Sunday, December 30, 2012

What I’m reading #91

Just back from five days on a high-country sheep station (Lake Heron, a lovely place and totally recommended to anyone looking for a terrifying 4WD drive across river beds), just a range away from the setting of Mona Anderson’s A River Rules My Life. Yes, that is us above.

A Financial Times profile of German chancellor Angela Merkel. Quote unquote:
She went into politics, she says, because she was convinced that eastern Germany needed more people in parliament who had never been politically active.
Toby Manhire in the Listener outs Alan Bollard, former governor of the Reserve Bank, as a novelist. The Rough Mechanical: the man who could is available as a download from Amazon. Stephen Franks likes it. So do I, having read it in manuscript a few years ago: when I met Alan subsequently I badgered him to publish it, so I hope I may claim a small degree of credit for its e-appearance. The protagonist is closely based on the New Zealand-born economist Bill Phillips, deviser of the Phillips curve which traces the relationship between inflation and unemployment. Some say that if Phillips had lived (he died at 60 in 1975) he might have won the Nobel for economics. Be that as it may, it’s quite a feat to make economics interesting, and even more so to make engrossing fiction out of it.

Lunch with Les Murray. He likes Greek food, not so much the wine. And his new book is a must-buy. I spent a couple of hours with him a few years ago as his minder. Best job I ever had. (h/t Bill Manhire)

Ten vids of great jazz performances: Holiday, Brubeck, Baker, Ellington, Reinhardt, Coltrane, Davis, Monk, Evans, and Mingus with Dolphy.  

Philip Matthews on hope in Christchurch, plus a diary of the year. Quote unquote:
An official earthquake memorial, as outlined in the blueprint, is still years away, but local artist Pete Majendie took the initiative and presented a more spontaneous and low-budget one. He collected 185 chairs, one for each of the dead, painted them white, and put them in rows on the grounds of the Oxford Tce Baptist Church.
You could read it either of two ways. Either the chairs had been recently vacated by the 185 people who lost their lives last year or the empty chairs waited for the people to return, perhaps in a kind of general resurrection of the dead. Or, as Majendie said, you could simply sit in one of the chairs and contemplate.
The poor will always be with us. Let them see trees. From the same source, why recycling paper doesn’t work.

The soul/gospel singer Fontella Bass died on Boxing Day. She is best known for “Rescue Me”, a 1965 hit which she co-wrote and fought for decades to be paid for. Here she is with Lyle Lovett – yes, Lyle Lovett, because country and soul are a natural fit – performing a sparkling version of “Don’t Mess Up a Good Thing”:

A wonderful piece about wood carving. David Esterly was engaged to recreate a work by Grinling Gibbons destroyed in the 1986 fire at Hampton Court, and wrote a book about the process. When in London I always visit St James Picadilly which has some of his finest work: see here for photos. It is astonishing. (h/t Grahame Sydney)

Dear diary: a review of Ruth Winstone’s anthology of 20th-century political diaries. Quote unquote:
Beatrice Webb, a founder of the London School of Economics and the Fabian Society, and married to a Labour MP, mused in 1922 on whether when English children were “dying from lack of milk”, one should extend “the charitable impulse” to Russian and Chinese children who, if saved this year, might anyway die next. Besides, she continued, there was “the larger question of whether those races are desirable inhabitants” and “obviously” one wouldn’t “spend one’s available income” on “a Central African negro”.
A brilliant crime novel, Gun Machine by Warren Ellis, published on 1 January 2013 by Mulholland (in New Zealand, it’s Hachette). Fantastic premise: minutes after his partner is killed beside him a New York cop finds an apartment full of guns, nothing but guns, arranged on the walls and floor in rows and spirals. Turns out that each one is connected to an unsolved murder – and then it gets really weird, in a First Nation way. Fast, funny and inventive, with great characters. I hope it’s the start of a series.

So here is Warren Ellis with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds performing “The Weeping Song” at Glastonbury in, probably, 2009. That’s Ellis on violin and beard:

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The AUP Anthology of New Zealand Literature

The Auckland University Press Anthology of New Zealand Literature, edited by Jane Stafford and Mark Williams (AUP, $75)

This must be one of the worst jobs in the world: making an anthology of New Zealand literature. You will be criticised for who is in and who is out. It would be bad enough with an anthology of fiction or of poetry or of non-fiction or of drama, but this book covers all four genres.

Or so it claims. The back cover says: “In fiction and non-fiction, letters and speeches, stories and song, the editors unearth the diverse voices of the New Zealand imagination. And for years to come this anthology will be our guide to what’s worth reading – and why.”

This is an AUP book so it looks beautiful and has immaculate editing and typography. It weighs two kilograms. Solid. There are not one but two ribbon bookmarks bound in – classy, and very useful in a reference book. The publisher has done a fantastic job. What about the contents?

For an anthology there is a huge amount of work getting permissions –and even more work in not getting permissions. I have no idea whether the editors or the publisher had to perform these negotiations but clearly they were arduous – and how frustrating that they were unsuccessful with Janet Frame, Vincent O’Sullivan and Alan Duff. In Frame’s case, the Listener tells us that the editors wanted to use “some poems and extracts from Frame’s novel and autobiographies [...] But the trust would only agree to their using complete short stories, poems or non-fiction from the In Her Own Words collection”.

O’Sullivan is for me our greatest living writer: poet, novelist, playwright, biographer, editor of Mansfield and a fine anthologist (if you ever see a copy of the Oxford Anthology of New Zealand Writing Since 1945 he co-edited with Mac Jackson, grab it). But he refused permission for any of his work to be included. He told the Listener that:
There are some wonderful things in this anthology […] But it is also narrow and prescriptive. To be in the crowd scenes for the spectacle of the new tablets brought down from Mt Kelburn did not much interest me.
That last sentence is classic O’Sullivan and shows what loss to the book he is. I don’t yet know why Alan Duff refused permission but I bet his objection was like the Frame trust’s: that he thought the proposed selection didn’t show him at his best. 

Whatever the difficulties in the negotiations, an anthology of New Zealand literature that doesn’t include these three writers does not present “what’s worth reading”. Imagine a book on New Zealand art without McCahon, Hotere and Hanly.

There are other omissions. Andrew Stone in the Herald cites Judith Binney, Peter Bland, Laurence Fearnley, Charlotte Grimshaw, Bruce Jesson, Stephanie Johnson, Michael King, Shonagh Koea, Ngaio Marsh, James McNeish, Sarah Quigley, Anne Salmond, Tina Shaw and Chad Taylor.

Paula Green in Metro (not online) adds Kirsty Gunn, Kelly Ana Morey, Carl Nixon, Claudia Orange, Bob Orr and Vivienne Plumb.

Nicholas Reid adds Richard Reeve and David Howard.

And I would add: Graham Billing, William Brandt, David Burton, John Cranna, Joy Cowley, Martin Edmond, James George, AK Grant, Jack Lasenby and Jo Randerson. 

Not that all of the above ought as of right to be in an anthology of New Zealand literature, just that they are all candidates and looking at who and what is in, one wonders why they are not. But as Steven Wright says, “You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?”

The editors did not have infinite space and had to make their selection. They explain in their introduction their reasoning for their inclusions and exclusions. But the introduction is nonsense, such nonsense as only an academic could write. For example:
For the settler, authoring place becomes more difficult once you have unloaded your piano and your copies of Ossian and Wordsworth on the beach and you look around.
That is the stupidest sentence I have read all year. Leaving aside the question of whether “authoring” is a word, who in the 1840s would have had a copy of Ossian? My wife’s forebears arrived in 1841 in Wellington, and a year later my forebears arrived in Auckland: there were wharves. No early settler could have brought a piano, not even for ready money – those ships were tiny with little room for the passengers let alone their possessions. Just because a piano was landed at Karekare in a film does not mean that this happened. The editors are specialists in early New Zealand writing so must know better. Perhaps this is their little joke. 

But what of their selections? Some of the earliest writers never came here – looking at you, Bronte, Browning, Headley and Seward – and EG Wakefield’s piece was written in an English prison. It’s not a bad idea to show the fantasies people had of New Zealand but is this the place? No. Do these fantasies say anything about New Zealand? No. Have they anything to do with NZ literature? No. This is “distance looks our way” stuff, and didn’t we stop caring about that decades ago? Fine to include this material in a book about the cultural cringe, but not here.

Other odd inclusions: the Treaty of Waitangi, the Mazengarb report, Captain Cook’s journal – none of these was intended as literature. Nor were the Edmonds Cookbook of 1914 or the Yates Gardening Guide of 1897 – each of these selections is presented as a “found poem” which is sheer self-indulgence on the editors’ part. If these texts are there because of their historical significance, their making a difference, isn’t there a case for Donna Awatere’s Maori Sovereignty?

More travesties: a poem by Wystan Curnow and a “prose poem” by Len Lye. There is room for three poems each by Anne French and Anna Jackson but only for two by Brian Turner and none by Peter Bland.

Which brings us back to exclusions. Poenamo by John Logan Campbell (reissued last month by Godwit) is lively and amusing about trading with Ngati Whatua and is one of the best accounts of early Auckland. Its absence is baffling.

Another startling non-fiction omission is Dick Scott, whose 1954 The Parihaka Story (expanded in 1975 as Ask That Mountain) was hugely influential on Pakehas’ understanding of land rights and race relations. Contrast this with the Auckland Star columnist Hori who presumably is included to show how beastly Pakehas could be about Maoris. Why include this while excluding Scott and Roderick Finlayson who was perhaps the first Pakeha to write fiction sympathetic about Maoris? How does this fit with the claim of “Aotearoa’s major writing”? Many of our non-academic historians are over-rated, not least by themselves, but Scott and Michael King were serious literary writers. They should be here.

Numbers: there are 1050 pages of selections, plus introduction and end-matter (author biographies, index etc) to make 1164 pages in all. The last decade or so takes up 128 pages, an eighth of the total available space. In a book that opens with material from the 18th century, that is an odd foreshortening. The 1950s get 100 pages; the 70s get 80. The most recent piece is an extract from Hamish Clayton’s 2011 novel Wulf; the introduction quotes Tina Makereti ’s essay “An Englishman, an Irishman and a Welshman walk into a Pa” from Sport 40 earlier this year. Both are outstanding and I also like the five pages from Dylan Horrocks’s graphic novel Hicksville, published here in 2010. (Fun fact: Hamish Clayton’s MA thesis was on Hicksville; Dylan’s dad Roger edits books about Len Lye. New Zealand: land of two degrees of separation.)

Complaints about too many VUP and AUP authors may reflect selection bias, but their dominance is unavoidable in an anthology that includes a lot of recent poetry.  For fiction it is less clear-cut. Many distinctive voices from other publishers are missing. A writer friend who is in the anthology so is not whingeing observes:
If you count the last 90 entries i.e. the 21st century, 74 are writers published exclusively by AUP or VUP. There are about 2 Huia, 3 Penguin, 1 Steele Roberts, 1 Random House.
In fiction, there have been grizzles about Charlotte Grimshaw being excluded but I can’t see it matters much about people who started publishing in the last decade or two – yes, Grimshaw is good as are Fearnley, Morey, Taylor and others, but it is too soon to tell who will last. Picking so many current writers is a hostage to fortune, as this Paleofuture article shows: it gives a list of authors whom readers of Colophon, a “magazine for book collectors”, thought in 1936 would be “the ten authors whose works would be considered classics in the year 2000”.

What is at least as interesting as who is in and who is out is what is in – that is, the pieces chosen to represent the writer. Keith Sinclair in as a poet, not as an historian. The two Louis Johnson poems are from the 50s but most admirers regard his late work as his best. Authors aren’t necessarily the best judges of what is their best work, but I know several who feel misrepresented by early work but agreed to be in because it’s better in than out. 

Strangest of all, non-fiction peters out: there are only two examples from the 1990s (Geoff Park and Peter Wells) and one from the 2000s (Harry Ricketts). This is odd – did we really stop writing interesting non-fiction 20 years ago? No. Two words: Martin Edmond.

Poetry and fiction dominate the last two decades, which is one reason for the preponderance of AUP and VUP authors, since those two houses dominate poetry. But it is odd to have the final pages so dominated by them.

This may be the last printed anthology of its kind – e-books and university course packs are easier to organise with different versions for different courses. The idea of a large hardback with poetry, fiction and non-fiction (and a tiny bit of drama) from several centuries is probably out-dated. Digital lets publishers and course designers slice and dice by genre, century, decade even. The master copy of the next anthology will have the full contents but what students see will be just a fraction of that. This is not a bad thing – it makes it affordable for the students, and the authors will get paid. Authors and trusts will be more permissive about permissions with a less prescriptive selection. Digital is a disruptive technology – three cheers for that – so a book like this is a dinosaur. We will not see its like again.

Finally, drama. This is fiendishly difficult to show in extracts, especially alongside works of poetry and fiction which were written to stand alone. It is simply inadequate to have only 20 pages in total from five playwrights: Mason, Shadbolt, McGee, Grace-Smith and Rajan. Why no Roger Hall? The opening line from Glide Time would be apt: “Wellington, I hate you!”

So here is Leo Kottke performing Ry Cooder’s “Available Space”:

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

In praise of: Pippa Middleton

Like most people I had never heard of party planner Pippa Middleton before her sister Kate married into the Windsors and we saw Pippa’s rear view as the wedding party entered the church. I’m sure that even devoutly heterosexual women would have gone “Phwoar”, as did every even faintly heterosexual male that I know.

Since then the media have gone mad. First they build you up, and then they knock you down. Most recently there was a chorus of derision aimed at her first book. This may well be justified – I haven’t seen the thing – but she responds with good humour in the Diary column of the Spectator’s Christmas issue:
I have been much teased for my book, Celebrate: A Year Of British Festivities For Families And Friends. Lots of journalists are saying that my advice is glaringly obvious. A spoof twitter account called @pippatips offers such pearls as: ‘Enjoy a glass of water by getting a clean glass and pouring in water from a tap or bottle.’ It’s all good fun, I know, and I realise that authors ought to take criticism on the chin. But in my defence, let me say this: Celebrate is meant to be a guide to party planning and, as such, it has to cover the basics. If I were to write a cookery book, for instance, I would be compelled to say that, to make an omelette, you have to break at least one egg. […] Or maybe I should write a sequel and call it Bottoms Up?
She sounds a good sort. The next post will be about New Zealand literature, I promise.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What I’m listening to #2

Lutes galore: last time it was Anthony Rooley playing Dowland, now it is Paul O’Dette playing Lord Herbert of Cherbury’s Lute Book.

Lovely music and Herbert (1583-1648) was the very definition of a Renaissance man – composer, theologian, diplomat, soldier, poet (born at Eyton-on-Severn, he was a Shropshire lad and George Herbert was his brother) and a bit of a shagger (his autobiography is described as an amusing narrative, too much occupied, however, with his duels and amorous adventures”) – but the portrait on the cover makes him look like Waikato Times columnist Joshua Drummond in a frock. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The A-Z of Christmas presents

Today I bought copies of Maxine Alterio’s Lives We Leave Behind and Bianca Zander’s The Girl Below to give to family members on the 25th. Epic fail with X and Y.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Steve Braunias has a new book

It is titled Civilisation and his publisher, Awa Press, calls him a “scavenger and social lodestone”. I don’t know about that but I look forward to reading the book.  Steve received a $35,000 grant from CLL (now CLNZ) in 2010 to write Civilisation, which then had the working title New Zealand: The Biography:
‘The book aims to show’, says Braunias ‘that New Zealanders are a passionate people with a sense of profound – and sometimes profoundly troubled – sense of belonging to where they live.’ 
Yes. I had been expecting a novel after he was awarded a $20,000 Sargeson fellowship in 2009 to write one but we must be grateful for what we receive. No doubt the novel is still a work in progress. 

So here is John Mayall in 1970 with “The Laws Must Change” from Turning Point. Mayall had previously fronted loud electric blues bands – he launched the careers of guitar heroes Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor – so the album’s title reflects the nature of this new music: quiet. There was no drummer: apart from Mayall’s vocals and harmonica there was simply a bass (Steve Thompson), flute/sax  (Johnny Almond) and acoustic guitar (Jon Mark). And Jon Mark, you may recall, lives in New Zealand now. When Steve Braunias lived in Eastbourne he inherited Jon Mark’s PO box and received his mail and opened it. He wrote a Listener column about this in 2003. One reader was unhappy.  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Paul McCartney and Nirvana

That is Paul McCartney (Beatle: guitar and vocals) with Dave Grohl, Krist Novolesic and Pat Smear (Nirvana: drums, bass, guitar) at the Hurricane Sandy benefit concert on 12.12.12, performing “Cut Me Some Slack”. Readers who think of McCartney as the cuddly composer/singer of “Yesterday” and “Mull of Kintyre” may be surprised by his raw vocal but as David Hepworth observes:
McCartney, whether you like him or not, has worked in more musical idioms over a longer period of time than anyone else and therefore he’s the last person about whom you should ever say “but I never realised he could do that”. Every shade of pop and rock and roll, dance music, sound collages, show tunes, classical, film scores, kids songs and “Give Ireland Back To The Irish”. He’s done the lot. Nobody would claim it’s all been uniformly brilliant but he’s always been equal to the job and very often he’s shown mastery.
Plus, if one living performer could be said to have invented the art of screaming in front of a rock band it was Paul McCartney. He did that with “I’m Down”, “She’s A Woman”, “Helter Skelter” and plenty of other recordings and he did it long before anybody even thought of putting up the discredited polytechnic that is indie rock.
Monitors: Mark Tierney, Chris Bourke

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The AUP anthology of New Zealand literature

No, not my review – not yet – but Mark Broatch tells me (and his other followers on Twitter) that an anthology of New Zealand literature is being planned that will include all the people left out of the AUP one.

That will be quite a substantial volume.

In other bookworld news, Danyl McLauchlan of the Dim-Post blog has a novel coming from VUP in July. It is called Unspeakable Secrets of the Aro Valley and it is really good.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What I’m reading #90

A moving interview with Peter Bland in Mount Eden’s free monthly mag The Garden, on the occasion of his forthcoming Collected Poems 1956-2011. How amazing that an older poet could be on a magazine cover and have six pages inside devoted to him. Great photos, too. The magazine is not online but you can download the PDF here.

Chris Bourke on the late Dave Brubeck’s “Maori Blues”.

The composer Jonathan Harvey has died. His music is lovely, refined – he was the nearest to an English Boulez, only kinder, gentler and a lot more Buddhist. The Guardian obit is here. There are good samples on YouTube.

What publishers want. The Aussies, anyway, but probably it’s much the same here.

Having sex in a library – Nadia Cho recommends the religion section. As always, the commenters at David Thompson’s blog are as funny and snarky as he is. Quote unquote: 
When you hear them, get round there with your mobile and film them. Put it straight on YouTube. Then we’ll see just how transgressive they really are.
Cactus Kate queries Metro’s award of #1 Aucklander We Love to Wendyl Nissen, the citation of which ends “Wendyl is the Aunt Daisy of our times.” I’m sure they meant well but what those of us of a certain age remember about Aunt Daisy is hearing her one morning on the wireless saying what a lovely morning it was in Wellington: “The sun is shining right up my back passage.”

Speaking of Wellington, Denis Welch has been awarded the Creative NZ Randell Cottage writer in residence fellowship. He is working on a biography of Norman Kirk – a great project and surprising that no one thought of it before. I was on the panel that selected him – it was a close-run thing as there were many other fine writers and projects. I had to declare an interest: “I used to work with him. But even so…”

The latest issue of the Author, the NZ Society of Author’s magazine, has a six-page section on the Frankfurt Book Fair and how successful NZSA’s stand was. Good to hear – but normally one thanks one’s sponsors. Creative NZ requires it; the Sargeson Trust has always been punctilious about acknowledging Buddle Findlay. But there is no mention anywhere in the Author that Copyright Licensing NZ kicked in $10,000 to enable NZSA’s attendance plus the cost of designing the stand. So NZSA members will have no idea that all this was made possible by CLNZ. If I was one of the CLNZ directors who voted to grant NZSA that $10,000 I’d be miffed that the grant was not acknowledged. Oh that’s right – I am.

Finally, a Venn diagram many of us can relate to:

Monday, December 3, 2012

More on Marcia Russell

Another brief obituary, with more recent information, and a terrific 10-minute video interview, from last year I think, uploaded on 5 September 2011 at NZ On Screen. It is more about her work in TV than in magazines, and really captures her wit, warmth and sharpness.  The promo reads:
Marcia Russell is an award-winning journalist and TV writer/producer with a long career in New Zealand media. Her first television role was as host of the 1970s talk show Speakeasy. Russell moved on to news and current affairs roles with TVNZ, and helped set up the fledgling TV3 News department in the late 1980s. She has been involved with some of the most notable documentary series produced in New Zealand such as Landmarks and The New Zealand Wars. Russell produced the four- part documentary series Revolution, which chronicled the rise of the Lange Government and its impact on the New Zealand economy and society. Russell was awarded an OBE for services to journalism in 1996 and was a recipient of the Academy of Film and Television’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.

Fun fact: Denis Glover’s long-forgotten novel Men of God, published in October 1978 by the Dunsmore Press (“Take one plausible but endearing old lag just out of prison and three gentlemen of the cloth faced with the problem of a collapsed steeple…”), was dedicated to Marcia. I asked her about that once and she got a bit cagey. I had the strong impression that the old goat was besotted with her, understandably, and that she was less than thrilled by this – equally understandably.  

Francis Wheen: lost in translation

I am not sure what language this website is in – Polish, at a guess – but here is its page on the distinguished English journalist and author Francis Wheen, who has been mentioned here before. This particular page is in English, Jim, but not as we know it. I will quote the whole thing because it is a bit special, because it shows why we need editors and proofreaders, and because I can:
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Francis comments on Facebook: “It’s official: I am H C Earwicker.”

Neon rainbow

Yes, yes, the book reviews I promised are in the works. But gainful employment calls, and tomorrow I go to Auckland for two days of meetings with, in order: a book designer; my legal advisers; lunch with the poets; three women friends from the publishing industry (Soul Bar, I’m saying); my favourite magazine publisher (dinner); and Creative New Zealand. Also, there is a big party being held by a big publisher to fit in somewhere. So, reviews will be posted later this week when I recover. 

In other news, Home Paddock reminds us that it was on this day in 1910 that neon lighting was first publicly demonstrated, at the Paris Motor Show. So here is Alex Chilton with the Box Tops performing “Neon Rainbow” at the 2009 Hoboken Spring Arts & Music Festival. He died less than a year later, on 17 March 2010, aged 59. When he was 16 he and the original Box Tops had an international hit with “The Letter”; “Neon Rainbow” followed in 1967. Both sounded fantastic on my cheap little transistor radio. Later he was with Big Star, a band then and now revered by musicians (such as REM) and critics but not so much by record buyers – even Chilton thought they were overrated. An intermittent but always interesting solo career followed and he died unexpectedly just before he was due to perform at a Big Star reunion. The New York Times obituary is here, the LA Times one here.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pseud’s corner

For the Observer, Kitty Empire reviews the second Rolling Stones’ 50th anniversary concert at O2. She considers that not only is Eric Clapton “the smuggest of all guitar heroes”, but also:
The privilege of new forms such as rock is that their originators are still here to be witnessed, and there is a deep satisfaction to be had in watching the 20th century's equivalents of Chaucer or Palestrina or Thespis run through their material.  
Yes, the Stones are likened to Chaucer, Palestrina and Thespis. You know, the first actor and first playwright, sixth century BC Greek guy. That Thespis.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Marcia Russell

Terrible news from the Herald – Marcia Russell died this morning. There will be obituaries elsewhere from people who knew her better than I did. All I can say is that she was hugely important in New Zealand journalism, not only for being the editor of Thursday but that would be enough. Her work elsewhere was outstanding – I hope she gets the credit she deserves for TV3 news. She was also a wonderful colleague for me at the Listener and Cue, and ever after was fantastic company.

A raffle for writers!

If you have a manuscript in your bottom drawer, or even on your desk, here’s your chance to donate to a good cause and maybe win some excellent professional advice. I’m a bit late in passing on this email from my Northland colleague Lesley Marshall, a vastly experienced book editor and manuscript assessor, but there are still two weeks to go:
As I’ve been doing for some years now, I’m offering a Christmas raffle for a critique in memory of my son, with funds to go to Te Puna Women’s Refuge.
To enter, simply send a cheque (made out to Te Puna) to me (Editline, 20 Beverley Cres, RD 9 Whangarei 0179), and I’ll put you in the draw. Alternatively, you can direct debit money into Te Puna’s account (Account: 123101 0056429 00; name: Te Puna o Te Aroha Women’s Refuge) and let me know what you’ve paid them so I know how many chances to give you. If an overseas writer wants to enter they can donate to their local refuge equivalent.
I’ll do the draw on 16 December so that gives you over a month to get your entries in. The critique is for a novel or any similar piece of work, and the winner can send it any time in the next year, either on paper or by email. The costs for entries are as follows:
One chance = $20; 3 chances $30; 6 chances $40; 10 chances $50.
I hope the refuge makes lots of money – I know they get very short of food during the festive season, though one year they used the money to create a children’s playground for the families there, and another year they bought clothes for the children. Whatever they use it for, rest assured you’re creating a lot of joy with your entries.
A heartfelt thank you from both me and the refuge.
I thoroughly recommend this as both a cause and a chance – any writer would benefit from a critique from Lesley. My colleagues and I at Write Right charge $800 for an assessment of a standard-length manuscript, so getting one from Lesley for $20 is a Very Good Deal.

Friday, November 30, 2012

It’s business-class time

Scott McCartney writes in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal about the different preferences of male and female frequent fliers. Quote unquote:
Airlines with entertainment systems, such as Virgin America, say women prefer movies and men are more likely to tune into live news and sports.
You don’t say. The accompanying photo features my wife being a part-time model.

So here are the Flight of the Conchords:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What I’m reading #89

Questions in the Guardian we can answer with a simple no, and not just because this, ostensibly about Benjamin Britten, is really about the vile Savile:
Is it important, and if so in what sense and to what degree, that one of this country's most significant composers of the past century – in many people’s view, the most significant modern British composer of them all – was intensely attracted to underage young boys, invited them to stay at his home, sometimes took them into his bed, or kissed them? In short, does it matter that he was, by inclination if not in practice, a paedophile?
Media “reporting” of science satire.

Unkindness towards New Zealanders from an Australian. Racist!

David Thorne. That’s all you need.

Cactus Kate reviews Paul Goldsmith’s biography of Alan Gibbs. Quote unquote:
Heaven forbid someone reading this book not knowing anything about Gibbs may mistake him for someone vanilla-flavoured Tip Top without even sprinkles who secretly enjoys mini-putt and lawn bowls behind art installations on his farm.
This book simply is not worthy.
Today’s to-do list reads:
1. Fergus
2. Linda
3. Damien
4. Jill
It’s not as exciting as it sounds.

Nicholas Reid on Salman Rushdie’s memoir Joseph Anton. (In which spirit, my memoir will be titled Jimi Eric.) Quote unquote:
Rushdie makes his case for free speech clearly and at considerable length. It is hard to argue with a man who as been threatened with death for writing a novel. He is, however, perturbed that there were many, particularly on the Left, who did not defend free speech as fully as they could, and instead sympathised with Muslims as if they were still victims of European imperialism, and therefore entitled to issue death threats. In Rushdie’s view, this meant they were confusing whole Muslim populations with fanatical clerics who stirred up those populations to secure their own power. It also meant that they were confusing all Muslim civilization with the phase through which Islam is now passing.
The new Metro has a long and thoughtful review by Paula Green of the new AUP anthology of New Zealand literature and stuff like that. It also has a one-pager on my friend Benedict Wall who is to play the lead role in Pirates of the Airwaves. Quote unquote:
“I am having the time of my life. I love this shit.”
The Economist on James Bond, here, here and here.

Chris Bourke remembers Bruce Morley, a very nice man and a great drummer. One night in the Birkenhead Tavern – he was playing in the Red Hot Chilli Peppers with Bill Lake, Marion Arts, Robbie Laven and I can’t remember the bass player but it would have been someone amazing –  he tried to teach me to beat three with one hand and four with the other. Easy-peasy for him. Not so much for me.

The Great Barrier Reef alarmists jump the shark.

New Statesman columnist Laurie Penny would like your money. Why can’t English people talk properly? And why are there three Ts in “glottal stop”? That’s just cruel.

Astonishing to read in the Guardian of all places that Obama may be a psycho killer:
Political leaders and political movements convinced of their own Goodness are usually those who need greater, not fewer, constraints in the exercise of power. That’s because – like religious True Believers – those who are convinced of their inherent moral superiority can find all manner to justify even the most corrupted acts on the ground that they are justified by the noble ends to which they are put, or are cleansed by the nobility of those perpetrating those acts.
Political factions driven by self-flattering convictions of their own moral superiority – along with their leaders – are the ones most likely to abuse power. Anyone who ever listened to Bush era conservatives knows that this conviction drove them at their core (“you are with us or with the Terrorists”), and it is just as true of Obama-era progressives who genuinely see the political landscape as an overarching battle between forces of Good (Democrats: i.e., themselves) and forces of Evil (Republicans).
So here, for no reason other than he is awesome and you may recognise the riff, is Prince with his new song “Rock and Roll Love Affair”, which is much better than its title:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Coming attractions

Light blogging recently as am busy mentoring a local writer (enjoyable), mentoring a distant writer (interesting), editing a manuscript (pleasant) and legalling my union (deeply unpleasant). All things must pass, so normal service will resume shortly. Coming up:

My review of Maxine Alterio’s novel Lives We Leave Behind: enthusiastic.

My review of AUP’s Anthology of New Zealand Literature: mixed.

Much more from Quote Unquote the magazine. This was the point of the blog but it is hard work – I don’t have the original files so have to recreate each one by scanning the pages and using OCR to get a Word file, then do intensive proofreading to remove computer junk, and then get permission from the writers, photographers and illustrators – which is why the postings are intermittent. The really nice thing has been that every single person I have asked for permission has been delighted that their Quote Unquote contributions will have a second life. Even though the magazine cost me my house and lost every other shareholder $10,000, and even though Kevin and I worked unpaid for the last two years – this makes it worth it. Kinda.

So here is George Harrison with the title track from All Things Must Pass:

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Waikato Times letter of the month

It has been a long time since the last specimen – there seems to have been an outbreak of sanity in the region – but this week has seen a return to form. This letter is so good the paper ran it twice: on Thursday (headlined “Treaty contract not met”) and then again on Friday. Thursday’s one was lightly edited: it has marginally better grammar, is broken into paragraphs and has a correctly inserted apostrophe. It is more readable but makes no more sense than Friday’s version, which must be the original text:
Healing a Country
As an academic and studying the Treaty of Waitangi, I have found two true and proper solutions for New Zealand being misinformed about the Treaty. The Treaty of Waitangi is a formal, written agreement between Maori and the Crown. First, to terminate the contract where “a contract may come to an end, by reason of a failure of a condition in a contract”. There are many conditions in the contract that have not been met, by simply mentioning New Zealand government legislation such as 1864 Land Confiscation, New Zealand Settlement Act and 1846 Surplus (land taken). Another true and positive way to properly make the contract right is to include the weaker partner Maori into the base of the countries set up which is the 1852 Constitution Act. As a result the government was formed because of the conditions in the contract and changing this Constitution Act would make the governments focus every decision based on the contract. Last, as human beings normally like doing good, this is one way we could heal the country.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Putting Bill Manhire in his place

The latest Nielsen list of New Zealand bestsellers is out, for the week ending 17 November. Good to see my friends Maxine Alterio at #1 with Lives We Leave Behind and Brian Turner at #3 with Elemental. Hamish Clayton is at #7 with his brilliant debut novel Wulf (February 2011) and Paula Morris’s Rangatira (November 2011) is hanging in at #10. Excellent.

Best of all, Bill Manhire has been put in his place: his Selected Poems, #9, has been pipped by the new #8,  The Moderately Hungry Maggot which is the latest from, er, Bill Manhire.

I wonder if there have ever been two poetry books in the top ten before, or two books by the same author. Anyone know?

Non-consensual satire

As Wellington counts down to the premiere of The Hobbit next Wednesday, Danyl at the Dim-Post reminds us of an early satirical blogpost he wrote on Tolkein in May 2008 which spawned a comments thread that is even funnier than the original post. Do read the lot – it’s solid gold.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What I’m reading #88

I have a copy of the new AUP anthology of New Zealand literature but I’m not allowed to say anything about the contents until the weekend, i.e. after the launch. I am allowed, however, to say that the cover is magnificent. Fortunately this is 2012 and appearances are all that matter.

Welcome to my world: Yuka Igarashi for Granta on how editing a book can drive you crazy. She’s not wrong. Quote unquote:
There was talk of ordering some food. I looked down at the sandwich menu: kiln smoked salmon and horseradish chive creme fraiche in toasted wholemeal bread. ‘Kiln smoked’ probably should be hyphenated, I thought – it’s acting as an adjective modifying smoked salmon – and ‘creme’ needs the accent. Also, does ‘in’ make sense here? Wouldn’t it be better if it was ‘on’? Was this some kind of innovative sandwich that involved salmon being placed inside the bread?
‘Why don’t we share some appetizers to start?’ one of us suggested.
‘Redundant,’ I muttered to myself. Appetizers are starters; either cut ‘to start’ or change ‘appetizers’ to ‘plates’. Then again, in some cases, people order only appetizers, and don’t go on to have a main course. So was it actually essential to say ‘to start’, to clarify that, in this instance, everyone should feel free to order more food after the first sharing course? I wasn’t sure.
I tried to concentrate on the actual conversation. The topic, it seemed, was the new Batman film.
‘It has a spelling mistake in it,’ someone said. ‘There was a shot of a newspaper headline. Spelled “hiest” instead of “heist”.’
‘Christ. Multimillion-dollar movie.’
‘Seriously. It was pretty hard to concentrate on the scene after that.’
Tina Brown on closing the print version of Newsweek – honestly, who saw that coming? Quote unquote:
there’s something about the way a magazine looks and feels when it doesn’t have advertising that is unbelievably disappointing
Oh yes. 

Madness have a new album out, Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da. So here is Suggs interviewed in the Guardian. Quote unquote:
When I was at Port Eliot Festival, I had a guided tour of the estate’s kitchens and was told that when one Lord Eliot, for financial reasons, was advised to get rid of his pastry chefs, he went upstairs to think about it, then returned and said “Fuck that – does a man only deserve a biscuit in the afternoon?”.
Tim Worstall on the demise of peak oil, suggesting that if the Greens are serious they should be shorting energy company stocks. If not, why not? What is their investment strategy? He’s looking for a money/mouth interface.

Two of my favourite NZ bloggers are back from hiatus: Poneke and Today is My Birthday! Good.

Via StatsChat, a ground-breaking study about a single molecule that determines complex behaviour. Quote unquote:
Though he cautions that the findings are too preliminary to be a basis for any specific recommendations, Dr. Famous says that drugs targeting the single molecule could some day help treat patients displaying this complex behavior. “It’s a controversial issue, because of course complex behaviours are what make us human, or at least animal, but for people dealing with the broken marriages, inadvisable purchases, and stained kitchen tiles that this behaviour can cause, a workable therapy would be a blessing,” said Dr. Famous. [. . . ]
“Ten years from now, if you ask someone whose science education consists mainly of skimming news stories, I’m sure they’ll confirm that this single molecule causes this complex behaviour,” said Famous.
Phil Parker – drummer extraordinaire in one of my old bands – on being a trained professional in a world that may need but doesn’t want your skills. What to do? Quote unquote:
I have been pushed out of my comfort zone and into areas I never dreamed of like acting and retail sales.  It’s not easy – I do three late shifts a week selling wine and that cuts in to family and social time.  I work very hard some days putting in 13 hours when a wine tour and a late shift coincide.  On the other hand some weeks I get three or four days off – so I get some time to catch up with friends, walk the dogs etc. 
The only thing that is certain is uncertainty.  Welcome to the new millennium.
So here for no reason other than every day is Gladys Knight day, here she is performing “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” and “Neither One of Us”, live with the Pips – a brother and two cousins who were a more important part of her sound than they are given credit for – and a real big band. A masterclass in singing:

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lunch with Robyn Malcolm

On Friday we had the third and final 2012 meeting of the Wintec Press Club, hosted by Steve Braunias. Robyn was a good choice as speaker because unlike some of her predecessors – looking at you, Winston Peters, Michael Laws and Paul Holmes – she is not an egomaniac. She has been on the receiving end of terrible treatment by the media and, without whingeing, explained to the journalism students what that is like.

I can’t quote anything she said – for one thing, most of it was wonderfully rude and this is a family blog; for another, Braunias had said when introducing her that Chatham House rules applied. But she was clear about the compact with the devil that one makes when one sells a story to a women’s magazine – one can’t complain about media intrusion ever again. Topics ranged from Shortland Street (the writers described her character Ellen Crozier as “a slut in a cardy”) to The Hobbit (and here Chatham House kicks in). She was funny, feisty and a massive hit with the students. And with every single heterosexual man in the audience. Some of the married ones too, probably.

Greg King’s recent death cast a pall over proceedings: he was the speaker at the September meeting. Braunias spoke movingly about him, but then brightened the mood by announcing that all present – Wintec media students, celebrities, politicians, sports stars, newspaper editors, magazine columnists and freelance freeloaders like me – would receive a free pen emblazoned with the Wintec Press Club logo. It was, he lied, a strictly limited edition so was a collector’s item. Plus, it was free. And it looks like this:

The new Close Readers CD, New Spirit, is in the photo to give a sense of scale. No it isn’t: apart from the awesome logo the pen is a standard pen, they are all the same size. The plan is that this will shame me into reviewing the album sooner rather than later. The boast: I was the first buyer. The skinny: it’s great.

As is the new Maxine Alterio novel Lives We Leave Behind, which I will review too but Vanda Symon beat me to it. She likes it.

Iris DeMent

My favourite country singer-songwriter has released a new album, her first for 16 years. It is called Sing the Delta and this is the title track:

Saturday, November 17, 2012

What I’m Reading #87

Danyl McLauchlan at the Dim-Post translates Hekia Parata. One of his funniest posts, which is saying something.

Why is one of the few things on your menu that can be eaten without fear or regret — a lunch-only sandwich of chopped soy-glazed pork with coleslaw and cucumbers — called a Roasted Pork Bahn Mi, when it resembles that item about as much as you resemble Emily Dickinson?
How to make a movie. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

Who won what at the CLNZ educational publishing awards on Thursday night.

Kate Mossman, late of Word magazine and not yet 30, reviews Bob Dylan’s new album Tempest. She is wise beyond her years. Quote unquote:
Whatever, there’s a direct relationship between difficulty and vitality in Dylan’s work. The 2009 album, Together Through Life, felt weirdly static somehow – a lot of creative ideas were hemmed in by blues pastiches and straight love lyrics, and even the antique musical settings seemed to lock each song down within its own sepia-tinged, imaginary world.
Tempest is different – destabilising, disorientating, dazzling. It’s from the same musical palette he’s been exploring since the “comeback” trilogy Time Out Of Mind, Love And Theft and Modern Times (rich American roots, from creaky delta blues to juke joint swing, under the musical direction of his longtime bassist, Tony Garnier) but there’s something else going on here, too. The voice is startlingly close-miked and more urgent than it’s sounded in years, as if primed to deliver a few shocks.
Paula Benson-Gamble, an early childhood teacher, reviews children’s books in the Otago Daily Times. Quote unquote:
The Three Little Pigs, a story and play by Roger Hall and Errol McLeary (Scholastic) is about as politically incorrect as one would expect. And while I truly support and actively encourage children’s involvement in dramatic play, these three little pigs are called Tubby, Chubby and Bubby (which is repeated constantly throughout the story and play - Hall has obviously never had weight issues), so no decent parent or place of education would be able to use this book.
Because not only can some very young children read and understand meanings of written text but all children’s self-esteem and sense of worth (of themselves and others) begins developing at a very young age, so why would an adult purposely subject them to this?
Because the characters are pigs?

So here are Pink Floyd with “Pigs” from their horrible 1977 album Animals.

Monitors: Sarah Fraser, Mark Tierney, Cathy Odgers, Chris Bourke, Graeme Lay

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Truth about Trevor Mallard

Nice to see Trevor Mallard supporting his old friend blogger Cameron  Slater’s venture into MSM journalism as editor of the venerable Truth. Above, Mallard snapped yesterday afternoon in Wellington with the hot-off-the-press new issue. If he’s reading it, I guess all the MPs are.

The cover story, headlined “Banned! Labour can’t handle the Truth”, is about Labour refusing to accredit Slater (i.e. let him attend and report) to its annual conference this weekend, even though he is now the editor of the only New Zealand-owned weekly newspaper. I don’t think that Norm Kirk would have done that, do you? 

I have no idea how Slater will go as editor, but he’s off to a good start with NBR picking up on his last week’s lead story. And taking the piss out of Daffy Duck is always good.

There are technical issues with the paper (apart from the horrible but financially necessary porn insert): I have no idea who the person in the big cover photo is because there is no caption, and the front-page story is billed as “read p10 for more details”. Nope, it’s on page 11. Fine to get stuff wrong elsewhere, but never ever on the cover. Still, there is a bit of investigative journalism and a few jokes. And best of all, it’s working-class. Labour must hate it so much, but my media friends are watching closely.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What I’m reading #86

The longlist for the IMPAC Dublin Literary award is out, and includes four New Zealand novels: Wulf by Hamish Clayton, The Larnachs by Owen Marshall, Rangatira by Paula Morris and The Conductor by Sarah Quigley. They are in contention with some Very Big Names – Alan Hollinghurst, Michael Ondaatje, Umberto Eco, Julian Barnes, TC Boyle, Amitav Ghosh, Michel Houllebecq, Penelope Lively, David Lodge, Frank Moorhouse, Mary Doria Russell and Stephen King. A.D. Miller’s Snowdrops is on the list too and I would be rooting for him if it wasn’t for the New Zealanders. I hope all four of them win, or at least make the shortlist.

Via Elliott Randall on Facebook, why pop music’s old metrics no longer matter. Mr Randall, you may recall, played the brilliant guitar solo on Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years”.

Speaking of Elliott, the great American composer Elliott Carter died on 5 November aged 103. He would have been 104 on 11 December. He was composing right up to his final months: he completed his last work, a piano piece called 12 Short Epigrams, on 13 August. A good set of tributes here. Quote unquote from John Tavener:
He, in the last 10 years of his life, seemed to rid modernism of all its angst, creating sparkling edifices of joy and beauty, like the Flute Concerto and Dialogues for Piano and Chamber Orchestra. From a composer’s point of view, he was an absolute master – and he did it better than any of us.
Anne Midgette on classical music performers’ dress code. Less is more, apparently. At least, it is for Yuja Wang. Quote unquote:
We say we want younger audiences, and we wring our hands over classical music’s possible demise; and yet when a young classical music star does something that would be completely normal in any other entertainment field, we pounce on it as being extreme, attention-getting, questionable.
Penguin and Random House are merging, the sky is falling. So say all the authors – but not me. And not Meg Rosoff, who finds reasons to be cheerful. Mind you, I have yet to check in with booksellers.

Tom Service’s guide to Morton Feldman’s music which tends to be long, slow and quiet. And on the beautiful side of ugly/beautiful. The guide has good links to YouTube clips. Feldman looked a bit like Jemaine Clement and was very witty. Previous post about him here.

Enough classical music. Here is Otis Redding with “Can’t Turn You Loose”.  Great performance (thank you, David Hepworth), though Redding dances about as well as Springsteen. I can just see Ike Turner watching this, wondering how to sex it up even further and invent the Ikettes. In the olden days, real live performances like these were on TV in prime-time. Kids today don’t know, etc: