31 December 2008

"The New Neighbours" In Good Company

A little piece of good news from the tail end of 2008: I received confirmation that my short story "The New Neighbours", first published in Transported, had been selected for inclusion in the Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Short Stories, an anthology edited by Paula Morris that covers the last ten years of short-fiction writing in New Zealand. It will be published in September 2009.

I'm very pleased to see "The New Neighbours" in such illustrious company. Here, to give you the flavour, are the first few paragraphs. All those references to high property values look nostalgic already.

The New Neighbours

High property values are the hallmark of a civilised society. Though our generation may never build cathedrals nor find a cure for cancer, may never save the whales nor end world hunger, yet we can die with smiles on our faces if we have left our homes better than we found them, if we have added decks, remodelled kitchens, and created indoor-outdoor flow.

Reaction in our street to the news that an alien family would soon move into Number 56 was therefore mixed. Number 56 was the proverbial worst house on the best street, and any family who could improve it — regardless of skin colour or number of limbs — was welcome, in my view. My wife Alison said she’d wait and see. Josh wondered if they had any kids his age.

Others near to the action, and particularly the Murrays at No. 54 and the Zhangs at No. 58, were less sanguine. “But it’s not as if they need a resource consent,” said my wife to Jessica Zhang, and she was right. Having bought the house at a legitimate auction through a telephone bidder, and paid the deposit, the alien family were well within their rights to settle in our street, and the rest of us would simply have to make the best of it.

But not everyone does try to make the best of it, and complications ensue ... In my next post, a little about my writing and blogging plans for 2009.

24 December 2008

Happy Holidays!

Christmas Eve, and the motor of the year is winding down. I'm planning to take it easy these holidays, catching up on reading, cleaning the house (and does it need cleaning!), tidying the garden, listening to cricket.

I'm going to take it a little easier in blogging terms for the next month or so, as well. Rather than my usual two posts per week, I'll aim for one post per week until late January, when I'll crank up the blogging machine again.

Whether your celebrations are sacred or secular, I hope you have a fine holiday period and an excellent 2009.

All the best

21 December 2008

For Your Consideration: The Sir Julius Vogel Awards 2009

As I mentioned earlier this month, nominations are now open for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards 2009, New Zealand's equivalent of the Hugo Awards. They recognise excellence in a number of fields related to science fiction, fantasy and horror. The 2009 Awards are for works published in 2008.

Nominations close on 28 February 2009. You can find details of the categories and how to nominate on the SFFANZ site, and also lists of works eligible to be nominated (these lists are not comprehensive, and can be added to as further works are nominated).

Anyone can nominate works for the awards, although voting is restricted to members of SFFANZ and/or the 2009 National Science Fiction Convention, Conscription.

So who are the contenders? I'm not well qualified to talk about the fan or media categories, but I can think of a few possible contenders for Best Novel, Best Collected Work and Best Short Story. I should emphasise here that what follows is my opinion - it's up to the organising committee to decide what works qualify in which categories.

Best Novel

There are a very healthy number of contenders listed on the SFFANZ site.

My personal favourite is Helen Lowe's Thornspell. Other contenders include two SF novels published by writers better known for work in other genres: The Jigsaw Chronicles by Kevin Ireland, and Chinese Opera by Ian Wedde. And one mustn't forget Jack Ross's EMO!

Best Collected Work

On the SFFANZ list, Transported is the only short story collection listed for 2008 - a worrying state of affairs, as there needs to be competition in each category! I intend to nominate JAAM 26, since it contains quite a few eligible short stories, as suggested below.

Best Short Story

There are lots of candidates here! Here is my list - again, not an official list - of stories from JAAM 26 and Transported which I think are eligible. I have only listed the stories from JAAM 26 which seem to me to fit within the relevant genres. The list from Transported is quite short, as stories have to be first published in 2008 to be eligible, and many stories in Transported are reprints.


Tracie McBride, Last Chance to See [sf]
Renee Liang, Voodoo [fantasy/horror]
Esther Deans, Breathing in Another Language [fantasy/magic realism]
Ciaran Fox, In the End Our Apathy Will Desert Us [sf]
Darian Smith, Banshee [fantasy]
Helen Lowe, Ithaca [alternate history/mythology]
Michael Botur, Historic Breakfasts [alternate history]
Lyn McConchie, Just a Poor Old Lady [horror]

If you think your story should be on this list, please let me know and I'll add it.


The New Neighbours [sf]
The Wadestown Shore [sf]
Filling the Isles [sf]
Measureless to Man [alternate history]
The Seeing [sf]
Going Under [sf]
Cold Storage [sf/horror]

Happy nominating!

18 December 2008

My Earthdawn Novel "Anarya's Secret" Is One Year Old

My Earthdawn novel Anarya's Secret was published one year ago today.

It's a fantasy novel, set in the universe of the Earthdawn roleplaying game - a game developed by FASA, and continued and expanded by New Zealand games publisher RedBrick.

Here's the publisher's blurb:

Kendik Dezelek is a young Swordmaster. He's tall, strong, and well-trained. But when he leaves his home village on the road to adventure, he soon finds that those things will only get you so far. In the land between the Tylon Mountains and the Serpent River, friend and foe are not always as they appear.

In a world still recovering from the Scourge, when Horrors ravaged the land of Barsaive, Kendik is soon forced to choose between a range of evils. He travels with the surly and disreputable Turgut brothers. He encounters the bloated tyrant Lord Tesek, ruler of the growing city of Borzim. And he is ensnared in the plots of the feared and mysterious House of the Wheel.

Most of all, he meets Anarya Chezarin, who enters his life from the depths of an ancient stronghold. Who is she, and what is her secret? It may cost Kendik and Anarya more than their lives to find out.

I had a great time writing Anarya's Secret! It's stuffed to the gills with plot, incidents, happenings, mysterious humans and even more mysterious non-humans. It's got adventure, romance and tentacles. If you're a gamer yourself, or there's a gamer in your family, I think there's plenty in Anarya's Secret to keep them entertained.

You can buy Anarya's Secret online as a hardback, paperback, or e-book (via RPGNow or DriveThru).

15 December 2008

Borges and I

This 700-word story is included in my short story collection Transported, which you can buy online from Fishpond and New Zealand Books Abroad. It's also available in many good bookstores, though many Whitcoulls stores now seem to have sold out of it.

Borges comes round with a six-pack just in time for the game. I tell him he could have got it cheaper down the road. He nods unhappily, as is his way.

Half-time, and the ABs have had a shocker. Borges, of course, has divided loyalties; he says he’ll be happy if Argentina lose by less than twenty points, or the All Blacks win by more than fifty. I tell him I need to go for a piss. Two Exports will do that to anyone.

When I get back, Borges is making himself a coffee. Is it possible, he asks me, that Amphixion of Thebes was thinking of rugby when he wrote that each game played by men is one moment of the game played by the gods?

I tell him he’d better get back to the couch if he wants to see the second half, and besides, only woofters drink coffee at half-time.

The All Blacks win 42-17. Sevens against Thebes? It’s possible.


Borges and I go out for a few quiets. I meet him after work in a bar favoured by web developers and business analysts. We sit and watch a small subset of the world go by.

Borges looks glum. “Bad day in the stacks?” I ask. He nods, says nothing, swallows another mouthful of beer.

I nudge him. “Look, over there. I happen to know those women are studying to be librarians. Go and dazzle them with your learning. That’s what it’s for, man!”

He surprises me by draining his glass and walking right up to them. Asks them a question; they look surprised, but make room for him. Turns and waves me over.

“This is Brian,” he says, “he’s something in computers.”

Borges talks to the dark one, I talk to the fair. She’s a bit serious for me. Nothing doing there, but Borges and Krystal are getting on like a house on fire — so well that I say my goodbyes and walk home under the indifferent dome of eternity. Borges, eh? You never would have thought it.


Borges and I scarcely see each other nowadays. What with his work and the kid, he’s too damned busy, and besides, all he wants to talk about is how little Pedro took two steps the other day, how Pedro looked at him and said “Mama”, how when Pedro wakes in the night Borges walks him round the house till the little fella settles back down. The bookcases have survived from his old flat, but now they’re full of “Baby and Child” and “Raising Boys”.

“So where are your old books?” I ask him after the grand tour. (Krystal is at yoga.)

“Out the back, in suitcases. Want to borrow them?”

“Choose me an armful.”

They aren’t easy going, those books, but I’ve learned (for Borges underlined the passages) that Goncalves compared eternity to a mirrored sphere, while Basilides was exiled from Mt Athos for teaching that the world would end when the souls of the Elect called God to account for human suffering. It seems to me sometimes, as I wake on my couch to find the wisdom of ages in unsteady piles around me, that the world will end when there is no longer room for all the books in it; but when I suggested this to Borges, he said he had less than four hours’ sleep last night and a meeting of the Library Board next morning, and could I call him later?


I have moved into Borges’ former apartment. It had been renovated after Borges moved out, but with heavy drapes across the windows and the lighting turned down low I don’t notice the difference. How I miss those days when we’d lounge around discussing the pre-Socratics and Cameron Diaz! Back then, I used to tease him that he should get out more. Well, he did, and it landed him two kids and a house in the suburbs.

Having quit my job in computers, I am living on my savings. I have decided to become a writer. Borges, informed of this, sighs and tells me I should get a life.

10 December 2008

An Interview with Lee and Nogi Aholima

Earlier this year, I reviewed Penina he magafaoa and Takai, two collections of poetry written in English by Lee Aholima (top author photo) and translated into Niuean by his mother Nogi Aholima (bottom author photo). Since I enjoyed both books, and have an interest in literary translation, I wanted to find out more about them - so Lee and Nogi kindly agreed to be interviewed for this blog.

First of all, congratulations on the publication of both Penina he magafaoa and Takai. What can you tell me about the books? Where can interested readers find more information about them, and how can people buy copies?

Lee – Thankyou. The poetry in the books were written from the period 1993 to 2008. I started out posting the poems from Penina he magafaoa on the Niue Global Community mailing list and then someone suggested that I apply for a Creative NZ grant in 2006. I also posted a few from Takai on the mailing list. The idea of bilingual poetry books was to promote the language and to preserve our cultural heritage. Also the idea that I would have a better chance of getting the grant as I had my own doubts about the quality of my poems after submitting them to a couple of publishers. The poems were written in English first and then my mother translated them.

You can find both books in most libraries in Auckland. They are also in a few university libraries and libraries overseas. You can buy them from me via the PublishMe Shop or buy them from South Pacific Books Ltd.

Are these the first poetry collections to be published in both Niuean and English?

Lee – Tose Tuhipa the editor believes they are.

When you started work on the poems in these collections, was it always the plan that they’d be published in both languages?

Lee - Yes and no. Yes when I wrote those poems for Penina he magafaoa in 2006. They were short monologues that I was going to attempt to write in Niuean myself. I then recruited my mother to help me when I realized it wasn’t going to be easy. No too in that a lot of the poems in both books were already written back in 1994-1995.

Has there been a lot of translation from other languages into Niuean? How about from Niuean into other languages? Has fiction and poetry by John Pule been translated into Niuean?

Nogi - There’s been a few done by others through the Learning Media – but all junior reader stuff for learning of the language – both from other languages into Niuean and a few specially written Niuean readers into English and into other PI languages. I don’t think that any of JP’s work is translated into Niuean.

Lee - The biggest stockist I know of in New Zealand of Niuean books is South Pacific Books Ltd out in Bethells Beach. They would be lucky to have a dozen books and most of those are for learning the language. The most well known translation of an English book is the bible. I don’t know if there are many if any books translated from Niuean into another language. I am not sure if any of John Pule’s books have been translated into Niuean.

What specific issues and decisions were involved in making these translations?

Lee – One issue was transliteration. I didn’t mind transliteration of words not in the Niuean dictionary. I was keen to keep the names of people and places intact in English. My mother seemed happy to transliterate everything including names. My mother had some freedom with translation so there was some creativity in creating a Niuean version of some of the English sentences - e.g. my version ‘satyrious in their love’, her version ‘planting seeds at random’ or something like that.

Nogi – Transliteration is a big issue – A lot of the words used in the poems do not exist in the Niuean language and that does not include place & people’s names. The Niuean dictionary is full of transliterated words & I don’t believe that that is unique only to the Niuean language. I don’t see the point of translating English into Niuean & retain many of the English words /names, etc: or to be using too many Niuean words to describe its meaning. And it’s poetry not story writing. I find that if the topic or the environment in the poem is familiar, then it’s easier to translate. There’s never been a Niuean poet writing Niuean poetry in Niuean nor writers of any sort. The only other book besides the bible that is in Niuean & English is the book “Niue – A History of the Island” & it’s published jointly by the Institute of Pacific Studies of the Sth Pacific University & the Govt of Niue. And the writers – all bilingual Niueans like myself.

What response have you had from the Niuean community, both in New Zealand and on Niue, to the publication of these books?

Nogi - The only response I’ve had about the 2 poetry books are from my close palagi friends here in the deep south & they can only comment on their reading of the English versions. They were very positive about the books.

Lee – I am not sure if the Niuean community has completely embraced the books. Some have enjoyed them. What I have heard is that older people have some reservations. There are some who criticize things such as use of transliteration when there is already a word for it. And there are some older folk who are not used to the creative use of the language – they prefer literal.

I enjoyed the science fiction poems in Takai, such as “Liogi lanu lau kou” / “Green Prayer”. Do you read a lot of science fiction, and do you have plans to write more?

Lee - Yes I pretty much have cleaned out the Wellington Library and read all of the best sci-fi books in the library in the time I lived in Wellington. I would like to write some more but they will be few and far between. I read science fiction because more often than not it is based on bleeding edge science and technology and I like to escape. However my poems tend to be religious, philosophical, political and social commentaries as well as observations of things.

Which poets have had the most influence on your work, and which poets do you most enjoy reading? (Of course, these might be one and the same.)

Lee – I read more poetry now but nobody has really influenced me with these 2 books. I did buy Playing God by Glenn Colquhoun to have a read of it. I don’t find reading other people's poems always that enjoyable, unlike reading a sci-fi. I do like writing poems though and reading my own - they are more a classification and posterity of my thoughts at the time hence the date at the bottom.

How do you see the future of the Niuean language?

Nogi – Niueans are not as strong as other Pacific Islands nations i.e. Samoans at holding onto their cultural heritage especially the language or dance, etc here in NZ. I don’t really understand poetry as such but I do try to understand so as to translate them. Most Niueans are here in NZ and nearly all or all NZ born Niueans can not speak or understand the Niuean Language. This apathy to the culture will eventually lead us to obscurity/obliteration culturally unless we as Niueans get involved in some way.

Lee – I am not really sure. For me I just have to try and do my bit with my mum to preserve the language.

07 December 2008

Transported Reviewed by New Zealand Books: "Dazzling and Highly Entertaining"

Isa Moynihan's highly positive review of Transported - which you can buy online from Fishpond, New Zealand Books Abroad (for both overseas and New Zealand residents), or Whitcoulls - has just appeared in the latest issue of New Zealand Books. Here's some of what she has to say:

"That 16 of the 27 stories in Tim Jones's collection Transported were previously published in magazines and anthologies including Best New Zealand Fiction 4 (2007) testifies to their appeal to both editors and readers. They contrast brilliantly with the other two collections [she reviews] not only in variety of style and genre but also in originality of ideas. There are satire and surrealism; dystopias and parables; 19th century pastiches and contemporary vernacular – sometimes juxtaposed, as in "The Visit of M. Foucault to His Brother Wayne". And all spangled with literary references and other, sometimes arcane, allusions ….

Other targets for Jones's skewering wit are politics, corporations, advertising, xenophobia, pretentious lit crit and (my favourite) the invasion of the local arts scene by bureaucracy and commercial jargon. In "Said Sheree", poets are ranked in tiers "for funding purposes" and are reassessed and reclassified every autumn. Both "Win a Day with Mikhail Gorbachev" and "Best Practice" give us caricatures of the worst excesses of corporate values in the best traditions of brilliant cartoonists ….

So, dazzling and highly entertaining and, for that reason, somewhat lacking in the canonical requirements of depth and layering. But sometimes an epigram says more than an essay." (p. 25)

Thank you, Isa!

A review as good as that as always welcome, but I am especially pleased that it has appeared in New Zealand Books, which is the New Zealand equivalent of the New York Review of Books or the London Review of Books, publishing long reviews, literary essays, and poems. Check out the New Zealand Books website for subscription information, including the just-announced option to take out a digital subscription at a cheaper rate. I've been a subscriber to New Zealand Books for several years, and it's always an interesting, thought-provoking read.

03 December 2008

The Outsider

Though I don't usually put out two posts so close together, I wanted to post my poem "The Outsider", which won second prize in the 2008 Bravado International Poetry Competition, as soon as Bravado 14 had appeared.

In Bravado 14, you can also find the other poems placed in the competition, "In a Field of Snow" by Michael Harlow (1st) and "Shoe" by Sue Wootton (3rd), plus the ten Highly Commended poems, plus other excellent poems and stories. Among those with work in this issue are Helen Lowe, Helen Lehndorf, Mary Cresswell and Michael Botur.

If this sounds like your cup of tea, check out the Bravado website for info on how to get a copy, subscribe, and submit.

The Outsider

He was Little Johnny Howard's biggest fan
a man made from scriptwriters' dead ends
and something like biltong, transplanted.

Glints from a narrowed eye bent the red dust backwards.
The cattle, hypnotised, crushed snakes
as dingoes ran panting for cover.

But even he could not defeat the sky.
Cracked and pitted, turned three-fifths to sand,
he rode into Toowoomba near closing time.

The streets devoured his bones. A green light
fires a hundred Holdens down his spine. A red light
floods the land with spinifex, like rain.

02 December 2008

A Number of Things

The world is so full of a number of things
I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings
(Robert Louis Stevenson, "Happy Thought", in A Child's Garden of Verses)

Climate Action Festival

I'm less than happy about the incoming New Zealand Government's views on climate change. It took a great deal of time and effort to get the previous Labour government to take action - weak, partial action, but action nevertheless - designed to reduce New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions. The recently-elected National-led government seems not only willing but eager to sacrifice these modest gains on the altar of its coalition agreement with hard-right climate change denial party ACT.

An early chance for Wellington people to get a message to the Government about the need to take meaningful action on climate change is the Climate Action Festival on at Waitangi Park this coming Saturday, 6 December, from 11am-4pm. I'm going to spend a couple of hours on the Climate Defence Network stall. The organisers have some interesting things planned - it should be a good day!

Congratulations to Joanna Preston

The big New Zealand poetry news of the last week or so is that Joanna Preston has won the inaugural Kathleen Grattan Prize for an unpublished poetry collection. Her collection "The Summer King" will be published in 2009, and I'm looking forward to reading it.

Sir Julius Vogel Awards 2009

The Sir Julius Vogel Awards are New Zealand's equivalent of the Hugo Awards. They recognise excellence in a number of fields related to science fiction, fantasy and horror.

Nominations for the Vogels are now open and close on 28 February 2009. You can find details of the categories and how to nominate on the SFFANZ site, and also lists of works that could be nominated (these depend on self-reporting, so may not be comprehensive, but look for those with a 2008 date). Before Christmas, I plan to put up a post looking at possible contenders in more detail, but in the meantime I suggest "for your consideration" (as they say in Hollywood) Transported and some of the individual stories in it, JAAM 26 and some of the individual speculative fiction stories in it, and Helen Lowe's Thornspell.

broadsheet 2

Mark Pirie has produced the second issue of his poetry journal broadsheet. This issue is a tribute to Wellington poet Louis Johnson on the 20th anniversary of his death, and features poetry by many of his contemporaries, as well as newer writers: the full lineup is Peter Bland, Richard Berengarten, Marilyn Duckworth, Kevin Ireland, Louis Johnson, Miranda Johnson, Harvey McQueen, Vincent O'Sullivan, Alistair Paterson, Helen Rickerby, Harry Ricketts, Martyn Sanderson, Peter Shadbolt, Nelson Wattie, and F W N Wright.

That lineup alone tells you that the issue will be well worth reading; for some more reasons why you should get hold of broadsheet 2, see Harvey Molloy's review.

Missing the Point?

Jennifer van Beynen has reviewed Transported in the Lumiere Review. She wasn't very keen on the collection as a whole, although she did have some good things to say about individual stories.

Reviewers are fully entitled to their opinions, whether good or bad, but it's helpful when a reviewer is familiar with the genre(s) of a work and the nature of the stories under review. A couple of Jennifer's comments suggest to me that this wasn't the case. She says "I found Transported at times to be baffling and frustrating. This may be because of the heavy science fiction content (I’m not a fan), but that’s just my personal preference" and also, in reviewing "Cold Storage", says:

Often there is scant detail or emotional reaction in these stories; things happen and the story carries on, with little emotional payoff. I found the fantasy stories particularly alienating. In ‘Cold Storage’, for example, the main character has little response to life-threatening and bizarre events other than an annoying arrogance, even when faced with certain death in Antarctica.

One view of short stories is that they are (or should be) all about character, and the revelation of character; that they should incorporate a still, small moment which shows how the protagonist has changed or grown - an "emotional payoff", in other words.

I agree that this is a very valid thing for a short story to do, and some of my favourite short story writers (such as Alice Munro) do exactly this in their stories, but I don't agree that it's the only thing a short story can do. There are stories in Transported that do hinge on the revelation of character; others in which the protagonist is no wiser at the end than the beginning; and others still in which character is secondary to other aspects of the story.

That's the sorts of stories Transported contains. It's very possible that the stories could have been better, but to write a review based on the desire that Transported should have contained other sorts of stories than it does contain seems to me to be missing the point.

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 café 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!


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.


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.


"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.

30 October 2008

Book Review: AUP New Poets 3

The books in the AUP New Poets series are an interesting hybrid of a collection and an anthology: they consist of selections of 20 pages or so by three different poets, brought together under one cover. AUP New Poets 3 brings together sets of poems by Janis Freegard, Reihana Robinson and Katherine Liddy.

So, rather than reviewing the book as a whole - except to say that I like it and think it's well worth reading, which is the first and most important thing to say - I will review each poet's selection in turn. In the interests of full disclosure, I should say here that I know Janis, and had the pleasure of hearing her read some of the poems in her selection at the book's Wellington launch; I've never (so far as I know) met Reihana or Katherine, although it's Reihana's painting that adorns the cover of JAAM 26.

Janis Freegard, "The Continuing Adventures of Alice Spider and Other Tales"

Janis's selection consists of two sequences of prose poems, "Animal Tales" and "The Continuing Adventures of Alice Spider: A Selection", and several other individual poems. Janis's style is mostly unrhetorical and ironic, with a surface lightness concealing varying depths. The things I like most about Janis's poetry are her precise, apt, and unusual word choices, and her humour. Her style striked me as being not dissimilar to Bill Manhire's - and Bill Manhire is one of my favourite New Zealand poets.

Out of all these fine poems, the final stanza of "The Liking" showcases what I like so much about Janis's poetry:

Today when I woke
I wrapped daybreak round my waist.
I expect she's awed by my
dawn brightness
my few clouds
a kingfisher on the power lines.

Reihana Robinson, "Waiting for the Palagi"

Reihana's selection contains a number of individual poems and then a sequence entitled "A Hum for Pitkern". The words "A Hum" always remind me of the Winnie the Pooh, but the tone here is very far away from A.A. Milne's whimsy, as the poems uncover the violence that underlies Pitcairn's origins, the hard labour of life on that isolated rock, and the shameful sexual violence that has had Pitcairn so much in the headlines in recent years. The sequence circles the island and its history, jabbing at it from unexpected angles. I think it's very good.

Of the individual poems, I especially enjoyed "Noa Noa Makes Breakfast for Caroline and Me" and "Waiting for the Palagi". Once or twice, Reihana uses words which I think are hard to make work in a poem - 'immortality', 'portentous' - abstract nouns which, for me, detract from the immediacy and vividness of the rest of the poems in which they are embedded, especially when they're used to conclude a poem. That's my only, small, complaint.

Katherine Liddy, "A History of Romance"

I found Katherine's selection the hardest to get into, but I also found it rewards a second and a third look. "A History of Romance" is much more formal in tone and content than the other selections: after a tremendous opening poem about the Crab Nebula, it's a series of poems about mythology and history, moving forward through time to the present: the last few poems are less distanced, more overtly personal.

Most of the poems are rhymed. I have to declare a personal prejudice here: in modern English-language poetry (serious poetry, at any rate), I usually find rhyme distracting. In languages such as Russian, word endings vary according to the use of words in the sentence, providing a wide range of potential rhymes to the poet. In English, on the other hand, word endings are largely invariant, apart from plurals: whether it's "the cat sat on the mat" or "the mat sat on the cat", the spelling of 'cat' and 'mat' doesn't vary. This means that poets writing in English work with a smaller range of potential rhymes, and often leads to English rhymes appearing forced, or syntax being distorted to make a rhyme - whereas, in Russian, the word order in a phrase or sentence is almost irrelevant, as the word endings make it clear what function each word is performing.

I've already mentioned the opening poem, "Crab Nebula". This is rhymed, but such is the strength of the imagery in the poem, and the subtlety of the rhymes, that I didn't notice this until I'd finish reading it. By contrast, at the end of the first section of the "Delphi" sequence, this couplet distracted from my enjoyment of the poem:

Bronze statues line the way and oversee,
through the air thick with sacrifice, Delphi.

Given her formal abilities and her interest in the Victoria era, I would love to see Katherine Liddy emulate my hero among the Victorian poets, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and write more poetry in blank verse.

But despite this caveat, largely a matter of my personal preference, I find myself wanting to return to these poems to tease out their subtleties.

Three poets, then, with quite different styles, themes and concerns. It makes for an intriguing and rewarding collection.

26 October 2008

Downtuned to Nowhere: A Metalhead’s Journey. Part 2: Too Old to Rock'n'Roll, Too Young To Die

I posted earlier this month back about my long love affair, dating back to my teenage years, with heavy metal in general, and Metallica in particular. Very little of this has come out in my fiction, although I’m sure with a little more imagination I could do something about that:

- Darling, I —
- No, Celia, don’t say anything. Not now.
- But darling, I have to tell you. I can’t keep it a secret any longer. You see, I —
- What? What is it, Celia?
- I’m … I’m leaving you, Clive. I’m leaving you to go on tour as the new keyboard player for Lordi.

Brief Encounter was never like this!

In a classic case of the “return of the repressed”, however, what is absent in my fiction emerges in my poetry, in the form of poems about ageing rockers. Why ageing rockers? I think it’s because there’s something of both valour and pathos in the grizzled hero strapping on his wig of flowing chestnut locks, his armour of leather and studs, and his battered, trusted guitar one more time and going forth to do battle against the night. It’s like Tennyson’s Ulysses with a merchandise table.

In honour of ageing rockers, I present, in increasing order of the protagonists’ decrepitude, these three poems from my recent poetry collection All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens.

An Adventure

He put his Steely Dan CDs
in a box under the bed
bought three pairs of baggy shorts
wore his cap backwards
learned to swear like Fred Durst
(or was it Kirsten Dunst? He could
never be entirely sure.)

Took to clubbing. He sought out
young women with black hair
(or auburn — almost anything but that particular
shade of bottle blonde)
and more money than good sense.

For a while it all went well.
With the little blue pills
bought cheap online
he gave them a good time
every time.

Then, in a private moment
one of his conquests
caught him listening to the Moody Blues.
When she spread the word
the good times were over. He hung up his cap
gave the shorts to charity
and subscribed to Sky instead.

Norah Jones or System of a Down

I'm visiting Lemmy from Motorhead.
"Lemmy," I say, "how did you get that
bass sound in 'The Watcher'?"
He shows me the fingering on his Zimmer frame.
He's forgotten most of Motorhead
but he's frighteningly lucid on Hawkwind.

Unasked questions throng my head.
Lemmy, who was your favourite band?
Lemmy, what drugs do they still let you take?
Lemmy, when did you start growing old?
"Lemmy," I say, "are you cold?"
He is. I wrap him in my coat.

Visiting hours are over.
I shake the maestro's hand.
The warts on Lemmy's ravaged face
stand out like sentinels
defeated by the beat of time.

There's music piped into the rooms.
It's Norah Jones or System of a Down.
I take my leave.
I brace myself against the cold.
I embody the presence of silence.

New Live Dates

It's a meat market in here.
Why girls as green as grass
Should dance to the songs of a man ten times their age
Climb on their boyfriends' shoulders
Throw their panties and their room keys on the stage
I'll never know.

They wanted to send me out backed by machines
Some guy in a booth somewhere, flicking switches.
I said no: give me a band, the younger and louder the better.
Let the old man have his Zimmer frame of noise
His crackling fire of guitars
His beating heart of bass and drum.

I've lived; no, not lived, let's say survived
To hear my music cut to pieces, used to sell
Everything from shoes to car insurance
Everything from fried chicken to retirement homes.
It doesn't matter: nothing matters
But the lights, the noise, the stage

And my women. I drink them up.
I leave them pale and drained.
In the morning, they don't know themselves
Waking with a shiver to the memory of pleasure
The scents of whisky and old leather
And the sound of curtains flapping in the wind.

22 October 2008

Updated: JAAM 26 is printed / Otago Daily Times review of Transported

Two bits of news: first, issue 26 of JAAM magazine, which I guest-edited, has now been printed. Sorry for the delay, folks! Contributors' copies will be sent out during the next week or so. I may be biased, but I think it's full of great stories and excellent poetry, some by writers already well-known, some by writers you will be hearing a lot more of in coming years.

It's an excellent idea to subscribe to JAAM, but you can also pick up copies of the magazine at the following bookshops, which have standing orders (list kindly supplied by Helen Rickerby):

* Parsons Bookshop in Auckland (26 Wellesley Street East)
* Time Out Bookshop, Auckland (432 Mt Eden Road)
* Unity Books, Auckland (19 High Street)
* University Bookshop, Auckland
* Women's Bookshop, Auckland (105 Ponsonby Road)
* Unity Books, Wellington (57 Willis Street)
* Victoria University Bookshop, Wellington
* University Book Shop Canterbury, Christchurch
* University Book Shop Otago (378 Great King Street)

Here's the cover, based around a painting by Reihana Robinson:

I love that painting!

In JAAM 26:

  • Poems by Amy Brown, Anna Rugis, Anne Harre, Barbara Strang, Barry Southam, David Gregory, Davide Trame, Dean Ballinger, Elizabeth Smither, Emma Barnes, Eric Dodson, Fionnaigh McKenzie, Garry Forrester, Harvey Molloy, Helen Heath, Helen Lowe, Iain Britton, Janis Freegard, Jennifer Compton, Jenny Powell, Jessica Le Bas, Jo Thorpe, John O'Connor, Keith Lyons, Keith Westwater, Kerry Popplewell, L E Scott, Laurice Gilbert, Mark Pirie, Mary Cresswell, Miriam Barr, Rhian Gallagher, Robert James Berry, Robert McLean, Robin Fry, Sue Reidy, Sugu Pillay, Theresa Fa'aumu and Trevor Reeves.

  • Short stories by Beryl Fletcher, Ciaran Fox, Darian Smith, Eden Carter Wood, Esther Deans, Helen Lowe, Jeanne Bernhardt, Lyn McConchie, Michael Botur, Michele Powles, Renee Liang, Suzanne Hardy and Tracie McBride.

  • An essay by L E Scott.

The second bit of news is that Mike Crowl's review of Transported has now appeared in the Otago Daily Times. Thanks, Mike!

19 October 2008

One Stop on a Whistlestop Tour

I've now run three author interviews on this blog, with Helen Lowe, Harvey Molloy, and Helen Rickerby. I have more in mind, but I haven't approached some of the authors involved yet, so I'll leave these a mystery for the moment.

What I can say, though, is that this blog will be one of the stops on the virtual book tour for Tania Hershman's short story collection The White Road and Other Stories. A virtual book tour is a more carbon-friendly version of the traditional author book tour. Instead of schlepping herself and her book from city to city, the author makes a scheduled series of appearances on blogs, with the blogger at each "stop" conducting a brief interview with the author.

My blog "Books in the Trees" is stop 6 on Tania's tour, although the order is a little unpredictable. Click on the cover of Tania's book to go through to the full details of The White Road and Other Stories and the tour - and check out the tour schedule below. (What would be really cool is a tour jacket like those that rock bands sell on their merchandise tables ...)

What links a café 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.

Walking the White Road: Tania Hershman on Tour Oct-Dec '08

28 Oct 2008: Keeper of the Snails

05 Nov 2008: Literary Minded: Angela Meyer

09 Nov 2008: Vanessa Gebbie’s News

18 Nov 2008: Sue Guiney: Me and Others

26 Nov 2008: Tim Jones: Books in the Trees

02 Dec 2008: Eric Forbes’ Book Addict’s Guide to Good Books

10 Dec 2008: Eco-libris

16 Dec 2008: Kelly Spitzer

23 Dec 2008: Kanlaon

29 Dec 2008: Thoughts from Botswana