Tuesday, September 29, 2015

September Reading


The Sea on Our Skins by Madeleine Tobert
The story of Ioane and Amalia who marry. Ioane for sons - he has no intention of staying on the remote Pacific island permanently. Amalia, because her mother told her she had to. It's a story of family relationships in a culture different from ours, of love and betrayal, and of how cultures and individuals change. I was drawn into the story, but it left me feeling rather bleak.

MiSTORY by Philip Temple
A story set in future New Zealand, in a time in which the effects of climate change has left a world of war, invasion, fear, and of shortages and loss of many of the things we take for granted. In the lower half of the South Island rebels are fighting for elections to be held again. The relationship of the main protagonists is a little unlikely, but is, I guess, essential to the slightly hopeful ending. It's along the lines of John Marsden's Tomorrow series, but aimed at adults, if only because it is less exciting, slower moving, and considers more complex political issues, rather than the more personal values issues of Marsden's books. Worth a read.

Clade by James Bradley
Another climate change novel, this time set in Australia and England. It is quite good at giving the feeling of world collapse in some chapters, but then in others Bradley seems to forget that the world is in a state of chaos. He tries to cover too many characters, and too much time, so the total is bitsy, and shallow. Most of all, the cover is decorated with bees and honey comb, and talks about how 'Ellie will discover a strange affinity with beekeeping,' yet this is a very minor part of the book - disappointing to a beekeeper! Individual chapters are well written, but the whole just didn't come together - there were too many gaps.

Landfall by Helen Gordon
Alice has job problems so moves home to the south east of England to house sit for her parents for a few months. Her teenage cousin is sent to stay from America. There's a creepy guy that's obviously going to be a Bad Guy. There's a whole lot of threads, and I waited for them to come together in some way. The back of the book said, "...this clear-eyed, mordantly witty, warm and unsparing novel culminates in one of the most surprising and destabilizing endings you'll have ever read." Well, no, not really. Because it didn't have an ending. It was as if the author got up one morning and said, "Oh, fuck this writing lark. I'm sick of it. I'm going fishing." Not a single thread came together - and I know the threads don't all end up as a beautiful piece of woven cloth in real life, but there are always periods of ending / beginning in real life, and I like that in a novel too. Not just a, 'she left Auckland and was driving along State Highway 1 when a li....' type of thing. The writing was reasonably good, taken chapter by chapter, and presumably the author intended the ending to be provocative, but to me it was frustrating and unsatisfying. I was left with the impression that the author was trying way to hard to impress some book award judges with her 'edgy' ending. Don't bother.

If I Should Die by Matthew Frank
A detective novel set in London. As well as the murder investigation, there is a new detective who was previously a soldier in Afghanistan, whose character is strongly developed. This is a first novel, with more planned around this character, Joseph Stark, and I will be watching out for the next one. If you like murder mysteries, this is definitely worth a read.


Five Sons and 100 Muri of Rice: the story of a five year old bride in rural Nepal by Sharyn Steele and Zoe Dryden
A true story similar to the novel described above. At just 5 years of age, and a very undersized child at that, Kharika Devkota was married to 12 year old Ketu. After the wedding, Kharika's mother left for home - several days' walk away, and shortly thereafter she and Kharika's brother left for india to join Kharika's father. She never saw them again. Kharika lived with her husband and his mother, who protected her, and refused to let the boy have sex with her, so it was not until the mother died that, aged just 13, she first had sex with her husband - in our culture it would have been called rape. We would see Kharika's story as one of harsh poverty, of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, yet it is also a story of love, especially for her children, of satisfaction with her work, of courage and of extraordinary survival and longevity. The usual age of death in Nepal was around the mid-forties, and yet, despite a life of hardship, when the book was published less than a year ago, she was still alive, living in her own house next door to her sons - aged ninety! A wonderful book, one I really think everyone should read.

Sunday, September 27, 2015


A grandfather died the other day. Facebook filled with tributes, stories and the honouring of a man who had been loved and treasured by his adult grandchildren.

I thought of my grandparents. Three dead when I was so young, I have not a single memory. The fourth remembered only as a dour old Scot, blind in one eye from glaucoma, nearly blind in the other from a cataract, and very deaf. I saw him just once a year, if I was lucky, until he died when I was eight.

My parents died nine months apart when my oldest son was seven: he remembers them - just. They were unwell for most of his life, with strokes and cancer. The next two have no memories and the youngest was not even conceived at the times of their deaths.

My children's other grandparents were not involved with, nor even overly interested in grandchildren numbers ten to thirteen - they'd done their grandchildren days long before mine appeared.

So what is a grandparent? I have no experience of being grandparented, nor the examples of my parents or parents-in-law. I don't know how to be a grandparent, except to love my grandchildren, and to miss them. I don't know how to play with them, nor how to talk to them. Mostly I forget that they are children and speak to them as if they were friends.

I hear my Facebook friend's grief and emptiness and my heart aches for her loss.

My heart aches also - for something, for people I never had, but I don't know how to grieve for that, for them.

What It Means To Be Me

"You are a writer. You just need to write."

So said the book I downloaded for free onto my Kindle. Yet another book on how to write. And basically, it's the same advice every other book on writing has said. All the other advice is just padding: sometimes useful padding, sometimes superfluous stuffing.

I am a writer - I just need to write.

The question I need to ask myself every day is, "What have I written today? In what way have I behaved like a writer today?" Not, "Is it good writing or is it bad writing, but simply, is it written?"

Then I got to thinking about what else I am, for being a writer is not the all of me.

I am a woman: "in what ways have I been a woman today?"
I am a wife: "in what ways have I been a wife today?"
I am a mother and a grandmother: "in what ways have I been a mother and a grandmother today?"
I am a craftswoman: "in what ways have I been a craftswoman today?"
I am a bookbinder: "in what ways have I been a bookbinder today?" Recently I realised that the word I always use for what I do - 'bookmaker' - means something else and I wondered why I avoid the correct term. But that's a whole 'nother story.
I am a yeoman farmer: "in what ways have I been a yeoman farmer today?"
I am a homemaker: "in what ways have I been a homemaker today?"
I am a friend: "in what ways have I been a friend today?"

I am Cally: in what ways have I been Cally today?

It is not enough to be mindful of the world in and around me. I also have to create my reality. It is not enough to say, "I am a writer." I also have to write.

New Plymouth August 2015 - Day 3

Time to go home. We had plenty of time, so decided to drive out of town a little way, to get a country photo of 'my' mountain.
But then, you know , there could be a better view a bit further along.

Perhaps just a little further round the mountain?

(Taken just before Mac got attacked by the sea = very wet shoes and trousers.)

The sign says it's open Mondays, but directly underneath said it was closed. Annoying.

More mountain. So much gorgeousness, so many photos.

And then - up the mountain a little way.

 The longest continuously operating power station in the country.

 Carrying on around the mountain - so perfectly Taranaki.
 It was a very long way home, and I was a little sad to leave, but..... nearly home:

New Plymouth August 2015 - Day 2

 Saturday morning we decided to do the coastal walkway. Simon and Rebecca rode their bikes from the beginning somewhere south of the wind wand, to the other end and back, all in the time it took Mac and I to walk from most beautiful bridge in the world, to the wind wand.
We passed whitebaiters near the river mouth.
Another view of the bridge.
West coast beaches are my favourite.
 Somewhere along the way we met Simon and Rebecca and I tried riding Rebecca's bike. I hadn't forgotten how! When we got to the wind wand, we walked across the square to have lunch with Simon and Rebecca, and then they went back to the house, while Mac and I rode their bikes back to the bridge and our car. I think I want a bike now - it was fun, and after years of not being able to ride a bike sitting down, because of a painful strangeness in my left knee, I find it is cured!

We returned to the house and after a cuppa and a rest, we went to see the Tupare Gardens which were recommended by a friend of Mac. It was so beautiful and I'm keen to visit again in other seasons.

New Plymouth August 2015 - Day 1

In 1967 I started two years at New Plymouth Girls High School and the same two years at their boarding hostel, Scotlands. When I started there, I was in sixth form (Year 12) - the school at Te Kauwhata only went as far as fifth form. Although boarding school proved to be a lot less exciting than Enid Blyton's Mallory Towers books, I did enjoy my time there - it was a fresh start with nobody knowing me or my past mistakes. Most of all, I feel in love - with Mt Egmont, as it was then known. It has not changed, but I'm glad the name has, as Mt Taranaki seems so much more fitting.
More recently, we enjoyed visiting the Govett-Brewster Museum where an old flatmate of ours works, and we were keen to return to see the new Len Lye Centre. So we went down for a long weekend with Simon and Rebecca.
The building is gorgeous - and fun.

The surrounding buildings aren't new, but are pretty cool too.

After the exhibition we walked down to the grass square outside the museum to join the anti-TPP protest.

I doubt it did any good, but I feel I couldn't not stand against such an appalling thing.