Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Michael Gifkins on Welby Ings

Yesterday I discovered in the recesses of our garage a long-forgotten stash of copies of the long-forgotten leftie magazine New Outlook, of which I was the editor and designer for its first two years, 1982-3. Looking at it now it wasn’t bad, especially the arts section which in a way was a precursor of Quote Unquote. Contributors to the magazine in my time included Lauris Edmond, Sandra Coney, David Robie, Dick Scott, Arthur Baysting, Peter Davis, Erik Olssen, Geoff Chapple, Marcia Russell, Pattrick Smellie, Paul Little, Russell Haley and Chris Trotter, along with photographers Gil Hanly, Bruce Connew, Mark Adams and Glenn Jowitt.

In the August-September 1993 issue Michael Gifkins reviewed Inside from the Rain (Brookfield Press), a collection of short stories by Welby Ings, who is now a professor of design at AUT. This too has been forgotten but it was, I think, the first book of fiction in New Zealand published by an out gay writer, and is therefore of historical interest. Also, I liked it. So on the founding principle of this blog that “if it isn’t on the Internet it doesn’t exist”, and because there is no other reference to the book anywhere that I can see, here is Michael’s review:
Most of the pieces in this first collection of short stories by Welby Ings rely for their effect on the twist that comes in the closing lines. There, the reader’s expectations are turned inside out. Two of the more successful stories of this kind — one about a gay young man who murders his lover’s “friend”, the other sketching with pastoral simplicity a day in the lives of a “dear old couple” who feed seagulls in the park — repay a second reading to enjoy the manner and the timing of the author’s signposting of the concluding shock.
A problem arises with other stories when the trick ending is too slight to justify what has gone before: the joke that irritates because the punchline does not bear its weight in “Nemesis” and the childhood myth recreated at over-respectful length in “The Desecration of Wilbur Wright”.
More disturbing is the way in which Ings tends to sell his material short. In “Jimmy” the confrontation between gay and redneck in a country pub inevitably calls in question reader prejudices, but the ending, by revealing that the gay is paraplegic, sentimentalises whatever understanding about his “handicap” we might have reached.
There is a sense in which the attendant publicity about the author works against these stories. Here is no expose of middle New Zealand such as a Taihape society allegedly shocked by his award-winning play Freesias might have been led to fear. When Ings is not being socially earnest (“Territory”) he is setting up easy targets and archly picking them off (“The Pigeon Social Club”, “Ram-Ram”). Moreover, the treatment of the theme of homosexuality by one who is self-confessed is uneven to the point of the reader’s feeling that he or she may be identifying with characters against the author’s intent. It is difficult to sympathise with the angst experienced so often over the treachery of bladder, and bowel; yet on the other hand we are invited to disapprove of a character’s flagrant homosexuality by the author’s narrating voice.
The distancing effect on the latter story, “Fairy” — arguably the best in the book and wickedly observed — is confusing only in the context of this particular collection. Many of the stories attempt to legitimise the self-awareness of oppressed homosexuality, only to suffer from the quick superficiality of its protective response. We are left seeking a more objective viewpoint on which to base our judgments, as is provided in “One Night Stand”, a slyly humorous put-down of a commercial traveller, dealing in lonely hearts, interestingly enough of the heterosexual kind.
Inside from the Rain is illustrated with superb pencil portraits by the author. Although these add considerably to the book’s decorative quality it is doubtful whether they resonate in any way with the stories they introduce. Production money might have been better spent on rigorous editorial intervention to sort out the many spelling and typographical errors which mar an otherwise attractive book.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The 2014 PANZ book design awards

Tonight the New Zealand book-design awards were announced. Back in June I wrote here:
There are seven categories: best illustrated book; best non-illustrated book; best children’s book; best educational book; best cookbook; best typography; and best cover. There are four judges: convenor Gideon Keith, a book designer; Alan Deare, a book designer; Cameon Gibb, a graphic designer; and Noelle McCarthy, a broadcaster and book reviewer.
Here is the awkward part: Alan Deare is a finalist in four categories, and Gideon Keith is a finalist in one.

PANZ responded here defending their use of potential finalists as judges.

On Facebook an author friend commented:
The part where they say thank you and shake their own hands will be good.

Alan Deare, one of the judges, won two awards, Best Cookbook for Josh Emmett/Random House’s Cut and Best Cover for Jill Trevelyan/Te Papa Press’s Peter McLeavey.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Country matters #6

While I spent the last four days at home editing a novel, my wife took Miss Ten and Miss Twelve to Feilding, where her set of grandparents are. While there, the children visited the ancestral farm. They phoned last night and I asked them what the highlight of the visit was. Miss Twelve reported:
We got there and they were killing the sheep. They skinned it and then Alice cut it up and showed us the heart. We saw the four stomachs and the cancer.

Miss Ten said:
It was yuckily interesting.

I bet you don’t have a veterinary pathologist in your family.  

Friday, July 11, 2014

Authors’ incomes #3

Continuing again the vulgar theme of money for writersMike R Underwood, who is both an author and a publisher, on 25 Secrets of Publishing Revealed! Despite the terrible title he makes a lot of well-informed, professional sense. Highly recommended. Quote unquote:
If you sell a book to a major publisher, you’re agreeing to give over a big chunk of the book’s income in order to hire an army to go to bat for your book. If you sell to a smaller publisher, you’re hiring a smaller, more focused army. [. . .] You take home less money per copy sold, but you’ve got a lot more people on your side, who are working with you to make the book succeed. The entire army’s goal is to see each book succeed.

He is very sound on the retail side of thing, covers and how to self-publish. But this, surely, is nonsense:
Editors are some of the hardest and longest-working people I know, and they deserve all of the love and appreciation we can give them.
So here is one of my favourite tunes from Frank Zappa’s 1968 albun We’re Only in it for the Money, “Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance”. Bill Manhire’s How to Take Your Clothes Off at the Picnic was published in 1977. I wonder if, by any chance, they could be related.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Authors’ incomes #2

Continuing the vulgar theme of money for writers, here are two funding opportunities for New Zealand writers. First up, Copyright Licensing NZ’s research grants. Quote unquote:
CLNZ and NZSA are delighted to announce that applications for the revamped CLNZ/NZSA Research Grants are now open. Following feedback received from writers in 2013, the value of each grant has been increased to $5,000 and the number of available grants increased from two to four.
One of the four grants is supported by the Stout Research Centre at Victoria University in Wellington. The Stout Research Centre generously offers its facilities for a period of six weeks during October /November. SRC offers a lively research environment for postgraduate students, international scholars and independent New Zealand researchers and writers – a great place to be while you utilise your CLNZ/NZSA Research Grant!
Applications must be received by 5pm, Friday 31 July 2014. No late entries can be accepted.

Full details here. The Stout Centre is a great place for any writer who can stand Wellington.

Second, from Creative NZ, the Todd Bursary. All published emerging writers who apply under Literature or Theatre for a stipend within the September Arts Grants round will be considered for the Todd Bursary ($20,000). The deadline is Friday 5 September.

From memory of being on the selection panel, there are some years when, as with the Iowa fellowship, there are few candidates so anyone eligible should have a crack at this.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Authors’ incomes

The Guardian reports:
Will Self's lament for the death of the novel earlier this summer has been cast into stark relief by “shocking” new statistics which show that the number of authors able to make a living from their writing has plummeted dramatically over the last eight years, and that the average professional author is now making well below the salary required to achieve the minimum acceptable living standard in the UK.
 According to a survey of almost 2,500 working writers – the first comprehensive study of author earnings in the UK since 2005 – the median income of the professional author in 2013 was just £11,000, a drop of 29% since 2005 when the figure was £12,330 (£15,450 if adjusted for inflation), and well below the £16,850 figure the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says is needed to achieve a minimum standard of living. The typical median income of all writers was even less: £4,000 in 2013, compared to £5,012 in real terms in 2005, and £8,810 in 2000.
Commissioned by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society and carried out by Queen Mary, University of London, the survey also found that in 2013, just 11.5% of professional authors – those who dedicate the majority of their time to writing – earned their incomes solely from writing. This compares with 2005, when 40% of professional authors said that they did so.

The ALCS statistics will be, as they say, “robust". CEO Owen Atkinson has a PhD in mathematics. We bonded in Ljubljana over maths. (Which is a sentence few people could truthfully write, not because of Ljubljana but because of maths.)

Presumably the same plummeting of authors’ incomes applies in New Zealand as well as other countries. Why should we be different? But what are we seeing here? There are international megasellers who make megabucks, and good on them. There are local artisan authors who are happy to sell out an edition of 100 copies. But. . .

Centuries ago ago the incomes of coopers collapsed, as did those of fletchers and thatchers. More recently, so did those of blacksmiths. A friend here in Cambridge is a farrier, in fact used to be the Queen’s farrier, but there can’t be many farriers left standing either outside horsey towns like ours. Sunset industry.

I wonder if authoring below megaseller and above local artisan levels is a sunset industry too. That whole mid-range area. So I emailed the text above to an internationally published NZ author friend who is in that zone. He replied: “Why did you send me this shit? Life is hard enough.”

So here is Joe Walsh with “Life’s Been Good”:

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Musical differences, musical similarities

In the old days when bands broke up they would often blame it on “musical differences” (rather than on drugs and that they hated each other). When the ironically named Yorkshire band The Beautiful South broke up, founder Paul Heaton blamed it on “musical similarities” (rather than on their recent records’ dismal sales).

So here is Aretha Franklin in 1972 with “Old Landmark” from her live gospel album Amazing Grace:

And here is Paul Simon in 1991 with a live version of “Gone at Last” from his 1975 album Still Crazy After All These Years.

I wonder if, by any chance, they could be related.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence Day

It’s that day again, the Fourth of July, so here is a live performance of the third movement of Charles Ives’s Holidays Symphony, the movement called “The Fourth of July”: six minutes or so of celebratory dissonance. 

According to Robert Greenberg the piece is “cacophonous, wonderfully crazy and includes everything and the kitchen sink”. You might recognise some of the tunes quoted, among them “Yankee Doodle”, “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Marching Through Georgia”. Underneath it all is “Columbia the Gem of the Ocean”. Ives (whose wife’s name was, wonderfully, Harmony) could afford to write to please himself. Quote unquote:
He had zero tolerance […] for the wimps and mollycoddles who shuddered, or worse, hissed, at new music. He was famous for standing up at concerts and bellowing at such offenders, “Stand up and take your dissonance like a man.”

The movement had its premiere in Paris  in February 1932. That was 82 years ago, so don’t tell me this music is difficult:

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

An invitation arrives!

We distinguished journalists are occasionally invited to events. This invitation arrived in my inbox yesterday from an organisation we shall call, imaginatively, [X]:
You’re invited to

 Unpacking for the Creative Journey
The perfect winter event for [X] …. chances are you are a creative person – photographer, writer or communications professional. So how’s your creativity quotient? Faced with changes in our industry, fewer media channels, new technologies and other professional challenges, it’s possible you’re feeling your creativity waning a little.
Here’s the chance to turn that around. Come along to our July event to hear Sian Jaquet on ‘Unpacking for the creative journey’
You could call Sian Jaquet a “life designer”. She helps people change their lives. She has developed a set of simple, effective tools and processes which enable people to make their lives more fulfilling and less complicated.
Sian Jaquet will be the guest at our next [X] members’ event. She will give a 40-minute presentation followed by Q&A. Her presentations cover business, career development, family, happiness, life, love and relationships. Events like this are usually $200 plus and are a powerhouse of motivation, information and the catalyst for change. All attendees will receive a gift from Sian, her workbook on Values, which normally sells at $25. Don’t miss this dynamic speaker.
If you’d like to know more about Sian, see www.sianjaquet.com 
Where: Tass Williamson 2 Room, Heritage Hotel, 35 Hobson Street, Auckland
When: Monday 21 July 2014 - 6pm to 8pm
Cost:    $25 for [X] members
            $25 for non [X] members
Includes nibbles and a drink on arrival (cash bar thereafter)

I have never met a life designer before, so was briefly tempted. But on reflection I think I will pass on this, despite the 87.5% discount and free workbook on Values.

Monday, June 30, 2014


P is for Predicament: Tim Martin in the Daily Telegraph in his A to Z of forgotten books uses Ronald Hugh Morrieson’s third novel for his P entry. Quote unquote:
… it’s as hard to summarise as anything he wrote. You might get a general idea by imagining Richmal Crompton’s William Brown books, rewritten by Tom Sharpe and Roald Dahl in a mix of Withnailian high style and broad Kiwi slang, but even that wouldn’t catch the genuinely troubling surrealism that creeps about at the edges of Morrieson’s story.

The 2010 movie featured Jemaine Clement, above left. No, I haven’t seen it either.