Sunday, December 14, 2014

On the occasion of my father's 69th birthday.


As today is my father's birthday, and because I marked ten years since his death by introducing the Michael King Memorial Lecture at this year's Auckland Writers Festival in May, I decided it would be appropriate to post that introduction here. There was so much more I could have said as a tribute to him, but I was limited to five minutes and it was an introduction after all, not a lecture, and maybe the occasion of his 70th birthday is when I will write the essay that expresses everything I have to say about him. But until then, this will have to do. Happy birthday Dad.



My name is Rachael King and it is my pleasure to introduce this year’s Michael King memorial lecture.

For those of you who don’t know me, Michael King was my father. It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since he died, and 11 years since he stood, not on this stage exactly, but at this festival, and delivered his final Auckland Writers Festival address, entitled ‘Maori and Pakeha - which people and culture has primacy?’ It was a typically enquiring, thought-provoking lecture, and it came at a crucial time in a year, 2003, when the issue of race relations in New Zealand needed level-headed commentators. He went on later that year to publish the Penguin History of New Zealand, and to receive one of the inaugural Prime Minister’s Awards for Literature, along with Janet Frame and Hone Tuwhare, both of whom are also no longer with us. To say Dad was taken away at his prime is an understatement. 

Dad has been recognised in many ways since he died, but I hold a particular fondness for this lecture. He was always involved with this festival; he loved this festival, and he passed that love on to me, right from the beginning, in 1999, when it was a much more intimate affair than it is today. In fact I grew to love festivals so much, I am now directing my own, in Christchurch. [at this point I could hear Dad’s voice in my head saying plug your festival so I obeyed - it’s what he would have done]

There’s nothing like the buzz of a writers’ festival to enhance father-daughter relations and as we lived in different places, the Auckland festival was a chance for us to catch up and bond. I remember meeting him at the Hyatt, I think it was 2001, and he dragged himself away from the writers’ welcome drinks to have dinner with me. He’d had to excuse himself from talking to a nice young writer he’d met called Jonathan Franzen - had I heard of him? I had. I had given Dad The Corrections the previous Christmas, as well he knew.

Dad participated fully and with gusto. One festival he introduced historian Antony Beevor, who was giving a very serious talk at a dinner at the Heritage. Dad’s introduction was outrageously funny - just as funny as anything at the comedy festival that was going on down the road. I’m not sure what Antony Beevor thought about following on from that introduction.

I was talking to someone the other day who always remembered my father at the festival, and what good-natured company he was. The festival was a chance for him to get away from his quiet life in the bush, by the sea, and catch up with his many friends and fellow writers. Many people here will remember him, always wearing his  cream linen jacket: I thought he only had one of these jackets, which he wore all the time, but after he died I found a whole wardrobe full of them.

I’m grateful to the Auckland Writers’ Festival - to Jill Rawnsley who initiated the lecture, and to Anne O’Brien who has carried on the tradition.

I know Dad would have been honoured to know about some of the people who have given lectures in his name: Deidre Bear, Judith Therman, Hermione Lee and John Carey to name just four. Dad would have been thrilled to see how huge the festival has become, to see so many people caring about books and ideas, and he would have been right in amongst it all. He would have loved sitting down and talking with Eleanor Catton,  sharing stories with Alexander McCall Smith, and meeting Huw Lewis-Jones, the “barefoot historian”. Although, to be fair, he probably wouldn’t have bungy jumped from the harbour bridge or gone out to sing karaoke until 4am [all things festival writers did that weekend]. 

Thanks again to Anne for inviting me to come here to speak. It’s the best way I can think of to say to Dad, “You… are… missed.”

[There was a lot of applause at this point which was lovely and I didn't cry]

I want to just read you something he wrote in 2003, a passage that closes The Penguin History of New Zealand. “And most New Zealanders, whatever their cultural backgrounds, are good-hearted, practical, commonsensical and tolerant. Those qualities are part of the national cultural capital that has in the past  saved the  country from the worst excesses of chauvinism and racism in other parts of the world. They are as sound a basis as any for optimism about the country’s future.”

And my father was optimistic and he did like to find the best in people. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have come up to me, often at book festivals, and said “oh, I knew your father; or I met your father once; he helped me enormously with this or that, he was so generous with his time.” I don’t know how he did it - he made people feel that they knew him, because he took an interest in them and their lives. He made them feel interesting. He was inquisitive… curious… a quality I personally hold in high regard. 

Dad was deeply interested in the history of New Zealand and its people and this passion is shared by this year’s Michael King Memorial Lecturer Sir Ray Avery.






  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

On mess.

"You don’t know what you’re doing for a long time. It seems like a huge mess because it is a huge mess. If you looked at the notes from early on in the writing of this book, you’d think, “This person is crazy. This could never be a novel.” That’s how all my books have felt when I started writing them. Trying to explain them to people was like trying to explain a dream." - Donna Tartt, a woman after my own heart
I'm definitely in that 'mess' stage. Unfortunately most of the mess is in my head - I haven't even managed to commit much to paper/screen. I have faith that it will all come together - I remember going through a similar stage with Magpie Hall.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Butterflies, Magpies and Selkies - a talk.

This is very late notice, but I am giving a talk to the Friends of Christchurch Libraries tomorrow (October 8), and anybody is welcome to attend. I'll be talking about the research and stories behind my three novels. If you ever wanted to know about the Brazilian rubber boom, taxidermy, Victorian tattooing and Celtic myths, this could be for you. Here's the info:

Date: Tuesday 8 October

Time: 12.30 pm

Venue: Board Room, Fendalton Library and Service Centre
Cnr of Clyde and Jeffreys Road

Cost: Gold coin donation

Speaker: Rachael King

Award-winning Christchurch writer Rachael King talks about the research and stories behind her three novels: The Sound of Butterflies (2006), set in the Brazilian rubber boom of the early 20th century; Magpie Hall (2009), a story of tattooing, taxidermy and family secrets; and Red Rocks (2012), a novel for children which transplants the Celtic selkie myth to the wild south coast of Wellington.

 


Monday, August 12, 2013

Medals and being batsh*t crazy.

Last week, I was honoured to receive The Esther Glen Medal for junior fiction at the LIANZA Book Awards. It's New Zealand's longest-running literary award - established 1945 - given to "the author of the book which is considered to be the most distinguished contribution to literature for children aged 0-15, by an author who is a citizen or resident of New Zealand." Esther Glen was a Christchurch children's writer, who lived just down the road from where I now sit. She was "part of a close and lively literary circle in Christchurch" (which I'm trying to be; if only other writers weren't so busy writing and were more inclined to form a circle. I think I see more writers in Wellington and Auckland than I do here).

I love libraries and I love librarians, so to be given an award by them is a huge thrill. As I explained on the night, I wrote my last two books in libraries around Christchurch and continue to write there today (I'm at the Tuam Street library right now in fact). I refer to the Tuam Library as my office. I am the unoffical Christchurch Libraries Writer in Residence, having worked in the Central, Peterborough, Shirley, South, Tuam and Sumner libraries. (The only time I don't like working in libraries is when strange men come and sit next to me and pretend to read magazines while staring at me - that just happened. When I moved places, he left. *shudder*)

When I got back to Christchurch and told my kids I'd won an award, they looked at me blankly. So then I told them I'd won a medal. Now that was something they could relate to. It was a shiny thing they could hold in their hands. They made me take it out of the box, put it on a ribbon and wear it around the house like an Olympic athlete.

When I accepted the award, I admitted that I was somewhat surprised. Just why I was suprised is complicated. A lot of people - librarians included - have told me they love Red Rocks, but as a good friend once said, writing makes you batshit crazy. You write a book from the heart and you let it out into the world to be read, judged, praised, admired, hurled across the room, depised and loved. You are constantly being compared to other writers, many of whom are your friends, without asking to be. You compete against other writers, many of whom are your friends, for funding and for awards. And inevitably you will sometimes be found wanting. All writers I know can quote whole lines from negative reviews, but they can't quote any from the glowing reviews. Some of my friends will get one bad review and seven great ones; then they will always think of that book as being 'poorly received'.*

All this means that it pays to have a thick skin. And yet. In order to write, you need to have a thin skin, don't you? If you were not at all sensitive, you wouldn't be aware of all those subtle emotions that go into being human; all the things that you write down to build characters; all the little details you notice about the world and about people that help you build a story on the page.

I wonder if that's why it always takes me so long to get into something new once I have a book published. I put up my shield and it takes a while for it to come down again. Winning an award like this gives you a boost. It blocks out the negative voices that you think you hear in the opinions of others, but more importantly the ones you hear in your head.

Anyway, it's given me fuel to forge on. I'm working on an adult novel and a children's novel, so it may be quite some time before they are finished. I've been joking to my Red Rocks fanbase that by the time I finish the next kids' book, they'll all be too old for it. But I hope not. Here's a picture of my glamorous life. The day after the awards, clutching a beautiful bouquet of orchids that I couldn't bear to part with and planned to smuggle on to the plane, outside the Booklovers' B&B in Mt Victoria (where I didn't stay)... waiting for a bus to the airport.

* For a much more eloquent and entertaining analysis of writers' anxieties and insecurities, I highly recommmend Sarah Laing's graphic blog Let Me Be Frank.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A book tour and some very big weather.

I started writing this on Friday, and it is in danger of becoming out of date before I can finish it, so I'm posting it now... will be back soon to add to it.

I am sitting in my brother's kitchen in Wellington on a borrowed computer, waiting for my flight to Christchurch and hoping it hasn't been delayed. I was due to fly out last night at 7.45pm. I had been worried for days that the forecasted snow in Christchurch was going to keep me out; in the end it was Wellington's Big Storm that kept me in.

And what a storm it was. Pictures emerging this morning were gobsmacking -- of the road torn up along the South Coast, of Island Bay's seawall in tattered chunks. I thought of the children I visited on Wednesday as part of the NZ Post Children's Book Festival week, and hoped that they weren't too scared and managed to stay safe and dry, that their homes weren't damaged.

Horrible weather aside, I had a wonderful couple of days visiting schools to talk about Red Rocks. I was particularly excited to be going to Island Bay and Owhiro Bay schools, as Red Rocks is set in their neighbourhood. When I talked about my initial idea, about a strange woman walking around the streets looking in people's houses, searching for something (her skin, perhaps), I suggested to the children that perhaps it was their houses she might have been looking into. All the kids were familiar with seals and had been to Red Rocks, and many of the children live on Owhiro Bay Parade, where Jake's dad lives. Lots of them had an idea of which house it might be, but of course the house itself came out of my imagination, based loosely on one I had spotted, which had a sleepout on the hill above it (as a few of them do), a perfect writing shed.

At Roseneath school I talked about how I had taken some of my father's words, which I talked about here, and put them into Red Rocks. The teacher pointed to the wall behind me, where the exact quote from the Wellington Writers' Walk was pinned. The kids had studied the Writers' Walk, knew the quote well, and had spotted it in the book. I was most impressed. They presented me with a lovely handmade card when I left, which I'll add to my gallery of Cool Stuff Kids Have Made Me and post soon.

I have a big thank you for John McIntyre from The Children's Bookshop, who drove me around for the day and minded me, and who also managed to sell a few books along the way.

After Wellington, I was on the train to Masterton, where I was taken out for a very nice dinner by David Hedley of Hedley's Books fame. I was dying for a glass of wine at that point, it has to be said. We had never met before but had plenty of bookish stuff to talk about over a good local Pinot Noir.

On Thursday I visited three schools in Masterton: Masterton Intermediate, Solway College and Hadlow School. All were fantastic audiences, and I was ably looked after by Penny from Featherston library who tirelessly drove me around.

That's it for now! I made it back to Christchurch on Friday evening. More soon...

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Avenues.

Avenues, a Christchurch magazine, has very admirably put a writer on their cover - me! I'm very happy with the story, which is one of the more in-depth interviews I've done in my career. It covers all of my books and a bit of my family and personal history, as well as a peek at my taxidermy and weird ephemera collection. And happily, it is available online, right here: Avenues.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Good news!


I am delighted to announce (somewhat belatedly) that Red Rocks is a finalist in the Junior Fiction category of the NZ Post Children's Book Awards. I am the newbie in a line-up of some big names in NZ children's lit - Kate de Goldi and Greg O'Brien, Jack Lasenby, Barbara Else and David Hill. For information about the awards, and to vote in the Children's Choice Award (hint hint) go here.

To celebrate I have made a public confession of the secret I planted in Red Rocks. The photo below gives you some clue. To read the secret, and the story behind the picture, go to the Booksellers blog.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

NZ Book Month Antics.


Here's a picture of me*, yesterday, talking to about 90 kids at the Shirley Library in Christchurch. Being as how it is New Zealand Book Month and the theme is "Books Change Lives", I took along a selection of books that changed my life - books I still own from childhood. The kids seemed fascinated to see the small, yellowed, 1970s versions of books they still read today: Danny the Champion of the World, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I also showed them an old copy of Under the Mountain and was very pleased to find how many of them had read it, and how many had seen the film. I was able to tell them about how I auditioned for the TV series when I was 10 years old, and how (in my mind) my chances were thwarted by my older brother, who went on to be the voice of Theo in the Radio NZ version, then to  direct and co-write the film all those years later (still rubbing my face in it!).

I then talked about writing Red Rocks and read a spooky passage. One little girl in the front looked so scared I had to keep reading to the end of the chapter so she knew that Jake, the protagonist, was okay and was not actually murdered by seals.

We finished up with some questions from the audience and what great questions they were. Unlike adults at literary festivals, kids really don't hold back. The best one was "What do you like about Red Rocks?" which really made me stop and think. In the end, I said I liked how personal a story it was to me, about how much I had unwittingly inserted myself and my experiences into it, and how my two boys, when they are old enough, will be able to read it and I can use it to tell them about my own childhood.

I'll be doing it all over again tomorrow (Friday March 15th) at Christchurch's South Library, at 11.30am, and very much looking forward to it.



*Thanks to Zac at Shirley Library for the great photos, and thanks to the library for hosting me.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Happy NZ Book Month.

So it's March already, and that means it's New Zealand Book Month. Sure, I know it's now about all books, to get people reading and buying books, but if you do happen to acquire one of those nifty $5 off vouchers, how about spending it on a New Zealand book? You might even discover somebody new you like. Take a punt. All we need is for more people to read and talk about the books that are unique to this country and to banish the 'cultural cringe' surrounding New Zealand books. It worked for music - let's see if we can do the same for books.

There are lots of fantastic events happening around the country, which are about New Zealand authors. Authors reading, talking and answering questions and if any of them have any special talents, they will probably be on display as well. For more information, you can go the NZ Book Month website or specifically to the events page. 

I'm doing two events: the first is at the Shirley Library in Christchurch, Wednesday March 13 at 11.30, the second at South Library, Friday March 15 at 11.30. I'll be talking about Red Rocks, so it's a good one to bring the kids (ages about 8-12) to. I'll be talking about my inspiration for the story, reading an exciting chapter and answering any questions. I will not have any other special talents on display, sorry.

I hope to see you there.


Thursday, January 03, 2013

Happy New Year.



Happy new year to you all! To welcome in the new year, here is a pic of the four notebooks I have on the go, each representing a different project I am working on. At the the moment one seems to be taking precedence over the others in the work stakes, but knowing me, and my skittish work habits of late, this could change at any moment. These do not include the other three ideas I would also like to develop this year, each of which is a huge departure for me. Will I find the time? I've already cut back on my huge television consumption and have even started writing in the evenings, which is a first for me, so who knows?

Maybe this post is the start of a new blogging year. A girl can dream.