Judges’ decision

January 30, 2015

Miriama Kamo, convenor of judges for the New Zealand Post Book Awards 2014 responds to Eleanor Catton’s criticism:

Esteemed academic Peter Munz once said to me, “The wonderful thing about the humanities is the lack of one answer to any issue, there is always debate, there must always be discussion and there may not ever be consensus.”  

 I’m reminded of this as I watch, with a mix of admiration and dismay, the debate fuelled by Eleanor Catton’s comments about the political state of our nation and her feeling that she is a victim of a ‘tall poppy’ syndrome. I am interested in listening to all of it, but wish only to comment, as the convenor of the judging panel of the New Zealand Post Book Awards 2014, on the continuing conversation surrounding our decision-making.

The New Zealand Post Book Awards is a multi-category, multi-genre competition. It is quite unlike the Man Booker competition, which considers only fiction. The Luminaries won the Man Booker competition, a thrilling achievement. Last year it went on to win the New Zealand Post Book Awards prize for fiction.  In doing so, it won New Zealand’s equivalent of the Man Booker. It then went into contention for the supreme prize against three other exemplary finalists of different genres.  It did not win that supreme prize; Jill Trevelyan’s book Peter McLeavey: The Life and Times of a New Zealand Art Dealer did.  

I’m as impressed as I am bemused by Eleanor Catton’s belief that The Luminaries should have won the supreme prize. I’m impressed because we don’t have a proud history of owning our achievements, of proudly proclaiming our talents. Perhaps this is a by-product of a nation that did suffer a ‘tall poppy’ syndrome. Comments like Eleanor’s make me believe that this is changing. But I’m bemused because, putting aside that it diminishes the achievement of the supreme prize winner, Jill Trevelyan, it betrays a belief that our judging panel should have fallen into line with an international panel of judges. This is at odds with Eleanor saying that she grew up with the erroneous view that Kiwi writers, and by extension Kiwis generally, were somehow less than British and American ones; that we did not, and perhaps do not, back our own opinions or our own talent.

There was no sense on our judging panel that it was ‘someone else’s’ turn to win. We made a literary judgement, not a political statement. Given that our opinion did happen to align with the Man Booker judges and we did award The Luminaries our top fiction prize, it is at least churlish and, at most, mischievous to suggest that The Luminaries did not win its due in New Zealand.  

But then, that’s the beauty of the humanities. Such decisions rightly inspire debate. Like the Man Booker judges, we were a group of individuals making a collective decision. We worked hard at the task in front of us and, in my view, we made wise and well-placed decisions. I was proud to honour Eleanor’s incredible work, The Luminaries. I was proud to award prizes to all the finalists that night of the New Zealand Post Book Awards, and to crown, as supreme winner, Jill Trevelyan’s book Peter McLeavey: The Life and Times of a New Zealand Art Dealer.  It deserved to win.  But in the grand tradition of debating and discussing the arts, I urge you to read all of our finalists before making up your own mind.

Well said and isn’t it good that she says it by way of addressing the criticism and not criticising the critic?

David Farrar also responds to Catton reasonably at Kiwiblog and Trans Tasman opined:

Catton . . . 
illustrated the old wisdom “artists are children,” and it is a little baffling why people seem to expect profundities about politics from them.  In Catton’s case, she is only the latest in the long tradition of NZ literary types who feel their country is too grubby and philistine for them to bear for too long.

It is one of the most tiresomely adolescent aspects of the Kiwi arts scene, and it gets more intense whenever their fellow NZers are so uncouth as to elect National Govts.

Catton isn’t a “traitor” though, despite what talkback host Sean Plunket – increasingly resembling a retired Rotarian – called her on his programme. It is just another case of artists being a bit silly. There is no need for this sort of over-reaction.

Quite.


Hard Country A Golden Bay Life

December 17, 2014

hard

Robin and Garry Robilliard had big dreams of owning their own farm but only a very small budget with which to purchase one.

Knowing better properties closer to town were out of their reach they settled for Rocklands, a rundown property on very marginal hill country over the Takaka Hill from Nelson.

Not only the farm was rundown, the house was too, allowing too easy access for mice and rats.

The three previous owners went broke trying to farm the property and given the challenges they faced the Robilliards could easily have done so too.

But they were determined to keep hold of their dream and their farm and they persevered where many others would not have.

Farming this hard country required demanding physical work and mental toughness.

Robin recounts the their trials and triumphs without self-pity and with a sense of humour, painting a vivid picture of their life  and times and the people who played a part in them.

Farming and raising their children would have been enough for most women but Robin also managed to write entertaining accounts of their life for the Auckland Weekly and was a guest on the TV programme Beauty and the Beast.

This led to opportunities for travel writing and accounts of her travels behind the iron curtain are included in the book.

Hard Country is an interesting and  inspirational read which will appeal to a wide audience, not just those with a connection to farming.

That said, if you have a farmer in want of a Christmas present, this book would make a good one.

Hard Country A Golden Bay Life by Robin Robilliard is published by Random House.


No sex please, he’s Paddington

November 19, 2014

Michael Bond, the author of the Paddington Bear books is upset that UK censors warned parents the new film based on his beloved bear contains sexual “innuendo” and “bad language”.

Censors at the British Board of Film Classification have given the Paddington movie a Parental Guidance (PG) certificate because it features “dangerous behaviour, mild threat, innuendo, infrequent mild bad language”.

The news has upset Michael Bond, the writer behind the original book series, and he fears he may be in for a nasty surprise when he eventually sees the film based on his creation. . .

Censors issued the guidelines based on a scene in the film in which a villain “threatens to kill and stuff” Paddington Bear and a comical moment when a man dressed as a woman is flirted with by another man. . .

If that’s all it is, it’s pretty mild but if it’s not suitable for children of all ages I have a lot of sympathy for Bond.

The books were delightful and innocent, surely it wouldn’t be too hard for the film to be that way too.

Sex sells but so do good stories and it should be possible to be true to the spirit of book, including its innocence,  in taking it from the page to the screen.


Writers on writing and science on science

November 11, 2014

Discussion on Critical Mass with Simon Mercep today was sparked by:

and


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.

 

dot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.


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