30 November 2008

Paekakariki City Limits

I spent several hours today engaged in a poetic expedition to Paekakariki, which is a small town on the Kapiti Coast north of Wellington - a rather beautiful small town nestled in the sandhills by the sea.

Helen Rickerby, Harvey Molloy and I travelled up in Harvey's car to rendezvous with Helen Heath at the Paekakariki School Fair and give a joint poetry reading. Helen Heath set up the gig, and the rest of us were pleased to have the chance to take part.

I had very little idea what to expect, but I thoroughly enjoyed the day - though the heat was a bit much for my cold-adapted blood; the Kapiti Coast is usually hotter than Wellington, and by the time we got there just after 11am, Paekakariki was sweltering. The fair was big - I've never seen a fair with three different types of bouncy castle before, though I'm sure you city slicker types see that all the time. We moved through the fair to the hall, and set out our stall. We all had things to sell:

Helen Heath: CD "Seven Paekakariki Poets Reading"

Harvey Molloy: New poetry collection Moonshot

Helen Rickerby: New poetry collection My Iron Spine; previous collection Abstract Internal Furniture; and JAAM 26 - Helen publishes JAAM.

Tim Jones: Recent poetry collection All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens and first poetry collection Boat People; new short story collection Transported and first short story collection Extreme Weather Events.

We did two reading sessions, half an hour apart, with a fine performance by a Thai dance troupe in between. I found the first session hard going, because most of the notional audience were actually in the hall to eat their lunch; but, by the second session, more of the people in the hall were paying attention - and if they weren't, Harvey got their attention with the first poem he read! The sales table ticked along well, each of us met some people we knew whom we didn't know would be there, and afterwards, we had a good time checking out Helen Heath's craft stall and haunting the book stall, where it was lovely to see Dinah Hawken again.

Doing a solo reading can be stressful, and if the audience isn't responding, there's really nowhere to turn. Doing a joint reading with friends was fun, supportive, social, and as it turns out, profitable as well. If you've got an event coming up in the Wellington region which could benefit from a visiting poet or three, please get in touch!

26 November 2008

Walking the White Road: An Interview with Tania Hershman


Here we are: Tania Hershman's virtual book tour for her excellent short story collection The White Road and Other Stories, which is available in New Zealand from Fishpond (here: The White Road and Other Stories), has touched down at my blog for its fifth stop. (For details of past and future stops on the tour, see the end of this post.)

What links a cafĂ© in Antarctica, a factory for producing electronic tracking tags and a casino where gamblers can wager their shoes? They’re among the multiple venues where award-winning writer Tania Hershman sets her unique tales in this spellbinding debut collection.

I'm reading The White Road and Other Stories at the moment, and am really enjoying its mixture of flash fiction (very short stories) and stories inspired by articles in New Scientist magazine. I recommend it!



Biography

Tania Hershman was born in London in 1970 and in 1994 moved to Jerusalem, Israel, where she now lives with her partner. Tania is a former science journalist and her award-winning short stories combine her two loves: fiction and science. Many of Tania's stories, which have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and published in print and online, are inspired by articles from popular science magazines. In November 2007, she founded The Short Review, a unique website dedicated to reviewing short story collections. For further information, visit The White Road and Other Stories. Tania blogs at TitaniaWrites.

The Interview

Tania, you made a very interesting comment on my blog, in response to my post on Is Literary Fiction a Genre? You said, in part: “To be frank, I hate genre distinctions, anything that sets something apart from something else and runs the risk that someone who loves to read will miss out on great writing because it's on another shelf in the book shop.” Yet the whole publishing industry — publishers, booksellers, reviewers, and indeed many readers – appears to operate on the basis of genre. Do you feel that you’re a lone voice in the wilderness on this issue, or part of a growing trend?

Tim, first, thanks for having me, it's great to be here. Second, I have no idea if I am a lone voice on this, I haven't read that much else about it, but whenever I've written about it, such as during a guest blog post on Vulpes Libris, I have had a lot of great comments. I asked author Polly Frost to write a guest post on The Short Review blog about genre (she called herself a “genre slut”, which I love!) She said: “You’d think that anyone who writes or reads would be cheering for everyone else. Instead, some highbrow literary people sneer at genre stories. Meanwhile, there are genre people who are belligerent and defensive.” This doesn't make sense to me, now that I am being exposed to what is called “genre” fiction, which I am finding far more beautifully-written, touching, relevant and peopled with well-rounded and fascinating characters than much of the so-called “literary” fiction. Why draw these lines? Why section off whole swathes of literature? I can understand how this would make those in the sectioned-off part rather defensive. Who wouldn't be? Tear down the walls, get rid of the genre shelves, I cry!

But then, on the other hand, fans of a particular field – I will say field instead of genre – of literature, such as science fiction, or crime, may object. Where will we look to find the kinds of books we like to read? they might ask me. What I would say is, as you are searching through the shelves for the books you already know you want to read, you must just find a book or two that you didn't know you wanted to read and might just love. What's better than those moments, the finding of a new favourite author?

In terms of the publishing industry, it's obviously easier for them to operate with the genre distinctions: they know who to sell what to, it's all clear cut and neat, in boxes. They know where to advertise, how to spread the word, where to send an author to be interviewed, to give readings. But will that get an author new readers? Readers who don't know they like science fiction, like me? No. To do that would be a far greater challenge – perhaps similar to the challenge of “suggesting” to novel readers they might also enjoy a short story collection. Cynical, me??

If we consider interstitial fiction as being fiction that crosses, or falls between, genre boundaries, do you regard all or some of the stories in The White Road and Other Stories as being interstitial fiction, and if so, do you feel a kinship with other writers of interstitial fiction?

Well, strictly speaking, interstitial fiction only exists if you believe in the genre boundaries in the first place. But since we haven't reached a genre-less state yet, I will answer your question. When I wrote the stories in The White Road, I had no thought of genre, of where they might “fit”. Plaits is a story where a woman talks to her knees; in The White Road the main character sets up a cafe in Antarctica; the protagonist of Rainstiffness is temporarily paralyzed every time it rains; the main character of Self Raising makes “scientific” cakes. I don't know where this places my stories!

I did hope I was writing mostly what is called “literary fiction”, which is incredibly hard to define and might be best defined as generally being the opposite of commercial fiction and more concerned with the quality of the writing and with language than with page-turning plots. But as to where it fits now, I am waiting to see what readers think. I have been told that some of the stories remind people of science fiction. I had a long discussion on Vanessa Gebbie's blog about magical realism but am unsure whether some of my stories fall under that heading. Some of the stories are “realist”, sort of. So, I guess the long answer is yes, my stories tend to fall between, rather than within, genres as they are currently defined.

I am most definitely attracted to interstitial fiction. It has a wonderful appeal, that it doesn't fit neatly into anywhere. I don't like neat and tidy. I like things that shake up the establishment, writing that can't be easily labelled. If I am in this category, I am delighted to be here! I have only read one anthology that was defined as interstitial (although “defined” seems like the wrong word!); the Interfictions anthology published by the Interstitial Arts Foundation. I enjoyed it greatly, but it seemed to chime with a lot of what I already love to read – stuff I would call surreal, irreal, magical realist, stories you can find in publications such as Cafe Irreal, Sleepingfish, Conjunctions.

Strictly from a marketing point of view, has your approach to genre been a help or a hindrance?

I am new to the book marketing industry, my book has only been out since September, but since I am spending a lot of time myself trying to market The White Road and wondering how exactly to do that, I can see how it would have been far easier to fit into a “genre” and aim the book squarely at that genre's readers. Say science fiction, for example. I would have known where to go, which magazines to send review copies to, etc... As it is, I am having to make it up as I go along. But the fact that half the stories are inspired by articles from UK science magazine New Scientist certainly seems unique, and I was delighted when New Scientist itself enjoyed the stories (I was concerned they might think I was taking their science and somehow trivialising it!) and decided to publish the title story on the New Scientist website.

That was a fascinating experience and provoked some interesting comments. At first, those who commented didn't seem to understand that what they were reading was fiction and not journalism. Several scolded me harshly for being ungrammatical, when in fact it is my main character who has an “interesting” approach to grammar. A few writer friends stepped in to explain about fictional voice, and the complainers mostly recanted and apologised. But then a discussion was generated about whether the story's denouement was plausible, with those for and against, and I just sat back and watched, fascinated, as the two camps argued it out. I was delighted because it seemed my story was reaching an audience that never normally reads short fiction So there I crossed genre boundaries, straddling the territory between fiction and fact. I would love to repeat the experience, if New Scientist wants to! I am not sure how many books I sold through that article, but I had many hits to the book's website, and that's pretty wonderful.

New Zealand has a distinguished tradition of short story writers, including some, such as Katherine Mansfield, who have achieved international fame – yet, overtly or covertly, I’m told all the time that short stories aren’t “proper” fiction, whereas novels are. Do you get the same reaction?

This is the attitude that dogged me throughout my MA in Creative Writing in the UK four years ago. From the start, I and the one other “fool” who insisted on writing short stories instead of a novel were treated as though we were a lesser species. At one point, my short stories were referred to as exercises whose purpose was simply as a warm-up to the “real thing”. Every agent and editor who came to talk to us said they weren't interested in short story writers. It seemed ridiculous to us, it was like deciding, for example, to cut out all nuts from your diet simply because they are small, despite the fact that peanuts and pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, are all shapes and sizes, tastes and textures.

However, this attitude “backfired”: it made me all the more determined only to write short stories, at least for my MA thesis. I have heard the same attitude voiced since, and all I can say is that it is a shame; publishers, it seems to me, are demonstrating a singular failure of imagination in not even attempting to persuade the public to buy more collections and readers are missing out on great writing if they insist on sticking only to novels. If the Short Review [see below] can make a minute dent in this wall by reviewing more collections and demonstrate that everything you look for in a novel you can also find in a short story collection, then I will be happy.

You have done something to promote and succour the short story: you set up The Short Review exclusively to review short story collections. I won’t ask the dreaded question “where do you get your ideas”, but I will ask: where did you get that particular idea – and how do you find the time to keep “The Short Review” going and write as well?

Thanks for not asking that first question, I wouldn't have had the faintest idea how to answer. As for the second, the idea for The Short Review came in the period just after getting the life-altering news that Salt Publishing had accepted my short story collection. I had waited over 30 years for that day, and when it came I felt as if I had had the wind knocked out of me. It was all I ever wanted – and when someone offers you that, what do you do next?

I moped around for a while, and then decided to do something short-story-related but which didn't actually involve writing. Whereas I had always blamed the lack of sales of short story collections on publishers not publishing enough of them, I realised that the fault also lies with reviewers: short story collections get a small fraction of review column inches compared to novels. I thought I would do my bit to redress the balance. To be honest, when I bought the domain name and set it up, I really thought it would be for me and ten friends. It grew beyond my wildest expectations: we have a mailing list of 400, and I have 35 reviewers around the world who review for me, both new and old collections, across every “genre” (am I allowed to say that??!) and category, from steampunk to erotica, young adult to historical fiction.

Yes, it takes up a great deal of time – I do the maintenance and layout of the site myself, uploading each issue, as well as fielding offers of review copies and finding reviewers to review them, following up to see if they've arrived, making sure reviews come in on time, doing as many interviews with authors as possible, and reviewing a book myself each issue – but it is a labour of love and it makes me so happy to do it. Every issue we publish, I want to buy almost all the books we review. The interviews are often enlightening, touching, funny, it's wonderful to get a peek behind the scenes at the process of putting together a short story collection, and authors have been honest and generous in their answers. I try not to work on the Short Review throughout the month, but do most of the work in one week, so it doesn't spill into my writing time. But reviewing someone else's stories teaches me so much about my own writing, and inspires me greatly, as do the interviews, so I don't think of it as interfering, more as enriching my writing life.

You live and write in Jerusalem. What impact do the many and intertwined special circumstances of Jerusalem - religious, political, military, and personal – have on your writing, and on your circumstances as a writer?

A very interesting question. I have several author friends who used to live in Jerusalem and had to leave because they found it too stressful to write there. But I love the atmosphere, I wake up in the morning thrilled to be living here. Yes, it's hard, the news is full of tragedy, on all sides, but there are so many small moments of joy, just the way the sun glints off the golden stones, the way Israelis will talk to you everywhere about anything, the atmosphere on the Sabbath – Shabbat – when the whole city closes down, few cars on the road, people are walking to and from synagogue, to and from dinner. There is magic in the air. No wonder people have been fighting over Jerusalem for thousands of years.

For each copy of "The White Road" published, a tree has been planted through the Eco-Libris scheme. Is this idea of offsetting the greenhouse gas emissions from books catching on with authors and publishers you're in contact with? Have you been satisfied with the way it's working?

I came across Eco-Libris two years ago, just as I was finishing up my career as a journalist - it was established by Israelis in Israel and the US - and I loved what they were doing so much that I decided I had to write about them. Then, when Salt wanted to publish my book, I realised that partnering with Eco-Libris would ease my guilt about wanting a beautiful book made from many trees, as well as, I hope, spreading the word about what Eco-Libris does. I pay them a certain amount per book for them to plant a tree per book in developing countries around the world, where they are working with the locals to find out what is best for them. They have also been furiously publicising my book – which may be the only short story collection ever to have had a tree planted for each copy printed – on green and environmentally-conscious sites around the world, and I am very grateful for that. I will be “appearing” on the Eco-Libris blog on Dec 10th as part of this Virtual Book Tour, so will, no doubt, be talking more about our partnership then, but so far, I am delighted!

Finally, a question from left field. Your collection “The White Road and Other Stories” has 27 stories. My collection “Transported” has 27 stories. Should the reading public be concerned? Are we the vanguard of a new literary movement, the “Group of 27”?

An excellent idea! I'll buy the domain name, you invite people. I am sure 27 has mystical roots – divisible by 9 and 3 only, that sounds mystical to me! Hmm, we'll have to talk about this more, definitely.

Walking the White Road: Tania Hershman on Tour Oct 2008-Jan 2009

Next stop on the tour:


Previous stops:

23 November 2008

Red Mars, life is peaceful there

Kim Stanley Robinson is one of my favourite science fiction writers. He's that very rare beast, a writer of hard science fiction who is also a writer of fine prose. He will be a Guest of Honour at Aussiecon 4, the 68th World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon), in Melbourne in September 2010.

In case you're wondering, hard science fiction is that sub-genre of science fiction which focuses on the science at least as much as the fiction, and which makes every effort to be consistent with known physical laws. It's hard to write, and even harder to write well. Kim Stanley Robinson manages to write works of hard SF that are also full of memorable characters, arresting images, and sophisticated political, economic and social speculation. Some people complain that his narratives stagger at times under the weight of all this material, but that complaint don't impress me much.

KSR's crowning achievement to date is his Mars Trilogy: Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars (and a pendant collection of short stories and alternate takes, The Martians).

Now, via Aussiecon 4's Facebook group, comes the news that Red Mars is to be made into a TV series. Movies about Mars have a poor track record, so I'm glad that some Michael Bay or Jerry Bruckheimer isn't going to try to crunch the book down into two hours of explosions. (There are some explosions, but it helps if you know why they happen.)

A Red Mars TV series sounds promising, but it will need to be something with the psychological complexity and moral depth of (the new) Battlestar Galactica to do the book justice. Still, I'm looking forward to seeing Nadia and Arkady, Maya and Michel, Sax and John - and even Frank Chalmers and the egregious Phyllis - brought to life under the pink Martian sky. And a few explosions as well.

Red Mars, life is peaceful there
Red Mars, in the open air ...

19 November 2008

It's 3am. Do You Know Where Your Reviews Are?

Random House New Zealand recently sent me a package outlining the publicity and marketing they’ve done for Transported (which you can buy online from Fishpond, New Zealand Books Abroad or Whitcoulls) to date. It was nice to get this - a continuation of the very good service I’ve enjoyed as an author from Random House - and it was especially good to see all the print reviews that Transported has received collected together. There were even reviews I didn’t know I’d had: Diane McCarthy of the Bay Weekend (Whakatane) said that:

The stories certainly live up to the title with each one transporting the reader to a new reality …. These [stories] will leave you pondering their deeper meaning long after the last sentence has dropped you back in your own particular reality.

In the Timaru Herald, Abby Gillies said:

The stories are diverse, linked only by real, developed characters whose circumstances are challenging them to react. Let these original stories lead you to unexpected places.

To date, Transported has been reviewed in the following New Zealand newspapers:

Bay Weekend
Wanganui Chronicle and Daily Chronicle (Horowhenua)
Nelson Mail
Timaru Herald
Taranaki Daily News
Marlborough Express
Southland Times
Otago Daily Times

and in the magazines Craccum, the New Zealand Listener and Critic. Interviews or articles about the book have appeared in the Southland Times, Dominion Post, and Marlborough Express, and also on Radio New Zealand and Plains FM. (Plus, of course, the online reviews: see the Transported page on my web site for links to these.)

I’m very grateful for all these reviews, but I also notice an interesting pattern: nearly all of them are in provincial papers, with only one in a metropolitan paper. Transported has not been reviewed in Auckland, Hamilton, Christchurch or Wellington (though, in the latter case, the feature article is pretty substantial compensation).

Of course, that’s entirely the prerogative of these papers, and they do — sometimes — still review New Zealand books, but am I alone in the impression that they review fewer New Zealand books than they used to, and give those they do review less space? The change has certainly been marked in the Dominion Post, where it’s now quite rare to see a New Zealand book reviewed in its book pages.

I suspect it’s something to do with the fact that books pages have been transferred from the newspaper proper into glossy lifestyle supplements — and the books reviewed are chosen as much for their lifestyle-supplementing qualities as their literary interest. Am I wrong?

More about Transported

16 November 2008

Book Review: Elizabeth Jane Howard, The Cazalet Chronicle (The Light Years, Marking Time, Confusion, Casting Off)

Elizabeth Jane Howard is an English author, born in 1923. I picked up her autobiography Slipstream: A Memoir at the Clyde Quay School Book Fair earlier this year, enjoyed it tremendously, and have subsequently read her best-known books, the four volumes of the Cazalet Chronicle: The Light Years, Marking Time, Confusion and Casting Off.

The four books follow the members of the Cazalet family - a large, ramifying upper-middle-class family living in southern England - during the ten years from 1937 to 1947. The Light Years opens with the shadows of war beginning to fall on the family and their servants. By Casting Off, the war is over, and the world into which the characters emerge has changed fundamentally.

The Cazalet household, which sees out the worst years of the Blitz in rural Sussex, consists of matriarch and patriarch the Duchy and the Brig; their three sons, Hugh, Edward and Rupert, their wives Sybil, Villy and Zoe, and their children; their servants; and several outsiders whose lives and fortunes become entwined with those of the family.

Over the four books, Elizabeth Jane Howard gives us the chance to get to know all the family members, and the outsiders; but the central characters are three of the children, Louise, Polly and Clary, who are girls in their early teens at the beginning of The Light Years, and women in their early twenties by the end of Casting Off. Casting Off ends in marriages rather than deaths, and thus the series may be accounted a comedy; but the comedy is often painful, for marriage in these books is just as likely to end in adultery, bitterness and divorce as it is in happily ever after.

The great strengths of The Cazalet Chronicle are its delineation of the characters of these young women and their parents, and of the way in which the social changes wrought by war and its aftermath affect their lives and their post-war prospects. The actual conduct of the war is largely off-stage, and the portrayal of the male characters, especially of the younger males, is less rich — though the three Cazalet brothers, and Rupert’s friend Archie, are distinct and complex characters.

From reading Slipstream, it’s clear that elements of The Cazalet Chronicle are strongly autobiographical. Howard appears to have parcelled out her own experiences between Louise and Clary. Knowing this didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the books, however. There’s something Tolstoyan about the complex cast of inter-related characters and the background of conflict, and though these books lack the philosophical depths of Tolstoy’s masterpiece, Howard’s core characters are no less memorable than those in War and Peace. The Cazalet Chronicle really is that good.

12 November 2008

What I'm Writing

I set up this blog to write about and promote the three books I had published between September 2007 and June 2008 - All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens, Anarya's Secret and Transported - plus post about other writers, books, and matters of interest to me. I've been doing all that, and will keep doing it, but I realised a few days back that there was one topic I hadn't tackled: what I'm writing now.

I write short stories, poetry, and novels. Inefficient, maybe, especially for someone who writes part-time, but that mix doesn't seem likely to change in the near future - because I've got all three types of writing on the go. My main focus is my new novel, but short stories and poetry refuse to be entirely set aside.

First, the novel. I'm prone to calling it "my new novel", but that's not strictly accurate. Before I wrote Anarya's Secret, I had written another novel, with the working title "Antarctic Convergence". The jumping off point for "Antarctic Convergence" was a story I wrote in 2000, "The Wadestown Shore", which is included in Transported.

[SPOILER ALERT]

This is the story that begins:

I cut the engine in the shadow of the motorway pillars and let the dinghy drift in to the Wadestown shore. The quiet of late afternoon was broken only by the squawking of parakeets. After locking the boat away in the old garage I now used as a boatshed, I stood for a moment to soak in the view. The setting sun was winking off the windows of drowned office blocks. To the left lay Miramar Island, and beyond it the open sea.


and ends:

The sunken office blocks of the Drowned city were far behind me. The rich waters and virgin shores of Antarctica lay ahead. I made my way forward to greet them.


[/SPOILER ALERT]

"The Wadestown Shore" is (in revised form) also Chapter 1 of the novel.

I finished the initial version of this novel in 2004, but was unable to get it published. I decided to shelve it for a while, write something else (that turned out to be Anarya's Secret), and then revisit the novel and the feedback I'd had on it.

I did that earlier this year, and though there are some valid arguments against rewriting your first completed novel, I felt that the basic idea of "Antarctic Convergence" was still good, but that the novel had major structural problems, especially in its second half. So I'm rewriting it pretty much from scratch, and I'm almost half way through the redraft. More news, I hope, in 2009.

Next, the short stories. I've written three new stories since Transported was put to bed, and am currently working on a fourth which I'm trying to finish in time for an anthology submission deadline. That isn't exactly enough for a collection, and I'm putting completing the novel ahead of writing lots more stories, but I will keep plugging away. When new stories of mine do appear in print or online, I'll let you know.

Last but not least, the poetry. Although All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens was published in 2007, I completed the manuscript (more or less) in 2005, so I have had three years to get some more poetry written. But, whereas I can decide that I'm going to work on my novel for the next two hours, sit down, and get 1000 or so words written, I have found that I can't make myself write poetry: it arrives when it wants, and when it doesn't want, nothing will induce it - yes, it's that old favourite "the muse" again!

All the same, when checking the other day, I found that I had 29 poems which I'd consider putting towards a new collection - and what's more, 29 poems that fit a theme. Will I write more poems that fit this theme and assemble them beautifully into a collection, or will I go off on a complete tangent? Watch this space!

09 November 2008

Good Times, Bad Times

I had a good time at the launch of Before the Sirocco, the 2008 New Zealand Poetry Society anthology, which includes the winning poems (in open and two junior categories) from the NZPS 2008 International Poetry Competition. A packed and appreciative audience at Turnbull House heard poets from all over the country read poems included in the anthology. There was a sizeable Christchurch contingent, and I had the pleasure of meeting Joanna Preston for the first time, and Helen Lowe for what turns out to have been the second time.

Then I went home and had a less good time watching the results of the 2006 [err, make that 2008] New Zealand General Election come rolling across the screen. The outcome was a conclusive win for the right, with a National-ACT-United Future coalition government set to be installed within the next few days. My biggest fear about this is that the modest - very modest - gains which have been made in climate change policy under the previous Labour government will be rolled back, and in particular, that King Coal will be enthroned as the "answer" to New Zealand's energy needs. It's going to take a big effort ot prevent that outcome.

To finish on a positive, though, I'm writing this while watching the concluding minutes of a very exciting Fifa Under-17 Women's World Cup football (soccer) quarterfinal between Japan and England - currently locked at 2:2*. Having watched and enjoyed the semi-final and final of the recent senior Women's World Cup, I expected to enjoy these games, but they have even better than I expected: full of skill, commitment, excitement and some wonderful goals, and almost completely free of the cynicism, cheating, time-wasting and boorishness that so often mars the men's game.

New Zealand's Young Football Ferns were very unlucky not to progress from the group stages of the tournament into the quarterfinals. A lack of polish in front of goal meant that they lost their first two matches 0-1 and 1-2, but in their final game, against South American champions Colombia, they more than made up with it with a 3-1 victory. You can see NZ striker Rosie White's hat-trick here, uploaded by an enamoured fan.

The game was played in absolutely atrocious conditions: a howling northerly gale and driving rain. Being there and seeing the game live felt like a badge of honour. I'm delighted I went, and now looking forward to seeing how many of the same players perform in the Under-20 Women's World Cup in Chile in a few weeks' time.

The semi-finals and final of the Under-17 Women's World Cup are still to come (semifinals Thursday 13/11 in Christchurch at QEII Park, final and 3rd/4th playoff Sunday 16th in Auckland at North Harbour Stadium). If you get the chance to go along to these games, do take it!

*England won in a penalty shootout - another thing that doesn't happen in the men's game!

05 November 2008

Before the Sirocco

The New Zealand Poetry Society is launching its annual anthology, this year entitled Before the Sirocco and edited by Joanna Preston, in Wellington at 6pm this coming Saturday, New Zealand election day. Here are the details:

Date: Saturday 6 December

Time: 6pm

Venue: Turnbull House, 11 Bowen Street (near the Bowen St/Lambton Quay corner)

What it's all about: Take your mind off elections for a couple of hours! Come along to the launch of the New Zealand Poetry Society's 2008 anthology, Before the Sirocco, and hear poets young and old read their work from the anthology — including winners and runners-up in the Poetry Society's annual International Poetry Competition.

The buzz: The NZPS anthology launch is one of the few occasions on which poets from around the country get together. If you want to take the temperature of the New Zealand poetry scene, this is the place to be - and you'll get to hear some great poetry as well.

Plus, you can buy a copy of Before the Sirocco there. Isn't the cover great?

02 November 2008

An Interview with Jeanne Bernhardt


Jeanne Bernhardt was born in 1961 in Christchurch, NZ. After being expelled from school she left Dunedin. She has spent her life travelling and living throughout NZ, Australia, the South Pacific and the United States. She was first published in the early '80's. Her books include baby is this wonderland?', 'The snow poems' and 'The deafmans chorus'. She was the recipient of the Louis Johnson New Writers Bursary in 1997. To support her writing she has had a variety of work including, working on a fishing boat in Alaska, caretaker of cattle ranch in NM, farmer, working with street kids in Australia, librarian, labourer, drug counsellor etc. She attended the University of NSW majoring in art theory and installation.

Fast Down Turk, published by Kilmog Press, is her latest book. Currently based in Dunedin, she plans on returning to America next year.


First of all, congratulations on the publication of Fast Down Turk. What can you tell me about the book, and where can interested readers find more information, and copies to buy?

Thank you. Parsons in Auckland are the main stockists. In Dunedin, there's UBS and Renaissance Books and direct from the publisher which is Kilmog Press also based in Dunedin. We will have it available in Wellington and Christchurch too but these deals are still being negotiated. The book? Well as the blurb says --

The blurb describes FDT as "a harrowing account of scoring drugs in the tenderloin". That’s likely to grab some potential readers right away, others might prefer not to be harrowed. Are the latter readers just going to have to get used to it? What might draw the undecided reader into the story?

Well it's reality, the fact that it reveals a facet of life that isn’t widely experienced, except of course for the people who are living it. Its pace, the writing etc. These are aspects that attract readers but the other side is that it’s a woman’s take which is rare, and the place where she ends up which is one of self darkness deglamourises certain preconceptions. That unsettling factor is good; its keeps you on edge and when you’re on edge other things can happen. So no, it's not a happy book but depending on who you are or where you are that can be reassuring; other people go down too. And going down is part of life it isn’t intrinsically wrong or terrible or something to be rescued from, the great thing about Rachel (the main character is the book) is that despite the negativity of situation surrounding her, it is her responsibility, her choice. And she is discovering what her position on these choices mean. Because every individuals capacity or strength or journey is unique, and for whatever reason - spiritual, psychological, this is where Rachel is, what she’s going through.



I have never been able to boast a real "writers' CV" full of interesting and unusual jobs. But you can; I see that you have worked on a fishing boat in Alaska, worked with street kids in Australia, been the caretaker of a cattle ranch in New Mexico, a farmer, librarian, labourer, drug counsellor etc. Do you think of it all as vital experience or do you think "I wish I’d spent that time writing instead?”

Of course it’s vital, not primarily as a writer but for myself as a human being. Its my life. My curiosity and hunger has always been great. I’m here, planet earth, to grow, to experience and that isn’t predictable and I wouldn’t want it to be. My life hasn’t taken writing time. My life gives me writing time. I always write. My life is it.

I see that John Dolan has described FDT as a ‘remarkable achievement, an amazing story’ - high praise indeed. How did that endorsement come about, and how much has it meant in publicising the book?

Well I sent the rough MS of Fast Down Turk to John and he wrote back his thoughts. We’re friends you know, we’re friends because of who we are.

I see that you've had both poetry and prose published previously. Are you still writing both poetry and prose? Or are you concentrating on prose at the moment?

Well I’m busy doing the final draft of a short story collection (Wood) due out early next year, also with Kilmog Press. It was a two book deal. The stories from Wood and Fast Down Turk were worked on at the same time. But we decided to publish Fast Down Turk first.

What poets have had the most influence on yr work, and which poets do you most enjoy reading?

Celan, Rilke, Rumi, Basho, Whitman, Paz, Neruda, William Carlos Williams, etc etc.

How about prose writers?

Kerouac, Dylan Thomas, Marguerite Duras, Willa Cather, Katherine Anne Porter, DH Lawrence, Henry Miller, Mary McCarthy, Ronald Hugh Morrieson, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Bernard Malamud, Thoreau, Jean Rhys, Patrick White, Arthur Miller, Paul Bowles, Jane Bowles etc.


I read all the time.