Tuesday 11 December 2012

Takahe Book Club

A big thank you to the Takahe Book Club at Brooklyn School who invited me to talk to them last week. These are Year 5 and 6 students who have been meeting regularly through the year to read and talk about books. It's great to see kids who are such keen readers. They could all tell me what they'd read and a couple of them arrived late, still reading as they walked in.

They had also prepared some questions and halfway round the circle I had to stop and grab paper and pen to write some of them down. Being given a question that you've never been asked before is a real gift because it always makes you think more about your own writing. So here are some of the great questions they asked:

  • What does it feel like to have a book published?

  • If you weren't an author, what do you think your life would be like?

  • Do you prefer writing books where you make everything up or where you do research?

  • Is writing a book ever boring?

  • How easy is it to make up your characters?

  • What would you like a reader to think about your books?

  • How important is it to have the right name for your characters?

- Not to forget the random question about fish!

I thought these were especially interesting questions because they showed a real grasp of the nature of writing and what it's like to be a writer (and a reader).

So Adam, Hunter, Emma, Michael, Olivia, Shaam, Chloe, Joseph, Jonny, Jessica, Shea, Yusi, Amit, Emma, Xanthe, James, Anna and maybe a few more who couldn't be there today - thank you again (and for your card and gift); it was a treat to come and talk to you all, and I hope you get lots of good reading down over the summer holidays!




Sunday 2 December 2012

Courage Day 2012

November 15 is marked around the world as The International Day of the Imprisoned Writer. This was started in 1981 by PEN, the international writers' organisation, to acknowledge those who are subject to political, economic or other forms of repression.

Here in New Zealand we call it Courage Day. Dr Nelson Wattie, the New Zealand Society of Authors (NZSA) PEN representative, introduced the recent Courage Day meeting in Wellington. He pointed out that the name refers to the courage that such writers display, but also recalls NZ writers James Courage and his mother Sarah Courage, who both faced opposition because of their writing - in James' case, because he dared to write about homosexuality at a time when such writing was discouraged and could be banned.

This year the NZSA Wellington branch decided to focus on courage shown by writers in a situation close to home, and we invited Dr Jeffrey Paparoa Holman to address us about the courage of people, including writers, in Christchurch, and more generally on writers' courage to speak in stressful and dangerous situations.

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman is a prolific poet, whose books include As Big as a Father (2002), The Late Great Blackball Bridge Sonnets (2004) and Land Very Fertile (2008). This year he published Shaken Down 6.3, a collection of poems, photographs and an essay focusing on the Christchurch earthquake.

He delivered a riveting and moving talk, despite still getting over the effects of jet lag, having only returned last week from the Iowa Residency.

Jeffrey first talked about the courage shown by his family during the war: his father who was in the Navy, and his mother and grandmother who used to talk to him about being bombed in Liverpool during the Blitz. He told us about some of the writers he met at Iowa, in particular a man from Myanmar who in his imprisonment refused to let his art or his work be confined, and treated every item in his cell as a possible art object

Lastly, he read a number of poems from Shaken down 6.3 and talked about the situation in Christchurch: the lingering after-effects - both physical and emotional, the grief over loss of places and buildings around which you had built your memories - but also the greater community spirit, and a creative flowering with initiatives such as Gap filler:

Kristy Rusher

This was the first time that we included the "empty chair" at our Courage Day event. The chair is placed to symbolise a writer or writers who cannot be present because they are imprisoned, detained, disappeared, threatened or killed. It added an extra poignancy to the occasion and to Jeffrey’s wise and moving words about the situation in Christchurch.

Since the meeting, I've been reading through Shaken down 6.3 and have found it a very moving collection. Jeffrey's description of what his parents and grandmother had experienced during the war added more depth to my reading of his poem living with heroes. The book also includes some poems from Japan, April-May 2011, including Densinya rice haiku which uses a frog and an egret in one small ricefield to tell the story of a terrible and enormous  tragedy.