29 December 2011

How To Buy My Books: Men Briefly Explained, Anarya's Secret And More



You can find details of all these books at my Amazon.com author page.

If you want a print copy and can't find one, please email me.

Recent Anthologies

23 December 2011

The Tim Jones Review Of Books

When people ask me what I do, writing-wise, I don't usually answer "book reviewer". All the same, I do write the occasional book review, and this year I even ascended to the giddy heights of a feature article about one of my favourite authors.

Here are some of the book reviews I've had published in the last few years, plus that feature article.

In Belletrista

Belletrista is an online magazine dedicated to reviewing and writing about books by women, especially books in translation. You can find out more on its About Us page.

Though all the books are by women, a number of the reviewers are men, and I contribute occasional reviews. There are some great reviews and articles on the site, and I encourage you to check it out.

Feature article:

Be Careful Out There, Be Careful in Here: The Dangerous Worlds of Ludmilla Petrushevskaya


New: Deathless, by Catherynne M Valente

The Topless Tower, by Silvina Ocampo, translated by James Womack

There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales, by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, translated by Keith Gessen and Anna Summers

The Word Book
, by Mieko Kanai, translated by Paul McCarthy

Selected Prose and Prose-Poems, by Gabriela Mistral, translated by Stephen Tapscott

Kalpa Imperial, by Angelica Gorodischer, translated by Ursula Le Guin

The Secret History of Moscow, by Ekaterina Sedia

In Landfall Review Online

The Landfall Review Online gives the literary journal Landfall the chance to review the books it doesn't have space to review in its print issues. I have written one review for them:

The Unsuspecting Huia: a review of Mr Allbones' Ferrets, by Fiona Farrell

That's All, Folks (till 2012)

And with this list (which I'll make into a page on this site, and update it as new reviews comes out), I exit regular blogging mode and enter January weekly blogging mode.

Look out for my "What I Read In 2011" post, in which I complain about how little reading I've got done and then admit I've actually read more books this year than last year, and for my "What I Listened To In 2011" post, in which I reveal that a new band beginning with W has joined Warpaint in the pantheon.

Merry Xmas if you celebrate Christmas, Happy Holidays if you don't (or even if you do), and a Happy New Year, everyone!

20 December 2011

Tuesday Poem: Appearances

It is autumn in the land of appearances.
Film sets are being taken down.
To the south, the audience
diminishes to haze.

Out beyond the Heads, the crash of guns.
Shore batteries, defend us!
Ships of every nation
have come to take our lamb.

A broadside works wonders.
We rush out in our dinghies.
If you are dismasted, take my life-raft.
Take my rubber ring, my hand.

Credit note: "Appearances" was first published in Bravado 7, July 2006.

Tim says: This poem has nothing to do with Christmas, except that I wrote it during my Christmas holidays a few years back, walking south along the ridge from Seatoun and looking at ships steaming into Wellington Harbour past the old gun emplacements.

You can check out all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem Blog - this week's hub poem in the centre of the page, and all the other Tuesday Poems on the right.

17 December 2011

At Home He's A Blog Tourist

Latest Blog Tour Interview

Wellington poet and author Janis Freegard asks me about how Men Briefly Explained fits with my previous books, and what I'm working on at the moment: Interview with Tim Jones.

Previous Interviews

12 December 2011: Wellington poet and publisher Helen Rickerby asks me about the development of Men Briefly Explained as a collection, and I revealed that it started life as a never-published chapbook called "Guy Thing": Tuesday Poet: An interview with Tim Jones about Men Briefly Explained.

12 December 2011: Christchurch fantasy author, poet and book blogger Helen Lowe talks with me about whether men buy poetry, the identity of those mysterious men who write poetry, and what relationship there is between poetry and speculative fiction. Look through the comments for a giveaway I'm offering! A Magical Mystery Tour Through “Men Briefly Explained” — & A Few Side Topics — With Author Tim Jones

7 December 2011: Auckland poet, graphic poet, short story writer and novelist Rachel Fenton asks me to dance: Tim to dance: Rachel Fenton interviews Tim Jones.

6 December 2011: Wellington poet Harvey Molloy talks with me about men, mid-life crises, art and politics: An Interview with Tim Jones.

1 December 2011: Dunedin poet Kay McKenzie Cooke talks with me about Southland, prose poems, and the fabled Gore High School jersey: New Zealand Writer Tim Jones Explains.

27 November 2011: Canberra poet PS Cottier talk with me about hard work, whether the male sex has a future, and Swannis: Of Poems and Men: Interview with Tim Jones.

15 December 2011

An Interview With Penelope Cottier

Penelope Susan Cottier, who usually writes as P.S. Cottier, is a poet and short story writer living in Canberra. Penelope was born in Oxford, England and moved to Australia as a baby. She has published three books; two of poetry and one collection of short stories.

Penelope's poem The Exquisite Confusion of the Prose Poem was my Tuesday Poem this week.

Penelope, I have just finished reading your second poetry collection, The Cancellation of Clouds, and I've enjoyed it very much. It seems to me that you combine a number of aspects in your poetry: political commentary, nature poetry (especially about birds), elements of fantasy and surrealism, and grounded observations of your life and the lives of those around you. Does that sound like a recognisable description of your poetry, or have I got it all wrong?

It does sound recognisable to me Tim, in the way you can read a map and recall a seldom visited landscape from it. All the elements you mention are there, certainly, but for me one of the major things I think of is the play of words in each poem, whether the topic is a serious one or a lighter piece (a distinction that I try to erase, anyway). I often think of my work in sporting terms, I'm afraid, and probably the most apt comparison would be chess boxing; I don't know if you're familiar with this, I've only seen it on youtube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=kK5TQSKmS3o but it involves men with very flat noses playing chess in a ring and then whacking into each other. I try and combine the intellectual and the slap of surprise all the time, so it's a kind of simultaneous chess boxing.

I'm glad to hear you liked Cancellation; I was so worried, and having enjoyed Men Briefly Explained made me even more anxious. The tone of mine is so much rougher than yours; more unsettled, I think, although you also value humour.

I enjoyed the various political jabs in your poems - both in this collection and those I've read online. Would I be right in thinking you are not a huge fan of Australian Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and his policies?

Byron's ability to suddenly insert an blinding political jab into the flow of his perfect couplets (say about Lord Elgin stealing the Greek marbles) is something I admire greatly, even envy. Today we tend to draw a rigid distinction between political and non-political writing. I sometimes think that there should be a new sport developed, where the crudest 'real world' poems face off against the very worst 'moment of personal revelation' poems. The former could be represented (in the green corner) by a truly inept rave about climate change, full of well-meaning (and valid) politics, the very obtuseness of which gives poetry and politics a very bad name. This is a creature which can sometimes still be seen in alternative publications or heard at poetry slams. In the white corner we could have the 'my mother just died and I feel sad' poem, which inevitably uses words such as 'numinous' and 'lucidity' and won't lower itself to any knowledge of the world outside the poet's ring of refinement. (Penelope stops rant, runs to check Tim's latest book, while not of the sort described, doesn't contain the words 'numinous' or 'lucidity'. Quick flick reveals neither, but she is still worried.) Both of these extremes make me puke, although my personal leaning is more towards the former, and there is just not enough good political poetry being written. (I don't know about New Zealand poetry in this context, I'm talking about Australia.)

Speaking of puking, Tony Abbott, with his open discussion of the importance of his women's virginity, his pandering to the lowest common denominator on climate change, and his virulent defence of the mining industry's fight against increased taxation is definitely not my cup of tea. Our Prime Minister Julia Gillard is by no means perfect, but next to Abbott she seems like a shining light. I recently wrote a poem called Abbott's booby, which is far from subtle in describing my reaction to him, but which is, I hope, saved from the ranting corner by humour. And fantastically detailed ornithology.

One thing that strikes me about your poetry is that even quite long poems often take the form of a single stanza, and that you use long line lengths in many of your poems. Technically, why does that approach appeal to you?

I hadn't really noticed this, and thank you for pointing it out. To put it in a negative way, I think that I am an extremely impatient writer, and want to get everything down quickly, with as little hesitation as possible, and that as I value the prickly, unsettling tone, I am not interested in smoothing things out later. I'd rather go for the KO than the points victory, but perhaps I need to look at my footwork. (I know I've flogged the boxing thing to death, I'll stop now.)

I sometimes feel that poems are being dictated to me, and it's a question of getting them down, catching them before the unseen speaker runs away.

There are some poems in Cancellation that use shorter lines, such as 'The atheistic angel' or 'Tiresias at the beach' but they are the exception. And the prose poems sometimes just cascade on and on.

I haven't read your first collection, The Glass Violin. Are the poems in The Cancellation of Clouds recognisably part of the same lineage, or does The Cancellation of Clouds represent a sharp break from your previous collection?

My first book contained near every poem of publishable standard that I had written, and there is more variation in quality there. Many of the topics you mentioned above are represented in the first collection too, but I feel I am writing better now, with more confidence and more ability to sift out the less successful works.

The Glass Violin was quite well reviewed, and one reviewer spoke of how 'busy' my world was. There is still a lot going on in Cancellation, but I think the poems speak to each other a little more coherently. I am trying out more forms too, notably prose-poems, which weren't in the first collection.

I was intrigued by something I read on your blog, referring to your first collection:

Yet I actually write quite quickly. I’ve just been a shocker about trying to have my work published. About a year ago I decided to put an emphasis on seeking publication, and I have been quite fortunate in finding places that liked my work.

I have three questions about this:

(i) What prevented or discouraged you from seeking publication for your poems for so long?

I lost quite a few years of my life to depression, which is now routinely described as the black dog, a personification that I find quite amusing, as it conjures up a fat black Labrador acting as a benevolent guide dog, a creature as far from the quiet, years-long desperation of losing one's way as it is possible to imagine. Anyone who speaks glibly of depression should be taken out and shot, in my liberal opinion. Poets do seem to have high rates of depression, but this is not what makes them poets.

I struggled to write during this time (although I did complete work) and was much too ill to cope with what I call the administrative side of poetry, or indeed any contact with the outside world. I felt ashamed at suffering from depression, which makes about as much sense as being ashamed of having cancer. I think at some level I blamed myself for being weak, and also that I had 'no reason' to be depressed, being in the sunny, white, middle class Australia I inhabit.

Interestingly, this is the first time I have discussed my illness in a public forum; as if the distance to New Zealand makes it easier to be honest. Although, of course, with them internets, there is no distance at all.

(ii) What caused you to change your mind and start submitting poems?

I'm tempted to simply write 'medication' and that is part of the truth. I finally got to the stage where I knew I was not going to die as a result of depression. I worked my way out of depression through employment at a national cultural institution, working in copyright law, an experience which was positive but which taught me that I am fundamentally not a lawyer. Then I wrote my PhD on Dickens, at the Australian National University, three months into which I had a baby. Miraculously, these two things that could have proven difficult, also helped pull me away from depression.

After the PhD I decided that I didn't want to try and be an academic either, and that I would try and work at my own writing, rather than produce scholarly articles.

Without my husband, there is no doubt that I would not be around by now. Because of him, I am also free to write as much as I want. So from a most traditional family structure I am now able to compose cutting poems about the world's injustices including the oppression of women, and from having survived depression, to write funny poems about Death. Death appears in most of my works, it seems to me, in one form or another.

Incidentally, I never used poetry to get out of depression; and my poems are not at all confessional. On the contrary, the slight distance I like to achieve through humour or word-play is something I value all the more for having been depressed. I invented the pen name P.S. Cottier, as I almost forgot to stick around. It's a reference to a post-script, and is also gender neutral, as I often write in a man's voice.

(iii) Do you think that in some ways it has been an advantage to have a lot of strong poems already written before you began to submit any of your poetry?

This is definitely true, although I'd rather not have had the extreme experiences that led to my nice little stockpile of poetic weaponry.

The Cancellation of Clouds is your third book; the one we haven't talked about yet is your short story collection A Quiet Day and other stories. I'm keen to hear more about that collection, and I'd also like to know: do you alternate writing fiction and poetry, or do you work on both during the course of a writing day or writing week?

I was very pleased to have A Quiet Day and other stories highly commended in the recent Society Of Women Writers NSW book awards in Sydney, in the adult fiction category. It is a tiny volume of stories, ranging from the slightly surreal to the examination of loss and renewal in a suburban context. The judge of the awards referred to my stories as having a 'poetic element', and certainly, plot is not my particular friend. Or character development. Just description and word-play, in a slightly different form.

I can envisage writing a volume in which prose-poems are mixed with stories that are just a verb or two from being prose poems. Whether people can envisage reading such a thing is another question. If only I could work in a science fiction element it might become the world's least publishable book.

No structure is imposed by me on my writing week except that I sit down each day at a particular time and write. I am quite looking forward to the minimal structure of being a Tuesday Poet, and posting something on my blog every Tuesday. I spend a lot more time on poetry than prose.

Each of your books has been published by Ginninderra Press. Have you enjoyed having a continuing relationship with one publisher?

Yes, I have enjoyed this. Ginninderra Press was originally based in Canberra, but moved to South Australia just before I sent them my manuscript for the first poetry collection. The two events were allegedly not related. GP publishes a lot of first writers, and it is not in the business primarily to make a profit. (As opposed to those other huge money-grubbing poetry publishers, with their Stephen King type print runs and huge advances!) They recently celebrated their 15th birthday.

All tiny presses have limited funds for promotion, so there is a great irony in the fact that the less commercial one's work is, the more one must work to promote it. This brilliant insight may have occurred to you too, Tim.

Many of my readers may not be familiar with as much Australian poetry as they should be - and I'm one such reader. Are there Australian poets, or for that matter any poets, you especially enjoy or have been influenced by?

Firstly, I will take your stated unfamiliarity and up it with my near total ignorance of New Zealand poetry. Hopefully involvement in Tuesday poets will go some way to changing this. And I will be going to a reading by New Zealand poet Vincent O'Sullivan in Canberra next year.

I must admit that my literary heroes, until recently, have been from England and, to a lesser extent, the United States. Emily Dickinson, the aforementioned Byron (now there's an interesting coupling), TS Eliot, Shakespeare; all very traditional. But I truly believe that you must read all this to be any good at all.

If you want to read Australian poetry on line, I recommend the Australian Poetry Library. http://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/. You can search by poet or topic. Of course only one-third of the poets represented are women, but there are many fine poets here. I am totally in love with the works of joanne burns, a Sydney poet who writes prose poems, of great wit and intelligence, some of which are readable in the Poetry Library. Seeing her read last year was a genuine highlight for me.

There are also many fine poets in Canberra, such as Alan Gould, Geoff Page, Hal Judge, Kathy Kituai, Melinda Smith and many many others, and I try to go to as many launches and readings as I can without compromising my work. It is so good to be able to be a little social, after having been forced into myself by depression. I am also enjoying my doing own readings several times a year, and judging competitions.

Finally, and if you're willing to tell us, what writing projects are you working on at the moment?

I have just started working on a possible series of linked poems dealing with extinction starring the cane toad as narrator. The corroborree frog may also be in there. We'll see.

I am shocking in that if something catches my eye, whether it be a prompt for a competition, or an interesting argument on a web-site, I'll drop everything and wade in.

Most of my good work comes from chasing weirdness in this way, rather than having a particular end in sight. One of my first contacts with you, for example (after you had brutally rejected one of my poems for an e-zine in an editorial capacity!) was because you had an excellent poem about snails on your blog, by Janis Freegard, and I was about to publish a story about snails on mine. (I carefully avoided any puns about getting Shelley during my first email.) That was weird and fruitful. I'm also shocking in that I will post a poem on my blog that has not been published elsewhere; I just can't stand waiting at times, and going through the established channels of submitting to a journal.

And let's face it, if I wanted a proper, ordered career, I'd be a lawyer, billing every six minutes of my time to a client. I don't want that, and revel in my ability to write what I want. It's a privilege to be where I am now. My business card says 'poet'.

How to buy The Cancellation of Clouds

The Cancellation of Clouds is published by Ginninderra Press, as were P.S. Cottier's two previous books, The Glass Violin (poetry) and A Quiet Day and other stories (short fiction). Each can be ordered through the poetry and fiction sections of the Ginninderra Press website.

14 December 2011

Chaps And Chapbooks

In the latest blog tour interview, Wellington poet and publisher Helen Rickerby asks me about the development of Men Briefly Explained as a collection, and I revealed that it started life as a never-published chapbook called "Guy Thing". It's all revealed in Tuesday Poet: An interview with Tim Jones about Men Briefly Explained.

Previous Interviews

12 December 2011: Christchurch fantasy author, poet and book blogger Helen Lowe talks with me about whether men buy poetry, the identity of those mysterious men who write poetry, and what relationship there is between poetry and speculative fiction. Look through the comments for a giveaway I'm offering! A Magical Mystery Tour Through “Men Briefly Explained” — & A Few Side Topics — With Author Tim Jones

7 December 2011: Auckland poet, graphic poet, short story writer and novelist Rachel Fenton asks me to dance: Tim to dance: Rachel Fenton interviews Tim Jones.

6 December 2011: Wellington poet Harvey Molloy talks with me about men, mid-life crises, art and politics: An Interview with Tim Jones.

1 December 2011: Dunedin poet Kay McKenzie Cooke talks with me about Southland, prose poems, and the fabled Gore High School jersey: New Zealand Writer Tim Jones Explains.

27 November 2011: Canberra poet PS Cottier talk with me about hard work, whether the male sex has a future, and Swannis: Of Poems and Men: Interview with Tim Jones.

13 December 2011

Tuesday Poem: The Exquisite Confusion Of The Prose Poem, by P.S. Cottier

Exquisite, as if there's pleasure in my mongrel life. Dog of the boulevards, sniffing this way and that, torn between the mundane and the mellifluous. Hand on my leash pulls this way, towards rhyme and rhythm, then that way, towards common sense, if not the solid brass lamp-post of the best-seller. Trickle of golden adjective runs from me, moderated by the cut of verb. It must end, this torture, this constant orphaning. Father was a Poem of the Proper Sort/His Lines They Echoed as They Ought. Even when I will myself into a sad bad clang of couplets, they won't break the flow of this word after word, the hideous horizontality of being that beset me from the start. I am doomed to lie down, to cover myself with the rags of reason, frayed into flags of a red agonising interest, signalling the daytime nightmare of the metaphor. Cruel matador of the plunging quill, never-ending coup de grâce. Mother's mission, to share recipes and love stories with the masses, has eluded me. In cook-books she was legion; in romance novels legendary. She tied an apron of prosey appropriateness each time she entered the literary kitchen. Hand over honest hand, she ribboned herself in the present tense (or past simple). And her progeny is this half-slipped knot, the dropped stitch, the soufflé which never rises into ether and the crêpe can never be mere honest pancake, stacked into hearty flat use. Creeping creature of the half-light, twin of an invisible doppelgänger, neither one nor not either, I pull my carcass through the cruel streets of non-belonging. At least, at least, release is soon, that delicious sip of easy non-being. Be seeing. Been seen.

Credit note: "The Exquisite Confusion Of The Prose Poem" is from P.S. Cottier's second poetry collection The Cancellation of Clouds, published by Ginninderra Press, and is reproduced by permission of the author. The Cancellation of Clouds can be ordered from Ginninderra Press.

Tim says: I have recently finished reading The Cancellation of Clouds in preparation for my interview with P.S. (Penelope) Cottier, which I will be posting here later this week. I very much enjoy the spikiness, humour and energy of her poetry, which is well represented in this tale of the tormented prose poem, forever pulled this way and that.

P.S. Cottier has just joined the Tuesday Poets, and you can read her first Tuesday Poem post here: http://pscottier.com/2011/12/12/progress-by-p-s-cottier/. I look forward to reading more of her poems - and watch out for our interview later this week.

You can check out all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog - the hub poem in the middle of the page, and all the other poems in the sidebar on the right.

12 December 2011

The Magical Mystery Tour (is coming to take you away)

The Magical Mystery Tour is coming to take you away - away, that is, to Helen Lowe's blog, where she talks with me about whether men buy poetry, the identity of those mysterious men who write poetry, and what relationship there is between poetry and speculative fiction. It all finishes up with Buffy, of course:

A Magical Mystery Tour Through “Men Briefly Explained” — & A Few Side Topics — With Author Tim Jones, an interview with Helen Lowe.

Previous Interviews

7 December 2011: Auckland poet, graphic poet, short story writer and novelist Rachel Fenton asks me to dance: Tim to dance: Rachel Fenton interviews Tim Jones.

6 December 2011: Wellington poet Harvey Molloy talks with me about men, mid-life crises, art and politics: An Interview with Tim Jones.

1 December 2011: Dunedin poet Kay McKenzie Cooke talks with me about Southland, prose poems, and the fabled Gore High School jersey: New Zealand Writer Tim Jones Explains.

27 November 2011: Canberra poet PS Cottier talk with me about hard work, whether the male sex has a future, and Swannis: Of Poems and Men: Interview with Tim Jones.

09 December 2011

An Interview With Johanna Knox

Johanna Knox is the author of an intriguing new children’s book series for 8-12 year olds - The Fly Papers. The first book, recently released, is The Flytrap Snaps.

Described in reviews as everything from ‘fresh’ and ‘funny’, to ‘quirky’ ‘madcap’, and ‘bizarre’, this fast-paced mystery adventure is set in a booming movie industry town called Filmington. It features resourceful children, a ruthless venture capitalist, and a plethora of walking, talking carnivorous plants, who’ve been genetically engineered to star in horror movies.

Johanna has spent much of her career writing for museums, as well as for magazines, youth websites, and educational publications. However, her passion has always been fiction. This is her first published novel, and she has teamed up with her partner Walter Moala, a graphic designer, to bring it out under their own imprint – Hinterlands.

How did the idea to write The Fly Papers come about?

About eight years ago, our young son got obsessed with carnivorous plants, so we bought him a small collection of different species for Christmas. Then I think I became one of those dreadful parents who takes over their child’s interest! His obsession wore off (hopefully I didn’t smother it), but mine stayed.

I was fascinated with each plant’s personality. They felt more like pets than pot plants, and I used to wonder what they’d be like if they became animate.

I started a story about them but wasn’t sure where it was going, and put it aside. I came back to it, ages later, after the global financial crisis had hit. By then I’d thought a lot about debt, and consumerism, and financial exploitation. I melded those themes with the carnivorous plant story, and suddenly I was excited about it again.

It’s perfectly possible to read The Flytrap Snaps for fun without dwelling on financial issues, but those ideas are there, if readers care to delve into them. I’d like to think the book could make a good discussion starter if parents wanted to talk about money with their children.

How long did it take for the idea to become a published reality?

The year before last, a whole lot of things came together and Walter and I found ourselves in a position to do what we’d always talked about, which was publish our own books. We figured, ‘it’s now or never’, and it made sense to start with this carnivorous plant fiction series.

I've got a copy of The Flytrap Snaps, in front of me, and it looks great! How much effort did it take to get that superb production quality?

Thank you for saying so!

Well, Walter really drove the production process. We felt that if we were investing so much into the books, the production values should reflect that, and as self publishers, we could control the outcome.

Walter worked closely with MWGraphics on production. For example they collated all the illustrations and sample text onto A2 pages and tested the ink coverage on the paper stock on the printing press. It doesn’t get more accurate than that. We knew exactly what we were going to get before we went to print.

Walter has a great (and longstanding) relationship with MWGraphics, and they really went the extra mile to help us get a result that they were proud of too.

A major part of the appeal of the book is the illustrations by Sabrina Malcolm. How did Sabrina come on board as the illustrator?

From the start, we wanted the books illustrated. We were inspired by movies like Little Shop of Horrors, and old B-grade movie posters. We began to imagine what the plants could look like but, as Walter says, we needed the safe hands of a great illustrator who knew the subject, but would also add their own ideas.

We’d worked with Sabrina before, back when Walter was at Huia Publishers, and I was also doing a bit of children’s book editing for them.

Walter and I both worked on the Huia picture book Koro’s Medicine by Melanie Drewery. We were looking for an illustrator for it, and a friend recommended this woman Sabrina who had a background in botanical illustration – ideal for a book about native medicinal plants. So she came on board.

We loved working with her, and the book ended up as a finalist in the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards, so she did a great job.

Some years later we reconnected with Sabrina when our respective sons became good friends. When we needed an illustrator for a novel about carnivorous plants, it was a no-brainer to approach her, and that’s when we discovered that unbeknown to us she’d been harbouring a deep fascination with carnivorous plants for years!

Will Sabrina be illustrating the whole series?

I hope so! They’re a big part of The Fly Papers’ identity.

The Flytrap Snaps is published by Hinterlands. What made you decide to take this route to publication?

Walter and I had been running our business, Hinterlands, for years, contracting out writing and design services, and usually working for separate clients. The book series was a way to combine our experience and skills on a single project that we could take full responsibility for.

Do you envisage that Hinterlands will publish work by other authors?

We’ve always had that in mind as a goal, and we’ll look into it further down the track.

I was impressed by the list of bookshops that carry The Flytrap Snaps (on the right of the linked page). As a new publisher, how have you gone about getting this wide distribution? Was it difficult to achieve?

Before publication, we did a road trip through sections of the North Island, gauging and drumming up interest at independent bookshops. After it was published, we did our best to get in touch with as many of those shops – and other independents – as possible, to see if they’d stock it. And it’s ongoing. We’re constantly working on getting it into more places. But that does take time.

It’s been all about lots of emailing, plus in-person promotion to bookstores near us. We’ve also had kind friends and associates in other parts of the country help promote it in their locales. Plus whenever we go on a trip, we make sure we take a few books to show the local shop.

Forming good relationships with independent booksellers is really a holy grail for us. They have such a passion for books and for the whole process of matching books with people. They’re the ones who are likely to hand-sell your book if they like it … and that’s what you need when you’re starting out and don’t have a name.

The more booksellers we can find who decide they actually like our book and want to put it in the hands of customers they think would like it too, the better.

They don’t have to be independent booksellers of course – there are stores in chains where the individuals running it have the same ethic. Someone told me you’ll often find that kind of attitude in chain stores in small towns, where they may be the only bookshop around, so they become an extra special part of their community.

All that said, we’re discovering how brilliant and supportive libraries and librarians can be to deal with, too!

The advent of ebooks has had a big impact on adult fiction. Has it had the same effect on children's and YA fiction? Is The Flytrap Snaps available as an ebook, or if not, do you plan to turn it into an ebook?

I think ebooks are taking longer to take off in the world of children’s and YA literature, but it’s definitely happening.

We do plan to turn it (and the other books in The Fly Papers series) into ebooks in the not-so-distant future.

Walter and I love printed books though! We’re not luddites by any stretch, but we’ve both always loved the look and feel and smell of printed books, and somehow they feel more real, more substantial and more permanent.

When I have a new book out, and given my other commitments, I find it difficult to maintain the balance between writing and promotion - put another way, it's hard to get writing done when there's a book to promote. If you have a secret to maintaining that balance, I'd love to find out what it is!

Me? I’ve been searching for balance – any kind of balance – since I can remember. Maybe the balance is just in the constant seesawing.

It’s funny how this is such a major topic of conversation when writers get together! We always seem to be comparing notes about how we have or haven’t found balance of one sort or another, whether it’s writing vs promotion, writing for love vs writing for money, or writing anything vs family commitments!

To get back to your original question, promotion eats up a lot of time, and so does distribution. Even just the packaging, invoicing and mailing. All the jobs that individually only take a few minutes, really add up.

A wise friend recently told me how she likes to make sure she never lets a whole day get totally consumed by long lists of small jobs (like promotion and admin tasks). Instead she makes sure that every single day, she spends at least a bit of time making headway on a large scale job (like a novel manuscript).

I’ve tried to force myself to do that lately, and it’s really helpful. Otherwise, it’s too easy to put off the large-scale tasks, thinking I’ll wait till I have a day clear of small tasks. But that day never comes!

A slightly different question: do you enjoy the whole publishing and promotional side of the business, or is it a necessary evil that one has to undergo?

Hmm … it’s definitely an interesting learning curve, and it’s satisfying overseeing the entire process. On the other hand, sometimes it would be nice to have that extra support of an external publisher.

As well as continuing work on The Fly Papers, I’ve recently been commissioned by another publisher to write a book.

I’m finding this a very different experience. Just having the external validation of someone saying, ‘We believe that you can do this book,’ is so reassuring. Whereas when you self publish you need an amount of inner self-belief that it’s frankly impossible to maintain all the time.

When I can’t maintain it I have to go onto auto-pilot, and think, okay, whether I believe in this project or not right now, I just have to keep trudging along this path I’ve mapped out … keep putting one foot in front of the other.

When it comes to the actual promotion, it can be deeply uncomfortable trumpeting your own book, especially when it’s effectively self published. It’s like I have to split myself into two selves – the writer-me and the promoter-me. It’s not always a happy split, either.

The writer-me (which I’d suggest is much closer to the real me!) just wants to immerse myself in the story, and have a handful of people like the story for its own sake, and ignore all practicalities … But the promoter-me has to block out any investment in people liking the book for any reason other than that it’s a business venture, and we need to make some money off it! (And that means I have to get LOTS of people to like it.)

Right now, you’re really interviewing both those people, and this is an odd feeling. The writer-me is a wear-my-heart-on-my-sleeve kind of person who wants to answer everything you’re asking me fully and frankly, and not a little self-deprecatingly. But as I reply I’ve got the promoter-me in my head, interjecting sometimes with ‘you can’t say this…’ and ‘make sure you slip in something about that …’

On a lighter note, one fun thing about promoting this book is that I get to talk a lot about carnivorous plants, especially to kids. I love it that anywhere I set up a display or talk, there are always one or two children who seem so enthralled that they can’t leave.

They will come, look at the plants, and then wander off (or be dragged off) … Then a few minutes or half an hour later they’re back … And then later they’re back again, and each time they think up new questions to ask. These plants really seem to get under the skin of some children.

Can you reveal a bit about the second book in the series?

Well it’s coming out next year, and it has a lot of stunt wrestlers in it, as well as carnivorous plants.

One final question: what's the best thing about being a writer?

Not having to sit around wishing I was a writer, I suppose, which I would … if I wasn’t.

On the other hand, occasionally, when things aren’t going so well, I dream about chucking it all in and becoming a florist or a herbalist or a perfumer. I reckon lots of people must have fantasy alter-ego jobs that they float away to when things get too much in their real job.

Anything else you’d like to say?

Well, the promoter-me says I have to tell you that The Flytrap Snaps makes a really good gift for bright, inquisitive children when packaged up with a real Venus flytrap from your local garden centre. Especially as in the back of the book you’ll find detailed instructions for looking after your own Venus flytrap!

08 December 2011

Invitation To The Dance

The hits just keep on coming! (And yes, I did write "Yummy Yummy Yummy I've Got Love In My Tummy", and yes, I did write "Ferry Across Wellington Harbour To Eastbourne, Stopping At Matiu/Somes On Request", which Gerry and the Pacemakers insisted on changing to "Ferry Across The Mersey" because it was more 'relatable'.)

But this is a different type of hit - a dancefloor hit. A dance card, in fact, marked for me by Auckland poet, graphic poet, short story writer and novelist Rachel Fenton. It's the latest stop on my blog tour. It is...

Tim to dance: Rachel Fenton interviews Tim Jones.

Previous Interviews

6 December 2011: Wellington poet Harvey Molloy talks with me about men, mid-life crises, art and politics: An Interview with Tim Jones.

1 December 2011: Dunedin poet Kay McKenzie Cooke talks with me about Southland, prose poems, and the fabled Gore High School jersey: New Zealand Writer Tim Jones Explains.

27 November 2011: Canberra poet PS Cottier talk with me about hard work, whether the male sex has a future, and Swannis: Of Poems and Men: Interview with Tim Jones.

07 December 2011

The Men Briefly Explained Blog Tour: Harvey Molloy Interviews Me

The latest interview on my blog tour to talk about my new poetry collection Men Briefly Explained, published by Interactive Press, is up.

Wellington poet Harvey Molloy talks with me about men, mid-life crises, art and politics: An Interview with Tim Jones.

Previous Interviews

1 December 2011: New Zealand Writer Tim Jones Explains, an interview by Kay McKenzie Cooke.

27 November 2011: Of Poems and Men: Interview with Tim Jones, an interview by PS Cottier.

02 December 2011

The Men Briefly Explained Blog Tour: New Interview Up

I've embarked on a blog tour to promote my new poetry collection Men Briefly Explained.

What that means is that I am visiting a series of blogs during the next few weeks to talk about Men Briefly Explained. As the interviews go up, I will be posting links to them here.

My latest interview is with Dunedin poet Kay McKenzie Cooke - one of my favourite New Zealand poets - and you can check it out here: New Zealand Writer Tim Jones Explains.

My first interview was with Australian poet PS Cottier, whom I will in turn be interviewing on my blog in a few weeks' time:

27 November 2011: Of Poems and Men: Interview with Tim Jones, by PS Cottier

29 November 2011

Out The Tent, by Madeleine Marie Slavick

Early night hills move
to profile, wear bushy velvet skirts
with some outcrop warts

Coming closer, five feral cows
chew old rice terraces and step
down the series like a lesson in obedience

Crabs, shy in their uneven saddles,
scurry in grass as dry as newspaper,
their hole in one of these sands

Then boat engines chainsaw
at our thin tent, police angle shouts
into shoulder radios, helicopter lights scan our fear:
A man has disappeared

We hear the myths: a spearfisher
from a dark rock corner, diver and shark,
nightsurfer, swimmer in the undertow
of three great things: night and sea and solitude

We become different lumps of sleep
and wake each time we turn over
The dogs at the next tent sigh

One of us leaves to sleepwalk
and arrives at the wet sounds below,
a beach toppled with the unattached

Where is all the light from anyway?
The sky stays grey
and the tides patient,
rinsing everything out twice a day,
like new parents

Credit note:This poem is from Madeleine M. Slavick's collection "delicate access", poems in English with translations into Chinese by Luo Hui, and is reproduced by permission of the author.

Madeleine M. Slavick is a writer and photographer. Madeleine has several books of poetry and non-fiction and has exhibited her photography internationally. She has lived in Germany, Hong Kong, and the USA, and was until recently based in New Zealand. She maintains a daily blog: touchingwhatilove.blogspot.com.

Tim says: I suspect this poem wasn't written about a night in the New Zealand bush, given the mention of old rice terraces, but it reminds me very much of nights spent outside in the rain in a tent, and mysterious lights that pause and move on. I'm a sucker for a great last line or couplet - this one is wonderful!

You can see all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog - the hub poem in the centre, and all the week's other poems on the right.

28 November 2011

The Men Briefly Explained Blog Tour: First Interview Up

I'm going on a blog tour to promote my new poetry collection Men Briefly Explained.

What that means is that I will be visiting a series of blogs over the next few weeks to talk about Men Briefly Explained. As the interviews go up, I will be posting links to them here.

My first interview is with Australian poet PS Cottier, whom I will in turn be interviewing on my blog in a few weeks' time.

Check out the interview here - and look out for new ones:

27 November 2011: Of Poems and Men: Interview with Tim Jones, by PS Cottier

24 November 2011

What Readers Are Saying About "Men Briefly Explained"

Readers are saying some very nice things about my new poetry collection, Men Briefly Explained.

Here are three comments from people who have read the collection:

Tim, your book arrived this morning, and I'm having to FORCE myself to stop reading and get on with the work I need to do. I am especially moved right now by "The Problem of Descendants". It's a magnificent book. - Johanna Knox

By the time you reach the third age of man you want to turn to the toddler pages and live the whole book again - Rachel Fenton

By turns poignant, insightful and laugh-out-loud funny, Tim Jones brings his trademark dry wit to a great new poetry collection. Thoroughly enjoyable! – Mary Victoria

This reviewer and this reviewer have said nice things, too.

We are approaching a time of the year when many people give gifts, so if you would like to buy a copy of Men Briefly Explained, here's how to do it:

In Person

You can order Men Briefly Explained through your local bookshop. Please tell them the title, the author name, the publisher (IP/Interactive Press) and (just for good measure) the ISBN, which is 978-1-921-86932-7. They should have no problem getting hold of it.

Or - even simpler - just email me at senjmito@gmail.com and I will make sure you get a copy.


Here you have a wide range of options:

Go on - you know you want to, and based on what other readers have said so far, you won't regret buying a copy.

22 November 2011

Tuesday Poem: The Reader, by Robin Fry

The new anthology is here.
I read through it
turning the pages          on and
from its end to its beginning
seeking connection

And —
here it comes
surprising me at last —
the rare, the numinous one
like the flick of a silver tongue
light falling
from another room.

Credit note: "The Reader" is from Robin Fry's new collection Portals, published by Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop, and is reproduced by permission of the author.

Portals is available directly from Robin for $15, sent to Robin Fry, 19 Bolton Street, Petone, Lower Hutt 5012. Robin can also be contacted by email: robinfry@paradise.net.nz

Here is an excellent article* from the Hutt News about Robin and her writing: Life's experiences inspire words.

*Stuff's page title is wrong, though - this is Robin's fifth collection.

Tim says: I went to the launch of Portals at the Lower Hutt Library, which was a great success: 60 or so people came along, Jo Thorpe gave an excellent introduction which you can read on the ESAW website, lots of people bought the book, and Robin read very well.

I have been reading Portals this week and, among a number of poems I like very much, "The Reader" jumped out at me because it so well conveys the experience of looking at a new anthology and hoping to find one or more poems that take the breath away.

There are some fine poems in Robin's previous collections, too - here are links to a couple from her previous collection, Time Traveller:

Riverine Elements

You can check out all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog - the hub poem in the middle of the page, and all the other poems in the sidebar on the right.

17 November 2011

Why I Won't Be Voting National

I won't be voting National at this year's General Election.

Now, this won't come as a great surprise to those who know me. My opposition to the National Party started in the Muldoon years and hasn't wavered since - so a government which is Muldoon 2.0, but with a friendlier smile, isn't likely to appeal to me. I live in Wellington Central, and for the record, I will be giving the Green Party my party vote and Labour MP Grant Robertson my electorate vote.

But I think I have got some particularly good reasons for not voting National this time - and ironically, perhaps, they date from before the 2008 General Election. At that time, I was the Convenor (and I'm still a member) of the Sustainable Energy Forum, and, much to my surprise, I was invited to a lunch with National Energy spokesperson Gerry Brownlee and a whole lot of energy company heads.

I felt like a fish out of water, but more to the point, Gerry felt he was among friends, and he told those energy company heads, in no uncertain terms, that when National came to power the shackles would be off. They could forget any concerns the Labour Government might have had about climate change or the environment. You dig it or drill it or mine it, Gerry said, and we'll back you up.

You could say many things about Gerry Brownlee, and I'd be happy to join you, but you couldn't say that he hasn't been true to his word. From the moment National came to power, they have shown a complete disregard for New Zealand's and the world's environment. While cynically promenading a "clean and green New Zealand" brand in international tourism markets, they have thrown the doors open at home to:

  • Mining in National Parks - yes, they lost the first round on that issue, but they haven't given up
  • Offshore oil drilling in waters even deeper and riskier than the Gulf of Mexico
  • The mining of massive quantities of lignite in Southland which would release billions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere
  • Fracking (hydraulic fracturing) to extract more oil and gas - a dangerous technique which has already been shown to lead to both groundwater contamination and localised earthquakes when used overseas, and which has been banned by France, a country not known for its environmental credentials
  • A massive and vastly expensive programme of motorway building to serve the interests of the trucking industry, which is also being served by National's downgrading of our rail system.

In other words, National are taking our economy back to the 1950s and massively increasing our dependence on fossil fuels.

And how do National propose to reconcile all this with New Zealand's international commitments to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions? They don't, perhaps because the Cabinet is full of climate change sceptics - as recently as 2005, John Key professed himself among them. They simply hope that the international audiences to whom they promise action on climate change won't notice what the Government is doing at home.

Now, there are lots of other excellent reasons not to vote for National. But New Zealand's environment is the foundation of New Zealand's wealth, and in turn, the liveability of New Zealand depends on the world having a liveable climate. John Key's Government has shown utter disregard for any meaningful action on climate change, either with New Zealand or internationally, and complete contempt for the New Zealand environment. That's why I won't be voting National.

14 November 2011

Tuesday Poem: Video Poems from the Book Tour + Radio Interview

I was going to resume normal Tuesday Poem service this week, but instead, here is some YouTube video from the Men Briefly Explained / Tongues of Ash book tour, plus a radio interview I did for Radio New Zealand's "Arts on Sunday" programme.

If you think "I would love to buy one of the shiny books featured in this video", here is how to do so:

Video Poems from the Book Tour

These video highlights from our Wellington event at the Wellington Central Library and our Eastbourne event at the Rona Gallery and Bookshop include (a) Keith Westwater reading (actually, this is the whole vid) ...

... and (b) Tim Jones reading:

Radio New Zealand interview

Sonia Sly of Radio New Zealand interviewed me for the "Arts on Sunday" programme on Radio New Zealand. Here is the interview in mp3 format:


Next week, I promise, I'll have an actual Tuesday Poem up on my blog! In the meantime, you can check out this week's Tuesday Poems here: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com

09 November 2011

Buy One Or The Rat Gets It!

And no, I am not talking about Men Briefly Explained. (A rat did take up residence at our house a while back - the cat brought it in, let it go, and proved completely inadequate to remove it. In the end, I played "St. Anger" at it until it ran away.)

I am talking about this rat, here: http://rosamirabooks.blogspot.com/2011/10/slightly-peculiar-love-stories-perused.html

Rattie has moved on from occupying Slightly Peculiar Love Stories to occupying Rosa Mira Books as a whole, and he has begun to make marketing decisions - like halving the price of both Slightly Peculiar Love Stories and The Glass Harmonica for this week and next week.

But that's not all. The rat has let power go to his head, and he's making publisher Penelope Todd draw a cute little picture of him each time you buy one of these ebooks. But, like a rodent Scheherazade who has had a gender change and isn't married to the sultan and er I think I'll stop now, his continued portayal depends on you, gentle reader, buying ebooks from Rosa Mira Books.

You don't need an ebook reader to read them - you just need a computer. They are amazingly easy to read on the screen. And they are bloody good.

So go to it. Take the plunge. Buy an ebook from Rosa Mira Books, and keep the rat in cute little outfits.

04 November 2011

The Load-Out

The Men Briefly Explained / Tongues of Ash book tour is over. I'm back in my home, Keith is back in his, our publisher David is back in Australia, and the roadies have loaded the last of the gear into the trucks ... OK, I may have made that last part up. They actually loaded the gear into pantechnicons.

We travelled from Dunedin to Auckland via Christchurch, Wellington, Eastbourne, and Paraparaumu. Along the way, we slept under hedgerows, in deserted fields under the stars, and in the houses of friends. At our performances met up with real-life friends and friends from the Internet. We sold books. We signed books. We read organised sequences of words from books. We got in cars and planes. From the planes, we could see clouds. From the cars, we could see election billboards. We saw John Key a lot. We didn't see Phil Goff. We saw Annette King, though - she came to our Wellington launch.

We didn't have contract riders, but if we had, they would almost certainly have stipulated only macrobiotic food, a room set aside for meditation at every venue, and the removal of all the brown M&Ms.

Actually, I like the brown M&Ms.

Tim reading at the Rona Gallery launch event in Eastbourne. Thanks to Sally McLennan for the photo.

Sometimes, I read before Keith, and sometimes, Keith read before me. Sometimes, David read before both of us. I quickly discovered which poems from Men Briefly Explained worked well in front of a live audience, and which didn't. I attended an excellent voice workshop for poets a few days before the tour started, and in tribute to this, I used my voice quite a lot on the tour. By our Auckland gig, it was showing definite signs of wearing out.

Seriously for a moment: though it was tiring at times, I enjoyed the tour very much. The physical touring is over, but now there's a virtual tour to think about. Watch several other spaces!

01 November 2011

Tuesday Poem: Rangipo Grounding, by Keith Westwater

I looked around
Ruapehu's apron
after the subaltern

bellied the rover
in a minefield of boulders.
Waiting for the NCOs

who'd seen it all before -
a new lieutenant
green as the desert was grey

trying to impress us boys
though he'd been told
not to go that way.

Behind, Ruapehu simmering
Ngauruhoe smoking.
In front, desolation -

a few tussocks, wire weed
desecrated earth.
I didn't know then

about rain shadow
desiccation by wind
the habitats of lahar fields

or the conditions necessary
for things to grow.
Muttering wry derision

the NCOs
with knowing grins
levered, heaved, hauled it free.

Those dry, wiry, salty men
who supplied us with
the necessary conditions.

Credit note: "Rangipo Grounding" is from Keith Westwater's debut poetry collection Tongues of Ash.

Tim says: Since last Tuesday, Keith Westwater and I, together with publisher and poet Dr David Reiter, have been on a book tour to Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, Lower Hutt, Paraparaumu and Auckland to launch our respective collections, his Tongues of Ash and my Men Briefly Explained. Our final gig is tonight in Auckland: we are reading at PoetryLive at the Thirsty Dog, 469 Karangahape Road, which starts at 8pm.

"Rangipo Grounding" is one of my favourite poems from "Tongues of Ash". I love the way it brings together a particular landscape and the people who inhabit it, how it reaches from the particular to to the general without strain, and the aptness of its title.

The Tuesday Poems: You can check out all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem Blog - this week's hub poem in the centre of the page, and all the other Tuesday Poems on the right.

27 October 2011

My Book Tour Hits The North Island - And Adds A New Kapiti Coast Event

After a damp but enjoyable South Island leg, the book tour to launch my new poetry collection Men Briefly Explained and Keith Westwater's prize-winning debut collection Tongues of Ash has reached the North Island - and we have added a new book tour event, this coming Saturday at 1pm at Paraparaumu Library.

This one has been added at very short notice, so it would be great if you could let Kapiti Coast folks who may be interested know about it.

Here are the remaining tour dates. I hope to see you at one of them!

  • Lower Hutt: Friday, 28 October, Rona Gallery/Bookshop, Eastbourne, 6pm
  • Kapiti Coast: Saturday, 29 October, Paraparaumu Library, 1pm
  • Auckland: Tuesday 1 November, Poetry Live, Thirsty Dog, 469 Karangahape Road, 8pm

25 October 2011

It's On! The Men Briefly Explained and Tongues of Ash Book Tour Begins Today

No Tuesday Poem on my blog this week, but no shortage of poetry, because the Men Briefly Explained and Tongues of Ash book tour begins today!

Once more, here is the itinerary - STOP PRESS - now with Saturday's Kapiti Coast event added:

  • Dunedin: Tuesday, 25 October, Circadian Rhythm Café, 72 St Andrew Street, 8pm
  • Christchurch: Wednesday, 26 October, CPIT, Madras Street, 5:30pm
  • Wellington: Thursday, 27 October, Wellington Central Library, 5:30 for 6pm
  • Lower Hutt: Friday, 28 October, Rona Gallery/Bookshop, Eastbourne, 6pm
  • Kapiti Coast: Saturday, 29 October, Paraparaumu Library, 1pm
  • Auckland: Tuesday 1 November, Poetry Live, Thirsty Dog, 469 Karangahape Road, 8pm

You can sign up to attend the tour on our Facebook events page: http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=188416554563635

Some lovely Tuesday Poets have kindly posted poems from Men Briefly Explained on their blogs this week - you can check them out by going to the Tuesday Poem blog and looking on the right-hand menu. Don't forget to check out this week's hub poem and all the other excellent poems featured on the right.

If you can't make it to one of the tour dates, here is ...

How To Buy Men Briefly Explained

You can buy Men Briefly Explained from Amazon.com as a paperback or Kindle ebook.

Likewise, it is available from Amazon.co.uk in paperback and ebook formats.

You can also find out more about it, and buy it directly from the publisher, at the Men Briefly Explained mini-site.

Men Briefly Explained is also available in a range of formats from eBookpie and for the Kobo.

24 October 2011

Book Review: Slightly Peculiar Love Stories

(Disclaimer: Slightly Peculiar Love Stories includes my story "Said Sheree", which I have not attempted to review!)

Slightly Peculiar Love Stories is the second book, and first short story collection, published by Rosa Mira Books, the new New Zealand publishing house set up by Dunedin author Penelope Todd earlier this year. I was honoured to have a story included in the collection, and have blogged about that previously.

There are a couple of things that should attract any reader to Slightly Peculiar Love Stories. One is that really cool cover. Another is the really rather extraordinary range of New Zealand and international authors who have contributed new or reprinted stories to this anthology:

  • From New Zealand, we have Craig Cliff, Sue Wootton, Janis Freegard, Tina Makereti, Bryan Walpert, Coral Atkinson, Claire Beynon, Latika Vasil, Linda Niccol, Maxine Alterio, Susannah Poole, and Tim Jones.
  • International authors include Alex Epstein (Israel), Angelo R. Lacuesta (Philippines), Brenda Sue Cowley (USA), Christos Chrissopoulos (Greece), Elena Bossi (Argentina), Lawrence K. L. Pun (Hong Kong), Salman Masalha (Israel), and Tania Hershman (UK).

That's quite the lineup, but the proof of any short story collection is in the reading. The good news is that there is a lot of good reading here, and a lot of different takes on love. My favourites at the moment include:

  • The sets of short-short stories by Alex Epstein and by Tania Hershman (four apiece)
  • Janis Freegard's ingenious and moving "Mill", which won the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Award in 2001
  • Elena Bossi's lovely and poignant "The Ache"
  • Claire Beynon's magical "Trapeze Artist"
  • Angelo R. Lacuesta's "Space Oddity"

- but there are so many other good stories here that I imagine your favourites will differ from mine.

There's something I haven't mentioned about Slightly Peculiar Love Stories: it's an ebook. The good news is, you don't need an ebook reader to read it. I read it on my computer in PDF format, and (as a person who doesn't generally like to read large amounts of text on-screen) I found it easy and enjoyable to read. The fonts are crisp and the layout clear.

So, if you don't have an ebook reader, don't let that put you off. Slightly Peculiar Love Stories is easy to read on a computer screen, and more to the point, it is well worth reading, because there is a lot of good fiction in here.

21 October 2011

News You Can Use: IP Inside Track Consultations, Momaya Press Competition, Rosa Mira Books Interview, Book Tour, And At Last Romance!

In the leadup to the Men Briefly Explained/Tongues of Ash book tour, which starts in Dunedin next Tuesday, here is some other news you can use.

IP Inside Track Consultations

While Dr David Reiter of Interactive Press is in NZ for the book tour, he is offering Inside Track Consultations with authors who want to get a publisher's view on the state of their manuscript (without any commitment to submit it to IP). David tells me that he has plenty of consultations lined up in Auckland, but could fit in some more in the Wellington region. If you would value this opportunity, check out Inside Track Consultations on the IP website.

Momaya Press Short Story Competition

UK-based Momaya Press contacted me asking me to publicise their short story competition, which is open to authors from all around the world, and I'm happy to do so. Entries don't close until 30 April 2012, so you have plenty of time to enter. Check out the details on the Momaya Press website, or see the announcement below. They have an Awards Ceremony too!

Momaya Short Story Competition 2012 – Now Open: Momaya Press sponsors the 9th Annual Momaya Short Story Competition to bring fresh writing to the attention of qualified judges. Submit your short story (3,000 word limit) on the theme “Heat” by 30 April 2012 in order to compete for prize money and publication in the Momaya Annual Review 2012. The judging panel includes members from Random House, Penguin, Reuters and a novelist who has published six books.

Submission details at: www.momayapress.com

NZ Book Council Interviews Penelope Todd of Rosa Mira Books

The New Zealand Book Council has recently published an interview with author and publisher Penelope Todd - in this interview, Penelope is wearing her e-publisher hat, as she tells the Book Council all about Rosa Mira Books.

I am working on a review of RMB's Slightly Peculiar Love Stories anthology which I am determined - determined, I say! - to post before my book tour starts next week. In other news, I just mis-typed the title as "Slightly Peculiar Love Tories". Which would be a different book, albeit one with a good market in the UK.

Book Tour Dates

You didn't think you were going to get off scot-free, did you? Well, you aren't. Be here or be rectangular:

  • Dunedin: Tuesday, 25 October, Circadian Rhythm Café, 72 St Andrew Street, 8pm
  • Christchurch: Wednesday, 26 October, CPIT, Madras Street, 5:30pm
  • Wellington: Thursday, 27 October, Wellington Central Library, 5:30 for 6pm
  • Lower Hutt: Friday, 28 October, Rona Gallery/Bookshop, Eastbourne, 6pm
  • Auckland: Tuesday 1 November, Poetry Live, Thirsty Dog, 469 Karangahape Road, 8pm


Tell yourself it's 1pm, or wait until 1pm. Then watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8J8n9R8rnB8

18 October 2011

I've Selected The Tuesday Poem This Week: Guarding the Flame, by Majella Cullinane

This week, I'm the editor for the main Tuesday Poem blog, and I have selected "The Force of Things", from the collection Guarding the Flame by Majella Cullinane, as this week's Tuesday Poem.

Head over to the Tuesday Poem blog to find out what I have to say about it - and don't forget to check out all the other Tuesday Poems for the week, which are listed to the right of the hub poem.

13 October 2011

An Interview With Mandy Hager, by Johanna Knox: Part 2

This is part 2 of Johanna Knox's interview with New Zealand author Mandy Hager. You can read Part 1 here - that part focuses more specifically on Mandy's Blood of the Lamb trilogy, while Part 2 sets those novels in a wider context.

Interview with Mandy Hager: Part 2

About Mandy Hager: Kapiti-based Mandy Hager is the award-winning author of numerous young adult books, including the recent Blood of the Lamb trilogy, a dramatic dystopia in set in the South Pacific. In these books, teenager Maryam, with her friends, must try to escape and later overthrow the corrupt and oppressive religious cult that has dominated her people since a disaster known as ‘the Tribulation’ struck Earth.

Margaret Mahy has described the first book as ‘Like 1984 for teenagers – direct, powerful and passionate.’ Books 1 and 2 in the trilogy were shortlisted for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards in 2010 and 2011. Book 3 was released earlier this year to critical acclaim.

About Johanna Knox: Johanna is a Wairarapa/Wellington-based writer, researcher, and reviewer. She frequently writes on food and sustainability issues. She is also the author of The Flytrap Snaps, book one in a newly released mystery-adventure series for children, all about mutant carnivorous plants - see http://theflypapersbooks.blogspot.com.

JK: Book 2, Into the Wilderness, is particularly dear to me. I found it harrowing, almost cathartic, and felt like I'd been taken apart and put back together again by the time I'd finished it. To me, this is the book where the concept of self-sacrifice is explored in most depth.

Did you think a lot about the notion of self-sacrifice when writing the book?

MH: I hadn’t thought of ITW in that way but I can see why you might think so. To me it’s not so much about self-sacrifice as it is about love and anger – both of which have the capacity to make us put aside our own considerations and fight for a greater good. If I am willing to lay down my life for my children (which I am!) it’s not about self sacrifice, it’s about love – and if, for instance, I’m angry because their futures are being ripped off by greedy capitalists, and the only way I can try to stop this is to step in front of a logging truck or a tank, I’ll do this too – spurred by anger but based on love for them. So maybe it’s not self sacrifice, but altruism in its purest form?

JK: Yes, I wonder if self-sacrifice is the wrong word then. Perhaps it has connotations of resentment and martyrdom? Maybe the word I should have used is 'selflessness' ... But 'altruism in its purest form' ... I like that. It puts the focus on what you ARE doing, not what you're not doing, if you see what I mean.

MH: Yes, that makes sense. One of the things I researched for the trilogy was a little about Buddhism – I’d never been able to understand the concept of ‘detachment’ before – used to think it meant being emotionally detached and remote (which I consider a bad thing) – but then I realised it’s about taking ego out of actions and decisions – now that makes real sense. And I started to plot how often my responses to things, situations or people were controlled by ego first (a lot!)

Once ego is taken out of the equation then it really is ‘selflessness’ – doing what’s right, not just what is right for you. It’s amazing how it changes the way I respond to things (though I admit it’s sometimes still a battle to smother that little bastard of an ego!)

The quote from Martin Luther King Jnr, at the end of Resurrection, really says it all: “the first thing we ask at a time of conflict is ‘what is the most loving thing to do?’” If we all practised that, all our problems would disappear!

JK: Obviously we are on the brink of some big upheavals globally: Climate change, peak oil, the financial crisis. In the world you write about, devastation has been caused by solar flares. Why did you choose this as the source of the world's trouble?

MH: The effects of a massive solar flare fit very well with the descriptions in Revelations about the end of the world, which all played into the Apostles hands when they were making their case for being living gods. I researched all about the flares on the NASA website – scary stuff, and spookily, they are at their most dangerous point of their cycle next year in 2012, the same year as the Mayan calendar ends – it was too much of a coincidence to ignore!

JK: Maryam finds herself in a bind at the end of the third book. I like that it is satisfying but you haven't tried to bring about a perfect conclusion, when really there couldn't be one. It was an unexpected ending for me, but once I'd read it, I felt it couldn't be any other way ...

MH: I always knew Maryam would bring about release from the Apostle’s rule, and I knew it would be by providing a cure for Te Matee Iai, but I had no idea it would happen in that way! It surprised me as much as you!

But then it made sense to me – nothing is ever so easy to resolve – and when you are dealing with indoctrinated people it is unrealistic to believe that they can throw away all vestiges of their faith/doctrines just because they’re told to.

Look at the real world – the problems we’re seeing now are because countries have gone into another country/culture, stripped away one form of control but have not taken the people along with them, have not respected their core beliefs, and have provided no secure continuity to allow people time to adjust.

I came to realise that it couldn’t be straightforward and it was necessary to discuss how power vacuums are dangerous and that transitions need to be carefully and thoughtfully handled, and must accommodate all views.

JK: And - dare I ask - do you have a clear idea in your own mind of what happens after the events of the last chapters of the third book? Or is it as full of possibility in your own mind as it seems to the reader?

MH: There was a point where I realised ‘Damn, there could be a fourth book here’ – but I didn’t want to go there! I might one day, but I suspect not. For now I have faith that together they’ll sort it out – though it won’t be easy. That’s as much as I’m going to say!

JK: As many people know, you come from a family that has a strong focus on social justice. Is there a strong spirit of support amongst the family members for what you each do?

MH: Absolutely. I’m incredibly proud of what my siblings do (and my parents did) – we’re all close and support each other as much as we can.

My younger sister was over from England recently and we all got together – ended up in a rollicking discussion about politics – nice to know we’re all in agreement!

I am in awe of the work Nicky [Hager] does, and it frustrates me so much that he’s so dismissed by people here, when he’s invited all over the world to speak at investigative journalist conferences and the like as a key-note speaker with people like Robert Fisk and John Pilger – here they don’t even ask him to chair a Readers and Writers event, let alone speak at one – this drives me wild!

JK: It's funny - I was really hoping you'd say you got together and had rollicking political discussions! In the back of my mind that's how I imagined your family, and it's a heartening thought.

MH: Heartening, but sometimes a little intimidating to outsiders (and partners!)

JK: What did your parents do?

MH: My parents lived their social justice beliefs – when we were young they opened our house to all sorts of people in need – including young pregnant girls whose families had thrown them out, boys from the local borstal in order to give them some happy family time, gay men and women at a time when homosexuality was still considered illegal, people with mental health issues who needed support, and they supported Maori rights... and they were deeply involved in the Values Party, which was the precursor of the Green Party – in fact my mother was the first woman to be elected to the role of (co)leader of a political party in NZ.

They covenanted trees in our garden and fought for protection of the environment and the local lake (Lake Horowhenua) and my mother was on the District Council.

My father was a refugee from Austria – arriving here just before WW2 – so he knew only too well how human beings could be monsters, and he instilled very strong ethics in us – and opened our world up by introducing us to music, opera, literature, art, dance... we had a very lucky upbringing.

What I really admired about them was that they lived their values, didn’t just spout them! I think the four of us kids have spent our lives trying to live up to their high standards – I feel I’m only just starting to make some headway now!

JK: This might be another terrible question ... but what next? Do you have other fiction in the pipeline, and if so is there anything at all you can say about it?

MH: I’m 60,000 words into a new novel currently called ‘The Nature of Ash.’ It’s set about 20-25 years in the future, here in NZ, and reflects how things might be if we keep going down the free trade/privatisation path. But it’s essentially about an 18 year old boy and his Down Syndrome brother, and the nature of family. Still remains to be seen whether it will be published, but here’s hoping!

JK: Do you think - in general - story has an important role to play in equipping people - children and adults alike - for circumstances they are facing, or might face?

MH: I think story is the MOST important way to equip us with understanding about the world and our place in it. I’ve thought about this quite a bit actually, so what follows are some notes I wrote for a library conference talk.

From earliest times, people have used stories as a means of relating ideals and values important to them: i.e. where to find the best foods; what foods/people/places to avoid; the basic rules of conduct; behavioural expectations; relaying history and whakapapa etc. Story was – and still is – the means by which we investigate, interpret and understand our world.

Think of earliest man sharing stories around camp fire – stories about such things as where the best water holes are; don’t tackle that bloody great hairy creature with the huge curved tusks on your own; or over in the next valley there’s a really spunky Neanderthal of a man! ... (nothing’s really changed!) I think maybe it’s possible to divide all stories into two essential plots: those that explore Human Nature (our essential behaviours and inherent codes of ethics) and those that explore Mother Nature (how, as human beings, we interact with other animals, landscapes, weather etc) – really,these are the two most vital things we need to learn to negotiate in our lives.

Stories have the ability to go to the heart and mind of an issue, where straight reporting cannot always go – opens us up to greater empathy and understanding. For instance 1906 novel The Jungle by Upton Sinclair brought alive the poverty and corruption of the times in a way no newspaper article could have (and his descriptions of meat processing in the US at that time literally brought bile to my mouth and underlined why I don’t eat meat!)

We are social animals – that’s how we survive. I think we read primarily for one of two reasons: the first is to validate our own experiences, thoughts and feelings by reading of someone traversing the same issues, the second is to safely experience something we don’t have the opportunity or courage (or good/bad luck) to experience for ourselves – including trying on different spiritual, ethical and behavioural hats. It’s also why we love gossip – we have an inbuilt fascination with other human beings and how they behave – it’s how, as youngsters, we learn to negotiate the social world.

Story helps us enter the world of others who we would not normally meet – broadens our horizons – culturally, ethnically, between the sexes, inter-generationally. We filter our understanding of the world through the ideas and input of others – parents, teachers, peers etc. – and our understanding is malleable and changes as we hear new stories and points of view.

Ego means we are constantly checking and comparing our appearance, behaviours and beliefs against others – stories give us more peepholes with which to view the kaleidoscope that is human diversity.

Think about the Pike River miners – without the personalised stories it is easier to dismiss – the same crisis in China has little effect once the newspaper is put back down, but the miner’s stories stayed with us because we entered into their lives through hearing the family stories – and the key to this is in engaging with our core emotions. It enables us to be empathetic and compassionate – the two most important values human beings need to learn to be decent members of a family/society.