Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Online news editor says web site important source for community info

The recent novel The Last Newspaper in the World has as its backdrop the changes flowing through the media sector.

The rise of digital media is challenging mainstream newspapers at all levels – be they national or local.

So I thought it would be interesting to interview a newspaper journalist who has made the transition to an online news service.

David Armstrong is the Editor and Founder of Motueka Online, community news web site based in the northern region of New Zealand’s South Island.

David retired to one of the most beautiful parts of the country four years ago after a career which included a spell as the science and software journalist at the metropolitan newspaper, The Christchurch Press.

David says he started up the site as a way of getting to know people in the community and launched the web site about three and a half years ago.

Today, he says, the web site is seen as a vital important source of information about meetings of community boards and the district council not now being covered by traditional media.

You can hear more about Motueka Online in this podcast interview with David Armstrong.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Novel captures magic time in unlikely cultural capital

Polly, Blair (2012-07-11). Art, Sharks, and a Coffin Named Denzel. Blair Polly. Kindle Edition.
ISBN 978-0-473-21687-0

About 40 years ago, I lived in a flat in Herne Bay, Auckland. I imagine it was a very ‘creative’ period for everyone in this flat and many others dotted around the inner part of the city.

At parties we attended we met artists, writers and musicians taking new, mind blowing creative directions. This was the kind of time when you could stumble upon Barry Crump, that man’s man author, down from the coast with a bag of dope sharing a smoke with J.K. Baxter. Or you could bump into a couple of guys from school who admired your Thai-dyed lab coat and next week appeared on stage at the Uni café in colourful outfits of their own. Tim Shadbolt could turn up and yack until the early hours of the morning in a bid to steal your girlfriend away, until he was seen off back to his wife and family out in Te Atatu.
Everybody wrote something. But I’m not sure that anybody wrote anything that really captured the cultural atmosphere or the spirit of the time in any coherent manner. We didn’t realise at the time: you blink and the magic of an era has slipped away.

That is why I think Blair Polly’s novel Art, Sharks, and a Coffin Named Denzel should be welcomed as reflecting the magic is now in the air in the world’s best little capital city, Wellington. It is true that for many years I wasn’t much of a fan of Wellington. It always felt to be a sinister kind of place; claustrophobic and vaguely provincial. The kind of place where people spied on each other, the politicians told their lies and did their best and worst to run the country.

I have had to revise my opinion in recent years. This is mostly due to the fact that both our children lived in Wellington for a few years and, as much as I tried, I couldn’t avoid the place. In an effort to keep in touch, I even subscribed to the local newspaper until it was homogenised into limpness.

What I learned was that Wellington had somehow become the artistic and cool capital of New Zealand, a country not exactly devoid of the odd cool place or two. The inner city life around Cuba Street was supported by the kind of lifestyle the old hippies and students of Herne Bay would have been proud of. I am certain I saw one or two of them on a trip south once.

Capturing the essence of this time in Wellington’s history is more than can be done through a non-fiction historical review; just as memoirs about the late 1960s and 1970s really don’t do the period justice.

Blair Polly’s novel does do Wellington justice. The story revolves around Alex, a young man who is totally entranced by his art – sculpture. He has minor success and moves out of home to live the dream. Characters are introduced along the journey to help educate him in the way of the world as it unfolds. He falls in love with Lisa a chess-playing gambler, a beauty who is distant but fond of Alex. He has greater success and is able to think even bigger with his sculptural dream.

The characters seem real – I can imagine seeing them in one of the inner city pubs. But underlying aspects of the story is a sort of bleakness. It is not so dark as to be deeply noir but sufficiently to paint the scene with a shade of reality. Lisa’s secret emerges from the shadows; interestingly enough with a sinister Auckland connection.

It is hard to avoid some predictable characterisations in such a story, yet Blair Polly has managed to do so in the most part. This book is available in Kindle but it deserves to be in hard copy, as it captures a time and place as can only be portrayed in a novel. In Auckland's case, the magic was chiselled away by city planners; the students started lucrative careers; and if the hippies didn't overdose, they joined Shadbolt out west. The planners have already started tearing Wellington apart. If the rest goes, this book may serve as an important record of a magical time.

If you want to buy this book, you can go to:
Website: www.blairpolly.com
Email: bpolly@ xtra.co.nz

Friday, April 12, 2013

Me 'n James Joyce as writing buddies

The term 'vanity publishing' has been around for a long time. What about 'vanity writing'?

Do you want to really know which one of the greats your write like? Would that mean there's nothing original left about writing? The things you thought were distinctive about your word choices and the phrases or structures you utilised to build your story; all been done before.

The I Write Like web site allows visitors to test themselves in this way. The site claims to offer a "statistical analysis tool, which analyzes your word choice and writing style and compares them with those of the famous writers".

For a start: who thinks of these things? Who would want to do this? And how hard is it to resist the temptation...? Quite hard apparently.

The service was created by something called 'Coding Robots', which in turns hosts products like Memoirs for Mac and other handy tools for creating online journals and assorted blog styles and tools.

There used to be a sort of highbrow shame about 'vanity publishing' but this has now changed as self-publishing in all its glory takes on the world of traditional publishing.

Could writing go the same way, I wonder? Today, I want to write like...

Give it a go...so I tried the first paragraph from The Last Newspaper in the World - see sample at Scribd if you wish.

For the record, here is the certificate the site flicked up from my sample.

I write like
James Joyce

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

Hands up, I never did finish James Joyce's fantastic novel Ulysses, so maybe my writing is more in the style of 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man'.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Last Newspaper in the World

The blog below contains segments from the first chapter of the book: The Last Newspaper in the World

Gordon poked the dead bird with a piece of driftwood. I stood opposite him in my wet suit leaning on my surfboard. The gull was an albatross, larger than a seagull. Finding the big bird dead on our beach was unusual and, I suppose, interesting.
‘Albatrosses don’t just fall out of the sky,’ I said, as Gordon gave the bird a tentative prod with the twisted stick.
Gordon had been out for his morning walk before opening up his café across the road from the beach.
‘Yes, and you can see how its wing is broken,’ he said.
I leaned down and turned the big bird over. It tumbled awkwardly from one side to the other, its grey and white feathers dull and covered in the sand. Lying there on its back, one huge wing outstretched and the other at an L-shape, the albatross almost looked surprised at its fate.
‘It’s against the law to kill albatrosses, isn’t it?’ I asked.
‘Yeah, and besides, it’s bad luck.’
Gordon stood back and threw the stick into a streak of white water creeping up the beach.
‘I’d better go and open up,’ he said, turning to walk up to the dunes.

The broken bird came to mind again when another albatross landed near where I was sitting on my board in the surf. The onshore wind made the surf rough and difficult to ride. I liked it like that. Nobody else out, tough conditions and the occasional stand-up wave. Once I fought my way out through the grey storm surf I could turn around out the back and look in at the chaos as wave after wave crashed in no particular pattern. Patience. Don’t let the thunder of energy crashing down the beach push you into taking off early and ending up in that dishwasher.
So I was sitting out there alone, waiting for the wind to lessen and a set to form up into some kind of shape, when the albatross dropped into the water nearby. It was alone, most seagulls having flown inland or dotted along the white wet sand of the beach, huddled facing into the wind.
Seeing that albatross could have been interpreted as some sort of omen, if I was into that sort of thing. Now looking at this big bird floating nearby, I was reminded how ugly the other bird had seemed on land and in death and yet how confident the albatross seemed sitting next to me in the storm waves. I must seem the ugly one out here and the one most at risk from a flip of the waves. The bird suddenly unleashed its wings and ran across the surface of the water before taking off. Alerted, I looked around and saw the sea changing shape as the wind had now died and waves formed into a set behind me.
The first two waves passed as I paddled hard to get over them, and I could see the last waves were going to close out in a line across the bay, so I turned and grabbed the third wave. Really, there wasn’t much of a face but it was enough to get up good speed before the wave broke, engulfing me as I fell flat to hang on the board for the ride in. A small flight and quite insignificant compared to the albatross.

All this in the few seconds it took to reach Angelique. She had already turned her back on the sea as she waited for me. She wasn’t one of the current tiny beauties with long blonde hair – instead deep black hair bobbed on a cheeky round face. Round kind of described her rather than slim. She was wrapped in a raincoat, and was probably one of the few people to wear gumboots to the beach. I reached her and she turned slightly towards me, her hair dampened down and her face turned up to me, and she called out into the wind
‘Bill, your father called. He’s been trying to reach you urgently. Called you on your phone but…’ and shrugged.
‘Hi, thanks I’ll get changed and give him a call. Do you reckon I can get a drink?’
‘Of course, but call your father first, it sounded urgent.’
We walked up through the sandhills to the roadside and Angelique crossed over to Gordon’s Seaside Store and Café. I threw my board in the back of my car, got out of my wet suit and changed in the shelter of the boot door as the rain eased. ‘Urgent’, everything was urgent for dad. He owned The Coast Courier, or as he liked to call it ‘The Last Newspaper in the World’. Of course it wasn’t the last newspaper in the world, although it felt like that to him as more and more local newspapers were merged into national newspapers, which themselves dissolved into media groups.
Sometimes it did look like dad was the last independent newspaper owner, if not in the world at least in our niche as his contemporaries disappeared from the scene. I had tried to persuade the old man to get out of the business or at least go digital with The Coast Courier. Dad would pop another peppermint – he was constantly trying to give up smoking – and look at me as though there was something important I didn’t understand. He’d recently added the last newspaper in the world slug line to the masthead, as if to underline his belief.
I rang dad from the café as Angelique made my coffee. The phone was answered with a ‘where are you? We’ve got an urgent on and you’re missing in action.’

During summer, the fields around Waterslea shimmered. Maize crops were the mainstay for farmers in the area. As the summer’s heat grew more intense, the crop was transformed into fields of gold. Today, however, it was mid-winter and the fields were in stubble, a kind of lifeless grey. Waterslea had once been a swamp and although drains now ran out to the river, the area was still prone to flooding as nature once again tried to regain what it had lost.
The police had a roadblock up and I pulled over onto the edge of the road, careful not to get too close to the drain. I got out of the car, silently swearing as I saw the group of cops. The sergeant was Norm Stead. He had a face resembling a hammer and probably was at times. His muscular body could be taken for that of a body builder but it was all natural – he’d always been a big prick. Standing next to him was Timi Tatua. I’d been at school with Timi and we gave each other the nod.
‘Took your time,’ Stead said. He had a surprisingly high voice for such a big man.
‘Well Norm I knew you’d have it all under control,’ I replied. Stead didn’t bite, which was unusual, and just muttered ‘Sergeant Stead to you.’
‘Bill, you need us more than we need you right now,’ Timi said.
We backed off and Stead gave me a look, with a kind of smile that even now I wonder if I should have paid more attention to at the time. Remembering Harry’s urging, I got down to business.
‘So Mr Stead, what’s happening? You’ve got a body, right?'

Book Details:
Author: Mick Stone
6" x 9" (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Black & White on White paper
138 pages
Publisher; BMS Books and imprint of
Business Media Services Ltd
Contact: ms@bms.co.nz
ISBN-13: 978-0473232498
ISBN-10: 0473232499
BISAC: Fiction / Media Tie-In
RRP: $29.95