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Bodgie in the Library 2

2018-09-10T12:38:23+00:00

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 [...]

Bodgie in the Library 1

2018-09-10T12:36:11+00:00

Book Launch Speech Glen Eden Library 4 September as part of the Going West Festival   On a Bodgie Bike is set in 1955 Glen Eden and completes a trilogy I wrote about a stolen monstrance in response to my father urging me to write about the family hometown of Auckland. I stayed in Wellington as a student when the family returned to Auckland. Most of my 57 books are not about Auckland. It seems appropriate that this book is set in the place and year where I first wrote between hard covers, aged 12, at the behest of my father. I am a New Zealand social historian, one who abjures footnotes and references in favour of direct quotes. Recently it is fiction but still aimed at some aspect of our social history, the view from below among the ordinary folk as opposed to the movers and shakers. Jim Henderson called them ‘the heroic ordinary’. In this new book I offer the bodgies’ perspective, though it might not be considered heroic. I first consciously started being a social historian in London in 1968, when I jotted down a Kiwi flatmate’s colourful Kiwi slang. Up until then I had thought the Aussies and mainly Bazza McKenzie/Humphries had all the best Down Under slang. Then I began reimagining my Bay of Plenty childhood, which became my first book The Kid from Matata. However it is in Auckland where it all began. I was born in Orakei in 1942. My Auckland roots go deep. I am a fifth generation Aucklander on both sides. My first ancestor buried here was a Fencible, William Waddel, at All Saints, Howick, 1848. His son Mayor William Richard Waddel -- my biography of [...]

Nazis in New Zealand

2018-05-02T13:44:56+00:00

At the Paraparaumu Library ‘Murder in the Library’ event last 30 April I was talking about Nazis in my crime story The Plot to Kill Peter Fraser when I heard a loud, sceptical, derisive snort of disbelief from somewhere to the back left of the packed house. Clearly the male snorter did not believe we had Nazis in New Zealand. Pity he had not read the evidence in several of my books. Firstly my non-fiction Island of Secrets, the story of Matiu/Somes Island in Wellington harbour, used in both world wars to incarcerate enemy aliens. I listened to Wellington City Librarian Stuart Perry’s interview with one of the socialist prisoners there in the Second World War, John Charles Klingenstein. ‘In 1941,’ Klingenstein says, ‘I saw a document from Hitler (per Himmler) brought to the island by the Swiss Consul (uncensored mail) which contained a list of names of men who would form a Government. Among others was this well-known Cabinet Minister.’ Klingenstein was talking about the puppet government Germany would install once it had conquered New Zealand. I corresponded with one of the German nationalists incarcerated on the island. Johann Braunias recalled pro-Nazis wearing cardboard swastikas and celebrating Hitler’s birthday. I copied socialist Odo Strewe’s grading of fellow inmates from full-on Nazis to those like him and Jews there who opposed the Nazis. I begin my first Dan Delaney mystery The Death Ray Debacle by quoting Detective Stevenson’s report on the Auckland German Club taking on from 1933 ‘a more sinister trend … of increasing nationalism’ which resulted in Auckland Police having the club under constant surveillance a year before Scotland Yard followed suit with its ‘Nazi Squad’. My story draws on press reports of [...]

Tree Recycling

2018-02-17T14:18:02+00:00

Graham Cooper died over 40 years ago but not a day goes by when I do not practise what he preached. I hug a tree, as recommended to Bismarck by his doctor in a book Graham gave me called The Secret Life of Plants. These days the hugged tree is the mighty gum beside the front gate. After a count of 20, I circle the tree, patting its stumps, then lean on the two biggest stumps and crane my eyes skywards, watching for tui waiting to release mischief on me. It is a magnificent tree and from February through half the year its red flowers attract exuberant pairs. Today I followed another of Graham’s precepts to recycle everything and made use of its shedding to create a gum bark path to my picnic table. I love trees but every so often I have to get Rory in to edit bits of them like the trailing gum branches so I can get some sunlight on the garden and relieve the strain on the gutters. It also provides a goodly supply of firewood. Pohutukawa do not mind pollarding, they are one of the few natives that you can crop and they come again. I am not sure if this is appreciated by those who advocate hands off the sacred tree. Unlike some members of the native forests action groups, to me all trees native and allegedly foreign (nobody told the tui and other birds who distribute their seeds) deserve to be regarded as sacred, though I struggle a little with the damned wattle. Indeed, the seaward neighbour did me a big favour by having his wattles taken out two days ago. I had recently removed one of [...]

In Praise of Praise Be

2017-11-05T12:35:42+00:00

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

2017-07-21T11:56:53+00:00

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

2017-05-22T11:59:55+00:00

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

2017-05-21T15:04:22+00:00

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

2017-05-19T11:16:31+00:00

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

2017-05-19T11:16:32+00:00

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 [...]