Monday, March 20, 2017

What I’m reading #142

I can’t see who the interviewer is but this today at VUP with Bill Manhire is very good. Quote unquote:
Some people think collaboration is tight cooperative teamwork. I’m happy if it’s less intense, even long-distance. One person does one thing, and the other adds to it and transforms it, and then there might be a bit of to and fro. With Ralph [Hotere], it was a friendship thing, a temperamental affinity – we both enjoyed sitting quietly in a room and occasionally grunting. Well, I did.
 I might have posted this before but if so it bears repeating: a PDF of 10 Principles for Fair Contracts by the International Authors Forum. The AIF is a very good thing and so is this (I spent 25 or so years – unpaid, because that’s how we roll – advising NZ authors on contracts so this is one of the few subjects I know a bit about). I don’t agree with all of it – yes to defined time limits; lump-sum contracts which they don’t like work just fine for some authors e.g. me on occasion; but as principles these are solid. Any author presented with a contract that doesn’t meet them should challenge it.

Robert Gottlieb in the Paris Review on the art of editing. Quote unquote:
Editing requires you to be always open, always responding. It is very important, for example, not to allow yourself to want the writer to write a certain kind of book. Sometimes that’s hard. My favorite of Heller’s books is Something Happened. When we are working on a manuscript, Joe is always telling me (rightly) that I want him to write Something Happened again, and that he could only write it once. Inevitably you will like some of a writer’s books better than others. But when you’re working on a manuscript, that can’t matter. You have to be inside that book and do your best to make it as good as it can be. And if you can’t approach it in that spirit, you shouldn’t be working on it.
As Parker’s quintet walked onto the bandstand, trumpeter Red Rodney recognized Stravinsky, front and almost center. Rodney leaned over and told Parker, who did not look at Stravinsky. Parker immediately called the first number for his band, and, forgoing the customary greeting to the crowd, was off like a shot. At the sound of the opening notes, played in unison by trumpet and alto, a chill went up and down the back of my neck.
They were playing “KoKo,” which, because of its epochal breakneck tempo — over three hundred beats per minute on the metronome — Parker never assayed before his second set, when he was sufficiently warmed up. Parker’s phrases were flying as fluently as ever on this particular daunting “Koko.” At the beginning of his second chorus he interpolated the opening of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite as though it had always been there, a perfect fit, and then sailed on with the rest of the number. Stravinsky roared with delight, pounding his glass on the table, the upward arc of the glass sending its liquor and ice cubes onto the people behind him, who threw up their hands or ducked.
Fiona Pitt-Kethley, a poet and travel writer, on how even a successful writer can struggle to get an agent. Quote unquote:
Over the next few years, I asked a few well-known agents to represent me but they all said no. Many said, either truthfully or tactfully, that they were taking no new clients. The novelist Wendy Perriam suggested I ask some others who might at least take me out to lunch. I never got a lunch out of it. In one case I was asked to meet up in London and the agent failed to show. I wrote to him afterwards and he said there was a reason but never gave it. From then on, it was all downhill.
Francis Wheen on how Heywood Hill survives as an independent bookseller in London. Quote unquote:
Not long ago, hearing that the Duke of Devonshire was going to New York, [Heywood Hill chairman] Nicky Dunne asked him to act as transatlantic delivery boy for a paperback that had been ordered by Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of Vogue. The duke tells me proudly that he took the little parcel—tied with blue grosgrain ribbon, like every Heywood Hill package—all the way from Mayfair to Manhattan and “into her holy of holies in the office.”
Good as they are, you don’t get that level of service from Auckland’s Time Out or Wellington’s Unity Books.

The Guardian on how UK bookseller chain Waterstones bounced back – by running each store like an independent (for a certain value of “like”). More Paper Plus than Whitcoulls, I guess. Quote unquote:
One reason for the turnaround in the chain’s fortunes has been the stagnation of the ebook market. It stopped selling Kindle e-readers in 2015 in a move that was regarded as a watershed moment in the battle between physical and digital books. Sales of children’s books have played a big part in its resurgence, and data from market researchers Nielsen Bookscan revealed that, far from embracing the digital revolution, young readers were among the most resistant, with 75% of children favouring physical books and 35% refusing to read digital copies at all.
I came out of reviewing retirement to do CK Stead’s new short-story collection The Name on the Door is Mine, which gathers his greatest hits and adds a few new ones. For the review I re-read all the originals — I have a complete collection of the works of CK — and compared them line by line with the new versions. You won’t believe what happened next.The best joke in the review was edited out so I will post the full text later.

Via Mick Hartley’s excellent blog, Richard Morrison in The Times on La La Land:
What’s most disturbing. . . is how the critics have accepted, almost without a murmur, the underlying racism in the film. I mean casting a white actor, Gosling, as the pianist who — alone, it seems — can save jazz, the quintessential black art form, from disappearing or being diluted by populists. Yes, there are great black musicians in the movie, but in the crucial scene where Gosling introduces Stone to his favourite jazz club he obliterates their performance by blathering a monologue over the top of it. After all the criticism two years ago about the glaring absence of Oscar nominations for minority-ethnic actors, you might have thought that Hollywood would have learnt a few lessons about diversity.
Tom Cox offers a brief encyclopedia of his record collection. Quote unquote:
I am the opposite of fond of the term “guilty pleasure” but I often enjoy music wrongly bracketed within it. What people mean by the term “guilty pleasure” 99.5% of the time, when talking about music or anything else, is “something genuinely joyous that pretentious dickheads told me not to like”.
There have been many great GIFs on the Twitter following the Merkel-Trump meeting. This was my favourite for a while, Dr Merkel incredulous:

But this is my new favourite:

So here is Alison Krauss live in 2002 with Union Station (Jerry Douglas on dobro!) performing “New Favourite”:

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Waikato Times letter of the week #75

From the edition of Thursday 23 February. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Animal instincts
Racism, arrogance, bigots, religious and political intolerance. Ethnic hatred and the differences that lead to all these human reactions and behaviours, are usually centred on belief systems where intolerance of differences becomes of group importance that will usually lead on to anti actions and behaviours. We humans tend to hide much of our behaviour behind the notions espoused in various religions, Pseudo Darwinism and the survival of the fittest, as excuses and explanations. Walking in the village today I noticed once again, Mothers attending to wee babies. No intelligible words were spoken, but the behaviour of these mothers was one absolute reinforcement that they would kill to protect their babies and all other children belonging in their I think protection. And we live by the ripping fang and the tearing claw. We are after all just animals.
Barry Ashby 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What I’m reading #141

Not a lot to be honest, can’t read much when I’m editing, but this review in the Economist of Kapka Kassabova’s new book stood out like dogs’ thingummies. It says:
Kapka Kassabova’s poignant, erudite and witty third book, “Border”, brings hidden history vividly to light.
I am sure it does. I am sure it is poignant, witty and erudite. Kapka is all of the above. But it is not her third book.

I edited two novels by her, Reconnaissance (Penguin, 1999) and Love in the Land of Midas (Penguin, 2000). There had already been a terrific first book of poems, All Roads Lead to the Sea (AUP, 1997) which I tried to get shortlisted for the Montana Book Awards but my bone-headed co-judge (name available on application) wasn’t having it, and its successor Dismemberment (AUP, 1998). 

That’s four books so far, isn’t it? Kapka’s website is, how shall we say, economical but does list the tango book Twelve Minutes of Love, (Portobello, 2011), the third novel Villa Pacifica (Penguin, 2010) – which I have never seen and had no idea existed – and the memoir Street Without a Name (Portobello, 2008). There are also the Bloodaxe collections Someone Else’s Life (2003) and Geography for the Lost (2007). 

Seems to me that Border is her 10th book. But hey, I only got up to Stage III maths. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Anton Chekov and Jeremy Corbyn

The influence of Russia upon Western politicians has a long history. It didn’t start with the Donald: Chekov is a clear style influence upon Corbyn.

So here is Eric Dolphy (along with Tony Williams, Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson and Richard Davis) on his 1964 album Out to Lunch! with his Monk tribute “Hat and Beard”:

Saturday, December 31, 2016

A new selection of my holiday snaps

Taken at 6pm on New Year’s Eve, for this is the season of pleasure and self-indulgence.

The novel in question features a man who sleeps with breadfruit. Pretty sure this is a first in New Zealand literature, if not the world’s.

Happy new year, everybody!

Thursday, December 22, 2016


The great thing about being a freelancer in the New Zealand book publishing industry is that one is always optimistic. There is always something to look forward to. “I haven’t been paid today,” one thinks, “but surely I will be paid tomorrow.” Tomorrow never comes, but that does not impair the optimism.

So here are Los Lobos in 1993 performing a Beatles song from the 1966 LP Revolver:

Friday, December 16, 2016

Robert Browning fluffs his lines

Recorded on 7 April 1889, the year of his death, on an Edison cylinder, reciting “How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix”. Well, the first five lines, until:
“I’m terribly sorry, but I can’t remember me own verses.”
Then he praises Edison’s “wonderful invention”. Possibly it was all scripted – which would make this the first advertisement recorded by a poet.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Wintec Press Club: Rachel Stewart edition

The Wintec Press Club lunch is staged by the Wintec School of Media Arts three times a year for the benefit of the journalism students. The guest list features big names in politics, media, entertainment, sport, business, law and the arts. And me.

Most tables have one or two students who get to meet industry veterans. It’s a brilliant idea and I have always enjoyed talking with the students. I try to discourage them from entering the profession, suggesting they instead do something useful or lucrative. The speakers are usually eminent media types – last year’s speakers included Paula Penfold from TV3 and Mihi Forbes, then at Maori TV – but once it was Pam Corkery and the time before that Rachel Glucina. This year the first two, bafflingly, were Dave Dobbyn and Hera Lindsay Bird, neither of whom are journalists. But this time we had a real live writer for a newspaper: Rachel Stewart, who has a column in the NZ Herald.

Media star guests included Paula Penfold, Rachel Smalley, Emily Simpson, the poet Sonya Yelich, Adam Dudding, author of the brilliant memoir My Father’s Island (here is my review for the Listener), Sarah Stuart (who, on being introduced to me, said, “Are you the blogger?”) and a visitor from the Manawatu Evening Standard.

Political star guest was Tim McIndoe, MP for Hamilton West and National’s chief whip. He was very funny privately about the previous day in Parliament when they had to congratulate Donald Trump on winning the US presidential election. What he said publicly was, “The motion of congratulations felt like a funeral. Don’t quote me!”

Our host Steve Braunias, a journalism student in 1980, began proceedings on a note of despair: “Thank you for coming today but what’s the fucking point?” There was an empty table in the room, which, he said, seemed to be a metaphor for the redundancies among journalists expected if the proposed merger of NZME and Fairfax went ahead. “Two journalists who have left the Herald have become Uber drivers. And isn’t that a metaphor for what all journalists have become?”

To further lift the students’ spirits, he mentioned the Donald Trump campaign T-shirt: “Tree. Rope. Journalist.”

Before the main event were the annual Wintec Press Club awards. Winner of “Student most likely to achieve world domination” was Dileepa Fonseka. Winner of “Best writer in New Zealand journalism” was Adam Dudding, author of the brilliant memoir My Father’s Island (here is my review for the Listener).

About this time the empty table filled up with some of the cast of Desperate Housewives of Auckland. I had no idea who they were and nor, it seemed, did many others present. On the other hand, our waiter looked like Rick Astley.

There was a raffle ticket at every place setting: the prize was a meat pack (“locally sourced organic sausages”) and a bag of books from VUP. I did not enter: I thought, let someone else enjoy these delights.

Best-dressed woman on the day was won by Noelle McCarthy, resplendent in gold shoes. This was presented by Ann Batley and Rachel Smalley. Best-dressed man went to a student who had gone to a lot more trouble than me: this was presented by Gilda Kirkpatrick. According to Braunias, he narrowly beat “glorious but defeated” Waikato Times editor  Jonathan Mackenzie, “a vision in pink going on puce”.

And so to the speaker, billed by Braunias as the star of this “Eating Media Lunch special lesbian edition gab-fest extravaganza”. She basically told her life story.

Rachel Stewart was born in Wanganui in 1962. When she was 11 her parents split and she went with her mother to the US. There was a bad stepfather, she came back to the farm in 1976 to live with her father. The mother came back, the stepfather hit her (the mother) and Stewart broke two of his ribs.

She doesn’t vote, she said.

There was a lot about floods in the Manawatu, insurance, and even more about falconry. This was less interesting than the insurance: “The four main causes of death in the wild are…”

The falconry helped her cope with grief, she said, and then she segued into opinion writing, describing herself as “a misfit with a lifetime of anger-management problems”.

Question time was lively – she was clearly popular with the room. She was funny and open with her answers. It is rare to hear the word “obfuscation” used off the cuff.

We learned that she hasn’t spoken to her brothers for 30 years. We heard even more about insurance. We learned that when she dies, she would be happy to be eaten by a hawk.

She talked about her grandfather murdering “a Chinaman” which caused a sharp intake of breath at the Desperate Housewives table and the loud remark “Chinaman? What the fuck?”

She said, confusingly, “I do vote. I will vote.”

Asked why she writes, she said, “In the act of writing something, I feel a part of a community, a tribe.”

Veteran journalist Kingsley Field asked, “What do you think of 1080?”

“I believe in science, and it tells us that’s what we need to do right now,” she replied, to great applause. The Waikato is 1080-friendly. Also science-friendly.

Noelle McCarthy told her, “You are a force to be reckoned with on Twitter.”

Yes, she is. Which brings us to my Unasked Question: “Do you still want to break David Farrar’s legs?”

In her Herald column the previous month she wrote that she “had numerous rape and death threats merely for expressing an opinion”. Here is the Manawatu Standard report of 24 January 2015 about this. I remember it because David Farrar supported her, writing on his blog at the time: “There is no room for such threats in our country… entirely unacceptable”.

On 17 September she wrote on Twitter, “Apropos of not much, I just wanna say that David Farrar is a little wee tool that I’d just love to meet in a dark alley somewhere. Not kidding.”

She followed up with: “Read this and tell me why I shouldn’t break his little legs”.

The background: on 10 June Farrar wrote this on Kiwiblog, the post Stewart tweeted about:
Makes the Greens look moderate
The Herald reports:
New Zealand needs to get rid of 80 per cent of its dairy cows because dairying is dirtying our water.That was the message delivered to the annual meeting of Wanganui Federated Farmers by its former president.Rachel Stewart, president of the group for four years in the early 2000s and guest speaker at Friday’s annual meeting, is an “ardent critic” of farming.
Dairy off memory is around 7% of GDP. So an 80% reduction is likely to reduce GDP by around $11 billion or $2,500 per capita.
Ms Stewart predicted there would be synthetic milk in five years, and people wouldn’t be eating meat in 10 years.
Her predictions seem as robust as her policies. I’m very very confident people will be eating meat in 100 years’ time, let alone 10.
I can’t see why this should make her wish to “break his little legs”. Nothing personal in it. So the longer version of my Unasked Question was: “We all agree that it’s not OK for anyone to threaten you for expressing your opinion, but why is it OK for you to say want to hurt someone else for expressing theirs?”

But after her confession of anger-management issues, the Unasked Question seemed redundant.

So here is the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein performing Charles Ives’s brief “The Unanswered Question”.

In the comments, reader Agnes Day writes: 
“Rachel Stewart has been rather rude about you on Twitter, saying you must be deaf because she never said she doesn’t vote. What’s the story?”
Several other people have mentioned that she called me old, deaf, past my use-by-date etc because she never said she didn’t vote, and suggested I should respond. I won’t on Twitter because that way madness lies, but here is my blog-standard reply to Agnes Day:
Has she? I don't know why she would deny saying she doesn’t vote, because she did – I recorded it in my notebook because it was so surprising. The later quote, “I do vote. I will vote,” was in response to a question after her talk, obviously from someone who was as startled as I was by the remark. Maybe it was an impromptu joke that didn't come off so she doesn’t remember. We must be charitable.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

In praise of: Karyn Hay

Photo by Chris Skelton for Fairfax.

To Auckland on Wednesday for the launch of Karyn Hay’s new novel March of the Foxgloves at the Women’s Bookshop in Ponsonby. Launches there are always good and convivial. The only drawback with this one was that I was the launcher. This is more or less what I said:
We all know Karyn as a brilliant broadcaster on radio and TV. She is also a fine journalist – the interviews she did for last year’s New Zealand Women in Rock on Prime were a model of empathy – she knows the territory – but she was firm with them too. Nobody was let off the hook.
With all these talents, can she also write fiction? I’m sorry to say it, but. . . yes she can. Please don’t hate her.
Her first novel, Emerald Budgies, published under a pseudonym – she is the Artist Formerly Known as Lee Maxwell – was a cracker and won Best First Book in the 2001 Montana awards. A few years later she was awarded the Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellowship. It’s been a bit of a wait since for March of the Foxgloves – for all of us – but it has been worth the wait.
The novel is intelligent, sexy, witty – just like the author – and is beautifully written. There is sparky dialogue, lovely descriptions of place, and the two women Frances and Dolly are great characters. You’d want to meet them.
It’s about women’s independence, how new technology can enable that, narcissism and obsession, there’s sex and drugs and music, and a whole lot more.
It was especially interesting for me because it is set in London and Auckland, cities I know, but mostly in Tauranga, where I grew up. So I knew the streets and buildings. I felt right at home.
I learned a lot while editing it. I do a lot of fact-checking when editing fiction, just as much as I do when editing non-fiction – but this one was really hard. Because much of the factual material wasn’t in my reference books, not even in the Centennial History of Tauranga. Karyn had dug it all out of old newspapers, all sorts of obscure places. When I could check something, she was invariably right. That was impressive – and very unusual in historical fiction, in my experience.
But the best part, apart from the pleasure of working on such a terrific novel, was how much we laughed during the process. Even though we both take writing and editing very seriously, it was a lot of fun. I have edited many authors – Lauris Edmond, Vincent O’Sullivan, Paddy Richardson, Graeme Lay, Lloyd Jones, Kelly Ana Morey, loads – but Karyn is, I have to say, by far the sweariest.
And now here is the published novel. The paperback looks good but the hardback looks fantastic. The illustrations by John Constantine are lovely and the photos Vicky Papas Vergara took of burlesque artist Miss Sina King are brilliant, exactly as I imagined that the photos Frances took of Dolly would look. It is a thrill to have been involved in such a superb publication. I know you will enjoy reading it when you have bought your copy. And now, here is Karyn Hay!
 After the launch Karyn and I went with friends for a drink, as is customary after a book launch. Then dinner at SPQR, as is customary in Ponsonby. Then she dragged me to a bar (The Golden Dawn: Tavern of Power) to see Voom. They were much louder than my band was when I played that venue, and better. Good drummer, which is the main thing with a band. And a good night, which is the main thing with a book launch.

Stephanie Jones’s review of March of the Foxgloves for Coast FM was enthusiastic: “Hay is a sly and delightful wordsmith, a grand raconteur of the page, in whose hands historical fiction feels utterly current, even urgent.”

David Herkt interviewed Karyn for Stuff here. She tells him: “We think of history as with people who were entirely different, but often that's a misconception. We have the same motivations – and foibles, of course – and the same ambiguities.”

Radio Live plugs the novel here.

Plutocrats can order the hardback here; paupers can order the paperback here.