An inspiring story of a determined woman.

My local independent book store Wardini’s in Havelock North had an author event a couple of weeks back that I was fortunate enough to be able to attend. A very sprightly, articulate and entertaining octogenarian lady by the name of Robin Robilliard was there to give a talk about her book “Hard Country” – A Golden Bay Life.

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It tells the story of how she and her husband Garry arrived in Golden Bay in 1957 and took on a rocky, rundown marginal property aptly called “Rocklands” and their attempts to turn it into a successful sheep farm. They arrived there with a baby, only a few months old, armed with very little money but a lot of determination and a willingness to work hard.

The three previous owners of the land had gone bust but over the years Robin and her husband came to love this “nightmare land” and sixty years on still call Rocklands home.

She was a delight to listen to. Not only had she and her husband raised 3 children and battled the elements to make a go of their farm, but she had also worked as a nurse and later as a journalist during which time she travelled the world.

It’s a fascinating book and has sold over 10,000 copies so far. Robin says she has another book coming out soon. If it’s anything like this one, it should sell well and the best of luck to her.

She very kindly signed a copy for me and added a little personal dedication. What a lovely lady.

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Just passing through…..a life’s journey.

New Zealand writer Peter Wells (died 18 Feb 2019) signed off with a book about his own death titled “Hello Darkness”. It follows the last year and 4 months of his life, after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in November 2017. The book broke new ground in that much of it was written on his own Facebook page and the writing was accompanied by his own photographs.

But that is typical Wells. He has always been a breaker of new ground, of being a leader and not a follower. He was one of New Zealand’s first openly gay writers and was writing about gay topics as far back as the 1980’s. In 1998 he was co-founder of the “Auckland Writers Festival” and also co-founded in 2016 “Samesame But Different” – New Zealand’s first LGBTQI Writers Festival. His goal was for the festival to be “an exciting event that makes people think about sexuality, difference and community, stretches their understanding, gives them a few laughs and creates a slightly magic space for two days in February.” This years festival finished on February 10th. It was Well’s 4th and last.

He was a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, but from the 1980’s onward also made films and documentaries predominantly about historical and/or gay themes.

His own blog site says this on his profile page…. “Peter Wells writes books and makes films. His films include idiosyncratic documentaries about conserving at-risk architecture like a flamboyant 1929 picture palace, or a shoe-obsessed gay man who tells his life story through women’s shoes (made with friend and fellow film-maker Garth Maxwell). He co-wrote and co-directed ‘Desperate Remedies’, a feature film described as ‘Jane Austen on acid’. His books include award winning short stories and novels. ‘Iridescence’, for example, about an Englishman with a secret hiding in Victorian Napier. His memoir Long Loop Home looked back at his New Zealand childhood with the wry glance of loss and affection.”

All of which brings me around to my reason for writing about him. Whilst he was without doubt a talented writer and film maker – my reason for writing about Wells is his connection to Hawke’s Bay – where I live. He lived for some time in a house on Napier Hill where he wrote what became known as his “Napier Trilogy” – comprising of his highly rated book “The Hungry Heart” – about William Colenso, the very knowledgeable clergyman/missionary who was also a printer, botanist, explorer and politician – but who was also a recluse, “Journey to a Hanging” which was a racially charged book about the horrific death of the Reverend Carl Sylvius Völkner in 1865…killed by Kereopa Te Rau, a Maori leader, who was found guilty of killing, beheading, eating the eyes and drinking the blood of Völkner and was subsequently hanged for the crime, and finally “Dear Oliver” – subtitled “Uncovering a Pakeha History” – which was a book written about his own family history, followed back in time in snippets of historical memories. It was hailed as a masterclass in writing history.

He was also partly responsible for the birth of the appreciation of Art Deco architecture in Napier and the start of what has become a phenomenally popular annual event “Napier Art Deco Festival” with his 1985 documentary film “Newest City on the Globe” which he wrote and directed and in doing so brought the architectural splendour of Art Deco Napier to the world. Shortly after this film was released, film crews from the USA visited Napier to record in this Art Deco jewel of the south pacific. After that Napier was no longer a secret tourist backwater.

The first Napier Art Deco Weekend Festival was in 1989 and with each passing year the event grows bigger and bigger and is celebrated by locals and tourists/art deco aficionado’s from all over the world.

For all this and more – Peter Wells – we salute you.

If you want to find out more about the man and his work, Links to Peter Wells blog, his Wikipedia page, the Auckland Writers Festival, the Samesame but Different site and the Napier Art Deco Trust web page are below.

http://www.peterwellsblog.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Wells_(writer)

http://www.writersfestival.co.nz/

http://www.samesamebutdifferent.co.nz/

https://www.artdeconapier.com/

Writers as protectors of freedom. A review – my thoughts on Ivan Klima’s biography – My CraZy Century.

I have been fortunate to live in “Free” countries. I was born in the UK and 30 years later moved to New Zealand in 1989 – a significant year in world events…but I’ll come back to that. Both countries have free and democratic elections and yet I have taken to the streets with thousands of others – in both the UK and NZ – to protest political policy – both domestic and foreign.

Although as a protester I came into conflict with the police – I was not arrested and was certainly not “disappeared” – a fate that befell many dissenters of political policy in other, less lenient, countries.

I have just finished reading Czech writer Ivan Klima’s biography titled My Crazy Century. On the cover of the book the C and the Z in the word Crazy are in red. A reference to the many years of communist rule in Czechoslovakia. I highly recommend that anyone and everyone reads this book.

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The book gives us a clear insight into not only the conditions imposed on the Czech people under the Nazi’s……concentration camps and all….during the German occupation in world war 2, but also those enforced by their communist liberators – who in turn became their dictatorial masters during the post war era – right up until the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Communist Block in 1989.

The people in power, both Nazi and Communist, feared the influence (on public opinion) of intellectuals, artists, writers, anyone who held political opinions other than theirs, so did all they could to silence them. This was done – in the extreme – by killing them, imprisoning them, exiling them or putting them under constant fear of their lives by harassing them day in, day out. Writers like Klima and his contemporaries who dared to have ideals other than those of the ruling party were banned from publication. Their previously published works were confiscated and burned and their scripts for plays etc were not allowed to be performed. They would be subject to sudden searches by the secret police who would ransack their homes and take away any written materials….and then they would be taken away to be “interviewed”….interrogated.

Under the control of Nazi Germany they suffered the horrors of not only living in an occupied country but also of being hauled off to concentration camps for extermination. Their jubilation of being “freed” by Russian troops at the end of the second world war was short lived as they came under the rule of the Czech Communist Party – who were little more than puppets, controlled by Stalinist Moscow. Anyone who didn’t fully accept the new regime and tow the line were punished. In the case of Klima it meant losing his job, being put on a list of banned writers, being constantly followed and harassed by the secret police and more. His father was also imprisoned for several years under the communists. Others were tortured, murdered or simply disappeared. Their fate unknown.

This treatment and further threats and mind games did not stop Klima and his circle of friends, meeting to discuss the political situation, writing essays, articles, novels and plays expressing ideologies in direct conflict with those of the ruling party – and smuggling these works out to be published in the UK, Germany, Holland and Switzerland.

Being a writer – particularly one who does not tow the party line – as ridiculous as it seems in this day and age, was a very dangerous occupation. The fact that these writers persisted for so long in such restrictive and dangerous circumstances to continue to produce their work is admirable to say the least….and ultimately contributed to the overthrow of the Communist regime.

Only 3 months before he took over as president of the country, Vaclav Haval was still in prison, being persecuted for his political beliefs. It’s amazing how, after so many years of ruling with an iron fist, a dictatorial regime could be overthrown, so quickly and without bloodshed.

The whole “revolution” happened in a period of 6 weeks. It earned the name the Velvet Revolution due to the relative ease that the transition took place. It had been unthinkable that a former banned and imprisoned poet would become leader of the country – and yet….it happened. You should never under estimate the spirit of the people, the right action, at the right time, in the right place, by the right person/people, or the power of the written word.

Klima’s book spans six decades that include war, totalitarianism, censorship and the never ending fight for democracy. He looks at the way that “this crazy century” has led mankind astray and impacted not only Klima’s generation, but also today’s generations still struggling against totalitarian societies around the world.

Klima recounts first hand what it was like to be of Jewish heritage, confronting along with his family, the inhumanities of the Theresienstadt concentration camp, the treatment dealt out by the Nazi thugs….who were replaced by four decades of Communist thugs….and finally after years of harassment, persecution and censorship, the sweetness of the Velvet Revolution – when the time was right for such an ideal to thrive.

Personally for me, the events of this book are recent history – having been born in 1959, I recall many of the main points in the book, but I did not at the time realise the full horrors of what was going on “behind the iron curtain”. The official channels and the media only provided a sanitised version of the news….and to this day continue to do so. As the number of independent news organisations disappear and are swallowed up by larger conglomerates – the easier it is to control the news. When the TV news comes on in the evening and the presenter says “Here is the news”…..what they really should be saying is “Here is the news that we want you to know about…and this is OUR version of it”. We are being digitally lobotomized.

Although the so called “Free World” was not directly responsible for the suffering of the Czech people, we were guilty of complacency….of inaction….of doing nothing but raising “an official protest” in the United Nations at the time of such atrocities. As Klima and his fellow banned writers proved, when governments fail to act it’s up to writers – ALL of us – to get the word out there, no matter what the personal cost.

A visit to the library….

A visit to the library was called for after an on-line chat with an author friend of mine who lives in the Czech Republic. We’d been discussing the “Lost Generation” of writers – they include Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Eliot, Stein etc. and he had asked me if I had read anything by Max Brod.

Brod (1884 – 1968) was a prolific writer in his own right, but is mostly remembered as the friend of Franz Kafka, who, when requested by Kafka to destroy all his writings at his death….refused to follow the writer’s instructions and had the works published instead. So it’s thanks to Brod that so much of Kafka’s writings saw the light of day.

Brod was a German speaking Czech Jew – who later moved to Israel to escape the Nazi take over of the then Czechoslovakia. He died in Tel Aviv in 1968. He was an author, journalist, translator and a composer of music. A very talented man. He first met Kafka, at Charles University in Prague where they both studied, in 1902. The rest as they say is history.

Naturally my friend’s insistence that I read Brod had me intrigued so I set off for my local city library feeling for sure that they would have at least one of Brod’s books. How wrong could I be? Not a single book written by Brod on their shelves. Deciding to check out on-line book sellers when I returned home, I set about searching the library’s catalogue of books for anything at all mentioning Brod.

The only book I found at the library with any mention of Brod, was a novel by Australian based writer Marija Pericic called The Lost Pages – which is a fictional story about the relationship between Kafka and Brod. I picked it up anyway and will have a read of it later. I also picked up 2 other books. One about New Zealand writers who – although not as famous as the main members of “the lost generation” of writers – were New Zealand expat writers living overseas during the same period of time – called “The Expatriate Myth”, by Helen Bones.

The other book – the one I decided to read first – is by another Czech Jewish writer who went through the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, the short relief of the end of the second world war and the subsequent take over by the communists under Stalin – by the name of Ivan Klima. It’s his autobiography titled “My Crazy Century” – with the C and Z of the word Crazy highlighted in Red – giving you a red Cz – I assume symbolic of the many years that the Czech’s were under communist rule. I’m about a quarter of the way into this 534 page memoir – enjoying it, but horrified at how people were treat – first by the Nazi’s and then by the Communists. I will probably do a review of the book once I finish it.

Back at home I googled Bron’s books and was surprised at how few were available in English. It seems that the ones concerning the diaries of Kafka are available in English, but little else. The two main books of Bron’s that my writer friend recommended were only available in German. One called “Prager Kreis” (Prague Crisis or Prague Circle) printed in 1967 and the other “Streitbares Leben: Autobiographie, 1960” (literal translation being – Quarrelsome Life: Autobiography, 1960 – although there may be another meaning). I may try to get them anyway and struggle through with my basic schoolboy knowledge of the German language.

Whilst at the library, much to my wife’s dismay, I was perusing the discarded books on the “for sale” table. Four books caught my eye, so for the princely sum of $2, my own library has grown by 4…..even though – as my wife was quick to point out…..my shelves are already overflowing. Those books were – “Now and Forever” by Ray Bradbury which is a collection of 2 novellas – “Somewhere a band is playing” and “Leviathan ’99”. Bradbury is of course best known for the novel Fahrenheit 451. “Extreme Rambling” by Mark Thomas – a travelogue about hiking through troubled areas of the world. “New Scottish Writing” – which is a collection of short stories by writers from Scotland – printed in 1996, so not in actual fact all that “New”. The final book was “Afterlight” by Alex Scarrow which is a post apocalyptic/dystopian story – set in Britain in 2010…. after the oil ran out. I must say I do like a good dystopian novel….hopefully this one won’t disappoint.

So there we have it. The library failed to deliver on what I went for in the first place, but the books I chose – both to borrow and the ones I bought -should expand my knowledge and entertain me. I do love the library!

Please do make use of your own local libraries. In these days of belt tightening and reduced budgets, city councils will cut funding if they think the libraries are not being used by sufficient people. So please get out there and borrow some books. And I’d like to say a little thank you to all librarians and library volunteers who keep the libraries staffed and open. Well done, you are appreciated, and thank you very much.

Ernest Hemingway – love him …or hate him.

I have a love/hate relationship with Hemingway. I have tried a number of times to read his novels. Every book of his has frustrated me and I’ve put them down unfinished. There’s just something about his style of writing that grates against me….like fingernails down a chalk-board.

It was therefore with some trepidation that I picked up “A Moveable Feast” in our local library, vowing to give Hemingway one last chance to redeem himself. I’m already half way through and to my surprise and delight I am actually enjoying it…..so what’s changed? Frankly I have no idea. The writing style is the same so perhaps it’s the subject matter….my beloved Paris.

Ah Paris! City of Lights, City of Love and Romance, City of Style and Fashion, City of Art and Literature. Home of many of the writing greats of the past and present…for some permanently for others a temporary home. And no doubt she…Paris…will continue to inspire writers and artists for years to come.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

It should be noted that this particular book is not a novel….but more a collection of essays about Hemingway’s time spent in Paris. According to the all knowing oracle Wikipedia – “A Moveable Feast is a memoir by American author Ernest Hemingway about his years as a struggling young migrant journalist and writer in Paris in the 1920’s. The book, first published in 1964, describes the author’s apprenticeship as a young writer while he was married to his first wife, Hadley Richardson.” Possibly it is just my time to find enlightenment in Hemingway’s words. Unlike my wife who had to read Hemingway’s “The old man and the sea” at school and proclaimed it “possibly the most boring book in the world” – I only ever thought to pick up one of his books after seeing Woody Allen’s 2011 movie “Midnight in Paris” – which I have touched on in an earlier blog post.

In the movie Hemingway is seen rubbing shoulders with other literary and artistic greats such as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot (all members of the Lost Generation of writers), Pablo Picasso, Degas, Man Ray, Cole Porter and many others. I initially thought that it was simply Allen taking poetic licence in placing all these legendary people in the one place at the same time, but reading Hemingway’s book – it confirms that he knew and mixed with many of these people and more. He was also friends with Ezra Pound and James Joyce and politely suffered the company of Ford Madox Ford – who was, it seems, invariably – in later years – the worse for drink. Ford was a fellow writer and novelist, a champion of literature – established, new and experimental, and a publisher. He even published some of Hemingway’s work.

It must have been marvelous to have been in Paris back then.
In the movie, Midnight in Paris, Gil Pender – played by Owen Wilson refers to 1920’s Paris as being the Golden Age – something refuted by another character Adriana, played by Marion Cotillard – who insisted that the Golden Age was during the Belle Epoque period, which of course ended in 1914 with the start of the first world war. It seems that everyone has their own individual ideal nostalgic period. In the movie, Gil Pender is transported magically back from present day Paris to 1920’s Paris. Here is a short YouTube trailer of the movie showing the scene where Pender meets Hemingway. And Hemingway speaks the way that he writes. No one else talks this way….no one!

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in the cafes that they frequented. To listen to the literary discussions and friendly, often drunken banter

Hemingway’s early years in Paris were as a struggling writer and he and his wife would live in the cheapest part of town in an apartment which shared a bathroom on the landing with other apartments on that floor, would sometimes miss meals and rarely bought new clothes in order to afford the little luxuries of life. Money it seems would always find Hemingway just at the time that it was most needed. He professes to have had a fairly carefree…almost worry free existence, where finances were concerned. Something always turned up to save the day, whether it be an against the odds win on the horses, an overdue royalty payment from a magazine or publisher, or even simply being able to borrow books from Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Company – rather than having to buy them.

I guess it’s a reminder that every writer has to start somewhere….and in a way it should give all of us “struggling writers” hope.

I’d love to hear from you….please tell me if you love or hate Hemingway….and if you love his writings, which book you consider to be his finest piece of literature.

Like a Phoenix from the Ashes….

Just as “Man” can be destructive to nature, so can nature show its destructive powers. Such an incident was the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake.

The 7.8 quake struck at 10.47am on 3rd February 1931. The epicentre was 15 kilometres (just over 9 miles) to the north of the city of Napier and occurred at a depth of 20 kilometres (about 12 miles). Many buildings in the central business district of both Napier and its sister city Hastings collapsed immediately. The brick built facades of others fell into the streets killing and injuring passers by. Railway lines and tram lines buckled and bent like plastic. A total of 256 lives were lost and thousands were injured – most loss of lives occurred in Napier, with about a 3rd in Hastings. Nerves of locals were shredded by over 500 aftershocks within two weeks of the initial quake. The last recorded aftershock attributed to the February 1931 quake occurred in April 1934 (over 3 years later!). At 5.6 on the Richter Scale it was still a nasty and powerful reminder of the earths destructive powers. It remains New Zealand’s worst natural disaster.

Timber buildings, of which there were many, survived the initial quake but fell victim to fires which broke out soon after, leaving both cities looking like war zones. In Hastings, fire crews managed to control the fires, but in Napier they were not so fortunate. Because water pipes had been ruptured by the quake there was no water pressure and so no way to fight the fires, which raged unchecked.

The destructive force of the quake was also a creative force – uplifting some forty square kilometres of sea bed to become dry land – draining the Ahuriri Lagoon. This is now where the Hawke’s Bay regional airport stands.

The New Zealand Listener Magazine in 1941 (ten years after the devastating earthquake) was quoted as saying that “Napier had risen from the ashes like a phoenix”. It quoted the 1931 principal of Napier Girls’ High School as saying “Napier today is a far lovelier city than it was before”.

This was primarily thanks to the efforts of government appointed commissioners John Barton and Lachlan Bain Campbell who were sent to Napier to assist the Napier City Council in the rebuild. A review of building standards was also commissioned which found that many of New Zealand’s buildings were totally inadequate. As a result, most building of the 30’s and 40’s were heavily reinforced. Of course those standards have been surpassed several times since then.

During this time Art Deco architecture was all the rage and because the old city had been completely flattened, Napier (and parts of Hastings) were built primarily in this style – along with Spanish Mission architecture.

The preservation of these Art Deco architectural wonders all in the one locale has earned Napier the title of Art Deco Jewel of the Southern Hemisphere, and attracts tourists and Art Deco enthusiasts from around the world. This is particularly noticeable during the annual Art Deco Weekend Celebrations – which take place on the 3rd weekend of February to mark the beginning of the rebuild and rebirth of this Art Deco jewel – when the streets are jam packed with revelers wearing their best 1920’s and 1930’s costumes, hundreds of vintage cars and party-goers dancing in front of the Sound Shell on Marine Parade to the sounds of big band jazz music.

There are hundreds of events taking place over the days leading up to the weekend and over the weekend – some are official – organised through the Art Deco Society and some are unofficial. These include fly pasts and aerobatic displays, steam train rides, a parade of vintage cars, marching bands, theatre, music, costume competitions, old movies at the cinemas, soap-box derby for the kids, dances, guided art deco tours, lots of feasting and partying and so much more. BUT if you’re planning on a visit….book early as accommodation can be scarce.

For full details of this years celebrations please visit the official website of art deco napier. https://www.artdeconapier.com/Events/Napier+Art+Deco+Festival+2019/All+Events.html

I’ll leave you with some of my own photos of the annual Napier Art Deco Celebrations.

As usual, any comments are very much appreciated and will be replied to as soon as possible.

Old Rockers never die

I’m on a roll……3 posts in 24 hours! Back with a bang.

Last weekend I went to a rock concert. Three bands were playing – Dragon (a New Zealand band from the 1970’s- most of the original band members are dead either through drugs or cancer, leaving Todd Hunter as the only original, but lead singer since 2006 Mark Williams can still belt out all the old hits), Jefferson Starship (who used to be known as Jefferson Airplane) and Toto (who hasn’t heard their biggest hit “Africa”?).

It was certainly a blast from the past for me – particularly seeing Toto and Jefferson Starship, two of my favourite bands from the 70’s/80’s. Yes they have aged….the voices aren’t quite as strong or evenly pitched as they used to be….but they were still damn good. New Zealand seems to be the place that old rockers come to die…..or at least to play their last hurrah. But lead singer/guitarist of Jefferson Starship – David Freiberg just keeps on a-rockin’. He’s now in his 80’s and frankly moves a lot better than I do. He has no plans to retire and as long as he can keep going and doing what he loves….why not?

Photo below is by Sandie Ward Photography

David Freiberg of Jefferson Starship has never been to New Zealand and admits most of what he knows about the country comes from Lord of the Rings.

Freiberg started off singing in the coffee shops of San Francisco – that must seem like an eternity ago. San Francisco is still his home base.

It’s great to still be able to see the hero’s of my teen years up there on stage, but sad to realise that many of them are now in their 70’s and in Freiberg’s case 80’s so won’t be around for too much longer. I’m wondering who will replace the superstar bands of my youth? The bands of today don’t seem to have the legs to last the years. How many of today’s superstars will still be rocking at 80?

Meantime I’ll sit in my office, recline the chair, put an old vinyl 33 and a third on the turntable….Jefferson Starship’s “Freedom at Point Zero” maybe or Toto IV – close my eyes and let those years slide away. Long live Rock ‘n’ Roll and keep on keepin’ on!