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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Teenager inspires

Among all the stories of countries spying on each other and on their own citizens, plus dirtier than usual electioneering in New Zealand, comes an inspiring story  of a New Zealand teenager.

Like many teens, Matt Wilson fills in free time with sport, music, mates and homework - but unlike most, he has also led a $115,000 aid mission to a Pacific island.
The Masterton 17-year-old built an extension to a Niuean hospital to make a difference, get real- world training, gain friendships and - maybe best of all - do something cool with his dad.
Matt's father, Wairarapa police sergeant Garry Wilson, was the inspiration behind the year 13 Rathkeale College student's unusual school holiday project.
Having seen too many troubled teens lacking goals and parental input, Wilson set Matt a challenge. After research they settled on an extension to an aged-care facility at Niue's Foou hospital.
The hospital was rebuilt after a 2004 cyclone, but there was one thing missing, Matt said - space.
"There were eight elderly in four rooms and a little walkway in front where they just sat . . . now they get to move around, get on with their lives, meet with their families and eat at a table instead of always in their beds."
Matt's innovative design includes a five-unit day-bed wing which can be converted into a multipurpose room, a landscaped garden and a services block based around a modified shipping container complete with kitchenette, laundry and toilet.
It was prefabricated in Masterton and shipped to Niue for assembly during a July working bee by Matt, five Rathkeale friends and a group of adults, including his father.
Beforehand, Matt pitched his project far and wide during 15 months, eventually raising around $80,000 from more than 40 companies and individuals, as well as Niuean government input of $35,000.
"I'm really proud of what he's achieved," Garry said. "It was reliant on him stepping up to the plate and he did that, and beyond."
Matt said a special moment was incorporating a round, grey boulder from the Ruamahanga River, which runs past his school and home, into a white, Niuean stone wall bordering the new structure. The name Ruamahana ("warm haven") was chosen for the new facility to echo the river's name, which Matt, of Ngai Tahu descent, translates as "the joining of two".
A Niue government representative hailed Ruamahana as a "new-forged bond" between Niue and Wairarapa.
It wasn't all work. Matt said Niue, population 1500, was "pretty wicked" and described swims with metre-long sea snakes, bombs off seaside cliffs and a village seafood cookoff with dancing and a "massive big feast".
His dad's participation meant a lot. "It was something we did together."
He is now applying for Victoria University's architecture degree course.

I was intrigued to see the Niuean on the far right wearing a Cook Islands t-short.  Polynesians still voyage the Pacific!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Today's Drabble

NINE SECONDS by Joan Curry

3 am and brandy warmed her belly. Lights winked across the water lapping at the piles under the bridge. She flung her arms wide, giggling: “iconic Titanic!” And then, “look out world, here I come!”

An urgent rush, and the explosive release into light. She blinked, bawled. Hands wrapped her in towels, faces loomed. Later, pigtails with red ribbons, the squeak of chalk on blackboard and sandwiches, hopscotch. Yay, London! The VW combi. 

She found Dermott, wicked smile, enchanting accent. Gorgeous Dermott, bloody Dermott and that skanky slut – how could this be … 

Nine seconds later black water enveloped her. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Tupaia's lorikeet

To my surprise, today I received an envelope from Valerie in Australia, containing a print-out of an item that had been shown on ABC news over there.  The post-it attached read, "Joan, Perhaps this might be of interest. We met on Pacific Pearl in July 2011 -- mostly in the coffee shop."

How thoughtful of her, because the item certainly was of interest. In my biography of Tupaia, the extraordinary Tahitian (originally from Raiatea) who sailed with Captain Cook on the Endeavour, I related an anecdote about the bird that Tupaia captured at Botany Bay in February 1770, and kept as a pet. Weakened by severe scurvy, Tupaia died in Batavia (Jakarta) late that same year, but Joseph Banks looked after the bird, giving it to collector Marmaduke Tunstall after he arrived in London.  It was a story I also told in my lecture on Tupaia and Captain Cook on the cruise ship, and evidently Valerie remembered.

Well, the painting I showed of Tupaia's bird was the one at the top of this post.  Stilted in pose -- as was usual with natural history paintings then -- it is very brightly colored.

It was painted by Peter Brown, a natural history artist who exhibited at the Royal Academy, and was the author of New Illustrations of Zoology, which includes this painting, the earliest published illustration of an Australian bird. The painting is dated November 3, 1774.

Well, according to the ABC news item that Valerie sent me, there is another painting of Tupaia's bird. It created by Moses Griffith in 1772, and is estimated to be the first painting of an Australian bird. It has recently been acquired by the National Library of Australia.  I have no idea what they paid for it, but according to the Sotheby's catalogue  $150,000-$200,000 was confidently expected.

It is certainly a beautiful painting, more graceful than the highly colored Peter Brown version -- but is it the same bird?  If so, why is it so much more drab?

The catalogue gives an excellent explanation. Tupaia, it seems, collected his pet when it was at the junior, perhaps even nestling stage, and so when Griffith painted it in 1772, the lorikeet was still in juvenile plumage. By the time Brown got around to it, two years had passed, and the bird was flaunting full adult colors.

The bird was stuffed after it died, and was put on show for years, finishing up in the Great North Museum, Hancock.  But whether it is still there is impossible to tell, as no one could find a trace of it when I asked.  Maybe it molted away -- but at least two beautiful paintings remain.


Note: The Peter Brown painting is also an illustration in the prizewinning Random House NZ edition of the biography (Tupaia, the Remarkable Story of Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator) but not in the largely unadorned US Praeger version (Tupaia, Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator). It is not in the digital version, either, that edition being text-only.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Strange Story of the Drabble

The word "drabble" was first found in a compendium of Monty Python humor called Monty Python's Big Red Book (which, though a play on the notorious Little Red Book, was actually blue).  In the Python book a game is described in which four players sit around a fire drinking brandy, and the first one to write a novel wins.  And the game was called DRABBLE.

For some strange reason the idea was taken up by science fiction fandom, notably the Birmingham University's science fiction club. The problem, as Dave Langford describes in "A Very Short Anthology," was to choose the length of the novel, which obviously had to be rather short. So a host of SF fans and writers put their imaginations to work.

The great British SF writer, Brian Aldiss proposed a set length of 50 words, which led to a newspaper competition, which in its turn, led to 33,000 entries, all of which Aldiss was forced to read.  One of the entrants was an unnamed member of the Royal Family, who not only was obviously a fan of Monty Python, the Goons, and so forth, but was unable to count to fifty.

A length of 8 words was then proposed, and the definitive version came along very soon, penned by Colin Greenland. "Aliens disguised as typewriters? I never heard such..."

One hundred words became the standard, though there is some argument about hyphenated words and whether the count should include the title or not.  Because of its origins, the 100-word story (and it is supposed to be a coherent anecdote, not simply playing with words) is usually in the SF or horror genre.  Shaggy dog stories are also very popular.

Then came the Drabble Project, where exactly one hundred drabbles were published in a book that cost one hundred shillings, and the profits were given to charity. It contained drabbles by famous writers like Terry Pratchett, and a wonderful example of the genre by James Steel.

More Dumb Monsters, by James Steel

The monster climbed. Fighter aircraft, dwarfed by its massive bulk, fired missile after missile into the scaly armour of the beast's hide. Roars shattered the windows of the city and reverberated far into the hills beyond. Artillery lined up in the streets below, ready to deliver their crushing firepower against the foe. High-pitched screams of terror, barely heard between the roar of collapsing buildings, announced the creature's hostage to be still alive.

The creature paused and brought a huge scaly hand towards its mouth.

"I've got the specimen," it said. "Beam me out of here and level the place."

The Drabble Project page will tell you how to buy the book, and its two successors.

Feel like writing a drabble? The trick is to write a draft without worrying too much about length. The real writing exercise is the editing of that draft.  Take out unnecessary words.  If all else fails, take out whole sentences. The aim is to make your writing crisp and economical.

Friday, September 12, 2014


Published on September 4th, 2014 | by Booknotes

New Zealand guest of honour in Taiwan

Open hearts, Open minds, Open books
發現紐西蘭 樂讀新世界
Ngākau aotea, Ngākau māhorahora, Pukapuka wherawhera
New Zealand is to be the Guest of Honour at the 2015 Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE 15), and is taking advantage of the opportunity to promote the country in as many ways as possible. The Guest of Honour Programme, managed by the Publishers Association of New Zealand, will have a Visiting Author programme, a Cultural Programme, a substantial publisher presence (both trade and educational publishers selling rights to NZ material) and other yet-to-be announced elements.

The initial selection for the Visiting Author Programme for TIBE 2015 (which is held in February) is highlighted by Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton and Dame Joy Cowley. Joining them are Gavin Bishop, Jenny Bornholdt, Paul Cleave, Joan Druett, Witi Ihimaera, Heather McAllister, Mark Sommerset, Judith White and Sarah Wilkins. Other writers and/or illustrators will be added to the programme. The programme is funded by Creative New Zealand and is in partnership with the Taipei Book Fair Foundation.

The criteria for the initial invitation is that an author must have a book available in the Taiwanese market at the time of TIBE 2015 and a Taiwanese publisher must support the author’s visit with co-operative events. The authors will be involved in a series events at the NZ Pavilion in the fair exhibition hall and in other venues in conjunction with their Taiwanese publishers.

The Cultural Programme is headed by the popular Te Puia kapa haka group from Te Puia in Rotorua. They will perform daily at the TIBE and other venues, while a traditional Māori carver, with help from members of the group, will carve from a large log of Taiwanese wood.
Kevin Chapman, Project Director for NZ Guest of Honour says: “The Visiting Author Programme and the Cultural Programme are the cornerstone of the Guest of Honour project. We are pleased to have such a diverse group of successful and talented authors and performers to showcase New Zealand at TIBE 2015.”

Paoping Huang, Director of TBFF says: “We look forward to welcoming the New Zealand writers, illustrators and performers to TIBE 2015.  The Visiting Author Programme will introduce new writers to Taiwanese readers, and welcome back some old friends.”
TIBE opens on Wednesday 11th February 2015 and closes on Monday 16th February. TIBE 2014 attracted almost half a million visitors and 648 publisher exhibitors from around the world. TBFF will offer free entry for students for the 2015 event.

The Guest of Honour Programme at TIBE 2015 is supported by Creative NZ, Education NZ, The Publishers Association of NZ, NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the NZ Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Franklin expedition ship discovered


Sir John Franklin led the two ships and 129 men in 1845 to chart the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic.

The expedition's disappearance shortly after became one of the great mysteries of the age of Victorian exploration.

After more than 160 years of searching to understand the fate of English explorer Sir John Franklin’s fabled arctic voyage, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a Canadian team has located one of Franklin’s historic ships and solved one of the world’s greatest archaeological mysteries, informs Parks Canada.

Expedition sonar images from the waters of Victoria Strait, just off King William Island, clearly show the wreckage of a ship on the ocean floor.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Today's drabble

Today's drabble comes from Sallyann Sack, who also belongs to the Martha's Vineyard writers' group, but says she is "only a summer person."  It has been enormous fun, she says; the people are so warm and friendly (I can vouch for that, too), She returns home to New York soon, and hopes to find a similar group of writers, who maybe will get hooked into this drabble-writing fashion. And I assume that she is not the Sallyann of her story?


Bad Timing

Hot new singer Tony Bennett came to town. Members of The Cleveland Press Teen Board, including Sallyann, interviewed him. The telephone rang that night. It was Bennett’s manager. Tony wanted her to “do the town” with him.  As she excitedly asked parental permission, her father erupted from his chair. Grabbing the telephone, he bellowed his outrage. “She’s only sixteen. Find someone your own age, you cradle snatcher!”  Mortified and furious, Sallyann stormed to her room.

Twenty-five years later, in a Waldorf Astoria elevator, Sallyann again came face to face with Bennett. 

“Hello! Remember me?”

“Do you still want a date?” 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Novel by Committee

It's not a bad idea, and full kudos to Lee Child for his continuing efforts to get other crime writers noticed. Under his sponsorship (he wrote the introduction) twenty authors played a sort of pass the parcel with a premise, the idea being to come up with a joint novel.

Maybe it takes you back to memories of childhood games, too.  Someone writes a stirring paragraph, then passes on the paper to the next in line, who adds another paragraph, and so on and so forth, the story developing in fits and starts as it goes along, until some lucky person gets to write the ending.

It also reminds me of a long-ago conversation with one of the writers for the English boys' magazine Eagle. The way he told the story, he was the co-author of a serial (in words, not comic form) where he and the other author wrote the episodes for six weeks, and then handed it over. Their game was to leave the boy hero in such an impossible situation that the other writer would have to carry out contortions to get out of the mess.

Mike told me that one time he had outdone himself.  He left the hero at the bottom of a pit with forty-foot sheer walls, and snakes writhing amongst pointed poisoned stakes all around him. Then he went off to France for the next three or so weeks, wondering all the time how boy hero would survive.  Then he got home, grabbed the issue that followed his last, and read four deathless words ...

With one mighty leap...

Anyway, back to Inherit the Dead.

"Twenty thrilling writers, one chilling mystery" says the banner at the top of the cover.  Well, whoever wrote that was more creative than the authors, who all too obviously were never readers of the Eagle serial.  The story starts well enough, though the premise is hackneyed -- ex-copper turned PI with a cute name -- Pericles Christo (and yes, that did remind me of M. Connolly's Hieronymus) -- is given the job of contacting a rich woman who wants to report the loss of her daughter.  Rich woman's ex lives in a mansion in the Hamptons, and so Perry heads up Route 27, taken over by another writer.

I lost count of how many times he drove that route. The road itself, as I know from experience, is incredibly boring, and yet writer after writer gets him back behind the wheel.  Perry's personality flexes slightly as each author takes him over, but boy, not as much as some of the other people, including the rich woman and her ex.  The best character by far is an East Hampton police chief by the name of Gawain, so much so that I must look up books by the writer of that chapter, Bryan Gruley.

As I said before, great idea, well worth following. Pity that it fell so flat.

Today's drabble

Today's drabble comes from Irwin Pikus, and all the way from the historic island of Martha's Vineyard, in Massachusetts.  Irwin's better half belongs to a writing group that has enthusiastically taken up the challenge to write drabbles. When she told him about it, he set to and dashed off this drabble.  Spymouse whispers that the ladies of the writing group are both impressed and envious.

Remember, a drabble has to be exactly 100 words, and has to convey a strong message or tell a story.  Just playing with words doesn't work....



She rode the enameled ponies in wide sinusoidal circuits created by their up and down motion as the carousel went round and round. Music blared distorted, repetitive melodies.  She beamed a child’s innocent smile – can a smile convey exuberance? When the ride was over she begged for yet another.

Skip forward some twenty-five circlings of the earth about the sun.

Another child, her daughter, now rode the very same carousel, playing the same melodies, tracing congruent trajectories.  The daughter’s face beamed as her mother’s had before.

The scene played out, evidencing yet again the fundamental cyclic nature of life.  

Friday, September 5, 2014

The terrorist photographer and the Greenpeace calendar

Featured large in the DominionPost today is a Greenpeace blunder.

It might have happened 29 years ago, but the bombing of the protest vessel Rainbow Warrior on July 10, 1985, is still fresh in the memories of New Zealanders.  It was the first act of terrorism on New Zealand soil, resulting in the death of Fernando Pereira, who was a Greenpeace photographer.

Which is ironic, because one of the men who killed him (Alain Mafart, who was found guilty of manslaughter) has a photo in the 2015 Greenpeace calendar, having metamorphosed in the meantime from spy to photographer.

The Kiwi deckhand who lost a comrade in the bombing is aghast that one of the French agents responsible for the act has had a wildlife photograph published in an international Greenpeace calendar.
"You couldn't make it up," said Bunny McDiarmid. "And he's got a different name now. Who thinks about what spies do in their second life?"

Mafart, after capture
In a statement posted on its website, Greenpeace USA said that during the production of its 2015 calendar, the calendar's publisher, Workman Publishing, sourced an image from a nature photographer, Alain Mafart-Renodier.
"It was later discovered that Mafart-Renodier is also Alain Mafart, one of the French military operatives who was involved in the bombing of the Greenpeace ship, the Rainbow Warrior, in New Zealand in 1985."
Greenpeace USA said it "deeply regretted" the error, and had ordered the recycling of the 14,000 calendars in its possession.

Workman Publishing is not being as cooperative about the 19,000 calendars it has distributed to retailers. They refuse to request a recall unless Greenpeace trumps up with a quarter of a million dollars "for costs and lost profits."

Not a good look.  As Greenpeace regretfully says, they can't pay that, as it is not the best use of donor money.

The organization confirmed that it had returned all royalty payments and ended its relationship with Workman.