Review by Ian Williams
Readers expecting to yawn their way through another self-published family indulgence will be pleasantly surprised when they open Horncastle's Suitcase. From the dramatic opening, with his mother giving birth to three-month premature twins on D'Urville Island, to the final wrap-up with a granddaughter describing the author in his role as mine host of the family-owned Pavilions Hotel in Christchurch, I enjoyed every word.
Perhaps that's because Graeme Horncastle writes, and writes about, Kiwi blokes and their families, with a Barry Crumpish tone and swagger. Originally from Nelson, the family moved about a bit before Graeme's father, Jim, made what turned out to be a bad decision by buying a swampy 300-acre dairy unit at the mouth of the Little Wanganui River, near Karamea, on the northwest coast of the South Island. Readers familiar with West Coast folklore - ruggedly independent types doing their thing - can imagine the number eight wire scenario.
The family never made enough money from the farm to make a living, which meant Jim had to turn a very practical hand to devise other means, including building fishing boats and taking on a milk-delivery run in Westport. Meanwhile, mother Noeline kept the family fed and clothed between pregnancies, 12 in all.
As painted by Graeme Horncastle, Jim is one of New Zealand's great eccentrics, and with such a role model it's easy to see why Graeme inherited some of his less desirable characteristics, including a love for beer, consumed in pubs after hours as was the West Coast style. Years later, with his parents long gone, and his own marriage in tatters due to a drinking problem and the early death of a beloved daughter, Graeme finds an old suitcase of his father's in the attic.
Containing papers, letters and photographs from the Horncastle family's distant past, it provides the perfect antidote for grief and depression, and the stimulus to put his family's story down on paper. This includes a steady rise up the business ladder due to hard work and business acumen, ably assisted by his wife, Maureen.
With a narrative that seldom flags, handsomely presented glossy paper stock, and lots of photographs, readers can share in the highs and lows of the Horncastle family and perhaps wonder what it is about Kiwis that makes us such interesting people.
Westport Hotel Tue 31 May
and Pavilions HotelChristchurchThur 2 June, 2011
His Daughter, Debbie, introduced the night with a warm welcome and her heart felt admiration for her father. She quickly set the tone with humourous anecdotes and words to illicit a tear to even the most hardened men there.
Graeme spoke about why he wrote the book, the old times, the good times.. and why one should buy the book- and buy the book they did. After a thorough course of hilarious stories and tales of significant hardship, he had a way of talking about himself and his family that left you with nothing but admiration and respect. Graeme autographed dozens of books on the night and his quick wit was well received.
“Thank you from myself, Maureen, and my family for being part of our past and present.” Graeme Horncastle
Signing book for National Bank Manager Brent Crisp