The nation’s best short story writers announced

The nation’s best short story writers announced

The nation’s top short story writers were announced tonight at the Sunday Star-Times Short Story Awards ceremony in a star-studded literary affair.

 Book short storiesThe nation’s top short story writers were announced tonight at the Sunday Star-Times Short Story Awards ceremony in a star-studded literary affair.

Supreme Award for the open division went to political analyst Gemma Bowker-Wright for “The Red Queen Hypothesis”, who struck gold with her second entry into the competition after taking out the runner-up spot in the Secondary School category in 2002.

Gemma’s story “The Red Queen Hypothesis” was also the People’s Choice for best short story.

Head judge of the Awards’ open division and award winning fiction writer Charlotte Grimshaw says she was instantly struck by the winning story.

“Bowker-Wright’s ability to create atmosphere with the use of spare, straightforward language – somehow unleashing the mysterious power of ordinary words – demonstrates a real talent for writing,” says Grimshaw.

“The Red Queen Hypothesis” is a story about three Wellington students flatting together in a dilapidated old house. All three are students studying evolution as part of a science degree in their final year of University.

The story has won the author $5000 cash, publication of her story in the Sunday Star-Times and $500 worth of books from Random House as well as an additional $750 cash for winning the People’s Choice Award.

Second prize in the open division went to Alexandra Sides of Dunedin for her story “End of a Holiday” and third prize was awarded to Cantabrian Anna Keir for her story entitled “Stalking Ella Ryman”.

The number of short story entries entered into the Sunday Star-Times competition continues to grow with over 2,400 received, 600 more than the number of entries submitted last year into the open division, and over 300 in the secondary school division.

Open division head judge Charlotte Grimshaw said that she has been so fascinated by the judging process that she is considering writing a short story about the judge of a short story competition.

“I’ve always been interested in the voices of New Zealand, and in these stories I’ve encountered a terrific range”, says Grimshaw. “I’ve read and reread, and discovered more about the stories in the process and I believe this year’s winners have written truly impressive stories.”

Grimshaw was joined by prolific writer Joy Cowley, head judge of the secondary school division, along with eight pre-jdges who are all professional writers or book editors to help whittle down the number of entries.

Now in their 26th year, the Sunday Star-Times Short Story Awards, in association with Random House, encourage and recognise the talents of published and unpublished New Zealand writers. The top prizes were announced in an awards ceremony at Fables Galleries in Parnell, Auckland tonight.

The awards are nationally recognised for championing and showcasing New Zealand short fiction. Some of this country’s leading writers, including Norman Bilbrough, Judith White, Barbara Anderson, Linda Olsson and Sarah Quigley have achieved success in the competition.

First prize in the Secondary School division went to Hamilton Christian School’s Tim McGiven for his story “The Long Lake”. McGiven went home with $1000 cash, $500 worth of books from Random House for his school, a work experience day at Random House and publication of his story in the Sunday Star-Times.

The winning stories will be published in the Sunday Star-Times on Sunday 31 October.

Open Division Winners

First Prize Winner: Gemma Bowker-Wright (Wellington)

The Red Queen Hypothesis

Second Prize Winner: Alexandra Sides (Dunedin)

End of a Holiday

Third Prize Winner: Anna Keir (Christhchurch)

Stalking Ella Ryman

Secondary School Division

First Prize Winner: Tim McGiven (Hamilton Christian School, Year 13)

Gardening Lessons

Second Prize Winner: Cally Sharpe (Nelson College for Girls, Nelson)

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Third Prize Winner: Tessa Forde (Northcote College, Auckland)

Blue Eyes

Best Unpublished Writer

Alexandra Sides (Dunedin): End of a Holiday

Peoples’ Choice Award

Gemma Bowker-Wright (Wellington): The Red Queen Hypothesis

Excerpt from the winning story: The Red Queen Hypothesis

Classes started in June. The first lecture for Evolution was on the Red Queen Hypothesis. Alice, Daniel and I weren’t early and sat somewhere near the middle of the lecture theatre. The lecturer was a tall, thin man with oversized limbs. He looked a bit like a giant, spindly bird. While he was waiting for everyone to arrive and stop talking he strutted along the runway at the front of the lecture theatre – his black silhouette outlined against the projector.

“For an evolutionary system, continuing development is needed in order to maintain its fitness relative to the systems it is co-evolving with,” began the lecturer, when everyone was finally seated. Alice started to write notes furiously. Daniel sat very still and closed his eyes. I wrote ‘lecture one’ and the traced the outline of my left hand. The lecturer showed a slide with a picture of the Red Queen standing beside Alice in ‘Through the Looking-Glass’. There was a speech bubble coming out of the Red Queen’s mouth; “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place”, she was saying.

“The Red Queen,” said the Lecturer “provides a metaphor – a conceptual underpinning to the evolutionary arms race. One example of the evolutionary arms race is a predator-prey system. In such a system, the predator is continuously evolving to become better at catching the prey. The prey, therefore, has to keep evolving to become better at avoiding the predator – or it will go extinct. As neither predator nor prey are making significant gains in the other, it seems like they are both “running on the spot” in an evolutionary sense.”

The lecturer strutted as he talked, back and forth across the front of the lecturer theatre. As he moved, the projector did odd things to his silhouette, making it very small and then very tall and long – it looked as though, with every step, he was covering a great distance.

“Do you remember at primary school,” whispered Alice, “when everyone used to call me Alice in Wonderland?” I looked across at her in the semi-dark. She smiled, not requiring an answer, and began to take notes again.

What the judges had to say about the winning stories:

Open Division: The Red Queen Hypothesis. “The language is spare and straightforward and the plot isn’t complex, but the story is immediately striking for its clarity, control and command of atmosphere. There’s the clever and original use of an evolutionary theory that echoes the action, and there’s something charged and intense in the writing that makes each scene distinctive.” Charlotte Grimshaw, Head Judge of the Open Division.

Secondary Division: The Long Lake. “This story of a teenager and his relationship with a seventeen year old mother and child, has a stunning sense of actuality. This is another writer who is already earning a place in New Zealand literature.” Joy Cowley, Head Judge of the Secondary School Division.

Whitcoulls Kids Top 50 Books

Whitcoulls Kids Top 50 Books

Kiwi’s love to read and vote for their top books

Whitcoulls Kids Top 50 logo

Since 1998, Whitcoulls has been asking Kiwi kid’s (and adults as well) to nominate their favourite books and from Monday 28 July 2014 they get the chance to cast their votes again.

In recent years, the most popular books have been series such as Harry PotterThe Hunger Games and The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, all of which routinely appear in the top five.

New Zealand picture books have also fared well, with Lynley Dodd’s iconic Hairy Maclary books and Craig Smith’s award-winning book, The Wonky Donkey, always appearing in the top ten. Eric Carle’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, is another enduring favourite and books by Roald Dahl and Dr Seuss are always hugely popular with Kiwis.

Whitcoulls asks New Zealanders to vote for up to three books and they can do this in one of several different ways:

  1. At their local Whitcoulls store.
  2. Via their smart phones/tablets using a unique QR code.

Everyone that votes will be in with a chance to win one of twenty $100 Whitcoulls Gift Cards.

Whitcoulls Head Book Buyer Joan Mackenzie, and the ‘face’ behind Whitcoulls influential Joan’s Pickssays: “In an era where, it’s often said, books and reading are under threat from new media, and time is an increasingly rare commodity, the really good news is that kids are not only still reading – but reading more than ever! We’re seeing a consistent, growing interest from young readers who are still captivated by the exploits of strong characters, and by the thrill of a really good story – and their willingness to share these enthusiasms with other kids is truly alive and well.”

Once votes are in, the team at Whitcoulls begins the huge task of collating entries and compiling the nation’s Kids’ Top 50 books. The voting period runs for three weeks from Monday 28 July and closes on Sunday 17 August 2014. The Whitcoulls Kids’ Top 50 books will be announced on Monday 22 September 2014, just ahead of the school holidays.

So of course I’m totally going to vote! Probably for Elizabeth Knox’s Dreamquake series, Roald Dahl, Where the Wild Things Are, Gangsta Granny, The Book Thief… :)

Booker Prize 2009 longlist announced

Booker Prize 2009 longlist announced

The Man Booker Prize 2009 longlist has been announced with many of the usual suspects – J.M Coetzee, A.S. Byatt, Colm Tóibín, Sarah Waters, et al. So far there doesn’t seem to be a clear frontrunner – however Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall has been a reader and critic favourite, according to the Guardian.

The shortlist will be released in about a month’s time, and the winner announced on 6 October.

Book Review – Slinky Malinki’s Christmas Crackers by Lynley Dodd

Book Review – Slinky Malinki’s Christmas Crackers by Lynley Dodd

Slinki malinki

Slinky Malinki’s Christmas Crackers by Lynley Dodd, Penguin New Zealand, RRP $21.00, ISBN 9780143504627 , Available now.For those of you not in the know, Slinky Malinki is the cat from the Hairy Maclary series of kids books. Lynley Dodd’s sing-song rhymes about a dog from Donaldson’s Dairy and all his friends and relations have amused generations of kiddies.

In this outing, Slinky Malinki (“a bothersome rascal, a pothersome pain”) climbs the Christmas tree: “He knotted the tinsel, and swatted the bell, he battered the baubles and trinkets as well.”

In the morning, the faceless, nameless family put the tree back together again – but where is the Christmas fairy for the top of the tree?

The secularisation of Christmas was one of the most striking parts of the tale for me – the tree features santas and reindeers, but the only Christian iconography I spotted were a couple of star and dove ornaments, and that’s a tenuous connection to what believers call the reason for the season. I’m no expert on kiddie literature, but it’s really nice to see a children’s Christmas book which doesn’t focus on a massive pile of presents, the alien joy of a white Christmas, or going away in a manger. Instead, Slinky Malinki’s Christmas Cracker focuses on the parts of Christmas children (and grown ups) are more likely to experience: the cat knocks over the tree, and everyone has fun putting it back up again. Lovely for religious folk and heathens alike.

The edition I read is a board book, which I understand is for smaller kiddies (disclaimer: I did not test this book on actual children; the testers I had roped in got chickenpox and I begged off our story-book-date because I’m a bad friend). But it looks like it could withstand chewing, and has a sparkly boarder around the edge of the cover which is a huge bonus at any age.

The pictures are of course lovely, full of movement and life. Dodd is obviously a cat lover – she’s captured Slinky Malinki trying to rip the guts out of a teddy bear perfectly. Aw, bless.

It’s my understanding that kiddie books have to be tolerable to adults as well as children – especially if they’re to be read aloud. An aunt of mine can still recite some drivel about tractors, which is both a fun party trick and a fairly good reason not to have children at all. That’s the downside of fun rhymes – they can turn into earworms as easily as a pop song. Thinking about this, all my kiddie books mysteriously disappeared about five minutes after I could read, something I’m suddenly no longer sure is a coincidence.

But Slinky Malinki’s Christmas Crackers is a joy to read and perfect for the festive season. Buy a copy for all the little ones on your list and they’ll love you for it.

The Whitcoulls Top 100 2012-13

Media release

July 16, 2012

Murder, lust and revenge top the list

From murderous thrillers to scandalous love affairs, New Zealanders have revealed their favourite reads in the Whitcoulls Top 100 of 2012-13.

The Whitcoulls Top 100 has been the go-to guide for reading enthusiasts for more than a decade and with 20,000 votes this year, it’s proof Kiwis still love to have their say on their favourite books.

The number one spot this year remains the award-winning crime series the Millennium Trilogy, with popular teen trilogy The Hunger Gamestaking the silver medal and classic series The Lord of The Rings coming in at number three.

The timeless love tale of Mr Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice was voted in at number four.

New to the Top 100 at number 5 is the controversial heated passion saga of Anastasia and Christian in the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy.

While the undiminished popularity of the top three comes as no surprise, Whitcoulls book manager Joan Mackenzie says the rest of this year’s list showcases the variety of New Zealand readers’ tastes.

“We are seeing a real diversity coming through in the books New Zealand adults are reading which is fantastic,” Joan says.

“There are classics that appear on the list year in, year out. But with hundreds of thousands of new books published every year, it’s exciting to see some new titles winning over New Zealand readers.”

“The Fifty Shades trilogy has taken the international reading world by storm and it appears New Zealanders are just as caught up in the hype. 28 books have made it onto the list for the first time so it’s good to see Kiwis like to mix it up a bit!” Joan says.

For the first time readers were also asked to vote for their favourite author. The top three further showed a range of reading tastes with drama queen Jodi Picoult taking out the top spot, children’s fiction guru JK Rowling coming in at second and the master of thrillers Lee Child being voted to third place.

Other interesting facts about the Top 100:

  • General fiction is by far the most popular genre in 2012-13 with well over half the books coming from this category
  • Adults are reading some of the same things their children read – Harry Potter, The Hunger Gamesand the Twilight series
  • The most popular book since the Top 100 started in 1996 is The Lord of The Rings

The Top 100 books are available now at Whitcoulls stores nationwide and the full list is available online.

Dear New Zealand

All in all, you have pretty good taste in books. I’m not saying you don’t make some mistakes. I mean sure we loved the LOTR movies but Tolkein did not write the books about us, so can we let that go? And, ok, we like new and exciting things but lord above, the internet has been around for a while now and we’re only JUST discovering “women’s erotica”? Fifty Shades of Grey is not the fifth most enjoyable book in the world. It’s not even the fifth most enjoyable porn book (let’s just call it like it is) in the world. And Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series at 3-fricken-3? 33?? 33???

Aaanyway, at least you got it right with Pride and Prejudice. And The Book Thief. And The Time Traveller’s Wife. And Shantaram and The Great Gatsby and Dune and The Poisonwood Bible and 1984 and The Catcher in the Rye and the Edmonds Cookbook.

And at least you gave me a giggle by rating The Secret above Ian McEwan. Good one.

But I guess I just have to accept that this is your Top 100, not mine alone. So I’m okay with the things you got wrong and happy with the things you got right. And glad to see such a great mix of books being read by happy readers.

Cheers and see you next year,
BookieMonster

P.S. Speaking of next year, would you care to place a wager on how quickly Fifty Shades of Grey drops off the list? :)

What’s BookieMonster currently reading? In My Father’s Den by Maurice Gee

What’s BookieMonster currently reading? In My Father’s Den by Maurice Gee

What’s BookieMonster currently reading? In My Father’s Den by Maurice Gee

NZ Book Month Challenge

As part of New Zealand Book Month (being October – I’d like to think they choose it because it’s my birthday month, but I have a feeling this is not, in fact, the case), and just add books’ NZ Book Month Challenge, I decided to read a few New Zealand authors (not that I need an excuse to read NZ authors, but it helps me make a decision about what I’m going to read next if I have some reasoning). First up was In My Father’s Den by Maurice Gee.Ostensibly In My Father’s Den is a who-dunnit – a murder mystery that begins with the discovery of the body of Celia Inverarity, which quickly leads police to Paul Prior (the narrator of the book) who is the last person to see Celia alive, and who is also her English teacher as well as the jilted teenage boyfriend of her mother, Joyce (jilted in favour of Celia’s father, Charlie). This basic plotline frames the central, bigger part of the book, the story of men – three men in particular, Paul, his father and his brother Andrew – and the ways they hide from and cope with what their lives have been and become, and particularly the effects of the women in their lives.

The story is set in Wadesville – a not very thinly disguised version of Henderson, Auckland. One criticism I have of the book is this conceit – why the made up setting when it’s so clearly based on a real setting? Just use reality! Maybe in 1972 NZ (when the book was published) the publishers were afraid of using real New Zealand places for stories such as this – which is a shame because the setting is such an integral part of the story that the made-up version is a distraction when it could (and should) have been seamless.

My only other criticism really isn’t a criticism of this book – but I desperately wanted more of Celia. That, however, is really a whole ‘nother book, and potentially an extremely interesting one! But without more the few hints and brief glimpses into her life we have don’t quite ring true or authentic – she isn’t fleshy enough to stand as a whole character, but only as an idea. This tempts me to employ my Arts student cod-post-structuralism and wonder about the attitude towards the women in the book – the way their stories are essentially shut down and retreated from by the men and the tone of fear and mild distaste surrounding the female characters. This isn’t a criticism though – this adds to the depth of thought and feeling that this title evokes in the reader.

In My Father's Den

In My Father’s Den

In My Father’s Den is, in many ways, the archetypal dark, mysterious New Zealand story. Somewhere in our psyche is this fear of ourselves, our land, our remoteness and the stories of all the people missing or lost that we carry. I always get a sense of black enjoyment to see this explored in books.

Three furry black paws from BookieMonster Kitteh.

Book Spotlight: Inside Little Britain by David Walliams, Matt Lucas and Boyd Hilton

Book Spotlight: Inside Little Britain by David Walliams, Matt Lucas and Boyd Hilton

Inside Little Britain

Inside Little Britain

Description: Written together with friend and journalist Boyd Hilton, this is a look at a year in the lives of Matt Lucas and David Walliams – the good, the bad, the mundane, and the monumental.

The year covered includes a mammoth nine-month Spinal Tap-esque tour where Little Britain goes in search of Great Britain. This milestone book offers an unrivaled close-up of a classic British comedy act, as it happens, at the height of its powers. But it is also a journey into their pasts, reflecting on how they achieved their success.

It covers their childhoods, family life, and early comedy performances as they found their feet; their complex friendship and working relationship; and the increasingly insane world they now inhabit.

Mixing memoir and travelogue to paint an engrossing portrait of fame and comic genius, Inside Little Britain is a candid look inside the celebrity bubble in all its glamour and awfulness.

BookieMonster Says: An absolute must-read for any Little Britain fan, or indeed any fan of British comedy. This is much more than just a background to the Little Britain tour, the autobiographical content is intriguing and adds more than a touch of pathos to the wonderful comedy of Walliams and Lucas.

This is also a moving portrait of what seems to be an almost necessary friendship between the two performers – the affection they feel for each other is palpable, and the reader can’t help but identify with the story of two extraordinarily talented blokes whose ordinary lives have suddenly become public knowledge through their extreme fame.

A very well-written book that defies any “cash-in” label. BookieMonster highly recommends!

Laid Bare : A no-holds-barred expose of prostitution in New Zealand by Rachel Francis

Laid Bare : A no-holds-barred expose of prostitution in New Zealand by Rachel Francis

A no-holds-barred expose of prostitution in New Zealand by Rachel Francis

Inside Little Britain

Laid Bare

Part-memoir, part-autobiography and a big part titillating and gossipy (and I mean that in a positive way), Laid Bare recounts Rachel Francis’ two decades in the New Zealand prostitution scene and covering one of the biggest social changes to happen in New Zealand in recent times – the decriminalisation of prostitution. No, this isn’t a work of high literature, but it’s highly readable and often a lot of fun.

The book’s biggest asset is Francis’ enthusiasm for her life and her former line of work. She obviously had no compunctions entering prostitution and her honesty and zeal for the work clearly paid dividends with the respect of family and acquaintances, as well as with clients and in the business. There is lots of nuggety information here about the prostitution business in New Zealand, its history throughout the 80’s and 90’s, and the ins and outs…errr…nuts and bolts… oh hell, puns are unavoidable in this review really… the day to day of conducting your business as a sex worker. Francis clearly believes in the rights of a woman to choose what they do with their own bodies – whether that involves selling it, or not, but this is no glorified account of sex work. She seems to have been smart enough to avoid the worst side of the life and to know exactly why to stay away from the temptations of other vices, such as drugs (as an example).

There’s also a side of New Zealand celebrity here that is somewhat amusing (amongst being somewhat off-putting!) – no naming of names but the predilections of several interesting characters are described, sometimes in rather more detail than one really wants to know (you’ll never look at worms the same, believe me), and other times in detail that will probably have you laughing hysterically (Mr Moo, I’m talking to you).

One thing there definitely is here is detail. If graphic sexual detail is really off-putting to you then this is not your gig. One has to assume though that if it isn’t, you probably wouldn’t be picking this book up in the first place. Aside from that I really have to mention the illustrations of vintage erotic postcards. They are simply awesome.

You can buy Laid Bare directly from Rachel Francis via (a gentle caution that the site may be considered not safe for work, discussion of prostitution, etc).

Book Review: Two Little Boys by Duncan Sarkies

Book Review: Two Little Boys by Duncan Sarkies

Two Little Boys cover imageTwo Little Boys by Duncan Sarkies, ISBN9780143567882 , RRP$30, Available now.Two Little Boys… an apt name really because, seriously this story really only works if you imagine that the two protaganists are 9-year-old boys stuck in the bodies of 30-year-old (ish) men. And even then I’m thinking I’m being too harsh on 9-year-old boys. Maybe 13-year-old boys.

This new edition is a tie in for the film so I’m not going to waste too many words doing a plot recap. Nige kills a backpacker. Nige freaks out and goes to his ex-friend Deano for help. Deano turns out to be creepily, stupidly and implausibly mental. And also insanely jealous of Nige’s new friend, Gav. Hi-jinks and further criminal activities ensue.

The difficulty with black humour is it only works if the humour is really, really funny. Otherwise you’ve just got black chuckles, and they don’t work at all. Two Little Boys has this vein of really creepy “repressed homosexuality” combined with the aforementioned not-really-that-funny mentalness¹ that just makes it more unpleasant than anything else. Neither Nige or Deano are at all likeable characters and while Gav brings some much needed normal intelligence to the party, it’s all too little.

Women characters? Nah.

The Catlins deserves a better class of fiction, surely. Great cover image though!

¹And seriously, I’m not referring to mental illness here. This is a whole ‘nother kind of fictional mentalness that bears no resemblance to reality.

Book Review: Help! How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done by Oliver Burkeman

Book Review: Help! How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done by Oliver Burkeman

help

Help! How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done by Oliver Burkeman, , RRP $40, ISBN 9780857860255, Available now.There is something highly amusing about a book that sets out to puncture a few of the most cherished self-help myths, and simultaneously manages to be one of the best and potentially most useful self-help books you’ll probably read.

Help! is truly incredibly helpful. Oliver Burkeman (who you can and should find at) writes the column This Column Will Change Your Life at The Guardian and has consequently spent several years trolling, um, sorry, trawling the self-help beat, attempting to separate the dross from the drivel from the actually rather helpful. (BookieMonster. Not a fan of self-help.)

Help! is a collection of these columns, covering ways to be happier at home, love, work and with friends. The beauty of Burkeman is he’s managed to distil the actual useful information out of various “lifehacking” websites, productivity sites, self-help books and courses, and even serious psychological research.

Some of my favourite gems from Help!:

  • Oxytocin, the cuddle hormone. Seems to be associated with forming strong attachments. Yes, hugs really do help.
  • You know how you see your friends and they seem like they’re really popular and have heaps of friends (way more than you). Well, statistically that’s because they are. Yes, your friends have more friends than you. (This is one of my favourite insights).
  • The Secret is a load of self-serving bollocks. Burkeman is possibly more erudite on this subject than I.
  • Circumstances actually have very little effect on happiness.
  • We all think other people are fundamentally annoying/angry/rude people but we ourselves are only like that when we’re having a bad day. It’s called the fundamental attribution error.
  • Not being a specialist in your career is a positive, not a negative (thank god for me, a serial career-ist).

He’s also not afraid to be totally honest and bag what we all deep-down know is a load of old cobblers, but at the same time he’s also happy to highlight what actually might work, no matter how twee or ridiculous it may seem to cynical minds. Case in point – gratitude journals.

Gratitude journals are at the extreme end of the cheesiness continuum, but the studies are hard to refute.

In the end, the best thing about this book is the little snippets of true, unvarnished advice.

In The Happiness Trap, the psychologist Russ Harris suggests a simple yet powerful perspective-shift… Imagine you’re 80, then complete these sentences: “I spent too much time worrying about…”* and “I spent too little time doing things such as…”

For reasons which I am not going to elucidate for public consumption, your BookieMonster (me) has been suffering under some serious stress recently. Now, I wouldn’t claim to be the most happiest-go-lucky kinda gal at the best of times, but circumstances have all come together in the last few months to make some serious claims on my mental well-being. Help! actually made me feel better. Not on-of-the-world-everything’s-coming-up-roses better, but just a little better. And, as Help! tells it, even just a little better can be a serious victory.

*The fact that your intrepid BookieMonster’s answer to this was “everything” may indicate where I have issues. Sigh.