30 September 2009

The Voyagers Book Tour of New Zealand: The Press Release

The Unexpected in an Unexpected Form

IP presents Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand

Speculative poetry! Never before has a unique anthology like this been released, and New Zealand is leading the way.

Voyagers is where poetry meets the essence of science fiction: aliens, space travel, time travel and the end of the world - as well as concepts you may not previously have thought of as science fiction. The result is a brilliant insight into the world of science fiction that will have the reader speculating right along with the poets.

Voyagers will be launched on a tour of the country at events in Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, Paraparaumu, Auckland and Devonport from 14-24 October.

Voyagers Tour Schedule

14 Oct: Dunedin Library, 5:30 pm
15 Oct: Circadian Rhythm Café (Dunedin), 7 pm
16 Oct: Madras Café (Christchurch), 5 pm
19 Oct: Wellington Central Library, 5:30 pm
20 Oct: Paraparaumu Library (Kapiti Coast), 5:30 pm
22 Oct: Auckland Central Library, 5:30 pm
24 Oct: Depot Artspace (Devonport), 6:30 pm

The tour will feature some of New Zealand’s most well-known names: highly acclaimed and award winning poets such as Alistair Paterson, Raewyn Alexander, James Dignan, Iain Britton, Rachel McAlpine, Harvey Molloy, Michael O’Leary, Stephen Oliver, Jenny Argante, Michael Morrissey, Sue Wootton, Michael O’Leary, Andrew Fagan, Jenny Powell. Marilyn Duckworth, Helen Rickerby, Thomas Mitchell, Janet Charman, Anna Rugis, James Norcliffe, David Gregory and Owen Marshall among others.

Wellington-born writer, editor, publisher and critic Mark Pirie is one
of the editors of the anthology. Pirie initiated, co-edited and produced the literary magazine JAAM (Just Another Art Movement) from 1995-2005, and currently edits the HeadworX New Poetry Series and the poetry journal broadsheet.

Tim Jones, the other editor, is also a poet, short story writer and novelist. His most recent books include the short story collection Transported (Vintage, 2008), which was longlisted for the 2008 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award; the poetry collection All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens (HeadworX, 2007); and the fantasy novel Anarya’s Secret (RedBrick, 2007).

The new publication follows hot on the heels of IP's first New Zealand releases, Harmonic by Stephen Oliver and the Text + Audio CD by Stephen Oliver and Matt Ottley, King Hit. Based in Brisbane, IP is Australia's most innovative independent publisher. It publishes about 24 titles per year and is one of the few independents regularly supported by the Australia Council.

IP’s Director, the noted author Dr David Reiter, whose most recent books are Primary Instinct, a satire on the education system, and the children’s novel Global Cooling, will spearhead the tour, which will also showcase New Zealand authors Iain Britton's new poetry collection Liquefaction and Euan McCabe's sports memoir The World Cup Baby.

For more information regarding Voyagers or to schedule an interview before the tour begins, please email info@ipoz.biz or call +61 (0)7 3324 9319. During the tour, Dr Reiter can be contacted via SMS to his mobile +61 (0)412 313 923 or email to reiterdr1@me.com.

28 September 2009

4 Unrelated Topics A Writer Can Shoehorn Into One Blog Post

Apparently blog titles with numbers in them, like "6 Writing Lessons From Jane Austen", are very effective in attracting traffic. So I thought I'd try one.

Kapiti Date Added To Voyagers Book Tour

The Voyagers Book Tour of New Zealand has added an extra date: There will now be a Voyagers event at the Kapiti Library on Tuesday 20 October. Up and down the country, Voyagers poets will be reading their poems in the home towns. I'll be taking part in the Dunedin, Christchurch and Wellington events, and I hope to see you somewhere along the way!

Pat Whitaker Launches His Latest Book

Kapiti Coast author Pat Whitaker launched his latest book, Returning, in Otaki on Sunday 27 September. I had hoped to make it to Otaki for the launch, but a slavering monster called Huge Backlog Of Work snuck up and stuck its claws in me, so Pat, I hope it went well! Anyway, follow the link to find out about Returning and Pat's other books.

JAAM 27 Hits The Shops

The latest issue of literary magazine JAAM, edited by Ingrid Horrocks, has recently been released, and it's now hitting the independent bookshops that stock it. I have two poems in this issue, "Family Man" and "Over Islands", and within its pages you will find some superb poetry, creative non-fiction and fiction, a good deal of it written by people whose names have appeared in this blog over the two years of its existence. You can find out more about this issue over at the JAAM website.

Rachel Walker's cover image, and Anna Brown's cover design, for this issue are particularly striking, too:

(image courtesy of Helen Rickerby)

Belletrista Is Launched

is a new website dedicated to celebrating women writers from around the world. To quote from its introductory statement:

Welcome to the first issue of Belletrista, a nonprofit, bi-monthly magazine celebrating the wonderfully varied literary work from women writers around the world. Whether you are a seasoned reader of international literature or someone just beginning to travel beyond your literary shores, we think you will find something, from far or near, in this issue, to intrigue you.

The editor of Belletrista is Lois Ava-Matthew. I met Lois, and many of the other contributors, through LibraryThing, the combination social networking site/personal cataloguing system for booklovers. An interview with New Zealand author Eleanor Catton is one of the features of the first issue.

Although all the writers being celebrated are female, not all the reviewers are, and I am contributing a review to the second issue. If the first issue is any guide, subsequent issues should be well worth reading.

You can follow Belletrista on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Belletrista (and while you're at it, you can follow me on Twitter as well: http://twitter.com/senjmito)

24 September 2009

Three Changes I'd Like To See To The Author's Fund

Former talkshow host and media consultant Brian Edwards has kicked up a storm with his suggestion that public libraries are just a form of theft. I disagree with him: I think public libraries are great, and I like it when people borrow my books from libraries.

All the same, those borrowings do, potentially, represent foregone income: some of those people might have bought one of my books instead of borrowing a copy from the library. The mechanism that is designed to compensate New Zealand authors for holdings of their books in libraries is called the Author's Fund, recently renamed the Public Lending Right. I have previously blogged about how it works.

Here are three changes I'd liked to see to the Public Lending Right to make it work better for authors. There may well be valid arguments against all these proposals, and if so, please leave a comment and tell me what those arguments are. I'm keen to know.

1. Payment for borrowings.
Currently, the Fund recompenses authors for each copy of a book they have written held in a New Zealand library, with some restrictions, provided at least 50 copies of the book are held in New Zealand libraries. The payment to the author is the same whether the book is never borrowed, or is frequently out on loan. I would like the scheme changed so that there is a basic per-holding fee paid, plus an additional fee per number of times the book is borrowed.

2. Aggregation. Many books, such as poetry collections, do not attain the magic mark of 50 copies held. If you're in the unfortunate position of having written 10 books, each of which has 49 copies held in New Zealand libraries according to the sampling methodology used to determine such things, you don't get paid a cent. This seems inequitable to me. I would prefer that, if payment is to be based solely on holdings, then it is the total holdings of works by an author that is used as the basis for calculation.

3. Count, rather than sample.
In the era of online union catalogues of book holdings across (most) New Zealand libraries, why is a statistical sampling method still being used to determine the holdings of books? Why not simply write a script to count total holdings, and even total borrowings? (A few libraries already report the latter in their online catalogues.)

So there we are. Three modest proposals. They may well be bad proposals - if they are, please tell me why. But even if they are never implemented, it still gives me a good feeling to check a library catalogue and find that one or more of my books is on loan.

23 September 2009

Recognition And A Steaming Heap Of Disney Money: On Stranger Tides

Recognition, and a steaming heap of Disney money. That's what I hope Tim Powers gets for the use of the title, and presumably at least the basic plot, of his 1987 novel On Stranger Tides as the basis of the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, due out in 2011.

I enjoyed the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and endured the next two. (I got a sore buttock about half an hour into No. 2.) But I couldn't escape the nagging feeling that it had all been done before, and better, by American fantasy author Tim Powers, and where was the evidence that he was getting the recognition, and a decent slice of Disney's pie, that he richly deserved?

On Stranger Tides is a novel about a pirate named Jack Shandy who joins up with a crew of pirate desperadoes to fight another, even more bloodthirsty, crew of pirate desperadoes in the Caribbean. Voodoo abounds, and the dead as well as the living crew pirate ships. Is this ringing any bells?

The motor that drives the plot of On Stranger Tides is the quest for the Fountain of Youth, supposedly discovered in Florida by the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León. So, by the time POTC 3 creaked to a close, with the Quest For The Fountain Of Youth writ large as the plot of a possible sequel, I was just about ready to embark on a lone battle for justice against Disney's flotilla of lawyers.

Therefore, I'm pleased that Tim Powers is getting the recognition he deserves, and I hope that Hollywood makes good rather than bad use of his source novel. Whatever else happens, a bright spotlight will be trained on Tim Powers and his work. This is good, because he has written some excellent books, many of them meticulously researched, and highly entertaining, secret histories.

If Thomas Pynchon had a recognizable sense of humour, was a Catholic, wrote gonzoid alternate history novels, and could confine himself to a reasonable number of pages, he'd be something like Tim Powers. My favourite among all Powers' novels is Philip K. Dick Award winner The Anubis Gates, in which a contemporary man travels back in time – thanks to a convoluted plot involving Egyptian gods – and ends up, via encounters with Lord Byron and the memorable Dog-Face Joe, as a minor Victorian poet. There is an immortal moment in the book in which our hero, believing himself alone and friendless in a strange time, is transfixed as he hears someone whistle the melody of Paul McCartney's "Yesterday" and realizes he is not the only time traveler at large in early 19th century London.

Byron and his coterie reappear in The Stress of Her Regard; King Arthur and beer collide in The Drawing of the Dark; and Powers' series of California novels, such as Last Call, retell the myth of the Fisher King in Las Vegas and LA. I mentioned earlier that Tim Powers is Catholic, and under the surface glitter of his novels are painful depths of sin, guilt, and the pressing need for redemption; Jack Shandy is not the only one of Powers' heroes with a past he'd prefer to forget.

Tim Powers might be perfectly happy with his life as it is, and the attentions of Hollywood might be the last thing he wants. He might shun recognition and give away the steaming heap of money. But, if nothing else, I hope that the news from Hollywood turns a new generation of readers onto his novels. Try one - I don't believe you'll be disappointed.

20 September 2009

The Voyagers Book Tour Of New Zealand

This is a post for New Zealand Speculative Fiction Blogging Week, though I'm pushing it a bit because it's really about speculative poetry.

With the lights barely down on Fantastic Voyages, it's time to announce the next bit of book promotion I'm going to be involved in — although I am not responsible for organising it, which is a mercy.

Interactive Publications, the publishers of Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, which I co-edited with Mark Pirie, are organising a book tour for it, and for their other titles by New Zealand authors (such as Liquefaction by Iain Britton). Not all the dates and details are finalised yet, but here's what we have so far:


Dunedin Library from 5:30 pm on Wednesday 14 Oct
Circadian Rhythm Café from 7 pm on Thursday 15 Oct


Madras Café from 5pm on Friday 16 Oct


Wellington Library, 5:30pm on Monday 19 Oct

(Note: this is a couple of hours before Helen Rickerby is the guest reader at that night's New Zealand Poetry Society meeting. Make a poetry night of it!)

Kapiti Library, 5:30pm on Tuesday 20 Oct

21st: Other North Island events


Auckland City Library, 5:30? pm on Thursday 22 Oct
Depot Arts Gallery, Devonport, 6:30pm on Saturday 24 Oct

PLEASE NOTE: Details are subject to change without notice, although I'll keep this list as current as I can.

The events are concentrated on the venues where there are substantial numbers of Voyagers poets available to read, but there are two tantalising days between the Wellington and Auckland events. If anyone thinks that a Voyagers event might be a starter in their town on those days, please get in touch a.s.a.p. and I'll pass this on to Interactive Publications.

I am taking a week off work to go on the South Island leg of the tour, and will also be at the Wellington event. I'd love to accompany the whole tour, but family and work commitments won't allow that this time.

18 September 2009

Fantastic Voyages: Credits, Thanks and Podcast

Fantastic Voyages: Writing Speculative Fiction went very well last night, in this reporter's opinion - and also in the opinion of my fellow panelists. Under the expert chairpersonship of Lynn Freeman, Helen Lowe and I each read from our work, and fielded questions from Lynn and from an audience which included many writers and readers of speculative fiction. Some people told me afterwards they felt inspired by the event, which makes me very happy!

Anna Caro, initiator of New Zealand Speculative Fiction Blogging Week, very kindly recorded the event after our original recordist wasn't able to attend. You can find the podcast, and a brief report of the event, on Anna's blog.

I'd like to thank everyone for their support and help: Random House New Zealand; Unity Books and in particular Anna and Cameron; Toi Poneke/Wellington Arts Centre and in particular Will; chairperson (and spec fic enthusiast) Lynn Freeman; my fellow panelist Helen; all those who came along on the night and the many others who couldn't be there but sent their best wishes. Thank you!

UPDATE: Jenni Talula has written a report of Fantastic Voyages on her blog that made me feel very happy. And Sally McLennan has added a lovely report, with photos.

16 September 2009

Like A Virgin, Published For The Very First Time

This is a post for New Zealand Speculative Fiction Blogging Week.

I think New Zealand Speculative Fiction Blogging Week is an excellent idea, but that hasn't meant it has been easy to decide what to post for it. I started the week with a post advertising Fantastic Voyages, this Thursday evening's speculative fiction event in Wellington, and I thought I might dip into nostalgia for my next post, and talk about the first time I had a speculative fiction story published.

The year was 1986 (and you can imagine for yourself a portentous voiceover in which I say things like "As the Voyager 2 space probe made its first contact with Uranus [I'm not making this up, folks], the Soviet liner Mikhail Lermontov sinks in New Zealand's Marlborough Sounds"). By then, I was what might be called a "technical virgin" as an author of fiction: I had had several poems published, but no fiction, though I had written a few science fiction stories, and made a few unsuccessful submissions to overseas magazines.

Somehow – I no longer remember how – I discovered a call for submissions for an anthology of New Zealand science fiction and fantasy stories for high school students, edited by Bernard Gadd, to be called I Have Seen The Future. I had a story that fitted the word limit, called "Statesman". I submitted it, it was accepted, and I became a published author of speculative fiction.

I was pleased to be published. I was pleased to be paid – from memory, $50. But my overall emotion, I recall, was relief. At last I could call myself a published author! It was a short but intense moment of excitement, over almost before it had started, but at least I no longer had that particular hurdle to overcome.

So the publication of "Statesman" went down as my first fiction credit, and, slowly at first, more credits accrued. "Statesman" didn't fit the theme of my first short story collection, Extreme Weather Events, but, retitled "Going to the People", it was included in my 2008 collection Transported.

Yet I hadn't actually looked at I Have Seen The Future for years, and I had no memory of who else had stories in it until I opened the book when writing this post, and got some surprises.

The following authors have stories in I Have Seen the Future:

Michael Morrissey, Apirana Taylor, Owen Marshall, Bernard Gadd, Bill Manhire, Elizabeth Meares, J Edward Brown, Sally Whitlock, Dianne Armstrong, Tim Jones, Margaret Beames, Craig Harrison, James Norcliffe, Russell Haley, Albert Wendt.

At the time the book was published, the only names from this list that meant anything to me were Albert Wendt and Craig Harrison. But, looking back, I'm pleased to see that my first story was published alongside work by such a collection of New Zealand literary luminaries.

What's striking is that many of these authors are best known as poets. Perhaps it was these writers that Bernard Gadd, a poet himself, knew best. But it does illustrate the point I make from time to time that there has never been such a hard and fast dividing line between speculative writers and literary writers in New Zealand as one might think. These days, science fiction stories are being published in The Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Short Stories. It's great to have speculative fiction work published outside New Zealand, or in New Zealand's growing roster of speculative fiction outlets, but it's not the only route to publication.

14 September 2009

Fantastic Voyages, This Thursday Evening

Here is the press release for Fantastic Voyages: Writing Speculative Fiction, which is happening in Wellington this Thursday evening. If you're interested in reading, writing or publishing science fiction or fantasy, this is the place to be!

Fantastic Voyages:
Two Breakthrough NZ Writers
Talk About Their Love of SciFi-Fantasy:

An Evening with Tim Jones & Helen Lowe, chaired by Lynn Freeman
7.30-9pm, Thursday 17 September

Double Sir Julius Vogel Award winning author, Helen Lowe, and author, anthologist and editor, Tim Jones, are getting together on Thursday 17 September in an evening event chaired by Radio New Zealand's Lynn Freeman, to talk about their love of writing science fiction and fantasy, the challenges and rewards of being a speculative fiction writer, and how they've gone about getting published, both in NZ and overseas.

Tim Jones is a Wellington based writer, editor and literary blogger whose short story collection Transported (Vintage, 2008) ties together speculative fiction, which encompasses science fiction, fantasy and horror, and literary fiction in one collection. Transported was longlisted for the 2008 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award and a science fiction story from the collection, "The New Neighbours", is included in the recently released Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Short Stories.

Helen Lowe's first novel, Thornspell, is published by Knopf (Random House Children's Books) in the United States and is a Storylines Notable Book 2008 as well as winning the Sir Julius Vogel Award 2009 for Best Novel: Young Adult. Lowe also won the Sir Julius Vogel award for Best New Talent and has the first book in an epic Fantasy quartet, The Wall of Night, coming out with Eos (HarperCollins USA) in September 2010.

In the past, speculative fiction has tended to fly beneath the radar on the NZ writing scene. "But that's changing fast," says Jones. "The barriers that have divided speculative fiction from literary fiction are coming down and there is now a thriving New Zealand speculative fiction scene, with many writers of SF, Fantasy and Horror for adults now coming through to join the growing numbers writing speculative fiction for children and young adults."

Lowe agrees. "And I'm finding that there's a hunger out there, especially amongst younger readers and writers who love the genre, to find out how to go about writing SciFi-Fantasy successfully and get it published. So Tim and I thought, why not get together and talk about why we love writing speculative fiction and how we've gone about things, as well as sharing some of our own work."

The event, which is supported by Random House New Zealand & Unity Books, is being held on Thursday September 17 at 7.30 pm in the Upper Chamber, Wellington Arts Centre/Toi Poneke, 61 Abel Smith Street in central Wellington. Admission is free.

For further information, contact senjmito (at) gmail.com

All welcome!

10 September 2009

An Interview with Frankie McMillan

Frankie McMillan is an award winning short story writer and poet. She held the CNZ Todd Bursary in 2005 and this year was the winner of the New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition. She lives in Christchurch with her partner (in a 130 yr old house) in the inner city. She is a keen cyclist and lives within biking distance of family members and her workplaces: The Hagley Writers’ Institute and Christchurch Polytechnic.

Frankie, your first poetry collection, Dressing for the Cannibals, was launched on Thursday 20 August as part of the Christchurch Central Library's 150th anniversary celebrations. How did the launch go?

It was great, thanks. A bit of chaos beforehand; the venue was changed an hour beforehand from the second floor of the library to the upper staffroom floor (where alcohol was allowed). Michael Harlow almost didn’t make it; he’d booked the wrong flight, and Robyn who was to speak on behalf of the library was too busy stuffing people into lifts, to be there for the speeches! About 50 -60 people were there, some fine speeches were made by David Gregory (Sudden Valley Press) and Michael Harlow. Live music was played, kids ran about, books were signed and the wine didn’t run out!

You've had poetry published extensively, and your poem "My Father’s Balance" won the NZ Poetry Society International Poetry Competition in 2009. But let's suppose someone is coming to your work completely fresh. What would you like to tell that person about your poetry, and about Dressing for the Cannibals?

My poems are characterised by humour, accessibility, with an often faux naïf narrator who makes observations about how it is we are ‘so mysterious to ourselves and to the world.’ The poems are fictional but have an underlying emotional truth. They reflect my interests; theatre, folklore, memory, family and the peculiarities of being human.

Themes vary, from the nature of illusion – there’s some tricksy type poems about the world of magic shows and travelling circuses to power - who holds it on a world scale or in a family context. (The poems on cannibalism were prompted by a childhood horror of being eaten.) There are a number of prose poems in the collection, a form I find really exciting to work with.

I hope the reader always knows where they are in one of my poems, but not necessarily where they are going.

Are you a poet for whom the formal aspects of poetry are particularly important?

No, the formal aspects are secondary to what I see as the exploration of an idea. I attend to certain poetic elements and the overall structure but am led more by the process whereby words/thoughts are attracted to each other. (The premise that the first idea is often the best idea possibly reflects my training in improvisational theatre.)

Dressing for the Cannibals has a very striking cover, and I see from Helen Lowe's preview of the book on Beattie's Book Blog that the cover painting is by your daughter, Rebecca Harris. Was this painted especially for your book, or was an existing work that just fitted perfectly with what you had in mind for the book?

The painting, Night Visitor, was of an existing work (2006) which was part of a series exploring the early contact between Maori and Pakeha. There is a sense of mischief in Rebecca’s work which resonates with my writing and yes, it fitted perfectly with the book’s themes. (Rebecca is represented by Milford Galleries.)

I recently interviewed Joanna Preston, and elsewhere she has commented that Christchurch is the Motown of the New Zealand poetry scene. (I think she was talking about the level of activity and productivity rather than a penchant for perfect pop singles.) I know that you’re an active participant in Christchurch poetry events; do you agree with Joanna that Christchurch is a particularly happening place for poetry at the moment - and if so, why do you think this is?

When I came back to Christchurch eight years ago, I was amazed at how many poetry groups there were but even more surprised at how many poets belonged to more than one or two. Recently a few of us ex IIML graduates living in Christchurch (fiction and poetry) have expressed an interest in getting together so possibly yet another group will form! Why do writers, poets, in particular, have a hunger for belonging to groups, I don’t know. I do know the poetry group (of which Joanna is a member) has been enormously helpful to me but possibly so too would a fiction group of which there seems relatively few in Christchurch.

I have noticed previously that poets seem to be more likely to get together, and work together, than fiction writers. Why do you think this is?

I suppose the obvious answer is that poetry, being a small form, lends itself well to discussion - there are usually no more than thirty lines to consider, unlike a 3,000 word short story or much longer novel. In a two hour meeting up to eight people can receive feedback on at least one poem each. Performance poetry can also be tried out on a small group to gauge a response. Also I think some newcomers to writing try poetry first and like the the support/feedback a group offers.

We each had our first short story collection published in 2001: in my case, Extreme Weather Events, in yours, The Bag Lady's Picnic - and, in fact, we read on the same panel at the Christchurch Book Festival in 2002. Are you writing fiction at present? If so, what fiction projects are you working on?

I’m about two thirds of the way through another short story collection. Recently my work has been chosen for Best NZ Fiction, 2008 and 2009 (Vintage) which has been encouraging. Now that my poetry book has been launched, I’ll probably alternate between the short story collection and further poetry.

How do you work? Do you have fixed times when you write, or do you grab a few minutes' writing time whenever you can?

I’m a binge writer. I think it’s more sensible to write each day but because my teaching and family responsibilities can’t always be timetabled I work flat out when I’ve got the time. I often seem to be working to a deadline which makes me incredibly focused. In that state I can work up to six hours without a break.

Which writers (of fiction and poetry) have been most influential on your own work, and which writers do you most enjoy reading?

Alice Munro, Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, Flannery OÇonnor, Annie Proulx, William Trevor and Lorrie Moore have all been enormously influential on my work. To that I’d have to add playwrights, Beckett and Pinter. New Zealand influences have been Owen Marshall and Shonagh Koea.

Poetry influences have been varied. I like this quote from Bill Manhire:

The thing you know already is the last thing you want your poem to record. Apart from anything else you want the words you use to be part of a process of discovery, part of the poem’s life not simply a recording mechanism for an entirely familiar set of observations.

And here’s one from Billy Collins:
Poetry is my cheap means of transportation. By the end of a poem the reader should be in a different place from where he started. I would like him to be slightly disorientated at the end, like I drove him outside of town at night and dropped him off in a cornfield.

NZ poets that I enjoy include Michael Harlow, James Norcliffe, James Brown, Chris Price, Bernadette Hall and Cliff Fell. Prose poem writers include Russell Edson, Robert Bly and Charles Simic.

Do you have more readings or other events lined up to mark the publication of Dressing for the Cannibals? If so, where can people see and hear you?

No, the launch activities are all sadly finished. My next public reading is under the banner of 5 NZ Poets at Our City, Worcester St Christchurch on October 2nd. Fliers are coming out with more details.

Working in the halfway house
by Frankie McMillan, from Dressing for the Cannibals

I pick up bad habits like smoking
on the back porch after lights out
and a tendency to see dead people

passing across the sky as stars
say, Freddie Baxter, who jumped

from the Takaka bridge his pockets
weighted with stones, he’s there
next to the South Celestial pole

Yours was a slow reckoning
not until spring did your bones
turn to chalk. There’s nothing

to dying you said and a small
pride lit your eyes as if you’d

mastered the trick; a clever horse
tapping its name out in letters

would you laugh to know I still
wait for your crossing, matches
in hand to frighten the dark.

Availability details for Dressing for the Cannibals

ISBN: 978-0-9864529-0-1

At present books can be purchased
- in Christchurch from Madras Café Books, Scorpio and University Bookshop.
- in Wellington from Unity Books and University Bookshop
- in Auckland from Parsons and the University Bookshop (UBS)

You can also direct order Sudden Valley Press: email canterburypoets (at) gmail.com

08 September 2009

Blackmail Press 25: The Rebel Issue - Wellington launch

One day before Fantastic Voyages: Writing Speculative Fiction comes the Wellington launch of Issue 25 of Blackmail Press. It's called The Rebel Issue, and among those with poems in the issue who have blogged about the launch are Harvey Molloy, Helen Rickerby and Janis Freegard (who has been having great success with both poems and short stories recently).

I haven't read the whole issue, but if Harvey's, Helen's, and Janice's poems are any yardstick it will be well worth going to the launch. Here are the brief details - see the blog links above for more:

Blackmail Press presents The Rebel Issue

Please join us for an evening of poetry, which will begin with an open microphone session and be followed by a selection of readings from the current Rebel issue.

Wellington launch: Weds, Sept 16, 2009 - 7.30pm

Upstairs, Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave Street, Thorndon, Wellington.

07 September 2009

Book Review: Letters from the Asylum, by John Knight

Letters from the Asylum, by John Knight, published by Sudden Valley Press, distributed by Madras Cafe Books. RRP NZ$25 (incl postage).

John Knight is an Australian poet. You can find an interesting interview with him, and a bio, here. There is a lengthy and very well-put-together review of Letters from the Asylum by Patricia Prime at the Stylus Poetry Journal. I won't attempt to be as comprehensive in this review, but I'll begin by saying that I enjoyed reading this collection by a poet whose work I'd never read before.

Letters from the Asylum
begins with a lengthy introduction by John Knight, in which he mentions his terminal cancer, and also endeavours to situate himself, poetically and personally, within the context of postmodernism and psychoanalysis. Not being a huge fan of either, this introduction made me nervous about what was to follow; but John Knight's poetry wears its theoretical underpinnings very lightly - in fact, the titles of poems often bear more evidence of "theory" than the poems themselves.

Much of the subject matter of this book isn't easy. It encompasses the deaths of several people close to John Knight; his own illness and impending death; and also, facing the wider world, the deaths of many, near and far, known and unknown, in war. Some of the poems which are about the generalised horrors of war are excellent, such as "Pantocrator [Insert Year]" (p. 70), but in the main, the poems I responded to most are those in which these issues are made concrete in the lives of individual people, such as "...and burned the topless towers of Illium" (p. 24), about a Greek woman, "no friend of the Colonels", now living in Australia, with its lovely closing couplet:

I left, too embarrassed to return or explain.
I've forgotten my Greek, and her name.

Another fine poem that deals with the death of one person, in this case by suicide, is "somewhere south of eden" (p. 36). It has a shorter line than most of the poems in this book, and for me, this works very well with the subject matter:

spike your hair
make up your face
it's the last act

place the list
in your pocket
do not leave a note

Though the overall tone of the collection is sombre, the book is not without hope, if not for this life then for another. It ends with "Resurrection..." (p. 93), and that poem ends on an upward note:

Leaving the stones and the small wet world
whose sky meets air with water, turn
to the sun through the skin of the sky
and wait for the changing. Dragon no longer
but a prism of light shot across
the still pond. Quick, I'm gone!

John Knight is a fine poet, and this is a fine collection.

03 September 2009

A Day In The Life Of An Easily Distracted Writer

9.00am: Yay, writing day*, my favourite day of the week.

9.15am: Put load of washing on. Almost out of shirts.

9.30am: Check emails, Twitter - in other words, do those things I keep telling myself I won't do until I have written my first 1000 words of the day. Still, pleased to see reply from Sydney Padua responding to my previous humorous sally to her re Charles Babbage. Unwisely, devote time to thinking of a yet more humorous riposte. Check Facebook page for Fantastic Voyages: Writing Speculative Fiction. Only two weeks to go!

10.00am: So. Last week, I outlined the final eight chapters of my novel. Now to commence the actual writing, starting with Chapter 17. It's a new beginning of sorts, with my protagonist and his comrades admitting defeat and moving on, leaving shattered hopes and shattered lives behind. (Never let me write a blurb.)

10.15am: Oh, so that's what "bounding main" means. Wikipedia rocks!

10.20am: Close down, abjure, put behind me all distracting technologies.

10.30am: Check mail (the physical, in-a-letterbox kind). Nothing.

11.00am: Pleased with how this is going. Stretching out in long passage of descriptive prose.

11.30am: Check mail. Big moment! My contributor's copy of The Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Short Stories has arrived. Cool! It's a large book. Skim introduction by Paula Morris - looks good. Check contributor's note. The Walt Whitman-like epic I provided has been trimmed down a bit, producing interesting floaty effect. Still, cool! Set aside to be read later (two books for review to read first).

12.25am: 850 words written. Check Twitter. Yes, I know that's not 1000 words, but I have reached the end of a scene. Surely that counts for something.

12.30am: It starts hailing. Bad weather from the south, as foreshadowed by Art And My Life, has arrived. Should have hung washing out earlier. Make tentative start on next scene.

1.00pm: Hail has cleared. Time to hang out washing, then have lunch.

1.10pm: Outside conditions surprisingly pleasant. Discuss plot of novel with cat.

1.30pm: Arrive back inside singing theme from Teletubbies: "Tinky Winky, Dipsy, La La, Po". Have had idea for the blog post I should have written last night.

1.50pm: Must remember to eat lunch when actually ready. Now cold.

2.15pm: 90 minutes till son returns from school. Time to get on with it.

2.35pm: Megan Fox.

2.40pm: Coffee.

2.45pm: Making good progress. Hard to write a dialogue-heavy scene, this far into the novel, in a way that keeps it fresh. Though both the medium and the tone are different, Buffy the Vampire Slayer does this very, very well. Two key principles I have learned from looking at how dialogue is handled in Buffy: serious dialogue can still have a humorous edge, and let the least trustworthy character in the scene be the most truthful. Only problem is, neither of these apply to what I am writing. Cursed mimesis!

3.25pm: 1500 word mark passed. Had been hoping to write 2000 today. Do have some inkling of why I fell short.

3.40pm: Reached end of the second scene. Total of 1777 words today. Will gnaw on thoughts of next scene over next few days. I know what the fourth and final scene of the chapter is, but right now, have no detailed idea of what will happen in the third scene. I know what emotional tone I want it to have, however. Time for backups.

3.50pm: Front door opens: son arriving home from school. Time to find out how his day was, get him fed, check if he has homework, check the washing (and, OK, fair point, put out the rest of the socks), publish this blog post, reply to emails, and cook dinner.

*There are other days on which I write, but Thursdays are the one day of the week I dedicate to writing. Yes, you heard me. Dedicate!