Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Magpies, Dark Deeds, and Māori Spitfire pilots

My first-ever feature in a big British newspaper - I snuck in
some crime fiction under the guise of wartime remembrances! 

Craig every second Tuesday

Kia ora and gidday everyone,

Phew, a busy time lately with lots of fascinating book-ish related things going on, in among the Spring plantings and seed propagation at our allotment garden, and other life stuff. Unfortunately I had to watch on enviously as my social media feeds filled up with Crimefest-related posts over the weekend. 

While I wasn't able to attend this year, it looked like another fantastic festival, with some super events, including the likes of headliners Denise Mina, Laura Lippman, and James Lee Burke. I'm a huge fan of each of their work, and have interviewed each of them in the past, multiple times. All fabulous people as well as storytellers, so I'm glad Crimefest-goers got to enjoy them along with all the dozens of other cool authors, established and new, in attendance. Kudos to Donna Moore and Adrian Muller. 

My fellow reviewer, Ngaios and CWA Daggers judge Ayo Onatade
flanked by authors Abir Mukherjee and Denise Mina at Crimefe

I would have so loved to catch up with some of the Murder is Everywhere crew at Crimefest too, and look forward to doing so at future festivals in the UK or elsewhere. My inside sources tell me that one of our number, the fabulous Zoë Sharp, even took out the prestigious Criminal Mastermind quiz, well done Zoë! 

Fortunately, I've had lots and lots of cool bookish things going on too, to soothe my Crimefest FOMO. I mentioned last time (while talking about Anzac Day) that I had researched and written my first large feature for a big British newspaper, relating to award-winning Māori filmmaker and novelist Michael Bennett and his extraordinary family history - his father was an RAF Spitfire pilot, six uncles also went to war, one led the famed Māori Battalion, etc. 

That feature was published in the Daily Express last Thursday (see top), a lovely double-page spread. It was really cool to talk to Michael about his father and uncles, and the impact his family - including his mother, aunts, wife and children - have on his storytelling, both in terms of inspiring characters and the types of stories he writes. I also went done some interesting World War II rabbit holes, while researching and fact checking, even discovering things about Michael's father, a rare indigenous fighter pilot, that Michael didn't yet know. So that was really cool. 

Dark Deeds contributors celebrating the online launch of volume 2

Earlier in May, we also held a cool multinational livestream, launching DARK DEEDS DOWN UNDER 2. The idea was to have as many of the contributors online as possible on the livestream, answering questions from popular Australian podcaster and kids author Dani Vee. We managed to exceed expectations with 13 of our volume 2 contributors, Stephen Ross representing volume 1, publisher Lindy Cameron, and myself as editor all onscreen at once. Of course this led to a few wee tech glitches, as Zoom and Facebook were at odds briefly, but it was really great to be able to celebrate the launch of our second volume in what has been praised as a ground-breaking anthology series featuring Australian and New Zealand crime and thriller storytelling. You can watch a livestream replay here

This second volume of DARK DEED DOWN UNDER was put together at a particular tough time personally for me, so I'm hugely grateful to all our wonderful writers, for their stories and patience. It was great to see many of them onscreen, and holding up copies of our anthology from various cities, towns, and rural centres in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. If you like short stories and great crime writing, please do check it out

Then last Thursday, while I couldn't attend Crimefest, I did get the cool opportunity to chair a terrific books event at a London bookshop, interviewing renowned Kiwi literary author Catherine Chidgey at Waterstones Kingston. 

Preparing to interview the great Catherine Chidgey 
at Waterstones Kingston last Thursday evening

Catherine is an extraordinary writer whose novels have won and been shortlisted for numerous international prizes, including the Women's Prize, Dublin Literary Award, Commonwealth Writers Prize, Betty Trask Award, and more. Last year she was the only author to have two different books longlisted for the Dublin Literary Award (nominated by libraries around the world). She has twice won the Acorn Prize for Fiction, New Zealand's premier book award, including last year for her novel THE AXEMAN'S CARNIVAL, which is a brilliant rural gothic novel where a magpie named Tama narrates the story of a troubled and violent marriage succumbing to the pressures of farming life. 

I recently read both PET, Catherine's terrific take on a psychological thriller, set at a Catholic girls school in 1980s New Zealand, and THE AXEMAN'S CARNIVAL, and both are wonderful. The latter book is full of tension and darkness and looming violence, yet also bright, joyous, and full of laugh-out-loud moments too. It's a superb read. 

Interviewing Catherine in front of an enthusiastic audience was a real thrill. She shared some fascinating tales about the research that went into her novels set against the Holocaust (THE WISH CHILD and REMOTE SYMPATHY), the origins of Tama the Magpie, thoughts on the craft of storytelling and the power of books, her husband's farming background, why she shifts around in terms of subject matter and styles, and much more. It was a fab evening. 

Publisher Daniela Petracco, literary agent Martin Shaw,
and myself at Waterstones Kingston

In an unexpected, rather lovely, bonus, Waterstones Kingston had also got in several copies of my own first book, SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, alongside plenty of stock of Catherine's fabulous novels. It was lovely to see SCC - which came out during lockdowns and bookshop closures and festival cancellations - sitting in good numbers on the shelves, even if only temporarily. I even got to sign a couple of copies for attendees who bought it along with Cath's novels. So Thursday was a lovely bookish day for me, too, along with those at Crimefest's first evening. 

Times like these remind me how great it is to be a booklover. 

Until next time. Ka kite anō.

Whakataukī of the fortnight: 
Inspired by Zoe and her 'word of the week', I'll be ending my fortnightly posts by sharing a whakataukī (Māori proverb), a pithy and poetic thought to mull on as we go through life.

Whāia te mātauranga hei oranga mō koutou

(Seek after learning for the sake of your wellbeing)

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