My new book is really good

I decided to review my own book. Turns out it’s really good. It looks great and there’s something interesting to read on every page. Every time I start flicking through it, I get sucked into reading a chapter in full.

That’s pretty weird, because I have spent hundreds of hours with these words already and you would think I would be sick of them by now. Instead, it amazes me that I wrote these articles. I can’t believe I churned out writing of such quality every week.

Go Random Strangers You Are Awesome brings together the very best of my weekly newspaper column, which I wrote from 2013 – 2015.

A risk with this sort of collection is that the articles become dated very quickly, but this book is not shackled to its current events. Yes, the world has changed a lot since 2015, more than any of us could have anticipated. The strength of Go Random Strangers You Are Awesome, though, is that it transcends its moment in history. It is much more a book of broad themes: creativity, generosity, thoughtfulness and what it is to be human. There’s something warm and cheerful about the collection as a whole, qualities we definitely need right now. I think it’s going to last the distance.

Also, it’s just a really good read. Right from the start, when I set out to write the columns, I had a high standard in mind. I refused to write anything that would bore me upon subsequent readings. That effort is evident in these pages. I’m super proud of the result.

So yeah, this is not so much a review as a skite. My book is awesome.

I’ll make it available as an e-book next year. For now I’m selling it quietly in Tauranga. This book doesn’t want to conquer the world. It’s just happy to be here.

It’s for sale in Tauranga at the Dry Dock Cafe and Books A Plenty. If you live elsewhere and want a copy, we’ll have to figure out a way to make that happen. Contact me here.

And if you prefer something a bit more esoteric, there’s also this:

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Why Grim Tales was a highlight for 2016

Of my publication successes this year, one I was most proud of had nothing to do with me. Normally anything I write is the product of my own whimsy. This time it was not about me at all.

Grim Tales is a book of dark fairy tales that is a collaboration between The Incubator and Tauranga Women’s Refuge. Writers and artists were tasked with transforming real life stories of domestic violence into lavishly illustrated fables. The result is a beautiful book. It’s worth every cent and all of the profits go to Tauranga Women’s Refuge.

As one of the writers, I was paired with Deborah, a survivor of domestic abuse (credited in the book as Debbie). We were joined by Skye, our illustrator. My task was to condense the essence of Deborah’s story into a fable, a ‘grim tale’, which Skye would then illustrate.

None of us knew each other. We gathered for an afternoon at Deborah’s house to hear her story. She told us things that she had never spoken of, ever.

It is difficult to convey how much respect I have for Deborah. She trusted two strangers to reinterpret some of her darkest, most painful history and make it public. If you had been a victim of domestic abuse, would you trust a stranger – a male – to rewrite your experience as some sort of artsy fairy tale? Would you trust someone else you had only just met to illustrate it for publication in a coffee table book?

The writing was hard work. The subject matter was sensitive. I was handling someone else’s life. It’s not something I wanted to mess up.

The fable I ended up writing is called The girl who lived with a storm. I made it an exercise in symbolism rather than a biographical account. I didn’t want to focus too much on the violent details. That seemed like the easy path for a writer.

As I worked on it, Deborah’s story became less about the violence, and more about the crime of silence; crimes of the people around her who knew something was wrong, but didn’t speak up.

It was also a story of bravery: Deborah’s resilience, the gentle, unsung heroism of one person who did speak up, and the Women’s Refuge people who were there to wrap their arms around Deborah and provide a place of safety. This became even clearer to me at the book launch when the women who are featured in the tales stood boldly in the spotlight. Rather than a parade of horrific experiences, it was a showcase of astounding strength.

The illustration that Skye did for the story blew me away. Holy wow. In fact, all of the artwork throughout the book is stunning. Grim Tales belongs on any coffee table; the stories are grim but they are not explicit. The artwork and design is beautiful. The book as a whole is a labour of love, an uncompromising commitment to artistic excellence. I’m proud to be associated with such quality.

For copyright reasons I’m not including the story here but you can catch some snippets of it in this piece from Seven Sharp. It’s not my story anyway; it’s Deborah’s. I was merely privileged enough to be the writer who got to nurse this particular tale into its current form.

Some things I learned through this project.

  • If you think something is wrong, speak up.
  • Light scares away the darkness. I have noticed that each time Deborah opened up about her story, her dark past seemed to lose a little bit more of the power it once claimed over her life.
  • Grisly details are important for the police and the justice system, but the most important points for everyone else are that all domestic violence is wrong,  every level of domestic violence wreaks havoc for those who experience it, and none of it should be tolerated.

Grim Tales plays a small part in pulling back the curtain on domestic violence, not to glorify the terrible things that happened, but to affirm the dignity and strength of the survivors. It was a privilege to be involved in such a significant a project. Grim Tales drags something nasty out of the shadows and reveals the staggering, beautiful strength of the women and Women’s Refuge.
Grim Tales
The Incubator
Tauranga Women’s Refuge
Seven Sharp interview with Deborah
Radio NZ interview

Life, a toast

Life, a toast

Here’s to life
to homemade soup
to warm strings of bacon
in a hot winter mouthful
pea skins pressed
like helmets against your tongue
the taste of the earth.

Here’s to life
the lavish spread
a planet-load packed
with laughter, loss
the whole peculiar lot
this wild shebang of circumstance
spinning our bumbling jumble of questions
relentlessly around a cold hearted sun.

Here’s to love
to the end of the world
to youthful passion
the gallop, the turmoil
of too many words in an email
all of history’s heart beats
compressed into the zing
of that first light touch.

Here’s to friendship
to friends turned lovers
to lovers who stay friends
to the bite of grief
grinding teeth
white knuckles and fairy tales
wrestling with reality
over the weet-bix.

Here’s to hardship
to the crunchy stuff of life
to cuddling your kids
on a confounding night
here’s to sand-speckled bottoms
of toddlers on beaches
squeals of delight
playground fights
boys along bridges
their glistening backs and white teeth
bombing the raucous deep.

Here’s to our breath
our very last
released on a sharp clean bed
or sprung upon us
with violence
here’s to the final thought
the risk of it all
here’s to the risk of it all!

So raise your glass
old woman, old man
raise your cup, your mug
your warm can of beer
you on the bench with that matted grey beard
you in the church raise your greasy chalice
of Anglican port
your shallow shot of watery Baptist juice

you downtown raise your arty farty coffee
your plain cuppa tea
your ninety nine point nine percent fat free
sugar filled fruit drink
you in the dairy raise your supercharged fizz
your milo
your vodka and too much red bull
your milk, your wine
here’s to life, here’s to it all

the end and the beginning
the joy and the heartache
the hardship, the hugging
the lives that we’ve lived
and the lives that we’ve missed
here’s to squeezing the last drops of juice
from the core
of this rough ‘n’ tumble ball of existence.

Amen hallelujah breathe deep surf hard pour another
here’s to grasping
you can never quite grasp it
here’s to life, to being part of it.
To life!
I’ll drink to that.


First published in Byline 2016

Bohemian Rhapsody

Had a crack at playing and singing Bohemian Rhapsody on the ukulele. Man, I really need to get me a new vocalist – the singing is pretty rough. But it was fun putting this together so here it is, for what it’s worth. This is my uke’d up version of Jake Shimabukuro’s instrumental version, which I tried last year.

Ngā Marama: singing the months

I wrote this little song, Ngā Marama, to help me learn the Māori months. It’s kind of dorky, but did the trick. The weather this weekend has been gloriously wet and I managed to hermit myself enough to mess around with Garageband and iMovie. It was a nice escape. Learning te reo is still my favourite thing, along with coffee and poetry. And music. And Doctor Who. And my family. Okay, lots of things are my favourite things. Here’s my song.

For anyone wanting to play it, the chords are super easy, by the way. I sing it pretty high though, so you might want to transpose it down a bit.

C      F
Kohitātea (x2)

C      F
Hui-tanguru (x2)

Em            F

Em             F       G

If you’re doing it in a classroom, the song could work pretty well as a leader sings/group echoes format for the C-F section, then everyone joins in with the E minors. The timing just gets a bit trickier for the final verse where the two Whiringas start on the on-beat, hence the extra couple of bars in between. You might fill the gap before Whiringa-ā-nuku with a big fat: “tahi, rua toru, whā!”

Dishwashing Olympics

Dishwashing Olympics

It took me a while to realise they were watching. I thought it was the radio until I noticed that the radio wasn’t turned on. But the voices were there, commentating. Another careful manoeuvre, they were saying. The plate goes in … look at the sheer efficiency of that scrubbing, not a moment wasted. He absolutely maximises every movement to get the best result.

Certainly, Jim, I agree with you, and he’s definitely been rewriting the rules ever since his breakout performance in 2008 when he shifted into the smaller kitchen division, that was when the world of dishwashing really had to sit up and take notice.

Absolutely, Nigel, that performance catapulted small kitchen work onto the world stage. And we should expect to see a classic turn here as he approaches the saucepans, here it comes … Yes! There it is, the double handle swap, his signature move, allowing the small pot to be stacked cleanly under the larger one. Showing us again what a master he is not only of the wash and stack but also of that so often overlooked part, the selection.

I agree and you’ll notice as he works through the pile, his total command of the bench space. The small kitchen is like a chess board, you always need to be working several moves ahead. The quality of what we’re seeing here is what you get when you bring bench preparation into the event itself.

Oh! What a superb move with the frying pan! A master class in dishwashing, really, the elegance and sheer fluidity he brings to every kitchen!

And here comes the rinse. We learn something every time. A virtuoso, Nigel. A virtuoso.

This is a story from Ministry of Ideas, available on the Amazon Kindle Store

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