Review: Tess by Kirsten McDougall

This review was first published on The Spinoff on 7 September 2017.

Tess

There’s something about the Wairarapa. Big skies. Beautiful old villas. Close-knit communities, with a pointy edge of small town meanness. There’s also something about the dying days of 1999, that strange, tense moment before we ticked over into the 21st century, when just for a moment it felt like the world might end.

Perfect time and place to set a gothic novel. So we’re on a country road just outside of Masterton, in the rain, a few weeks before the end of 1999 when Wellington writer Kirsten McDougall opens Tess, her second book. Tess is 19, on the run from something, living out of a pack, not eating much and about to fall drastically ill. Lewis Rose, the local dentist, picks her up and gives her a ride into town, where she gets hassled by some errant youths on the street. Lewis intervenes and takes her home to one of those beautiful villas under the big sky. Beautiful, yes, but dusty and disheveled and the garden has run wild. There’s something not right about the garage.

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Fixin’ to Write: A writer’s work is never done

In July 2017 my writing group started a collective blog on the creative process called Fixin’ to Write. Each week one of us posts about our experiences of finding creativity in everyday life. Here’s my first post for the blog, about the experience of actually finishing a book, and what happens next. It was first published on 24 August 2017.

My first book came out two months ago.

I’d always imagined I would write a book one day, but in that way you do when you’re not actually writing. As long as I wasn’t trying, I could cling to the fantasy that at some unspecified future date, when the stars and planets aligned, I would sit down and bust out the Great New Zealand Novel.

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Op-ed: It’s a huge deal to have babies in Parliament. Not talking serves no one

On 2 August 2017 I wrote this opinion piece for Stuff in response to Jacinda Ardern’s election as Labour Party leader and the questions she subsequently faced about whether she planned to have children.

When I was a Green MP and pregnant with my first child, former National MP Katherine Rich stood in my office and told me that she would do anything she could to help make the experience I was about to have easier.

She would even, she said, come and hold the baby for me while I worked.

I was taken aback by this generous offer, because I didn’t know her very well.

It seemed like the kind of thing you might offer to your family or close friends, not an acquaintance from a very different political background.

I see now that it was her way of telling me just how hard having a baby while an MP, was going to be. It was very, very hard.

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Review: The Suicide Club by Sarah Quigley

This review first appeared on The Spinoff on 11 July 2017.

Image result for The suicide club sarah quigleyLast week’s “Break the Silence” series by Olivia Carville in the New Zealand Herald was intended to start a national conversation about youth suicide. Are we not already having that conversation? From my own high school days, some 20 years ago, I remember much handwringing and hyper-vigilance about peers who were at risk of self-harm; we all talked about it then. These days we have 13 Reasons Why, (everyone’s talking about that) and news media are slowly but surely breaking down the legal wall that prevents them reporting in detail about suicide. Yet suicide is still, according to the blurb on the back of Sarah Quigley’s new novel, the “last taboo”, and in The Suicide Club she is the latest to enter the conversation.

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“Having it all” – my speech at the launch of The Whole Intimate Mess

On 22 June 2017 my publishers at Bridget Williams Books put on a delightful launch event for my book The Whole Intimate Mess at Vic Books Pipitea. The incomparable Emily Writes was the guest speaker. Emily spoke beautifully – you can see what she said here. And below is a rough approximation of what I said. It was wonderful to be so supported by family, friends, colleagues and readers. Thank you to everyone who came, and all those who bought a copy.

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Photo: Dave Crampton

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Press coverage of The Whole Intimate Mess

My book The Whole Intimate Mess: Motherhood, Politics, and Women’s Writing was published by Bridget Williams Books in June 2017. You can find out more and order it here.

I’ve been fortunate to have had wide and generous press coverage of the book, and I’ve collected some of that here. I’m pleased that it has prompted some interesting conversations about women, work, parenthood and mental health.

The Whole Intimate Mess – Holly Walker‘, Up Again with James Dann, Interview on RDU FM, 28 July 2017.

Unacceptable Choices‘, Review by Alison McCulloch, Scoop Review of Books, 14 July 2017.

I am ok, and thanks for asking!‘, Interview with Susan Strongman, The Wireless, 6 July 2017.

Torn in two: Former Green MP Holly Walker discusses trading Parliament for motherhood‘, Michelle Duff, Sunday magazine, 2 July 2017.

A Private Face‘, Sunday TVNZ, 25 June 2017.

Holly Walker: The Whole Intimate Mess‘, Simon Sweetman, Off the Tracks, 21 June 2017.

Holly Walker – The Whole Intimate Mess‘, Interview with Kim Hill on RNZ, 17 June 2017.

Holly Walker – The Whole Intimate Mess‘, Interview with Ryan Bradley on Radio Live, 17 June 2017.

You can’t always get everything you want: Deborah Coddington reviews Holly Walker‘, Deborah Coddingham, The Spinoff, 15 June 2017.

A brief history of feminist literature in New Zealand: Tessa Duder on her classic novel Alex‘, Tessa Duder, The Spinoff, 14 June 2017.

Holly Walker and the books her kid is reading‘, The Sapling, 14 June 2017.

‘I really admire that you have been open about mental health as a candidate’: Chlöe Swarbrick in conversation with Holly Walker‘, Chlöe Swarbrick and Holly Walker, The Spinoff, 13 June 2017.

‘There is nothing normal about crawling up the hallway, screaming and hitting yourself in the head’: former Green MP Holly Walker shares her story‘, Holly Walker, The Spinoff, 12 June 2017.

Interview: Chris Kraus

This interview was first published on The Spinoff on 9 May 2017.

Chris Kraus’s first novel I Love Dick received a lukewarm reception when it was released in 1997, but has attracted a cult following and been hailed as a feminist classic since its re-release in 2006. As much an art project as a novel (in which every reader participates – try reading it on the train) it consists of love letters written by a character named Chris Kraus and her husband Sylvere Lotringer to a cultural critic named Dick. Yes, those are their real names, and there really was a Dick – British art critic Dick Hebdige was so angry about the book that he outed himself as the model for the character when he spoke out to denounce it. For Kraus, the lines between fiction and non-fiction are blurred at best.

The author of three other novels and two books of nonfiction, Kraus continues to collaborate with her now ex-husband Lotringer on Semiotext(e), the publishing company they co-edit with Hedi El Kholti. Though she was born and lives in the US, she spent her teenage years and early adulthood in Wellington, having Marmite smeared in her hair by the kids at Wellington High in the 1970s, and working full-time as a feature writer for the Sunday Times by the age of 17. At 21 she returned to the US to pursue an art career and spent decades making performance art and experimental films on the fringes of the US and LA art scenes. The recent revival of I Love Dick – a television adaption created by Jill Soloway (Transparent) premieres in the US on May 12 – means Kraus is finally enjoying the wide acclaim she deserves. Her 2006 novel Torpor is about to be re-released and she has a new book coming out in August.

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