Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas books...

Lets face it folks, I'm honest enough to admit that Christmas isn't Christmas without books under the tree. Of course there is the love, and time with family and thoughtful gifts, and good company and food and wine, and love, and more love, and siestas because you've eaten too much, and tinsel and joy and peace and the wonderful break from the everyday and ordinary, and there's the love.

Then there's the books.

Hubby understands this - well, he jolly well should after all these years, so there were some very cool books under the tree.

Still Life: Inside the Antarctic huts of Scott and Shackleton Photography by Jane Ussher, Essays by Nigel Watson.

This is one of those emotional books that reduced me to tears the first time I looked through it. It's a magnificent thing and something anyone with an affinity to Antarctica, and the spirit of exploration and heroicism of these amazing men, needs to have this book. Antarctica is a brutal environment, and it amazes me that these huts still stand. The fact this book exists makes me rest a little easier as it is an extraordinary record of the living conditions of the men that sheltered there. Jane Ussher captures the desolation and mood of these places, and revels in the minutiae. The YouTube clip shows some of the pics to give you a little taste

As people who keep track of my blog have probably gathered, I'm a little partial to the sport of fencing. Okay, I'm borderline obsessive, so I was delighted to have these two books under the tree...

The Fencing Master by Arturo Perez-Reverte

A thriller about fencing - it doesn't get much better than that!

Here's the back cover blurb...

Fencing is not a game but a science. The outcome is invariably the same: triumph or disaster, life or death.

Jaime Astarloa is a master-fencer of the old school, priding himself on the precision, dignity and honour of his ancient art. It is 1868; Spain teeters on the brink of revolution, his friends spend their days in cafes discussing plots at court, but Jaime's obsession is to perfect the irresistible sword thrust. Then Adela de Otero, violet-eyed and enigmatic appears at his door. When Jaime takes her on as a pupil he finds himself embroiled in dark political intrigues against which his old-fashioned values are no protection.

The Ultimate Guide to Weight Training for Fencing

Okay, so this one isn't going to have universal appeal, but it's pretty self-explanatory.

I was also given some book vouchers - oh dear, how sad ...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Baking up a storm

Ah, the satisfaction of a good day's Christmas Baking. Mr Eight-year old and I had a lot of fun and we now have ready, for Yuletide consumption, a Pavlova, Christmas fruit mince pies, mini-pecan pies and two Christmas Stollen. The house smells delicious.

Mr Eleven-year old created these miniature marvels in marzipan...

The house is a symphony of Chrissydom.
Santa's plate has been lovingly prepared with fruit pies, a magic elf chocolate, glass of milk (I told them Santa wasn't allowed booze because he'd fall off his sleigh), and carrots for the reindeer.
Two extremely excited little fellas are trying to get to sleep...

Merry Christmas to you all.

God Bless,

Thursday, December 23, 2010

No Holiday for Crime

Following along the lines of my Murder for Christmas post, here's another little something I stumbled across yesterday. Ok, it wasn't strictly stumbling, I was rifling through the $1.00 books stand at Octagon Books (which was voted as one of the top ten second-hand book stores in the world!). But as I have a little tendency to collect Christmas themed books, including crime fiction, I had to pick out No Holiday for Crime by Dell Shannon, well, it would have been rude not to.

Here's the back cover blurb:

Murderers take no holidays, not even Christmas eve, and especially not in Los Angeles. Homicide Lieutenant Luis Mendoza, up to his ears in liquor-store hijackings and bank, home and chainstore robberies, as well as the usual spate of murders, is dealt a singularly baffling case - a young, devout Mormon on her way home is brutally murdered during a one-hour stopover in L.A. Mendoza's a tough cop, but a smooth operator who knows the sleazy L.A. underworld inside out - this holiday killer is not about to get away...

A blast from the past - 1973.

If seasonal malice is your thing you should check out Kerrie from Mysteries in Paradise, who has a page devoted to Christmas with a taste of murder with her Suggest a Christmas Title page.

And before you think for a misguided moment that I got out of the book store with only one book - nah. Also picked up Scotland Yard by Sir Harold Scott - Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police 1945-53. Got to love that $1.00 book basket. There were also a heap of Keyhole Crime books, but I resisted those...for now...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


No, that's not my age! That's how many books I've managed to read this year. That's over one a week, which is great for me because I'm not a fast reader - I'm a savourer of words, I like to roll them around in my head and enjoy them. Last year I didn't manage to break the fifty mark, so I'm chuffed to have done it this year. I guess having more reviewing to do on radio and television has made me keep my reading up, which is a good thing.

So the breakdown:

20 of those books were crime fiction
17 books were non-fiction
37 books were written by New Zealanders

Here's the interesting bit TBR pile is a lot more than 56 books!!!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I know I shouldn't have, but...

Those lousy folk at The University Book Shop have been tempting me again. I'm sure they realise how little I have in the way of will-power when it comes to books, so they keep having these buy 2 get 1 free sales in their upstairs continuous book sale. They are, truly, evil.

So their latest sale resulted in ...

Whispers of the Dead, by Simon Beckett
The Girl of His Dreams, by Donna Leon
The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl
Nature Girl, by Carl Hiaasen
An Imaginative Experience, by Mary Wesley
The Transit of Venus- the collected lectures of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Well, it would have been silly not to take advantage of the sale, wouldn't it?

And in reality, it's all UBS's fault!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Local picks for Christmas

Tonight I got to go on Dunedin's Channel 9 Dunedin Diary Programme, hosted by Dougal Stevenson, and give my Christmas recommendations for that all around perfect gift - a book. Dunedin Diary is deliciously local orientated, and Dunedin writers have been very busy, so I had difficulty narrowing it down to five.

Children's picture book:

Cloudcatcher by Sue Wootton and illustrated by Carla Braun-Elwert

Mr Bellavista gets a bit carried away in the bid for his perfect tomatoes.

Young Adult Fiction:

Bloodlines by Tania Roxborogh.

Fleance, son of Banquo discovers how everything changes when you're king.


The Hut Builder by Laurence Fearnley.

Boden Black, butcher, has his horizons expanded in all directions one summer on Mount Cook.


Time of the Icebergs by David Eggleton

Hot off the press.

Non Fiction:

The Tasman by Neville Peat

A big biography of a big ocean.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pulp Fiction

The Otago University Library Special Collections hold regular brilliant exhibitions, courtesy of Special Collections Librarian Donald Kerr, who has a lot of imagination and flair in presenting some of the cool things they have hidden away. It's great these treasures get to see the light of day, and therefore people become aware of them and use them.

The current exhibition is Pulp Fiction, and is a fab representation of the great collection of Pulp Fiction titles the library brought a few years ago. It's worth a look for the covers alone - I hear the design students have had a good time playing with them. Baby Your Racket's Busted has to be one of my favourites - it's so Marilynish

The collection isn't just limited to pulp crime, there's also science fiction, westerns and so much more.

The exhibition is online - so click here and have a troll through the covers and the stories behind the stories - it's well worth a look!

Friday, December 10, 2010

And another happy bit of pre-Christmas news...

...I now have an agent!

Courtesy of the ups and downs of the publishing world, the departure from Penguin New Zealand of Geoff Walker - my publisher and rock and shoulder to lean on, and the constant nagging of Paul Cleave, I finally got my act together and went in search of an agent.

So I am absolutely chuffed to say I am now represented by Gregory & Company, of London. They are a  specialty agency, particularly crime fiction, and have a few names on their list of whom you may be familiar - Val McDermid, Mo Hayder, Minette Walters, Paul Cleave, and now moi!

Lets hope it leads to great things. I feel a little more secure in my world now.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Getting into the spirit of Christmas...

... How could I possibly resist when I saw this book pop up on Trade Me last week? Nothing drives you to homicidal thoughts quite like Christmas. Must be something to do with all the extra rellies around!

The book, Murder for Christmas, proclaims to contain '26 Takes of Seasonal Malice.' Doesn't that have such a great ring to it? 'Seasonal Malice?' Even the fly leaf contains the charming little line - 'Here is a perfect Christmas gift for the person who has everything - and plans to leave it to you.'

It contains stories from the likes of Ngaio Marsh, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen - all the usual suspects.

What made me laugh out loud when I opened the book, though, was the book plate inside, which proudly states:
Christ's Collge
Prize for Merit
Form 3
Awarded to J.H. Dalton
December 1990.

So one has to ask, Did young Master Dalton inspire murderous thoughts in his Headmaster!?!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Big Night...

After months of anticipation we finally got to enjoy the big night which was the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. It was exciting to be flown up to Christchurch, get put up in a very posh hotel and then get dolled up in my new frock, cardy and shoes for the big event.

Photo : David Batterbury
A good sized crowd came to the Visions Restaurant at CPIT, enjoyed the drinks and nibbles and settled in for an evening of entertainment. It was great to see some familiar faces in the crowd including Bookman Beattie and Christchurch-based novelist Rachael King.

The entertainment came in the form of fellow panelists Ngaio Marsh Award finalist Neil Cross, Local crime author Paul Cleave (sporting a magnificent Movember effort!) and myself. The chair was instigator of the Ngaio Marsh Award, and Crime Watch blogger Craig Sisterson. Craig came up with a great bunch of questions for us, which we answered to some degree, avoided to some degree and generally had a fun time with. Both Paul and Neil are hilarious - the crowd was frequently in fits of laughter. They are also both interesting to listen to so I think the enthusiastic audience came away feeling informed and entertained.

Photo : David Batterbury

There was a wee interval for people to refresh their drinks, and buy books - I got to autograph plenty - which always pleases me! Then came the moment we had all been waiting for (and which I'd been worrying myself sick about all day - literally) the announcement of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. After such a great evening everyone was eagerly awaiting this moment.

The winner was announced - Congratulations to Alix Bosco, for Cut & Run.

Craig had to explain to the now subdued audience that Alix Bosco was a pseudonym for someone wishing to remain anonymous, and the award was duly accepted on her behalf by Louise Chrisp of Penguin NZ.

So, on to the Bouquets and Brick Bats...


Huge, huge Bouquet to Craig Sisterson for having the vision and enthusiasm to set up an award for crime fiction in New Zealand. To have a national award for crime fiction is an enormous benefit to the crime writing community, and not only promotes crime fiction, but also New Zealand fiction. Craig - thank you so much for doing this - you're a hero as far as we are all concerned!

Warmest congratulations to Alix Bosco for winning the Ngaio Marsh Award for best Crime Novel - it is a great achievement and something you should be very, very proud of.

Thanks to Ruth Todd, Morrin Rout and Maryanne Hargreaves, and the crew of the Christchurch Writers' Festival for your ongoing support of this award, despite rather difficult circumstances.

To fellow panelists Neil Cross and Paul Cleave, and chair Craig Sisterson for a fun night.

Brick bats:

To Alix Bosco - for not turning up.


Friday, November 26, 2010

Ngaio Marsh Best Crime Fiction Award

Here's a not so subtle reminder, if you're in Christchurch on Tuesday evening you must come along to the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel presentation evening.

Not only will you get to see moi in action, but also enjoy the charm and wit of fellow crime writers Neil Cross and Paul Cleave. I had the pleasure on being on a panel with both of these blokes in Wellington, and they are great - never shy to express an opinion and great fun. You also get the added bonus of seeing the presentation of the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. Come along and support this new endeavour, that can only be a great thing for crime writing in New Zealand. A lot of hard work has gone into it from the brains and driving force behind it, Craig Sisterson (thanks Craig!) and his host of merry men, and women.

A reminder too of the finalists:

Containment by Vanda Symon
Burial by Neil Cross
Cut & Run by Alix Bosco

No doubt I'll be a nervous wreck, but when I'm nervous, I talk more!


Whodunnit and Whowunnit?
with the presentation of the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel
7:30pm, Tuesday 30 November 2010
Visions on Campus Restaurant, CPIT, 

cnr Madras St & Ferry Road, Christchurch
Drinks and nibbles from 7pm, author panel from 7:30pm
$10, includes a glass of wine and nibbles

Tickets from 03 3844721 or email

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

And look what arrived in the mail...

It's a real book!

Proper, like, with pages, and stuff...gosh.

I only cried a little bit...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cover up

Here it is, the cover of my latest baby - Bound, due for release in February 2011.

I''m really pleased with it, as with a title like Bound there was the obvious cliched shot to avoid, but I think they've captured the mood nicely.

What do you think?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The interplay of hands and mind

Writing day in, day out is hard work. Some writers can do it, are disciplined to a fault, and front up at their computer every day, or at least Monday to Friday, sit down, and type out their target number of words before feeling, quite rightly so, virtuous, and like they've achieved something for the day.

I'm not quite that regimented. I aspire to be. I always have my daily target of 1000 words to write, and some days I'll do that easily, and some, and other days I'll struggle to write one sentence, or even one word!

I find that during these struggle times, where my mind won't cooperate, my hands take over - not typing words, but making things. For me there seems to be some connection to the creative process of physically crafting something, and the writing processes in my head. The last two weeks have not been a success as far as getting words on the page, which is a shame considering I was doing NaNoWriMo in principle, but I've made a lot of stuff!

The sewing machine has been running hot - I now have my Salle Angelo fencing club cloak made - in black wool and green lining, as well as quite a few more practical items, and it has been very satisfying.

It has also been very useful, because while my hands work on something tangible, my mind works on the intangibles that have been eluding me. So as well as having made a cloak, I have now worked out the psyche behind one of my main characters in my next novel, and with that now know what he needs to personally overcome to make things happen, and thus the time line of events.

So with lots of physical projects under my belt, I'm looking forward to fronting up to my desk tomorrow morning, with my requisite tea pot, milk jug and fine bone china cup, and setting my mind to producing words.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Treasure Island

By Robert Louis Stevenson

I have been reading the adventures of young Jim Hawkins aboard the Hispaniola, and on Treasure Island, to the boys at bedtime. It's the classic tale of pirates and buried treasure, with the terrifying Captain Flint, and the treacherous Long John Silver.

It was Long John Silver who gave me problems. I've mentioned a few times in the past how reading books aloud to the kids can be a pleasure, with words rolling off the tongue, as was the case with The Hobbit, by J.R.R.Tolkien, or a horror, as in Famous Five by Enid Blyton, where the words clomped and thudded and tripped me up. I hate to say it, but Treasure Island was another horror, in particular, any dialogue by Long John Silver. I just couldn't get his lingo, and in the end kind of prattled any old thing that got the general meaning across. I have read a number of blog posts about dialect in dialogue, or accents or colloquial language, and how it can be a double edged sword, well, in this case, it was the death of me. Can't say I enjoyed it. I don't think they did either.

So far we're loving the first few chapters of the next book on the bedtime story list - Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief, by Rick Riordan. This one rolls off the tongue beautifully, and is providing lots of laugh out loud moments for the little fellas, which is music to a mum's ears.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Crime Noir

I love libraries, and the things you can discover while roaming the shelves. While helping the kids find Peanuts cartoon books, I stumbled across this little number in the cartoons/ comics section:

Drawing Crime Noir for Comics and Graphic Novels by Christoper Hart.

What a fun book! Let's face it, I'm never going to have the time to draw a graphic novel, although I do the odd sketch, but I had a great time reading through this, admiring the art and enjoying the entertaining text.

The introduction describes the Crime Noir comic book style as... 'This genre focuses on the slick, rainswept streets of the city, shadowy figures, heartless women, men without conscience, reluctant heroes, and boulevards of fear. It's the desperation of ordinary men, and the loneliness of the action hero.'

It's all about the mood, atmosphere and style. So I loved that the captions comparing traditional and noir drawings describing noir men with a 'predatory' tilt to the head, or women with 'kiss me before you die' lips.

You don't mess with a noir woman, as the chapter headed 'Goodbye, Johnny Boy' states. 'Breaking up is hard to do. A bullet is one way to end things. It's messy, but at least it prevents all that 'it's not you, it's me' crap. Plus, now she can get into his computer files and steal the password to his Swiss bank account. And that's a nice salve for a broken heart.'


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Old age and treachery...

Gawd life has been busy - I haven't blogged because I've barely got near my computer. I've managed a few emails and that's it. It wasn't helped by our home network going phut. Anyway, I am here, just to say I won't be here for a few days, well won't be here in cyberspace. I'll be in Dunedin competing in the National Fencing Championships. Yep, I'm going to get out there among the shiny young things and do my thing - epee on Saturday, foil on Sunday and teams competition on Monday. I'm hoping what they say is true, that old age and treachery will overcome youth and exuberance!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Finally, a date...

...for the announcement of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel:

Whodunnit and Whowunnit?
with the presentation of the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel
7:30pm, Tuesday 30 November 2010
Visions on Campus Restaurant, CPIT, cnr Madras St & Ferry Road, Christchurch
Drinks and nibbles from 7pm, author panel from 7:30pm
$10, includes a glass of wine and nibbles

Now all I have to figure out is what to wear!

But definitely not a beret and pearls - it would take a special kind of a gal to carry that off!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

I'm back...

...and you didn't even know I'd gone. And what have I been up to? Three days away as School Camp Mummy to 27 eight to ten-year-olds. (I know some of you are cringing at the thought of it) I had a brilliant time, but man, it's taken me all day today to recover. That age group aren't the best at settling to sleep when they're away from home and enjoying the company of a dorm room of mates - enough said!

Mr Eight-Year-Old's favourite activity was abseiling, my favourite activity was taking the kids bush to do survival skills and bivouac building.

I came back home to a zillion emails, including some important things I'll update tomorrow. But for now, I desperately need some sleep!!!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Useful things...

I had the pleasure of going to talk to the Aoraki Polytechnic Creative Writing class last week. Tutor Diane Brown invites me along each year to have a chat to each class, and one of the things I do is take along a pile of books I find helpful for my writing. So I thought I'd share them with you too. So in no particular order:

Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King.

Let's face it, editing can be tiresome, but it is the one thing we do as writers that can make a huge difference to the readability of our manuscript, and the chances of getting published. This was the first book I brought on editing, and I found it immensely useful. In my first manuscript draft it helped my to reduce the -ly adverbs, and to get rid of the dreaded ingly!

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

A friend recommended this book, and thank heavens. It came at a time when my head was full of self-destructive chatter and self doubt, and Anne Lamott made me realise, well actually, most of us suffer from this, and how to calm the hyperactive head, get the self doubt into some kind of order, and just crack on with it.

The 3 A.M. Epiphany by Brian Kitely.

This was a book I picked up at the University Book Shop, and I was drawn to the title because I am often up at 3 A.M. and the thought of some kind of epiphany was most welcome. The book is subtitled 'Uncommon writing exercises that transform your fiction' and it is chocka with all sorts of interesting things. I have never actually sat down with a pen and done one of the writing exercises, but I look at them, and they stimulate my thoughts and have lead me to think of scenes and situations in a different way.

Writing Mysteries. Edited by Sue Grafton with Jan Burke and Barry Zeman.

The reason I use this book as a particular example is that I own a number of books on writing mysteries and crime writing, but the ones I love the most are books like this that have a chapter or subject done by a different writer. In this one there are contributions by the likes of Michael Connelly, Tess Gerritsen, The Kellermans and Sara Paretsky. So I find it fascinating and useful to have a well established and highly esteemed crime writers view on a particular subject. Also, to be brutally honest, sometimes I have the attention span of a gnat, and these books, with a different voice each chapter keep me interested.

The other thing I do like, particularly in this day and age of digital this and on-line that is a good, huge old fashioned thesaurus. I can waste hours happily looking at synonyms, and I'm the kind of person who likes to flick pages and see things in proper print. My Oxford Dictionary Thesaurus is my friend.

So there you go - hope it's useful

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A new muse...

I have mentioned on this blog before the importance of my dear cat, Smooch, in my writing life, and how the sound track to my novels had been the not so gentle tones of her snoring. We were all bereft when Smooch succumbed to old age a few months ago, and I have to say my writing has suffered. Part of that was due to where I was at in Bound - the editing stage, and more recently proof reading (sent off the last proofs yesterday). But mostly, it was because I missed Smooch, I missed her company, and just knowing there was another being in the house with me.

We all decided we were ready to introduce a new furry companion into our lives, so let me introduce you to the newest member of the Symon household - Louie. He is sitting behind me as I type, and is shaping up very nicely into a writer's cat. He doesn't sit on the keyboard - always a bonus - or me, but just likes to be close, seeing what I'm up to, making sure he's not missing out on anything. So far he hasn't stopped being nosey and curious enough to settle down for a nap, so I am yet to see if he snores...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

2010 20/10 2010

Last night, at just before 8.10pm we did a little countdown because for one special minute the time was 2010 on the twentieth day of the tenth month, 2010. We're a bit nerdy like that (-;

Other trivialities:

I can't be trusted in any book shop. Went to Marbeck's and came home with this: Victorian Murders, by Major Arthur Griffiths, which was first published in 1898. How could I possibly resist? The other lure about Marbeck's, is they have a coffee shop instore, and if you buy books, they put stamps on your coffee card, so a few books later you get a free cup of coffee! That's a marriage made in heaven. If only I could convince them to extend that to wine...

Other books I'm currently reading:

Fiction: Surrender, by Donna Malane

Non-fiction: Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl, by Donald Sturrock

Car Book: A Surfeit of Lampreys, by Ngaio Marsh

Kid's bedtime story: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Number of items I have checked out from the Dunedin Public Library - 25!!!

Sunday, October 17, 2010



I confess to having had a glorious week of doing nothing. Well, that's not entirely accurate, I had two speaking engagements, one at the University of Otago with fellow Dunedin crime writer Liam MacIlvanney, and another in Wellington. Oh, and my radio show. I also had the usual running around after the kids and daily life, but other than that I have been reading books, and gardening.

Our garden is amazing at this time of year, the rhododendrons are in full bloom, there are still all sorts of spring flowers poking through, the cherry trees are a mass of white and pink blossom, the clematis is flowering, as are the kowhai trees, which are full of a myriad of bird life gorging on the nectar. Alas, the weeds are going nuts too, so I've had my work cut out. So instead of writing, I've been doing other more relaxing things...

But when you're surrounded by these colours, it's hard not to head out to the garden...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Poisonous Pen of Agatha Christie

By Michael C. Gerald

This is a fun little book I stumbled across when doing some research on Ngaio Marsh and her use of poison as a murder weapon. No doubt about it, Agatha Christie was the Queen of Skulduggery and murder by poison. To quote from the book, 'in over half of her sixty-six novels, at least one or more of the corpses are the victims of overdoses of poisons, drugs and other chemicals.'

Agatha Christie had a head start in using poison in her fiction, with a decent knowledge of medicines due to her working as a dispenser during World War I at the Red Cross Hospital in Torquay. If she didn't know of the poison, she knew where to look to find out about it. Christie used almost anything imaginable, from common poisons, such as arsenic and strychnine, to the more unusual, hyoscine (my favourite), to the outright rare, thallium.

I should probably state that in a former life I was a pharmacist, so have a natural fascination with the use of poisons, and that I've just completed a post grad thesis called 'Poisonous Fiction: Murder, hyoscine and Ngaio Marsh.' So I took great delight in ooohing and aaahing over the various nefarious uses of medications, narcotics, elements and otherwise. The author is a Professor of Pharmacology at Ohio State University, so his approach tends to the academic - he loves statistics, and I have to say, in this context, stats are fun. And it's not just about the poisons used to kill, any medication or agent used correctly or incorrectly gets a mention. So for someone like me, it's a great resource.

Naturally, a book of this nature is one great big spoiler, so if you haven't read much Christie, and don't want to know whodunnit, and how, then best avoid it. But if you have a knowledge and a fondness for things chemical, then it's a fascinating read.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Radio show day

Tomorrow (Wednesday) is radio show day once again - my, where does a month go? I looked at how many posts I have done this month and realised I've been rather slack. Oops.

Write On is broadcast on Toroa Radio 1575kHz AM in Dunedin or live streamed from their website.
The show is at noon.

Tania Roxborogh has recently released Bloodlines, the second book in her Banquo's Son Trilogy, the first of which recently won the Young Adult Fiction category in the LIANZA Book Awards. We'll talk about Bloodlines, and the pressures and joys of having to deliver a trilogy of books to an eager audience.

British born, Canadian living crime writer Peter Robinson was in New Zealand recently promoting his new Detective Chief Inspector Banks novel, Bad Boy. I had the opportunity to talk with him about the book, music and his novels getting to television.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


By TK Roxborogh.

Bloodlines is the second book in the Banquo's Son Trilogy, in which the first, Banquo's Son, has recently won the Young Adult Fiction category in the LIANZA Book Awards. Although Bloodlines is aimed at the young adult market, it is a cross over book that is a great read for adults too.

Tania Roxborogh has taken the events in Shakespeare's Macbeth and followed the story of Fleance, the young son of the murdered Banquo. In Bloodlines Fleance is now the king of Scotland, a young and inexperienced king who finds himself to some extent at sea with the politics of such a position and having to deal with rebel uprisings, lead by Magness, the man who raised him to adulthood and who he loves like a father. His betrothed, Rachel, is kidnapped by Callum, the king of Norway and Fleance has to make hard decisions as what he personally must confront first. As you can imagine, as in any kingdom, he has his detractors and his loyal followers, and you're never sure quite who is in which camp.

This is based on part of Macbeth, and as is fitting there is ever the work of the three witches in the background spreading their visions and poisoning minds, leaving a sense of foreboding and mysticism. We get to see the world from Rachel's eyes too, abducted and maltreated. We see how she copes with the very real prospect of her own mortality and her strengths shining through.

I really enjoyed meeting the historical figures in this novel, and you can see the writer has done her homework in creating a vision of life in the mid-eleventh century. This is written as a stand alone novel, but I felt I benefited from having read the first in the series and in having full knowledge of the character's background and how far they had come since their carefree days of youth, before the burden of being King. But even without that knowledge Bloodlines stands on its own as a gripping and enjoyable story of love, honour, betrayal and duty. Can't wait for Birthright.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Of pens and paper...

I knew it couldn't last, that I wouldn't be able to down pen and just let things be for a week or two. No, the writing urge just wont let up and yesterday I relented and popped down to the University Book Shop to buy my traditional new notebook for the new novel. It couldn't wait another day...

So let me introduce you to my new friend, a novel called The Faceless, a notebook - a Paper Blanks Cartella Collection Lussuria, and my New Banker fountain pen. No I don't hand write my novels, but I do like to jot things in a good notebook, it's a symbolic and ritualistic thing.

I have always had a thing for paper - you should see my stationery drawers, and have always been a fan of handwritten letters - I help keep New Zealand Post in business. And I have more beautiful notebooks than I can possibly justify. But it is only recently I have discovered the joy of fountain pens. I've always used good pens, but now I have realised there is a whole new world out there of fountain pens, and ink. And don't get me started on mechanical pencils. There may even be a couple of new, er, acquisitions arriving this week, ahem. There are a few people, well aware of my total lack of self-control, who send links to temptation my way. (You know who you are!)

My tempters sent me this link, to Andy's Pens, and the Conway Sterwart Detection Collection - yes, Conway Stewart are releasing a series of limited edition fountain pens inspired by crime writers. The first release is Michael Jenks. I wonder who else will be immortalised with a stylish writing implement?

Has any fictional character been murdered with a fountain pen? I wonder...

Saturday, October 2, 2010


The thesis is submitted, the novel is finished (except for the proof reading) and finally, I get to relax - well as much as you can with the kids at home for the holidays. But then, we can still be in our Pyjamas at lunch time if we want, and the books scattered everywhere and the sea of Lego across the lounge floor attests to the fact the kids are well occupied.

I'm now turning serious attention to my garden...

Here's a few pics of the wonderful things popping up in it in spring...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


By Brian Jacques

In the search to find cool things to read to the boys at bedtime I took the recommendation of a nephew, and we have just completed Redwall, by Brian Jacques. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, think Wind in the Willows with teeth and swords. We have Matthias and his warrior mice and woodland creatures defending the abbey of Redwall from Cluny the Scourge, an evil rat and his rat and stoat hoards. Throw in an adder named Asmodeussssssss, a mad as a meat axe hare named Basil Stag Hare, and my favourite character of all, a young sparrow called War-beak, a very warlike character who when captured tells every one I killee, I killee you, and it makes for a rollicking adventure. I don't know if it's a good thing but we've been wandering around the house telling each other I killee you, you no lookie and I killee! This is what you get in a crime writer's household.

Next up is Treasure Island...

Monday, September 27, 2010


Mr Ten-year-old made the transition into Mr Eleven-year-old last week, so naturally we had to mark the occasion with a party, and the only reason they get parties is because I like to make cakes! The birthday boy decided he wanted a Mythbusters party theme, which was great because it meant we got to do experiments and do things that went bang. The Coke and Mentos experiment was a bit of a fizzer, but blowing up plastic bags with baking soda and vinegar worked a treat!

For the cake I felt obliged to do mean things to Buster... Birthday boy was amused....

Friday, September 24, 2010

Saints of New York

By R.J. Ellory

New York detective Frank Parrish is a man who has seen a lot of evil and feels bringing criminals to justice is his reason for being. When a drug dealer turns up shot dead Parrish thinks it's a standard homicide. But when the dealer's teenage sister is found strangled to death Parrish realises the stakes are a lot higher. When he notices the similarities between her death and those of other ordinary seeming teenage girls he knows he's on to something big. What they have in common is truly alarming.

Parrish is not what you'd call a team player. His new partner has got his work cut out as Parrish is gruff, rude and not altogether sharing. He's a risk taker who feels he has nothing to lose. He's already on disciplinary for being insubordinate and has been forced to see the police shrink.

Through these sessions we begin to realise Parrish not only gets to live with his own demons, but he has to live in the shadow of his late father, a legendary New York detective who everyone held up as a saint, one of the detectives who brought the mafia under control, but one who Parrish knows was as corrupt as they come.

This novel combines two elements for me - a satisfying crime novel, but also a human drama. We have this internal struggle going on within our character coming to terms with hiss father, and also his family dynamics with a bitter ex-wife and strained relationships with his children. Both elements succeed without overshadowing each other. It makes for a great read- I loved this book and keep thinking about it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Murder at the Vicarage

By Agatha Christie.

Hello to visitors from Mysteries in Paradise Agatha Christie Blog Tour! We're celebrating a month long tribute to Agatha Christie on the 120th anniversary of her birth. Go here to see the other stops on the tour.

Recently Dunedin had the pleasure of Scottish crime writer Val McDermid coming to town. I blogged about the visit, and the fine time I had out to dinner with Val, fellow Dunedin writer Liam MacIlvanney and friends. One of the intriguing things in Val's talk at the Settler's Museum was her recounting books that had influenced her life, and one of those mentioned was Agatha Christie's, The Murder at the Vicarage. Val's family didn't have the luxury of many books at home. The library became Val's lifeline when she was a child, but one of the books they did happen to have at home was Agatha Christie's The Murder at the Vicarage. The result of this was that the book became Val's default book when she couldn't find anything else to read. In fact she had lost count of the number of times she had read the book and said she enjoyed it every time. So one has to think Agatha Christie had quite an effect on the one-day-to-be best-selling crime writer.

So, I thought, if it's good enough for Val, I had better see what it was all about...

Oh, the goings on in the little village of St Mary Mead when Colonel Protheroe is shot dead in the Vicarage. Len Clement, the vicar, is appalled that such a thing should happen in his village, let alone in his home. A local artist with a reputation with the ladies promptly confesses to the crime, and then so does the not-so-grieving widow. When the timing shows it couldn't have been either of them, who knows who to believe? In the midst of all this chaos and confusion are the ever vigilant eyes of Miss Jane Marple, one of a quartet of old biddies in the town who know everyone's business. But Miss Marple's skills prove rather valuable.

Oh, the intricacies of this book; clues, red herrings, diversions, coincidences, multiple schemings, I was at a loss until the last few pages. Christie's skill in plotting certainly shows it self in this novel, as do her colourful characters, from the Vicar's much younger and vivacious wife, Griselda, to the ahead of her time Gladys Cram, a young single woman employed as a secretary to a visiting archaeologist and with a penchant for short skirts. I do have to say I was quite surprised at how harsh Miss Marple comes across in The Murder at the Vicarage. This is the first Miss Marple book I have read, and I gather she softens in later novels, but in this one she was really quite bitchy!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I think I'll even have to do a Val and read it again. I'll look out for all the clues with the advantage of foresight.

In a nice little bonus at the end of the novel, the edition I read had an advertisement for my favourite Kiwi girl Ngaio Marsh and her novel The Nursing Home Murder, so happy happy all around.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Book launches are always fun and tonight I got to enjoy the launch of Cloudcatcher into the world. Cloudcatcher is the baby of Sue Wootton and illustrator Carla Braun-Elwert.

A large and jovial crowd packed into the University Book Shop to help Sue and Carla celebrate this gorgeous children's book. Publisher Roger Steele from Steel Roberts added to the festivities. It was also apt there were also plenty of kids enjoying the occasion.
Sue Wootton is best known as a poet, and her skills show in the musicality and flow of words, which roll off the tongue with delight. Cloudcatcher is a book to be read aloud. Mr Bellavista is a proud tomato grower who goes to extremes to keep the sun on his tomatoes. In fact he invents a machine to catch the clouds, with unforeseen results.

The illustrations are beautiful, and it was a special treat to see framed full sized versions of the pictures displayed around the book shop. Made me wish I could take one home.

So congratulations to Sue and Carla. It was a delightful evening celebrating what is a truly beautiful book.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bad Boy

by Peter Robinson

This is Peter Robinson's 19th Detective Chief Inspector Banks novel, and it's the first I have read. I really enjoyed it.

Bad Boy starts with DCI Banks in America on holiday and while he is away all sorts of trouble is brewing on the home front. His daughter's best friend triggers a disastrous series of events when she, in a moment of pique, sneaks off with her boyfriend's gun. He is a very charming and dangerous young man and when Tracy Banks, who fancies him, decides to warn Jaff about the police attention coming his way, she ends up on the run with him.
It all starts out as a bit of thrilling fun for her, off with the bad boy, until it turns deadly serious and he shoots DI Annie Cabot in front of her. Tracy then realises just how bad her bad boy is.
DCI Banks comes back from America to find his partner shot and his daughter on the run and implicated in the crime. It all becomes very personal.
This was a great read, fast paced and with compelling and interesting characters, including a couple of particularly nasty fix-it men. It is one of those stories where you can see the inevitable escalation of events and the slide out of control for the players. There are some very nasty moments, but they are done well.
I have to say I did get a shock when it all wrapped up because of how suddenly it ended, for me a little too soon, but it was still finished in a satisfying kind of way.
It was a good read, and I'll certainly look out for some of Peter Robinson's other novels.