Friday, September 28, 2012

What I’m listening to #1

The Collected Works of John Dowland, performed by The Consort of Musicke under Anthony Rooley. This was a birthday present last month from my wife, 12 CDs of heaven for sub-$70. That’s how much she loves me, but I’m appreciating 12 CDs more than the sub-$70. There are songs (the First Booke of Songs is from 1597; the Fourth Booke of Songs is from 1612), keyboard pieces, lute music (and stuff like that). Singers include Emma Kirkby. Martyn Hill and David Thomas. You can order the set from Mel at Marbecks here.

Dowland’s music is downbeat but/and as pure as music can be. It is like high-country stream water without the giardia. It has been used (or “referenced”) by Benjamin Britten in his great Nocturnal of 1964 and, more recently, Harrison Birtwistle in his equally great “Night’s Black Bird” of 2004. Dowland is pronounced Doland, hence his Latin title for one piece, “Semper Dowland, semper dolens” (always Dowland, always doleful).

Which brings us to Mickey Dolenz. The Monkees’ greatest hits collection Daydream Believer is playing now: the children have been enthusiastic early adopters of Abba, the Beatles, the Mamas and the Papas, Te Vaka, Nick Cave and Talking Heads, but I fear I have left it too late for the Monkees.  Still, they like this, with Mickey singing:

Derek Jameson i.m.

He wasn’t a big name in New Zealand – though he did appear on TV a few times over the years – but former tabloid editor Derek Jameson, who died on 12 September, was a huge name in Fleet Street. At the Daily Mirror he invented the Page Three girl and later, at the Daily Star, newspaper bingo. A Cockney who never lost his accent, he survived a terrible, five-to-a-bed childhood to become a committed left-winger and opera fan. So, an interesting man.

The Daily Telegraph obit is here; the Guardian’s here. It begins:
The story goes that when the working-class Derek Jameson, who has died aged 82, was the newly installed editor of the Daily Express in 1977, the paper’s patrician managing director, Jocelyn Stevens, bawled him out on the phone during a morning editorial conference within earshot of Jameson’s own staff. Jameson put the phone down on him in mid-sentence. In seconds, Stevens was back, telling James in tones of deadly menace never to put the phone down on him again. Jameson knew that his staff were wondering what he would do. “Wanna bet?” he is said to have asked Stevens, and put the phone down again.
Stevens declared to Jameson on his first day that he detested all journalists. Jameson cheerfully replied that he had only been a few hours in the place, but had already discovered that all journalists similarly detested Stevens.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Letter to the editor of the week

This one comes not from the Waikato Times, as is customary, but from today’s edition of the Press [not online]:
Airport in Merivale
Recently I’ve been worried about the increased noise pollution and traffic disruption in Merivale. I had been thinking it was Scirt repairing the Papanui Rd water mains and sewers.
Upon upgrading to the new Apple ios6 on my ipad and using the new Apple maps app, I worked out the source of the problem
The noise is in fact coming from Timaru Airport. It is now only 100 metres from our Merivale address. It seems Scirt has been beavering away at night relocating Timaru Airport to Heaton St.
It’s one thing to move schools but moving an airport into a residential neighbourhood is another thing altogether.
Can anybody tell me if the new ios6 “do not disturb” feature would help solve this problem?
Monitor: Sarah Fraser

Monday, September 24, 2012

What I’m reading #81

“Architects are the last people who should shape our cities,” says Jonathan Meades in the Guardian. Quote unquote:
One cause of this failure is architects’ lack of empathy, their failure to cast themselves as non-architects: architect Yona Friedman long ago observed that architecture entirely forgets those who use its products. Another cause of failure is their bent towards aesthetic totalitarianism – a trait Nikolaus Pevsner approved of, incidentally. There was no work he admired more than St Catherine's College, Oxford: a perfect piece of architecture. And it is indeed impressive in an understated way. But it is equally an example of nothing less than micro-level totalitarianism. Arne Jacobson designed not only the building, but every piece of furniture and every item of cutlery.
Tauranga is planning a 150th commemoration of the Battle of Gate Pa for 29 April 2014. The man in charge is Buddy Mikaere, so it will happen and it will be good. He is writing a book about the battle, hoping to get it published in time for the big day. I grew up there and have always thought there was a book in it: Buddy is the best possible person to write it.

A great interview with Neil Young in the NYT.

David Leigh in the Guardian proposes that:
A small levy on UK broadband providers – no more than £2 a month on each subscriber’s bill – could be distributed to news providers in proportion to their UK online readership. This would solve the financial problems of quality newspapers, whose readers are not disappearing, but simply migrating online.
First comment:
A £2-a-month levy on automobiles could save our horse and cart business.
The most important book ever written? It is about questions to which the answer is no, so that is a clever headline. Even more cleverly, the author invites readers to provide material for the sequel.

And here’s another example:
The “neuroscience” shelves in bookshops are groaning. But are the works of authors such as Malcolm Gladwell and Jonah Lehrer just self-help books dressed up in a lab coat?
No hang on, the answer is yes. Yes, yes, yes.

The most pointless translation ever, James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake into Chinese. Best comment:
“We should make it a story that is also interesting for college students to read and understand.”
Can they do that for the English version as well?
Ri Sol Joo, the wife of Kim Jong-Un, live in concert, singing “Soldiers’ Footprints”. See and hear it while you can, because the North Korean government is destroying all CDs. Quote unquote:
The existence of an order to the same effect was confirmed by a source from North Pyongan Province, who told Daily NK, “The order to hand in all CDs containing songs sung by Ri Sol Joo was handed down right after Kim Jong Eun became a KPA Marshal. They didn’t say why, they just said ‘It’s an order from the Central Party so just do it.’”
The policy is likely a result of concerns that knowledge of Ri’s background as a singer might undermine efforts to paint her as a wife with deep-seated concern for the wellbeing of the North Korean people.
David Aaronovitch weighs in at The Times on causing offence to Muslims, and whether we should care. It is behind a paywall but Mick Hartley steals a chunk of it for you here. Quote unquote:
The week that Salman Rushdie’s memoir of the events leading up to the threats on his life and his years “on the run” is published seems a good time to ask whether we can really carry on like this. According to many, we cannot discuss Islam, depict it or write about it except in certain very circumscribed ways without causing mortal offence.
This is despite the fact that it plays a far bigger role in our lives in countries such as Britain than it did 30 years ago. And worse, in a world where the mobility of communication outstrips the mobility of understanding, we are now at hazard of “global Muslim anger” every time a bongo-brain in a Moosejaw shed uploads an idiocy involving something Islamic.
I met Salman Rushdie 20 or so years ago in Auckland, when the fatwa was, as it were, a live issue. We were upstairs in the Pan-Pacific hotel – maybe the Heritage now, anyway the one on Mayoral Drive by the police station – and after, ooh, nearly a minute of chatting with him and CK Stead, which was very pleasant, I realised that I was standing between Rushdie and a very large window. I made my excuses and sidled away... 

And let us not forget the crocodile in the room.

Monitors: Paul Litterick, Chris Bourke, Tim Worstall, Penny Wise

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Stephen Stratford on Kim Hill

The 57th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the December 1994 issue. It is an interview with Kim Hill who then had the morning show on National Radio Monday to Friday, followed by some passages I transcribed from the show. Topics covered include Naomi Wolf hyperventilating, “photographs of the royal family bathing topless” – how prescient – and sitting on Jeffrey Archer’s face.

The intro read:
She wields more influence on what books we buy and read than anyone at Whitcoulls. More, even, than Quote Unquote. The author reviews and interviews on her popular morning show on National Radio can make or break a book. With an estimated 222,800 people listening every day, she’s New Zealand’s main source of information and opinions on writers and books. And with her strong opinions and readiness to argue the toss with her reviewers, Kim Hill herself seems to have read every book ever published.
How does she do it? “Bluff,” she tells Stephen Stratford. “Bluff, bluff and bluff.”
What is the selection process of books and authors?
We get a whole lot of titles in precis from the publishers and weed our way through them, and put in our own ideas as well. It’s a kind of symbiotic relationship we don’t always do the books they want, and we sometimes do books they don’t want us to do.
Who’s we?
Me and my two producers, Maryanne Ahern and Heather Church. 
Do you try to get a balance between fiction and nonfiction, New Zealand and overseas?
The balance sorts itself out. We get a broad range offered, but if we ask for an author interview it tends to be nonfiction. That’s because nonfiction tends to be current events that we can have a discussion about. There’s no policy of balance. For reviews we tend to do fiction, I’m not sure why. We’re often offered gardening, art and cooking, but they might fit better into another part of the programme, and they’re pictorial – which is hard to do on radio.
You manage to talk intelligently about two books a day. I couldn’t do two a week. What’s your secret?
Bluff. Bluff, bluff and bluff. I read a lot and read very fast – not necessarily very effectively. They don’t stay with me: it’s like swotting for an exam – when it’s over, they go blip and you shove the next one in. It’s speed reading, or skim reading. I spend two hours a night preparing for the next day’s programme and then I go to bed and read the book.
The girls here say I don’t need to, that we’ve got a reviewer to do the book. I get criticised for interrupting the reviewer, and maybe I do it too often, but I think it makes for a more interesting dialogue on the book. It can be good if we disagree – we don’t as often as I thought would happen.
I do have a little trouble with sporting autobiographies – it’s a foreign language to me.
Your interview with Jeffrey Archer has become legendary. Did you find him intimidating?
He was kind of weird. So weird that it was only afterwards that I thought he was intimidating. At the time I just thought he was going mad. Someone sent me a poster of him and I put it on a seat so everyone could sit on his face.
There’s a certain arrogance sometimes with authors, they may think the point of view I’m expressing in a question is always mine, or think I shouldn’t ask that question. That irritates me rather than intimidates me.
Given the size of your audience, while a good review on your show will obviously lift sales, a bad review could damage sales, and hence the author’s income. I’m thinking particularly of local authors - for example, Stevan Eldred-Grigg’s My History, I Think got a drubbing recently. Do you feel any responsibility in these cases?
If we only reviewed the books we liked, and only said that we liked each book, that would undermine the credibility of the book reviews. And it’s that credibility which is responsible for the positive effect we can have.
Some books should never have been published, they’re so self-indulgent and inept. I’d probably hate it myself [to be on the receiving end] because an author puts so much of themselves into a book.
Has anyone ever said thank you for the exposure and helping boost their sales?
Nobody’s ever said thanks, nobody’s ever said, “Blast your eyes, you’ve ruined my life.”
There must have been authors who were daunting not because they’re awful, like Archer, but because their legions of fans will have read every word and know their work by heart – and you haven’t.
Doris Lessing was the most intimidating, or at least the prospect of interviewing her was. I was enormously fraught beforehand. She was very difficult to interview, she’s quite terse and business­like. She doesn’t expand – some people are lovely and expansive and give you time to think of the next question.
I really enjoyed talking to Jim Crace, we rambled around in an amiable fashion.
What do you read for pleas­ure?
I’m trying to get through E Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, but I have to keep putting it aside for all the books I read for work so it’s taking me an awfully long time. I did read Postcards when Graham Beattie reviewed it for us and waxed lyrical. She’s my favourite author at the moment. That’s one of the best parts of this job. I would never have read Elmore Leonard if not for this job; now I’ve developed a taste for crime.
You’d never know it as a listener, but there must have been a few disasters. What happens if there’s a no-show?
I just carry on with the interview already underway because I usually want to carry on talking anyway. Or we find something else – there’s always more ideas than we can use. Today, for example, there was no book review because the book reviewer got the day wrong.
I’m sometimes disappointed with authors. I looked forward to Naomi Wolf and we had a terrible time. We didn’t get on, and she started hyperventilating down the line from America. She took great umbrage at me asking some of the standard questions – like how did she reconcile The Beauty Myth and Fire With Fire, and where does she stand on feminism – but no, no, she couldn’t understand how I could ask these questions. And she started hyperventilating.
Authors aren’t always articulate – per­haps they’re writers because they’re bet­ter at writing things down than speaking about them.
Surprisingly often they are. I would assume they would never be, but so often they are able to talk.
The troublesome thing with many of the well-known authors is that they’ve answered every question before. You try to surprise them, but then there’s the danger of being too clever, appearing to be smart. But you’re not trying to make them happy, you’re trying to make the listeners happy.
I’d like to interview Robert James Waller, the author of Bridges Of Madison County, because I can’t believe how terrible that book is, and how many people have liked it. I think it’s part of the backlash – a big strong man sweeping the helpless female into his arms. Maybe we don’t get a chance to indulge our more primitive instincts. Now they’re making the movie with Clint Eastwood in the male role, it puts me right off.
What are your likes and dislikes from your own reading?
I hate Janette Winterson. She represents a genre of self-indulgent obscurity masquerading as deep and meaningful literature. It just seems so precious. As for likes... God help me, I still have a soft spot for Ernest Hemingway. And Henry James – Portrait of a Lady is my all-time favourite book. And Jane Austen.
I like Owen Marshall very much, he’s a clever writer, Maurice Gee – though it’s boring to say so, everyone says that. I really liked Shonagh Koea’s latest book, Sing To Me, Dreamer, which I’m happy about because I wanted to like her but couldn’t quite. Now I’ll go back to the earlier ones.

Selected highlights from three days of Kim Hill in November.
Kim Hill: Nancy Tich­borne’s Flowers is a record of her watercolours and she joins me now. Good morning.
Nancy Tichborne: Hello.
KH: I’ve just been talking to you about storm damage. There are gardens all over this country weeping into their aspidistras as we speak.
NT: It’s tragic.
KH: How did you go from fashion design to gardening and landscape designing?
NT: Well, it’s all visual. If you’re interested in the visual world you probably could take on a lot of design problems. The whole time you’ve got to be looking, being very very observant and I’m quite sure half the people on the plane didn’t see what I saw looking out of the window – there was ultramarine blue and cerulean blue and then raw umber spilling forth out of the mouths of these rivers I was looking down on.
KH: I feel a painting coming on.

Kim Hill: The book’s called Diana: Her New Life, but it’s not, is it? It’s a sort of a dreadful kind of embattled existence.
Andrew Morton: It’s certainly a lonely existence, an unhappy existence, an existence where she’s trying to make sense of her present life, trying to learn from the mistakes of the past and trying to make some sense of the future... She has, despite all the clouds which have surrounded her over the last years, some vision, some little sunlight of what she aims to do in the future.
KH: She’s an odd mixture, though, isn’t she, Andrew? I mean, kind of a mixture between Mother Theresa and Madonna, I suppose. She does all this charitable work,
she is keenly interested and touched by humanity, but at the same time, as you report in your book, she has an obsession with, shall we say, fringe therapies and she spends megabucks on fringe appearance-­enhancers.
AM: Yes she does. This is one of the things that makes Diana such a fascinating character because she is a mixture of contradictions.
KH: You’re probably wary of trying to justify what appears to be a rather prurient interest, not only on your part of course, but on our part, on the whole world’s part, into the personal lives of Charles and Diana and the rest of them. Why should we know all this stuff? Why can’t they just get on with their lives. Why is it our business? AM: [They are] a part of the Western weave of our social and cultural lives, they occupy a mythic place in our imaginations... We will continue to be fascinated by them, and especially by the, you know, dramatic tension in this relationship. At the moment we see the Princess of Wales trying to struggle and carve a new life for herself, and the Prince of Wales trying to re-establish himself. It is an unfolding and fascinating drama.
KH: Is there a difference between writing about it and hiding behind a bush and taking photographs of the royal family bathing topless or whatever?
AM: There’s a huge difference between interviewing people on the record or off the record who are demonstrably close to the Princess of Wales.

Kim Hill: A British television documentary has questioned the worth of Mother Teresa’s charity work in India. The programme apparently accuses her of having a penchant for the rich and powerful no matter how corrupt...
Laurie Margolis: It is the total antithesis of any image that one has ever had of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
KH: Which is sort of standard iconoclastic work, I suppose. It calls her Hell’s Angel, doesn’t it?
LM: There’s one rather extraordinary story which it claims is the way she became known as this almost saintly figure. It says that a well-known British figure called Malcolm Muggeridge who died some years ago, a larger-than-life television personality and a prominent Roman Catholic, went to make a film about her when she was just a nun running an orphan’s home in Calcutta. A lot of the stuff that was shot in rather dark rooms was rather well-lit, almost had a glow to it, and Muggeridge decided almost immediately that this was a divine light, that it was a miracle, and therefore the myth of Mother Teresa started, according to the programme.
They had the cameraman on, and he says far from it being a miracle it was simply that the BBC had just taken delivery of some new stock from Kodak and it was particularly good in low light conditions.
KH (laughing): Laurie, thank you for your time this morning. No doubt the fallout from that programme will continue – and no, Virginia, nothing is sacred.

Kim Hill: Is this a good book?
Grant Nisbett: It’s a very interesting book, it’s a book about the most controversial, talked-­about, accident-prone, incident-prone cricketer of all time. What strikes me most, Kim, is the honesty of the guy. Ian Botham of course is a regular Jekyll and Hyde... Early on in the book he describes, or his mates describe him as Bungalow which means, or their, interpretation of that means nothing upstairs and that perhaps is quite apt for Ian Botham.
KH: What, you mean cos he’s thick? Is he being honest, though, when he says that yes, he indulged in the odd beer, and yes, he had the occasional joint but he was really character assassinated by the media who would, you know, jump on a waitress who happened to serve him and say did he ask you for sex, did he ask you for drugs? Was he, you know, an innocent boy caught up in the big time?
GN: No, I don’t think so and I think there’s a little bit more to the guy than that. As I say, I think it is an honest book and he does concede that he did certainly take drugs and was involved in some unsavoury incidents off the field, but generally speaking he touches on all these. But the media does cop a fair bit of criticism and he hasn’t got too many mates in the media. In fact, one of the underlying themes in the book is that he hasn’t got too many mates full stop. Those he has he’s very loyal to – fellows like Vivien Richards, Bob Willis. But my word, he’s got a long list of enemies and they’re listed as well.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

In praise of: Patricia France

You remember the story of the well-meaning woman in Spain, Cecilia Giminez, an octogenarian who tried to restore a fresco at the Sanctuario de Misericordia and basically obliterated it. The fresco was 19th-century so was hardly a Giotto or Piero della Francesco, let alone a Fra Angelico. But vandalism, however well-intentioned, is vandalism. Here is the fresco before and after she got to work on it:

Terrible. But – the vandalised version looks like a Patricia France. This, for example, is In the Deep South (1991):

Patricia France was a New Zealand painter, born in Stratford (1911), raised in Auckland, trained in Paris and died in Dunedin (1995). We became friends after I included her in a calendar of NZ paintings I put together in 1988 or so. I visited her every time I went to Dunedin: she was an old lady by then but wonderful company, her house was full of great paintings by McCahon, Jeffrey Harris and others, and she was madly generous – she gave me two paintings and I know she gave many away to other friends and admirers. I could guess bits of her history, and she told me a lot, but I didn’t know the full story until I read the excellent book about her, Painting Out the Past by Richard Donald (Longacre, 2008) and watched the equally excellent 35-minute video profile/interview with her by Brian Turner (University of Otago, 1994).

As they say on Seven Days, this is my picture: Separate Creatures (1984), which I bought that year from Patricia’s first Auckland exhibition at Denis Cohn Gallery:

The really early stuff could be violent (e.g. Hanging My Father) but while the later paintings are all pretty, if you look carefully and long you see a lot of anger. An uncomfortable beauty. But if her sadness went into her paintings of people, her joy went into her paintings of flowers. They are radiant.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A long lunch at Squid Row

Yesterday. Top of Symonds Street in Auckland, a former post office: a good place for conviviality.
Present: Chris Bell, Mark Broatch, Peter Grace, Jonathan King, Paul Litterick, Rob O’Neill, Chad Taylor, and me. 

Topics: the Film Commission (Chad, Jonathan); the Frankfurt Book Fair (Chad, me); how our e-books are selling (Chad, Chris); the point of e-books (all of us); the state of our friends’ PhDs (Paul, me); praise for Kelly Ana Morey (Paul) who was the most disruptive student one of us had ever had (me); how hard it is to be a freelancer with the spikes and dips in income, mostly dips (seven of us); how the man on the land has never been the typical New Zealander because this has always been an urbanised society (all of us, led by Jonathan); and at the end it was me and Peter talking about bookshelves.

It was striking that here were eight middle-aged men – educated, professional even if only media/arts – and just one of us has a steady job. Then again, he works for Fairfax so will have a Plan B. And because he is smart, Plans C, D and E.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What I’m reading #80

It’s a shame this isn’t “essentially a literary gossip column” – you can’t believe everything CK Stead says – because if it was I’d have a ton of material for you. But at least Chad Taylor and I won’t run out of things to talk about when we catch up later this week.

Spookily, on 26 April 2010 I quoted Chad on this blog as writing:
In less than two years, I'll probably be creating and selling my own ebooks via this blog and my author site, or via some similar online mechanism. The notion is empowering but more than a little melancholy. Writing is already a lonely business: when the publishing model changes, it will become even lonelier.
And that is exactly what has happened. This morning, alerted by his blog, I bought a copy of his short story Supercollider. On Amazon, $0.99. Bargain. I don’t have a Kindle but can read e-books on my PC. Chad bills his story as “weird, offensive”. We’ll see.

Bollocks in the Herald about “Foods matched to your body”, swiftly debunked at StatsChat. Same-day service!

That Alpine murder – Tim Worstall gives a fascinating primer on zirconium. No, really. It has a lot to do with nuclear proliferation.

Danyl at the Dim-Post is a dreamer. Bet he wishes he wasn’t.

A lovely page of equations.

How to play guitar like Wilko Johnson. Well, it’s a start.

Joan Brady, whose fine novel Theory of War won the 1993 Whitbread Book of the Year and  £21,000 in prize money, has belatedly realised that the money was tainted. Whitbread was a multinational. Evil, evil, evil. It gets worse: Whitbread, “a corporate giant”, has bought Costa, a coffee chain that is opening outlets in “small towns and villages”. The book award is now known as the Costa. And you know what?:
The worst part of it is that Whitbread/Costa isn’t the only commercially funded literary prize.
Shocking. Are there no depths to which these dastardly capitalists will not sink? Giving money to writers is wrong (unless it is done by the state). Though I don’t suppose Ms Brady intends to give any of her £21,000 back. David Thompson points out that Brady’s brand-new novel The Blue Death, the Observer’s Thriller of the Month, is published by Simon & Schuster, which is owned by CBS, a corporate giant. I have ascertained that it is available on Amazon, another corporate giant. Here in New Zealand we can comfort ourselves with the thought that while the Wattie and Montana book awards must have been bad, the NZ Post awards must be good.

Speaking of intelligent, educated idiots (via Toby Manhire) Germaine Greer has done it again. In 1972 she was arrested for saying “bullshit” in Auckland. She is still talking bullshit. The Courier Mail reports:
In her opening speech at the 50th BWF [Brisbane Writers Festival] last night, Greer told more than 250 people […] that almost half of all Queenslanders have low literacy levels.
“The ABS reports that 47 per cent of Queenslanders can not read a newspaper, follow a recipe, make sense of time tables or understand instructions on a medicine bottle,” Greer said.
“You can not have a good time at literary festival when that is the underlying bedrock truth.”
Hardly surprising that an arts graduate would get into trouble for misreading and/or misquoting statistics:
State Library of Queensland public and indigenous library services director Jane Cowell aid yesterday that Greer had misrepresented the statistics, which came from the 2006 Australian Bureau of Statistics Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey.
“It’s not 47 per cent of Queenslanders can’t read a newspaper or a medicine bottle but 14.7 per cent and another 32 per cent struggle with complex things like lease documents, tax advice and Centrelink forms,” Ms Cowell said.
“Making derogatory comments doesn’t help this situation because it’s the shame that’s attached to the issue that stops people from learning.”
Greer sounds the literary festival guest from hell:
Greer also criticised the BWF, saying the program was monoglot and “worthy” rather than fun and should not include school children because it was the responsibility of schools to teach literacy.
She also said including aspiring writers was also problematic. The problem with creating more writers is that writers need readers...and one of the traps that lies in wait here is vanity publishing,” she said.
Right. Don’t encourage writers.
Greer also criticised BWF for featuring Brisbane writers in the past.
God forbid a regional festival should support people from the region. What we want is expatriates. Such as, perhaps, Germaine Greer. 

Les Murray, who was also at the festival (a top bloke: I was his minder one night at the Auckland Writers Festival, knew he was vastly brainy but not that he was so funny), was not impressed:
Murray, one of Australia’s and the world’s leading poets, arrived in Brisbane yesterday to take part in the BWF and said Greer “would say anything to get a headline”.
“I would not turn aside from a good urination to listen to Germaine Greer,” he said.
The most tragic thing in all this?:
BWF director Jane O’Hara said she had no regrets in inviting Greer to open the 50th annual event because she provoked debate.
“I invited her to speak knowing she would be provocative,” Ms O’Hara said yesterday.
Literary festivals, visual arts awards – yes, it’s all good if it’s provocative and gets column inches.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship

Applications close at 5 p.m on Friday 21 September. Be in to win. 

The official news is:
Established and mid-career New Zealand writers are invited to apply for the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship 2013. 
The Fellowship is one of New Zealand’s longest-standing and most prestigious literary opportunities. It offers a residency of at least six months in Menton, France and NZ$75,000.
The support of the city of Menton enables a New Zealand author to work at the Villa Isola Bella, where Katherine Mansfield lived and wrote during the latter part of her life.
Established in 1970, there have been 42 recipients of this fellowship including: Janet Frame, Michael King, Lloyd Jones, Witi Ihimaera, Vincent O’Sullivan, Bill Manhire, Ian Wedde, Dame Fiona Kidman, Jenny Pattrick, Ken Duncum and the 2012 recipient, Justin Paton.
The Fellowship is an initiative of the Winn-Manson Menton Trust and is administered by Creative New Zealand. The Trust gratefully acknowledges a $25,000 grant from the New Zealand/France Friendship Fund towards the residency.
The unofficial news is that you can download a PDF of the application form here. Full details on eligibility, and what the selection panel are looking for, is here. If you need more information, the person to ask is Marlene LeCren at Creative NZ.

My impression from talking to friends who have had the fellowship is that while the money is great, accommodation can be an issue and working in the Villa Isola Bella is hard (here is a great* piece Nigel Cox wrote about it for Sport) – but it is a wonderful opportunity to live and work in the South of France. The Mansfield connection is nice and a room of one’s own is always good, but for me the best thing would be that Menton is a short drive from  Italy.

* Younger readers may be baffled by this bit in Nigel’s essay:
There’s no phone calls, no visitors, no interruptions, so you get on with it (how’s that, Mr McLauchlan?).
A footnote explains:
When Gordon McLauchlan’s attack on state patronage to writers was published in the NZ Herald at least half a dozen ‘friends’ instantly thought of me and sent a copy. For two weeks afterwards I worked in a fury of self-justifying indignation.
Few will remember McLauchlan’s “attack on state patronage to writers” but I do. If memory serves it was on the front page of the feature section of the Saturday Herald on 23 March 1991. It was as wrong-headed as anything I have ever read in the Herald, which is saying something. There is a reasonable case to be made against state funding of the arts, but that wasn’t it. By 1994 McLauchlan was president of the NZ Society of Authors, an organisation very keen on state funding of the arts, and he became an energetic, useful proponent. I wonder what happened.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What I’m reading #79

Bill Manhire’s Selected Poems (VUP), $35. Amazing value – it’s a hardback of 160 pages. Nice cover – matches my copies of  his earlier, slimmer volumes The Elaboration (1972) and The Old Man’s Example (1990). It’s a portrait of Bill by Ralph Hotere. Doesn’t look much like him if you ask me, but then we’ve all changed a bit since 1971.

The sexual politics of pre-Treaty New Zealand were “quite a minefield”: Vincent O’Malley, a finalist in this year’s CLNZ awards, retells a Northland love story.

Blog comment of the day, on this silly column by George Monbiot which contains the sentence “But if ever there was a case for the precautionary principle, here it is.”:
There rarely is a valid case for the precautionary principle. Had the pernicious concept been around earlier in history, we would never have left the trees.
Want to see Julian Assange putting on the moves? You can! He has complained that showing this clip is an invasion of privacy. Seriously.

Naomi Wolf’s book Vagina has received a decliner from every reviewer I have read. When she spoke at the Auckland Writers’ Festival in 2001 I thought she was a narcissistic idiot and it seems many people now share my view, even the Guardian and New Statesman. Here, for example, is Laurie Penny in the latter. Quote unquote:
Then there’s the sudden five-page diversion to a women's rape shelter in Sierra Leone, plonked weirdly in the middle of the book like a vitamin pill on top of a cupcake. The women and men Wolf meets here, on a trip for western reporters organised in 2004, are not substantive figures in the book – she spends far longer interviewing a banker-turned-tantric-healer who specialises in massaging women to orgasm with special oils, flowers and incantations to welcome their inner goddess to a really great wank. The women in Sierra Leone feel like an afterthought, as they do in so many contemporary pseudo-feminist tracts, but they must be mentioned, even if that mention only draws into sharper focus the fact that the book’s field of vision rarely leaves upper Manhattan.
It’s always good to hear an arts graduate – especially an MA (Hons) in political science – on economics and real science. Former Green Party MP Sue Kedgley presents a novel concept of private property and argues for expensive food. I’d like to see her explain the former to a farmer – it is “our farmland”, apparently, not theirs – and the latter to anyone from Africa, India or China. Let the starving millions eat organic! It’s better for them.

Which country had the best athlete-to-medal ratios at the Paralympics and Olympics? A clue: it wasn’t China, not even Belarus.

Manglish: why we are lucky to have our alphabet.

The NZ bestseller list: I know I bang on about it, but the latest list has Nicky Pellegrino’s When in Rome at #8 – on the international fiction list, because the book was first published overseas. It was the same for Emily Perkins’s The Forrests. If Nicky was on the NZ fiction list she would be #1. Emily would probably be #2. I’m pleased for Brian Turner that he is rated as #1 on NZ fiction for Elemental – has a poetry book ever been #1 before? – but Nicky’s novel is selling vastly better. The bestseller list is very misleading, and it is high time that it included books by local authors who are lucky and talented enough to be published overseas. Nicky and Emily both live here; readers here buy their books. It is absurd that they are not counted as NZ bestsellers when they so clearly are. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Greg King at the Wintec Press Club

Regular readers will know that I am a regular freeloader at the Wintec Press Club lunches. This year’s host is Steve Braunias (his brilliant new book, Civilisation: 20 Places on the Edge of the World, will be in shops in time for Christmas present-buying) who last time invited Winston Peters as speaker. As Murray Mexted would say, that performance was egregious: my award-winning report is here. This time Steve redeemed himself by inviting as speaker a serious person, Greg King, the criminal defence lawyer who earlier this year defended Ewen McDonald who was accused of murdering his brother-in-law Scott Guy in Feilding.

The idea of these lunches is that media veterans talk informally – alcohol is served – to the students from Wintec’s media course, where Steve is Editor in Residence, and I make a point every time of disabusing at least two students of any idea they have that journalism is a sensible career choice. Too late for the two young women I spoke to: one is already working at a good provincial newspaper and knows exactly where she wants to go next; the other will graduate soon and is going to apply for the same job. Sounded awful to me – in a part of the Waikato where there is a lot of unemployment, teenage car crashes and nasty cases of child abuse. But both were smart as anything, positive about the industry, and will be successful. And then, because they are smart as anything, they will go into PR. 

I was seated next to David Slack the Metro wit who is from near Feilding (Kiwitea), as is my wife (Halcombe), so we and our families all had a keen interest in the Scott Guy case – as did the rest of the country. Apart from David and me, and my old friend David Cohen who was also at our table, it was a glittering crowd. Guests included Dame Malvina Major (shoes: red slingbacks), Sarah Ulmer (shoes: sensible black low heels), Charlotte Grimshaw (shoes: sadly not visible from my seat), Marcus Lush, Sir Patrick Hogan, Garth McVicar, Te Radar, and a bunch of journalists and editors from the Waikato, Auckland and even Wellington. 

King was superb. He spoke for 20 or 30 minutes without notes. He was smart, funny, and focused on useful material for the students. He told a true-crime story that was the single most distressing story I have ever heard. People were in tears; I tried to tell my wife about it that night and couldn’t get the words out. This wasn’t murder porn – his point was that murders of brown people go unreported, even such a shocking one as this, but there is a huge media appetite for murder stories about attractive young white people. He was also very good on how TV especially presents a distorted version of how a trial happens. He gave chapter and verse – photos and clips of the accused from one part of the trial shown with a voice-over about a completely different part. Previous speakers I have seen at these lunches have been mainly politicians or media types, who have their place (apart from Winston Peters), but this was someone who knew what he was talking about and was very clear about how damaging the media can be in its selection of what it does and doesn’t present to the public. It was chastening.

In praise of: Judith Baragwanath

Fashion week has been and gone but we still have the HoS to remind us. A good piece by Chloe Johnson takes us back to the glory days of Judith Baragwanath and Stephanie Overton in the 1970s. Both are pictured above: Overton on the left and Baragwanath on the right. Typical Herald: the photographer is not credited but the picture researcher is. The story was headlined “Kiwi model’s journey from wool to writing”. Baffingly, APN has not seen fit to put it online, so here it is. The intro was:
Photo recall: The life of a fashion model is generally nasty, brutish and short. Judith Baragwanath, who first modelled for Vogue as a 15-year-old, was one of the few to transcend that and become a style icon.
And the story was:
They called it pure virgin wool, and these two young models helped make it all the rage in the 1970s. Stephanie Overton (left) and Judith Seay (now Judith Barag­wanath) were just teenagers when they posed for the New Zealand Wool Board’s fashion shoot, dressed in check coat dress and mini skirt made from virgin wool, with pantyhose and white Daisy Duck clodhoppers. Virgin wool is simply wool spun for the first time, rather than recycled wool.
Baragwanath says the shoot was done at fashion photographer Desmond Williams’ studio to demonstrate how products pro­gressed from the sheep’s back to final garments.
“It would have been a full eight-hour shoot with dozens of clothes and, if we were lucky, someone would have done our hair pro­fessionally,” Baragwanath says.
She says Williams did their makeup, which was unusual for a photographer. “He liked to create an air of rivalry between models,” she recalls. “His thinking was a competitive atmosphere would bring the best out in us. Our thinking was, ‘oh, for God’s sake, grow up’.”
Baragwanath began modelling at 15 for the New Zealand edition of Vogue, but moved into journalism in the 70s where she became a fashion writer and the gossip columnist behind Felicity Ferret at Metro magazine.
The model-turned-journalist has always been the black sheep of the fashion family, opting for leather over wool in the 70s. “I had leather bell bottoms which had a tendency to stretch over time. I’d keep them tight in all the right places by stitching the seams with fishing tackle.
“If you knew the right places to go, there were Victorian nighties galore which looked great worn with black stockings and vintage fur coats with high, padded shoulders. I’ve still got them.”
In the 1980s, she donned black lipstick and men’s clothes – becoming known as “Black Lips”.
She calls today’s fashions “ghastly”. Yet she was rediscovered when Kate Sylvester used Bara­gwanath’s style as the inspiration for her 2009 Fashion Week collec­tion “Diamond Dogs”.
Baragwanath didn’t turn up to the Sylvester catwalk show then, and she’s not much interested in Fashion Week now. Now in her 60s, she confesses fashion and designs today “don’t do a thing for me”.
“I tend to agree with Oscar Wilde who said: ‘Fashion is so ghastly it needs to be changed every six months’.”
Judith is a national treasure, still beautiful and one of the wittiest people I know, but I’d love to have heard from Stephanie Overton too. Her subsequent life was a bit different from Judith’s.

When I went to the children’s school this morning a ferret ran across the road in front of me. Spooky or what?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Adventures in the book trade #4

To Auckland on Thursday for meetings with authors, booksellers and publishers. 

1. First appointment was at noon for a long, long lunch with poets (Kevin Ireland, Peter Bland, Bernard Brown), Buddle Findlay Sargeson fellows (Anna Taylor, Karyn Hay, Mark Broatch), a journalist (Rob O’Neill) and a Buddle Findlay partner (Michael Dineen). Michael was an investor in Quote Unquote the magazine so is officially awesome.

There was gossip, and wine.

2. Second appointment was at 4:30 upstairs at DeBrett’s with Whitcoulls and the Book Publishers’ Association.

There was gossip, and martinis.

3. Third appointment was at 5:30 at the Concert Chamber, one of my favourite Auckland rooms, for the CLNZ awards. There are two of $35,000 given every year to writers of serious non-fiction projects. The five finalists (as blogged previously here) spoke briefly about their projects – all sounded very strong and publishable – with Finlay Macdonald chairing (superb, obviously) and then the winners were announced: David Veart, author of First Catch Your Weka: A Story of New Zealand Cooking (AUP, 2008) and Digging up the Past: Archaeology for the Young and Curious (AUP, 2011), who will write about toys, and Hazel Petrie, author of Chiefs of Industry: Maori Tribal Enterprise in Early Colonial New Zealand (AUP, 2006), who will write about Maori slavery. It was as good an awards event as I have been to.

There was gossip, and wine.

4. Fourth appointment was at 8:30 in the Japanese restaurant practically next door with three of the four judges, most of the board of CLNZ (two of the three publishers and all three of the authors), our CEO and a smattering of spouses.

There was gossip, and wine.

5. Fifth appointment was the CLNZ board meeting the next morning.

There was no gossip, and no wine. Seemed wrong, somehow.

What I’m reading #78

Performance tips from Bill Manhire at Modern Lettuce.

Should governments fund the arts? A perennial question. There was an online debate on the topic at the Economist. Good arguments on both sides.

Tim Worstall takes issue with the oft-repeated claim that “it takes 7kg of grain to produce 1kg of beef”. Not true, and good comments from people who know.
Girls in tight niqabs are “asking for it”, apparently.

Joe Hildebrand goes on the offensive.

Chris Bourke salutes Hal David.

Dunedin crime novelist Paddy Richardson is in Germany: Komm, spiel mit mir (“in heißer Sommertag, wie geschaffen für ein Picknick am See. Eine große Schwester, die wieder einmal den Babysitter spielen soll. Und ein kleines Mädchen, das am Abend spurlos verschwunden ist …”), published this week, is her brilliant Hunting Blind from 2010, one of the best crime novels I have ever read. Also available: Der Frauenfänger (“Die Journalistin Claire lebt alleine mit ihrer Tochter Annie in Dunedin, Neuseeland”) which is 2008’s A Year to Learn a Woman. Can 2011’s Traces of Red be far behind? Paddy will be at Frankfurt, so anything is possible.

As a birthday present I received the new 12th (and final print) edition of my favourite dictionary, Chambers, which I wrote about here. I always liked its definition:
charity begins at home, usually an excuse for not allowing it to get abroad.
I mentioned this to Paul Litterick who cited from memory this:
Welsh rabbit, melted cheese with or without ale etc., poured over hot toast – sometimes written ‘Welsh rarebit’ by wiseacres.
Sadly, the new edition has removed these jokes but – fair exchange – adds “rangatira”, “rangatiratanga”, “mana” and “whanau”. 

Jargon of the day: “refocusing our capability mix”. This means hiring more people in one area than another.

Honor Blackman, and here’s why:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Holding pattern

Too busy to blog, which is nice. Maybe Wednesday. Tomorrow never knows.

Coming soon: an update to Actors who write fiction (via Facebook: interesting), a report on last week’s Wintec Press Club luncheon (via attendance: distressing) , and performance tips from Bill Manhire (via Twitter: useful). Plus more from Quote Unquote the magazine.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Actors who write fiction

The Waikato Times’s weekend magazine runs books reviews and comment from – I’m guessing, as Fairfax moves in mysterious ways – newspapers around the country. Usually we get Philip Matthews’ column of Book News from the Press, which is a good thing. Yesterday’s column had this item:
Actors who write fiction – that would be a very short list (Ethan Hawke, anyone?). So we’re impressed by the good reviews that Molly Ringwald is attracting for her first novel, When It Happens to You. Younger readers should know that Ringwald was a big movie star back in the 1980s.
Not a “very short” list, really. Off the top of my head I can think of Dirk Bogarde, Carol Drinkwater, Stephen Fry, Steve Martin, Barbara Ewing, Carrie Fisher, Robert Shaw, Julian Fellowes, Judy Cornwell and Richard E Grant. Emily Perkins started out as an actress; NZ actors Michael Galvin and Peter Feeney both had short stories published in 2000 in Boys’ Own Stories, a collection edited by Graeme Lay.

There must be loads more. Does crime novelist Mark Billingham count? He is/was a stand-up comedian rather than a straight actor, but that’s close enough for me. Even William Shatner has published novels – but does he count he an actor?