Monday, June 30, 2008

And more about Janet Frame...

Thanks to Graham Beattie who pointed out this review of Towards Another Summer, and comment on posthumous publishing from The Guardian.

The decision by literary estates to publish the work of writers posthumously often has people wondering about whether it is profit driven, or to truly add a worthy piece to the body of work of the author. It is great to see The Guardian's Rachel Cooke thinks the Janet Frame Literary Trust made the right call.

I'll be talking with trustee Pamela Gordon about these decisions and managing literary estates on the Write On Radio Show on Wednesday the 9th of July from noon. We'll also talk about Janet Frame the poet, seeing as July is the month for Montana Poetry Day.

While on the subject of Janet Frame, if you are ever passing through Oamaru you must visit the Janet Frame House at 56 Eden Street. In fact, make a special trip.

Our Otago Southland Branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors took a road trip up to Oamaru to have a socialise with the Oamaru writers and to tour the house. It was magical.

The Eden Street Trust has done a fabulous job with the house. It isn't a museum or a mausoleum to Janet. They, with Janet's blessing, "re-Framed" the house, and the result is a house that is evocative of her, but is its own entity. It just is. Visit, and you'll see what I mean.

One of the highlights of the visit was listening to a gorgeous recording of a pretty cranky Janet reading about the house from To the Is-Land.

Truly wonderful.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Vanda Symon (Crime Writer) Winner.

It's official, I have finally won something in a writing competition!

Okay, I only had to write six words, so it's not exactly the BNZ Katherine Mansfield, but I won something all the same - a copy of this book.

Last week's Otago Daily Times ran a competition to write a six-word memoir prompted by the book Not Quite What I Was Planning, compiled by Larry Smith, who founded the online magazine, SMITH. (Which now lists over thirty thousand such memoirs.)

Ernest Hemingway's six-word story is probably the most well known, and poignant.
"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

Another of my favourites cited in his book (sorry, I can't name the author) is
"Stole wife, lost friends, now happy."

So, here is Vanda Symon's winning six-word memoir:

"Had babies. Drove me to crime."

My children think it's hilarious and are very proud they drove me to a life of crime. But it does sound very funny, coming out of the mouth of a six-year old!

Friday, June 27, 2008

In the Frame

I am a late comer to the writings of Janet Frame.
I recall, when at high school, my friends devouring Janet Frame's books and raving about them. At that time I was too busy devouring Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Terry Brooks and Elizabeth Peters but courtesy of said friends enjoyment of a good book discussion, I learned quite a lot about her background.

So it is at this veritable age (that I'm not about to disclose) that I have finally read my first Janet Frame book.

I attended a lovely book launch for Towards Another Summer at the Hocken Library and indulged a copy of the hardback edition (Number 728 of 750), listened to the anecdotes about Janet, how the Janet Frame Literary Trust went about publishing this work, which Janet didn't want published until after her death, and some of the background to this book.

Still, I was a little unsure of what to expect.

I was surprised, and in the best possible way:

Janet's amazing use of language. It's richness and vibrancy, and ability to convey the mood.

The unexpected humour. This excerpt a particular favourite:

"There seemed nowhere to escape from the snowfilled sootfilled wind. It blew upon their skin as if their outer layer of skin had been peeled away leaving a raw rasping wound spread over their body. They struggled along the grey streets in a bizarre enactment of an Arctic expedition which could have been recorded in the usual dramatic diary - 'Supply of warmth diminishing; hope to reach library and market by five-thirty; hopes failing...' Grace would not have been surprised if Philip had suddenly stopped and said, with a stricken look on his face, 'I'm going a while. I may be some time...'

Frame captured so well the excruciating social discomfort experienced by Grace in this weekend away from home, and the drift of her mind. I ached for her.

I loved it and can now declare myself a Janet Frame convert.

So if anyone would care to recommend their favourite Janet Frame book, I'm on the lookout for the next one to read.

(Excerpt and photograph reproduced with the kind permission of the Janet Frame Literary Trust.)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Announcing the arrival...

...of my advance copy of The Ringmaster, delivered to my door.

It's a real book, with a real cover, and pretty shiny silver letters...

I'm just going to take a moment to have a little cry...

A heavenly combination

It's not every day you get to go shopping for two of your favourite necessities of life at once, especially favourite things on sale.

This afternoon I get to go to the Longacre Press and Silkbody mid-winter sale.

Yes, books and clothes. The only way it could be better was if they were going to serve wine. Oops, they are!

If you're in Dunedin this afternoon and feel like some genteel shopping, its from 4.00pm to 7.00pm at Longacre Press, 2nd floor, Moray Chambers, 30 Moray Place.

BYO Chequebook.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Queen of Crime

Ngaio Marsh richly deserves her title as the Queen of Crime, and although I've always been aware of her importance in New Zealand literature, I've only recently discovered how valued she is overseas. Dare I say, even more so than at home?

There have been some interesting discussions on book covers over at Detectives Beyond Borders recently in which Ngaio Marsh's name featured. Blogging leads to more blogging and thus this on a blog called Chocolate Cobwebs, titled Ngaio Marsh Cover Story.

I've been growing my own personal collection of Ngaio Marsh books and have had great fun in the local second hand bookstores sourcing them. They have been reprinted so many times, and several editions are often side by side, so you can take your pick based on how cool the cover is. Some are fantastic, some awful. My favourites tend to the more simple such as the 1950's hardback book club versions. My Scales of Justice is very simple, but appealing with its olivey green background and drawing of a fish. I have an awful looking A Man Lay Dead with the cover being a picture of the BBC drama actors - urgh.

My ultimate aim is to have a copy of each of her books, and to actually read them all. That could take a while - the acquiring and the reading. I should mention I have no qualms about ditching an uglier version for anything a bit more stylish.

A new biography of Ngaio Marsh is due out in September Ngaio Marsh: Her Life of Crime by Dr Joanne Drayton, published by Harper Collins. I look forward to it. I couldn't find a cover image to post here of the new book - I hope it's a good one.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Longest Night

Winter solstice brings with it many things.

The joy in knowing the sun will start rising before 8.20am and that's the last time we have to see sunset before 5.00pm. All those with Seasonal Affective Disorder, please cheer (if you're up to it.)

The feeling we're on the big down hill slope to summer, even if the cruel reality in Dunedin is we don't see the worst weather until after the shortest day. To make it's point, we're forecast for snow this week.

The realisation we're half way through the year, and the re-evaluation of goals and time-frames. (Armed with a wine and a mild sense of panic.)

And traditions, lots of traditions.

In our family I'm big on making traditions for the kids. Here in New Zealand we don't seem to find cause to celebrate or mark events, other than the usual Easter and Christmas, which is a shame. I think we need to mark dates, whether lunar, environmental or cultural. To me it gives people, and particularly children a sense of place and time and season, a sense of the rhythm of life. So we celebrate whenever we can.

The shortest day brings with it the ceremonial planting of Garlic, to be harvested on the longest day. And of course, we have to have a special Mid-Winter Dinner, which will be tonight. We couldn't have it last night because, along with half of Dunedin, and their kids, we were cocooned in jackets and warm clothes and out at the Midwinter Carnival.

Dunedin knows how to celebrate.

Moray Place through to the Octagon was closed off to traffic and the centre of the city turned into one large festival playground, with live music, food stalls, and the unexpected sight of braziers with open fires in the middle of the main street of town.

Then the Lantern Parade began, the part we'd all been waiting for. Over 300 paper lanterns had been made including giant lanterns shaped like New Zealand birds, and seven giant stars to represent the seven sisters of the Pleiads in recognition of Matariki, the Maori New Year. These were paraded around The Octagon with great ceremony to the beat of the percussionists and a group of Medieval Chanters. There were stilt walkers, ethereal dancers, giant puppets and hundreds of excited children carrying their own glowing lantern creations.

The evening was topped off with the burst and boom of fireworks and the sky ablaze with colour and light.

It was magical, for children young and old.

So we have celebrated the shortest day, marked the winter solstice, celebrated Matariki. The children have a sense of this time, its significance and the season.

We all look forward to light, and sometime soon, warmth.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

That sinking feeling

One of the hugely pleasurable side effects of writing is the need to research.

You may have visions of writers spending hours poring over boring documents, feverishly writing notes, fueled on by copious amounts of coffee (unless you're in a library where liquids, pens and any such dangerous implements are banned) but the fact is most of the time it's fascinating. In fact too fascinating as its very easy to get sidetracked and before you know it, bam, two hours have gone by and you've done nothing that's going to help with the novel, but have enriched your life.

Novel number three has a maritime element to it and as a result I have had a fabulous time reliving some of my childhood passions. I have always loved boats and maps. Not modern boats, (well, OK, maybe them too) - I mean the old wooden varieties, with sails and rigging. When I was a kid among the many things I used to make was model ships out of cardboard - sailing ships. I made the Golden Hind and the Cutty Sark, and drew innumerable maps.

You can imagine my glee at having an excuse to revisit all things nautical.

The Otago Museum has always had a fabulous maritime gallery. It's a compulsory trip with the boys on our frequent trips and a must see for any visitors to Dunedin. I discovered another delight when researching this book, and that is the Port Chalmers Museum. It's tiny, and crammed with all manner of maritime memorabilia and the kind of place you can happily lose a few hours. It also comes with a delightful crew of volunteers who are incredibly knowledgeable.

Of course, there is the black hole of time that is the internet. If you are into old maps and charts you have to check this website out. It's, sigh, wonderful - David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

It boasts over 17000 maps on line - Yep, you could spend days here.

So I find myself with another distraction from writing and the urge to make antiqued maps again. And, I've never made the Endeavour...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Killing Time

Top ten procrastination methods from writing a novel:
(In no particular order)

1. Blogging - and checking for 'comments' - a black hole of time, but fun!
2. Checking out everyone else's blog's - essential for staving off writer's isolation blues.
3. Email - almost as bad as blogging, almost.
4. Dealing with the laundry - hoping inspiration comes when pegging out on the line, and the bl**dy rain stays away.
5. Vacuuming - because those cornflakes can't stay on the carpet a second longer.
6.Cleaning the shower - Really desperate now.
7. Going to the letterbox - ever hopeful for cheques, letters from Creative New Zealand to say yes, we think you're worth it, or even any letter, written with those archaic tools, pen and paper.
8. Writing said archaic letters - yes, I'm an old fashioned kind of a girl.
9. Dealing with the kids strewn toys - handy hint for other parents - invest in a rake.
10. Doing the recycling - procrastinating with a clear conscience.

Other suggestions welcome...

Sunday, June 15, 2008

It was a Wednesday!

Wednesday turned out to be one of those, phew, survived that, days.

On the second Wednesday of each month I produce and host a radio show Write On for the Otago Southland Branch of the NZSA on Hills Am Community radio. I usually talk to a couple of local writers or book industry people, although have been known to throw in the odd international super-star. Please note the gratuitous fan shot with Ian Rankin, who I got to interview last year, much to the delight of Hugh, the station manager. "You're interviewing Ian Rankin! For us? Oh my god. You've got to get him to do us a sound bite."
Community radio rocks.

This Wednesday for June's episode of Write On I had a lovely chat with Penelope Todd, who's book Digging for Spain I've reviewed and loved, and Emma Neale who has recently released her collection of poetry Spark and an anthology of poetry she has edited, Swings + Roundabouts.

On the Tuesday I'd received a phone call from Charlotte, the producer for Channel 9 Television's Dunedin Diary programme, to say, um, er, Vanda, everyone's pulled out sick, can you do book reviews tomorrow? No prob Charlotte. Gulp. Thank heavens I had some books I'd already read up my sleeve.

So here are my notes for my three minute slot with Dougal.

Swings + Roundabouts: Poems on Parenthood.
Edited by Emma Neale.

Parenthood and its demands is a commonality we all share. Whether or not we have had our own, all of us are someone's child and know what those special relationships bring. Emma Neale undertook the huge task of compiling an anthology of poetry on parenthood from submissions from poets in New Zealand and Australia, as well as selected poems she'd come across as a reader and lover of poetry.
Having children brings with it love, joys, fears, incredulous moments and lots of attitude and I thinks Emma's collection represents well the whole spectrum of emotions. And its not just poems about babies, but also older children, teenagers, adult children and even reversals - an adult child having to look after their parent. I think there's something there for everyone.
The book also contains photographs by Mark Smith which add beautifully its overall mood.
I think this is a real, honest collection that expresses the good, the bad, the sad and the amusing. I recommend it for anyone who enjoys poetry and also those who enjoy reading about family and relationships.

The Business of Documentary Filmmaking
by Claudia Babirat and Lloyd Spencer Davis

This is a pretty specialised book on the topic of Documentary Filmmaking, which I don't do, but I found fascinating and think the principles it talks about translate into most artistic forms of endeavour. It is what it states: a book on the business of documentary filmmaking. Not how to write or create a documentary, but how to cope with the practical aspects of it, and written by people who have been doing it successfully for years.
As such it is very down to earth and useful, talking about approaching filmmaking as a business; planning, budgeting, funding, business plans - all those horribly unromantic, but essential things a budding filmmaker needs to do. It demonstrates clearly that it's hard work, and you need passion and commitment. It contains case studies of successful people in the industry, which adds that inspiration edge to the book, but basically it is a solid, practical New Zealand guide which if you've even contemplated filmmaking, you must read.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Idle chit chat?

There's been an interesting discussion over at Detectives Beyond Borders about how your characters talk. How do you portray accents or ethnic variations? Should you bother? Does it enhance the dialogue, or just annoy your readers? It makes interesting reading.

If you asked me to name, off the top of my frizzy head, books I could distinctly remember that used dialogue with accent, all of my responses would involve books with Scotsmen. Big, red-haired highland Scotsmen. Diana Gabaldon's Cross Stitch (Outlander in the USA) series is the one that stands out. Part of that would be because I fell in love with James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. Didn't everybody?

Do you need accent to portray ethnicity, or region or class? Is providing character background in the narrative, and appropriate colloquial terms enough of a clue, so the reader fills in the gaps with the voice they imagine a character to have?

How much is too much?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A diluent, and proud.

Oh, the furore over the Montanas.

First off, warmest congratulations to all of the finalists - creating a book, of any form, consumes your life. It's like birthing a baby, except, with a baby, everyone says, aw, how cute, they're beautiful, what a bonnie wee thing. With books, they have no qualms about trashing it in a public arena. So for the finalists, the acknowledgment of quality and worth from a panel of peers is huge.

For the rest of us, I can say I am very proud of my first novel, Overkill, and I am sure all of the other people who produced works in 2007 are enormously proud of their work too. I find myself in splendid company in the ranks of those who did not make the cut this year, fabulous company.

As for judging? Please, no one ever, ever, ask me to judge a book awards, ever. Not that anyone is likely to, but I thought I'd get in early and state this. Besides the fact I read too slow to get through the book mountain, well, you've seen for yourselves, its appears to be a hiding to nothing.

There you go - I couldn't resist my 5 cents worth on the subject. And now, I shall go, and proudly work on novel number three.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Itchy feet

Last night I got to enjoy one of those delicious winter evenings of wine, food and fine company. Eighteen of our Otago Southland NZSA branch members snugged into Martha Morseth's lounge to listen to the travel escapades of local writers Penelope Todd and Jackie Ballantyne.

Normally the thought of looking at someone's holiday snaps would have people running for the hills, or at least making polite excuses for an early exit, but knowing we would get to hear from two talented story tellers had people out in droves.

One of the perks to being Chair of the boy's school PTA is being able to borrow their data projector and screen, and it meant we were able to enjoy to great pics as well as the tales from the writers. It was a visual and aural treat.

Penelope's talk was themed around the writer's residencies she had enjoyed, and the contrasts between them. From the unstructured and slightly chaotic Can Serrat Residency, in Spain, to the brief, but wonderful time at the Chateau de Lavigny International Writers’ Residency in Switzerland, to the mildly more challenging Iowa International Writers' Residency. Some of the international writers Penelope befriended had endured much political uncertainty, persecution, and even for some, imprisonment for their art. We all came away with a sense of how fortunate we are in New Zealand and how cushy we have it. It was a fabulous talk and has me trying to figure out how I could manage residencies and family at this time in my life. I highly recommend Penelope's book Digging for Spain, in which she talks about her time in Spain, and much, much more.

Jackie Ballantyne had her first novel How to Stop a Heart from Beating published last year - I loved it, it's another must read. Her second book, which she is feverishly working away on is set in the land of the Tango and the Gaucho, and this is what Jackie entertained us with - tales of her research trip to Argentina. And yes, she tangoed and ate empanadas enjoyed lots of wine and marveled at the Argentinian fascination with soccer, meat, decorated cemetaries and the Catholic Church.

It was a fabulous evening, and I came away thinking, man, my life is dull! Many, many years ago BC (before children) hubby and I decided to embark on our OE, and we saved up, poured over the brochures and planned our travels... and then we saw a house. We were sensible, and brought the house. It's nights like last night that I mutter about being so very, very sensible.

Ah well, our day will come... Best I write and sell more books... lots of books.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Love and inanimate objects

This morning we awoke to the picture postcard perfection of snow dusting the top of the hedge, banked cheekily into the corners of the window sills, blanketing the lawn like a lacy tablecloth, giving the car an identity crisis.

Snow has a very funny effect. Just looking at it makes your face break into a grin and a childish relish grow in your heart. Last night as I watched big, fat flakes driving in horizontal flurries, I was jiggling with glee. I was worse than the children.

Part of the charm of snow, is looking at it from the warmth and cosiness of your own home - and hence my admission of undying love. Is it right to love an inanimate object? I cannot help but flush with joy at the sight of it, sitting there, quietly and with unassuming manner going about its work, pumping out heat - there you go, the object of my affection - our new heat pump. I love you Mr Fujitsu.

Last winter I attended to the writing business huddled next to the oil column heater, wrapped in at least 3 layers of Merino, another of polar fleece, a knee rug, ugg boots stretched around two pair of Merino socks, trying to write with fingerless gloves (in sexy turquoise blue, thanks Mum) while still shivering. This year...I love my heat pump.

Of course, love is a fickle thing. Give me a few months and I'll be treating it with ignore and it will be feeling taken for granted. Then come summer and it will be feeling redundant, and unneeded.

Last year's object d'amour was my laser printer - I swore life could never be the same now I had my laser printer - I was blinded by love.

The year before that it was the cast-off ibook from Hubby. He got the new computer, I got the cast-off, but still it was love, even if it felt a bit like picking up a new pet from the SPCA. Don't get me wrong, I'm still deeply admiring if my ibook, she has given birth to one novel, and helped in the gestation of another. She still looks stylish, in a mature, tired kind of a way. I've almost worn the darling out, and she is what I sit at now, expanding my world from the four walls of suburbia into the World Wide Web. She has stood by me through so much and I know I shouldn't let my eyes stray further afield, but I fantasise about widgets and new operating systems. I long for more USB ports and a sexy, slim model with a bigger screen. I feel a pang of furtive guilt as I flick through the latest eye candy in the Magnum Mac catalogue - out of sight, of course, and whisper and point out the features of my latest crush to friends, hoping desperately it wont get back to Mme Mac. The lengths we will go to to hide our infidelity.

But I fear it cannot last. She is, with increasing frequency freezing me out. I have to work hard to press her buttons and get her to restart, hoping, praying my hard work is not erased from her memory, lost forever. She has taken and refuses to return one of my CDs. I may be harbouring thoughts of infidelity, but she is proving unreliable.

Some time soon, somethings going to give.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Ever resourseful

I see, thanks to Bookman Beattie's Blog, that the British CWA have announced the short list for their Dagger awards - always thought they were a perfect title for crime writing awards.
Oh, to make it onto that list...

Great to find that Mo Hayder is in there for Ritual and I should jolly well think so - it's a ripper book.

It got me to thinking (don't ask me how) about the crime writing related websites I frequent when I should really be writing. I see them as research, and a chance to keep up with what's happening in the world of crime fiction. There are plenty of writers with great sites, but I'll leave you to make use of Google to find your favourites.

There are a few blogs I regularly check out:

Detectives Beyond Borders has a great review of books and plenty of discussion about crime writing, but also general writing issues, such as translations. A huge list of links too. It calls itself a "forum for international crime fiction - because murder is more fun away from home."

Crime Down Under
This is a great one for keeping tabs on mystery and crime books from Australia. It has a recent post on the long list for the Australian Crime Writing Association Ned Kelly Awards
Oh to make that list too. I'm suprised by the huge amount of Australian crime writing produced.

The Rap Sheet is another good forum with plenty of discussion and links.

Clews - your home for historic true crime is a great little site with all manner if fascinating tidbits.

Often a crime writer needs to know some of the nastier aspects of life and death and The Australian Museum Online has a terrific section on Death and dying, so if you need to know the ins and outs of human decomposition, this is a great place to start.

The Tru TV Crime Library is a very commercial looking site, but contains some interesting information on individual cases and forensic methods.

This site is a little pearler if you're doing anything historical - Writer's Dream Tools which has a section on history by decades. It tells you events, who's in, who died, the bad guys, music and entertainment, new slang of the time and lots more.

Of course there is the monstrosity that is Wikipedia

That's all for now folks. I need to go write a novel...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Mo Hayder - wow.

I had the pleasure of seeing Mo Hayder in action when I was enjoying my wallow in the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival.

She was stunning, articulate, funny, a natural story teller, generous with the unfair, getting so much talent in one little energetic bundle. Ahhh, but could she write...

Oh, yes.

I finished Ritual at 2.30 in the morning - had to finish it, wasn't going to sleep if I didn't, there was no point resisting. It left me feeling fully satisfied as a reader, and wanting more. It also left me feeling in awe of her abilities.

So Ritual gets a five star rating from me -

Great Characters
Creepy and fascinating subject matter.
Fabulous plot and sub-plots.
Skilled writing.


Sunday, June 1, 2008

Traitorous acquisistions

I am a staunch advocate of supporting your local independent bookstore, in fact, I'm probably one of the reasons Dunedin's fabulous University Book Shop stays solvent. But once or twice a year, Hubby and I indulge in a spot of online shopping from Amazon. He likes to get photography books we can't get here, and to help him assuage his guilt at buying things if I'm not, I make the personal sacrifice and get a few things too. The things I do to make him feel better, gosh.

The parcel arrived on the doorstep yesterday and contained a few, what I shall call, research items.

Forensics and Fiction by D.P.Lyle, MD

Dr Lyle has been answering weird questions from writers for years, and has a number of books out with medical information for authors. This one is subtitled Clever, intriguing and downright odd questions from crime writers, which sets the tone. He gives detailed answers on questions from What injuries occur after a fork stab to the throat? to Could my character use cyanide added to a contact lens solution to kill anther character?
This book looks like it will be a mine of information triggered by questions from people with as warped a mind as mine.

Missing Persons: A writer's guide to finding the lost, the abducted and the escaped. By Fay Faron

This is a USA based reference guide, but many of the principals are the same for here. Thought it could come in handy one day.

Forensics for Dummies by D.P.Lyle MD

My mate DP again, but this time with the focus on Forensics. I borrowed a friend's copy of this book when I was doing my Otago University Summer School Forensic Biology Course and found it very handy. Thought it wouldn't hurt to add it to my permanent collection of forensics books piled on the floor in my office (Mental note to self: Might have to consider adding some bookshelves to the needed acquisitions list.)

So there you go, a few more books to add to the collection, not that I haven't acquired many recently, ahem. And I'm sorry University Book Shop, I know I was disloyal to you, betrayed you, and I feel really bad about that - so I'll make it up to you soon, promise!