Fast Speaking Women

That’s me, and not always thinking about it first either…

I have just been enjoying the interview with Selina Tusitala-Marsh on National Radio today. I first came across Tusitala-Marsh when she performed Fast Talking PI at Auckland Uni. She is now NZ’s poet laureate and first Pacific Islander to receive the award.

During the interview she mentioned that she got her inspiration for her poem from a poem by Anne Waldman and I have just enjoyed listening to it. Tonight we have our book club Christmas dinner and i just love getting together with those women. We are all a lot of the women described in Waldman’s poem and it made me think about my book club, my walking group, my women friends.  I hope you enjoy it too.

Warren Adler says on his blog called Why Do Women Read more Novels? , “There is ample statistical evidence showing that adult women read more novels than men, attend more book clubs than men, use libraries more than men, buy more books than men, take more creative writing courses than men, and probably write more works of fiction than men. If, as a demographic, they suddenly stopped reading, the novel would nearly disappear.”

Any ideas why? I know I would much rather read a novel or a biography about the Holocaust than a history book as it answers to my emotional core, my intuition and my heart in a much more direct way.

Any way back to Selina Tusitala-Marsh. I find it unbelievable that she is the first PI woman to graduate with a PHD in English from the University of Auckland.  She is a wonderful poet who also does so much encouraging young people into poetry. Influences are so critical I think, when it comes to poetry. I had a poem by Vincent O’Sullivan on my wall at university and The Merseysiders opened up a whole world of poetry that was presented in such a palatable way for a teenager.

I read and reread this book until it was in tatters. Eventually one of my students in my English class “borrowed” it so I’m hoping they reread it a lot too.

English teachers who valued our own writing at school and published them will always be influencers. I remember a colleague published a little book at school by Bec Runga and I still have it today. The poems remain powerful.

I went on to love Marge Piercy, Adrienne Rich, Carol Ann Duffy (my current bedside book again), the NZ poets of all dimensions, and now some newer poets like Hera Lindsey Bird. A while ago I decided to ditch all the books I knew I would never read again and I got down to one book case full. Mostly they are poetry books. What are two books you would keep if you were only allowed two?

Selina talks of the influence of her university colleagues who told her she simply had to do a doctorate, she was given no choice.


Pacific poet: Waiheke resident Selina Tusitala Marsh performing her poetry.

Here Selina is performing this great poem.

I had a Christmas card once of a woman with her hands tied in the kitchen sink and it read, “Merry Bloody Christmas”. It’s cool if you like cooking and doing the Christmas thing but its also cool if you say, nah, not my thing. Think I’ll read a book. What pleasure is there in rushing around trying to please everyone? I have got my present buying down to a few magazine subs and some presents for my son. My special friends and I will get together over a wine or a meal some time over the break and that is perfect for me and them.

It’s the book club bash tonight though and I am looking forward to the book swap, the bought pizzas and the homemade pav! Annabel Langbein’s recipe.

Yes, I like cooking but on my own terms. Happy Holidays, FG

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I just know I wouldn’t be that brave

For book club this month we are all choosing a book to read and then swap with someone else. I’ve chosen two, and the first one is the sequel to Jo Jo Moyes’ Me Before You”. Now I could get all literary snobby about this and call it a guilty pleasure or something but I’m not. I read it in one day and thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn’t love it and it won’t last long in the memory but it was a fun read. I could criticise a lot about it, for example she is given a lot of dosh by the previous chap and mooches about not doing anything much and only finds happiness via another bloke.  I like to think that if someone gave me a pile of money I would do something more interesting than buy a flat and waitress in a horrible bar. But I do like a happy ending.

I recently read an interesting article about the Jack Reacher series. I’ve read quite a few of the novels and always like to have one to read on a long haul flight. Again, I could pretend they are rubbish and badly written blah blah and I guess maybe they are but why are they so widely read?

The article above tells us, ” Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels are insanely popular. There are 21 in the series; he writes a new one every year, and in 21 years he’s sold an estimated 100 million books. Someone buys one every nine seconds. He has the highest return readership rate of any bestselling author: if you read one Reacher novel you’re likely to read more. This is my fourth, or fifth, or maybe sixth. They blur into each other.”

They sure do blur into each other, at quiz night recently The List was JR novels and I couldn’t remember a single title even though I’ve read half a dozen of them. But I don’t care, if I see one lying around I’ll be lost to it for quite a few hours.

Danyl McLauchlan, comments, It would be easy to say that Reacher is a male fantasy, but when Child is questioned about this he points out that two-thirds of his readers are women (you don’t sell 100 million books without a keen understanding of your product’s target market). 

However, I can’t quite accept that Child’s novels are “post feminist”!

I also love it that Lee Child was made redundant from the BBC and took up writing and made squillions.

Lee Child's Jack Reacher books have sold an estimated 100 million copies.

Anyway, back to today’s heading. The second book I chose for the book club is called The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. No particular reason for the choice except that I left the carefully circled 100 Best Reads from the Listener at home by accident and just ended up browsing in Whitcoulls.

It is an easy read and the thing I liked about it was that the some of the characters  were real women who spied for the British in World War 1. There they were wrapping code in their hat pins, crossing borders, helping British soldiers to safety, all under the nose of the Nazis in France. I just know I wouldn’t be brave enough. One look at a Nazi border crossing and a barking Alsatian and I would pee my pants. I feel guilty coming through customs in New Zealand even though I don’t have any contraband.

In the novel, “the queen of spies”,  Louise De Bettignies, plays a lead role and she is so brave!

Wikipedia tells me about her:

A citizen of Lille since 1903, she decided, from the German invasion of the city in October 1914, to engage in resistance and espionage. Multilingual (French – English – German – Italian), she ran from her home in a Lille vast intelligence network in the North of France on behalf of the British army and the MI6 intelligence service under the pseudonym Alice Dubois. This network provided important information to the British through occupied Belgium and the Netherlands.

The network is estimated to have saved the lives of more than a thousand British soldiers during the 9 months of full operation from January to September 1915.

The “Alice” network[12] of a hundred people, mostly in forty kilometers of the front to the west and east of Lille, was so effective that she was nicknamed by her English superiors “the queen of spies”. She smuggled men to England and provided valuable information to the Intelligence Service. Also, Louise prepared for her superiors in London a grid map of the region around Lille. Like the naval battle, lines were identified by numbers on one side and the letters of the alphabet on the other. When the German army installed a new battery of artillery, even camouflaged, this position was bombed by the Royal Flying Corps within eight days.

Another opportunity allowed her to report the date and time of passage of the imperial train carrying the Kaiser on a secret visit to the front at Lille. During the approach to Lille, two British aircraft bombed the train and emerged, but missed their target. The German command did not understand the unique situation of these forty kilometers of “cursed” front (held by the British) out of nearly seven hundred miles of front. One of her last messages announced the preparation of a massive German attack in early 1916 on Verdun . The information was relayed to the French commander who refused to believe it.

Arrested by the Germans on 20 October 1915 near Tournai, she was sentenced to death on 16 March 1916 in Brussels. Her sentence was forced labor for life. After being held for three years, she died on 27 September 1918 as a result of pleural abscesses poorly operated upon at St. Mary’s Hospital in Cologne.

Her body was repatriated on 21 February 1920. On 16 March 1920 a funeral was held in Lille in which she was posthumously awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honor, the Croix de guerre 1914-1918 with palm, the British Military Medal and was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. Her body is buried in the cemetery of Saint-Amand-les-Eaux

What a bloody amazing woman. The events above are all in the novel albeit with a few minor date changes. I really enjoyed nearly all of it until the ending sadly. Major bits of that didn’t work for me so if you read it I’d like to know what you think. Still worth reading though, especially to find out more about women spies.


Thanks for the feed back from the last post. Susan E’s comment struck a chord with me, “…put aside judgement and stop thinking of life as a glass half full or half empty-none of it matters if you don’t have a glass.”

She also asked for the Christmas cake recipe so I’ll post forthwith.

It is such a relief that many of my usual gift-giving friends have agreed not to do the present thing. I can’t think of anything I actually want or need, (except maybe a garlic crusher 🙂 ) and I’d much rather spend time with them than spend money for the sake of it.

I did muse on the plastic stuff we have accumulated for the kids in the refuges but in the  end I’m not sure it is about the present but more the symbolism of the present- just that someone chose something especially for them. I wish we were able to know each child’s name and be able to choose something I knew they really wanted. But for now, it has to be enough.

If you want a fun book to read at Christmas, have a go at Harvey Slumfenburger…


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