Friday, December 4, 2015

Who Cared? - Otago Nurses in WW1

Earlier this year I had the privilege of working on a collaborative project with staff at Otago Museum, Otago Polytechnic lecturers and Bachelor of Design (Communication) third year students on an exhibition based on my novel Lives We Leave Behind (Penguin Books, NZ, 2012; Editions Prisma, France, 2013).

This free exhibition runs from 26 September 2015 to 31 January 2016, 1877 Gallery, Otago Museum.

Publicity material extract: 
“Experience the realities of war with three nurses from Otago at the No. 1 New Zealand Stationary Hospital, Wisques, Northern France. Step inside their world, watch them at work, pick up and read their letters, touch their few possessions and discover their most private thoughts.”

Poetry Competition
We invite members of the public to write a poem of less than 200 words inspired by the exhibition Who Cared? Submit your entry before 11 January under one of these categories: Year 1 to Year 13 students or the Open Section.   

To enter the poetry competition online and for full terms and conditions visit:

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

International Food Design Conference, Dunedin, July 2014

Lucky me! Last week I was given a ticket for the Gala Dinner held at Otago Polytechnic on the final evening of the conference. In an email the day before, we were told to wear comfortable clothes and sensible shoes – a clue that this culinary feast was going to be out of the ordinary. In fact it was extraordinary. As Charmian Smith wrote in the Otago Daily Times, Wednesday July 9, 2014, the event “told the story of the Sargood Centre, from its pre-European history as a Maori place of learning, through the 1925 New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition for which it was built, to its use as an art gallery and, more recently, as part of the polytechnic.”

Guests met and mingled at Manaaki, the polytechnic hospitality centre. After enjoying parcels of duck and crayfish, plus a beverage or two, we were transported in a heritage bus to the Sargood Centre where we were immersed in a carnival atmosphere, complete with quirky booths, gin slushies, popcorn, disembodied hands offering tasty morsels, and delicious lamb cutlets peddled from a cart.

We later became part of an art ‘exhibition’ in another building, where we encountered cubes of botanical gel in spoons embedded at various levels into plinths. We had to eat the cubes without using our hands. Not as easy as it sounds.

Finally we were escorted into a funky space with lights and music and handed plates of lemon curd, passion-fruit sago, tiny balls of sponge, miniature macaroons and a huhu grub injected with a citrus type substance!

Everyone had a fabulous night thanks to the amazing Culinary Art Degree staff and students, and everyone who assisted them.

This photo of Margo Barton and me was taken in the 1920’s South Seas Exhibition mid-way through the evening.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Reflections from my Seresin Landfall Writing Residency journal, 17 September – 28 October 2013.

Day 1
During the drive from Dunedin to the Marlborough Sounds I wonder if I have sufficient food, wine, books, fortitude, to spend six solitary weeks writing at Waterfall Bay, a place I have only seen on Google Earth.
Late afternoon I reach the imposing wooden gates where the gravel road runs into a rutted track that hugs the glistening blue bay, tide on the turn. I am enchanted to catch glimpses of fuchsia, clematis and flax through a stand of beech.

Scotty is waiting to show me around the cottage where I will stay. I choose an upstairs bedroom with a view of the sea and bush-clad hills from a window I slide open and seldom close. Left alone, I unpack and settle in. To celebrate my arrival I prepare a whitebait supper and pour a glass of pinot noir.

Day 3
A cloudy, soulful day. It brings to mind a large framed black and white photograph displayed in a room downstairs. Two children, eyes downcast, stand together. At first glance the boy seems intent on teaching the girl to hold a bow and arrow. But, when I look closer, I see vulnerability and aloneness, also loss. This compels me to put aside the short story I started yesterday. I work instead on my new novel, set in Naples and London in the 1950s, and tracing the disintegration of a couple with children similar in age to those in the photograph. Eerily this cottage is furnished in the style of that era. Words come faster than I can type.

Day 6
Emerging from a writing frenzy, I go for a walk. Midway across a wooden bridge I recall last night’s full and resplendent moon. I had been upstairs reading Shirley Hazzard’s The Ancient Shore in which she describes her Neapolitan years when incandescent light glinting on the sea made me think for a moment that I was witnessing hundreds of fish fins dancing on the surface.

Day 9
Scotty and three Woofers are here, mowing lawns and weeding. I stroll down to Onahau wharf and sit in the sunshine mulling over why I agreed to write an article about creative writing for an academic journal. The deadline is approaching. Lacking inspiration I walk to Mistletoe Bay and take the circular peninsular walk. While I’m on a ridge looking across to Waterfall Bay an idea for another short story arrives unbidden. I write down its bones as soon as I return to the cottage. Then I write the article.    

Day 11
Torrential rain keeps me indoors. I work on the novel. Late afternoon, I read passages from Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend about a childhood amongst the Camorra in Southern Italy. Towards midnight I watch an episode of the Sopranos on my laptop, a series I avoided back home because of the violent content. My altered stance intrigues me. Perhaps framing it as research has shifted the angle from which I look.

Day 15
I am shaken awake at 5.30am by an earthquake, 4.7 according to Geonet accessed via my iPhone. The castors on the bed shunt me back and forth across the wooden floor. By the time I decide (calmly to my surprise) what to put in my daypack and whether to contact anyone, the jolting stops. I am no longer against the wall, but I am safe, and daylight is appearing.

Day 16
For company I have four young goats, a flock of ducks, and a one-legged weka that cleans up the scraps I offer him from a tin of salmon I had on crackers for lunch.   
My days have taken on a pleasing rhythm – wake, wash, eat, write, walk, think, eat, read, write again. Most evenings I listen to podcasts (sometimes music but usually BBC 4) and enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, mostly pasta or couscous or an omelette. Tonight it’s the latter. I forage for herbs to improve the flavour. To my delight I find a parsley patch amongst sweet-scented garlands of jasmine.
No dallying downstairs tonight. I’m eager to tumble into bed and read more of Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi, a novel that grips me for reasons I cannot yet identify.

Stars as big as jellyfish float in a navy sky.
There is no sound apart from the turning of pages.

Day 23
Today the sea is the colour of leek soup. Yesterday it was mustard yellow. Rainclouds threaten. I chop kindling and light the fire. Shadows flicker, briefly forming a cross on the far wall.

I write for hours without stopping for anything but coffee. 

Early evening I turn on the radio, wanting to catch the news, but the first two items are about badly behaved politicians, and I turn it off.

In the kitchen I heat last night’s leftovers on a plate on top of a pot of boiling water and mete out a Portuguese port for afters.

Day 28 (Sunday)
I am aboard the Nukutere with Scotty. There is a winemaker and an assistant chef with us too. I listen to a story about a woman with a large family who half a century ago lived in a nearby bay and regularly rowed a dingy to Picton for her groceries.

Day 29
Winds a hundred and twenty kilometres an hour lash the bay, pull curtains of rain sideways, topple trees. Thunder rumbles in the distance. A winged creature soars back and forth in front of a pane of glass, a ghostly sight that causes me to stray from my usual genre and write a poem.

On the cusp of dusk power goes off at Waterfall Bay
I find a torch and from my topmost window
observe the wind’s bloated fury
dampening the glow on the lip of the sea
forcing the bush to open its moss-green mouth, and release
a feast for a bird of prey, a Harrier Hawk
twice displaying his buff underbelly through misted glass
as he wheels north along the ink-blue rim of night.

I spend the rest of the evening reading Neruda’s sea poems. Towards dawn I pick up Barbara Grizzuti Harrison’s Italian Days, and find a snippet to include in a particular scene in my novel.

Day 35 (Sunday)
Another adventure on the water, this time I’m aboard the Winsome II, a supply boat during the Second World War. We strike lumpy water in the Tory Channel but encounter calmer stretches at Endeavour Inlet and Resolution Bay. On the way back we trawl for scallops, filling a bucket and a chilly bin. The day ends with wine and nibbles on the deck at the cottage.

Day 42 (Sunday)
I spend part of my last afternoon on Lola, a classic Italian motorboat that started life on the Riviera. Coffee at Lochmara Lodge follows, and then drinks with new friends, and a fine dinner for four.
Postscript: Other than three Sundays on the water with company I have been alone in the wilderness. A little feral, really.  But I have been productive: seven draft chapters of a new novel, three short stories, and a poem. A rich haul for my six-week residency.

These reflections were initially published in Landfall 227, Autumn 2014.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Seresin/Landfall Otago University Press Writing Residency

During September and October 2013 I spent six weeks as writer in residence at Waterfall Bay, a beautiful secluded spot in the Marlborough Sounds where I worked on a second collection Stories Bodies Tell and a third novel Wait for Me. Shortly after arriving I fell into a daily rhythm of writing, walking, thinking, reading and writing again. In the evenings I recorded in the attached notebook, a gift from a friend, my reflections on reading for pleasure and reading for research purposes, observations about adapting to a bush-clad landscape and extreme weather patterns, and insights into the benefits of abandoning regular life for a while to focus solely on the work of writing. My first experience of a residency has convinced me to apply for others. First, though, I must unpack then revisit the words I wrote at the bay.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Film Options

In October 2013, along with Penguin (NZ), I signed a film options contract for my first novel Ribbons of Grace, another first for me. Whether we go to the movie depends on funding. Fingers crossed!

French Edition

In July 2013 Editions PRISMA (France) published Des vies derriere soi, the French edition of Lives we Leave Behind, which Penguin (NZ) released in October 2012. The French edition came about after Debra Millar gave Penguin’s French agent a copy of the NZ version of my novel at the 2012 Frankfurt Book Fair. The agent loved the book and worked hard to place it with a French publisher. It’s been a real thrill to have my fiction translated for the first time.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Dunedin launch of Lives We Leave Behind

Last Thursday, in the company of family, friends and book lovers, nurse historian Pamela Wood launched my new novel Lives We Leave Behind at Technique Restaurant, Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin. Colleagues and students from the School of Hospitality set up the venue to resemble a military hospital base complete with canteen, flags and sandbags. They also themed the food to match the settings in the novel: NZ, Egypt and France. To signal the French phase, Monsieur R, complete with black beret and heavy accent, entered the room, blew a whistle and welcomed us to France. Bronwyn W-G and Erin from the University Book Shop sold out of books, Bronwyn H connected my Brisbane-based daughter online and Steve took the photos. Then when people left, the students, dressed in army uniforms, presented everyone with a beautiful hand-made paper box decorated with a red poppy and containing a small Anzac biscuit. So a memorable evening for many reasons!