Friday, May 27, 2016

In praise of: Auckland University Press

I was surprised, talking to some authors yesterday, that they didn’t know about Auckland University Press’s big international win. I shouldn’t have been: authors often don’t have a clue about what’s happening in publishing. So here is the news: Auckland University Press won big-time at the London Book Fair.

The London Book Fair is a very big deal, one of the biggest of the very big international book fairs, and these awards are run in association with the UK Publishers Association. So it’s the heavyweight division. AUP won in its category, Academic and Professional Publisher, beating shortlisted publishers from China (Higher Education Press) and Argentina (Teseo). Again, I shouldn’t have been surprised – AUP is a fantastically good publisher – but it is tiny compared to most others in its category. The full report from the LBF is here.

AUP’s Sam Elworthy said: “At the London Book Fair, you’re surrounded by thousands of publishers from around the world – big to small, trade to education, Africa to America. In the midst of all that great work going on, it’s humbling to have our work at Auckland University Press recognised by the international publishing community. Getting back up the morning after, finding publishers around the world excited about co-editions of books like Robyn Toomath’s Fat Science and Warren Moran’s New Zealand Wine, you realise again that we can play a full part in the international life of the mind from our small islands.”

Next month AUP will publish CK Stead’s sixth (by my count) collection of literary criticism, essays, interviews etc, Shelf Life, a sequel of sorts to 2008’s Book Self (I am particularly fond of that one because I am listed three times in the index). I spent some happy hours on the sofa with Shelf Life over the last few days and found it to be, much like the author himself, very congenial company: alert, intelligent, amusing, often surprising, never boring. There is also, if you look carefully, a lot of practical advice for writers. But.

But there is one piece that disappoints. It is not that “Some Railway Journeys in NZ Literature”, a paper presented at a conference in Italy, has the least promising title possible. It is not that the paper is as dismal as its title – it isn’t at all. What disappoints is that CK makes no mention of Peter Cape’s classic “Taumarunui on the Main Trunk Line”. All together now:

Monday, May 23, 2016

Wintec Press Club: Dave Dobbyn 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. I have no idea who they were on Friday 13 May, the first lunch of 2016, because I was away being famous at the Auckland Writers Festival that afternoon. So Joshua Drummond was subbed in off the bench. Josh stood in for me in August 2014 when Rachel Glucina was the guest speaker. His entertaining report on her performance was cruel but, I am told, fair. It has been read 8477 times so far.

The speaker this time was Dave Dobbyn. Josh reports:

After all were sat down, and food served, Steve Braunias took the stage and launched into opening remarks. He started by bidding a heartfelt “good riddance” to Mark Weldon, which was greeted with toasts and cheers by all.

He also undertook a recap of previous Press Clubs, saying that their theme had been that journalism is doomed. “It’s United Video,” Steve said. “But good news, we’re all saved – we’re merging with Video Ezy.”

There was something dark and apocalyptic about Steve at the beginning of this Press Club, like a hellfire-and-brimstone preacher coming down from a ketamine high. He talked of the strange nihilism that seems to be overtaking America, with the unstoppable rise of Donald Trump: “New Zealand operates in a vacuum, too. She’ll be right, envy, accusations, a profoundly felt sense of moral outrage.”

He spoke too of public shaming, citing Richie Hardcore’s recent Twitter trial, judged and executed by a bunch of self-righteous first-stone-throwing assholes (my words, not Steve’s) and Jon Ronson’s excellent book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. He made the point that mass public shaming used to be the preserve of journalists; now the power has been democratised and handed to social media.

More important matters! Best-dressed man went to Steve Newell, for irony reasons. Best-dressed woman (“nothing that would make Lizzie Marvelly baulk!”) went to “a vision in white”, Amanda Gillies. More shout-outs: the Two Dons – Rowe, expert on dope; Brash, cannabis reformer, who had graciously accepted Steve’s invitation to Press Club with the remark that Dave Dobbyn was an “odd choice”.

Then came the feature presentation. Dave Dobbyn, “a household name, like Jif”, drew a huge laugh. I missed a bit of this part because I had other stuff on my mind. The pudding had just come out and at least two people at my table hadn’t even touched theirs. Fuck’s sake! Just send it back if you don’t want it! I hate seeing food wasted, especially good food, and I wish that it wasn’t such a social faux-pas to ask people for their leftovers. Giovanni Tiso was at my table and he’d gotten stuck into his pudding. Good on him. I’d never met Gio IRL [editor’s note: older readers, this means “in real life” as opposed to online] and, like everyone else I’ve ever scrapped with on Twitter and then actually met, he was a charming and altogether lovely person. I liked him immensely. Hi, Gio.
Dave Dobbyn! Steve’s parting remarks were that he’d seen DD Smash – or was it Th’ Dudes? – while the friendly bloke next to him popped amyl nitrate under his nose. “I love you, Dave,” Steve said.

Dave welcomed us all to our perch at the Ferrybank Lounge, next to the Waikato River, “a slow meandering eddy of loveliness and arsenic”. He started with talk of the early days, playing four forty-minute sets of covers a night, in booze barns, and later, a 62-school tour. He took a moment to mourn the booze barns – “Roll on the automatic car!” he said, to cheers – and said how this experience taught him and his band to love what they were doing and be really good at it. He was endearingly unselfconscious about this last bit, which was brilliant, because it’s quite rare in New Zealand hear from someone who is good at what they do and who quietly, modestly, knows it.

He talked about an early rivalry with Hello Sailor, whom his bands measured themselves against, the manager (label?) who took 32 years to figure out how to pay them, refusing to play for a bunch of communists in Wellington, and being called a bunch of faggots for their outrageous outfits in the early days. “The whole New Zealand music industry was under the cultural cringe” he said. His band’s power to overcome was that they knew how to build something that was strong – simple, structurally sound, pop songs.

Dave touched on his influences, speaking of the “clawing despair, sadness, and loss in towns like Whakatane” – this being back in the Muldoon 70s and Lange 80s. He said “Welcome Home” was written at a pivotal time for him, politically, and that it hinges on the fundamental acceptance that in New Zealand we are all immigrants. He’s a Bernie Sanders fan, it turns out.
Speaking about the nexus of entertainment and journalism, Dave was enlightening. He made the point that journalism and music are both industries that have been savaged by the digital revolution but which are finding new ways of surviving – and sometimes even thriving – in a new, turbulent ecosystem.

Procrastination reared its head: “The bugbear of my songwriting is finishing.” He said of journalists that you’ve got to get used to talking to people at 7 a.m. who think they’re really funny.
There is, he said, “an expectation that as writers and musicians, we’re not going to get paid”. The trick is not to do it for the pay, and hopefully the pay will come. “It’s mostly for love that we make records. It’s not about money. It’s about culture.” He warned, for both writers and musicians, that the quality of what you can do can easily be overshadowed by crap. Unsurprisingly, he was critical of both the mechanisation of the music industry and the dross it produces: “I find it really difficult [listening to the music] in a mall – it all sounds like a truck reversing.”

It was time for a tune. An exclusive Dave Dobbyn concert! He played a sweet song with a tricky melody – I don’t know the name of it, but it was a 25th anniversary song for his wife. Steve approached the stage and retreated quickly when Dave suggested another song – this one was “Singin’ Through the Storm”.

Question time! A few good ones, too. About the Queen Street Riots: “Muldoon had just been booted out, thank God, and there was lots of tension. There was no security, people were drinking cask wine. I think the fatal mistake was the [police’s] decision to turn the whole thing off, and then the heavy-handed reaction of the riot squad.” Dobbyn had called the riot squad wankers: “I wish those riot squad guys would stop wanking and put their little batons away.” He said that the judge let him off charges of inciting the riot because the dictionary had multiple definitions of the word “wanking”, some less offensive than others.

I asked if he ever got sick of waiting on hold to any government agency, given that he’s responsible for at least 50 per cent of their on-hold music. He said that fortunately he didn’t have to wait on hold because other people tended to manage taxes and such for him, but he’d had the occasional person suggest that they’d strangle him if they had to hear “Loyal” one more time down the phone.

Steve returned to the lectern with tears in his eyes, the hints of darkness from before quite gone. His closing remarks started, as they always do, with “What have we learned?” The conclusion was that we had learned that – unlike with Rachel Glucina, whose philosophy was “If people want shit, let’s get the biggest shovel we can find” – that quality is important, that truth has value.

“I just want some truth,” Dave had said at some point in his speech. I’ll be cheesy for a seconds and proclaim that I think this impulse is what brings both the best songwriting and the best journalism.
Dave was a fantastic speaker. He was no orator, but it worked. Like the river outside, his voice meandered, sometimes mumbled, but there was power there, and often poetry would appear in the stream, like the flash of a leaping fish.

The last song Dave played was “Be Mine Tonight.” It had the entire audience clapping and singing along. Press Club can occasionally tend towards cynicism and the ironic appreciation of decay and despair, but this time it was joyous, starry-eyed – a bunch of New Zealand’s top media talent yowling along to New Zealand’s foremost pop singer, the way we all do. A slice of heaven.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Waikato Times letter of the week #66

From the edition of Friday 20 May. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Fishing industry
The current exposures about our fishing industries highlight all that is false and excuse-making. It does nothing to address the claims that have been made. An exposure of such magnitude and importance requires a united multi-party review as well as open, honest, factual reporting. And the emergency actions necessary to stop and correct any wrongs discovered. We must put a stop to blames and counter claims as to who did what and have our leaders combine forces so that the collective brain is oriented towards fixing the mess and actually function as a sensible human problem solving tool. The current neurological synaptic activity located in the posteriors of most politicians is rarely activated by sensible electrochemical energy. It is usually locked onto a negative reactionary short circuit. God help us!
Barry Ashby

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Money for writers

Breaking news from Copyright Licensing: applications are now open for a new $25,000 award for writers of non-fiction, including those who write for the education sector.

Applicants must be New Zealand citizens or permanent residents and writers of proven merit, and the resulting work should be likely to be accepted by a publisher. Applications should include:

 an outline of the proposed work, including a chapter outline.
 a statement as to how the proposed work will add to the body of work already published on the subject or to the genre
 if a biography or work relating to Maori, please indicate how the subject of the biography and/or their descendants and/or iwi will be consulted and involved in the research and publication of the book
 the names of referees. This is particularly important for applicants with limited or no history of being published
 expressions of interest from publishers etc. (Up to 4 pages; letters from publishers allowed in addition – up to 2 pages)
 a sample of writing from the proposed work (no less than 5 and not exceeding 10 pages). If a sample of alternative work is offered instead, it must be written in a style that same as that proposed for the project;
 a curriculum vitae with a list of main published works (no more than 3 pages).

Applications must be received by 4 p.m. on Thursday 23 June.  The winner will be announced in September. Full details and application forms etc are here.

Winner for Best First Book of non-fiction at the Ockham NZ Book Awards last night was Melissa Matutina Williams for Panguru and the City. She was a CLNZ Writers Award winner in 2011. Auspicious!

Monday, May 9, 2016

New adventures in punctuation and spelling

On 25 April John Drinnan, the NZ Herald’s former media columnist, started a new blog (which shows how much he knows about media). A horrified journalist friend sent me the link to this item about Hilary Barry. It is a beautiful illustration of why God gave journalists sub-editors.
Hype about Hilary leaving MediaWorks is the backdrop to the crisis that led to the exit of Mark Weldon and is very relevant because her resignation brought maters to a head. No doubt “the mate of the nation” has a story to tell on her reasons for leaving, but so far she has not told. Maybe the juicy bits will come out in a woman’s magazine feature in the future. With limited facts media have pulled out woman’s magazine gush.
Maters to a head. Woman’s magazine. Serious new adventures in spelling there.

Wait, there is more:
But if you look at the viewer numbers, you would conclude that Wendy Petrie is much more “:beloved” than Hilary Barry.
A new adventure in punctuation, that “:beloved”. Perhaps it is an emoticon.
I get the Judy Bailey “Mother of the Nation.” thing. From my memory very kiwi tongue-in cheek kiwi kind of way. (Maybe a readers can tell me who first used the line)
Yes, he wrote and published “very kiwi tongue-in cheek kiwi” and “a readers” and couldn’t be arsed putting a full stop at the end of the next sentence.

I know, I know, fish in a barrel. We also get:
with just one months notice
Earlier this week one online entertainment reporter this week put hands on hips and declared ” if you don’t love Hilary Barry its because you have not been paying attention.”
The case for sub-editors rests.

So here are REM in 200, live in Wiesbaden, with “So Fast, So Numb” from their 1996 album New Adventures in Hi-Fi:

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Waikato Times letter of the week #65

From the edition of Saturday 7 May. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times. Also contains the saddest word for any follower of the WaikTimes letters page: “Abridged”.
Soil gives life
Amazing nature – we all automatically respect space rockets going to the moon and space travel but what if the same amount of funding and time spent on soil development.
The world is looking for the answer in space to solve the world problems like the planet Mars and Venus to boost world food production among other mineral prospects and military advantages.
While space scientists are developing space travel they may find that soil development is where they should be looking. It’s so easy to understand rockets and space exploration but give little thought to the wonders from the soil we benefit so much from on earth. The world’s scientific wonders are in soil and we should recognise the daily wonders of the very soil that feeds us under all conditions. Soil development is the misunderstood and neglected scientific wonder we have right here on earth.
The world needs soil development – it’s never been studied or researched by the United Nations as the important issue it is. It should be introduced as a major development programme. Make soil development a world research programme before it becomes a world issue. Gardening and growing plants for eating or housing trees means mother nature is hard to equal. Science and nature are both producing wonders.
Ken Weldon

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

What I'm reading #134

Whenever I buy a book on New Zealand literature I check to see that it has an index, because otherwise it is useless as a work of reference. This is the mark of a good book.

Next, I check to see that I am in the index. This is the mark of a very good book. Bill Manhire’s Doubtful Sounds and Rachel Barrowman’s Maurice Gee: Life and Work score highly. How, I wondered, would Judith Dell Panny’s Let the Writer Stand: the work of Vincent O’Sullivan fare?

Not too badly, I am happy to report.

It has an index. Good.

I am in it. Very good. 

I turn to page 7 and OMG, Chapter One begins with a quote from me nominating Vincent to become Poet Laureate in 2014:
What astonishes is the sustained vigour, wit, technical facility, emotional range and, increasingly warmth. … We have cerebral poets, amusing poets, inventive poets, political poets, sensitive poets – but no one else who does it all.
 So the first words in the book are mine. Happy to waive royalties.

The other stuff I am reading is the winners of the Ockham Book Awards, the artist formerly known as the Montana Book Awards and more recently the NZ Post Book Awards. I know who the winners are. They don’t. 

This is in preparation for the highlight of this year’s Auckland Writers Festival, me interviewing the four winners on-stage for an hour next week, on Friday the 13th. Given the date, what could possibly go wrong?