Planet Key


Eleanor Catton’s stellar success

A man walks into a West Coast pub and sells half a million copies of a literary fiction novel constructed according to the astrological alignments of the planets.

This year, for local book retailers, fact was stranger than fiction.

“We deal with hard data,” says Nevena Nikolic, sales and marketing manager with Nielsen BookScan. “I can’t comment, except to say it is unprecedented to see a New Zealand fiction title take out of the honour of the biggest-selling book in New Zealand.”

It is exactly one year since the release of Auckland author Eleanor Catton’s second novel, the Man Booker prize-winning The Luminaries.

Figures just released to the Sunday Star-Times show 560,000 print and digital copies of the book have sold worldwide (excluding Canada). Twenty per cent – 117,430 print and ebooks – were bought in New Zealand, according to Catton’s local publisher Victoria University Press.

Trying to put those numbers in perspective VUP’s previous blockbuster, Elizabeth Knox’s The Vintner’s Luck, shifted 40,000 copies in its first year and 60,000 across its lifetime. More common NZ fiction print runs, however, are around 1000 to 2000 books.

The Luminaries’ success pushed sales of locally written fiction up 168 per cent on the previous year. It’s been the No 1 best seller on the NZ adult fiction list for 51 straight weeks. The book looks like a long, and possibly difficult read, but that hasn’t stopped us devouring it in record numbers – elderly tenants in one apartment building in Wellington have, reportedly, chopped it down the spine into easy-to-manage (and share) sections.

Translation rights have been sold into 24 countries and 26 languages, from Bulgarian to Hebrew to Turkish. Only a few of those, however, are currently available. As a spokesperson from Catton’s United Kingdom publisher Granta said this week, “it does take rather a long time to translate”.

The Luminaries is a six-centimetre thick, 832-page epic set in Hokitika during the 1866 gold rush. It literally begins with a man – Walter Moody – entering a bar and encountering a congregation of 12. The book’s characters are influenced according to the astrological phases of the day, but at its simplest, Catton told a sold-out Auckland Writers Festival audience, “there’s the narrative, which just involves guns and prostitutes and people taking opium”.

Still, even retailers had their reservations.

“When it came in as a proof copy, about six months before release, I just thought ‘oh my goodness, this is never going to sell’, because it was so big,” says Jenna Todd, manager of Time Out Bookstore in Auckland’s Mt Eden. “And then it was long-listed, so that sparked a little bit of interest.”

Todd remembers the day she met Catton. “She said ‘hi, I’ve just moved to the neighbourhood, and this is my new local bookstore’. I knew who she was, because she was the writer of The Rehearsal [her first novel] and that was a big favourite for a lot of our staff.”

Time Out, initially, ordered five copies of The Luminaries. They pushed that to 50 when their new neighbourhood author asked to have her Auckland launch there. Last week, they confirmed sales figures of 1100; when it won the Man Booker, 100 copies went in a single day.

Ad Feedback

“I was so hung over,” recalls Todd. “I’d been to the Silver Scrolls the night before – it was when Lorde won for Royals – and my cellphone was dead and I’d organised to have the morning off.”

She was in her car, listening to National Radio when Kathryn Ryan reported the win.

“I drove straight here. There was Moet, everybody was crying and rewatching the video . . . customers were coming in and saying ‘I want to get that book’ they barely knew what it was called. People were like, ‘it’s ours – she won’. I don’t watch rugby, but I did think, maybe this is what it’s like when we win the World Cup Maybe this is what it feels like.”

Todd, like Catton, was born the same year a New Zealander last won the Booker. Keri Hulme’s The Bone People took out the prize in 1985, propelling the Okarito-based author to cult figure status. Todd has watched black and white television footage of that ceremony. “There’s cigarette smoke . . . there was a woman, and she’s wearing a tuxedo and this man talks for like, 15 minutes or something …”

On the morning of Catton’s win, says VUP publicist Kirstin McDougall, Twitter had the news about five seconds ahead of judge Robert McFarlane’s announcement on BBC World News.

“F…, she’s done it! She’s won,” shouted McDougall. “Shut-up!” shouted everyone back.

McDougall wrote the moment up for the Star-Times: “I’ll never forget her face. It was white and blank. I don’t think she blinked for 10 seconds and then she seemed to rummage around in her handbag for an hour. TV producers were probably screaming in the camera operators’ earpieces for more action, but this was compelling TV.

“Writers were hugging, crying, pouring champagne over the floor. There was the Duchess of Cambridge and there was Ellie, wobbly-voiced and visibly shocked, talking to the world about worth and value. She had the world’s attention.”

It was the longest book to win the prize and at 28, Catton was the youngest author to win it.

“Most writers,” said Catton two Fridays ago (folding laundry with one hand, holding the phone in the other), “when they get to a position of being associated with the Booker Prize, even on the long list, are more used to already being a public figure and an authority”.

Post-fame, she says, “you learn to put the mask on . . . the weird thing about having a public image is it’s not owned by anybody and it’s a collective thing, so if you don’t like the image you’re seeing, there’s no one place that you can go to lodge a complaint.”

She says the book has given her multiple firsts. After the laundry folding, was the packing, and a flight to a festival in Brazil – the book has just been translated into Portuguese – and Catton was excited. “I’ve never been to a country that’s at that stage of development.”

Her publicist confirms that “most mornings” her email inbox will contain invites, requests and occasional astrological graphs for the author. At the end of this month she’ll be at the Christchurch Writers’ Festival. The biggest portion of the book was written when Catton was the Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence at the University of Canterbury. The city wound its way into the text – Catton’s bicycle route from her father’s home in Cashmere took her past a strip of businesses whose names she borrowed (take a bow, Raxworthy Panelbeaters).

“I don’t know what the book would have looked like without that residency. This idea of unstructured time – there’s nothing like it.”

And yet, Catton has kept a day job. She teaches at the Manukau Institute of Technology’s School of Creative Writing: “I want to still have a normal existence and be working a job. I guess that I feel to relax, to get too comfortable, would mean that my ideas would suffer.

“I think that complacency is just the absolute enemy of art. If you’re complacent, why are you doing it Art should be this expression of what it is to be alive, and complacency is so not about being alive – it’s about being comfortable and being comatose.”

The Man Booker prize carries a


Shihad gets physical

The death of singer Jon Toogood’s father, a chance stroll along Auckland’s Hobson St and a week Toogood spent mentoring high school pupils have conspired to produce what Shihad believe is their best work in 15 years.

FVEY, the ninth album from the veteran Wellingtonians, has even restored Toogood’s once-lost passion for touring, and marks a return to the harder sound of their younger days.

FVEY which Toogood describes as a “blistering” and “intense” record, is at heart a protest album about society’s inequality. He knows he might be mocked for that, and doesn’t particularly care. But that passion, he believes, has delivered work he is truly proud of.

“There has never been a time in our career when we have been so in love with an album from start to finish,” Toogood enthuses, on the phone from Melbourne. “There is something really magical about this record.

“It’s hard and heavy and it needed to be, because the world is pretty heavy at the moment.”

The political aspect helps explain Shihad’s unlikely reunion with Jaz Coleman, the eccentric British-born New Zealand-resident frontman of the band Killing Joke, who produced their first album, Churn, and then barely spoke to Toogood for two decades. Coleman’s concern with the modern world extends to not owning a cellphone or laptop to prevent state surveillance.

“When we first worked with him [Coleman] he was intense and angsty then, but he had this added meanness from the fact he was drinking, which wasn’t great,” says Toogood. “That’s gone now. He can be just as gnarly but there is a logic and reason to it.”

Toogood says Coleman drove them to work in the studio without a day off for nearly three months, leaving him with a damaged elbow and torn rotator cuff in his shoulder.

“But I felt cleansed, like I been worked to the bone.”

Shihad intend to play FVEY end-to-end at the start of a one-off album launch gig at Christchurch’s CBS Arena on September 11.

Do they have the energy

“Luckily, all of us tend to look after ourselves a lot better than we ever did,” says Toogood, now 42. “My health is better now than when I was 20. Yes, the music is very physical and requires a certain fitness level and presence of mind to actually pull it off.”

He’s been drug and alcohol-free for three years, goes to the gym four times a week and eats well. “When I first decided to do that with my life, I thought ‘shit, will I be able to make a good rock’n’roll record without that stuff’ I always thought it went hand in hand. But the proof is in this record.”

Ad Feedback

Now living in Melbourne, Toogood says the band have grown “very uncomfortable” with the right-wing Australian government of Tony Abbott, and perceived a mean-spiritedness and unfairness in society.

But the big triggers came when Toogood was staying in Auckland and walked out of his hotel past a long line of people he imagined were queing up for gig tickets – only to discover it was the queue for assistance at the City Mission. Then he spent a week mentoring aspiring musicians at a high school and was deeply impressed by the selflessness of their teachers, who were working just as hard despite the uncertainty of the Novopay pay scandal.

But in particular, it was his father’s death that had the biggest impact.

“I was around these nurses working their arses off to keep my dad alive, and then finding out what they got paid – its criminal for the amount of work they were putting in to keep alive this person they didn’t know,” he says. “They were amazing.

“Then there are people being rewarded in jobs like the stock market, or for things that cause a lot of misery – and people doing selfless jobs are being paid almost nothing, and that to me is not right.”

If all this, says Toogood, makes him sound “naive or hippy-ish”, he’s unperturbed. “If I see we are being lied to, we will say that, and that’s what this record is about . . . I’m glad we have this outlet, because I am only saying what all my friends are saying.”

* FVEY is released on August 10.

– Sunday Star Times


Listen: Shihad’s new album FVEY

Before it is released on Friday, we’re giving you the chance to listen to Shihad’s highly anticipated album FVEY on


Miranda Kerr ‘vowed to make Bieber a man’

Justin Bieber has allegedly bragged Miranda Kerr vowed to “make him a man”.

The 20-year-old pop star was reportedly attacked by Orlando Bloom in Ibiza last week after Bieber allegedly taunted the actor about his relationship with the model, who split from Bloom last year after three years of marriage.

Various media reports suggested Justin had made a derogatory remark before the fracas.

And UK’s the Sunday People reports the pop star has yet to stop making bold claims, allegedly boasting that Kerr had once made the flirty remark about delivering him from boyhood.

Bieber and Kerr reportedly struck up a friendship while the singer was performing at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in 2012.

UK newspaper The Mirror echoes reports this is believed to be the main reason behind his alleged altercation with Bloom, who reportedly tried to jump over a sofa and punch the pop star after he was taunted.

The Lord of the Rings star was reportedly then escorted out of the venue by security.

Bieber later posted a sexy photo of Miranda on social media, followed by a photo of Orlando appearing to cry, which was later deleted.

“Orlando had heard that there had been some flirting going on and he wasn’t exactly over the moon about it, in fact he was furious,” a source told the outlet.

“At the time of the split it was certainly one of the motivations. He was, and still is, very cross about all of this. He can’t believe that someone he regards as a silly little boy has had this impact on his relationship. He is absolutely fuming.”

Bloom is meanwhile still on holiday in Ibiza, where he was recently seen partying with pal Leonardo DiCaprio.

The actor, 37, reportedly joined DiCaprio at Lio Ibiza in the island’s capital last week, when he told The Mirror he’s being hailed a hero for allegedly putting Bieber in his place.

“Everyone keeps telling me I’m their hero,” he was quoted saying.

A spokesperson for Kerr has not commented publicly on the latest claims.

Ad Feedback

– Cover Media


Hanson swap the Mmmbop for hard rock

“Don’t misunderstand good manners for passivity,” Isaac Hanson says firmly down the phone from his kitchen in Tulsa, Oklahoma.


The Oz family Robinson

Australian actor Tim Phillipps has become the latest generation of Robinsons to take up residence in Neighbours. But, as Keith Sharp finds, he has never met his “parents”, played by Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan.

Few actors are able to have a double shot at a role on the Australian soap Neighbours, but Tim Phillipps has managed it.

Phillipps is now ensconced in Ramsay Street after turning up as Daniel Robinson – son of the show’s most famous couple, Scott and Charlene Robinson (Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue).

They left the neighbourhood for Brisbane 26 years ago. So, as a kind of representative of The Robinsons: The Next Generation, Daniel would like to think he is ushering in a new era in the family story.

It might all have been so different, though. In 2007, Phillipps auditioned unsuccessfully for the role of Ringo Brown but was later offered a three-month guest role as a character called Fox, a figment of Paul Robinson’s imagination.

It was a good job for the budding actor but Phillipp then believed his Neighbours stint was over for good.

“I guess, yeah – at the time I did think that would be the end of the road,” says Phillipps.

“But as it was my first gig ever, it really kick-started everything.”

Clearly, the producers of Neighbours decided that seven years was long enough for viewers to have forgotten Fox, and they were happy to offer Phillipp the new role of Daniel. So did it feel weird coming back in a different role

“Yes and no,” he says. “Fortunately, I’m working so closely with Stefan Dennis again and it’s a similar sort of character in that he’s got a close relationship with Paul Robinson, so it felt a little like stepping back into the old role, in a sense, so that side of it wasn’t too weird.

“It was nice that it was a familiar workplace. Obviously a lot of new faces, but I had my head around it already so it was nice to come in and hit the ground running.”

Phillipp feels that those extra few years before joining Neighbours full-time may have worked in his favour as an actor.

Daniel Robinson is about four years younger than 26-year-old Phillipps and the actor sees it as a nice compliment to be cast younger than his real age.

“It means, hopefully, a longer career,” he says, “because if you play down I guess it’s an advantage. Also, you can bring a bit more knowledge to a younger character because you’ve been there and you know what’s to come.”

Ad Feedback

Phillipps says he watched the show “religiously” during his high school years but, in a touch of irony, he was born too late to see his screen “parents” Scott and Charlene.

Nevertheless, he has learned to speak of them as real people. So how are the folks getting along in Brisbane these days

“They’re good,” says Phillipps (or Daniel). “They’re in good spirits, and are really loving, supportive parents who I guess allowed me and encouraged me to be the kind of guy I am and to go and travel Australia and see what it has to offer and experience things. So they’re great.”

Has he had any contact with Jason and Kylie

“Not personally – not real contact,” he laughs. “Daniel’s had multiple phone calls to Charlene, which is really fun. But I haven’t met the real deal yet.

“But it definitely has helped to watch some old clips. There’s loads of stuff on YouTube dedicated to Scott and Charlene. It’s actually been quite funny to watch that back now that I’ve been working on the role for a few months.”

By all accounts, Scott and Charlene have raised a good son (and a daughter, Madison, whom we have yet to see), and Phillipps is comfortable in Daniel’s skin.

“He’s your laid-back surfer dude,” Phillipps says. “A bit of a hippie, definitely loves nature, has a massive passion for photography and is just a loving, friendly guy who wants to get along with everyone… Just a really good-spirited young man.”

As a carrier of his parents’ genes, Daniel is obviously a good-looking young man who is bound to have more than a few romances.

So how long, we wonder, before Scott and Charlene Robinson become grandparents It doesn’t bear thinking about, does it

TV 2, Weekdays, 6.30pm

-TV Guide


Kiwi zombies and dancers invade festival

Zombies, modern dancers and haka groups are leading a New Zealand invasion of the largest arts festival in the world.

About 200 Kiwi artists and performers are taking part in six art, music and theatre festivals held in Edinburgh this month.

The New Zealand season features the largest number of Kiwi artists to appear at the prestigious festival.

About a dozen New Zealand shows are included in this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which is the largest festival in the world, with 3000 shows a day, hundreds of venues and thousands of tickets sold across the month.

The New Zealand shows in the Fringe include immersive zombie thriller The Generation of Z, which has been hotly tipped by British newspapers and has already performed to soldout crowds, and HAKA, a show by New Zealand kapa haka groups Te Waka Huia and Te Whanau a Apanui, which is being performed for hundreds of people a day.

The haka performers, along with New Zealand highland dancers, are also taking part in the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which will be seen by about 220,000 people and millions on television. Arts council Creative New Zealand has supported Kiwi artists involved in the season with about $782,000 in funding for airfares, accommodation and freight costs.

The Fringe festival can launch global theatre careers, said Creative New Zealand international senior adviser, Amy Saunders.

“This will present New Zealand on an international stage, raise its profile and offer artists opportunities for international touring and professional development.”

A comedy drama by Christchurch playwright Victor Rodger, Black Faggot, has already attracted a four-star review from Broadway Baby, a leading Fringe review website.

The Kiwi season at Edinburgh has been two years in the making, with programmers and theatre directors coming to New Zealand to select shows for the programme.

Many of the NZ shows are being staged by Assembly, which curates a well-respected programme of shows across several venues for the Fringe every year.

Assembly special events manager Kim Acland, who grew up in Christchurch, said she was proud of the New Zealand season.

“It is extraordinary to bring 200 artists here and make this explosion,” she said.

Charlie Gates is in Edinburgh with assistance from Creative New Zealand.

Ad Feedback

– The Press


Fifty Shades of Grey ignites fetish scene

The steamy new Fifty Shades of Grey trailer has whipped up a frenzy of interest in the local fetish scene as couples seek to emulate the eroctic romance.

But the reality of the alternative sexual lifestyle is far from the fantasy portrayed in the adaptation of the E L James erotic novel.

Those well-acquainted with New Zealand’s extensive BDSM (Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadism and Masochism) scene say the books and now movie, which romanticises sexual dominance and submission with a bit of bondage and discipline thrown in, gives people a skewed idea of what’s really involved.

Owner and operator of Club Sparty, one of Auckland’s three BDSM clubs, Rod Jackson, said a lot of young people came into the club on BDSM party nights after reading the Fifty Shades of Grey books and were shocked at the extent of how people ”dealt to” each other using everything from whips to batons.

In reality when a dominant ”played on” a submissive by using bondage and punishment, which could include anything from a light spanking with an open palm to a thorough spanking, it was quite violent, Jackson said.

”[Fifty Shades of Grey] does romanticise it a little bit and some people are not ready for the full reality.”

Jackson said 90 per cent of the population were not into BDSM, even if they thought they were.

However, those who were actively living out the BDSM lifestyle enjoyed the different aspects, including the pain, he said.

While Fifty Shades of Grey had brought BDSM into mainstream media most people who were into alternative lifestyles were already aware of their kinks and it was unlikely reading the books or watching a movie would turn you into someone who was into BDSM, Jackson said.

”Most men are brought up to not hit a woman but there’s a small percentage of women out there who want to be hit.”

People from the BDSM community partook in a range of activities and they did not always involve sex but there was always an element of arousal and satisfaction.

Jackson said about one in seven Kiwis were into the lifestyle, whether they were public or private about their preference.

If people were curious about trying BDSM they could learn about it online and there was a range of clubs in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch and a few special Bed & Breakfasts that catered to those who wanted to play with BDSM.

However, the BDSM community largely wanted to be left alone and not judged by people who did not understand the appeal, Jackson said.

Ad Feedback

The 55-year-old male dominant said he had always been into BDSM and had been running Club Sparty for eight years, following nine years of hosting private BDSM parties.

Auckland domme Mistress Shazza said ”an awful lot of people” had gone into Club Sparty after reading the books and wanting to give BDSM a go.

They had a preconceived idea of what BDSM was about but they were often surprised by the reality.

One of the most important aspects of BDSM was consent, which was not clearly explored or explained in Fifty Shades of Grey.

It was important to give clear verbal consent every step of the way so no one was injured during play and the submissive only experienced what they were comfortable with, she said.

If people wanted to give it a go at home they did not have to fork out for expensive equipment like leather whips and spanking benches, an old tie and a rubber spatula would do the trick, she said.

Mistress Shazza’s submissive Maid Yvette, a cross-dressing male, said different people had different pain thresholds and she used the traffic light system to tell her dominant when she needed a break or wanted to stop.

The relationship between a dominant and a submissive was based on trust and understanding of what the other person wanted and what they could tolerate, Yvette said.

BDSM-er from Christchurch alternative lifestyles club Uncommon Bonds Steve K said Fifty Shades of Grey had certainly raised the community’s profile.

The club held a party with a Fifty Shades of Grey theme and twice as many people attended as usual, he said.

But the BDSM community found Fifty Shades to be ”rather unrealistic” and ”very tame”.

”I get bored with Fifty Shades.”

Steve K said there was an even mix of men, women, young and old who partook in BDSM and the community included people who were straight, gay, cross-dressers, and transsexuals.

The community tried to ignore any negative attention and kept each other safe by turning away anyone with criminal convictions of a sexual nature.

Clinical psychologist and sex therapist Robyn Salisbury said Fifty Shades of Grey had engendered discussions with her clients about trying something new, pushing the boundaries and using erotica as a turn on.

If people wanted to try any new sexual behaviour, especially those involving dominance or pain, it was important to clarify in advance where the boundaries were and a clear way to signal stop that would be heeded no matter what, she said.

While some groups took BDSM very seriously, Fifty Shades of Grey had also prompted some light-hearted discussion around the topic.

– Stuff


Stan Walker struts his stuff on big screen

STAN Walker’s voice has taken him to the top of the charts on both sides of the Tasman.

And now Walker – who initially found fame after winning the 2009 Australian Idol reality TV talent quest – is set to unleash his dance moves in the New Zealand-produced multi-million dollar international hip-hop film, Born To Dance.

The 23-year-old – whose music hits include Black Box, Choose You and Galaxy – has been confirmed to play the role of Benjy, one of the male leads in the feature film.

Born To Dance will be choreographed by Parris Goebel ; who has choreographed for global chart-topper Jennifer Lopez and the North American-based Cirque du Soleil dance troupe, as well as recently acting and co-choreographing in the fifth instalment of the blockbuster Step Up movie series.

”We are leading in terms of hip-hop, especially with Parris and her success with working with people like Jennifer Lopez,” Walker told Fairfax Media from Sydney.

”I am proud that not only is this a New Zealand film, but [it will] represent our talents. Being Polynesian, it’s awesome to have a Maori director, a Samoan choreographer and the cast is predominantly Polynesian. It speaks a lot to the people who are going to be watching it.”

When asked about the quality of his own dance moves, Walker said jokingly: ”Terrible”.

But he said given Goebel’s talent as both a dancer and choreographer, come filming time he would be in prime condition to unleash some killer moves.

”She is definitely a leader in terms of creative [work] … she inspires people to be more creative than what they are,” Walker said.

”The way her mind works is incredible. If you have seen any of her productions, her dancing is out of this world. I did a workshop with her and struggled with all my life because I am not a dancer. [But] if she can make me look good, that means the movie is going to be good.”

The team behind Born To Dance say they are hoping to announce ”an international Hollywood starlet” to play the female lead role.

When asked who topped his wishlist of actresses to play the character, a laughing Walker responded: ”Beyonce… but she is too old for the role.”

The brains behind Born To Dance describe it as a: ”Coming of age tale told through the eyes of ‘Tu’, an ambitious young man from Auckland who dreams of being a professional hip-hop dancer.”

Benjy is a member of the group Tu hangs around with, with Walker describing his character as ”pretty relaxed, he’s chilled and kind of just goes day by day”.

”He chooses a few things to get by during the day, obviously not good things to choose, but he has got to do what he has to do to survive,” he said.

”He is dumb, but he is also a little bit wise because he teaches people through his bad mistakes. I guess he is the ‘big brother’ [of the group], he is the clown as well… he hasn’t got time to be so serious.”

It is his second major film project, having starred in 2013 Kiwi box office hit Mt Zion .

”I got the buzz [with Mt Zion ],” Walker said.

Ad Feedback

”It is not saying I am a good actor or anything like that, but I have been given the opportunity so why not take a hold of it and run with it.”

Confirmation of Walker’s starring role in Born To Dance caps a great two weeks for the chart-topper.
His new single, Aotearoa , debuted at No 2 on the official New Zealand top 40 singles chart last weekend.
Walker spoke to Fairfax Media on Thursday before flying to the US for three weeks.

On the agenda will be recording, song writing and meeting with record company executives.”Sometimes it’s good to get out of your [comfort zone] to aid with the creative juices,” he said.

He will return to New Zealand following his American trip to work on Born To Dance

The film will be directed by award-winning actor Tammy Davis; best known for bringing the character ”Munter” to life in Kiwi television comedy-drama Outrageous Fortune.

He has also directed widely acclaimed short films Ebony Society and Sonny, My Older Brother .

Davis said he was hugely excited about the upcoming hip-hop production.

”This is a film that will totally connect with audiences here in New Zealand and around the world,” he said.

”I can’t wait to see what Parris Goebel does with the choreography, and with talent like Stan Walker on board you’d better book your tickets now because there are going to be queues around the corner to see this film.”

– Stuff