Friday, December 30, 2011

What I’m reading, final edition for 2011

Christopher Hitchens is everywhere now that he’s dead. Quite rightly there have been many tributes but the best brief one I have seen – pleasingly in the Daily Telegraph – is by his friend Francis Wheen, deputy editor of Private Eye. Money quote:
Who else could claim to have enjoyed (or, more accurately, endured) the hospitality of both Agatha Christie and Abu Nidal, or been a friend of both Gore Vidal and Paul Wolfowitz, or read poetry to Jorge Luis Borges and sheltered Salman Rushdie from the ayatollah’s assassins?
An obituary for the great philosopher Michael Dummett. The Brits do these things so well.

A year in mobile-phone photos from Christchurch journalist Philip Matthews.

Why vegeterians have more blood on their hands than meat-eaters do.

MacDoctor has a go at the anti-obesity campaigners and the proposed tax on sugar. He is a doctor and a diabetic, so knows quite a bit about this.

If you have ever wondered what two mimic octopuses shagging would look like, wonder no longer. The species was discovered in 1998 and this loved-up couple were filmed in Indonesia in November 2011. Can you tell who is on top?:

And now for something really disgusting: deep-fried butter. Money quote:
Described as a “heart attack on a plate”, the chefs at The Fiddler's Elbow in Edinburgh serve the sticky treat with Irn Bru ice cream and coulis.
Never mind the misrelated participle: if you have ever had Scotland’s other national drink you will be gagging at the idea of Irn Bru ice cream. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Anita McNaught on Oscar Kightley and David Fane

The 42nd in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the November 1996 issue. Anita McNaught was our Auckland theatre reviewer from late 1995: here she is on the Watershed production of A Frigate Bird Sings by Oscar Kightley and David Fane.

“I’m sick of having to per­form, and say something smart or vicious, but if that’s what they want, that’s what I’ll give them, because they don’t deserve to see the real me.” The confessional outburst comes from an unlikely quarter in a play full of quiet truths. Drag queen Shaninqua is the familiar face of Polynesian cross-dressing. Meeting all our expectations, from her provocative clothing to her acerbic tongue, she holds a rein of sexual terror in the small, B-grade nightspot she claims as her own. She and her sidekick Deja Vu abuse, tease, tickle and thump the punters. They are the Ultravixens.
But this is not a play about drag – thankfully. It is a play about identity. Oscar Kightley and David Fane have reached be­yond the stereotypes, and written a play from the inside. For all those who felt that silly, voyeuristic efforts like Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert were an insult to the intelligence of queens, transgenders and their ilk (not to mention the odd unambiguous cinema-goer), this is, at last, a subtle, beautifully observed study of one of the most precious and intriguing gifts of Polynesian culture – the third sex.
There is no equivalent for the word fa’afafine in English: any translation cages the butterfly. It is not “gay”, not “homo” – these are western concepts, alien to Polyne­sia. It is not “transvestite” nor transsexual, which are clinical descriptions redolent of deviance. “Effeminate” implies weakness and a sort of impotence inappropriate to these deliciously sexual creatures. “Drag” is again a western construct. The only word that does them justice is “queen” – because there is the self-consciousness of the Chosen in their bearing.
A breed of boys who won’t be boys, but who see no need to be girls either, they inhabit a world in-between. These are no pathetic misfits saving their bar tips to pay for a sex change in Sydney. On the contrary, they lay claim to both a schlong and a slip.
Traditionally, life in the Islands does not force them into any performances of sexual parody. They float free. They act as go-betweens for young men and women separated by religion, taboo and shyness. They are friends to the women, educators and civilisers of the men.
They are the mischief-makers, clowns, performers, treasured and celebrated as some of the best dancers and singers. They are respected teachers, the backbone of the hospitality business and, less obviously, include some leading bureaucrats and government officials. Island society could not function without them.
But when they shift out of their culture, out of their context, it all falls to pieces. We make no space for them here. Relocated, their own culture acquires a sense of embarrassment and often disowns them. The church disapproves.
The fa’afafine’s island freedoms begin to look dubiously amoral in an urban New Zealand setting. And like so many other aspects of Polynesian life, the fa’afafine have been colonised by western gay culture, drag and prostitution. But instead of giving them strength and allies, it’s just a new (culturally subversive) norm to conform to. Their formerly celebrated duality is overlooked, forgotten, lost in the crush.
This modern metamorphosis is one of the stress fractures through Island society. “Everybody has roles in our culture,” observes young fa’afafine Vili. That certainty is his greatest source of comfort, especially now the family has been uprooted to New Zealand – but it is to become his torment.
Vili has an innate sense of what it means to be fa’afafine, but not yet how this fits into his new home. His mother has died, and it is only natural for him to take over as the “female” head of the household, caring for his grieving, alcoholic father and athletic younger brother. He is valued, as long as he doesn’t test the unspoken limits his father has set. When he tries on one of his mother’s old frocks, the cracks start to show. Vili’s assets become his liabilities.
Kightley and Fane then set the two worlds on a collision course. Enter Hugh, captain of the rugby team that Vili’s brother Sione plays for. Hugh is a kid from New Plymouth, and just as confused as Vili. He overlooks the inconvenience of Vili’s gender, and sees only the woman that Vili wants to be. He knows little about Samoan culture, and understands less. Face value, after a few beers, is enough.
This could be totally implausible, but a combination of the writing and Geoff Dolan’s performance as an archetypal Kiwi bloke make it happen. Meanwhile, Vili is in search of role models, as well as love. He needs other fa’afafine; he finds two drag queens: “Most men see us as sideshow freaks. Queens of the Pacific! ...They’re only being nice to us be­cause we’re like some exotic bar decoration... They wouldn’t serve us if we were ordinary Samoans.” They are hardened, cynical and corrupted. Vili is fragile and innocent beside them, but drawn inescapably into their world. He makes the understandable mistake of thinking he is one of them. He learns from their independence, but drinks too deep.
Iaheto Ah Hi has the gentle understated Vili and his loss of innocence pitched just right. Director Nathaniel Lees has coaxed what seems like the optimal performance out of each cast member. Every role had the potential to become a caricature. It is a tribute to him, in part, that none of them do – they are all recognisable, tangible, believable.
The staging is bold too, but less successful. Under the feet of the cast are the golden sands of their Samoan home. The only props are rocks. This works well for some of the more ritualistic and allegorical scenes, but without any other help from the staging, there’s too much miming in the everyday drama. The cast have built up their characters well, but a certain amount of clumsy make-do impedes them.
The play is physical and energetic, from the muscular well-oiled bodies of the men at the start to the naked dissolution of the queens. Tenderness and violence are never separated by much. Frigate Bird goes on to explore the bonds and dynamics of brotherly love. Sione respects and cares deeply for his older, girlish brother Vili, supports him against his father’s intolerance and conformity. Samoan masculinity is not threatened by the fa’afafine; rather, it is set advantageously against it. But Sione, transplanted into New Zealand, is also slowly corrupted by the influences around him, the compensatory machismo of rugby culture. As Vili sets about testing the limits of his family’s affection, the brothers split into the two least admirable aspects of their father, his drunkenness and his intransigence.
What do you do when you find that you no longer have a place in the society you live in, that an accident of birth has made you an outcast? They have their feminine power, but both within and outside Frigate Bird the fa’afafine are at the bottom of the heap, powerless and dependent.
They have only a loose alliance with the gay community, survive as mere figures of fun in the straight world, are often too outrageous and controversial to make it in the workforce. They are not specifically recognised in the Human Rights Acts which confer protection from discrimination. And they are Polynesian. This is partly why so many end up as habitues of K Road. It’s about survival. And yet these people have a mystical heritage, a respected, almost ceremonial role in their island homes. They have a need to be valued, to be taken seriously.
Kightley and Fane go beyond the simple pathos to explore the real fears of these special, vulnerable people. Theirs is a culture where from birth to death you are rarely alone: the houses have no walls, each building packed with siblings, extended families, life is structured around familiar obligations – privacy is an unfamiliar state. So to be cast out, to be without a family, to be alone in the world, is for these people a kind of hell. Loneliness holds the greatest terror of all.
Kightley and Fane have written a classic of New Zealand theatre. The Edinburgh Festival talent scouts extended an immediate invitation this year when the play premiered in Wellington. It should fascinate them up in the North. It will open a few eyes down this way too.

Anita McNaught is currently based in London and Istanbul as a roving correspondent for Al Jazeera English.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Country matters

There is a new-born donkey at the end of the next road. The mother is called Lucy even though she is a jenny. And I learn that there are two emus in the paddock behind, which brings to umpteen the total of species I have noticed in that road: dairy cows, Highland cattle, sheep, pigs, donkeys, Shetland ponies, alpacas, horses, ducks, chickens and pheasants.  

There were goats but they died of old age. This afternoon I had a long conversation with their owner, who turned her quarter-acre front yard where they used to live into a vegetable garden and had people queuing up to buy her new potatoes for Christmas. She wondered whether certified seed potatoes were necessary every year – I say no but then I am not growing semi-commercially – and which varieties are best at this time of year. We moved on to lettuces and courgettes, and whether it was better to water the maize patch late at night or early in the morning. The latter, we decided.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Elizabeth Knox on Marilyn Duckworth

The 41st in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the August 1993 issue. The portrait is by John McDermott. The intro read:
Marilyn Duckworth is one of our most important writers, yet her new novel Seeing Red has not been included in the Top 20 of the Women’s Book Festival. It deals with an embarrassing subject in Women’s Suffrage Year – female violence. Here she talks to Elizabeth Knox about the background to her writing and the many traps and sudden twists that imperil her characters.
We get down to it in the study at the front of the imposing, two-storey brick house Mar­ilyn Duckworth shares with her husband John Batstone. I’m on the couch with my back to the street, where she likes to work, with the good light and all the distractions of traffic behind her. Marilyn sits beside her laptop, which is crowded to the edge of the desk by earlier, defunct computers and an old television. We both have our tape recorders.
Marilyn wants to listen to the interview and vet any errors or unwise confidences – a trick of politicians, she explains. Her tape recorder wheedles away throughout the interview, recording its own feedback so that, in the end, she can’t bear to listen to it.
So much for precautions. In a Duckworth novel this would be a significant detail of the plot, one of those bits of misfired planning that can determine the lives of her characters.
She was born in New Zealand but removed to England as a three-year-old at the beginning of World War II. “War broke out when we were on the boat. I was aware of the war, but much more of a measles epidemic. The ship was divided by a rope. That was much more significant. I remember being so hot with measles that I took off all my clothes and lay on the lino floor.”
Her father, psychologist John Adcock, who had gone ahead, sent a cable to his wife Irene, telling them all to get off the ship at Cape Town and return home. England was too dangerous. But the radio operator was talking to his girlfriend and missed a few cables, including this one.
During the war, Marilyn and her older sister Fleur spent longish periods separated from one or both parents. “We were with relatives in Leicestershire, then to Wiltshire. I feel I’ve lived lots of lives and several childhoods and instantly adapted. Take accents – in Wiltshire I lived with a Welsh family and when I came back to my family no one could understand what I was saying, My mother couldn’t. I said ‘Aye’ not ‘Yes’. Then I went straight to Cockney. I remember an argument about whether it was all right to say ‘isn’t’. I thought you had to say ‘ain’t’ or you were up yourself.”
With all these moves Fleur and Marilyn were thrown upon each other’s company. I ask her about their “imaginary game”. Apparently she and her sister corresponded with someone “doing a thesis on these things”: the Bronte sisters; A.S. Byatt and Margaret Drabble; the Adcock sisters.
“We called it Dreamland. It was set in a boarding school. I always wanted to go to boarding school. The classes were named after birds – English birds of course – robins, cuckoos, starlings. There were wicked teachers who we lampooned. And friends – because we shifted a lot it was useful having these friends who were fixed. We went for escapades.
“I would always be most interested on going to the Enchanted Forest, and doing very fairy-story things. Then Fleur, being older than me, dragged in the idea of going to the Land of Happy Meetings, where you met boyfriends. We got there by hooking our way through the trees with long walking-sticks, like monkeys.”
Sometime during these years – the game spanned the Adcocks’ “massive shift” back to New Zealand when Marilyn was 11 – both sisters began to write. Marilyn planned and began writing her first novel A Gap In The Spectrum when pregnant with her first child (after a very youthful marriage). There was an interval of over five months when the manuscript went seamail to London and the publishers looked it over. After it was accepted there was another year till publication. Marilyn was 23 and a mother of two.
“Early success felt fantastic. I’d always promised myself I’d get a novel published, but promising yourself and actually finding it come true! It certainly made me feel a different sort of person.”
But since her publisher was on the other side of the world there were no book launches and publishers’ lunches. “I already knew some local poets but the novelists came later – though I knew Ian Cross.” Duckworth frowns. “I remember Ian came around one night, we were having a drink, he and my then husband Harry Duckworth, and Ian said to me that the reason I wrote was because I was unfulfilled as a person. This upset me – would he have said that if I were a man? I’d written two novels by then, the first was out and the second was on its way.”
Duckworth’s third novel was produced in difficult circumstances. She had a Literary Fund scholarship, so felt bound to deliver. “I spent three months in Auckland writing
A Barbarous Tongue. I got a job in the London Lending Library and wrote at night. I found it was the only way I could do it. My mother-in-law moved in and minded the kids. I could manage to write a novel while I had a fulltime job – but with the children at home I couldn’t. I felt torn two ways. In Auckland I felt guilty and missed the kids. There were times when I’d ring up Wellington in the middle of the night – I had a key to the shop, I’d let myself in and sob down the phone.”
The fourth novel before the gap in Marilyn’s career (from 1969’s Over The Fence Is Out to 1984’s Disorderly Conduct) she wrote by swapping her children with those of an artist friend so that both women secured one free day a week to work. “It was a really hard way to do it and I don’t know how I could do it now. Well, no, I suppose I became used to disciplining myself in that way.”
Duckworth’s use of “freetime” has been further complicated since she developed narcolepsy in her 20s. If she didn’t get a good 11 hours’ sleep each night she would quite literally fall asleep on her feet, without warning, anywhere and any time.
Duckworth is now one of our established writers, a position that entails various du­ties. She was one of the judges of the 1992 New Zealand Book Awards, and didn’t feel entirely comfortable with the experience. “I hated the responsibility of judging other writers. But acting as a judge in competitions is part of the business of being a writer – like this interview and getting up on pan­els – which is totally against a writer’s personality often.
“The reason I started being a writer was I wanted to do something on my own, and not have to fit in with others. I hated group activities at school. Like reading in groups, I’d get terribly nervous and start to cough, so that just as it was getting to my turn everyone would start coughing.”
Seeing Red is Duckworth’s 11th novel, a pithy book, set in contemporary Wellington. It concerns two sisters: Isla, “La Stupenda”, a lesbian, botanical gardener who nurses a very personal but hurtful secret; and Vivienne, a divorced mother made redundant from her job by shonky financial dealings. And, in significantly symmetrical contrast to the sisters, there is an English couple, dubbed “the Burberries” after their coats – and also because they are cloaked, in a way, and uncannily alike.
“I wanted an alien couple, locked into a frozen existence, who could affect both sisters. Jake and Jennet needed to be foreign to the sisters; that’s why I brought them from England, from a different, a European, culture – also so there would be no witnesses to their early lives.”
I point out that the author is a kind of witness, as there is a small section early on in the book in which a child, later identifiable as Jennet, refuses to swallow a worm tablet and renounces God. Marilyn says she wanted that section to have a mythical feel to it.
“Jennet sees herself as something of a witch, she wants power. Life became so intolerable when she was little that she wants to be wicked. She’s abused and becomes a abuser.”
A different note enters Duckworth’s voice. “You know Seeing Red hasn’t made it on to the Women’s Book Festival Top 20. It’s been suggested – not too seriously – that women’s violence isn’t an appropriate topic for Suffrage Year. I see women’s anger as very much a feminist issue. If you start not talking about it, then you’re creeping back to that silence that women have laboured under for years.”
It is clear that Marilyn Duckworth doesn’t think much of permissible politics and forbidden points of view. She is not, however, a “political” novelist; or someone who, like Margaret Drabble, writes “novels of ideas”. In Duckworth’s novels politics become a detail of private life. Disorderly Conduct (joint winner of the New Zealand Book Awards in 1985) is set during the 1981 Springbok Tour; Message From Harpo has as its backdrop public wrangling over the Homosexual Law Reform Bill of 1985; other novels are concerned with the “spirit of the age”. Duckworth says she is interested in how the ideas people have determine how they treat each other.
“When I bring in politics I’m never trying to portray what is going on in the world, just what’s going on in these people’s lives. I hope I also get across an attitude.”
Sometimes she has been accused of having characters who are passive – specifically her women characters; the men, she is told, are unreliable bastards. “I’m interested in human weakness – not passivity, it can be the opposite. I do have women characters who are put-upon, clumsy rather than weak. Of course there are different ways of being active and what I’m writing about is surviving.
“I write about traps. Quite often the trap is love, but not just romantic love; it can be siblings – it is in Seeing Red – or children and parents. It’s not all about ‘marriage’. Too many people come out and say I write disparagingly about marriage.”
I suggest that perhaps what these reviewers are responding to is the way in which her characters often see themselves as ordinary; that I think her fiction is about the oddity in ordinary people and the odd lives that overtake people who expect things to be more ordinary. “Yes, I like to twist things slightly, set up expectations then shatter them. When I say I’m interested in human weakness, I want it to be seen that it’s equal across the genders. That’s why I did Pulling Faces through a man’s eyes. He was the one who felt put upon and who was trying to get it right.
“And the title of Message From Harpo – the telegram Harpo sent in fact read ‘No message’. When I’m writing I can’t have an audience in my head. If there was an audience how could you possibly write without being self-conscious and posturing?
“So far as style goes I don’t believe in being distracting. I want people to puzzle a bit but I want a surface that’s negotiable – where everything is accessible yet underneath this, subtle vibrations are going on. I think the important thing is for people to read what’s there and feel that even if it’s bizarre it’s somehow inevitable.”
Finally, I ask whether she has ever considered writing an autobiography – those by Frame, Shadbolt and Edmond have made these highly visible in the national litera­ture. “No, not really. I have a fantastic story to tell, but it’s full of unpublishable material. There are too many people involved.”
“Too many young ones for you to outlive them?”
“Yes. The only thing that would lead me to write one would be if someone else was going to write a version that” – she laughs – “conflicts with mine. I’m very concerned about truth – my version of the truth.”

Friday, December 23, 2011

Don’t torment the frog

The previous post, Phyllis Gant on Ronald Hugh Morrieson, was this blog’s 999th. The first, on 9 December 2008, was a celebration of US composer Elliott Carter’s 100th birthday. The 988th on 11 December 2011 was a celebration of his 103rd.

But the intention of the blog was to put online material from what Jolisa Gracewood on Public Address last year generously called “the defunct – but dead funky – literary mag Quote Unquote”. The magazine ran for 44 issues from June 1993 to March 1997, and when my friend Rob O’Neill observed that these days “if it’s not online it doesn’t exist”, I thought – yes. For most people, if you can’t Google it, it might as well never have existed. So I have been posting material that may still be of interest. There are interviews with New Zealand and overseas authors, articles by New Zealand writers on everything from motorbikes to dogs, reminiscences of writers and artists, a bunch of stuff.

Because I don’t have the original Word files any more, I have to reconstruct each piece before posting – it takes about half an hour per original page so a major story can take two or three hours, which is why there have been only 40 so far. Plus I always ask the writer’s permission – photographers and illustrators too – which takes even more time. (Coming soon: Elizabeth Knox on Marilyn Duckworth! And, if I can find her and get her approval, Anita McNaught on Oscar Kightley and David Fane!)

When you run a blog you can see where readers come from and it makes it all worthwhile to see how many people around the world have read Iain Sharp on James K Baxter, Kevin Ireland on Frank Sargeson, Nigel Cox on Maurice Gee, Barbara Else on Annie Proulx, Tim Wilson on Sam Hunt, Carroll du Chateau on Alan Duff, Michael King and Louise Callan on Robin Morrison, Peter Bland on Bill Manhire and so on. 

In between blogging content from the magazine, I put up other stuff just to keep the thing alive – whatever interests me and may entertain friends and others (hence all the music), plus the occasional comment on NZ literary matters

So this is the 1000th post. What to do? How to mark the occasion? Thanks to David Thompson, that’s easy – with a video of a frog:

Phyllis Gant on Ronald Hugh Morrieson

The 40th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the November 1996 issue.

The intro read:
Phyllis Gant recalls her night with Ronald Hugh Morrieson.
There’d be no partying for me. I went to my room in the newly-built student hostel with a monumental migraine. After trying to doze off I was suddenly alert: “There’s a man outside my window,” and told myself not to be silly. Then, in the glow from an outside light, a hand appeared, clutching the sill. There was a low moaning. The hand fell away.
I slammed the window shut. Below it I could see a figure on all fours. Terrified, I watched it crawl away, pulled the curtains together and, trembling, got back into bed, my head throbbing.
Presently there was a rattling at the window: he was trying to get in. “Go away!” I yelled, panic-stricken. “Some drunk, can’t find his room.” After a few minutes I peered out. He was sidling along the wall and away.
All was quiet; the migraine was settling down to something like bearable, and I slept – to be awaked by the sound of a male voice crying, “Help me! Oh, someone please help me!”
I looked out the window but could see nothing. The cries and moans continued. They seemed to be some little distance away and I decided there must be someone nearer to whoever it was than I, one of the men. He would go.
“Oh please! Someone help me! Please help me!”
I leapt out of bed in my long wincey nightie, not stopping to put on a dressing gown or slippers, and ran outside.
It took some minutes to find him. “Where are you?” I called. “Where are you?”
It was dark in the quad and the ground had been rotary-hoed. Shivering with cold and fright, I stumbled on the damp, sticky lumps of earth, my feet frozen.
There was a shape on the ground: I didn’t believe it, it was only a shadow. At that moment my ankle was gripped hard and I almost fell. I had met Ronald Hugh Morrieson.
It was only the second time Morrieson had been away from Hawera, the occasion, the writers’ conference held at Massey University in August 1973.
He stood out, with his paper-white moon face and his loose overcoat; someone said he had just come out of hospital, straight from hospital and onto the train to the conference. Fellow writers pointed him out: “That’s Morrieson.” It was said that he had written a number of important novels, but no one in New Zealand would publish them. There was talk of one, possibly two, being published in paperback in Australia.
He was a man of mystery, a man alone. When he got to his feet at one of the sessions, what he had to say confirmed the suffering his appearance suggested.
A brisk, older woman, German-Jewish I would guess from her features and accent, took issue with his criticism of his country, along with his remarks about his own depression and despondency. “You do not know how lucky you are to live in this beautiful land!” she cried. “Depressed? What have you to be depressed about? Everybody should be just so happy! No one in New Zealand need be depressed!”
Morrieson said not a word, simply looked at her, incredulous, from his depths.
Thereafter this lady took him in hand, pursuing him relentlessly and plumping down beside him at mealtimes, interminably extolling the beauty and bounty of our wonderful land, cajoling him into conversation, self-justification, and a resigned, even tolerant acceptance of her dubious comfort. It wasn’t easy for anyone else to get a look in; I’d like to meet him, I thought, but I can’t compete with that.
Now I called for help. The man was floundering in mud. All was quiet, the rooms dark. I tried to prise his fingers loose. “I’ll fall if you grip me like that,” I said, reasonably.
Taking him by the hand and trying to drag him to his feet was beyond my strength. I got my hands under his arms and somehow got him precariously upright. We proceeded, he leaning heavily on me, to cross that no-man’s land to a concrete path.
I was going at the knees and back; I had to have help. As we reached a lit area, two male students, tittering, passed by.
“Help me, please help me,” I said. We must have looked a comedy turn there on the path in the middle of the night, a middle-aged woman in a bedraggled nightie and bare, mud-caked feet, and what appeared to be a paralytic drunk covered in mud.
“Oh please don’t go,” I said. “I really do need help – this man is ill.”
With that they came back and between them, no trouble for two strong blokes, got Morrieson up to his room, undressed, and into bed.
Morrieson went back to Hawera next morning, leaving a message of thanks for “the kind lady”.
It would be nice if I could recall the things Morrieson said. Maybe it was here that he observed he “hoped he wasn’t going to be one of those poor buggers who become famous after their deaths”; I don’t know.
He did speak bitterly of the rejection of his work in his own country, of the anguish of keeping on writing in a climate of indifference and a state of isolation.
And he has proved to be “one of those poor buggers” after all.

Phyllis Gant, author of the novels Islands (1973) and The Fifth Season (1976), died in April 2010, aged 87.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Fisking North & South: the final episode

Further to six previous posts – most recently this one which links to all the others – fisking North & South’s ridiculous claim that “most New Zealand fiction sells a mere 300 copies” and “most New Zealand novels struggle for recognition and sales” because the book-buying public is not interested in our literary fiction, here is Nielsen BookData’s list of NZ fiction bestsellers for 2011:

1. The Conductor, Sarah Quigley
2. The Larnachs, Owen Marshall
3. Hand Me Down World, Lloyd Jones
4. The Hut Builder, Laurence Fearnley
5. The Parihaka Woman, Witi Ihimaera
6. Mr Pip, Lloyd Jones
7. As the Earth Turns Silver, Alison Wong
8. Hokitika Town, Charlotte Randall
9. The 10pm Question, Kate de Goldi
10. La Rochelle’s Road, Tanya Moir

Back in August I had the sales figures for the fiction bestsellers to July. That list is almost exactly the same, except now Witi Ihimaera’s The Parihaka Question replaces Hamish Clayton’s brilliant Wulf:

1. Hand Me Down World, Lloyd Jones            1955
2. The Conductor, Sarah Quigley                     1617
3. As the Earth Turns Silver, Alison Wong        960
4. Hokitika Town, Charlotte Randall                  839
5. The Larnachs, Owen Marshall                       807
6. Mister Pip, Lloyd Jones                                 807
7. La Rochelle’s Road, Tanya Moir                    804
8. Wulf, Hamish Clayton                                     681
9. The Hut Builder, Laurence Fearnley               675
10. The 10pm Question, Kate de Goldi              669

I noted then that:
Mister Pip was published in 2006, The 10pm Question in 2008, As the Earth Turns Silver in 2009, Hand Me Down World and The Hut Builder in 2010. They have all probably sold a few copies before. Truckloads, in some cases. The Hut Builder will inevitably sell loads more in the next six months because it won the fiction prize in this year’s NZ Post Book Awards. 
Of the 2011 novels, Hokitika Town was published in February, La Rochelle’s Road in April, The Conductor in May, The Larnachs in June and The Parihaka Woman in October. Which means that The Conductor and The Parihaka Woman must have sold astoundingly well in the last seven and three months respectively.

The point of the North & South article seemed to be that we don’t buy New Zealand literary fiction – but on this list of 2011 fiction bestsellers (which doesn’t include the Christmas rush) nine of the 10 are literary. I’d be very happy to see more genre titles up there but still it is nice to see that we do, in fact, buy New Zealand literary fiction. Case closed.

Janet Tyler on Duncan Sarkies

The 39th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the October 1996 issue.

The intro read:
Duncan Sarkies has come a long way from his early triumph on Spot On. Just don’t call him quirky. and don’t ever call him a playwright. “Theatre is a hideous word,” he tells Janet Tyler. 
“If you could call us the generation that hates being given a label, then we are that generation.” Duncan Sarkies’ elfin face cracks open into an ingenuous laugh. “Generation X – the generation that hates being given a label,” he says again. “Yes, we’re a paradoxical generation.”
Although Sarkies claims to barely being able to struggle his way through a book (an indelible mark of the TV generation), you couldn’t accuse him of lacking commitment. Highly cynical yes, apathetic no. At twenty-six, he has written five plays, or rather five he considers worth crediting to his name: Love Puke, Ceramic Camel, Snooze, Blue Vein and Saving Grace. In 1994 he won the Bruce Mason Playwright Award. He performed in this year’s Auckland Comedy Festival and Edinburgh Festival. In conjunction with three other playwrights, brought together by producer Pat Cox, he is writing a feature-film script which has already managed to break through the first round of film funding.
Oh, and when he was 14 he won the Spot On scriptwriting competition. “Yeah, hideous thing. I cringe now. There was one called April 1st – bit of tomfoolery at school on April Fools Day. And they did make it. It haunts me. I lock it away.”
Spot On competitions aside, there are few worries for Sarkies that he’ll be one of those never to rise beyond the mediocre – an issue which used to concern him in the past as he hammered away through Dunedin winters of discontent. He makes an analogy with his learning to play the guitar at school: learning with extraordinary speed, getting all the notes down with prodigious aptitude, and well, for want of a better phrase, everything looking bright and rosy. For a time. A regrettably brief time. To this day he can’t do bar chords.
“And I’d always had that with my writing. I had that potential and I was always worried that I couldn’t push that step further, that I’d just get stuck at that point, that I’d always be a bright starter with nothing coming through. But hopefully that’s not happening. I think I’m getting better and better at what I’m doing.”
From a “vaguely” middle-working-class background, Sarkies finds it absurd that he should be able to make a living simply out of selling his ideas. (Not of course that he is making a living out of doing it, but, yeah, sometime soon, very soon...) “I mean,” he says, “who wants to listen? I desperately want to say these ideas but, I don’t know, I find myself making excuses for doing what I do all the time. I used to say if I really wanted to go out and help the world I should be doing this and this and this, and working here and working there, but then I think, there are a lot of bank tellers out there and it’s not like they’re doing any more than I am. They’re not doing any less than I am either.” He pauses. “Or, that’s debatable, but you know.”
He also finds himself dodging the “What do you do?” question old school friends seem determined to ask. “I never say I’m a playwright, because that’s a hideous word. And I never say I’m into theatre, because theatre – that’s also a hideous word. You can’t help it whenever you say the word ‘theatre’, it reeks of pretension and you can’t get away from it. So I say I do plays and stuff, which sounds like, ‘oh yeah’.”
Sarkies’ plays have similar quirky (used with subversively sarcastic intent) narratives. Love Puke is about the trials and tribulations of eight young people in and out of romance, with “Is love a bodily function?” its premise and a lot of “toilet stuff’ in there to contrast directly against the high ideal of love; Snooze is about a man who falls in love with his alarm clock; Blue Vein (written with Ted Brophy) has a man who becomes addicted to cheese; and Saving Grace is about a man called Gerald, who meets a woman called Grace at Social Welfare, and over the course of time they discover in each other strength and power – and yes, things go haywire.
“The first time someone called me quirky,” says Sarkies, “I thought it was great – but then, now that it’s written all the time. I guess quirky just means off-centre, and I guess I am off-centre, so I suppose I shouldn’t resent the fact of being quirky.” His tone remains unconvinced.
As unconvinced as he is by the “comedy” label often attached to his work: “When you use the term comedy, it sounds like the primary function of comedy pieces is to make people laugh.” But Sarkies doesn’t write with the aim of being funny; he writes about things that interest him. It’s just that those things have an unnerving tendency to come out funny.
As with most artists, Sarkies would like his work to appeal to everyone - but not at the expense of writing something interesting, “to put it bluntly”. He believes he has the capability of creating a well-written play that cajoles people into laughing and crying in all the right places, a play that’s cleverly written and well-structured, and with all the loose ends tied up in the end... “But, I don’t know, I’ve seen it before, I’ve seen it too many times before, and I’d rather risk offending people. I’d rather come in uninvited and leave a mess.” On reflection, he reckons his work is pretty much universally liked, at least by the under-30 age group.
It’s from the under-30s that Sarkies’ influences come – especially local comedians Sugar and Spice, Radar and Jo Randerson. These comedians, like Sarkies, enjoy taking ideas to their extreme. And though Ionesco’s absurdist Rhinoceros holds influential sway, the television serial The Young Ones, which threw anarchy in the pot and subtlety out the window, can claim as much, if not more, credit.
“We all loved it, because it was gross and it was stupid. The Young Ones is probably more influential than a lot of us realise. I think sometimes it’s to do with being sick of calling art Art. Art can be such a highbrow/lowbrow thing.
“Maybe that’s a difference in our generation. We like the thought of declassifying, of meshing together differing styles. All we’re really doing is reflecting the world we live in. It’s an unfortunate thing, but there’s a gross Americanisation, the role of advertising has increased... All these things have changed us, so when we reflect the world we know back onto the stage, suddenly it looks different, because it is different, because we’re different – and that all fits back into the Generation X thing, I’m sure.
“God,” he hesitates with an edge of comic abhorrence, “I’m beginning to sound like a champion of the Generation X.” Yeah, but only if the label fits.

There is more recent information on Duncan Sarkies here, from the 1999 movie Scarfies to two episodes of Flight of the Conchords to the 2008 novel Two Little Boys.

Lab test

Charles Moore writes in the Christmas double issue of the Spectator:
Last week, I mentioned that our American friends the Frums came to stay and we all debated the euro. David and Danielle were also very kind to our labrador Dido, and advanced the interesting theory that the paws of all Labradors smell of popcorn. Being English, I affected not to know what popcorn smells like, but the Frums are, in fact, right. Consultation with canine experts suggests that this property is unique to the breed. No one knows why.
It is several years since I had a labrador on hand so I cannot test this immediately but the next time I see one and I am sure that no one is looking, I shall sniff its paws. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mary McIntyre and chemtrails

Further to my post about Danyl at the Dim-Post getting all satirical about Shelley Bridgeman’s Herald column on the vast international chemtrail conspiracy and his invitation to readers to submit parodies of NZ novels rewritten in Bridgeman’s style, I received the above image the other day. It was a Christmas card from my friend Mary McIntyre who painted this, Celebrating One Tree Hill (69 x 49 cm), earlier this year.  

Spooky or what? I sent a copy of the image to Danyl who replied that the painting would make an excellent prize for his competition. If there is a philanthropist out there who would care to stump up the necessary, the painting is available for purchase from her dealer, Whitespace.  

There are more images by Mary at the gallery’s website, including Skylarking (38 x 48 cm), also from 2011. Either one would do, really:

(Here is Keith Stewart’s 1996 essay on Mary for Quote Unquote, and here is me last year.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What I’m reading

Robert McCrum lists “Fifty things I’ve learned about the literary life”. It’s good. Three sample entries:
20. Literary fiction is like sci-fi. It’s a genre.
23. Two writers, alone in a room, will talk about royalties not art.
47. Any new book longer than 500 pages is a stupefying act of self-importance.
Poegles are a new concept to me, a mash-up of Google search results on a specific term as as a poem:
Whatever you think of Google as a tool, constructing a poegle re-imagines the search engine as a digital Ouija board, offering chance, surprises, and maybe even a little mysticism.
This grass sledge is the perfect present for a child whose parents have too much money. When I was a kid sliding down Mount Maunganui, cardboard worked. This costs £349. Luxury!

The English poet Christopher Logue died recently. He is most famous for his rendering of Homer’s Iliad which he did despite knowing no Greek. Interesting choice for a pacifist. He was a frequent contributor to Private Eye, too. Here is his poem “London Airport”:
 Last night in London Airport
 I saw a wooden bin
 So I wrote a poem
 and popped it in.

More pasta people here.

Happy Hanukkah!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Poetry in Metro

The December 2011 issue of Metro magazine has a poem by Ian Wedde, the new poet laureate, whom the magazine commissioned to mark the centenary of the Auckland Town Hall this month. A nice idea. The poem begins:
In 1965 it was Charlie Mingus in the Auckland Town Hall...
A few lines later, he:
struck a chord that might have tameshiwaried
a pile of glass bricks
and left the stage for a hat change…
Later that night, the narrator is in St Stephens Ave, Parnell, and speaks to the legendary jazz bassist, who lifts his hat before replying. 

This is odd, because as far as I can tell Charles Mingus never played in New Zealand – he certainly didn’t in 1965 because according to Gene Santoro’s excellent biography Myself When I Am Real: the life and music of Charles Mingus he didn’t leave the US at all that year.

On the other hand, the legendary jazz pianist Thelonious Monk – who was known for his hats – did play here in 1965. I know this because I saw him perform at the Tauranga Girls’ College hall, the poor bastard, and I know that after the Auckland concert he was in Parnell because my friend Bernard Brown was at a party in St George’s Bay Rd, the lucky bastard, where Monk played Debussy and also duets with a local concert pianist – David Galbraith, I think. There were, Bernard says, “jazz cigarettes” in the room. Fancy that.

Still, the Auckland Town Hall concert in January 1976 which features in the poem’s second half, did happen. I was there and it was great because it was Frank Zappa and he played a lot of guitar and, as always, he had a really good drummer: this time it was Terry Bozzio. You can hear what the band sounded like on the double-CD FZ:OZ recorded in Sydney on the same tour. It features Norman Gunston on harmonica, as a result of this interview Gunston did with Zappa.

YouTube has more Gunston for younger viewers: I am sure that Sacha Baron-Cohen would acknowledge that Ali G/Borat didn’t come out of nowhere. Where the hell Gunston came from is anybody’s guess. Some sort of Paul Holmes/Paul Henry timewarp thing?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Newt Gingrich, Lazarus v.2012

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Last Tycoon that there are no second acts in American lives. Serial adulterer, former Speaker of the House and current aspirant Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is currently having a good go at disproving this theory. As a reminder of how Mr Gingrich was regarded last time around, here is Ike Willis with “Eye of Newt” from his 1998 album Dirty Pictures. Sample lyric:
When that crazy Republican 
came a’ barrellin’ down the political chute
How could we ever know? When will he ever go?
We're a nation under the Eye of Newt.
Why is he so very, bible-thumpin’ reactionary?
Square of head and square of chin
All he wants is a perfect world,
for American boy and girl
Just as long as they look like him

Fun fact: Willis played guitar and sang with Frank Zappa for many years and was a member of his 1988 band, as heard on the double CD set The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life. Which means that Willis can play guitar in 17/8 and sing a reggae version of “Stairway to Heaven”, though from memory not necessarily at the same time.

Here is Zappa himself on the subject of newts. This clip from his movie 200 Motels, possibly one of the worst movies ever made, starts with the dance sequence “The Lad Searches The Night For His Newts” before we get “The Girl Wants To Fix Him Some Broth” (which contains the line “Some nice soup, with small dogs in it”), “Little Green Scratchy Sweaters and Corduroy Ponce”, “A Nun Suit Painted On Some Old Boxes”, “Dental Hygiene Dilemma” and “Does This Kind Of Life Look Interesting To You”. Warning: contains Keith Moon dressd as a nun. The soprano is Phyllis Bryn-Julson who made a memorable recording of Pierre Boulez’s Pli Selon Pli and performed with him and the Ensemble Contemporain in a wonderful performance of Boulez and Birtwistle at the Wellington Arts Festival in 1988.

I love the soundtrack to this but accept that I am in a vanishingly small minority. However, Theodore Bikel (who was in the movies The African Queen and My Fair Lady and starred in Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway for, like, forever) is undeniably great in it, especially in the closing song where he sings the timeless lyric, “Lord, have mercy on the people in England, for the terrible food these people must eat.” Also on YouTube.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What I’m reading

The GPS of my dreams would be voiced by Fenella Feilding or Jennifer Ehle who played Elizabeth Bennet opposite Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy in the BBC Pride and Prejudice and is the sexy-posh voice at the start of this great Divine Comedy song, “To Die a Virgin”:

Just guessing, for chicks Alan Rickman wouldn’t be a bad alternative.

The New Zealand Herald is not a newspaper that often surprises its readers, but this surprised me:
When my daughter was a baby and a preschooler, I tried hard to get my head around the subject of child car-seats. Slowly but surely I discovered what was legally required, what was recommended and what was simply best practice. I did research, identified the experts, asked the difficult questions, took notes and felt grateful that, as a journalist, these procedures were almost second nature to me. I recall tracking down Plunket’s Dunedin-based national coordinator to quiz her about whether front-facing child car-seats could go in the front seat of a car. (They could but only if the backseat was occupied or there wasn't a backseat – and as long as there were no operational airbags.) And I remember thinking what a minefield it all was and wondering how parents who were non-journalists fared in getting all the information they needed.
Yes, Shelley Bridgeman, or The Chemtrail Kid as we call her around here, is a journalist.

David Thompson alerts us to this report in the Washington Square News:
Occupy Wall Street will be taking over the classroom next semester. The Department of Social and Cultural Analysis has announced that it will be offering a course on the movement this spring.
The course will explore the history and politics of debt and take a deeper look at the economic crisis the movement is protesting. It will be taught by SCA profesor Lisa Duggan.
“Occupy Wall Street has done us all the service of illuminating [the fact] that the economy operates within the framework of political, social and cultural conflicts, and not outside them,” she said. [. . .]
CAS junior Vijay Mirchandani said he thinks the class will educate people who haven't been following the movement thus far.
“The fact that the economy and Wall Street are increasingly a part of everyday life is all the more reason for people to know about it,” he said.
Have to love that “increasingly”.
Peter Bearman, professor of sociology at Columbia University, also expressed enthusiasm about the new course.
“OWS as a topic of study offers prismatic opportunities to consider the changing shape of inequality in our society and the dynamic processes of repertoire change in social movements globally, from the picket line to the sit-in, to the consideration of life course trajectories, among other themes central to the sociological apprehension of the modern context,” he said.
First commenter out of the box asks:
Will Prof Duggan be teaching students about not wasting money they don’t have on worthless courses that leave them in debt with no hope of a job?
Craig Sisterton goes on a nationwide NZ crime spree.

The Daily Telegraph does good obituaries and this is a classic. The intro reads:
Peter Lunn, who has died aged 97, captained the British skiing team at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen; later, as a gentleman spy in the early Cold War years, he pioneered the idea of digging tunnels under Soviet-controlled zones to facilitate telephone tapping.
Lunn was MI6 section chief in Vienna immediately after the war, at the time of The Third Man, and in Berlin in the mid-50s: 
He went on to serve as head of station in Bonn, and during the 1960s in Beirut, where he enjoyed skiing at The Cedars, a resort where, as he recalled, discipline in the lift queues improved dramatically after an attendant shot dead the two worst queue jumpers.
“Discipline” brings us, inevitably, to King Crimson and their 1980s gamelan period:

And for guitar saddos, here is a lonely guy showing how to play Robert Fripp’s part  (that’s him above). It sounds repetitive but those shifting accents… I blame Steve Reich.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Various performative modes foreclosed upon

“Woke up this morning, got the old remediation/ deferral of performance blues again.”

Carrie Miller in the Australian edition (3 December) of the Spectator presents a prime specimen of artwank from an unidentified exhibition of contemporary art, presumably in Sydney where she lives:
Performance functions as the absent-presence/ present-absence within this group exhibition. Three broad strands of performance/artwork relationship emerge in a cacophony of object and image forms and traces, indicating something of the manner in which live action haunts so much of otherwise apparently distinct contemporary practice. In one sense the exhibition might be said to be predicated upon the remediation/ deferral of performance (or action) in image form. In another way, it foregrounds the manifestation/ trace/sublimation of live action presented in the form of inanimate objects. Then again, in select moments of “liveness” it presents the artist at work through performance, manifesting in-situ, through time otherwise apparently contradictory impulses towards disappearance and recuperation of performance as both experience and category. Works throughout the exhibition apparently or implicitly claim a lineage in the history of performance, whether in acts of homage or simply as a strategic model. Simultaneously they demonstrate a reinvestment of the performative within object making. Various performative modes are both staged and foreclosed upon: gesture, action, ritual, exploration or journey, labour, theatre, comedy [. . .]
Speaking of inanimate objects, here are Godley & Creme in 1979 with “I Pity Inanimate Objects” from the album Freeze Frame. I bet Flight of the Conchords are fans:

Paul Litterick, ace detective, has identified the above quote as  the work of curator Blair French who put together the exhibition “Nothing Like Performance” for Artspace in Woolloomooloo. The exhibition runs until 22 December so, if you are in Sydney, you will be able to see Paul Donald:
undertake live work daily, 11am-5pm, from the opening of the exhibition until the completion of his work. He will simply – or perhaps not so simply – attempt to build a bridge across the gallery without formal plans or advance engineering. The structure will extend piece by piece, always with the risk of collapse, of failure, with every new action.
I know the feeling.

Mobile number of the day

At, the “Digital Navigator | Website Constructor | Jedi | Mama | Geek | Pink Thing Collector” otherwise known as Nikolasa Biasiny-Tule gives her mobile number as:
022 419 4304 (which = 222 how cool is that).
And it does = 222. How cool is it that she knew that?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Happy 103rd birthday, Elliott Carter

Amazing but true: the great American composer Elliott Carter is still with us and today turns 103. He is still active: not only is he out and about, but he is still composing. Last Thursday he attended the premiere of five of his recent works, all but one written in the last 10 years. As Anthony Tommasini comments in the New York Times:
Never in the history of music has a major composer still been producing significant pieces at such an age. Verdi was pushing 80 when he finished his final masterpiece, “Falstaff.” Stravinsky completed his last major piece, “Requiem Canticles,” at 84.
Here is Damien Thompson in the Daily Telegraph reviewing the world premiere of Carter’s Conversations for piano, percussion and chamber orchestra this June:
No doubt about it: at the age of 102, Carter – interviewed in the video above – is really getting into his stride.
The video is part of a four-part interview made in 2008 when the composer turned 100. It’s great – he talks about how when he and his wife moved into their apartment e.e. cummings lived around the corner and Marianne Moore was just down the street. Here is part of his Symphony of Three Orchestras from 1976:

It has been a good week for elderly composers: Henri Dutilleux, 96 next month, has won the Kravis Prize, which comes with $US200,000 and a commission to compose a piece for the New York Philharmonic. He isn’t going to write one but instead will share the money with three other composers, whom the orchestra will choose with his advice and who will each write a work in his honour. It’s a shame we won’t get a new Dutilleux but the first composer selected is Peter Eötvös, who is a good thing. In 1993 he wrote a piece for solo percussion titled Psalm 151, in memoriam Frank Zappa. If you don’t believe me, you can listen to a snippet of it here.

Friday, December 9, 2011

In praise of: The Literary Review

In the September issue of the Literary Review (the issue currently available here in New Zealand) Joan Smith considers Robert Levine’s Free Ride: How the internet is destroying the culture business and how the culture business can fight back. The Businesweek review of the book is here, here is the Guardian and here is the New York Times. See what I did there? Illustrated the book’s theme, that people on the internet steal content.

The book sounds like a good, thoughtful discussion of the issues. Near the end of her review Smith writes that Levine is:
right to argue for a “content tax” – effectively collectively licensing – that would allow media companies to collect revenue in a system modelled on one that allows music companies to collect for radio play. 
She would say that, wouldn’t she: she is on the board of ALCS, the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society which is the UK equivalent of New Zealand’s CLL, Copyright Licensing Limited (disclosure: I am on its board) which does the same job of licensing the use of copyright works. Digitisation is a huge issue for all such rights organisations – it was relatively easy to manage photocopying in schools and libraries but e-books open up a whole new Pandora’s box of digital worms.

Smith continues:
But I’d have liked to have seen him address one of the most peculiar effects of the Internet, which has been to suspend the moral obligations that consiumers observe in their offline behaviour. I’m not aware of instances where shoppers who insist on “free content” via the Internet put the same principle into practice in Tesco’s, clearing the shelves and refusing to pay on the way out. Why some people feel it’s OK to expect something for nothing when they consume online, but not in shops, is a fascinating area for research.
Seems clear enough to me: people feel anonymous online, just as looters do in a riot. Which is why people who would never steal from a bookshop will happily download from Pirate Bay.

On the next page John Sweeney (“There are three rules in journalism. First, find a crocodile. Two, poke it in the eye with a stick. Three, stand back and report what happens next”) reviews DarkMarket: Cyberthieves, cybercops and you by Misha Glenny, which is about the hackers who steal credit-card data, and along the way shows that England is just as two-degrees of separation as New Zealand is:
The Nigerian, Adewale Taiwo, got four years but served less than two. He was threatened with confiscation proceedings for his ill-gotten gains of some £350,000. At the hearings the prosecutor mislaid a key file, and the judge, Graham Robinson – he pinched my girlfriend one billion years ago, but that’s another story – got fed up and declared the amount swindled to be just £53,000. Taiwo preferred to spend a further  year in prison rather than hand over the cash, but the prison authorities let him out anyway to deport him back to Nigeria.
The magazine unfailingly reviews unpredictably interesting books and matches them with predictably interesting reviewers. It is, imho, best in class.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bad sex

Is there such a thing? My hunch is that most men would say no and most women would say yes. As does the Literary Review. In 1993 the then editor, my hero Auberon Waugh, established the Bad Sex award to highlight – and discourage – the “crude, tasteless, and often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in contemporary novels”.

The nominees were always novelists until Tony Blair was nominated for his 2010 autobiography, A Journey, for this passage:
On that night of 12 May 1994, I needed that love Cherie gave me, selfishly. I devoured it to give me strength. I was an animal following my instinct .
Ladies and gentlemen, this year’s winner:
David Guterson, the novelist who rewrote the Oedipus myth as if it was set in the 20th century, has been given the dubious honour of being awarded the annual Bad Sex prize. 
Guterson, the American novelist most famous for his best-selling Snow Falling on Cedars, was given the accolade for his fifth book Ed King, a modern reworking of the Greek legend.
Judges were said to be impressed by his over-reliance on terms such as “family jewels”, “back door” and “front parlour” during a sex scene between mother and son.
They said the terms made him the clear winner.
His award was announced at the In & Out Club in London by Carry On star Barbara Windsor.

The chemtrail conspiracy

Shelley Bridgeman wrote this in the New Zealand Herald, an allegedly serious newspaper, and Danyl McLauchlan wrote this at the Dim-Post, an occasionally satirical blog, in response. I think he is our best satirist since AK Grant.

It’s a competition – enter it! I’m not going to because Matt Nippert and Andrew Geddis already have and are much funnier than I could ever be, but do have a look – many of the entries are outstanding.

Danyl writes:
I’ve closed off comments on the Shelley writes the classics thread, because Keri Hulme has agreed to judge the entries and declare a winner. Winning criteria, date and time of the announcement and prize for best entry will all be subject to the merciless whims of Keri Hulme.