An Author at Our Table

the-bright-side-of-my-conditionWould you seize the opportunity to discuss your latest book club read in the presence of its author? Could you confess that you didn't enjoy it, or found it challenging? Would you question the writer's choices, or ask for a different ending? When The Akaroa Men's Book Group learned that Charlotte Randall, author of their latest book group read: The Bright Side of my Condition, lived locally in Pigeon Bay, they invited her over for a meal...and to discuss her book.

The Bright Side of my Condition chronicles the nearly decade-long fight for survival of four felons who escape from a Norfolk Island prison in the early 19th century only to find themselves cast away on one of the Snares Islands, 200km south of the South Island of New Zealand. Written in the 19th century vernacular, this authentic novel is often described as challenging by BDS book groups, but rewarding for those who persevere with the language.

"Many of the group were interested in Charlotte's choice to write in the vernacular of the early 19th century," writes Alan Turnbull of the Akaroa group, "some had found this distracted from the reading."

Their frank and lively discussion also included in-depth questions about the characters: Slangam, Toper, Gargantua and in particular the narrating character of Bloodsworth — with the group questioning how the author dealt with his fate.

In terms of theme and setting, the group also had much discuss. No doubt Bloodsworth's naïve philosophising based on his observations of the island's penguin colony formed a large part of this, as the birds become symbolic of the need to determine one's place in the world:

"Now the sea and the fish and the birds turn out to be my chief delight. It ain't jes because them other felons is a bunch of arseholes neither, there's arseholes everywhere, and it ain't jes because there's nothing else to do. It's because I discover penguin fish have a family life and a way of doing things, and its way of living go on no matter what the lunatic King orders or the poxy Norfolk jailers think or them sad green London virgins pray for. It go on with rules and games and conversations and tragedies jes like a play and it give the lie to them churchmen that say only humans can have a show."

The wide ranging conversation also expanded to cover Charlotte's career as a writer. "Charlotte began with a brief outline of her work, the writing routine she follows, the time and place of writing, and where her ideas and inspiration come from. She told us her love of books and writing came from her mother reading a wide range of literature to her from an early age."

charlotteThe idea of having an open and honest discussion about a book with the author in the room may not appeal to everyone, but Alan had only positive things to say about the experience and it seems to have deepend their connection to both the book and author. "Members of our group really enjoyed the interaction and the stimulating discussion we had with 'our' author and were very pleased with how the meeting went."

The Bright Side of my Condition is based on a true story, and is compelling reading with vividly portrayed 19th Century characters pondering the human condition in adversity. You can read more about it here in the BDS catalogue, or check out Elizabeth Easther's review on The NZ Herald website.

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