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So far David McGill has created 96 blog entries.

The Plot To Kill Peter Fraser


‘Dangerous Nazi Ex-Internees Roaming New Zealand.’ NZ Truth Peter Fraser was our greatest prime minister on the international stage. He proved it as World War Two was ending and he played a major part in shaping the United Nations. In the process he made enemies. He is back in New Zealand, where a plot is under way to kill him. If it is successful, New Zealand’s influence on the international stage ends and the country descends into chaos, a divided country ripe for international manipulation. Former detective Dan Delaney returns from sitting out the war in Italian and German prison camps. All he wants is a peaceful life with his refugee bride, but his old boss Inspector Biggart needs his help, his staff disbanded by Fraser and Nazi internees released from Somes Island. The hunt for would-be Nazi assassins takes them into Wellington’s black market underworld, a defensive Italian fishing village and an upmarket yachting haven. Prodded by the Commissioner of Police, Dan reluctantly involves his wife in a dodgy cabaret scene, as Nazis are killed and British and Soviet spies Dan has previously clashed with arrive to assist a suspected American undercover operation. Dan and his wife risk their lives as they race to identify the threat before a prime minister refusing security is struck down.  Both a whodunnit and a who’lldoit, this Kiwi intrigue features Detective Delaney a decade after The Death Ray Debacle, which Tim Gruar described in the Booksellers NZ Blog as a ‘fast-paced action spy story’. 'It's a rollicking read. It's got all the great elements of a  spy novel, including a nice little twist at the end.' Grant Robertson, Wellington Central MP, speaking at the launch, 30/3/17 [...]

Top 20 Albums 2017


Astral Weeks  Van Morrison Highway 61 Revisited  Bob Dylan Twenty Years of Jethro Tull  Who’s Next  The Who Eagles Complete Greatest Hits Bob Dylan The Collection Elvis No 1s Everyone Is Here The Finn Brothers Buddy Holly Oh Boy! Rust Never Sleeps Neil Young Van Morrison Montreux 1980 Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band The Beatles St Dominic’s Preview Van Morrison Wavelength Van Morrison Olias of Sunhillow Jon Anderson Roy Orbison 12 of His Best Salty The Muttonbirds Out of Our Heads The Underground Sound 1965-70 The Joshua Tree U2   Bonus:  Cat Stevens The Ultimate Collection   A decade ago in The Treadmill Tapes my Top 20 albums had the same first four positions, losing thereafter Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Wishbone Ash, Dire Straits, Bob Seger, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Rod Stewart, Steve Winwood, Deep Purple, Loreena McKennitt and Annie Lennox, displaced by the Beatles and Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Roy Orbison and Neil Young. The Underground Sounds of 1965 to 1970 allow tastes of Fleetwood Mac, Santana, The Byrds, Leonard Cohen, Chicken Shack with Chrissie McVie in my favourite version of I’d Rather Go Blind, and Van Morrison’s astonishing T.B.Sheets. This Top 20 is what I most frequently play, but all of those who have dropped out of it and many more like the Rolling Stones and the black blues singers who inspired them and indeed Dusty Springfield, and Jimi and Richie Havens and all those Woodstock performers come my way in DVDs and television documentaries. If I have a hankering to hear Thunderclap Newman, Wishbone Ash, Moby, Mumford and Sons, Melanie, Annie Lennox, Dave Dobbyn, Poi E!, Bob Seger or Steve Winwood, then Spotify obliges. Essentially my [...]

Top 20 for 2017


The Treadmill Tapes, Confessions of a Compulsive Pop Picker was published in 2007, launched at Paekakariki’s Kakariki Bookshop in Wellington Road with proprietor Michael O’Leary leading the singing of Happy Birthday to Ringo. The bookshop has moved to the station, bookending the Paekakariki Railway Museum with the tearooms where I have subsequently launched three books. The treadmill did not survive my shift to Ocean Road, but all my cassette tapes, CDs and LPs continue to expand, and my Spotify library is significant. The decade since has been dominated by the music and books associated with the museum complex. In 2009 Wayne Mason from the adjacent steam train complex sang his engine driver tribute What Fred Said to launch my book about travelling the New Zealand rails, The G’Day Country Redux. Wayne’s Nature has been voted New Zealand’s top song. He stood on a chair on this occasion, saying it was the smallest stage he had performed on. Pictured is local troubadour Francis Mills and his Cecil Road Trio, Gary Allen on flute, out of picture Ray Butler on drum, delivering in 2014 the world premiere of the poem Matata. Fellow train enthusiast Michael O’Leary wrote it for me after I told him about my happy childhood with my brother Michael riding jiggers at the rail settlement of Matata in the Bay of Plenty. The occasion was the final of the Up the Creek trilogy Stamp in the Creek, comic novels about my fictional Matata. Go to my website and click on the first page arrow for my launch speech; 16 minutes in Francis sings Matata. Shortly after the launch my brother died, and Matata was played at his funeral. In his nearby studio Francis [...]

Crowded Owls


The selfie photograph is in the bathroom of the house I moved to two years ago. On the wall behind is Paekakariki mate Michael O’Leary’s painting of us as two donkers or barn owls, in the foreground my Aussie cousin Patricia’s painting of Summer Owl. Billy Bunter the Fat Owl of the Remove was a favourite childhood character. These days I am an Owl Man of the Move. I relocated to Paekakariki in 2003, celebrating the shift by asking my long-time Wellington colleague the late Grant Tilly to paint my new island environment with owl prominent. The morepork is bottom left on his epic Kapiti painting, a 3-D owl in fretwork. It shares the hall with the Bosch Temptation of St Anthony, with its owl observing.  Both survived inside the downsizing to a smaller home, but many of the owl collection have had to take up residence in the tin shed, the carport or somewhere outside. The twilight shed is not inappropriate for owls, particularly the battery-driven owl Jacob gave me. It dangles in front of the window, when activated its wings flap and its eyes glow like a forest creature out of Midsomer Murders. The tin walls are well stocked with Alice Fraser’s David Parry painting of a barn owl protecting her eggs, Julian’s gift copy of the 1508 Durer owl painting, Nicky’s delicate paper fabric owl, cousin Dinah Priestley’s Silver Owl flag. The winds of Houghton Bay shredded the edges of the flag, Dinah repaired them with leather, alas the winds and salt air took a toll. Now it is safe in a frame. Galya’s stuffed owl seemed happy for a year in the shed, but the rats or birds started taking tufts [...]

Owls Ascending


Murray Reece matched Burton for over a decade with birthday gifts of engaging black and white owl cartoons. In 1981 it was Large Footed Jogging Owl (Pedestalis Athleticus). An owl is hunched in rugged jogging shoes not unlike those I used along the southern flank of Wellington. The next year I received Glaucidium brasilianum, Lost in Clover. Two years later it was Houghton Dwarf Owl (telephotus pentax) Confronting an Ant, referencing perhaps my Pentax camera. In 1985 Murray went aerial with Jumbolus Elephantus aeronautica (overshooting). Murray noted my 1990 birthday with a Little Owl preparing for a self-portrait, bringing colour to the box camera. Two years later his series ended with the a cat looking in the mirror at an owl. Burton marked my 1989 birthday with a cassette of ‘Great Moments in NZ Literature, Fugue in AHHHHHHHHHHH! Minor, Michael King at Huka Falls’. The cassette contained a bound figure hurtling over the falls, referencing a stinker of a review I received from the historian and Metro magazine reviewer and my intemperate response. Julian also referenced my writing travails with a drawing of an owl superimposed on a photograph of a lamppost ‘rising above his detractors who have met their doom in the still and icy waters of Wellington Harbour’. Other photographs she decorated with owl drawings depicting Angel Owl, an owl fence across my hillside, owls at the bottom of the garden, an owl with an Afro swimming in a boat harbour, and an owl under attack on my hillside by ‘something wicked this way comes’. For her owlsong Julian drew a magnificently naturalistic owl in dishevelled cloak of bronzed chainmail feathering. Many years later Burton marked my 70th with a little red book [...]

Owlandish Gifts


In the late 1970s the owl figurines came thick and fast, and I bought the featured bamboo cabinet to display some of them. Glum carved wooden Indonesian owls alongside ferocious red and green owls, Korean brass wedding owls, tin Indian owls studded with red blobs, green and red soapstone owls, hollow-eyed Eskimo owls, owls in crystal, glass, silver, brass, brightly knitted weave, Bangladeshi gold straw owls, elegant plastic owls, dinky ivory owls, owls in white granite, owl keyrings and owl necklaces, owls made of every kind of metal and wood and carvable substance. Owls are the most widely represented creatures in folk and fancy art. On my birthday, December 1, 1981, my old university and London squash mate Burton Silver delivered his first owlandish gift, the claws mounted on a log on the lower shelf of the cabinet. ‘Great Gripping Owl’ says the plaque. ‘Sceloglaux albifaeces grippa. As found after gale force winds near Houghton Bay, Wellington.’ Some sceptical visitors to my Houghton Bay home reckoned it was chook legs. Spoilsports. They couldn’t fault the evidence in the specimen jars of the follow-up birthday gift. The jars sat in a wooden stand with the heading ‘The Last Days of Owl Capone’, visible in this accompanying image at the back of the top shelf. From the left: First jar March 28, Owl versus Skylark, winner Owl in 8.7 seconds. Second jar April 2, Owl versus Mouse, winner Owl, 10.3 seconds. Third jar April 8, Owl v Starling, Owl win 28.1 seconds. Fourth jar April 12, Owl v Rat, Owl win 34.5 seconds. Fifth jar April 15, Owl v Pheasant, Owl win 51.9 seconds. Sixth jar April 18, Owl v DC10, winner DC10 0.5 seconds. Burton was [...]

Owl Painter


Bosch is probably best known today as Michael Donnelly’s LA detective, and he is named Hieronymus Bosch after the fifteenth century artist of that name. I have read the Bosch novels and have prints of many of the Bosch paintings. The first I acquired back as a student teacher in 1960 Wellington was The Garden of Earthly Delights, from the long-established Manners Street fine art dealer Webster’s, who also framed my McOwl painting and many others over the decades. My brother John in 1980 sent me a postcard detail of the original Bosch Garden he viewed in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. Reproduced here, it is no surprise it is an owl at the centre of the painting, protecting a dervish dancer from temptation. My print resides in the tin shed in my Paekakariki garden, faded beyond even Webster’s repair skills. However my Bosch Temptation of St Anthony is vivid on the hall wall. It features two owls, a barn owl sitting on a porcine person’s head and a pygmy owl not easy to find, representing hidden wisdom. Pygmy owls are his favourite owl, and there is another in The Garden of Earthly Delights. I envied my brother his close encounter with the Madrid Bosch and thought I had missed out on direct contact until my second visit to St Marks in Venice. The conducted tour was heading to Casanova’s cell. I veered away down a side tunnel into a room with six unheralded Bosch paintings. I was surprised how tiny they were, like Vermeer. It was too dimly lit to identify the owls undoubtedly lurking in these pygmy paintings, but I knew they would be present, as they are in most of his [...]

Owl Boy


The brass owl thermometer is the first thing I bought with my first pay. I was 12, and a school friend Max lined me up with my first job, tying up 800 tomato plants at a New Lynn market garden. I survived the threat of being sacked for lack of application on the first morning and put in 12-and-a-half-hour days for 12 shillings and sixpence. I couldn’t wait to spend the money on a gift for my mother. Owls had not been a big part of my childhood. I went to sleep in the Bay of Plenty to the mournful sound of the morepork. I was amused that Owl in Winnie the Pooh misspelled his name Wol, it offered an outside reference to the problem of spelling, which seemed to obsess adults. When we moved to Auckland for secondary school we left owls behind. I do not recall any reason why I thought my mother would like an owl thermometer. Mum thanked me without indicating what she thought of the present. I was just glad to offer something back, after years of her remarking that we had to live on the smell of an oily rag. At age 17 I went to Teachers’ College in Wellington, where we were encouraged to read Spinster, perhaps to prepare us for sole-charge teaching in remote country schools. It was another New Zealand novel that I took out of the college library, on the strength of its name, Owls Do Cry. It was a liberal college, encouraging us to try different things, like writing poetry and exploring art. I found myself haunting Webster’s Art Gallery in Manners Street, spending what was left of the meagre four pounds odd a [...]

Owl Man


I am transformed into an owl by friend and Wellington/Christchurch painter Julian Royds, co-winner with Colin McCahon of the Hays Art Award. She took photographs of me and worked on them, dedicating this 1984 birthday gift to ‘David McOwl’. Think of it as the cover for a modest collection of owl blogs, marked by gifts from Julian and other fantastic artists it has been my privilege to know. I have interacted with owls most of my waking and some of my sleeping life. An interest in Gothic art and literature was no doubt one of the reasons we became friends. We met when I swooped in 1975 out of the sleepy sanctuary of the Listener to land bothered, battered and bewildered in the raucous Evening Post daily newspaper office. I was hired as an investigative journalist and was supposed to be the local equivalent of Bernstein and Woodward of Watergate fame. I was soon put in my place, a tiny desk in the middle of a frenzy of reporters shouting into telephones and pounding on upright Imperial typewriters in a desperate attempt to communicate over the apocalyptic thumping of the hot presses below, whence rose hot lead and inky effluvia hazardous to health and sanity. I was issued with sheets of what I took for low-grade toilet paper and sheafs of carbons half-foolscap size and told each story required six copies. ‘Why six?’ The chief reporter may have smiled. Whatever he said I could not hear over the demonic din. I tried to get on with it and learned later in the day that many of those carbon copies joined the sub-editorial stacks of spiked stories that did not make the cut. The paper put [...]

Imagine No Authors and No Publishers


Imagine, Matthew Reilly asks in the book Save Oz Stories, the Australian Olympic swimming team will now include swimmers who are not Australian selected by British and American coaches based in London and New York. Matthew is one of 23 Australian authors who have contributed indignant essays to a book that warns the government not to accept the Productivity Commission’s recommendations to abolish the Parallel Import Restrictions and allow parallel imports and reduce copyright to 15 or 25 years. Sadly I do not know Matthew, and among the other contributors I have only read Geraldine Brooks, Kate Grenville, Thomas Keneally, Frank Moorhouse, Michael Robotham and Tim Winton. However they know us better, with New Zealand cited by 12 of them as an example of what happens when you do not protect your publishing industry. Britain and America do, and all countries bar Canada and us, the most frequently given example of a government burning its book industry in the Orwellian double-speak name of competition, cheaper prices and innovation. New Zealand alas did not campaign as these splendid writers and publishers have in Australia. In Wellington alone we saw the closure of such fine bookshops as Dymocks and Roy Parsons, nationwide many publishers have closed. Did New Zealand get any competitive and creative benefit from our destruction of Parallel Import Restrictions? Not according to this free Oz book. Thomas Keneally points out that since the PIR legislation was repealed in 1998, the New Zealand publishing industry has contracted disastrously, shrinking by more than a third and sales down 16 per cent. The cost of New Zealand books has risen, while the cost of Australian books has fallen, and is 18 per cent cheaper than New Zealand. [...]