Friday, October 31, 2014

The 2015 New Zealand Book Awards: the sequel

Paula Morris writes in the latest issue of Booknotes about the pros and cons of what has happened to New Zealand’s book awards, detailed here previously. In short, there won’t be any awards in 2015 and in 2016 they will be part of the Auckland Writers Festival: this means that instead of one year’s books being judged, it will be 18 months’ worth. Paula canvassed opinion from an impressive range of people in the book trade: authors, publishers, booksellers and assorted media types. And me.

Comments include “ridiculous”, “lamentable”, “Readers don’t seem to care about New Zealand books” and more.

Those of us who have been involved with the awards over the years are more positive. Publishers’ Association president Sam Elworthy says the new structure offers “an opportunity to establish a more relevant, more high-impact awards”.

Author Vanda Symon says:
When I was a judge the year before last, they changed the timing of the award, so we were judging 18 months’ worth. It didn’t create a ripple […] I love the idea of the awards being incorporated into a festival, part of a week-long celebration for the readers as well as the writers, rather than one special and rather extravagant night for the writers.

Paula’s article is really good, of interest to everyone in the NZ book world. Best bit for me was this, quote unquote:
[…] there’s much off-the-record muttering among the literary community, particularly outside Auckland.

I think we all know that what means. So here is Sam Cooke in 1958 with Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s “Accentuate the Positive”:

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Of book reviews and catfish

Some of us write book reviews; some of us receive them. Some of us think that it is better to have been reviewed and lost than never to have been reviewed at all. 

Paul Litterick recently unearthed this 2011 Financial Times article by Francis Wheen, “The Hunting of the Snark”, about malicious book reviews, which are obviously the best sort. For readers, at least. The article is full of great lines, for example Cyril Connolly on the reviewer’s “thankless task of drowning other people’s kittens”. Quote unquote: 
Sam Leith recalls filing a vicious review of a David Lodge novel for the Spectator one morning and then being introduced to Lodge at a party that evening. “He was very pleasant,” Leith sighs. “I crawled away feeling I’d stabbed this nice old gent in the back.” Literary etiquette demands that you don’t review books by friends, but as Leith points out “you’re not meant to review enemies either”. The only solution is never to meet any authors at all.

I think this is sound advice not just for reviewers but for everyone.

More recently, in last Saturday’s Guardian to be precise, Kathleen Hale wrote about being catfished. Someone reviewed her first novel online, pretending to be another person, Blythe Harris. So Hale unwisely – we all know that authors should never engage with negative reviewers – engaged with her negative reviewer, tracked her down and physically confronted her. She also catfished her back. It’s a long, mad and funny story. Quote unquote: 
Anxious and inexperienced, I began checking, a social reviewing site owned by Amazon. My publisher HarperTeen had sent advance copies of my book to bloggers and I wanted to see what they thought. Other authors warned me not to do this, but I didn’t listen. Soon, my daily visits tallied somewhere between “slightly-more-than-is-attractive-to-admit-here” and “infinity”.

For the most part, I found Goodreaders were awarding my novel one star or five stars, with nothing in between. “Well, it’s a weird book,” I reminded myself. “It’s about a girl with PTSD teaming up with a veteran to fight crime.” Mostly I was relieved they weren’t all one-star reviews.

One day, while deleting and rewriting the same tweet over and over (my editors had urged me to build a “web presence”), a tiny avatar popped up on my screen. She was young, tanned and attractive, with dark hair and a bright smile. Her Twitter profile said she was a book blogger who tweeted nonstop between 6pm and midnight, usually about the TV show Gossip Girl. According to her blogger profile, she was a 10th-grade teacher, wife and mother of two. Her name was Blythe Harris. She had tweeted me saying she had some ideas for my next book.

So here is Joe Cocker with Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy’s “Catfish” from his 1976 album Stingray. The backing band is Stuff: Cornell Dupree and Eric Gale on guitar (Gale does the solo), Richard Tee on keyboards, Gordon Edwards on bass and Steve Gadd on drums:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Nicholas Reid on Peter Williams

That’s Peter Williams QC, not nice Peter Williams TV.

Nicholas Reid of Reid’s Reader has read Peter Williams QC’s horribly titled memoir The Dwarf who Moved so you don’t have to. Quote unquote:
When it comes to memoirs by celebrity lawyers, however, there’s the clear temptation to give us a parade of “my most successful cases” and to score belated points against courtroom opponents. And this is exactly the territory that Peter Williams inhabits. [...] 
We are also told, after another flawed and unjust successful prosecution: 
“That night, the police and the prosecution held a great party to celebrate at the Station Hotel in Auckland, which is fairly near the Supreme Court. The Station Hotel was well known as a second police headquarters. In fact, one bar upstairs was specifically reserved for police officers. There were many anecdotes about this. In those days, it was generally believed to be the centre of an abortion racket and a place for the sale and distribution of stolen property. Just how closely the police were involved in this is not clear, but rumours were rife.” (p.127) 
At which point I, presiding at the Court of Literary Judgment, halt proceedings and declare: “Mr Williams, would you please approach the bench. I am aware that rumours are part of a valid social description, but you are entering them into evidence at this point in order to prejudice the jury of your readers against the police, when in this particular case you have no stronger evidence with which to do so. I have noticed that this is a favourite technique of yours. Now would you please refrain from such innuendo and stick with statements you can verify?”

To which I would add, “fairly near” the Supreme Court? Yes, it is about 100 metres, turn left and cross Symonds Street. But why not say so? Lazy writing: “fairly near" tells the reader nothing. And I don’t believe that one bar was reserved for cops. What publican would do that? The front bar wasn’t and the lovely back bar certainly wasn’t.

My favourite memory of the Station Hotel, apart from seeing Gary Langsford playing guitar in DD Smash there (he was unimaginably fantastic), is Judith Tizard as the barmaid. She was a really good barmaid.

Friday, October 17, 2014

In praise of: Gladys Knight

Am home alone – wife away, children at Equidays for the evening show-jumping spectacular  – so while I make larb for dinner I can listen to whatever the hell I please, and loud. Which happens to be BB King’s How Blue Can You Get: classic live performances 1964 to 1994. The duet with Gladys Knight came on and I wondered – YouTube? Check. YouBet!

So here are Gladys Knight and BB King together on Percy Mayfield’s classic song “Please Send Me Someone to Love” in April 1987 for HBO’s B.B. King and Friends: A Night of Red Hot Blues. That’s Paul Butterfield on harmonica and the magnificently monikered Calep Emphrey Jr on drums. But really it’s all about Gladys:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pay the man: part 2

 I have been asked by a few people to update last week’s Pay the man story, so here goes. To recap: an expat client who lives in England hired me to edit his YA novel, was rapturous throughout the process – even asked me to send him a photo of me so he could visualise me at work – until I sent my invoice, lower than quoted. I have since received five long ranting emails about why he won’t pay me. All were tl;dnr but one can skim and get the gist. I haven’t replied to any of them, have just sent occasional polite reminders that he owes me.

In the Fourth Email of Abuse he offered $250 in settlement of my $1000 invoice (which had already been reduced in the hopes of payment rather than argument). In the Fifth Email of Abuse he demanded a refund of the $500 he paid in advance for what was a month’s work. It begins:
You’re busted, you devious little popinjay!

He lost me at “You’re”.

The Fifth Email of Abuse ends:
I’d say you should be ashamed of yourself, but I suspect you are without shame. You are certainly one of the vainest individuals I’ve ever worked with. Typical small-town stuff. The minnow who sees a shark in the mirror. But murder will out...

So I posted this on Facebook:
UPDATE: Latest abusive email, #5 in a series, from this (so far unnamed) client who refuses to pay for my editing of his novel. He has already called me a rubbish editor, a liar, a megalomaniac and a drunk. Now he calls me a “popinjay”. I’m rather flattered by “popinjay”. Don’t know what it means but it sounds well-dressed at least.

Francis Wheen quickly chimed in with this:
Popinjay doesn’t get many outings these days. The last time I heard it used was in 2005, when George Galloway MP went to Washington and denounced Christopher Hitchens as “a drink-soaked former Trotskyist popinjay”. Hitch wore it as a medal of honour for the rest of his life.

I never thought I would be able to boast of having anything in common with Christopher Hitchens but by golly I will boast about this. Popinjays of the world, unite!

Francis followed up with:
Incidentally, Stephen, haven’t you missed the deadline at which you were due to name and shame? Until you do identify the culprit I shall regard all male NZ-born authors over here with fierce mistrust, wondering which of them is the type to hurl the word “popinjay” at a blameless editor.

Francis is a journalist so notices deadlines. But I will keep the naming and shaming within the industry. I fear the author has mental-health issues so it would be unkind to name him on the internet. But I worry about all the other male NZ-born authors in England who will be regarded with “a fierce mistrust”. Though I think this is a sensible attitude to take with all authors.

But back to abuse. After popinjay, what insult will come in the Sixth Email of Abuse? Knave, varlet, scullion, rampallian, knotty-pated fool, coxcomb? I am rather hoping for coxcomb. I’ll keep you posted.

So here is Harlan Ellison on paying the man:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The 2015 New Zealand Book Awards

For once, a press release worth running: it is from Booksellers NZ with excellent news about the future of the NZ book awards:
New Charitable Trust to Govern New Zealand Book Awards
A new charitable trust has been formed to govern the prestigious New Zealand Book Awards and the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.
Major changes to the timing and to refresh the format of the awards are also underway.
Announcing the formation of the New Zealand Book Awards Trust, chairperson Nicola Legat said the new legal structure would, amongst other things, allow more flexibility to apply for grants and patronage. New Zealand Post Group, which sponsored the Book Awards for Children and Young Adults for 18 years and the New Zealand Book Awards for five years, has withdrawn from its high profile sponsorship and the search for new sponsors is well underway. We thank them for their great support over the years.
The New Zealand Book Awards Trust is comprised of members from the Publishers Association of New Zealand (PANZ), the New Zealand Society of Authors (NZSA) and Booksellers New Zealand (BSNZ). Each is represented on the board by one member, with scope for the appointment of non-trade board members.
The trustees are Sam Elworthy, President of PANZ, representing PANZ; Kyle Mewburn, President of the NZSA, representing the NZSA; and Stella Chrysostomou, Manager of Page and Blackmore Booksellers, representing BSNZ.
Independent members are Karen Ferns, former joint Managing Director of Random House Australia and New Zealand; businesswoman Sue Wood; and well-known publisher and journalist, Nicola Legat.
The timing of both Awards will change. The 2015 Book Awards for Children and Young Adults will be held in August. This will make way for the New Zealand Book Awards to be held in Auckland as part of the Auckland Writers Festival in May 2016.
The trust board sees the partnership with the Auckland Writers Festival as a great opportunity for New Zealand writers – putting them where there is a huge audience of committed readers.
For its part, “The Auckland Writers Festival is thrilled that the Book Awards Trust wishes to bring these prestigious awards into the festival programme,” said the Festival’s director Anne O’Brien. “It is a marquee event in New Zealand’s literary calendar, and partnering with the Trust fits perfectly with our aspiration of supporting and showcasing New Zealand writers and their work. Being able to have the winners as part of the programme over the Festival weekend means that these fine writers are being placed where readers are, and can take advantage of the Festival’s considerable – and growing – audience.”
Submissions for the 2015 Book Awards for Children and Young Adults will open on 3 November for books published between January 2014 and 31 March 2015.
One of the first tasks of the new trust board will be to appoint judges for the 2015 Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Expressions of interest in being on the judging panel can be sent to You will find the digital form to apply on our website,
Due to the timing change for the New Zealand Book Awards to May 2016, the period for submissions for these awards will be extended to include books published from June 2014 and until 31 December 2015.
Chairperson Nicola Legat says, “To try to hold the awards next May, with only six months’ of books that would be eligible, was thought to be unfair to publishers and authors.
“We have made these changes as the result of a period of deep discussion and consultation, and that consultation will continue on for a while yet. “As well as changing the dates, other adjustments will be made to both sets of awards to make them relevant and fresh while retaining their inherent mana. Those further changes will be announced in the coming weeks.
“It’s an exciting and positive time for these awards and what is absolutely clear is how critically important they are as a way of rewarding excellence in New Zealand writing, and of encouraging New Zealanders to read New Zealand books.”

Friday, October 10, 2014

Book publishing and social media

PopBitch reports:
Writing on the wall: How the media self destructs 
With Kevin Pietersen and Roy Keane both having books out this last week, it’s been odd to see how the celeb-autobiography market has changed.
Old Media Model: Book gets published, perhaps with a short newspaper serialisation. People buy the paper, people buy the book. Publisher, author, newspaper win.
This Year’s Model: Sports hacks get advance review copies, put the best bits out on social media. Newspaper serialisation is basis for a week’s worth of free web content for seemingly every news media outlet in the world. Who wins? Erm. . .

So here is Elvis Costello in 1978 with “Lip Service” from that year’s album This Year’s Model:

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pay the man

I have a client in England – NZ expat, always thought he was a good guy – whose response to my invoice for editing his novel was, “I’ll think about it.”

I’d like to see him say that in response to a builder’s invoice.

Normally I get clients to pay the whole fee in advance but because I thought this guy was a good guy, I didn’t. Got $500 in advance, did a month’s work and it seems I will be stiffed for the rest.

So here is David Lindley, from his 1981 album El Rayo-X. This track (no visuals, sorry) features drummer Ian Wallace, who was briefly in King Crimson, and the ever-amazing Willam “Smitty” Smith on keyboards:

I have had five abusive emails from this client, all tl;dnr because batshit-crazy but from skim-reads they accuse me of being a terrible editor, lazy, a liar, a drunk and a megalomaniac. In one he offered $250 in settlement of my $1000 invoice (which had been reduced in the hopes of payment rather than argument) and now he wants a refund of the $500 he paid in advance for what was a month’s work. The latest email begins:
You’re busted, you devious little popinjay!

He lost me at “You’re”.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Yorkshire dialect

My Halifax-born mother, 89 with all faculties and iPad intact, found this on the internet, JP Hartley’s Yorkshire dialect greatest hits. She said I wouldn’t understand a word but it all seems clear enough to me. For example:
As aw hurried throo th’ taan to mi wark, 
(Aw wur lat, for all th’ whistles had gooan,) 
Aw happen’d to hear a remark,  
At ud fotch tears throo th’ heart ov a stooan—
It wur raanin, an’ snawin, and cowd, 
An’ th’ flagstoans wur covered wi’ muck, 
An’ th’ east wind booath whistled an’ howl’d, 
It saanded like nowt but ill luck; 
When two little lads, donn’d i’ rags, 
Baght stockins or shoes o’ ther feet, 
Coom trapesin away ower th’ flags, 
Booath on ‘em sodden’d wi th’ weet.— 
Th’ owdest mud happen be ten, 
Th’ young en be hauf on’t,—noa moor;
As aw luk’d on, aw sed to misen,
God help fowk this weather ‘at’s poor!
Next time I have lunch with Peter Bland I will ask him to read this aloud.

Fun fact (I have made up but is possibly true): New Zealand has more name writers born in Yorkshire than from anywhere else in the UK: Peter Bland, Chris Else, Russell Haley, Craig Harrison, Philip Temple, Paul Thomas. Let’s not restart the War of the Roses but can Lancashire say as much? Looking at you, Dorset, Cornwall, East Anglia.

So here is “On Ilkley Moor baht ’at” sung at Ilkley, West Yorkshire, on Yorkshire Day, 1 August 2010:

Friday, October 3, 2014

Bruce Forsyth fun fact of the day

The latest issue of Popbitch informs us that: 
Bruce Forsyth (born Feb 1928) is five months older than sliced bread (July 1928).

This must mean that sliced bread is the best thing since Bruce Forsyth.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Auckland public transport: the movie

Infographics? Chris McDowall has made a few but not too few to mention. Check out his websiteHexagonal maps of New Zealand’s political geography? Check. The imperfect storm? Check.  Uncertain cartographies? Check.  Maps of NZ-related Wikipedia articles? Check. I’ve always liked maps but these are something else.

Especially this animated map of Auckland’s public transport network, showing the activity of trains, buses and ferries:

McDowall says: 
The animation begins at 3am on a typical Monday morning. A pair of blue squiggles depict the Airport buses shuttling late night travellers between the Downtown Ferry Terminal and Auckland International. From 5am, a skeleton service of local buses begins making trips from the outer suburbs to the inner city and the first ferry departs for Waiheke Island. Over the next few hours the volume and frequency of vehicles steadily increases until we reach peak morning rush hour. By 8am the citys major transportation corridors are clearly delineated by a stream of buses filled with commuters. After 9am the volume of vehicles drops a little and stays steady until the schools get out and the evening commute begins. The animation ends at midnight with just a few night buses moving passengers away from the central city. 
Some things to note: 
* The steady pulse of the Devonport Ferry.
* The speed at which buses hurtle down the Northern Motorways new bus lanes. 
* The interplay between buses and ferries on Waiheke Island.
* The sheer mind-boggling complexity of the system.

So here is Jeff Beck with “A Day in the Life”, Jason Rebello on keyboards, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums and Tal Wilkenfeld on bass, from the DVD Live at Ronnie Scott’s:

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Ursula Bethell and Blind Lemon Jefferson

Bill Manhire melancholically tweeted this morning: 
I wish someone would do something about Ursula Bethell's grave. #ursula

and posted this photo. You can see what he means:

So here is Blind Lemon Jefferson in 1928 with “See That My Grave is Kept Clean”:

And here is Geoff Muldaur in 1998 with “Got to Find Blind Lemon" which is about wanting to keep Blind Lemon’s grave clean. The full, funny, true story is in the liner notes to his album The Secret Handshake. All together now: “With my broom in my hand, headed out from Jackson Square. I had to get to East Texas, find that graveyard somewhere.”