ARTicle Magazine

This reading life: Rachael King

22 July 2018

Rachael is an award-winning writer and the author of Magpie Hall and The Sound of Butterflies. She's also the Programme Director of literary festival, WORD Christchurch. 

Rachel King

WORD Christchurch runs across August 29 – 2 September 2018. 

The first book to capture my imagination was ... 

I remember my Dad reading Watership Down to us when I was about four, but I don’t remember anything about the actual book. I’m not really sure it was a suitable book for a four year old. So I’m going to say the Narnia series. I remember Dad reading me The Horse and his Boy, and then showing up at our house on my birthday with the whole box set for me to read myself. It was unbelievably exciting, and I read and re-read them many times, not just throughout my childhood but throughout the rest of my life too.

Horse and Boy

The books and/or other writing that saw me through childhood were ...

I was lucky in that not only was my father a writer, but my mother and step-father worked in publishing so we had easy access to a huge range of books. Apart from the Narnia books, I remember a lot of horse books (too many to name), the entire Nancy Drew series, Tintin comics, Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising sequence, Famous Five, early Roald Dahl… I could go on all day.

"I was lucky in that not only was my father a writer, but my mother and step-father worked in publishing so we had easy access to a huge range of books."

The character in a book I most wanted to be as a child was ... 

George from Famous Five. For a time I wore my hair short and wore jeans and sneakers, and loved it when people mistook me for a boy.

The book I studied at school that has stayed with me most is ...

Probably Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I loved that book with a passion.

The author I am most likely to binge-read is ...

Weirdly, I don’t really binge-read authors. I guess if I’m looking for comfort reads, I might pick up a Phryne Fisher mystery or two.

The book I am most likely to press on a friend is ...

Too many to mention! Lately I have pressed Ivan Coyote’s Tomboy Survival Guide on a few. We have a young (aged 18) Scottish boarder staying with us at the moment and I pressed Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Emily Perkins’ Not Her Real Name on her.

Tomboy Survival Guide

The book I most wish someone would write is ...

The one I should be writing, and that someone is me.

The book I keep meaning to get around to reading but somehow never do is ...

So many! I inherited a lot of Iris Murdoch books from my father and would like to give at least one of them a go once the Festival is over. 

The book I have reread the most is ...

See above – the Narnia books and the Susan Cooper books. I don’t tend to re-read books because I have so many unread, but I do have a collection of the books I have loved that I fully intend to read again before I die.

The newspapers, magazines and blogs I can't do without are ... 

I don’t think there are any I couldn’t do without, and I prefer to use my reading time on books rather than magazines, but I do drop in regularly to The Spinoff, the Guardian (books mostly), Pantograph Punch (books), The Listener (books), and countless others that catch my eye on Twitter. I usually buy the Weekend Press, and the Sunday Star Times but lately have been too busy to sit and read them leisurely, as they are intended to be read. Can I add podcast? I love the Guardian Books podcast, and the London Review of Books podcast, and there are some great talks on the 5 x 15 podcast. 

If I were stranded on a desert island and could have only one book with me, it would be ...

A big one. Maybe Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Or Sailing the Forest, Robin Robertson collected poems, which is not big but I can happily re=read some of those poems forever. Reading poetry for pleasure is something that has come late to me. If I have heard a poet read their work it adds to the pleasure because I hear their voice in my head as I read. I recommend anyone looking up Robin Robertson reading ‘At Roane Head’ on YouTube. Absolutley mesmerising.

The Goldfinch 2

Bookmark, scrap of paper or turning down the corner of the page?

All three? I am also my own worst enemy and sometimes butterfly the book. I know. If it’s a hardback I might use the flap of the dustjacket as well. 

The first 50 pages or bust? Or always to the bitter end?

I find it hard to deliberately abandon a book. But if I’m not enjoying after 50 pages I might skim it until the end.

The book I am always on the lookout for in secondhand shops is ...

Any of my own because they still cost me a fair bit to buy from my publisher. Any books that I have intended to read but haven’t got around to (I find Goodreads TBR files very handy here). Any books that I have loved by don’t own – I'm on the lookout for A Room With a View by E.M. Forster.

 

My favorite cinematic adaptation of a book is ...

I loved Atonement, directed by Joe Wright. It really did the book justice and I was on the verge of tears the whole way through because I knew what was coming.

Atonement the movie

The character in a book I'd most like to meet is ...

Elizabeth Bennett. Or maybe Pippi Longstocking. 

A line of writing I can recite from memory is ...

Probably the same one as everyone: “You must let me tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” Our parents’ generation were made to memorise poems. I wish I had been made to memorise a few. 

My favorite 19th-century book is …

So many! Tess of the d’Urbervilles probably.

My favorite 20th-century book is ...

So many! I can’t choose. Sorry. 

The books currently by the side of my bed are …

Ha ha. Do you really want to know? OK. Clean, by Juno Dawson, The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke by Tina Makereti, RisingTideFallingStar by Philip Hoare, A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe, Mortification, edited by Robin Robertson, The Long Take, by Robin Robertson, Are Friends Electric? By Helen Heath, The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell, The Man Who Would Not See by Raj Chakraborti, Gabriel’s Bay by Catherine Robertson, He’s So MASC by Chris Tse, Sodden Downstream by Brannavan Gnanalingam. I have started most; I am fooling myself that I will finish them all by the time the festival rolls around.

About WORD Christchurch

The biennial WORD Christchurch Festival (Aug 29 – 2 Sept) has been growing its audience rapidly over the past few years, and this year features 20 international and over 100 New Zealand speakers in nearly 100 events. Writers include: Irvine Welsh, Denise Mina and Shaun Bythell (Diary of a Bookseller) from the festival’s featured country, Scotland; Robyn Davidson, author of the classic story Tracks; Philip Hoare, British sea enthusiast and Moby Dick expert, who will accompany a whale-watching expedition to Kaikōura; American activist and poet Sonya Renee Taylor who has launched a global movement of body acceptance; British YouTube poetry star Hollie McNish; and science fiction writer Ted Chiang, who wrote the short story that the film Arrival was based on. New Zealand guests include poets Hera Lindsay Bird and Selina Tusitala Marsh, Tina Makereti, Chris Tse, Dame Anne Salmond, Michele A’Court and Tom Scott. Non-fiction topics explored include the rise of America’s alt-right; an insight into Islam; humans relationships with trees; the science of city-building; te reo Māori;  extreme sports; and 125 years of women’s suffrage. With a theme of adventurous, the spirit of adventure runs through the festival with writers who take risks in their lives as well as their work.

Word ChCh