What is better than Beatrix Potter?

Beatrix Potter with special new covers by five British fashion designers!

Miss Potter

These are really gorgeous, and make the range feel fresh and very modern – and lets be honest, when you read them again as an adult some of these stories are startlingly modern in their sensibility, some are rather odd, often violent (those two bad mice!) and most have an often overlooked anarchism and a touch of sinister, macabre delight in the various scrapes their protagonists get into – there is no sugar coating for delicate littlies the fact that Peter Rabbit (check out his slouchy bad-boy self on the new cover) could just as easily be in a pie, or that Squirrel Nutkin loses his lovely tail for being cheeky. In the manuscript that was discovered last year, which has just been published, Kitty-In-Boots, Kitty’s owner is worried that Kitty has been taken to be turned into a muff. Ugh.

So far they have only done five covers (the publishers haven’t fiddled with the insides, which would be a step too far, they’d all lose their tails) but I hope they do more… bpde03bpdebpde04

The inaugural University Book Shop and Robert Lord Writers’ Cottage Trust Summer Writer in Residence!

Congratulations to Hannah Bulloch

Hannah is an emerging narrative nonfiction writer, with a background in Social Anthropology. She is currently finishing an MA in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University of Wellington.  Her proposal centres around her grandfather, Dunedin farmer Alan Macleod, and his family’s 1963 adventure in a bespoke caravan built from the chassis of a WWII armoured scout car, the cab of a city bus and the engine of a Bren Gun Carrier, from Malaya to the Isle of Skye.

The residency is a joint initiative between the University Book Shop Otago and the Robert Lord Writers’ Cottage Trust. The residency, which includes full accommodation and a stipend, begins in early January and goes through until February. It is intended the residency becomes an annual award and is designed to enable an emerging writer to complete a work or body of work, finalise a manuscript through to publication submission, or work without distraction on a new or original work. Generously, through the University of Otago Summer School, the recipient will also become an honorary student of the University for the duration of their time here with all the research, recreational and community support this affords.

Applications are open 20 July – 20 August each year.

Tumbleweeding at Shakespeare & Co

Three Weeks a Weed… an ex-UBS Otago staffer in a Paris bookshop…

For a Tumbleweed, the day usually begins at 8:00am.

I only have to twist an inch to fall off my narrow mattress onto the stone floor, my legs are covered in subtle mosquito bites because it is summer and my eyes are a little dark from burning the candle at both ends, but there is no better feeling than waking to a room full of books with the bells of Notre Dame chiming next door. Romantic, I know.

I stuff my bedding into one of the benches, heave the mattress back onto it’s seat and tumbleweedgo through the doors into the studio to have a quick, cramped shower. Then my fellow Tumbleweeds and I will pack a bag of food and go upstairs to binge on muesli and coffee in the old studio of George Whitman.

Shakespeare and Company is a dusty, vibrant old bookstore nestled in the very heart of Paris. Opened first in 1951, the building, once a monastery, was named after the bard on the four-hundredth anniversary of his death in 1964 by Mr. George Whitman. The name, inspired by the original Shakespeare and Co. owned by Sylvia Beach, has become somewhat a beacon of hope and refuge for dreamers. Beach’s store attracted such writers as Hemingway, Joyce and Eliot.  Whitman’s attracted Ginsberg, Nin and Burroughs. Something in the water I suspect.

paris_shakespeareco_portraitsofeleganceSince the beginning writers and readers have been tumbling in and since the beginning they have been welcomed with open arms and a great benefit-of-the-doubt nature by Whitman to sleep in the shop on the little beds that perform as benches by day, in exchange for two hours of work. Thus, a community was established. Today the shop is run by the incredibly kind Sylvia Whitman, daughter of George and all around Queen of multi tasking. If you are lucky you might catch her in the early morning drifting through like a fairy with a coffee, or in the afternoon performing tasks that involve heavy lifting, taking the dirty work that would normally be thrust upon fresh employees. I believe Sylvia is how the shop has remained so true to its spirit, avoiding corruption and keeping it’s mind and doors open to new folks who pass through, such as myself. The staff also are incredibly patient, considering the many tourists who dash in only for a quick photo, not even pausing to browse, and they have done a wonderful job of not murdering any Tumbles who have come to stay, considering it can’t be easy training new employees almost every week.

The job of the Tumbleweed is to help with opening up the shop (this includes the café next door also), then hang around to fold a few bags if necessary. It is then normal to disperse for reading or writing until the obligatory two hour shift, in which the Tumble will either shelve books, help customers, work in the storage store down the street or assist Sylvia with some heavy lifting (my speciality). To work as hard as one can affirms a place to sleep, whether it be on the floor of the library or in the poetry corner. After the shift, one is free to read, write or enjoy Paris. The final job is to be back at the shop by 10:45 to help with closing up, then after 11:00 it is only natural to spend the rest of the night beside the Seine drinking three euro wine. I came to Paris with one intention: to Tumbleweed at this infamous store. And here I now sit, in the studio graced by Shakespeare-and-Co.-Paris-Bookstorehundreds of others like me, and while if I think about this for too long, it is disheartening, there is also something inexplicably magical in that which makes me think… do I really need to go?

While the concept of dropping out of Uni to remain in the Garden of Eden is far fetched, I can’t help but play with the idea in my sleep. But no matter, the story goes a Tumble always returns. The vital thing is to be grateful for what you are given and above all else: be kind to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.

Jessica Thompson Carr, born in 1996, here in Dunedin is of Maori/NZ European descent, and is currently on a student exchange in Lyon, France, for one semester, taking weekend trips to Paris as well as other places for hiking. She aspires to be a writer and living at the Shakespeare and Company bookshop has stimulated that. She studied English and Art History and returns to New Zealand next year to complete her degree and begin the hunt for writing work.
Find her on Instagram: jesscat8484 or email her: jessthomspon880@gmail.com
Paris, August 2016

Captivating twists and turns…

There are quite a few in Sarah Perry’s new novel The Essex Serpent which is being described as Dickens meets Stoker. It is a clever read, refreshing and unexpected and very satisfying.

In 1669, a pamphlet was published in Saffron Waldon. Strange News out of Essex or pamphlet_2The Winged Serpent informed the horrified public that a beast, wettish, serpentish, deathly – and with wings! – was on the prowl in the soggy and mysterious Essex marshlands. The pamphlet was re-printed in the late nineteenth-century by Robert MiIller Christie, when the snakey creature was once more rumoured to be abroad.
Truely. You can see the pages in the Saffron Walden Museum.

Starting her story in 1893, Sarah Perry sends her unusual heroine, her odd child and his socialist-activist nanny off to Essex to chase the beastie, after quickly dispatching her ill husband in the first couple of chapters. Cora is frankly relieved that he is dead (there are enough darkly alluded to sadistic and nasty moments between them that we are quite pleased too), and being a modern woman of enquiring mind, excited by the new ideas of Darwin and the discoveries of fossils on the English coasts, she is determined to see whether the animal is perhaps a living fossil, perhaps an ichthyosaur, or just a folktale frightening benighted marsh-dwelling peasants. There is a brilliant, envelope-pushing surgeon, in thrall to her since he was doctoring her husband and his wealthy doctor friend who fancies the socialist nanny and tries to impress her by crusading against London’s noisome slums. There is a fun member of parliament and his wife who introduce Cora to an Essex vicar and his fairy-like wife, and their charming children, who are all trying to live in a world threatened by both serpents and science.

There is lots of love, perhaps the most touching between the two medical friends, who support each other through thick and thin, a touch of desire and much sparkling playing with ideas and clever talk.The ending is not what you expect yet it is exactly right. Cora is great: charming, intelligent, fierce and real. Her son is unusual and fascinating. I do hope that there is a sequel sometime, I’d really like to see what happens to everyone.
It was lovely to read, it felt quite unusual and special, and it has the most beautiful cover, you can feel the embossed scales under your fingertips as you read…
Essex Serpent

 

 

Deep in the forest…

Annie Proulx’s latest novel Barkskins is just wonderful. At 736 pages it is a very satisfying and surprisingly quick read, charting the lives of two families from the 1660s to 2013. One of the reasons it is fast-paced is the brutal reality of life without modern medicines – if you are hurt or sick in the morning, for many of the 400 years this tale spans, you are usually dead by tea-time; and so the story jumps to the next person and place.

Both families begin with two men who leave France to go to work as indentured foresters in the seemingly infinite forests of New France (later Quebec). One has a family with a local indigenous woman, this family continues to live close to the land, working as foresters and fishermen. The other man runs off and taking full advantage of the risks and opportunities that come his way becomes a grand old timber baron, his employees and family cutting their way through huge, unimaginable swathes of new world timber – including the fabled Kauri forests in the far north of New Zealand. Members of the two families orbit one another, sometimes meeting, sometimes passing each other by, all unaware of the common start their patriarchs shared. From this end of the 400 years, the hubris of the squandering of the resource these enormous forests were seems sad and short-sighted, and a little like a warning for our own reckless times. Even thinking of them as a resource, a useful thing, seems wrong in light of the way Proulx evokes their presence as a living kind of a creature, earthbound but vital and full of meaning – their loss is hard to comprehend.

The research underlying the story is sound, Proulx apparently spent years gathering information  and tales about forestry and the lives of the people engaged in it. The descriptions about how to cut down the different trees are fascinating – it was only when I saw the image on the cover (below) that I understood the scale of the trees that they were dealing with, in the previously untouched forests of North America. The writing is beautiful: spare and elegant, dark, mysterious but alive, like a forest…

Barkskins1

Bob

Bob the Artist is such a cool book. The brilliant Marion Deuchars has done it again: a clever, witty and charming book that’ll enchant not just the 3-year-olds it is aimed at but any adult you give it to as well.
Bob is mostly like his friends but his legs are skinnier than theirs. He is teased about them, and so he tries to change them, by exercising, eating heaps and disguising them:Bob1

Then Bob discovers another amazing part of himself that is different to what his friends look like – one which lets him create art:
Bob2

And Bob never worries about his differences again.
Bob

Dry as bones…

Feeling like a bit of dark crime fiction but slightly over Nordic noir? I have found the DryAntipodean antidote: The Dry by Jane Harper is a really good crime story set in the umpteenth year of Australia’s cruel and unusual drought. The sun is shining all the time, the air is shimmering with heat, the glare hurts your eyes and people are getting fed up. This debut is tightly plotted and compelling, I thought the characters were very believable, and I want to read her next one…

When a young man, the golden boy of his small rural town, breaks and kills his family and himself an already fragile calm is shattered. When the funeral brings a face from the past back to town things and people start to come unstuck as old mysteries are revisited, wounds reopened and secrets revealed.
Harper captures the long-held tensions of life in a small town where everyone pretty much knows everything but no-one speaks about any of it, layered with the merciless drought which threatens lives and livelihoods. The drought hangs over the land and the people like a magnifying glass over ants and the dust covers everything.

So very not Nordic then.