Sunday, September 30, 2018

The last minute thing that people liked the most

I had the opportunity to present a talk as part of a celebration honouring 125 years since Kiwi women won the right to vote. There have been heaps of events, and our talk was months in the thinking about preparing. It was a terrific talk, tons of research with my workmate, but the funny thing about it was the minute or so of acting I did with another colleague, Mark, towards the end, that people commented on the most.
The talk was focused on the many ways women over the years have used creativity in protests, whether it was anti-nuclear, anti-apartheid, equality, dress reform at the turn of the century, that kind of thing. So we covered things like making posters, poetry, cartoons and art, music, zines and even had a dance group of seniors perform a dance on breaking the glass ceiling at the end. All this was well planned, but at the last minute, ie the day before, we decided we should mention a well-known feminist playwright, Renee.
So I found several of her plays and thought, why don't we do a reading from a scene? I found a really good bit which was a male and female part, with lots of gritty dialogue, and asked my colleague Mark who was recording the talk and taking care of the techie stuff if he'd read out the male part. He was up for it, and we did a run through.
But then it changed.
We thought we should make it a bit more atmospheric. It was set in the depression of the 1930s, so a few basic props would be good. It took place in a kitchen, so we decided as I was introducing it to the audience and giving a bit of back story to the scene, that we should drag in a table, and a chair for Mark to lounge in. He suggested I wear an apron (couldn't find one suitable tbh) but I got a teatowel and a few cups to look domestic.
And that was it.
So at the appropriate point of the talk, we did this little reading, that was only a minute long at the most. Short and simple.
Well.
Of all the things in the talk, it was the thing that was commented on the most, days, even the week after.  People said how much they liked the play and including the scene from Renee's play, and the acting. (To be fair, it was Mark's acting they raved about, he was great.)
As we were talking about it later, it truly amazed us how it was that a simple thing, decided on the day before, when the talk had been months in the thinking about, how that was the thing that was most memorable and appreciated.
Not surprisingly, it has been mooted there should be more acting in future presentations. Not sure how that can work, but if you ever get the chance to read a play like Wednesday to Come, it's a gritty work on a terrible time globally, and how it affected folk who were, as one of the lines in the play suggested, worried they were going to starve to death.
~ Joanne

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Hendon Fungus, a kids' read from yore

In Standard Four at primary school, I had the worst teacher ever She was just horrible, in the way that some teachers are when you're a kid. I may have actually hated her.
I remember several things about Mrs Matthews. She was old. (Probably my age now, tbh)
She smoked. I have a recollection of packets of Benson and Hedges, something gold, on her desk, in the larger packs. She had a smoker's voice so the smokes didn't kill her off early. She lived well beyond retirement age. She taught us our times tables. I really doubt anyone left that class at the end of the year not knowing at least up to the ten times. I know adults to this day who couldn't tell you off the top of their heads 9 x 8 or whatever.
And she read the class, The Hendon Fungus.
I have just re-read the book. I've read it a few other time since I left primary school and I love it. It is funny, it has great characters, it is science-fictiony.
It is probably my most favourite kids book ever, and I remember Mrs Matthews reading it to the class and being so gripped by it, that I am sure I took it out of the school library, and read it again.
It involves some heroic kids whose father is a scientist who brings a strange fungus back to England and they plant it, as he instructs them. Except this fungus grows and multiplies and basically... I will say no more.
I doubt there are many copies of this book in too many libraries now (it was written in 1970) but if you feel like a fun read, I say, give it a try.  It is fiction and there are some things that don't ring true. But it is fiction, and there is a lot of humour in it, given its a very dire apocalyptic topic.
Six out of five stars.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Talks, suffrage, and a little romance

I have had a massively busy time lately with work, writing talks, articles, all that kind of good stuff.
I am working on a suffrage talk with a colleague, on protest and art, because here in NZ this month we celebrate 125 years since women won the right to vote.
The research has been great fun, delving into the writings of the early feminists, although suffrage isn't the only topic. It covers anti-apartheid tours, anti-nuclear, gender equality, and even dress reform from the early 1900s. Check out this link from Heritage Images, of a fabulous photo of a dress reform wedding, and you'll see what I mean.
https://bit.ly/2oJ55zB

On to the romance... I have been struggling a bit with The Heart of Matthew McLeod, but am hoping - hope is such an odd thing, I've concluded - to have it out next month. I'm pretty pleased with it and even more so, to be back in Frazier Bay. Here's an excerpt. It is still a work in progress and may change but for now... Enjoy.

CHAPTER ONE

The fire alarm sounded as Alexandra Fuller was a whisker away from making a fool of herself in front of pre-schoolers and their parents.
She was equally wary of both.
She took off the gold princess crown, shrugged out of the white fairy wings and stood up from the pink beanbag. The children were still waiting for storytime to begin. In spite of the volume of the alarm, the adults were only just beginning to look up from their phones.
Where’s the fire?” one asked.
Alex set the books on the beanbag. “I can’t say.” It was probably a drill. “But we may need to leave the building. There’ll be a message on the loud speaker if we do. It would pay to get ready to leave, now.”
No!” A scream came from one of the children as she ran up and wrapped her arms around Alex’s leg. “I want a story from the fairy princess.”
I – um.” She stared down at the girl’s ginger hair. Should she untangle the child? Would the mother come and rescue them both? The mother, Alex noted, was settling an even younger child into a pushchair.
The real princess,” Alex began stiltedly, “I mean the other princess, will be back next week. She’s got sick today, so she couldn’t be here and I’m just the temporary storytime princess. I mean, the storytime fairy.” What she actually was, she hadn’t been sure. Apparently the role was fluid. She patted the little girl’s head in short, uncomfortable movements. “You can come back next week when the real – the other – princess fairy is here.”
The tone of the alarm changed as the pre-recorded message announced it was time to evacuate the building, and Alex’s shoulders slumped with relief. Finally.
The mother reached for her daughter’s hand. “Come on, Ava, say goodbye to the fairy princess, we’ll come back another time.” Between protests and sobs, she was dis-entangled from Alex’s leg and ushered down towards the main entrance where staff were shepherding the crowd out.
For a small town like Kingston Falls, it had been a crazy, busy morning in the library.
For a small town librarian, whose job title said nothing about being a storytime princess, Alex had to wonder what on earth she’d been thinking? She made a quick scan of the area, gestured for a student at the table to leave immediately. What had she, of all people, been thinking, volunteering to do that?
You’re a walk-over, that’s why. She shepherded more people out, noted there was a backlog at the main entrance where two pushchairs had collided and books had gone flying. She could deny it all she liked, but this, right here, was a prime example of someone who should learn to say no occasionally.
A hand touched her shoulder. “Excuse me?”
Sorry but you need to leave the building.” She gestured vaguely to the ceiling where the message sounded above the siren, and turned to the man. “We have to--”
Her voice stopped as she stared into the eyes, brown black eyes, of a man she’d met before. It took just a couple of seconds before she put a name to the face.
Matthew.
Matthew McLeod.
I’m not leaving." Desperation shimmered in his voice. "I’m missing a child.”
(ends)

Debbie Macomber and a nod to LaVyrle

A recent read, back in the old romance vein, that I adored was Cottage by the Sea , by Debbie Macomber. Macomber has moved more into wom...