Saturday, February 3, 2018

Charity Norman discovery

Life seems to follow a pattern, especially when you follow the crowd.  I like to go off the beaten path. Opportunities are everywhere, but most of the time we keep on our trajectory.  When I say "opportunities" I don't just mean to make money, but more importantly to enjoy life more.

A few years back my son, Michael moved to New Zealand, a place so far away we never imagined visiting it, but now there was a compelling reason and admittedly circumstances were more favourable.

He lived in the modern city of Auckland and it was impressive, but our son wanted us to realize there was a lot more to New Zealand than what you could find in a big city.  We did a sort of grand tour of the north island.  Napier had gotten my attention as it had the National Aquarium and also had an Art Deco style (not that I really understood but it sounded nifty).

We stayed at Parkside Lodge while in Napier and it was pleasant enough that I blogged about it and decided to email Sateesh, the owner to show my appreciation.  He emailed back to ask permission to show to prospects.  That blog got more views than my two others from the trip.   In Napier (at Parkside Lodge) as is my custom I read the local paper and noted a reference to Charity Norman as a local author.  Back in Auckland I noticed one of her books on display, but I wasn't looking to buy.  Here is what I sent Sateesh:

Back at home the idea percolated in my brain and when my son planning to visit us asked what I would like for a Christmas present.  I wanted something that could only come from New Zealand.  I chose a CD of a Bic Runga concert in Christchurch which I still listen to and a book by Charity Norman.  Not really expecting anything monumental, but was very pleased with my son's gifts.

"Second Chance" was a very enjoyable read.  It has been retitled "After the Fall" in Europe.  Abuse and misunderstandings are key factors.  A family with problems made the move from England to New Zealand, actually in the Hawke's Bay area where Napier is located.  It is always interesting to learn about "exotic" faraway lands, but I felt a slighter more awareness.

Became a Facebook friend with Charity and was able to keep up with her literary endeavours.  Fascinating background--born in Uganda as a vicar's daughter later shifted among a variety of English locations,   She became a lawyer working with family courts in England.  At one point she gave up her legal career and moved to New Zealand with her family.

I once attended a talk by Robert J Sawyer who when asked about how writers should get started contradicted common advice to write about what you know.  He felt you should research something  you think would be of interest to the public and write about that.  Never thought in that way, but it makes sense.  On the other hand both he and Charity write about what they have some familiarity with.  One of Sawyer's strengths is local scenes that have actually made foreigners more aware of Canada.  Charity seems to draw on her own experiences in both England and New Zealand.  But extending her comfort zone Charity has obviously researched beyond her own experiences.  For more on Robert J Sawyer read:

Boxing day, this past December found me in a crowded Sylvia Park Mall and discovered the last copy of  "See you in September"  and couldn't resist.  It explores cults from inside and outside explaining how someone reasonably intelligent could be lured in.  A compelling story with one philosophical reflection by way of a brief comparison of oblivion to eternity which I think is the essence of religion.  In her acknowledgement Charity was honest enough to admit Google was a useful tool.  I would add Wikipedia as another resource.

"Freeing Grace" when read I hadn't t realized it was her first novel.  One technique that carried through all the other books was multiple viewpoints.  In some cases the subjective view is used, in others the focus is from an observer focused on one character.  A mixed race adoption involving a resistant family and a desperate mixed couple wanting to be parents.

"The Son in Law" was very riveting.  I felt confident it would have a more or less happy ending, but couldn't figure out how it could be resolved.   It was as if there was an irresistible force on one side and an impenetrable wall on the other--actually more like two walls.  The author is a great believer in the power of communication and mediation plays an important role in the book giving it a realistic polish.  An interesting reference to a Canadian of my generation was the role of Leonard Cohen's voice as a tool to move the story dynamics.  When I was in my late teens he was very popular and I ended up giving away his first album to impress a girl.

The best explanation for me of mediation came from a Spanish movie (co-produced by Netflix), "Seven Annos."  Four key people in a successful company felt they could all end up in jail for 7 years and then concocted the idea one could take the blame and the company could continue.  They brought in a mediator to resolve the dilemma.  Some important rules explained, then we soon saw a violation, but group dynamics forced another effort.  A Spanish law about smoking was one prop that helped in the process.  In Charity's book one might not have realized a mediation effort was involved, but a reader could not help but admire the process.  More on "Seven Annos" here:

I have the impression Charity understands very well the processes involved in family issues and when the rules as we understand them can be bent.  The four books I was able to read all brought up unusual (but not improbably or unlikely) family situations.  Emotions are at their peak with reasoning put aside making a satisfying resolution difficult to imagine.  Humans are capable of solving very difficult problems once they accept the need.

Philosophy crops up with ideas to ponder.  Many of the characters express an interest in what life is really all about.

A slight linking through Family court experience.  I was a social worker briefly and recall one visit to court where a boy was rejected by a step father after his mother died.  I was too young to really understand, but it was a new part of the world for me.  For more information on my short social work career.

Admittedly her books are hard to find, particularly if you don't live in Britain or New Zealand.  Fortunately Hayley, my son's girlfriend took pity on my frustration and was very helpful in tracking one title for me while in New Zealand and wouldn't accept payment.  We found another copy at a Whangerei book store, Piggery Books.  The internet expands opportunities.  There are German versions of her books.

At the moment there is only one of her books I have not read--I hope she is working on another.  She lives in a wonderful part of the world (even for New Zealand) and it seems to have a great effect.  I found a short article about her dilemma with so much of her family half way around the world.  The age of Skype has lessened the difficulties.  There will come a time when the distance is tragic, but I think my son has made a good choice.

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