23 December 2013

Some Holiday Reading: Regeneration, Fresh Fear and Men Briefly Explained

If you're considering buying a book to read over the holidays, how about one of these?

Regeneration: New Zealand Speculation Fiction 2

Regeneration contains my story "Rescuing the Airmen" and 21 other excellent stories of New Zealand speculative fiction. You owe it to yourself to get a copy - in paperback or ebook formats - and you can do so through Random Static or Amazon.

Here is a review of Regeneration from Debbie Cowens, and here is the wonderful cover by Emma Weakley:

Fresh Fear

What could be more horrifying than the holiday season? Nothing except Fresh Fear, a new horror anthology, edited by William Cook, in which my story "Protein" proudly yet modestly appears together with such luminaries of the field as Ramsey Campbell and Charlee Jacob. Get your scare on - or buy it for someone else, and then chuckle malevolently.

Men Briefly Explained

Give the gift of enlightenment! Near and dear ones are puzzled about what makes the [hypothetical] men in their lives tick. Now, with one slim yet chunky volume of poetry, they can find the answers they need.*

Men Briefly Explained is available from Amazon.com as a paperback or Kindle ebook, and is also available from the publisher and from me: email senjmito@gmail.com for details.

*May not actually contain the answers they need.

03 December 2013


It's done - the manuscript of The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry, co-edited by myself and P.S. Cottier, has been sent to the publishers. There's now what will doubtless be a fairly epic proofing process to go through, but it's a major milestone nevertheless.

It's been a massive job: reading submissions, finding previously published poems, coming up with longlists, coming up with shortlists, settling on the poems to include, dealing with publishing permissions, and doing everything else that goes with putting an anthology together.

It didn't really occur to me until I was making some late fixes to the Contributors' Notes that we have a very impressive lineup of poets in this anthology, most of whom I'd never heard of before work on the anthology began. I doubt that I'm the only New Zealand poet to have a very limited knowledge of Australian poetry: one of the pleasures of working on The Stars Like Sand has been getting to know the work of some tremendous Australian poets, and another has been the enjoyment of working with my most excellent co-editor.

One big deadline met. Now for all the little ones :-)

26 November 2013

Tuesday Poem: Let's Not Die

Let’s not die. Let’s hide
when the black sack comes
to close over our heads.

Let’s sneak away
through access tunnels
down deserted alleyways.

Let’s pitch our tent
beneath the pines
where mountain bikes don’t go.

Let’s live like mice
steal cheese and bread
from silent houses.

Let's watch our son
when he’s sleeping
so he thinks we’re only ghosts.

Credit Note: This is one of three new poems by me that are included in JAAM 31, the 2013 issue of JAAM magazine, which had a very successful launch a week or so ago.

The Tuesday Poemis by Grace Taylor.

09 November 2013

I Can't Give You Anything But Time

Viv Albertine (The Slits), Keith Levene (PIL) and Mick Jones (The Clash), 1976

Mick Jones and Viv Albertine, 2013

Mick sings about Viv: "Train in Vain" - lyrics

Viv sings about home: "Confessions of a MILF" - lyrics

Mick Jones plays guitar on the studio version of "Confessions of a MILF", from Viv Albertine's recent solo album The Vermilion Border.

Viv Albertine stars (with Liam Gillick and Tom Hiddleston) in Joanna Hogg's new film Exhibition, and her memoir Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys is scheduled for publication in 2014.

05 November 2013

Tuesday Poem: The Johnsonville Volcano

The sea has flooded Lambton Quay,
turned buses into hydrofoils.
A subtle charcoal pinstripe is all the rage
in this year's range of swimsuits for officials.

The Johnsonville Volcano erupted on Saturday,
turning three prime retail outlets into slag.
Brave shoppers, risking a fiery death,
shepherded whiteware to safety.

Blame isostatic rebound. Blame white elephants
and their love of motorway construction.
We’ve learned that indoor sports centres
readily convert to swimming pools.

We’ve learned that nature doesn't stuff around.
Wear something light and ash-resistant.
Get on the road early. Fit asbestos tyres
to the wheels of your asbestos car.

Credit Note: This is one of three new poems by me that are included in JAAM 31, the 2013 issue of JAAM magazine, which has just been published and will be launched in a couple of weeks. They are the first new poems I'd written in quite a while, so I'm very pleased to see them in print. It looks like a great issue.

Tim says: A little scientific note: "isostatic rebound" is the rise of land masses that were depressed by the huge weight of ice sheets during the last glacial period - but in this poem, I'm thinking of Antarctica rising as the ice sheets slough off due to climate change, and its proposed consequence of increased volcanic activity.

The Tuesday Poem: Has not maintained a silence.

30 October 2013

Maybe Modern Life Isn't Rubbish After All: George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire"

Over the past month-and-a-half, I have read the five volumes published to date of George R. R.  Martin's projected seven-volume series A Song of Ice and Fire, also known as the source material for the HBO series Game of Thrones. Here are my ratings for the individual volumes (via LibraryThing):

 A Game of Thrones - 4.5/5

 A Clash of Kings - 4/5

 A Storm of Swords - 4.5/5

 A Feast for Crows- 3.5/5

 A Dance with Dragons - 4/5

Note: The following discussion ranges across all five books, and thus contains some spoilers for those who have not read that far - but it's not primarily a discussion of the books' plot.

These are very long books, and the TV series being made from them, Game of Thrones, will probably run to 80 or 90 hours of television by the time [FAKE SPOILER ALERT...] Ramsey Bolton, Euron Greyjoy and Lady Stoneheart take their rightful places as the three heads of the dragon [...OR IS IT?], but nevertheless they are dwarfed by the volume of exegesis and commentary written about what has happened so far and what may be to come. You can check much of this out at Westeros.org and (for the TV series) winteriscoming.net; and the intriguing and detailed argument that GRRM is rewriting Ragnarök advanced at Game of Thrones & Norse Mythology.

ASOIAF (to give the series its rather unwieldy acronym) is high/epic fantasy set in an imaginary world with strong echoes of medieval Europe. That makes it sound a lot like Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, but - by authorial design - ASOIAF is very much the anti-Tolkien: a general rule of thumb of the series is that no good deed goes unpunished, and Martin's penchant for creating characters the reader cares about, and then killing them off, has become legendary.

What ASOIAF does have in common with The Lord of the Rings is that they are great works of fantasy literature: and also, like many great works of literature, they each have considerable flaws.

It's not all grim oop North of the Wall for Ygritte, Ghost and Jon Snow
Source: http://knowyourmeme.com/photos/527475-you-know-nothing-jon-snow
What makes ASOIAF so good? Most of all, it is GRRM's gift for thorough visualisation of scenes and their vivid, detailed, immersive description: a gift which is shown at its best in the scenes set North of the Wall in the Westeros, the continent where much of the story takes place. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I would place Martin equal to Tolstoy in the ability to plan and describe set-piece scenes.

Second, Martin has taken fantasy cliches and breathed new live into them by removing them from the archetypal plane and turning them into complex, flawed (often very flawed!) characters who act out of believable motives - self-interest, loyalty, fear, anger, hatred, love - rather than acting, and regarding themselves, as pawns for either pure good or pure evil.

Third is Martin's decision to employ an unusual narrative technique in which chapters are told from the viewpoint of different characters - a multitude of unreliable first person narrators, sometimes retelling the same events from their different perspectives. It's a brilliant way of capturing both the sprawling geographical scope of the books, and of discovering what makes very diverse characters tick.

But I did say 'sprawling'. Even more than White Walkers to the North and dragons to the East, sprawl is the main enemy facing Martin's fictional universe, which contains Westeros's seven Houses and their tangle of allegiances, plus the vast and far from empty lands north of the Wall, plus the even larger Eastern continent, Essos, with its myriad of cities of alliances.

Martin keeps the sprawl in check in Books 1-3, by concentrating on only some of the Houses and confining most of the action to Westeros, but in Books 4 and 5, the narrative gets away on him. There are too many new viewpoint characters, too many new territories to explore, and too much intrigue that is at best peripheral to the three main plotlines (which, one fervently hopes, will start to converge in the two remaining volumes). In my view, the series would be stronger if there were no chapters set in Dorne or the Iron Islands, and as for Meereen, where one of the leading characters is trapped, spinning her wheels, for an eternity - can we please just leave it behind and never go there again?

(Just like Tolkien, Martin struggles with his fictional East. Tolkien made Easterners evil by dint of location - Martin doesn't do that, but whereas his cities of Westeros are clearly delineated, the cities and societies of Essos are cut from a cloth of default Orientalism that renders them far less interesting.)

Still, enough of the narrative through-lines survive the longeurs of Books 4 and 5 to encourage the belief that, in Books 6 and 7, the excesses will be pared away and we'll get back to the question that drives the story: what will be the fate of Westeros in the winter that is now beginning? Will Ice, or Fire, or neither triumph? I'm eagerly looking forward to seeing what Book 6, The Winds Of Winter, will reveal.

But why my title? Because another of Martin's achievement is to dispel the notion, which is surprisingly persistent, that life in the Middle Ages was in some way nobler, better and brighter than life today. Martin shows that life was no picnic for the nobility, and, especially during times of war, absolutely wretched for the peasantry. If there is one thing I am grateful for after reading these books, it is antibiotics.

There's another contemporary resonance. Westeros has been enjoying a long summer, but now winter is coming, with its freight of dread and of the supernatural enemies from the North, the Others (White Walkers), whom the mighty Wall was set up to deter. Yet the impoverished and undermanned Night's Watch which guards the Wall pleads in vain for lords and politicians to send resources appropriate to the scale of the problem. In one scene, we see Tywin Lannister, the Henry Kissinger of Westeros, engage in masterful wheeling and dealing, playing off enemies and allies against each other, while scoffing at the notion that anything is amiss north of the Wall, or that the climate could ever change.

Westeros is facing a winter the likes of which it has not seen for thousands of years. Our world is facing a ferocious planetary summer. But the scorn and shortsightedness of those in power is just the same.

17 October 2013

An Interview With Melissa Green

I featured Melissa Green's "Leda, Later" as the Tuesday Poem on my blog this week - and am now honoured to present this interview with Melissa, whose memoir The Linen Way is now available from Rosa Mira Books.

Melissa Green writes: I began my love affair with writing when I fell in love with novels following the breathless purchase I made at a church bazaar of a foxed, palm-sized copy of Daddy Long Legs. I was soon standing up on a hassock in the parlor to reach for my mother’s hardcover slipcased Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Green Mansions. I adored them devotedly. But when I was given a two-volume set of Shakespeare’s Comedies and Tragedies-- incomplete, but delightful small paperbacks that were easy to hold, with winsome and dreamy line drawings of characters festooning the page at the beginning of each play, I was an complete turncoat and fell utterly in love with drama.

The fundamentals of how one read a play were immediately apparent but Shakespeare’s language was in code, so beautiful when I whispered it aloud that I got chills, and so foreign, it might as well have been another tongue.

My mother explained that it was English, just an older form of it. I began with Twelfth Night and As You Like It. It was agonizing and exhilarating. I would read the play to the end, knowing I was missing most of it, and start all over and read it through again. Soon I could hear the voices in my ear and distinguish the struttings, the jokes, the romance, the tears. I remember all one summer being put to bed when it was still light and reading and reading to the sound of crickets and peepers, and I felt as though I were in the enchanted world of Titania, Oberon, Peaseblossom, Moth and Puck as the stars blinked open and the moon came up. Reading and rereading those two small but infinite volumes became my secret life, and the secret language of my secret life.

The big dictionary was in the little parlor in a bookcase behind the door to the kitchen. I began to look up words that baffled me in Shakespeare and then I fell in love again with discovering meanings in those and in words nearby. I was so starved, both physically hungry and emotionally ravenous, I began to inhale language in place of what I actually needed, and thought that words were chocolates and licorice all-sorts.

I suppose I should have grown up to be a playwright. My earliest writings were attempts at plays, and a novel I worked on with enormous pleasure before I was a teenager, but it was very difficult to finish anything. I needed guidance and there was none. I needed clues how to build a book and a play and I couldn’t read the instructions Shakespeare and Jane Austen gave me.

By the time I was in high school, I was able to finish plays and strong-arm my classmates into helping me put them on. I didn’t begin to understand the joy and complexities of reading poetry until my mid-teens.

1. The Linen Way vividly describes how, in the midst of much sadness in your life, your early poetry received the support, praise and encouragement of two great 20th century poets, Derek Walcott and Joseph Brodsky (and other great poets as well, such as Seamus Heaney). Do you feel that this support, and the success of your first collection, The Squanicook Eclogues, sustains you and your work still?

Joseph Brodsky died at the shocking young age of 55 in 1996. We lost Seamus Heaney at the end of August 2013. Derek Walcott, now in his 80s, is for the most part in a wheelchair in the Caribbean painting his lovely water colors. It’s been a great many years since any of them have literally been in my life, and yet the light on my bookshelves fills up the room for me with their continued presence.

I knew Seamus least well, but a he was so often in the company of Joseph and Derek, I absorbed his gentleness and humor over the course of years. Joseph was infinitely good to me--I can only guess at the ingenious ways by which he showed his loving support for me to the wider world without my knowing. Seamus wrote of Joseph in The New York Times shortly after his death, and I will borrow those words for which mine would be only a poor echo, “He was a verifying presence. His mixture of brilliance and sweetness, of the highest standards and the most refreshing common sense, never failed to be both fortifying and endearing.” Seamus wrote of ‘the intensity and boldness of his genius plus the sheer exhilaration of being in his company’. Joseph was such a beguiling and electrifying character, it was impossible once you had warmed your hands there to ever be without it.

Derek and I spent the most time together. We walked a great deal as we talked and he often took me for a meal. Though it’s been more than thirty years snce we were in each other’s company, I don’t think I’ve ever written a line of poetry without hearing the deep Caribbean music of his voice in my ear guiding my choice of language and metaphor. He championed me when I was very young. He considered me his peer, always, though that used to confuse me completely.

2. As someone who has studied Russian language and literature, I was intrigued to learn about the way you started learning Russian - and why and how you stopped. Have you ever gone back to the language, and are Russian poetry and Russian poets still important to you?

I am quite chagrined by my attempts to learn Russian, as a matter of fact.

I turned out to be surprisingly good at French, but the Cyrllics flummoxed me utterly, in the same way that I loved solving the puzzles of algebra and could not for the life of me comprehend the spatial relations in geometry. Joseph wrote a poem a Christmas time for many years and when it came time to translate the work that became his “Nativity Poems,” each poem was distributed to one of his friends for translation. I struggled and anguished over the shortest, only 10 lines, and I think my translation too longer by months than the many pages done by Derek or Glyn Maxwell. I gave up my study of Russian because clearly I didn’t have the gene for it.

But because of Joseph, I fell in love with and still read Osip Mandlestam, Marina Tsvetaeva and Anna Ahkmatova. They will always be important to me.

3. In The Linen Way, you mention both your fear of strangers (strongest during childhood, but still present) and your love of giving poetry readings. How does the act of reading poetry to an audience keep that fear at bay?

I still find it difficult to go to unfamiliar places or meet new people. I’ve never learned the subtle artlessness of small talk. I spend most of my life like an eremite, but if I do have to go out, I do much better with a companion, a Virgil to guide me through what often feels like the inferno of the world. Poetry readings give me fits in the abstract. As the date creeps closer, my anxiety level rises, and getting ready the hours before is its own hell, as I’m never sure if I’ll actually make it out the door without canceling at the last moment. Once I arrive at the podium, all that fear flies away and I somehow relax. Perhaps the poems act as a kind of scrim between myself and the audience. I usually find I love performing and discovered years ago that I am at ease in front of an audience, and am quite a good reader. It must be my inner ‘ham.’ It’s only afterwards when I have to talk to people again that gives me conniptions.

4. You say that Kathy Anderson at W. W. Norton taught you how to write prose during the course of completing your first memoir, Color Is the Suffering of Light. Are there other prose stylists, or teachers of prose, you particularly admire, and do you intend to do further prose writing?

Kathy Anderson, my editor at W. W. Norton and later my literary agent, was the most marvelous blend of writing teacher and artistic psychiatrist, and if I know anything at all about writing prose, I lay it at her feet. There are many writers whom I adore and you might never guess the profound effect they’ve had on my thinking and the lineaments of my prose, were I to name them here. I think it’s possible to live with certain writers you admire over many years without their influence readily showing itself.

I learned a great deal from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek; from the New Yorker writers E. B. White and William Maxwell. There are writers it feels as if I’ve taken in intravenously and it may be nowhere apparent: the Danish short story writer, Isak Dinesen; Italo Calvino; the journals of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Dorothy Wordsworth; Hermann Broch’s The Death of Vergil; the Israeli novelist, David Grossman; the Canadian short story writer, Alice Munro; Graham Swift; Frederick Buechner; all of the works of Roberto Calasso and W. G. Sebald; the Canadian short story writer and Nobel Laureate, Alice Munro; the essayist Guy Davenport. I’m hoping to write a prose book about art but please don’t be looking for it any time soon!

5. In The Linen Way, you mention a poet to whom you have acted as a mentor, James Stotts. Would you be willing to say a little more about him, his work and this mentoring relationship?

I have my friend the photographer and poet Melissa Shook to thank for my first meeting James Stotts. About five years ago she emphatically insisted I attend a poetry reading with her but would say no more about why, only that there was a poet I had to hear. James Stotts was the 'warm-up' act for a well-known and beloved local poet who was to be followed by a lengthy open mike. I settled in for a long afternoon.

James was in his early 20s with a shock of bright red hair, and he did not read his poems but recited them, clearly, cleanly, with a powerful but natural gravitas. From the first line, I found myself holding my breath, afraid to move, blinking hard so as not to break into tears. I recognized in him what I had recognized in Derek so many years ago--the true voice of poetry. His style is not like Derek’s or my own. It wasn’t a similarity of narrative, metaphor or lexicon that captured me that day. I felt the way one does when you see an athlete, say a figure skater, perform a perfect routine, where the music, the poise, the genius of the body all work sublimely together, and when it’s over, you clap with a concussed kind of joy because you know you have seen something extraordinary.

After James finished reading, my head rang with his tales, his images. I didn’t hear a word of the local, well-known and beloved poet’s work, nor a single line from the writers who stood up one after the other to take the open mike. The applause at the end of the afternoon stirred me out of my daydream and I looked around, frantic that James would disappear before I had a chance to speak to him, to put my hand on his arm and ascertain he was real. I said to him, rather stupidly, almost expecting him to name another star, but really meaning how and where had he learned his magic, ‘James, where did you come from?’ He paused and said, rather flatly, “New Mexico.” We’ve been inseparable ever since, though he would have to be the one to tell you in just which ways I mentored him.

6. One of the advantages of ebooks is that they can include links to other material. The Linen Way includes, after the poem of the same name, a link to the 2007 Tribute to Melissa, introduced by Derek Walcott, in which 15 renowned poets read in your honour. Looking back six years on, what's your perspective on this tribute?

The Tribute was the brain child of friends and poets linked to the literary magazine AGNI and Arrowsmith Press, but which relied on the generosity of so many other people from the wider Boston poetic community, even now, six years on, I am astonished by how loved and held I was by so many people. It was part fund-raiser and part birthday party.

The poster advertising it read “A Sheaf for Melissa” and referred to each of twenty-five packets of beautiful rag paper and letterpress copies of poems donated by twenty-five Boston poets, each page autographed. The packets were sold to rare book collectors, rare book libraries and universities and the money raised was used to publish a limited-edition of my book of poems, Fifty-Two, and to hand me a check equivalent to a year’s salary. That was the first part of it. Then there was an evening’s celebration of me and my work, a wonderful and profoundly moving event: 15 poets spoke a little about me and read a poem of their own; then I read for 45 minutes from Fifty-Two. I could never have dreamt such a time for myself. My family was there, friends I hadn’t seen in very many years, poets whom I didn’t know personally but who knew my work, my students, even my doctors were there.

Six years later, I’m still astounded at the myriad gifts I was given that night. I was able to reacquaint myself with friends I’d fallen out of touch with, make new friendships with many people I met that night, and recognize ones I didn’t know I had: it’s as if all the doors and windows in my eremetic life had flown open. I was invited to give other readings, taught classes, established a kind of poetry soiree on Sunday afternoons that students and friends attend. My life is not empty any more. Even as far along as this year, a special friend from AGNI arranged a secret cabal who agreed to pay my rent for the foreseen future.

I never imagined such a rich social life for myself, but what was even more amazing was that the floodgates in my work opened. Pen & Anvil Press reprinted The Squanicook Eclogues; I finished a book of poems called Daphne in Mourning; I was able to complete a book about Héloïse and Abélard I’d been working on for years; I surprised myself by opening a blog which yielded my new memoir, The Linen Way, and one in which I posted new poems which eventually became The Marsh Poems; the nine poems in a major sequence called “The Mad Maud Poems”; and my affiliation with Ann Kjellberg’s literary journal Little Star. It’s been a remarkable six years.

7. Perhaps, especially to readers in the US, it may come as a surprise that The Linen Way was published by a New Zealand publisher. Could you let readers of this blog know a little about how that came about?

I honestly don’t know how I had the courage or even the idea to begin a blog, but sometime during early 2010, I started ‘Vesper Sparrow’s Nest’ with no expectations, merely the thought that I might begin to explore some auto-biographical pieces in what I told myself was a way to ‘write a book in the air’. I could not have dreamt of all that would open to me from those tentative beginnings. I’ve met extraordinary people online and established some of the deepest, most abiding friendships imaginable, ones from which I will never be shaken.

Claire Beynon of Dunedin, New Zealand was one of my first readers, one of the miracles which nothing else in my life could have prepared me for. We were just getting to know each other when she and her friend and fellow-poet and Kiwi, Mary McCallum, talked of starting Tuesday Poem: people with blogs would be invited to join a community which would require they post a poem on their blog every Tuesday. I leapt at the chance to take part, never thinking its avowed purpose might have been to connect New Zealand and Australian poets, for instance--I just had to make a place for myself at that table! It was thrilling, and for the two years that I belonged, I was for most of that time able to write a new poem every week, which were gathered into a manuscript I called The Marsh Poems.

Claire has visited me in Boston for three years running, and in 2012 while we were visiting Emily Dickinson’s home in Amherst, she read The Linen Way, which I had recently finished, was terribly moved by it, and begged me to let her show it to Penelope Todd, her dear friend, the wonderful founder of Rosa Mira Books. Penelope loved it, and she was such a gift to me. I loved working with her, I couldn’t have asked for a more sensitive and intelligent editor, or be happier with how the e-book came out. I hope someday to visit all my kiwi friends.

8. Which poets, contemporary and otherwise, are you reading with particular enjoyment at the moment? Are there lesser-known poets whose work you recommend to readers of this blog?

I tend to read favorite poets for many years at a time, and feel I have yet to catch up to a lot of younger poets, to my dismay. Readers of my old blog may recognize in this current list the Usual Suspects: Czesław Miłosz, Zbigniew Herbert, Miklós Radnóti, Patrick Kavanagh, Geoffrey Hill, Paul Celan, Amy Clampitt and James Wright; some others I may not have mentioned are Charles Wright, Charles Simic, Rosanna Warren, George Kalogeris and Lucie Brock-Broido.

15 October 2013

Tuesday Poem: Leda, Later - by Melissa Green

Remind me: my bed is empty,
my graying hair pinned up
and tumbling from a starfish clip
where once a waterfall by Crivelli flowed
over the white shoulders of Sparta.

I do not quarrel with my warring children.
Their bad marriages are their own affairs.
I sit on the rocks and watch the waves,
my toes now horny as a tortoise’s.

That night a storm came off the sea.
I saw St. Elmo’s fire electrify the spars
and a bluish current quivered on my skin.
I studied my egg-shaped oval in the glass,
breath like a wing beat in my throat,
wind tearing white curtains, my flesh,
and feathers on my bed in flight.

I am an old woman writing poetry.
I never wanted intimacy with goddesses
or gods, never wanted their dangerous progeny.
I only dreamt of passion, possession,
surrendering to the torque of human love.

Credit note: Previously published in Agni 77 and reproduced here by permission of the author.

Tim says: I'm delighted to have had the opportunity to interview the wonderful American poet Melissa Green, whose memoir The Linen Way has recently been published by Rosa Mira Books. This poem, so good in itself, is a little taste of what awaits in the interview!

The Tuesday Poem: Is Thoughts of the Father by Philip Salom, a fine Australian poet whose work I've recently encountered in the course of co-editing The Stars Like Sand.

09 October 2013

Northwrite 2013: Collaboration - Competition Now Open

It's collaboration time all round: Michelle Elvy and I are collaboratively judging the results of a collaborative writing competition! The competition is called Northwrite 2013, it's now open, entries close on 15 November 2013, and the competition guidelines and submission details are now online.

Be in - with a friend - to win!

01 October 2013

Tuesday Poem: New Year's resolution, by Saradha Koirala

Back on Earth we gauged the pressure, decided
it was not strong enough to turn carbon into
diamond rain but enough to incite change. We
took on new tasks, approached old jobs with
renewed determination. After all, we'd made it
around the sun again: a revolution to spark a
revolution. When we heard all the known matter
in the universe could fit into a grain of sand, we
took it in our stride; strode across sandy shores
anyway, trying not to do the maths. We had
been to Titan - a smog-covered moon - we
knew what we were getting ourselves into. We
laughed too loudly and cried out: If the distance
from the sun to Pluto is a ten cent piece then
the Milky Way is France!

Credit note: "New Year's resolution" is included in Saradha Koirala's latest poetry collection Tear Water Tea and is reproduced here by kind permission of the author.

Tim says: I recently finished Tear Water Tea and loved it - it's among my favourite poetry collections of the past few years. I very much admire the aptness and precision of the word choices Saradha makes in her poems: that was already evident in her first collection, Wit of the Staircase, and in her new collection it's coupled with a wider and more ambitious range of subject matter. Plus, the book's design is beautiful!

I previously interviewed Saradha, and used her poem A secret I don't mind you knowing as the Tuesday Poem on my blog that week.

There are lots of poems I could have requested from Saradha for this blog, but when I saw that she'd written a science fiction poem (well, she might not think of it as a science fiction poem, but I do!) I said "that's the one for me!". And, with Saradha's agreement, here it is.

The Tuesday Poem: Is hungry like the wolf.

26 September 2013

My September Book Watch Column from the Herald on Sunday

From time to time I contribute to the Herald on Sunday's Book Watch column, and my latest column is below. I write brief notes on four books I've written recently - the Herald usually chooses three of these to include in the column, and this time, they decided to leave out the review of Jane Kelsey's latest book about the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. But here are all four mini-reviews!

Hidden Agendas: What We Need To Know About The TPPA, by Jane Kelsey - ebook - http://www.bwb.co.nz/books/hidden-agendas

The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is currently under negotiation between the US and 9 other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including New Zealand. It has relatively little to do with trade but a great deal to do with taking various aspects of the law of these countries - covering such issues as investment policy, environment policy, and intellectual property and copyright policy - outside the control of their citizens and placing them under corporate control. I don't like that idea, and NZ academic Jane Kelsey doesn’t either. This concise and readable study is a good introduction to why we should all be concerned about the TPPA.

The Apex Book of World SF 2, ed. Lavie Tidhar - print and ebook - http://www.amazon.com/The-Apex-Book-World-SF/dp/193700905X/

Disclaimer: I have a story in this volume. I have not considered it for the purposes of this review.

I enjoyed reading The Apex Book of World SF 2 a lot. Rather than going for the usual Anglo-American suspects, editor Lavie Tidhar has assembled an anthology of science fiction stories from authors around the world, with South America, Europe and Asia especially well represented. Like any anthology, there are some stories that didn't grab me, but also a number I liked very much: my favourite was "The Sound of Breaking Glass" by Joyce Chng of Singapore, a delicate and moving story.

Wolf at the Door, by J. Damask - print and ebook - http://www.amazon.com/Wolf-At-the-Door-ebook/dp/B004V51E0K/

Having enjoyed Joyce Chng’s story in The Apex Book of World SF 2, I bought her novel Wolf at the Door, written as J. Damask. This novel is about werewolves of Chinese descent living in Singapore – and I enjoyed this one too. Its great strength is the way the author interleaves the social dynamics of wolf pack and human family, as both family members and outsiders threaten to disrupt the lives of the protagonist and those near and dear to her. There are some flashbacks that didn’t work as well for me, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the main story, which is well characterised and well told.

A Man Runs Into A Woman, by Sarah Jane Barnett - print - http://hueandcry.org.nz/man_woman.html

Sarah Jane Barnett’s collection, which was shortlisted for the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards, is notable both for its technical excellence and for the breadth of the poems’ subject matter – from death row inmates to pipeline workers. While I didn’t always connect with the subject matter of these poems, the best poems here both moved and impressed me – such as “Mountains”, selected for Best New Zealand Poems 2012, which I encourage you to read. Any lover of poetry should seek out this book.

19 September 2013

New Story In Fresh Fear Anthology

When horror writer and editor William Cook approached me a while back to ask if I'd be interested in submitting a horror story to his new anthology Fresh Fear: Contemporary Horror, I was unsure, because I hadn't written a horror story for a very long time - there are two in my first collection, Extreme Weather Events, but I hadn't written any since.

But I gave it a go, and I'm pleased to say that my story "Protein" was accepted for the anthology. You can check out the cover above and the enticing Table of Contents on William's blog. There are a number of writers there whose work I'm really looking forwards to reading!

10 September 2013

Tuesday Poem: Summoning

Behind coded invitations,

long night journeys,
country house gatherings
of like-minded men -

behind the fear of women,
banishment of servants,
locked doors, shuttered windows,
guards to ward off spies -

behind cloaks, hoods,
symbols scrawled on vellum,
books of lore and learning,
circles of protection -

behind scrying-glass,
crystal, speculum,
the lighting of a candle
and the speaking of a name -

you never know.
That is the truth of every incantation.
You never know
what will come to the flame

Credit note: Published in Strange Horizons, February 13, 2006, and included in my second collection, All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens.

Tim says:  When I wrote this poem, I had recently read John Crowley's novel The Solitudes (also published as Aegypt, but in fact the first volume of the Aegypt tetralogy), and it was inspired by the book's depiction of the 16th-century magicians and alchemists John Dee and Edward Kelley working, under conditions of great secrecy, to contact the angels and learn their secrets: explorers, but explorers of a particularly furtive kind. I went into excessive detail about the composition of this poem in a previous post.

The Tuesday Poem: Investigates the jar to see whether there is whisky in it.

06 September 2013

Roundup, Not By Monsanto

What y'all been doin', Tim?

I've been saving the Basin (working hard on it, anyway).

I've been reviewing Michael Morrissey's new science fiction novel Tropic of Skorpeo for Landfall Review Online.

I've put up a guest post by James Cone called Social Democracy and the Next Settlement.

P. S. Cottier and I have been continuing to make progress on the anthology we're co-editing, The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry. Penelope has had the signal honour of being chosen as Australian Poetry's inaugural (online) Poet in Residence: http://www.australianpoetry.org/2013/09/04/introducing-p-s-cottier/

I've interviewed New Zealand fantasy writer Helen Lowe, whose book The Gathering of the Lost has been shortlisted for the David Gemmell Legend Award for Best Fantasy Novel. I'll link that interview from this post as soon as it's online.

I've even, after a long largely dry period since I finished writing the poems in Men Briefly Explained, starting writing some new poems.

I've been busy!

02 September 2013

Guest Post: Social Democracy and the Next Settlement, by James Cone

Intro by Tim

I attended a public meeting organised by Generation Zero about New Zealand's lamentable record on greenhouse gas emissions, and the current Government's obsession with building motorways at the expense of all other transport option - which reminds me to say: please write a submission against the Government's proposed Basin Reserve flyover! (Submissions close Friday.)

At this event, James Cone asked a question which I thought was very interesting, but which it was hard for him to get across briefly. Talking to James afterwards, I suggested that the issue he raised might go better as a blog post - and here it is! See what you think.

Social Democracy and the Next Settlement 

Social democracy, the way the English-speaking countries were governed 
after World War II,  until the first peak oil in the 1970s, was a deal.
 Government authorised unions to bargain and strike, so workers got paid well, so they made things for manufacturers to sell, so manufacturers made a profit, so they could pay workers well.

To understand how deals like that work, it's probably worth-while to 
take a short side-trip into what 'because' means.  Aristotle 
recognised four kinds of cause.  A final cause is what something is 
for.  A formal cause is what plan it follows.  Efficient causes are 
the ones that we take for granted now, where the ankle-bone moves,
 because the hip bone is moving, and they are connected via the knee
bone.  Material cause took me a long time to understand; it is where 
an object, such as a table, is there because its outline is full of
 stuff, such as the wood that it's made of.

Social settlements have to satisfy needs for final causes (often
 expressed as people thinking they're fair), formal causes (the rules 
can be written) and efficient causes (the manufacturer, worker and 
customer in my example are all well-enough off).

That deal makes two assumptions: that having more stuff is good for 
people, and that there is no constraint on the raw materials and
 energy that go into making it.  The second is now definitely false,
and the first is being re-examined.

In the new conditions, I do not know what the next social settlement
 is, yet.  I think that I'll recognise it when I see it.  I'm looking
 for a plan where the children of beneficiaries and minimum-wage
 workers eat a diet with enough first-class protein and no unavoidable
 conspicuously harmful features, as a natural consequence of the way 
the rest of the political-economic world is organised.

Bio: James Cone

James is a 'lost', a magpie, and a cognitive barbarian.  So far, he 
has studied four years of Computer Science, had one career in
 computing, completed two thirds of a sociology degree, and now walks
 someone else's dogs (names removed to protect the guilty) on a 
voluntary basis.  He has been collecting small, shiny ideas since
 almost before he could talk.  Given a situation that resembles a
 Gordian Knot, he thinks that the right response is often to imagine a 
novel slice through it.  If you ask, he may talk to you about 
non-violence theory and wicked problems, but this will not make your
life simpler.

EDIT: My thanks to Colin James for drawing my attention to the role of economic theory; see for example page two of: http://www.colinjames.co.nz/speeches_briefings/Treasury_conference_comments_12Dec11.pdf

26 August 2013

Tuesday Poem: Ghosts, by Maria McMillan

I have seen ghosts
sliding under the surface,
skittish things flitting
in the boat’s wake
but only one has seen me.
A sea snake spiralled
out of the water
looked straight into my eyes
and was gone.

The dead can be reckless
I thought and then
Do I think this is death?

When I said goodbye to our sister
she curled small,
would not let me touch her,
never once lifted her face
while I was in the room.
My father cried
my mother patted me on the shoulder
and looked beyond me
to the garden.

I am not afraid of the sea
or the sun on my throat
or the gasp of the wind.
I am not afraid of the nights
where the sail is a shroud,
where we are not floating
but a weight passed forward
by many hands.

Credit note: "Ghosts" is included in Maria McMillan's first collection of poetry The Rope Walk (Seraph Press, 2013) and is reproduced here by permission of the poet and the publisher.

Tim says: I've enjoyed hearing Maria's poetry at various venues over the years, and so I was very pleased to hear that her first collection was coming out from Helen Rickerby's Seraph Press. I recently read the collection and enjoyed all of it, but two especial highlights for me were "Ghosts" and "1989", which Helen has recently run as a Tuesday Poem on her blog.

"Ghosts" is a beautiful, delicate and moving poem, and beyond that, I think it speaks for itself.

22 August 2013

Trevor Reeves (1940-2013): Poet, Editor, Publisher, Activist

I was saddened to hear this week of the death of Trevor Reeves. Here is the notice I received:

Trevor Reeves (1940-2013) was an anarchic and unsung hero of NZ poetry and publishing. In the early 70's he taught himself to handset type and, using an old platen press he founded Caveman Press and printed and published many of NZ's most beloved poets - JK Baxter, Hone Tuwhare, Peter Olds, Alan Loney and many many more. As a graphic designer, writer, poet, editor, reviewer, book importer, publisher and more he was responsible for producing scores of poetry, prose, fiction, non fiction, magazines, online editions and reviews of both NZ and international writers. As Square One Press and Southern Ocean Review he presented to the world his and many others words and worlds. Trevor Reeves was indispensable to NZ literature and NZ literature owed Trevor a massive debt.

I first met Trevor when I joined the Values Party in 1977. Subsequently, we were both involved in the Save Aramoana Campaign - the successful campaign against plans to build an aluminium smelter at the entrance to Otago Harbour. Later, as I got more interested in writing, I realised that Trevor was also a fine poet and a dedicated poetry publisher. He published a number of my poems in Southern Ocean Review, one of New Zealand's first online poetry journals which also spawned a print edition, and ran to 50 issues.

Science fiction was among his many interests, and we included an extract from a fine poem by Trevor in Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand.

It is a sad truth of New Zealand poetry that South Island poets and publishers are often marginalised or ignored. Trevor was a fine poet and a major figure in poetry publishing for many decades. I hope that his achievements and his life will be given the recognition they deserve.

08 August 2013

An Interview With Saradha Koirala

Saradha Koirala is a Wellington poet, who takes great pride in also having a day job. She has been teaching secondary school English since 2005 with occasional writing breaks. In 2007, she earned a MA from Victoria University’s Creative Writing programme and last year she tutored Creative Writing at Massey University.

Saradha’s poetry has been published in various literary journals and she is a contributing editor to Lumiere Reader, focussing on book reviews and interviews. Although poetry is her favoured form, finding time to string words together in any context makes her extremely happy.

1) Saradha, Tear Water Tea is your second poetry collection, following Wit of the Staircase. Back in the days when albums were the most important things that bands released, music magazines used to talk to bands about the "difficult second album". Was there any difficulty involved in producing your second collection, or did it all come together quite smoothly?

Ah yes, I wrote a blog post last year titled ‘The difficult second book’ with exactly this in mind. I think the difficulty comes particularly if the first book was a success and there’s an expectation to live up to or exceed that with the second. This wasn’t necessarily the issue for me, but there were a number of difficulties: not wanting to be a ‘one hit wonder’ (to perpetuate the music magazine metaphor) was definitely one of them.

‘Wit of the Staircase’ was written during an intense year completing ‘the Manhire course’ at Victoria. There were imposed deadlines, eager tutors, constant feedback, critical class mates – the whole thing was very heavily guided and the book had to be completed within a strict timeline. I enjoyed this way of working, but wanted to prove I could also complete something solo. I do think writing is a very solo activity so if I could write a book I was proud of largely on my own, then I would prove to myself that I really could write.

Another difficulty was that I had to make tough decisions about leaving work to complete ‘Tear Water Tea’, which I really did want to be a much ‘better’ book than ‘Wit of the Staircase’. I applied for funding and thought a lot of about the implications of giving up the day job to frivolously write poems. But the process of writing was not difficult in itself, just the expectations and, I guess, a kind of audacity I had to muster to make writing – just writing – a priority.

2) Does the new collection have a significantly different focus to "Wit of the Staircase", or do you think readers will notice a continuity between the two?

I think there’s both difference and continuity. Again, because ‘Wit of the Staircase’ was written during that one intense year, I feel the poems reflect a very specific time and a very specific thought process. Even the poems where I’m remembering the past are filtered through the time from which I was looking back.

The poems in ‘Tear Water Tea’, however, were written over a longer period of time, so there was less need to reminisce or conjure up past thoughts and feelings. I hope there’s a sense of immediacy to the poems – a poem written about a particular feeling was written while that feeling was fresh. But then it’s not such a long time on the scale of things, since I wrote ‘Wit’, so there are definite similarities in style. The same characters – my brother, mum and dad – appear and a few significant new ones have emerged.

3) What does the lovely and alliterative title Tear Water Tea refer to?

There’s a wonderful children’s book by Arnold Lobel called ‘Owl at Home’. In it are a bunch of stories about Owl doing this and that but the one that really spoke to me as a kid was ‘Tear Water Tea’ in which Owl holds his tea pot and thinks of all the things that make him sad – stubby pencils that can no longer be used, spoons lost behind the stove – he fills his teapot with tears and then makes a pot of tea! The quirkiness of this story and the list of things Owl comes up with is very appealing.

There are numerous times in my life when I could’ve brewed a strong pot of tear water tea, and the phrase became well-used in my family to explain particular feelings and inexplicable sadness. It’s a bit of a gloomy title, perhaps but I love the sound of it and, as I hope the cover shows, there are moments of inexplicable joy too!

4) Not only does the cover of "Tear Water Tea" look beautiful, but the book also features interior illustrations by David Randall Peters. How did that collaborative process work out?

I am really really happy with the illustrations and cover. They add a depth and detail to the book that I could never have achieved on my own. It was a bit difficult for me though as David is an absolute perfectionist and took a very long time to complete each part. It was difficult for him too because he did want to get it right and make something beautiful for me that also complemented the poetry.

The illustrations are part of one image that was painstakingly produced in pointillist style – 0.02 millimetre dot by 0.02 millimetre dot. The vision for this came quite easily for David after reading the complete manuscript, and then I chose where the separate sections were placed throughout the book. 

The cover was much harder to get started and we looked at lots of different designs – both antique and contemporary – and talked at length about how to “sum up” the mood of the work without giving too much away. I like the illustrative, hand-drawn style a lot and in the end am pleased he took his time with it to make it so beautiful, even if I got quite anxious at times having relinquished a sliver of control over the project.

5) You mention elsewhere in this interview that using simple language to convey complex emotions is something that you value highly in poetry. One of the things I admire about your poetry is its economy - and that's expertly on display in my Tuesday Poem this week, A secret I don't mind you knowing where you say a great deal in a few words. It made me think of a poet such as Paul Celan, whose utterances grew shorter and shorter - though, in his case, the language stayed rather complex! So ... preamble over ... do you imagine that your poems will get shorter and shorter over time, or do you also have long, elaborate poems in your future?

I hope I have both in me, but I have tried to write longer poems in the past and found I tend to edit them back anyway, eliminating repetitive images or places where I've 'spelled things out' too explicitly. But it's not my intention to say things with as few words as possible - although that might be quite a cool exercise at some point (I'm thinking now of Ian McEwan whose novels have been set over shorter and shorter periods of time) - it's more about leaving things open and letting the reader in to wander around the poem; never saying more than is necessary to convey or suggest meaning. I'm quite keen to explore different forms in the future and perhaps different ideas will demand different lengths.

Having said that, I do love haiku and the challenge of creating resonating images in so few syllables. Crafting is important to me - as well as incredibly satisfying - and I hope to avoid writing rambling, incoherent poetry for as long as possible.

6) Are you planning some readings to follow up the launch of ‘Tear Water Tea’, and if so, can you yet tell us where and when you'll be reading?

Yes I am, but these are still in the planning stages. I’d like to take the book on a bit of a tour around the North Island at some point and I am planning a second launch in Nelson after my Wellington launch.

7) Who are some of the poets who have influenced your own work?

I read a lot and I guess anything I read has potential to influence my own work, consciously or otherwise. My favourite New Zealand poets are always James K Baxter, Janet Frame and Hone Tuwhare – I reread their work all the time. I have piles of poetry books all around my house: local and recent books by my computer; a pile by my bed which includes Carol Ann Duffy, Billy Collins, Simon Armitage and Dylan Thomas; and the old classics in the shelves. It sounds a bit silly to say I’m influenced by Shakespeare but I love the way his sonnets use such simple language to convey such complex emotions. That’s something I value highly in poetry.

8) And finally, who are some of the poets you currently enjoy reading - especially lesser-known ones - and whom you think readers of this interview might be interested in?

Recently I’ve enjoyed Vaughan Gunson – both his book ‘this hill, all it’s about is lifting it to a higher level’ and his various online postings; Reihana Robinson’s ‘Aue Rona’ is a masterful reworking of myth and I found Maria McMillan’s series of poems in ‘The Rope Walk’ particularly intriguing. I really like your last book too, Tim! There are some images in there that come to mind often – especially in relation to human interactions and family.

06 August 2013

Tuesday Poem: A secret I don't mind you knowing, by Saradha Koirala

I’m easily awkward.
Clumsy elbows in doorframes
I can fall over from a standing start.

I pull my temper
like colourful scarves
endlessly from clownish sleeves.


And Friday after work
I carry my wine bottle
like a bludgeon.

Never give a sword to one who can’t dance.
Sometimes I smell of washing
left too long alone.

But I’m no hit mallard
no twist of neck and feathers
I heal up just fine.

Pink skin blinking beneath a swift dry lid.

Credit note: "A secret I don't mind you knowing" is included in Saradha Koirala's new poetry collection Tear Water Tea and is reproduced here by permission of the author.

Tim says:  This elusive yet self-possessed poem showcases the tantalising word choices and economy of utterance I enjoy so much about Saradha Koirala's poetry. You can find out lost more about Saradha and her work in my interview with her, which I'll posting later this week. (I also recommend Saradha's poem Tika, and the following in-depth examination of Saradha's work by Harvey Molloy.)

The Tuesday Poem: Is leaving on the midnight train to Tbilisi.

01 August 2013

Regeneration: New Zealand Speculative Fiction II

Regeneration: New Zealand Speculative Fiction II, edited by Anna Caro and Juliet Buchanan, was launched at Au Contraire 2013, this year's NZ National Science Fiction Convention.*

Regeneration contains my story "Rescuing the Airmen" and 21 other excellent stories of New Zealand speculative fiction. You owe it to yourself to get a copy - in paperback or ebook formats - and you can do so through Random Static or Amazon.

Here is a review of Regeneration from Debbie Cowens, and here is the wonderful cover by Emma Weakley:

If you'd like to know more about Regeneration and its authors, check out the series of interviews Anna Caro has conducted with authors whose stories appear in the anthology - they are interspersed through her blog posts.

*I had an excellent time at Au Contraire, even though I spent quite a lot of the convention locked in the editing suite. Unfortunately, I got too busy immediately afterwards to write it up, but here's a neat report on the convention from Cassie Hart, and Anna Caro talks about the Con on her blog from an organiser's perspective.

30 July 2013

An Interview With Latika Vasil

Latika Vasil was born in India, moving to New Zealand with her family as a young child.  She has mostly lived in Wellington with a couple of overseas stints in the States and Singapore.  She has worked in the education sector as a researcher and lecturer, as well as in the public service as a research adviser.  In 2010 she completed the Advanced Diploma in Creative Writing at Whitireia Polytechnic.  Her stories have been published in various literary journals and anthologies, including Landfall, Takahe and Hue and Cry, and broadcast on Radio New Zealand National.  Her first collection of short stories, Rising to the Surface, has recently been published by Steele Roberts Publishers.  Currently Latika spends most of her time writing fiction, working as a freelance researcher and writer, and doing volunteer work.

1) Latika, how long have you been working towards this first short story collection?

It feels like much too long!  In actuality I’d say the writing of the stories occurred over a period of 3-4 years and then getting the book ready and out probably took another year. I’m quite a slow writer and it took me a while to get together enough stories so that I would have a pool of stories from which I could select the ones that worked best together as a collection.

2) Rising to the Surface features a stunning cover by Michael Soppitt: it not only looks great, but from what I know of your fiction, it also fits what's inside the book very well. How did you manage to find such a great cover?

I’m glad so many people have responded so well to the cover!  Finding the cover fell into place quite nicely.  I had an image in my mind of something involving an underwater scene but a surreal take on that.  Water is a strong motif in the book with several of the stories featuring the ocean at pivotal moments in the characters' lives. I also liked the feeling of people being inside a bubble, which the cover depicts so beautifully, as I feel many of my characters are living inside their own little bubble worlds. So having this concept in my mind I turned to the internet, as you do, and found this photograph by Michael Soppitt in the UK, and he kindly agreed to me using it! I feel very lucky that I was able to have some input into choosing the cover.

3) How would you describe the style of story in Rising to the Surface to a reader who isn't familiar with your work?

I would say the stories are strongly character-driven and the settings tend towards urban New Zealand.  There’s a lot of contemporary Wellington in the stories.  I did try to create some variation though in style and voice.  There are male and female narrators, characters of different ages and lifestyles, and tonally the stories are quite varied.  Having said this, I think there are some thematic threads linking the stories – the idea of disconnection and loneliness.  Many of the characters are at a point in their lives where they are perhaps adrift and looking for something to hang onto – something a bit more substantial.  This all sounds slightly heavy but I’ve been told by many readers that the stories have a sense of humour too!

4) Was it a difficult job to choose a set of stories that would work well together in your debut collection?

First of all I felt quite happy that I had enough stories to be able to pick and choose!  I tried to select stories that had enough variation to keep things interesting but also with links and connections so that hopefully it feels like the whole is greater than the sum of its part. I think this is really important in a collection. It doesn’t have to be overt but I think there has to be some sense of connectedness to the stories.

5) Especially in a debut collection, the first story in the book plays the key role of introducing the potential reader to the author and her work. What made "The Sand Mandala" just the right story to open the collection?

Yes, it’s like music – the first track on an album is so important.  It sets the tone and hopefully lures the listener (reader) into your little world.  One of the reasons I chose “The Sand Mandala” is that everyone kept telling me it was their favorite story and insisting I start with it!  I think it works well because it had many of the features and themes that are mirrored in some of the other stories – the idea of the chance encounter and how that can be a catalyst for reflection and change.  I also liked the visual quality to the story as it leaves the reader with lots of lovely images.  It felt like a positive note to start with even though it is partly about death and impermanence.

6) I'm noticing a strong trend towards publishers, e-publishers in particular, wanting novellas at the moment - a complete change from a few years ago, when they were very hard to place. Do you write, or have you thought about writing, longer forms of fiction?

Definitely.  And you’re absolutely right about the new interest in novellas.  As a writer I guess novellas provide a nice middle ground between short stories and novels.  I’ve always been a huge novel reader so I would love to write one.  This would involve a different writing approach for me as I tend to be quite intuitive and chaotic when writing stories.  I don’t overly plan the story at the outset and often just ‘go’ with the character and follow where they lead.  I think with a novel there has to be some structure and planning ahead of time. Chaos will not do!  I have a few ideas bubbling away at the moment for novels…

7) Who are some of the authors who have influenced your own writing?

I have read a lot of short story collections the past few years – Lorrie Moore, Binnie Kirshenbaum, Alice Munro, have been highlights.  Elizabeth Strout’s beautiful collection of linked short stories Olive Kitteridge has been influential.  I like the idea of linked short stories and would love to explore that in my own writing.

8) And who are some of the authors you currently enjoy reading and whom you think readers of this interview might be interested in?

Recently I have been reading several Indian-American writers. Both Jhumpa Lahiri and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni are amazing short story and novel writers.