Eric Hill 7.9.27 – 6.6.14

June 15, 2014

Children’s author and illustrator Eric Hill has died.

Eric Hill, who has died aged 86, was one of those unusual and fortunate people whose first book was not only an immediate success but also became a staple of children’s bookshelves for decades. Where’s Spot?, a simple lift-the-flap picture book with a lovable puppy at the heart of every picture, was published in 1980. Within weeks, it was a bestseller, taken to the hearts of pre-schoolers and their parents across Britain. . .

Not just across Britain, or even the English-speaking world.

I know a wee girl in Argentina who also loves the books.

Dot, Queen of Riverstone Castle

May 17, 2014

When Neil and Dot Smith chose to move their family from the top of the North Island to well down the east coast of the south is was Northland’s loss and North Otago’s gain.

They were among the first dairy farmers to see the opportunity irrigation on the Lower Waitaki plains presented.

They bought one of the worst, stony, barren, wind swept properties and with hard work and skill have turned it, and other blocks they subsequently purchased, into some of the best.

One son followed his parents into farming, the other Bevan and his wife Monique established the award-winning Riverstone Kitchen on the farm.

The Smiths are not just good farmers, they’re good community people and entrepreneurs too,

They know how to work hard and save hard and nowhere is that better illustrated than in the time and effort they’ve put in to fulfilling Dot’s dream of building a castle.

Now Dot can add author to her long list of accomplishments.












The pink, flowery cover shouldn’t put off men, Dot Queen of Riverstone Castle isn’t a “women’s” book.

It’s an easy, entertaining and inspirational read which covers her modest, but happy, childhood; overseas travels; marriage; farming, including  through the ag-sag;  other business ventures; more travel, the development of the Riverstone complex and the castle.

Dot’s always worked hard and she’s faced tough times, including the loss of most of her savings in the collapse of Hubbard Management Fund. But in life, and through the book, her irrepressible spirit and sense of fun shine through.

Dot Queen of Riverstone Castle, written with Nathalie Brown.

Published by Random House also available as an e-book.

Graham Beattie posts:  Dot – She’s a visionary, an entrepreneur and dreams big in North Otago’s Waitaki Valley  and talks to Mark Sainsbury about the book here.

In other media:

* Dot talks to Jim Mora.

* Dream of living in castle comes to life

* Dot’s castle inspires dreams.

* And TV3’s 3rd Degree featured Dot’s building a castle.

Sue Townsend 2.4.46 – 10.4.14

April 11, 2014

Sue Townsend, author of the Adrian Mole books has died.

Townsend, 68, died at home on Thursday after a short illness.

The first of her comic series, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 3/4, was published in 1982 and the eighth instalment, Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years, was released in 2009.

Her other best-selling novels included The Queen and I.

Townsend, who was left blind after suffering from diabetes for many years, achieved worldwide success following the publication of the books about teenager Adrian Mole. . . .

To write as well as she did is admirable, doing so with severe health problems is even more so.

Copyright breach is theft

October 29, 2013

The media’s fascination with Kim Dotcom has irritated me.

He seems to hae been given a lot more attention and treated far more sympathetically than he deserves.

It will be interesting to see if they’re a little less enamoured with him after this news:

The Publisher’s Association has expressed disappointment that links to author Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prize winning novel The Luminaries have been made available for free download by a New Zealand registered company.

The novel was discovered on Kim Dotcom’s file-sharing website MEGA yesterday.

“Everyone is rightly proud of the achievements of Eleanor Catton on the world stage so to see her work given away without her consent by a fellow Kiwi company is really appalling,” Publishers Association of New Zealand president Sam Elworthy says.

“We should be doing all we can to support the good work of not only these two artists but also every New Zealander who makes an honest living from his or her creative works.

“MEGA should do more to ensure this kind of thing does not occur.”

Victoria University Press spokesman Fergus Barrowman, which publishes Catton’s novel The Luminaries, said the fact a creative work was easy accessible for free over the internet did not make it right to do so.

“We live in a digital age and authors and publishers recognise the changing nature of how readers want to access material. We made sure that The Luminaries was available as an ebook to New Zealand readers in a timely and accessible way, and we are delighted so many of them have taken advantage of this.

“We are not surprised to be told that there are also illegal sources, but are nevertheless very disappointed,” Barrowman says.

Elworthy says the discovery of Catton’s work on a site such as MEGA was the “tip of the iceberg”.

“Just a few weeks ago we had to ask MEGA to take down an entire educational textbook written by a New Zealand author and which had been made available on their site. This type of illegal sharing is happening at an alarming rate and really hurting New Zealand creatives.

“New Zealand books and music are enjoying enormous success right now. We’re getting creative work out to millions in all sorts of formats all around the world. But while Eleanor Catton is doing big things for our international reputation, it’s disappointing to see her being ripped off by a website which calls itself a New Zealand company,” Elworthy says.

Kim Dotcom is fighting extradition to the United States on copyright and racketeering charges over the operation of his previous file locker site Megaupload.

It’s difficult to make a living from creative endeavours anywhere, harder still in New Zealand where there’s such a small market.

The Man Booker win will have exposed Catton’s work to a much bigger audience but thanks to the free downloads she won’t be getting all the money she’s earned from it.

Beach of copyright, illegal sharing, call it what you will, it’s theft of intellectual property.

Bizarre literary landmarks & chocolate

October 22, 2013

Discussion with Jim Mora on Critical Mass today was sparked by:

* 10 bizarre literary landmarks everyone should visit. (It would help to be familiar with the literature first. I was woefully ignorant of most of them).

* Chocablog is devoted to all things chocolatey including recipes. Apple and white chocolate crumble  and artistically  dipped strawberries caught my eye.

NZer youngest Man Booker winner

October 16, 2013

New Zealand author Eleanor Catton is the youngest ever winner of the Man Booker prize.

Prime Minister John Key has congratulated New Zealand author Eleanor Catton on winning the Man Booker Prize for her novel The Luminaries, announced in London.

“This is a hugely significant achievement on the world stage for a New Zealander,” Mr Key says.

“It is made even more extraordinary by the fact that Eleanor Catton, at 28 years of age, is the youngest ever author to receive the prize, and The Luminaries is only her second novel. “This will be a tremendous boost for young New Zealanders in the arts and is a testament to the obvious talent and hard work of Eleanor Catton,” Mr Key says. Ms Catton is the first New Zealander to win the Man Booker Prize since Keri Hulme in 1985 for The Bone People

. The Listener interviewed her. Last week and links to coverage of the win here.

Can you read emotions?

October 7, 2013

The New York Times has an exercise to test how good you are at reading people’s emotions.

The average score for this test is in the range of 22 to 30 correct responses. If you scored above 30, you may be quite good at understanding someone’s mental state based on facial cues. If you scored below 22, you may find it difficult to understand a person’s mental state based on their appearance.

I scored 22/36 the first time I tried it and 25/36 when I did it again a couple of days later.

That’s at the lower end of average  and a spur to read more literary fiction.

A study found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.

. . . The researchers — Emanuele Castano, a psychology professor, and David Comer Kidd, a doctoral candidate — found that people who read literary fiction scored better than those who read popular fiction. This was true even though, when asked, subjects said they did not enjoy literary fiction as much. Literary fiction readers also scored better than nonfiction readers — and popular fiction readers made as many mistakes as people who read nothing.   . .

Blogs don’t count as literary fiction.


July 23, 2013

Belgian researchers report the enticing aroma of chocolate inspired bookstore shoppers to stick around longer, and boosted sales of certain genres.

Books and chocolate – two of life’s special pleasures.

Hat tip: Beattie’s Book Blog.

Kids who read stay out of jail

June 18, 2013

Quote of the day:

. . . Kids who read stay out of jail (unless they grow up to be financial investment directors). Reading gives them words. Words give them the ability to express and clarify themselves to others. How many young guys end up in strife because they don’t have the vocab to explain what they’re doing, and so they move from incoherence to frustration to violence?

Reading helps young people come to terms with themselves and their issues. . . David Hill

Tom Sharpe 1928 – 2013

June 7, 2013

English author Tom Sharpe has died.

The BBC has an obituary here.

Last Shepherd

May 19, 2013

Roger Buchanan begins Last Shepherd at the end with a brief summary of the wool industry’s recent history.

He then goes back in time, setting the scene for his life-long interest in wool from his childhood on the family farm, Aratika, 16 kilometres from Fielding. He traverses his school days and career and ends back where he began looking at the industry today and where it might go.

Buchanan began his working life with a wool merchant and tutored at Massey  before his career took him to various statutory organisations. He was the Wool Board’s final chief executive and oversaw its winding down.

The book combines history, analysis, marketing, trade, policy  and politics with  personal anecdotes to give a comprehensive story of the wool industry, the people  involved in it and the challenges they faced.

Not all of the latter were business ones. The book includes tales of travel misadventures, attempted bribery and unusual culinary encounters.

The Last Shepherd will be of most interest to farmers and others who are, or have been, involved in the industry. The politics, marketing, travel and trade tales could appeal to a wider readership.


Last Shepherd: Anecdotes and observations from five decades in the wool industry by Roger Buchanan.

Published by Mahico.

Paperback 312 pages, $45.

Links for ebooks at Last Shepherd.

Books, maps and super heroes’ alphabet

March 5, 2013

Discussion with Jim Mora on Critical Mass today was sparked by:

* The 30 best places to be if you love books.

* 38 maps you didn’t know you needed.

* And a phonetic alphabet based on superheroes (only some of whom I recognised).

Critical Mass

February 19, 2013

Discussion with Jim Mora on Critical Mass today was sparked by:

* A sign that civilisation as we know it is crumbling – Anne of Green Gables has been changed from a skinny red-head to a buxom blonde with come hither eyes. Hat tip: Beattie’s Book Blog.,

* Plain English explanations of 18 scientific occupations.

* 40 things to say before you die (hat tip: Amanda Morrall).

Dull men & problem solving books

January 22, 2013

Discussion with Jim Mora on Critical Mass today was sparked by:

* A celebration of ordinary, everyday things at the Dull Men’s Club.

* 10 Novels to solve all your problems supports my contention that you learn about real life by reading fiction. (Hat tip: Beattie’s Book Blog).

A reader alerted me to Dull Men’s Club which I appreciate.

I welcome any other suggestions of websites which might be on interest for Critical Mass.

Getting the book invented

December 12, 2012

Hat tip: Open Parachute

Greg McGee 2013 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellow

November 24, 2012

Greg McGee has been awarded the 2013 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship.

 . . .McGee plans to work on his fourth novel, set in New Zealand and Italy, during his Menton residency.  “I am honoured to be following in the footsteps of many of New Zealand’s finest writers as the Menton Fellow and, like them, I deeply appreciate the time and space the fellowship gives me to concentrate on a major project, particularly since my project requires research in Europe,” he says.

McGee’s first play, Foreskin’s Lament (1981), is one of New Zealand’s most successful and drew on rugby culture of the time to comment on national values. As crime writer Alix Bosco, McKee is the author of the award-winning novel Cut and Run (2009) and Slaughter Falls (2010). He has won several TV awards, including Best Drama Writer for two of his political documentary dramas:  Erebus: the Aftermath (1987), and Fallout (1994).  This year he has produced two new books: a biography of All Black Captain Ritchie McCawThe Open Side and a novel, Love & Money (2012). . .

McGee was born and brought up in Oamaru.

I was intrigued to read in his memoir Tall Tales (Some True) Memoirs of an Unlikely Writer his reference to social class and the difference between his family and those of his friends who lived on the hill.

He’s a few years older than me but we had very similar upbringings.

Our mothers nursed together and my mother was bridesmaid for his. Our fathers were both tradesmen – his a painter and decorator who owned his own business, mine a carpenter at the freezing works.

Yet he looks back with what appears to be a strong perception of social class and I grew up with no perception of it at all.

That is irrelevant to his writing, which is very good.

He’s a versatile writer and this award is well deserved recognition for a long and accomplished career.

Armistice Day – 11.11@11

November 11, 2012

Today is Armistice Day, the anniversary of the end of World War 1, at 11 am on the 11th day of the 11th month 1918.

The facts are well known, a recently novel puts the human side of the horror and heroism.

Lives We leave Behind by Maxine Alterio tells the story of New Zealand nurses Addie Harrington and Meg Dutton who serve in Egypt and France.

Historical details and the inclusion of some real names among the fictional characters helps adds to the feeling of authenticity.

The characters, what happens to them and how they react feel real and true to the time.

This is a herstory,  concentrating on the women, telling their stories in their words and helping us see what happened through their eyes.

It is a story of ordinary people dealing with extraordinary conditions and events without being either maudlin or saccharine.

Lives We leave Behind by Maxine Alterio, Penguin 2012: The author’s website is here.


For international Book Week

September 19, 2012

A post on Facebook from the bloke behind Quote Unquote tells me it’s International Book Week and there’s a rule:

 Grab the book nearest you, turn to page 52nd post the 5th sentence as your status. Don’t post the title.

It’s such a good idea I thought I’d borrow it for this post.

The nearest book to me was The Big Red Book of Spanish Verbs  which doesn’t have sentences so I grabbed the closest one from the bookshelf in front of me instead.

The 5th sentence on the 52nd page was: Confession was not as easy for Georgie Wi as it was for the white people.

I look forward to reading yours.

It might be a good story . . .

September 14, 2012

Paper Plus is promoting this book as one of Kerre’s choices:

This Way Of   Life
Sumner   Burstyn
This is the book of the multi award winning documentary of the same name.   It’s the tale of the Ottley-Karena family and their incredible life living in   and around the Ruahine Ranges. Mum, Colleen, dad, Peter and their seven kids   have absolutely nothing – in terms of material possessions – but they are   rich beyond belief – in terms of life skills, love and appreciation for what   is truly important… read more

It might be a good book, well written with an interesting story and stunning photos but I think the author’s recent rant and subsequent publicity will be a strong deterrent for many who might otherwise have bought it.

L♥ve Our Kiwi Bees!

August 21, 2012

It’s National Bee Week when we’re encouraged to L♥ve Our Kiwi Bees!

Bee Week is a major campaign designed to educate New Zealanders about the importance of the humble, often overlooked, honey bee. Bees are critically important to New Zealand and to the New Zealand economy – much more so than you might think!

Without bees, two thirds of our everyday food would disappear, our gardens would be without many of their plants and flowers, and our major agri-export industries (worth around $5 billion) would be in severe trouble.

Bee Week has been established to highlight the value of honey bees and beekeeping in New Zealand.

This year’s Bee Week will highlight that while bees in New Zealand are not under immediate threat, as in some overseas countries, they do face challenges and they do need to be actively protected and preserved.

A good source of bee friendly information is Raymond Huber’s blog.

He’s a bee keeper and the author of two books for children in which the main character is a bee – Sting and the sequel Wings.


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