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So far David McGill has created 99 blog entries.

Dark Night of the Sound Soul


Grant Robertson launched my book ‘The Plot to Kill Peter Fraser’ not quite three years ago. We talked about mutual admiration for wartime Labour Prime Minister Peter Fraser, who came back from setting up the United Nations in 1945 and faced down his own Labour Party and his political opponents to found the National Orchestra, promote theatre and develop public radio. Grant said that the first thing they would do in the (unlikely) event of winning the election was to invest in public radio. Now he is dispensing six billion or so into mostly transport infrastructure, I am gobsmacked that not a smidgeon goes into sustaining successful cultural infrastructure. I never imagined in my darkest hours the axing of the entire Concert FM and with it my constant companion. It is my default radio station. I communicated with Helen Clark about a subsequent book launch. She apologised for not being able to make it due to a prior engagement at Parliament. I had thought her an active and caring Minister of the Arts, Heritage and Culture. She would not have presided over this Al Qaeda-like destruction of a national cultural treasure. Her Labour prime ministerial successor in the role has not been visible. I love Jacinda Ardern as a caring and sharing prime minister like we have not seen before. The problem that has appeared you might say from left field is that she does not love me, in regard to my listening companion. She does not express care about Concert FM. Silence from the Minister who should, as part of her portfolio, be defending public radio is very sad. Maybe she does not know what a magnificent cultural asset Concert FM is because she [...]

The Ex-Seminary Engulfed in Flames


The TV One evening news showed the shocking sight of the Christchurch building engulfed in flames. The Riccarton Road heritage structure had been abandoned since the earthquake, but it was really abandoned long before that, in my view. I had visited some years ago to see what had become of my old school and it was a sorry and ruptured backpackers’ mess. Back in the late fifties it was a minor seminary where I spent three years training for the priesthood and learning to love literature, music and billiards in the most tranquil and beautiful surroundings. The accompanying image is of photos taken with my Box Brownie in my first year there. My mate Jimmy Vercoe is shown outside the main entrance, the bay window at the right where the magnificent billiard room was a magnet for me. My favourite game was knocking over little wooden skittles. Jimmy and I struggled with School Certificate subjects to the extent that the rector of the Jesuit teaching fraternity gloomily predicted I would be the seminary’s first School Certificate failure. I passed thanks to a good English mark. On the right is the school where we attended classes during the day and studied at night, where Latin declensions proved Greek to me and almost cost me School Cert. On the weekends we enjoyed leisure activities there, learning to like the classical music Father Bernard O’Brien forced us to listen to in music classes. My breakthrough was Nathan Milstein playing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. Seminarians cut each other’s hair and I became a popular barber. The middle left picture is of the graceful drive and the duck pond where many of us liked to stroll in our black soutanes. We [...]

Four Reasons to Spy My Book


Hi Folks I have finally got an order from Unity Books for my new book Death of an Agent, with an email glitch not helping. Without Unity and VicBooks Pipitea, I would not be spying my spy novel in any bookshop. Whitcoulls and Paper Plus are silent as the grave. I have a story to tell. I offer three aspects of the book that are relevant today, and urge and indeed beg you to tell people to go take a look at the book and buy a good old-fashioned Kiwi spy story:   It is, as NZ fiction reviewer Alyson Baker wrote, ‘another great New Zealand read’ that is relevant ‘considering recent events in  New Zealand – when we are once again realizing sections of our community are being dangerously swayed by myths of imminent threat’. My story is about a homegrown terrorist provoked by the anti-communist hysteria of the bureaucrats and ruling politicians of the time. Its focus is the 1965 student protests against President Johnson’s envoy here to seek Kiwi troop commitment to the Vietnam conflict. It is the first time a section of the local population challenged American foreign policy and laid the groundwork for our independent foreign policy as exemplified by PM Lange banning nuclear ship visits and PM Clark not joining the American incursion into Iraq. It is about the creator of the Wellbeing Budget, World War Two Prime Minister Peter Fraser, who campaigned tirelessly against opposition from the National Party and within his own ranks to not loosen the purse strings on luxury goods in favour of ensuring all New Zealanders could enjoy a better physical and cultural life. His spokesman in this story is a broadcaster not unlike [...]

Willie Boy Is Here


A friend emailed me a few weeks ago that Bill Yocum had died while looking after a Nelson house, aged 72. The house was in good hands. Bill described himself as a mendicant carpenter. I live with Bill’s works and he was a wondrous wood worker. Really, he had the skills of a cabinet maker and I appreciate these skills, having a few examples of my grandfather’s cabinet making. I have a lot more of Bill’s skills. I first met him when I lived at Houghton Bay and he moved into a rental at the bottom of the street in the latter half of the seventies. Neighbour Jacob introduced us. I hit it off with Willie, as I called him. I had heard both names used and asked him which he preferred. He shrugged, said either. Okay, I said, I’ll call you Willie after a favourite film, Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here. It was written by a blacklisted director Abraham Polonsky, his first in 21 years. It was about a manhunt for an ‘Indian’ who had killed in self-defence. I thought it suited this fierce man who told me he was on the run after absconding from the US Navy because he would not fight the Vietnamese. It was not that he was reluctant to fight, as I learned though never to my cost, but it had to be a just cause. Willie was a righteous man. He had an MA in history from Sydney University but chose to work with his hands. I enjoyed his company because he liked to talk seriously about books, even mine, whilst we downed a few drams of best malt. One of his favourites was Foucault’s Pendulum by [...]

Hats Off to Peter!


Peter Fraser’s top hat is held aloft at the end of the book launch of Death of an Agent last 8 May at Vic Books Pipitea. My cousin Dinah Priestley, pictured behind me, brought the hat along to celebrate the occasion. She inherited the hat from the prime minister’s granddaughter Alice Fraser, whom I knew and who featured in a crucial role at the end of The Plot to Kill Peter Fraser. The hat has symbolic value not only for the launch but for the country and indeed the world. Another hat belonging to an American general played a key role in my new book. The hats represent good and evil, light and dark, and remain relevant to world peace today as much as they did in 1945, when my Fraser novel was set. Let me explain. In 1945 Fraser played a key role in designing the United Nations. He won with the then 50 countries agreeing to dismantle colonialism, despite strong objections from Britain and America. He lost narrowly the required two-thirds member vote to deny the Great Powers veto. Ever since those so-called Great Powers have singly at one time or another blocked a UN initiative, or simply ignored the UN proposals for peace, like America in Vietnam and Iraq and Russia just about anywhere it considers it sphere of influence, which means a big or ‘great’ country bullying and invading a smaller country. The UN Secretary-General on his recent visit here spoke of frustration at these frustrating nations blocking UN initiatives. One small country is New Zealand, reminiscent of the classic Peter Sellers movie The Mouse that Roared, standing up to a belligerent big country America. Prime Minister Lange banned nuclear ships [...]



Winston Peters said capitalism has failed too many New Zealanders and addressed the problem by backing a coalition led by Labour with NZ First and the Greens aiming to restore Peter Fraser’s governing ambition to improve the physical and cultural conditions of all New Zealanders. The well-being budget is a centrepiece of this aspiration. Finance Minister Grant Robertson is a Peter Fraser scholar and engages in seminars on the First Labour Government’s Prime Minister for a decade. With National still attracting over 40 per cent of the vote, the Coalition is vulnerable to being ousted at the next election if a few per cent more voters get cold feet about the egalitarian measures intended to right the imbalance that has developed, with a few having much more than their fair share and the country’s proud welfare state collapsing. A largely conservative media even in the state-owned enterprises such as TVNZ -- Jessica Mutch McKay comes to mind as, in my view, delivering negative and disapproving reports on the Labour-led government -- makes it difficult to get the soft political message past the hard political reporters to reach the voters. The perception of Labour incompetence or free-spending is established in slow-drip fashion by negative reporting. One of the indirect aims of my new novel Death of an Agent is to promote the soft politics of Peter Fraser’s legacy that really and truly made this country great – for all its citizens. My novel references Peter Fraser’s egalitarian aims through a number of characters. Here is broadcaster Ru Patterson speaking to a middle-New Zealand left-wing group he is establishing to protest New Zealand sending troops to Vietnam: We fought a war to bring peace to the world. [...]

Death of an Agent launch


Vic Books Pipitea and Silver Owl Press invite you to Hugh Rennie QC launching David McGill’s spy story Vic Books Pipitea, Rutherford House, Lambton Quay/Bunny St, Wednesday, 8 May, 6pm. Most of the story takes place in and around Victoria University in Easter 1965, when students organised the first confrontational protest against New Zealand troops joining the American campaign in Vietnam. The focus of protest was Henry Cabot Lodge, envoy of President Johnson, in Wellington to urge the Cabinet to send combat troops to Vietnam. Threats are made against Lodge. The new diplomatic police unit and the NZ Security Intelligence Service have four days over Easter to track down the source of the threats. An American intelligence presence is independently pursuing the same threat. Hugh Rennie edited the student magazine Salient observing the protests and commenting on the wisdom of New Zealand getting involved in Vietnam. The author was a student protester and has drawn on contacts to develop a cat and mouse story of students taking political threats to a new level and the authorities attempting to hunt them down, along with local gang members and senior establishment figures opposing troop commitment, an early version of Citizens for Rowling. The temporary borrowing of an American general’s hat the previous year and its munting by anarchists ‘a bomb’s throw’ from the American embassy in Thorndon inspired this story. Mindful of American author William Faulkner claiming to create a Nazi before Hitler did, the author features what might be the first fictional home-grown terrorist attacking the heart of our government.  The author contends the social history of the protest marks the start of New Zealand adopting an independent foreign policy. New Zealand fiction reviewer [...]

The First Rotorua Noir


Rotorua’s Taradome is centre stage in my first independent publication dated 1996 and called Whakaari (White Island; advice from publishers and marketers, Do not use a Maori title). It is an eco-thriller set early in the new millennium in our volcano lands. Maori volcano myth and high-tech Pakeha science merge in a terrorist threat to reprise the Tarawera hydrothermal explosion of 1886. In this excerpt narrator Neil Munro visits the Taradome: I walked around the back of the elegant old Tudor Towers Bathhouse museum. Wiremu Waka’s legacy rose like some alien mushroom moon, a glistening giant silver hexagon, bill-boarded as ‘The World’s only Taradome: THE END OF THE PINK AND WHITE TERRACES MAGIC LIGHT AND SOUND SHOW’. As I got closer I could see the webbing of black mesh surrounding and tethering the huge plastic bubble to black pylons. I walked slowly round it, just as astonished at its bulk as the exclaiming tourists. It was like some gigantic soccer sculpture that encompassed an entire football field. I somewhat nervously donned the holomet and entered the twilight tunnel and stepped onto the moving floor. There were yelps of anxiety as we moved into darkness, soft, moaning instruments, bird calls, dense forest emerging. There were giggles and calls to be quiet and oohs of approval as we saw the lake, across it the rippling alabaster fans of the White Terraces, layered up through the bush, disappearing in clouds of vapour. A small canoe appeared, paddled powerfully by a Maori. We followed, past steam and geyser eruptions. We could hear the plopping of boiling mud and the hissing of team. Around a corner at the water’s edge the smaller, exquisitely coloured steps of the Pink Terraces, ascending [...]

Bodgie in the Library 2


Book launch speech Titirangi Library 6 September as part of the Going West Festival   My first bodgie sighting was at St Peters College as a third former in the first term of 1955. I was in the long and jostling queue in the quad for the morning tea cream buns. The only lad not in the queue was standing with legs apart tipping a jar of Brylcreem over his head, using a comb to shape it into a duck’s arse at the back. His lip curled when he saw me looking. ‘Who’s that?’ I asked Jimmy Lagan. ‘Och, that’s a wee bodgie.’ ‘Eh?’ I said, puzzled by his thick Scottish accent. ‘Did you say that was a budgie?’ ‘Nae,’ said Jimmy. ‘A tearaway, ye ken?’ I didn’t then, but I did notice he had somehow acquired a dozen cream buns when the limit was six. Despite his sneer, he scoffed the lot in double quick time and got back to his hair-styling. Bodgies I soon learned were brash and colourful in glitter jackets and neon pink socks in contrast to our grey-uniformed, short back and sides, conventional and so square post-war world. To the bodgies we were peasants. I didn’t know then how different bodgies were from the leather-jacketed bikies, though both were rebels without a cause – 1955 was the year of that James Dean movie, and rock music was just coming in. When I got into Queen Street, the most exciting thing after a John Wayne cowboy movie was the bikies sitting astride their big motorbikes outside Curry’s milk bar, daring you to look at them or their widgie girlfriends with cropped platinum hair and matador pants. The legal drinking age was [...]