With the 20th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana fast approaching, I’ve been watching some of the commemoration documentaries that have been screening on New Zealand television. I freely confess to being a great admirer of Diana. I stayed up late to watch her marry Prince Charles, loved seeing the many photos of her looking serene and elegant and beneficent, and still to this day feel sad when I think of her life having been cut so short.
Most of the documentaries have taken a frank yet sympathetic look at her life and works. They’ve celebrated her qualities, her abilities and praised her as a warm and loving mother. They’ve also not shied away from looking at her struggles, both internal and external, as she tried to navigate her way through the difficult waters of being in a troubled marriage and through becoming a member of the royal family. Her sons have added their perspective, as have her close friends. Some footage has added Diana’s own thoughts and feelings on her experiences. In fact, she seems as fascinating and captivating as she ever did, which is quite remarkable given that two decades have gone by since her untimely passing.
No matter what your take on Diana is, there seems little doubt that she was an extraordinary person with a charisma that cut through social boundaries. She sat with AIDS patients, she held hands with lepers, she had a genuine heart for the homeless. She championed causes others rejected and she inspired people to have courage, giving hope where none existed. Some small snippets from these documentaries that chronicled how meeting Diana changed the course of people’s lives is truly inspiring.
I think what has stood out to me most is the fact that her desire to help and to serve came from the realisation that she could genuinely make a difference. Many of the people she met in the course of her charitable works had been marginalised, felt unloved or rejected. Diana, for all her glamour and beauty and privilege, knew what it was like to feel just that same way. It made her compassionate. It made her want to reach out and tell others it would be okay.
At the end of the day, isn’t that what we all want? To feel loved and accepted? To be needed and wanted? To feel as though everything will be all right? But how often do we do things that make others feel rejected in order to make ourselves feel stronger, more in control. Maybe, like Princess Diana, we need to work a bit harder to share the love, hold hands with the rejected and try, in some small measure, to make a difference in the lives of others. For in truth we can all make a difference.
Many of my friends - and at least some of my readers - will know of my fondness for Jane Austen. Last week marked the 200th anniversary since her untimely death. She only reached the relatively young age of 42 when she passed away, from what is now theorised to be Addison’s Disease. This is a condition where the adrenal gland fails to produce sufficient hormones for the body to function. These days medication sorts out most Addison’s sufferers, but in Jane’s day no such treatment existed.
In a small post on my Facebook page (feel free to “Like” my page here) I marked the day by wondering what treasures we might have had, if she’d lived a little longer. But, with six main published works to her name (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Mansfield Park all published in her lifetime; Northanger Abbey and Persuasion published posthumously) she certainly made her mark. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I think dear Jane would be shocked beyond belief at the ongoing interest in - and love for - her works.
These days, Jane Austen spin-offs are a dime a dozen. A number of authors have attempted sequels to Pride and Prejudice, extrapolating the lives of Elizabeth and Darcy into the future. The story has been told from Darcy’s point of view, from the view of the servants in the house, from the perspective of their offspring and even, in one case, how they became involved in a murder mystery. Some of her novels have been updated for modern times, the core elements of her stories woven into current settings. There are even ‘time slip’ novels with characters from Jane’s novels coming to our time, and vice versa. She’s been used as the basis for a ‘theme park’, a drawcard for a book club and an alleged excerpt from Jane’s own life made it onto the silver screen in 2007.
I have, of course, pondered why Jane’s works have garnered such enduring interest and devotion. An article I read recently (in UK’s Writing Magazine, July 2017, by Sophie Beal) suggested that Jane would probably have trouble even getting published today. The reasons for this were ten-fold: slows starts, too much backstory, no diversity, old-fashioned values, telling instead of showing, insipid/passive heroines, having the main action ‘off-stage’, superfluous characters, lack of realism. That’s quite a list.
However, as Sophie points out, a work is the sum of its parts and therein lies Jane Austen’s skills. A partial answer to her ongoing popularity can be found in the magic of her prose, the way she so ably captured the social mores of the time with wit and irony. Readers of today come to know and understand the complexities that those times brought for women, and to see what a minefield all those manners and etiquette created. Themes such as hopes for the future and wanting to be valued also resonate because such issues are timeless and part of the human condition. After all, who doesn’t want to hear words such as those uttered by Mark Darcy in another Pride and Prejudice spin-off, Bridget Jones’s Diary, when he says, ‘I like you very much, just as you are.’
Her heroes and heroines, too, are not perfect. Some, like Elizabeth Bennet, are as equally able to laugh at their own follies as they are to laugh at the follies of others. They make mistakes, are too quick to judge or end up the victims of the mistakes and judgements of others. But, when all is said and done, they overcome rejection and adversity in order to get to their happily ever after.
So here’s to Jane Austen. I know her works have made my life richer for the reading. May she continue to inspire, entertain and educate for many more centuries to come.
My visit to Jane Austen's house, Chawton, England, in 2013.
Did you know that roughly 88% of the world’s population lives in the Northern Hemisphere? This perhaps isn’t altogether surprising given that 68% of liveable land is also in the Northern Hemisphere. However, that’s 88% of our total population whose experience of life differs in some fundamental ways from those “Down Under”. The most obvious of these is the seasons, with summer and winter being reversed. And, while this does not seem like such a great thing, it has an effect on a number of things. For example, in the Southern Hemisphere the academic year runs from February to December. The best time to go skiing is July or August. And Christmas is celebrated not with warm fires burning and snow on the ground, but with summer sun and barbecues and lashing of sunscreen.
And because I live almost as southerly as a person can get, I can report that here, right on mid-year, we are most certainly experiencing winter. It’s a season that lends itself to the use of alliteration – wet, wild, windswept, wintery – cold, cloudy, crisp, chill. As I write today, I could use many of those words to describe the weather outside. A leaden sky hangs overhead. Wind swirls and eddies as though being chased by an invisible foe. Fat droplets of rain streak the windows and the best place to be is at home by the fire.
I can’t say I’m really a winter person. In fact, if I had to pick a favourite season it would be spring. New leaves, new flowers, new life, longer days, the prospect of the summer to come. It’s not too hot and not too cold – a bit like Goldilocks’ ideal porridge. Yet I don’t detest winter either. Here, in Auckland, we don’t get snow (a few flakes get spotted by keen-eyed individuals every few years but these melt before falling to the ground) and frosts are rare. Fogs sometimes plague the airport, stranding passengers and disrupting travel plans. Rain, on the other hand, is our main tormentor, coming in waves from all different directions, sending people scattering for cover and contemplating the need for webbed feet.
It’s definitely the sort of weather that lends itself to indoor pursuits. Movie watching, games, a spot of mindless web surfing. And, of course, what could be better than a spot of reading on a wild day? But then, that’s the joy of books. You can just as easily read one in the summer as you can in the autumn, winter or spring. You can read them in bed or on the beach or in a plane or on a train. What could be nicer?
So, whether your weather be blizzardly or brilliant, dive in and make the most of books. After all, it’s fine weather…for books.
As you possibly already know, I’m the proud owner of two almost-grown children. My daughter is twenty and my son is seventeen. Although when I say “own” I mean this in a more figurative than literal sense. No one owns children, or at least they shouldn’t. I am also a tutor for high school English and have eight students between the ages of twelve and seventeen in and out of my house each week. And, it’s fair to say that I love teenagers.
Why do I mention this? Well, mostly because I’ve taken pause lately to think about the creation versus consumption conundrum. It’s an interesting thing to contemplate. For a start, it’s virtually impossible to create at the same time as it is to consume. And yet the latter can’t take place without the former. And story, a concept that is at least as old as the hills, is still in as much demand as ever. Thank goodness.
My exposure to teenagers also means I have a very good idea about what is taking up the time of many of them these day – and, for the most part, it doesn’t involve creation. Most of them are avid consumers of content, and most of that is online: gaming, binge-watching series after series through platforms such as Netflix and Lightbox, following YouTubers, a bit more gaming, maybe the odd e-book or two in between. Countless hours are devoted to these pursuits – and every hour that is devoted in this direction is an hour less that could be used to create things of their own.
I’m hoping this post won’t make me sound too much like a relic from the last century (although I technically am) but I have to say that I think this is a shame. After all, who knows where the creativity of youth will lead? To illustrate this, my husband and I attended an interview with Ian Rankin, bestselling Scottish crime novelist, at the recent Auckland Writers Festival – and a great interview it was too. He was asked about his origins as a writer and he talked about how, as a young man, he would write his own cartoons and that he made up his own rock band, complete with plans for fictional world tours and song lyrics. I love that. In fact I did a similar thing myself by writing a magazine – although I confess that I never went quite as far as inventing a rock band. Perhaps I missed a great opportunity there.
Such basic creation seems to me to be an apprenticeship of sorts. Nobody outside of maybe Mum or Dad is likely to see these creations without sniggering (and thus are most unlikely to ever be shown them) but they give the creative muscles a work-out and teach rudimentary skills about what it takes to produce something new and unique. Technology, for all its wondrousness, may be occupying our children’s time and giving them things to talk about with each other, but it may also be stealing away valuable time that could be employed in the pursuit of creation.
Of course this generation could be destined for things that relics like me can’t necessarily picture, but here’s hoping that future is as filled with creation as it can be. Like I say, I love teenagers, and know they have a lot to give – or at least they would do, if only they made the time. My only hope this that technology doesn’t turn out to be some sort of sinister Pied Piper, solving some problems only to cause a whole lot of others. Here’s hoping…
Today, April 23rd, is World Book Day. Perhaps, in the scheme of things, such a day is not so momentous. It could easily pass unmarked or join the plethora of other “days” assigned to celebrate everything from “Jelly Bean Day” to “Hug a Plumber Day”. (Yes, both real!)
The celebration of books should, in my view, rank somewhere above a love of jelly beans or even a love of plumbers (although I’m sure many of them are very lovable in their own right). Why? Well, just think what people get from books:
Non-fiction books are like time capsules, preserving a moment in time. Whether it be a biography or a history or a travel guide, a reference book or a how-to book, these volumes capture things about our past and present that will educate and inform the people of the future.
Novels can transport you to places you’re never likely to go, expand your world view and draw you into the lives of fictional people. You can learn about the social mores of days gone by, see yourself reflected in characters and ponder the way the world works. You can sit on the sidelines of crime-solving and international espionage without the slightest danger of getting hurt. You can explore strange new worlds, and be transported to another time, place or galaxy, all without leaving your armchair.
What’s not to love about all of that? And is there any feeling that compares to the satisfaction of getting to the end of a well-crafted story that draws you in so much that you stay up late just to see what happens? I think not.
For me reading has done all of that, and more. As a youngster I read voraciously and loved anything that sparked my imagination and that made me feel like I could be a part of something bigger, if only in my mind. Reading has given me a greater understanding of my fellow human beings, made me feel intense emotions and continued to entertain and inspire me to this day.
But probably greatest of all, reading fed the flames of my love of writing. And, in celebration, here’s my own contribution to the world of books. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.
So thanks to all the great writers who’ve blessed my times of reading. Oh, and Happy World Book Day to you!
Songstress Adele has just been on New Zealand shores. In truth, not all famous singers make it to our part of the world, put off perhaps by the logistics of coming so far for so small a country. If Adele’s visit is anything to go by, others probably shouldn’t be deterred. She held three concerts and performed to over 130,000 people, with tickets selling out for each concert within minutes of going on sale.
I’ve long been an Adele fan. I love her voice, her songs and the emotion she conveys. There’s something raw and honest about her lyrics. Of course some of her songs are far from uplifting - something she quite openly admits – but that might be why they get inside your soul in the way that they do.
I hoped to go to one of her concerts but missed out on tickets. My FOMO (fear of missing out) turned to IDMO (I’m definitely missing out) and I was quite surprised by my own level of disappointment. Every mention of Adele or her upcoming concerts gave me pangs of my regret. Oh, what might have been! What I didn’t know at the time was that my daughter had successfully got tickets for the two of us to see Adele’s first Auckland show for me for Christmas. When I got this most unexpected gift I literally got teary.
And so last week the big night finally came around. The balmy night, the expectant crowd and the prospect of finally seeing Adele all combined to make a quite delicious sense of anticipation. This anticipation grew even more when we entered the venue and experienced the buzz of shared expectation as the hordes descended.
And in the end we were far from disappointed. The concert was “wow” from beginning to end, made even more special by what Adele brings to her performance in terms of her own personality. She speaks in such a real and conversational way that you feel as though you’ve in some way connected with her, adding humour and honesty about some of her feelings and motivations behind her songs. It’s hard to believe that she’s terrified of the stage and contemplates giving up live performances.
Every so often a gift comes along that truly blesses. Adele's concert was just such a gift. And the tickets from my daughter to go to see the concert – priceless!
Most authors love to get great feedback about their books. There’s something so special about being told that the careful crafting and hours of creation have meant something to another person – especially when you consider that everything between the front cover and the back cover is completely fictitious.
I’ve had plenty of people tell me how much they’ve enjoyed my stories. Some ask when my next book is coming out (watch this space!) and can’t wait to read another. But most of all, people tell me about how much they enjoy the characters I’ve created and love how real they feel.
Just recently I received some feedback from a reader who had enjoyed my story, The Journey. She said she particularly liked the character of Cedric Olliver. If you haven’t read The Journey, it’s a story about a group of people who get together for a two-week walking tour through New Zealand wine country. The group walk during the day, and in the evening stay at some fabulous properties along the way, and are fed great food and get to taste great wine. And plenty of eventful things happen on the way.
I’ve got a real fondness for Cedric. He’s a real outsider on the trip, socially inept and unsure of himself. About the only thing he is sure of is his knowledge of useless facts. Cedric seems to have a photographic memory for trivia and uses what he knows in as many conversations as he can. As main character Lindsay observes, “The way in which Cedric managed to interweave all these relatively useless pieces of information could very well be some sort of undiscovered art form.”
In fact, during the course of the novel, Cedric trots out fifty pieces of trivia. In order to manage this from a writing point of view, I assembled a list of trivia and then, every time Cedric was in a scene, I’d get out my list and try to incorporate one of those facts into the story. Here are just a few of fun facts I managed to use:
Did you know that the electric chair was invented by a dentist?
Did you know that each year insects eat one third of the world’s food crop?
Did you know that an ant can lift fifty times its own weight and can pull thirty times its own weight?
If you want to read more about Cedric and his fun facts, check out The Journey. And perhaps you have your own fun fact to share. Just let me know. I so appreciate hearing from my readers.
In my last post I extended my good wishes to all for Christmas and New Year. Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, January is waning and February looms on the horizon. It’s incredible how time seems to evaporate!
Our family had a quiet Christmas and we celebrated New Year with a friend who came to stay. We spent quite some time talking about 2016 – its highs and lows – as well as contemplating what 2017 what might bring.
No doubt our conversation was mirrored by hundreds of thousands of similar conversations the world over. Every year I marvel at the strange phenomenon that is New Year; our need to draw the line under the previous year and strike out fresh in the next. Some people set goals, some make resolutions but, above all, hope hangs tangibly in the air with the prospect of things being different or better. Sometimes we even hope we’ll be different or better.
The thing that strikes me most throughout this process is the fact that January 1st is really only the day after December 31st. You go to bed one night and wake up in the next day. We do this every day of year. Yet because of our modern calendar, customs, traditions and timekeeping this particular dawning of a new day takes on a whole new significance.
It brings me to the realisation that we as people need new beginnings. We need to draw that line and put the past behind us. We need new vistas full of promise and empty of errors. We need to set a new course, regroup and refocus. And, again above all, we need the hope that come from what might be rather than what is.
Alexander Pope wrote these rather profound words in An Essay on Man:
Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
I’m far from immune from this process. I have plenty of plans for 2017 both in my writing and personal life and just as much hope for their fulfillment (and more) as the next person. One day I would even like to write a novel based around this idea of new beginnings, I think. And, although January has already had its share of ups and downs, hope really does spring eternal for me too. Let me know your thoughts. What do you hope for this year?
As I write this it is Christmas Eve eve – the day before the day before! Not long now until families gather, gifts are exchanged and the feasting begins. For some people it is a time of joy and excitement, for others a reminder of what they lack or have lost. For other people it’s a rare opportunity to stop and relax and for yet others a chance to reflect on the reason for the season.
I’ve always been quite partial to Christmas. I’m not sure quite what it is: the sense of anticipation? …the associated traditions? …the joy you see from children? I’m also a gift-giver so thoroughly enjoy the process of buying, wrapping and bestowing gifts on those I love. And perhaps that is the essence of Christmas – the giving rather than receiving, the sharing and the caring.
Whatever your circumstances, I’d like to take the opportunity to wish you a blessed and Merry Christmas, and hope that you get to enjoy a special day. And, as Christmas passes and thoughts inevitably move to the New Year to come, I would also like to wish you all the very best for 2017.
And, with one last note, in the spirit of giving I have a couple of special promotions coming up on my e-books. Maybury Place will be free for three days from December 25th to December 27th and The Bell Curve available for $0.99 from January 1st to January 6th.
Best wishes for the festive season…and see you on the other side!
It’s been a busy few months for me, hence the lack of an October post. Over the past two months I have been immersed in all sorts of writing projects. Amongst other things, I have written some articles on the subject of writing, completed a wide range of business writing for a commercial client, edited a screenplay, engaged to mentor two lovely ladies wanting to pen their own novels, edited a children’s book and attended a book fair. As writing can be a lonely business, it’s been great to collaborate on so many projects with other people, and to be able to materially help them on the way.
Over the last two months I’ve also had the opportunity to reconnect with a number of people from the past through the wonders of Facebook. In 1987/1988 I attended Capernwray Bible School in the north of England. I met my husband at Capernwray and made some friendships that have endured all this time. However, as you’d naturally expect, I didn’t keep in touch with every person who attended with us over that period. For a start, this was a time before mass electronic communication and so there weren’t platforms like Facebook to facilitate ongoing contact. But, when one of my former students recently tagged me in a photo taken at the time, this opened up the chance to rekindle some old connections.
In many ways, this reconnection has been like going through a time machine. I have in my mind the image of these people nigh on thirty years ago. Most students were only in their late teens and early twenties so to suddenly see them transformed three decades down the track has been quite a revelation. Most of these lovely people seem to have not only survived but thrived, with spouses and children and careers and passions and interests. It was funny too, to look at my own photo and reflect on the hopes and dreams I’d cherished as a 20-year old and to see where I’d come during the ensuing decades.
And if that wasn’t enough of a trip down memory lane, I also had the opportunity to briefly meet Nichelle Nicols, who played Uhura in the original 1960s Star Trek series. My friends all know me as a not-so-closet fan of science fiction so the chance to meet her wasn’t one to be passed up lightly. Of course she isn’t as young as she used to be either, but at nearly 84 she’s an inspiration, still travelling the world and patiently meeting fans, in spite of her own health troubles. She seems to me to be the embodiment of Spock’s famous line, “Live long and prosper.”
So as I climb out of my time machine this seems a fitting place to end this post, with me extending to you that very same sentiments, wherever you are in the world: Live long and prosper - and enjoy reading some books on the way!