Thursday, April 1, 2010

The last post

Dave Hillier asks in the comments below:
Stephen, you have published this [Nigel Cox on C.K. Stead] before – I remember reading it here some time last year but it vanished after a day or so. What happened?
Several other people have asked about this over the last few months. The answer is too long to go in the comments, so here goes:

In October last year, after several hours of scanning, OCRing, proof-reading and so on, I posted on this blog Nigel Cox’s article on C.K. Stead from the July 1994 issue of Quote Unquote the magazine, having first sought and received the consent of his literary executors. I’m not sure that legally I needed to – copyright in commissioned magazine articles generally belongs to the magazine, which to all intents and purposes is now me; on the other hand, the article was Nigel’s idea, so that makes it a grey area; and on the third hand it matters to me that the lit. execs are happy.

Next day, I received an email asking me to unpost it. This wasn’t from CK Stead himself but from one of the lit. execs who had heard from him that he was not happy about it. This is how things are done in the literary world – don’t go direct, but apply pressure to someone vulnerable who can apply the pressure where you want it.

Now, Karl and I have had a cordial relationship for quarter of a century – I have always enjoyed his company and he has always been civility itself towards me. But I guess he knew that in my years at Metro I developed a pretty robust attitude, so that if he had asked me directly to delete the post I would have used the celebrated Arkell defence, devised by Private Eye. (At Metro we did do that once, I think in reply to Michael Reid QC.)

Anyway, I took the post down, not wishing to cause any distress to the lit. execs or, indeed, to upset Karl unnecessarily.

When the lit. execs told him I had deleted it, he replied, “Well I wasn’t angling for this.” So I could have put it back up, but other things intervened and I didn’t get around to it.

That’s how things remained until the Sunday Times reported on 28 March that:
The 77-year-old CK Stead, New Zealand’s finest living writer, has won The Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award.
And then I read the story, “Last Season’s Man”, which is clearly based on the Cox article and Stead’s reaction to it at the time. Obviously the elderly author in the story is not literally Karl, any more than the younger writer is literally Nigel. But you’d be hard put to slide a piece of tissue paper between them.

And now, 16 years later, Stead has scored ₤25,000 for his act of revenge.

UPDATE: Anthony Hubbard at the Sunday Star-Guardian covers the story here.


Dave Hillier said...

Thank you, Stephen. That is most illuminating.

I am very glad I do not live in the world of NZ literature.

Dave Hillier said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rob Hosking said...

I recall the original piece (yes, I was a subscriber to Quote/Unquote) and as a detached observer I felt some of Cox's criticisms of Stead seemed guilty of the same faults he was accusing Stead of (playing the man and the ball; the sound of scores being settled, etc).

Stephen Stratford said...

Thank you, Rob, for having been a subscriber. It was the subscribers who kept us going for four years.

I met a lot of schoolteachers who said they loved the magazine and I always asked if they bought it or subscribed. Invariably they would say, "No, I read the free copy in the school library every month. It's really good."

And when the magazine folded and people said what a shame and how great it had been, I always asked if they had bought it or subscribed. Invariably they would say... oh you get the idea.

Anonymous said...

'Anyway, I took the post down, not wishing to cause any distress to the lit. execs or, indeed, to upset Karl unnecessarily.'

Heh. I love that 'unnecessarily.'

Fergus Barrowman said...

Quite a story in today’s SST. That my reaction to ‘Last Season’s Man’ is an unsophisticated personal response will be clear from the quotations from my rather longer conversation with Anthony Hubbard. What won’t be clear is that I otherwise like and admire Karl and his work, and emailed my congratulations the moment I got news of his Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award, but before I read the winning story.

Bob Roberts said...

Anthony Hubbard's story has a detail in which Stead's wife turns up at Unity Books in Auckland to berate Cox for the Quote Unquote essay. That is almost the worst of it: Stead having, over decades as a critic, dished it out time and time again but clearly not able to take it.

David McLoughlin said...

It was gratifying to see the story in the SST today Stephen. When I saw the articles on your blog, I hoped someone would take it up. There are few working journalists today who would know who C K Stead is, let alone Nigel Cox. Finlay must be very lonely now, what with the rag being dominated by the likes of Jonathan Marshall.

I once, for N&S, interviewed a woman very high up in the arts world in New Zealand. Someone told me later (it may even have been you) that "she studied under C K Stead."

Every time I saw him at Robyn's and Warwick's Christmas parties after that, I always recalled that.

David McLoughln said...

Finlay must be very lonely now

Oops, Hubbard. For some reason I always mix them up.

Mark Broatch said...

Sorry to disillusion you or your cynicism, David, but a story like that has to go through several senior journalists to make it into the "rag".

Mark Broatch

David McLoughlin said...

I think you misunderstand me, Mark, and I apologise if I wasn't clear.

Most journalists at the SST (or any other NZ media today) could not have written a story like that because they would not just have not known who CK Stead or Nigel Cox were, they also would not have been erudite enough to be looking at a blog like Stephen's.

Anthony Hubbard is one of the few survivors with an institutional memory.

I wasn't talking about the "up the chain" system of referring a contentious and potentially litigious story as far as the lawyers. I was referring to the joy that someone is still at that rag who knows enough to write about a delicious literary spat as this one.

Paul said...

It is a bit late now, I realise, but a couple of weeks ago I took time off to read every copy of Quote/Unquote. It was a great magazine. Had I been in New Zealand at the time, I would have subscribed.

I hope one day to compile The Collected Literary Spats of C K Stead. I have lost hope, however, of understanding them. They always seem to be based on imperfect recollections of something somebody may have said many years ago; that something always seems quite trivial. For reasons of their own, the literary left become quite incensed by the very mention of Stead's name. And so battle commences.

The only good thing about all this is that periodically a newspaper takes interest in literature, or that the Listener resembles its old self for a couple of weeks.

Stephen Stratford said...

Thank you, Paul, for your comments about the magazine. I can't tell you how much that means to me.

David McLoughlin said...

I don't want gratuitously to get into a "me too" fest here, but I did buy many Quote Unquotes in the bookshop and still have copies.

I'm not a great subscriber but I am a great browser and buy many magazines and books each week.

I have every Metro from the first issue in May 1981 to about 2000 in some boxes somewhere, bought month by month before I started work for ACP nine years after Metro started and thus became able to get them free.

I get the daily newspaper delivered and pay for it, still.

Writing on paper means a lot to me, it is not "dead tree" irrelavancy. I like reading stuff on paper as much as I like reading stuff on the Net.

Chad Taylor said...

Stephen, please stop upsetting people. New Zealand writing is NOT to be discussed.

You're fired.

Stephen Stratford said...

"You're fired" - funnily enough, that's what CK says too. He told the SST I should resign or be sacked from my job as a judge for this year's book awards, because this blog is "simply creating trouble among New Zealand writers".

I wonder which writers he means? Him and who else?

Keri Hulme said...

"this blog 'is simply creating trouble among New Zealand writers'"

I laughed long & loud at that comment. As if a certain hadnt been stirring for a considerable time...

Stephen, while I did subscribe to "Quote Unquote"(the magazine), I didnt realise this blog existed. I am glad to have learned about it.

Melior Farbro said...

And here is CK Stead himself, in the Sunday Times in the UK: 'The reason I set this story in Croatia, rather than in New Zealand, was because everybody would have tried to work out who the characters were, and I didn’t want that.'

In the Sunday Star-Times in NZ, Stead says 'this is - I mean every detail - this is a work of fiction'.

There must be a Tui ad in this somewhere.

Paul said...

Or a statue.

Stephen Stratford said...

Very good, Melior and Paul.

Thank you, Keri. I did know that you had been a subscriber and it's very nice to see you here.

Mark Broatch said...

David, you misunderstand. A story like that can't get in the SST unless those who run the paper understand the significance of the story and the players involved. Several people could have written the story, though perhaps not with AH's verve.

Keri h said...

Well, I've now read the short story in question: it is fucking tame, timid, awful insofar as the writing is concerned, and vicious in the revealed background.
If I was the writer - thank goodness I am not - I would try to work for something that was at least - at least- as one of the better than the worst of my best.
Stead has demeaned his reputation with this - thing.
Did he troll round his European friends for a postive vote? Who knows?

Stead the writer - as far as I am concerned as a READER- died rather a long time ago. His ability as a critic - especially when it came to be a discerning critic about ANZ lit, inclusive of Maori lit - went west in the 1980s. He is sooo yesterday-man.