Unity will be hosting a lunchtime event with Chessie as she discusses her book, We Can Make a Life: A Memoir of Family, Earthquakes & Courage with fellow author Emily Perkins, 12-12:45pm, Tuesday 21st August 2018. Chessie’s reading choices, like her new book, cover some serious ground – from finding comfort in Dodie Smith, extreme excitement for Tayi Tibble’s Poūkahangatus to favorite book characters including Russian Boris from The Goldfinch and Mole from Wind in the Willows.
Chessie Henry was born in 1992 and grew up in Christchurch and Kaikōura. Her personal essays have been published in The Spinoff and The Wireless, and she currently works as a freelance copywriter. She first studied writing at Massey University, and went on to gain her Master’s in Creative Writing from Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters. We Can Make a Life is her first book.
Hours after the 2011 Christchuch Earthquake, Kaikoura-based doctor Chris Henry crawled through the burning CTV building to rescue those who were trapped. Six years later, his daughter Chessie interviews him in an attempt to understand the trauma that led her father to burnout, in the process unravelling stories and memories from her own remarkable family history.
Chessie rebuilds her family’s lives on the page, from her parents’ honeymoon across Africa, to living in Tokelau as one of five children under ten before returning to New Zealand, where her mother would set her heart and home in the Clarence Valley only to see it devastated in the 2016 Kaikoura Earthquake, and the family displaced.
Written with the same love and compassion that defines her family’s courage and strength, We Can Make a Life is an extraordinary memoir about the psychological cost of heroism, home and belonging, and how a family made a life together.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND HOW DID YOU DISCOVER THE BOOK(S)?
Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey. I’ve been living in Portland, Oregon this year, and I heard Catherine read at the Tinhouse Summer Readings with my new friend Allie. The piece she read out was awesome, and Allie later bought the book for me as a gift. It’s about a girl who runs away to New Zealand, so I promised to fact check it!
WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE WRITERS AND WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THEM?
So many writers! Lorrie Moore, Arundhati Roy, Lauren Groff, Patricia Grace, Margaret Atwood, Ashleigh Young, Nigel Cox & John Summers all spring to mind… they’re all very different so I suppose I love different things about them. But they do all give me the same feeling – which I guess is awe!
WHAT BOOKS ARE ON YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE?
Nobody Is Ever Missing is top of the stack. I’ve also got Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang, Not My President: An Anthology of Dissent (its an anthology of poetry written in response to Trump’s election) and The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing. And I’ve just ordered Tayi Tibble’s Poūkahangatus and I CAN’T WAIT!
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK-TO-FILM ADAPTATION?
Fantastic Mr. Fox. I also thought the film adaption of Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal was super good. The tennis addition was so visual and swishy!
WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU RE-READ THE MOST AND WHY?
I re-read everything, I think it’s why I’m slow to discover new writers… I’m terrible for just re-reading the ones I’ve already read. I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith is probably my most read book from childhood (even now when I go home I always read it as a comfort book; I can open it up any page and just go from there). When I was a teenager my dad gave me The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. He really loved it and I read it a lot growing up. Also The Year of The Flood by Margaret Atwood, I read that all the time!
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY CHARACTER?
I read The Goldfinch by Donna Tart when it came out and I still find myself thinking about the part where the main character moves to Vegas and meets Russian Boris. I found that Vegas chapter so sprawling and vivid, and I loved Boris. He was so crude but also tender and hilarious, and had a pervasive loneliness I guess which just made you want to forgive him all the time. I also have a lot of affection for Mole from The Wind in the Willows.
WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN MEANING TO READ BUT STILL HAVEN’T GOTTEN AROUND TO?
I think just like a lot of classic stuff. I never read Anna Karenina, or Wuthering Heights, or EVEN Pride and Prejudice. I have an irrational fear of people discovering I’m into writing and then asking me scary questions about classic literature. I’m more like “well, my brother and I used to obsessively read all the Lee Child books because we love Jack Reacher… he can tell the time just instinctively, without ever looking at his watch…..”
WHICH THREE WRITERS WOULD YOU HAVE OVER FOR DINNER?
I would love to have Arundhati Roy over. She is hilarious and badass. And Ashleigh Young would hopefully come. And because I’ve just read Sour Heart and am still buzzing about it, Jenny Zhang!
WHAT WOULD YOU COOK THEM?
I think we’d have curry & wine in endless supply AKA my dream meal.
HOW ARE YOUR BOOKS SHELVED AND ORGANISED AT HOME?
Definitely not organized in any way, but they are on bookshelves! Actually they are organized – the embarrassing ones (the Jack Reacher ones) get hidden behind the others.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY QUOTE?
I don’t have the book on hand to check the quote, but it would be something from The Cowboy Dog by Nigel Cox.
A QUESTION FROM PREVIOUS AUTHOR INTERVIEWEE, MAIRE LEADBEATER:
“How did you decide on the title of your book?”
It was actually Fergus, my publisher who suggested it – it’s in reference to the song We Can Make A Life by Fly My Pretties which I mention in my book. But it also made a lot of sense to me thematically. And it felt optimistic, which I like!