Booked for a three week tour of Canadian literary festivals, I flew to Calgary, a city at the foot of the Rockies. In the restroom at Calgary airport a voice behind me drawled, "No soap." Louise, I thought, looking in the mirror, but actually it was Thelma. I watched as she was ushered through the crowd, Geena Davis, tall and elegant, still a star all these years after she and Susan Sarandon drove their car into the Grand Canyon holding hands.
In winter, Calgary gets to thirty below zero. The city has a network of covered walkways, and I could walk from my hotel to downtown indoors. Jetlagged, I went jogging beside the river, attended parties, performed my quota of readings and panels. I brushed past John Cleese in the foyer (was he here to meet Geena?) and went to an insane reading by Chuck Palahniuk, U.S. author of Fight Club, involving groupies, glow sticks and coloured beach balls. After a week I was driven to Banff, high in the Rocky Mountains. In the hotel there were instructions: now we were deep in the Banff National Park I was advised to beware of wolves, elk, black and grizzly bears, cougars, lynxes and coyotes. Eleanor Catton had arrived in the night and holed up in her room with a bison burger.I woke in the freezing morning to blue skies, extraordinary alpine beauty. Ellie invited me to join her for breakfast, and while we ate, the winner of the Booker Prize gave me a rundown on Canadian wildlife.
In Wilkie Collins's classic novel The Woman in White, Walter Hartwright does what 19th Century protagonists often do mid-novel, before the resolution and the happy ending: he goes abroad. Marion Halcombe sees him in a dream, now shipwrecked on a foreign shore, now menaced by "dark, dwarfish men" with bows and arrows in the grounds of an ancient temple. Glimpsing him in the surreal fragments of her dream, we know he will return, evil will be banished and hope restored. I read on. Out the window a strange sunset lay dark as blood along the edge of the horizon. We were climbing above the clouds and Auckland was already far behind. Have I become addicted to leaving?
I remember a line in Saul Bellow's novel, The Dean's December, about the ice blocks in Lake Michigan, 'gray-white and tan and stained with sand by the prevailing wind.' In the Chicago streets at the edge of Lake Michigan it was summer; no ice blocks but instead a hot sandy beachfront, thousands of swimmers and sunbathers, the stink of coconut oil, a line of crammed and rowdy bars where the beachgoers staggered to drink in the shade of fringed umbrellas. Inland, against the hard bright sky stood the glittering, elegant rampart of the city's skyscrapers. Chicago, scene of the Dean's bleak and freezing December, was baking in a blue August. The architecture was sharply stylish, and the lavish public art reflected American wealth and scale: sculptures, fountains, galleries, parks.
Choose Your Hero
In July I packed my bag. My novel, Soon, was to be published in the UK by Jonathan Cape, and in Canada in October by House of Anansi. Leaving for the airport, I said, "Right, I've seen the future. The royal baby will be a boy. It's name will be George." And then I was on the move, leaving the beloved shantytown behind. Singapore was blanketed with smoke from forest fires in Indonesia, the city eerily absent as the plane came down. Changi Airport stank of smoke, the buildings outside dimly visible through the haze. There were regular updates on air quality, and all the workers wore masks. Twelve hours later, looking down on the great map of London turning beneath the wing, I felt a familiar kind of vehement joy: I was free, let loose again, wheeling through the world.
The following morning I was up at Kenwood, on Hampstead Heath. There were stands of flowering rhododendrons flanking a path that could have been the model for Karl Maughan's hyper-real paintings. We were talking to a Guardian journalist about the whistleblower, Edward Snowden. Later, in the car, a flash came through on the journalist's phone, "Snowden en route to Russia."
Hawaii at War
Hawaii was in the middle of nowhere but Hawaii was America and so, post Boston bombing, it was on edge. "We're at war," the bus driver said, pulling up at the police line. That morning a bomb scare had emptied downtown Honolulu; now a suspicious package outside the Royal Hawaiian Centre had police cordoning off four blocks. On CNN Piers Morgan told the FBI, "Someone's dropped the ball on security," and Republican senators were debating an outrage: the surviving Boston bomber had been read his Miranda rights, and would answer no further questions without a lawyer. He should have been treated as an enemy combatant, questioned without a lawyer, had his wounds poked, his painkillers withheld. America was in no mood for acting nice. Piers Morgan's eyes narrowed. "In fact," he said, "someone has dropped two massive balls."
The Real New Zealand
This month I received an email from a British man who's making a documentary about the "real New Zealand." He was, he said, interested in New Zealand themes: extreme sports, Maori culture, wine, conservation, manuka honey, sheep. But above all he wanted to meet real New Zealanders. He listed some he'd heard about, including a champion sheep shearer who can hypnotise sheep and blow up trees. Could I supply some Kiwis like that? They didn't all have to be eccentric, he said, but it would help.
SOON LAUNCHED IN NZ
"A tightly plotted, incisive depiction of the corrosive effects of power.." - Publishers' Weekly
"A truly riveting novel." The Globe and Mail, Canada
"Opening the pages of Charlotte Grimshaw's new novel Soon is akin to tilting the blinds in a dim room; the razor-sharp precision of her words floods your mind with crisp, searing light, such is the vivid clarity of her prose." - One News TVNZ
"Soon is a sly, masterly novel." - Malcolm Forbes, The Literary Review UK
"An efficient, coolly poetic tale of Auckland's glitterati....darkly comic...paced like a classy thriller, it slips down as easily as the Hallwrights' dirty gin cocktails." The List UK
"One of the ten best reads for summer." Red Magazine UK
"You shouldn't get the impression that Soon is simply political satire... Grimshaw is going deeper... Soon's almost a thriller, going places that you didn't expect - a thriller with real ethical weight. - Philip Matthews, Metro
"Full of delicious political and social satire." The Daily Mail UK
The Second Coming
It was a party for freelance journalists. It was hot, dark and incredibly loud. In the kitchen I said, 'Do you mind talking politics at parties?' "No,' she said gamely, 'I love it.' So I pinned her to the kitchen wall. I ran on, 'The point is. Justice. Sentencing. Caving in to populism. And another thing...' I had her cornered near the sink; she was too interesting to be allowed to flee. But Emily Perkins opened the oven, a blast of heat forced us backwards, and Jacinda Ardern took her chance to get a word in edgewise. She told me about her father who'd been a detective and who, after solving a prominent murder, had felt not triumphant at the result but depressed, ambivalent about the complexities, and sorry for all involved. 'A more subtle cop than most?' I suggested. She agreed. And then I came over all arch: 'Where are you headed then? Justice? Social Development? Prime Minister?' But of course, sphinx-like, she only smiled.
Charlotte Grimshaw BBC TV Interview
Charlotte Grimshaw talks to Nick Higham on the BBC TV's Meet the Author