Friday, March 9, 2018

Report on experience: VUP edition

To the capital for the launch last night at the Wellington Festival of three VUP books: All This by Chance, a novel by Vincent O’Sullivan (see my 2011 report An Hour of Terror with Vincent O’Sullivan); Feverish, a memoir by Gigi Fenster; and The Facts, a poetry collection by Therese Lloyd.

This was held in the Spiegeltent. Last time I was in it I was on-stage at the Tauranga writers’ festival: my view of these events is that they are for appearing at, not attending. But for Vincent I will always make an exception and even go to Wellington. The Spiegeltent is a splendid venue, and this night it was packed: my spy on the door said there had been 190 acceptances, which is pretty good for a book launch.

At the back of the stage was a band’s gear all set up – drums, amplifiers, keyboards, the works. Damien Wilkins was in the crowd – would he and his band the Close Readers perform, I wondered. Sadly, no. He was just there to introduce the authors. Bah.

After Damien’s speech there were readings by Fenster and Lloyd which were a) good and b) brief. Then along came Vincent.

Damien had talked about how the novel conveys “the wildness of experience, its uncanniness”. Well, yes. Then: “We see how ingratiating so much contemporary fiction is – it wants to be our friend. All This by Chance is only interested in its own material.” I’m not quite sure what he meant by that but probably also well, yes.

Then Vincent spoke. Mercifully, he did not read. He thanked his publisher, Fergus Barrowman: “This is the 12th book we’ve done together and it’s almost too late to stop.” He said nice things about his editor – that would be me – and especially Steven Sedley who was his adviser on the cultural background: many of the novel’s characters over several generations are dealing with how to live in New Zealand after the Holocaust, and Steven sure knows about that. (Older readers may remember his Horizon Bookshop in Lower Hutt – one of the great independent booksellers.)

Afterwards I talked to Fiona Kidman about editors; I met my favourite New Zealand composer Ross Harris; I hung around the Unity Books desk and saw that sales of all three books looked to be brisk. And then I went to Little Penang for dinner. Can recommend.

For what it’s worth, I think All This by Chance is a great novel. Maybe the best New Zealand novel ever. So here is Led Zeppelin in 1970:

Friday, March 2, 2018

Gramophone letter of the month #1

From the February 2018 issue.
Speedy Debussy?
I was so disappointed to read Harriet Smith’s review of Stephen Hough’s wonderful new Debussy CD (January, page 64). She seems to favour fast, bright Debussy over a more romantic approach. We should never forget that Debussy composed on an upright piano covered with blankets. He didn’t like bright, virtuoso playing of his music. I heard Mr Hough on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune telling of a backstage conversation with a pianist in the 1950s. ‘My father said everyone plays L’isle joyeux too fast,’ said an elderly lady to the pianist. ‘Who was your father?’ asked the pianist. ‘Claude Debussy.’
John Kawasaki, by email