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So far David McGill has created 96 blog entries.

In Praise of Praise Be


TVNZ have announced the axing of Praise Be. I hope they might reconsider in the light of the new Labour-led government announcing a shift back to support of public broadcasting. TVNZ have shifted away from that, preferring so-called reality shows and sports programmes and dissing their only weekly half-hour of hymn singing. They dismiss it as only attracting 25,000 and therefore not cutting their mustard. Given they play it at 8am on a Sunday I am not surprised at the low numbers, for most of those who sing so magnificently in the nations’ churches on the programme are likely attending or setting off to attend church at that hour. For the last year TVNZ have saved shekels by repeating past recordings of congregations singing from their hymn sheets. At a time when choir singing is back on the rise, with overseas choir programmes popular on television, this so-called public service broadcaster ignores this major contribution to our cultural and religious heritage. Furthermore, it is a living celebration of our beautiful hymns sung by all ages, not just the grey hairs. TVNZ will screen overseas, usually British, choirs, but is canning its only publicly funded effort with our own. For my part I always watch this half-hour of hymns because I love the music and the churches. It has to be cheap as chips to make, given that the performers do not charge. Point a camera at these well-rehearsed congregations singing their hearts and souls out, track around the organ and piano and other instruments, across the ornate rafters and naves of traditional Gothic and basilica churches and more modest modern ones like the Transitional Cathedral. Easy-peasy programming. I can spend the rest of the morning [...]

Auckland, My Auckland


Researching my next book set in 1955 Auckland, I am rereading my two Auckland novels with characters and content relevant. Firstly The Monstrance set in 1959, and my 2004 take on contemporary Auckland, In Xtremis. It is not easy this rereading, you can see the clunky bits lurid as neon pink highlighter, pages of them. Both could be edited into brisker and more coherent efforts. Now I figure why Witi Ihimaera recently redrafted his novels. That said, my modern Auckland is not too dated, at least until the return of the America’s Cup prompts another makeover. Indeed my cover shot may need a makeover when or perhaps if Fletchers finishes the Sky conference centre; this Key initiative may be showing signs of the Trumps. Meantime, here is a page of my prodigal son view of downtown City of Sails, the start of Chapter 6, the narrator returning from Devonport in my favourite approach to my home town these last three score years and ten: The Sky Tower and the lanky container port cranes are the distinguishing city features as the ferry glides across the harbour. I guess the tower makes up for One Tree Hill treeless since I was last here. Auckland has a new iconic image, a concrete tree replacing a real one, with permanent light displays so you can’t miss the icon 24/7.      Way below the lonely needle the office blocks offer several slightly taller boxes, one with a tilted concrete halo, another an upended Stanley knife, proclaiming architectural input …      The Viaduct Basin is the major change for me, several sets of piers now supporting tiers of apartments, as if the passenger superstructure of several ocean liners had been sliced [...]

McNeish and Me


James McNeish and me are bookcase mates. His Tavern in the Town sits in my prime slot next to my The Compleat Cityscapes, among my most referenced Kiwi dictionaries and encyclopaedias. McNeish showed me the writing way. Over half my life ago I returned from six years in Australia and England as a feature writer and wannabe book writer. For four years I spent lunch breaks in the Gray’s Inn Library in Theobald Road trying to write a childhood memoir like Laurie Lee and Akenfield. The only fellow feature writer to pen books told me you had to specialise, find something you cared about. I had to admit to myself I had not cared much about anything I wrote in England. On my return in 1973 to see my dying mother, I took a feature writing job to make ends meet. I was shocked at the way a motorway had cut a destructive path through the old Wellington cemetery and stately wooden villas. This was something I cared about. I still read only overseas, like Sicily in Giuseppe de Lampedusa’s The Leopard, revelling in Burt Lancaster’s movie version of the dissolute prince. I read Christ Stopped at Eboli  and God Protect Me from My Friends.  I noticed a New Zealander James McNeish had written a biography of the ‘Sicilian Gandhi’, Danilo Dolci. I was surprised, this was adventurous, something that had never occurred to me to try abroad. I was just happy to get a job in London, where I could endlessly indulge myself in other's achievements at the centre of the real world. McNeish had also published Tavern in the Town. New Zealand history had not attracted me and I did not expect to [...]

Poets to This Person


Poets have bookended my writing life. Poet Rob Hack told me to keep it short the night before my March book launch on The Plot to Kill Peter Fraser at Unity Books in Wellington. Poets are mostly committed to brief, I am a wordy smith.  Well, I kept the speech shorter than the five drafts of the speech, and in the brain-fade process forgot to get into the influences on my writing. Just as well, a launch should be about the book. In 1960 I went to Teachers College in Wellington for want of any other ideas of what to do for a living. First mandatory task was to join a club. I was not into gymnastics or pottery, I liked reading, so I joined the Lit (short for Literary) Club. It was run by poet Anton Vogt, the nation’s poet James K Baxter a frequent visitor. One of the other members Ngaire Atkinson was happy to teach me the basics of how to write poetry. We repaired to a coffee bar in Willis Street after our classes, where everybody seemed to be a poet. One of the best-known was Dave Mitchell, who spent hours trying to coach me in writing poetry, as well as playing centre outside me; Dave would have been a great rugby player if he had had contact lenses. Dave pointed me across the road to Penguin Bookshop, replaced by Unity Books in the late sixties, to expand my reading with the likes of Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and Corso, a slim volume I still have. Dave named me Deadcat after a poem I wrote about a dead cat, and that is still my nickname, at least to Roger Boshier, a fellow student [...]

Murder in the Library


Murder in the Library is proliferating like poisonous fungi in the woods around Midsomer Norton. Last year I was booked for the Lower Hutt Murder in the Library gig, but took ill. This year I am booked for Paraparaumu Murder in the Library from 6.30pm May 29. I was aware of a few other such library occasions last year. This year they are sprouting in Nelson, Greytown, Otahuhu, Napier, Christchurch, Tauranga, Dunedin, Queenstown, Waitakere, and Lower Hutt has two this month. Three or four local crime writers talk to an audience about their craft, with an adjudicator keeping them on the straight and narrow, or maybe I should say, the crooked and harrowed – a harrow being an agricultural implement with many viciously sharp tines that turn the earth and impaled Kirk Douglas in The List of Adrian Messenger. Craig Sisterson organises the whole shebang from his home outside London, whence emerge his astonishingly prolific crime reviews. I am sure he has added more than his fair share to promoting his claim that crime is the world’s most popular form of storytelling. I would add that it also has to be the most popular form of storytelling on TV. I pass on the US preference for the FBI tracking several times a week yet another serial killer, whom the pretty agent and her frowning male mentor then rub out the American way in a hail of bullets. I watch the Brits, having been crime reared on the BBC’s Maigret and ITV’s Van der Valk. I moved with the times to Morse and Frost, Ngaio Marsh’s Alleyn, P D James’ Adam Dalgleish, Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe, Taggart and Hamish, the prolific Midsomer Murders, Wallander, the [...]

Stop Press: New Minister of Finance Pledges to Address Public Radio Funding


At the launch of David McGill’s spy story The Plot to Kill Peter Fraser at Unity Books, Wellington, March 30, launch speaker Grant Robertson, MP, responded to the author’s enquiry by pledging to address the frozen public radio funding under three terms of the National Government. And that was just the start of an arts funding overhaul, he said. The Labour Party was setting up a committee to assess the legacy Peter Fraser left behind of state patronage of the arts, including setting up the Literary Fund and literary pensions, as well as establishing our National Orchestra. Author David McGill said his book was set in 1945, when Fraser took those initiatives after returning from the San Francisco Conference to set up the United Nations. He lobbied hard to end colonies and deny the Great Powers a veto. This made him enemies within the British, American and Russian establishments, and readymade assassins for hire among the Nazis being released from Somes Island detention and making threats against the prime minister. Fraser has disestablished the Security Intelligence Bureau and is indifferent to personal security, obliging Commissioner of Police Cummings to charge Detective Delaney with identifying the threat. The book puts real people into a spy story, not unlike The Day of the Jackal, the mix of fact and fiction known as faction. Grant Robertson thought it interesting the author talked about faction when Donald Trump practised something similar in alternative facts, but at least McGill was honest about what he was up to. It is a rollicking read, Grant said, which has all the elements of a great spy novel, including a nice little twist at the end. It is an historical novel which shines a [...]

Pushing Peter to the Punters


The Plot to Kill Peter Fraser was launched last night at Unity Books in downtown Wellington. I stepped up in my kilt to the gratifying sight of people wanting signed copies the moment I entered the door of what Canada mate Roger Boshier emailed is ‘one of the last reputable still-standing bookstores in Wellington’.  He added that ‘Comrade McGill will probably survive in grand style and, we hope, sell boxes of books.’ It was a pity, he added, the Security Service have not tried to make him shut up because that would help sales. He must have had Nicky Hager in mind, his book launch there the previous week had the television cameras and so many books signed by him, the bookseller agreed he needed a rubber stamp signature. I do too, but not because of huge sales so much as a signature that looks like the dying scrawl of a palsy victim. Worse than a doctor’s scrip, was one of the kinder remarks. If you see my speech, when it goes up next week on my website, you might understand why I referred to the crowds welcoming Peter Fraser home in 1945 as ‘Good old Peter!’ when he was 14 years younger than me. He was in actual fact, not alternative fact, aged 60. I come out way whiter on video than I thought I was. Funny thing was my launch speaker Grant Robertson, local MP, said it was interesting I talked about my book as faction, all these assassins after Good old Peter, when Donald Trump practises something similar in the way of alternative facts. At least, Grant said, I was honest about my faction. And, he added, it was a rollicking read [...]

Past Books into Peter


The Plot to Kill Peter Fraser is my 54th book and it owes a research debt to many of my previous books, of which almost one third are about Wellington. Most books evolved out of previous books, but none have drawn so extensively on my Wellington writings. My first book was in 1961 and called Miscellany, being poems and prose by myself and other students of Wellington Teachers’ College. I was 18 and not afraid to tread where angels fear to. I published it myself without funding, sold it on the streets of Wellington and recovered my outlay of £30, all to pay John Milne Printer of Cuba Street. I had achieved the first objective of any publisher, covering my costs. I am still not sure why people bought the book, maybe because they felt sorry for me standing on a corner of Cuba and Manners Streets opposite the Sallies’ with War Cry and the communist Vern peddling his vision of a better society. I was just peddling our noodle doodles. I guess I had a cheek, but given the previous year my first foray into book pages was sandwiched between James K Baxter and David Mitchell was cause for head-swelling. Alack and alas, nothing developed from that poetically enthralling start. All has been Kiwi social history from me, some fiction, or faction, if you like, real people and events in a story form. First off several decades of journalism, what Malcolm Muggeridge called Chronicles of Wasted Time. He was a disenchanted Englishman, I was of Scottish heritage, practising the waste not, want not mantra I learned at my father’s stern knee. So my articles went into books, starting with the newspaper vignettes of old Wellington [...]

The Breath of Death: In Memory of a Jogger


Sunday morning I was strolling home past the school when a black muscle car with massive exhaust accelerated past me. It is a steep rise and last week it was sealed, with a lot of loose gravel not yet bedded in. I thought the car was going too fast when I heard an almighty thump. I turned around and could see nothing. I walked up the rise and saw a crowd gathering on the corner. Then I saw the black car nose first and almost perpendicular among the trees. My first thought was whether the driver was injured. The driver’s door was open, the back window shattered, pieces of panelling lying next to the crumpled bonnet. A boy of about 12 was saying he saw it, right in front of him. He seemed dazed. I looked where people were pointing, down the slope on the corner. A woman with a cell phone was crouched over a crumpled body. It appeared to be a female jogger. I could hear the woman calling for an ambulance. A woman appeared with a blanket. People around me were saying the driver had scarpered. I said to a young man crouched above the victim I heard the car accelerate. Yeh, he muttered. It was my fault. I think he said that. My hearing is not the best. The sirens were approaching. First the ambulance arrived, followed by two fire trucks, four police cars, the officials taking over, taping off the approaches. The police were taking notes from witnesses. A woman asked me if I had given the police particulars. I said I had not actually witnessed the accident, unlike perhaps half a dozen people. I returned home, where I could [...]

Peter in His Pomp


Peter Fraser was to me and perhaps many others the archeytypical dour Scot who dutifully delivered the First Labour Government’s security blanket in the dire drone that turns many off his national instrument, the bagpipes. It was only when I began researching his life for my spy novel The Plot to Kill Peter Fraser that I realised how much more there was to him. His principles and pragmatism forged a better country, a better world and a better deal for our arts and culture, including my own writing and publishing. My novel is set in mid-1945, when Fraser returned from a major role in setting up the United Nations. His championing of decolonisation and denying the Great Powers a veto made him serious enemies. Nazis released from Somes Island detention are for hire. This was Fraser’s annus mirabilis. My novel posits how it threatened to be his annus horribilis. Fraser returned to a Labour vote declining. He offered no sops, stuck to his guns, so to speak. He advocated secure family incomes and a safety net that would stop another Great Depression when the opposition and many in his own party wanted freer markets and less austerity. Part of his vision was to put government money into creating a literary fund, more public broadcasting, more theatre and other performance arts, establishing a national orchestra. Our wartime Prime Minister returned to international acclaim as a champion of the peace-keepers. My novel The Plot to Kill Peter Fraser has him welcomed like a peaceful version of a conquering Roman general. The cheers from the crowds that packed Auckland and Wellington town halls for ‘Good Old Peter’ were reported enthusiastically by a Tory press that loathed his communist [...]