It's been an eerie start to the year here in Ōtepoti, Aotearoa.
The day dawned ... except, it didn't. The air was thick and yellow-hued. The birds were silent.
'It almost looks like an Australian bushfire sky,' I thought. 'But those fires are over 2000km away in a different country. It can't be that.'
But it was. It is. And it's been a very unsettling way to ring in the new decade - a visceral reminder of how precious our world is, and how connected we all are ... and how badly we are failing our own habitat and the other animals we share it with.
I've seen a lot of people sending thoughts and prayers via social media, but I don't think thoughts and prayers will do a lot. What we can send - those of us with $5, or $50, or whatever to spare - is cash. And if you don't have any spare cash at this rather financially draining time of year, I have some other ideas further down.
Help fund fire services (seems crazy, you would think the Australian Government would be onto this)
Help the people displaced by fires
What else can we do?
Climate change has made these bushfires more catastrophic than they were in the past. It is up to all of us to do our best to reduce our impact on the environment.
As I finished this post I had to run outside to break up a cat fight. I couldn't see a single star in the sky.
Photo: Christian Reusch, Flickr, 2013.
I was thrilled ... and terrified ... to be invited to contribute to the Otago Daily Times and Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature assignment 'the best book in the world'.
The first three pieces appeared in the Otago Daily Times today, and a further three will appear next weekend.
Naturally the best book in the world is my pick, Charlotte's Web, but E B White did face some pretty stiff competition in the form of The Third Policeman (argued for by David Loughrey) and The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (argued for by Emma Neale).
Read the first instalment of The Best Book in the World here.
Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival write-up: Zine Scene, Introduction to Gecko Press, Picturing Words and Wording Pictures, It’s Personal
What a weekend of fan-girling and inspiration! It kicked off at Friday’s Zine Scene where one of my niece’s zines (about a boy trying to hold in a fart) had been shortlisted by Kate De Goldi and Paul Beavis. Although the event was aimed at kids I got heaps out of it too. Paul said, “Work small, work fast and don’t be afraid to throw things out,” and Kate talked about the importance of noting down all those moments you experience and thoughts that come to you and referring back to them for writing ideas later. Paul also told the story of getting Mrs Mo’s Monster published. It took him seven years and involved many, many rejection letters and re-workings. He managed to make this terrifying story funny and inspiring!
Saturday was a glorious Port Chalmers morning, made all the better by Julia Marshall of Gecko Press who gave a talk at Port Chalmers Library. It was wonderful to get better acquainted with Gecko books, which are primarily translations of the best of the world’s non-English books. Julia talked about the difference in tone in tenor of books that come from other countries, including trends towards more ambiguous endings and heavier themes. Julia is a fan of the ‘triple twist’ in a story – neatly illustrated by a deliciously pared-back book about a girl following a line that is being drawn by her older brother. (Gecko is currently running a PledgeMe which you can check out here.)
Then it was into town where I picked up Rants in the Dark by Emily Writes (promptly devoured and already lent to a mum friend) and Can you Tolerate This by Ashleigh Young which I cannot wait to read.
Picturing Words and Wording Pictures featured three writer / illustrators: David Elliot (who happens to live just down the road from me and who was gracious enough to let me visit his studio a while back), Paul Beavis (who had really impressed me at Zine Scene) and Sarah Laing (total goddess). These three giants had some excellent tips to share. Paul talked about 'three' being the magic number. He said you could break almost every spread down into a ‘beginning, middle and end’. He also spoke of the power of using a triangle as a composition device. David said he gets intrigued by characters and keeps drawing them as he develops them. Sometimes the characters hijack his story ideas and he follows them where they want to go. Sarah recommended working in a cinematic style – letting the images tell as much of the story as possible.
Today I went to It’s Personal featuring Adam Dudding, Ashleigh Young, Sarah Laing and Hera Lindsay Bird. Adam said he admired first person journalists and he believes that intimate or quirky details make writing interesting and honest. He also said that divulging some less-than-flattering secrets about yourself can make you feel better about sharing other people’s stories.
Key takeaways for me – keep up the journal work... and consider getting some graphic design training!
I've always had a soft spot for Winston Peters. Those dashing suits. That twinkle in his eye. So when he started saying vegetarian food labelling could be bad for our economy, I looked into it. And it turns out the opposite is true. You can read the full story on The Spinoff.
Sometimes (ok most days) I hear something on the radio or read something in the paper that makes me really cross. But the other day something made me so cross, I decided to do something about it. It was the beat-up over Ministry of Justice spending on staff development. I've worked in the public sector and I know how hard it is to do your job properly when you're under constant surveillance from social media warriors who don't always bother to dig into the issues before commenting. So I wrote this post about it... and it was published on The Spinoff! Super exciting for me... and I hope it gave some Ministry of Justice employees a smile.
The National Writers Forum
17 – 18 September
University of Auckland Business School
I arrived at the inaugural National Writers Forum (NWF) with a sheath of beautifully printed pitch documents and visions of pressing them into the open hands of delighted publishers.
By the end of the first session I knew I would be doing no such thing – but I also knew I was in for an enriching, enlightening two days. The NWF had a practical focus on improving your writing, placing your writing, building your reputation and finding an audience. A collegial tone was set by keynote speaker Chris Cleave (UK), who spoke of the importance of storytelling and supportiveness in our turbulent times. (You can read Chris’s full speech here. It’s well worth your time.)
During most time slots there was a choice of three different sessions. I’m currently finishing the illustrations for a children’s picture book I’ve written, so I choose the sessions that related to publishing. I wanted to find out more about how to pitch to traditional publishers, and how to self-publish. Below are the key messages I took away from the sessions I attended.
The Perfect Pitch
Melanie Laville-Moore (Allen & Unwin), Duncan Greive (The Spinoff), Kevin Chapman (Upstart Press), Harriet Allan (Penguin Random House), Scott Pack (Unbound).
Copyright and Contacts
The Future of Publishing
Scott Pack (Unbound), Dominic Hoey (Boosted)
Publishing 101: Making a book
Kalee Jackson (Kalee Jackson Design), Karen McMillan (Publicity), Malcolm Nell (Kobo), Martin Taylor (digitalpublishing101.com), Jenna Todd (Time Out Bookstore)
Elizabeth Heritage, Publicist
Support, sustain, survive
Siobhan Harvey (Writer), Malcolm Nell (Kobo), Anne O’Brien (Auckland Writers Festival Director), Rachel Jean (South Pacific Pictures)
I wish I knew when I didn’t know…
Patricia Grace, Stephen Daisley, Kate Pullinger, Chris Cleave, Paula Morris
Along with these notes I also took away new ideas, new confidence and new friendships. The NWF was superbly well-organised and well worth the time and money.
Not in Our Neighbourhood
Written and Directed by Jamie McCaskill
Presented by Tikapa Productions in association with Te Whāriki Manawahine O Hauraki
Fortune Theatre, 13 September 2016
Yesterday evening I stepped over the threshold of Dunedin's Fortune Theatre for the first time, where I was treated to an outstanding performance from Kali Kopae. Kopae is like a graceful tornado as she twists and turns from broken, sexy, tyrannical, nurturing and powerful. At times her performance is like dance or like song. Watching Kopae in action is the theatrical equivalent of watching an Olympic gymnastics routine: controlled, exquisite, exhilarating.
Read the full review on Theatreview.
This review originally appeared on Theatreview.
Guys and Dolls
Q Theatre, Auckland
31 October 2015
Directed by Raymond Hawthorne
Guys and Dolls, which first premiered in 1950, is based on short stories written by Damon Runyon in the 1920s and 30s. Runyon’s New York heaves with gamblers, holy-rollers, law enforcers and ladies of the night, who all coexist on the city’s dirty streets.
The stage lights come up to reveal a smoky New York haze hanging over the luxe set of plush red carpet and sparkling red lettering. Throughout the evening the set transforms from a streetscape to a Christian mission HQ to an underground gambling lair, sometimes ingeniously connected by manholes and ladders, and always delighting with thoughtful period touches.
Costume and set designer Tracy Grant Lord’s eye for detail doesn’t stop there. The stage is filled with gorgeous cast members decked out in equally gorgeous clothes. The women mince about in glamorous swing coats, and the men prance in high-waisted trousers, suspenders and trilby hats. Even the sensible shoe-wearing Save-A-Soul Mission brothers and sisters look fetching in their tailored red uniforms.
We’re introduced to big talking gambler Nathan Detroit (Shane Cortese) and his long-suffering fiancé Miss Adelaide (Sophia Hawthorne) – a nightclub performer with a psychosomatic cold. Nathan’s in a spot of bother – he needs to find somewhere to hold his illegal gambling game, but he doesn’t have the money to pay the venue. In order to raise some funds he bets fellow gambler Sky Masterton (Roy Snow) that he won’t be able to get Sister Sarah Brown (Rachel O’Connell) from the Mission to go on a date. Sky accepts the challenge, and so begins a chain of events that will change everyone’s lives for the worse – or the better – depending whether you think love’s a curse or a blessing.
Every aspect of the production is top notch, from the flawless live band through to the charming choreography. Special mention must go to the two numbers from the ‘Hot Box’ cabaret, A Bushel and a Peck and Take Back Your Mink, knowingly kitsch song and dance routines that provide a hilarious insight into the cheesecake culture of the era. The doe-eyed Sophia Hawthorne shines during both songs, and also showcases her comedy chops on Adelaide’s Lament.
As pious Sister Sarah, Rachel O’Connell embodies a different kind of woman, and sings I’ll Know and If I Were A Bell with a delicious feminine soprano that calls to mind Julie Andrews and Doris Day. Rachel takes Sarah from uptight do-gooder, to devil-may-care drunk, to man-eater with ease.
Roy Snow announces his lady-killer intentions with the line “Do you take sinners here?” before going on to woo the audience with the sweet I’ve Never Been in Love Before. He takes a different tack with Luck Be a Lady, where he sings as though his soul’s on the line.
Shane Cortese hits the jackpot as loveable rogue Nathan, who tries to keep everyone happy most of the time but ends up in trouble all of the time. His dashing and dastardly qualities are particularly evident as he battles it out with his fiancé on the touching and funny Sue Me.
The other cast members bring everything from angelic harmonies to slapstick comedy to exotic dancing into the mix. Andrew Grainger, as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, leads the company in a knock-out version of Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat, and the cheeky ‘Hot Box girls’ raise the temperature to boiling as they strip convention and shed their inhibitions.
When you see the name ‘Raymond Hawthorne’ on a poster you know you’re in for a good show, and Guys and Dolls is another triumph from the acclaimed director. It’s bold, sassy and thoroughly entertaining. It’s the perfect night out for anyone who’s ever been in love – or thought about it.
This article was first posted on Graham Reid's fabulous music, travel and arts website Elsewhere. You can see photos of the Vegas Girl and other iconic K'Rd sights on the original post.
‘K’Road’s colour under threat of whitewash,’ said the headline - but the red lights are already turning off. The Pink Pussy Cat is now an immigration consultancy, the Pleasure Chest signs have been sold on trademe, and the bare-chested nymphette on the Vegas Girl building, who’s presided over the street since the 70s, is being retired. Saint Kevin’s Arcade - the grand, Neo-Greek building that’s home to grungy music venues, a leather repair business, a vegan shop, a clutch of ever-changing second hand stores and the iconic Alleluya Cafe - has been bought by a former Shortland Street actor. An unnamed source says the actor made his fortune in Grey Lynn, where the last of the blue and yellow villas have been painted beige.
A pre-European travel route, Karangahape Road is the oldest street in Auckland – and the most notorious street in the country. Today it’s a kilometre of ‘anything goes’ that connects staid Queen Street and moneyed Ponsonby. One end finishes next to the upmarket Langham Hotel and the other morphs into Great North Road - a street that is itself embracing change, with high-end apartment buildings springing up along the Grey Lynn corridor like magic crystal trees. K’Road is a place where different scenes and cultures exist side by side, and that incongruity is part of its appeal. Poets, street workers, street artists, fine artists, rough sleepers, drug addicts, latte sippers, drag queens, musicians and the people who love them brush up against each other during colourful days and hedonistic nights.
K’Road wasn’t always such a shady lady. From the late 1800s to the 1960s it was the place to be, and people came from far and wide to shop at her stylish department stores. Rendells made an appearance in 1911, and in 1926 George Courts Department Store opened and Saint Kevin’s Arcade was completed. Businesses like Hannah’s and Hallensteins were founded on the street, where glamorous lighting illuminated late night shoppers and revellers had an abundance of nearby cinemas and dance halls to choose from (including the Druid’s Hall in Galatos Street, which is still a music venue today).
But in the 1960s K’Road’s fortunes faded, and she was forced to lower her knickers in order to make a buck. The construction of the inner-city motorway system required the removal of 15,000 nearby homes and the displacement of over 50,000 residents, and new shopping malls lured customers into the suburbs. K’Road’s shops started to close, and ‘King of the g-string’ Rainton Hastie moved in. His iconic Pink Pussy Cat Club opened in 1963, and the street was filled with the roar of his pink Cadillacs and the lure of his dirty dancers. This new permissiveness opened the doors for LBGT culture. New Zealand’s first lesbian social club opened on the street, followed by other gay venues such as Legends, Staircase and Urge Bar.
When I met K’Road in 1999 it was love at first sight. I’d just moved to Auckland and the city seemed big, brash and unfriendly. Walking along K’Road felt like walking into another country. Back then the air was thick with the aromas of frying food, second hand clothes, coffee, stale sweat, clove cigarettes, vomit and the ubiquitous Nag Champa incense. The street’s seedier elements made it a safe haven for anyone creative or different. It was unlike anything I’d experienced before – but it also felt like coming home.
I bought bright saris from the Indian store and hung them in the windows of my curtainless flat (the one where grass grew between the floorboards in the kitchen). I experimented with glorious green eye shadow from Rendells. I got stuck inside a 1960s dress I was trying on in the changing room of the Salvation Army store and had to be rescued by a shop assistant. Back then Brazil Café was set up in the old Mercury Theatre foyer, and that’s where you went if you wanted a coffee that felt like a punch in the face. We’d scale the terrifyingly step ladder to get to the old bus seats upstairs, and watch cockroaches scuttle across the walls as we ate bagels studded with fat capers. In the evenings we sang karaoke at Kamo alongside tall and gorgeous drag queens.
I got a job working in one of the vintage stores in Saint Kevin’s Arcade, and made savvy purchases of sequinned gowns, spray-on pants or red cowboy boots almost every week. Our customers included students, stylists and thieves. One Saturday someone ripped an American bomber jacket from my hands and ran down the steps into Myers Park with it. I chased after them with a broom, but I didn’t get it back. Arriving on K’Road on weekend mornings, I’d often cross paths with people who were still wrapped up in the night before. Cleaning up puddles of urine outside the store was an unsavoury morning ritual, but just part of the deal.
My sister worked in the leather store further down the arcade. She and I started a band and we spent many evenings walking up and down K’Road with a bucket of homemade flour and water glue pasting up gig posters. Other evenings were spent as performers and audience members at venues like The Naval and Family, The Thirsty Dog, Edens Bar and The Wine Cellar. But K’Road isn’t just about rock and roll - it’s also a place of Chinese supermarkets, alternative therapies, Rainbow Youth, hip hop and tattoo parlours. It’s a place where you can attend a talk or a festival, take a sewing, juggling or life drawing class, and rub shoulders with the beautiful and the damned.
This is the allure of K’Road in 2015 – but she’s about to reinvent herself once again. The street that’s seen everything is about to undergo some radical surgery – including a full-body lift and a heart transplant. The City Rail Link – a project designed to improve Auckland’s public transport network – is kicking into gear, and a new train station just off K’Road will flood the street with commuters. More housing options in the area are proposed, and the street seems set to transform back into the society lady she was in the first half of last century.
But as she slides under the anaesthetic, her heartrate slows. Today, many of the shops in Saint Kevin’s Arcade are closed. Tenants have been moved on, and signs that say ‘more magic is on its way’ hang in the empty windows. The arcade has been owned by various people of the years, but for decades its patron saint has been Peter Hawkesby, who runs Alelluya Café. Peter makes a divine Jewish ginger cake, has supported countless creative people in a myriad of different ways, and once admonished me for smoking a cigarillo in my band’s promotion photos because he thought I was a bad influence. Sometime between now and Christmas Alelluya will also close, and later established businesses like Karen Walker will move in. The influence of luxury stores like Louis Vuitton, Prada, Christian Dior and Gucci, now gleaming baubles on downtown Queen Street, is creeping up the hill. K’Road will become more like Newmarket, and the colourful people of the street will find somewhere else to go.
Today, you can see still hand-drawn comic strips pasted on K'Rd's power poles. But today, the party that fare-welled the Vegas Girl is already fading into folklore. K’Road is dead. Long live K’Road.
Note: Since publishing this post I had word that the Vegas Girl sign is staying (for now). Phew!
Sneaky strategies for first home buyers.
So you have a regular income. You rent a place for $450 per week, and you’re pretty sure a mortgage on a similar dwelling would be around $550. With a few tweaks to your budget you know you could make the payments. There’s just one thing standing in between you and your dream of owning a home - the deposit.
There’s been a lot of depressing media coverage over the last, oh, five years, about how hard it is for people to buy houses these days. So you probably feel locked out of the market. Defeated before you’ve even started. But I think you can buy a house! You just need to be sneaky, tenacious and determined.
Before I get started, I’m assuming you’re a normal person with normal expectations. If you’re looking for a house in the 400 - 500 price range, you’re not hoping to find a renovated four bedroom villa with a separate self-contained studio in Grey Lynn (dammit!). You know that you could expect something along the lines of:
I’m also assuming that you are in an ok financial situation. Student loans notwithstanding, you don’t have any crazy credit card debt, personal loans, car loans or higher purchase payments. (If you do have any of these things, pay them off before you get started. See the awesome Mr Money Mustache blog for tips.)
So you’ve got your financial priorities straight, you’re happy to start out small or in a location that isn’t at the top of your list - but how are you supposed to save a deposit? Your rent eats most of your income and Auckland is so expensive these days!
If you know you could meet the mortgage repayments, you’re actually in a pretty good situation. You’re a sure bet for a bank - and they’d be crazy not to want your ongoing payments over the next two to three decades. You’re good business!
So now that I’ve boosted your confidence, here’s how to get your deposit:
So what if you’ve withdrawn your Kiwisaver, you’ve negotiated your bank down to a 10 per cent deposit, you’ve saved 5K and you’re comfortable taking out a small additional loan - but you still can’t afford a deposit on a place in Auckland?
This is when you have to be sneaky, tenacious, determined - and play the long game.
This is when you drive to Hamilton and buy yourself a tidy, low-maintenance rental property. Something that won’t need much work - perhaps a small unit. Now you put some good tenants in it, sit back and wait. And wait. In a couple of years the combination of your mortgage payments and rising house prices will mean you have some equity in your property - and you can use that equity to buy your own place in Auckland.
So put your fingers in your ears and block out the media noise. You’re sneaky, tenacious and determined, remember? You deserve to have your own house in the city you live in. And you can make it happen.
* * *
The advice provided in this article is general advice only, and is provided by someone who has absolutely no financial qualifications. Always consult a reputable independent financial adviser before making important financial decisions.
2023 Burns fellow Kathryn van Beek has an MA from Victoria University Wellington - Te Herenga Waka’s International Institute of Modern Letters. She is a winner of the Mindfood Short Story Competition and the Headland Prize. Her collection of short stories, Pet, is available as a podcast, and her work has also appeared in Overland, takahē, Newsroom, and the Sunday Star-Times. She lives in UNESCO City of Literature Ōtepoti Dunedin with her two rescue cats.