Sunday, September 25, 2016

What I’m reading #138

As a palate cleanser between finishing Rachel Barrowman’s Maurice Gee: Life and Work and starting work on editing a massive scientific document on estuaries, I turn to Colin Watson, my favourite English comic crime novelist. It was either him or Janwillem van der Wetering, my favourite Dutch comic crime novelist. 

In Watson’s 1968 novel Charity Ends at Home, regular character Lucilla Teatime, a suspect in the murder of Henrietta Palgrove, is a genteel (but, as Cactus Kate would say, quite hot for a chick her age) fraudster posing as a fundraiser for animal charities; Inspector Purbright has a highly developed sense of irony. Quote unquote:
‘It was a very threatening letter, Miss Teatime.’
She shrugged lightly. ‘I can see that you are not accustomed to handling the correspondence of charitable societies, Mr Purbright. If one took seriously every hint of nefarious goings-on, one would have no time left for the collection of funds. And what would our animals do then, poor things?’
‘There is no truth, I take it, in the suggestion that there has been misappropriation of funds?’
‘None, of course. It is misapprehension, not misappropriation, that bedevils the work of charities. People do not realize how high is the cost of administration nowadays. Modern conditions demand the employment of all sorts of expensive devices – promotion campaigns, the public relations consultant, accountants, the business efficiency expert – even computers. My goodness, inspector, there is a great deal more to it than waving a collecting box. Which’ – she raised a finger and smiled sweetly – ‘reminds me. . .’
She put the teddy bear aside and went to the fireplace, on the mantel of which was a box. She brought the box back and set it between them. ‘Just my little charge for allowing you to interview me!’
Purbright grinned and found some coins to drop in the box.
‘Purely as a formality, Miss Teatime – you do understand – could you just tell me where you were on the night of the twelfth – the night before last, that is? From ten o’clock onward, say.’
Her eyes widened. ‘In bed, inspector. Where else?’
He smiled. ‘It clearly would be impertinent of me to ask of whom I might seek corroboration of that.’
‘Not in the least; I should take it as a compliment.’ Her gaze saddened a little and fell. ‘But no, I have left things rather late. To tell the truth, it is regarding the physical side of marriage that I have always been apprehensive.’
He nodded, sympathetically.
‘There so seldom seems to be enough of it,’ said Miss Teatime. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Waikato Times letter of the week #72

From the edition of Friday 23 September. As always, spelling, punctuation (in this case especially, hyphens and the lack thereof), grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times. The writer is no relation; the “priggish” Tim Macindoe he describes does not resemble the one I lunch with regularly at the Wintec Press Club. That Tim Macindoe, National’s chief whip, is a hoot.

Café debate
West Ward city council and DHB incumbent candidate Martin Gallagher must cease tacitly endorsing his electoral successor, National MP for Hamilton West, Tim Macindoe. With his predecessor’s endorsement ensuring his position becomes virtually un-opposable, Macindoe is guaranteed a return to this once marginal seat, making next year’s general election race here undemocratic; certainly unviable for a serious Opposition contender.   

Tackling a generic question put to candidates at the National MP’s Agora Café debate (September 9), Gallagher defended his own multiplicity of elected roles, linking extra effective benefits to taking on greater responsibilities. Throughout the debate, Gallagher was unwilling to provide the required brief answers, constantly having to be cut short by mediator and host Tim Macindoe.

The priggish Tim Macindoe proved an unreliable debate adjudicator, unwilling to pull former Waikato Times reporter Geoff Taylor up for an unfortunate anecdote regarding his two teenage daughters commanding excessive water for showering, meant to illustrate higher demands on rural tank water capacity. Taylor’s unchallenged inferences are all the more concerning considering Macindoe’s chief political adversary over recent general elections, Labour list MP Sue Moroney, has herself been a former spokeswoman on women’s affairs.

Roger Stratford
Hamilton

Friday, September 23, 2016

Sentence of the day

Peter Bland reminiscing in 2003 about his acting days in the West End:
I can remember Joanna Lumley suddenly screaming onstage, ‘I can’t take this any more!’, and running off in her bikini. 
I wish I had memories like that.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Keith Stewart on roses

The 96th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the January/February 1994 issue. The seven-page feature “I Get a Kick Out of This” was a collection of brief pieces by Brian Turner, Jacqueline Fahey, Owen Marshall, Barbara Else, Colin Hogg, Iain Sharp, Nigel Cox, Mary-Louise Browne and others – booksellers, painters, publishers, journalists, art curators – writing about more cheerful stuff than most books magazines did at the time: motorbikes, daughters, dogs, poker, haircuts, guitars, ice cream, shoes and more. The intro read:
There’s more to life than books. . . For a start, there’s chocolate. Here are another 20 of life’s extraordinary pleasures.

ROSES
They are the sexiest things that grow. Always have been. In spite of the many prudish suburban gardens they adorn, the blatant sensuality of roses is still earthy enough to turn a shiver or two. They are a pleasure you can’t deny.

Red ones are hottest, especially when they have that radiating fragrance that makes the air resonate with their passionate colour. Fires deeper than you could imagine controlling, scorching away the mundane detail of gardening as soon as the buds spill their colours out. A great come-on to your eyeballs, heady visions laced with perfume.

Sweet pink seduces with subtlety; roses named for nymphs’ thighs, which capture the curve and texture of flowers with body. A graceful turn and flicker, blushed with promise, shaped exquisitely, they are an age away from fertiliser and fungal spray, flower shows and other public displays. This is intimate stuff, between a man and his rose in some secret, sunny corner of the mind.

Pure white tantalises, an unspoken hint. All grace and form, scent more ravishing for the subtlety of its source. Calm and elegant with a pristine beauty more powerfully suggestive than any scarlet bloom could be. A breathtaking abundance, pure and pregnant. Life with poise, playing on every sense a simple, ancient tune of pleasure. Sadly for old what’s her name, a rose is not a rose, is not just a bloody flower.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Waikato Times letter of the week #71

From the edition of Monday 19 September. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Selfish, blind world
After the 1950s, when authority sold itself, the world has entered a stage of juvenility and following inherent problems.
Stating the obvious. Tried purchasing typewriter ribbons lately? Taken off the market. Syrian villages bombed after a recent race is broken. People making more money than they’ve ever seen in the current land and grab.
Is there a sense of lost sanity here?
These days being proved wrong is a form of victory. But watching the corrupt has become a pastime and even a form of dark collective pleasure. The world now is a blind, selfish brat. The vast majority of people are incapable of holding a conversation. And having a conversation with your fists is not really a conversation. Leave your kids alone and make your wife a meal occasionally.
Women, go and see a Tim Burton movie.
Peter J N Garland
Hamilton

Monday, September 19, 2016

Gerry Webb on Raewyn Alexander and Dominic Sheehan

The 95th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the August 1996 issue. The lead book review was David Eggleton on Sue McCauley’s novel A Fancy Man, followed by Barbara Else on E Annie Proulx’s novel Accordion Crimes, Kevin Ireland on Jan Corbett’s non-fiction crime debut Caught By His Past and Sheridan Keith on Elizabeth Smithers’ journal The Journal Box. Here is Gerry Webb on two first New Zealand novels.

FAT
by Raewyn Alexander
Penguin, $24.95, ISBN 0140260374
FINDING HOME
by Dominic Sheehan
Secker & Warburg, $19.95, ISBN 0790004623
Auckland poet Raewyn Alexander’s first novel fairly crackles and pops. The sheer dash and bite of her language make for a densely packed and colourful text with lots of great lines. The narrator is Poppy, maid and minder to Iris, a well-to-do hooker, “a whore through and through”. Poppy’s sharp intelligence ducks back and forth over her history and contacts — middle-class origins in Avondale, waiting at tables, university, a relationship with a dope grower, work at a London sex club, the underworld of the Auckland sex industry. At the same time she relates the sinister developments resulting from her delivery of Iris’s blackmail note to a wealthy, titled sleazeball in the Waikato. It’s a narrative which shifts and weaves.
Poppy has a strong, sometimes combative voice; she gets in a few punches against “the system” and at the end, when she and her five-year-old daughter flee Auckland for the bosom of her family, she finds in Marxism “the theory to back up what I’ve always felt”. It’s not a subtle option or a very satisfying ending. In fact the novel loses some of its brilliant edge in the latter stages as Poppy seeks normality in her family and with a local lad on the Firth of Thames.
But the main part, the characters and scenes in and around Auckland and the sex business, is outstanding. Especially brilliant are dangerous, decadent Sir Arthur (“an old walrus full of fish”), boss lady Ho in her 80s and Iris with “the hard seagull eyes”. A luscious and coruscating book — I was hooked on the first page.
Life was never more intense and hair-raising than that year in Standard Three: a treacherous teacher, playground fights, parents’ arguments spilling from behind closed doors, a big sister who leaves home without a blessing, small-town hostility towards dad — my Standard Three in Cheviot, North Canterbury, in the mid-50s? Not quite; but Dominic Sheehan’s Finding Home, the story of Kevin Garrick’s year in a small Taranaki town in the mid-70s, rang a few bells.
Kevin says at the outset that his adult self keeps getting in the way of his attempt “to listen and think as I was then”, but in fact his story beautifully recreates the world of the child, and this is the major strength of this disarmingly fresh and gripping book.
Especially authentic is the private nature of the child’s world that we are shown — Kevin’s relationships, fantasies and humiliations, his genuinely scary encounters with others’ nastiness and suffering are not things that he can tell his parents about. At times I thought of Ronald Hugh Morrieson’s young protagonists, but though this novel skirts the macabre it is a much gentler creature and opts for language that is low-key, sometimes rather ordinary, but always transparent. Sheehan’s sympathetic characterisation and tense story-line will appeal to both adults and teenagers.

UPDATE
I had done some work on Raewyn Alexander’s Fat. The submitted draft was a bit of a mess but her talent shone through. I wrote a supportive reader’s report (“The manuscript needs a major overhaul, but what’s good in it is very good… There is no other writer in New Zealand doing what Alexander does when she hits the mark.”) with suggestions for how the m/s might be made publishable, basically shifting many of the scenes set in England to New Zealand because she was so sharp about life and class here. I was astonished at how quickly she did that  within weeks, from memory. My second report said, “An incredible improvement.” That revised version, which is what was published, was every bit as good as Gerry says.

One of the great pleasures of working as a publisher’s reader was discovering new talent. After Raewyn came writers such as Kelly Ana Morey, Linda Olsson, Hamish Clayton. You knew from the first page – the first paragraph, even – that here was a major new voice. Reading manuscripts can be tedious, but this was seriously exciting. And in each case, a star was born.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Waikato Times letter of the week #70

From the edition of Monday 12 September. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Less talk, more action
Stop talking, solve the housing problem. Legislate to put prices at figures average citizens can afford. Make housing a core industry with set values that are designed so that average wage-earning working citizens can afford them. Establish limits on house size with taxes increased for permits for those who want manor houses etc. The time for talk is over. Action and problem resolution is long overdue. Swap your warm bed for a spot of three weeks in a car with kids as well! May be a game changer?
Barry Ashby
Raglan 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Stephen Stratford on Australian publishing

The 94th  in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the August 1996 issue. I had just spent a week in the Hunter Valley on a junket, staying in luxury lodges and eating barramundi and kangaroo. Now it was time to party with the publishers. In those days, being a journalist was fun. The intro read:
ADVANCE AUSTRALIAN FAIR
Last month, at the Australian Book Fair, held at Sydney’s Darling Harbour Exhibition Centre, more than 230 Australian and international publishers presented their latest titles to the trade. Also wearing his “Hi! l’m….” badge: Stephen Stratford.
POETS’ CORNER
There are many frightening things in Australia. As if redbacks, crocodiles and the Howard government weren’t enough, now they have a Poets Union, with 300 members in NSW alone. I’ve been at the book fair only a few minutes and am just getting oriented when, walking past the Poetry Stand, I am seized by a man who says, “Hello, I’m Ivor Indyk, and this is Robert Adamson, Australia’s best poet.”
Indyk is the editor of Heat, a new literary quarterly whose first issue is being launched at the fair. He extols the virtues of Quote Unquote: “If only we had something like it in Australia!” What a fine fellow. Oz Poetry Inc is clearly in very good hands.
A group of small presses has got together with the Poets Union to organise the stand, which was launched by state premier Bob Carr. The 24-page catalogue shows a busy poetry industry, though it’s hard to believe its claim that “a recent survey... found that 85 percent of people surveyed stated that they love Australian poetry”. Some of the small presses aren’t that small: Five Islands, for example, lists 44 titles published since 1991. (Information on all these books is available at Australian Writing Online’s website at www.ozemail.com.au.)

JACKET IN
A surprising — to me, anyway — number of New Zealand publishers are prowling the aisles, from AUP’s Elizabeth Caffin to Rugby Publishing’s Bill Honeybone (see “In Touch”, QUQ, July). They’re here for several reasons: to sell their books, to buy the rights for books they can publish in New Zealand, and to set up co-editions — which means a higher print run and thus a cheaper book for both markets.
If they can find someone to take 2000 or even 5000 copies of a title, that lifts the print run, which lowers the unit cost and means a lower retail price for the New Zealand bookbuyer. And if the book is at an early stage of planning, the Australian publisher may suggest changes so that chances of good sales across the Tasman are enhanced. It’s also useful for them to see what’s being published over there. For example, there’s a new genre of bush-tucker books, with — to be frank, not very enticing—recipes for preparing the likes of witchetty grubs, lillipillis and quandongs. Expect to see some New Zealand titles on new and exciting ways with huhu grubs and fem roots.
One can only hope they take as much notice of the Australians’ superior jacket design. Some, notably Allen & Unwin’s fiction list, boast terrific covers with evocative images, strong typography and even non-tacky lamination effects.

SLOUCH HAT
Some of the Australian publishers have marvellous names: Slouch Hat, for example, specialises in military history. Then there’s Wild & Woolley, Wagga Wagga Writers Writers, Cheeky Ferret, Beaten Track, Books At Manic…

STAND AND DELIVER
With a market five times the size of ours, it’s no surprise that there are some big budgets on display. Scholastic stands out, with a horror room, displays of Goosebumps and, the latest craze, Animorphs. Goosebumps author RL Stine has been invited, but was apparently too busy to come: well, he does produce a book every two weeks.
Others stands are almost as impressive in both design and content: interactive CD-Roms are all the go, while Macmillan has a free sampler with extracts from new Picadors by Joyce Carol Oates, Graham Swift, Justine Ettler, Kathy Acker and RM Eversz’s splendidly titled Shooting Elvis. Random House boasts a particularly good range of upcoming titles, prominent among the Australian fiction being Alan Duff’s What Becomes Of The Broken-Hearted?
Other new titles spotted: Dangerous Love, Ben Okri; The Solitaire Mystery, Jostein Gaarder; Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood; The Last Of The Savages, Jay Mclnemey; Darkness Be My Friend, John Marsden (and a poetry anthology, For Weddings And A Funeral); Test Your Cat ’s Creative Intelligence, Burton Silver and Heather Busch; The Same River Twice, Alice Walker; and The Law Of Love, Laura Esquivel (of Like Hot Water For Chocolate) which comes with a CD of Mexican songs and Puccini arias.

VICIOUS CIRCLES
There is a frustrating number of good Australian books we’ll never see, especially but not only in fiction: the Picadors, the Allen & Unwins, and above all the amazing range of interesting crime books. There’ s more to it than just Peter Corris, Jennifer Rowe and Garry Disher.
There’s a vicious circle in operation here: New Zealand distributors won’t promote Australian books, because booksellers won’t order them, because their customers — that’s us — won’t buy them. And we don’t buy them, in part, because they’re not available, so the audience never develops.
It works the other way, of course: Australians are deeply uninterested in our books, regarding New Zealand as a duller version of Tasmania. Gleebooks in Glebe, 1995 Bookseller of the Year, has Stephanie Johnson’s The Heart ’s Wild Surf in its Australian fiction section, while Ariel has Barbara Anderson’s The House Guest in the (very handsome) English hardback edition, Elspeth Sandys’ River Lines and Emily Perkins’ Not Her Real Name, but that’s it. No Patricia Grace, Maurice Gee, Maurice Shadbolt, Witi Ihimaera... and it seems the only New Zealand poetry to be had in all of Sydney is three books in the remainder bin at Dymocks. However, Perkins is the subject of a half-page interview in the Sydney Morning Herald, billing her as “the first New Zealander in a very long time to publish her first book in Britain” (what about Kirsty Gunn last year, I grizzle, and Deborah McKinlay the year before that?). The story concludes of this bestseller and Montana finalist, “she does not know whether New Zealand is for her or against her”.

BRAT PACK
Last year 6000 trade and 70,000 public visitors attended the fair. This year trade attendances are thought to be significantly up, with publishers reporting brisk business being done with booksellers and their overseas counterparts, although the open days at the weekend are quieter, with “a steady stream of visitors but always space for strolling in the aisles”.
I’m glad I didn’t go last year — the open days are plenty busy enough for me as they are. The programme of author appearances is heavily tilted towards children’s authors — Miss Spider’s Tea Party, with author David Kirk, is particularly well-attended — so there are children’s characters in costume everywhere, and thousands of charming Australian children underfoot.

DUMMY RUN
On Wednesday evening I have a drink with My Publisher — God, I’ve always wanted to be able to say that — who has had appointments every half hour and is clearly exhausted. One of the books MP has been discussing with other publishers is my own, and he reports some interest.
Of course, this is very gratifying, but unnerving at the same time because not a single word of it has been written at this point beyond a sketchy outline, and the manuscript is due in a month. But the dummy cover looks good, which I guess is the main thing.

PENGUIN AT 50
Penguin Australia is celebrating its 50th birthday. Begun in 1961 with £10,000, it’s now a $A100 million conglomerate. Reminiscing, its first editor Geoffrey Dutton says that some of their most successful books were conceived in the pub. “You can’t have a committee meeting and come up with ideas. That is not the way it works at all. When everyone is a bit pissed it usually goes better.” Memo to self: next Quote Unquote editorial meeting is in the Northcote Tavern.
On the Thursday night, when the now-octogenarian Gough Whitlam launches Dutton’s account of the Penguin years, A Rare Bird, he goes into some detail about the inadequacies of Penguin’s translations from modern and ancient Greek giving his own rendition of Greek declensions — compared with those of Allen & Unwin. He then goes into even more detail about the inadequacies of his successors as Labor leader. After 20 minutes, a Penguin exec is moved to call out, “Launch the book! Launch the book!”

LATER THAT NIGHT
To the bash down by the wharves, in a concrete-floor warehouse open at the sides to the elements. This is not a night for fancy dress, but for dressing up warm and huddling or — and this is the option preferred by many drinking a lot of alcohol. A band plays energetic R’n’B, and there’s even dancing. The New Zealanders present look on and say wistfully that we could never do anything like this at home.
It’s a great party, but there’s work the next day so I slip away at midnight to my suite at the Regent. I’ll say this for the good people of Sydney, who have kindly paid for my trip through the offices of Tourism New South Wales, they lay on pretty classy accommodation. The suite is on the 30th floor, with a fabulous view of the Opera House and North Head, a bed large enough for half a dozen consenting adults, and a two-room bathroom full of potions, unguents and fluffy white towels and bathrobes. The main room is so vast that if one person was in bed and the other at the breakfast table, you would need a mobile phone to communicate.
When I arrived hot and sticky at 3pm on the first day, I immediately poured a cleansing ale. The minute I finished it, there was a knock at the door and a waitperson asked if he could come in and replenish the minibar. It’s a good thing I don’t smoke — they’d be in every five minutes cleaning the ashtrays.

A BANJO ON MY KNEE
On the third day there is a noticeable thinning of the New Zealand presence from around noon, as the Bledisloe Cup match in Wellington is on TV at 12.30. Unfortunately this is the last business day, so there’s only the afternoon left to tease the Australians about their dismal performance.
In the evening, the National Book Council’s Banjo Awards, Australia’s equivalent of the Montana, are announced at a grand dinner: the major sponsor is... Carlton and United Breweries. Winner of the $A20,000 fiction prize is Rod Jones for his third novel, Billy Sunday. Set in 1890s Wisconsin, it was described by the Boston Globe reviewer as “the great American novel — by an Australian... perhaps the most American book I have read”. In his acceptance speech Jones gives heartfelt thanks to the Australia Council for a writing grant, and to the Keating government for the dole, which helped him and his family survive the” three years it took to write the book.
Poetry winner, posthumously, is Philip Hodgins for Things Happen, while Allen & Unwin are named Publisher of the Year. The $A20,000 nonfiction prize is shared between historian Hemy Reynolds’ Fate Of A Free People, a history of the Tasmanian Aborigines, and Abraham H Biderman’s The World Of My Past, a memoir of the Holocaust he published himself as he couldn’t find anyone else willing to take it on — which may be some consolation to all those writers out there collecting rejection slips.

MARR AND JEFF
Jeffrey Archer is billed as guest speaker for the dinner, but is upstaged by the MC, David Marr, who, in the spirit of the new Howard government, launches proceedings with a call for a voluntary 10 per cent cut in all speeches, “not so much a cut as an efficiency dividend”.
To Archer he says, “Can we just go by our pen-names, Jeff?”
When it’s Archer’s tum to present Helen Garner with the Book of the Year award — her The First Stone, a thoughtful account of a sexual harassment case, has been chosen by booksellers as the one they most enjoyed selling — Marr asks him about a character in The Fourth Estate who begins to read a Patrick White novel but doesn’t finish it.
Archer is not pleased. “I have in my day seen many ways of plugging someone else’s book and I’m damned if I will,” he says, throwing away his speech notes. The charitable ones in the audience take this to be his contribution to ending the evening on time.
Not to be outdone, Garner speaks for a mere 30 seconds. However, she is followed by a man who has won a long-service award to Australian publishing. After 10 minutes of his life history, then another 10 minutes or so of the life history of the person the award was named after, he says, “And one thing I hope to do before l die is...” at which a voice with a distinctly New Zealand accent can be heard clearly across the room desperately begging, “Die now!”

Sunday, September 4, 2016

What I’m reading #137

This is what the internet is for: “Watch the Opening Credits of an Imaginary 70s Cop Show Starring Samuel Beckett. Via Open Culture:


Also via Open Culture, “Hear Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-PhilosophicusSung as a One-Woman Opera”. I have read the book and enjoy the music but possibly it is not everyone’s glass of absinthe.

Chad Taylor discovers a new use for Dropbox. Quote unquote:
All those scrawled manuscript pages with their arrows and diagonal slash marks (one slash for moved, two for deleted), their numbered sections (I write 1, 5, 3, 2, 4 in that order. Don’t know why), their vertical squiggly lines (vertical in margin = too busy to deal with this now but srsly who wrote this and what were they thinking? Who?) and ticks (ink = updated in ms; pencil in lower right corner = updated in digital ms, discard this page), their diagrams (always the same four transparent boxes with only the beginning of a name in one) are now preserved forever in the cloud.
 I need this book.

I am a fan of B.S. Johnson as mentioned previously so was pleased to read this by D.J. Taylor in the TLS:
Yet pride of place in the pantheon of late Sixties soccerati – a term not coined for another quarter of a century – must surely go to the avant-garde novelist and one-time Observer football correspondent B. S. Johnson.
As early as November 1965, the author of Travelling People was hired by the Chilean movie producer Octavio Señoret to write the script of a FIFA-sponsored cinema film of the tournament. The aim, Johnson breezily declared in a magazine interview, was to “make something even better than the Japs did of the Tokyo Olympiad”.
Introvert hangovers are a thing. One day I will tell you about my afternoon with Jonathan Franzen. Meanwhile, quote unquote:
Maybe there are some people who can only take an hour of social activity, for example — meaning they’re highly introverted — but who never get bad physical symptoms as a result. Maybe the severity has to with what sort of introvert you are, or with whether you have “ambivert” tendencies.
Yes, “ambivert”.

The International Authors Forum is a very good thing. I was at its first planning meeting in Ljubljana in October 2011. They asked me to go on the working group to represent this part of the world because I had spoken so trenchantly at the IFRRO conference about how Eurocentric IFRRO was and how they needed input from Africa, Asia and the Pacific but by then I was a bit over doing so many unpaid hours for the NZ Society of Authors (when I say a bit over I mean A LOT OVER! because by then it was literally thousands of hours) so I handed that baton to Australia. Here is a PDF setting out the IAF’s 10 principles for fair author-publisher contracts and imho it is very good.

Bjorn Lomberg on the business of organic food. Quote unquote:
Moreover, by eating something organic, you are actually responsible for about as many greenhouse gas emissions as if you had chosen a regular product. Those are the gases that cause global warming. And organic products mean more of some other bad environmental things: about 10% more nitrous oxide, ammonia and acidification, while contributing almost 50% more to nitrogen leaching.
Jeff Beck has a new album out, Loud Hailer, so Kate Mossman interviewed him for the New Statesman. She says he is “one of the top three guitarists in the world” but for the life of me I can’t think who the other two might be. Quote unquote:
he has turned down an invitation to appear with [John] McLaughlin’s “butterfly” drummer Billy Cobham (“I’m not up to that standard”).
I am all for modesty but that is ridiculous. Beck’s most recent drummer was Vinnie Coliauta.


Squash is my sport – nobody ever believes this but I was in the top 20 in New Zealand as a junior and at 16 played for Tauranga with the adults. It is one of the few sports where a small, nippy person can defeat a muscled giant. So I still follow it and am outraged that the Olympics continue to snub it while accepting surfing, skateboarding and golf – golf! The Economist reports:
By most of the criteria that the IOC uses to measure prospective sports, squash appears to have a strong case. It has a long history, dating back to the 1830s. The sport has genuine global appeal: last year 47 countries hosted tour events, featuring players from 74 nations. There are 1.6 million American players, and more than 20 million worldwide, according to US Squash. Logistically, squash would also be an easy fit for the games. The event that the WSF has proposed—singles tournaments for men and women, featuring 32 players apiece—could be run exclusively on two all-glass courts, either inside or outside. And squash has already shown its suitability in other multi-sport events: more than one million people watched the men’s singles final in the last Commonwealth Games. “We would bring something special to the Olympics,” says Andrew Shelley, the chief executive of the WSF.
Why, then, has squash repeatedly been rejected by the IOC?

More sport: in case you missed some of these, here are 41 of Christian Cullen’s tries for the All Blacks. What a genius:

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Hera Lindsay Bird at the Wintec Press Club

The Wintec Press Club lunch is staged by the Wintec School of Media Arts three times a year on behalf of the journalism students. The star-studded guest list always 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 and doing my best to discourage them from entering the profession, suggesting they instead do something useful or lucrative. The speakers at these events are usually eminent media types – last year’s speakers included Paula Penfold from TV3 and Mihi Forbes from Maori TV (now National Radio) – but once it was Pam Corkery and the time before that Rachel Glucina. The food is good; the wine flows.

This time, on Friday 19 August, the female literary luminaries in the audience included Paula Morris, Ashleigh Young, Charlotte Grimshaw and Tracey Slaughter. Also present was AUP poet Sonja Yelich, whom I met at a raucous writers’ lunch in Auckland a few years ago. I spotted on the seating plan that Sonja had brought her daughter Ella. “That’s nice,” I thought. “I wonder what she’s like.” D’oh. Ella, it turned out, is quite famous under the name of Lorde.

Journalism stars included Rachel Stewart (2016 Canon Media Award Opinion Writer of the Year), Diana Wichtel (current Grimshaw Sargeson fellow), Jonathan McKenzie (editor of the Waikato Times), Jono Milne (editor of the Sunday Star-Times), NZ Herald columnist Toby Manhire, Paula Penfold and what seemed to be the entire staff of the Spin-off media website.

There was a meat raffle: half a dozen pork and fennel sausages, plus five books. The winner was Isobel Ewing of Newshub, not me: clearly the fix was in.

In his introduction our host Steve Braunias said that proceedings were being recorded for a German “provider of content” to European radio, because of the great interest there in the guest speaker, poet Hera Lindsay Bird. So his introduction included even more swear words than usual (only one c— but so many f—s that I stopped counting). For the benefit of European listeners he worked in many explanations, Dan Brown-style, e.g. “X is from Christchurch, a city on the braided river plains of…” and “here on the banks of the Waikato which at 425 kilometres is New Zealand’s longest river”.

He celebrated the success of those graduates of the Wintec journalism course who, despite the travails of the industry, have found paying jobs: one is now “one of Patrick Gower’s highly trained cyber news robots”.

There were 14 students out of the 103 guests on the seating plan. That seems well down on previous years. I wonder if many were away with a cold, or if journalism isn’t such an appealing career option these days. I suspect the latter. Kids today may be annoying, but they aren’t stupid. (I know the numbers because I lifted the seating plan after the event: gonzo journalism! I have form here: when I wrote a story for the Listener about the anti-semitic League of Rights I stole its membership list from their office.)

For some reason the secret phrase of the day was “I’m just fucking getting on with it.” Braunias invited Rachel Stewart to tell the room “I’m just fucking getting on with it.” Which she did, vigorously. Next it was the turn of Duncan Grieve (impresario of the Spin-off) and Paula Penfold. Then it was the entire room’s turn. The first attempt was deemed inadequate: “They can’t fucking hear you in Europe!” Braunias bellowed. Another take was ordered.

Braunias introduced the speaker by asking, “What are you doing here, Hera Lindsay Bird? You aren’t a journalist.”

This, he explained to the room, was the point: “Let’s leave journalism to its Pak’n Save English, its cut-price bin of clichés.” Oh, well played. But then: “I’ve learned more from reading poetry than I have from reading journalism – the weight of a line, the. . .” He continued in this vein for about 51 minutes. I thought: God almighty, when will this end?

It was odd because Braunias is on record complaining about introductions going on too long:
It was chaired by Stephen Stratford. The session was 60 minutes. His introduction, which featured a history of satire, seemed to go on for about 50 minutes. I thought: God almighty, when will this end?
Bird started speaking at 1.40 p.m. and spoke until 2.02 p.m. Very astutely timed. She said, “The theme of this talk is: how do we make poetry cool again?”

A couple of questions begged there. One, when was poetry ever cool? Between 1962 and 1979 Penguin published 27 books in its cheap and cheerful Modern Poets series with three poets per book (my favourite was the one with Gavin Ewart, Zulfikar Ghose and BS Johnson) but the only one that sold big-time was The Mersey Sound with the Liverpudlian popsters Roger McGough, Brian Patten and Adrian Henri, which says it all. Two, why would you want poetry to be cool? That would mean people writing and reading it for the wrong reason – to be seen to be writing and reading it.

Bird complained about people not liking poetry. She complained about people liking the wrong sort of poetry: “People are like, fuck poetry, but they’re willing to bust out some Philip Larkin for their mother’s funeral.”

She complained about poetry readings accompanied by jazz. To quote Marianne Moore, I too dislike it – but I wonder if that was a sly dig at Bill Manhire, who has collaborated with jazz composer/pianist Norman Meehan on a couple of CDs.

She had a few cracks at other poets: there was a dream about Vincent O’Sullivan having dementia and getting off the bus at the wrong stop; also something about Brian Turner in a reversed baseball cap at a primary school. I could not see the point of any of this.

After the Spin-off published a poem of hers there was an article in the Guardian praising it. Good for her. But down in the comments there were cavils. Not every reader was enthusiastic about the work. Some comments were even in Latin. She dwelled at length on various criticisms by Christchurch curator and writer Andrew Paul Wood (known to his followers as @AndrewPaulWood) about her poem “Monica” and her replies. She spent at least five minutes of a 20-minute talk on the Guardian article and the responses to it. (So thrilling: distance looks our way! You would think that this generation had got over that, but no.) It was, frankly, all about her. The title of Hera Lindsay Bird’s book gives a clue: it is called Hera Lindsay Bird. Perhaps this is what is meant by the term “vanity publishing”. Self-absorption is to be expected in the young, but Bird is 28.

Next she articulated her real theme: “How do we keep old people out of poetry?”

And then, more threateningly, “Let’s pass the torch to the younger generation by turning out the torches of the older generation.”

Then came the anti-sales pitch: “Everyone in the room over the age of 55 who cares about the arts – please don’t buy my book.”

She said, bafflingly, “I don’t want to be one of those people who are just a career poet.”

She made the usual criticism of Creative NZ’s funding decisions but conceded that she had been given a grant to go to “this really cool poetry festival” in Newcastle, Australia. She works “as a bookseller and it’s not a very well-paid job” so she would like “heaps more”. Wouldn’t we all, dear.

Bird was, to be fair, very amusing but I am not sure what the journalism students gained from the experience. Actually, probably about the same as a previous class got from Paul Holmes when he spoke here in August 2010.

Peter Bland, 82, has a new poetry collection out soon, his 22nd by my count, following 2015’s Hunting Elephants. Another one has been commissioned – commissioned! – by a UK publisher following the success there of 2014’s Remembering England (good sales plus rave reviews in the TLS, Poetry London and more). At lunch in Auckland the Friday after Bird’s address, I asked Peter what he thought of her desire for older writers to keep out of poetry.

He rolled his eyes and said, “Whatevs.”

UPDATE
Steve Braunias claims that he said “one of Patrick Gower’s highly trained psycho news robots”, not “one of Patrick Gower’s highly trained cyber news robots”. Not sure which version I prefer.