reading

Book-a-rama

I’m trying to cut down on the amount of paper books I have. I’m without fixed abode at the moment, so every couple of months I have to pack up and move house. As a result, I’m limiting my possessions to things I can comfortably fit in my car. My sister and mother have both offered me storage space at their places, but I don’t want to intrude too much on their generosity. Instead I’ve been leaning highly on the wonderful public libraries we have here in Christchurch.

And then this happened.

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To be fair, I knew that going to the Bishopdale Rotary’s annual Book-a-rama would probably be a danger, but I didn’t anticipate the sheer scale of the event. Doors opened at 10:00. I got there about ten past. There were no parking spaces at the venue, or in the neighbouring streets. The recreation centre where the secondhand book sale was held was so crammed with books and people that at one point, I was trapped unable to move for about five minutes because of the sheer amount of people searching the paperback tables.

I was exhausted pretty quickly (I don’t handle crowds well), and left without scanning half the tables there. But I’m pretty pleased with my haul! Especially the three Trollope novels which were my main reason for going to the Book-a-rama. A very kind friend read Gentlemen Don’t Murder and gave me a lot of feedback, which can be basically condensed as ‘needs more research and a rewrite.’ She recommended Trollope as an authority on the intersection of class and money in the Victorian mind, and suggested I get paper copies as they were better for note-taking and book marking, which she thought I would want to do. I’m about halfway through an e-book version of Dr Thorne, and I’m itching to take notes, so I’m very happy to have found it in paperback!

The rest are a mix of ambition, research, nostalgia and just fun. I’ve got a high-fantasy Ancient World type story percolating, and I’ve been doing a lot of world building–which reminded me of reading the David and Leigh Eddings books as a teen. I’m not sure how well they’ll hold up to an adult reading, but either way, it will be interesting and hopefully informative to see how other writers handle major world building. Marion Zimmer-Bradley comes highly recommended by a podcast I love. Famous Cases of Scotland Yard, P. D. James and the Sophie Hannah Poirot novel, will hopefully serve as further inspiration for Gentlemen Don’t Murder, while the regency Mills & Boons are not only great fun, but will hopefully be good examples of how to keep to a brisk story structure without compromising on world building and historical accuracy.

All this—and they had a sausage sizzle outside.

Christchurch people, the Book-a-rama continues Saturday and Sunday at the Bishopdale YMCA, behind the library. I recommend checking it out, but be warned, it is extremely popular!

Review: Handmade Holidays by ‘Nathan Burgoine

This is my first holiday read of the season, and I don’t feel precipitate in saying that it’s my favourite. It has so many elements that I love—friends to lovers, slow burn, ensemble cast, people taking on the responsibilities of jobs and families, found families… And they’re put together in a way that is not hit you over the head sappy, but genuine. I was not at all surprised that the author drew on his own experiences in writing it. The story, for the most part, feels true.

To be honest, Burgoine had me at ‘origami crane.’ Nick has got a Christmas tree for his apartment and his first Christmas on his own. It’s only when he gets it set up that he realises he doesn’t have any decorations. Enter Haruto, or ‘Ru’ as he is commonly known, with a box of candy canes and an origami crane. The crane is the first piece in a collection that grows along with Nick’s new family.

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I really love the way the crane shows up throughout the story. Cranes have a special meaning for me. I was still living in Japan when my sister got engaged, and for her wedding, I folded one thousand cranes. It was a really positive experience. When you are folding that many cranes, you get into a rhythm. It’s like knitting or any other repetitive activity–it becomes sort of like a meditation. Your fingers are busy but your mind can wander.

At the wedding, the cranes took on a life of their own. My sister loved them and decided to use them in her decorations. We hung them from the roof, we put them on tables as decoration and even placed them among the bushes in her garden—it was an outdoor wedding. The guests loved them and a lot of people took them home as favours. My sister gathered all the ones that we left and kept them, until another friend was having an event and asked if she could use them. I like to think that a few of my cranes are still out there, kicking around, pressed between the pages of a photo album, or maybe sitting on a shelf or a desk.

But yes, digression aside, I thoroughly recommend Handmade Holidays for a seasonal story that will leave you feeling warm and glowy, without drowning you in saccharine sweetness.


Handmade Holidays

At nineteen, Nick is alone for the holidays and facing reality: this is how it will be from now on. Refusing to give up completely, Nick buys a Christmas tree, and then realizes he has no ornaments. A bare tree and an empty apartment aren’t a great start, but a visit from his friend Haruto is just the ticket to get him through this first, worst, Christmas. A box of candy canes and a hastily folded paper crane might not be the best ornaments, but it’s a place to start.

A year later, Nick has realized he’s not the only one with nowhere to go, and he hosts his first “Christmas for the Misfit Toys.” Haruto brings Nick an ornament for Nick’s tree, and a tradition—and a new family—is born.

As years go by, Nick, Haruto, and their friends face love, betrayal, life, and death. Every ornament on Nick’s tree is another year, another story, and another chance at the one thing Nick has wanted since the start: someone who’d share more than the holidays with him.

Of course, Nick might have already missed his shot at the one, and it might be too late.

Still, after fifteen Christmases, Nick is ready to risk it all for the best present yet.

Purchase Links:

Ninestar Press | Amazon | Smashwords | Kobo 

Cats Have Staff: A.L. Anderson

My friend M. Caspian shared her cute fluff penname this week, revealing she occasionally writes ‘sugary-sweet M/M romance with HEAs all round‘ (she also reviews notebooks and introduced me to Little & Fridays so I totally endorse following her). I feel like I deserved a treat for getting Dead Wrong submitted by my deadline, and figured a sugary-sweet fic was better for me than eating half a packet of gingernuts. When I saw Cats Have Staff I knew this was the story for me.

Cats Have Staff is short, sweet, uncomplicated but still had me ridiculously invested in Sal and Golightly. In short, it was exactly what I needed tonight, and I thoroughly recommend it for cat-people or people trying to reduce their gingernut intake.

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Salvatore Moretti has spent the last three years alone, ever since his lover Benjamin Cresswell left town for the job opportunity of a lifetime. Sal knew he couldn’t hold Ben back, and instead he’s been focused on creating a solid life for himself. A good life. He doesn’t need more than that . . . does he?

This is a short story of 14,893 words.

Cats Have Staff on Amazon.

Marlborough Book Festival #2: C.K.Stead owns his laurels

C.K. Stead is many things—poet, novelist, writer of short stories, New Zealand’s current poet laureate, academic and critic. Before the Marlborough Book Festival I knew him primarily as a critic, connected through his poetry to some of the iconic New Zealand writers—Frank Sargeson and Janet Frame especially, though he’s also the foremost expert on Katherine Mansfield. I know that I read Stead’s writing on Mansfield as an undergraduate studying New Zealand literature, but not having any interest in poetry, I didn’t exactly go looking for his work.

Until the opening session of the festival, An Evening with C.K. Stead, I had no idea that he’d written fiction. The fact that in his career he has spanned so many different kinds of writing just astonished me. When we got the chance to ask questions at the end, I asked him why he placed the most importance on his poetry. He said that poetry is the most difficult form of writing because there are so many limitations on it in terms of length and form. While short stories and novels allow you a lot of words to tell the story, in a poem, you’re trying to capture a vision you have. Only you will know if you’ve succeeded. It’s very difficult to get it right, but when you do the reward is even greater.

This literally made me view poetry in an entirely new light. I’ve always thought of myself as a story teller, and poetry as something totally removed from the type of writing I want to do. But imposing a limit on yourself, forcing yourself to really sharpen your writing, pay attention to vocabulary choice and make every word count… That’s what fiction writers do with drabbles.

One of my biggest writing bad habits is my verbosity. I’m pretty much a Victorian novelist about a century and a half too late to the party, producing 120,000 word drafts with lumbering plots and overly complicated plots. (Think I’m exaggerating? The book that is now Life After Humanity has been separated into three separate novel-length stories.)

C.K.Stead didn’t just make me interested in poetry, he made me want to try it. I came away from the festival inspired to try writing something each day—whether a drabble or a poem, something that would work on my craft. I’ve only done this once, but here it is:

 

Frost makes a watercolour countryside,

the field a washed-out green,

faded grass on smooth plains.

Deeper colour at the edges,

where the earth is crinkled.

 

The other thing that really impressed me about Stead was his confidence in his work. He’s eighty-five years old, and has been writing in one form or another most of his adult life. When he speaks about his work, he’s really frank. He says when he reads his old work, some of it is terrible, some of it didn’t work, but occasionally he finds something that he thinks is rather special.

I consider myself a beginner writer, and I think the majority of my writing friends are in the same boat. We suffer frequent self-doubt, second-guess ourselves and our writing, and find it really hard to judge the quality of what we write. C.K. Stead’s confidence was really refreshing to me—as inspiring as anything he shared about his writing.

 

 

Marlborough Book Festival #1: Navigating a Writer’s Life with Joy Cowley

Last week I hopped on the bus up to Blenheim for the Marlborough Book Festival, something I’ve wanted to do for years. Marlborough is known for its sunny climate which makes it ideal for vineyards. The area produces some of NZ’s best wine (and I’m not just saying that because my wine-maker uncle lives there!). What goes better with wine than a good book?

I’m not entirely sure how the Book Festival came about, but my librarian Aunt and cousins have been involved with the festival since the start. 2017 was the festival’s fourth year. While this year was the biggest so far, the festival has a really fun, friendly atmosphere. The interviews feel more like conversations and the format allows for lots of questions from the audience. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and really recommend it for fellow kiwis!

Unfortunately, I arrived in Blenheim with a really vicious cold. I was planning to do some sight-seeing around the festival, but I only managed enough energy to go to four festival sessions. There were a lot of naps. It’s only now that I’m starting to feel better that I realise just how sick I was, and I’m impressed I made it to the festival at all! Huge thanks to my cousin and her partner for taking such good care of me.

All of the sessions I went to were highlights for me, but I’m starting with Joy Cowley because she’s the one that keeps coming up in conversation. She needs no introduction to New Zealanders, but for everyone else, she’s best-known as a children’s author, but has written short stories and novels.

Rather than focusing on any one book, the interview with Joy ranged over her entire life, because almost every part of her life has impacted her writing. She’s a firm believer that everyone has a path and says that while at times we may feel directionless and like we don’t know where we’re going, it’s possible to look back and see a direct line to where we needed to be. She’s in her seventies, and I really appreciated hearing from an author at the peak of career—although she’d argue its still an apprenticeship.

Another thing that really stood out for me is that Joy gets up at four AM every morning and writes until eight AM. It’s pretty standard advice for authors to get up early, but I imagined that once you’ve ‘made it’ like Joy has, you would get to sleep in! She works hard, but she obviously finds the work rewarding, and that in itself is inspiring.

I borrowed a copy of Navigation, Joy’s memoir, from my Aunt to read after the festival, and her voice is so strong in it, that it was honestly just like hearing her speak. Writing friends, check this out! Yes, she’s traditionally published and her journey is specific to New Zealand, but I think her practical approach and the fact she is looking back over a very varied writing career is a really good antidote to all the negativity, stress and high demands of today’s write to market mentality. Plus, there’s something intrinsically interesting about other writer’s journeys (I haven’t read Stephen King’s On Writing yet, so I can’t compare them, but I imagine there’s a similar appeal).

Anyway, most of the author sessions at the Book Festival were an hour long, but Joy requested an hour and a half, because she had a feeling there would be a lot to talk about. She’s a natural story teller, and when the time for questions came, I was disappointed—I just wanted to hear more of her stories! She gave advice to current children’s authors and freely shared where her ideas came from. She’s generous with her advice and time, and I really regret that at the end of the session, I didn’t have the energy to go up and talk to her—though it’s probably best I kept my germs as contained as possible.

Reading: Sunset at Pencarrow

Regular readers of this blog will remember my interview with Anne Barwell about her release with co-author Lou Sylvre, Sunset at Pencarrow. I’m reading it now (very slowly because of a lot of family stuff that is happening), and wow. The story could not be more apt.

The two main characters meet when their flights out of Wellington are grounded because of fog.

Lead article when I took a break to check the news feed on my phone: Rotorua to Christchurch trip takes group to Auckland, 28 hours later.  The headline is a little misleading. The group is from Christchurch, heading to Rotorua–the exact same trip I’m making in August to the RWNZ 2017 Conference.

We’ve had similar headlines all week, as temperatures drop and snow fell in a lot of the South Island. Here’s hoping that Anne and Lou write a follow up novel, where the heroes have smooth flights all the way to Rotorua, is what I say.

Buy Sunset at Pencarrow.

Dreamspinner Press  | Google Books | iTunes | Kobo |Amazon| Barnes and Noble 

SunsetAtPencarrow 400x600Blurb:

Kiwi Nathaniel Dunn is in a fighting mood, but how does a man fight Wellington’s famous fog? In the last year, Nate’s lost his longtime lover to boredom and his ten-year job to the economy. Now he’s found a golden opportunity for employment where he can even use his artistic talent, but to get the job, he has to get to Christchurch today. Heavy fog means no flight, and the ticket agent is ignoring him to fawn over a beautiful but annoying, overly polite American man.

Rusty Beaumont can deal with a canceled flight, but the pushy Kiwi at the ticket counter is making it difficult for him to stay cool. The guy rubs him all the wrong ways despite his sexy working-man look, which Rusty notices even though he’s not looking for a man to replace the fiancé who died two years ago. Yet when they’re forced to share a table at the crowded airport café, Nate reveals the kind heart behind his grumpy façade. An earthquake, sex in the bush, and visits from Nate’s belligerent ex turn a day of sightseeing into a slippery slope that just might land them in love.

World of Love: Stories of romance that span every corner of the globe.

 

 

 

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