MURDER IN THE LIBRARY

Colonel Mustard in the library with a candlestick?

No, not that sort of murder!

Murder in the Library is an annual series of national events put on by the Ngaio Marsh Awards, in association with the New Zealand Book Council and Auckland Libraries, for book lovers featuring talented local crime writers. 

Ngaio Marsh Awards: "Over the past century, crime writing has evolved from puzzle-like reading into modern novels delving deeply into people, places, and psychology. Still the world's most popular form of storytelling, crime fiction can take readers into all aspects of society, providing page-turning entertainment and memorable characters while also addressing real-life social issues."

And this year, as well as a number of authors I know and admire, I'll be one of the panelists at the New Lynn Library in Auckland, on the 12th April 2018.

I remember attending a Murder in the Library event at the Takapuna Library in 2016 when novelist Ben Sanders was on the panel with Linda Olsson (one half of the Adam Sarafis pen name) and Ken Smith. At that stage I'd only published Fifteen Postcards, and I never imagined I'd one day be sitting on the other side of the table. I was there to soak up their advice and to hopefully glean some useful information I could use for The Last Letter which I was half way through writing. Also in the audience with me was author Madeleine Eskedahl.

This year we'll be discussing crafting authentic characters and narrative tension, and the impact of setting on tales of crime and mystery. Auckland lawyer and Ngaio Marsh Awards judge Darise Bennington will play referee and prosecute the offenders.

It's a free event, and it would be wonderful to see some familiar faces in the audience. xxx

MURDER IN THE LIBRARY

WHEN: Thursday, 12 April 2018
WHERE: New Lynn War Memorial Library, 3 Memorial Drive
WHEN: 6.15 for a 6.30pm panel discussion

This is a free event but you do need to RSVP.
RSVP to: jo.cocker@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz

WHEN YOUR INTERVIEW INCLUDES QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR UNDERWEAR...

Here's the transcript of an interview I did with the New Zealand based bookshop 'Writer's Plot Reader's Read', an incredible independent bookshop which only stocks work by New Zealand authors. 

What’s your favourite type of takeaway? 

Indian. Butter Chicken. The bastardised NZ version, with a plain naan bread and rice.

Describe your current mental status.

Grieving. This year I’ve lost one girlfriend to Singapore, one to Tauranga, and now one to Perth. All due to job availability. I’m in need of more friends…

I know how I do what I do … but how do you do what you do?

Through the life giving strength of coffee and wine, although not at the same time.

Could you tell us a little bit about your latest work?

The one I’ve just finished, or the one I’m half way through? The one I’ve just finished is the sequel to my first historical fiction novel, ‘Fifteen Postcards’. Titled ‘The Last Letter’, it’s due for publication on the 1st November, which is also my birthday. So I thought everyone could buy a copy in honour of my birthday…

Do you have a favourite coffee or tea?

Just a little bit of wine...

Just a little bit of wine...

There are different coffees? Seriously, I’ll drink almost any version of coffee presented to me. When it comes to tea, I am a little more picky - English Breakfast first, usually Twining's. Followed by Earl Grey (but only if nothing else is available). I’ll drink peppermint tea, which is okay, but I don’t seek it out.

Walk us through a typical day. (Do you make sure you’re wearing your lucky underpants before you sit down to write, perhaps you prefer commando? While we’re discussing your underpants, boxers, briefs, or budgie smugglers. Inquiring minds want to know. Yes, that includes my Admins… we don’t piss off the Admins.)

Underpants must match your bra (or at least that was the case before I had children. Now I’m lucky if my bra is clean…).

A typical day is wake up, drink coffee, make breakfasts, make lunches, tell everyone to hurry up, walk them to school, walk home, drink more coffee, think about writing, faff about on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, read the NZHerald online, faff about on social media some more, kid myself that I’m making connections, make another coffee, make lunch, see that its 2pm, start writing, get into a great writing groove, bash out 500 or so words, then pick up the children from school, forget what my train of thought was, feed children, take them to their after school activities, come home, drink wine, make dinner, put children to bed, faff about on social media, at about 10pm find the motivation to start writing, write about 300 great words, then realise I have to get up in seven hours, so go to bed, and lose train of thought again…rinse and repeat.

Tell us about your main character

I first met Sarah Lester when I was at work in the family antique shop. Oddly, she’s a little bit like me. Although one reviewer described her as a ‘bubble-head’. I was hurt at first, but actually I’ve embraced that side of her in my writing, and I think the reviewer did me a favour by calling me out on that. I like that she misses her Dad so much. I miss mine desperately, and have everyday since he died suddenly ten years ago of heart failure. Through her pleas to her father, I’m really releasing my own dreams for my father to come back.

Who are your favourite writers?

Edward Rutherfurd, he of the massive multigenerational tomes such as London, Paris, Russka, Sarum.

George R.R. Martin - for his utterly amazing character development, and his descriptive passages.

Deborah Harkness. It was reading her Old Souls trilogy which encouraged me to write.

Who inspires you to do better? 

My brother, who in the beginning said I never finish anything, when I told him I was going to write a book…well I’ve finished two books now, signed two publishing contracts, and I am half way through my third one! My husband was all good with my quitting my job, and my children (mostly) leave me to do my writing after I’ve begged time to write “just two hundred more words”.

Do you ever put pants on your dog, cat, or budgie?

We have a fancy Santa suit which we try to dress the cat up in every year. She hates Christmas…

Describe your perfect day

Late sleep in. Breakfast in bed. Move from bed to outside in the summer’s sunshine, with a book, a guava juice, then a dip in the pool, cocktails by the pool, a dinner cooked by someone other than me. Did I mention the wine with dinner?

Who is your favourite fictitious villain? Or are you all about the hero? Who do you love to hate?

I like the cunning of Moriarty. The droll delivery of Professor Snape. And the creepy evilness of Hannibal Lector - where you can’t help but actually like the guy…

Do you have any quirks?

I am an eye roller…got me in plenty of trouble at work. Sometimes I just can’t help myself. Stupid people deserve a gratuitous eye roll…I must work harder at controlling this.

All-time favourite movie and why?

Midnight in Paris. 1/ It’s Paris. 2/ It has the best actors playing some of the best authors and artists history ever gave us. 3/ The soundtrack - I’m listening to it now as I type this.  

Do you enjoy the editing process?

Actually yes. I find it easier than the writing of the initial story. 

If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be and why?

New Zealand seems pretty safe to be honest. And progressive. And clean. And I have travelled a lot. I’d prefer to live by the beach than in central Auckland, but that’ll come in the future. 

Lake Tarawera, New Zealand

Lake Tarawera, New Zealand

Favorite Pizza topping?

Pepperoni. But we have started buying the three cheese pizza, which is fast becoming my favourite. 

What were you before you became a writer?

Writing is my third career. I was a Customs Officer for fourteen years, before my father died. After that, my brother and I both quit our jobs to run the family antique business, which we did for ten years. Now he owns it. And I write full time.

What is the most random thing you have ever done?

Went on an archaeological dig at Vindolanda in Northumberland in England for two weeks. Two of the best weeks of my life. I loved every shovel full of dirt I moved. And I’ll be putting my name down for another go next year.

If you’re not working, what are you most likely doing?

Volunteering on the PTA. For my sins, I am the chairperson. The PTA is not for the faint of heart I can assure you. I have made some wonderful wonderful friends, but it is a lot of work. 

Who is your ultimate character?

Arya Stark in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books. She just gets on with it, and doesn’t wither away in the dark. 

Whiskey or Bourbon? Red or white wine? Tequila? Beer?

A whiskey liqueur - Glayva. Any wine…usually I’d prefer a Pinot Gris or a Riesling for a white wine, and then an Otago Pinot Noir for my red. Never tequila, nor beer.

What’s in your pockets? (Or handbag, whatever you carry your stuff in. Are you apocalypse prepared?)

I have a small country in my handbag. I have two children…

Laptop, PC, Mac, tablet?

MacBook Air

Ebook or tree book?

Any book. I have a Kindle. But I also have a stack of library books, and books from friends, old favourites. 

Favorite apocalyptic scenario?

The Hunger Games scenario seems to be the most likely scenario to descend upon earth sadly…

Where do you do most of your writing?

At the dining room table. I have an office, but theres a better view from the dining room. Which is also closer to the kettle.

What’s the hardest thing for you when it comes to being an author?

Singing my own praises. We have a saying in our house, “be more American”. American’s don’t seem to have any problem singing their own praises. In New Zealand we are all far too scared to being tall poppies and being cut down by our peers.

 

Note: This interview was first published on the Writer's Plot Reader's Read website on 13th October 2016.

 

What Does Being A Full Time Author Mean?

This is the beginning of Week Four of being a full time author.

What does that mean? It means drinking a lot more coffee than I used to, and having a very tidy house for starters. It also means I've had to get pretty serious about my writing, my writing goals, and my personal writing habits.

What have I done so far? Well, number one, you're looking at it. A shiny new author website - www.kirstenmckenzie.com. Secondly, I've created the template through Mail Chimp for semi regular / semi sporadic author updates, to be emailed to those people who put their name down to receive it. You too can add your name to the list, via the handy form on this website.

I've written a schedule. It looks very much like my old school schedule, but without Double Maths (thank goodness), and no PE. Although looking back on it, I should have enjoyed PE way more than I did. I've allocated time for writing, naturally, and time for website updates, online marketing stuff (probably too much time), time for Goodreads surfing, and time for competition writing.

What is competition writing? On my list of personal goals, I've written down that I want to enter 12 writing competitions this year. It's good to give my brain a break from 1860s New Zealand, and the troubles in India in the 1800s, and the dastardly Benjamin Grey. I've already entered one, so only eleven more to go! I'll keep you posted about when I win some.

Future plans, from April I'll be posting guest blogs from other authors, but there will be a cohesive theme to their posts, complementary to what I write, so as to not throw you all. So keep watching, check in for more posts, and don't forget I'm on Twitter and Facebook and Google+ and Instagram too. 

THE HAND OF PUBLISHING FATE

I was very pleased to be asked by UK author Jenny Kane to write a guest post for her blog. I wrote a post about the strange coincidence of fate:

My first book has just been published by Accent Press – ‘Fifteen Postcards’. A novel traversing three continents and two centuries. A blend of ‘The Far Pavilions’, with a touch of ‘The Time Travelers Wife’, rolled together with a smidgeon of the ‘Antique’s Roadshow’. If it wasn’t for my father dying, it would never have been written.

I had a pretty standard upbringing in New Zealand in the 70s. Dad had his own business – an antique shop, and worked long hours. Mum raised my younger brother and I. She was the one who went on all the school trips, picked us up after school, and took us to our after school activities. In the school holidays, my ideal day was helping Dad at the shop, Antique Alley – a literal treasure trove, and described as an Auckland icon. A shop heaving with stock, which invariably overflowed onto the floor, and filled the corridors, very much like how I described ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’ in ‘Fifteen Postcards’.

Initially I was allowed to sit in the corner and sell postcards. As I got older I was promoted to serving behind the counter, helping customers choose gold bracelets for gifts, or give advice about which dinner service looked better. I worked off and on at the shop, and at antique fairs up and down the country, right through school and university. By osmosis I picked up a small amount of knowledge about a lot of things.

Then in 2005 Dad died.

My brother and I both quit our jobs (I was a Customs Officer), and started working at the shop. Ostensibly to provide our mother with an income, but it was also a job I had once loved, and although I’d never pursued it, I was more than happy to stand behind the shop counter and carry on where I’d left off in my late teens.

Working at the shop was a way to reconnect with my father. Antique Alley was such a part of his personality that walking into the shop became a way to keep his memory alive. Even today, nine years after his death, when I unlock the front door, and close the world off behind me as I sprint inside to turn off the alarm, I’ll murmur “Hello Dad”. Often followed by a little “Let this be a good day Dad!”. That may make me sound slightly nutty, but it gives me a sense of connectivity with my father, whom I miss everyday.

Writing ‘Fifteen Postcards’ in 2013 was part homage to my father, and part the realisation of a long held desire to write a book. Scattered throughout the book are snippets of his life and his quirks. My parents really did live above the shop before I came onto the scene, just like ‘Sarah’s parents in the book. My grandmother papered the lounge room upstairs in an appalling mixture of prints and floral paper (as described in the book), which Mum still detests to this day (there’s so much stock in that room now that it would be a marathon effort to strip it all back!). It was amusing remembering all of Dad’s foibles and fantastic sayings, weaving them into a plot worthy of his knowledge and expertise in the antique industry. It also became abundantly clear that my ‘small amount of knowledge about a lot of things’ wasn’t at all sufficient for a historical fiction novel, but that’s the basis of another blog post!

They say finding a publisher is one of the hardest parts of writing a book. I had rejections, five to be precise, but one of the publishers I submitted to, Accent Press, offered me a publishing contract. Which I signed. Why did I submit my manuscript to them? That was partly to do with Dad. He was born in Wales, moving to New Zealand when he was three. As an adult he returned to Wales to work and to reconnect with his extended family. I like to think Dad had a small part to play in me choosing Accent Press, who are based in Wales, and in them choosing me.

This is where it starts getting slightly more ‘Twilight Zone’. Bear with me as I talk you through it… David Powell was the incredible editor who worked on ‘Fifteen Postcards’. Without him, my book wouldn’t be anywhere near as awesome as it is. Weirdly, my father’s name was David. Fate? Coincidence? It keeps going. Accent Press released my book on the 21st of May, Mum’s birthday. Yes, yes, a strange collection of coincidences, but as someone still living with the grief of losing my father unexpectedly, these coincidences have given me some measure of solace, a belief that there has been a higher power at work, helping and guiding me.

The only time I haven’t felt Dad’s presence at work, was when I was held up at gunpoint in 2009. With a gun to my head, I was forced to sit on the ground whilst two men stole the jewellery from our cabinets. When Dad was alive, he’d always counseled that nothing in the shop was worth my life, and if anyone tried to rob the shop, I wasn’t to fight back. With that counsel firmly imprinted in my brain, I did just that. I sat there. I screamed a few times, hoping to attract the attention of someone outside, but stopped when they told me to stop screaming or they’d shoot me. I shut up after that. The armed robbery also made it into the pages of ‘Fifteen Postcards’. Writing that part of the manuscript was more difficult than I initially imagined, but also cathartic. I’ve never watched the CCTV footage of the robbery although I can give you a frame by frame playback, as the memory is still so vivid. Putting it down on paper has helped me get over it. Many, many bottles of red wine have also helped…

I am in the wonderful position of loving my job, as my father did, selling other people’s treasures. Everything in the shop was once loved and desired, all just waiting for their new home. It’s the ultimate in recycling. But isn’t that what writing is? The recycling of memories?

The writing of ‘Fifteen Postcards’ has captured some of my memories, hidden amongst the fictional plot and a cast of nefarious characters. And for that I am truly grateful to the hand of fate, or the confluence of coincidences.

22 July 2015