The Bell in the Lake – book review

The Bell in the Lake, by Lars Mytting

Norway, 1880. So cold a woman leaned against a wall in church and froze to death, her skin stuck to the wall. No wonder my ancestors left. I love stories like this that are so atmospheric you need to wrap yourself in a blanket to read them.

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Jerningham, a novel

Jerningham Wakefield and the first colonial settlement of Wellington

I walked into a bookshop yesterday and my book was on the counter. Does an author ever get used to that? Felt like the first day out with a new baby. They cooed over me in the shop and asked me to sign the copies.

That was a pretty exciting day.

Blokes & Books

Book recommendations for the guys

There are mostly blokes in my book club. We’ve been a good unit for years now, meet bi-monthly in our homes. We’re vaguely kept on track by Roy. It’s a different vibe to the women’s book clubs I’ve been to. There is no chatty gossip or confidences but we know we can count on absolute trust and life support from the group if required. We meet, sit outside or in depending on the season, wine is poured, and the host might say why he chose the book before we do a round robin and back to the host to lead a discussion. There is little talk about writing style, not much on character or theme, but lots of talk about the subject of the book in a wider context.

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Jerningham extract

Extract from the first chapter

Our immigrants continued to arrive, newly ashore and land-fragile.

As I had done, they tended first to stand on solid ground and sway to an internal ocean. After months on water, the new arrivals were reluctant to lose sight of the sea. They walked up and down the long strand with packed sand underfoot, not knowing where to start or how to move on. They scowled at the high hills and dense bush and wrinkled their noses at the earthy smell, complicated and wholesome after brine and bilge water. They smiled hesitantly at fellow colonists and flinched from the inquisitive natives who ran forward to offer vigorous handshakes of welcome.

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What does your editor do?

(Makes you look good)

I was on my way out the door last week and got a text from my editor. She’s also my publisher – The Cuba Press is a small but very cool Wellington firm. “Can you zoom?” she asked.

Yes. Always. That’s the answer you give when your editor asks if you are free. Because when it comes to a book, your editor is your best friend.

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Tidelands – book review

Tidelands, by Philippa Gregory

Apologies to those who were relieved when I recently announced I’d come to the end of my Philippa Gregory phase. Here we go again. I got a note from my wonderful local bookshop  (Wardinis, since you ask) when online orders were allowed and thought this latest looked looked the perfect lockdown book. Delivered and gobbled. I have no desire to binge on Netflix in lockdown but I could re-read every Philippa Gregory on my bookshelves and be happily entertained for a few weeks, in a mindless-but-it’s-still-history sort of way.

Tidelands is a very readable book. Typical Gregory, meticulously researched setting, lots of truth in the detail and flights of ridiculous fancy to drive the story along. Continue reading “Tidelands – book review”

Te Tiriti comes to town

Quills out for the Treaty in Poneke

180 years ago today the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in Wellington, although Wellington wouldn’t find its name until a few months later and the town was referred to as Port Nicholson. Continue reading “Te Tiriti comes to town”

Writing and the dark subconscious

Writing during lockdown

Every morning now I wake after dreaming of isolation. It makes it hard to write.

It’s as if there’s a place in my subconscious that has gone very dark and is holding all the fears I don’t confront during the day.

I force myself to linger in that half-state to capture a fragment and make sense of it, but there’s nothing to catch; just a feeling of unease, an unexplained fear. I have never been able to step into my dreams and haul out a story and I am suspicious of those who say they can. All I can ever bring across that barrier are moods and shots of disassociated things, like photographs of a past I no longer remember. I haven’t ever drunk so much I don’t remember what happened the night before, but it must be a post-dream feeling: waking up on someone’s sofa, remembering scrambling noises, a cat rubbing and mewing to be fed, crowds of people gathered before a high fence, something bad. Continue reading “Writing and the dark subconscious”

American Dirt – book review

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

The book opens with a mass-shooting at a family gathering in Acapulco, Mexico. Luca, eight years old, is in the toilet. His mother, who has been waiting in the corridor, bundles him into the shower enclosure and “is clinched around him like a tortoise shell”.

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Pachinko – book review

Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko does exactly what a good book should; it takes you somewhere else and shows you the world through different eyes. A story has to make normal to us what may seem strange, and to explain the world enough so the reader understands the observations without the narrator being too “telly”.  This is hard to do across a cultural divide but in this epic story, Min Jin Lee gives us full immersion.

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