New Zealand Book Month featuring New Zealand speculative fiction

Wellington City Libraries is hosting an evening titled,” Words on the Wind” on the Wednesday 20th March where six writers from SpecFicNZ will read from their work.

SpecFicNZ is an organisation for New Zealand writers of Speculative Fiction. Speculative fiction is a genre used to cover a vast number of different types of fiction, such as science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural, magic realism fiction and therefore has numerous subgenres. Most writers of speculative fiction provide unique interpretations and push the boundaries of the mainstream genre plots. A good definition of Speculative Fiction comes from The Collins English Dictionary which states, “…a broad literary genre encompassing any fiction with supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements.”

This is a very popular form of writing; giving writers the unlimited use of their imaginations and readers some great reading experiences.
As this is New Zealand Book Month we are highlighting some of the writers who will be present at the “Words on the Wind” event and also some other New Zealand writers whose popular works can be defined as “speculative fiction”.

Syndetics book coverA foreign country : New Zealand speculative fiction / edited by Anna Caro and Juliet Buchanan. Attending the evening will be Anna Caro, a Wellington writer who is co-editing another collection of short stories titled Regeneration: New Zealand Speculative Fiction II. The first collection she co-edited published in 2010 for this series contained twenty-two stories from New Zealand writers and included stories from well known writers such as Bill Direen, Juliet Marillier and James Norcliffe.

Syndetics book coverMansfield with monsters : the untold stories of a New Zealand icon / by Katherine Mansfield ; with Matt and Debbie Cowens.
Matt Cowens is another Wellington writer as is Debbie Cowens, both will be attending the “Words on the Wind” evening. Together they wrote, Mansfield with Monsters, published in 2012, a collection of short stories taken from Katherine Mansfield‘s work and altered to include elements of science fiction and the supernatural. This is a great example of Speculative Fiction.

Syndetics book coverTransported : short stories / Tim Jones.Tim Jones has lived in Wellington since 1993 and has had a novel, three collections of poetry and two short story collections published. He has a long association with the New Zealand science fiction community and is a keen environmentalist. He will be reading from his work at the SpecFicNZ evening. In his short story collection titled, Transported, published in 2008, the stories range in genre, from science fiction, to realism, from humour to metafiction and fantasy.

The following four New Zealand writer’s work could be included under Speculative Fiction too.
Syndetics book coverThe Blood Red Army / David Bishop.
David Bishop was born in 1966 but has lived in England since 1990. He has written drama for television and radio, screenplays, comics, with the most acclaimed, the Judge John Deed series, adapted to film and the Nikolai Dante series. The Blood Red Army is the second book in Fiends of The Eastern Front series and features vampires and zombies. “The Winter has halted the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1942, but the city of Leningrad is still besieged by German troops. Red Army soldiers and civilians are starving to death, but they refuse to surrender. The Nazis then unleash a terrifying new weapon against the city, a cadre of vampire warriors.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverI got his blood on me : frontier tales / Lawrence Patchett. Lawrence Patchett has a PhD in Creative Writing and lives on the Kapiti Coast. He has had work published in Sport, Landfall, Hue & Cry and Turbine. He was a winner of The Long and the Short of It short-story competition. I got his blood on me: frontier tales collects twelve of his stories that can be classified as speculative. “From a re-imagined history to a future where holograms walk the streets, all explore the frontiers that face the adventurous, now and in the past.” (adapted from book cover)

Syndetics book coverArchangel’s storm / Nalini Singh. Nalini Singh would be the most popular “speculative fiction” writers. Born in Fiji she moved to New Zealand as a child. She has over thirty books published since her third placing in 1999, in the Romance Writers of New Zealand “Clendon Award”. Her work since includes paranormal romance, science fiction, fantasy and romance. Archangel’s Storm is the fifth book in her Guild Hunter series, all set “in a deadly but beautiful world where angels rule and vampires serve.” (adapted from

The Best Fiction for 2012

At this time every year most magazines and newspapers, that review fiction, invite selected guests to list the fiction they have enjoyed most during the year. The lists are always interesting and surprisingly helpful as many times we are reminded of a titles forgotten and unread at the time of publication. The most comprehensive best reads, mainly by writers and reviewers can be found in The Guardian and in The Observer, both British publications. Best Books of 2012 are also in The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and in our own New Zealand Listener.
As with previous years the some of the staff at Wellington City Libraries have listed their Best Reads of 2012.
We hope that within all these sources of good reads, you will find some great reading for the holiday season.

Syndetics book coverOpen city : a novel / Teju Cole.
“For lovers of literary fiction, this debut novel by Nigerian American Teju Cole satisfies on all levels. As the main character (& it is a little bit autobiographical) roams the streets of New York, so his mind wanders over many subjects – art, music, literature, and critical theory to name but a few. Meditative, entirely original and beautifully written.” (Pauline)

Syndetics book coverHHhH / Laurent Binet ; translated from the French by Sam Taylor.
“The assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, during WWII, re-told in an entirely original way. An intelligent gripping read.” (Linda)

Syndetics book coverThe wrath of angels / John Connolly.
“Few other writers could make their central villains a beautiful scarred woman and a small child & have them exude a level of disquiet & malevolence that surpasses any fictional serial killer…Another great entry in a series that, unlike many others, only gets better as it goes on.” (Mark)

Syndetics book coverSum : forty tales from the afterlives / David Eagleman.
“At once funny, wistful and unsettling, Sum is a dazzling exploration of unexpected afterlives—each presented as a vignette that offers a stunning lens through which to see ourselves in the here and now. It is truly a wonderful piece of imaginative writing with a hint of scientific realism.” (Lydia)

Syndetics book coverThe Christmas scrapbook : a Harmony story / Philip Gulley.
“I especially liked the two Christmas stories.
He is a Quaker pastor in a place called Harmony in America. Has some very unusual characters in his town.” (Brigid)

Syndetics book coverThe map and the territory / Michel Houellebecq ; translated from the French by Gavin Bowd.
“The French writer who has inherited the mantle of Camus has been described as one who “tosses stones through the windows of European polite speech and attitudes, then runs away”. His latest book is placed in the post millennium art world and features a character who is a reclusive alcoholic writer called Michel Houellebecq.” (John)

Syndetics book coverThe unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry / Rachel Joyce.
“Loved its originality and quirkiness. A story about a marriage, loyalty and doing the right thing in the end. Look forward to this author’s next offering.” (Sandy)
It is a gentle but deep read. (Debbie)

Syndetics book coverCapital / John Lanchester.
“This engrossing story of several households of one street in London presents a cross section of post millennium British society offering an insider view of different sectors including the nouveau rich, immigrants and the art world.” (John)

Syndetics book coverHow it all began / Penelope Lively.
“This is Penelope Lively at her very best. A vivid engaging book about a fracture, an affair and the effect they have on family relationships. Well written, fast -paced, chatty and witty, it will appeal to Anglophiles and those who appreciate literary fiction.” (Sue)

Syndetics book coverSunshine on Scotland Street / Alexander McCall Smith ; illustrated by Iain McIntosh.
“All those following the fortunes of Bertie, Bruce, Big Lou and all the other inhabitants of this fabled Scottish Street will be delighted to be read of their further adventures. Alexander McCall Smith has a marvellously inventive mind and many interests which are reflected in his books – food, wine, art, music and philosophy to name but a few. He is a real life-enhancer as his many fans will testify.” (Sue)

Syndetics book coverThe last 100 days / Patrick McGuinness.
“This fictional account, based on the writer’s actual experience, of the days leading up to the fall of the Ceausescu regime in Romania is a great story with intriguing characters that offers insight into the mind boggling corruption that fuelled the errant communist state.” (John)

Syndetics book coverAngels at the table : a Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy Christmas story / Debbie Macomber.
“It is a lovely light hearted story about a couple who are just getting together and 4 interfering angels. The angels are Shirley, Mercy, Goodness and Will. Lovely Christmas theme.” (Brigid)

Syndetics book coverThe troubled man / Henning Mankell ; translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson.
“I got a strange feeling of loss and sadness at the underwhelming demise of Kurt Wallander, the protagonist detective after a good few previous adventures. A mini bereavement, including the prospect that I was no longer going to ‘visit’ his world.” (Martin)

Syndetics book coverBring up the bodies / Hilary Mantel.
“This is the sequel to the Man Booker prize winning Wolf Hall. It continues to follow the life and machinations of Thomas Cromwell, a commoner who has risen above his station to become Master Secretary and chief adviser to Henry VIII. A great read. I eagerly await the third and final instalment in this trilogy.” (Debbie)

Syndetics book coverNew Finnish grammar / Diego Marani ; translated by Judith Landry.
“Translated from the Italian this amazing novel is set in Finland during the 2nd World War. This is a compelling, moving story about, language, nationality and identity.” (Linda)

Syndetics book coverThe lighthouse / Alison Moore.
“This beautifully written, debut novel is haunting, unsettling and menacing. Simply stunning.” (Linda)

Syndetics book coverPhantom / Jo Nesbo ; translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett.
“Harry Hole in “Phantom” who succumbs I suppose to his self inflicted destiny to die doing his job, the only thing he can do well. But did he have to go so depressingly negatively.” (Martin)

Syndetics book coverThe conductor / Sarah Quigley.
“The novel is accompanied by a CD of Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony which really added to the text. I couldn’t put it down.” (Liz)

Syndetics book coverBy blood / Ellen Ullman.
“A fugitive, unhinged professor becomes obsessed with the overheard lives of the therapist and her client next door.” (Jason)

Fiction awards and prizes

Every year the anticipation for the announcements of the long-lists, short-lists and eventual winners of the annual major Fiction awards regularly mounts. Recently we advised of the winner of the I.M.P.A.C Dublin Literary Award, and later this month the Mann Booker Prize will announce their selected long-list, reduced to the short-list the following month with the winner announced in October. Along with the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Nobel Prize for Literature, these awards are important corner stones of the fiction year, but of course there are many smaller awards and prizes given to fiction writers throughout each year. They are just as important for providing acknowledgement and praise for great writing, discovering new talent, bringing the author’s work to the attention of readers, literarily drowning in a sea of reading choice and they provide aspiration and encouragement for new young writers.

We are highlighting five smaller, less known fiction awards, but as you will see the calibre and skill of the winners are in the league of the major prize winners. The novels judged the best in each award are as diverse as the nationalities of the writers. All guarantee great reading entertainment that hopefully will lead to discovering other good fiction from the past winners of each award.

The Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize is awarded annually for comic literature, to a book that captures the ‘comic spirit’ of the novels by P.G. Wodehouse. This year Terry Pratchett received the prize, of Bollinger Champagne, 53 volumes of the Everyman Wodehouse editions and Gloucester pig named after his novel, for his 39th Discworld novel titled, Snuff. Fantasy author, Terry Pratchett has sold more than 70 million copies of his work world wide and in this his latest work he continues to be inventive and humorous, with a wonderful satirical view of the world.” When Commander Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch is on holiday in the pleasant and innocent countryside, but not for him a mere body in the wardrobe. There are many, many bodies and an ancient crime more terrible than murder.” (adapted from Snuff, like all the Discworld novels, is very funny and highly readable.

Syndetics book coverThe 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize was awarded to Sri Lankan debut novelist Shehan Karunatilaka for Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew. The Commonwealth Book prize is an annual event and rather complex in structure, with countries divided into five regions, Africa, Asia, Canada and Europe, the Caribbean and the Pacific. The winners of each region go forward for judging to find the overall winner. Shehan Karunatilaka was born in Sri Lanka, he studied at Massey University in New Zealand and has worked as an advertising copywriter, travel and song writer. “Chinaman tells of retired sportswriter WG Karunasena who is dying. He will spend his final months drinking arrack, making his wife unhappy, ignoring his son and tracking down Pradeep S. Mathew, a spin bowler who has mysteriously disappeared and who WG considers ‘the greatest cricketer to walk the earth’. On his quest he will discover many amazing and wonderful things, also some startling truths about cricket, Sri Lanka, and himself.” (adapted from Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew is a very accomplished first novel, highly enjoyable and very entertaining.

Syndetics book coverThe Desmond Elliott Prize was established in 2007. It covers all fiction genres and is intended to support new writers and celebrate their work. A panel of three judges have to find a novel of depth, with a compelling narrative, containing original and arresting characters. This year’s prize of £10, 000 was awarded to Grace McCleen for her first novel, The Land of Decoration. Crace McCleen was born in 1981, raised in a religious sect in Wales, and although removed from school at 10 she managed to attend Oxford University reading English literature, and then achieve an MA at York University. The Land of decoration is narrated by 10-year-old Judith McPherson. Bullied at school, she finds solace in making a model of the Promised Land in her bedroom. When she makes it snow in her Land of Decoration, and it snows in reality outside, she starts to believe she can perform miracles. That of course is when her troubles begin. This is an intense, beautifully written story of belief and doubt, good and evil.

Syndetics book coverThe Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award: Pen Award for First Fiction was established in 1975 by the late Ernest Hemingway’s wife to encourage the publication of first fiction by developing American writers. This award has definitely achieved it aim, with the list of previous winners, now well known acclaimed writers. Teju Cole won this year’s award of $8,000 with his novel titled Open City. A Nigerian-American writer, photographer, and art historian was born and raised in Nigeria and presently lives in Brooklyn, New York. “Along the streets of Manhattan, a young Nigerian doctor named Julius wanders, reflecting on his relationships, his recent breakup with his girlfriend, his present, his past. He encounters people from different cultures and classes who will provide insight on his journey, which takes him to Brussels, to the Nigeria of his youth, and into the most unrecognizable facets of his own soul. This is a haunting novel about national identity, race, liberty, loss, dislocation, and surrender.” (adapted from

Syndetics book coverThe Walter Scott Prize was established in 2010 for historical novels, set more than 60 years ago, and published in the United Kingdom, Ireland or the Commonwealth the previous year. This year the £25,000 prize was awarded to Sebastian Barry for his novel, On Canaan’s Side. Sebastian Barry was born in 1955 in Ireland, he is a much acclaimed poet, writer and playwright, with fourteen plays, two collections of poetry and seven novels published. On Canaan’s Side is set in 20th century Ireland and Chicago, and is narrated by 89-year-old Lilly Bere. As her story unfolds she tries to make sense of the sorrows and troubles of her life and of the people whose lives she has touched. Spanning nearly seven decades, it is a novel of memory, war, family-ties and love. Sebastian Barry has beautifully crafted a wonderful, haunting historic novel.

Shortlist for the Walter Scott prize for Historical Fiction announced

The Walter Scott prize for historical fiction was founded in 2010 by distant relatives of Sir Walter Scott, the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch. The prize of £25, 000 is awarded each year to a historical novel, “that has the ability to shed light on the present as well as the past.” This year’s panel of judges in chaired by historian and writer Alistair Moffat and the winner selected from the six shortlisted novels will be announced mid June. Previous winners have been Hilary Mantel in 2010 for Wolf Hall and Andrea Levy in 2011 for The Long Song.

The shortlisted novels for this year’s award are:

For more information on Sir Walter Scott, his life and his impact, try this:

Syndetics book coverScott-land : the man who invented a nation / Stuart Kelly.
“His name and image are everywhere – from Bank of Scotland fivers to the bizarre monument in Edinburgh’s city centre. Scott-land presumes that the reader will have only a hazy awareness of Sir Walter Scott, and, although Stuart Kelly will offer insights into Scott’s works and biography, this is emphatically not a conventional literary biography, nor is it a critical study. Partly a surreptitious autobiography – Stuart Kelly was born near Abbotsford – his examination of Scott’s legacy and character come to change his own thoughts on writing, reviewing, being Scottish, and being human.” – (adapted from description)

Orange Prize for fiction long list announced

The 2012 Orange Prize for fiction written by a woman has recently announced a long list of twenty finalists selected from 143 submitted novels. The long list covers a diverse range of theme and writing style, from historical novels, to contemporary life, suspense to magic. This is the 17th year of these awards that began in 1996 to celebrate international fiction by women. The winner will receive £30,000 at the awards ceremony to be held on 30th May 2012 in London. This year’s long list included 5 first novels, a previous Orange Prize winner, Ann Patchett, three authors that had been previously long listed, plus four that have previously been short listed and also a past winner of the Orange Award for New Writers, Francesca Kay.

The judging panel is chaired by Joanna Trollope and includes the novelist Lisa Appignanesi. Full information on the prize, the long listed authors and their novels can be found at the Orange Prize website.

We are briefly highlighting five novels from the long list. These are great reads, as are all the novels in contention for this year’s prize.

Syndetics book coverThe sealed letter / Emma Donoghue
Emma Donoghue was born in Ireland in 1969, and now lives in Ontario, Canada. She is a playwright, literary historian, short story writer and novelist. Her first novel, Stir Fry was published in 1994. Room, her sixth novel published in 2010 was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. “The Sealed Letter is set in Victorian England and is based on a true 1864 divorce case. Spinster Emily “Fido” Faithfull is earnestly engaged in the emerging women’s movement. But her orderly life is disrupted when she becomes reacquainted with Helen, a former friend just returning from Malta, where her admiral husband has been posted for seven years. Helen, selfish, manipulative, and thoroughly disenchanted with her husband, engages in risky behavior that results in a scandalous divorce trial, and Fido is caught in the middle of a struggle between the friend she so blindly believes in and the admiral, whom she respects.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe flying man / Roopa Farooki.
Roopa Farooki was born in Lahore, Pakistan, but has lived in London since she was 7 months old. After study and a career in Corporate Finance and Advertising, she became a full time writer in 2007 when her first novel, Bitter Sweets was published. The Flying Man is her 5th published novel. “Maqil, also known as Mike, Mehmet, Mikhail and Miguel is a risk taker and charlatan. A criminally clever man who tells a good tale, trading on his charm and good looks, reinventing himself with a new identity and nationality in each successive country he makes his home, abandoning wives and children and careers in the process. He’s a compulsive gambler, driven to lose at least as much as he gains, in games of chance, and in life, a damaged man in search of himself. He has been a master of flying escapes, from Cairo to Paris, from London to Hong Kong, humbled by love, outliving his peers, and ending up old and alone in a budget hotel in Biarritz some eighty years later. His chequered history is catching up with him: his tracks have been uncovered and his latest wife, his children, his creditors and former business associates, all want to pin him down. But even at the end, Maqil just can’t resist trying it on; he’s still playing his game, and the game won’t be over until it’s been won.” – (adapted from summary)

Syndetics book coverThe translation of the bones / Francesca Kay.
This is the second novel by Francesca Kay who now lives in Oxford. Her first novel, An Equal Stillness, published in 2009, won the Orange Award for New Writers and was shortlisted for the Best First Book in the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. “When word gets out that Mary-Margaret O’Reilly, a slow-witted but apparently harmless young woman, may have been witness to a miracle, religious mania descends on the Church of the Sacred Heart in Battersea. The consequences will be profound, not only for Mary-Margaret but for others too,- Father Diamond, the parish priest, who is in the midst of his own crisis of faith, and Stella Morrison, adrift in her marriage and aching for her ten-year old son, away at boarding school. In the same parish Alice Armitage counts the days until her soldier son comes home from Afghanistan, and Mary-Margaret’s mother, Fidelma, imprisoned in a tower block, stares out over London with nothing but her thoughts for company. As Mary-Margaret’s quest grows increasingly desperate, no one is prepared for the shocking outcome that ensues.” – (adapted from summary)

Syndetics book coverThe blue book / A.L. Kennedy.
A. L. (Anne Louise) Kennedy was born in 1965 in Dundee. She currently lives in Glasgow, is an Associate Professor of Creative writing with the University of Warwick. She has written screenplays, radio plays, non-fiction, short stories and novels. Her novel Day, published in 2007 won the Costa Book of the Year, the same year she won the Austrian State Prize for European Literature. The Blue Book is her 6th published novel. “Elizabeth Barber is crossing the Atlantic by liner with her perfectly adequate boyfriend, Derek, who might be planning to propose. In fleeing the UK, temporarily, Elizabeth may also be in flight from her past and the charismatic Arthur, once her partner in what she came to see as a series of crimes. Together they acted as fake mediums, perfecting the arcane skills practiced by effective frauds. Elizabeth finally rejected what once seemed an intoxicating game. Arthur continued his search for the right way to do wrong. The pair still meets occasionally, for weekends of sexual oblivion, but their affection lacerates as much as it consoles. She hadn’t, though, expected the other man on the boat.“ – (adapted from summary)

Syndetics book coverForeign bodies / Cynthia Ozick.
Cynthia Ozick was born in 1928 in New York, where she still resides. She received her MA in English Literature from Ohio State University. Her novel, The Bear Boy was short listed for the 2005 Man Booker International Prize. Her writing covers a broad range from essays to drama. Trust her first novel was published in 1966; Foreign Bodies is her 6th novel. “The collapse of her brief marriage has stalled Bea Nightingale’s life, leaving her middle-aged and alone, teaching in an impoverished borough of 1950s New York. A plea from her estranged brother gives Bea the excuse to escape lassitude by leaving for Paris to retrieve a nephew she barely knows; but the siren call of Europe threatens to deafen Bea to the dangers of entangling herself in the lives of her brother’s family. Travelling from America to France, Bea leaves the stigma of divorce on the far side of the Atlantic; newly liberated, she chooses to defend her nephew and his girlfriend Lili by waging a war of letters on the brother she has promised to help. But Bea’s generosity is a mixed blessing: those she tries to help seem to be harmed, and as Bea’s family unravel from around her, she finds herself once again drawn to the husband she thought she had left in the past.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)