Marilyn Duckworth’s Leather Wings at Unity Books
Unity Books in Auckland, the City of Sleet, is your basic clean, well-lighted place. When its managers issue the call to a launch, the crowd hastens forth. It’s a homey spot, and a perfect place to balm the pain. For an hour or two the city’s writers can graze the free food and booze, their woes behind them. They can forget the rejection slips, the miserly royalty cheques, the agony of the daily trooping down to the letterbox to find that the fat commission for the big television series must have got lost in the mail, again.
So it was for the Marilyn Duckworth launch. The literary leaders had fought their way through the rain, the puddles, the sleet and the beggars, past restaurants fill of punters with proper jobs, shovelling down what would easily be a week’s worth of pasta to a struggling writer.
Once through the doors they milled around, trying to be tactful and mature and not dwell too much on the obvious Wellington/Auckland angle. For Duckworth is not exactly ours. She’s theirs, a key kuia in the Mount Victoria sub-tribe of the Wellington writing iwi. For the moment, though, she is gracing the north with her presence, grafting out the next book at the Sargeson flat up in Albert Park, just a throw of a jellybean down the hill to Unity Books.
Where all was convivial bonhomie – until the devil showed up. There, shiftily lurking among the cheerily chatting short-story writers, novelists and poets, was the Banquo at the feast, the Phantom of the Opera, the... the... Well, you get the idea by now. Yes, a scriptwriter, a television one, had turned up.
This forced the short-story writers, novelists and poets to confront the ghastly truth. They could not hide from it. Yes, there are people in the world enjoying palatial, mortgage-free homes in Ponsonby, paid for from the proceeds of their creativity. They’ve got villas in the South of France, and cars, and regular dinners and everything.
His presence killed the party stone-dead. He knew it too, and shuffled quickly to a position of safety in a corner of the room, getting his back to a wall of books. He was safe there, far from the glares of the short-story writer who had glumly plodded the wet Auckland streets spending the last of his dole money rescuing his latest collection from the remainder bins.
Or from the literary genius who is known, to those of us with indiscreet sources at TVNZ, to have completely dipped out when offered a go at writing a Shortland Street script.
Or from the chap who prostrated himself, nay even prostituted himself, for the chance to flog a story-line to a drama series. His offer was taken up, only for him to be found wanting in all departments. Now he reviews books, a sad end to a once-glittering career.
Fortunately, the scriptwriter realised he should do the decent thing and clear off, and in quick time too. He knew he was among envy and hate. Who said scriptwriters aren’t sensitive types? They know when they’re not wanted.
Once that disruptive presence was out the door and into the cold where it belonged, things settled down. It was business as usual: the idle chat, the bitching about this year’s literary awards, the schmoozing of the publishers, one of whom was contemplating giving up smoking and wondering whether she’d be able to replace the habit with more booze and men.
Deciding she could, she was observed, with a strange gleam in her eye, to be indecently keen to stub out her last-ever gasper.
RATINGS: TEN = CRACKER, ONE = GRUESOME
Sense of occasion: Eight. Too much rain and depression for really top marks, and we aren’t talking about the sort of depression you see on weather maps, either. We’re talking about the sort that strikes writers when publishers flee their presence. Fortunately these were swept aside when the author regaled one and all with the details of her preferences. A riveted audiencc discovered that these include “plain cooking, fancy chocolate and conventional sex”.
Food and drink: Seven. Unity is a reliable hand on the comestibles, although the smoked fish stayed out of sight until late in the game. No worries, though. There was plenty of salami for the carnibores (vegan-speak for those enthusiastic about their meat).
Standard of behaviour: Five. Very little reaction. It was too cold for anything really exciting, and there wasn’t enough hard drinking to excite dark passions and the memory of vicious and long-repressed reviews.
Sales at the event: Eight. A rock-solid 45 copies of Leather Wings, Duckworth’s tale of a travelling salesman’s penchant for a (much) younger woman.I was in Wellington on Friday for the launch of Danyl McLauchlan’s brilliant debut novel Unspeakable Secrets of the Aro Valley. It was an excellent launch and I wish that Denis could have been there to review it. I did substitute for him once or twice so here are my Sir Launchalot ratings:
Sense of occasion: Eleven. The room was packed with people I liked or wanted to meet, which was a first for me in Wellington. Also Danyl’s speech was very funny and was delivered without notes. The bonus point comes from the presence of the real-life Steve and the Campbell Walker (this will make sense when you read the book).
Food and drink: Seven. No complaints about either but at QUQ we rarely scored this category highly so as to encourage the publishers to do even better next time.
Standard of behaviour: Eight. It was all decorous in the room but almost everyone disobeyed instructions and explored the upstairs and downstairs of the very spooky venue, Philosophy House in Aro Street.
Sales at the event: Nine. This would have been an eight – the sales were very good at around 80 on the night – but there has to be a bonus point for Danyl misspelling his name while signing one copy. Cruelly, there is a photo on Twitter. Nicely, I shall not link to it.