-in-Waiting’ by Diego Velázquez.

Las Meninas is one of the most written about paintings of all time. It hangs in the Museo del Prado in Madrid and is one of the most enigmatic, mysterious and most talked about works of art of all time. It is superbly painted with almost photographic detail, featuring numerous objects and a large cast of figures in its composition — a true masterpiece. Many of these elements and details raise questions in themselves, however it is the questions it raises about reality, illusion, and the relationship between the figures in the composition and outside viewers that has fascinated admirers and writers on art for centuries.

In The Vanishing Point, Andrea Hotere takes some of the fascinating factual details and mysteries surrounding the painting and runs with them, creating a brilliant literary puzzle.

Andrea Hotere grew up in Ōtepoti, Dunedin, and lives in Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland, with her family. She studied history at the University of Otago, journalism at the University of Canterbury and has worked as a historical researcher, journalist, TV producer and author.

We were thrilled when Andrea took time out from her very busy schedule to discuss The Vanishing Point, and we wish to extend our heartfelt thanks to her. For more information visit Ultimo Press.

This interview was done in conjunction with Caffeine and Aspirin, the arts and entertainment review show on Radioactive FM. You can hear the interview, as well borrow The Vanishing Point by following the links below.

The vanishing point / Hotere, Andrea
“Set against the backdrop of London in 1991 and Madrid in 1656 the novel follows the lives of two women, Alex Johns and the Infanta Margarita, who are connected by a quest to unravel the enigmatic secrets within an iconic painting.” (Adapted from Catalogue) Also available as an eBook.

Emerging Bookseller of the Year, Lisa Adler

The 2022 National Book Trade Industry Awards were announced recently in Auckland, to celebrate “…our best and brightest, our successes and our innovations, and to acknowledge the excellent work being done in the New Zealand book trade”.

Lisa Adler, of Vic Books
Lisa Adler, of Vic Books

On the winners list was a true Wellington gem, one of Vic Books’ long-standing staff members, Lisa Adler. Adler took out the top prize for the Emerging New Zealand Bookseller of the Year category, a true testament to her extensive service to Wellington’s thriving book community. Following the win, she generously shared some of her insights with us, answering questions about career progression, supporting local writers and working closely with community to enhance an experience with books.

Read our Q&A below to discover Lisa’s recent pick, an old favourite and just how many books a professional bookseller can own!

Q&A with Lisa Adler, 2022 Emerging New Zealand Bookseller of the Year

Q: Congratulations on winning the 2022 Emerging New Zealand Bookseller of the Year award! How did your nomination come about?

Thank you very much!  I didn’t know I had been nominated, so it was a complete surprise to win.  My general manager, Jessica Godfrey, did all the work behind the scenes. She says she was able to address every single criteria from the many testimonials that she asked people for – so I guess my nomination, and ultimate win, came from the many relationships one forms as a bookseller. And the strength of those relationships.

Q: Could you give us some context about your work: how you came to your current role and your future trajectory within the book industry?

I went back to university after being a full-time parent for ten years, to study English Literature and Classics, after re-igniting my love of reading with my children.  I wanted to work closely with books: promoting the value of reading, encouraging people to read, sharing the joy of the worlds that books send you to and being surrounded by others who are passionate and committed to books and reading also. I decided to approach Vic Books to see if there were any jobs available, and luckily for me there was an opening at their Pipitea store.

Q: What do you find is the most fulfilling part about helping connect people to literature?

Knowing that it is more than just reading words on a page; that engagement with the narrative means many things for the reader.  A book can help you imagine lives other than your own, find similarities with your life, take you to worlds you hadn’t imagined, give you perspective…  To hear that someone has had a meaningful experience with a book is what makes it all worthwhile.

Q: You also co-host a RadioActive FM show ‘Vic Books for Breakfast’ every Thursday morning. Could you tell us a little about it, and how it ties into your bookselling?

I meet with Maggie Tweedie to talk about a book (of my choosing): usually it is a recent release, or it may be one that has won an award, or that is being spoken about in literary spaces – the overall belief being that others will find it worth the time to read.  I will review fiction and non-fiction, adult and children’s.  I really enjoy the challenge, as I will try hard to choose genres that I may not always gravitate to.  I hope to not just cover the plot of the book, but to discuss how well the author writes and crafts their story.

Q: The store is a benchmark in so many local writers’ development, particularly in their early years due to its connection to Victoria University Te Herenga Waka. In your opinion how does it contribute to, nurture and foster emerging voices? Do you have any pearls of wisdom for young or emerging writers who are just starting out?

Vic Books has always valued its commitment to literature in all its forms and works hard to foster relationships with the university staff, the International Institute of Modern Letters and Te Herenga Waka University Press.  We write a journal that showcases writers and their publications as well as those working in publishing.  We host book launches, special literature days (National Poetry Day coming up August 26th with an in-store event!) and readings by New Zealand authors.  For those new writers (of any age!) I say “stick with it” – join writing groups, get peer reviews, read voraciously to learn about craft and language and find others that can understand what you are doing.  There are courses run through Continuing Education and of course, the IIML, that provide excellent groundwork for emerging writers.

Q: In your eyes, what value do independent booksellers provide for the community, that online sellers / conglomerates cannot match?

We provide independent, engaging advice and expertise.  Time is spent discussing what a reader likes and grasping how they relate to differing authors and genres.  We can get a sense of whether a reader would like to try something different and encourage them to try something new.  Independent booksellers know their books and curate for readers; we will often choose a title knowing we have a readership for it.  We build relationships with customers that encourage them to see our shop as an interested and curious space, where we learn as much from them as they do from us.  Online sellers can’t form those relationships, and their choices for what books you might like are only based on what you have already read: they are unable to be creative.

We work hard at providing a ‘bricks and mortar’ venue, knowing that it is important for humans to connect in the real world. People who enjoy reading, enjoy the passion that comes with discussing their latest book and getting to connect with other like-minded people.  Hence, author events, reading days, book launches that keep people connected to their community.

Q: Is there a single piece of writing that has left a particularly significant mark for you? Could you explain why?

The Iliad:  the story encompasses all of what it means to be human. The characters display those emotions that are both enhancing and those that show their shortcomings – the reader gets deep anger, jealousy, a sense of injustice, love in all its forms, brutal aggression, redemption.  The plot is driven by lots of action, but also by its quieter moments, when reflection will determine the next scene.  I loved the Gods as an ‘audience’ and the rationale behind their interventions, or not, in the face of a human war.

Q: Over your lifetime, how have libraries played a role in developing and shaping your passion for books? Has your relationship to libraries changed over time?

Libraries have played a huge role in my life.  Our family visited them frequently and as a teenager I would read the books my mum got out! I made libraries my home in the UK when I nannied there for a while and on return to NZ took my children there weekly. I still use the library service – have a list of books on reserve all the time.  I often go to pick up books I have ordered, but still browse the shelves looking for something that piques my interest.

Q: Could you tell us about a recent title you loved and why it captured you?

I have just finished ‘Eddy, Eddy’ by Kate de Goldi and it has truly captured my heart because of its encapsulation of love, loss, trying to find one’s self, and make sense of the world against a backdrop of constant loss.  It never falls into a trope of grief, and always maintains humour, with marvellous wordplay and quirky characters.  The ending is one of the best, although immensely poignant, that I have read.  I think de Goldi is masterful in the way she constructs a world so easy to inhabit and I would love to meet Eddy’s family in real life.

Q: And finally, ballpark, how many books do you think you own?

I had to do a quick calculation on looking at my shelves…  and think it is probably about 2000, counting the children’s books that are in the attic, packed away for if I ever have grandchildren!

Eddy, Eddy / De Goldi, Kate
“Eddy Smallbone (orphan) is grappling with identity, love, loss, and religion. It’s two years since he blew up his school life and the earthquakes felled his city. Home life is maddening. His pet-minding job is expanding in peculiar directions. And now the past and the future have come calling, in unexpected form. As Eddy navigates his way through the Christchurch suburbs to Christmas, juggling competing responsibilities and an increasingly noisy interior world, he moves closer and closer to an overdue personal reckoning.” (Catalogue)

The Iliad / Homer
“An epic tale of love and betrayal, war and hope The Iliad is the first of two legendary ancient poems attributed to the Greek bard Homer. Typically dated between the 8th and 7th centuries BC it is believed by many to be the earliest extant piece of European literature. The poem deals with the exploits of Agamemnon, Odysseus, Achilles, Ajax and their comrades in the final year of their siege of the city of Troy.” (Catalogue)

We would like to thank Lisa for generously taking the time to answer our questions. Listen to her latest RadioActive Book Review, and explore the full archive online. To hear more about Lisa, listen to her recent interview with RNZ. Thanks to Jennifer at Vic Books for providing the photograph used in this post.

100 years of Ulysses: His Excellency Mr Peter Ryan in conversation

“Everybody knows now that Ulysses is the greatest novel of the century”

Anthony Burgess

The novel Ulysses by James Joyce is regarded as one of the great classic modernists works of the 20th century. It is often cited as one of the greatest works of literature ever and has even been described in some circles as the greatest work of fiction ever. It was published 100 years ago on the 2nd of February, which was also the date of Joyce’s fortieth birthday.

Ulysses is set over the course of one day  the 16th of June  in Dublin in 1904 and the book follows the encounters and interactions of Leopold Bloom. The 16th of June is now widely celebrated in Joyce circles across the world and called Bloomsday.  Ulysses is loaded with detail and rich characterisation and uses allusions, parodies, and puns galore and, as it progresses, imitates the styles of English literature at different periods. Throughout the novel Joyce draws parallels between the events in the book and Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey – indeed it is named after the poems hero protagonist Ulysses (Odysseus).

The book has had a checkered past – banned in many countries over claims of obscenity, due to the explicit nature of some passages. And there have been controversies as to which version of the text constitutes the definitive work.

To tie in with this global celebration we have teamed up with the Embassy of Ireland in New Zealand / Aotearoa to do a very special interview with His Excellency Mr Peter Ryan, Ambassador of Ireland to New Zealand, Samoa and Tonga  who talks about his passion for Ulysses and James Joyce, and highlights just a few of the 100th anniversary celebration events to be held here and around the world. You can listen to that interview below, or visit Wellington City Libraries’ Mixcloud collection here.

To celebrate this very special occasion, we have three copies of Joyce’s masterpiece, kindly donated by the Embassy of Ireland in New Zealand Aotearoa, to give away on Bloomsday – Thursday this week! To win a copy, snap a photo of a book by an Irish author that you have seen in our libraries and tag us on Instagram with the hashtag #wclbloomsday. The first three entries we receive on the day (Thursday 16 June) will win a copy of the book many have described as the greatest ever written. Too easy! This competition is open to Wellington residents and is only running on Thursday 16 June.

Ulysses / Joyce, James
“Following the events of one single day in Dublin, the 16th June 1904, and what happens to the characters Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom and his wife Molly, Ulysses is a monument to the human condition. It has survived censorship, controversy and legal action, and even been deemed blasphemous, but remains an undisputed modernist classic: ceaselessly inventive, garrulous, funny, sorrowful, vulgar, lyrical and ultimately redemptive. It confirms Joyce’s belief that literature ‘is the eternal affirmation of the spirit of man’. ” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Overdrive cover Ulysses, James Joyce (ebook)
“James Joyce’s novel Ulysses is said to be one of the most important works in Modernist literature. It details Leopold Bloom’s passage through Dublin on an ordinary day: June 16, 1904. Causing controversy, obscenity trials and heated debates, Ulysses is a pioneering work that brims with puns, parodies, allusions, stream-of-consciousness writing and clever structuring. Modern Library ranked it as number one on its list of the twentieth century’s 100 greatest English-language novels and Martin Amis called it one of the greatest novels ever written”. (Overdrive description)

Ulysses / Joyce, James
“Presents a recording of the novel which describes the adventures and exploits of Leopold Bloom as he wanders through Dublin on a single day, June 16, 1904. Set within the context of Homer’s Odyssey, Joyce uses stream of consciousness as a literary device to illuminate the internal thoughts of Bloom, his wife, Molly, and other assorted characters.” (Adapted from Catalogue)


Ulysses / Kenner, Hugh
“With characteristic flair, Kenner explores the ways Joyce teaches us to read his novel as Joyce taught himself to write it: moving from the simple to the complex, from the familiar to the strange and new, from the norms of the nineteenth-century novel to the open forms of modernism.” (Catalogue)


Breach of all size : small stories on Ulysses, love and Venice
“This book bridges two anniversaries. Ulysses by James Joyce was published in 1922. Venice was founded in 421. The title Breach of All Size is Joyce’s pun on Venice landmark Bridge of Sighs but could as easily describe his sprawling modernist classic, which clocks in at 265,222 words. To celebrate both anniversaries, 36 Aotearoa writers were asked to write love stories set in Venice and inspired by words from Ulysses, but to steer the opposite course and keep them short. How short? 421 words, of course.”(Adapted from Catalogue)

Overdrive cover The James Joyce BBC Radio Collection, James Joyce (Audiobook)
Three BBC radio productions of major works by James Joyce Ulysses :In this full-cast dramatisation of Joyce’s epic modernist novel, the stories of Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom combine as they meander through Dublin in the course of one day, 16 June 1904. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: An abridged reading of James Joyce’s autobiographical masterpiece portraying the adolescence of Stephen Dedalus, who must question the culture and religion of his native land before he can break free to become an artist. Dubliners This abridged collection of fifteen naturalistic tales depicts an array of characters from childhood, through adolescence, to maturity. Stories of love, loss, friendship, marriage, politics and family combine to create a unified world and a celebration of a city. and James Joyce – A Biography Gordon Bowker’s comprehensive study explores Joyce’s years spent in exile in Europe, and examines how his life shaped his genius.
(Adapted from Overdrive description)

Ross Harris in conversation

The Kugels are a Klezmer group that features two former NZSO members, one Kiwi Jazz maestro, a fabulous vocalist and the New Zealand classical composer and Arts laureate Ross Harris. The members are Anna Gawn – vocals, Ross Harris – accordion, Robin Perks – violin, Debbie Rawson – clarinets xaphoon, and Nick Tipping – bass

The tunes they play include new compositions from both Robin Perks and Ross Harris as well as a selection of more traditional tunes. We were thrilled when Ross Harris agreed to be interviewed about The Kugels to tie in with the release of their second evocative CD The kugels at Breaker Bay and to tell us all about Klezmer; its history and its place in the contemporary music scene. The interview was done in conjunction with the Caffeine and Aspirin arts and entertainment review show on Radioactive FM.

Both Kugels CDs are available to borrow from the library along with a wide selection of Ross Harris compositions.

The Kugels at Breaker Bay. / Kugels
“This is the second release from the Wellington based Kugels the five-piece outfit which specialises in Klezmer and features some of New Zealand’ s finest classical musicians in their line-up. For a long time, they have been a bit of a hidden gem in the NZ music scene, but that changed recently when they did a sofa session with Bryan Crump. This latest release really shows how good they are, and includes emotive and atmospheric renditions of both traditional and original Klezmer pieces composed by arts laureate, and renown classical composer, Ross Harris.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The Kugels play Klezmer by Ross Harris. / Kugels
“Ross Harris – The Kugels play Klezmer. … Melancholic, lyrical, delicate and beautiful , the music is played with grace and finesse by the Kugels who are the Wellington based quartet to which Ross Harris  belongs….” (Adapted from Catalogue)



Symphony no. 5 ; Violin concerto / Harris, Ross
“Ross Harris’s Symphony No.5 uses as its core poems by Panni Palasti.  The moving poems in the piece are based on the personal experiences of the poet during World War Two and the subsequent Hungarian Revolution. The work creates complex orchestral movements around these poems. This particular recording has conductor Eckehard Steir steering the orchestra and he judges well the balance between the moments of ferocity and the work’s sonic ebb and flow.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Free Radicals / Free Radicals (Musical group)
“Wellington based Free Radicals :-Ross Harris and Jonathan Besser were active in the early 80s, described by one reviewer as ‘Eno meets industrial punk meets Stockhausen’. This compilation of archival recordings show the full range, scope and ambition of the pioneering outfit.” (adapted from Catalogue.)


Requiem for the fallen / Harris, Ross
“Requiem for the fallen honours the memory of soldiers who died in the First World War. Poetry by Vincent O’Sullivan is woven through the Latin of the Requiem Mass and carries many homespun New Zealand references. Horomona Horo’s taonga pūoro improvisations add a haunting beauty that could only be from Aotearoa.” (Adapted from Catalogue)


Our exclusive author interview: John Summers on his latest book The Commercial Hotel

New Zealand writer and essayist John Summers has just published his latest work The Commercial Hotel.  John’s clever and often humorous book is part reportage, part memoir and is a meditation on his life and personal interests. Whilst the areas the book covers include John’s past, wider interests and obsessions, in doing so it also speaks to the reader about a wider story, about a side of New Zealand that is fast vanishing.

The book has a strangely modern, haunting quality to it. The Commercial Hotel in part achieves this by looking at some of the less celebrated and explored aspects of New Zealand’s recent past, especially in the more provincial areas of the country. By looking at things such as New Zealand Elvis impersonators, freezing works, night trains, hotel pubs and landfills he gets behind the surface of these things to reveal something deeper about life and death in New Zealand.

We recently had the pleasure of interviewing John about The Commercial Hotel in conjunction with the Caffeine and Aspirin arts and entertainment review show on Radioactive FM.

Click below to hear the interview:

The Commercial Hotel / Summers, John
Combining reportage and memoir, The Commercial Hotel is a sharp-eyed, poignant yet often hilarious tour of Aotearoa: a place in which Arcoroc mugs and dog-eared political biographies are as much a part of the scenery as the hills we tramp through ill-equipped. We encounter Elvis impersonators, the eccentric French horn player and adventurer Bernard Shapiro, Norman Kirk balancing timber on his handlebars while cycling to his building site, and Summers’s grandmother: the only woman imprisoned in New Zealand for protesting World War Two. And we meet the ghosts who haunt our loneliest spaces.” (Publisher information) 

The mermaid boy / Summers, John
“From Christchurch to China, from mattress manufacture to Burmese medicine, these true stories explore one man’s experience with the exotic and the mundane. Witty, perceptive, and often surprising, The Mermaid Boy introduces striking new ways to write about love, travel, and home.” (Publisher information) 

Free Radicals: An interview with Ross Harris

Free Radicals were a Wellington-based art music duo active in the early 80s, described by one reviewer as ‘Eno meets industrial punk meets Stockhausen’.

“The music of Free Radicals still, years later, sounds like no other, two experimental classical composers using technology developed primarily for pop music.” – Elizabeth Kerr

Free Radicals is one of four inaugural releases to mark the launch of a new Rattle Records imprint, Rattle Echo. This new label will present New Zealand art-music recordings from the past that have either never been commercially released or made available digitally, or that simply deserve to be more widely known.

Free Radicals were a Wellington-based art music ensemble that offered an outlet for the creative musical sensibilities of Ross Harris and Jonathan Besser in the early 80s. Ross and Jonathan recorded their music together in the electronic music studio at Victoria University of Wellington, which was established and run by Douglas Lilburn. It was a room fitted out with multi-track tape recorders, filters, ring modulators, and a classic reverberation plate mounted in one of the walls. Their initial recordings involved basic sound transforming techniques, such as speed changes, pitch shifts, cutting and splicing tape, and feeding sounds through various effects. They sought to create sounds that were of New Zealand by incorporating and manipulating environmental sounds into their recordings, but they also worked with voltage-controlled synthesizers such as the Putney VCS3 and 2 Synthi A.

In previous years, such machines were clock-synced, but in 1983 a new industry standard called MIDI appeared on the scene, which enabled a sophisticated connection and control of audio technologies that is still in use today. Machines such as the Roland TR-606, TR-303, and JX3P seduced the duo into creating rock-influenced textures and sequences to improvise over. Jonathan added a Roland RS 202 Keyboard, which brought string and organ sounds to their palette. Pre-recorded tapes of voices and industrial sounds were often added, but the creative possibilities increased dramatically in 1985 with the addition of The Drumulator (the most advanced drum machine at that time) and the Ensoniq Mirage, a “sampling” unit that enabled any sound to be recorded then played back at different pitches across the length of a triggering keyboard. In performance, everything (including voices) was processed through AKS synthesizers to produce often barely controllable chaos, which, in essence, was one of the defining characters of the Free Radicals.