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Kia ora,

May has been month of Book Festivals, with the wonderful Auckland Writers and Readers Festival having put together a really extraordinarily successful programme, culminating in the announcement of the winners of the Commonwealth Writers Prize. Our warm congratulations go to both Christos Tsiolkas (who features below) and Mohammed Hanif and the other worthy shortlisted writers who visited Auckland, Hawkes Bay and Wellington.

I have just returned from the Sydney Writers Festival, also a magnificent event, where I met with Australian festival directors and publishers to talk about ways to boost the visibility of our authors across the ditch. The visit coincided nicely with the announcement of the  2009 New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards and there was strong recognition of the strength of New Zealand children’s writing and great excitement at Kate de Goldi’s well deserved double win at these awards. I would also very much like to congratulate all the winners of the awards; Sally Sutton and Brian Lovelock; Diana Neild and Philip Webb; Greg O’Brien; Jack Lasenby; Denis Wright; Melinda Szymanik and Sarah Nelisiwe Anderson.

For me the highlight of the past few weeks was seeing the prodigiously talented Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie give the opening address at the Sydney Festival. Her speech told of the need to see stories from all angles, to explore new perspectives and to resist the urge to hear only one story. It was, I think, truly inspiring and a real lesson in the importance and power of the written word.

Best wishes, Noel

A few words after the event with Greg O'Brien

Greg O’Brien is sporting a remarkable head of hair at the moment. It’s hard not to make connections between the bushy sprouting crop of hair and all the constant lines of thought and ideas inside that head. It’s a remarkable head though, providing plenty of ideas for the poet, anthologist, art writer, and painter whose latest book Back and Beyond has just won the NZ Post Children’s Book Award for Best Non-fiction Book.

‘I have plenty going on in the realm of art publications for grown-ups. I’ve written essays for forthcoming books on John Pule and Stanley Palmer, and there’s a new and enlarged edition for the anthology of Wellington poems, Big Weather, which I edited with Louise St John coming out in July, but the next major project I am working on is a book very much in the spirit of Back And Beyond which will appeal to people of all ages. AUP will be publishing The Imaginative Life & Times Of Graham Percy (1938 – 2008) - Percy was a NZ artist/illustrator who worked on the School Journal in the early 1960s and then moved to London, he was the most entertaining and accessible genius I have ever come across .’

The book Back and Beyond gestated slowly over three years, with O'Brien's two sons Felix and Carlo and their friends Greta and Geraldine as advisors. ‘At the City Gallery I look at a lot of art and while fatigue of the eyes and mind is a bit of a problem there are some works of art that you never tire of and those are the images I chose for the book. Then I had to set up an imaginative current through the book, a momentum ... with lots of connections as well as contrasts, with coherence but also the kind of jumping around that younger people in particular, enjoy. The book is meant to be a roller coaster ride, or a cross country run, rather than a 100 metre sprint’.

Actually it’s a blast. The whole 42 pages of beautiful colour reproductions alongside O’Brien’s lively, clear, and conversational writing makes it a joy to respond and interact with.

Greg has already written extensively about art for adults, so I asked about the difference in approach to writing about art for children.

‘There is less difference than you might think. This is the reason why Welcome to the South Seas and Back and Beyond have been so successful across the board. Great art connects adults up with something of the child in themselves. Art is a territory that we have in common. We should be making more of this in our culture, I believe. Put a giant inflatable rabbit in a public art gallery and children will immediately be fascinated. They don’t have to deal with the whole question of “is it art?” The subtitle of Back and Beyond is New Zealand Painting for the Young and Curious, and I’d like to think the word “curious” includes adults in the potential readership as well. Curiosity is one of the greatest virtues.’

Over the coming six months Greg O’Brien will be finishing his job as Curator for the City Gallery in Wellington and travelling to Europe with his family to research the next book and an accompanying exhibition at the Gus Fisher Gallery in Auckland.

Five quick questions for Christos Tsiolkas

Christos Tsiolkas was in New Zealand just a week ago, for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize tour, and was the ultimate winner of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

We have two copies of the prize-winning book, The Slap, to give away this issue. Please see further details on the right-hand sidebar.

He had a moment to chat with Gay Express while in New Zealand, please see an extract below:

Where did you grow up? What is your background?
In Melbourne, Australia, in a very heavily migrant part of the city. In fact I thought Australians spoke Greek until I started primary school and then realised - with a shock - that supposedly we spoke English!

When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer?
That is always a hard question. My mother has a memory of me being ten and waiting with her at a tram stop and me turning to her and saying, 'Mama, I want to be a writer when I am older'.  I always had a passion for reading and from a very young age I would spend all my time imagining books I would write, stories I would tell, fantasies I would create. But I guess the real answer to the question is that I was working full time in my early twenties and I was deeply unhappy because I had a sense of betraying something that I really wanted to do, the vocation of being a writer. The very day I quit full-time work and made writing part of my working life the unhappiness lifted.

Who are your favourite writers?
Too hard, too hard. Like playing desert island discs the list changes from hour to hour, day to day.

The great Russian novelists, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, continue to inspire me and I think there is something about their fatalism that connects to my Orthodox Christian heritage. I love Kazantzakis for the same reason.

Post World War II USA writers were and also continue to be a great influence. Carson McCullers, Ralph Ellison, William Faulkner, James Agee. The generation that was Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut, Phillip Roth – the first writers that made sense of my being a “wog” (I suspect because many of them were children and grandchildren of Jewish immigrants and refugees). The film criticism of Pauline Kael, the strange worlds of Stanislav Lem, the moral passion of George Orwell and Robert Fisk.

Most recently I have been seduced by the fiction of Cormac McCarthy, Richard Ford and Carlos Fuentes.

I am in awe and envious of the writers involved in this stunning fertile period of US television: The Sopranos, The Wire, Six Feet Under, Mad Men. There is nothing in English language cinema or the novel that currently approaches the depth and power of this work; nothing so compelling, nothing so audacious.

Moving onto your latest novel, what made you want to write The Slap? Where did the idea come from?
The incident that sparked the novel was quite a small humorous moment. My mum and dad were having a BBQ and invited myself, my partner Wayne and a few other friends along. Mum was in the kitchen trying to organise a huge amount of food,  roast chickens, pitta, salads, stuffed vegetables etc etc and a friend’s three year old son was playing at her feet, getting into the cupboards to play with the pots and pans. Mum kept telling him to stop and he wouldn’t so at one point she smacked him on the bum. There was nothing violent or aggressive in the gesture, it was a slight warning tap but the little boy looked outraged, put his hands to his hips and stated 'No-one has the right to touch my body without my permission.' My mother responded, 'You naughty, I smack you.' We all laughed, forgot about it, but on the way home I though that this might be an interesting story to develop as an examination of the changes in family culture in one generation.

I’m not sure of the context in New Zealand but in Australia there had been increasing talk over the decade of a new 'aspirational' class, one with working class roots but now solidly aspiring to middle class values and consumption. It was seen as the class that kept the conservative Prime Minister John Howard in power for eleven years. I wanted to look at what this class looked like, sounded like, what was its morality, its ethics if you like. It seemed to me that this class spoke in a 'wog' accent as much as it spoke in 'aussie' slang and I wanted to give it a voice.

Only one of the eight character viewpoints in The Slap is by a homosexual. As a gay writer, do you find it easier or harder to explore heterosexual relationships between characters?
I once read a novel claim that to be an effective writer that one had to be bisexual. I wish I could remember who it was, I came across it years and years ago. They did not mean that one had to be a bisexual in life but that to write authentically one had to inhabit both masculine and feminine personas. In my day to day life I am a homosexual male. As a writer I am bisexual.

 The Kathleen Grattan Award applications open

Auckland poet Kathleen Grattan, a journalist and former editor of the New Zealand Woman's Weekly, died in 1990. Her daughter Jocelyn Grattan, has generously left Landfall a bequest with which to establish an award in memory of Kathleen Grattan.
The award is for an original collection of poems or a long poem by a New Zealand or Pacific resident or citizen. Entries will be accepted from 1 May each year. The closing date will be 31 July each year and the winner will be announced in the November issue of Landfall. The announcement will be made in the November issue of Landfall. The winner will receive $16,000 and a year's subscription to Landfall.

For entry conditions and further information, please go to the OUP website.

The University of Auckland/Creative New Zealand Writer-in-Residence at the Michael King Writers’ Centre
July to December 2009

The Michael King Writers’ Centre is delighted to announce that it has funding from Creative New Zealand for its next six-month writer’s residency, offered jointly with The University of Auckland. Applications will close on June 10.
The residency is open to New Zealand authors working in the field of fiction, poetry, drama or non-fiction. A stipend of $30,000 is offered.
Detailed information about the residency, the terms and conditions and information about the centre can be viewed at

The NZ Transport Agency is running a picture book writing competition for primary schools. The competition encourages students to get creative and think about healthy, active forms of travel such as walking and cycling.
The winning class will receive a three day workshop with a professional book writer/editor and a professional book illustrator/designer to prepare their book for publication. After it is published, every student at the winning school will receive a free copy, and a copy will be sent to every primary school library in New Zealand. For more details go to

Shifting Sands - Changing Perspectives in History and Biography
Vaughan Park Retreat Centre, Long Bay, Auckland, October 23-26 2009

The Michael King Writers’ Centre is now offering a Residential Workshop for writers. With the assistance of an Auckland Regional Services grant from North Shore City, the Centre has organised the first of what is intended to be an annual series of Writers’ Residential Workshops covering different forms of writing. This is the first residential workshop ever held for writers of biography and history and it is fitting that the inaugural workshop should reflect Michael King’s major interests.
Further information about speakers, special workshops and registration details can be found at The cost is $495.00 plus GST for three night’s accommodation and all meals.  Applications, which should include a writing CV. The closing date is: 30 June 2009.
The New Zealand Book Council receives core funding from Creative New Zealand. We are extremely grateful to our funding partners, who enable us to deliver our programmes. We also value your membership, which supports our work in schools and communities throughout New Zealand.

The winners of tickets to the Auckland Writers and Readers festival were: G & G Adams, Julie Hill, Annabel Fagan, and April Glenday.

Winner of the hotly-contested copies of Dead People's Music (Random House), by Sarah Laing, were Anne McKinnon and Joy Watson.

Vincent O'Sullivan is one of New Zealand's most revered poets. We have two copies of his new collection Further Convictions Pending poems 1998 - 2008 to give away this month.

We have two copies of Christos Tsiolkas' prize-winning novel, The Slap, to give away this month. The Slap is a story of actions and consequences, in the life of a group of family and friends in South Melbourne

Nadeem Aslam was in Wellington in March, for two very successful events in Auckland and Wellington. We have two signed copies of his most recent book, The Wasted Vigil, to give away this month.

Please enter by emailing, with the name of the title in the subject line and your address in the body of the email. Entries must be received by 5pm, Tuesday 1 June to be eligible.

We had a very intriguing link request this month, from a group in the USA that run an online game called Quest Atlantis. The aim of the game is to 'bring together the power of videogames, academics, and participation in socially-meaningful activities', and it looks like a very worthwhile game to get your kids involved in.

The shortlists for several big international prizes have been announced. The Carnegie Medal shortlist can be seen here, with lots of interactive elements. Bernard Beckett's Genesis has been shortlisted for the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, and The Orange Prize for Fiction shortlist has also been announced.
Children’s author Kathy White has been awarded a three-month residency by Creative New Zealand to participate in the 2009 International Writers program at the University of Iowa.

The Commonwealth Writers' Prizes were awarded during the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. Christos Tsiolkas won Best Book for The Slap, and Mohammed Hanif took out the Best First Book category with A Case of Exploding Mangoes.

Speaking by video link from Britain to an audience of 800 at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, Richard Dawkins declared The Awa Book of Science (Awa Press), edited by Rebecca Priestley, to be the inaugural winner of the Royal Society of New Zealand Science Book Prize.

The winners of the 2009 New Zealand Post Book Awards are:

Picture Book
- Roadworks written by Sally Sutton and illustrated by Brian Lovelock. (Walker Books).
Honour Award - Piggity-Wiggity Jiggity Jig written by Diana Neild and illustrated by Philip Webb. (Scholastic New Zealand).
Non-fiction  - Back & Beyond: New Zealand Painting for the Young & Curious by Gregory O'Brien (Auckland University Press).
Junior Fiction - Old Drumble by Jack Lasenby. (HarperCollins Publishers).
Best First Book Award  - Violence 101 by Denis Wright.  (Penguin Group New Zealand).
Young Adult Fiction and New Zealand Post Book of the Year
The 10PM Question by Kate De Goldi. (Longacre Press).
Children's Choice Award  - The Were-Nana written by Melinda Szymanik and illustrated by Sarah Nelisiwe Anderson (Scholastic New Zealand).

Auckland, Poetry Live
Every Tuesday, 8.00pm
Anybody wanting to keep up with Poetry Live can now do so at

Wellington, Cathy Cassidy
Tuesday 25 May 4:00 - 4:30pm,
Children’s author Cathy Cassidy will be touring New Zealand in May.
Venue: The Children's Bookshop, Kilbirnie, Wellington

Wellington, An evening with Philipp Meyer
Wednesday 27 May, 6.00pm –
'The new voice in American letters,' Philipp Meyer, will be in Auckland and Wellington to promote his heart-wrenching, splendid first novel, American Rust. For all fans of John Steinbeck, Richard Ford and Cormac McCarthy.
Venue:  Unity Books, 57 Willis Street, Wellington
Cost:  Free event

Auckland, An evening with Philipp Meyer
Thursday 28 May, 6.00pm –
See details above.
Venue: Unity Books, 19 High Street, Auckland
Cost: Free event

Wellington, NZSO: Made in New Zealand
Friday 29 May, 6.30pm -
Conductor Hamish Keich and the NZSO brings you this annual concert, celebrating the best of New Zealand music, featuring two works by New Zealand composer Douglas Lilburn: Landfall in Unknown Seas, by Allen Curnow, and Three poems of the Sea, by various writers. Bill Manhire is narrator, with Michael Norris on electroacoustics.
Venue: Wellington Town Hall
Cost: From $17, book at

Auckland, Robert Kiyosaki author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad
Wednesday 3 and Thursday 4 June, 9.00am –
Robert Kiyosaki, author of the Rich Dad, Poor Dad series, together with Kim Kiyosaki, author of Rich Woman, will be in New Zealand to present at ticketed public events.
Venue: Logan Campbell Theatre, 217 Greenlane West, Epsom, Auckland 
For cost and other information visit Ticketek and

Wellington, Robert Kiyosaki author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad
Friday 5 June, 9.00am –
See author details above.
Venue: Wellington Town Hall, Wellington
For cost and other information visit Ticketek and

Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Storylines Heritage Hotels Seminar Series: A Passion for Poetry
Wednesday 10 June, Thursday 11 June, Friday 12 June, 7.00pm –
The Heritage Hotels Seminar Series features award-winning Australian poet and novelist Steven Herrick - a YA and children's specialist and performance poet (Do-wrong Ron, By The Naked River, Naked Bunyip Dancing), in conversation with New Zealand's Paula Green - poet for adults and children (Flamingo Bendalingo, Macaroni Moon, Making Lists for Frances Hodgkins). The events are of particular interest to writers, teachers, librarians, parents and children's literature aficionados with this year's focus on poetry.
Tickets are available online.
Cost:  Storylines member or student with ID $20, non-member $25.

Poet Laureate book launch, Devonport
24 June, 6.00pm -
 The Michael King Writers Centre, together with the Devonport Library Associates, are delighted to be able to host the launch of the inaugural Poet Laureate book in June. The Poet Laureate is Devonport's own Michele Leggott.
Venue: Devonport Public Library

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