27 October 2011

My Book Tour Hits The North Island - And Adds A New Kapiti Coast Event

After a damp but enjoyable South Island leg, the book tour to launch my new poetry collection Men Briefly Explained and Keith Westwater's prize-winning debut collection Tongues of Ash has reached the North Island - and we have added a new book tour event, this coming Saturday at 1pm at Paraparaumu Library.

This one has been added at very short notice, so it would be great if you could let Kapiti Coast folks who may be interested know about it.

Here are the remaining tour dates. I hope to see you at one of them!

  • Lower Hutt: Friday, 28 October, Rona Gallery/Bookshop, Eastbourne, 6pm
  • Kapiti Coast: Saturday, 29 October, Paraparaumu Library, 1pm
  • Auckland: Tuesday 1 November, Poetry Live, Thirsty Dog, 469 Karangahape Road, 8pm

25 October 2011

It's On! The Men Briefly Explained and Tongues of Ash Book Tour Begins Today

No Tuesday Poem on my blog this week, but no shortage of poetry, because the Men Briefly Explained and Tongues of Ash book tour begins today!

Once more, here is the itinerary - STOP PRESS - now with Saturday's Kapiti Coast event added:

  • Dunedin: Tuesday, 25 October, Circadian Rhythm Café, 72 St Andrew Street, 8pm
  • Christchurch: Wednesday, 26 October, CPIT, Madras Street, 5:30pm
  • Wellington: Thursday, 27 October, Wellington Central Library, 5:30 for 6pm
  • Lower Hutt: Friday, 28 October, Rona Gallery/Bookshop, Eastbourne, 6pm
  • Kapiti Coast: Saturday, 29 October, Paraparaumu Library, 1pm
  • Auckland: Tuesday 1 November, Poetry Live, Thirsty Dog, 469 Karangahape Road, 8pm

You can sign up to attend the tour on our Facebook events page: http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=188416554563635

Some lovely Tuesday Poets have kindly posted poems from Men Briefly Explained on their blogs this week - you can check them out by going to the Tuesday Poem blog and looking on the right-hand menu. Don't forget to check out this week's hub poem and all the other excellent poems featured on the right.

If you can't make it to one of the tour dates, here is ...

How To Buy Men Briefly Explained

You can buy Men Briefly Explained from Amazon.com as a paperback or Kindle ebook.

Likewise, it is available from Amazon.co.uk in paperback and ebook formats.

You can also find out more about it, and buy it directly from the publisher, at the Men Briefly Explained mini-site.

Men Briefly Explained is also available in a range of formats from eBookpie and for the Kobo.

24 October 2011

Book Review: Slightly Peculiar Love Stories

(Disclaimer: Slightly Peculiar Love Stories includes my story "Said Sheree", which I have not attempted to review!)

Slightly Peculiar Love Stories is the second book, and first short story collection, published by Rosa Mira Books, the new New Zealand publishing house set up by Dunedin author Penelope Todd earlier this year. I was honoured to have a story included in the collection, and have blogged about that previously.

There are a couple of things that should attract any reader to Slightly Peculiar Love Stories. One is that really cool cover. Another is the really rather extraordinary range of New Zealand and international authors who have contributed new or reprinted stories to this anthology:

  • From New Zealand, we have Craig Cliff, Sue Wootton, Janis Freegard, Tina Makereti, Bryan Walpert, Coral Atkinson, Claire Beynon, Latika Vasil, Linda Niccol, Maxine Alterio, Susannah Poole, and Tim Jones.
  • International authors include Alex Epstein (Israel), Angelo R. Lacuesta (Philippines), Brenda Sue Cowley (USA), Christos Chrissopoulos (Greece), Elena Bossi (Argentina), Lawrence K. L. Pun (Hong Kong), Salman Masalha (Israel), and Tania Hershman (UK).

That's quite the lineup, but the proof of any short story collection is in the reading. The good news is that there is a lot of good reading here, and a lot of different takes on love. My favourites at the moment include:

  • The sets of short-short stories by Alex Epstein and by Tania Hershman (four apiece)
  • Janis Freegard's ingenious and moving "Mill", which won the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Award in 2001
  • Elena Bossi's lovely and poignant "The Ache"
  • Claire Beynon's magical "Trapeze Artist"
  • Angelo R. Lacuesta's "Space Oddity"

- but there are so many other good stories here that I imagine your favourites will differ from mine.

There's something I haven't mentioned about Slightly Peculiar Love Stories: it's an ebook. The good news is, you don't need an ebook reader to read it. I read it on my computer in PDF format, and (as a person who doesn't generally like to read large amounts of text on-screen) I found it easy and enjoyable to read. The fonts are crisp and the layout clear.

So, if you don't have an ebook reader, don't let that put you off. Slightly Peculiar Love Stories is easy to read on a computer screen, and more to the point, it is well worth reading, because there is a lot of good fiction in here.

21 October 2011

News You Can Use: IP Inside Track Consultations, Momaya Press Competition, Rosa Mira Books Interview, Book Tour, And At Last Romance!

In the leadup to the Men Briefly Explained/Tongues of Ash book tour, which starts in Dunedin next Tuesday, here is some other news you can use.

IP Inside Track Consultations

While Dr David Reiter of Interactive Press is in NZ for the book tour, he is offering Inside Track Consultations with authors who want to get a publisher's view on the state of their manuscript (without any commitment to submit it to IP). David tells me that he has plenty of consultations lined up in Auckland, but could fit in some more in the Wellington region. If you would value this opportunity, check out Inside Track Consultations on the IP website.

Momaya Press Short Story Competition

UK-based Momaya Press contacted me asking me to publicise their short story competition, which is open to authors from all around the world, and I'm happy to do so. Entries don't close until 30 April 2012, so you have plenty of time to enter. Check out the details on the Momaya Press website, or see the announcement below. They have an Awards Ceremony too!

Momaya Short Story Competition 2012 – Now Open: Momaya Press sponsors the 9th Annual Momaya Short Story Competition to bring fresh writing to the attention of qualified judges. Submit your short story (3,000 word limit) on the theme “Heat” by 30 April 2012 in order to compete for prize money and publication in the Momaya Annual Review 2012. The judging panel includes members from Random House, Penguin, Reuters and a novelist who has published six books.

Submission details at: www.momayapress.com

NZ Book Council Interviews Penelope Todd of Rosa Mira Books

The New Zealand Book Council has recently published an interview with author and publisher Penelope Todd - in this interview, Penelope is wearing her e-publisher hat, as she tells the Book Council all about Rosa Mira Books.

I am working on a review of RMB's Slightly Peculiar Love Stories anthology which I am determined - determined, I say! - to post before my book tour starts next week. In other news, I just mis-typed the title as "Slightly Peculiar Love Tories". Which would be a different book, albeit one with a good market in the UK.

Book Tour Dates

You didn't think you were going to get off scot-free, did you? Well, you aren't. Be here or be rectangular:

  • Dunedin: Tuesday, 25 October, Circadian Rhythm Café, 72 St Andrew Street, 8pm
  • Christchurch: Wednesday, 26 October, CPIT, Madras Street, 5:30pm
  • Wellington: Thursday, 27 October, Wellington Central Library, 5:30 for 6pm
  • Lower Hutt: Friday, 28 October, Rona Gallery/Bookshop, Eastbourne, 6pm
  • Auckland: Tuesday 1 November, Poetry Live, Thirsty Dog, 469 Karangahape Road, 8pm


Tell yourself it's 1pm, or wait until 1pm. Then watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8J8n9R8rnB8

18 October 2011

I've Selected The Tuesday Poem This Week: Guarding the Flame, by Majella Cullinane

This week, I'm the editor for the main Tuesday Poem blog, and I have selected "The Force of Things", from the collection Guarding the Flame by Majella Cullinane, as this week's Tuesday Poem.

Head over to the Tuesday Poem blog to find out what I have to say about it - and don't forget to check out all the other Tuesday Poems for the week, which are listed to the right of the hub poem.

13 October 2011

An Interview With Mandy Hager, by Johanna Knox: Part 2

This is part 2 of Johanna Knox's interview with New Zealand author Mandy Hager. You can read Part 1 here - that part focuses more specifically on Mandy's Blood of the Lamb trilogy, while Part 2 sets those novels in a wider context.

Interview with Mandy Hager: Part 2

About Mandy Hager: Kapiti-based Mandy Hager is the award-winning author of numerous young adult books, including the recent Blood of the Lamb trilogy, a dramatic dystopia in set in the South Pacific. In these books, teenager Maryam, with her friends, must try to escape and later overthrow the corrupt and oppressive religious cult that has dominated her people since a disaster known as ‘the Tribulation’ struck Earth.

Margaret Mahy has described the first book as ‘Like 1984 for teenagers – direct, powerful and passionate.’ Books 1 and 2 in the trilogy were shortlisted for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards in 2010 and 2011. Book 3 was released earlier this year to critical acclaim.

About Johanna Knox: Johanna is a Wairarapa/Wellington-based writer, researcher, and reviewer. She frequently writes on food and sustainability issues. She is also the author of The Flytrap Snaps, book one in a newly released mystery-adventure series for children, all about mutant carnivorous plants - see http://theflypapersbooks.blogspot.com.

JK: Book 2, Into the Wilderness, is particularly dear to me. I found it harrowing, almost cathartic, and felt like I'd been taken apart and put back together again by the time I'd finished it. To me, this is the book where the concept of self-sacrifice is explored in most depth.

Did you think a lot about the notion of self-sacrifice when writing the book?

MH: I hadn’t thought of ITW in that way but I can see why you might think so. To me it’s not so much about self-sacrifice as it is about love and anger – both of which have the capacity to make us put aside our own considerations and fight for a greater good. If I am willing to lay down my life for my children (which I am!) it’s not about self sacrifice, it’s about love – and if, for instance, I’m angry because their futures are being ripped off by greedy capitalists, and the only way I can try to stop this is to step in front of a logging truck or a tank, I’ll do this too – spurred by anger but based on love for them. So maybe it’s not self sacrifice, but altruism in its purest form?

JK: Yes, I wonder if self-sacrifice is the wrong word then. Perhaps it has connotations of resentment and martyrdom? Maybe the word I should have used is 'selflessness' ... But 'altruism in its purest form' ... I like that. It puts the focus on what you ARE doing, not what you're not doing, if you see what I mean.

MH: Yes, that makes sense. One of the things I researched for the trilogy was a little about Buddhism – I’d never been able to understand the concept of ‘detachment’ before – used to think it meant being emotionally detached and remote (which I consider a bad thing) – but then I realised it’s about taking ego out of actions and decisions – now that makes real sense. And I started to plot how often my responses to things, situations or people were controlled by ego first (a lot!)

Once ego is taken out of the equation then it really is ‘selflessness’ – doing what’s right, not just what is right for you. It’s amazing how it changes the way I respond to things (though I admit it’s sometimes still a battle to smother that little bastard of an ego!)

The quote from Martin Luther King Jnr, at the end of Resurrection, really says it all: “the first thing we ask at a time of conflict is ‘what is the most loving thing to do?’” If we all practised that, all our problems would disappear!

JK: Obviously we are on the brink of some big upheavals globally: Climate change, peak oil, the financial crisis. In the world you write about, devastation has been caused by solar flares. Why did you choose this as the source of the world's trouble?

MH: The effects of a massive solar flare fit very well with the descriptions in Revelations about the end of the world, which all played into the Apostles hands when they were making their case for being living gods. I researched all about the flares on the NASA website – scary stuff, and spookily, they are at their most dangerous point of their cycle next year in 2012, the same year as the Mayan calendar ends – it was too much of a coincidence to ignore!

JK: Maryam finds herself in a bind at the end of the third book. I like that it is satisfying but you haven't tried to bring about a perfect conclusion, when really there couldn't be one. It was an unexpected ending for me, but once I'd read it, I felt it couldn't be any other way ...

MH: I always knew Maryam would bring about release from the Apostle’s rule, and I knew it would be by providing a cure for Te Matee Iai, but I had no idea it would happen in that way! It surprised me as much as you!

But then it made sense to me – nothing is ever so easy to resolve – and when you are dealing with indoctrinated people it is unrealistic to believe that they can throw away all vestiges of their faith/doctrines just because they’re told to.

Look at the real world – the problems we’re seeing now are because countries have gone into another country/culture, stripped away one form of control but have not taken the people along with them, have not respected their core beliefs, and have provided no secure continuity to allow people time to adjust.

I came to realise that it couldn’t be straightforward and it was necessary to discuss how power vacuums are dangerous and that transitions need to be carefully and thoughtfully handled, and must accommodate all views.

JK: And - dare I ask - do you have a clear idea in your own mind of what happens after the events of the last chapters of the third book? Or is it as full of possibility in your own mind as it seems to the reader?

MH: There was a point where I realised ‘Damn, there could be a fourth book here’ – but I didn’t want to go there! I might one day, but I suspect not. For now I have faith that together they’ll sort it out – though it won’t be easy. That’s as much as I’m going to say!

JK: As many people know, you come from a family that has a strong focus on social justice. Is there a strong spirit of support amongst the family members for what you each do?

MH: Absolutely. I’m incredibly proud of what my siblings do (and my parents did) – we’re all close and support each other as much as we can.

My younger sister was over from England recently and we all got together – ended up in a rollicking discussion about politics – nice to know we’re all in agreement!

I am in awe of the work Nicky [Hager] does, and it frustrates me so much that he’s so dismissed by people here, when he’s invited all over the world to speak at investigative journalist conferences and the like as a key-note speaker with people like Robert Fisk and John Pilger – here they don’t even ask him to chair a Readers and Writers event, let alone speak at one – this drives me wild!

JK: It's funny - I was really hoping you'd say you got together and had rollicking political discussions! In the back of my mind that's how I imagined your family, and it's a heartening thought.

MH: Heartening, but sometimes a little intimidating to outsiders (and partners!)

JK: What did your parents do?

MH: My parents lived their social justice beliefs – when we were young they opened our house to all sorts of people in need – including young pregnant girls whose families had thrown them out, boys from the local borstal in order to give them some happy family time, gay men and women at a time when homosexuality was still considered illegal, people with mental health issues who needed support, and they supported Maori rights... and they were deeply involved in the Values Party, which was the precursor of the Green Party – in fact my mother was the first woman to be elected to the role of (co)leader of a political party in NZ.

They covenanted trees in our garden and fought for protection of the environment and the local lake (Lake Horowhenua) and my mother was on the District Council.

My father was a refugee from Austria – arriving here just before WW2 – so he knew only too well how human beings could be monsters, and he instilled very strong ethics in us – and opened our world up by introducing us to music, opera, literature, art, dance... we had a very lucky upbringing.

What I really admired about them was that they lived their values, didn’t just spout them! I think the four of us kids have spent our lives trying to live up to their high standards – I feel I’m only just starting to make some headway now!

JK: This might be another terrible question ... but what next? Do you have other fiction in the pipeline, and if so is there anything at all you can say about it?

MH: I’m 60,000 words into a new novel currently called ‘The Nature of Ash.’ It’s set about 20-25 years in the future, here in NZ, and reflects how things might be if we keep going down the free trade/privatisation path. But it’s essentially about an 18 year old boy and his Down Syndrome brother, and the nature of family. Still remains to be seen whether it will be published, but here’s hoping!

JK: Do you think - in general - story has an important role to play in equipping people - children and adults alike - for circumstances they are facing, or might face?

MH: I think story is the MOST important way to equip us with understanding about the world and our place in it. I’ve thought about this quite a bit actually, so what follows are some notes I wrote for a library conference talk.

From earliest times, people have used stories as a means of relating ideals and values important to them: i.e. where to find the best foods; what foods/people/places to avoid; the basic rules of conduct; behavioural expectations; relaying history and whakapapa etc. Story was – and still is – the means by which we investigate, interpret and understand our world.

Think of earliest man sharing stories around camp fire – stories about such things as where the best water holes are; don’t tackle that bloody great hairy creature with the huge curved tusks on your own; or over in the next valley there’s a really spunky Neanderthal of a man! ... (nothing’s really changed!) I think maybe it’s possible to divide all stories into two essential plots: those that explore Human Nature (our essential behaviours and inherent codes of ethics) and those that explore Mother Nature (how, as human beings, we interact with other animals, landscapes, weather etc) – really,these are the two most vital things we need to learn to negotiate in our lives.

Stories have the ability to go to the heart and mind of an issue, where straight reporting cannot always go – opens us up to greater empathy and understanding. For instance 1906 novel The Jungle by Upton Sinclair brought alive the poverty and corruption of the times in a way no newspaper article could have (and his descriptions of meat processing in the US at that time literally brought bile to my mouth and underlined why I don’t eat meat!)

We are social animals – that’s how we survive. I think we read primarily for one of two reasons: the first is to validate our own experiences, thoughts and feelings by reading of someone traversing the same issues, the second is to safely experience something we don’t have the opportunity or courage (or good/bad luck) to experience for ourselves – including trying on different spiritual, ethical and behavioural hats. It’s also why we love gossip – we have an inbuilt fascination with other human beings and how they behave – it’s how, as youngsters, we learn to negotiate the social world.

Story helps us enter the world of others who we would not normally meet – broadens our horizons – culturally, ethnically, between the sexes, inter-generationally. We filter our understanding of the world through the ideas and input of others – parents, teachers, peers etc. – and our understanding is malleable and changes as we hear new stories and points of view.

Ego means we are constantly checking and comparing our appearance, behaviours and beliefs against others – stories give us more peepholes with which to view the kaleidoscope that is human diversity.

Think about the Pike River miners – without the personalised stories it is easier to dismiss – the same crisis in China has little effect once the newspaper is put back down, but the miner’s stories stayed with us because we entered into their lives through hearing the family stories – and the key to this is in engaging with our core emotions. It enables us to be empathetic and compassionate – the two most important values human beings need to learn to be decent members of a family/society.

11 October 2011

Poetry Tour Preparations: The Physical Tour ... and the Virtual Tour?

The Physical Book Tour: It's All On

It begins in a fortnight. And appropriately enough, it beings on a Tuesday.

"It" is the book tour Keith Westwater and I are embarking on to launch our new poetry collections: Keith's first collection Tongues of Ash, and my new collection, Men Briefly Explained.

Here are the stops on the tour:

  • Dunedin: Tuesday 25 October, Circadian Rhythm Café, 72 St Andrew Street, 8pm
  • Christchurch: Wednesday 26 October, CPIT, Madras Street, 5:30pm
  • Wellington: Thursday 27 October, Wellington Central Library, 5:30 for 6pm
  • Lower Hutt: Friday 28 October, Rona Gallery/Bookshop, Eastbourne, 6pm
  • Auckland: Tuesday 1 November, Poetry Live, Thirsty Dog, 469 Karangahape Road, 8pm

If you live in one of those places, I hope you'll be able to make it along - and, whether or not you can make it along, please tell your friends in those centres!

Some other things you can do:

It's worth noting that Dr David Reiter, the publisher of Interactive Press and a noted poet in his own right, will also be in attendance and reading from his new collection My Planets. As he is an international poetry publisher who has a track record of publishing collections by New Zealand poets, he may be someone you want to get to know.

The Virtual Book Tour: Under Construction

On hearing about the physical book tour, two writer/bloggers have kindly offered to host stops on a virtual book tour to follow the physical one. I'm grateful to those people, I think this is a great idea, and I am keen to line up more stops. So, if you would be interested in your blog hosting a stop on the virtual book tour, please get in touch by emailing senjmito (at) gmail.com, or say so in the comments below.

Hmmm, you may be wondering, what is a virtual book tour? Well, it involves a series of bloggers hosting interviews with or guest posts by a writer with a newly released book, according to a pre-arranged schedule. Not long after setting up this blog, I was one of the stops on the virtual book tour for Tania Hershman's debut short story collection, The White Road and Other Stories, which serves as a good model.

(Note: Some of the links in this 2008 post no longer work.)

I don't have Tania's impressive stamina for answering a lot of questions in a short time, so I thought - and one of my generous prospective hosts has suggested - that I could use the "Five Questions With..." format used in the tour for Tales For Canterbury. That makes the load a bit lighter on everyone.

So. If you can come to one of the launch events, please do - I think you will enjoy them. And if you're interested in hosting a stop on a virtual book tour, please get in touch.

06 October 2011

An Interview With Mandy Hager, by Johanna Knox: Part 1

Author and publisher Johanna Knox has previously contributed the guest post Can Children's Literature Be 'Literary Fiction'? to this blog. Now, despite everything else she is busy with, Johanna is back with a two-part interview with New Zealand author Mandy Hager. Thank you so much, Johanna and Mandy!

Interview with Mandy Hager: Part 1

About Mandy Hager: Kapiti-based Mandy Hager is the award-winning author of numerous young adult books, including the recent Blood of the Lamb trilogy, a dramatic dystopia in set in the South Pacific. In these books, teenager Maryam, with her friends, must try to escape and later overthrow the corrupt and oppressive religious cult that has dominated her people since a disaster known as ‘the Tribulation’ struck Earth.

Margaret Mahy has described the first book as ‘Like 1984 for teenagers – direct, powerful and passionate.’ Books 1 and 2 in the trilogy were shortlisted for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards in 2010 and 2011. Book 3 was released earlier this year to critical acclaim.

About Johanna Knox: Johanna is a Wairarapa/Wellington-based writer, researcher, and reviewer. She frequently writes on food and sustainability issues. She is also the author of The Flytrap Snaps, book one in a newly released mystery-adventure series for children, all about mutant carnivorous plants - see http://theflypapersbooks.blogspot.com.

JK: Have you had varied responses to the Blood of the Lamb trilogy ... Do people with different values or backgrounds respond differently?

MH: I am sure there will be people who are offended by what they think the books are about – that I’m somehow criticising Christianity – but I would hope that if they did read them they would realise the books are about the way Christianity (or any religion) can be hijacked for purposes of power and control.

I know in the States several publishers have thought it was too controversial to publish – I think that’s sad, given that at their core the books promote compassion and love. I also know that some adults who loved The Crossing [book 1] didn’t like Into the Wilderness [book 2] because they got so frustrated by the extended adolescent behaviour, but that doesn’t worry me – the books are written for teenagers, about teenagers, and teenagers can be very angsty, annoying young people in their worst moments (and extraordinarily wonderful at their best!) And the teenage readers like them, so that’s what matters most to me.

Some people also struggled with the idea that I had the gall to write about menstruation – isn’t that sad? Half the entire human population menstruates (and the other half wouldn’t be here if we didn’t!), so why are we so ashamed to speak about it and refuse to acknowledge it? I suspect if men menstruated it wouldn’t be a taboo subject.

JK: That's interesting. I'm trying to think back ... I don't remember finding adolescent behaviour annoying in the book ... It seems a realistic portrayal, and besides, plenty of adults can be that kind of annoying and angsty as well, especially under pressure?

MH: Yes, I totally agree. In fact I reckon we all pretty much revert to teenage default behaviour when faced with certain pressure points – like Christmas, school reunions, family get-togethers, funerals etc!

When people say, ‘so how can you put yourself in a teenager’s mind?’ I don’t find this hard – it’s the most intense and defining time of our lives, so very easy to summon up again (plus I think there’s a huge part of my brain that never grew past that! I still feel seventeen in my head – it’s just the outer layer that’s grown so disconcertingly old!)

JK: Do you see the trilogy as individual stories or one big story?

MH: I’ve always known the books would be a trilogy and I tend to think of them as the three acts of a drama (my MA is in scriptwriting, which I have found invaluable in terms of structure etc).

Act One has to set the scene, introduce characters and the story problem (and create enough dramatic tension to want to continue), Act Two delves more deeply into character, complicates the situation, and embeds theme, and Act Three provides resolution (to some extent.)

Having said that, I also planned each of the books as discrete stories, each with their own three act dramatic structure, which are (hopefully) totally satisfying in their own right. There have to be seeds planted in the first two books that don’t pay off until the third, so plotting and structure are pretty important in order to achieve this.

JK: In what other ways has your scriptwriting education and experience fed into your novels?

MH: It’s had a huge influence, actually. For a start it made me realise that novels are my genre of choice. Scripts are the bones of a story, then other people come along and put their individual stamp on top. (Directors, actors etc.) I realised I’m too much of a control freak about my stories – I see them as my very own film in my head, including sound track and camera angles. I used to try and put all this into scripts (which is a no-no), so I couldn’t wait to get back to writing novels!

But the structure of scripts has been invaluable – really understanding the necessary steps for good dramatic structure – and particularly Joseph Campbell’s Hero's Journey. This mythic structure lies pretty much behind all stories in one form or another, and to understand the steps and be able to visualise them as a story landscape that has to be traversed by the protagonist is the most useful thing I’ve ever learnt about writing.

And once I figured out that the stages of the Hero's Journey were really just steps in a psychological model of change (long term, significant change) – now that is a very powerful thing to understand, as it means you know how your character’s emotional state needs to transform over the course of a book, and (hopefully) how to make that transformation feel organic and believable.

JK: During the trilogy you explore the enormous range of behaviours that humans are capable of. We know from history and everyday life that we humans are capable of incredible cruelty and also amazing compassion and generosity. I feel Blood of the Lamb takes readers to the heart of that. Lazarus of course embodies both possibilities in one person, changing from cruel to compassionate over the course of the books - and so I find him an incredibly hope-giving character.

Is this great capacity for both good and evil within the human race, and individuals, something you have thought a lot about?

MH: Yes, it is something I think about a lot (and certainly lies at the core of the books.) I’ve done quite a lot of reading about human behaviour, evolutionary psychology etc (for instance Robert Wright’s A Moral Animal and a wonderful book by Richard Holloway called Between the Monster and the Saint which looks at precisely this issue.)

It boils down to needing to understand how we could try and shift human consciousness to a more generous and loving level. I can’t buy the argument that just because human beings have had a violent past and have the capacity for violence and cruelty, that this is always how it must be.

I’m only an ordinary person and I can live by principles of generosity, empathy and love, so why not others? It will mean a huge redistribution of wealth, a concerted commitment to justice, human rights and education, and a complete overhaul in what we view as ‘success’ (i.e. instead of turning people into celebrities for how skinny, rich or white they are, maybe we could start celebrating the people who are the most humane or creative), but I do believe it is possible to suppress our monsters within!

Wouldn’t it be nice if one day being labelled ‘politically correct’ (in other words, being inclusive and anti-racist/anti-sexist) was a compliment and something we all strove for?!

JK: Your main character Maryam is remarkable. Maybe she is the person we all hope we'd be when faced with crisis or the need for change, although I'm pretty sure I would fall short! What are your own feelings towards Maryam?

MH: I love Maryam for her desire to understand what’s really going on, and not just to accept something if it is wrong. She’s how I’d love all young people to be! And, really, she is what a lot of young people are: inquisitive, questioning, intelligent, angry... The truth is most people cope incredibly well with the most terrible situations - every day millions of people embody Maryam’s bravery under the worst possible conditions – they are all unacknowledged heroes.

JK: Do you ever feel that we need more Maryams in the world right now?

MH: Yes! And it’s just as hard for young people today to find out what the hell is really going on – the media and entertainment industries have dumbed things down (and spun) so much most young people have no real idea of just who controls their lives and why. If I can achieve anything, it’s the hope that the story encourages young people to take an interest in the world around them and to question (and fight!) the current greed-based status quo, which is putting their futures very much at risk.

JK: From a writing-process point of view how did her character develop?

MH: It doesn’t matter how much you think a character through before you start to write – so you understand their voice, likes and dislikes, history, point of view etc – you never really know how they’re going to react until you put them under pressure in the story and have them interact with other characters.

What started out as Maryam’s capacity for strength of mind also became her potential nemesis, as she struggled to understand why others thought and acted differently to her (i.e. Ruth.) It meant at times she was boorish and stubborn with no good reason – not nearly as compliant as I’d first thought! Thinking about it now, really it was just the teenager in her asserting her independence from me!

JK: Ruth is interesting, with a quieter, more passive goodness and integrity ...

MH: Ruth is probably the character I least understood at beginning of the books, and I don’t think it was until [the third book] Resurrection that I truly understood her. Such blind faith (in the face of overwhelming evidence against it) is so foreign to me, and one of the reasons for writing the trilogy – to explore this for myself, as I didn’t understand it.

But I came to realise that Ruth had been aware of the inconsistencies and hypocrisies of the religion, but that this was a separate issue to having faith – which is a more personal ‘take’ on our place in the scheme of things.

Her faith gave her comfort and morals to live by. I can’t criticise her for that and came to respect her for it – so a big learning curve for me too, actually - it makes me more compassionate and tolerant to other people’s need for faith now!

JK: Have you thought a lot about the different ways that different people react to crisis? What conclusions have you drawn?

MH: I have experienced a number of very gruelling crises myself and have been able to reflect on how I and the people around me coped (and, at times, didn’t cope). My conclusions are as you would expect: that we all cope the best way we can, and that is different for everyone – and that a lot of it boils down to our role models and to our individual personalities.

Basically there are two types of responses – intuitive or instrumental. An intuitive person reacts with their emotions first – gets all their grief, anger, whatever, out in the open and deals with that first before they can handle information, advice or action. An instrumental person wants to know facts and details and takes action first, holding back on their emotional response until a later (often private) time.

There’s no one response that’s better – it’s just how we are, and it isn’t gender specific to how someone will react. I’m instrumental, for instance, while my daughter is intuitive. Either way, we both cope, we just come at the problem or crisis from different starting points!

The second and concluding part of this interview will be posted next week - on Thursday, all being well.

04 October 2011

Tuesday Poem: happened to meet

happened to meet
fingers extending a welcome
household of tired gods
the table, drinks

then morning.

Birds, coffee, the paper
affirmed you

my hand on your hip
my hand on your breast
my hand on your heart.

Credit note: "happened to meet" is a new poem, first published in my new poetry collection Men Briefly Explained.

You can check out all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem Blog - this week's hub poem in the centre of the page, and all the other Tuesday Poems on the right.