Kate De Goldi: Earthquakes and Cathedrals: WORD Christchurch 2022

On Sunday morning I joined one of many other eager WORD-goers for one of the final WORD Christchurch Festival events, this one with New Zealand award-winning author, Kate De Goldi. As a major fan of De Goldi’s work, and hearing her as a regular contributor to Kim Hill's Saturday morning show, getting the chance to see her talk in person felt like a wonderful treat, and a long time coming. She spoke with Liz Grant about her latest novel Eddy, Eddy (a coming of age novel set in Christchurch at the time of the earthquakes, growing up in Christchurch), A Christmas Carol, writers being great observers, what it was like to experience the earthquakes while no longer living here, and her passionate advocacy work for literacy and reading.

Kate De Goldi
Kate De Goldi

Eddy, Eddy and its loose mirroring of a Christmas Carol

The talk began with De Goldi reading an excerpt from the beginning of Eddy, Eddy (beautifully, I might add), and touched on her novel referencing Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol; laughing that only recently had she started to think that “it was outrageous to borrow Charles Dickens to begin my book.”

Eddy, Eddy

Eddy is a 19 year old who is starting to grow his pet-minding business while working at the local New World. He was an orphan, and his uncle (aptly named Brain) brought him up. However, he is itching to breakout and find his own way in the world, with the backdrop of the Christchurch earthquakes and aftermath to deal with. He develops significant relationships with three female characters, that De Goldi notes can mirror the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future. She explains that for her having a text like A Christmas Carol to work off can provide herself with structure, scaffolding if you will. Otherwise she tends to end up writing War and Peace! It can be a handy device.

Writers as observers

Grant enquired about the visit to the vet (which occurs in her book), and how she comes up with ideas for her novels. De Goldi explained that her stories and ideas tend to gesticulate slowly, and she’s generally inspired to write novels about particular interesting interactions or events that she has experienced. In this instance, it was about a friend’s constipated bird that needed to go to the vet. It sat with her for a few years before she sat down and started to write the novel. When asked about the little ‘nuggets’ like this particular one, and if she writes them down, De Goldi replied that she does, and that the strong ideas stay with her. She referenced Margaret Mahy, who also talked about good ideas gesticulating over time until they start to form and inspire a story.

“To be a writer you have to be a noticing person.”

Naming characters for her novels, and pets in this instance, is one of the most enjoyable parts about writing. She talked about constantly borrowing names from people, like a friend’s pet frog called Fatty (a frog named Arbuckle appears in the book, she indicates that we can see the connection to a laughing crowd). And she continues that you have to notice things to be a writer. And she tends to notice the particularly absurd things.

The Christchurch earthquakes

De Goldi was here for two of the earthquakes, visiting and helping her parents. She grew up in Christchurch, sets all her novels here, and has deep connections here as well. She notes hat having tried to set a novel in Wellington (where she currently lives), a character would walks down the hill and would end up in Cashmere (the crowd laughs, again), so it never seems to work anywhere other than Christchurch. She explains that she was deeply, profoundly affected by the earthquakes, but had a different experience watching the events of February 22nd unfold on television, unlike many people actually in Christchurch. And there is still a powerful nostalgia for the parts of Christchurch that are now gone. One reason for writing this particular novel was that she wanted to bear witness to the destruction of the earthquakes. A difficulty with this was not wanting to presume, having not been here for all of the earthquakes (or the few years of aftershocks for that matter), but she still felt a deep need to write about it. Especially the challenging periods when nothing seemed to be happening, and orange road cones were scattered about the city almost everywhere.

Advocating for literacy and writing for young people

It was clear to see De Goldi’s passion for this as she talked about the importance of doing more for the young people in New Zealand. There are many factors and barriers that contribute to young people (and adults) reading less. Te Puna Foundation do a lot of work in this area. One project that was created was set around the notion of building a nation of readers, and finding ways to break down those barriers. Schools are focusing on reading for pleasure less than they were, but there’s so much research that shows how critical it is for children aged between 8 and 15 years old in particular. It can break through poverty barriers, and help enable people to get jobs later on. There is so much work to do in this area. Another recent project has been appointing the first Reading Ambassador, our very own Lyttelton-based Ben Brown.

“It’s not too strong to say the health and wealth of the nation depends on it.”

There was just enough time for a few questions at the end, and a book-signing out in the lobby as well. De Goldi spoke so eloquently, and was so engaging and relatable with the audience, and Grant seemed such a perfectly matched interviewer for this talk. Each event I have attended seems so different from the last, it is hard to pick a favourite. It is clear, though, that it was another successful WORD event, and I cannot wait until the festival next year! Thank you WORD Christchurch, your sponsors, writers, presenters, volunteers and everyone in between. You have done yourselves proud.

Other novels by Kate De Goldi

More books by Kate De Goldi

WORD Christchurch Festival 2022 Coverage

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