Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Confessions of a blogging failure.

Why? Just because. Also seemed like a good time to change up the look of this blog.

I started this blog two years ago as a fresh publishing student ready to make my mark on the world. I used it as a place to review the sessions of Writers and Readers Week I'd managed to make it to on my student budget. It seemed like a good idea at the time. This turned in to reviewing anything I could get my hands on for Booksellers New Zealand. When I remembered, the reviews made it on here too. The post with the most hits was my review of Secrets and Treasures. Stunning book.

My year of publishing eventually ended, and I began volunteering with The Lumière Reader. Reviews, proofreading, transcribing, and an interview have been my (ongoing) legacy with the fantastic website.

I went through two jobs at NZICA over 13 months. I now pay my bills working for the government. Publications and Administration Co-ordinator is my 'official' title. I like it. 

Ultimately I want to work in editing, preferably proofreading and/or sub-editing, for an institutional press (university, museum, etc.). For now, I'm trying to pick up as many proofreading jobs as I can. I really do love proofreading (just not my own work).

Words in any shape or form build our entire culture and fill our society with more than we care to think about on a daily basis. 
I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do though. It's hard to be 24 and lock down a career path. I'm also aware I don't need to, but it's nice to feel like you know where you're going. 

I'm a big believer in if it's meant to be, it'll happen. However, I know that good things don't come to those who wait, but rather those who go out and work hard to get what they want. But if you try sometimes, you might just find you get what you need.

So, we shall just see what comes my way.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (As You Like It)

For The Lumière Reader, originally published March 2014.

 'A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus
And his love Thisbe; very tragical mirth.’
Merry and tragical! tedious and brief!
That is, hot ice and wondrous strange snow.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V, Scene I
THE QUESTION that ran through my mind in the day leading up to this performance of Dmitry Krymov’s magical comedy: how do you create an almost two hour long show from three pages of one of Shakespeare’s great comedies?

While Pyramus and Thisbe’s story forms part of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the ill-fated lovers are best known through A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where their tragi-romance is acted out by The Mechanicals, an amateur troupe of actors. The title of this performance provides a hint—don’t expect this to resemble anything close to an ordinary Shakespearean production. Before the show started, an usher leaned over and whispered, “I hear there are a lot of surprises throughout this show, should be good!”
Commissioned for the World Shakespeare Festival in 2012, good does not begin to sum up A Midsummer Night’s Dream (As You Like It). Organised, perfectly executed, and chaotic come close.

The first thing you notice when walking in to the St James Theatre is the stripped-down stage, looking more like a gymnasium than a theatre, with a simple wooden floor and green exit signs glowing from the back. Never have I seen the stage so bare. A large chandelier lies on stage, baring undertones of The Phantom of the Opera. The evening begins with chaotic players lugging a large tree and a water fountain spraying water on the front row, through the audience to the stage, only to never be seen again in the next 90 minutes. Rather, the show focuses on the lovers, with a cast made of rough workers, black-tie spectators, ballerinas, opera singers, acrobats, and a show-stealing Jack Russell. With their own on-stage spectators, we find ourselves watching the play-within-the-play as Shakespeare intended.

Spoken in Russian with English subtitles, the large screens give the audience the translation they require, all the while providing subtle hilarity throughout the performance. “Pyramus and Thisbe were the first lovers,” we read. “They are the great-grandparents of epic couples including Romeo and Juliet, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and Bernard Shaw and Patrick Campbell.” KGB jokes are sprinkled throughout, as well as plenty of cellphone interruptions, and on-stage nudity.

The lovers are represented by two six-metre high puppets and voiced by wonderful opera singers. Towering over the cast and audience, Pyramus and Thisbe are hardly beautiful in any conventional use of the word. Hastily pieced together, the characters move around the stage as gracefully as possible, clearly possessing human traits, while maintaining brilliant mechanical elements.
Krymov’s show wonderfully blends high and low art to create something of a masterpiece from a short original source. Tired from laughing and craning around the audience to ensure I caught every minute, I walked away incredibly cheerful and amazed at the spectacle.

The Other Scarlett

For The Lumière Reader, originally published May 2013.
An interview with English novelist and Auckland Writers & Readers Festival guest Scarlett Thomas.
“A DELIGHT, not least for the quality of Scarlett Thomas’s writing,” Philip Pullman described Scarlett Thomas’s Our Tragic Universe, “Full of life and energy.” In 2011 Thomas was on the Independent on Sunday’s list of the UK’s 20 best young authors. At Unity Books on Tuesday, Thomas seemed to live and breathe her books, reading from upcoming The Seed Collectors. Kimaya McIntosh snares answers about Katherine Mansfield, Ethnobotany, and road signs.

*   *   *

KIMAYA MCINTOSH: Are there other Scarletts from the creative realms you like?

SCARLETT THOMAS: Do you mean do I like Scarlett Johansson? Yes. I think she’s hot.

KM: A common theme that pops up alongside your name is the devotion followers of your work show. What do you think is the secret to this following?

ST: This is impossible to answer! I don’t know. Perhaps they think I’m Scarlett Johansson.

KM: Tell me about a favourite author from New Zealand?

ST: My favourite New Zealand writer is Katherine Mansfield. Every time I re-read her stories I find something new. I particularly like ‘Bliss’, ‘Marriage a la Mode’, and ‘Je ne parle pas Francais’. I very much enjoyed the novel Electric by Chad Taylor a few years back. I really like Emily Perkins and am just getting into Eleanor Catton’s work, which is fantastic so far.

KM: What is your creative philosophy?

ST: My whole creative philosophy is explained in Monkeys With Typewriters, but in a nutshell: be authentic; be beautiful; be compassionate.

KM: Influences as a writer?

ST: Recent influences are the great writers of free indirect style, particularly Katherine Mansfield. Tolstoy and Chekhov are also big favourites.

KM: Between your novels and your short stories, is there a character you’ve created that you truly dislike?

ST: If I had, it would mean I’d made a huge mistake, and that the work was a failure. I’ve created some very flawed characters for my new novel, but I love each one of them with all my heart. I always ask my students if they love their characterseven the minor ones. Disliking a character is a sign that you have not worked hard enough on your characterisation. Of course I have created types and flat characters over the yearsbut I’m not proud of them.

KM: When you look at the defining features of your leading characters, they are drawn from you and your life, but which character would you want to be and why?

ST: Maybe Apollo Smintheus. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be a mouse god? I wouldn’t say my characters are aspirational exactly, but I’d quite like to be Fleur from my new novel. She’s very beautiful and a bit weird.

KM: Do you have any words of wisdom for any budding creative writers out there?

ST: Remember that fiction is always about suffering, but that suffering can be funny as well as painful. Tell your truth in your own way and you won’t go wrong.

KM: You’re studying towards an MSc in Ethnobotany while working on your ninth novel, The Seed Collectors. Is this more than research for the new novel? What attracts you to Ethnobotany?

ST: I did begin an MSc in Ethnobotany as research for The Seed Collectors. I completed all my essays, but in the end decided not to do the dissertationI needed the time to work on the novel. I guess in a way the novel will be the dissertation! I learned some really cool stuff, particularly from the botany classes. There was a lot to learn, too, considering that I began from such an embarrassingly low level that I didn’t even know that flowers turned to fruit. Being a student againwhile at the same time being a senior member of staff in another departmentwas a real eye-opener, and I’m sure it has made me a better novelist. Basically, I got to see myself at my worst: competitive, shy, arrogant, unfriendly, fussy. As the teacher you are in control and that can hide a lot of flaws in your personality (as well as exposing a lot of others, probably). Being a student put me back in touch with the really horrible person I am inside. I was the one who didn’t want to get mud on my shoes, or eat the weird leaf we’d just picked. I cheated at the Fishing Game (designed to show how communities will naturally co-operate without legal restrictions), refused to drink from a cup everyone else had used when someone was demonstrating a ritual, and publicly berated an environmentalist for still eating dairy products. But examining one’s ego is what being a novelist is all about. The worst stuff makes the best (and funniest) characters.

KM: What’s exciting about coming to the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival, your first trip to New Zealand?

ST: It’s my first time in New Zealand, but I’m absolutely loving it. My partner is from here, so I’ve heard a lot about the place over the years. Obvious attractions are the beautiful fairytale landscape and the wonderful climate (I have not yet strayed from the North Island). I’m also enjoying your road signs. They’re much more philosophical than ours. Ours say things like ‘Keep Your Distance!’ Yours say ‘Think about what’s behind you’ without telling you exactly what to think or what to do about it.

Book Review: I am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai

Originally published on the Booksellers New Zealand blog.

While some will have known her name before 2012, Malala Yousafzai has become a household name after she was shot in the head at point-blank range by the Taliban. Malala writes a rather powerful prologue detailing what she remembers and has been told about the shooting, titled ‘The Day My World Changed’, which I read on the bus on the way to work. The gunman asks a crowded school bus “Who is Malala?”, and she is shot. Tears welled in my eyes as I read the final line of the prologue “Who is Malala? I am Malala and this is my story”, and I struggled to continue reading in such a public arena, and so recommend reading this is a more private place.

Split into five parts, I Am Malala is a well-written, insightful memoir. It is full of powerful, and often harrowing, stories. Not only does it tell the story of Malala’s early life, her family and community, and her being shot, but it also tells Pakistan and the Swat Valley’s history, her family’s new life in Birmingham, and the struggles she still meets.

Malala tells the reader of her love for her father, but a few pages later, talks of walking out in the street and seeing the bodies the Taliban have left as warnings, with notes such as “Do not touch this body until 11am or you will be next” left on them. Malala recounts a trip to Abu Dhabi and feeling as if so many men were around her, “I told myself, Malala, you have already faced death. This is your second life. Don’t be afraid – if you are afraid you can’t move forward.”

She also is careful to remind the reader that she was not the only person shot that day, and tells how she misses her best friend Moniba. She explains that her new life is hard, “But like my mother I am lonely … The girls at school here treat me differently. People say ‘Oh, that’s Malala’ – they see my as ‘Malala, girls’ rights activist’.”

This autobiography was written with British journalist Christina Lamb. While reading this book, a friend asked how much I thought was written by Yousafzai herself. Books co-written with an author, or in this case one of the world’s leading foreign correspondents, often raises this question. However, with all the world knows about Malala Yousafzai, it’s hard to imagine she would let someone else completely write her own story.

The book is also littered with wonderful photos that give great insight in to Malala’s world; in the end, she is just a girl wanting to learn. The dedication, comprising of simple 16 words, made me stop and think hard about what I was about to read: “To all the girls who have faced injustice and been silenced. Together we will be heard.”

In a move that is probably not all that surprising, in November this year, I Am Malala has been banned by Pakistani education officials from private schools. They claim the book does not show enough respect for Islam and have called her a ‘tool of the west’. The president of the Pakistani private schools association is quoted as saying “Everything about Malala is now becoming clear. To me, she is representing the west, not us.” No doubt she will have taken great offence to these comments, but then again her interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart shows how amazing she is. Definitely worth a watch.

It is hard to believe this young woman, the youngest person to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, shortlisted for Time magazine’s Person of the Year, who spent her birthday in the United Nations making one of the most powerful speeches ever to be uttered, is only 16. If this is her story up to 16 years of age, there is no doubt in the world’s view that Malala Yousafzai will change this world for the better.

I am Malala: The Girl who stood up for Education
by Malala Yousafzai
Published by Little, Brown
ISBN 9780297870920

Book Review: How to Sail A Boat, by Matt Vance

Originally published on the Booksellers New Zealand blog

Having grown up in Taupo, people make assumptions around my upbringing. They ask how often I went skiing, if I enjoy fishing, and how much time was spent on boats out in the lake. The answers to these are very few times, no I don’t, and not much at all. The extent of my sailing knowledge is when I capsized the tiny boat I was sailing for the first time at Kawau Island on school camp at 12. And this remains the extent of my sailing knowledge, as author Matt Vance points out “If you are now aboard and quickly leading through these pages to find out how to tack your boat, you are in trouble.” Rather than teach the reader how to literally sail a boat, Vance has created a fundamental guide to the body and soul of sailing.

Divided into sections ranging from ‘I see the sea’, ‘A most dangerous book’, and ‘Solo’, the thirteenth edition to Awa Press’s Ginger Series does not disappoint. Vance uses stories of his own sailing experiences to take you deep in to his sailing mind and manages to create vivid images of the ocean, even when on land. “My favourite time to think about boats is during meetings.  When I’m asked to contribute I have to be careful not to blurt out ‘Lee-oh’ or ‘She’s dragging’ in case I get taken the wrong way.” He takes you below deck in ‘The Rat Effect’ to share in the less than pleasant experiences aboard Siward, where the theory that too many sailors aboard a boat “the rat effect takes over: past a certain critical density, rats in a cage go berserk.”

“Just occasionally you may find a boat that is the love of your life. It will have many things, but most of all it will have indefinable beauty.” Vance’s relationship with Siward could be compared to the courting of a fine woman from a very strict father, however, in this case the father still actually owned the yacht and Vance made constant attempts to buy her off him. Slowly he wore the owner down, being allowed privileges over the years, and his persistence eventually finally paid off with while the owner selling some of his soul to allow Vance to buy some of his back.

The section ‘Sailors’ was a particular favourite, giving an insight in to Vance’s views of the different types of sailors. There are, he explains, two types of mariners: tinkerers who enjoy working on their boats and engines but don’t enjoy sailing, and the small minority who have been “over the horizon”, which Vance clearly falls in to. On top of this, he notes that 90% of boats are rarely sailed, merely given maintenance every year or so, and the true sailors equate to about half of the remaining 10%. The section ends with the tale of a lovely couple (husband in white pants and wife in a sailor’s felt cap) declaring over chardonnay “Of course we wouldn’t keep our boat here. The cruising in Marlborough Sounds is far superior”. Deafening silence follows.

The book closes with a list of ‘Dangerous Books’ every budding sailor should read, and a very detailed glossary for all those readers who, like me, had no clue of the definition of some of Vance’s stunning words. There is no need to have an in-depth knowledge or sailing or boats to enjoy. This simple sentence sums up Vance’s life as a keen sailor and loving member of many families both related and not, and in itself is a succinct summary of this book: “‘Where’s your family?’ chirped the smallest. I pointed to the yacht. Heraclitus was right: some things had changed. I smiled. I wept.”

How to Sail a Boat
by Matt Vance
Published by Awa Press
ISBN 9781877551857

Book Review: Children of the Jacaranda Tree, by Sahar Delijani

I have awaken. Just filling in my backlog of reviews, will have an update here today or tomorrow.

This review was originally posted on the Booksellers New Zealand blog.

Book Review: Children of the Jacaranda Tree, by Sahar Delijani
This book is available from bookstores now.

Based on the childhood experiences of the author, Sahar Delijani’s debut follows Neda, Omid and Sheida – the Children of the Jacaranda Tree. Delijani creates an intricate story, spanning years and set mostly in the city of Tehran during and after the revolutionary war, but also in Iran’s Evin Prison, and Turin, Italy.

While a work of fiction, the novel is based on the experiences of Delijani and her parents, who were imprisoned in Evin during the ‘80s. The Q&A on her website gives some great insight in to her life and the story behind her writing Children of the Jacaranda Tree. As one character says in the novel, “It is all one big prison, Sheida. We are all in one big prison.”

Generally I’ll pick non-fiction over a novel, however the ‘based on real events’ element of Delijani’s novel gave me hope that I’d find something to really enjoy. Delijani creates characters that are easy to empathise with, although I’m never great with names and having many characters with similar names meant I had trouble keeping them all straight.

To its credit, Children of the Jacaranda Tree is easy to read and (based on the large font and borders) not very long. The novel is divided in to sections, each following the children at some point in time during the novel’s 1983 to 2011 span. Each section felt like a short-story in itself, rather than a complete novel, leaving the story disjointed, and I found it hard to get back in to the story if I’d put it down during a section. While Delijani has a talent for writing, to me there felt to be a lack of depth to each sentence. Throwing long words in to sentences that are already full of too many adjectives made for awkward and over-written paragraphs. There are poignant quotes that come from the novel, which brought the ‘real life’ feeling back for me; “Childhood slips away when death settles in.” Slightly depressing, but the reality people were faced with, not only in Iran, but the world over.

I don’t want to put anyone off reading Children of the Jacaranda Tree. Google the book and you’ll find many reviews from people who dearly loved it. If you want a heart-felt story, set during a truly interesting and harrowing time in history, do take the time to check out this debut. No doubt we’ll be seeing more from Sahar Delijani.

Children of the Jacaranda Tree
by Sahar Delijani
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson
ISBN 9780297869030