Wednesday 16 September 2020

Trees and the ocean

Last week I was in the South Island doing a series of school visits, thanks to Read NZ Te Pou Muramura and the Writers in Schools programme. 

At Kaikorai Valley College in Dunedin, I did a couple of writing workshops and we talked about using our imaginations to try and look at things in a different way. 

Here are four of the wonderful poems that the students wrote as a result - I love the amazing ideas they have come up with. 


The Ocean

The ocean is a soft Blue sheet, changing

in the wind and devouring land.

It is a complete different

world, creating a home for fish, sand

and crabs. It’s a shark haven

and a popular place for plastic.

An Ombre is what

the ocean is, made from

 millions of blues.

 It can be as beautiful as a peacock

or as ugly as a dump

(Grace, Year 7)



The ocean is like a ferocious lion swallowing up its prey,

or a motel for the swimming fish that never get a say,

or a calm blue sheet so inviting and kind,

but the further you go, the more likely you'll find

the home to the sharks, ready to pounce, 

their razor sharp teeth will bite even an ounce, 

the ocean is home to crabs and fish, 

but along with them what is not delish, 

a buffet of plastic ready to take

the life of an innocent sea critter,

Poor creature, too late.

The ocean is a war that cannot be won.

(Jordan, Year 7)

Pine Tree

Standing tall in the mountains,

A spike pointing towards the sky,

Green as grass on a summer’s morning.

In winter decorated with tinsel and lights

As bright as the sun.

Pine needles litter the ground

Like a soft blanket to walk on

(Cody, Year 10)


Earth’s life-line

A pine tree is a spear pointing to space.

The smell reminds us of the outdoors.

A pine tree is Earth’s lungs,

The swooshing sound keeps up at night.

Green covering of the hills,

Place which is called home for many animals.

The playground for many children.

The colour of classroom paint,

Rocket which is unable to take off,

The structure for a bird’s home.

 (Josh, Year 10)

Sunday 6 September 2020

Wife after Wife by Olivia Hayfield (Little, Brown, 2020)

Wife after Wife is the dazzling debut of Olivia Hayfield, and simultaneously the first adult novel by Auckland writer Sue Copsey, who launched her pen-name alter ego after winning a Pitch Perfect competition run by the New Zealand Society of Authors at their AGM in 2018. The prize was consideration of a manuscript by High Spot Literary’s Vicki Marsdon and Nadine Rubin Nathan

I remember being there when the winner was announced, the congratulations that flowed from everyone in the room to Sue, and her utter astonishment. Over the next few months, this news was followed by even more excitement when High Spot Literary sold it to Little, Brown Book Group in the UK in a two-book publication deal. 

Wife after Wife is a retelling of the life of Henry VIII and his marital and other adventures, wittily interweaving Elizabethan intrigue with modern-day romance. Beginning in the pre-internet 1980s, it brings us almost right up to the present day, ending in the #MeToo era which clearly spells trouble for Henry. Part of the enjoyment is watching as the social history, music, celebrities and major events of each decade slide by, as well as changes in the media industry and in the skyline of the city of London.  

For prior knowledge, I relied on the Tudors and Stuarts from 7th form history, back in the days before we studied any NZ history, as well as tourist-y visits to various UK castles and museums. But even if all you know about Henry VIII is that he had six wives, that’s more than enough to enjoy this book, especially as the fates of the six are neatly summarised on the front and back covers (Divorced, murdered, died… Divorced, departed, survived). 

Henry VIII becomes Harry Rose, rich and powerful heir to a media empire. We know he is “wickedly good-looking” because of the effect his good looks have on almost everyone he meets. He’s charismatic, good company, full of “exuberant self-confidence”. He’s also impulsive, selfish, and gradually more and more haunted by his conscience.    

Each of the six wives is similarly translated into modern times with minor adjustments to their names (like Ana for Anne, or Janette for Jane) and a few tweaks to timelines. Almost every minor character also has an Elizabethan equivalent, one of the most unexpected but cleverest being Sir Thomas More’s modern day Terri ‘Baskin’ Robbins-More, editor of one of Rose Corp’s top magazines, whose nickname is due to her instinct for a good scoop.      

But Wife after Wife is more than a smart retelling of history (with a snappy title). It’s spicy and deliciously sexy while managing to avoid the embarrassing pitfalls of “naming of parts” and “what goes where”. It’s very funny, and you get the feeling that the author herself had enormous fun bringing Henry and his wives and children into today’s world, as well as taking them on the annual rounds of the English social calendar. 

Everyone will have their favourite wife, and themes of female friendship, motherhood, pregnancy and loss are sympathetically handled, but the book also manages to tell Henry Rose’s story from a position of empathy and understanding, without whitewashing his flaws, which considering his many infidelities is an accomplishment in itself. 

I’m now even more excited that this was a two-book deal and looking forward to the sequel, focusing on Harry’s children: Sister to Sister.   

Like many recent book releases, this one has been impacted by covid19. But bookshops are open again now, so get to your local indie bookseller and ask for Wife after Wife!