Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What I’m reading #129

I would have liked to attend this book launch of Jeremy Noel-Tod’s brilliant The Whitsun Wedding Video, Quote unquote:
One of the great things about these essays is how Noel-Tod refuses to allow poetry to stay in its little poetry ghetto. It lives, if it lives at all, out in the real world where we live and breathe; this has always been the reason why JNT has held it to account for itself. He’s not opinionated so much as something far rarer: smartly observant. […] The essay on Eliot – on whom Noel-Tod is an authority – is sublime; alone it’s worth the price of the book. And the title makes me sick with envy.
The singular they excites grammar pedants possibly more than anything else, though it has an honourable lineage over the centuries. I use it because it’s useful. Stroppy editor Tom Freeman also thinks it’s OK. Quote unquote:
Here are some early examples (mostly from the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage):
Wycliffe’s Bible, 1382: “Eche on in þer craft ys wijs.” (Each one is wise in their craft.)
Rolls of Parliament, 1463–65: “Inheritementes, of which any of the seid persones… was seised by theym self, or joyntly with other.”
William Roye (translation of Martin Luther), 1529: “So that yf the one shulde withdrawe them selves from the other deniyng them their bodyes to vse accordinge to naturall vsage permitted vnto mariage it is vndoubted that they shulde so defraude them and do them wronge.”
Thomas More, 1533: “Neyther Tyndale there nor thys preacher here hath by theyr maner of expounynge… wonne them self mych wurshyp”
John Whitgift, 1574: “None is admitted to anye degree here in Cambridge, but the same is first presented… by some one of that facultie, who giueth his fidelitie for them.”
Singular “they” has always been an option for writers. But during the 17th and 18th centuries, grammarians decided to get angry about this, and launched a coup on behalf of generic “he”.
#3 Treat writing as a job.
Be disciplined. Lots of writers get a bit OCD-ish about this. Graham Greene famously wrote 500 words a day. Jean Plaidy managed 5,000 before lunch, then spent the afternoon answering fan mail. My minimum is 1,000 words a day – which is sometimes easy to achieve, and is sometimes, frankly, like shitting a brick, but I will make myself stay at my desk until I’ve got there, because I know that by doing that I am inching the book forward. Those 1,000 words might well be rubbish – they often are. But then, it is always easier to return to rubbish words at a later date and make them better.
Terence Blacker’s Seven Rules of Rejection. I have been both sender and receiver of these messages. He is absolutely right. Quote unquote:
The third rule: distrust any request to rewrite your manuscript.
Some particularly wimpish editors will resort to the worst kind of rejection – one that offers false hope. They say that they would love certainly reconsider their decision if the manuscript were completely revised and rewritten.
It is a lie, and one which invariably costs authors months of work leading to more heartache.  Any work which has been turned down once will be turned down again, however radically changed. Editors are too busy to have second thoughts. They rarely, if ever, change their mind.
If anyone remembers Camille Paglia, here she is on Susan Sontag. Quote unquote:
Camille Paglia, the soi-disant wild woman of nineties academe, has carefully studied Sontag’s image, and wrote an essay on the subject, “Sontag, Bloody, Sontag.” This was no mere intellectual exercise. She intended to use Sontag as a career model—to discern pop culture’s reasons for celebrating Sontag and then exploit her findings to launch herself to similar stardom. “I’m the Sontag of the 1990s—there’s no doubt about it,” Paglia claimed in one of her typical bouts of modesty.
If you are an old person and wonder why today’s records all sound the same, here’s why, with examples. Quote unquote:
So the business shifted from the console—the huge knob-covered desk in front of a pair of wardrobe-sized monitor speakers—to the computer screen. You weren’t looking at the band or listening to the music, you were staring at 128 channels of wiggling coloured lines.
One wonders, has kale had its heyday? Maybe so. Quote unquote:
“Kale is kind of over,” she went on, “but the name’s still powerful, so you can do kale sprouts. These aren’t baby kales, but a hybrid between kale and brussels sprouts. […] They’re inspiring to fritter or to fry because they’re a little crinkly. Or brush them with oil and roast them kind of low.” She paused. “Cauliflower is having a moment.”
So here is American composer Harry Partch in 1969 making rose-petal jam:

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Copyright Licensing NZ grants

Drumroll, and then the press release:
2015 CLNZ Contestable Fund Investments Announced
Now in its second year and with funds available increased to $60,000 the 2015 Copyright Licensing NZ Contestable Fund will this year make investments into seven projects that demonstrate writing and publishing or education sector growth and development.
The projects receiving funding contributions are:
Anna Mackenzie, $5500, writing
Huia Publishing, $4000, education
Janice Marriott, $3800, writing
Kelly Ana Morey, $20,000, writing
Keri Hulme, $1250, writing
Publishers Association, $15,000, sector development
Bridget Williams Books, $10,000, publishing
The selection panel* noted the strong mix of projects that applications were received for which made allocating the available funds challenging. Four of the successful applicants will undertake writing projects. Huia Publishing will develop teacher support resources that assist teachers to use Te Reo titles in the classroom. Bridget Williams Books will invest in writer development for the new BWB Texts on the back of their 2015 success with writers such as Hannah August and Andrew Dean and the Publishers Association will undertake a campaign in the education sector, “New Zealand Content Counts”.
CLNZ CEO Paula Browning said, “The Contestable Fund criteria were established with broad scope and the diversity of applications this year endorses this approach.”
Applications for the next round of the CLNZ Contestable Fund will be called for in mid-2016.
*The selection panel was Karen Ferns, former publisher; Jill Rawnsley, former festival and artistic director of the Auckland Writers’ Festival, former senior adviser for literature at Creative New Zealand; Paula Browning of CLNZ; and me. Four hours, no shouting. Quite a bit of gossip, a lot of laughter – and a lot of hard work before and during the meeting because there were so many strong applications.

It’s a good result, I think. I’m especially pleased for Anna Mackenzie and Kelly Ana Morey, two writers I admire, who have terrific projects that take them into new territory.

Our meeting was on 3 December. A week later the floor above caught fire. Coincidence, I’m sure.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Fire in Takapuna

Stuff reports:
There was extensive damage to the building and windows exploded out on the north-west corner of the fifth floor.
This was about 9pm last Thursday at the BDO tower, 19 Como Street, Takapuna. The Thursday before, I was in a four-hour meeting on the fourth floor to decide the recipients of the 2016 Copyright Licensing New Zealand cultural fund grants. CLNZ’s distribution manager was working late the night the windows exploded – her office is directly below – but fortunately escaped safely. She is the person who looks after rightsholders and authorises all the money going out the door: authors and publishers really, really like her.

So here is the Crazy World of Arthur Brown in 1968 on Top of the Pops with “Fire”:

Saturday, December 12, 2015

In praise of: Fleur Adcock

On Wednesday I had lunch in Auckland with poet Kevin Ireland and novelist Graeme Lay, a fairly regular event, and also with poet Fleur Adcock, a first. Poet Peter Bland, usually a regular, was absent, as was poet Bernard Brown. In their place we had Cathy Odgers, like me a former student of Bernard’s at Auckland University’s law school, and Karyn Hay, fresh from her triumph with the Prime TV doco New Zealand Women in Rock. (Jane Clifton’s review is here; you can watch the doco here. It is fantastic – the subjects are terrific; as Jane Clifton says, the music doesn’t date; and Karyn is a superb interviewer.)

“Did you see it?” Graeme Lay asked me.

“I was in it,” I replied, as witheringly as I could. Honestly. I was on-screen for at least two seconds in one of the Jenny Morris segments.

The photo above was taken the night after our lunch, at a poetry reading in the Devonport Library, and shows Peter Bland (left), Kevin Ireland and Fleur Adcock. It must have been a great evening. Peter is reading from Hunting Elephants; Kevin is about to read from his latest collection, Looking out to Sea. I review that and Peter’s latest, Expecting Miracles, here.

At the Wednesday lunch Kevin’s wife Janet Wilson asked if I would put on the blog the following call for submissions of abstracts for papers for a symposium on Fleur’s poetry. Astonishingly, it seems that little has been published about her work, in the academic world, despite her success and all-round awesomeness. She is lyrical, conversational, thoughtful, funny, rude, intellectual – a great writer. She is also a brilliant reader of her work, as you can hear here.

Saturday 21 May 2016, at University of Winchester
Co-hosted by the University of Northampton

Fleur Adcock, one of Britain’s best loved poets, celebrated her 80th birthday last year while her most recent book The Land Ballot was published by Bloodaxe in 2015. Her compendious Poems 1960-2000 was published in 2000. In 1996 she was given an OBE; in 2006 was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry and in 2008 was named Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature..

A New Zealander by birth but resident in the UK since 1963, Fleur was initially a member of the Group and then – when women poets were very much in the minority – she ploughed her own furrow; from her London base she has travelled extensively in Great Britain and Europe, holding residencies in Ambleside, Newcastle and Durham in the 1970s, and visiting Romania for the British Council in the 1980s. A persistent thread in her work is the ties of affection and family loyalties. In exploring and sustaining many of these connections she has visited New Zealand regularly over the decades; recently there are poems devoted (again) to her ancestors and her family history. She has also translated Romanian and Latin poetry.

Adcock became known as a voice for women writers in the 1980s when she edited the Faber Book of Twentieth Century Women’s Poetry, and wrote satirically about the Thatcher regime. Interwoven with these topics throughout her oeuvre are poems on her abiding passions: for animals and creatures, landscape and the environment, childhood and ageing, the state of the world.

This symposium aims to celebrate Adcock’s unique world of poetry. The organisers invite submissions of abstracts for papers of 20 minutes that may be on (but are not necessarily restricted to) the following topics:

 Fleur Adcock and British post-war poetry
 Fleur Adcock, ‘feminism’ and women's poetry?
 Fleur Adcock, expatriatism and exile
 Fleur Adcock: beginnings and their historical contexts
 Fleur Adcock, family history, loyalties, and genealogy
 Fleur Adcock: classical poetry and translation
 Fleur Adcock and the craft of poetry
 Fleur Adcock as a model for teaching Creative Writing
 Fleur Adcock: creatures, animals and poetry
 Fleur Adcock: places, landscape, travel
 Fleur Adcock and her New Zealand/British contemporaries
 Fleur Adcock, political issues and a public voice
 Fleur Adcock, nature and the environment
 Fleur Adcock, childhood, growing, ageing
 Fleur Adcock and her literary legacy

Please send abstracts of no more than 200 words to Professor Janet Wilson (janet.wilson@northampton.ac.uk), by 1 March 2016; for further information write to Julian Stannard (Julian.Stannard@winchester.ac.uk).

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A poet’s mother, with guns

A virtual chocolate fish to the first person who can identify which poet this is the mother of. 

That could have been expressed more elegantly, I know, but it is late and I have miles to go before I sleep. (Not a clue.)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Restaurant reviews

Here is Tanya Gold in Saturday’s Spectator, reviewing a London restaurant called Sexy Fish. She likes the service, likes the food, but… She begins:
Sexy Fish is a ludicrous restaurant with a ludicrous name in a ludicrous town. It is the latest venture from Richard Caring, major Tory donor and Asian fusion’s very own Bond villain.
In the middle she writes:
In the basement private room there is a fish tank, where the ‘sexy’ fish — brightly coloured, minute and somehow heartbreaking — swim like tiny fishy slaves. I have never seen a restaurant whose ethos is so clearly and comprehensively, so preeningly and unapologetically: ‘Fuck you, I’m rich and I want a golden cave and servants. I want a pony and all the hookers I can strangle. I want a pyramid of cocaine and an Audi -Quattro.’ It is like being punched in the face by Abu Dhabi.
Here is John Gardner in the NZ Herald’s Saturday magazine Canvas, reviewing an Auckland restaurant called Euro. He begins:
Euro has long been one of Auckland’s more prestigious eating venues and we were curious to see how its latest manifestation would fit into the niche.
He concludes:
The food had been good, the surroundings pleasing and spacious and the service efficient. Under its new direction, Euro remains a thoroughly professional and well integrated operation and it seems inevitably destined to enjoy a continuing level of success.
Plonker. I wonder if the people who run the NZ Herald have heard of Tanya Gold (best story ever about her is the one about she tells about attempting to jump Brian Sewell), Jay Rayner, Terry Durack, Giles Coren – or anyone else who can write knowledgably and entertainingly about food. This bar was raised a long time ago.

So here are Talking Heads live in 1978 with “The Big Country” from that year’s album More Songs about Buildings and Food :

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Waikato Times letter of the week #60

From the edition of Tuesday 3 November, so slightly out of sequence. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Egg minders
Rumour has it that our Prime Minister had two flags in his possession for the World Cup final. One was some form of the ponga frond. And the other was an Australian flag with silver fern fronds embracing the large fifth star. Either way he was not set to be a winner. Either another extension of free trade. Or we become a new state of the commonwealth. The new symbol on rugby jerseys may be some form of Walliwi or Kiwallaru. We just have to take care not to break the embryo containing egg. But we are assured by Mr Key that he and Mr Turnbull are careful egg minders.
Barry Ashby

Friday, November 27, 2015

Crime wave in Cambridge #5

As mentioned here previously, people often ask me, “How do you find living in Cambridge, population 18,400, after living for so long in Auckland, population 1.5 million?”

Here is the full police report from this week’s issue of the Cambridge Edition:
Wednesday November 18
There was a car vs power pole on Kaipaki Rd, there were no injuries but the driver will go to court for careless driving.
A Cambridge man has admitted to tagging places in Cambridge with the word “gherk”. Investigations are continuing.
A man from Tokoroa was caught shoplifting at The Warehouse.
A large B-train (truck and trailer unit) drove over the Hydro Rd Karapiro bridge, damaging the barrier and two wheels on the vehicle. The driver will receive a number of offence notices.
There was unlawful interference of a boat on Keats Tce.
Overnight there was a burglary at a farm workshop, police are waiting for a list of items.
Friday November 20
A Cambridge woman was arrested for shoplifting.
Two 17-year-old boys from Te Awamutu advised police that they were involved in a fraud. They will be interviewed this week.
Overnight there was a burglary on Shaw St. Police are awaiting a list of missing items.
Saturday November 21
There was a family violence incident on Vogel St.
There was a burglary on Bruntwood Rd. Crates were stolen from an asparagus farm.
Someone drove into a wrought iron fence on Taylor St, damaging the brick work.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Metro and murder

I bought a copy of the November issue of Metro, out of kindness I suppose. Also to see what Anthony Byrt had to say about art, and what Courtney Sina Meredith had to say about “Urbanesia”.

As a former magazine person, I looked at the masthead, which only magazine persons do, and discovered that Metro has a new editor, Susannah Walker. Nobody told me. She must have answered this ad seeking a “creative, solution orientated brand champion” and fitted the bill. Good for her.

Her bio says:
Walker survived a childhood in Inglewood, the Taranaki town once known as NZ’s Murder Capital
Ahem. Credit where it’s due: Inglewood was dubbed New Zealand’s murder capital by me, when I wrote the intro to Graeme Lay’s article “Murder in Moaville” in Quote Unquote the magazine in May 1995. In that article he referred to Inglewood as “the psychopath centre of New Zealand”, but I suppose Ms Walker preferred the soft option of “murder capital”.

So here is Emmylou Harris with her Hot Band singing Townes van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty”:

Monday, November 16, 2015

Waikato Times letter of the week #59

From the edition of Monday 16 November. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly (you have no idea how carefully, how many times, I check this) as printed in the Waikato Times.
These strange times
It seem that everything is in a state of flux and change. In the home and in the world from politics, local institutions to the oceans of the world and outer space. Surely there must be somewhere in this world that is not in conflict. So everywhere we have some disagreements.
History doesn’t look as violent now when you look and compare today’s problems. The ocean disputes in Asia, e.g. South China Sea, Russia and China, Russia - border disputes.
I’m beginning to think that humans are not such a peaceful race but find so many ways and means of creating struggle and skirmishes. Then you have the family partnerships and politics that keeps the world spinning.
Ken Weldon
So here are the Simple Image with their July 1968 #1 hit (in New Zealand) “Spinning, Spinning, Spinning”. They were our Tremeloes.

Friday, November 13, 2015

My night with Rob Muldoon

My night as Rob Muldoon, I mean. Tomorrow night is a family 50th birthday party. It is a fancy-dress party. I hate fancy-dress. We have all been assigned characters: Hamish, an athletic type, is to come as Bart Simpson; Jane, who is very attractive, is to come as Hilda Ogden from Coronation Street; Kate, who is slender, is to come as Dolly Parton (or as she puts it, “Dolly fucking Parton!”).

My wife is to come as Helen Clark, which is OK as Helen is an old friend of mine so I have been able to offer costume tips. However, I have to come as former prime minister Rob Muldoon. Which is a problem.

How does one signify Muldoon? I could get drunk, I suppose: 

But somehow I feel that more of an effort is called for. I could go around chatting up all the women, which would be in character but perhaps get me into trouble – Cambridge husbands tend to be large. I could say over and over, “I love you, Mr Lange,” but this might be misconstrued as well. It is a problem.

On the bright side, at the end of the evening I get to go home with Helen Clark.

(Photo credit: The Dominion Post Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library. Also see Mary McIntyre’s painting Mickey Mouse and Robert Muldoon, based on this photo, here.) 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Wintec Press Club: Heather du Plessis-Allan edition

The Wintec Press Club lunch is held three times a year by the Wintec School of Media Arts and is hosted by Steve Braunias. The star-studded guest list always features big names in politics, media, entertainment, sport, business, law and the arts. This time they included Sasha McNeil, Matt Nippert, Hugh Sundae, David Farrier, veterans of the Waikato Times and what seemed like the entire staff of the Spin-Off website (where Braunias runs the books pages), former Speakers of the House Sir Kerry Burke and Dame Margaret Wilson, current MPs David Bennett and Tim McIndoe and the odd novelist, alongside past and present students of the Wintec media course.

The speaker is always a person of interest: this time it was Heather du Plessis-Allan, co-host of TV3’s current-affairs show Story. (Her co-host is Duncan Garner who spoke at the Wintec Press Club in May last year.)

Steve Braunias spoke at some length about the “crisis in news”, here and overseas, with reference to newsroom staff cuts and the desperation of news websites for stories that exhibit clickability. He talked about the previous speakers at these lunches, singling out November 2014’s speaker Pam Corkery as “a generally unconvincing argument for sobriety”. He handed out the 2015 Wintec Press Club awards.

There were some minor awards for Writer of the Year, Sentence of the Year and other trivia, but what everyone in the room really wanted to know was: who would win the coveted Best Friend of the Year award for “the person outside of Wintec who has provided the most outstanding support for journalism students”?

Reader, it was me. For, the citation said, my “entertaining and almost certainly libellous chronicles” of these lunches right here on this blog.

Braunias began his introduction of du Plessis-Allan by explaining, “We’re in a hurry today because as you all know Heather has a jail sentence to catch.” He insisted that the Chatham House rule applied to her talk: if she happened to call TVNZ a bunch of c***s, no one was to mention it on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or a blog. So if she did, I’m not saying. (She didn’t.)

He extolled her track record and reporting skills along the lines of the advance publicity where he wrote: “Heather’s work on the Saudi sheep scandal this year was one of the best scoops of 2015. Heather is a dogged and determined reporter – and her decision to leave TVNZ for TV3’s news roster has restored some credibility to the network after its idiotic decision to lose John Campbell.”

She began by saying, “That was really generous of you, because I know how mean you can be,” which got a laugh. But as Wittgenstein would of said, of the rest I cannot speak so thereof I must remain silent.

One thing, though: she advised the students and by implication other journalists to set up Facebook pages. She said she got “so many stories that way. People don’t email any more, just find you on Facebook.” Pro tip.

'Three more things: she was briefly rude about the Wellington thinker and Twitter disputant Giovanni Tiso, which amused the three of us in the room who had heard of him. In response to a Braunias witticism, she said, “Ha ha. Fuck you, Steve.” And later to Barry Soper, her husband, after an amusing exchange, “I’ll make it up to you later. I’ll buy you something.”

She was great: funny, full of good stories and, more important, good advice. What was really striking about her talk, and her replies to the questions afterwards, was the passion for serious journalism that came through. It must have been inspiring for the students and recent graduates present. It’s pretty dismal out there, what with all the job cuts at the big media organisations, stories from Fairfax’s print editions appearing (and staying) on the Stuff website only if they have a high click-through rating, and other depressing industry developments. It must be hard for keen young journalists to stay motivated.

On the other hand, nobody looks at Rachel Glucina’s ridiculous clickability-driven “entertainment + celebrity news” website Scout, so there is hope. Faint hope, but these days we’ll take what we can get.

So, in light of HDP-A’s possibly precarious position legally gun-wise, here is Warren Zevon live in Boston in 2000 with “Lawyers, Guns and Money”:

Thursday, October 29, 2015

In praise of: Roger Hall

Last Thursday night, 22 October, I was in the Grand Hall at Parliament for the Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement 2015 to see Roger Hall (photo above is by Ross Giblin/Fairfax) receive the award for fiction. It was a very convivial night: I managed to talk to Dame Fiona Kidman; Owen Marshall; Chris and Barbara Else; Elizabeth Knox and Fergus Barrowman; my co-novelist Linda Burgess (Safe Sex, 1997); my favourite CNZ operatives, who must remain nameless; Jane Parkin, the editor’s editor (she has edited two of my books and as Wordsworth would say, “Oh, the difference to me!”); award selectors Paul Diamond and Morrin Rout; NZSA president Kyle Mewburn — and Ashleigh Young. Ashleigh Young! If you have you not read her debut poetry collection Magnificent Moon, do so immediately.

Before the speeches I sat down beside a kindly looking old gent. He said he thought he had been invited because he had written in support of Roger’s nomination. I said, “Me too.” We got chatting. He had no idea who I was – why would he? – but I certainly knew who he was: Bill Sheat. What a cultural hero that man is. He didn’t invent theatre and film in New Zealand, but we wouldn’t have what we do without him. He said he knew Roger from directing student skits at Victoria University written by Roger and Steve Whitehouse. I said, “I know Steve, he’s a friend.” So we got talking about what these two were like when young. The things one learns! Talking with Bill Sheat alone made the trip worthwhile.

But the main event for me was Roger getting the fiction award. It was a great result all round – the other winners were Bernadette Hall (no relation) for poetry and Dame Joan Metge for non-fiction; spookily, all three are published by Victoria University Press – but Roger’s award was special because it was the first time a playwright has won. They have always been eligible, but until now it has always been novelists and short-story writers. Roger winning opens the door to Renee, Greg McGee, a bunch of others.

What follows is an edited version of Roger’s acceptance speech.
These days I sum up my career as follows: 70 years a theatregoer; 50 years a writer; 40 years a playwright.
I’m honoured to be the first playwright to receive this award, and while it feels slightly strange getting it for Fiction I’m certainly not complaining. Someone said in fact I should have got it for non-fiction, as Glide Time was a documentary.
To all of you here, you have no idea how much this award means to me.
I’d like to thank Dianne and my wonderful family (many of whom are here tonight), but if I were to thank everyone in theatre whom I should, then we’d be here all night. So let me instead pay a tribute to New Zealand theatre as a whole.
In the late 1970s and 1980s there was a huge excitement about new New Zealand plays that were popping up all the time. Bruce Mason helped pave the way; Mervyn Thompson with O! Temperance and Songs to Uncle Scrim; Joe Musaphia’s smash hit Mothers and Fathers, which transferred from Downstage to the Opera House; Robert Lord’s Heroes and Butterflies and Well Hung; Glide Time and Middle Age Spread helped pushed things along. Renee’s wonderful Wednesday to Come and Pass it On. Greg McGee’s Foreskin’s Lament took the country by storm (occasionally I still get congratulated for writing it); and the box-office daddy of them all Ladies’ Night. And there were many more.
We have a wonderful theatre history dating way before the 1970s and 80s, back in fact to Victorian times, but as far as I know not one museum in the country gives any display place to theatre at all.
If it seemed active then, that’s as nothing compared to now. There are now on average one and half new productions every day. Last year Playmarket alone issued more than 360 licences for New Zealand plays.
A check on the website Theatreview, which reviews all professional theatre productions, reveals that on a few days of this week (17-20 October) there were 10 productions. (An astonishing number of people still don’t know about Theatreview.)
And I’m not going to miss the chance to point out that in a few days there should be reviews for daughter Pip’s play Ache which opens at Circa on Saturday night.
Despite the fact that our theatre scene is so lively, prolific, varied and vigorous, I see little national pride in what our theatre is achieving.

I can almost certainly tell you what I was doing right this minute 40 years ago: sitting in my study in Karori typing on my Olivetti working on what was probably the third draft of my first play, which would eventually be called Glide Time.
How come I was writing a play? Because I had been at the Eugene O’Neill Memorial Theatre’s playwrights’ conference in Connecticut at the insistence of and with help from Robert Lord.
That workshop was a big deal. Top US theatre people were involved each year (that year, Meryl Streep and Christopher Lloyd) and it usually produced a couple of plays that went on to Broadway.
I hadn’t intended to write a play for the stage — TV was still my ambition — but seeing what was on display, what received lavish praise there, I had that light-bulb moment: “I could do that. I will write a play.”
But — and this is the point where I have come full circle. The reason I was in New York, and had been in London the previous three months, was entirely due to a grant from the then QEII Arts Council to travel to England and the US to further my experience in writing.
So I thank Creative NZ for tonight’s award, and the QEII Arts Council for the one all those years ago. It led to Glide Time and changed my life.
Bernadette Hall’s acceptance speech is online here. With all due respect to Roger, she had perhaps the best line of the night, presumably improvised as it is not in the official version. When thanking her husband, she said, “There is nothing worse than someone becoming a writer.”  

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Waikato Times letter of the week #58

This is from the edition of Tuesday 27 October, and appears to be in response to this story from the 16 October edition. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Sad event
Sculpture commemorating war horses killed during World War I, what a disgrace this sculpture will be to commemorate such a sad happening. No one in their right mind who respects horses would think of something so stupid.
It didn’t happen in modern times so why does Caiger believes something modern should be the subject.
Melba Morrow

Friday, October 16, 2015

On literary festivals

The always excellent Tauranga Arts Festival runs from Thursday 22 October to Sunday 1 November. The full programme is here. There is music (Julia Deans sings Joni Mitchell, Annie Crummer sings soul), theatre (Mei-Lin Te Puea Hansen’s The Mooncake and the Kumara, the Welsh Hireath) and a bunch of other stuff  I would really like to see.

There will also be some writers.

Siblings Mandy and Nicky Hager will talk about family ties, Harry Ricketts will talk about how to read a poem, Debra Daley will talk about her two recent historical novels, Christina Lamb – the biggest star of the festival – will talk about reporting from the war in Afghanistan (I gather this is nearly sold out so if you are interested, book tonight), Phil Jarratt, probably the second-biggest star, will talk about surfing, and then there is me.

Specifically, there is me talking about writers’ festivals with Stephanie Johnson and Claire Mabey, both of whom have run them. The blurb for the event – Sunday 25 October, 1pm, $15 don’t miss out! – says:

Being at a writers’ festival sounds a great deal for an author ... or does it?
In her latest novel, The Writers’ Festival, Stephanie Johnson possibly uses her own experiences, including as a founding board member of the Auckland Writers Festival, and at last year’s inaugural Australia and New Zealand Festival of Literature and Arts in London. Claire Mabey, associate director of the Tauranga Arts Festival, was also at the London festival last year, as well as the renowned Hay-on-Wye and Edinburgh events.
What makes for a good festival and why are some festivals thought to treat their writers shabbily? Johnson and Mabey talk to Stephen Stratford.

Two good questions right there. Like Stephanie I was a founding board member of the Auckland Writers’ Festival (I served seven years, for what crime I do not know), and I have performed at one of Claire’s festivals (last year in Hamilton) as well as at others in Dunedin and Christchurch. So I know the territory and assume these events must be a good thing.

Possibly I am prejudiced from knowing too many authors, but I sometimes wonder why any reader would wish to meet a writer or listen to them bang on about themselves. Because that, frankly, is what writers do. Even the shy ones. So at some point in the proceedings I will ask the audience, “Why are you here?”

If any reader of QUQ can offer any suggestions for a more polite question I can ask of the panel or audience, I would be very grateful.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Waikato Times letter of the week #57

This is from the edition of Monday 12 October. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Single letter
Two of the most powerful words in the modern day English language are three letter words.
Fit & Fat. Fit – meaning healthy – correct size (clothing) – bout of illness coughing etc.
Fat – meaning plump, thick, oily, greasy substance etc.
It seems strange that these two words, of three English letters only, are different by three letters, i and a.
No other words are so closely the same yet directly opposite in the English language. Similar, yet different.
Ken Weldon

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Stephen Stratford: the website

I have a new website, www.stephenstratford.co.nz, where I set out my stall and tout my wares: book editing, manuscript assessment, turning corporate-speak into readable English, that sort of thing. 

The more people link to it, the higher I go up the rankings on Google. 

You know what to do.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Wintec Press Club: Mihi Forbes and Annabelle Lee

The Wintec Press Club lunch is held three times each year on behalf of the journalism students, and staged by the Wintec School of Media Arts. The star-studded guest list always features big names in politics, media, entertainment, sport, business, law and the arts. And me – I am now a lifetime member.

The students get to mingle with big-name media types and newsmakers: most tables have one or two students who get to meet industry veterans. It’s a brilliant idea and I have always enjoyed talking with the students and doing my best to discourage them from entering the profession, suggesting they do something useful or lucrative instead.

At our table were Hamilton mayor Julie Hardaker and, on my immediate left, Tim Macindoe, MP for Hamilton West and the Nats’ senior Whip. I wish I had known that when we were chatting. I would have asked him, “What does a Whip do, exactly?” Instead we talked about teenage suicide and Tauranga, where I spent my first 17 years quite happily but he shuddered at the memory of spending just 18 months there. He was very arts-friendly and, like me, a devotee of the free Wintec Press Club pens. On my right was a mature student, a Mormon so I couldn’t ask her to pass the wine. Instead we talked about her work with the homeless in Garden Place and abused children. It’s not all gay hilarity at the Wintec Press Club.

Other guests included novelists Mandy Hager and Charlotte Grimshaw, bloggers Michelle Dickinson of Nanogirl and Elizabeth Marvelly of Villainesse,  former politician Don Brash and, bafflingly, Bevan Chuang.

The speakers at these events are usually eminent media types types – last time it was TV3’s Paula Penfold – though once it was Pam Corkery and the time before that Rachel Glucina. This time it was two major Maori journalists: Mihingarangi Forbes (above left) and Annabelle Lee (above right). Forbes was a reporter/presenter at Maori Television’s Native Affairs, Lee was producer. Both left this year. Carol Hirschfeld, general manager production,  and Julian Wilcox, head of news and production, started this trend when they exited in 2014.

As our gracious host Steve Braunias said, there has been “an exodus of talent” from Maori Television: if it was careless to lose Hirschfeld, and then reckless to lose Wilcox, “it’s just kind of freaking nuts to further lose people of such blazing quality as Mihi and Annabelle”.

Both speakers kicked off in Maori. Forbes, a Wintec graduate, suggested that if the Maori King’s claim to Auckland succeeded he would rename it Hamilton Heights. This went down well with the locals. Forbes was very funny throughout, but also deadly serious about the problems facing Maori journalists. Especially female Maori journalists.

Forbes and Lee’s main topic was the series of programmes they made about the finances of the Kohanga Reo National Trust Board, starting with A Question of Trust (September 2013).

That turned out to be “a release valve for frustration”, with many viewers asking for investigation into all sorts of Maori organisations.

Both women send their children to kohanga reo, so know the organisation at ground level. Lee described it as “endless working bees and fundraisers” in contrast with what happens at the top.

After the next story, Feathering the Nest (October 2013), they received threats, Native Affairs was banned from Turangawaewae, people booked to come on the show “unbooked” themselves. “How dare these girls challenge their rangatira?” was the reaction from the usual male suspects: Derek Fox, Willie Jackson, John Tamihere, Dale Husband. “We’re female, we’re younger than them.” Fancy that, old blokes being sexist.

Both said how much they appreciated the support they’d had from the mainstream media, singling out the Herald’s David Fisher and especially TV3’s Tova O’Brien who would ask questions on their behalf when the kohanga reo people wouldn’t let them in to a press conference.

Forbes said that Maori Television wouldn’t show the final programme: “Yeah, and that’s basically why I quit.”

After the formal part, there were solid questions from the floor that elicited excellent answers. Then came a long statement from singer Moana Maniapoto about something or other. When I woke up, everyone was tucking into dessert.

For the journalism students – and probably most of the audience – this might have been the most useful Wintec Press Club address ever. Forbes and Lee were frank about the problems facing all journalists today, and especially Maori journalists who want to work in a Maori way, which involves respecting one’s elders while also asking questions and holding the powerful to account. Speaking truth to power doesn’t go down well when the powerful are old and male and the people speaking truth are young and female. Possibly it’s the female part that is the problem.

There was also the small matter of there being in Maoridom no such thing as six degrees of separation, so pressure comes from all sides. And referring to Newstalk ZB’s Rachel Smalley’s complaint that there are too few women on-air, Forbes noted the greater “paucity of Maori in mainstream media”. Well, yes. There is marginal and there is marginal.

At the end, Steve Braunias said, “The elephant in the room is Maori TV. Man up and tell us – what the fuck happened?”

Forbes replied that after Julian Wilcox was replaced by Paora Maxwell, “I didn’t want to be there any more. I hated it.”

Lee said simply, “All of the above.”

So here are Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan live in 2010, with “You Won’t Let Me Down Again”:

Danyl McLauchlan at the Dim-Post quoted a chunk of the above under the title “Maori TV and the mediapocalypse”, and commented:
What happened at Maori TV is one of the most clear-cut cases of establishment censorship imaginable. Journalists started asking uncomfortable questions; the establishment got angry and imposed a new leader on the organisation who shut everything down. There’s a hell of a book in there. (The lack of public outrage is, presumably because mainstream New Zealand doesn’t really care what happens in Maori institutions).
It’s also a reminder to progressives – who advocate for more public-funded media in response to the collapse of the commercial media model – that state-funded media has its own problems.
Good. But he prefaced it with “QuoteUnquote has an overview of the latest Wintec Press Club’s (notorious) luncheon featuring  Mihingarangi Forbes and Annabelle Lee as guest speakers”.
Our host at the lunch, Steve Braunias, took exception in the comments (third one in):
Minor things. It’s not “(notorious)”, just an event. And Stephen Stratford claims I said “Man up”! I didn’t.

Oh yes he did. I take notes at these events and recorded this comment because he said it to two stroppy women, which we all thought was quite funny – it got a big laugh. Evidence: a reporter’s notebook:

Monday, September 14, 2015

In the Court of the Crimson Corbyn

Andrew Rawnsley in the Guardian on the Corbyn victory:
When an opposition party chooses a new leader in the wake of defeat, the event has the potential to be a moment of rebirth: sorrows can be put aside, a line drawn under past failures, the party may dare to dream again.
It was like that for some in the crowd at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre when it was declared that Jeremy Corbyn had become Labour’s crimson king by conqueroring [sic – this is the Guardian] the party with a haul of votes that obliterated his rivals.

We must all wish the British Labour Party well. Meanwhile, here are King Crimson live in San Francisco in December 1969 with “Epitaph” from their debut album, released in October that year, In the Court of the Crimson King. Sample lyrics:
Confusion will be my epitaph….
The fate of all mankind, I see in the hands of fools

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Waikato Times letter of the week #56

This is from the edition of Tuesday 8 September. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.

Vaccine thoughts

In a pro-vaccination story in the Waikato Times on Friday, September 4, Dr Noni McDonald says that natural isn’t best, natural kills. Well, isn’t that the way it was meant to be? Survival of the fittest?

Today’s problems stem from the fact that mankind has interfered with nature far too much for our own good. Overpopulation, food shortages, pollution, to name just a few, are all the result of man’s meddling in the natural course of events. Diseases are the natural way of maintaining the proper balance of life on this planet. All species of life have survived for millions of years without the need for vaccines to keep diseases controlled.

We are doomed if we continue to strive to keep everyone alive for far longer than would naturally be the case. Perhaps we are doomed, anyway, but why hurry things?

If an animal other than a human is born with a defect that is not naturally survivable, it is allowed to die or is put out of its misery. Why do we keep our own alive to perhaps live a life full of suffering and ill health?

Wouldn’t it be kinder to let nature take its course without intervening?

Gregory Roberts

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Yorkshire graveyard humour

This is for Yorkshirepersons Peter Bland, Chris Else, Josh Easby and my mother, from The Week’s “Pick of the week’s correspondence” in its 29 August issue:

A grave error
To The Times
My favourite gravestone typo series is that of the Yorkshireman who chose for his aunt’s headstone the epitaph: “She was thine.” Finding that it had been carved “She was thin”, he complained to the stonemason: “You’ve missed out the ‘e’.” On his return, he found that the alteration had been duly made: “E, she was thin.”
Patty Icke, Warwick

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Entrepreneurial policing

Katy Balls reports in the Spectator that Sheriff Stephen Jessup of McInTosh County in Georgia has taken an innovative approach to dealing with drug crime:

“He took out an advert in a local paper calling on drug dealers to anonymously dob each other in to get rid of their competition: ‘Attention drug dealers. Is your drug-dealing competition costing you money? We offer a FREE service to help you eliminate your drug competition!’”

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Talking about crime fiction

Yesterday I went to Freemans Bay in Auckland to record a “Talking Books” podcast for the Book Council. It was about the shortlist for the 2015 Ngaio Marsh award for best NZ crime novel. The panel was Graham Beattie of Beattie’s Book Blog and Stephanie Jones who reviews books for Coast. I was the chair. Also present as an observer: Catriona Ferguson, the Book Council’s energetic CEO. (Spookily, Stephanie and Catriona both attended the editing workshop I gave for the Auckland Writers’ Festival some years ago when Kelly Ana Morey sat in the back row. Read all about it.)   

The engineer for the podcast was Phil Yule who is a legend: it was quietly a thrill to be in a recording studio with him again.

We three talked about the five shortlisted novels: Fallout by Paul Thomas, Five Minutes Alone by Paul Cleave, Swimming In The Dark by Paddy Richardson, The Children’s Pond by Tina Shaw and The Petticoat Men by Barbara Ewing – or at least Stephanie and Graham did. I edited three of those books so was constrained in what I could say, and also as chair I always feel that one should, as far as possible, shut up and stay out of the way. So I did. The others were great – Graham is an old pro and Stephanie is young, startlingly articulate and had clearly thought about the books a lot. I wish all book reviewers were like her.

Afterwards I went for lunch with the usual suspects: three poets, two novelists and one magazine books/arts editor. Literary gossip and bawdiness ensued. These literary lunches are all I miss about Auckland.

Tomorrow I go to the second meeting this year of the Wintec Press Club, which stars guest speakers Mihingarangi Forbes and Annabelle Lee, both  formerly of Maori TV. Forbes was a presenter at Native Affairs and Lee was producer. Should be a lively session, even by the Wintec Press Club’s elevated standards.

All in all, it has been a very good week, media-wise.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Stephanie Johnson on Peter Jackson

The 82nd in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the October 1994 issue: Stephanie Johnson’s review of Peter Jackson’s movie Heavenly Creatures.

Michelanne Forster’s play Daughters Of Heaven brought back into the limelight a murder case that thrilled and horrified 1950s Christchurch. In 1954 Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker murdered Honoria Parker, Pauline’s mother, with a brick in a stocking. There are many people including no doubt, Juliet and Pauline, who wish that Forster had let sleeping dogs lie. Now the dogs are well and truly barking with Jackson’s film Heavenly Creatures: on tabloid TV we have been treated to scenes of intrepid reporters hanging around Hulme’s English country estate, where she makes a living by writing thrillers.

Peter Jackson is not the only one who wanted the Parker-Hulme story. Two other projects were in the offing when Jackson’s team got the funding to go ahead. Speculation abounded on how Jackson — famous for, among others, the award-winning splatter-and-gore Braindead — would handle this sensitive material. Would there be great gobbets of blood? Would there be wild pubescent lesbian sex? Would John Cranna again consign Jackson and anybody foolish enough to admire his work on a trip to Cultural Albania?

Heavenly Creatures, I am pleased to report, is a stylish, tender and technically magnificent work. Together with co-writer Frances Walsh, Jackson captures the values and idiomatic speech of mid-century New Zealand. Juliet and Pauline are naive, imaginative girls, much younger in many ways than l5-year-olds are now. They are two oddballs, outsiders hungry for fame and adventure, who team up against the world. As their friendship deepens, so does their conviction that they are more intelligent and exciting than everybody around them.

Sarah Peirse as the ill-fated Mum, and Melanie Lynskey as her daughter, are brilliant pieces of casting. Lynskey looks very much like a younger Peirse, though perhaps not as beautiful. Peirse shows us a bewildered and loving parent, a woman who drudges through long days as a boarding-house proprietor, wanting more than what she’s had for her clever daughter. Lynskey’s expressive face scowls and pouts in teenage rebellion at home, but brightens and opens when she’s visiting the Hulmes.

The house the real Hulmes lived in is now the Staff Club at the University of Canterbury. In my student days legend had it that the house was haunted by the ghost of the murder victim. It is large, gracious, and surrounded by beautifully kept grounds. Jackson makes use of its splendour. The house emphasises the enormous difference between the drab lifestyle of Pauline’s family (poor but loving, mackerel is a treat) and that of the Hulmes (tennis parties, a dashing lover for sexy but selfish Mrs Hulme, holidays by the sea).

It is in his rendering of the world within the real world that Jackson achieves a kind of genius. “Boronia” is the setting of the girls’ fantasy life, a medieval walled town, peopled with Princesses, Kings and Knights. As well as writing a novel together about the place, Pauline and Juliet model its inhabitants in clay. Jackson makes these figures life-size, has them sing, dance, mate, slice one another in half. The special effects display his long experience in that area — they are extraordinary. On more than one occasion in the film all we lay-persons can do is wonder, “How did he do that?”

The film ends with the murder, high in the Port Hills on a sparkling Christchurch winter day. The scene is executed with admirable restraint, using what appears to be less than a litre of fake blood.

For a moment, as the credits began to roll, I wished the film had been longer. I would liked to have seen the court scenes and how hoity-toity Juliet coped in a New Zealand prison, but I suppose by then the relationship between the girls had been ripped asunder and their relationship is what Heavenly Creatures is all about. So much these days depends upon the idea of perpetrators of heinous crimes as victims, with endless psycho-drivel: Jackson stops short of any such lapse in taste.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Nigel Cox on Peter Carey

The 81st in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the October 1994 issue. The intro read: 
Peter Carey is Australia’s most successful writer since Patrick White – but he hasn’t lived there for five years. “The longer I ’ve been away, the weirder and weirder it looks,” he tells Nigel Cox.
A Sense of Difference
England wouldn’t necessarily be the first topic of conversation you raised with Martin Amis, nor America with Louise Erdrich, but talking to Peter Carey, Australia comes up early and won’t go away. On tour out here to promote his new novel, The Unusual Life Of Tristan Smith, Carey has been living in New York for the last five years. “I’m getting like those Australians in Earl’s Court, who become so defiantly Aussie the moment they hit London,” he says. “Of course, if you live somewhere else, you’re defined by your sense of difference.”
We’re sitting at his hotel window high above Auckland, where the lanky Carey leans back in his chair and pulls at his jaw as if trying to make it even longer. In his youth (he’s 50) you sense he would have been angular, awkward even. The main character in Tristan Smith has a face described as “severely triangular,” like “a gaunt little praying mantis” and it’s possible that Carey wrote this after looking in the mirror. But any awkwardness is now deep-buried behind the smooth exterior of the public face of the great southern land’ s best-selling serious novelist. 
In fact he’s apologised for his three-piece suit and talks as though we should picture him in denim. “The longer I’ve been away, the weirder and weirder my country looks. Take, for instance, what I think is the total denial of the consequences of convictism, which is still there, no matter what anybody says.” His eyes, wobbly behind lenses, float out the window and over the city. “I mean, here we are, with these people, who we say we’re proud of, transported, exiled, full of grief, terror, tortured, party to a genocide, feeling profoundly unloved and second-rate, hating God... and 200 years later, less, in World War I, we emerge on the world stage, eager to die, to prove ourselves, with a persona of being these suntanned, innocent people, happy smiling people.
“What’s going on here? Presumably we’re full of rage, at the people who did it, and yet we’ve taken, nationally, the position of the people who held the whip: none of us have dealt with this yet.”
Listening to him, you get the sense that Carey would usually be one of these happy smiling people. But on the Australian arm of this promotional tour he allowed no press interviews, preferring to give readings.
“Well,” he says, sheltering behind his glass of Evian, “newspaper writers are often very decent people, but they don’t have much time, and what are they going to do? They do the best they can, and then when I read the pieces... Well, I can’t blame them, so I feel sort of cheap and nasty.”
Which is a polite way of saying that some harsh things were written about him when he went to live in America. He left Australia under a cloud. His previous novel, The Tax Inspector, got nutty reviews. “There was malice,” he says, nodding grimly. “I was really mad when I left, and said some terrible things to some of my friends.”
After the publication of Illywhacker Carey seemed to be thrust forward as a kind of suitable spokesman for Australian culture. Suitable in that he wasn’t an academic (he didn’t finish his degree) or an intellectual (he ran McSpedden-Carey, an advertising agency), and yet he seemed to have big things to say about what it was to have been born in the Lucky Country.
Oscar and Lucinda, which won the Booker, confirmed this status, but then The Tax Inspector, a novel describing incest and dysfunction in an Australian family and tax evasion among the highly cultured, seemed to bite at the hands that had lifted him. Perhaps, seen as ungrateful, he was made a whipping boy. He greets this scenario with amused caution. “Yeah, that’s true,” he says, and says no more.
If he left under a cloud he has returned in glory. In Australia, Tristan Smith has received “the best reviews I’ve ever had”: the Sydney Morning Herald called it “his richest and most satisfying work so far”, and the Melbourne Age talked about “its magnificent delineation of character and event”.
But Carey is too modest to dwell on this latest triumph and has shifted back to what is obviously the stream that runs constantly in his head. “People who wanted to excuse my absence from Australia said, ‘I suppose it’ll help you see your country more clearly.’ And finally I think it’s doing that.
“Recently I sat there in upstate New York and some American friends who’d been to Australia said, ‘Waltzing Matilda, what’s that about?’ So I started to go through the words. ‘Once a jolly swagman’ – the whole notion of swagmen, to an American was really weird. ‘Slept by a billabong, Under the shade of a coolibah tree.’ Well... And the whole thing about the role of the trooper – why did he jump in the water? And the relationship between the troopers and the ghost, and the stealing... and that’s our song!”
Now a kind of goggle-eyed dancing takes place behind the round lenses of his glasses, as though in his head he’s trying to solve the master equation of Australia. But if it’s big ideas which fill the stratosphere of his novels, he always begins closer to home. Carey was born in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, which was one of the take-off points for Illywhacker. He has described its “ennui” in a recent essay: “I remember tearing up the juicy leaves of the mirror bush, throwing stones at cats, falling from the fig tree, hanging from my britches, black ants crawling across a blackboard, World War II bombers and transports, one inch long, flying high up in the cloudless sky.” A long way from Greenwich Village.
His parents ran a car sales yard, a setting he used in The Tax Inspector. After a stint at Geelong Grammar (not while Prince Charles was there) he travelled a haphazard path which led him on to advertising, and a commune, both settings which recur in Bliss. But Carey doesn’t write about himself. Rather, he’s used these personal places as points for his astonishing imagination to depart from.
He had intended to be a scientist. On Morning Report he told Kim Hill, “I used to love looking at the periodic table. When I was 15 I bought books on organic chemistry that I couldn’t possibly understand. I used to just look at them, the sheer magic of them, and imagine a life discovering and inventing things – and of course now, in literature, I do have that life.”
He’d never been a reader, and then “after I’d failed science, I discovered all at once the world of literature. It all came flooding in in about two years – Faulkner, Joyce, Kafka, Beckett. It’s as though reading can never be quite as wonderful as it was back then.”
A name he doesn’t mention is the writer he’s most frequently compared to, Charles Dickens. Carey smiles as though in recognition of a friend. “Back when those comparisons were being made – round Illywhacker and Oscar and Lucinda – I’d really not read Dickens. But just at the moment I’m reading quite a deal of him, because I’m occupied with my next novel, which is a reimaging of Magwitch’s story. Magwitch, if you remember, is the convict from Great Expectations really the first Australian to go back to London and discover he wasn’t wanted.”
Asked who among contemporary writers he enjoys reading, the first name Peter Carey comes up with is Cormac McCarthy. “I went into just the first few pages thinking, ah, shit, Faulkner. But I thought All The Pretty Horses was just a stunning book. Language wrung, really working. And the stuff that the guy knows, I just feel weak in the knees. His feel for landscape, the relationship of those two boys, it was a great love story, and so cruel, ah, it’s really something.”
Carey has also been rereading Peter Ackroyd’s biography of Dickens, and says that in his novel “I’m writing as though there was somebody that Dickens knew, a man called John Mags, and it imagines Dickens meeting this character and the interaction between them.”
Dickens, of course, was a great reader from his work. So how does Carey see the readings he’s doing – is it delivering the book to its audience, or just more promo? He laughs. “Reading was something that I learned to do,” he says. “I was very bad at it. My wife directs theatre, so we worked on how to do it. And there were some very comic scenes there, you know: ‘Would you speak to your actors like that? Don’t tell me that now!’ I was 40 and I’d never read. I did it the first time because I was offered a ticket to go to the Harbourfront Festival in Toronto. I was a bit frightened.”
He stops and considers. “I’ve always believed that literature exists in silence, between the reader and the page. A reading is something else.”
As the interview ends he says that he’s going on now to London, for more readings and interviews, and then “it’s home to Dickens”. And to Australia, perhaps – that Australia he finds more comfortable to live in in his head; that he never leaves.