Katherine Hayton | BLOG
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Look what I found! It’s so purty…

KIRKUS BOOK REVIEW

In Hayton’s (Found, Near Water, 2014, etc.) latest novel, a 14-year-old New Zealand girl, dead for 10 years, tells the story of how her body came to lie beneath a half-finished house.

Three years after a 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, rebuilding is still ongoing. Workers lift a home off its foundations to repair the cracked earth beneath, and Daina Harrow describes workers exposing her skeletal remains: “Broken along a prior instability. That’s where I am,” she says.

In explaining what led up to her death, Daina tells what initially seems like a familiar story: a neglectful, single alcoholic mother; poverty; bullying students; clueless adults.

Readers may think it easy to guess at how she winds up where she’s found—but author Hayton, as she did in her excellent first novel, complicates her story well beyond the predictable. (Christine Emmett, the main character of Found, Near Water, even makes a tangential appearance here.)

Daina undergoes physical mistreatment, but she also begins having hallucinations: the colors of her face run, and she can taste sounds. Are her friends poisoning her? Is she going crazy? What really happened when she was 5 years old? And can she trust the Grey Man, who assigns her daunting tasks?

With courage, intelligence, and resourcefulness, Daina tries to do what’s right. Her story fully comes together only on the final page, and Hayton does a masterful job of keeping the pieces in play before then.

In some superficial respects, the novel resembles Alice Sebold’s 2002 bestseller, The Lovely Bones, which is also narrated by a dead 14-year-old girl, but Hayton’s sensibility is tougher-minded, more honest, and stranger.

Daina’s bitterness, her longing to be seen and known, and her helplessness are strikingly, utterly real; in some ways, she’s already a ghost before she’s dead.

As in her earlier novel, the author makes fruitful use of the Christchurch earthquake as a metaphor: disruption is violent but revealing. Her characterization is quick and effective but also thoughtful, avoiding stereotype; the school admissions secretary, for example, who at first seems a spiteful martinet, turns out to have surprising heart and grit.

A haunting novel that’s both tough and delicate and fulfills the promise of the author’s first.

Wow.

You should like buy it RIGHT NOW.

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13 Mar / Returning Home

After six weeks plonked up on the lofty heights of the third floor I’m pleased to say that we’ll be heading closer back to earth over the weekend.

I’m definitely looking forward to the morning stair climb being a flight shorter. I’m also thinking that it’ll be easier to sneak downstairs for a sly coke zero when I can get back to my desk without having to pant like a… like a… well, like a forty year old who’s just descended and then climbed two flights of stairs.

Once again everything has been packed into boxes. Once again everything will need to be unpacked on Monday.

As an added treat this time around the rest of the Team Leaders have booked themselves into a course for the day. While they’ve been whining about missing three days of work (yeah okay, moaning about three days of boredom) I’m complaining about having to pretend to supervise their staff for the day.

Still, a pair of scissors should see me right. To assist with the removal of tape, you understand, not for the stabbiness.

It certainly will be nice to be back on our old floor, with all the new refurbishments. Helping all seventy staff unpack. Except I’ve just developed a bit of a nagging ache in my back.

We’ve also got a bunch of new staff starting that I get to greet and show around on Monday, amidst all the chaos. I’m really looking forward to that too. Except I’ve just developed a nagging headache.

I sure hope I feel well enough on Monday to actually attend. *cough* *cough*

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12 Mar / Water

There is a minor battle raging around the pages of some online publications at the moment. All about the results of a study into the healing powers of water.

Water. I mean I ask you, do you really need to do research into it?

Obviously it’s got healing powers. It cures thirst without question. It’s also pretty good at making little greeblies fall off your skin.

Well, not quite so good at that, otherwise they wouldn’t have invented that sterilisation stuff, but better than nothing. Soap just doesn’t work without it.

Why, at this very moment water is something that my main character is desperate to get her hands onto. And then get from her hands into her mouth. A few days without it will do that to a person.

Did you know you wouldn’t even be able to make Coke Zero without water? I mean, I’d die!

But apparently this isn’t your garden variety form of water they’ve been testing.

It’s magic water.

If you test it against your garden variety water it appears exactly the same, but you can charge money for it. If you charge enough money then the ailing human purchasing it will feel better, all by themselves.

This means they don’t have to spend all their money on medicine, instead.

Of course, it doesn’t work every time. In fact, the point of the research was that you could substitute anything for the magic water in question – even tap water for instance – and you would get the same result.

Come to think of it, I remember purchasing tap water for an exorbitant sum in Italy. If I’d known the true powers of doing this, I would have felt better instantly. Instead, I just grumbled and ate a pizza. At least my hunger was cured. Maybe that was the water at work?

Now, some people who make a living out of selling expensive water are upset because apparently you can’t perform double blind studies on their water. Their water is so special that performing this type of standard test on their not-medicine can’t possibly give you accurate results like it does with real medicine.

Instead, you have to rely on something known as anecdotes. I didn’t know that when you gathered a few people’s anecdotes together they formed data, I thought they formed small talk, but apparently they do.

I’d certainly trust the word of complete strangers with unknown education and life experience over the word of that Doctor with the high-falluting education who writes prescriptions for government funded medication. What does she know?

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11 Mar / First Aid

Today at the office we had a medical emergency. Somehow, a staff member managed to break themselves by stretching.

How?

I don’t know. I didn’t want to get too close to the screaming.

It didn’t matter anyhow, because being a modern-ish corporate-ish office we have trained first-aiders on staff. Yes we do.

Admittedly, they were slow to react to my ever-so-slightly high-pitched calls for help and violent arm-waving. And when I say they, I mean her because the others were inconveniently taking leave as though they were entitled to it.

Never mind the wait, the first aider arrived and I pushed them in front of me. I mean, in front of the patient.

And then the calm tones of the first aider announced, ‘What do I do? I’m only good at putting on bandages.’

Yeah. Wow. Thanks.

I suggested that she take a pulse (there’s a first aid course deep in my past too) but there was a frantic head shake accompanied by the useless information that she could perform CPR.

Of course she could. However, as that would kill the perfectly heart-beating specimen in front of her I declined this kind offer and shooed her away.

Luckily the medical emergency passed as quickly as my confidence that someone could assist.

The first aider went back to sign out a plaster in case that would help.

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10 Mar / Steps

There’s a competition on in the office at the moment. All in the name of good health.

Staff have signed up in groups of four to receive a free pedometer, and now record their steps each day and enter them into a website which tells them how far around the world they’ve come, and where they’re placed in relation to other teams.

The first of those is good-spirited fun; having a cold shower when you reach Loch Ness, starting the long hike up Mount Everest. But the second?

The second is causing a little bit of friction.

I’m exempt from all this excitement due to the luck of having been on holiday when the sign-up sheets went around. Therefore I’m in the perfect position to look at all the participants and judge them mercilessly.

Some people started to come to work boasting of how easy they found it to do 10,000 steps. Others turned around and started to put in some extra work so they could breeze into the office and laugh about doing 20,000. Another grimly wrecked a perfectly nice trip to Melbourne by making sure she could top 30,000.

All in the name of fun.

All in the spirit of friendly competition.

There’s one person who’s actually sitting and rocking the step counter on the end of its string. It records it as steps. It doesn’t require much effort. All in the name of fun.

I’ve heard of another strapping it onto her dog in the evenings. Keeping an eye on his exercise regimen, while she avoids her own. All in the spirit of friendly competition.

I already have a pedometer on my watch which has always recorded my steps. I never paid it much mind. It was just one of those things that came installed which I don’t use, like the remote control.

I walked home this evening. I would rather have caught the bus. My back hurts now; my feet hurt; my legs feel like someone’s bent them the wrong way.

But I clocked up 13,548 steps. Now I just need to buy a dog.

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Yesterday, on my blog, I talked about the abundance of peaches that are currently raining down from the peach tree outside.

I mentioned that I was already preserving quinces, and implied that this was the sole reason that I couldn’t therefore preserve the peaches also.

I now feel that I must come clean about this. It is in many ways true, but it also one of those truths that hide a lie behind them. A not-the-whole-truth truth, if you will.

You see, I do have the capacity and the will to preserve many jars of quince and peach. I do have the bottles to put up many more than I do. I just don’t have the will to move the bottles I need into the kitchen.

They’ve been sitting out in the garage – unused – for many years now. They’re a legacy from my mother who used to bottle copious amounts of peaches, apricots, and multiple varieties of jams every year.

Even though they’re older than me, they’re still in great condition. The metal lids that hold the seals in place are a bit battered, and some of the pale green has worn off over the years, but there’s still a lot of life left in them.

Especially since it seems that most of them will never be used again.

Here’s the problem:

And believe me, that’s to size.

While the spider occupies the same territory as my preserving jars, I never preserve any more than can fill the bottles already safely inside the house.

I can’t purchase any new ones, because the ones I have are perfectly fit for use.

I can’t use the ones I have, because the spider has claimed them for herself.

A quandary that I may never find my way out of, and the reason why I’m now attempting to eat a year’s supply of fresh peaches rather than stewing them for the middle of winter when I’ll be desperate for something sweet and tasty and raised in my own garden.

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07 Mar / Racist Peaches

Now, I want to stress from the get-go that I didn’t name them. If anybody wants to suggest a change – purple passion, maybe – then I’m happy to go with that (as long as everybody else is too).

The sole reason that I’m calling them blackboy peaches is because that’s what everybody else calls them, and the essence of communication is using similar words to refer to similar things so everybody knows the hell everybody else is talking about.

So….

Our blackboy peaches have become ripe, all of a sudden. Since the beginning of February they’ve swelled, and forced the tree branches lower and lower, but they’ve been rock-hard every time I give them a test squeeze.

I’ve been waiting and hoping that sooner or later one would start to give a little, and the annual feast would begin.

Rather than one or two, however, there were suddenly a dozen on the ground, and another five came right off when I gave them the gentlest nudge.

That’s seventeen peaches, with more due tomorrow.

I can’t eat seventeen peaches in a day. There’s already chocolate going begging from the quince onset.

It does seem to me that blackboy peaches would go well in a recipe involving chocolate and cake. The same way that zucchini doesn’t. The only part of that worrying me, is that even though it shouldn’t zucchini does, and would that automatically mean that peaches don’t?

If I can cram them into cakes, or muffins, then I can shove them into the freezer and pull them out weekly. That’ll be something nice to look forward to, rather than the burden of quickly rotting fruit taunting me from the fruit bowl.

So if anybody out there in blogland happens to have a nice cake recipe involving racist sounding peaches, then please feel free to leave a note in the comments section.

Otherwise tomorrow it’s going to be me, a kitchen, cocoa, flour, sugar, butter, eggs, peaches and… oh wait. That’s kind of a recipe right there, isn’t it?

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06 Mar / Big fat legs

The other day I looked down during the morning to see why my legs ached, and saw that they’d ballooned up.

I prodded at them a bit, as you do, and discovered that if I pressed my fingertips into my ankles the fingertip marks lasted long after the actual digits themselves were removed.

All very amusing but I had work to do.

Conscious that they looked as thought they’d endured a five hour flight, I stretched my feet in various directions every time the ache settled, and then forgot about them the rest of the time.

It was too hot to walk home, so I jumped on the bus. It was too hot to bus home, but I was clean out of options.

At home I prodded my ankles a bit more, took some paracetomol for the nagging ache, and propped my feet up. Literally.

It’s hard to type on a computer while your feet are propped two feet higher on the back of the couch, but then we all have our crosses to bear.

The next morning I awoke to find that nothing had changed. This was slightly worrying as when edema occurs after long plane rides, the cure is most definitely to fall asleep, and then wake up.

Potentially I’ve got that a bit wrong, I thought to myself. Potentially it’s the falling asleep in tropical locations that’s the key there, and nothing at all to do with the sleep.

I soldiered on for a couple of hours before I got my entire freak-on at work, and not in the good way. I crumbled and phoned up my doctor to make an appointment.

I still have it, because the first available wasn’t until next week.

Still a bit freaked, I called up the Healthline to see if it was possible that I was being a hypochondriac, and attending a doctors appointment next week was perfectly acceptable in my unknown condition.

Hypochondrianism is a tendency I’ve noticed in myself. One that isn’t helped by the few occasions when I let things slide – lights flashing in my eyes for example – and they turn out to be symptoms necessitating all sorts of drama and operations and recovery periods.

The Healthline lady helpfully suggested I should be checked out within 24 hours, in case it wasn’t okay. I blame her for the two hour wait and the bruises inside my elbow and the substantial “emergency GP” rates charged for the visit which told me I was not suffering from anything but swollen legs and ankles, and perhaps I should put my feet up.

I’ve survived another day at work, and my legs have gradually reduced to a point where they’re no longer shiny and tight, and although I can still dimple my ankles I really have to pick my angles now.

This getting old is a real bunch of fun. Who knows what’s heading my way next?

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04 Mar / Paperclips

Sometimes you only realise how much you rely on something when it’s gone.

Today, down in the training room from air-conditioning hell, there was an item of stationery missing.

We had pens, calculators, entire computers including hard drive and the cheapest possible mice, but did we have paperclips? We did not.

When you work primarily with paper because your office is resistance to change, it’s very easy for it to get out of place. The things that need to go with the other things, all need to be attached together otherwise they won’t be in the place that you need them when you need to do the various things with which paper needs things to be done.

Staples are all very well and good, but we’re into training mode which means you don’t want things to get too attached. Too often they turn out not to be the things that should actually be attached to that.

We tried bulldog clips, but they bent the finely weighted paper that we really aren’t allowed to bend for some strange known only to god reason.

There were magnets, but they were too attracted to each other to be fully removable. We tried putting things into piles but the room is to small and the selection of piles too large.

Those little bendy suckers really do just do the job in a way that no other thing does.

Eventually we did have to give up and walk up two flights of stairs in order to retrieve a packet. Two flights. Now that’s reliance.

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