Thursday, December 18, 2014

What I’m reading #121

At Tuesday Poem Helen McKinlay interviews Poet Laureate Vincent O’Sullivan. Quote unquote:
New Zealanders, for all our self-flattery about being independent and the rest of it, can be pretty timid souls, and to say anything too directly can rattle our assumptions about ourselves. We don’t like being uncomfortable, we don’t like being thrown into responsibility, hence a soothing political blandness, as we well know, immediately appeals to us. What I was getting at in that poem is that if we sign away our conceptions of good and evil, this can lead to a fairly colourless or deluding life. It doesn’t mean one has to embrace absolutes, but it does mean deciding where one’s boundaries reside. I dislike our easy ‘middle of the road’ sloppiness about certain issues because taking a considered stand isn’t always ‘nice’ or agreeable.

One of the Poet Laureate’s job requirements is to blog. Vincent generously invites guests to share the space. The latest guest is Emma Neale with four unpublished poems. Quote unquote:
These seem to me the kind of poems that begin with readers but end with partners, in their take on how things are, and how we talk of them. This is poetry in that ancient tradition of ‘speaking for us all’, of making scenes and events that we find are about ourselves all the time, even when they may at first move so confidently in that Rilkean dimension of ‘beauty and terror’. Good poems to end one year, and to begin another.

For anyone who ever wanted to punch Steve Braunias in the head, someone beat you to it in the Alhambra of blessed memory. Quote unquote:
His punch was fast and hard. I got a black eye. I thought it best to wear dark glasses the next day when I was a guest on Kim Hill’s radio show. “I don’t want listeners to see,” I explained.

An open letter to Russell Brand, about his recent megaphonic protest outside the Royal Bank of Scotland, from Jo Reeves who lives in Northern Ireland but works in the City. Quote unquote:
You turned up and weren’t allowed in. Big wow. You know what would have happened if a rabid capitalist had just turned up unannounced? They wouldn’t have been allowed in either. You know what I have in my pocket? A security pass. Unauthorised people aren’t allowed in. Obviously. That’s not a global conspiracy, Russell; it’s basic security. Breweries have security too, and that’s not because they’re conspiring to steal beer from the poor. And security really matters: banks are simply crawling with highly sensitive information. Letting you in because you’re a celebrity and You Demand Answers could in fact see the bank hauled in front of the FCA. That would be a scandal. Turning you away is not. I’m sorry, Russell, but it’s just not.
Your response to my complaint that a multimillionaire was causing my lunch to get cold was... well, frankly, it was to completely miss the point, choosing to talk about your millions instead of addressing the real issue, namely my fucking lunch.

Tina Shaw on how she self-published her terrific novel The Children’s Pond, which was, I think, the first self-published novel to make the NZ top ten bestsellers list. It debuted at #4. Quote unquote: 
These days, self-publishing has become almost respectable. I say ‘almost’ because there is still a wee stigma involved in publishing your own work. And I think that has actually come about because many self-published projects are not great on quality. So it’s understandable that Creative New Zealand is hesitant to fund such projects – even though it would be enormously helpful to the diversity of New Zealand literature if they did so. Funding for such projects would go some way to raising the level of independent publishing in general.

Brian Clearkin in Landfall Online reviews the second novel in Graeme Lay’s Captain Cook trilogy, James Cook’s New World. It is a model review: thoughtful, thorough and true to the book. Quote unquote:
Bernard Cornwell has set the bar at an Olympian height in the field of historical novels, and on first impression Graeme Lay’s work seems a little low-key in comparison. I would prefer to see this as an observation rather than a criticism, since readers will soon find themselves subtly drawn into Cook’s world as the newly promoted captain sets out to make his second historic and lasting contribution to cartography and exploration.
 Almost two and a half centuries later our concept of unexplored and uncharted portions of the globe is limited to a few undersea trenches. Even the moon is relatively familiar territory. Lay transports us back into Cook’s world where fact and fiction intertwine assisted by scientific ignorance coupled with earlier explorers’ exaggeration and imprecise navigation. Lay also captures Cook’s personal situation as an outsider amongst the scions of privilege who rule and control his world. His portrayal of the naturalist James Banks as a lascivious womanising rake is a colourful departure from that noble gentleman’s generally held public image – but quite plausible given the recorded activities of many of his peers.

Finally, Maurice Shadbolt’s Voices of Gallipoli has been translated into Chinese and now into Turkish. “Hats off to David Ling!” as my Gallipoli veteran grandfather would say. I have seen the Taiwan-published Chinese-language edition, which is the one in the middle of the photo below, and it is lovely:

Friday, December 12, 2014

Luck At Last Road: the proof

On 4 November I posted Crime wave in Cambridge #2, the police report from the 29 October issue of our local paper, Cambridge Edition. It included this item:
Wednesday, October 22
Police attended a domestic incident in Luck at Last Road.

Some unkind people suggested that I had made this up, that there could not possibly be a road of that name.

In 1989 Eris Parker researched the district’s street and road names for the Cambridge Museum. Her report on roads L to G is here and has this to say:  
One story goes that in 1907 two locals, in sheer desperation to get this road, went to Wellington with their case. The telegram eventually came back, ‘Luck at Last’.
But this is the story as told by Will Hicks – ‘Mr G S Day, Mr E Nickle and my father Mr J T Hicks were early settlers along what is now Luck at Last Road All the timber for the houses etc, was carted across country, creeks etc having to be forded. At the opening of the High Level Bridge between Leamington and Cambridge, by the then Prime Minister (sic), Mr Day and my father were able to meet him and put their case, which he said was a very deserving one. Shortly afterwards work began on the road and after waiting for five years these settlers had a road. Next, the Matamata County asked for a suggestion for a name. My Mother put forward the name Luck at Last and it was accepted.’

A picture is worth a thousand words, so here is a photo of the street sign I took last month, with Maungatautari in the background. If you enlarge the image, you will see that Luck At Last is a No Exit road. Make of that what you will. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Do not lie to the librarian

Via Florida bookperson Erin Mitchell, the rules in force at the Hyde Institute library, Barnet Vale, Hertfordshire, in 1930:
Enter the library if their faces are offensively dirty.
Fall asleep on the tables.
Eat their lunches whilst reading papers, books, &c.
Smoke in the building.
Leave their business cards behind.
Make themselves a nuisance.
Kick or damage the furniture.
Tell lies to the librarian.
Enter when they are in an inebriated condition.
If they have small-pox.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The AUP Anthology of NZ Literature #9

This has been a long series since my first post reviewing the book in December 2012 somewhat negatively (quote unquote: of a line in the introduction I wrote, “That is the stupidest sentence I have read all year”). The previous entry was in March 2013 celebrating its big win in the awards for the Most Beautiful Book Australia and New Zealand.

On 4 December Pamela Gordon, a trustee of the Janet Frame estate, posted on the Slightly Framous blog explaining at length why there was nothing from Frame in the book – which was one of my criticisms of it, along with the absence of other major writers such as Vincent O’Sullivan and Alan Duff in an anthology of New Zealand literature that had room for material from the Yates Gardening Guide and the  Edmonds Cookbook.

Her post is in response to a paper by the book’s co-editor Jane Stafford in the latest issue of the Journal of New Zealand Literature about why Frame’s work was missing. Stafford’s paper is here (billed as a $19 download but it’s easy to sign up and read it online for free). It is a spirited defence of the anthologists’ actions and well worth reading. Best bit about difficult living authors: “And old scores and a long memory were a factor in at least one case.” I bet.

Pamela has adifferent story to tell. She writes:
Quite apart from their desires for the rest of their project, the editors of the AUP anthology had constructed a flawed and unbalanced de facto ‘canon’ of Frame’s work, that we the estate knew from our wider experience of non-academic publishing was likely to be extracted from much of the rest of the anthology, especially internationally, where Frame is one of the few New Zealand literary names known, and where reprints of her work can command market prices. The publisher was seeking international digital rights along with carte blanche for the formulation of subsets of material from within the anthology for unstated purposes and within undeclared contexts. We could not allow this inadequate Frame corpus of over 12,000 words, weighted heavily towards her early career, to represent Frame’s output over her entire career. At that stage our concern was not with the major flaw at the heart of the AUP Anthology, later identified by numerous critics: that the book which claimed on its cover to offer the best New Zealand writing (‘our guide to what’s worth reading – and why’), was in fact not selected with the ‘best’ work in mind, but rather selected because they were the best pieces to showcase [the editors’ view of] New Zealand’s sociological and historical makeup. Our concern was as it should be (by definition) for a responsible literary estate, to agree on an appropriate and high quality and representative range of Frame’s best work. We did attempt to be generous and flexible but this was not appreciated. The editors did not seem to want Frame in all her glory – they wanted her as a muted and submissive wallpaper ‘to add lustre’ to the new generation (consisting largely of staff and alumni from their own university) – but not to challenge or outshine it. […]
A knowledgeable and sensitive editor would have been aware of these historical (and still valid) issues but Stafford and Williams didn’t know or care about the deficiencies of the Frame canon they had gathered together to present to the international literary and educational community as a representation of what was ‘worth reading’ of her work. They seemed to expect the authors and estates at the other end of their own decisions to quietly sign their assent without demur: ‘the overwhelming majority of authors and estates responded positively and in a business-like manner – that is, they signed the permissions form and returned it promptly.’ Although there was quite an outcry after publication when some authors and copyright holders regretted the eccentric context their work had been set within, and several of them have privately contacted the Frame trustees to praise our stand and to say that if they had known the agenda of the anthology (or in some cases, if they had not already ceded their authority to some publisher who rubber-stamped the excerpt without even notifying the author or estate), they too would have withheld permission.

This is a tricky area. As a literary trustee you have a duty to maximise the writer’s exposure to as wide an audience as possible; at the same time you have to preserve their reputation without suppressing the truth. It’s a balancing act. When I was on the Frank Sargeson Trust someone asked permission to publish some terrrible early poems by Sargeson that would have seen him mocked (not just for the line about “gay brown squirrels” in a London park): we said no. Scholars can still see them but not general readers.

In the present case it’s even trickier: the difference of opinion was about the selection of published work. The Frame Trust thought that the anthologists’ selection – which would come with all the authority of Auckland University Press – would present a skewed view of her work not just to New Zealand students but also to overseas readers. So, no.

Reading both Stafford and Gordon is fascinating. I know which side I’m on.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

My latest book #2

To Wellington yesterday for the launch of my new book, New Zealand’s Gift to the World: the Family Group Conference. The latest Listener (6 December issue) has five pages on it, which is nice. There was a great speech from Judge Andrew Becroft, the principal Youth Court judge. There was a great speech from Judge Carolyn Henwood, whose idea the book was and who has driven the project. (And by driven, I mean driven. No, DRIVEN.) There was a great speech from the deputy Prime Minister, Bill English, who launched the book.

He knows much more about the youth justice system than I expected. He was funny – which is not easy with this grim subject – but also serious and a classic liberal in his comments about the coercive power of the state and how damaging it can be to vulnerable youth. One of his points was that the various state institutions who are involved don’t talk to each other: they tick the boxes of their own processes but this does not help the child. These are difficult, damaged kids. New Zealand is good at diverting the salvageable ones early, so those who get a family group conference are the hardest nuts. He argued for an approach that would be child-centred rather than form-filling. Basically, he gave a major rark-up to the bureaucrats.

The venue was the Icon Room at Te Papa with about 200 guests. There were judges, cops in uniform, Youth Aid workers, social workers, FGC co-ordinators, people from ministries of certain things… I didn’t know any of them apart from Judges Henwood and Becroft, so stood at the back with my very pregnant niece, present as my support whanau; the book’s editor, Jane Parkin; designer Katrina Duncan; photographer Nigel Gardiner; and my friend Paul Diamond who (along with Jennifer George of the Trust) did many of the interviews which were the raw material for the book. None of them apart from Paul knew anyone else in the room either. We huddled.

It was a great launch – top food, lashings of wine and, for my pregnant niece, water – with a strong emphasis on what a team effort it was. Four years in the making. The most collaborative book project I have ever worked on: not surprising, as it is one of the most Maori. Totally the most New Zealandy, because the FGC concept came from the revered Judge Mick Brown whom I met 25 or so years ago over dinner at Phil Gifford’s with Buck Shelford. We joke about New Zealand’s two degrees of separation, but it is real. At the launch I thought also of Neil Finn’s line “Seven worlds collide”. So here he is with “Distant Sun”:

Sunday, November 30, 2014


For those of you without Latin numeracy, L = 50. A friend of mine turns 50 today. He went to art school.

So here are Godley & Creme with “Art School Canteen” from their 1978 album L:

Thursday, November 27, 2014

My latest book

Crosson Clarke Carnachan was launched last Wednesday at Bath Street Gallery in Auckland. There has been coverage of it here and here, but neither article credits the book’s designer, Diana Curtis, who really should have got top billing over the editor (me).

We started work on it in April 2008, expecting to publish in 2009, but you know how architects are with deadlines.

It is published by the NZ Architectural Publications Trust as part of a series of architectural monographs. Diana designed and I edited earlier volumes on Pete Bossley, Jasmax and a few others. They are quite good.

Have I mentioned that my next book will be launched on Monday at Te Papa by the deputy Prime Minister before an expected audience of 200? 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wintec Press Club: Pam Corkery edition

The Wintec Press Club meets for lunch three times a year in Hamilton: guests are the students of the Wintec journalism course, important media types from the Waikato and Auckland, politicians and famous sporty types. And me. The host is Steve Braunias, Editor in Residence on the course. This time the guest speaker was Pam Corkery.

The Duncan Garner edition from May is here. When Rachel Glucina was the guest speaker in August I was laid low by flu, so roped in Joshua Drummond to report. This time I was up for it. I could face Pam Corkery. Met her years ago at a mutual friend’s funeral and liked her. On the other hand, there had recently been the Internet Mana party, which was mad.

At my table were Sarah Daniell, editor of Your Weekend; David Seymour, ACT MP for Epsom, and David Bennett, National MP for Hamilton East, both of them proper MPs, none of your list rubbish; Jonathan MacKenzie editor of the Waikato Times; and two Wintec journalism students, Erin Majurey and Rich Garratt, both of whom were terrific company and were serious about journalism. Hah. They’ll learn.

In his introductory speech Steve Braunias gave a good and well-deserved kicking to the idea that there was a long-ago golden age of New Zealand journalism: in his view the golden age is arguably now, in part because the recent crops of Wintec students have been so good.

He also made several sales pitches for his new self-published book Madmen: inside the weirdest election campaign ever, which was on sale at the back of the room (“$20, Eftpos available, cash also”). It’s a nice object: small format; brilliant cover image courtesy of Joshua Drummond; and only 116 pages. So I bought a copy and one of these days I’ll get around to reading it.

Just before she was due on stage Corkery disappeared with Sarah Daniell for a crafty fag. I knew this: Braunias didn’t. A kinder person than me would have told him. He launched into his introduction but had to stop when he realised that Pam had left the building. He improvised – brilliantly, I have to say – for about 10 minutes until she deigned to take the stage. He said of her that she was “a legend, a marvel and I dig the way her mind works”.

Corkery instantly launched into a 40-minute whinge about how beastly the media had been to her during the recent election campaign, when she was press secretary or something for Internet Party leader Laila Harre. This seemed a bit rich coming from someone who is both a former journalist and a former MP, so knows exactly how this game is played. She didn’t make a lot of sense and had nothing constructive to offer by way of advice to the students. But she was very entertaining.

She talked about “puffed-up-little-shitgate”. She talked about her time working on a tabloid in Oz: “Funniest story about two twins burnt to death in a campervan I’ve ever heard.” She talked about television news: “TV One’s news is silence coloured in.”

She gave a very good impression of Russell Brown, “85 years old”, and delivered the line “Russell Brown, man of the people” as witheringly as anything said by Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey. At one point David Seymour gamely heckled: she responded with vigour.

Political reporter Tova O’Brien from 3 News was a recurring theme. I had never heard of her but Corkery certainly had. She said she txted O’Brien during the campaign: “If you can’t be honest, try lying less.”

Selected Pamquotes from my notes:
“We feast like vultures on road accidents.”
“Barry Soper, leave the field now.”
“Woodward and Bernstein, roll over in your fucking graves.”
“I don’t want to invoke Gandhi but I’m going to.”
To Labour MP Phil Twyford: “The Labour Party’s fucked. They should go condo – just sublet.”

At question time David Slack got Corkery talking about alcoholism. During her lengthy reply Braunias, at her side, ostentatiously drank a Heineken then interrupted: “Pam raises an interesting point when she refers to wallpaper.” I hadn’t noticed that she had referred to wallpaper because I had stopped listening, but Braunias went on to extol the virtues of the Ferrybank’s new wallpaper before thanking Corkery. It was a masterclass in how to close down a speaker who has begun to bore.

Earlier, in between plugs for his new book, Madmen: inside the weirdest election campaign ever (“$20, Eftpos available, cash also”), Braunias announced the winners of the annual Wintec Press Club awards. Because this is a blog of record, here they are.

Jeanette Tyrell of Sage PR put up a prize of $500 for the student who showed the most initiative. The finalists were Genie Johns, Rich Garratt, Manpreet Farrar, Brooke Bath and the winner was Erin Majurey: “She has probably broken the Wintec record for most stories published as a student journalist in one year, and many of the stories depended on her fantastic way with people and her determination to get them to talk openly and candidly.”

The Wintec Press Club best friend award went to David Slack, who apparently says nice things about the club on the radio.

The finalists for the Best Writer in NZ Award were Jeremy Wells of Radio Hauraki, for his Mike Hosking parodies; Emily Simpson, Metro magazine; Deborah Hill-Cone, NZ Herald; Matt Bowen, Waikato Times. The winner was Aimie Cronin: “Aimie’s feature work at the Waikato Times is constantly exhilarating. She’s an expressive and emotional writer who shown particular sensitivity in revealing Hamilton’s underclass. Last week’s feature about a disgraceful state housing project was a brittle masterpiece.”

Finally, Best Sentence of the Year by a Wintec journalism student: “A good sentence is a joy forever,” said Braunias, “a moment when language achieves a momentary state of grace. And the $500 cash prize means it qualifies, in a dollar per word ratio, as the richest literary prize in New Zealand and perhaps the world.” Which is probably true.

The finalists were Mereana Austin, Dave Nicoll and Manpreet Farrar: Don Rowe won with the opening line for a story about his experience in a flotation tank: “At eight words long that works out at a sweet $65 a word.” Braunias is a journalist so, as predicted by the Stratford Theory of Numbers, that amount is wrong. Then he said, I’m going to read out the entire opening paragraph because every sentence in it is audacious
Alone in the dark I left my body. It was a directionless exit. More of an expansion in all directions. Perhaps influenced by having just read a copy of the Bhagavad Gita (forced upon me by a young Hare Krishna in downtown Hamilton), I recognised an immense, blue-skinned being which materialised before me as some hybrid Hindu deity, a kind of Shiva/Krishna mashup. As in the story of Krishna, the deity opened its mouth and revealed the contents as the entire universe. . . I was halfway through my second experience in a floatation tank and I was thoroughly impressed.

Yes. For once I agree with Braunias: this may well be a golden age of journalism. Certainly, whenever I see Aimie Cronin’s or Matt Bowen’s byline in the Waikato Times I read the story, whatever its subject.

One of the pleasures of the Wintec Press Club is catching up with old and new friends from journalism. This time there were Diana Wichtel, Donna Chisholm, Bruce Ansley, Karyn Scherer. . . As I left the last meeting of the Wintec Press Club for 2014, I spied across the room the familiar figure of Steve Braunias’s mentor Jumbo Trudgeon, veteran parliamentary hack, who plays such a poignant role in the penultimate chapter, pp 101-109, of Madmen: inside the weirdest election campaign ever (“$20, Eftpos available, cash also”). 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Let’s twerk like it’s 1971

Leon Russell and friends in 1971 on PBS performing “Honky Tonk Woman”. We used to see stuff like this on TV then – recorded live and loose and weird, which you could do with real musicians:

The old black guy sitting down with a baby on his lap is Furry Lewis (best known now as the subject of the Joni Mitchell song). Carl Radle on bass, Kathi McDonald (white) and Claudia Lennear (black) on backing vocals, Jim Horn on sax and Emily on – well, if that’s not twerking avant la lettre I don’t know what is.

Claudia Lennear featured in the Joe Cocker tour movie Mad Dogs and Englishmen and the more recent one about backing singers, 20 Feet from Stardom. Here she is again from the same show.

Monitor: David Hepworth

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sentence of the day #5

From “How to Talk to Famous Authors” by Francis Plug at Booknotes today:
That’s why you’ll often see a famous author immediately reach for a glass of wine when a member of the public approaches.