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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The Lost Pages – a novel by Marija Pericic

This novel is about the relationship between Max Brod and Franz Kafka. I hate to be cruel to any writer, but in this book’s case…in my opinion the pages should have remained lost.

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Although the premise of the book was a bold one, I believe that writers are always going to be on very thin ice when it comes to writing a fictitious story about 2 people who existed in real life, knew one another and were friends. Mixing fact with fiction is a dangerous thing to do. To then, as Pericic attempts to do in her novel, write a story which insinuates that Max Brod was mentally unhinged and may have actually killed Kafka by putting a pillow over his face, because he was jealous of the man both physically and intellectually – which is, if history is to be believed, a complete about face of facts – makes the book as President Trump likes to say “Fake News!”

No, I haven’t missed the point that it is a novel and therefore a work of fiction, but I found nothing redeeming at all in this story. The characters were more like caricatures, the writer insinuated conflict where there was none, the plot was frustrating to say the least and the dialogue was not believable. Brod’s character was so insecure, self pitying, jealous and full of doubt about every aspect of his life – including his relationships with other people and the quality of his own work – that I wanted to either strangle him or, alternatively strangle, Pericic.

In “the Lost Pages” novel, Brod does everything he can to keep Kafka’s work from being published, and yet we all know that it was Brod, during Kafka’s lifetime, who did everything in his power to get Kafka’s work into print and, after Kafka’s death, it was Brod, who compiled/edited Kafka’s work and in some cases even completed unfinished work in order to get it published and out into the public arena.

About the only thing that Pericic didn’t try to twist was that Kafka worked for a time in an insurance office and Brod for the Post Office. Otherwise the rest of the story was quite tortuous to read.

Pericic insinuates that Brod, although an accomplished writer before he met Kafka was, after meeting Kafka, so insecure about his own abilities that he could never write anything notable thereafter. That Brod went on to publish 83 titles seems to have escaped her. Again, YES I know it’s a work of fiction, but I like fiction to entertain me….not to frustrate and annoy me.

However, the book won The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award and others on “Goodreads” (where it rates 3.5 starts out of 5) have reacted positively to the story – for example “From the very beginning, I was drawn to the vulnerability and fragility of her protagonist, the anguish of an artist who never feels good enough, who is eaten up by his own insecurities, and whose low self opinion is sorrowful enough that we forgive him the gravest of errors against others.” AND “A clever weaving of fact and fiction, I was left wishing for an Author’s Note to disentangle the threads. Powerful and compelling, this is easy to read and hard to forget.” – Sadly for me, I wish I could forget it….and quickly. Had she written it about 2 fictitious people instead of real people it may have been marginally more readable.

Not a book that I would recommend to a friend – I would even balk at recommending it to an enemy.

Christmas is over for another year…

I’m not going to go into depth about what I do or don’t believe in about Christmas…..except of course that Santa really does exist….(cough cough). Christmas is a magical time of you have little kids to share that magic with……..otherwise, it does all seem to be a lot of work for one day of stuffing our faces and damaging our livers.

At our home, in the build up to Christmas, my wife had reeled off a list of things that “needed to be done before Christmas” and we sweated and toiled in order to get most of them done before the big day. We live in New Zealand so Christmas falls in our summer-time meaning that usually we can bask in sunshine with temperatures in the high 20’s or low 30’s Celsius. Christmas lunch is taken in the garden…..usually…..which is why a lot of the tasks tended to centre around the garden and lawns – making everything as neat as a pin and putting up an awning for a sun-shade and of course fairy lights – although with it being a lunch time feast, no one will see the lights against the bright daylight. BUT they were on the list so had to be put up and switched on.

So after a week of hard work and fraying tempers, completing our garden tasks, of course it absolutely poured down the day before Christmas and on the day itself. Oh JOY! As the front lawn gradually became a shallow lake, we dined inside and it was a bit of a crush squeezing 11 around the tables in the dining room. We had to arrange the tables diagonally – corner to corner – in order to fit everyone and everything in, as a rather large Christmas tree occupied much of one side of the room.

We all ate more than we should – naturally. AND one or two of “us” definitely drank more than was sensible….but we survived the day.

Honestly – next year I wouldn’t mind just disappearing to a Pacific island for the week instead – to chill out and recharge the batteries. My wife even suggested flying to Norway for Christmas…..about as far as you can get from NZ – where we would be completely off the radar….not to mention freezing cold.

It’s now 2 days later – the 27th and finally I am kicking back, chilling out. I’ve just had a coffee with a large chunk of Christmas cake and am contemplating either opening a beer…..or finishing off one of the many bottles of wine that were opened and left unfinished on Christmas day. Why do people do that? Why open a new bottle when there is already another one of exactly the same wine already opened and has only one glassful missing. Does anyone else find that frustrating or is it just me?

Anyhow…getting back to chilling out – I’m reading a book put together by a lady called Penelope Rowlands of 32 essays / short stories by 32 different writers, of a variety of nationalities, who have all lived, or been seduced to stay longer than they should have, in the European City of Lights – Paris. It’s called “Paris was Ours” and I picked it up second hand. It’s in very good condition and I was drawn to the book by the beautiful moody black and white photo on the front of a dimly lit, rainy street with people walking -mostly wearing raincoats and carrying umbrellas – lots of shadows but also reflections and rain spattered glowing pavements. By reading the inside back cover of the book it appears that the photo is from flickr by a Julien Brachhammer. Who-ever you are Julien, I love the photo.

Awesome photo on the cover and an interesting and entertaining read inside.

Inside the book the essays range from 3 pages long up to a maximum of around 16 or 17 pages, so it’s very easy to pick up and put down when you have spare moments…..or you can sit and binge read the essays – much like I was trying to do until I had the urge to share my experience of the book with you all – on here…WordPress.

All of the writers had been seduced by “the city of love” and all or almost all profess to still love it although some also claimed to have a love/hate relationship with a city that they found both passionately alluring, yet also one that theft them feeling lonely and blue. As one writer put it “Paris is a good place to be young and melancholy.” Another says “Paris steals in on you like fog.” Others refer to it as “the world capital of memory and desire” or insist that they were seduced by …”that siren, Paris.” I just love all these quotes – most are so poetic and I wished that I had written them first.

But living in Paris even for a short time – as a resident rather than a tourist – has been beneficial to the inner writer in all these essayists. As one put it “to be a writer you MUST come back to Paris.”

In her introduction to the book, the editor Penelope Rowlands speaks for most of the writers in this enthralling collection when she professes, “We hated Paris and loved it all at once.”

As writer and journalist Walter Wells wrote in his essay “I knew already that living in Paris would not be like visiting Paris, but I hadn’t appreciated what that really meant.” OR as Marcelle Clements attested – “Paris is a great place to fall in love, to eat, drink, and be merry. But it’s also the perfect city in which to be depressed or, even better, melancholy……You don’t have to be French to smoke a Gitane and notice the falling leaves drifting by your window.”

More than half of the essays have never appeared in any other publications and were written especially for this book. Some are well known writers, others – if you’re like me – you will never have heard of before, but all are intrepid men and women writing about their personal encounters with a magical yet uncompromising place – one that changes them indelibly and will stay with them forever – PARIS!

Most of these essays left me wanting to read more by each writer – to delve deeper into their backgrounds – and of course made me yearn to live for a year or more in that seductive city of lights, love and melancholy.

I’m not really a giver of stars to recommend books, as a book is a very subjective thing – what I love – you may hate. BUT if pushed….I would give this at least 4 out of 5.

I’m in trouble again because of books.

It’s been a great week for buying books…..but it’s also gotten me into trouble….again. My wife and I agree on many things, but books are not one of those things. My belief is that you can never have too many books, where as my wife says I already have too many books. So to admit to buying another 20 over a 7 day period was like an alcoholic admitting he’s fallen off the wagon again……Not quite the same thing I know.

My 20 book’s in one week purchase.

I guess I should explain how I came to buy another 20 books. Wednesday 14th Nov I had been given a ticket to a book expo at our local library, by my sister-in-law (another self confessed bibliophile). The expo was co-hosted by the library, a book publisher and “Poppies” book store – one of our local independents. Representitives from each of these discussed their favourite books of the year and presented about 40 books to tell us about. All very interesting and especially so for me, being my first ever book expo.

About half way through the presentation, a local author – Linda Trubridge – gave us a talk about her recently published book called “Passages”. A very apt title – about which I’ll explain shortly. Linda, her husband David and sons Sam and William are all very successful in their own fields. David is an internationally renown Artist/Designer and furniture maker and has exhibited his designs all over the world including at the Victoria and Albert museum in the UK and the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Sam is a performance artist, actor and director and William is the world freediving record holder.

Linda is also an artist in pencil, paint and sculpture. One of her sculptural pieces graces the local village square. And now of course she can add published writer to her resume.

The book is partly about the Trubridge’s as a family and also about how after being settled living in the north of England in a rural stone built cottage, they suddenly decided to sell up, buy a boat and spend the next 10 years at sea – visiting the islands of the Caribbean before continuing on through the Panama Canal and down through the South Pacific to wind up in New Zealand – where they finally settled.

So the title Passages – reflects the passage of time, the passage of the boat through the oceans, the passage and development of themselves as a family unit and of course passages of print on the pages of the book. I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, but just browsing a few pages it’s a very nicely written book – almost poetic really. I will probably give a full review once I have read it.

So “Passages” was book number one of my 20. I was very restrained at the expo and this was my only purchase – bought from the author and signed with a nice little message inside. I first met Linda over 15 years ago when I attended two series of “Life Drawing” courses she was teaching at Adult Education evening classes at the local high school. So it’s nice on a personal level to have a book of hers on my bookshelf.

The next day was my birthday (happy birthday to me…happy birthday to me…). My brother and sister-in-law gave me a voucher to be spent on books at another of our independents “Wardini’s” book shop – who deserve a blog post of their own…and I will get around to it soon….as they do such great work.

On the following Saturday we had the Hastings Lions annual charity book sale. This is where the bulk of my purchases occurred – 15 books in all. One of Stephen Fry’s biographies “More Fool Me”, was the first to go into my bag. I have a bit of a soft spot for Fry. He’s a very intelligent and witty writer.  Two books of photographs titled “The Forties in Pictures” and “The Sixties in Pictures” – each book containing some nice black and white photos of their era – although the 60’s one also had a smattering of colour photos too, were the next books to go into the bag. Being a keen photographer myself, they make a nice addition to my collection of photography books. Next was “Paris was Ours” edited by Penelope Rowlands – 32 writers reflect on the city of lights. If you have read any of my earlier blog posts you’ll know that I am a big fan of Paris and of any writers who write about Paris, so I just had to buy this one. The front inlay of the book begins “Paris is the world capital of memory and desire..” and that really says it all for me. Having visited Paris just the once, for a week in 2016, I have happy memories and a deep desire to return very soon.

The next book is Asne Seierstad’s “The Bookseller of Kabul”. Another weakness of mine are books about books or about book shops or book sellers. This is a true story about a book seller and his family in Kabul who Asne Seierstad lived with for a 4 month period. “For more than 20 years Sultan Khan defied the authorities – be they communist or Taliban – to supply books to the people of kabul. He was arrested, interrogated and imprisoned by the communists and watched illiterate Taliban soldiers burn piles of his books in the street”. It’s not just a story about books though it’s also about censorship and the contrasting views of the value and the place of women in Afghanistan society.

Then comes a book by Mary Ann Shaffer. I’d already seen the movie so wanted to read the book of “The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society” to see how it measured up. I loved the movie – actually watched it twice – so am quite keen to get started on this one soon.

“Almost French” by Sarah Turnbull – subtitled “A New Life in Paris” – It just sucked me right in with the title. Another book about Paris….new beginnings in the city of lights, love and romance….and how the seduction of Paris eventually overwhelms even the strongest soul. According to the blurb on the back cover – Funny, perceptive, poignant, adventurous and magical. We’ll see. 

Next come two books by New Zealander Joe Bennett. I have already read a couple of his books – he’s not Bill Bryson, but he’s pretty good. Wry observations as he travels from one place to the next. He was born in Eastbourne in the UK and “Mustn’t Grumble” is about his first visit home after 15 years as he rediscovers what it really means to be English. The second book of his “Hello Dubai” – is about a trip to guess where? Yes Dubai – with all its opulence and extremes. The subtitle “Skiing, Sand and Shopping in the World’s weirdest City” says it all.

“Vroom with a View” – is another travelogue – another weakness of mine (books about travel). Peter Moore is yet another amusing travel writer. I have read his books before and really enjoyed them so when I saw that – influenced by a late night commercial warning that life comes to an end after 40 – he’d bought a 1961 Vespa to tour Italy “in search of the Dolce Vita” –  I just had to get the book.

Bulgarian born poet and writer Kapka Kassabova, grew up under communism in 1980’s Bulgaria. She got away as soon as she could and settled in New Zealand where she published two novels and several poetry books. Now living in Scotland, “Street Without a Name” is her story of re-visiting Bulgaria and of her muddled relationship with the country of her birth. The back of the book says “With the irreverence of an ex-pat and the curiosity of a visitor Kapka takes a humerous and unflinchingly honest look at Europe’s newest member, and brilliantly captures the absurdities and idiosyncrasies of her own and her country’s past”. Yes I know…another travelogue.

“I am Pilgrim” – Terry Hayes. I know nothing about this book. I had been browsing in Poppies book shop a few days earlier and noticed this book selling at around $40 for the paperback. One of the reviews of it said it was a cross between Jack Reacher and James Bond, AND since it was only $2 at the book sale I thought why not?

I haven’t read much poetry since leaving school, so when I saw W.B. Yeats – “Collected Poems”- I thought it was time to reacquaint myself.  J.B. Priestly wrote that Yeats “was a poet first, last, and all the time. Not only a great poet but probably the greatest poet of this century”. Praise indeed.

My final 2 books from the Lion’s sale were both by Mira Grant and are books 2 and 3 of a trilogy of Zombie books. I enjoy a good fast paced mindless Zombie book every now and then so “Deadline” and “Blackout” fit the bill nicely. The first book in the series is called “Feed” of which reviewers raved “perfect summer apocalypse reading…gripping, thrilling and brutal…”. I am now about half way through “Deadline” and am eager to get back to it tonight. Definitely a book to be read in bed…..with a machete and baseball bat under the covers!

Meantime I had – I am almost ashamed to admit – ordered a book on line. It was one that I had had from the local library but since I am going to visit San Francisco next year I wanted a copy of national Geographic Traveler’s “San Francisco” for myself – one that I can make notes in the margins and deface with highlighter pens in preparation for my trip. It arrived Monday.

My final day Tuesday I had arranged to meet my brother for lunch and thinking that he’d probably be late, decided that it may be a wise thing to pop into the Hawke’s Bay Book Exchange – a second hand book shop, and grab something to read while I waited. I spent some time browsing and was amazed at how expensive some of the books were for their condition. For example, a hard cover Bill Bryson book called “One Summer” – originally priced at a little over $50 brand spanking new, was now slightly worn and dogeared and yet they were wanting $40 for it. No way was I paying that much for a second hand book. Eventually settling for the biography of Norman Wisdom “My Turn” for $6.50 in paperback I scurried off for lunch. Naturally my brother wasn’t late so I didn’t need the book anyway. BUT I will enjoy reading it ….eventually.

So that is 18 in total….leading up to my final 2 purchases. After lunch I headed back to Havelock North village and to one of my favourite book shops “Wardini’s” – with the intention of spending my birthday book voucher. As you would have already gathered, travel is one of my favourite subjects and pastimes, so when I saw Lonely Planet had a very nice picture book out of “Amazing Train Journeys”, I knew where most of that birthday voucher was going. For me, if I can travel long distances by train rather than by car or plane, I will. I simply love travelling via the rails. 

And to round off my 20 books, an oldie but a goodie. A book that I read in school and wanted to re-read – Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” – just to remind myself of how much he actually got right when writing this dystopian novel back in 1948. The movie staring John Hurt was pretty good too.

Now…I don’t know if this is good news, or bad news, but I just heard that this coming Friday,  The Friends of the Library at Hastings City Library are holding their annual book sale. All discarded Library books are to be snapped up for only 50 cents each. I think I’m heading for more trouble!

Until next time…….it’s time for breakfast – strawberries picked fresh from the garden.