It was 30 August 2023 and it had been a beautiful day - sunny, even warm. By 6pm, my friends and colleagues had started to assemble at Almo's Books in Carterton for my book launch. It was introduced by Steve Laurence, owner of Almo's and a Councillor for the district, and I was introduced by Andrew Denholm, publisher of the Wairarapa Times Age, Midweek, Memories, Property Press and more. I gave a speech and followed it with a reading. Here, I'm sharing my speech and some photos taken by local photographer Jade Cvetkov.
Kia ora katou and hello everyone. Welcome to the launch of Willow in Underwood in paperback.
Thank you very much for that introduction, Andrew. Can I say – it is an absolute pleasure to work for the Times-Age – writing every day is so much fun. Just so you know, if you’re thinking of joining us at the Times-Age, Andrew is a stellar leader, and my manager Andrea Hay is an outstanding boss.
I’ve been reading crime novels written by Canadian author Louise Penny which follow the adventures of that wonderful character, Inspector Gamache. One of the other main characters in her novels is an ancient, slightly mad, and very foul-mouthed poet called Ruth Pardo. Ruth says that ‘fear lives in the head, courage lives in the heart, and in between is the lump in the throat’.
My novels are a way of trying to clear that lump. I’ve written a half dozen now – and I’ve got outlines and rough drafts for another half a dozen ready to go.
When I read novels – say by Louise Penny, Liane Moriarty, Maeve Binchy or even Patrick Gale or Graham Greene - there are always characters who are obviously hurtling towards destruction – but I also keep finding characters who are ‘whole’ or who are on a journey to ‘wholeness’.
I’m aiming to write ‘whole’ characters one day but I’m very aware that this takes times and practice. As well as more of the courage and less of the fear.
If you’re familiar with Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he says that people who are successful at something are thought to have put in at least 10,000 hours of practice. I’m on the path towards those 10,000 hours with Willow in Underwood. It’s Book One of the Underwood Collection and it sets the scene for a trilogy that follows the adventures of three fairly unlikely and very diverse women friends. As an aside - in my opinion, Book Two is even better than Book One.
In Book One, the women come together in a small town called Underwood, fictionally situated on the coast of Cornwall in the South-West of England. Willow Parker, the main protagonist, has flown from California to Underwood after her aunt dies, leaving Willow her house. It comes at a good time for Willow – she’s able to use it as an excuse to escape from an oppressive family and the expectations of marriage to a rather nasty piece of work.
In Underwood, Willow befriends Mayou Wootton, a local businesswoman, and Emelia Carson, who is trying to make it as an author. Now stories can be multi-layered.
In each and every one of them is a small group of friends. They banded together, they had amazing adventures, and they overcame adversity. To me, that’s what Willow in Underwood is really about.
You can buy Willow in Underwood from Amazon either as a paperback or as an e-book.
And, as booksellers start to stock the book, you should also be able to find it on bookshelves. Booksellers looking for Willow in Underwood can find it on the Ingram platform, and it’s been uploaded to Neilsen Title Editor and Wheelers.
Be aware, because this novel is published in America, it uses American English – which was a steep learning curve for me.
Thank you so much for coming tonight. A huge thank you to Steve Laurence for hosting us here at Almo’s Books and thank you again to Andrew for his lovely introduction.
Kia ora rawa atu (many thanks). Ka kite anō (see you again).
The phrase ‘the sound of one hand clapping’ sometimes comes to mind while reading some of the government-critical columns in the newspaper, Wairarapa Times-Age. This is a newspaper at which I work as a features writer. Some of the paper's columns seem to tell only half the story, and I’m left wondering whether the authors are uninformed or whether they have an unchallenged agenda.
I have remained silent out of deference to my hard-working colleagues and the many freelance contributors to the Times-Age and because, after all, I have moved on from my 35+ years working for government. But articles in last Friday’s paper were straws that broke my back. This blog outlines my disquiet. Publication of this letter in Times-Age was an option, but I would have had to cut 75 percent of the text.
A column in Friday's paper was written by Paul Glass in which he reviles New Zealand’s current levels of debts and our tax take, compared with Australia and New Zealand.
What isn’t mentioned is that during COVID, individuals and businesses were supported with wage subsidies, business relief, and bailouts, which has impacted debt levels. Air New Zealand, for example, was bailed out to the tune of nearly $1 billion. Today, the national carrier is making about $1 million a day in profit. Presumably Paul Glass’s business 'Devon Funds' chose not to accept any wage subsidies or business relief during COVID so not to add to the country’s debt – he would have been so worried about that.
New Zealand could have chosen not to help people and businesses so thoroughly and with so much commitment. Australia and America certainly didn’t, which is why their debt levels are comparatively lower than ours, and why, I have heard, more of their businesses have gone bust and more families have been financially ruined.
Thank you, New Zealand government, for supporting us so well – it was, I believe, our finest hour on the global stage. And some of us are grateful.
Glass’s column moves on to revile the Labour government’s ‘wastage’ of expenditure although no evidence of that is provided. And what outrageous disrespect for the extraordinary policy workers who, each year, run around like blue-arsed flies finding five or ten percent, or more, in savings across the board to allocate to new priorities – to respond to things like COVID, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, terrorist attacks, or increased gang activity because Australia gave us its Killer Bees problem. When I think of the business cases, the cost-benefit analyses, the robust budget bids, the Cabinet papers – each of which requires the approval of a dozen departments, including Treasury, before they can be lodged with the Cabinet Office. And, so, I also question the veracity of the point made in Friday’s editorial that annual budgets simply rebrand three percent of expenditure each year.
Glass wails that New Zealand should spend more on infrastructure.
Oh, like all those extra billions that have been allocated for health infrastructure, schools, roads, the repair of munted roads, rail, state housing, and infrastructure for fresh, waste and stormwater - additional allocations that National are now saying are wasteful, which they would repeal? All in sectors that suffered from severe under-investment in the period 2008 to 2017.
After the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake and the Whakatane floods, when I worked for our recovery agency, local leaders took me on a tour of their three-water infrastructure – dilapidated from years of under-investment (because councils couldn’t raise enough in rates from their small communities) and now further wrecked by disaster. Insurance would only cover the costs of addressing the impacts of the disasters, not the underlying dilapidation. The councils had already reached the top of their possible debt levels. They were desperate for central government help.
This Government is helping, despite the self-entitled squabbles among councils and communities. But National is quite clear it will not invest in this infrastructure – if it becomes government, it will require councils to sort three-waters out themselves by either raising their levels of debt (which they mostly cannot do and, anyway, according to Glass, increased debt is bad) or raise our rates significantly.
Paul Glass’s column also slams the number of consultants and bureaucrats working for government. Having been in that space for so many decades, I have heard this rhetoric from National before every election. But when they become government, nothing changes. Given the complexity of the work over so many aspects of our lives, with all of us ungrateful citizens demanding more and more, the number of workers is necessary.
Government is a big employer – nurses, police officers, fire fighters, teachers and more – all of which are demanding increases in their workforces and increases in their pay. The number of policy workers is small by comparison. Should half of them be let go, to sign up for the dole - with the amount of work the government can achieve each year also halved?
A couple of weeks ago, National announced it would reduce the number of backroom staff in the health sector, should it become government. This was covered in the Times-Age. That night, the PM Chris announced that because of the amalgamation of DHBs, fewer backroom staff in the health sector would be required. The other Chris professed outrage. Nothing about this turn-around in messaging was discussed in our newspaper the followed day.
Friday’s editorial opines there is little difference between Labour and National. Au contraire.
I don’t have answers, or complete information, or even all the questions, but I do know I’m interested in what is really going on rather than just reading ideas that pop into people’s heads that they decide are facts. It’s a wicked problem in both the traditional and non-traditional media.
So, I have a proposal.
Once finishing up at school, all young people could be required to do a two-year internship as an assistant policy analyst for government, no matter their abilities. A boot camp for the mind, if you like. That might help future generations, at least, understand how hard all this stuff is and how many different points of view need to be balanced. And while we’re ‘boot camping’ that problem, why don’t we also require the same people to take night classes to learn how to be parents. We could deal with that pernicious problem at the same time.
The phrase ‘the sound of one hand clapping’ actually refers, I think, to the philosophy that true wisdom cannot be taught but can only be found within oneself. Sure, but let’s provide a fertile ground to help enable that wisdom.