Monday, September 30, 2013

Which sweater?

 I know it’s summer – time to break out my Te Vaka, Richard Thompson and King Crimson T-shirts and frighten the neighbourhood – but I can’t resist these (via @ashleigh_young). Which sweater should I choose? The burger?

The fries?
Or Tutankhamen? 

Nah, maybe the Tutankhamen is a bit, I don’t know, over the top.

I have had advice from a bunch of chicks on Facebook:

Helen Heath says “Burger all the way. Only a side kick would wear the fries.” So true.

 Morrin Rout says, “I'm with the burger.”

Elizabeth Knox says “Burger, definitely. ”

From the guys, Buddy Mikaere says, “You wouldn’t want to spill tomato sauce on that one.”

Tim Upperton orders up a sandwich-related poem by Paul Violi that is heavy on the tomato and mayo.

So I’m thinking the burger. Until my wife decides for me.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Against authenticity

There has been a vigorous discussion on Facebook – curb your enthusiasm, it’s nobody famous, just Chad Taylor, Paul Litterick, me and a few others – about authenticity in popular music. It began when Paul posted this comment:
Read it and weep: The most awful band New Zealand has ever produced is set to become the best known band we have ever produced.
linking to this news story about a NZ band called the Naked and Famous.

Comments ensued. Chad responded with this excellent post on his blog. Quote unquote on his days at Rip It Up:
Pop music was not proper music. It was not the Velvet Underground or Leonard Cohen or classic soul or indie. It was pretentious, style-obsessed, fake and so on and it made people very, very angry. Which is ironic, because all pop was ever trying to do was be liked.
Tess Patrick commented about the inauthenticity of some rap artists “faking their gangsta backstories”. Yes, really, they do. And then from Tom Beard: “Nothing wrong with inauthenticity: any music beyond guttural vocalisations and the sounds of nature is the product of artifice. Some hide it; some forget it; and some glory in it.”

Quite right. And let’s not get started on Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. Let us instead turn to Tom Lehrer in 1959 and his variations on the folk song “Clementine”. He begins by saying:
I should like to consider the folk song, and expand briefly on a theory I have held for some time, to the effect that the reason most folk songs are so atrocious is that they were written by the people.
You can hear the shudder when he says “the people”. He proceeds to perform the song as if it had been written by Cole Porter, Mozart (“or one of that crowd”), Mose Allison or Gilbert & Sullivan:

More here. There are many great quotes from him. This one gives the flavour : “If, after hearing my songs, just one human being is inspired to say something nasty to a friend, or perhaps to strike a loved one, it will all have been worth the while.”

A snarky, Jewish, piano-playing songwriter, he was the Randy Newman of his generation. Apart from being a maths lecturer.  

Friday, September 27, 2013

Adventures in the book trade

I was summoned to a 10 a.m. meeting in Auckland yesterday to discuss the page proofs – of a commissioned non-fiction book I am editing – with its Subject and Designer. The plan was we would spend an hour going over last-minute possible modifications and then, once Designer and I had finished work, press the print button on Monday so the book would be done, dusted and delivered before Christmas.

For me to get to Auckland is a two-hour drive, ditto for the return and no, I do not get paid mileage. It also involves major negotiation about after-school care for the children. That’s all part of being a freelancer in the NZ publishing industry. No complaints. But….

When I got to the meeting the Subject picked up the page-proofs and said, “Hey, guys, I haven’t had time to look at this. Been real busy. I’m flying out to New York tomorrow for two weeks so I’ll have a look on the plane or something and get back to you. But,” he said, leafing through the pages, “could you crop this photo differently and lose a bit of the foreground? Can you Photoshop that one to make that bit over there darker?” And so on. “We’re probably not going to get it out before Christmas now, are we?”

Designer and I were very restrained, very polite. We did not shout, we did not swear. We simply went back to her place and had strong coffee and shouted and swore in private. He could have said thanks for coming, he could have said sorry. But he is the Subject so he did not need to for Designer and I are minions and he is important and entitled to waste our time.  

Then I went into the CBD for the lunch with writer and journalist friends I had arranged so as not to make the day the complete waste of time I had presciently suspected it would be.

The good news: Poet has an offer from Carcanet (top UK publisher) for a new collection, and Novelist has a two-book contract from a multinational publisher to complete his trilogy. We had champagne. It’s not all bad news in publishing.

I went to Auckland with bags of limes from my tree for Designer, Novelist and Journalist, and returned with a bag of red onions (Designer comes from a long line of market gardeners).  Swings and roundabouts, roundabouts and swings. Plus a lot of limes.

So here is Harry Nilsson with “Put the Lime in the Coconut” from his 1971 hit album Nilsson Schmilsson.

Baffling to me now, but this was the first song my first band played in the Kiwi Tavern some time in the mid-70s. Maybe because it has just one chord. Peter White, later Lez White of Th’ Dudes, was on bass; Co Tipping (if ever you are in Melbourne, you should go see him play: he is amazing) and I plugged our two guitars into my one-hundred watt Gunn amp. Talk about low-budget. Dave McArtney of Hello Sailor, the band that ruled the venue, watched from the bar with a sardonic expression.

Equally baffling to me now, a totally hot chick chatted me up during the break. She was doing real well until she asked me what my star sign was. Bah.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Breaking news: MPA awards edition

Jeremy Hansen tweets from the Magazine Publishers Awards that Sarah Sandley received a Lifetime Achievement award at tonight's Magazine Publishers bash. Yay. Sarah is probably the only magazine publisher in the world to have a PhD in NZ literature – she still gives papers at international conferences on Katherine Mansfield – and also to play sport at international level.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

San Francisco Bay Blues

This is the first song I learned on guitar, and it still comes in handy. So here is Jesse Fuller, the one-man band who wrote it, in 1968:

And here is Phoebe Snow’s version, which is mournful. This may strike you as more appropriate.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Judge not lest ye be judged

How to lose friends and influence people: the NZ Post Book Awards are calling for self-nominations for the role of judge in next year’s awards. Two sides of the coin: heads, almost everyone who isn’t a winner will hate you forever (I exaggerate only slightly and, in some cases, not at all) but tails, you get a tonne, nearly, of free books, many of which are good, and get to meet famous people, all of whom are smart, and argue politely with them. 

I have done it five times –the Watties in 1993, Montanas in 1994, 1999 and 2000 and then NZ Post in 2010 – and it was always at least interesting, at best very enjoyable. And on awards night my wife would get the chance to wear a posh frock and stay in a nice hotel, which doesn’t happen very often for her given my line of work, freelancing in the NZ book publishing industry. 

So please put your hand up. Right now – the deadline is this Friday. The organisers really do need a deep and wide pool of talent. Here are the details:
Expressions of interest are welcomed from members of the public interested in selection to the judging panels for the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards and the 2014 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.
Five judges will be selected for the New Zealand Post Book Awards, and three judges for the children’s awards. Expressions of interest are welcomed from authors, publishers, academics, reviewers, critics, booksellers, librarians and beyond to judge the country’s premier book awards.
Applications can be completed online at and a brief curriculum vitae should be supplied demonstrating the applicant’s literary experience for the judging role. Applications close at 5pm, Friday 27 September. The judging panel will be selected by the Book Awards Governance Group, comprising stakeholder representatives.
Te Reo advisors are also sought to judge the Maori Language award, and to advise the judging panel on books submitted in Te Reo in both children’s and senior awards. Fluent speakers of Maori are invited to put their names forward for these additional advisor roles.
The awards are an exciting and prestigious event on the literary calendar, celebrating New Zealand’s finest writers, illustrators and their books. Each year finalists and winners are chosen from over a hundred entrants to celebrate and promote excellence in writing and illustration in New Zealand. Books entered into the awards are judged on the quality of writing, research, illustration, audience appeal, design and production values.
Publishers will be invited to submit entries for the awards in October.
For more information on the New Zealand Post Book Awards contact:
Amie Lightbourne
(04) 815 8363
Or visit:
Go for it. I won’t, for I have had my fun. So here is Lightnin’ Hopkins:

Several people have asked me if the judges are paid. Excellent – this shows that there is a lot of interest in the position. The answer is yes. Judges get $2500 each, the convenor $3500. It is not, to be honest, a great hourly rate, but it’s a lot better than 1993 when my remuneration was a pen and a maroon sweatshirt. All travel expenses are paid too. 

Here is the PDF with all the details and here is the application form. Go on, you know you want to.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

An innocent abroad

A friend who shall remain nameless – you might have seen her in blue Lycra as a Ninja on Campbell Live the other night, looking quite hot for a chick her age – is tonight in Las Vegas. Why? To meet the magician David Copperfield, she says, bafflingly.

Any excuse for an Emmylou Harris clip. So here she is in 1977 performing “Ooh, Las Vegas” with the Hot Band,  Albert Lee on lead guitar and Rodney Crowell on harmony vocals. Sample lyrics:
Well, the first time I lose I drink whisky
Second time I lose I drink gin
Third time I lose I drink anything
’cause I think I'm gonna win [. . .]
Every time I hit your crystal city you know
You’re gonna make a wreck outta me.
I worry about my friend.

Friday, September 20, 2013

What I’m reading #100

Arts activist and Waikato Times columnist Joshua Drummond calls on the Hamilton City Council to save the Meteor theatre, “a Hamilton treasure that we’re at serious risk of losing forever” because the council charges exorbitant rent to use it, so it is seldom used. Which makes the council think that it is unwanted. Also it:
remains listed as a potential asset for sale in the 10 Year District Plan. In an exquisite irony, all this happened after HCC released the Arts Agenda, a lofty, aspirational document with the motto “Creativity at every turn: Hamilton, a city that celebrates the Arts”.
Like hell it does.

My former Metro colleague William Chen, magazine designer to the stars, reveals the secrets of Sarawak Laksa paste. Trust him – he is from Sarawak. He also recommends a new Vietnamese restaurant in Surrey Crescent discovered by his Aunty Jenny, who – trust me – knows more about Vietnamese food than pretty much anyone this side of Hanoi.

This is late to the blog but still pertinent: the text of the speech by Sandy Grant, chair of Copyright Agency Australia (their equivalent of Copyright Licensing NZ) and CEO of publisher Hardie Grant, to the Publishers Association of New Zealand, on copyright and the book trade in general. He has a crack at Amazon:
Last week only two of Amazon’s top 20 e-books were priced over $5 – and 16 of the 20 were either $1.99 or free. My company were recently approached by Amazon who offered us a great Christmas promotion – our title would be on their front page and in return we just had to give them a 90% discount off their price – yes that is right – 90% for Amazon, 10% to be shared between the author and publisher.
He also takes on Apple, of course. It’s all great stuff, very robust (“Trip Advisor is a pile of shit recently judged by an English court to be content mainly created by hotel owners and their friends”) in the best Aussie tradition. Quote unquote:
I am not sure the e-book is going to sweep us away. I just had a fortnight in New York and did dozens of subway trips and undertook an e-book survey. Books were still winning – 10 to 1 – and of the e-users they were universally older men. Kids use their phones all the time, but they were still reading print books. There is a strong demand for e-books but isn’t simply generational and we’ll be wiped out when the current kids grow up. They are the Harry Potter generation or Twilight. We’ve just sold one million Billy B Brown books to 8–10 year olds in twelve months. So our challenge is to sustain their interest and to give them things they’ll be proud to collect and have on their shelves.
I doubt it will include some of the average books – produced on shit paper, overhyped that were such a big part of our business for twenty or more years.
Matthew Green on the benefits of coffee. Quote unquote:
Remember — until the mid-seventeenth century, most people in England were either slightly — or very — drunk all of the time. Drink London’s fetid river water at your own peril; most people wisely favoured watered-down ale or beer (“small beer”). The arrival of coffee, then, triggered a dawn of sobriety that laid the foundations for truly spectacular economic growth in the decades that followed as people thought clearly for the first time. The stock exchange, insurance industry, and auctioneering: all burst into life in 17th-century coffeehouses — in Jonathan’s, Lloyd’s, and Garraway’s — spawning the credit, security, and markets that facilitated the dramatic expansion of Britain’s network of global trade in Asia, Africa and America.
David Thompson on a coffee-related outrage, in which a Guardian contributor tries to order “a venti, white chocolate mocha without the whip cream” but the Starbucks counterperson struggles to spell her first name, Icess. As does Microsoft Word’s spellcheck. Quote unquote:
Sometimes the endless quest for name validation, even in my own Word document, was exhausting.
From the Sunday Star-Times vaults, former QUQ contributors Mark Broatch (now deputy editor of the Listener) and Rob O’Neill (now elsewhere) interview Chad Taylor in 2009 about his excellent novel The Church of John Coltrane, which features the same protagonist, Robert Marling, as his 1994 novel Heaven. Quote unquote on being an expat:
Being away helps me to write. I’m a homebody. I like the security of belonging but I’ve never had that, really. Wish I did, but that's just how things have worked out. Travelling forces me to think. Distance gives you licence to push things further. Which is why Robert Marling goes away – he just has to move.
Update, exclusive to QUQ: Chad Taylor is no longer an expat. He lives an hour’s drive from me, on the coast: east or west, I’m not saying. Here he is interviewing Tama Janowitz about the movie of her short-story collection Slaves of New York in, I guess, 1989. Quote unquote:
“I’m reading Joe Orton and some Pinter and Sam Shepherd and Beckett. And I like George Orwell and Nabokov and Saul Bellow. It depends on what style I need. I read Marquez for his style. I read a lot of true crime books. And I like to read News Of The World.”
News Of The World—that’s the classy one, isn’t it?
“It’s a little different over here. It has a lot at stories about Siamese twins and women impregnated by aliens.”
Is that a source of ideas?
“It makes you kind of ashamed, because if those things aren’t true then somebody out there has a fantastic imagination. If they are true then all the better. If they are true, then why bother to write anything at all?”

If it’s not worth doing…

In the July issue of the Literary Review, David Papineau (professor of philosophy of science at King’s College London) reviews Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking by Daniel C Dennett (director of the Centre for Cognitive Studies at Tuft University). He tells how Dennett’s most recent books have “elevated him into the top rank of popular-science writers”:
Inevitably this success has occasioned some carping from his philosophical peers. Some feel that he has sacrificed precision for the common touch. In his defence, Dennett has increasingly voiced his impatience with the clever scholasticism that marks a lot of current academic philosophiy. “If it’s not worth doing, it’s not worth doing well,” he says . . .
Yes. I can think of a few other things not worth doing well – playing the bagpipes, pole dancing, growing broccoli, competitive walking and conceptual art, for starters. My wife suggests synchronised swimming and macramé. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Horses for courses part 2

Given the horse-related reading material afforded by Bill Manhire, as related in the previous post,  I was about to introduce my pony-mad daughters to what I thought was a benign, child-friendly book, The Brain of Katherine Mansfield, his brilliant 1988 version of those children’s books that let you choose which page/chapter to read next. A typical example:
With one superhuman effort you strain at your bonds and burst free. If you have the Swiss Army Knife you should attack at once and rid the world of this madman once and for all. If so, go to 29.
If you think the better plan is to flee through the underground labyrinth go to 38.
And so on – but what was I thinking? Benign, child-friendly my arse.  Fortunately I skimmed it and found what I had forgotten, the spectacularly filthy joke on page 36 – not as filthy as the one in Vincent O’Sullivan’s Believers to the Bright Coast (which is so filthy that I will not provide a reference to it as this is a respectable blog), but a close runner-up. 

Also, there are no horses in it.

Horses for courses

Last night at Nine’s school sports awards, I sat in the front row with her sister Eleven. We had books with us to while away the 20-minute wait – you have to be early at Goodwood to get a decent seat.  These country schools are competitive.

Eleven was reading Chestnut Hill by Lauren Brooke, an author unknown to me but the subject was familiar: horses. Eleven was reading this because she had finished the collected works of Stacy Gregg and needed more horse-related reading material. (The only time I have impressed Eleven was when I introduced her to “my friend Stacy Gregg”.) 

I was reading Bill Manhire’s Selected Poems, the 2012 hardback edition, just because it was close to hand as we left the house and it fitted nicely into the inside pocket of my Swanndri. Spookily, what a lot of horse-related reading material it contains: “Declining the Naked Horse”, “Red Horse”, “Phar Lap”  the second leg at Trentham in “Magasin” and other horsiness in “Out West” and “Isabella Notes”.

There is possibly more horse-related reading material in it but we had to stop reading to watch Nine receive her award for sportsmanship. Eleven and I clapped hard. These country schools are competitive. And this one has horses in the paddock next door.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Shirley Maddock on Barbara Else

The 68th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is a review by Shirley Maddock of Barbara Else’s novel The Warrior Queen. Like yesterday’s post of Mark Amery’s interview with Barbara, it is from the August 1995 issue:

Barbara Else is widely known for her short stories, plays and poetry, but The Warrior Queen, a warm, witty and stylishly written novel, is her first full-length work. Most of the action takes place in the upmarket Auckland settings of Remuera and Parnell, and it is in the latter suburb that Kate Wildburn, a gentle, attractive woman of 41, lives with her husband Richard, an ambitious, rather grumpy surgeon. They have three children, 18-year-old twins Alice and Owen, and Jessica, who is 16. Completing the family circle is a part-Doberman called Satan, who is one of the most engaging characters in the book.
The story opens in Sydney where Kate and Jessica have accompanied Richard to a drug company-sponsored medical conference. He has carefully explained that while it is to be a holiday for mother and daughter, father will be engaged upon his serious Man’s Work, earning the money so that his dependent women can shop till they drop. This Kate and Jessica have managed to do quite well, with Kate, perhaps, going about it more as a duty than from inclination.
On this particular morning she is in bed, trying to distract herself from a painful period by studying a Russian grammar text she has packed as a holiday task. At this point, Kate is carefully presented as a woman doing all the right things expected of a wife and mother in fairly affluent circumstances, which include having an interest such as learning a language to indicate she has a mind not wholly rotted by domesticity. Any rebellious thoughts that she may have are kept strictly to herself.
It is only when they return, Kate thankful to be back in their pretty, well-appointed home, that the image of a model family they present to the world is seriously dislocated. They attend a medical dinner – yet another drug company-sponsored wingding – where Richard hopes he might press the right buttons to gain a research or travel grant of the sort his colleagues seem to achieve with such ease: Kate is brusquely instructed to be especially charming to anyone present who might be helpful. Instead, she finds herself strongly attracted to a drug-company executive and gripped by a physical excitement of a kind unknown to her before. Richard is not so lucky as he discovers that it is a gynaecologist who is getting the grant he was after and, once more, he has missed out.
Worse follows when Kate takes a jacket of Richard’s to the drycleaners and finds in the pocket a receipt from a motel on the other side of the harbour where he has apparently spent $118 on a room. There had been no overnight absences, so was this what he had been up to instead of spending his usual afternoon off playing golf?
Overwhelmed with shock, Kate hurries off to confide in her slightly bohemian sister Amelia who, though married happily enough, is not averse to an occasional bit on the side. But all that Amelia can suggest is that Kate’s real problem is low self-esteem and that she should see a counsellor. More helpful is Kate’s best friend Libby, who has not only survived divorce but is successfully breaking in a new partner and, although she does not recommend divorce for Kate, it is she who inspires the guerrilla campaign in which, much to her surprise, Kate becomes the warrior queen of the title.
A cunning plan to trap the unsuspecting Richard is worked up over numerous lunches and cups of coffee while various strategies and possible Other Woman suspects are considered. As momentum gathers, Kate’s self-esteem rises in leaps and bounds, thanks to the heights to which her new-found confidence carries her.
Barbara Else has a wonderfully sharp and observant eye for detail and rarely does our fiction crackle along with such pace and humour. Kate’s own tentative venture into adultery is beautifully described. There is, however, an underlying seriousness of tone concerning family relationships and responsibilities and, at the end, events are no more smoothly rounded off than is commonly the case in real life.
The publisher’s blurb describes the book as black comedy – I would rather say human comedy. It was with real regret that turned the last page of The Warrior Queen. She deserves a lengthy reign.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mark Amery on Barbara Else

The 67th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is by Mark Amery and is from the August 1995 issue. The portrait (apologies for the dodgy scan) is by Marcus Williams.

The intro read:
Sometimes, marriages that appear stable and contented can suddenly snap and fall apart. Sometimes, a woman wronged takes her revenge. And sometimes, a comic novel appears and takes the country – or at least its bookshops – by storm. MARK AMERY talks to Barbara Else, author of The Warrior Queen.
“Sod The Beauty Myth,” my partner exclaimed, after reading The Warrior Queen cover to cover without being able to put it down. “Here’s the accessible feminism.”
A smart and very funny novel, The Warrior Queen digs the knife into the heart of wealthy suburbia and twists it right around. It’s a book that is likely to be passed from one person to another with a mixture of consternation and delight. That’s because Else, with a rich load of sardonic artillery, touches on some of the unsaid things below the surface of middle-aged, middle-class life. Her heroine Kate Wildburn, your typical bored housewife with a workaholic husband, breaks through the veneer of her comfortable married life.
“On the surface it does look quite good,” says Else, “but there are things under the surface that need paying attention to. Everyone’s very envious of it, going to all those glamorous places and eating those rich meals, but after you’ve been to Sydney it actually becomes quite exhausting. I think a lot of people think the same but don’t admit it.”
There will surely be people crying out “yes” as, with a sharp and accurate black wit, Else dismantles Kate’s life, and then allows Kate, after discovering that her husband is having an affair, to become the Warrior Queen and take her revenge.
“Kate realises there’s more going her life than she thought. She’s quite content and it’s all superficial but then suddenly she’s got to look underneath at what’s on. It’s about marriages where one partner gets put down without really realising it. There’s the strong partner and the one that’s just ticking along.
“These women, and it’s usually women even if they have jobs and are living a more meaningful life than Kate is, still don’t have the important job in the family. It’s about people, without meaning to, putting the people that are supposed to be important to them right at the bottom of the list.
“I think lack of communication leads an eventual lack of respect, the respect you have for them when you first fall in love with them. The tiny little failures of communication can be very significant. It’s very much the thing that happens in relationships where you simply don’t have time to talk.”
In person, Else appears to be nothing like the sharp and biting pen that she holds. Quiet and gentle, in fact: it’s clear that writing lets her mischievous side out to play. “The digs are, I guess, sharp,” she admits. “Sometimes I reeled away from my keyboard and thought, ‘Can I say that?’ Then I thought, ‘Yes I can!’”
Else has found humour in the everyday life of the well-off housewife, bringing life to a subject many other writers run away from. But she is no working-class cynic and readily admits she is from the same flock.
“I think it’s good to be able to laugh at yourself. I don’t think you can really poke fun at something if you’re really not quite fond of it, or you appreciate it in some way. It was really nice that I found something in my life I could write about.
“One of the more conscious things I was trying to do was to write about the middle classes. I thought, why not? They’re actually very funny. Why not write about the sort of person I am, for heaven’s sake?”
There is a feminist edge to the book as well. Else is more political than she had thought: “When I wrote the first draft I just wanted it to be a funny book, but the more I worked on it, going over draft after draft, the angrier I got on Kate’s behalf.
“I got quite upset sometimes, and that’s when I realised the book was really starting to work. That it wasn’t just a funny book, it had depth.
“Women have basically got a lot more power than they think. They tend to do a ‘poor little me’ thing sometimes, but they have got a lot of control of their domestic lives and families. They can exercise that in subversive ways and I was really using that to say, look what you could actually do if you were in that situation. Look at what powers you have.
“It’s something I do feel anger about. At the same time it’s a generalised anger because I think the women are as much at fault in that circumstance as the men – whichever partner’s doing it, the other is colluding in some way. It’s quite interesting to wonder what will make the worm turn.”
In The Warrior Queen it’s a motel receipt found by Kate in her husband’s pocket; for others it may be this book itself. Else is proof that we’re all political animals, even if we don’t intend to be.
“I’ve heard a lot of women say, ‘I’m not a feminist,’ but they’ve just been saying five minutes ago how they thought this and did that. They just don’t realise it or don’t accept the term. The term still has got a negative aura to it.”
The title The Warrior Queen (the publisher’s), and the Megan Jenkinson image of a woman handling a Ken doll on the cover, could be misconstrued as a wrapper for a much more political text. “I was worried that it might be seen from the title as a feminist textbook of some kind so I’m hoping reviews will pick up on the fact that it’s a funny story. Once the image of the warrior queen cropped up, it was so useful for what Kate was going to do that I kept using it. It wasn’t very feminist at all. I thought the whole idea of a warrior queen was quite absurd. It was so intriguing because it was a reversal.”
As a male, I said, I felt some discomfort about the unfavourable light her husband Richard and other males, cast firmly in the background, are given. “I did wonder sometimes if I should have done things differently, but I wanted to do a straight drive or narrative from her point of view. I actually began to feel really sorry for Richard, in that he’s too blind to see. As an individual he’s really quite sad.”
My slight discomfort may stem from the fact that Else uses a dark humour that I’m accustomed to hearing in women’s conversation. It’s a humour that males can find quite threatening. “Comedy is a way a lot of women deal with a life that is quite dreary,” Else says. “They have to be very subversive about it and have to deal with things with a black humour. They may only actually admit to their women friends how black things are, but at the same time keep it quite flippant. There’s a tension in women’s conversations.”
It is the intelligence and wit of Kate that drives The Warrior Queen. Else revels in the freedom to play with both Kate’s actions and what she does with her voice. It’s as if both Barbara Else and Kate say to the reader, “I’m playing and I’m allowed to.”
Else plays around with Kate’s voice partly by having fun with the text – employing different styles, fonts, headings and emblems. Like Kate she is bravely taking risks that are there to be taken. “That play really popped out of Kate’s voice and her self-irony because, even at the beginning, when she is apparently a contented wife, she still has a little self-irony about being ‘the faithful wife’. The play is really her way of dealing with repetitive occasions like dinner parties.
“It’s also giving the reader a little treat now and then. It’s a little visual treat, The technology to do it is so readily available now and it seemed to work with this character. I was quite worried about how they would work, so at one stage I took them all out, but the book suddenly seemed so flat. So I put them all back in and I perked up again.”
Else is very conscious of the mechanics of writing, That’s not surprising since she also works as an editor, assisting other people with their writing. She runs Total Fiction Services, a manuscript assessment service, with her husband Chris Else. “It’s much easier to apply it to other people. That was the intriguing process about writing this book. It taught me a lot about writing, even though I tell other people about that all the time.
“I had an academic background studying classical novels [a degree in English literature and criticism], and when I learned about writing technique it all clicked together for me. You can look at a piece of writing when you’re actually writing on it and find out what you’re trying to do.
“Writing is very much a process with two sides to it. There’s the critical side, where you have to remember your editor’s ability and objectively assess your own work. That’s where a lot of writers get caught up, they get too caught up in the critical and can’t get back to the other side, the creative.
“I have learned with much trial and error to apply these things almost within the creative side. For example, I may know that I will have to do something else later to make this work right now. That’s something all writers learn but I think I have learned to be more aware of it from working on other people’s writing.”
Else has had considerable success already with her writing. With four writing awards to her name, she has won recognition for her children’s writing, stage plays and radio drama; her short stories have been published in a variety of magazines and broadcast on radio. “l stopped writing short stories because I found them too difficult. I find it very difficult to know when I’m finished with a short story because I’m not sure what effect it will have on the reader. With a longer narrative I have a much better feel for how it’s operating.”
The Warrior Queen is a case in point. It began life as a short story for Metro, which Else then developed further. “I think the character was so interesting to me. She was so lively, even though she doesn’t do much in those first few pages except go shopping! The tone of the short story was what really appealed to me and it was much more satirical. The voice of the character was there and that made it quite easy to continue.”

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A guest post from Paul Brislen

More on copyrights, copylefts and copywrongs. Paul Brislen has been CEO of TUANZ from early 2011:
 Since then he’s battled mobile termination rates, the threat of a 10-year regulatory holiday under UFB, international mobile roaming rates and copyright legislation whilst keeping a watching brief on the UFB and RBI rollout, spectrum auctions, content debates and the ultimate aim – a faster, smarter, more connected New Zealand. A journalist by trade, past roles include head of corporate communications at Vodafone NZ as well as the editorial spot at ComputerworldNZ.
So he has an informed view of copyright and digital stuff.  Plus (spoiler alert!) he is a very good bloke. Here is his response to last week’s speech by Paula Browning, CEO of CLNZ:
Much as I agree with Paula Browning’s comments regarding the necessity for good copyright laws (I spent many years making my living via copyright and would continue to do so but 40c/word is a killer rate), the arguments of the Fair Deal coalition aren’t so much about copyright as about the business model that currently is used to support it.
TUANZ is a member of the coalition and supports its work, not because we want to see an end to New Zealand literature but because we want to see an end to the ridiculous Hollywood system that breaks the planet up into regions and charges different rates for the same publications in different places and which stops customers (the audience) from getting to the content (film, TV, music and yes, in some instances, literature) and paying for it.
To demonstrate the Hollywood model, let’s forget about literature or television or music or the movies for a moment. Let’s change the product but apply the same process.
Imagine the All Blacks were playing Australia tonight and the game was being shown live all over the planet. The Brits could watch, the Americans (as if), the South Africans, the Aussies . . . but in New Zealand the broadcaster announced, “We’ll be screening that game at a later date. Coming up, some gardening show!”
There would be violence on the streets and a swift change to the law. Why? Because the idea of restricting access to content is nonsense.
Television content is often scheduled around a channel model that is no longer relevant to the audience. Gone are the days where we all sat down at six o’clock to watch the evening news on the state broadcaster.
Instead, I watch news as it happens via Twitter or various “breaking news” alerts that pop up and I, as a consumer of news content, love it. Other people are quite happy to watch the packaged news, but prefer a different time, a different provider or a different news feed altogether.
The idea that we need someone else to decide what we can watch and when is fast becoming hilarious in its naivety, yet the TV producers seem hell-bent on insisting on it.
The music industry underwent the same head-in-the-sand movement a few years ago when Napster emerged. Now that Napster is dead, the industry has realised it can’t continue in the old world order and so we have iTunes, Spotify and countless other outlets for music. You don’t even need to pay any more – you can subscribe (sounds like radio to me) or listen to ads as well in order to cover the costs.
Television is slowly waking up to this but all too often it still can’t figure out that customers don’t want to buy 58 channels of rubbish in order to secure access to the one show (typically Game of Thrones) that they do want to watch.
Customers want to watch the shows they pick. They want to watch them on TV but also on iPads and Galaxy Tabs. They want to watch them at midnight or lunchtime. They want to watch them one by one or back to back.
It’s this change of control that customers are after, not the destruction of creative content. Far from it.
Kevin Spacey said it much better than I can – give control of the timing and location of your content to your customers. You can read all about it here he’s entirely right.
I buy books. I buy a lot of books. I buy almost all my books via my Kindle these days for two main reasons: price and speed.
I recently bought a book by an author I’ve been following on Twitter for some time. We chatted, he and I, about his upcoming book and when Amazon said I could buy it I cheerfully plunked down my cash.
Not so fast, said Amazon. You can’t have that book until July – six months away.
I was gobsmacked, and so was the author – it’s an eBook, so why do I have to wait? Why does he have to wait for my payment?
We both had to wait because someone in marketing had decided that even though the promotional work to get readers to buy the book was taking place in January, readers in New Zealand couldn’t buy the book until July – for no reason at all.
It’s that attitude we want to change. We have money and we’re happy to spend it, but we won’t buy stuff we don’t want and we won’t wait.
The internet is, in effect, a giant copying machine. The words I write in this box on don’t get “sent” to you, they are “copied” to you. Actually, they’re copied to my ISP which writes a copy on’s servers which displays them to your ISP which takes a copy when you click on the link and finally a copy ends up on your computer where you’re reading it now.
That’s not going to change any time soon. Wishing the genie back into the bottle isn’t going to work. To keep publishing alive you have to embrace this movement and realise that it has the potential to be your biggest success instead of a tremendous threat.
We’re not fighting against copyright, we’re fighting against ridiculous business practices that stop authors and artists from connecting with the audience. We’re fighting to remove artificial barriers that are designed to push costs onto producers of content while denying the audience access to that content.
I’d recommend taking a leaf from the big computer-game company which had trouble with massive amounts of piracy in Russia. Every game the company produced was a huge best-seller everywhere in the world except Russia, where it was pirated out of existence. They couldn’t sell a copy, so great was the piracy.
Instead of spending millions on an ad campaign, instead of lobbying the government for harsher penalties and tougher sentencing of “criminals”, instead of all the usual responses to a copyright problem, they had a look at their publishing schedules. Someone, somewhere deep in the bowels of the company had long ago decided that the US market must get the product first, and then Europe, then Canada and South America, then the Oceania countries, then Southeast Asia, then the Indian subcontinent and then (finally) Russia, many months later.
Probably they had a good reason for doing this when you had to ship container loads of DVDs around the planet, but today everyone downloads games.
So they moved the publishing schedule up – Russians could buy the game on the same day as the Americans.
The result was that they did. Russians bought the game. Russia is now one of the biggest game markets in the world, and piracy is a thing of the past, not because everyone was scared or because the internet was broken to make sure they couldn’t pirate, but because the business model changed to suit the medium.
My fear with all this talk of copyright is that we are raising a generation of children who don’t value it. They don’t see that someone has worked very hard to produce the thing they love and that if they don’t get paid for it, they’ll go back to flipping burgers or some other demeaning job they don’t want (possibly in marketing).
That would be awful because, as I said, we value copyright. We’re living in a golden age of television with great content available on a daily basis. I read more comics than I have in years, buy more music than I have since I was a teenager because it’s easy to buy and yes, I read more books than ever before.
We shouldn’t throw all that away because the business model needs fixing. Copyright is too important for that.
The portrait of Paul above was supplied by him and is from the Listener, probably taken by David White. I have no idea who owns the copyright. It’s digital, so it’s free. Yes? No? Is me using it OK? If so, why? If not, why not? Discuss. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A guest post from Paula Browning

Copyright matters. Let’s not get started on Kim Dotcrim or the “information wants to be free” mantra of people who don’t create but are just, in every sense, users. For New Zealand authors and publishers, our current battle is with the universities to get them to stump up for the licences that let them copy pages, chapters or even entire books for their students and thereby pay the creators. It is amazing that academics – who are also authors, if they are any good – should be so hostile to authors’ rights. And as an author, I must say that I do like to be paid for the use of my work. Call me old-fashioned.

Following yesterday’s guest post of Steve Braunias’s brilliant speech at the 2013 Copyright Licensing NZ awards  last week, here is the other brilliant speech from that night. Very unusual to have two out of two good speeches at one event but it happened, thanks to Paula Browning, CEO of Copyright Licensing NZ. 

We don’t expect much from the sponsor’s speech, do we. These are invariably, inevitably, inexorably dismal. But Paula was electric. I’m not sure that you get that sense of electricity from the text without her delivery on the night but here, slightly trimmed, is the text:
I’m always very conscious of my choice of words when I’m either speaking to or writing for a literary audience. Without any form of literary pedigree it’s more than a little intimidating to be the focus of attention in a room full of our top writers and publishers. It’s been especially challenging this year to find the words to describe the past 12 months at CLNZ. This time last year we were looking forward to finalising the next term of our licences with the New Zealand tertiary sector – but this was not to be. We now find ourselves at the Copyright Tribunal arguing for fair payment for the use of your publications in our universities.
This is a stand we must take because copyright – your right to earn a living from your writing – is under attack. Governments throughout the world are being swayed by the well-funded lobbying of the likes of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple into changing copyright law in ways that benefit these corporate giants’ business models. We’ve already seen this happen in Canada and the UK, and legislative reviews are underway in the United States and Australia.
We refer to those who refuse to see the value in intellectual property rights as the copy-left. You might think that this type of effective and highly mobilised group are only active overseas – but alas, no. In New Zealand we have our very own copy-left group made up of a dozen or more organisations, including some that will be very familiar to you. I’m sure you’ve all heard of TradeMe. How about Lianza, the library association, or Internet New Zealand, the organisation that operates the domain name? These three are among the membership of a group that has named itself “Fair Deal”. They say they want a fair deal for New Zealand from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement, otherwise known as the TPP.
On that point copyright owners can agree with them. We also want New Zealand to have effective trade agreements that are fit for the type of trade that takes place in the 21st century – trade that includes intellectual property and copyright. We can also agree with Fair Deal that it would be better for all countries involved in these trade agreements if the negotiation process was more transparent. The limited details we do have of the intellectual property chapter of the agreement date from two years ago when a copy of the paper was leaked. This type of smoke-and-mirrors negotiation isn’t good for anyone.
However, the approach of the copy-left in wanting to throw the baby out with the bathwater isn’t going to solve anything either. If we are going to have copyright law in New Zealand that ensures that the creativity we are so well regarded for generates an economic return for both those who create and for our country, then we need informed debate.
This is where you come in. I know that, as writers and publishers, you like to sit quietly in a sunny room and tap away on your keyboard to create beautiful books that we all want to own and to read – but in the current political climate I’m afraid that’s not enough. If you want your writing and publishing to continue to be an income-generating activity in future, the time to speak up is now.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment recently published a list of six business sectors for which it is commissioning reports into their economic value. The first report has been released – it was on ICT, or Information and Communications Technology. The other five are tourism, petroleum and minerals, construction, high-tech manufacturing and something called “knowledge-intensive industries”, which is mainly the scientific and technical services sector.
No sign of the creative sector in that list, is there. So if the government doesn’t know what our creative economy is worth, how does it know what it’s potentially trading away in agreements like the TPP?
In the absence of this type of data, the creative industries are busy preparing their own. Film and Television released a report earlier this year that puts its value at close to $3 billion and employment in the industry at over 20,000 people. The music industry has a similar report – figures from this are due out soon.
And what does the New Zealand book sector look like? Well, hopefully we will have a general idea by the end of this year when the report we have commissioned from PricewaterhouseCoopers is completed. We’ve given the team at PWC a huge challenge, as the data that’s needed for these economic value reports just isn’t available from the New Zealand book sector. Something else we need to actively work on in the short term.
None of us needs to be reminded of the dire news that has hit the publishing sector this year with the withdrawal of multinational publishers from the New Zealand market and yesterday’s shock announcement of the closure of Learning Media. At an Asia Pacific copyright meeting in Bangkok a couple of weeks ago I joked that soon New Zealand children would be reading about kangaroos instead of kiwis. But it’s really not funny. We’re used to a rich creative culture. We’re used to having access to our own stories in our own books and our own TV programmes through our own music and our own movies. It’s something we’re inherently proud of as we were able to unequivocally demonstrate at the Frankfurt Book Fair last year.
All of this is at risk if we do not have effective copyright law. Without it, the business model that is the foundation of the creative economy will be worthless.
So what can you do? Do what you do well – write. Whether it’s a blog, twitter, opinion pieces, articles – anything that stimulates informed debate that shows the value of copyright and local publishing to our economy. The time is right to do this now. The government has announced that it has deferred the review of our Copyright Act pending the conclusion of the TPP. This gives us time for a robust discussion.
Talk to your friends and family about what copyright means – especially the younger ones. The ones who think it’s OK to post a question on Facebook asking their mates for a copy of their digital movie collection or the ones who share copies of digital textbooks on USB sticks. They want to be able to copy and share, and technology lets them do it easily, but they’re completely removed from the impact that very copying has on our creative economy. They need you to tell them.
This year our selection panel commented that the finalists for tonight’s awards are those applications where the passion for their subject is evident. New Zealand needs you to get passionate about copyright and your rights as owners of intellectual property.
I know it’s not sexy and it’s not an easy dinner-party conversation but it is critical to the future of New Zealand writers and New Zealand writing. If we all sit back and think someone else will fight the fight for us, we risk losing the rights we currently have.

Stormy weather

Via Mick Hartley, Bear’s Claw (2010) by Mitch Dobrowner from his book Storms, out this month (click on the image for a closer look):
“I will never forget the sight of this monster hailstorm as it breached the hills right in front of us,” says Dobrowner. “It came at us at about 40 miles an hour, raining golf-ball-size hail.” After taking six shots, he and storm chaser Roger Hill dashed for their van when “it became obvious this was no ordinary storm.” National Weather Service meteorologist James LaDue confirms that it was a supercell.
In this interview with the LA Times Dobrowner says:
I see the storms as living, breathing things. They are born when the conditions are right, they gain strength as they grow, they fight against their environment to stay alive, they change form and mature as they age …  and eventually they get old and die. Sounds familiar. Storms take on so many different aspects, personalities and faces; I’m in awe watching them. They are an amazing sight to witness…and I’m just happy to be there—shot or no shot; it’s watching Mother Nature at her finest. I just try and do justice to these events with my pictures.
So here is Lena Horne in the 1943 movie Cabin in the Sky with “Stormy Weather”: 

Monday, September 9, 2013

A guest post from Steve Braunias

At the Copyright Licensing NZ awards event on Thursday night, Steve Braunias, fresh from his triumph at the NZ Post Book Awards where he won the non-fiction prize for Civilisation, was the main speaker. He talked about the importance of his earlier CLNZ grant which enabled him to write the book. He also talked about journalism, fiction versus non-fiction, and how important grants and awards from the likes of CLNZ and Creative NZ are to writers. He made some jokes, too.

It was a good speech, so here it is:
One of the drawbacks of journalism is that it trains its practitioners to be something a professional jackass. I’m a long-time practitioner: 33 years in a fascinating, stressful and highly comical trade. I’ve seen how it trains you to respond, rather than think. How it trains you to talk, rather than read. But I’ve loved every moment of it, apart from the moments when I’ve been sued and sacked.
I’m proud to be a reporter.  I’m all good to be a professional jackass. The book that I wrote as one of the grateful winners of the 2010 CLNZ award is the work of a journalist. I went to 20 small towns and reported on who I met and where I drank and what the weather was like and what the psychic charge may have been like. I made notes on landscapes and pathologies, interviewed soldiers and drunks and little old blind ladies and a man who tattooed a face on the back of his shaven head. I wasn’t sure which face was doing the talking. I wasn’t sure about a lot of things. I wasn’t in it for the definitive analysis of each place; I was passing through, swept up, guessing, unsure, humbled by so many decent and inventive people living in strange compressed places, full of light and beauty, but also very often claustrophobic and seething.
I began it as a series of photo essays with Jane Ussher for North & South magazine. The first place I chose was Waiouru. I wanted to be at the dead magnetic centre of the island, on New Zealand’s most profound stretch of road, the Desert Road. I got there and it was thrilling and weird and lonely, and that photo essay series immediately became the work that fascinated me the most. What themes might develop, what kind of portrait might emerge?
But I needed to write about and explore these places at a length that was beyond North & South’s already generous allowance. As such, I came knocking on the door of CLNZ. The door, amazingly, opened. With their backing and their loot, I was able to chuck in other work, and by coincidence there was one spectacular case of work chucking me in, when I was removed from the Sunday Star-Times by an editor who was himself inevitably and subsequently removed. Editors come and go.
And so I set about mapping out more and more places to write about exclusively for my book. It was made possible by CLNZ and I want to thank them for their patronage. We live in a small country and it seems to me that our cultural life depends on the benevolence of your CLNZs, your Michael King Centres, your CNZ allowances and stipends. It’s deeply unpleasant, then, to note this government’s blithe dismantling of state-owned creative enterprises such as TVNZ7 and, this week, Learning Media.
One sometimes thinks of these times in New Zealand as an age of stupidity, with its masticating Prime Minister, its endearing Stan Walker, its not at all endearing 7 Sharp. One can only trust that this, too, shall pass.
Anyway. About my book and that. I spent the first half of 2011 travelling and the second half writing. Throughout the note-taking and interviewing, and later the composing and decomposing, I owed everything I was doing to journalism. I love journalism’s endless and highly improbable narratives, like nonsense heard in a dream. There was one the other week, a classic News in Brief, in which Auckland’s harbourmaster warned passing vessels of a dead cow floating beneath the harbour bridge. Did it fall? Was it pushed? We may never know.
The principles of journalism are the same as any form of non-fiction: an accumulation of discovered facts presented in a readable and intelligent manner. Emily Perkins did me a wonderful favour when she provided a compliment that my publisher Awa Press put on the front cover of Civilisation. She wrote, “It’s like a series of great New Zealand novels bound up in one extraordinary book.”
Thank you, Emily. You’re way too kind. And yet . . . Who else notes the implication that fiction is the higher form, the superior art that my book has done very well to resemble? Will someone say on the cover of Emily’s next book, “It’s like a series of great books of New Zealand non-fiction bound up in one extraordinary novel”?
Because of course that would be high and superb praise. Imagine a novel with the lyricism and exhilarating ideas as expressed by New Zealand’s greatest living non-fiction author, Martin Edmond. Imagine a novel with the vision and daring of Bill Pearson’s essay “Fretful Sleepers”, that first document of the New Zealand identity, its “Heartbreak Hotel”.
There has been so much fantastic non-fiction written in this country. In fact I’d moot that our most accomplished literature is our history and biography. You can read old, dated studies by Keith Sinclair and JC Beaglehole today for the sheer pleasure of their prose. The biggest loss New Zealand arts and letters has suffered in the past 10 years was the death of that scholar and gentleman Michael King. Janet Frame’s To the Is-land is perhaps her best book, which is also of course to suggest that it may be the best book ever written in these is-lands.
Then, too, there’s the work of those put-upon knaves, Key’s knuckleheads, the national’s journalists. They tell the story of New Zealand in instalments. Is there any writer in the country funnier than Diana Wichtel? Well, apart from Shelley Bridgeman?
We have here in this room a fellow who in circa possibly 1985 wrote a story in the Listener which I read with awe and an open, gaping mouth and my hand over my nose. It was a story about Auckland’s sewers, by Geoff Chapple. It was a kind of travel story. He took his readers on a tour of a sewer’s canal. To Geoff, it was a holy place, mysterious and final, sacred and profane. To readers, it was a piece of brilliant and transcendent writing.
I don’t know who the author was of another Listener story published in circa maybe 1983. It wasn’t a name I’d seen before and it wasn’t a name I ever saw again. It was an incredible story. It wasn’t topical and it wasn’t indicative of any kind of wider issue. It was a story about a man who lived with his mother in an old house in the country. I think it was somewhere in the Manawatu but equally it may have been Southland.
I’ve stored it as a precious, blurred memory these past 30 or so years, of a story I read that was poised and delicate, and simple and gothic and moving, and which also had a powerful affect on other people. I remember the way they talked about it, their disbelief at just how beautiful and sad it was, the way they felt they were in the presence of art.
In 2009, I dedicated my book of newspaper profiles, Roosters I Have Known, to former Listener editor Tony Reid, in small appreciation of his genius as an interviewer and prose stylist. The secret dedication of my book Civilisation is to that unknown author of a gothic masterpiece published in an issue of a magazine three decades old. The quiet and unremarkable lives, the sense of tragedy and what it revealed about this place, the underlying bonds of love – it helped lead my way to Winton and Hicks Bay, to Wainuiomata and Collingwood.
The kind of journalism I practise falls into the relatively new category known as long-form or creative non-fiction. Never mind the nomenclature. We’re all here in this room because we all practise or read writing which is about life. Life written as natural history, as biography, as Pacific saga, as satire, or whatever discipline. We say to the five finalists of the 2013 CLNZ award, bring out your accumulation of discovered facts told in a readable and intelligent manner. We say to them, give us life.
Winners on the night were Margaret Pointer and Geoff Chapple, who each receive $35,000 from Copyright Licensing’s cultural fund for their writing projects. Pointer’s Niue: a history 1774-1974 will tell the story of 200 years of contact, interaction and change for the people of Niue. Chapple’s Terrain will trace the Te Araroa trail from Cape Reinga to Bluff with travel stories from around New Zealand – and a lot about geology. Full details here.