24 February 2011

My City Of Ruins / Tales For Canterbury

I've spent much of the last two days in Wellington thinking about and trying to get in touch with people who live in Christchurch in the wake of Tuesday lunchtime's severe earthquake and the extensive death and destruction it has caused. There are many writer friends whose whereabouts and welfare has only gradually become known - and all the news I have had so far about these friends has been good, at least when it comes to their safety.

Most of my effort has gone into trying to find my Dad and step-mum, in collaboration with my step-sisters. With landlines down, it's been a trek across multiple media to find them, but I was finally able to talk with them at 10pm on Wednesday. It is such a relief to hear that they are OK, that they have got off relatively lightly so far, and that they have been able to help less fortunate neighbours.

But that doesn't lessen my sadness at the devastation elsewhere in the city. No poems have come to mind in the wake of the earthquake, but rather a song. Bruce Springsteen wrote it in 2000 about the decline of his old stamping ground of Asbury Park, New Jersey, but it subsequently became associated with the aftermath of the September 2001 attacks on New York. Song lyrics don't often stand up by themselves, but I think these ones do. The song begins:

There is a blood red circle
On the cold dark ground
And the rain is falling down
The church door's thrown open
I can hear the organ's song
But the congregation's gone

You can read the rest here: http://brucespringsteen.net/songs/MyCityOfRuins.html

Though I can scarcely claim Christchurch to be "my" city of ruins, it was the first place my family lived when we moved to New Zealand.

My hopes, thoughts and prayers continue to be with the residents of Christchurch and the surroundings towns, and those who are helping them.

UPDATE: This is reposted from Anna Caro's blog and Cassie Hart's blog:

Tales For Canterbury

Christchurch, New Zealand, and the wider Canterbury region, was rocked yesterday (22.2.11) by another round of serious earthquakes. This time they struck during the middle of the day causing more devastation, and loss of life, to a city still trying to pick up the pieces from last September’s quakes.

In an attempt to do something, anything, to make a difference, we are putting together an anthology of short stories loosely themed around survival, hope and the future. All profits of this anthology will be donated to the Red Cross Earthquake Appeal, or another registered charity aimed at aiding those in need in Canterbury.

The purpose of this Anthology is two-fold—to help financially, but also, we hope, to provide entertainment and alleviation in a time of crisis. We hope that our words will help make a difference.

We have already begun to approach authors, and the response is encouraging. Mainly due to time pressures, this anthology will be by invitation. However, if you are an established writer, and keen to contribute, please feel free to get in touch with us at just.cassie.hart (at) gmail.com. We are looking for stories between 1,500 and 5,000 words, of fairly upbeat nature in the general, literary, science fiction or fantasy genres.

Feel free to repost this and get the word out!

UPDATE 27/02/11

The anthology has now closed to unsolicited contributions, and it has a website for more information: Tales For Canterbury.

22 February 2011

Tuesday Poem: Twoness Before Oneness, by Madeleine M. Slavick


He wears leather wings on his legs
called chaps. Boots, jeans, belt, hat.
Steps in the dirt corral
as if his first circle.
He has lived with horse
for fifty years, says the time
it takes is the time it takes.
As little, as much.
He leads, waits
feels, and the horse can feel
the smallest change
in body, thought, heart.
So be certain. Smooth,
soothe him after you mount him.
Love, love, and
direct with respect.
Worship one another.
There must be
twoness before oneness.
There is only one way of being,
and that is softness.

Credit note: Madeleine M. Slavick is a writer and photographer. Madeleine has several books of poetry and non-fiction and has exhibited her photography internationally. She has lived in Germany, Hong Kong, and the USA, and is currently based in New Zealand, where she maintains a daily blog: touchingwhatilove.blogspot.com. This poem is previously unpublished, and is reproduced by permission of the author.

Tim says: Madeleine tells me that she wrote this poem after meeting a master horse trainer recently, and observing a session when he was breaking in a horse. I like the flow of this poem, and I love the ending.

You can see all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog.

18 February 2011

How To Buy My Books: Anarya's Secret, Transported, Voyagers

Welcome! Since I'm between blog posts at the moment, here are details about how to buy some of my books. You'll find my recent posts listed on the left-hand side of this blog.

You can find details of all these books at my Amazon.com author page.

You'll also find my work in these recent anthologies:

17 February 2011

Out Of It No Longer Out Of Print

In November 2010, I blogged about Michael O'Leary's cricket novel Out of It in the context of NZ cricket poetry anthology A Tingling Catch.

At the time, I said that Out Of It was out of print. The good news is that now it's available from Amazon as a Kindle ebook. You can find out more about it, and about Michael's many other books, at Michael O'Leary's new site - and Mark Pirie has a comprehensive new site as well.

While we're on the topic of new sites, check out my new Amazon.com author page - there will be a UK version along in due course.

15 February 2011

Tuesday Poem: Pukerua Bay, by Anne Harré

Pukerua Bay
for Jane

The city is a sheath of glass and low sun, clouds puff puffing
the blue sky, a lazy menace across the bay. I have the promise

of lunch (or at least a decent morning tea) waiting down
the liquorice motorway. In the car I breathe my way to the sea.

The light is deafening, Kapiti rolls itself, stretches itself on the horizon
and I follow your instructions along the beach, over the wooden

walkway, past baches, homes and views that defy the imagination,
to the single Norfolk Pine and long steps up to the house. See this,

you say pointing to the tangle of weeds, un-mown lawn, Jerusalem
clover planted under the cross, those dots are the blood that dripped

down, that’s what we were told, Catholics like a bit of drama
, you say,
your skirt gently flap flapping. When I leave I take some away with me

but, unsure of what book to use, I press them in-between the pages
of the Shorter Oxford, under ‘h’ for heart.

Credit note: "Pukerua Bay" was first published in JAAM 27 (2009).

About Anne Harré

Anne Harré has a BA from the University of Canterbury in Music, American Literature, History & Politics. In 2001 she completed the diploma in Publishing and Editing from the Whitireia Polytechnic. She has also successfully completed several undergraduate papers from Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters. Though slightly convoluted, her work history has included stints as a music teacher, a book seller, time with The New Zealand Book Council, Trustee of The Randell Cottage Writers Trust, and freelance editing.

Her poetry has been published in Jaam, The New Zealand Poetry Society Anthology, The NZ Listener, and non-fiction and reviews in The Christchurch Press and the DominionPost. As well as design and layout, she has been a past editor for the NZPS anthology. She lives and works in Wellington.

You can see all the Tuesday Poems at the Tuesday Poem blog.

10 February 2011

Harry Potter And The Hegemonic Norms

Scene 1: Harry Potter, orphaned at a young age, has grown up in the household of Lady Penelope de Vere Jones, Now, on his eleventh birthday, he is looking forward to attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with his friends.

This happy scene is disturbed by the arrival of Dobby, a house elf, on a motorcycle he has stolen from Mr. Rubeus Hagrid, a horticulturalist.

Dobby: Harry Potter must not go to Hogwarts!

Harry Potter: Mumsy, this beastly elf is saying I must not go to Hogwarts with all my chums!

Lady Penelope: I'm sorry, my darling, but in this family we have always obeyed the diktats of elves clad in riding leathers.

Scene 2: With Hogwarts no longer open to him, Lady Penelope has sent Harry to Dungeness Secondary Modern. Lunchtimes are difficult.

Jenkins: Oi, I'm a working-class stereotype brought in to add ambient menace, and I don't like the way you're looking at me, Potter.

Harry Potter: Have a care, Jenkins! Don't push me, I warn you!

Jenkins: Push you! Wot are you going to do, Potter, if I push you .. like ... this ... Ow! Ow, wot you dun to me?

Harry: You'll keep your distance, Jenkins, if you know what's good for you! Or there'll be more where that came from!

--- interpolated scene ---

From the staffroom window, the Head and Mr Quail, a senior master, observe the goings-on in the playground.

Head: If I didn't know better, I'd say that great lout Jenkins was scared of Potter.

Mr Quail: That Potter's a rum cove, all right. Odd things keep happening around him. I think we should keep an eye on that one, Head. And as for Jenkins -

Head: Men like Jenkins built the Empire, Quail. Once they could be relied on to kick six bells out of Johnny Foreigner upon the command of a senior officer. Now they are ruining the schools of this great nation.

--- end of interpolated scene - back to the playground ---

Jenkins: I'll get you for this, Potter, just see if I don't. I'll...

Potter: You'll do what, Jenkins? Eh? You'll do nothing, and be glad of it.

The bell rings.

Scene 3: After school, Jenkins approaches Potter, palms outwards, treating him with a wary respect.

Jenkins: Potter, I don't like the way you use your privileged narrative position to enforce hegemonic norms.

Potter: I say, Jenkins!

And so the two boys became fast friends, laughing and joshing together in the playground, although sometimes, at the end of a long day, they became slow friends.

After their school days were over, Jenkins went off to kick six bells out of Mr John Foreigner. Harry Potter married a daughter of dentists who was herself a dentist.

Scene 4: Long years after their deaths, the ghosts of Jenkins and Potter still haunt the playground of Dungeness Secondary Modern, now a re-education centre for Liberal Democrat MPs.

Ghost of Jenkins: That wife of your was a bit of all right, eh? Eh, Guv?

Ghost of Harry Potter: If only I could remember her name.

07 February 2011

Tuesday Poem: Aramoana Border Post

Aramoana Border Post

"Dunedin, that's a fact!"
said the smelter proponents.
It wasn't and would never be.

Our border post was a fact:
a jaunty little hut
perched on the dirty haunches of the road.

"Welcome to the Independent State of Aramoana!"
We had passports, visa stamps, the lot.
We stood outside in white coats and flagged down passing cars,

asked them their purpose, invited their support,
a dollar here or there to save the saltmarsh, the houses
the sandbar and the incandescent dunes.

We were an enterprising bunch. We had sent letters
to Zurich, Paris, Auckland
promising trouble should the corporations ever get this far.

They never did. Market failure or a failure of nerve
kept them away. There would be other darkness
but the place itself remains,

lonely, unpolluted:
Bear Rock, the dunes, the saltmarsh.
The low and sand-choked pathways of the sea.

Poem credit: This poem is from my first collection, Boat People (Copies still available for $5, folks - email me!)

Tim says: In my early twenties, I was involved in the Save Aramoana Campaign, which successfully opposed the building of an aluminium smelter at Aramoana, at the entrance to Otago Harbour - a proposal strongly supported by Rob Muldoon and his National Party government. The declaration of the "Independent State of Aramoana" was a highly effective piece of PR for the campaign, and a lot of fun too.

Thirty years on, I don't hear too many people saying they wish there was an aluminium smelter at Aramoana. But another National Party government with a similar penchant for Think Big projects is encouraging New Zealand and overseas companies to dig up and process 6 billion tonnes of Southland lignite, which would lead to massive greenhouse gas emissions - big on not just a New Zealand, but a world scale. Through the Coal Action Network, I'm opposed to that plan too. Some bad ideas never really go away.

You can read all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog.

03 February 2011

Recent New Zealand Speculative Fiction: "Returning" and "The Game"

As well as reading New Zealand speculative fiction collection A Foreign Country over the holidays, I also read two New Zealand speculative fiction novels: Returning by Pat Whitaker, and The Game by Lee Pletzers. Here's what I thought:


I enjoyed Returning, and it kept me gripped throughout: I always wanted to know what would happen next. I thought the novel had an outstanding first third, went off the boil for a while in the middle, and returned to form with a strong and moving ending.

Returning is the story of Arthys, an alien exiled on Earth, and his attempts to return home. As such, it's not dissimilar to some of the books of my favourite hard SF author, Hal Clement. The first section in particular is a gripping evocation of the alien protagonist's coming to terms with his bizarre new environment and his limitations within it.

Returning is, broadly speaking, a science fiction novel, but it also has elements of romance, alternate history and war novel. Keeping all those aspects in play requires the chutzpah and epic scale of a Thomas Pynchon or a Neal Stephenson - it's very hard to do in a novel of less than 250 pages, and the attempt to do so is what, for me, made the middle section of the novel less successful.

That's where the war and alternate history aspects of Returning come to the fore, and although the material of these sections is interesting in itself, I felt that the amount of exposition required overwhelmed the narrative for a while.

The good news is that the novel comes back to its original virtues in its final section, to reach an ending that is both moving and appropriate.

This is the first of Pat's books that I've read; Returning leaves me wanting to read more.

The Game

Lee Pletzers is a horror writer; I reviewed his earlier novel, The Last Church, in 2009. Like The Last Church, The Game is horror with some science fiction elements.

The Game is about a virtual reality computer game that sucks its players in more completely than its creator intended - and sucks him in, too. The entity controlling the titular game has a nasty imagination, and as in The Last Church, various characters suffer highly unpleasant fates.

One of the things that irked me about The Last Church has been fixed in The Game: the proofreading is much better. (That might sound like faint praise, but as a writer, badly-proofread books really annoy me!) And, while the basic idea isn't new, the plot is well worked out.

But, based on both The Last Church and The Game, I think that Lee Pletzers could take a lesson from Stephen King. King's best horror novels work because of the care he has taken in creating believable main characters. When bad things start happening to them, we care.

In contrast, The Game has a lot of characters, operating independently or in small groups - as you do in a game - to whom a lot of bad stuff happens. Lisa, the daughter of the titular game's inventor, is as close as the novel comes to a central character, but I never felt deeply engaged in her struggles and her fate.

So my recommendation for Lee's next novel would be to scale back the number of characters, breathe life into a few of them, and only then put those well-established characters under threat. That would be a horror novel to get my pulse pounding.