Return to e-newsletter homepage

Email not displaying correctly? View it in your browser.

The Value of Memoir in Troubled Times
By Deborah Shepard

Over the last year New Zealanders have witnessed catastrophe in their own land. We have watched a city fall down and people die in shocking circumstances, in the rubble of buildings and in a coalmine deep inside a mountain. We have heard tales of despair over the loss of loved ones, of homes and heritage buildings, of work and income, churches, cultural and learning institutions, familiar parks, gardens, streetscapes and the once sparkling channels of meandering rivers and streams. Many have now lost faith in critical concepts of home as haven and refuge, and the earth as grounding, rock solid and stable.

Once, I think, we watched disasters unfolding overseas and felt slightly immune and detached. That could never happen here, surely. But recent events on our tiny, shaky isles where two tectonic plates crunch and grind have revealed our vulnerability to the awesome forces beneath the earth. These are anxious times. We are exposed daily to information about the impact of global warming on extreme weather patterns and the depletion and loss of natural resources, habitat and species. We hear of the rippling effects of the global financial crisis and our own precarious debt levels. The language is bleak. The sources of worry are endless.

Writing memoir is one way of regaining a sense of mastery over our own destiny in troubled times. When we imaginatively recall events that have shaped us, we can forget, momentarily, the uncomfortable present and lose ourselves in the magic of creating a coherent story. As a teacher of life writing I love observing that moment when writers bow their heads and begin writing. The room settles into silence as people work on recreating scenes and getting the detail exactly right. The task requires intense concentration and willingness to access deep internal thoughts and feelings. It is like meditation, absorbing and endlessly nourishing.

Then comes the pleasure of sharing stories with like-minded writers and discovering the universal elements and also the distinctiveness of individual outlook and style. These moments are inspiring. There are smiles and sighs, much warmth and satisfaction.

Inevitably in every life we encounter stupefying loss and suffering. Can we write our way through these experiences? Usually people approach this material when ready and then they frequently demonstrate the creativity and resilience of the human mind. Given encouragement and understanding people can integrate their experience and write with clarity and courage.

Recently, in response to the Christchurch earthquake, I invited people to write on the theme of ‘surviving a crisis.’ The stories illustrated how writing can lift despair and shift perceptions. Sometimes though, we need distance from the horror before we can comfortably reflect, and that might be the case in Christchurch where the aftermath is ongoing and the ground continues to jolt and sway. Seventeenth century Japanese poet Mizuta Masahide wrote this haiku after seeing his home burn down;
barn’s burnt down …
I can see the moon
I doubt he achieved this insight immediately. In the meantime recording the broader life story can help us reclaim what has been lost and serve a strengthening purpose.

Deborah Shepard is an Auckland biographer originally from Christchurch. She teaches Life Writing at the Centre for Continuing Education, Auckland University and is running a new course ‘The Art and Craft of Memoir’ at the Creative Hub in October. Her website also offers a life writing forum where people can post life stories at ‘Your Story’. Deborah Shepard's new book project is a guide to memoir, “Writing Your Heart Out: The Art and Craft of Memoir.”
Five Easy Questions with David Elliot

Author and illustrator David Elliot is joint winner with Margaret Mahy of the New Zealand Post Children's Book of the Year Award 2011 for The Moon & Farmer McPhee.

1. Is it true that living in a gatekeeper's cottage at Edinburgh Zoo inspired you to begin a career in illustration?
Well, yes, it is true to a degree although I have to say that I had a real interest in books and illustration before that job came along. I think it was more that it was such a fantastic place to live, surrounded by the animals, especially in the evenings when the zoo had closed and I could roam the park by myself... plus, I had a lot of time to myself to develop my drawings. I could also travel down to London where there were lots of publishers who could give me feedback on my work.

2. What do you enjoy most about visually bringing to life a written world?
I love the very beginnings of working on a story, when the whole thing is full of potential, like a great big visual puzzle waiting to be solved. I love the hunt for the best ideas I can come up with.

3. What books continue to inspire you?
There are many books, many authors and illustrators who continue to inspire me, and I find new ones every time I go to the library. One of my favourites is Mervyn Peake, and I love reading Dickens for his descriptions of places and characters. Other people like Chris Van Allsburg and Shaun Tan have a wonderful, unique way of working with words and images. Recently I was very lucky to have a great trip to Britain and Ireland where I got to look at some of the earliest books and maps ever produced and they were fascinating.

4. What are you working on at the moment?
I'm working on a new picture book that I have written about a very noisy little pig. It is based on my memories of a sideshow entertainment called "The Wall of Death" that I saw at the Ashburton A&P show when I was a little boy.

5. What’s on your bedside table?
My bedside table is always covered in books that eventually fall down and spill all over the floor. I tend to "snack" on books rather than read them right through in one go. My mind is always wandering around from one thing to another. Just now the books are Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens, The Mystery of Lewis Carroll by Jenny Woolf, The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen, and Book 2 of the Ranger's Apprentice by John Flanagan. I also keep a little notebook and a pencil beside me in case I dream up a new idea, or maybe I find something in one of the books I'm reading that I want to write down.

David Elliot has won many awards for his work, including the Unilever/Choysa Award and Best Picture Book in the New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards. His work ranges from the light-hearted to a darker, almost gothic style, and has appeared in numerous exhibitions around New Zealand. 

Five Easy Questions with Craig Cliff

This month Craig Cliff won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best First Book for his debut collection of short stories, A Man Melting.

1. Which of these experiences was most thrilling for you - swimming in piranha-infested waters, sleeping at 4,200 metres above sea level, or trying to write a million words in one year?
Trying to write a million words in a year. The quest consumed me. 366 days later (it was a leap year) I was spat out the other side with 800,737 mostly useless words (but one finished short story collection).

2. Who is your favourite book character?
I don’t know if favourite is the correct word, but Humbert Humbert, the narrator in Nabokov’s Lolita, first opened my eyes to the terrible knots you can tie a reader in. He’s such good company and such baaaad company all at once.

3. You have a blog, but have you ever kept a journal?
Not really. I’ve always kept notebooks and I wrote all the angsty teenage poetry an angsty teenager is supposed to write, but I never sat down and wrote ‘Dear Journal, today I...’

4. What are you working on at the moment?
A novel. While the stories in A Man Melting are varied in style and settings, they are all pretty contemporary. I wanted to do something different, so I’m setting this novel in the past. I don’t want to give too much away but it’ll feature shipwrecks, mannequin makers and the world’s first body builder, Eugen Sandow.

5. What do you have on your bedside table?
99 Ways into New Zealand Poetry by Paula Green and Harry Ricketts (a great bedtime read, something to dip in and out of over several months), Sport 39, a book about birds, the instruction manual for my Canon 550D and a half-popped thing of Strepsils.

Read the Commonwealth Writers Prize judges' comments on A Man Melting here. Cliff lives in Wellington and writes a fortnightly column for the Dominion Post about juggling his double life as a public servant and emerging writer.

Book Council News

True Stories Told Live at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival
New Zealand Listener Gala Night: From A to Z

The Book Council's True Stories Told Live format continues to add drama and excitement to author events. Its latest outing was the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival Gala evening that launched the festival on May 12. The evening was 'a huge hit' Graham Beattie blogged afterwards. He went on to say that it received 'a wildly enthusiastic reception from the large audience. Each of the eight authors - Karen Healy, Fatima Bhutto, Rives, Fiona Farrell, James Patterson, AA Gill, Victor Rodger and Meg Rosoff - became actors and provided stunning, unscripted performances loosely inspired by the alphabet. Some were serious, most were funny, all were brilliant and hugely entertaining.'

Christchurch Libraries also blogged about the event: 'this truly was a great night out... Stories ranged from the sublime to the gloriously ridiculous, from the deeply moving to the slightly dodgy, all told in the best storytelling manner... we could have stayed twice as long.' Pleased punters also Tweeted, '@leaflemming: #AWRF opening night: storytelling format should become the new standard. Great fun. 90 mins whizzed by.'

Keep an eye on future e-newsletters and our website for upcoming True Stories Told Live events.

We are moving

The Book Council is moving office. Our phone and fax number will remain the same, however our new address from Friday 27th of May will be:

The New Zealand Book Council
Level 4
156 Victoria Street,
Te Aro,
Wellington 6011

Rights Catalogue for Frankfurt Book Fair Call for Entries

A rights catalogue is to be produced by the Publishers Association of New Zealand to promote New Zealand writers and books that are available for translation into the German language. This catalogue will support New Zealand’s presence at the Frankfurt Book Fair and is intended to showcase New Zealand writing and publishing excellence. It will feature books that will appeal to a German speaking audience. The catalogue will be available in both English and German editions, in both print and online, and will be circulated to all major German language publishers. Further stock will be available for Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2011 and the Leipzig Book Fair in March 2012. Publishers are now invited to submit entries for the catalogue.

For more information about the Rights Catalogue please visit the Book Council News section and click on 'Rights Catalogue for Frankfurt Book Fair Call for Entries'.

Residency, workshop and competition applications

Please note this is only a sample of literary opportunities from the news page on our website:

There's still time to enter the BNZ Literary Awards
The BNZ Literary Awards were launched at the start of April and you can enter the Novice, Young Writer, and Katherine Mansfield awards through BNZ’s website. Entries for these categories close 31 May, with winners announced late August. The winner of the prestigious BNZ Katherine Mansfield Award takes away $10,000.

Nominations open for New Zealand Poet Laureate award
The Laureate Tokotoko The New Zealand Poet Laureate Award recognises singular achievement in the field of poetry in New Zealand. A new laureate is elected every two years, receives a payment of $40,000 a year in support of their work, and assistance from the National Library for their participation in a programme of poetry-related events. Each Laureate also receives their own tokotoko, related symbolically to the matua, or parent tokotoko, held by the National Library to signify the library’s guardianship of the award.

The National Library is calling for nominations for the Poet Laureate who will hold the position for two years from 1 July 2011. Nominated poets must reside in New Zealand. Nominations close on Friday 17 June 2011 and the new Poet Laureate will be announced by the Minister of Internal Affairs Hon Nathan Guy in July 2011.

Visit the National Library website for more information about the Poet Laureate award.

NZSA Asian Short Story Competition
The inaugural NZSA Asian Short Story Competition is now open for entries from New Zealand permanent residents who are Asian or of Asian ethnicity. Short stories will be in English, and the theme is open. Stories will ideally contain some Asian content, though not necessarily be set in Asia. The minimum length of entries is 2,500 words, and the maximum length of entries is 3,500 words. There is a total of $5,000 in cash prizes. First prize: $3,000. Second: $1,000. Third: $500.

A shortlist of 5 will be announced on 21 October. Winners will be announced at a function in Auckland during November 2011. The judging panel comprises Sue Gee, Renee Liang and Stevan Eldred-Grigg. The competition deadline is 30 August 2011. For information and forms please email or visit the NZSA website:

Copyright Licensing Ltd Writers’ Awards
Copyright Licensing Ltd is calling for applications for its annual writers’ awards for New Zealand writers of non-fiction. Two awards of $35,000 will again be made this year, allowing two writers to devote time to a specific non-fiction writing project. The awards aim to enable the two successful applicants to devote time to complete a specific non-fiction project. Applicants must be NZ citizens or permanent residents and writers of proven merit.

Applications close at 5.00pm on Friday July 1st 2011. The two winners will be announced at a special ceremony to be held on 1st September 2011. Application guidelines, forms and working plan documents are available to download from the CLL website

The Southern Cross Novel Challenge
The Southern Cross Novel Challenge (SoCNoC, pronounced "sock-nock"), hosted by, encourages aspiring and veteran novelists alike to write a 50,000 word novel (or add 50,000 words to an existing novel or story collection) in the 30 days of June. At midnight on June 1st writers will dive into a no holds barred month of creation, manic typing, frantic plotting and late nights of fantasy. To find out more visit the Kiwi Writers website.

Writing Programme - Wellington
Dame Fiona Kidman will conduct a Winter Writing Programme in Wellington, focusing on fiction and memoir. Well-known guest speakers, expert in both genres, will contribute. For further information visit or email The dates will be 11 June, 25 June, 9 July, 23 July, 13 August, 27 August (all Saturdays).
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 the two Brighton Rock prize packs containing a novel and double pass to the film adaptation of Brighton Rock are Bev Wills (Tauranga) and Alison Dyer (Wellington).

This month we have a fantastic poetry package from Victoria University Press to give away to two lucky readers. The Best of Best New Zealand Poems, edited by Bill Manhire and Damien Wilkins, draws on the online anthology Best New Zealand Poems over the past ten years. Also included will be Vincent O'Sullivan's new collection, The movie may be slightly different, and Jenny Bornholdt's new volume The Hill of Wool.

Enter by emailing with the name 'VUP poetry' in the subject line, and your New Zealand postal address in the body of the email. Entries must be received by 12 noon on 6th of June.

Each month an industry insider tells us about books they're looking forward to seeing in the bookshops in the weeks ahead.

This month Lee-Ann McGinnis, manager of H&J Smith Take Note in Invercargill, gives us her picks. H&J Smith Take Note is part of the iconic H&J Smith Department Store, which last year celebrated its 110th birthday. Take Note will soon be changing over to the new look Concept 6 Paper Plus. Read more about the store in their Booksellers NZ member profile.

We are looking forward to Last Man in Tower (Knopf Doubleday Publishing), which is by Adiga Aravind, the same author who won the Man Booker Prize back in 2008 with White Tiger. It is set in Bombay and focuses on a housing estate marked for demolition so that a luxury apartment complex can go up in its place. The property developer has made a very generous offer to the tenants to move out and they have all accepted except one man (hence the title). His neighbours of course are after the big pay out and turn on him.

Sophie’s Legacy (Random House) is Lesley Elliot’s tribute to her murdered daughter, Sophie Elliot, a daughter she adored. It is a mother's harrowing account of a tragedy no family should ever have to endure, and her inspiring decision to make sure that Sophie’s legacy lives on. It’s also her challenge to the justice system on behalf of victims. Lesley is a very brave woman.

Winning Matters (Penguin) by Sean Fitzpatrick is a fascinating insight into the mind of a rugby legend. It offers the reader an understanding of what makes Fitzpatrick tick, his strategies for success in all aspects of life, and how we can learn from them. It is an easy-to-read but inspirational guide to being the best we can be. Sean Fitzpatrick is one of the most iconic New Zealanders today.

Craig Cliff has won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize 2011 Best First Book for A Man Melting. The judges chose this highly entertaining and thought provoking collection of short stories for their ambition, creativity and craftsmanship. For the last 25 years the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize has played a key role in unearthing new international literary names. Craig Cliff joins past prize winners, including Louis De Bernieres, Andrea Levy, Ian McEwan, and Zadie Smith. 

Craig Cliff won the pre-eminent prize for Best First Book after winning the South East Asia and Pacific regional division of the prize. A number of New Zealand authors were short-listed for the regional prize, including Lloyd Jones for Hand Me Down World, and Patrick Evans for Gifted in the Best Book category, and Whiti Hereaka for The Graphologist’s Apprentice, and Stephen Daisley for Traitor in the Best First Book category. Read more about the prize here.
Wellington poet Kate Camp will spend a year in Berlin from September 2011 as this year’s recipient of the Creative New Zealand $60,000 Berlin Writers’ Residency. She will use her time in Berlin to to complete a collection of poetry and explore collaborations with local artists.
Peter Wells has been awarded the $100,000 Creative New Zealand Michael King Writers’ Fellowship to research and write a non-fiction book titled 'Sparrow on a Rooftop'. Wells will be the ninth recipient of the Michael King fellowship since its inauguration in 2003. It was renamed in recognition of the late Michael King for his contribution to literature and his role in advocating for a major fellowship for New Zealand writers. Last year's recipient was Kate De Goldi.
The 2011 New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards have been announced. The winners in each category are:

Picture Book Category Award and New Zealand Post Children's Book of the Year
The Moon & Farmer McPhee by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by David Elliot (Random House New Zealand)

Non-fiction Category Award
Zero Hour: The Anzacs on the Western Front by Leon Davidson (Text Publishing)

Junior Fiction Category Award
Finnigan and the Pirates: A Fine Fandango by Sherryl Jordan (Scholastic New Zealand Limited)

Young Adult Fiction Category Award
Fierce September by Fleur Beale (Random House New Zealand)

Best First Book Award
Hollie Chips by Anna Gowan (Scholastic New Zealand Limited)

Children’s Choice Award
Baa Baa Smart Sheep by Mark Sommerset, illustrated by Rowan Sommerset (Dreamboat Books Ltd)
Wellington-based script writer and novelist Neil Cross won the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award for Best Television Teleplay for Episode 1 of Luther, which stars Idris Elba of The Wire fame.
The 2011 Science Book Prize is judged by science and literature experts from three New Zealand universities. Alison Ballance has been announced this year's winner, selected from a shortlist of three, and she receives a prize of $5000 for her winning book, Kakapo – Rescued from the Brink of Extinction (Craig Potton Publishing).
The winners of the inaugural Unity Books/Sport 'The Long and the Short of It' competition for stories over 10,000 words and under 1000 words, as judged by Elizabeth Knox, Bill Manhire and Emily Perkins have been announced. The best story over 10,000 words is ‘The Road to Tokomairiro’ by Lawrence Patchett, with Highly Commended entries by Sylvie Thomson and Anna Jackson. The best story under 1000 words is ‘Clean Hands Save Lives’ by Kirsten McDougall, with Highly Commended entries by Rachel O’Neill and Craig Cliff. Winning entries are published in 'The Long and the Short of It' competition book, and in Sport.
Respected freelance writer and biographer Dr Lynley Hood has been awarded a three-month residency to participate in the 2011 International Writers Program (IWP) at the University of Iowa in the United States. Dr Hood will research and write a selection of interwoven essays, memoirs and journal entries on one of mankind’s most puzzling preoccupations – the quest for eternal life.
New Zealand poet Johanna Emeney was runner-up in the Open division of the 2011 Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine, announced at an International Symposium on Poetry and Medicine at the University of Warwick on May 7.
Poet, printer and editor Alan Loney has been named as the 2011 recipient of the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award worth $10,000.
Eleanor Catton is winner of the First Novel Award, a CDN$7,500 prize, for The Rehearsal. The award honours first-time novelists and is now in its 35th year. Past recipients include Michael Ondaatje, Rohinton Mistry and Anne Michaels.

Please note this is only a sample of events from the events page on our website:

Red Cross Book Fair
3-5 June, various times
The Red Cross Book Fair will be held from Friday 3rd June to Sunday 5th June at ASB Showgrounds in Greenlane. Friday 3rd June 3pm-8pm, $10 entry fee. Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th June 9am-5pm, FREE entry. Books only $1 to $3. Grab a bargain and support a great cause.
Venue: ASB Showgrounds, Greenlane, 217 Greenlane West

Carole Henderson: Rona Winter Series - Wellington
26 June, Sunday 4.30-6.15 pm
This session will feature, Carole Henderson, writer of Searching for Grace (Steele Roberts). A fascinating insight into the scandals of the Edwardian upper classes, it has a growing number of UK readers because it tells a similar story to the BBC TV’s popular Downton Abbey series. Open mic session to begin. Refreshments. Koha: $5
Venue: Rona Gallery, 151 Muritai Road, Eastbourne, Wellington
Remove me from this list

Forward this email to a friend

Phone 0064 4 801 5546
Level 4, Stephenson & Turner House, 156 Victoria St, Te Aro
Wellington 6011, New Zealand